I beg to move, in page 50, line 40, at the end, to insert:
Provided that where the dwelling-house has been occupied by the owner since the first day of July, nineteen hundred and thirty-four, the amount so payable shall be doubled.
May I get one detail out of the way before I come to the merits of the Amendment The date, 1st July, 1934, is not in any way an inspired date, and if hon. Members think there is any better date I am entirely open to accept their decision. The only point is that the owner-occupier who is to benefit must have been inoccupation for a substantial time before the order is made, so as to prevent any kind of jerrymandering or collusive agreement between the occupier-owner and the slum landlord for the purpose of dividing the loot.
I pass from that detail to the merits of the Amendment. Clause 61 provides that in respect of well-maintained houses compensation shall be paid on terms set out in Sub-section (2), either in relation to the amount spent during the preceding five years or to a figure based on one and a half times the rateable value of the house. My suggestion is that where the house is owned by the person who occupies it, there is a special case entitling the person to a higher rate of compensation. Some reference to the Amendment has been made in the earlier Debates this afternoon. I have heard astonishing statements about what went on in the Committee upstairs. One hon. Member said that the question of compensation was considered for several days, and another declared that the Amendment covered only a small point. As to the several days: The Clause only occupied a portion of a single day upstairs. I have since obtained a copy of the OFFICIAL REPORT, and I find that out of 32 columns that were spoken on that morning, the discussion on Clause 59, which was then the number of the Clause, took only 11 columns, and the special case of the owner-occupier was neither considered nor decided upon, on any Amendment.
As to the case for the owner-occupier, in any town in which slum clearance has been prosecuted with anything like the energy with which it is being prosecuted in Leeds—very few towns would rise to that standard—and wherever it has been vigorously prosecuted, the administrators have come up against cases of real hardship suffered by people who not only own but have occupied their house for many years. There is a difference between a slum landlord who is making profits out of the misfortunes of his fellows, and the owner-occupier who has saved money and bought the house in which he or she lives, and who hopes to spend, perhaps, the concluding years of life in safety and security in that house. I suggest that in every case the owner-occupier of a slum house would be a thrifty person, and also an elderly one. The young and prosperous man does not buy a slum house and live in it. Such slum houses have probably been brought years back, and the old persons inhabiting them have become almost a part of the architecture of the houses in which they live.
Everybody who has seen slum clearance in operation knows the human tragedy of uprooting these old people from the surroundings to which they have become thoroughly accustomed. We all agree that it is necessary that that uprooting should take place, but surely we might exercise a little sympathy and offer the people concerned a little more effective compensation than the £10 or £15 offered by the Clause at present. There is an essential difference between a person who is offering the public a commodity which is not up to standard, and the person who himself is consuming the commodity. We recognise that difference in the case of milk, because we do not demand the same standard of production from the person who is going to drink the milk produced on his own premises as we do from the person who intends to sell it. We are right in being perhaps more severe upon the person who is receiving rents from slum houses and who has regarded the property as an investment and is earning profit from it, than we are on the person who is residing in the property, and probably hoping to spend the declining years of life in it. There, I suggest, is the real ground for differentiation.
May I further suggest that this is not likely to be an expensive concession? The cases cannot be very numerous. I I have no means of estimating what their number is, but common sense tells us that in normal areas the persons who occupy and own these houses will be few, and if provision were made for those cases in a scheme involving millions of pounds, ratepayers would be the last to resent it.
I should like to give one specific case as a sample, because one case is better than a good many generalisations. It is that of a man and wife, relatively young. This is a much more favourable case than some which I could produce. Their ages are 53 and 43 respectively. The man bought the house for £178 and loaned a further £50, and the couple have lived in the house since 1927. The man, at the date when the order was made, was a labourer in the employment of the Leeds Corporation. His house is condemned and he gets nothing more than site value. My Amendment will be too late for him. If that case arose after this Amendment were passed and if the man had kept his house in decent condition—if it had been a "well-maintained house," in the words of the Amendment—he would be entitled to double the compensation he would get if he had been a mere landlord letting the house to another person. I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman the Mem- ber for Swindon (Dr. Addison) should have said that this is a small point. It may be a small point to him, but let me assure him it is not a small point to those poor people in my constituency of Central Leeds who run the risk of losing not only their houses but all the savings they have put into them. In asking the Government to accept this Amendment, I am sure the Committee Will be in sympathy with it, not only because of its common sense, but because of the practical sympathy which it offers to a poor and deserving class of people.
Mr. VYVYAN ADAMS:
I beg to second the Amendment.
The case for the Amendment has been concisely and lucidly put by the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman), and, before the Minister thinks of rejecting it, I would ask him to consider a perfectly typical case of a poor person who has bought a house of a rateable value of between £6 and £8. This transaction has involved him in a capital expenditure of between £150 and £200, and has consumed savings which he had accumulated over a long period of time. This individual may have been compelled to take this particular type of accommodation, because until recently there has been no alternative open to him. It may be true, as the hon. Member for Central Leeds said, that such cases are not numerous, but they are certainly numerous enough to cause a widespread feeling of injustice and resentment when, thanks to an ambitious scheme of clearance, such premises are declared to be unfit, although it is admitted they may have been well maintained. In the case to which I am referring, the man has lived in that dwelling without damage, injury or inconvenience to himself or his neighbours, but suddenly through a clearance scheme he is confronted with the loss of his savings, except, as things now stand, to the extent of about £20, which is made up of some sum between £9 and £12 and the site value in addition. This Amendment is by no means anything in the nature of a grandiose or extravagant proposal. It merely proposes to raise the compensation in that perfectly typical kind of case to about £30. I do not think that the Committee can consider this proposition as in any sense prodigal or excessively generous. Will hon. Members in the Labour party kindly do what they are always urging others to do—to consider the lot of the least fortunate sections of the community? I ask the Committee to imagine the plight of these people faced with the loss of all that they have saved. We are dealing here with a very human problem, and, if the Amendment is accepted, it will go some way towards abating the rigour of a serious hardship.
It would perhaps be for the convenience of the Committee if in discussing the Amendment I dealt with the new Clause which I have put on the Paper. It covers precisely the same ground, although the remedy proposed is slightly different. I certainly should not wish to raise another discussion on the Clause later.
My Clause differs from the Amendment in two ways. In the first place, it is proposed to date back further the effect of the special compensation to an owner-occupier. There again, as the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) said, that is a detail but a most important one. I will return to it later in my remarks. The second point in which my Clause differs is that I wish to be logical. I know that is always a serious disadvantage in politics, but when one is dealing with the legal rights of citizens there is something to be said in favour of proceeding so far as one can on principle. The hon. Member for Central Leeds has said that in principle the owner-occupier is in a different position. He is not dealing in a commodity as in the course of trade. He is in the possession of a home. He does not wish to dispose of it, and he is entitled to protection, in my judgment, because he wishes neither to let nor to sell, and therefore he has a life interest in it which should entitle him to compensation on the basis of the value of that house to him as a freehold home, exempting him from rent. That is what I mean by life interest. I mean that he should be compensated on the basis of such an annuity as will compensate him for being obliged to give up a freehold home and to pay rent.
I do not know whether I need add anything to what the hon. Member for Central Leeds has said about the difference in principle between the owner-occupier and what is generally known as the slum landlord. I confess that, in discussing this matter with various people and in reading the proceedings of the Committee upstairs, I have been horrified to find that there seems to be a general feeling that you cannot deal with an owner-occupier differently from anyone else. I can only say that if your political principles and your principles regarding legislation cannot fit the obvious difference which all of us feel to exist between the two cases, then indeed there must be something very wrong with your principles.
Let me deal with the question of the extent of the wrongs which we are trying to remedy. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Leeds is right in saying that, taking the country as a whole, this is a small problem financially, because the number of owner-occupiers generally in great industrial cities of this country is very small. Where you especially tend to get the owner-occupier is in what I generally call for the purpose of shorthand phrasing the Elizabethan slum—the really old part of a town which is an anachronism in the sense that it was built hundreds of years ago when the standards were completely different, but which has always been a respectable place of residence, a place into which people have not been forced by the play of economic necessities and industrial employment, but where they have chosen to live. You will find that sort of position in South Coast towns like my own constituency of Hastings. You will find it in Brighton, where the medical officer of health has publicly called attention to the appalling problem created by the number of owner-occupiers in clearance areas.
I cannot sufficiently express my feelings of horror at the hardships, at the awful sense of injustice created in a respectable area like the old town of Hastings by even a few cases of this kind, though in that area the number of cases reaches afar higher proportion of all the occupiers than in an industrial city like Leeds. Quite apart from the merits of the particular individuals affected and their hardships and their wrongs, I would say that even if it were justifiable for this Committee to say we will do evil in order that good may come, even if we were to take an attitude like that and to close our eyes to wrong and do an injustice because we do not see a remedy, yet on the ground of public policy be sure of this, that in a country like this where local administration and local public opinion is characterised by a feeling of kindliness and neighbourliness you will not stir up local authorities and public opinion to reform housing conditions if the only way in which those conditions can be remedied is to inflict injustices of this kind on the owner-occupier.
