(1) Compensation for the compulsory purchase of an interest in land by a government department or a local or public authority within the meaning of the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act, 1919, compensation to be estimated in connection with such a purchase for damage sustained by reason of the severing of land the subject thereof from other land held therewith or otherwise injuriously affecting such other land, and compensation under section sixty-eight of the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, 1845, in respect of land injuriously affected by the execution of works on land acquired by such a department or authority, shall, except in the case of compensation assessed on the basis specified in rule (5) of the rules set out in section two of the said Act, be assessed subject to the rule following, that is to say—
The value of any interest in land purchased pursuant to a notice to treat served at any time within the period of five years from the commencement of this Act, the amount of any damage sustained by reason of severance or other injurious affection compensation for which is to be estimated in connection with a purchase of an interest in land pursuant to such a notice, and the amount of any damage sustained by reason of other land being injuriously affected by the execution of works which either is sustained or the amount of which falls to be ascertained at any time within that period, shall be ascertained by reference to prices current at the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and thirty- nine, on the assumption that the interest had at that date been subsisting as it was in fact subsisting at the time of service of the notice to treat, and that the land in which the interest subsisted, and any such other land,
had been at that date in the state in which it in fact was at the time of service of the notice to treat.
(2) The rule set out in the preceding subsection shall, in its application to tenancies, to land capable of being redeveloped in combination with other land and to dwelling-houses to which the Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Acts, 1920 to 1923, apply, have effect subject to the provisions of the Schedule (Application of rule as to assessment of compensation) to this Act.
(3) Compensation for disturbance shall not in any case be assessed at any greater amount than that at which it would have fallen to be assessed if this section had not been enacted.—[The Chancellor of the Exchequer.]
I propose to call the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster)—in line 13, leave out "five," and insert "two"—and to suggest that the Committee should discuss at the same time, the next Amendment on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin)—in line 13, leave out from "time," to the second "of," and insert:
before the expiration of the period of five years from the date appointed in pursuance of subsection (1) of section one.
I beg to move, in line 13, leave out "five," and insert "two."
My Amendment is a very brief but important one, and in support of it I wish to make three points. First I would say that the more I study this matter, the more I feel that this cannot be accepted as a fair Measure. Secondly, I cannot accept it as the best Measure which is practicable. I fully recognise the immense difficulties of finding a satisfactory Measure, and no one would he more ready than I to acknowledge that a very great attempt has been made to devise a fair Measure. I still believe, however, that a better Measure could be devised if more time were given, and if this very thorny subject could be studied in a judicial rather than in a political atmosphere. I believe that it would be possible to devise a Measure which would give better justice to individuals and be consistent with the public interest, and would command general support from the Committee.
My third point is that I believe the plan, as it stands, will, in practice, fail to achieve its object. The result as I see it will be to create a standard of prices applicable to properties which are acquired by the public authorities which is likely to be extremely different from the standard of prices at which properties will be bought and sold in the market during the operation of this Bill. We have to look forward to five years, probably to 1950, and I do not believe that the position created by this Bill can be maintained as long as that. In those circumstances, all experience goes to prove that the local authorities will shrink from exercising their powers, and this Bill, if my appreciation is correct, may really kill planning. Having those feelings, I venture to suggest that it would be very wise to ensure a review of the provisions after a much shorter period than five years. What I am saying assumes, of course, that the plan will go through as proposed by the Government. I, myself, have tried to suggest an alternative, embodied in an Amendment which is on the Order Paper. I hope to be allowed later to argue in favour of that alternative; therefore I will not refer to it now. I would say this, however, that even if the alternative which I shall propose were adopted, I should still think that the whole subject ought to be brought under review after a comparatively short period. I believe that within two years we may have something like a normal market, and I think we should give ourselves a chance of approaching the matter again.
I had hoped that it would have been possible to have had a separate discussion on the Amendment in my name, and I hope it will still be possible for the Committee to arrive at a separate decision on it. As I understood the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) he considers the compensation Clauses bad, and suggests, therefore, that the period of this badness should be reduced from five years to two. We, on this side of the Committee, do not accept his view. We think that while the compensation Clauses go further than we would have wished, yet in substance they do justice to all sections of the community, including those who are going to pay, as well as the property-owners. May I, in passing, refer to one statement made by my hon. Friend? He said that local authorities will shrink from exercising these powers because, presumably, they think they are unjust to property owners. I am in a position to know what the local authorities really think, and I can assure him at once that they think that these provisions are, if anything, too generous to the property-owners, and not that they are ungenerous. Therefore, they will certainly not shrink from exercising these powers for fear of doing an injustice to the property-owners.
I wish next to deal with the Amendment in my name and the names of several of my hon. Friends on this point to which reference has already been made. In the Bill as originally presented to the House, the period in which local authorities were to have the benefit of expedited procedure was five years from the commencement of the Act. The period in which local authorities were to have the benefit of acquiring land in accordance with the provisions of the Bill, was also five years from the commencement of the Act. In both cases the period terminated at the same time. Representations were made on that point on the Second Reading, and strong representations were also made by local authorities who pointed out that to date the operation of the Bill, on both these counts, from the period of the commencement of the Act, was to give an uncertain effective period. A portion of the five years will, unfortunately, be taken up by the war and it will be some time before local authorities can actually begin to function. Therefore, there was no effective period of five years. I thought the Minister saw the force of that, because he introduced an Amendment to Clause 1, under which the period of five years was to date from an appointed day to be fixed after consultation with the local authorities.
It now appears that this period of five years from the appointed day will apply only to the expedited procedure, and that, so far as the compensation Clauses are concerned, the five years will still run from the commencement of the Act, if the Clauses are accepted as they are. I think that is unfortunate, unfair and impracticable. If the Clauses remain as they are local authorities will not get an effective period of five years in which to carry out their acquisition under the terms of this Bill. In the first place, quite obviously, nothing can be done until the appointed day, and I would ask the Com- mittee to remember that the appointed day is the day when the Minister is of opinion that the operation of this Measure can begin. Until then, little can be done. I will not pretend that no acquisition can take place—of course, some can—but the main purposes of this Bill cannot begin to be carried out until the appointed day. I submit that when that day is fixed, in view of the lengthy procedure which is required under this Bill, it will be at least one year before local authorities will be in a position to give notice to treat. If I may venture a guess—and it is only a guess—it may well be a year before the appointed day is fixed. Therefore, the effective period during which the main body of acquisitions can take place will be three years, and not five.
What is the position during these three years? The Chancellor of the Exchequer recently explained, and with great force, I admit, that there would be no effective market in land during the next five years. I would go further and say that there will be no effective market for at least five years from the appointed day. We have to visualise what will be the state of affairs during this five years. We shall probably still be at war with Japan at the appointed day, and for some uncertain period afterwards. War production will be going on in different parts of the country, and this will affect the value of land. There will be gradual demobilisation, and there will be a great shortage of accommodation. It is obvious that, in certain cases, exceptionally high prices will be demanded and obtained for property. During that period of five years from the appointed day there will be no real effective and normal market. Therefore, it would be right that the period of special compensation provisions should be five years from the appointed day, in the same way as for the expedited procedure.
Supposing this period remains, as it is now in the Bill, local authorities will still be able to carry on expedited procedure under Clauses 1 and 2 and Clauses 9 and 10. They will still be expected to carry out a good deal of redevelopment of areas of extensive war damage, because the Minister has satisfied the Committee that in the large majority of cases, they will not be able to achieve it in less than five years. They will, therefore, still be under an obligation to carry out their redevelopment of such areas at the end of three or three-and-a-half years, when they will possibly have to pay inflated and abnormal prices for the land they require. That may deter local authorities from completing the redevelopment of areas of, extensive war damage. I do not suggest that this should weigh conclusively with the Committee, but I know that local authorities attach great importance to the period of five years for compensation provisions to run from the appointed day, as well as the expedited procedure. They were certainly under the impression that my right hon. Friend's Amendment to Clause 1, would also be applied to the compensation Clauses. I hope the Minister will see his way to accept the Amendment which stands in my name.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) for raising at an early stage to-day a subject which is of great interest to both sides of the Committee in the consideration of these Clauses. The Committee have just heard the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) express the view that five years from the passing of the Act would be too short a period in which to make adequate preparations for reconstruction. On the other hand, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall is of opinion that five years is too long and it will be no surprise if I suggest that the truth is to be found midway between these two extreme propositions, namely, that two years will be too short, and that the indefinite prolongation of this market which we are fixing by reference to 1939 prices, would be not in the public interest. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall for the judicial attitude in which he commended his Amendment, and advised the Committee to adopt, and also for enabling me to make a statement on this matter which, I think, will be of some help in clarifying this matter.
I have heard that some of my hon. Friends base their criticism of these Clauses upon a misconception of the permanence of their operation. It is thought that we are here effecting some change of a lasting character in the principles which govern compensation for the compulsory acquisition of land. Such is not the purpose of this Clause. This Parliament has no mandate to make permanent changes in the laws affecting property, but this Parliament is confronted with the duty of making preparations for the period of transition and reconstruction, which will immediately follow active fighting. In that period it will be necessary to acquire land for public purposes. The general law is that such land should be bought for current market value, but that criterion of value is not open to us, because current transactions are vitiated by all sorts of war considerations of a temporary and distorting character.
Therefore, in the interests of justice, we are driven back to the most recent free market for our guide as to what should be paid. When we have passed through the dislocated years it will be open to other Parliaments to make provisions for these as for many other things, guided by the will of the people; but situated as we are it is our duty to make the best temporary provision that we can, without binding any person or party as to the future—and who can bind Parliament?—to secure that local authorities and the public shall know where they stand, that they may have a working basis on which to carry out necessary plans of reconstruction without delay. This is the immediate practical task which confronts us. It is a duty arising from circumstances which are without precedent, and the discharge of that duty by the ad hoc method of these Clauses does not necessarily govern our legislation either way in later times.
To come specifically to my hon. Friend's Amendment, this Bill must be seen in its proper context in relation to the larger proposals governing the use of land which have been adumbrated by the Government in the White Paper on the control of land. The House has not yet had an opportunity of discussing those proposals, and I hope that an opportunity will arise early in the new Session, so that we may hear the views of hon. Members upon them, but it is clear that a period will be required for the discussion of such far-reaching proposals, and that the legislation to embody them will be of a long, contentious and difficult character. Therefore we ought, in order that the work of reconstruction may not be prejudiced and vitiated by doubt and uncertainty, to make provision for a period which is adequate to enable the whole question to be considered by Parliament and the necessary legislation, on a proper basis, passed through with the consent of hon. Members. I am hopeful about these things, I remain an optimist, but I think that to tie ourselves down to two years would be unduly to add to the uncertainties of the situation in which we find ourselves. Therefore, I say that five years is the right period.
May I say a word to my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), who spoke to the substance of his Amendment which is, indeed, inter-related with this question. His Amendment has the effect of making this period of five years for the temporary market control to run from the appointed day mentioned in Clause 1 instead of from the passing of the Act. I think my hon. Friend has in mind that by his Amendment, if it were accepted, he would prolong somewhat the period during which this standard would operate, but, in fact, it would not prolong the total period, but merely defer the date from which it starts. One of the difficulties of this problem is that the Clauses we are now considering affect not only purchases under this Bill but all purchases for a public purpose.
With respect, I do not think treat I have misunderstood the effect of the Amendment. The point I would put is that immediately on the passing of this Bill there will be public purchases of land, or there may be, for all sorts of purposes quite unconnected with this Bill—for purposes of housing, one of our most urgent public needs, or, it may be, for Service purposes. My right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. HoreBelisha) informed us the other day of an impending transaction in his own constituency which has nothing to do with this Bill. The disturbed market which is the sole justification, and the real justification, for these proposals does not begin at the appointed day, it is with us now, and therefore the best advice I can give the Committee is to let the matter stay as it is in the Bill. In other words I suggest that as soon as this Bill is passed this standard, which we believe to be more just than current market values at the present time, shall begin to operate for all public purposes. I ask the Committee not to accept the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall. It is true that we have to see how we get on. My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham made some very intelligent forecasts, if he will forgive my saying so, of what the conditions in the property market may be, but the wisest of us know that in that matter we are in the realm of conjecture. We do not know, and we had better see how we get on and act accordingly in the circumstances of the time. In other words, for the purposes of this Bill and for other public purchases of land which has to be acquired compulsorily I ask the Committee to provide me with an umbrella which is durable enough to last five years, because it is always open to Parliament to pull down the umbrella at any time if it stops raining.
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point may I invite his attention to two aspects of the matter? He has not referred to the gap which will occur between the period of operation of the powers and the period of operation of the compensation arrangements in relation to those powers. There will be a gap, because one period starts from the appointed day and the other period starts from the passing of the Act, and that gap may be long or short according to when the appointed day is fixed. Therefore, I think great administrative difficulties will be created by giving the local authorities powers for one period and compensation provisions for a shorter period. He dealt with the difficulties which he thought lie in the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), but, with all respect to my right hon. Friend's well-known legal knowledge, if he looks at the Amendment as it is drafted he will see that it is not true to say that it will begin to be effective immediately, because it will have regard to notices to treat served before the appointed day. Therefore, any notices served before the appointed day would, it seems to me, be covered by the Amendment, and I suggest that it would make for administrative tidiness, at any late, if his Amendment were accepted, so that the two periods run concurrently.
In order to save time I shall ask leave to withdraw my Amendment, but I should like to make a few observations. In the first place I should like to express my very great gratitude to my right hon. Friend for the statement which he has made. To my mind it was one of the best statements made from the Government front bench during the whole of the discussions upon this Bill. My own fears about this Measure are greatly diminished by the categoric statement that this is not regarded as setting a precedent, that it is an ad hoc Measure dealing with specially disturbed circumstances and the possibility of its review is contemplated. That exactly meets my point, and I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend. The only other thing I wish to say, to my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), who, I freely acknowledge, has a far greater knowledge of the operations and points of view of local authorities than I have, is that I should like to impress upon him that it was not at all in my mind to diminish the powers of local authorities to carry out planning schemes. I may be too pessimistic in my view of how this standard of values is likely to work in comparison with current values, and he may be right, but I saw a danger and I thought it would be wise to provide for a definite period of review before too long, but I fully support his idea that planning authorities should have ample power to carry out proper plans at the earliest opportunity and in the most effective way. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
I beg to move, in line 13, leave out from "time," to the second "of," and insert:
before the expiration of the period of five years from the date appointed in pursuance of subsection (1) of section one.
I do not think I need to say anything more than I have already said in support of this Amendment, except that I am by no means convinced by what my right hon. Friend has said: Therefore I move the Amendment formally.
I beg to move, in line 20, after "thirty-nine," insert:
increased by such sum as the Treasury shall determine to be equal to the amount by which having regard to the economic conditions affecting the interest in such land the value thereof has increased since that date.
On a point of Order. The Amendment follow-
ing this one and standing in the name of myself and some of my hon. Friends is very similar in character—in line 20, after "thirty-nine," insert:
(b) with the addition of such percentage of the value or amount so ascertained as may be determined by the Treasury and prescribed by order made by them if it shall appear to them that, having regard to circumstances arising since the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and thirty-nine, the prices current at that date are inadequate.
I should like to ask, Major Milner, whether it could be discussed at the same time.
On a point of Order. There is an Amendment on the Order Paper in my name and the name of my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) which deals with this matter—in line 29, at end, insert:
(3) If at any time any order is made under section eleven of the War Damage Act, 1943 (Power to increase amount of value payments) directing that the amount of value payments in any cases or classes of cases which would otherwise have been computed as provided by that Act, shall be increased by a sum equal to such proportion of the amount computed in accordance with that Act as may be specified in such order the Minister may by order direct that the compensation payable under this Act shall be in the like cases or classes of cases be increased by a sum equal to a like proportion of such compensation.
May I ask whether we should be in Order in discussing that Amendment at the same time as the Amendment which has just been moved?
The fact that my right hon. Friend the Minister has raised an umbrella so early in the proceedings, shows that he expects inclement weather. The fabric of which his apparatus was constructed may help to weather the worst elements of the storm, but, nevertheless, will leave a number of the victims very damp. The troubled waters will penetrate and prevail despite the oil which my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster), had so ready at hand. This is the last occasion on which we shall have an opportunity of examining the compensation code which is to prevail, as we have been told, not only for the purposes of this Bill, but for all compulsory acquisitions of property for five years after the commencement of this Act. It may be five years after the termination of the war with Germany. That is a long time ahead. We are fixing a compensation code and we are trying co-operatively—for that was the spirit in which the changes were offered—to devise the best and fairest attainable code. The code must, presumably, be based upon some principles which are understandable and defensible. The central principle on which the code is to be based is defined in this Clause, which was explained last week by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
He did not justify this Clause on the ground of expediency or upon the ground that any other Clause would cost too much, or that it was a compromise. He justified it on the basis that it was the best attainable Clause. He said:
It is a principle of our law, well-established and well-recognised, that when private property is taken compulsorily for a public purpose…fair compensation should be paid….
Fair compensation is usually interpreted, according to our practice, as compensation based upon the current market value…. I, myself, would unhesitatingly support that principle.
He maintained that there was no violation of that principle in this Clause. He said if there appeared to be a violation it was because Lex non cogit ad impossibilia, and there was no means of approximating more closely to market value than by
taking the 1939 standard. I will read the words:
The reason why the 1939 standard is being adopted"—
that is, rather than the market value standard—
here is that there is, in fact,…under the disturbed conditions of war, no firm basis of current value on which one can rely."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th October, 1944; Vol. 403; cc. 2565 and 2569.]
Therefore, we have this as the position of the Government. They accept that fair compensation should be paid in accordance with the traditional principle—the fair market value. They cannot, in this case, incorporate in the Bill the phrase "market value," or the legal phrase which represents that, because there is, in fact, no market value, and the last firm basis to which dealings could be related was that of 1939. That is the position of the Government. In the very next Clause they show the injustice of what they are doing. They say, "Ah, well, it would be a hardship to impose this upon certain classes of the population; therefore, we will raise them 30 per cent. above." I am going to appeal to my right hon. Friend, if he stands by his words, to accept this Amendment because this Amendment gives effect to what he himself said was a just basis. It suggests that we should insert, after 1939, words which would commit the purchasing authority to pay a price based on the 1939 value, modified by the changed economic conditions, that have intervened. That proposal was contained in the Clause which was withdrawn by the Government.
In making the concession to the rent-restricted owner-occupier, they said that they would increase the 1939 value by a prescribed percentage—not 30 per cent.—related to the economic conditions. That is the purport of my Amendment, and the first claim I make is that it carries out what my right hon. Friend said the Government desired to do. The second ground on which I justify it is this. These Clauses are based, or purport to be based, upon the Uthwatt Report. The Uthwatt Report recommended in the interim report of the 25th April, 1941:
The Government should now announce, as a general principle, that the compensation ultimately payable in respect of public acquisition of land will not exceed sums based on the standard of pre-war value. By pre-war value we mean value at the 31st March, 1939.
There is no phrase there about prices current. It is value, and, in the Final Report, the committee stress again that:
We refer to a standard of value and not to prices.
Not to prices, and they examine a number of general qualifications which must prevail when you relate value to prices. First, there is the fact that the value of money may have changed, and they point out that when the War Compensation Act was introduced it contained the provision to relate the value payment to the prices current in accordance with the changed economic conditions. They say:
That the matter of the change in the value of money has been the subject of legislative treatment in the War Damage Act.
[An HON. MEMBER: "What page is that?"] Page 81. That was one of the considerations which they mentioned. Another consideration which they mention, as affecting the economic conditions, is that the acceptance of the March, 1939, standard of value in respect of the purchases made by the purchasing authority implies that the surrounding land should also be assumed to have that value. In other words, if a powerful body, like a local authority, or the State, expropriates an individual at an artificial price—admittedly an artificial price—they should give that individual power to buy land at that price, and if they do not give him that power then they must relate the value to the changed economic conditions or the modifications in the money standard. It is obviously unfair to take away the site of a man's house at a price which does not permit him to buy land compulsorily at that price. That is one of the considerations mentioned here which would be covered by my Amendment.
They also mention that there may have been expenditure made between 1939, and the date of the notice to treat on roads or drains, or other amenities. It is true that, in a subsequent Clause, my right hon. Friend takes account of that, but only in so far as a Government Department has ordered the changes to be made for the purposes of the war. The money spent by the man of his own accord is left out of account. Another consideration is that there is a distinction between land and buildings. Obviously, when you are dealing with the site, there is no other standard but the 1939 which you can take. That is generally appreciated, and I do not think contested in any quarter of the Committee, but the cost of bricks and mortar is exactly assessable, and it is hardly justifiable to say to a man when the value of bricks and mortar to-day is very much more, "We are only going to give you those bricks and mortar and the labour content of your house as represented in 1939." There is clearly a distinction to be made between such value and the cost of building. These, roughly, are the economic considerations to which I beg the Government to have regard when they expropriate the private citizen's property.
It is a pity to confuse this issue by speaking of great landlords and laud speculators. There are Amendments on the Paper to deal with the speculator. From every part of the Committee come requests that this abuse should be penalised. That can be done. But you are not dealing with great landlords; you are dealing with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of small people, who have houses which they either occupy or let. They are the people on whom you will rely to remedy your housing shortage. What encouragement will you give them if you say that at any moment within five years they may be expropriated, or if you say to them, this is the principle upon which the Government of Britain proceeds: "We wish you to build houses; we wish you to invest your money in house property because it is useful to the community, but at any moment you may be penalised"? My right hon. Friend said—and other hon. Members behind me have said—" Why should you give a privilege to the investor in house property?" You are not giving him a privilege. You are penalising him. You are dealing here, not with the fall in value of investments generally, or of one kind of investment as compared with another. You are not even dealing with planning. You are dealing with compulsory acquisition, and I ask the Government in which other case do they take property and fail to compensate at a fair value?
