It is very desirable that we should not part with this Clause even for the time being—I suppose that later on someone will come along with another Clause 46—without discussion but that we should discuss the Clause, in order to make up our minds about it. Clause 45 has gone overboard; Clause 46 is, of course, related to Clause 45, and whatever form Clause 45 may take presumably there will be something in the nature of another Clause 46. We ought to consider very seriously the nature of what is in Clause 46. It is probably the most extraordinary provision ever introduced into any Bill. It says that compensation is not to be related to the person, to his circumstances and to the amount of loss incurred, but to something quite different. It is like rewriting the Ten Commandments. I remember an interesting speech made by one of the hon. Members for Sheffield when we were discussing the Betting and Lotteries Bill, in which he used the analogy of the Ten Commandments. Hon. Members who were in that Committee will remember it. In this case, Subsection (1, a) roughly boils down to this: "Thou shalt not steal, except from a man who happens to own a hereditament of a rateable value of more than £100 in the Metropolitan Police District, or the City of London, or, in the case of a property elsewhere, £75; Thou shalt not murder anybody, whose hereditament is less than £100 in rateable value in the City of London or, in the case of a property elsewhere, £75." I miss out the Seventh Commandment because I do not quite see its adaptability but I could go on in each case showing that the Ten Commandments did not apply to offences committed against men who happen to be worth more than £100 in the Metropolitan Police District or the City of London, or more than £75 elsewhere. That is the most extraordinary proposal that has ever been put before what is supposed to be an intelligent assembly.
If I had a property anywhere that was worth 100 carrots or loaves of bread, or any other form of currency except that which is recognised by His Majesty's Government, and if it were taken from me, I should get 100 carrots or 100 loaves of bread for it, but under Clause 46 I should get 100 pieces of paper which were less in value than 100 pieces of similar paper were when I bought the property and would buy fewer carrots. I say carrots, because the Bill is intended for donkeys.
The right hon. Gentleman was not quite right in saying that Clause 45 has been withdrawn. It was negatived. Clause 46 may be discussed on its merits, but that discussion should certainly have regard to the fact that Clause 45 has disappeared from the Bill. It is true, as he has reminded me, that Clause 46 still refers to Clause 45 but the hon. Gentleman who is addressing the Committee ought to have in mind the fact that Clause 45 is not now in the Bill.
In pursuance of that point of Order, I should like to ask your guidance, Major Milner, on this point. It seems to be clear that, on the discussion of this Clause, reference to the provisions of the previous Clause is not in Order; yet reference to the relationship of this Clause to the previous Clause, or to its absence, must be in Order. Consequently, I think it is in Order, on this point of Order, to raise a question about Amendments to a Clause with which the Government do not intend to proceed. I should like to ask for your guidance, in order to avoid anything like a false precedent being created, and it is on the point whether or not all Amendments pat down to a Clause become out of Order as soon as it is clear that the Government do not intend to ask the House to pass that Clause. If not, we are in some danger that it may appear to follow, from our procedure to-day and last Friday, that when it suits the Government's convenience the Chair naturally omits to call any Amendments to the whole Clause.
It might be better if I gave an answer to the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn). It would not be in Order to discuss now our proceedings on Friday. I understand that the hon. Gentleman addressed himself to the question that no Amendment had been called on Clause 46. Selection of Amendments is in the hands of the Chair, and those Amendments have been considered. Having regard to the fact that Clause 45 has been deleted, it would not have been proper to have submitted those Amendments which deal with the Bill when it included Clause 45 to the Committee, and for that reason I have not called any of them.
May I ask the guidance of the Chair on another and cognate matter? Suppose these three Clauses are all negatived—45, 46 and 47—and that at a subsequent stage new Clauses are sought to be inserted in the Bill and the Bill is recommitted: will the fact that we are now discussing these matters prejudice our right to discuss them when the Bill is recommitted?
You said a moment ago, Major Milner, that you were in the hands of the Committee with regard to Clause 46 standing part of the Bill. I should like to submit to you, as a point of Order, that you are not in the hands of the Committee on that matter and that, in view of the fact that Clause 45 has been negatived, and that Clause 46 as it stands now does not make sense, it should be—I respectfully submit to the Chair—the duty of the Chair to prevent a discussion taking place—[HON. MEMBERS: "No"]—upon a Bill which, in view of the omission of the previous Clause, does not make sense.