Let me add that I would press in principle an Amendment to meet the needs of the owner-occupier to a Division even if I were the only person to go into the Lobby in favour of it. I feel more strongly on the subject than I can express. Speaking frankly, I do not care about the questions of compensation for the property owner. I think on grounds of public policy it may be sound policy to be rather more generous to the property owner, but he after all has been dealing in goods in the way of trade which he knows has been a dangerous trade, a trade which he knows on grounds of public policy the State might have to step in and regulate. I do not feel a great deal of enthusiasm for the woes of the property owner generally, though later we shall have a word to say on other Amendments as to the machinery, but when you come to the case of the owner-occupier you are dealing with a wholly different principle, a wholly different set of considerations, and, unless you are going to meet the real claims of these owner-occupiers, you will be dealing a blow at the whole conception of the ownership of property by the small man. Those of us who believe that the future of society probably lies in the direction of what one might call a co-operative commonwealth, based on the ownership of property in quite small quantities by the largest number of individuals, hold that to ignore the rights of owner-occupiers in a Measure like this would be to strike a blow at the whole conception of future society.
One more word on this subject of dating the operation of this Amendment back. I believe there are other hon. Friends of mine who will have something to say, more forcibly than I should say it, on the individual horrors that have happened in various parts of the country and about the utter dereliction of some of these men and women. It is not difficult in practice and it is not expensive, looked at nationally, to date the whole of the policy of such a scheme of compensation back for four years; and, if we can do it, we certainly should do it.
I should also like to say a word about the particular form of compensation which my hon. Friend the Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) suggests. I dislike very much basing this special compensation on this concession to goad house owners in the way suggested. After all, what is the character of many of these houses owned by these owner-occupiers in such an area as I have been describing? The houses themselves are not decayed or tumbled-down. They are insanitary and unfit for human habitation by reason of the manner of their construction. They are often back-to-back houses, and they may be houses built up against a cliff side. Where the structure of a house is sound and in fairly good condition the working-man who invests his small fortune in the house and retires to it in the evening of his days—with no children, but just himself and his wife—is not going to spend large sums of money on repairs. He is certainly not going to keep a record of what he does spend, and the idea of basing your compensation on the keeping of an elaborate system of accounts by the owner-occupier is absurd. And it has nothing whatever to do with the peculiar merits of the case. These are very often people who cannot be expected to spend considerable sums of money in repairs. They are living in a decent house by themselves and to base your compensation on repairs is, I think, wrong. I would much prefer to see the owner-occupier dealt with on some other basis such as the value of his life interest.
I really do appeal to the Government to think again on this question and to retire from their position—if it is theirposition—that you cannot distinguish between the owner-occupier and the property owner. I feel sure that position is an untenable position in principle and that it is not even tenable in administrative practice. Do not let the Government be led away—as I know from my own experience that Departmental Ministers are apt to be led away—by the pressure of administrators who want to have as few complications as possible in their system of administration. That is why bureaucracy always leads to injustice because the overbearing feeling of the administrator is: Do let my lines of administration be simple. This is especially so when things have to be administered through regulations from the Minister to the local authority, so that any complication becomes more complicated. Let us look beyond these administrative difficulties and look at the real central social principles involved. Then I am sure it will be recognised that it is necessary to make some concession from the point of view of the owner-occupier.
I think there is probably a strong case for the special treatment of the owner-occupier in certain cases in such areas as I represent. It is understandable that an old sailor may have different standards of comfort and sanitation from those of the ordinary citizen in the big town, like Leeds, Bradford, or London. There are undoubtedly cases of that kind. But I think before we take this course we should bear in mind this point. As far as I know, there is nothing to prevent the local authority—and I speak with some experience—buying out an individual owner quite apart from the slum clearance basis. We are dealing now, not really with this Bill, but with that introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the former Minister of Health—the Act of Parliament which provides for slum clearance. The finances of that slum clearance are rather peculiar. It does not do what we used to do when the Noble Lord presided over the Housing Committee—share the cost of slum clearance between the local authority and the Exchequer.
The present procedure is to pay so much per person rehoused. As a matter of fact, the kind of person we have in view, if he is displaced as the owner occupier must have a fresh house provided for him by the local authority. It is provided then that the local authority gets financial assistance from the State on the basis of the persons rehoused. On the other hand, I think I am right in saying that, if instead of a man being rehoused a capital sum is provided in compensation and he finds his own home, then the particular financial assistance from the State will not be forthcoming. I think that is the basis of the Act of 1930. This is the reason why some of us opposed the re-committal, and the Committee will see how we are led astray. We are putting all sorts of liability on the local authorities but we as a House are not going to provide any assistance from the taxpayers' money. I think the Noble Lord has made out a case for some kind of special treatment, but we have to be very careful that we are not putting a heavy burden on the local authority—on a town like Hastings for example. I am pretty sure there is nothing to prevent a local authority like Hastings assuming that burden if they so desire.
I would like to support the Amendment of the Noble Lord to put back the date for the compensation of the owner-occupier. I would like to say something about the injustice that this date, 20th December, 1934, would cause, especially in the city of Stoke-on-Trent. This city was the very first to come in with the Government's scheme. They immediately, in the summer of 1934, cleared several large areas, with the result that many owner-occupiers were dispossessed; and it led to very great indignation. What will be the position of these people now, if the owner-occupier is only to get compensation as from 30th December, 1934? I speak from sad experience, because in my constituency there are a great many of these people. They are small people who have saved and who have put all their savings into their house. Their houses represent the savings of a lifetime, and they can only just eke out their existence with their house.
There were many sad tragedies that occurred on account of this, and I should like to mention one especially. It was the case of a woman who owned her own house in which she had a small shop. When she was dispossessed she found herself penniless in the street and she put her head into a gas oven. There was also another tragedy in a street close by where a man found himself in a similar position. I do not think that the Minister is aware of the terrible distress that happens in an industrial area under this rule. These people are poor, hardworking folk. They have done their best and put their money into these houses, and it is not their fault that the houses are old-fashioned and have to be destroyed. I hope that the Minister will reconsider the matter and that he will realise that these things which I have been telling him are facts. They are not things quoted from hearsay; they are true; I know these people. I feel certain that the Members of the Opposition will understand what I am talking about, because they know these sort of cases. These are not well-to-do people who have houses and who can afford to put them into good repair. They are all poor, hard-working folk, and it is for them that I plead.
In all my long experience of the House of Commons I never remember the House or the Committee being more stirred than it has been by the speeches to which we have listened on this subject. I cannot see how any question of party political prejudice can come into thematter—and I am sure that it does not. This is really a question of humanity. A man who lives in his own house is not a landlord in the accepted sense of the term; he is an occupier. Let me say that I agree with my Noble Friend to this extent on the subject of the general compensation of the landlord. I have never pressed for compensation under Clause. 61 for the ordinary landlord; I have always proposed it for the owner-occupier.
I do not want to spoil the case by attempting to add to it, but I would like to mention one instance which I think utterly disgraceful, and one which reflects the gravest discredit upon the municipality concerned. This was a case in which the owner-occupier of a house was a man who had lived in that house for some 20 or 30 years. He received a derisory sitevalue—on such a valuation as never ought to have been put in. The man could not get a house; he was penniless. And what did the local authority do? It is hardly conceivable, but what they did was this: They said, "Very well, you can stay on as our tenant in this house." That was in the house that they had condemned, and there that man remained. When things happen like that, I have no patience with the Minister or anybody else who says that you must always trust the local authorities. In some cases, you cannot do that. It is true that these are excep- tional cases and that this country is fortunate, generally, both in its local authorities and in its housing authorities—more fortunate, perhaps, than any other country. But there are cases like that which occur, although even then it is not so much the fault of the local authority as of the legislation which permits these things to happen.
Opinion is gradually working up on this question all over the country. It is not a party question at all. People are beginning to realise, in this matter of housing reform and slum clearance, that, in attempting to end a great wrong as this and previous Governments are doing, in some cases evils and injustices have resulted greater than those which arose under the previous slum conditions, and this matter of the owner-occupier is one of those cases. I could add many others to those that the hon. Lady has mentioned. Let the Committee consider for a moment the case mentioned by my Noble Friend, of an old couple over 70 who had lived all their lives in an old-fashioned town where, to quote the admirable phrase used by my Noble Friend, there is a sort of Elizabethan slum. These old people, who had been living in a house which they had always regarded as healthy, were suddenly told that their property was going to be seized and they were going to be turned out, receiving only a derisory value for it. How can anyone justify such a proceeding?
I would like to hear what justification the Minister can put forward. Is it that hard cases make bad law, or what is it? I would like to quote some figures of the actual compensation that the owner-occupier will get under the Bill as it stands, with the addition, which is said to be a concession, under this Clause. The Clause provides two alternative methods. According to the method of Sub-section (2, a), in the case of a whole block of houses in a certain town, the amount of compensation receivable will be £2 18s.; or, under the alternative method, of paragraph (b) £8 10s. I could quote a number of other cases in all of which the compensation is under £10. It would be better never to offer this compensation at all than to offer derisory amounts of that kind.