Recently—and I would like to have the attention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor—a firm was taken over by the Government—Short Bros.—and this was the announcement to the House." The price to be paid for the shares is to be fixed as between a willing buyer and a willing seller." In other words, on market value. Here is a firm against whom it was alleged that they were not manufacturing in the best interests of the State, that they were inefficient. I do not justify it—I know nothing about it—but what I am maintaining is that you are discriminating against investment in houses, shops and factories. To these people who were alleged to be inefficient, you nevertheless gave the fair market price for those shares. When you sequestrate American holdings because it is not in British interests that private investors should have them, you pay the market value. When you take a man's lorry you pay the market value. I say that here you are discriminating against one particular kind of investment, and it is the kind of investment most useful to the State.
There are many bulwarks of liberty in the modern State. There is equality of every one before the law. Under our Constitution there are many bulwarks of liberty, but the firmest assurance of independence is the ownership of a plot of land. It is that at which a man is entitled to aim. He has always been protected in that right. When he has acquired it, he is beholden to no man. That is the kind of ownership against which you are discriminating. I would like to say to the Government that if it be a fact, as was stated by my right hon. Friend, that the only reason why they cannot insert the market value as between a willing buyer and a willing seller in this Bill is because there is no standard, then let them adjust the value to present prices by taking account of the economic conditions.
That is my request to the Government. I cannot see on what moral or logical grounds it can be resisted and I beg them to consider it. Although it would not necessarily follow that this course would commend itself to the Government, if this Amendment or some similar words were accepted and all the other Clauses on the Paper were deleted you would have a simple code of compensation, which would enunciate clearly the principle that has always formed part of our law, that when you take property you pay for it at a fair market value. That is all that we are asking. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said last week on behalf of the Labour Party that they had made enough concessions and that they did not want to accept any more. There is a clear issue. Is it, in fact, a concession to pay a man for his property? I do not think it is, but unless hon. Members behind me have the motive to injure private property in some way they ought not to seek to incorporate a provision of this kind in a Planning Bill, because it can only have the effect of making planning unpopular at a time when we wish to give it encouragement. If there is intransigeance of spirit in this matter and if it is insisted that we must not press for justice for these people because the Labour Party would leave the Government we must take that into account, but I do not believe it can be so. The purpose of the Committee stage is to argue the matter on its merits and if it can be shown, as I think it can, that property-owning is diffused and that you will be putting a selective tax on a minority of people in order to pay for your planning in any given area and that that would have very serious social effects and be an obstruction to housing they ought to agree to the acceptance of this Amendment. If they do not agree let us have the reasons why. [Interruption.] It applies to a small number of people in any given area at any given time, in other words, you are putting the cost of planning on that section of the community, which, at any given moment, is displaced.
The difference between these two Amendments is very small. The first would mean that more adjustments would have to be made at more frequent intervals, whereas under the Amendment put down by my hon. Friends and myself the Treasury would make Orders from time to time. I support the right hon. Gentleman in his Amendment and in the arguments that he has brought forward. If these compensation Clauses go through unamended, they are going to create grave injustice. There is no question of that, and it is the duty of the Committee to see whether this injustice can be avoided. We cannot relieve ourselves of the responsibility and, afterwards when our constituents come to us and say "Look at what has happened in the case of my house," say, "I was a Member of Parliament and I happened to be a Member of the Com- mittee but it was too complicated for me to examine and I trusted my right hon. Friend."
There are two different types of owner—the one who lives in his house and the one who lets it. I can see no possible argument why one of those two classes should receive inadequate compensation. I do not see how we can discriminate between them. If Mr. Smith owns two houses worth £600 each before the war, and lives in one and it is acquired he will get £600 plus 30 per cent. which will mean about £800. For the other he will get only £600. Yet the houses are identical in every way. I cannot see that there is any justification for that. I admire the Chancellor of the Exchequer immensely but I do not think he can convince the Committee on that point. A house may be assessed for Estate Duties at 1944 values one day, and the next day it may be acquired by the town planning authority at 1939 prices. That is an immense difference. I have consulted one or two experts to find out how prices were likely to vary, and they told me by as much as 40 per cent. That is not fair. We should not pass Bills which bring about injustice. It is going to discourage building and it is certainly going to discourage ownership in bricks and mortar. These people will feel they have been singled out for penal taxation and for specially harsh and stringent terms and it means saying "Goodbye" to the principle of fair compensation. We have always said in the past that what the State wants it has a right to acquire. That is in the national interest. But it is not in the national interest that the public should not be paid fair compensation. This is one of the first occasions on which we are going to tell the country that we are departing from the principle of fair compensation. That is a very serious matter indeed. For that reason I shall certainly support the Amendment, and I hope the Committee will have the courage to stand up for what we believe is right and just.
We have had a very passionate and eloquent appeal from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) for justice, and one cannot make such an appeal without being certain of a sympathetic hearing. Listening to him, one would almost believe that these Clauses amounted to confiscation and that people were going to be robbed of their property by the State without paying for it. The Minister, on a previous Amendment, said that there was a case for dealing with the problem as a whole, either on the lines of the Uthwatt Report or on the basis of the White Paper, and he suggested that we ought to wait for a new Parliament and that this House of Commons had no authority to deal with the larger issue.
What I said was quite different. I hope that this Parliament will deal with the issue of compensation and betterment as foreshadawed in the White Paper, but I said we were not here to make permanent alterations in the law of compensation for land compusorily acquired.
In other words we shall have to wait for the next Parliament for a permanent change in the law of compensation. But I do not accept the argument that the 1939 price as interpreted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer is unfair. He is right. There is no real genuine market at the present time for property in the country. I should like to take my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport to the East End of London, where whole districts have been wiped out. You cannot trace where streets were. No ordinary person in those circumstances would buy the land—no one but the speculator buying at knock-out prices in order to sell it when the local authority comes to re-plan the district. The value of the land then will have been brought about by replanning—by the action of Parliament. Without planning, the value of this property will not be 1939 prices but knockout prices. I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made a fair case for retaining the principle of 1939 prices.
that has amazed me in all these discussions is the passionate feeling for the rights of persons who have invested their money in property. Hon. Members entirely forget the effects of the war. Owners of property are not an isolated class of people who have suffered from the war.
There are hundreds and thousands of people who have been conscripted by the State; they have been forced into the Army, and as business men, as manufacturers and as small shopkeepers they have seen their life's savings "go West." They are the real sufferers from the war. As the result of the war, there must inevitably be cases of hardship. It will be impossible to compensate those to whom I have referred. They will never have their losses made good to them. What Parliament is suggesting is that owners of property shall, at any rate, get a deal on some basis of justice. It may not be satisfactory to them and to all hon. Members, but we have found some basis, and they will get a reasonable figure for their rights.
I would like to refer to another section of the community. In the East End of London—it may not apply to Devonport—it is customary to have, not long leases, but weekly agreements. That applies to shopkeepers as well as to householders. For many years now their occupation has been protected by the Rents Restriction Acts. Many of them are coming back to find their homes and shops wiped out, and it is almost impossible to trace where they were. Under the Town Planning Act these districts are to be replanned and the owners of the property are to get 1939 prices, but the tenants are to get nothing at all. They will get no compensation. Nobody sheds a tear for them. The owners will be compensated and will be able to rebuild elsewhere and charge whatever rent they like. I do not wish to make a pathetic case, but if we are to appeal to public sympathy and say that people ought not to suffer as a result of the war, the people who live in these houses will have an equal claim to public sympathy.
Is it not a fact that if a person is turned out, the local authority—because there will be little building done by private enterprise—will provide him with a better house than he had before at no greater rent?
That is a delusion. The local authority will not be able to provide him with a house of the same character as he hitherto occupied. If we are going for abstract justice and say that no one is to lose a penny because of the war, the ordinary weekly tenants of houses have an equal claim with the owners of the houses. It would he impossible to devise legislation to cover them. That being so, I think that we are being reasonable in all the circumstances in giving the 1939 price as a basis of compensation to the owners. It has to be re- membered that the local authority is faced with a terrific responsibility and an enormous figure for compensation even at 1939 prices. If on top of that we suggest that we should pay the market price at the time of the redevelopment, the local authority will not know what their scheme will cost. But this proposal is a compromise. If we are to save the Bill there must be a compromise on some basis, and I and my hon. Friends are prepared to support the Government.
The effect of the Amendment moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) and of the other Amendments which we are considering at the same time is to remove the distinction between the owner-occupier and the owner-investor. I will confine my remarks to that question. It is a matter of great regret to me that I cannot agree with one word which fell from the lips of the right hon. Gentleman. It is a matter of even greater regret to record the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has recently rocketed out of the ranks of the Liberal Party, swept past the united front of the Tory Reform Committee without even calling there, and is now deeply embedded in the right wing of the Conservative Party. Indeed, he has even risen from that bed and is now attempting to lead the Conservative Party into the Lobbies this afternoon. My respect for my right hon. Friend is very profound, but I implore the Conservative Party to think well whether they should he so led on this occasion.
The negotiations between the parties and the Government's search for a compromise solution on this question of compensation in a sincere attempt to forward the Bill and avoid a breakdown has resulted in a new discrimination between the owner-investor and the owner-occupier. That is causing the whole Committee and the country a lot of heart-searching. An elaborate defence of this discrimination has been put up by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on financial and other grounds, but I have not yet hitherto seen an attempt made to take hold of this discrimination and enunciate it as a new principle. When in my student days in the laboratory I used to conduct experiments in qualitative analysis, I was taught to concentrate on the sub- stance precipitated and not to spend too much time on the chemical re-agents. That is the reason why I say what I am about to say. The Parliamentary reaction has precipitated a new political and social principle, and I think it important to look at it and see whether it is satisfactory and good. What is this new principle? It is the principle of most-favoured treatment to the owner-occupier. It is the principle of economic sanctions against the absentee landlord.
In my speech on the Second Reading I said that one of our guide-posts during the passage of this Measure on this question of compensation should be attachment to the place on the part of the individual and his family and local patriotism, and not the character of the residence or any particular income qualification. I also said that we ought to discriminate against the speculator and the in-and-out man. I will now go further and say it is politically necessary for the purposes of this Bill and for the smooth passage of future legislation on the subject of land to seize upon this 30 per cent. discrimination and apply it to the tenure of all land and to all transactions in fixed property. One reason why hon. Gentlemen will not accept the different treatment as between owner-occupier and owner-investor is that it does not apply generally. It applies in "blitz" and "blighted" areas only. That is quite natural since this is a Town and Country Planning Bill which deals with blitz and blight. Hon. Members say that there is no justice in paying different sums to owner-investors in the same class—to Mr. Jones £1,000, whose rented six-roomed house in Plymouth has been compulsorily acquired from him by the Plymouth City Council; and to Mr. Brown £1,300, whose rented six-roomed house on the outskirts of Plymouth has been sold by him to a friend. I entirely agree with that. I think we must do justice as between owner-investor and owner-investor throughout the country. I want hon. Gentlemen to accept the principle and resolve on its general application in future legislation. The remedy clearly is that Mr. Brown should pay a tax of £300 on the sale of his house. That immediately puts him in the same position as Mr. Jones, whose property is compulsorily acquired. Justice is thereby done as between owner-investor and owner-investor. I beg hon. Members on this side of the Committee to reflect on the fundamentals of the Conservative creed. In our greatest days we never sought to separate duty from enjoyment in the use of land. We never sought to withhold the one and to extract the other. In our insistence on the rights of property we did not foreswear the obligations that accompanied it.
It is now necessary in this era of dynamic economic democracy to restate our faith in economic terms. It is necessary to use an economic lever to re-establish a Conservative principle. It is necessary to proclaim to the people that those who live and work and have their being in one place, and whose thoughts and hopes are centred there, should be favoured above their fellows who draw the means of life from multifarious interests, returning no comparable service back td the source, and whose roots in consequence strike shallow in English soil. It is said that we are not doing justice to the owner-investor. My reply is that 1939 values are his measure of justice. It is the year when this great world revolution began. Since then men have been judged on tests of ability, courage and service and not on tests of wealth and interest. These tests have discovered many humble people fighting the flames in their homes and the homes of their neighbours. They have discovered others safely ensconced in hotels and houses far from the danger. If there is any reward for behaviour in this war—if there can be any reward—we have it here in this principle of 30 per cent, differentiation—1945 terms for those who have sacrificed and suffered, 1939 terms for those who have been absent in body and spirit from the towns and cities which it is the purpose of this Bill to rehabilitate.
I urge hon. Members on this side of the Committee to reject the Amendment, in the knowledge that the 30 per cent, differentiation is a spike in the coffin of absentee ownership which has, since the early days of the industrial revolution, brought untold harm on the social life of this country. I urge them to reject the Amendment because, by so doing they will see the beginning of the end of that power without responsibility which financial interest has brought to bear from without on town and city, and, indeed, village life, and which has led to the destruction of so many spiritual and moral values.
I hope the Noble Lord who has just spoken will forgive me if I come down to earth, and bring the discussion back to the Amendment, although we much enjoyed hearing his history of England. Unlike the Noble Lord, I speak as a poor man, and I consider that I have a better appreciation than he of how the Bill will affect the poor. I hope I shall not weary the Committee if I use a personal illustration. I have a house. It is the only bit of property that I possess. It is in Wandsworth, a borough which has suffered very substantial damage, but my house, although damaged and temporarily uninhabitable, is still standing. I am very glad that it does not happen to be in an area likely to be replanned. I have lived in that house for 14 or 15 years and it is my only home. I cannot help thinking of what might have happened to me and to my large family if I had been dealt with under the terms of the Bill. I am speaking as a man of very limited resources, like thousands of people who will be affected by the Bill. That house took about £2,000, every penny I had in the world, to buy—and a little bit more. What would happen to me, supposing the area should be redeveloped and I were given the 1939 price? I should have to rehouse myself somewhere else, but I cannot see that I could do it in comparable fashion under about £3,500. There must be thousands of people, if not tens of thousands, in a like situation, people whose resources are far less than mine. People in my position, poor though they are, can always raise a little money in one way or another, either from the bank or by a mortgage, but there are many people who cannot do so, and whose total resources in this respect are only £100 or £200.
The Noble Lord got up, with his highfalutin' talk and with those wonderful new principles which he has suddenly discovered, but I would remind him that this is a human problem and that the Bill is dealing with human beings, many poor human beings. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) said, the speculator can be dealt with in other Clauses, but this Clause has nothing to do with that point. The Noble Lord's distinction between the owner-occupier and the gentleman whom he so rudely referred to as an absentee, is much too narrow. Does the Noble Lord really think that every little shopkeeper who has made some money and invested it in house property because it gives him a slightly bigger return than if he put the money into Government stocks is not as deserving of the protection of the community as is the owner-occupier? Since the dawn of history it has been a laudable and commendable thing for a man to wish to own his little bit of property, and I have little patience with hon. Members on either side of the Committee who are so devoted to the great god Plan that they never seem to think of the poor blighters who are being planned.
I have been listening to the Debate and, remembering what was said last week, I have been trying to recall what are the main objections to considering the owner-occupier and the investor-owner on the same footing. Apart from what was just said by the Noble Lord, I think there are three main objections. The first is that we do not want the speculator to make money out of the misfortunes of other people. We are all agreed upon that, and there are Amendments to deal with it. The second is that acts of war are bound to cause uneven losses among individuals; therefore the property owner ought to take the rough with the smooth. This argument was strongly advanced by the hon. Member for Clackmannan and Eastern Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) and, I am sorry to say, endorsed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Surely it confuses two quite different things. An act of war comes on us from without, we have no control over its origin, but an Act of Parliament is a deliberate intervention in our affairs, for which we in this House are responsible to those whom we represent. It is not the duty of this House to imitate the blind strokes of war, it is our duty to try to repair the damage as fairly and as evenly as we can. That is what we are not doing in the Clauses as they stand at present.
May I interrupt my hon. Friend to put one point to him? Has not the increase in prices really been brought about as a result of the war and conditions created by war, and is it not fair to disregard it, as a war result?
It is true that an increase in prices has been brought about, but I am talking about the fairness of the method of compensation. I wish to concentrate my criticism of the Clauses on the point of having two scales of compensation for the same class of house. I am not so much discussing whether 30 per cent, is right or wrong. The third reason for not treating the owner-occupier and the investor on the same footing is put forward by those who believe in Spcialism. I quite understand that if hon. Members opposite want to do away with private property it is reasonable to expect that they should try to hit their man wherever and whenever they can. We had something from the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) last week to the effect that communal values were always to be preferred to individual values and that if a minority had to suffer under the Bill that could not be helped. Clearly, hon. Members who believe in tha kind of doctrine are glad to write into the Bill even a little step in the direction of expropriation. They cannot take a further step, because it has been found politically impossible to refuse something more than 1939 values to the owner-occupier. As I understand it, they consider it is politically possible to refuse more than 1939 values to the investor. We must resist that discrimination. I am surprised to find the Chancellor of the Exchequer supporting the distinction. As was pointed out by the right hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha), when the Chancellor of the Exchequer takes over securities he makes no such distinction and when he levies Death Duties it is the same duty on the house, whether it is owner-occupied or not.
I put it to the Government that their proposals can be summed up something like this: They made a calculation of the cost in money of paying the 1939 values plus 30 per cent. to all the owners of property which has to be acquired under the Bill. They came to the conclusion that that figure was too much for the rates and taxes to hear. Therefore they said that they would limit their expenditure to a lower figure and would deliberately find the difference by imposing losses upon an unknown number of investors, not selected on any standard as to their individual wealth or property, but arbitrarily picked out by Hitler's bombs and the chances of geography. I cannot understand how the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Ministers in charge of the Bill can lend their names to such an obvious act of haphazard robbery. How do they know that the taxpayers of the country would not prefer to pay the same compensation to all owners of property?
I should like to interrupt the hon. Member in his very interesting statement to ask whether he is prepared to extend that principle to the owners of all property? Should everybody be compensated out of public funds, or only owners of property in land?
Other people's property has been compensated in that way. My main contention is that we should not apply two scales of compensation for the same kind of property. If it is found to be too expensive to pay 200 per cent., or whatever the figure may be, let us have the figures from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Let us say what we can afford. It is not just that we should pay one scale to one owner of property and another scale to another.
Not at all. It is not a question of the big or the small landlords, but a question of doing the same thing to all citizens. I strongly support the Amendment on the ground that if it is not put into the Bill it will mean that a small, selected number of investors will be paying more than their fair share of the cost of the war.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles), who made a very reasonable speech, could not understand the difference of treatment between the owner-occupier and the owner-investor. To some of us, the Government have made their position in this matter perfectly clear. As I understand it, the argument of the Government is: "We are not really treating them differently, so far as the value of their property is concerned, but we appreciate that, if the owner-occupier loses his home, he is entitled to some compensation on those grounds." That, I take it, is the reason for the different treatment. I am sure that the whole Committee were relieved to hear that the home of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cleveland (Commander Bower) is not likely to be affected by the Bill. What is true of his home is probably true of a very large number of homes which have been referred to in the course of the discussion. My own feeling is that those who desire to speak on behalf of property owners are doing them a very great disservice by proposing an Amendment of this kind, and in demanding that property owners should be given their full pound of flesh by way of compensation. They are frightening small owners of property up and down the country by giving them the impression that their property will be taken away at an unfair price, as a result of the working of the Clause. In point of fact nothing like the number of small property owners that has been suggested is likely to be affected. I believe there has been a very considerable amount of exaggeration over this matter so far as the small property owner is concerned.
Generally, it is true to say that, on the whole, a great many property owners have not done too badly during the war. If some of us are concerned about making further concessions it is because we have seen the way in which so many property owners have, during the war, abused the privilege of owning property, and, if a difficult situation has been created now, the Government must accept a very large measure of responsibility for it. They should have taken steps at the beginning of the war to prevent speculation in house property and land. If they had done that, if they had treated the speculator as they ought to have done—as a criminal taking advantage of the needs of the community in a time of great emergency—then this atmosphere between the two sides of the Committee would never have been created. Many of us feel that behind the small property owner who is held up for our commiseration and sympathy, skulks the speculator and those who have used the privilege of owning property to sell it at prices which have been unfair to the community, and we are very anxious that in this Bill they should not get away with it.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) said that it was only fair that if the State took away a man's house or land at a certain price the State should see that alternative land or an alternative house should be provided for him at the same price. Are those who take that view prepared to agree, therefore, that the Government should from now on control the price of all land and all houses in the country at the 1939 value? If they are, there would perhaps be a good deal of agreement in various parts of the Committee. That is what ought to have been done at the beginning of the war. If it is suggested that this Measure is unfair to a small section because it means that their land and houses can be taken at the 1939 value, whereas other people are allowed to sell their land and houses at the current market value, that can easily be put right by fixing the price of all land and houses at the 1939 value, and making it illegal for land and properties to be sold for more. But I question very much whether those who support the Amendment are prepared to go as far as that.
