I beg to move, in page 5, line 22, to leave out from "interest" to "that" in line 24.
The point is a very short one. Under the Clause as drafted it appears that the Commission has power to take away the legal rights of some of the parties who are interested in a property because other parties who are interested in it have certain views. That appears to be a highly unjust provision. There is no means of any appeal, as far as I can see, from the decision of the Commission nor any provision for a hearing of the parties interested.
I think one's view of the Amendment depends to a considerable extent on one's view of the Commission and the possibility of its exercising fairly and equitably the powers entrusted to it under the Bill. Obviously the Bill proceeds on the basis that the Commission can be so trusted. This deals with a case in which the appropriate payment would, apart from this provision, be payment of cost of works and those concerned desire that, instead of that being done, they should get a money payment. The Subsection provides, first of all, that that may happen if it is the wish of the owners of the proprietary interest and of any mortgagee. If the Subsection stopped there, of course the power would only be exercised if there was unanimity. The words that the hon. Member wants to leave out are put in so as to prevent some individual, possibly a tenant low down in the scale, or someone who has a very small proprietary interest, having a nuisance value given to him by the fact that he could obstruct what others who ought to have their wishes carried out want to have done. It is unreasonable that a small proprietary interest should be able to prevent substantial interests having their views carried out. As my hon. Friend pointed out this is a case prima facie where people are entitled to say "cost of works," and it would only be in exceptional circumstances, in a case where the Commission were satisfied that an injustice would be done, that they would exercise their powers under these words. I think that there would be greater evils if the Amendment were carried and if a man were given a nuisance value and were able to say that he would only agree if he were given a percentage of the value payment. That would be highly undesirable, and it is better that the Commission should have the power to deal with that class of objector.
Perhaps I did not make clear what is clear if one studies the words. "Those persons" in the words proposed to be left out mean either owners or mortgagees. They do not bring in any new class. The only effect of the words proposed to be left out is to prevent the necessity of unanimity among all those interested in the property.
It depends on the emphasis which is put on the words "those persons". With a certain emphasis a lot of other persons who are not mentioned might be brought in. I suggest, therefore, that the provision should be made clear so that it cannot be read in a way which is not intended. If it is limited to the people mentioned by the Attorney-General, well and good, but it should be looked at again to see that there is no ambiguity.
I beg to move, in page 5, line 22, after "persons" to insert
(including any local authority having power to control the development of, or means of access to and from, the hereditament).
In this part of the Bill the onus is put on the Commission to consult certain persons, and I want to know whether "persons" will include local authorities. It may be said that a local authority is not the owner of a property or a mortgagee, but this House has placed on local authorities certain obligations with regard to property, and I want to know whether it will be possible for them, in the execution of their duty under town planning or ribbon development, to have an opportunity of appearing and expressing their views.
The hon. Gentleman is probably moving the Amendment on behalf of the County Councils' Association. I have the authority of the Association of Municipal Corporations, which represents some 15,000,000 people, to say that they support it. They hope that it will be accepted, and they regard it as essential that the local authorities should be consulted.
I will, in the course of the proceedings, provide that the local authorities shall be able to make representations direct to the Commission, and that the Commission should, in certain cases, consult the local authorities. By that means, the local authorities will have full opportunity of putting their case before the Commission. That is the proper way to do it, as, I think, the deputation from the corporations agreed. It would not be right for the local authorities to make representations to the Treasury, because the Treasury would have to consult the respective Departments, and it is to those Departments that the local authorities should make their representations. In that way, I think my hon. Friend will obtain what he desires. Before an Order is made, or any steps are taken under this provision, the local authorities will be enabled, under a new Clause which I or one of my hon. Friends will move, to provide for safeguards which I have just mentioned.
I beg to move, in page 5, line 39, to leave out "war damage to," and to insert "the value of."
Here we are dealing with a case which would normally be a value case but in which the Commission is empowered to make a cost-of-works payment, if it seems to be expedient, in relation to damage to another house. For example, it might be wiser to make a cost-of-works payment if, as a result, you save a party wall, and when, if you had made a value payment, the next house might have been put at some risk. We want to make it clear that the Commission may make a cost-of-works payment where the rebuilding of damaged property, not worth while in itself, is worth doing in relation to another property.