I do not want to be too critical of my right hon. Friend, but he has the curious trait, which seems to affect many Ministers of Health, of not being in the least logical and consistent because of some alleged administrative difficulty. If compensation is to be offered, it ought to be real. If my right hon. Friend were to give way on this point there need be no question of pride, and not a Member on this side of the House will attack him for doing so. I have no right to quote private conversations, but I happen to have personal friends in the party opposite, who in private conversation have told me that they do not agree with this Clause. I know they realise that hardship has occurred to owner-occupiers in this respect, and, although they and I differ widely on other matters, we agree on this. There is no question of loss of prestige. My Noble Friend and I feel so strongly on this matter that we shall never rest content until we see it altered. We shall continue it in the constituencies and by every method open to us, and we believe that eventually, if this Government will not do it, some Government will close what is a very serious gap in our whole social system.
As the principle of compensation in the Bill as it now appears has been decided, I am bound to say that I do not think there is any class of the property-owning community which has the same claim to compensation as the small man owning and occupying his house, and, that being so, I hope that my hon. Friends will not put any obstacle in the way of this Amendment if the right hon. Gentleman thinks fit to accept it. I refer to the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman); I should take a different view on the Amendment of the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy). If compensation is to be given at all—as to which, as the 'Committee know, we have strong views in certain directions—this particular class are entitled to such compensation.
It is all very well for the House of Commons to pass laws whereby local authorities have to pay compensation, whether on a small or a large scale, to one class of the community or another. I know from my experience in Leeds that it is very often said that the Labour party spend a great deal of money in slum clearance and so on, and in doing so put a great burden on the rates. This particular proposal will undoubtedly, in its present form, put a burden on the rates, and in my submission it is a burden which the National Government either ought to bear altogether or ought to help the local authorities to bear. I do not know whether the Government are proposing to accept this Amendment or not, or whether they propose to accept any responsibility for the cost, but the Amendment will very much affect the City of Leeds, which has a very large slum clearance scheme in progress, and I am glad to see that all the Members representing Leeds are now present. I hope that advantage will not be taken of what I have said, or of what the Government may decide, to make the complaint that that or any other slum clearance scheme is putting an unduly large burden upon the ratepayers. If compensation is to be granted, it should be granted in this case, but it is also a case where, in my submission, the Government ought to bear some portion of the responsibility.
Sir H. YOUNG:
My first impression, after listening to the Debate, is that the Committee will certainly not regret the discretion which it exercised earlier in the day and which enabled the Debate to take place because there can be no doubt that for the first time on this Bill a matter has been ventilated in the House which well deserved ventilation, and I gladly take the opportunity of meeting the arguments which have been advanced. If I am unable to accept these Amendments, it is not from any disregard of, or failure to realise, the force of the contentions which have been put forward with so much eloquence by my Noble Friend the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy), the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent (Mrs. Copeland), my Noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), and other Members. The line of consideration which I would venture to ask the Committee to follow with me is to recognise that these considerations relating to the position of the owner-occupier have been present to the minds of myself and the Government in framing the provisions of the Bill, and the provisions are calculated to meet the case put to me by my hon. Friends to the degree to which it is right and proper that they should be met. I only differ from my hon. Friends on the question of degree, because, as I believe I shall be able to satisfy the Committee, the proposals which they make go further than would be justifiable in the direction of meeting the case of the owner-occupier.
I need not re-assert to the Committee how deeply the situation of the owner-occupier has been brought to my mind, and how fully I am conscious of the difference between his circumstances and those of the bad slum landlord. Pathetic personal cases have been brought to my attention, and some of them are as tragic as cases can be. The most tragic case put to me concerns that unfortunate state of affairs when one with little knowledge and experience makes a bad investment, and buys something not worth the money he has paid for it. But alas! the State cannot always protect the subject against that disaster.
Sir H. YOUNG:
Perhaps it would be better if I follow out the line I desire to take. I agree that in substance the owner-occupier deserves special consideration, but, if you try to arrive at the measure of the consideration which he should receive, you are driven to the conclusion that you must not form the class of owner-occupiers for the purpose, but you must form the class in the way in which it has been formed in the Bill, in Clause 61, namely, those who have done their best to keep up the condition of their houses. From the arguments of the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings and the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman), it seems that they would seek to have us compensate the owner-occupier in respect of his rights and the point of view of his interests apart from the value of the property with which we are concerned. We must get the fact very clearly in our minds, that we are concerned with a particular transaction, the acquisition of a building by the local authority. The measure of the compensation must be related to the value of the building. If we once lose sight of that fact, we are completely at large. We must constantly bear in mind that we have the other side of the account, that the compensation will ultimately have to be paid by the friends and neighbours, fellow ratepayers and taxpayers, of the owner-occupier, and that the money does not come from nowhere. You must not lose sight of the principle that the value of the property which is being transferred is the measure of the compensation.
That is the line we have followed in the Bill. We have defined the Clause in the interests of those who have made an effort to keep their property well maintained. That was agreed by the Mover of the first Amendment. Then we look and see what is the right and proper special allowance to be made in respect of the value which has been transferred. We take the amount of the aggregate expenditure for the five years. That is the measure of the maintenance of the house. We say that that has to be the special compensation for this class. My Noble Friend, taking that basis of calculation, quoted a very low figure. That is true. It was in view of that fact that we put in paragraph (b) which provides an arbitrary sum, which has been very carefully calculated to be the equivalent, under practical conditions, of that provided for by the words in paragraph (a). We have there arrived, after a prolonged inquiry on a statistical basis into the conditions and value of the properties concerned, at a special measure of compensation, granted for the first time in this Bill, to meet the cases of hardship which have been put to me with so much force and eloquence.
The amount of this compensation will only be a few pounds. I hope that I am wrong, but will the right hon. Gentleman explain what he means when he says that he must relate the compensation to the value? Surely he does not suggest that the value of these houses in open market would not be very much greater.
The rateable value surely, is the annual value at which the property is worth to be let, and the right hon. Gentleman is taking it as a measure of the capital value of the house, and really multiplying it by one and a half times. How can it possibly be so?
Sir H. YOUNG:
The answer to my Noble Friend the Member for Horsham is that the sums to which he has referred cannot be the sort of sums received, because he will perceive that the person in question can apply for payment under (a) or (b) whichever sum is the greater, and that one and a half times the rateable value of the house is undoubtedly greater than the sums to which he has referred. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Central Southwark (Mr. Horobin), there is, I think, a misapprehension in his point. It is not a case of applying an annual sum to a capital value. It is a case of arriving at a measure of compensation substantially provided in paragraph (a). Paragraph (a) is the measure of compensation, and paragraph (b) is only a practical method of arriving at a sum, which will be approximate, to meet the position, and which, according to my basis of calculation, in most cases will be greater. That is the point. Admitting the case for special compensation in the class referred to and seeing that our sympathy is with the hardships and difficulties of that class, we have to see what firm basis we can reach in order to do justice between this class and other ratepayers. We must carefully valuate in Clause 61, and we must stop to see that, when we have done justice, we do not go further and do injustice to those who eventually have to find the money. I do not think that I can find any contention in the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Central Leeds to justify an arbitrary application of paragraph (a) which would be in accordance with our sense of fairness.
The proposed new Clause of my Noble Friend the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) appears to be less acceptable, because it departs altogether from the basis of the value of that being absolutely transferred, and relates the value to something which has no logical or practical relationship with that with which we are concerned. I submit that the transfer under Clause 61 is both sounder and more likely to meet this sort of case. As regards the ante-dating of the provision, I am afraid that we are in conflict with the practical possibilities of the case. When you are making a change in a course of administration which is in actual progress, there must always be difficulty as to the date to which you are to relate it. I have related the date of the change on which the additional compensation will be paid to the earliest possible date that was practically possible for me, that is from December when the principle was first decided upon and from which date records can be kept. To go so far back as the Noble Lord would go would be to ask me to go into a period in regard to which there is no record for administrative purposes. I hope that what I have said will enable the Committee to follow me through rather a close and difficult region of the relationship of the practical possibility of the case to the social need. The Committee will, I hope, appreciate that in the provisions laid down in the Bill we have gone as far, not adventurously but rather as boldly, as we could go in a practical world to meet a case which calls for warm sympathy and deserves special consideration. I do not believe that it is possible to find a better provision than that which is contained in the Bill.
I should like to say a few words on the question of rateable value. There is some confusion in the minds of people outside the House, if not inside, on the difference between the market value and the rateable value of a house. It helps to make the point clear if we can quote an actual instance that has occurred where a demolition order has been made under a clearance scheme. I will quote the case of a property in good repair that was let at 8s. a week. The rateable value was £10 a year. It may appear at once to hon. Members that that has nothing to do with the market value of the property at that time, and that would be so, had the property not been condemned. In considering a house of that calibre under the provisions of Clause 61 (2, b) it is obvious that the payment to be made under the Bill as set out in that subsection, would be no more than £15. In the instance I am quoting there had been expended on the property £5 a year, on an average, in repairs. Hon. Members will, therefore, see that the loss to the owner of that property under the Bill would be £10, because the maximum allowed to be paid is £15. On figures like those it is obvious that the calculation on the basis of one and a half times the rateable value as compensation is by no means over-generous to the owner of such property. Therefore, I have great pleasure in supporting the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) for the doubling of the allowance.