Personally, I shall oppose the Amendment and support the Government. The Government policy may be described as rough justice. It is impossible in these difficult and unsettled circumstances to get full justice, but the Government have brought forward certain proposals which seem to reasonable people to be fair and just. Therefore, I hope the Government will not make any further concessions. It is obvious that those they have already made have done nothing to satisfy their critics, and the only result has been that, like Oliver Twist, these critics have come and asked for more. If the Government gave way in this matter they will be asked to make still further concessions. I would ask my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee to reflect upon what a very wide door they are opening if they suggest that account should be taken, in fixing compensation, of the change in money values. If that is done it will have to be done for wages, pensions, old-age pensions, and in many other instances, An extremely wide door will be opened. I think that the Government have struck a proper balance between the various interests concerned in this matter, and I hope the Committee will support them.
I could not help thinking, as this Debate went along, what a pity it is that Henry VIII was so hard up that he was obliged to finance his wars by distributing the great estates that had come to him through the dissolution of the monasteries to people who became individual land owners. But for that the State would have owned, through the Crown, one-third to one-half of the land of England at the present time. What a difference that would have made. Unfortunately, things have not worked out that way, and we have to deal with the situation as it is. I think this state of affairs, as it has been developing on this Bill during the last few weeks, is rather remarkable. First of all we have had a National Government directing their minds to this problem and coming forward with what they thought was a fair solution. Then tremendous pressure was brought to bear upon them from certain quarters, and in association with Members of this Committee they agreed on concessions and came to the Committee again. They have brought proposals agreed upon by members of all parties, and I should have thought that would have been sufficient to justify this Committee in giving support to those proposals. But that does not seem to be the case. It appears there are certain interests, I suppose in a broad sense the landed interests, which will not be satisfied with anything else than their full pound of flesh.
How can there be any sort of justice in connection with war? Nobody ought to expect to make any profit out of it or to be other than extremely fortunate if they do not make a serious loss. We ought to keep some sense of proportion. When one thinks of a soldier who treads on a mine in France and loses both feet, or an airman who is shot down in flames and loses his sight, how are they to be compensated? I say that the people of this country, whether owners of property or not, are fortunate indeed to be alive and to have been defended in years of peril by people like those on service, and to come forward and say, "Whatever happens to those who have really borne the heat and burden of the day we must have 100 per cent. of our claims," is something which I believe is contrary to the wishes of the Committee and the country. I support the Government and I hope they will make no further concession.
The compensation of property compulsorily acquired by the State has always been based on its current market value. In this case the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said there is no current market value for house property, and in view of that fact he has decided to bring in an artificial value—that at March, 1939. It may or may not be that that is a fair value to decide on, but if it is I maintain that that value should be given to all owners of house property and there should not be the differentiation which is being made between the owner-occupier and the owner-investor. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has put forward the argument for preferential treatment of the owner-occupier that when he is compulsorily displaced he loses his livelihood, that in many cases he may have a small business. The owner-investor, on the other hand, apparently does not. There are very large numbers of owner-investors in this country, people of very small means who by their thrift and enterprise have invested in house property, which is always looked upon as a very sound capital investment, and they have been encouraged to invest in house property. They have carried out a great social service in building these houses for people to let. Private industry has built an immensely greater number of houses to let than have local authorities, and people have invested their savings in this house property. Therefore, if their houses are compulsorily taken over they are also losing their livelihood, which is the rent they obtain for them. I cannot see the difference between the owner-occupier losing his livelihood and the owner-investor who has put his investment into his houses losing his livelihood also. Therefore, as a matter of justice and equity the owner-investor should have the same treatment, whatever that treatment may be, as the owner-occupier.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave another reason. He said that the chance of a house being taken over compulsorily by the State was an ordinary risk which the owner of property had to face. I do not accept that statement. It is not an ordinary risk; it is quite an extraordinary risk to have one's house compulsorily acquired by the State or by some local authority. I think it is a very bad argument to suggest that the owner-investor must accept this risk of being treated differently from the owner-occupier because the Chancellor of the Exchequer suggests it is an ordinary risk. I know quite well that hon. Members of the Socialist Party consider that all landlords are first-class rascals—[An HON. MEMBER: "Second class"]—who always exploit the public, that they are profiteers, that they do not look after their property. That is very far from being the case. No hon. Member of this Committee upholds the man who buys a property at a cheap price due to circumstances of the war, or any other circumstances, purely as a speculation, with the idea of holding it until there is a big rise in price and he can get out at a good profit. No one has any sympathy with such a man. But because we want to stop that kind of thing happening is no reason why this monstrous injustice should be done to the perfectly bona fide straightforward owners of house property. It is regrettable that legislation to deal with the speculator has not been brought in. I hope that it can be and will be done, but do not bring forward the argument that as there are speculators it is necessary to deal unjustly with the owners of house property in general.
The damage that has been caused during the war by enemy action has given this country a unique, opportunity to replan our badly damaged cities and towns, and, of course, it would be criminal not to do so. In doing so, the State have got to acquire a considerable amount of house property. In many cases the acquisition of that property would not have come about but for the war. In any case, it is no argument to say that, because the war has done this immense amount of damage to house property therefore the householder should not receive fair compensation for the compulsory acquisition of his property. I support the Amendment.
I do not suppose any Member of the Committee pretends that this matter of compensation is a simple one: it is extremely difficult and complicated. The difference between us who are supporting the Amendment, and the Government and those who adopt their point of view, is that we are firmly convinced that the proposals in the Government's Clause will do a great deal of hardship and injustice which could have been avoided if better provision had been made by the Government. That is the fundamental difference that divides us. It is evident that there is injustice in this Clause, since differing payments arc to be made for the same kind of house, according to whether it is lived in or lived on. If one assumes that a house which is an investment is being adequately compensated, the 30 per cent. extra which the owner-occupier will get will be grave injustice to the taxpayer, who will be finding the money; but if, as is more likely, the payment on the investment house will be inadequate, that will constitute a gross injustice to the owner. This 30 per cent. is completely meaningless. It is just a guess as to what will happen in the future. It may prove a good guess, in which case there will be no complaints. On the other hand, it may prove a very bad guess indeed. I cannot see why the Government are unable to accept the principle that compensation should be based on current market price.
It seems to me an extraordinary thing, in view of the great public service which investors in house property have conferred upon the community in the past, that the Government should penalise them in this way. I am not suggesting for a moment that they made the investment in order to benefit the public: they did it because house property was a good investment. But, by doing so, they conferred a very great benefit upon the community in the years between the wars, because it resulted in more houses being built. I am alarmed at the thought that the Government are going to take this punitive action against investors in house property, because of what will be the effect after the war. The effect will be that all the building of houses for the working-classes will be done by the local authorities. We all know the part that private enterprise in house building played in the years before the war, and it would be a lamentable thing to discourage that kind of enterprise. Surely there is only one kind of compensation which would commend itself to fair-minded people. That is compensation which is in fact restitution. The owner-occupier should be provided with the means of building himself an equivalent house elsewhere, and should not be out of pocket by so doing; while the owner of house property who uses it as an investment should be given a sum of money which brings him an income equivalent to that which he was receiving from those houses, making a deduction, of course, according to the age and condition of those houses and taking into account the fact that houses are a wasting asset. Anything which falls short of that must do very grave injustice. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stafford (Major Thorneycroft) used the argument, not to-day but on another occasion, that if one has an unlimited escalator it will have the most disastrous effect on building costs. I believe that to be an unsound argument. After all, 80 per cent. of building costs are due to direct and indirect wages.
Will the hon. and gallant Member sustain the argument that 80 per cent. of the cost of housing is wages? On innumerable occasions it has been shown that the heaviest part of the cost is the servicing of borrowed money.
I was told that by an official of a public authority. His estimate of wages was based on the wages paid to men producing the building material as well as to the men actually building the houses. I am not quoting that as though it were the word of the Almighty, but as a statement made to me by a local authority official, who had had great experience of house building. He gave it to me as his considered opinion that about 80 per cent. of the cost represented wages.
I believe that this inadequate compensation which the Government are providing in this Clause is due to the very healthy desire of the Government and of every Member of this Committee to make sure that unfair profits are not earned by the land speculator. Nobody wishes that that fellow should escape; but, in their desire to penalise this undesirable specimen of the community—I do not believe he exists in very large numbers—the Government are penalising quite large numbers of ordinary decent people, who have committed no crime against the community, except for their natural desire to be independent. The argument was used to-day by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) that it is wrong to worry overmuch about these people who are going to be dispossessed, because there are comparatively few of them. That is one of the most immoral arguments to which I have ever listened. It does not seem to me that a man who picks one's pocket is any less dishonest than a man who floats a bogus company. The only thing which ought to affect us at all is whether these compensation Clauses will give a fair deal to those men and women who are affected by them. I am convinced that if this Clause is passed a great deal of injustice will be done and a great deal of avoidable hardship caused. That is why I support the Amendment. I hope that, at a later stage, there will be ample evidence that the Amendment has a great deal of support among Members of the Committee.
I rise to support the Amendment. I can judge of these extremely complicated questions of compensation only from my post-bag and my personal experience. The Government's intentions, as at present expressed, are neither fair nor equitable nor just. There is really only one test, as I see it, and that is, whether the thing is equitable and just. I have never been able to understand why it has been considered by some a sinister thing if a citizen seeks fair compensation from the State, and a dexterous thing if the State drives rather a hard bargain, and an unfair bargain, with the citizen and the owner of property. I certainly acquit both the Ministers who are here to-day of any such intention, and of any calculated dexterity, but I feel that they and the country are the victims of the catastrophic disturbances that we are going through at present, and that if we pass the Bill without some adjustment of the compensation Clauses, we shall be laying the foundation for further avalanches of disaster to fall upon law-abiding, decent citizens. I am perfectly confident that if it had not been war-time, no such Bill as this, containing these compensation Clauses, would pass.
I speak rather plainly. I have no doubt that there is a certain amount of joy in some quarters about the sorrows and injuries of the nation, and that the crushed and blasted cities and their homeless and impoverished people are being used now as the raw material of political aspirations. I have had a hint given to me—and I have certainly read it—that if the war damage had been greater, the possibility of expropriation would have been increased. I cannot believe that expropriation, without proper compensation, is the right way to deal with this matter. It looks to me very much like political looting. For some Members of this Committee and some local authorities to look upon the spectacle of the seven battered and shattered cities and to wonder, as some of them are doing, what political capital they can make of them, is, I think, political looting.
Yes, I have seen the Noble Lady's blasted city. I have seen it and I know it quite well. I have also been to Bristol, and I know exactly what is going on. I am just astonished that it is possible for anybody to endeavour to make political capital out of the sorrows and sufferings of people, but such is the situation. I am quite sure that this sort of feeling is not shared by the bulk of the people, nor by the bulk of the Labour Party, nor by the bulk of the party to which I belong.
I would remind the Committee that the position which we see to-day could never have been brought about by the normal procedure of votes in this House or of the electorate of the country. No one likes the exploiter. I think, perhaps, I hate him more than does any hon. Member here. I can imagine nothing more wicked or cruel than to exploit the citizens of this country—I mean the land rogues and property rogues and so forth. But, surely, their opportunities for exploitation are easily controlled by taxation and by law?
I can only reply to that by saying that I would deprive the exploiter of land, such as those of whom we are all aware, of practically everything, by law, rather than allow him to exploit the ordinary citizens of this country. What I feel is so unfair is this. None of the people whose property has been destroyed or razed to the ground, either in the Noble Lady's city, or anywhere else, are law-breakers, but, frankly, I feel that they are in grave danger of being broken by the law, and we have no right to put them into such a position.
One further general consideration is this. I have yet to learn that the State or the local authority are anything but rather harsh owners of property. In fact, whenever I come in contact with people who are tenants of the Crown or of a local authority, I find that they are in the greatest difficulty, because the local authority or the Crown cannot be proceeded against in law, or, at any rate, not with any prospect of success. I think I have said enough to enable the Committee to realise that I feel very strongly that this compensation ought to take the line of the Amendment, and I am perfectly sure that the Government will have no cause to regret coming into line with the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman opposite in the interests of justice and equity.
I approach this question from a point of view which is somewhat different from that of hon. Members on the other side. It has always seemed to me that no one has a right to complain if, by the incidence of war, he suffers personal loss. We all expect to lose something as a result of war conditions. Many instances might be quoted of various classes of people who, indeed, have no hope of compensation, simply because what they have lost, although valuable to them, has no market value.
I represent a constituency where there are probably very few owner-occupiers in the sense in which the word is used by some hon. Members opposite. The local authority will be obliged to requisition a great deal of property in my division, which is somewhat similar to many other divisions in London and throughout the country. That means that they will be compensating land-owners and house owners who have hitherto paid no regard whatever to the comfort or health of those who rent their houses, and I am asked by those in favour of the Amendment now before the Committee, to go to my constituents and tell them that the owners of the damaged houses in which they for- merly lived, or in which, even now, they may be living, are expecting to get, not merely the value of the property as it stood in 1939, but also a progressive increase, if circumstances seem to demand it, right up to 30 per cent, as laid down in this Clause. An hon. Member opposite said it was a pure guess. I think I am justified in saying that those who drafted the Bill, and the Minister himself, agree, that the 30 per cent. is the result of a calculation.
If the hon. and gallant Member makes it five, he is guessing and guessing wrong. My feeling is that, in this particular instance, he is dealing with the case of another estimate of 80 per cent. Was that a calculation or a guess?
I informed the Committee that that was a calculation that was made by a very experienced officer in the housing department of a local authority. I did not give it as my opinion, nor as my guess, nor as my calculation.
My reply is that the 30 per cent. is not the calculation of one experienced man, but that of a large number of men, who have come to the conclusion that, so far as the future could be pierced, 30 per cent. represents, roughly, an average of the difference between the 1939 value and the value under reconstruction.
I am glad the right hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) has come in. I listened very carefully to the speech he made. I cast my mind back 20 years ago to the time when the right hon. Gentleman was returned triumphantly for Devonport, was carried on the shoulders of his constituents, and was recognised all over his constituency as one of the new Tory democrats. Where was his democracy this morning in moving this Amendment?
After that neighbourly exchange of views between the hon. Members, perhaps I may be allowed to proceed. I rather misrepresented the right hon. Gentleman when I said he was a Tory democrat, because he was a Liberal. But that makes it worse. To have been a National Liberal, and now to have become the champion of the Tory landowners is a metamorphosis which will want a lot of explanation when the General Election comes. I invite the right hon. Gentleman to consider that he will have to do one of two things—go back to his constituents at the General Election and tell them that his views are just the same to-day as they were years ago, or to stand under the auspices of the party of which the Noble Lady is a Member.
I ask hon. Members opposite, who are pleading for this Amendment, to remind themselves of the losses that have been incurred, for which there is no compensation whatever—losses of home and comfort, the disability of being transferred from one's own city and being billeted upon strangers. All these are losses just as important as the losses in finance, which have been explained in justification of this Amendment. I appeal to the better feelings of hon. Members opposite. Surely, the case of the wealthy landowner, or even the case of the owner-occupier of a house is not comparable with other losses incurred as a result of the war itself? When a man loses a limb in the war, or suffers any other disability, he is pensioned. But has anyone ever proposed an Amendment that the pension should be a sufficient recompense or compensation for his loss? Not at all. It is merely a grant made to him to enable him to live, and he loses the health which he previously enjoyed and he makes no complaint. Here we have the landowners rising in their might, actually before they are hit, and saying that they are not prepared to suffer any diminution of their compensation as a result of the war.
The Minister has an easy task in refusing this Amendment. May I take him back to a certain play which we all know—"The Merchant of Venice"? The Minister will have it within his recollection, I am quite sure, because I have heard him quote Shakespeare before. He will remember how, in the trial scene in that remarkable play, Shylock was offered three times the value of his bond. He refused, just as hon. Members opposite are refusing to accept the 30 per cent.
I wish I were Portia. The answer to that is that the offer has been made, just as Bassanio made the offer to Shylock of three times the value—the offer has been on the 1939 value, up to 30 per cent. above according to circumstances and the hon. and learned Member opposite refuses. Portia said:
The Jew shall have all justice.
If we give justice to hon. Members opposite, all we need give is 30 per cent. over the 1939 value—[HON. MEMBERS:
"Price"]—if the circumstances justify it. I would remind Members opposite of Shylock's fate at the end of the trial.
I am surprised that the hon. and gallant Member should try to introduce a question of that kind merely because I quoted Shakespeare. I am not making any other allusions except to a character, more or less fictional, produced by the greatest dramatist of any age. Portia said:
The Jew shall have all justice.
And Shylock said:
Most rightful judge.
Then Portia said:
If thou dost shed
One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods
Aro . … confiscate.
And as a result Shylock was reduced to the plea—and this is a warning to Members opposite—
Give me my principal and let me go.
If Members opposite are not careful in pressing this Amendment, in all probability they will be left with their principal and allowed to go. I apologise to the Committee for quoting Shakespeare in Committee. It is a most improper thing to do, I know, but may I conclude with an appeal to the Minister. It is the appeal made by Bassanio to Portia. That appeal—assuming that there is logic in the demand of hon. Members opposite, and that every owner will not get full market value when his property is requisitioned—which I make to the Minister, in the words of Bassanio is:
To do a great right do a little wrong;
And curb this cruel devil of his will.
I am not sure that I have been drawn to my feet by the hon. Gentleman's appeal to my better feelings, or by the partial warning given to us, but I hope perhaps, when he has heard me speak, he will see that there are some elements of better feelings in what I have to say. I have twice already expressed a view that this looks like a very bad Bill, or at any rate a very bad part of the Bill. The more I look at it, the more I feel convinced that that judgment is right. And my anxiety has not been allayed, in fact it has been rather increased, by some of the arguments which the two Ministers have made in speaking of it.
The question we have to ask ourselves now is, Is this Amendment which is before the Committee likely to remedy the defects which we feel are in the Bill? Therefore, if one takes the view that I do, it is necessary to run briefly over the points which appear to be defective and open to criticism. I regard it as a bad Measure because it is a piecemeal attempt to tackle part of a job, which ought to have been tackled comprehensively. I regard it as a bad Measure because it attempts to give compensation over a vast range of differing types of property and differing interests. That cannot be done and we ought to have a separate compensation Measure dealing with the different interests. I see no way of getting out of the trouble that we have got into by attempting to deal with compensation in the way with which it is dealt in the Bill. As an elaboration of that second point, I regard it as a bad Bill—
I fully appreciate that fact, but I find it very difficult to explain the points which I want to put to the Committee unless I run very briefly over what I consider to be the defects in the Bill.
That is not the point. It is not what the hon. Member finds convenient. In this Amendment we are dealing with a particular point. If every hon. Member throughout the Committee stage advanced that same reason for giving a rough sketch of the Bill on every Amendment, Committee work would be impossible. Therefore, we must keep to the definite point of the Amendment.
I fully appreciate the point and I will try to keep within your Ruling, Mr. Williams. I certainly was addressing myself to the compensation part of the Bill and I hope that it is in Order to say—and that is the third point that I was going to make—that, from the arguments we have heard from the Treasury on this matter, one of the things that they have to take into account in settling compensation, is not merely the acquisition of property which will be required for carrying out town-planning schemes, but the settling of compensation for property taken over by the Government at various stages during the war.
The fact that we are dealing with two people has led to some of the trouble over this Measure. The arguments that were used were based on the fact that this is really fundamental to the question of compensation; that there is no real standard of values, and in support of that we were given an illustration of how values had slumped in towns like Ramsgate, or places on the East Coast, and how they fluctuated during the years 1941–42–43. I want to put it to the Committee that we are not considering those conditions now. Most of us are looking at it as a Town Planning Bill and to conditions as they will be in 1945, 1950 and so on. I suggest that those arguments really are not relevant.
Another point I want to make—perhaps I shall have a little more sympathy from the Benches opposite when I make it—is that the provision as it stands at present provides, quite apart from the 30 per cent., a fixed standard, which, I fear, is going to be a wrong standard in many cases. I think it is going to be a much too high standard. We all know cases of houses which, owing to changed conditions, have become unoccupied and are described as white elephant houses, such as houses in Belgrave Square, large basement houses, and so forth. I do not want to see the Government or public authorities committed to the taking over of houses of that kind on the basis of 1939 value. One can take that illustration, and show that the provisions of compensation are badly framed. We had the argument from the Treasury Bench, which is admitted, that a great many people will, under this provision, get more money than would be the case if current values were taken and we are asked to balance that against the cases of those who will get too little. That is the well-known swings and roundabouts argument, but it has been well said that the swings and roundabouts argument is all very well when the swings and roundabouts are in the ownership of the same individual, but when one owns the swings and another the roundabouts, the gains on the swings are going to be very little consolation to those who lose on the roundabouts. I put it to the Government that the argument which has been used, that some people will get too much and that that will balance those who get too little, is very unconvincing.
I object to the compensation Clauses on the ground, mentioned by so many speakers to-day, of the discrimination between the different types of ownership. I want to put a question to the right hon. and learned Gentleman on the matter. As far as I have been able to follow the argument the position as it exists has not been clearly stated. We talk as if it were quite simple to distinguish between owner and owner-occupier, and it has been said, when discussing this matter with certain ownership interests, that the landlord who owns a ground-rent on a 99 years lease, owns a money claim which could be bought and sold in the market like ordinary land. That is admitted, but do all hon. Members realise the position where you have a ground landlord whose property is let on a 99 years lease, where the tenant could claim as the owner-occupier, and would be entitled to the 30 per cent. compensation based on the value of his tenancy interest. In the case of a new building on a 99 years lease that would be practically 100 per cent. interest on the property.