I appreciate the point made by the hon. Member, but I must point out that it is not within my power to do what he suggests. I can select Amendments but I cannot prevent the question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," coming before the Committee, and it is a matter for the Committee now to take note of the hon. Member's views and if they think fit to act accordingly.
On a point of Order. Further to the points which have already been made, and to your own expressed hope, Major Milner, that the Committee might have thought fit to deal with these Clauses as a formal matter, I would point out that the country knows very well that these Clauses are going to be withdrawn, and that it does no good to the House of Commons that it should seem to the people outside to be engaged in wasting its time.
Perhaps the Committee will now allow me to resume my perfectly orderly speech. The points of Order are rather interesting. I was amazed at the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) that the Government should withdraw the Clause. The Government have no power to Withdraw the Clause.
On that point of Order. I want to support what my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne) has said. The marginal note to Clause 45 states:
Assessment of compensation in connection with acquisition of land,
and so on. Clause 46 has a marginal note which says:
Additional sum to be paid to occupiers of certain land whose compensation is assessed in accordance with preceding Section.
How can the Committee be asked to discuss and decide upon what compensation shall ultimately be paid, when that compensation is based upon a Clause already deleted from the Bill?
I would like to remind the Committee that the Bill which we are now discussing is for the acquisition of land for town planning purposes. That necessarily means that there must be some basis upon which the land will be acquired; that is inherent in the Bill. Clause 46, which we are now considering, deals with variations from that basis in particular circumstances, and whether Clause 45 has gone or not, Clause 46 is bound to make sense, as it deals with variations on a basis which must be in the Bill.
The hon. and learned Member who raised the last point put his finger on the essential point, which is that Clause 46 has its merits or demerits, irrespective of what later may replace Clause 45. To say that this matter is in the hands of the Committee is not true. It is only in the hands of the Committee if somebody moves the Closure, and so long as my remarks are in Order I am entitled to speak. The suggestion that you, Major Milner, should suppress the discussion and take a vote is, of course, an indication of the Fascist mentality.
Hon. Members are anxious that we should get on with the discussion, but they have already wasted a quarter of an hour on points of Order, most of which were invalid. They ought to read Erskine-May before they raise points of Order. Let us look as this matter again. The hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. M. Hughes) has pointed out that Clause 46 deals with additions which are to be made to compensation, whatever they may be. Clause 45 having gone overboard, we do not know what the basis of compensation is to be, but Clause 46 deals with additions, and certain principles under which those additions are to be made, and it is important that we should discuss them in order that when the War Cabinet have settled
their row inside, and come to some conclusion, they may know precisely what our view is with regard to these additional matters. If hon. Members will take the trouble to look at Sub-section (2) they will see the words:
Where the interest is an interest in such land as is mentioned in paragraph (a) of the preceding Sub-section"—
that, is the preceding Sub-section of Clause 46—
the additional sum recoverable as aforesaid shall be a sum equal to the prescribed percentage of so much of the compensation as is ascertained by reference to the value of the interest.
May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman? When he has the good intention of raising the salary of somebody employed in some business with which he is connected, does he inquire what the salary is?
I do not see what that has to do with the point, and I do not understand why hon. Members should want to cease to be Parliamentarians and think that they have to bow the knee to the Government Front Bench. Hon. Members will see that the rate of interest is something that is to be prescribed, and not as laid down by the Lands Clauses Act, as the Attorney-General has said. We have in relation to Clause 46 to consider Clause 47 where it states that the rate of interest shall, in lieu of being five per cent., be prescribed by the Treasury. Then we come back to Sub-section (2). These matters are worth considering and this impatience of hon. Members is not conducive to good legislation.