Those who have moved and who are supporting the Amendment are to a certain extent proving their inconsistency, because the more they prove the gross insufficiency of the compensation the more difficult it becomes for me to see why we should confine it solely to one class of owner. There are many exceedingly poor people who are having great difficulty as the owners of one house in which all their savings have been invested. These people are going to be ruined if they do not get sufficient compensation. If we can only get compensation for some it is worth doing. The speech of my right hon. Friend deserves a little comment, especially the fact that he left the House immediately after making it. What is it that we are doing? We are taking compulsorily away from people some of their property and saying to them that the maximum that they can get in payment for it is one and a half times the rateable value.
If the hon. Member cannot see the point that I am making perhaps he will have an opportunity of speaking later. The fact is that these people are living in certain property. They have to live somewhere. They are living in property that they own and they pay no rent. The maximum compensation that they can get is one and a half times the annual value. Rateable value was never intended to have any relation to the capital value of property. The whole legal basis of the rateable value is that it is the value at which the property can be let for a year. The rateable value as we allknow—I am speaking of England and Wales and not of Scotland, where I believe it is different—is, broadly speaking, in practice less than the gross rent at which the house could be let. We all know perfectly well that a house equivalent to what the man may be living in at the moment could not be got at a gross weekly rent equivalent to his annual rateable value. We all know that. Then why not act upon it?
The fact is, that we are saying to these unfortunate people: "Go out of your present house in which you are living rent free and we will give you as a maximum compensation one and a half times your rateable value, and after you have exhausted that you must presumably either die or pay rent to somebody." Here are people who own property which presumably will last their lifetime, however bad it is, and they are living there without paying anybody anything for rent, and you are saying to them: "We will give you as a maximum one and a half year's compensation based on your annual rateable value. After that, if you are not dead, you will have to pay the local authority 10s. or 11s. a week for a council house." What is the use of the Minister of Health saying that this arrangement is the result of complicated calculations and that Clause 61 (b) is exactly equal to Clause 61 (a)? These poor wretches are not interested in Clause 61 (a) or 61 (b). They want to know where they are to live when they are turned out of their house and how they are to get the money to pay for it. I admit that their houses may be worn out and that they are rotten but at least they have four walls and provide a roof for their heads. If we turn them out of their house and we say that we are only going to give them the equivalent of their annual value for one and a half years, where will they go? The gas oven will be the only four walls for them. It is an impossible proposition. It is grossly unfair. If we can only get more adequate compensation for the owner-occupier, well and good. I do not think that the case put by the Minister of Health will convince any fair-minded person that this is a fair basis of compensation. If the matter goes to a Division I for one shall vote for the Amendment, and I hope that other hon. Members will do the same.
I think the Committee was amazed at the reasons given by the Minister for refusing to grant this modest request. He said that it would be unfair that this extra cost should be borne by their fellow citizens. What is happening to-day to the poor owner-occupiers? Many of them have had to go to the public assistance committee. Would it be a greater charge on the locality to give some small degree of extra compensation such as is suggested by the Amendment or to provide them with 5s. a week for life by forcing them on to the public assistance committee? I much prefer the new Clause of the Noble Lord. Whether these houses are worn out or not they have been the habitation of these people for years, and they could have continued to live in them but for the fact that they are surrounded by houses which are worse than their own, which are let at unreasonable rents by slum landlords. I think that we should put in the date suggested by the Noble Lord. There are some localities which have started slum clearance early and some people who have lost their houses will get no compensation unless the date is put back. In the case where the husband has died leaving the house to the wife, and where estate duty has been assessed, that sum will still be outstanding if the area is declared a slum area while there will be no compensation for the widow. I think it is unreasonable if the Government do not grant the modest request put forward.
I support the Amendment, because I feel that this is a matter which should be conceded by the Government. It will not mean any hardship, or at least no material hardship, but may have some little effect in producing a more satisfactory rate of compensation for those who are turned out of their homes. It is not an easy matter for an owner-occupier to face up to a position where £10 or £12 is being paid to him after he has occupied his house for many years. It is wrong to take the rateable value as a basis for the purposes of assessment. You have the valuation of a house and deduct one-fifth to get at the rateable value, and then it is proposed to offer the person who has been occupying his house one-and-a-half times the amount of that value. In my view, it is ludicrous to give such small compensation to a person who is being turned out. No one, I am sure, can give any substantial reasons why such a person should not get decent consideration. These persons should be protected and not left to the mercy of public assistance committees, who eventually have to look to the ratepayers to provide the assistance which should normally be given not as a grant by way of relief but as a right to the person dispossessed.
I hope that the Minister will reconsider the point and come to the conclusion that there is nothing unreasonable in this request. It is entirely wrong that a local authority should take advantage of a poor individual who is occupying a house which he has not neglected. In the first instance, the owner-occupier who is being dispossessed is a person who has maintained his house in a decent condition, it is not his fault that he is being turned out, it is his misfortune; and when he purchased the house the chances are that in 99 cases out of 100 he did not purchase at a figure which contemplated his having to get away from the house on demolition. It would be unfair to leave the matter as it stands, and fairer, although not conceding all that is due to the owner-occupier, if the Amendment was carried.
This is an extremely difficult matter. I do not know anything which has given rise to more indignation in local areas than this question of the owner-occupier in slum clearance schemes, and the way in which the Act has worked up to now. The number of these cases is not very great. There are not hundreds and thousands of them, the number is comparatively small, but when they occur they seem to be thrown into the limelight and everyone in the district knows the circumstances. In the main they are people who have saved a few pounds in order to buy their own house. It may not be all that is desirable, but that is because their savings have been limited, but they have endeavoured to get a little home together for their old age. If neither of these Amendments can be accepted, I hope the Government will look into this matter again and see whether it is not possible to do something better for these people than give them one and a half times the rateable value. In my constituency the rateable value of property of this description is about a £8 year, and one-and-a-half times that is £12. With all due respect it is an absolute insult to offer this to these people.
The Minister said that he thought justice was being done. I cannot agree with him. If justice is to be done to these owner-occupiers some method must be found which will not involve a charge upon local rates. Local authorities have always to keep an eye on local expenditure. A rate of one penny in the £ in my constituency brings in about £400 and, therefore, they could not afford to spend money in giving the compensation, which in my opinion these people are entitled to receive. We must have help from the Exchequer. That is only reasonable. I cannot agree that the injustice has been removed by the Government's proposal, nor would it be relieved by putting the responsibility on the local authority. The responsibility ought to be on the national Exchequer.
A man in these circumstances does a great deal of patching up to keep his house in decent repair, and does it with his own labour. Invariably my experience has been that this class of owner-occupier—I am talking particularly about the poorer class of owner-occupier—tries to keep his house in as good a state of repair as possible. It is his, and he takes a pride in it. It may be that it is necessary, in the interests of the community, that a particular place should be included in a slum clearance scheme, and if the principle of compensation is to be recognised at all I want to emphasise the point that it should be real compensation. I agree with the hon. Member who said that this is not a party question but is a question in which all of us should try to find some solution. I do not think that the proper solution is that suggested by the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) in his new Clause, nor do I think that the proper solution is that of the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman). I hope that if the Minister cannot accept the Amendment he will realise that there is sufficient feeling among Members of all parties to justify their saying to him that it should not be beyond the intelligence of the Department to work out some scheme which will give justice to the people concerned.
I was not able to be in my place when the Minister replied to this Amendment, but I understand that, although he did not see fit to accept it, the Parliamentary Secretary and the learned Solicitor-General are still hereto take note of all the representations that may still be made in order to induce the Government at a later stage to change their minds. When the Clauses dealing with compensation were being discussed in Committee the amount of compensation to be paid for the well maintained house was gone into well. I do not think that any Member of the Standing Committee would seriously attempt to challenge the scales that are to be paid to what might be called the owner of house property, the man who owns such property for the purpose of deriving some income from it, whether it is one house or more is immaterial. But he is not the occupier. He is presumably a man who has chosen to put his capital into that class of property and to derive an income from it instead of putting his capital elsewhere. I think the compensation basis for that class of man is quite fair.
But this House and the country have now recognised the principle that where the State takes away a part of a man's property for State use by way of Income Tax there shall be a graduated scale of tax. It takes a much larger proportion of the income of a man who has £10,000 a year than it does of the income of a man who has only £500 a year. Similarly a very good case can be made out that where a man is the owner-occupier of a house the scale of compensation ought to be graduated and he ought to have far less taken from him than the man who owns several houses and is not the occupier of any of them. The two classes of owners are quite separate and ought to be dealt with in a separate way. The owner-occupier of a house does not live in that, house because he wants to make money out of it. He lives in it because he is determined to avoid paying rent to someone else. If in the onslaught on the slums—slum clearance schemes must go ahead at any cost—you sweep that man away and drive him to the public assistance authority, you simply create a fresh problem and make it much more difficult not only for the local authority but for the whole country to finance adequately the new social problem that you create by this unfair and unjust treatment. If there is a division on this Amendment, although I am a keen supporter of the principle of this Bill I shall regretfully have to record my vote in favour of giving more adequate compensation in these cases.