I would point out that one can qualify as an owner-occupier if one is holding a tenancy that has more than three years to run, so that the owner-occupier, is brought down to a very short term of tenancy. Supposing one has a tenancy of a fairly new building with five years to run, so that the reversion is of considerable value, in that case the 30 per cent. would be payable on that reduced interest of only five years, and all the rest would be blank and there would be a gap. There must be something wrong there. Last week, when the right hon. Gentleman was distinguishing between the position of a man who has lost a home and the man who has lost an investment, he was interrupted by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) who said, "In both cases, a home is destroyed." My right hon. Friend then said—
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, but really the question of ownership by an owner-occupier comes in the next Clause, not in this. This is merely a matter of compensation. If we are to discuss the whole question of the owner-occupier here, it will create difficulties.
I am very sorry, Mr. Williams, but I thought we were discussing the compensation Clauses in regard to every kind of interest. That is one of the troubles of these Clauses: they are omnibus Clauses which cover everything, and practically every speech to which I have listened, since twenty minutes past one, has concerned itself with this distinction between the owner and the owner-occupier. In fact, it has been the main point on which the arguments have been based. However, I do not wish to elaborate the point too much. I would have liked to put this point to my right hon. Friend, quoting from what he said last week, when he was interrupted by the hon. Member for South Croydon. He said:
If a man has security of tenure, you can compensate him for it if he loses it. We can deal with that when it arises."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th October, 1944; Vol. 403, C. 2666.]
I want to ask my right hon. Friend what he meant by those words, "We can deal with that when it arises"? It seems to me that it is dealt with in the Bill, but if he has something else in his mind, I hope he will make that clear.
This really touches a very important point in connection with compensation matters. As I understand it, one of the great difficulties is that it is nut merely a question of settling the value of a particular type of property, but of settling compensation for differing interests in the property. We have introduced in this Bill a principle which is completely new, because the right to get extra payment, as the Clauses on the Paper stand at present, is to depend not so much on the value of the property as on the personal circumstances of the individual concerned. That seems to me to be a perfectly valid basis of compensation—it is, indeed, a great enlargement of the basis of compensation for disturbance—but if we are introducing that new principle we should know something of the grounds on which judgment is to be given. As far as I can make out, on the Clauses as they are drafted, the Appeal Tribunal is given no guidance at all, and practically a blank cheque is given to the Appeal Tribunal.
On that point, Mr. Williams, it was agreed by your predecessor in the Chair that we should discuss the other Amendment on the Paper relating to this matter. One is bound to use an argument to show how the interests of a particular person are affected, and I do not think we can discuss this Amendment if such references cannot be made.
I must apologise to you, Mr. Williams. I can assure you that I am not trying to be troublesome but I am worried about these points. I am trying to understand them, and, at some stage or other, I feel they ought to be elucidated in Committee. I certainly do not want to incur your rebuke any further and I will try to keep within your ruling.
I will go on to another rather fundamental point of objection, that as the matter stands at present I do not feel that owners are being given adequate opportunity for re-instatement. That is really the point on which I stand and where I feel in difficulty about supporting my right hon. Friend's Amendment. I have been reflecting a great deal on this matter since the Debate last week, and I was much impressed by many of the arguments used from the benches opposite. I certainly do not want to support any Measure which would enable any owner of property to get in his pocket a sum of money, which represented a large cash profit to him. I want to ensure that every person interested in property, entitled to compensation under this Measure, should have a chance of re-instating his property which is taken. As I put it last week, the people we are concerned about are those who say, "We had a house; we did not want to sell the house, we wanted to continue having a house; we do not want a profit." I have an Amendment on the Paper—I understand it is doubtful whether it will be called—but perhaps as it illustrates my point in relation—
I was hoping that I could pick up one of your own phrases, Mr. Williams, and use it by way of illustration. I was going to illustrate my doubts as to whether I should support the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment by showing what I want to achieve, because I feel that his Amendment does not achieve that and, indeed, may result in what I want to avoid, a large number of people getting extra money into their pockets, and I think, starting on a basis which is too high. I want to ensure a Measure which will mean that you only get extra money if you rebuild your home. I was basing my views on what I believe to be a very sensible scheme which has been adopted in the case of requisitioned ships—the tonnage replacement scheme. There, an owner of a ship which is lost is entitled to two payments—to the basic payment which represents the pre-war insurance value, and he is also entitled and gets credited with an additional payment representing—
I do find this very difficult, Mr. Williams. I have been trying to put a point to the Committee which seemed to me one I could illustrate by referring to what I myself was proposing. If I am not allowed to do it, I must stop, and I will bring my remarks to a close.
So far as I know, I think that Amendment will be called, and what I say quite frankly is that if it is discussed now, it cannot be called and discussed again. I thought it only right to warn the hon. Gentleman that he should not give his illustration so fully on an Amendment which is likely to be called.
I am extremely grateful to you, Mr. Williams. I understood it was doubtful whether it would be called. I thank you for your warning and I will say no more about it. I feel there is a way of dealing with this matter and I want to reserve my opportunity for offering it to the Committee. I still feel, on the grounds that I explained very fully last week, and have referred to again to some extent to-day, that this is a bad Measure, that it is very unfortunate, and I hope there will be some chance of amending it. I hope I shall have an opportunity of doing so in one way at least.
I have listened to hon. Members who find objection to this Amendment, and it seems to me that the Committee is being confused on account of the fact that certain houses or properties have been damaged by enemy action, while others, it is proposed, as an act of convenience to the community, shall be taken at some future time. I fail to see how it is possible to apply the standards of the one case, to the circumstances in the other. We have the War Damage Act under which we have paid our contributions—and, let it be understood, contributions drawn from capital, not from income—and we have enjoyed a measure of protection through that Act. I cannot believe that hon. Members would oppose this Amendment if they had not, at the back of their minds, the thought that there was a certain scale of payment under the War Damage Act. Why should an owner, whether he be an occupier or non-occupier, who is left by the enemy in possession of his house or factory, have that taken away from him by the community at some price less than its value? I can well understand that we must say to the owner of a property that has been damaged by the enemy, "You cannot have its present true price because, in fact, it is not inherently there; it has been removed by the enemy, and we have agreed, in relation to the contribution of premiums you have made, to compensate you on a certain scale." But I fail, in justice, to understand why, some time in the future, a local authority should say to any citizen whose property is undamaged by the enemy, that they propose to take it from him at less than its true price then. I do not see how that can find justification in the eyes of many Members of the Committee who appear to oppose this Amendment.
We have, possibly, become a little tired in this place on this particular issue, and I have just been wondering how it appeals to those outside. I was very struck by my reading of a weekly which I would normally regard as rather pink, sometimes distinctly red, and certainly never true blue: I refer to "The Economist," and I would like to quote what it says on this point:
This whole episode is an example of the growing tendency to argue that robbery is not robbery if the victim is rich. Indeed, it is a particularly bad example, since it is not the whole, class of property owners who are to he expropriated but only those members of the class who are unfortunate enough to own property in blitzed areas.
By this morning's post I received a letter, not from one of the great rich property-speculators, but from a woman industrialist in my constituency, in Birmingham. The writer, who has already been turned out of her factory premises in order to assist an improvement scheme of the local authority, and who, by the way, insists that on that occasion she was fairly treated, says:
If I am forced to sell to the Birmingham Corporation at 1939 values then … it will hit me hard financially. There is certainly an advance of 30 per cent. for owner-occupiers, but I live away from the factory and, therefore, that Clause could not benefit me.
It may be as I have said that she has, in her particular case, made a faux pas, but it does not affect the fact that she will not get a true price for replacing her present property. That is the issue. This woman goes on to say:
Sizing up the whole issue, I am very puzzled, because the present basis does not seem to me an honest transaction.
She appreciates very well that there is no intention, at present proposed by His Majesty's Government, that she should get a price for her factory which will enable her to move to a new site, without having a capital loss to meet herself.
No, she will not. I feel that the Committee ought to bear in mind that here we are touching very basic moral issues. It has been our pride in this country to speak of sterling. What did sterling mean? It meant confidence in the values that this House placed upon the property of the citizen. That, in the last analysis, is the basis of the sterling reputation. Can anybody say that if, at this stage, we deal lightly with this issue of private ownership, we are not treading on very dangerous ground? I think it is true to say that hon. Members opposite have never taken this question of the private ownership of property very seriously. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"]. No, I think all the utterances of hon. Members opposite have tended to gloss over this issue. On the contrary, the Conservative Party have consistently maintained that if a citizen's property is taken by the State, he should he paid fair value at the time of purchase. That is what some of us who are supporting this Amendment stand for to-day.
I sincerely hope that we shall not be rushed off our feet by suggestions that this is a dangerous time to stand firm if the Government think in other ways. I think we have been, if anything, too considerate to some of the views of hon. Members opposite and that this is an issue on which the Conservative Party ought to stand firm. I feel that very definitely, and I say it for no political reasons at all, but for the basic reason that there is an essential moral principle underlying this Amendment. I sincerely trust that all, or if not all, nearly all, my hon. friends on this side of the Committee will support the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) in his proposal.
I think the Committee will have listened with mixed feelings to the speech of the hon. Member for Duddeston (Sir O. Simmonds). The funniest part of it was that in which he talked about morality and the rights of small people. The Uthwatt Report laid down two principles which Members of the Committee could well take to heart. One was that compensation for public acquisition or control of land should not exceed the standard values at 31st March, 1939. It went further and, referring to the efficiency of the community and the wellbeing of the individual, stated that this involved the subordination to the public good of the personal interests of landowners.
A peculiar thing happened just before this Debate. I received a peremptory telegram from a group of property-owners in Newcastle-under-Lyme telling me to support the Amendment in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha). Well, the right hon. Gentleman has a rather different political mind now from that of a few months ago, or so it would appear from his latest speeches. When I look at the Members who are supporting him I am certain that they have not—however well-intentioned they may be—the interests of the general community in this country at heart, and, more particularly, the interests of people who will benefit by reconstruction of our blitzed areas. In the "Daily Express" to-day there is an editorial which tells the story of a small investor who went to see the editor this week. This man had two houses. One he lived in and the other he let at a comparatively reasonable rent for the purpose of getting a fair return for his money. After contrasting this case with the case of the speculator in property the editorial states:
The large property owner … has in truth found little difficulty and small trouble in letting his houses all through the war because the demand for houses and flats has far exceeded the supply. That has been the big man's 'smooth' … so if he now gets the 'rough' in the form of 1939 compensation values there should be no weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Apparently there is a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth going on among hon. Members opposite lest the big man may be restricted to only an extra 30 per cent. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport has not said precisely what maximum figure the Government might apply for compensation.
Mr. George Bernard Shaw, in his latest book, says that rich property-owners will do everything in the world for the working-class, except get off their backs. The rich property-owners have had value over and over again. In the City of London there are groups of men who have bought buildings at relatively low prices, and are letting them in the form of flats and business premises for which people are compelled to pay out of all proportion to their real worth because of the shortage of accommodation. There has been no outcry about that. If a man who has milked and mulcted the people of this country for years by what I might term "land grabbage," is to get what is now the value of the land as a result of the community having artificially increased that value, I think that is monstrous and conflicts with the principles of democracy for which we should stand. I wonder whether the hon. Member for Duddeston would be prepared to go to the City of Birmingham and make there, the kind of speeches which he makes in this House, and claim that he is speaking in terms of common sense and equity for the general benefit of the public.
Does the hon. Member realise that every word he is speaking shows that he is so eaten up with venom and dislike of property-owners, that he has lost all sense of fairness?
I have no hatred and no venom, and no complaint against property owners. It is only the way they earn their living that I dislike. I recall a little parody on the lullaby "Hush-a-bye Baby," which I should like to give to the Committee:
Hush-a-bye baby on the tree top
When you grow up you must work in a shop
And when you get married the wife must work too
So that the rich will have nothing to do.
Hush-a-bye baby on the tree top,
When you get old your wages will stop,
And when you have spent what little you save
It's hush-a-bye baby and off to the grave.
They are the people we are fighting for to-day. Hon. Members opposite are bursting blood-vessels endeavouring to persuade the people of this country that they are fighting in the interests of democracy. I recognise that, with the best intentions in the World, it is not possible to deal adequately and fairly with every individual case, having regard to all the difficulties attaching thereto. But on a broad basis I think the Government are being highly generous when they say they are prepared to consider 30 per cent. as the ceiling figure over 1939 prices. Even were this to cause certain property-owners, who can well afford it, relative hardship it would, after all, be only a small contribution which they could make towards this war. I am amazed that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport has sold his mentality to a group of people like hon. Members opposite. If he has any hope of a political future, I advise him to mend his ways.
I do not propose to adopt the same line of argument as the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Mack). It seems to me that we ought to approach this problem without representing that certain people are fighting for democracy and others for other things. Nor, indeed, ought we to let our judgment on this matter be coloured by the appeal of the hon. Member for South-East Southwark (Mr. Naylor) to hon. Members' better feelings. By all means let us listen to that appeal, but let us consider this when he talks about the incidence of war. What we are trying to arrange for in these Clauses is that those who come back from the war to their houses and homes, and new houses and homes, will receive fair treatment, and no more than fair treatment, when their property is taken over by some "land grabbing"—I think that was what my hon. Friend opposite called them—local authorities.
The real reason why I support this Amendment is that it proposes to apply the same measure of justice to all. That seems to me to be the fundamental thing behind this Amendment. How anyone in this Committee—except the Members of the Tory Reform Committee who may support the Noble Lord's view on absentee landlords—can regard the present Clause with approval beats me. I do not understand how it can possibly be said that it is fair compensation to pay banks, co-operative societies, multiple shops and big companies 30 per cent. more than is paid to a private individual who owns one house. Membere of the Tory Reform Committee are, according to my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson), satisfied with this Clause. But how can anyone be satisfied with it? What this Amendment proposes to do, as I understand it, is to apply one measure to all, and not to create an entirely new principle whereby if a person's motor car is taken over by the State he gets the 1939 value plus 30 per cent. if he has been using it for pleasure, but only the 1939 value if he has been running motor cars for hire. That is the principle which the Committee is being asked to remedy in this Clause. Usually we consider what is the value of the thing that is going to be acquired without regard to who owns it. It is quite a new thing to say that because a particular man owns a particular piece of property we will pay him more, or less, than we will pay somebody else who owns equivalent property next door. That is a wrong principle.
I favour this Amendment because I think we should apply the same standard to all. If the burden on the rates and on the Exchequer is too high to prevent the objects of this Bill from being carried out, let us have a little frankness and let it be said that everyone shall be paid what is fair compensation. The same measure of compensation, be it 60 or 70 per cent., should be paid to all, and we ought not to have this differentiation between different sections of the community. Certain hon. Members opposite think, quite wrongly, that it is only going to hit the great landlords, whom they detest. I take a different view. I think those who will be affected by this are the small people, the people who bought houses and let them, the people who put money into such property with a view to providing for their old age. I really cannot see how we can possibly take the line that it is right to discriminate.
May I put a question to the hon. Gentleman? He and the hon. Member sitting next to him both made the point that this was an attack on some section of the community. The hon. Member also made the point that it was a discrimination between rich and poor. Could he tell us in what way there is any difference between a rich investor and a poor investor, as regards the investment side, and a rich property owner and a poor property owner on the other side?
I am not sure whether I followed the hon. Member correctly. Quite clearly, it is hard to draw a line between investors as opposed to speculators, but a line is drawn here between occupiers and investors. Why should we pay more to an occupier than to an investor for exactly the same sort of property? The argument is put forward that we pay more to put a roof over their heads. It is a very good argument when it applies to banks and trade unions. I am afraid I have been rather diverted from what I wanted to say.
If my hon. and gallant Friend had listened to what I said he would have heard me say at the beginning that, in my view, we should treat all alike. If we cannot pay them their fair value we should pay everyone on the same standard and on the same scale for equivalent property. That is my argument, and that is why I support this Amendment. In my view the interests of the State must be above the interests of the individual, but the State must have regard to the interests of the individual and this Clause, in its present form, does not. I hope that even now it will not be considered too late to reconsider this matter. We have been told, and quite rightly, that this is a general code of compensation. It is a code which is to last for at least five years. It is to apply to every possible form of public acquisition, and it is nonsense for hon. Members to come forward and say that we must rush this thing through because of the blitzed areas. Those areas will only form a small part of the public acquisitions of land which will take place in the future. I hope the Committee will consider very carefully before rejecting this Amendment, and that the Government will be induced to accede to what it asks: Their second thoughts on this matter are not much of an improvement on their first thoughts.
I apologise to the Committee for intervening in this Debate, and my only excuse—if I may mention my family—is that we have had experience of housing and land for some hundreds of years. I am against this Amendment. It is impossible, especially in time of war, to be fair to every interest or every individual. Whatever Amendment the Government bring in there is sure to be some inequality to somebody in peace-time, and during and after the war it will be much easier to point out such inequalities. What principle could we adopt to be fair? As property owners we have had some ups and downs and we have tried to be fair to our tenants. We have sold to those who wanted to buy, and so we get owner-occupiers as well as private ownership. Even taking the 1939 value, there will be in some cases gross over-payment. I hope hon. Members will face up to this. If we give the extra 30 per cent., why not give 40 or even 50 per cent.? We shall not get finality. We do not know what conditions will be after the war, and we do not know what the value is to-day. I hope very much that we shall not adopt the Amendment.
With the exception of the hon. Member for Duddeston (Sir O. Simmonds), who said quite honestly that he was in favour of a policy which would be equal both to rich and poor, the majority of those who have supported the Amendment have done so because of the large number—I believe one hon. Member said there were literally millions—of poor people who, they said, were going to suffer through lack of adequate compensation. Have they any figures at all showing the number of people who are likely to suffer? Is it 10,000 or 100,000? I doubt very much if it is. [An HON. MEMBER "What does it matter?"] It matters only because they have based a large part of their case on the argument that millions of people will suffer. I am simply taking their case.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) produced the case of a lady who is by now famous throughout all England, the poor widow, who arrived providentially on the scene one Friday afternoon. When we began to examine what her case was we found that, as far as the right hon. Gentleman knew, she did not own the land but only the buildings and that, consequently, out of 63,000 people who, he said, had been disturbed in Devonport a very small majority indeed were in fact like her. The great majority were in a very much better way and could not be described as poor and in need of help. I should like to call the bluff of the movers of the Amendment. Will they agree to the 1939 price, let us say even without the 30 per cent, addition, on condition that all those people who are genuinely in need shall get an addition—[HON. MEMBERS: "Means test."] Certainly. I know it is a means test, but I have not heard any objection to the means test in the past from Members opposite. I would not even suggest a means test of the character that they have been in favour of before, of maybe £1 or £2 a week. I suggest a means test of £20, £30 or £40 a week. That would not bring in multiple stores, banks and many other large organisations. I hope that hon. Members who say they move this Amendment on behalf of the poor will agree to accept such an alteration as I have suggested. If they do, their case is genuine. If they do not, I submit that they are not speaking on behalf of the poor.
The intervention that we have just heard seems to be entirely irrelevant. I agree with him to this extent, that there has been far too much sob-stuff about the poor widow and small investor. That has really nothing to do with the problem at all. We are faced, in what is apparently a small issue, with a matter of grave principle. In the interests of the nation we formed a National Government. People of very varying views and principles on many issues were brought together be, cause they could concentrate on one overwhelming issue, namely, winning the war. The Prime Minister himself said he did not intend, if he could avoid it, to bring in contentious legislation, a mater on which we all agree, but at the same time Measure after Measure of the most contentious nature was brought in and passed with the greatest rapidity, and probably that legislation suffered from being ill-digested. As time has gone on—and whether we are optimists or pessimists about the duration of the war it is obvious that we are five years nearer the end of it than we were five years ago—we have been compelled not only to think out and prepare but to bring in legislation which will come into operation under post-war conditions. The moment we begin to do that we are faced with these matters of grave principle which divide us genuinely—which is, after all, what makes party politics—and that is what we are faced with at the moment. It has nothing to do with the sob-stuff of the poor widows and orphans.
Many hon. Members opposite take the view that to own property, particularly land, is, if not immoral, unethical in the interests of the State and should be gradually done away with. We hold a diametrically opposite view. But there are certain things on which we are not divided, and I think it desirable to concentrate on them rather than on the issues which divide us very deeply. I think we are at one in this, that we cannot expect that the measure of sacrifice made by all our citizens, whether those who have lost their lives fighting or those who May lose their amenities at home, can be evened up and made good. I think we are all agreed that in the matter that is now before us we want to take every possible measure to see that the speculator is ruled out. I would go so far as to say that I am willing to see certain innocent fish caught in the net if the mesh is small enough to catch the bigger fry. I think we are agreed that justice should be evenhanded and, at present anyhow, that if the State decides that it needs to requisition the property of the individual the individual should be fairly compensated for it and that it should not be expropriated without proper compensation.
The issue now before us is whether the proposed basis of compensation is fair and equitable. That is what divides us. The Government have pointed out the difficulties of getting a fair market price under present conditions, and we all agree. They say that we must have as a basis the last available occasion on which we could get a fair market price, which is 1939, and we agree. The real question is by bow much shall that 1939 standard be adjusted in order to achieve justice and equity in taking over property. The Government themselves say that as they cannot find out to-day what that figure is they are prepared to take the 1939 standard and, in certain circumstances, to depart from it. They set a limit—a limit of justice—of 30 per cent. How can there be 30 per cent. of justice? Justice is either complete or there is injustice. That is what is dividing us. None of us wants to see the speculator make money. I go further and say that none of us on this side wants to see the genuine investor and the non-speculator get back more than he is entitled to. If a tribunal is set up to decide what amount should be added to the 1939 standard in order to achieve what it thinks is just, how can it be just to say that, if the tribunal decides that it should be 35 per cent. instead of 30 per cent., the individual should suffer the loss of 5 per cent.? This is a real matter of principle.
