§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Order of the Day read for the Consideration of the Commons Reason for disagreeing to the Lords Amendments.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF LAND AND NATURAL RESOURCES (LORD MITCHISON)
My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons Reason for disagreeing to the Lords Amendments be now considered. It may be for the convenience of the House if I move this Motion formally, so that the main discussion may be taken on the next Motion which I propose to move, That the House doth not insist on the Amendments to which the Commons have disagreed. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Commons Reason for disagreeing to the Lords Amendments be now considered.—(Lord Mitchison.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ COMMONS REASON FOR DISAGREEING TO THE LORDS AMENDMENTS
§ [The references are to Bill (11) as first printed for the House of Lords. The Commons Reason is printed in italics]
§ LORDS AMENDMENTS
§ Clause 1, page 1, leave out lines 10 to 16 and insert (" to any such order made before 13th December 1970,")
§ line 21, leave out subsection (2).
§ The Commons disagreed to these Amendments for the following Reason:
§ Because they involve a charge on public funds and affect rates levied by local authorities, and the Commons do not offer any further Reason trusting the above Reason may he deemed sufficient.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I beg to move that the House doth not insist on the Amendments to which the Commons have disagreed. Your Lordships will remember that this Bill was to continue some special relief which had been given to a class of owner-occupiers who bought houses which were thereafter condemned, and who bought them during the period between the end of the war and the resumption of the slum clearance campaign in 1955. The relief originally offered, which was by way of an increase in the compensation allowed on the compulsory purchase or demolition 918 or closing of their houses, was that they should get market value instead of the normal compensation, site value.
The original Act of 1956, subsequently included in a consolidating measure in 1957, provided for that relief to be given to those whose houses were dealt with in this way up to the end of a period of ten years after the resumption of the slum clearance campaign. The period of ten years has in fact now expired by a day or two, and the question that arose on this Bill, and subsequently on this Amendment, was how far it should be continued. The proposal in the Bill itself was that it should be continued, except in the case of those who had occupied their houses for fifteen years or more. The proposal in the Amendment was that it should be continued without that Amendment.
The matter was argued at some length and most carefully, and the case for continuing it indefinitely, that is to say the case for the Amendment, was nut with a lucidity and a fairness which certainly give me no cause for anything but admiration, the noble Lord, Lord Newton, and the noble Lord, Lord St. Helens, who supported him. I put, as best I could, the case for disagreeing with the Amendment. It was carried on a Division, and the Bill was therefore returned to another place, who have now produced as their Reason for disagreeing with it what amounts to a claim for privilege. In the matter of money, the proposal in the Bill as it is would cost, so far as one can estimate (and these figures are quite rough), about £3 million; the cost with the Amendment would be about £8 million. The main impact of both these sums would be on the rates. There would be a corresponding, but smaller, burden caused by the operation of the rate-deficiency grant.
That, I think, is all one can say about the matter. I think that there is no deep question of principle. There is, of course, the question of what one feels is fair. If nothing had been done, this special compensation would have lapsed entirely, as it has lapsed. The question is whether, and to what extent, it should be continued. I repeat, the matter was fairly put. I hope that I put it fairly; I am sure that the two noble Lords who spoke on the other side did. Now the Amendments have been returned to us on a question of cost—the question of the money 919 involved. In these cases, as your Lordships know, no other Reasons are given. I therefore beg to move, that this House doth not insist on the Amendments to which the Commons have disagreed. I ought perhaps to add that the second Amendment is purely consequential.
§ Moved, That this House doth not insist on the Amendments to which the Commons have disagreed. (Lord Mitchison.)
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ LORD ERROLL OF HALE
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friends Lord Newton and Lord St. Helens may I say how much I know they would appreciate the kind words which the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, used in regard to their exposition of the case from these Benches, and to express on their behalf apologies for their inability to be here to-day.
The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, put the matter this afternoon with his customary blandness and lucidity, but I cannot agree with him that it is a matter as simple as deciding where to draw the line. The fact remains that a considerable injustice is going to be done to those unfortunate owner-occupiers—and I was glad to know that he used the phrase "owner-occupiers" and not "landlords", because in the main it is owner-occupiers which whom we are dealing to-day. We are concerned with people who bought sub-standard houses in the poorer areas of the cities of England during the period from 1939, at the beginning of the war (not at the end of the war, as the noble Lord suggested), to 1955, confident that they could make a go of it by carrying out improvements, often of an expensive nature, and turning what was poor property into cosy homes. And now they find that, in order that local authorities may proceed with their slum clearance programmes, they are to be turned out of these properties and are to be paid only the site value, whereas others who bought similar properties at a more recent date will be paid market value. These people are to be the victims of what is in other respects a beneficient social service—slum clearance.
The measure of the injustice is the amount of money involved, which can be only an estimate—namely, about £8 million. If it is a saving to the Exchequer of 920 £8 million, or a saving of that sum to the Exchequer and the local authorities combined, that is the precise measure of the injustice to these unfortunate individuals. They are having to subsidise the slum clearance programme out of their very slender resources to the extent of something like £8 million. Who are these people? They are sensible, decent, worthy citizens who tried to make a home for themselves in difficult circumstances: during the war, when a great deal of property was bombed and destroyed, and in the immediate post-war decade, when houses were in even shorter supply than they are to-day and when no start had been made in an organised slum clearance programme.