We are going to have a rate of interest prescribed by the Treasury. We have only one example of a rate of interest being prescribed by the Treasury. True, it is prescribed by Act of Parliament, but in the War Damage Act, where you cannot get cash at once, the sum to which you are entitled has interest added to it, at the rate of 2½ per cent, per annum, though we know that in mortgage payments the interest is 4½ or 5½ per cent. There are people to-day who are building up claims for interest which are considerably larger than the interest which is being added to their value payments. We come back to exactly the same thing in this Bill, where people are not going to have a rate of interest equal to what they are paying either to insurance companies, building societies or to holders of mortgages, and which is less than the rate of interest represented in many cases where they own the building and somebody else owns the land underneath, and people are building up a vast debt under the War Damage Act.
Do let me develop the subject. I know hon. Members opposite are angry because they do not like to listen to what I am saying, but that is no reason for objecting. When you get questions such as the amount of cornpensation—and that comes into the question of the percentage of interest with regard to compensation—it is surely obviously right that we should draw attention to them, because, whatever happens inside the Cabinet with regard to these matters, we have still to make the final decision. We are not a subordinate body. We are a sovereign power. It is true that the Cabinet is a part of us, but it is not all of us; and it is not our master. Going on to examine Sub-section (4) of Clause 46, in which there is, again, a reference to the prescribed percentage, I would remind my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stafford (Major Thorneycroft) that it says:
such percentage as may be determined by the Treasury and prescribed by order made by them as appropiate for the purposes of the operation of this Section. …
Here you have a body of people, not Parliament, saying what people are to get—not us, the elected representatives of the people, but a body of people in Whitehall writing out orders prescribing what compensation people are to get. Yet hon. and right hon. Members object to the discussion of this vitally important thing which is going to give effect, not by Act of Parliament, but by delegated legislation, to compensation affecting
scores of people. I think a great deal of time could have been saved if hon. Members had read Clause 46 before they came here. Then we get Sub-section (5). Again:
The Treasury may make an order for the purposes of the last preceding Sub-section as respects such periods falling within the five years beginning with the commencement of this Act (whether before or after the making of the order) as appear to them to be appropriate. …
It is bound to be the case that when the Government come back with their new compensation Clause, there will still be something in the nature of Clause 46. Surely, it is important that we should incorporate in Clause 46 sensible provisions, and not leave them all to be made into law by officials sitting in Whitehall. It it perfectly true that these orders will, no doubt, come before Parliament later on, but where orders do not come before Parliament they cannot be amended. We can only say "Yes" or "No" to them. With positive orders the Government have to move affirmative resolutions and, alternatively, if orders are laid on the Table it still remains the fact that we can only say "We do not like the order." We cannot amend it.
It is of the utmost importance that these things should be dealt with in the Act far more precisely than is at present intended, and I hope hon. Members—who I now observe are listening because they realise this is not an obstructive speech, but one dealing with matters of substance—will devote some thought to this, and indicate to the Government how these matters ought to be dealt with. Then, a little later in the definitions in Sub-section (8), we find the words:
rateable value on the appropriate day'"—
A nice phrase. I am not surprised the Government are proposing to negative this Clause. It goes on:
shall be construed in accordance with the provisions in that behalf of Section seven of the Rent and Mortgage Interest Restrictions Act, 1939, with the substitution for the reference in Sub-section (2) thereof to the county court of a reference to the court in which the sum in question is sought to be recovered under Subsection (1) of this Section.
I hope the Noble Lady opposite, who is so anxious to get on with it, really understands what all that means.
Well, of course, we all have our own interpretation of good manners and I will leave it at that.
These words about the "rateable value on the appropriate day," which I have read out, I, frankly, do not understand. It is obvious that whatever settlement is arrived at with regard to what I will call the fundamental basis of compensation, there will be a number of exceptional cases outside that fundamental basis. For that reason, it is of the utmost importance that the Committee should indicate to the Government the nature of that exceptional compensation. Naturally, the precise details will vary according to the terms of the new Clause 45, but there are features of this Clause which call for careful consideration. There is the reference to Clause 47—I must not go beyond the reference—which has a very important bearing. There is the question of the extent to which the compensation is not to be decided by the Statute Book directly, but indirectly through the authority conferred upon the Treasury, and I hope that when this Clause has been negatived, and when it is re-presented in some different form, it will be more precise and will contain a rate of interest which is more appropriate to the circumstances of those who have interest in land, whether as owners, payers of ground rent or as lessees. The normal rate of interest in these matters is not 2½ per cent., but 4½ or 5 per cent. as everyone knows, and unless that is taken into account great injustice is going to be inflicted, and not only on a few rich people.