May I revert to what I was saying about the basis on which the National Government were formed? We feel on this side, and hon. Members opposite probably feel the same, that in the interests of keeping the Government together as an organisation we have had to make greater concessions, and we feel that we have probably had to make more sacrifice than other parties in the House. Other parties probably feel just the same. That does not alter the fact that we feel that we have, in the interests of keeping the Government Working smoothly, been constantly receding from certain positions which normally we should take up. I have always loathed any form of coalition—
I was leading up to an entirely different point. My point was that in our anxiety to pull together we begin by blurring our opinions, we go on to blurring our convictions, and we end up by blurring our principles.
On a point of Order. May I remind you, Mr. Williams, that the initiator of this Debate was really the Prime Minister, and that when he came down to the House and dealt with this matter, one of his basic reasons for doing so was the existence of differences within the Cabinet of a Coalition Government? In view of that statement, which is the basis of what we are discussing, is it wrong for a Member to discuss it on this important Amendment?
On a point of Order. We are having a very wide discussion on the general principle underlying the proposed changes, and if the Government are so heavily embarrassed that the Prime Minister has to come down to the Committee, then I take it that the same restriction will be imposed on his expansiveness as is now being imposed on the hon. Gentleman.
I really wanted to point out that in our anxiety to keep together, we have come precious near to blurring our principles. I feel very strongly in favour of the Amendment, but, on the other hand, I find a difficulty in demonstrating that in the Division Lobby for this overwhelming reason. I believe that at the present time, and particularly with the war conditions in Europe as they are, anything which tends to advertise that the British Government are beginning to lose their firm cohesion will give the greatest encouragement to the forces of resistance in Germany and the greatest distress to the countries which have been liberated or are in process of liberation. Is it not possible for us to reach an amicable solution of this matter which does not strain the loyalties of so many of us? Cannot we meet on the question of speculators and profiteers, and on the question of preventing people making a profit out of the needs of the community on a value that has been created by the community, and, at the same time, feel satisfied that evenhanded justice is being handed out to people, whether they be millionaires or persons on out-door relief?
I feel that I owe the Committee an apology for intervening, because I made a speech on the Second Reading of the Clause. I would like, however, to recall the Committee for a moment to the terms of the Amendment which we are discussing and its effect. The effect is that, if there is a piece of property of which it can be shown that the value is higher than in 1939, that higher value will he paid, but if it is lower than the 1939 standard, that standard will still be paid. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) put the argument for it with that dialectical skill of which he is a master. I am a landowner and property owner, not in a big way but with a substantial amount of property. I have a vested interest m this matter, and as a property owner I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the skill with which he has advocated the case. I hope to show that he has put it much too high. He is trying to out-Conservative the Conservatives. He is more loyal than the King. If he is not careful he will jump right over the Conservative Party and end up among the Liberal Nationals.
What is this market value which hon. Members are talking about? In my constituency—and I take it only because it is within my personal knowledge—houses worth £600 before the war are changing hands at £1,200 to-day. If that is to be the basis upon which reconstruction is to be paid for, it means that the price is to be doubled. We ought to hesitate a little before we are prepared to impose upon the public a cost of that kind. There is a more serious objection to the right hon. Gentleman's argument. I can understand someone who says that a great principle is involved, that property has always changed hands in this country on the basis of what it would fetch in a free market. But if one is to take that principle one has to take it, win or lose; if property goes up the higher price will be paid, and if property goes down the lower price will be paid.
It is perfectly fair to say, as a matter of principle, irrespective of the injustices and the great unfairness which may be caused: "The principle is so important that I am going to stick to the market value"; but that is not the argument of the right hon. Gentleman. He wants the higher price only when the market has gone up, but he refuses to accept the lower price when the market has gone down. I remember, when the Bill was first introduced, that local authorities issued a manifesto in which they complained bitterly that the 1939 standard ought to have been made a ceiling. Some of my hon. Friends answered that. We said that that would be a case of the local authorities having it both ways with a vengeance; but now the right hon. Gentleman wants to make it a floor. I would say that would be a case of the property-owners having it both ways with a vengeance.
Does not my hon. and gallant Friend realise that the matter is dealt with fully in a schedule, and that if the property goes down in value the price will be decreased?
All these arrangements are very complicated, but on this issue even I understand them. It is plain that the 1939 standard is taken as a basis. It is plain that if the argument of the right hon. Gentleman is accepted, a higher price will be paid for individual pieces of property. If the price happens to have fallen, the property-owner will still be entitled to rely on the 1939 standard. That is perfectly plain. I do not want to answer all the arguments which have been advanced about owner-occupiers and whether they should be differentiated from owner-investors. We shall have an opportunity of discussing that particular point later on during this Committee stage. I believe that a powerful argument could be adduced for paying to owner-investors rather more than they are to get.
I was talking the other day to the chairman of a big real-property investment company and I asked him about this matter. He said he thought that the House of Commons generally were not treating property owners too well. I asked him what he would do about it. He started off by abandoning every argument that the right hon. Gentleman put forward. He said that as a matter of capital replacement the 1939 value was perfectly fair and the only value that could be taken. [HON. MEMBERS: "Price."] Well, let me say the only standard that could be accepted. [HON. MEMBERS: "Price or value?"] I have heard enough about "price" and "value." Let me be perfectly frank with the Committee. This gentleman said: "Take the 1939 standard, as set out in the Bill. That is a perfectly fair standard." This is what the chairman of a real-property investment company said, and not a member of the Tory Reform Committee. He works on a large scale. He went on to say: "What do you want to do? If you want capital to be poured into bricks and mortar after the war, and houses and factories and that kind of thing to go up, there is clearly a case for something more than the 1939 standard."
That is a sound and substantial argument, so far as it goes. It is not, of course, the argument that is put forward by the right hon. Gentleman. It is not an argument as to the justice or fairness of the 1939 standard, but goes to the Government's post-war capital investment policy. That is a different matter. I do not want to elaborate it, but I would just say that in 1938 the people of this country were putting £255,000,000 a year into bricks and mortar, most of it residential property, and that as little as £20,000,000 was spent on plant and machinery. Bricks and mortar are important, but plant and machinery are the things we need to increase our productive capacity. For those reasons I reject the right hon. Gentleman's arguments. The Amend-mend, as it stands, is unjust to the public. If the right hon. Gentleman made it uniform, that is, he made the market value apply whether the price went up or down, it would be grossly unjust to a large number of individuals. I believe that in its present form the Amendment is wholly inconsistent, and conforms to no principle, Conservative or any other, whatsoever. I do not think the Government would be justified in paying more money simply to encourage people to pour more money into bricks and mortar after the war.
In conclusion, I would recall that it is said that this arrangement is a compro- mise. I do not wish to raise the decent veil that hides Cabinet responsibility and to try to ascertain who said what on a particular occasion, but to some of my hon. Friends this is not a compromise. We arrived at this conclusion independently of the Government, and we think that it is a fair and a sensible arrangement; but if it is a compromise, let us make it a proper one. A compromise demands that both sides should give a little. Hon. Members opposite abstained from voting on the Second Reading and asked that the 1939 standard should be made a ceiling. It would be rather a poor reflection upon us if, towards the end of our discussion, a section of the Conservative Party were to abstain from voting, or were to vote against the Government, saying that the 1939 standard ought to be a floor. Surely we can both give a little away, in order to arrive at some sensible arrangement in this matter.
I was a landowner. Hard things are said about landowners and have been said in this connection. I believe that the agricultural landowners of this country have been of some service to the community in the past. They have not expected the last penny in rents and they have had a high sense of public duty. To-day we are engaged in a great war in which immense sacrifices are being asked from everyone. Landlords do not want their last pound of flesh in this matter. Compromise means that all of us are to get rather less than we desire or perhaps think that we deserve. Compromise may not be such a bad quality. It is on those grounds that I beg the right hon. Gentleman not to press his Amendment to a Division.
I wonder why it has been left to a back bencher of the Conservative Party to deliver a speech which rallies, or attempts to rally, the supporters of the Conservative Party behind the Government. I wonder where the Prime Minister is. We have not seen him so far, although he was in the House this morning. He came down the other day to persuade Members of this party to agree to the postponement of the Clauses which we are now discussing, but we have not seen him come down for the purpose of persuading the Members of the Conservative Party, of which he is the Leader, to abstain any further from the obstruction of the Bill. We do not yet know whether the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment proposes to carry it to a Division. If we are not to have a Division after all this hullabaloo, it really is a waste of time. Is all this just mock fighting? Is the right hon. Gentleman going to lead his legions into the Lobby? We have not heard so far.
We have not heard whether the Amendment is to be supported by the Conservative Party. I would like to know what is proposed. We have not heard any argument over and above what we heard before. The right hon. Gentleman made a speech a short while ago, and I ventured at that time to answer him, and I have not heard any new argument whatever to show why we should support the Amendment to-day, having opposed the same proposal the other day. I wonder why certain voices have been silent. I was expecting to hear a speech from the hon. Baronet the Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon). I was expecting to hear a speech from the hon. and gallant Member for Hornsey (Captain Gammans). He was here earlier but he is not here now.
I am very grateful for the interruption. It enables me to tell the Committee why I thought the hon. Member ought not to have withheld his counsel from us. I see that the National Federation of Property Owners, in their journal called the "Property Owners' Gazette," claims him and the hon. and gallant Member for Hornsey as members of the National Executive, and I was therefore waiting, I have been waiting patiently for hours, for either of them to make a speech.
I shall hope to receive the gratitude of the Committee if I can induce the hon. Member to make a speech. He has not so far attempted to catch the Chairman's eye. The reason why I mentioned both hon. Members in this connection is not only because they are members of the Executive Committee of the National Federation of Property
Owners, but because this journal, in its October issue, claims to be the inspiration behind the Amendments which we have been considering during the last few weeks. The editor, with a natural pride, which must be an embarrassment to his associates, says:
The Parliamentary Committee of the Federation has carefully examined the Clauses of the new Bill and, with a view to moulding this important piece of legislation so that its provisions will be equitable and fair to all concerned, has deemed it necessary to urge certain amendments.
Then later on is pointed out the particular Amendment we are now considering. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I agree, so long as we know the source of it. I do not mind property organising itself.
There are two Amendments being discussed. Is the hon. Member saying that either the right hon. Gentleman who moved the first Amendment or myself—as the second Amendment stands in my name—are members of any property owners' association, because we are not?
Of course, the hon. and gallant Member has not been exalted to membership of the executive, but I think his services during the course of this Bill deserve recognition, and I hope they will be brought to the attention of the organisation. He has done very well. I have noticed on several occasions in the course of the Committee stage that manuscripts have passed from there to here. As a matter of fact at one time last week we thought we were a postal service—
You are too quick for me, Mr. Williams. I have not finished the sentence. In any case the fact is that this magazine, which I recommend to the attention of hon. Members, claims to be the inspiration, very substantially, for the Amendment which has been moved, but not its precise terms. All they ask for in their magazine—my right hon. Friend has excelled himself, because he wants even more than they do—is that there should be an up and down provision in the Clause. The spokesman of the Tory Reform Committee was nearer to being the champion of the Property Owners' Federation than my right hon. Friend.
He went far beyond them because they say here:
Consequently, the Federation has urged an amendment to Clause 45 that: 'in determining the price to be paid, regard shall be had to the reduction or the addition of such percentage thereto as may be represented by the increased or reduced purchasing power of currency. …
which is what my hon. Friend mentioned just now. My right hon. Friend has gone beyond that. He wants to abolish the ceiling and keep the floor, so that in his enthusiasm he has even exceeded the enthusiasm of this property owners' association. I have always known my right hon. Friend could improve on any of his advisers.
What are we, in fact, being faced with at the present time? I should say one of the ugliest incidents in the history of parliament in the last three or four years. There is a point made by some of my hon. Friends opposite who say that one form of property should be treated equitably as against another form of property. As between property owners it is a good argument, but let them go and settle it. Do not worry us with it. Let all the property owners have a meeting and settle the terms upon which some of their number are to be bought out. It is not a matter for us. If the system of taxation were equitable—
Surely, if my hon. Friend will forgive me, this is the supreme council of the nation for the distribution of justice among our people, and we are asking that it should be so to-day.
Certainly it is the supreme council of the nation for the distribution of justice—not swag. This question of equity in the treatment of property must always arise when the State wants to take over private property for the use of the State. It must always arise if the State steps in and says to one man "We are going to take your property for communal purposes." It must necessarily follow that the person concerned asks himself how his property is being treated as against that of other property owners who are being allowed to retain their property. It is therefore merely a question of equity between the property owners themselves. It is not a question which arises between those who do not possess property and those who do. If we had a system of taxation by which hon. Members who possessed property could compensate property owners whose property they took over it would be all right. If we had some system of redundancy, as in the licensing trade, as an hon. Friend reminds me, that would be all right; but with our indirect taxation and Income Tax on low incomes any compensation to property owners will be given to them at the expense of the poorer members of the community. It is also true that many local authorities will have the cost of rebuilding added to by the compromise already made, and any compensation we give for property taken over.
In point of fact, we are faced with the situation that it is not merely a quarrel between the property owners themselves that we are witnessing, but a question of the extent to which the poorer members of the community shall be mulcted to give compensation to certain property owners. That makes us intervene in their quarrel. Otherwise, I should have been delighted to sit here and watch the squalid scramble that we have been witnessing to-day. I cannot do that, because, unfortunately, we may have to foot some of the bill. Hon. Members have been bemoaning the hardships of certain persons who have, in the meantime, acquired property. Have we on this side not been asking ever since 1939 that the Government should pass a law fixing 1939 values and prices? [An HON. MEMBER: "And wages."] If hon. Members can put live wages, paid to living men and women, on the same basis as dead property, let them have the comparison. The fact is that we asked that a ceiling should be fixed and that those who bought and sold property in the meantime should be told that they did so at their own risk. Five years afterwards Conservative Members are faced with the consequences of their own negligence—because they have had a majority. After-five years of that sort of behaviour, we are now asked to spend our time discussing the woes of those persons who have taken advantage of the situation to buy property.
I sometimes envy hon. Members opposite. I wish I could persuade some of my friends on these Benches to pursue their policies with the same ruthlessness and disregard for ethics that hon. Members opposite show. I wish I could persuade them to display the same hardness. The trouble is that this party is inclined to be hard on the outside and soft in the centre, while the other party is soft on the outside and hard in the centre, always pursuing its purposes ruthlessly. In the last few days we have seen this piece of important social legislation held up by persons claiming consideration for certain special categories of property owners. I do not know about hon. Members opposite, but my letter bag is full of letters from members of the Services, who are asking what is to happen to them when they come back. [Interruption.] What did the Parliamentary doodlebug say?
That was a doodlebug that did not go off. I have had letters from Burma and India asking what is to happen when the writers come home. I think hon. Members ought to have some sense of social responsibility. Some of these men in the Forces are asking whether they will find, when they come back after three, four, five or six years in Burma, India or the Middle East, that their chances at home will have been either helped or hindered by what we do here. I think the House of Commons displays a disgraceful spectacle; because a few years ago it was we who called up those men and sent them out there, entirely regardless of the effects upon themselves and their families. It was we who smashed small businesses and took young men from their university careers and from their apprenticeships, and sent them into the Services, in an hour almost—in one afternoon. We were told by the Government that we must not delay, that the need of the country was so great that we could not even wait, in accordance with ordinary Parliamentary procedure, to discuss whether we should take those young men. Now we have been spending six weeks listening to hon. Members opposite pleading the cause of property owners, pleading for the right to put heavy burdens on those young men when they come home, pleading that property is bleeding, while our young people are dying on the battlefields. It is time that somebody exposed this squalid ugliness for what it is. It is time that people here understood what the men in the Forces are saying. When the General Election comes, all those who to-day—
Hon. Members are either wasting their time, or they are going to vote. If they are going to vote, those votes will be put before the electors at the next General Election, and the electors will form their judgment upon them. I warn hon. Members opposite that if what we hear from the Forces represents their paint of view at the present time, they will deal with those who hold up this Bill.
The hon. and gallant Member is working hard to find a piece of political territory for himself, but so far he has failed to do so. It is an extremely ugly and unpleasant situation that this Bill should have been held up so long, not by the physical difficulties of replanning the homes of the people of Great Britain but by the squalid claims of many of those who, behind hon. Members, are hoping to reap advantages from the sufferings of the people.
I am going to follow the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) by saying that I hope the Committee will not lower themselves to the standard of imputing motives to other people. In the first place, they are entirely unjustified, and, in the second place, the Committee has most serious principles to discuss. I have waited, and waited in vain, from the time of the Second Reading, for any indication from the Government, in any satisfactory sense, of the answer to three most vital questions, and those questions are these: Why were the 1939 prices taken, when the Uthwatt Report had recommended 1939 values? Surely, if the Government were departing from the Uthwatt Report, they ought most clearly to explain why they were doing so, and to that point, so far, there has been no answer. The second question is, Why should the figure of 30 per cent. be taken? I can perfectly understand the acute sense of pleasure which the hon. and gallant Member for Stafford (Major Thorneycroft) and the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) have in the fact that their particular figure should be taken. I am not really very interested in what figure is taken until we have a satisfactory explanation why the figure is placed at 30 or at any percentage, because, unless the idea of the Government is that it is a fair value, representing the criterion laid down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his speech on the Second Reading, then I should see no virtue in 30 per cent. or in any other percentage. The third, and, in many ways, most important point is this. So far, we have had no explanation of why there should be any differentiation between the owner-occupier and the owner. I think the Committee are entitled to press the Government to put something forward which we can all understand on this differentiation.
I would remind the Committee of the explanations which have been given so far. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the 1939 prices ought to be given because there were people whose houses had been taken over in 1939. Of course there were, and nobody here would object to the 1939 prices being given in 1939. Similarly, we would expect, and we will await what the Government have to say about it, that 1943 prices ought to be given in 1943, because that was the basis upon which the Chancellor of the Exchequer rested his argument. I am entirely in agreement with some of my hon. Friends who said they wanted to regard this question as a matter of principle and not one of raising hard cases. I entirely support that, but I want to point out something which is more than a hard case. What have we, in fact, done at the moment? We have allowed the co-operative stores, the banks and large businesses to come in as owner-occupiers, and the small working man, who has saved his money and put it into a house, and there are many thousands of them, if we leave this thing as it is, is in the same category. But many men who have gone out from this country to fight in Burma, Italy and France have had to let their houses while they are away. They will not be covered by this Bill, and while we must not make hard cases and try to appeal to sentiment unduly, these are facts which this Committee must realise and about which it ought to do something.
I do not care whether the 1939 value is called a floor or a ceiling. What I want to see established is that principle which has, broadly speaking, governed compensation for the last 100 years, the basis of which is that, when somebody's else's property is taken away he is given the full value of it at the time it is taken over. I want to make an appeal to the Committee, because I regard this as a matter of principle. If in this Commitee we are going to depart from what has been the custom of our country, based on fair play, we must realise that, without a mandate from the people and while the war is going on, we are going to depart from a principle which has governed the necessity for fairplay in this country for many years.
We had a mandate to carry on this war which was entirely in keeping with the views in this speech. Of course, we ought to listen to what the Government have to say, and I hope they will give a clear answer, but I think the Committee are entitled to ask for that answer, and, unless it is satisfactory, I think we ought to take a line on this matter. I differ from the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), who in a very early stage of the Debate said that if any more Amendments were accepted by the Government to increase the cost to the local authorities he would vote against the Bill on Third Reading. I purposely avoided voting on the Second Reading, but this Committee stage is the stage where the House of Commons has a duty to speak its mind and act as its conscience demands. If this principle were departed from, then no Committee stage would be of any value to this House, and so I recommend to hon. Members that they should think very carefully on this matter, which raises questions which are going to affect the future for so long. We are supporters of the Government—at least, I hope we are—but we must face this issue as a Committee question in the House of Commons where a matter of vital importance to a great many people throughout the country is going to be decided. For myself, unless I have a very satisfactory answer from the Government, I feel that it is a matter of principle on which we should support the Amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend opposite.
I intervene at this stage because we have had a long Debate and it might be an advantage if I said a few words now. I have listened to everything that has been said and I must say that this is a subject which does produce a very good Debate. There are issues on which hon. Members feel they are on familiar ground on both sides, and it is natural that the Debate should go on without any drying up of the spirit of controversy or of language appropriate to it. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine-Hill), who has just resumed his seat, asked me three questions, to which he said he had had no answer from the Government spokesmen.
He then proceeded to give us, very fairly, the answers which have been given to the three points which he made and said that he was dissatisfied with those answers. If my hon. Friend wants to get some other statement from the Government I can tell him quite straight that the answers which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I gave on the last occasion on which we met are the same answers as I shall give to-day. They were, in fact, the true reasons and the true justification of these Clauses, and the true justification and the true argument behind the proposition cannot be waived and altered to meet some temporary and passing situation. We try to put fairly before the Committee the reasons which prompted us to take the course we suggested and leave the Committee to judge whether we are right or not. The point he made about the absent soldier arises on a subsequent Clause, and I think he will find that His Majesty's Government have not been careless of that interest.