I beg to move, in page 5, line 40, at the end, to add:
(c) in any case in which a local authority is the owner of a proprietary interest in land which has sustained war damage, the Commission shall make in respect of the damage either a payment of cost of works or a value payment as the local authority in their absolute discretion may request.
The decision as to the method of payment is left to the Commission, but the local authorities think that in their case the decision should be left with them, because of their local knowledge. Local authorities may have a damaged building which is required for a certain purpose, and it may be possible that the Commission would not be conversant with the type of building required. Consequently, we are asking that the local authority should have the right to say what type of building should be put up.
I am in the exalted position of being an alderman of a county council, but that is no reason why I should support a proposal to give to a local authority discretion to say in what way they should be compensated. I think that there is a lot to be said for extending this Amendment to every person and not only to a county council.
As the Committee knows, I have been seeking solutions, but this can scarcely be one of the proposals for solving the difficulty. It would indeed be a happy state of affairs if people could decide for themselves whether they should be given a value payment or a cost of works payment. Certainly this Amendment is distinguished by its audacity. Apart from that I cannot commend it to the Committee.
In view of the fact that the Amendment does not seem to receive much support, I do not know that it is much use on this occasion to try and get much further with it. For all that, it has great merits. If a building is damaged it is left to the discretion of the Commission to say whether a value payment or a cost of repairs payment is to be made, but the local authority may find that they are compelled to repair the building which they would prefer to put up in a different manner, and that if they had a value payment they could utilise it for the purpose of replacing the building in a more suitable and modern form. However, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
This Clause provides machinery whereby the Commission may in their own discretion, if certain conditions are fulfilled, give a cost of works payment instead of a value payment. Having regard to the long discussion, it occurred to me that the Chancellor might consider whether, in cases where a substantial injustice would be done by the payment of a value payment, the Commission should have discretion to give a cost of works payment. It is a small contribution to the problem which we all have in mind.
On the Motion "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," may I say a word on Sub-section (1, a). This Clause is the basis on which the Commission can decide whether a cost of works or a value payment is appropriate. That is clearly of great importance to the Bill as a whole and I want to ask my right hon. Friend if he is satisfied that the drafting of this particular paragraph is perfectly clear and without doubt. I am concerned particularly with the words in lines 5, 6 and 7 in which, I am told by lawyers who have experience in these matters, there is a possible opening for doubt as to the interpre- tation of the word "clear." The Commission has to ascertain for the purpose of their decision the value of the site cleared of any buildings or works and with the damage so far as it affects the site not made good. The use of the word "clear" in a Bill in which the idea of clearance of sites so often occurs does I think cause some little difficulty, and I am assuming that the meaning of these words is that the Commission are to think of the site as being clear of any encumbrance of any kind and base their valuation on that assumption. But they are also instructed to remember that the damage, so far as it affects the site, has not been made good. Here again I believe there is some doubt as to what exactly is meant by damage so far as the site is concerned.
I would suggest to my hon. Friend that as this is a matter which is of interest only to the draftsmen a good deal of time could be saved if he would come to me privately.
I wish to raise a point with reference to Sub-section (2, a) in regard to which I think an assurance from the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be of great assistance. Several of my hon. Friends have put down an Amendment on this point which has not been called, and, while it may not be possible to have any such words in the Bill, I think it is of very great importance that it should be made clear authoritatively that, where it is provided that a decision as to the site not being rebuilt upon has to be made by the Commission, the town planning authority should in all cases be one of the parties whose views have to be taken into account by the Commission.
The Chancellor cut short my hon. Friend opposite in his speech, and it is all right if we are really going to have an opportunity later of elucidating matters which are very intricate and which we cannot at the moment understand and which, with the good-will of the House, we are glossing over at this stage. If we are to have an opportunity of rectifying these matters on the Report stage, we shall of course accept the right hon. Gentleman's point of view, but he must understand that the point put by my hon. Friend opposite is one which with the best will in the world we cannot understand at the present moment. We are only concerned, and I believe the Chancellor himself is concerned, with obtaining a fair deal for the generality of householders, and as long as the Chancellor will give us every opportunity of doing that at every stage we are quite prepared to be cut short in our arguments just now.
I would like to make it perfectly clear that I interrupted my right hon. Friend only because he was raising a drafting point. We have already given many hours to the principles of my hon. Friend's Amendment, and we have explained that in effect, to the best of our knowledge and advice, the matter has been carried out, and may I be forgiven if I say that he ought to accept that undertaking and allow us to proceed?