They are not the people concerned. There is a poor old lady in my constituency—[Interruption]—Yes, I know there are no feelings of compassion about other people's constituents—who owned eight houses. She lived in one of them. Flying bombs demolished the lot. She has lost her home, and her income, and is now dependent on the Assistance Board, because no payment is to be made at once in respect of the complete wiping out of her income. These are the people I am concerned about and in my constituency —the most bombed constituency in Britain —I have hundreds of people in this position. I am entitled to fight for them, and I am going to fight for them.
I hope the Committee will not think I am trying to truncate a useful discussion or to interfere with the rights and privileges of hon. Members, but I do make an appeal to them to get on with the Committee stage of this Bill. I am very anxious, if I can, to take advantage of the two suggestions which my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) made, in our preceedings on Friday. Therefore, at this stage, I do not want to say anything at all about merits, but I hope the Committee will decide to go on, and enable us to finish this Committee stage.
I am as anxious as anyone that progress should be made with this Bill and to respond to the Minister's appeal, but I wish, when he was at the Box just now, he had said that he would pay some attention to the case of injustice cited by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams). There cases will remain unless the Government undertake to reconsider Clause 46 as well as Clause 45. I particularly ask for an undertaking that my right hon. Friend will pay attention to the fact that the power of regulation given to the Treasury in this case is a very unusual power, a kind of power about which the House of Commons has been anxious. To meet the case where an individual has been unfairly treated, there should be included in the new Clause 46, the right of appeal.
I should like to draw the attention of the Committee to the terms of the Clause itself which, apparently, the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) has not read. He talks glibly enough about people not having read different Clauses, and he addressed the Committee on this Clause, as to the setting out of a rate of interest by the Treasury.
The hon. Member talked about Clause 46 giving the Treasury power to appoint a rate of interest, but in reference thereto, he, in fact, read Sub-section (2) and blamed an hon. Member opposite for not having read it. What does Clause 46, in fact, do? It establishes a right for a person in occupation of a house or agricultural land to get a higher price than the 1939 level. I cannot refer to discussions on previous Clauses of the Bill, but I would remind the Committee that instances of this have been quoted in reference to previous Clauses when they should, in fact, have been referred to under Clause 46. There is no one more anxious than hon. Members on these Benches to see that those who have been deprived of homes should get homes, but arguments which have been produced in relation to the 1939 standard are, I suggest, completely irrelevant. Clause 46 makes a proper distinction between the persons who have lost their homes and require to get other homes, and those who have been deprived of an investment.
As far as those who invested money are concerned, they have been amply and sufficiently warned from the first days of the interim Report of the Uthwatt Committee that the purchase of property is attended with the risk that it may be acquired, at any time thereafter, at the 1939 price. [An HON. MEMBER: "Value."]I accept the word "value." I am not arguing now whether it was a ceiling or a basis. All those who have property as an investment have been told. That, I submit to the Committee, should remain, and there should be put upon it, as Clause 46 suggests, and as we on these Benches approve, a provision to enable those who have lost their homes to get proper compensation that will enable them to get other homes. What Clause 46 does, in short, is to say that, above the 1939 figure, there shall be assessed an additional percentage, that additional percentage to be worked out in relation to the economic conditions of the moment when it is paid.
I cannot understand the scorn poured by the hon. Member for South Croydon upon the fact that we establish two first-class checks in relation to the kind of percentage that is to be put on. First we get the Treasury to work out exactly how much more, in point of cash, above the 1939 price we should give to somebody who has been deprived of a home and who wants a home. I can imagine no Government Department more competent to work it out than the Treasury. That is not the only check. That additional percentage does not become effective until a resolution has been affirmatively passed by this House. There is a proper way of assessing proper compensation for those who want homes. The compensation is properly checked and arrived at. In my submission to the Committee, the principles of Clause 46, without arguing all its exact terms or methods, ought to be retained in any method of compensation in regard to the acquisition of land.
