I beg to move, in page 12, line 39, to leave out from "damage," to "then," in line 40.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for New Forest (Major Mills) raised a question on Second Reading of which I would remind hon. Members. He asked whether powers would be taken to base contributions on some up-to-date assessment, and called attention to the fact that many properties have changed hands since 3rd September, 1939, which is the basic date for war damage contribution, and that Schedule A assessments have been altered in consequence, in some cases upwards, and in some cases downwards. The Attorney-General, in reply, said it would be quite wrong if the contribution went up and down according to the fluctuations of valuation during the war because they were capital contributions in respect of the property at risk during the war period. Now the effect of Subsection (2) of Section 30 of the Act is to raise the contribution where a higher Schedule A assessment is made by reason of an alteration in the condition of the land through improving it, or building upon it or, as far as may be seen from the wording of the Section, through any cause at all, which, I presume, covers, for example, the natural growth of trees and shrubs and the prolonged or repeated efforts of a gardener, or a house painter. Therefore, in spite of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said about the evil of contributions going up and down during the war, here we have cases where they go up.
I come now to paragraph 10 of the First Schedule of the present Bill. Here it is recognised that where the condition of the land has altered otherwise than through war damage—and I make no complaint about the words "otherwise than through war damage" and—these are the words which I propose to leave out—"by the destruction or demolition of buildings or works or parts thereof," and a new and lower Schedule A assessment is made, that new assessment may form the basis of War Damage Contribution as from this year. So now we have cases also in which the contributions go down. They appear to be a class rather more restricted than the class in which contributions go up. The purpose of my Amendment is to remove that restriction and admit of a lower Schedule A assessment being obtained and hence a lower contribution charged when the condition of the property has deteriorated through any cause other than war damage. That would appear to be fair and equitable. I cannot see the justification for differentiating between properties which are improved through any cause and properties which deteriorate through any cause. I cannot see why if property owners always pay more for improvements they should only sometimes pay less for the reverse, and indeed, the reverse is very often beyond their control.
I will give the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the House one actual example, which, I believe, is typical of many. One out of a row of houses, exactly the same, except for the colour of the paint, was let for profit in 1939–40. The Schedule A assessment and the war damage contribution were doubled. Subsequently the letting terminates and the Schedule A assessment reverts to normal, that is, to the same as for each house in the row, but the War Damage Contribution remains at the doubled figure and it will continue to do so unless this House alters the Act, or unless the owner takes advantage of this Clause and notes the words which the Attorney-General used in explaining it. He said, on the Committee stage, that it was designed to cover cases in which the actual physical configuration of the structure had been altered by fire, demolition or some other cause since the outbreak of war. It must be very far from the intention of the House that householders in the sort of predicament which I have outlined should bring their minds to bear on what may be done under this provision to secure a reduction in contribution. I can foresee a whole series of most undignified actions being resorted to by frustrated and bewildered householders up and down the country. How much better it would be to obtain a new assessment and quietly and reasonably to proffer it, claiming an alteration in the condition of the property through natural depreciation, for example, in order to secure a reduction to an appropriate, normal and justifiable War Damage Contribution. I hope my right hon. Friend will give sympathetic consideration to this Amendment. I will ask leave to withdraw it, if he can suggest some more suitable means of righting this particular piece of injustice and removing the general anomaly which exists under the principal Act at present and as amended hitherto by this Bill.