We have had a long Debate, and I hope that it may, if we come to a decision on the issue raised here, facilitate our proceedings when we come to other Clauses. There is a feeling of misgiving in some parts of the Committee that, in adopting the 1939 standard of prices, they are drifting away from old and familiar things and a fear that an injustice will be done. If they drift away from current market value, they have a feeling that they are drifting away from an anchorage which in the past has been sufficient to secure justice as between His Majesty's subjects and any public acquiring authority. I would like them to ask themselves this simple question: If they stay by the old anchorage in the peculiar circumstances in which we are, will they get justice? The answer is convincingly evident to me, and I am as anxious to see justice done as any other hon. Member. The answer is quite clear and plain that, if you refer to the current market to-day or to the period of commotion and turmoil of mercantile forces which necessarily lies ahead of us, you will make your criterion something quite capricious, and, as it is capricious, unjust in its application as between man and man.
The point was recognised by the right hon. Gentleman. I made it abundantly clear when I spoke earlier in our proceedings to-day that we are doing this thing ad hoc to meet this situation. It is an unprecedented situation. It has never happened before. Any hon. Member or party or group of Members who will not adapt themselves and use their ingenuity with the desire to achieve justice and propound policies which face the facts of the situation as it exists and which cannot be escaped are not, in my estimation, facing the practical issue. In my estimation any hon. Member or Minister or Government who preferred to rely upon some well-founded, very well-liked and tested maxim of the past, if they would not meet the facts, would be doing wrong and not right, and running away from the difficulties. So much for that general situation, and why we must go back to a stable market. That is abundantly clear, and from the speeches to which I have listened to-day, I feel that the majority of the Committee, however much they may differ on other points, are certain that that is the only way we can face the problem of valuation as it presents itself to-day.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) moved the Amendment and I must, to do him justice, deal with the argument he advanced. After all, he is the leader of an important group of Members for whom, as for him, I have a high respect, and his demand deserves careful consideration at my hands. I think that the right hon. Gentleman agreed with me that there is no firm basis in modern market value. He sought to say that what was substituted for current market value, namely, the 1939 market value was unfair because of the next succeeding Clauses where we provide for an increase over the 1939 values in certain cases of owner-occupiers. He said that that was an admission that the absence of some such provision for the investor-owner meant injustice. I would like him and the Committee to follow this carefully. The owner-occupier is two persons in one. He is the owner of the land and at the same time he is the occupier. The proposed increase in his case is not given to him as the owner of the land. He is treated just the same as any other owner. It is given to him solely because he is the occupier. That is why the chance of something extra—
All compensation which is given in respect of real property is given in respect of the various interests in that property. The special compensation for the owner-occupier is given not because he is the owner of the land, but because he is the occupier.
If my hon. and gallant Friend will allow me to develop my argument, perhaps he will understand it. This is the argument and it can be plainly stated. My hon. and gallant Friend shakes his head. I ask him not to anticipate the processes of reason. This is a proposition and I am putting it forward to the Committee like any other hon. Member.
Under the system of land compensation which existed before the war under the Lands Clauses Act, the occupier, if he was turned out of premises by compulsory purchase, was entitled, in addition to the purchase of the value of his interest, to certain other forms of compensation. The one that is relevant for the purpose of my argument was called "compensation for disturbance." That was because he was the occupier. He was in a certain place and had to take up his roots and go somewhere else. It has always been recognised, and in the case of traders, for example, it is always recognised, that the uprooting of a man who is in occupation gives rise to claims for compensation in excess of the value of his interest in the land. Under that system, as it existed before the outbreak of war, if we gave a man the market value of his interest, plus compensation for disturbance, the market value would enable him presumably to find an equivalent piece of land in open market. His compensation for disturbance on top of that would enable him to get over the ill effects of being forcibly uprooted and placed somewhere else. These two things together work out under the old law.
Would my right hon. Friend allow me at this point to ask him whether the 30 per cent. is intended to be in addition to the compensation provided in Sub-section (5) of Clause 27, which provides that the local authority may give compensation for the disturbance of a man's business and the consequent taking over of his premises?
Would my right hon. Friend look at Sub-section (5)? It deals, first, with removals and then goes on to deal with compensation for the disturbance of his business. Admittedly, it does not deal with disturbance of his residence.
I am surprised that my hon. Friend should drag in something which is irrelevant. In that case you would be purchasing his livelihood—I am dealing with the case of a residence—in respect of which, up to the outbreak of war, we had a system under which the occupier was given any disturbance compensation in addition to the market value of his land, and by which you could be relatively sure that the man was compensated in all respects. We are adopting here not current market values but the 1939 market value as our criteria. That is different from the pre-war system. We are forced to that, because there is no current market value that would be just and, when we have taken that step, we provide for the owner-occupier also in respect of his occupation, and any possible excess claim for disturbance in respect of this additional thing. Surely it must be abundantly clear—
I must develop this argument if my hon. Friend will allow me. The argument leads me to this conclusion, that those who say, as my right hon. Friend did, that because we are giving something extra for the owner-occupier therefore we should in all honesty give something to the investor-owner, are missing the true point and purpose of the extra payment which is in respect of occupancy and not of ownership.
Could I put a point on that? I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that this extra 30 per cent. is compensation for the owner-occupier because he has to leave his premises. Take the case of another house, the investor's house, which is taken over and the occupier has to leave it. He is just as much turned out as the owner-occupier. What kind of compensation does he get?
If the occupant in that case has a compensateable interest in the property, and is the owner of that, he is, for the purposes of the actual payment, the owner-occupier of the house.
I want to say a word about the next step in the argument of my right hon. Friend but I hope the Committee is satisfied there is no substance in the contention that because we are doing something for the owner-occupier in respect of his title as an occupier that vitiates the proposals made for the investment-owner. There is no ground for that argument. The next argument on which my right hon. Friend founds himself is the recommendation of the Uthwatt Committee for values and not prices. However, I would have him reflect that the Uthwatt Committee proposed as a ceiling what we are proposing as a standard. They said that we should not pay more than sums based on the standard values in any case and, had the Government accepted the recommendation exactly as it stood, it would have been open to any purchasing authority to come along, and if the price had been depressed by the war below that ceiling, it could have bought compulsorily at that price.
It is a very different proposition that we are putting before the Committee. We came to the conclusion that the idea that the public should take advantage of every incident of war, every hazard of our common struggle which depresses the price of a man's land or one of its concomitants and that we would let the local authority take advantage of that and dispossess him at a temporarily low and depressed value, was not a fair proposition. No Government can take upon itself, or could discharge, the task of putting everything as it was before after a struggle of these dimensions, but we say that it is not fair that a man should suffer from a temporary depression in the value of his land through the war, we will go back to a fair market value and give him a price for that. Now, however, my right hon. Friend comes along and ignores the vast improvements in the prospects of many owners which that means, whose land could have been snapped up at knock-out prices, and because we have made what was the ceiling a floor, the right hon. Gentleman says, "Now you must build on that with an endless series of Jacob's ladders and escalators with no top and no control over them at all." So I find myself in the position of saying that is not fair, and I venture to say that investor-owners, with which this Clause deals very largely are, in many cases, in a much more favourable position than many business investments which have suffered as a result of the war. I do say that if, after this struggle, an investor can get back approximately to his 1939 position, he is not doing too badly. There are many People who have not done so well as that and who make no complaint about it.
The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned improvements and said that they were ignored except in the case of the special Clause. That is not so. If he reads the Clause he will find that the interest to be acquired is to be varied in the condition in which the property is at the date of the notice to treat with all its improvements, and then valued at 1939 prices for the land as it has been improved. But it is because we do say that during the war many improvements have been made which a prudent man would probably not make of his own volition in peace-time but has done them as a citizen to help the war effort, that we make the provision which is in the next Clause.
I would like to deal with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Penrith (Lieut.-Colonel Dower), who has had many an argument with me in the course of these arduous discussions, but always friendly ones. He brought up the question of death duties, and those are the subject of a separate Amendment, so perhaps we had better leave them until it is reached. He said that this was "Goodbye to fair compensation." Sir, it is good-bye to unfair compensation for this period and, when the emergency is over and things settle down, then we can discuss what it is fair and proper to do.
My right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) voiced a criticism against this Bill and the Clauses in particular relevant to it. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) also picked that up—would it not have been better if we had dealt with the whole of compensation and betterment and all the control of land, and so on, in the White Paper? I ask the Committee to reflect. Getting this Bill along has not been a light or easy task. Had we cluttered it up with all these vast problems—
I never suggested that. On the contrary, I am supporting the right hon. Gentleman. What I said was that it would have been much wiser to introduce earlier a full compensation Bill dealing with the whole problem but, in the light of the circumstances and the emergency of the Bill, I was backing him. I thought I made that clear.
That raises a different question. So long as I have cleared the reputation of my right hon. Friend from a suggestion which would have been impossible to carry out I am satisfied. So far as my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall and the National Liberal Party are concerned, I hope that it is within our compass to do this thing now. I would not lightly abandon the chance of doing what I think right.
My Noble Friend the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) made a speech with which we are, no doubt, greatly in sympathy. He went into very wide issues, and as a foretaste of the political philosophies which may govern our future action I am sure that his contribution was listened to with sympathy and attention. But I wish to say once again that what we are doing here is tackling the immediate and practical problem of getting an ad hoc solution to a very difficult question. All I am asking is that Parliament and this Committee should help us towards getting a solution that will be in time for the work of reconstruction to start when it should start. My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller), whose contributions to this Debate have been very well put together, seemed to think that there was some discrepancy between what is proposed here and the measures of compensation which are on the Statute Book as regards ordinary property. I can assure him that that is not so. As a member of a learned profession it will be sufficient if I refer him to the Statute which governs it. It is the Compensation Defence Act, 1939, and the relevant Section is Section 4, Sub-section (7), which states:
Compensation payable under this Act in respect of the acquisition of any vessel, vehicle or aircraft shall be a sum equal to the value of the vessel, vehicle or aircraft immediately before the acquisition, no account being taken of any appreciation due to the emergency …
That is precisely the spirit of what we are trying to do. This great struggle has involved catastrophic changes in values. One man has had his property elevated and another depressed. Let us, so far as we can, disregard these changes.
I would like to say a few words to my hon. Friends who are particularly concerned with the position of the investor in land. I call attention to the very welcome speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage). He and I have been in the House a long time together on the same side and he is, as we all know, one who speaks with knowledge of land. He said that taking the long view of these matters the propositions in the Bill were fair. I take the same view. Investment in land is a long business. Prices rise and fall through temporary causes over a period of years, but the investor in land is concerned with the long-term proposition; he is not affected by temporary swings, such as those which distress the holders of personal property when stock market prices vary from day to day. Can anyone say that to give 1939 prices for a long-term investment of that character is unfair? Hon. Members may point to some instances where land could be sold for more; I could point to many where it could be acquired for much less. There are many influences which depress the price of land, and one is the time-lag before the land can be developed. I share the view that in its main application to the investor in land the propositions in the Bill are fair.
I have failed to hear yet any argument which has met that put forward by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer over the price to be paid for land acquired during the war. The argument is, in brief, this: My right hon. Friend said that if land had been taken in 1930 or 1940, when there had been no appreciable change, the 1939 price would have been paid, and the citizen would have been amply and fairly rewarded and would have agreed that he had been fairly treated. But because you take his land at a later period in the same emergency, when the influences affecting the price are solely due to war, what justification is there for paying him more than the 1939 price because you require the land for public purposes merely at a later date? I cannot see it.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine-Hill) said that the citizens should have got the 1943 price. To carry that to its logical conclusion would be the worst way of dealing with the investor in land. It is quite natural that all of us who have been waging party warfare for many years should feel in a discussion of this sort the drag and tow of old political affiliations. We would be less than human and less than politicians if that were not so. No doubt we think from time to time of what our constituents and supporters will say about our action in this matter—a view I have heard expressed. But what do the people of this country, the ordinary people who carry the country on their backs, fight for it and sustain it, not those who have exaggerated or enthusiastic affiliations to one side or the other, expect of us in this House? Do they wish us in this time of emergency to be true to some political affiliation? No. They expect us to settle this. They say, "We sent you to Parliament to arrange these things. We are less interested in the exact political colour or tint of the arrangement than that you should do the work for which we sent you to Parliament, namely arrange these things as best you can." That is what we are trying to do.
I am very anxious that the work of reconstruction shall be put in hand as early as possible—and no time is too early for this great task. I know that that task will be rendered much easier and be much accelerated if we can settle this between us on a fair basis, so that local authorities can begin to count the cost and the ordinary citizen will know his position in future. I am as keen as anyone on a man who sticks up for his political principles, but I cannot dissociate myself from the environment of the particular moment, the position of this Parliament, the particular task that lies before it and the absence of the old guide posts which we followed so safely and for so long. I wish to be true to the times, and I ask the Committee to reject the Amendment without a Division.
I intervene only to express a view entertained by a large number of Members. We were all very much impressed with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha), and of course the principle that he sought to establish is one that must make an overwhelming appeal to the spirit and life of the nation. The idea that nobody in this land of ours should be deprived of his property without adequate compensation, is one that must make a convincing appeal to everyone. But the speech we have just heard must make us feel that the Government have done everything conceivable, within the limits of justice and equity, to meet the claim established by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. Many of us in this crucial moment, when we are fighting for our lives, are animated by this feeling—that it would be a national misfortune if we were to divide our counsels at this crisis. I look at the Prime Minister on the Front Bench. Every one of us must feel the burden that he has borne for
months, and the strain through which he has gone. Every one must feel the immensity of the responsibility that rests upon him. I suggest that the Committee should not take any step which would embarrass the great work that he has to accomplish. I suggest that we should respond to the Minister's appeal and not divide the Committee, on a matter which must make a profound and disturbing impression throughout the whole of the United Nations.
|Division No. 40.]||AYES.||[4.45 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Hopkinson, A.||Scott, Lord William (Ro'b'h & Selk'k)|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P.||Hore-Belisha, Rt. Hon. L.||Shaw, Capt. W. T. (Forfar)|
|Bower, Comdr. R. T. (Cleveland)||James, Wing-Com. A. (Well'borough)||Simmonds, Sir O. E.|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Cdr. J. G. (H'der's)||Joynson-Hicks, Lt.-Comdr. Hon. L. W.||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Campbell, Dermot (Antrim)||Keeling, E. H.||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Channon, H.||Kimball, Major L.||Stourton, Hon. J. J.|
|Doland, G. F.||Knox, Major-General Sir A. W. F.||Studholme, Major H. C.|
|Donner, Squadron Leader P. W.||Lewis, O.||Tasker, Sir R. I.|
|Dower, Lt.-Col. A. V. G.||Little, Sir E. Graham (London Univ.)||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'd'ton, S.)|
|Duncan, Capt. J. A. L. (Kens'gt'n, N.)||Lloyd, Major E. G. R. (Renfrew, E.)||Thomson, Sir J. D. W.|
|Emery, J. F.||Lyons, Colonel A. M.||Thornton-Kemsley, Lt.-Col. C. N.|
|Everard, Sir W. Lindsay||Manningham-Buller, R. E.||Touche, G. C.|
|Fox, Squadron-Leader Sir G. W. G.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P.||Wayland, Sir W. A.|
|Galbraith, Comdr. T. D.||Mills, J. D. (New Forest)||Webbe, Sir W. Harold|
|Gammons, Capt. L. D.||Nall, Sir J.||Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Gower, Sir R. V.||Petherick, M.||Wright, Mrs. Beatrice F. (Bodmin)|
|Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Gretton, J. F.||Power, Sir J. C.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:—|
|Grimston, Hon. J. (St. Albans)||Ross Taylor, W.||Mr. Erskine-Hill and Captain|
|Guest, Lt.-Col. H. (Drake)||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.||Cobb.|
|Holy-Hutchinson, M. R.||Scott, Donald (Wansbeck)|
|Adamson, Mrs. Jennie L. (Dartford)||Boyce, Sir H. Leslie||Cook, Lt-Col. Sir T. R. A. M. (N'flk,N.)|
|Agnew, Comdr. P. G.||Brabner, Comdr. R. A.||Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Bracken, Rt. Hon. B.||Cove, W. G.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Cox, Captain H. B. Trevor|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S.||Broad, F. A.||Cripps, Rt. Hon. Sir Stafford|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Broadbridge, Sir G. T.||Critchley, A.|
|Anderson, Rt. Hon. Sir J. (Sc'h. Univ.)||Brooklebank, Sir C. E. R.||Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)||Culverwell, C. T.|
|Astor, Viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton)||Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||Dagger, G.|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Brown, W. J. (Rugby)||Davies, R J. (Westhoughton)|
|Balfour, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. H.||Buchanan, G.||Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)|
|Barnes, A. J.||Bullock, Capt. M.||Denville, Alfred|
|Barr, J.||Burden, T. W.||Dobbie, W|
|Barstow, P. G.||Burke, W. A.||Douglas, F. C. R.|
|Beattie, F. (Cathcart)||Burton, Col. H. W.||Drewe, C.|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Butcher, H. W.||Driberg, T. E. N.|
|Beaumont, Maj. Hon. R. E. B. (P'ts'h)||Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A.||Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury)|
|Beech, Major F. W.||Cadogan, Major Sir E.||Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side)|
|Beechman, N. A.||Campbell, Sir E. T. (Bromley)||Dugdale, John (W. Bromwich)|
|Bellenger, F. J.||Cape, T.||Duncan, Rt. Hon. Sir A. R. (C. Ldn.)|
|Bennett, Sir E. N. (Cardiff, Central)||Cary, R. A.||Dunn, E.|
|Bernays, Captain R. H.||Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Eccles, D M.|
|Bevan, A. (Ebbw Vale)||Chapman, Sir S. (Edinburgh, S.)||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.|
|Beveridge, Sir W. H.||Charleton, H. C.||Edmondson, Major Sir J.|
|Bevin, Rt. Hon. E. (Wandsworth, C.)||Chater, D.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. Sir C. (Bedwellty)|
|Bird, Sir R. B.||Christie, J. A.||Edwards, Walter J. (Whitechapel)|
|Blair, Sir R.||Churchill, Rt. Hn. Winston S. (Ep'ing)||Elliot, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. W. E.|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C.||Clarke, Colonel R. S.||Ellis, Sir G.|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Clarry, Sir Reginald||Elliston, Captain Sir G. S.|
|Bossom A. C.||Cluse, W. S.||Emrys-Evens, P. V.|
|Bower, Norman (Harrow)||Cocks, F. S.||Entwistle, Sir C. F.|
|Bowlas, F. G.||Colegate, W. A.||Errington, Squadron-Leader E.|
|Evans, Col. Sir A. (Cardiff, S.)||Lancaster, Lieut.-Col. C. G.||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)|
|Fermoy, Lord||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.||Rowlands, G.|
|Fildes, Sir H.||Lawson, H. M. (Skipton)||Russell, Sir A. (Tynemouth)|
|Findlay, Sir E.||Lawson, J. J. (Chester-le-Street)||Salt, E. W.|
|Fleming, Squadron-Leader E. L.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.||Sanderson, Sir F. B.|
|Foster, W.||Leslie, J. R.||Sandys, E. D.|
|Frankel, D.||Liddall, W. S.||Shephard, S.|
|Fraser, Lt.-Col. Sir Ian (Lonsdale)||Lindsay, K. M.||Shepperson, Sir E. W.|
|Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||Linstead, H. N.||Shinwell, E.|
|Fyfe, Major Sir D. P. M.||Lipson, D. L.||Silkin, L.|
|Gates, Major E. E.||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. W. (Ladywood)||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A.|
|George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Loftus, P. C.||Sloan, A.|
|Gibbins, J||Longhurst, Captain H. C.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Gibbons, Lt.-Col. W. E.||Mebane, Rt. Hon. W.||Smith, E. (Stoke).|
|Gibson, Sir C. G.||MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.||Smith, E. P. (Ashford)|
|Glanville, J. E.||McCallum, Major D.||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|Gledhill, G||McCorquodale, Malcolm S.||Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir D. B.|
|Glyn, Sir R. G. C.||McEntee, V. La T.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Granville, E. L.||McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.||Stanley, Col. Rt. Hon. Oliver|
|Green, W. H. (Deptford)||McGhee, H. G.||Stephen, C.|
|Greenwell, Col. T. G.||McGovern, J.||Stewart, W. Joseph (H'gton-le-Spring)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Mack, J. D.||Storey, S.|
|Grenfell, D. R.||McKie, J. H.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||McKinlay, A. S.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||MacLaren, A.||Strickland, Capt. W. F.|
|Grigg, Sir E. W. M. (Altrincham)||Maclean, N. (Govan)||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton (Northwich)|
|Grigg, Rt. Hon. Sir P. J. (Cardiff, E.)||Magnay, T.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray & Nairn)|
|Grimston, R. V. (Westbury)||Mainwaring, W. H.||Suirdale, Colonel Viscount|
|Groves, T. E.||Mander, G. le M.||Summerskill, Dr. Edith|
|Gruffydd, Professor W. J.||Manning, C. A. G.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Guinness, Group Capt. T. L. E. B.||Marlowe, Lt.-Col. A.||Sykes, Maj.-Gen. Rt. Hon. Sir F. H.|
|Gunston, Major Sir D. W.||Mathers, G.||Tate, Mrs. Mavis C.|
|Guy, W. H.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)|
|Hammersley, S. S.||Messer, F.||Teeling, Flight-Lieut. W.|
|Hannon, Sir P. J. H.||Mitchell, Colonel H. P.||Thomas, I. (Keighley)|
|Hardie, Mrs. Agnes||Mitcheson, Sir G. G.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Harris, Rt. Hon. Sir P. A.||Malson, A. H. E.||Thorne, W.|
|Harvey, T. E.||Morgan, R. H. (Stourbridge)||Thorneycroft, Major G. E. P. (Stafford)|
|Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Thorneycroft, H. (Clayton)|
|Henderson, J. J. Craik (Leeds, N.E.)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)||Thurtle E.|
|Hepburn, Major P. G. T. Buchan-||Mort, D. L.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Hepworth, J.||Muff, G.||Tomlinson, G.|
|Hewlett, T. H.||Murray, Sir D. K. (Midlothian, N.)||Tree, A. R. L. F.|
|Higgs, W. F.||Murray, J. D. (Spennymoor)||Tufnell, Lieut.-Comdr. R. L.|
|Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Naylor, T. E.||Turton, R. H.|
|Hogg, Hon. Q. McG.||Neal, H.||Viant, S. P.|
|Holdsworth, Sir H.||Nicholson, G. (Farnham)||Walkden, A. G. (Bristol, S.)|
|Holmes, J. S.||Nicolson, Hon. H. G. (Leicester, W.)||Walkden, E. (Doncaster)|
|Horabin, T. L.||Oldfield, W. H.||Ward, Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Hubbard, T. F.||Oliver, G. H.||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Hudson, Sir A. (Hackney, N.)||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H.||Wardlaw-Milne, Sir J. S.|
|Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Waterhouse, Captain Rt. Hon. C.|
|Hughes, R. Moelwyn||Parker, J.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Hume, Sir G. H.||Peat, C. U.||Watt, F. C. (Edinburgh Cen.)|
|Hutchison, Lt.-Com. G. I. C. (E'burgh)||Peters, Dr. S. J.||Watt, Brig. G. S. Harvie (Richmond)|
|Hynd, J. B.||Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.||Westwood, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Isaacs, G. A.||Pilkington, Captain R. A.||While, C. F. (Derbyshire, W.)|
|James, Admiral Sir W. (Ports'th, N.)||Plugge, Capt. L. F.||White, Sir Dymoke (Fareham)|
|Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.||White, H. (Derby, N.E.)|
|Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)||Poole, Captain C. C.||White, H. Graham (Birkenhead, E.)|
|Jennings, R.||Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W. (Blaydon)|
|Jewson, P. W.||Prescott, Capt. W. R. S.||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|John, W.||Price, M. P.||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Johnston, Rt. Hon. T. (Stl'g & C'km'n)||Pritt, D. N.||Willink, Rt. Hon. H. U.|
|Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Procter, Major H. A.||Wilmot, John|
|Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k Newington)||Quibell, D. J. K.||Windsor, W.|
|Jowitt, Rt. Hon. Sir W. A.||Rankin, Sir R.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Keatinge, Major E. M.||Rathbone, Eleanor||Womersley, Rt. Hon. Sir W.|
|Keir, Mrs. Cazalet||Reakes, G. L. (Wallasey)||Woodburn, A.|
|Kendall, W. D.||Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)||Woolley, Major W. E.|
|Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)||Reid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C. (Hillhead)||Wootton-Davies, J. H.|
|Kerr, Sir John Graham (Scottish U's.)||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)||Wright, Group Capt. J. (Erdington)|
|Key, C. W.||Riley, B.||York, Major C.|
|King-Hall, Commander W. S. R.||Ritson, J.|
|Kirby, B, V.||Roberts, W.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:—|
|Kirkwood, D.||Rebertson, D. (Streatham)||Major A. S. L. Young and|
|Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Robertson, Rt. Hn. Sir M. A. (M'ham)||Mr. Pym.|
Bill read the Third time, and passed.