I am sure that the House has been impressed very much by the tragic character of some of the cases put forward. We all have heard of them from time to time. None the less we have to remember that the property under consideration is property that has been condemned, after inspection, as unfit for human habitation. That is where this proposal begins. I feel very shy of committing myself to the saddling of a rating authority with expenses in respect of property which has been condemned as unfit for human habitation.
The consideration that presents itself to my mind, if the Amendment were adopted, is that it would certainly limit the number of hard cases, because it would veto slum clearance in a large number of areas. I understand that the Clause as it stands is estimated to add an appreciable percentage to the cost of slum clearance in London. Figures have been given to me. How true they are I do not know, but they are very high figures and are supplied by officers of the London County Council. Is it to be suggested that the whole cost should be put on the rates? If the Government are going to give compensation for this class of hard case it is up to them to produce a considered scheme and to do it at national expense. I object to saddling slum clearance by local authorities with this cost in respect of property which has been condemned as unfit for human habitation. While I have sympathy with the people concerned, the proposal as it stands would be unjust to the ratepayers and would be unworkable in practice. We look to the Government to produce a well-considered set of proposals under which the State will bear the cost.
The right hon. Gentleman's speech would lead one to believe that it is his idea that the property of the owner-occupier in these cases is, definitely, of a slum character in that it is unfit far human habitation. He must, surely, recall that there are such things as clearance orders.
The hon. Member must not misrepresent me, and I do not wish to misrepresent anybody. I only said that the property to which the Amendment of the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) refers is property which has been called in question because it has been found to be unfit for human habitation.
Perhaps I can put the right hon. Gentleman right. The new Clause of the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) uses the words:
as being unfit for human habitation or which is made the subject of a clearance order.
Because a property has been made the subject of a clearance order, that does not necessarily mean it is actually unfit for human habitation. Unquestionably, many of the grievances of which we have heard this afternoon arise from property becoming subject to clearance orders, although it, would be regarded by any health authority as fit for human habitation. The Minister himself said at the outset that he did not oppose these proposals because of any failure to recognise the force of the arguments put forward in their favour. I listened to the rest of his reply in vain for anything which gave one good reason to believe that he did realize the force of those arguments. The owner-occupier, it is to be remembered, is not necessarily a man who purchases property merely in order to avoid paying rent to somebody else. He may purchase it because he has regard to the future of his family. He may have a crippled son for whom he wishes to provide a home, or he may think that his wife in the event of his death would be more secure in a house of her own. Those men are in a different category from the house-owners mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Camborne (Lieut.-Commander Agnew).
Personally, I do not think the Committee ought to consider whether the owner-occupier has made a good or bad investment in purchasing his house. I think that is beside the point. I purchased a house a few years ago and I did not know then what action the local authority was going to take in the matter of slum clearance or ordinary clearance orders for road widening purposes. I could not foresee what their policy was likely to be and perhaps it was a very good thing, because if I had known I should probably have run many miles away sooner than live under their directions in the matter. But the vast majority of people concerned in these proposals are people who have purchased houses in which to settle down and who desire to eliminate the cares which hang round the neck of the average working man who is paying rent to a landlord. I am convinced that the compensation basis here is totally wrong. In the vast majority of industrial areas what does it represent? An owner-occupier who has been displaced will get a sum equal to about 30½ weeks' rent. The man who gets £15 or even £20 will probably have to dispose of all that money long before a year has passed in order to find alternative accommodation in the cheapest council houses that are available. That is not a sufficient reward for thrift and enterprise. It is indeed more likely to destroy those qualities of thrift and enterprise which make the good citizen, no matter what his working conditions may be.
I call the attention of the Minister once again to a specific case which I have mentioned previously. A man who is now to be displaced and who has now to find alternative accommodation, will receive under the compensation Clause of this Measure the wonderful sum of £17 10s. in the following circumstances. The man had lived in this property as a tenant for 10 years. Last May the property became available for purchase. It was a block of three houses which had been let to a brewery company for £125 a year. It included an off-licence and a little grocery store. When it came on the market this man put the whole of his life savings amounting to £1,175 into it and carried out necessary conversions in parts of the house in which he lived at a cost of £112. That is to say, only in May last he invested about £1,300 in this property. In December it was put into a clearance order and now it has to come down, not because it is slum property but because it is regarded as coming within the terms of the 1930 Act relating to "bad arrangement or the narrowness or bad arrangement of the streets." In other words, the corporation have decided to widen the street, and no doubt there may be other property in the surrounding area which is, by virtue of its condition, justifiably scheduled for clearance. But this property represents this man's livelihood. He has a wife and three children dependent upon him. He had built up a grocery business and news agency in addition to the off-licence. And now he is to get £17 10s. for his £1,300 invested less than a year ago. I submit that Englishmen cannot tolerate a proposal which does not take into consideration the ordinary rights of the citizen, to a greater extent than this Bill does at the moment. Whether or not these Amendments are accepted, I hope the Government will get busy without delay in order to see that these people get, at least, ordinary justice.
The hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Pike) quoted an individual case which was not very helpful to the point he wanted to make. What he has in fact proved to the Committee is that some unfortunate individual in Attercliffe paid a colossal sum for a piece of wretched property that apparently was not worth one-seventh of the money he paid for it. In any case, the sort of enterprise to which the hon. Member referred was very poor enterprise on the part of the man in question, or he could not have come such a cropper. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) suggested that the starting-point in all these schemes is that the property must have been, determined to be unfit for human habitation, the hon. Member and other hon. Members said, "Read on." If we read on we find the words, "or which is made the subject of a clearance order." Does the hon. Member imply that a clearance order is not dealing with property that has been recognised as being unfit for human habitation?
The hon. Member and many other hon. Members must, apparently, be living under a misapprehension of the Housing Act, 1930, or even of the terms of this Bill. If, for instance, a row of houses is declared within a clearance area, and one or two houses in the centre of the property are still fit for human habitation and cannot be regarded as slum property in the ordinary sense, a totally different compensation from the compensation in this Bill will apply in those cases. Therefore, those hon. Members who echo the sentiments of the hon. Member for Attercliff are entirely wrong. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Swindon clearly stated, the starting-point in a demolition scheme is when property is unfit for human habitation. If that be so, no one need shirk the natural sympathy that exists in all parts of the Committee towards any individual who may be disturbed, and who may have to occupy a house for which many shillings per week will have to be paid in rent. But is there an hon. Member who has not, sometime or other, somehow and by some means, had to suppress his personal desires for the benefit of the general community? Is it not the case that men are controlled at a thousand and one different points so that their wives and children may have a chance in life? None of us likes these restrictions, whether it applies to the demolition of wretched property or anything else, but society has been obliged to act in this way all down the ages.
What the right hon. Gentleman is doing is consistent with a desire to help to improve the health of the population through the housing conditions, and while we are not satisfied that this is the best possible Clause to deal with this problem, we are convinced that it would be intolerable, and would possibly hold up 75 per cent. of the demolition schemes if the compensation reached a point when it became more than the local ratepayers could afford to meet. Much as we sympathise with the individual, we are convinced that if the Government really want to compensate to a greater extent than the terms of the Bill specify, they ought to find the money from the Treasury, and not land the responsibility on the local authorities, for that would have the effect of holding up clearance schemes.
I am really almost inclined to suggest that, as it is obvious that nothing that anyone says in this Committee can gain one flicker of interest from the Minister and that none of our arguments can appeal in any way to him, it is perhaps better that we should divide. I have heard many speeches made by Ministers which have offended their supporters. It is one of the necessary duties of any Minister to offend his supporters very often and to go against their wishes. But I never heard a speech by a Minister which seemed so deliberately to ignore every feeling and every reasonable argument which has been urged upon him, and which seemed to be inspired by such a deliberate intention of hurting the feelings and of offending the reason of all his supporters as the speech of the Minister of Health. One of the first debates I heard in Parliament was the Budget debate in the House of Lords in 1909. I remember Lord Lucas on that occasion attacking Lord Revelstoke's speech as representing the dehumanised view of these problems prevalent in the City of London. I thought that absurd then. I now understand exactly what a dehumanised view of a social problem is.
The Minister's argument is this: The owner-occupier is indeed in a very unhappy position, but it is, after all, the position into which many poor people get who make a bad investment. Thus the Government or the local authority is to go to a man to take away what belongs to him, and what he is not using for sale or commerce with others; they are to take from him what he owns and say, "My poor fellow, we can only pay you ten bob for what you thought was worth £50, but then, you see, you have been unfortunate; you have made a bad investment." Did ever Dickens put into the mouth of Mr. Pecksniff a more appalling sentiment? Then the right hon. Gentleman goes on to say, "These Amendments are impossible because you must base yourself on the value of the property." The value to whom? The value in the open market of a property which was never intended to go into the open market? Is that the great principle to which we have to cling? It does not make sense, like all de-humanised, economic propositions. Has the right hon. Gentleman never heard of compensation for disturbance?