Without the Amendments the Bill will hurt particularly those older people at the 1939 end of the situation, who have been in their houses longer. Many of them are old-age pensioners, who have been unable to amass the necessary resources to buy alternative accommodation at current prices, and who are now to be turned out of their nice homes, receiving nothing more than site value. And this in order to save the local authorities and the Exchequer a certain amount of money!
I am sorry the noble Lord has not seen fit to deal more with the human side of what is involved. I am sure the noble Lord, in his conscientious way, will have studied the debates in another place on the Bill, and it is interesting to see the specific examples which were mentioned. I know that I am prohibited by convention from quoting the speeches of honourable Members in another place, but it is worth reading the individual cases which were cited and of the real hardship which will be caused. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that not one single supporter of the Government in another place rose to speak in support of his own Government's position in this matter. Indeed, on this particular matter they did not do so at all while the Bill was going through its various stages in another place. It is also interesting to see that, in the debate on the Amendment, the Liberals in another place spoke strongly in favour of our Amendment, as indeed did noble Lords who spoke from the Liberal Benches in your Lordships' House.
921 The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, referred to the form of the Commons Reason for disagreeing with our Amendments, but I think I should make plain that this is only a matter of form. When Lords Amendments necessitate an assertion of the Commons privilege, the disagreement is made on the grounds of privilege alone. Therefore, it should not be thought to be a case of another place turning aside our Amendments solely on the grounds of finance. It is the standard form, and one has only to look at the debate in another place to see how deep and sincere were the feelings which were aroused there by the sincerity and the justification of our Amendment. I am deeply sorry to learn from the noble Lord to-day that Her Majesty's Government are unmoved in face of the pleas both by your Lordships and by Members of another place, and that they are not prepared to accept the Amendment as sent back to another place, or some suitable modification of it. They claim to be a humanitarian Government, a Government which stands for the rights of ordinary decent individuals, but when it comes to doing anything for those small owner-occupiers in the heart of our great cities—old-age pensioners, the infirm, decent ordinary folk—they themselves are as stony-hearted as they claim others to be who do not have the same political minds as they.
It now remains for noble Lords to consider whether they should accept the proposition of Lord Mitchison. As I have attempted to explain, the Commons Reason is cast in a common form. It does not preclude us from debating the issue as widely as we wish, but we should not fall into the error of thinking that the Reason as given is the only reason we should fall back on and debate. We must also remember the many difficulties of the present Government at this moment. It is questionable whether we should be helping the cause of these unfortunate people, or indeed helping the Government of the country in their great difficulties, if we were to make this matter the subject of a major clash between the two Houses. It is therefore with deep regret and sorrow that I have advised my noble friends not to divide the House on this occasion but to accept, with extreme reluctance, the flimsy reasons put 922 forward by the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, who I know from his own humanitarian instincts must have deeply regretted the stand which he, as a member of Her Majesty's Government, has had to take on this matter.
§ LORD MITCHISON
Not in the least, my Lords—I am rather glad to take the stand. I am rescuing a number of owner-occupiers from the fate they would have met had the original intentions of the Tory Party been carried out. This was exceptional relief given to people for a limited period. If nothing whatever had been done to rescue them from the malevolence of the Conservative Party, they would not now be getting that exceptional relief. What this Government are doing is to rescue them.
The only question raised in this Amendment is how many of them, and the extent to which they should be rescued at the expense of the ratepayers and the taxpayers. The Government, for the reasons which I expressed on Second Reading of this Bill and in the discussion of this Amendment, have arrived at what they think is a fair figure. It is true that it is much kinder to them than the original Conservative Bill was; it is true that it is much kinder to them than at the time were the Government of which the noble Lord who has just spoken was such a distinguished member. But we have to rescue them from that Government. I am glad that the noble Lord so fully recognises the need for doing it. He is rescuing these people from the malevolence of his own Party. He is rescuing them from the evil intentions of those distinguished "old warriors", if I may so describe them, Mr. Duncan Sandys and Mr. Enoch Powell, who both at the time gave reasons for limiting the special compensation which was being given to these cases.
May I take the opportunity of saying that, of course, I meant the beginning of the war, although I inadvertently said the end I apologise for what was a slip of the tongue, but no more. But the substance of the matter—I am sorry to have to repeat this again, and the reason why we had to do this; I thought that noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale, himself, had understood it—is simply the original Tory Act. Looking back now, I think it was a very harsh and unfair piece of legislation, 923 but the last Government passed it and it is from that Act that we are rescuing these people now. It really amuses me to hear the noble Lord get up and shed crocodile tears, if he does not mind my using the phrase—it is not meant offensively against him personally; I can assure him of that—over the terrible lot that fell upon these people, which is the result of what his own Government did, the Government of which he was a member.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.