The next Amendment I propose to call is that in the name of the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin). Perhaps the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Daventry
(Mr. Manningham-Buller) can be taken at the same time, namely, in line 24, at end, insert:
Provided that the value of an interest in land purchased pursuant to a notice to treat
served as aforesaid shall if the interest in land has been purchased since the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and thirty-nine, by the person upon whom the notice to treat has been served at a price lower than the price ascertained as aforesaid be deemed to be the price at which the interest was purchased from the person served with notice to treat unless the purchasing authority or the arbitrator is satisfied by such person that the interest was purchased by that person in connection with the occupation or use of land by himself or a member of his family or a person employed by him or as an investment and not with a view to resale at a higher price.
I beg to move, in line 24, at end, insert:
Provided that it shall be a direction to the arbitrator that he shall ascertain whether the person claiming compensation in respect of any interest purchased that interest as at a date later than the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and thirty-nine, and if he did so, whether the price then paid for that interest was lower than the value of that interest as ascertained in accordance with Rules 2 to 4 of the Rules set out in the said Section two by reference to prices current at the said thirty-first day of March, and, if the price was lower than as aforesaid, the arbitrator in assessing the compensation to be paid in respect of that interest shall not award any sum greater than the price so paid unless that person proves to the satisfaction of the arbitrator that the interest was purchased by that person in connection with the occupation or use of land by himself or a member of his family or a person employed by him.
I believe that this Amendment will be less controversial than the one we have been discussing. Indeed, I venture to believe that its object will be accepted with unanimity. It is designed to deal with the speculator, the person who bought property during the war, and whose property is to be acquired by the local authority. This question has been the subject of a great deal of discussion during the earlier Committee stage, on Second Reading, and to a certain extent even to-day, and I need not embark on the iniquities of the speculator. I would like, however, to give two examples of the kind of person whom this Amendment is designed to catch. There is, first, the person who in 1940 and 1941, and in some cases even later, went round the blitzed areas and induced, persuaded, even frightened, people into selling their property at a price far below its real value. It is known that this has been carried out on a very large scale in certain parts of the country. It is within my knowledge that this has been done on a large scale in Margate, Ramsgate, Dover
and Folkestone. An hon. Friend of mine says that it has been done in other places. It is inconceivable that such a person, when his property is being acquired, should be paid anything but the price which he paid for the property, and certainly not the 1939 value.
I know a case in London of a lady who owned a property which, in 1939, was worth £40,000. In the course of the blitz and towards the end of 1940, she was persuaded into selling her interest for £18,000. In due course the property was acquired by the local authority for £28,000, and the speculator thus made a profit of £10,000. If the local authority desired to acquire that property after the passing of this Measure, they would have to pay £40,000, and the speculator would walk off with a profit of £22,000. Nobody can have any sympathy for the person who bought the property for £18,000. That is the kind of case that my Amendment is designed to meet, and the way in which it would deal with it is to require everybody who bought, after 31st March, 1939, property it is proposed to acquire, to prove to the satisfaction of the arbitrator that the property was bought for his own occupation and use. I consider it fair and just that a person who bought a property for his own occupation and use should not be treated as a speculator and should be entitled to receive the 1939 value. Where a person bought a property not for his own use but for resale or as an investment, I see no hardship to that person in merely paying him the price that he paid for the property.
There are two other Amendments on the paper designed to achieve the same, or a similar, result. The first is that in the name of the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller). I believe that that Amendment goes too far. It brings in, as an exception, the investor. The hon. Member would treat the investor as a person who, however cheaply he may have bought his property during the war, should be entitled to the full 1939 value. The result would be, had the Amendment of the right hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) been carried, that the particular person I had in mind, who bought the property for £18,000, might have been able to estab- lish as a fact that he was an investor. It is very difficult to draw the line between the investor and the speculator, because the same person appears under disguises. The speculator I had in mind would be able to sell the property for £40,000. Surely my hon. Friend would not wish that sort of thing to take place.
Then there is an Amendment in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. G. Hutchinson), which proposes to give the arbitrator no direction at all. The hon. Member merely asks the arbitrator to consider the amount of compensation, having regard to the time at which the purchase was made. I feel that that is far too vague. It is putting too much at the discretion of the arbitrator without giving him any real guidance as to what he is to do. Suppose the arbitrator does have regard to the time at which a property was purchased, what is he to do about it? In what way is he to have regard to that fact? The Amendment does not give him a clue to the kind of compensation that, in a proper case, he should pay to the person who bought the property at that time, and whether he is to pay him no more than the price than the person paid for it. Both the Amendments are honestly designed to rope in the speculator, but they are not entirely satisfactory.
On the other hand, I believe that the Amendment which I have moved is satisfactory, because it gives the arbitrator a criterion to which he can act. It draws his attention to the points which he has to consider, and if a particular person fails to satisfy him that he bought his property for his own use or for the use of his family, the arbitrator can deal with him as a speculator and give him no more than the price which he paid for the property. That is not an unjust way of dealing with the matter. We should all like to have an assurance of getting back what we paid for a particular article or piece of property. So long as the person concerned is a speculator in land, I cannot feel that he has anything to complain of. I hope that the Minister will see his way to accepting the Amendment. There may be some verbal imperfections in it. None of us can claim to be perfect, and I do not claim to possess the skill of a Parliamentary draftsman. The Minister may consider that some variation in wording is necessary or desirable, and of course, I will gladly accept it. I hope that he will be able to accept the spirit of the Amendment and the particular criterion which it proposes to apply, in deciding whether a person is to receive the 1939 value or the price which he actually paid for the property.
After our recent discussion, it is pleasant to be able to pursue a common object, even though we may differ as to the right method of achieving it. I found myself in complete agreement with the preliminary observations of the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin). I can see no reason at all why a speculator who bought his land since 1939, at a price lower than 1939 prices, if he has not already secured his profit, should be able to make profit out of the local authorities and the ratepayers. I do not believe there is any means, apart from the representatives of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of dealing with the speculator who bought and resold before the public authority took the property over, but there is a method of dealing with the man who is holding on, and who bought at lower than the 1939 price. He is holding out, and he will be paid by the local authorities on the 1939 value, plus it may be 30 per cent., if he has gone into occupation himself.
The great merit of the hon. Member's Amendment and those of myself and my hon. Friends is that we do not seek to define the elephant. We ask the elephant to come forward and make itself known. My Amendment puts the matter a little more cogently than the Amendment of the hon. Member for Peckham. The burden is laid on the person from whom the property is acquired, if he bought the property since 1939 and at less than the 1939 price, to establish to the satisfaction of the purchasing authority, or if it goes to the arbitrator to the satisfaction of the arbitrator, that he bought the propery for his own occupation or use, or for a member of his family, or that he bought it as an investment. These are the words:
… or as an investment and not with a view to resale at a higher price.
So that the burden will be on the man who has bought since 1939 for lower than the 1939 price, and unless he discharges that burden, if he leaves the matter in doubt, all he will have paid to him as
the purchase price of his property will be the same as he paid for it.
I do not think it will be at all easy in a great many cases to prove that property has been bought as an investment and not for re-sale. This is not a case of giving an investor 30 per cent. more than the 1939 price, it is merely saying that if a man has bought for a genuine investment, to hold on to the property for the return it is to bring him, he should not be regarded in the same category as a speculator. I think the line can be drawn between the two. The hon. Member for Peckham apparently does not think that can be done. Therefore, we differ again.
I am in agreement with the hon. Member's observations on the Amendment in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. G. Hutchinson), which in my view is so vague as to be useless for any purpose at all. Whether the hon. Member's Amendment or mine is the better of the two, is immaterial. We are both pursuing the same objective. If our method is not right, I hope the Government will seek to devise some way in which this object can be achieved. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am very glad to hear that encouraging comment from my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson), because from that it would appear that at last he has realised that the observations which appeared under his name in the "Evening Standard" last night, to the effect that the Tory Reform Committee were satisfied with this Clause, are inaccurate.
I hope the Minister will appreciate the difference between the Amendment to which the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) has just spoken, and that moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin). It seems to me that the distinction which the hon. Member for Daventry seeks to draw between the investor who buys to hold, and the investor who buys to sell, is a very difficult one in practice. I invite the attention of the hon. Member for Daventry to this point, that if the wording of his Amendment were adopted, it would be very easy for anyone who intended to sell to show that he bought as an investor. The thing could be extended so widely that the object which he has in view and which we have in view, would, very largely, be evaded. The great advantage of the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham, is that it draws the line at a place where it can firmly be drawn between a purchase for occupation and a purchase for other than occupation, namely investment. I sincerely hope that the Minister who, I have little doubt, will have sympathy with the object of this Amendment, will indicate his assent and support. I hope he will say that the line has to be drawn at that point, and not seek to define what is investment and what is speculation in the terms of the other Amendment which, in my view, would not work.
I hope the Government may be able to do something to give effect to what I believe to be the general wishes of this Committee. I support the Amendment which has been put down in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller). I think it is a better Amendment, but I do not say that either that, or the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), is necessarily the last word. I do think, however, that the Government, in view of the general expression of opinion throughout the Committee, should be able to propose an Amendment which will have the effect we all desire. I think it is quite possible. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General may, of course, say that it is extraordinarily difficult to define a speculator. Of course it is. It would be almost impossible to do it, but if either the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Peckham, or that in the name of the hon. Member for Daventry, is adopted we get over all the difficulties of definition, because then the onus is put on a particular person to show that the transfer was a bona fide transfer. I do not want to add more because I think the Committee' is in such general agreement that the Government will find some solution to enable us to get what we want.
It is evident that there is unanimity on this topic on both sides of the Committee. Therefore, I propose to address myself solely to the debatable question of which of the various ways proposed in the different Amendments on the Paper, will prove to be the most efficacious means of dealing with what is generally agreed to be a great evil. My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) made reference to the Amendment which stands on the Paper in my name, and I understood him to say he was unable to appreciate what the arbitrator was expected to do if he was to have regard, as my Amendment suggests, to transactions subsequent to 1939. The answer to that is, I think, very simple. The right solution of this problem is, I believe, to get the arbitrator away from the 1939 standard. As the Clause stands the arbitrator is bound to start with the 1939 standard. I believe, if I may put it in this way, that if he is released from this obligation and given liberty to adopt some other standard than the 1939 standard, that really is as far as it is necessary or practicable to go in providing a solution to this problem.
One of the difficulties about this Bill is that it has become so complicated. The Bill really attempts to provide for too much. So far as this particular Amendment is concerned, I feel sure the Committee would be well advised to give the official arbitrator, when he comes to determine the amount of compensation, as wide a discretion as we can in undertaking his task. Is there any reason why we should not trust the official arbitrator to do justice in this matter, and to ascertain who is the speculator, and deal with him accordingly? The official arbitrators are very experienced persons, who by training and experience are well-qualified to do that, provided we give them a sufficiently free hand. I am sure that the most practical way in which the Committee can deal with this matter is to take the course of not endeavouring to prescribe to the arbitrator what he shall or shall not award, but to give him, within certain broad limits, as wide a discretion as we reasonably can. If that is done, I think the Committee need have no doubt that the official arbitrators will be well able to differentiate between the speculator and the person who is not a speculator, and to deal with the speculator in the manner that the Committee would desire.
It seems to me that the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) and the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) have both spoiled their Amendments by the qualifications that they have put into them. I am one of those who voted against the Government just now, because I consider that the provision made for compensation of persons who owned their property at the beginning of the war, and whom it is proposed to dispossess under this Bill, is inadequate. But I have never taken the view that we should do anything to make it easier for people to make money out of the war by speculating in property. I do not go so far even as the hon. Member for Peckham. In my view, if anyone has purchased property since the outbreak of war, and that property is now required by a public authority, under this Bill, the price paid by the authority should be either the 1939 value, or the price that the present holder paid for the property, whichever be the lower. I would not qualify that in any way: I would not accept either the qualifications suggested by the hon. Member for Peckham, or the qualifications suggested by the hon. Member for Daventry. If the Government propose to do something to meet this problem, they should make a hard-and-fast rule that, where property has been bought since the outbreak of war, the purchaser shall not be entitled to more than either the price he paid for the property or the 1939 value, whichever be the lower.
The hon. Member for Peckham says, in his Amendment:
unless that person proves to the satisfaction of the arbitrator that the interest was purchased by that person in connection with the occupation or use of land by himself or a member of his family or a person employed by him.
I object to that exception. The hon. Member for Daventry, has other exceptions, and I object to them. I object to all exceptions.
Would the hon. Member object to the qualifications if the person were, in fact, in occupation, and after his property had been acquired he had to find somewhere else to live?
Yes; I see no reason why a person who has purchased property during the war should make a profit out of that property, if the property is required by the local authority, under this Bill.
I congratulate hon. Members opposite on a conversion. In all the years I have been fighting this land question on the Floor of the House, this is the first occasion on which Members of the Conservative Party have suddenly been stricken with conscience, and have begun to admit that there is such a thing as a speculator in land values, and that he ought to be extinguished. I do not think that the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) will do that. I say to him and to the Labour Party that once you assent to land purchase, all these difficulties are inevitable. But that is in passing. I think that the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) is about the best I have heard so far, and that land should be taken at the price the owner paid for it, or at the 1939 valuation—which is, in my opinion, a fiction; but never mind that—whichever is the lower. The two Amendments imply two things on the part of the arbitrator. He must find out the intention of the person who has bought the land. The arbitrator has enough to do under this Bill without giving him this duty of applying psychoanalysis to every purchaser. I would not like to have to find out the intention of any person who buys land. I agree with the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) but if you say that an arbitrator has to satisfy himself that the person who has bought the land has not done so with a view to resale at a higher price, there must, inevitably, be an element of time involved. How long would you give the new owner to establish that he was buying the land not for resale? How many years would he have to hold it to establish that fact? It is very difficult indeed.
My main purpose is to ask the legal elements in the Government to do something in this matter, because if there is any skunk that ought to be stamped out of the State, it is this type of speculator. I notice that many of them carrying on this practice in London are not even British. That ought to be noted. I wonder what the men at the front would say if they knew that they are fighting to defend a country which has become the playground of foreign speculators in London. I have had to sit quiet and swallow a good deal on this Bill, but here is a vital point. I hope we shall be able to devise some Clause that will deal with the gentlemen who are running around even now, speculating in the land of London. I hope that the Committee will take note of what is going on at present.
I will take my hon. Friend by the hand and show him. All I am saying is that I hope the Government will, by some Clause or another in this Bill, net these gentlemen in some way; because there is this difficulty. People like myself, who have very strong views in the matter, know that when a man wants to use a piece of land, he has no alternative, under the present economic system, but to buy it. We are not civilised yet: we believe in buying and selling land. We can appreciate, therefore, the distinction between the land-user, and that other kind of gentleman who seeks, not to use the land at all, but merely keeps his emissaries running around to find out where the sites are likely to rise in value; and then enters in, as he is doing, buys up the tail-ends of old leases, and pulls down the buildings, in order to speculate on the value of the site. We know that that is going on, not merely in London, but all over the country. I again congratulate my hon. Friends opposite, although I do not congratulate the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams), because I do not know that I shall ever convert him. I do, however, hope the Government will find some way of doing something to deal with these ramifications which are going on in land speculation.
Perhaps it might be convenient if I said a few words at this point in the discussion. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) made an appeal to the Government to do something in this matter. I want to remind the Committee, because I think it is very relevant, that when this question of the possibility of profit being made out of land originally arose, what people had in mind was the very large profit that might be made if we went above the 1939 level and the planning authorities, or the local authorities, had to buy land irrespective of any ceiling or standard. That was the problem that people had in mind, the speculative profit problem, and by adopting, as this Clause does, the 1939 standard, the Government is, in fact, adopting the measure which was pressed upon them to prevent speculative profits. I think it very important that that should be borne in mind in considering this problem.
The point now put forward, and I am in general sympathy with the attitude taken, is that there is a subsidiary possibility of speculative profits below the 1939 level.
My right hon. and learned Friend will bear in mind that, when it was originally discussed, the 1939 prices were to be a ceiling. Well, the ceiling has gone, but the speculator remains.
I would not say that the ceiling has gone. I appreciate my hon. Friend's point, and I think he appreciates mine—that what people had originally in mind was the possibility of the figures going well above 1939, whether it was a floor, ceiling or standard, and, to that extent, this Bill meets that point. Now the point is the possibility of profits made by those who buy below the 1939 level but who, under the Bill, get the 1939 standard. This is a problem which my right hon. Friend and I and others of our colleagues have considered carefully. It is a problem which raises, I think, greater practical difficulties than, maybe, some of my hon. Friends realise. I would illustrate it with one or two instances. We have some evidence of it in the three different Amendments which are down on the Order Paper.
Undoubtedly the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) is one which has the support of some other hon. Members. He wishes to cut out the investor, but it is going to be very difficult to say who is an investor and who is not. It is not a crime to put money into land, or anything else, at the value at which it is being offered in the market, and that would be a very difficult criterion to apply. One cannot say to a man, "Did you consider any possibility of re-sale?" If he is honest he says, "Of course I did." If he is reasonably honest he would say, "I cannot reasonably say that, but, of course, if I get a reasonably good offer, I am not going to put my hand on my heart and say I should not sell." "Speculator," it would be said.
A man may have bought, not to resell, but to develop. He may have bought a property, damaged or not, with a view to putting a lot of money into it, which may have turned out well or may have turned out badly. There is a great deal of development, to which we have owed a lot in the past, which has been done by private individuals who bought property which had outworn its usefulness and put up blocks of flats, and it is a perfectly legitimate way of spending earnings. How are we to deal with a person like that? He says, "This lot was on offer and I bought it to put a lot of money into." Is he a speculator or not? I am not quite sure.
Coming to rather less important but more technical matters I want the Committee to realise that we have considered this problem and that we felt that, if we are to deal with it, we should want a rather elaborate code. I will deal with the point of the hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson)—that we could just chuck it all at the arbitrator. Arbitrators do not like having things chucked at them in that way. They are there to apply a code, and to tell them to have regard to all the circumstances which might arise in every conceivable sort of position is not a fair way of dealing with them. The code would have to cover those cases where an alleged speculator bought property which had been acquired with other property. If all the cases were simple cases, in which it could be said "In 1941 the actual property acquired was bought by AB for so much and here is the 1939 standard," it might be fairly simple. But we should have to provide for the case of a man buying other blocks of property, and to have some procedure for apportioning the price paid to the price he is to receive. A man may have sold part of the property which he did not require. There would have to be a complicated code to arrive at how much of the original purchase price should be allocated to the property being acquired.