I have been very impressed by the observations of the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hughes), because he has made no distinction between the various types of property which may be dealt with under this Clause. Clause 45 has gone, and rightly so, because it depended upon a dishonest principle. I am speaking at the moment on behalf of many of my constituents who have had their homes, which have a greater assessment value than £75, destroyed. If it is right to give special consideration to a man who has had his house, assessed at £75, destroyed, surely it must be right that a man who has had his house, assessed at £750, destroyed is just as much entitled to this kind of consideration with which Clause 46 deals. Therefore I hope the Committee, in fairness to the Government, will decide that Clauses 46 and 47, as well as Clause 45, should be taken back for reconsideration, so that we can, at least, give justice to everybody, and not merely justice to one particular class.
I was particularly interested in your statement, Major Milner, at the opening of the proceedings of the Committee, that on Friday we had actually negatived Clause 45, because I was under the impression, probably quite wrongly, that the Government had withdrawn Clause 45. I understood from the speech of the Prime Minister that what was happening on Friday was that Clause 45 was being withdrawn, and that that would apply to Clauses 46 and 47, in order to give the Government an opportunity of readjusting their differences.
Thank you, Major Milner. That is precisely the point to which I shall address my remarks, because some very interesting conclusions follow from a technical difference between the withdrawal and the negativing of a Clause. We have now, I understand, negatived Clause 45, and for reasons which we all understand, hon. Members opposite are not anxious to re-discuss it to-day. All the general arguments advanced by the Prime Minister are equally appropriate to Clauses 46 and 47. If I may say so, they would be as much out of Order to-day, as they were on Friday, and as much in Order to-day as they were on Friday. We are now asked by the Government to negative Clause 46. We shall be asked to negative Clause 47. If these three Clauses are taken out of the Bill, we want to understand what is to follow. The Committee is not clear about what is to follow. We heard from the Deputy Prime Minister before the resumption of the Committee stage to-day a few ambiguous phrases about what was going to happen. What is the intention of the Government? Is it a firm intention that before the end of the Session these compensation Clauses of the Bill shall be re-inserted, and the Committee given another opportunity of considering them, as indeed they must; or is it intended that after the Clauses have been dropped, we shall proceed with the other stages and other parts of the Bill, and leave it to another Bill to deal with compensation.
Let us be clear which of these two procedures we are to follow? I understand, that is conditional upon agreement within the Cabinet—agreement between whom? Obviously, not between the two sides of the Government because the Labour side has unfortunately already surrendered the main position. I will try to show, if I may, how they have done so. If these three Clauses are negatived and the Bill is recommitted, as indeed it must be, I understand that in such Circumstances the same Clauses cannot be put back in the Bill. They will have to be different Clauses. The Chairman shakes his head. I may be wrong, but we should have guidance on this matter, because I understand that if a Bill is recommitted, the House is then allowed to discuss, not all the Bill over again, but only those parts of the Bill concerning which recommittal has in fact taken place.
I am sorry to persist, but with all due respect I think you will find, Major Milner, there is some difficulty on this matter. I think we should be quite clear what we are doing. It will be very nice if the leaders of the Government come here later and say, "We cannot do this in the course of the same Bill—there are technical difficulties. Although we intended to do it, unfortunately we cannot do it. We shall have to bring in a new Bill, and compensation will have to be discussed separately from town planning and redevelopment." That is exactly what certain sinister interests on the other side of the Committee want. What happened last Friday was that the Prime Minister—not, I understand, under pressure—came out as an enthusiastic volunteer in defence of land racketeering. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nonsense."]It is no use saying "Nonsense." He made a lie of his broadcast of last March.
—now bringing pressure to bear on the Prime Minister to rat on his broadcast of last March. Last March the Prime Minister made a pledge over the radio. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hughes) has pointed out, it was only one of a series of pledges made since 1939. What were these pledges? They were that improvements in value, that additions to land values and property values during the war, should not be exploited by speculators in order to get larger sums of compensation from the State. Was not that so?