The right hon. Gentleman says pontifically that the only basis of compensation in this housing clearance system must be the value of the property actually transferred to the local authority, judged as value in the open market without any consideration of the value of the house to the man himself, who never intended it to come into the open market, without any sort of compensation for dis- turbance, or for the fact that the man is being turned out on the world penniless, and will have to pay a rent which he never had to pay because he was the owner of the house. All these things are to be ignored. The right hon. Gentleman does not bring forward any argument for ignoring them except the pontifical statement, "Of course, my hon. friends will all agree that the only possible basis for compensation must be the value of the property transferred." We do not agree. There is no sense in that proposition.
Even taking the Minister on his own statement, what is the value of this property? What has it been taxed upon? It has been taxed upon an annual value, the rateable value mentioned in the Clause. The local authority has taxed the man for all these months and years and decades, while the value of the property was precisely the same as it is at the present moment, and its state of repair was precisely the same. Then the local authority turns round and says, "That, of course, was the value for the purpose of taxation, but its value for the purpose of paying you compensation is one and a half times the annual value, That is perhaps three, four or five times the annual taxation which we have levied on you on an estimated capital value, which we now say we do not intend to pay you at all." The hon. Member for one of the divisions of Southwark said that this was one and a-half years of life. It is not even that. A man is not going to get into any house that the local authority puts him in for an annual rent of one and a-half times its annual value.
This is the logical case built up by the Minister, and he says that after careful actuarial calculation he has discovered that one and a-half times the annual value, on which the man has been taxed up to 14s. in the £, exactly represents what he deserve to have. How can that be true? "Deserves" in whose opinion? In the opinion of the local authority; but surely not the local authority who taxed him on this basis? There is nothing in the arguments the Minister has brought forward, except the facade determination not to have anything to do with any proposal which might land him in for a little more money in compensation. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) is so anxious arguing whether the local authority or the State should pay what is just that he is going to vote against this Amendment, against fair compensation, until he is quite sure he has not to pay. [Interruption.] I do not want to be controversial with anyone except the Minister, who I regard as having thrown down a challenge to all his supporters in this House, and with whom there can be nothing but controversy on this subject from his supporters here, and, I believe, from his supporters in the country. I do not want to argue controversially with hon. Members opposite. They agree with the attitude we are taking up, although they feel, of course, that because, owing to the Rules of Procedure, this has to be thrown on the rates for the purpose of the Amendment, they feel nervous About who is to pay. I have heard from the Front Opposition Bench arguments in connection with a problem of humanity, and of ordinary justice quite apart from humanity—we are not talking about sentiment; we are talking about mere, reasonable justice—I have heard arguments from the Front Bench that frankly made me sick. [An HON. MEMBER: "The Opposition Front Bench?"] This side. I have been a loyal supporter of this Government, but I shall have great pleasure in going into the Lobby and voting against them on this occasion.
In spite of the wonderful oration of the Noble Lord opposite, I refuse to agree with him when he says it is almost impossible to hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give way on this matter. One remembers that when this Bill was last on the Floor of the House the Minister refused to acknowledge the principle of compensation at all, and I believe in the Debate that took place a few months ago I was the only speaker who stood up for the principle of compensation for these people dispossessed of their homes. The Minister has had to stand up to a multitude of facts of which he was not cognisant before this Debate started, and it seems even now that the main principles of justice have not been touched upon.
The hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Pike) pointed out that if the late tenant took his compensation, he would probably have enough to pay his rent in a council house for 21 weeks. He would have nothing of the kind. The average rateable value of property of this kind throughout the country—and I have had some years' experience in connection with these matters—is from £6 to £7, and if they get compensation—there is no guarantee that they will, as the Bill says the inspector may recommend to the local authorities that payment shall begranted—but even if they do get that compensation of £9 or £10, the cost of demolishing and clearing a cottage is £10 at the very lowest. They are going out without one penny net compensation. They will have no site value to take with them. The local authority is not compelled to pay them anything for the site, and in most cases the people who have a claim for compensation are told that at present the local authorities do not intend to develop the site. The owner thus loses his site. He is not getting one penny net for the property. He has to move into another house and pay rent for it, and possibly leaves behind a fairly heavy mortgage on the house which has been destroyed. I cannot see any justice in that. To give one and a half years' annual value really means nothing at all. In some cases, it will still leave the late owner of the house with a large debt upon his shoulders. There have been cases in which the owner has not been able to demolish the house, because he has not had the money to do so, and the local authority have demolished it, sold the rubble for what it would fetch and sued him in the county court for the balance of the cost.
I am glad the Minister has given way on the principle, and I wish he would be generous and decide that these people who lose their property shall be paid at least three times the annual value, and be given also site value for the land, which is no longer theirs, and which has not depreciated in value but has appreciated in value. I hope those who have expressed the determination to oppose the Government and support the Amendment unless some further concession is made will not alter their minds and turn tail when the division bells ring. This is a most important principle. It is elemental justice that people who have been turned out of their houses, even if they did make an unfortunate investment, which perhaps they could not help making in the days after the War, when there were no houses to let, should now be treated fairly. I hope the Minister will make some further concession to these people, who cannot afford the cost of an appeal, and look to this House to do them elemental justice.
I should like to point out that a great many owner-occupiers are among the best citizens in this country and that as a class they ought to be encouraged. If they are to be treated in the way proposed it will be no encouragement to people to acquire their own houses. A good many Members have spoken about people who have put all their savings into a house and lost them. It is not always the case that they have put their savings into the house and lost them. Very often they have put some of their savings into the house, but they may also have purchased it through a building society on mortgage. The derisory compensation to be paid them will hardly be enough to cover the expenses of removing into another house, should they be so fortunate as to get another house, and it is idle to contend that it will be anything like enough to pay off the balance of the mortgage in many cases. So they are not only going to find themselves deprived of all their savings, small as they may be, but going to find themselves without a house, without any money and being pressed to repay the balance of the mortgage when they have no money at all. In view of the speeches made this evening, in which no one has followed the Minister in his arguments, at which I am not surprised, I hope that even at this last moment the Minister will give way and give us some encouragement that this particularly deserving and particularly valuable section of the community, who are the most law-abiding citizens, most respectable people, who make the least claim on the Government, shall receive at the hands of a National Government, if it be a National Government, some sympathetic consideration.
Before we go to a Division, I want to say this: I deeply regret that the Leader of the House and of the Conservative party is not present to realise the effect that the vote—because, of course, the Government will be supported by an enormous majority from the smoking rooms and from the dining rooms—is going to have in dozens of constituencies in this country.
This matter of the smooth progress of the slum clearance schemes lies too near to my heart for me not to desire that the work should be carried out without injustice to anybody. We are perfectly convinced that this great movement must be continued, and it can only be continued if at no stage is there the least shadow of injustice to private individuals. To-night we have heard put with great eloquence and great force considerations which have been present to my mind in regard to the position of the small owner-occupier, and I would like to put before the Committee the considerations which have led us in Clause 61 to decide upon the manner and the measure of additional compensation. In listening to this Debate with very close attention I have felt that this House, as the grand council of the nation, does reflect the sense of justice of the heart of the nation, and it has seemed to me that there is a real sense of apprehension lest the provisions which we have made should not be adequate to cover the measure of compensation which is due.
But let me try to avoid any shadow of misconception on this point, because that is important when we are trying to get an approximation of views. I believe that the basis of compensation we have selected in this Bill is right. On the other hand, from listening to the speeches, I see that there is a doubt in the minds of hon. Members, which I share, lest the measure of compensation we have decided upon should prove inadequate. What I propose is that hon. Members should give me an opportunity of reconsidering the measure of compensation which is provided under this Bill. I believe that would meet the general sense of this council of the nation as expressed here to-night. One word upon the actual machinery. The Committee will see that paragraph (2, b) is really the key of the matter. The small owner-occupier can get whichever is greater (2, a) or (2, b). What I ask the Committee to allow me to reconsider is the measure of compensation which he can get under (b), which he can always take in preference to (a) if he chooses. What I propose to consider is the introduction of such a method under paragraph (b) as will give that more generous measure of compensation to the small owner which will meet the cases which have been put to me. If the Committee will provide me with an opportunity of considering such an increase under (b) as will cover the arguments addressed to me, I give the Committee an undertaking to give the matter that consideration, and to introduce a suitable emendation at the proper time and at the proper stage.
The suggestion of the Minister appears, as far as one understands it, to open the door to a general scheme of compensation which will be wider than it is now. I suggest to the Minister that he ought not to be generous at somebody else's expense, and that the cost of providing for these people must be met through the Exchequer and not through the rates. If the additional burden is to be put on the local ratepayers, the scheme ought to be opposed. I want to make that representation to the Minister, because it is very easy to be generous with somebody else's money. [interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Member is satisfied with the demonstration which he has evoked at my expense, and is no doubt very pleased with himself at his somewhat inane ejaculation. He was evidently referring to the housing scheme for which I was responsible. I am not going into that now. [Laughter.] I can only tell those who make those ignorant jeers that they do not know the story. I should be only too glad of the chance to tell it to them. In the case of the housing scheme to which I have referred, the money was national money, found from the Exchequer, and that is the very source which the right hon. Gentleman should employ in this case. If the Minister intends to provide additional compensation, it should be done by way of Exchequer contributions, and not at the cost of the local ratepayers. So far as our small party are concerned, this will meet with our continued opposition unless the Minister decides to meet the full compensation by way of Exchequer grants.
Before my hon. Friend the Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) speaks in answer to the Minister, perhaps the Committee will allow me to thank the Minister for what he has said. At the same time I would like to express my regret if anything I said appeared to be intended to apply to him personally. I know that that was the effect of the language which I held. I would only ask him to remember that sometimes one forgets that the representative of a great department with which one is quarrelling is an individual for whom one has the utmost respect and affection. I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept my apologies for anything which I have said, and my thanks for the way in which he has acted.
I want to express my admiration for the right hon. Gentleman in the way he guided the Bill through Committee, but I must confess to disappointment at the gyrations and the rapid interchanges which have taken place today. The right hon. Gentleman started, at an early stage this afternoon, with great firmness and determination to resist the extension of the reasons for recommittal. In exactly the same way, at about 5 o'clock this evening, he started by firmly resisting the speeches of the Noble Lord. After a couple of hours of oratory he has entirely changed his attitude. It rather looks as though the only way to get concessions from the right hon. Gentleman is to be uncivil, personally abusive and extremely offensive. The speeches made by the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends and supporters have been most critical. The right hon. Gentleman said quite firmly at the beginning of his speech that he did not mean to make a concession. Then apparently—I say "apparently"—he completely climbed down. I use the word "apparently" because we do not know, and the Committee have not been taken into the right hon. Gentleman's confidence, nor have the Noble Lords who have been pressing him so hard, what form the concessions are to take.
Everybody has admitted that there are hard cases among persons who are interested in the results of slum clearance, but it is well to remember that no houses are confiscated except they be unfit for human habitation, and that, secondly, the argument that both Amendments propose to put the whole cost of the compensation upon local authority has not been met. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon (Dr. Addison) is right in pointing out that if the burden is made too heavy on local authorities, the tendency will be to hold up slum clearance. The right hon. Gentleman has a responsibility to the Committee, to the local authorities, to the persons most concerned, and also to those who want slums cleared, to make clear what will be the effect of the rather vague concession at which he has hinted in order to conciliate opposition at this critical moment, and whether the money is to be found out of the taxes or out of the rates.
I would point out to the Committee that the case made out by the Mover and supporters of the Amendment was that you could and should distinguish between the owner-occupier and other owners of condemned property. Every speech has been made on that basis, and very few hon. Members have argued about general compensation. That aspect of the matter has not been put before the Committee. The case that the owner-occupier had a special claim to compensation was very eloquently stated by the Mover of the Amendment. The extraordinary thing is that the Minister should say, not that he intends to meet that special claim, but that he is going to increase compensation for everyowner—or that he may increase it. He is to consider increasing the compensation to every owner of condemned property who has kept the property in fair repair. Even more amazing than that is the fact that the supporters of the Amendment appear to be entirely satisfied with that situation. That makes it appear that their anxiety was really not for the owner-occupier who, I admit—
The Minister has indicated that on the Report stage he is going to reconsider Sub-section (2, b), which gives to the owner of property that has been condemned for human habitation, but which has been well maintained, one and a-half times the rateable value of the house. He says he is going to reconsider thatpayment—in an upward direction, of course—and all I am pointing out is that the Minister, as he has announced, is going to make a general concession to all owners.
It is not for me to decide a point of Order. What I do is to give an undertaking as regards paragraph (b) that I will take into consideration this question and arrange for such an increase in the measure of compensation under the Clause to meet the case put to me by my hon. Friends.
May I suggest, in order that we may understand the position, that it is necessary or desirable that the Minister should state whether the proposed Amendment we are to consider will be limited to the owner-occupier class affected by this Clause or to those generally affected by the Clause, because the case which we have been arguing for the past two hours is that of the owner-occupier.
May I ask you, Captain Bourne, whether it is in order for the Minister to say that he will take this matter into consideration at a later stage if the argument hitherto indicates that this is the last occasion on which the question of finance relating to rates can be dealt with? If my contention on that point is correct, may we have your view, or the Minister's view through you, as to how he is going to cope with that difficulty?
When the Minister, under cover of dealing with a special case, proposes, as far as one can gather, to give increased compensation to every case that exists throughout the country, and when all this compensation will come out of rates and not out of taxation, it does not appear to me that he has met those who support the Amendment. The compensation will be a hundred times greater than if the only cases to receive compensation were those of owner-occupiers. I am certain that local authorities throughout the country will strongly oppose indication which the. Minister has given that he proposes to make a general increase of the compensation already to be paid to owners of slum property.
There are two reasons why I wish to take part in the Debate. I happen to be a Member of the Committee who proposed to amend paragraph (5). Though I have no vested interest in property, I have a vested interest in the Amendment. I rejoice at the Minister proposing to do as he has indicated. The idea that this is going to hinder slum clearance is a great delusion. There is no reason why it should be a hindrance because town councils are not going to take the responsibility of robbing people. It is no good for the hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. G. Strauss) to shake his head. The London County Council has too many crimes on its head on this score. The Minister has told us he is going to do something. The right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) has said that that is no good, and another place, as far as I know, cannot do it. Therefore we have to be quite sure where we are. I am not trying to take any advantage of the Minister. I do not remember any Minister in charge of a Bill upstairs conducting the business with greater courtesy and ability, and I am not seeking to add to his difficulties. I think his handling of the Bill upstairs is entitled to every praise. On three occasion she was, unfortunately, absent through illness. His handling of the business was able, sympathetic and considerate, but he, as a wise man, having regard to the strong views expressed, is properly anxious to meet a case of substance.
We are in difficulties as to the procedure of this House. We have learned a great deal to-day. [Interruption.] Yes, and most hon. Members opposite did not know what the rules were until that discussion. I know I did not, and I know they did not. I am very anxious that we should not get into such circumstances that the Minister is debarred by the Rules of this House from doing what he wishes. My sole object is to facilitate his doing what he wishes. My point is that a Motion to recommit can be taken at any stage in the Bill, and when we reach the Amendments on Clause 61 it will then be competent for the Minister to move to recommit the Bill in respect of that Clause. If that be the case, our difficulties are at an end. As to the method which the Minister can take to give effect to the promise given to-night, when he gave it he was not thinking of House of Commons procedure; he was thinking of the Bill, and it is only as a result of the discussion that some of us have become concerned as to whether it is possible for him to do what, in principle, he desires to do, and I wonder, Captain Bourne, whether I am going beyond what I might reasonably ask. Mr. Speaker would then be in the Chair. Nevertheless, I respect your very great knowledge of procedure, and I wonder whether you would think that it was going beyond the bounds of what was proper to indicate whether it is possible under our procedure to have a second recommittal of a Bill during the Report stage, because if your answer is that that is possible what is worrying many of us will be at an end.
I think I am seized with the right hon. Gentleman's point. Of course, what might happen on the Report stage he will quite appreciate is not a matter on which I can answer. It is a matter for Mr. Speaker. As far as the Committee stage is concerned, we are bound by the Resolution whether the Bill is committed for the first time or recommitted subsequently, and whether any given Amendment might or might not come within the terms of that Resolution is obviously a matter on which I can express no opinion until I have had an opportunity of considering both the Resolution and the terms of the Amendment.
In asking leave to withdraw the Amendment, which I moved earlier in the evening, I should like to thank Members in all parts of the House for the support given to it. It has made it perfectly clear to the Minister that there is an extremely strong feeling in all quarters of the House that the occupier-owner deserves special treatment, and I am very happy to leave it in the Minister's hands to produce a solution.
I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."
I do so in order that the Minister may inform the Committee as to whether or not he would not save time by reporting Progress at this moment, so that be can make up his mind by to-morrow what should be the new proposal which he thinks he ought to make to the Committee. That would save the trouble of a further recommittal and perhaps many hours of debate on some subsequent day. At least in the Minister's own interest, if he really wants to make progress with his Bill, he would do well to sacrifice 50 minutes of time, for in the process he may save many hours. To-morrow morning he could come along with his financial proposal, which could be embodied in the Bill. I ask the right hon. Gentleman in all humility whether he does not think that it would serve his purpose and the purpose of his recalcitrant supporters, who have abused him so much during the evening, if he tried to make up his mind between now and to-morrow what he intends to do rather than continue the debate now.
I hope that I shall always be prepared to meet the general convenience of the House on such a question, but I can hardly think that the hon. Gentleman's Motion is necessary.
I should like to ask the Minister to give us some definite information. After all, all of us who live in areas where there are slum properties are very anxious about this thing and the discussion that arose on the Amendment of the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman)and the new Clause of the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) was on a definite point. They concerned only those owners who were occupiers, but the statement made by the Minister leaves us all wondering whom he proposes to compensate. He was asked to compensate only those who were owner-occupiers, but presumably his intention is to compensate everybody in the slum area. Would it not be possible for him to ease our minds on that point and to give a specific answer as to what his intention is in regard to the people he proposes to compensate? Could not he say to us now if that is his intention: "I am willing to accept the Amendments that were moved, and my intention is to put in some words that would give compensation only to those owners who are owner-occupiers." If it be his intention to widen the wholes cope of the compensation Clause which we are discussing and to increase compensation to all owners of what is really slum property, I think that we ought to know it now.