Since 1941, when the Uthwatt Committee presented its interim Report, as they were asked to do by the Government, in those days when the nation was having to put up with the blitz, and it was therefore necessary to sustain morale by telling Tory lies—in those days the Government said to the Uthwatt Committee, "So urgent is this matter of the appreciation of land values that we ask you to give us your guidance by way of an interim Report." We had that Report, and that advice was to proceed at not higher than 1939 values.
There were several conditions in the Uthwatt Report, but the main principle was accepted on behalf of the Government by the Lord Privy Seal in another place, and was continually repeated. But there was on this side of the House grave suspicion of the intentions of the Tory Party; so suspicious had we become, that last March the Prime Minister made a broadcast on behalf of the Government—
That has nothing to do with the stand taken by the Government. Unfortunately, I cannot argue the merits of this matter. All I can do is to argue the reasons why we should or should not negative Clause 46. Last March, as I was saying, the Prime Minister took it upon himself to make a broadcast. I was looking at the terms of that broadcast last night. What did he say? He said that land was to be treated as special property, that it was to be treated differently from other forms of property and that compensation for land needed for town planning would be paid on 1939 values.
That is what everybody understood, and the Prime Minister would not have made his broadcast had it not been for that purpose. Now we are considering a Bill for town planning, and the same Prime Minister said on Friday that national unity was being impaired. By what? Anything from this side? All we were doing was insisting that the Government should honour the promise which had been made. There was no disturbance of national unity from this side — [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"]—although the Prime Minister did his best, like the good, national leader he is, to create as much mischief as he could by references to members of the Cabinet. That was the contribution made by the Prime Minister to national unity—to violate the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility by awarding prizes within the Cabinet, in public. But there was no disunity on this side, or any danger of the Government being broken up by any difference. We were standing for what we had been standing for all the time, and for what the Government, and the Tory Party in particular, had been standing for up to now. Now we are asked to withdraw these Clauses, in order that the Conservative Party may separate the compensation Clauses from this Bill. Once a Bill dealing with the rebuilding of our blitzed cities has gone through the House of Commons, the impression can be given that immediate attention can be given to their claims—
Hon. Members on this side have had experience of what hon. Members on the other side are capable of doing, when they are defending their bank balances. They reduce Parliament to a farce, and do everything they possibly can to save their swag and their friends' swag. They are asking the Committee to postpone the compensation Clauses now in order to give leisure and opportunity to the land racketeers to get their hands into the public purse—
I am not exempting any individual Member from the charge. The position ought to be made clear to the country, and it is not being made clear now. The Prime Minister enjoys, and in some respects deservedly enjoys, high prestige in the country as a whole, and it is, therefore, singularly unfortunate that that reputation should have been tarnished for such squalid ends, as was done last Friday. It is indeed the harbinger of what we may expect. It is unfortunate, to say the least, that that reputation, built up in most difficult years and sanctified to a large extent by sufferers among our population, should be capitalised and exploited on behalf of the most selfish interests in Great Britain.
It would be interesting to follow the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) in the first of his new series of election speeches, but I ask the Committee seriously to consider what we are doing. I must say to my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) that he made two mistakes. The first was when he said that we did not like hearing him. That is wrong. The Committee always looks forward to hearing him. My hon. Friend's second mistake was in thinking Members rose to points of Order merely because they had not read the Bill. I want to say that all the arguments we have heard to-day, apart from some of those just uttered, are bound to come up again when the new compensation Clauses come forward. I suggest, therefore, that we are wasting time in view of the fact that we shall have to have the discussion all over again.
I was referring to my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster, and whether I am to call him my Friend or refer to him only as "the hon. Gentleman," it is quite clear that last Friday we rejected Clause 45. We did it on the definite understanding that we were to have substitute Clauses, differently framed and worded. I am prepared to negative Clause 46, which I think is unfortunate and cumbersome, in the hope of getting a better one, but I do so on the definite understanding that before the end of the Session the new Clauses will be introduced. I agree with much of what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) about the principle of the values. I think it would be a pity to depart from them. I think we ought to give the Government another chance of showing that they can do better.