I must remind the hon. Member that we are now on a Motion to report Progress, and we must not go into the merits of any proposal which the Minister may be about to make. The argument that we ought to report Progress in order that hon. Members may receive information by having an Amendment put on the Paper is permissible.
Will not our attitude be determined by the information which we ask the Minister to give us? I want to know just how far the Minister is intending to go. If he will not give an answer to that, I cannot compel him to, but he ought to give us some indication of the extent of the compensation he proposes.
I wish to support the Motion. This is not the first time to-day that the House has been in a difficulty, and I think it would have been helpful if either the Prime Minister or the Lord President of the Council had been here. It will be within the recollection of hon. Members that a Motion to report Progress has often been moved in order to secure the presence of the Prime Minister. We have done the best that we could to allow the Minister of Health to carry on his work, but, after a most unfortunate incident this afternoon, whereby the right hon. Gentleman has lowered the prestige of the House of Commons, we are now faced with a new situation. As I understand it, if the right hon. Gentleman is to implement the undertaking he has given to increase the public charge, it may mean another recommital of a re-committed Bill; and if he now does two in a day, we may have later on re-committals ad infinitum.
But my most serious point is this: At 10 minutes past seven to-night we began the discussion of this Bill. We have not yet reached the real Report stage. We have discussed two Amendments, and on one of them the right hon. Gentleman has landed himself in another trouble. I should like to know where the Government stand now in regard to the time given to the Report stage and Third Reading of the Bill. Some time ago, when I moved the adjournment of the Debate, I asked for an undertaking about further time. The Government have again wasted further time. The Committee now is in no mood to discuss the next very long new Clause of the right hon. Gentleman, which runs into hundreds, if not thousands, of words, and I should hope he will agree with this Motion to report Progress in order that he may clear his mind on the matter and be prepared to come to the House to-morrow and tell us what the intentions of the Government are with regard to the time that is to be left for the remaining stages of the Bill.
It is now 19 minutes past 10, though it is true that we have suspended the Eleven o'Clock Rule. We have a short day to-morrow. We have about 30 pages of Amendments. We have achieved nothing to-day yet. I should hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree to report Progress and come down to the House to-morrow morning with some statement as to the amount of time the Government are prepared to give to the remainder of the discussion on the Bill. If he will not do that to-morrow, I hope he may do it to-night. After all, this proposal was put to him four hours ago. No doubt he has had time to consult—indeed he is consulting the Chief Whip now, and I have no doubt he has had many consultations with him this evening, in view of the difficulties into which the Government have fallen. Perhaps he might be able to tell us to-night how far he proposes to go, what additional time he proposes to give the House, and what additional compensation he is prepared to give the House over and above the time that has been wasted to-day owing to the Government's own mishandling of the problem. In the interests of the House it would be to the good if the right hon. Gentleman would agree to adjourn the Debate now and to report Progress and come to the House to-morrow morning with a reasonable programme of time to be given to the rest of the Report stage and for the full discussion of the Billon the Third Reading. I hope that hon. Members on all sides of the House will agree with the perfectly reasonable suggestion that we should now adjourn in order that the right hon. Gentleman may collect his very scattered thoughts.
The Government ought to accept the Motion to report Progress. The Minister of Health rightly said that the happenings in the earlier part of the day had no connection with what had taken place in the discussion of Clause 61. With that statement I am largely in agreement with the right hon. Gentleman, but what happened in the early part of the day ought to convince this House that a second mistake of a similar character ought not to be made. The right hon. Gentleman got up some time ago and accepted the suggestion which had been thrown out to him with regard to compensation under Clause 61. As one who sat for 19 out of the 20 days on the Committee, I agree with the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) that the right hon. Gentleman met the Committee courteously on every possible Amendment which came before him. But it would have been much better, when things were being thrashed out in the Committee and when sound reasons were being given both for and against the various Amendments, if the Minister of Health had had the courage to accept them on their merits and not have to capitulate as he has done tonight. As one who never really understood the vocabulary of Noble Lords until this evening, I believe that they have at least given some of us a lesson in tactics of how to extract concessions from Ministers on the Report stage. Taken as a whole the Government would be wise to report Progress and come back to-morrow and tell us what the position is.
From one angle the Minister has a right to our sympathy. He has sat there to-day in very painful circumstances. He has been called upon to give decisions on various parts of our discussion and he has not had the help of any Member sitting on the Government Front Bench. We have not had the honour of seeing the Leader of the House in his place, nor have we seen the Prime Minister. I remember very vividly that four or five years ago it used to be a common practice to move to report Progress about three times a week when certain hon. Gentlemen who sit on the opposite side of the House used to play what I am almost tempted to describe in pit language because the Leader of the House was not present. We have been treated with scant courtesy this afternoon. We have been told that we have to humanise our discussions, and we have had references to characters from Dickens. But the House has not been treated with the courtesy it deserves owing to the fact that the Leader of the House has not been present and no Law Officer of the Crown has been prepared to assist the right hon. Gentleman. Here we are between 10 and 11 o'clock with the Minister not knowing clearly what his intentions are on Clause 61, when he and the Patronage Secretary are in doubt whether they are going to make another mistake or not, and one of the Law Officers of the Crown sits smiling instead of coming to the Box and trying to assist the Committee. On the whole, it would be for the benefit of the House if we cleared off this day's proceedings, if those responsible for drafting, and the Patronage Secretary, began to think out what is to be the procedure on the Bill, and they came back to-morrow and told the House frankly and fearlessly what the position is, and also told us that we are going to have adequate time for the discussion of the Bill. In the interests of good government the Government ought to accept the Motion. Let us get away to-night and start afresh tomorrow.
I cannot help feeling that what the Committee most desires is that we should clear the way in order to return to the consideration of the Bill. I am sure the Committee will agree with me that really there is no reason why we should not begin consideration of the next Amendment. Let us make quite sure that what has occurred to-day will not result in any undue pressure upon the House or limitation of the time at its disposal for the consideration of this very important Measure. I am not going into the question of the responsibility for what I will call the lapse of time in the early hours of to-day's sitting. Undoubtedly a good deal of time has been devoted to the discussion of most interesting side issues not bearing on the merits of the Bill. If we were to adhere to our original time-table that would result in a restriction of the time available to the House for the discussion of the Bill. However, let me repeat the assurance that I gave to the right hon. Gentleman earlier in the day that if it proves as the proceedings of the House continue, to-day, to-morrow and Monday that there is any need for an extra day—there has really only been half a day available to-day; we have only spent about half the day on the discussion of the Bill—an extra day will be at the disposal of the House in order to enable us to give that full consideration to this Measure which it deserves. With that assurance I hope the Committee will desire to proceed with the consideration of the Bill, and that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to withdraw his Motion to report progress.
The situation to-day reminds me of the situation that often used to crop up in the pits when I worked there. There were days when every thing seemed to go wrong. No matter what you did you could not do anything right. It strikes me that that has been the situation in the House to-day, particularly so far as the Minister is concerned. He has had a bad day. In the pit when we had nearly come to the end of our difficulties, the men used to say: "It is too late now to make a good day of it." I think that is the situation which applies at this moment in the House. I do not remember a day like to-day in all the years that I have been a Member of Parliament. It has been confusion from one end of the day to the other. Someone suggested that we should send for the Prime Minister. I am not sure that it would have helped very much; he is not very adept at ridding the atmosphere of confusion. Perhaps it is now too late to ask for the Leader of the House, but I think it would be wise to adjourn now so that the Leader of the House can be made acquainted with what has happened, his advice taken, and we can then tackle the Bill in real earnest to-morrow. The record of the Minister of Health on this business is amazing. In the beginning of it all he said that you do not pay a butcher for selling bad meat.
I was not going to discuss the Clause. I was only going to relate it to what happened when the Minister went down to the conference and immediately altered what he had previously proposed to do on the question of compensation because the conference turned him down. In the Committee upstairs several things were decided, but because two of his own supporters bring forward something against the Minister he accepts it, and then to create further confusion says that he is not going to accept other Amendments because he has changed his mind again during the evening. To-day has been the worst day we have ever had in Committee. In face of a record like that are we asking too much in asking that the Committee should now adjourn? I expect that the Patronage Secretary will have a lot to say to the Minister about this business. I do not want to rub salt into the wounds; I will leave them to settle their own quarrels, but I hope the Patronage Secretary will use his influence with the Minister to let us go home now and start afresh tomorrow.
I should like the Patronage Secretary to make it clear whether we are to understand that the Government are willing to give one further day for the discussion on this Bill. If the answer is in the affirmative and the Minister of Health will say how far he intends to proceed this evening we will withdraw the Motion to report Progress. The Motion was made in all sincerity and with a desire to help the Minister. He may have made a mistake in not accepting it and perhaps may lose many hours subsequently.