Take another problem. In some of these cases, property has been bought below the 1939 cost in areas which are at present, in a sense, unproductive for an uncertain period. Somebody, say, at Ramsgate or Margate may want to sell his property and realise, having decided never to go back there. Somebody buys it and the price paid would obviously be reflecting the fact that for an uncertain future period he could not use that property, say, as a lodging-house, boarding-house or hotel, in the ordinary way. It would be quite wrong to treat what the man gave for that sort of property in 1941 as if he had been buying property, which, at that moment, had been at its full commercial value, and say we would not give him any more. He would say that we could not disregard the fact that he bought it knowing that he could not make anything out of it for five years, and that, in fact, he had made nothing out of it for five years, and therefore it would be wrong to give a price which would reflect the unproductive nature of the property for the period of five years.
There might be a man who bought property and created leasehold interests out of it. The code would have to reflect that, because a man may have bought a leasehold interest which has now less time to run than when he bought it. If he bought the reversion, it has become more valuable since he bought it because the lease is nearer falling in. There might be cases where, possibly with a view to something of this kind, a man has transferred it to an investment company, which appears to have given a larger sum than was originally paid for it. To get at all the people it might be desirable to get at would need a rather elabor ate code, something like the tax evasion code. There is the speculator who before the notice to treat has sold the property and got away. We do not catch him nor do we catch—and this must always be realised—the speculator who is not in an acquired area. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) said, "Have a general Clause," some general form of words to guide the arbitrator. The complexities, some of which I have indicated, will satisfy they Committee that it is really not fair to the official arbitrator to chuck a problem like this at him. The Committee must observe the problem and give the arbitrator some guide as to how to deal with it.
I will tell the Committee frankly the Government's decision, and our decision on the matter. We first of all felt that by taking 1939, even as a standard, we would prevent the grosser manifestations of the evil which we all desire to prevent. Our evidence was that the amount of speculation below 1939 was not great. We do not suggest that it has not happened in certain cases. We felt the great difficulty of producing a satisfactory code, the great complexity which it would involve and the amount of time that would have to be taken by arbitrators in administering it. We can say that the magnitude of the speculative evil below 1939 standard did not justify the complexity and the administrative work which a satisfactory solution of the problem involved. That is the decision to which we came. I cannot hold out any hope—and it would be wrong to do so—on behalf of my right hon. and learned Friend, that, at a later date, we shall be able to get over the practical difficulties, but my right hon. and learned Friend having heard from all sides of the Committee a desire that he should look at the problem, we will as is right and proper, have another look at it. We might be able to assimilate it in some way—without possibly covering all the details with a complete code—so as to come down in bad cases, which we would all like to meet. If we can, we will suggest something in another place. We had a look at it, taking a long time over it and we felt that the complexity was great and that the magnitude of the evil did not justify a very full code, but my right hon. and learned Friend will have another look at it and I hope, in view of that assurance, the hon. Member will withdraw the Amendment.
I was interested in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech, because he described a type of person who did not seek to make a purchase but who had something he wanted to sell at a lower price than the 1939 price, whether it be property or land, and he went on to indicate that such a person really ought to be compensated a little for lack of income from the property during the period when he held it and it was productive of nothing.
I did not say that. What I was saying was, not that he should be compensated, but that the price he paid would be less than it would have been if the land had been productive, and that ought to be taken into consideration.
The speech had no significance at all unless the right hon. and learned Gentleman implied that here was a case where something more ought to be given than would otherwise be the case. Take the case of building development. There happens to be in my part of the world one of the largest and most competent building firms in the South of England. If they are to carry on the business of building houses and providing homes for the people, they have always to be searching for sites. This Amendment has a bearing not only upon land already built upon but upon sites. Has it become a wrong thing for a builder to buy sites in anticipation, and, if he is wise, to buy economically? Surely, that has not become a criminal thing. The disciple of Henry George talked about speculators, but in that case you speculate as much as you like and in comes the Revenue authority and levies a charge on the capital value of the land.
I really want to know where we stand on the matter. With the constant declaration that it has now become an anti-social thing to do the normal things which are necessary before houses can be built we shall, if we are not careful, paralyse post-war house building.
The hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) has been the first person to express a desire that the Government should not succeed in finding a form of words which would enable the speculator to be dealt with. I hope that the Government will note that from all parts of the Committee, except from that one quarter—
My hon. Friend must not misinterpret me. I gave examples of people who will be penalised and to whom the word "speculator" does not apply at all. Insult is not a valuable form of argument.
I am glad to ascertain from every part of the Committee, that the Government are now believed to be trying to devise a form of words which will deal with this particular problem. It should not, ordinarily, be too difficult to detect a gross case when it arises, I did not hear the whole of the speech of the Attorney-General, but I am satisfied that it is going to be extremely difficult for the Government to devise any satisfactory form of words. I hope they will make an earnest effort in this matter, and I would like to suggest that if it so difficult—and I agree that it is difficult—to define the kind of person whom we desire to catch, the best solution would be to leave, as the hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) has suggested, an extremely wide discretion to the official arbitrator.
We listened with very great attention to the Attorney-General, and we were impressed by the difficulties of the task which he has undertaken to try to perform, but I want to impress upon him that there is a widespread feeling everywhere that it would be improper that the cost of rebuilding our blitzed cities should be made the more onerous in order that people may make profit out of deals in property. That, simply put, is I think the feeling of nearly everybody, that it would be an outrageous thing if this kind of profit could be made.
I listened with very great interest to the Attorney-General's recital of the difficulties, and I am bound to say that they were not quite so immense as I had expected him to reveal. First, there is a very definite limit to the whole problem. Only those transactions which have occurred since 1939 will be looked at at all. Although there has been speculation, there has not been a very active property market, taking the country as a whole, and therefore it is a limited problem. Now let us look at just one other aspect. These compensations will be payable in respect of land—uncovered land as well as buildings—and although the shortage of building materials and labour, and the immense pent-up demand for houses and premises will undoubtedly have an upward pressure on the cost and value of buildings, it is not at all clear that the price of uncovered land will continue to rise. I have been advised by some people who know about these things that the various difficulties of developing land in the post-war circumstances may well have a depressing effect upon the price of land, and therefore, in adopting the 1939 value not as a ceiling but as a standard, the Government are very likely, in the case of uncovered land, to raise the value in many cases to levels which they would not otherwise have attained. In those circumstances it is most important that those who have recently acquired properties at knock-out prices should not, at the public expense, be enabled to make a profit which they would not otherwise make if the property were not acquired and they had to dispose of it in the open market. So I urge the right hon. and learned Gentleman most earnestly to try to find a way of meeting the unanimous wish of the Committee and the very powerful feeling in the country that speculation in properties shall not be made at the public expense.
I have listened with very great interest to the remarks of my right hon. and learned Friend and, of course, it is impossible not to have been impressed to a certain extent by what he said. I want to say that public sentiment about the speculator is very strong indeed, far stronger, possibly, than the case might justify, and the Government really ought to do something in the matter merely to satisfy public opinion, if nothing else. I felt that a good many of the cases referred to could have been met, perhaps, by allowing interest on the purchase price. I think there might be a case for allowing a certain amount of interest, especially where a person has bought land for the purpose of subsequent development, but has not been able to use it for the time being. It might be fair to increase the actual purchase price in such cases by a certain amount of interest, but I hope that the Government will look at this seriously and make a genuine attempt to do something. In that belief and, I hope, assurance, I shall be quite pleased to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move, in line 24, at end, insert:
Provided that the value of an interest in land purchased pursuant to a notice to treat served as aforesaid shall if the interest in land has been purchased since the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and thirty-nine, by the person upon whom the notice to treat has been served at a price lower than the price ascertained as aforesaid be deemed to be the price at which the interest was purchased from the person served with notice to treat unless the purchasing authority or the arbitrator is satisfied by such person that the interest was purchased by that person in connection with the occupation or use of land by himself or a member of his family of a person employed by him or as an investment and not with a view to resale at a higher price.
This Amendment has been considered at the same time as the previous Amendment, and I would like to say that the feeling of the whole Committee has been such as to encourage the members of the Government to see if there is any further avenue they can explore. I was a little depressed to hear that, despite the legal weight on the Front Bench, up to the moment the matter has defeated them. I hope, none the less, that they will combine and collaborate with a view to solving the difficulty.
I beg to move, in line 24, at end, insert:
Provided that where since the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and thirty-nine, an interest in land or part thereof has been valued for estate duty purposes at a figure higher than the value ascertained as
aforesaid, the value for estate duty purposes shall be deemed to be the value of the interest in land or part thereof purchased pursuant to a notice to treat served at any time within the period of five years from the commencement of this Act.
I hope that in moving this Amendment I shall not be accused of drawing a red herring across the trail or anything of that sort. The simple object of the Amendment is to avoid an anomaly arising in the future. It may be, with the law as it now stands, that a short time before a property is acquired by a local authority at 1939 prices, that property has been valued by the Revenue for purposes of Death Duties. The individual concerned will have a real grievance, if, after he has paid Death Duties on a certain valuation of the property, the local authority, supported by the Minister of Town and Country Planning, come along and say that no matter what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said, and though he may have put the value 100 per cent. above the 1939 value, they will only pay the 1939 value, which is far less. The object of this Amendment is to provide that where Death and Estate Duties are paid on an estate after 31st March, 1939, at a higher value than the prices calculated in accordance with this Clause, then the Death Duties valuation shall be taken to be the valuation at which the property is purchased by the local authority. If that is done, it seems to me it will rule out a possibly serious anomaly. If the Chancellor says that instead of the Death Duties valuation, he is prepared to accept the prices calculated in accordance with the 1939 prices, then I would be prepared to withdraw the Amendment, but I do not imagine he will accede to that. If he is not prepared to do so, then I suggest that the price should be brought up, in those particular instances, so as to avoid an obvious anomaly which will create a great feeling of injustice among those unfortunate people.
Before I come to the substance of the Amendment, I might Perhaps say one brief word about Estate Duty administration in relation to this problem, in amplification of the few words I spoke in reply to an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams)—who is not in his place—on the Second Reading of this Clause. Under the Act governing the assessment of property for Death Duties the basis upon which the taxing authorities have to proceed under the present law is the normal basis of current market value. Under war conditions, as hon. Members will readily understand, that basis has proved, in practice, to be very far from satisfactory. Nevertheless, that is the law and the valuers have to make the best of it. The alternative which we adopt for the purpose of this Bill, of replacing current market value by 1939 values, is not available for Estate Duty purposes, because it would involve, in certain circumstances, very great hardship to persons who have already been subjected to the hardship of a death, perhaps the death of the bread-winner in that family. What adoption of 1939 values would mean would be the acceptance of 1939 values as a basis of tax where, in fact, property might have had to be sold on the death of the owner under very adverse circumstances and fetched a greatly reduced value.
Therefore, the tax authorities have to work on the basis of the existing law, and do the best they can to arrive at current value. They tell me that they have to recognise, in the process of the negotiations that go on before a settlement is reached, a margin—it may be a very wide margin—for differences of opinion and so great has the practical difficulty proved to be, that the taxing authorities have been compelled, with Ministerial approval, to adopt just the distinction that is made in this Bill between the owner-investor and the owner-occupier. Where the estate concerned is an estate involving occupation, and where it is clear that it is not to be sold, the tax authorities are at liberty to levy the tax on the basis of the 1939 values.
Now I come to the substance of the Amendment, and I am going to surprise my hon. Friend. I recognise the anomaly of an assessment, at more than 1939 values, of an interest which has passed on death, and which is subsequently acquired by a local authority at a lower basis of compensation than that on which Estate Duty has been levied. But I do not think the Amendment is one that it would be proper to accept, because acceptance would mean that the local or other public authority which had to pay compensation, would be bound by something quite irrelevant, by something which had been done by some other authority operating under a different code of law. So I cannot accept the Amendment, but what I can and will do is this: I will give an assurance on behalf of the Government that when such a case does arise, if, after Estate Duty has been assessed, there is subsequent acquisition, and the price at which the property or interest is assessed is less than the value taken for the purpose of Estate Duty, then I will provide for the re-opening of that assessment, so as to get rid of any inconsistency between the value on which the taxing authority has proceeded, and the value under this Bill for the purposes of acquisition.
I have ony two points that I must safeguard in that connection. The first is that I think it will be essential so to frame the appropriate arrangement, which will have to be embodied in the next Finance Bill, as to apply only in cases where there is continuity of ownership. If the interest has been played about with, so to speak, in the interval between the two transactions, so that it cannot be identified, then the relief I am proposing may not be possible. The other point that must be safeguarded is that the interest which has to be dealt with must be substantially the same in the two cases. For instance, a reversionary interest at the date of death is one thing, and two or three years later it is something different. I, therefore, propose to bring before the House in due course an Amendment which will substantially get rid of any inconsistency between the basis of valuation for Estate Duty and the kind of case which my hon. Friend has in mind.
Will the provisions the Chancellor contemplates bringing into the next Finance Bill provide for re-adjustment in the other direction? He has said that where Death Duties have been exacted at a higher price, and the local authority has acquired the interest at a lower price, there shall be revision, but where Death Duties have been exacted at a lower price and the local authority acquire at a higher price, will his Department say that they want more Death Duties?
No, it is not contemplated that we should do that, but the House will have an opportunity of looking at this matter, and if they think that it is not a properly worked-out and properly balanced provision, they can say what they like about it.
The Chancellor said that the practice of his Department up to now had been to distinguish between the owner-occupier and the owner in regard to Death Duties, but as I understood him, he did not explain what the distinction was, and I would be glad if he could do so, or perhaps tell me that I did misunderstand him.
I may not have made myself quite clear, and I shall be glad to clear up the point because it is perfectly simple. I said that, in practice, the taxing authorities have found the basis of current market value so difficult in present conditions that they have been compelled to make a distinction between the owner-investor and the owner-occupier, because they found that hardship—indeed, intolerable hardship—might otherwise be inflicted in certain cases, after the death, say, of the father of a family, and where the widow and her children desired to go on living in the same house, which might have, in the immediate circumstances of the moment, a higher market value than the value at March, 1939. In order to avoid such hardship, the taxing authorities have been authorised to accept in such a case, as the basis of Death Duties, the March, 1939, values, subject to their having an assurance that the property would remain in occupation, and would not be thrown on to the market.
I was saying that the purpose of my Amendment is only to keep open the way to a full discussion that may appear necessary on the new Schedule to which this Sub-section leads. But if, in your view, Mr. Williams, we shall not be precluded, and it will be more convenient to ask for an explanation of the meaning of the new Schedule when it is reached, then I should not propose to move my Amendment.
If the hon. Gentleman wishes to discuss the Schedule on a main point, he can do that on the Motion, "That the Schedule be read a Second time," and can divide against it if necessary. I think that arrangement would meet his point of view.
I beg to move, in line 29, at end, insert:
(3) If at any time any order is made under Section eleven of the War Damage Act, 1943 (Power to increase amount of value payments) directing that the amount of value payments in any cases or classes of cases which would otherwise have been computed as provided by that Act, shall be increased by a sum equal to such proportion of the amount computed in accordance with that Act as may be specified in such order the Minister may by order direct that the compensation payable under this Act shall be in the like cases or classes of cases be increased by a sum equal to a like proportion of such compensation.
This Amendment comes before the Committee at a rather late stage and in circumstances in which the prospects that I shall successfully persuade my right hon. Friend to examine it with much sympathy are, I fully appreciate, not very great. I commend this Amendment to the Committee upon two grounds. One of the grounds, I hope, will appeal to my hon. Friends on this side. The other, ought to appeal to some of my hon. Friends on the other side of that Committee.
This Amendment seeks to place the compensation in respect of properties which are to be acquired by a planning authority upon the same footing as properties which will be entitled to a value payment under the War Damage Act. The first ground on which I desire to commend the Amendment is this. I can put it most plainly by taking a concrete example. Under this Bill the owner of property which is acquired compulsorily by a planning authority will receive a lower rate of compensation than will be paid to the owner of precisely the same type or character of property which has been destroyed by enemy action, who will become entitled to a value payment.
Let me put this case as an example of what I have been saying. Take two houses, neither of which are occupied by their owners. They may be situated in the same street. One is totally destroyed by enemy action. The owner becomes entitled to a value payment under the War Damage Act, with the prospect that, at a later stage, he will receive a further sum or supplement which will be such proportion of the value payment to which he has already become entitled on the standards of 1939 as may appear to the War Damage Commission, to the Treasury and to this House as being just in the circumstances of the time when the value payment comes to be made. He has the prospect of receiving not only the 1939 standard, but something in addition to compensate for alterations in the value of money and other things. The owner of the other house, which may be of precisely the same type and character, which is not damaged by enemy action, but which is acquired by the planning authority in the course of carrying out a scheme for planning a particular area rendered necessary by enemy action, will receive the 1939 standard and nothing more. What justice or justification is there for paying these two types of owners different standards of compensation? I ask my hon. Friends on the other side of the Committee, if a constituent asks "Why am I to be paid something less than my neighbour because my house has not been damaged but acquired by the local authority?" what would their reply be? It will be no good saying, "No more concessions"; the owner will not be satisfied with that. Unless these two classes of owners are put upon the same footing, the substantial justice which my right hon. and learned Friend claimed for this Bill the other day will not be forthcoming.
Let me come now to the second ground upon which I desire to commend the Amendment to the Committee. This is a ground which, I appreciate, may not appeal to all my hon. Friends on this side. If the Amendment is adopted the Committee will in fact be carrying out the recommendations of the Uthwatt Report, so far as I have been able to understand them, as nearly as it is practicable to carry them out. There are certain aspects of the Uthwatt Report with which I am, frankly, not in agreement; but it is of some interest to see what the Uthwatt Committee recommended about this question of the 1939 standards and their relation to the War Damage Act.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha), in moving his Amendment earlier, referred to this part of the Committee's Report and I will refer to it again. The Committee had already recommended that the 1939 standard should be adopted. In their final Report they proceeded to refer to certain considerations which they thought might make it necessary to explain that recommendation. One of those considerations was that the value of money may have changed. They go on to deal in more detail with each of these considerations and, when they come to the question of the change in the value of money, they say this:
We do not propose to make any observations upon modifications of the maximum due to changes in the value of money. We merely recall that our recommendation referred to a standard of values and not to prices and that the matter of the change in the value of money has been the subject of legislative treatment in the War Damage Act, 1941, in connection with the quantifications of sums payable under that Act.
If that passage means anything, it means that when the Committee recommended that the 1939 standard should be adopted they did not preclude the possibility of that standard being subsequently enlarged in order to meet changes in conditions which might occur later. They expressly drew attention to the matter to which I am now drawing attention, namely, that the War Damage Act already dealt with the same situation by providing what has been called an escalator, in order to give effect to changes that may have taken place in the value of money or other relevant circumstances. This Clause does not give effect to the recommendations of the Uthwatt Report in the same manner as effect would be given to those recommendations by my Amend-
ment. Therefore I commend this Amendment particularly to hon. Members on the other side of the Committee.
There is general agreement on both sides that one of the purposes that we have in view is to prevent the owner or any other person interested in property from securing for himself some advantage which is attributable to the disturbed conditions of the war. That was the basis of the recommendation of the Uthwatt Committee that the 1939. standard should be adopted. But that is not by any means the same thing as saying that we ought, because of the war, to impose any avoidable loss on any owner of property. For these reasons I commend this Amendment to the Chancellor. I invite him to see whether, in spite of everything that has happened to-day, it might not still be possible to find in it some common ground of agreement as to the basis on which these claims for compensation are going to be met. I am not entirely without hope that by following the procedure which this House has already adopted in the War Damage Act, we can find a basis which will be acceptable to the whole Committee and which will do essential justice to persons whose property will be acquired under this Act.
This is a matter of very great importance to householders and to businesses. The Chancellor of the Exchequer made a sympathetic answer just now when he was invited to bring into relation the valuation for Death Duties payment and the valuation of property under this Act. The case advanced by the mover of this Amendment is very similar. I had an Amendment down myself, which was not called, and which, in principle, advocates exactly what the hon. and learned Gentleman has suggested. A person loses his property partially or wholly. It is damaged or destroyed, and the owner becomes entitled to a payment under the War Damage Act. He might become entitled to a cost-of-works payment, or a value payment, but in either event, his position might be transformed as the result of this Bill and as the result of a compulsory acquisition of property under this Clause. If, for instance, the property were acquired under this Bill and he was entitled to a value payment had it not been for the Bill, that value payment might have been increased under the Sec- tion referred to by the hon. and learned Gentleman. But if the Clause were passed without the Amendment, and without bringing the two Acts into relation, you would be definitely depriving the claimant of a sum to which he would be entitled under another Act. The same principle applies to a cost-of-works payment. By virtue of the fact that there is a compulsory acquisition under the terms of this Clause, the owner loses the cost-of-works payment. It cannot be the intention of the Government to put anyone in a worse position as the result of the Bill. I plead with the right hon. Gentleman to bring the two Acts into fair relation. An investor in property would certainly be very much damnified as the result of the Bill. If he is entitled to a cost-of-works payment he loses it completely, and he loses his right to a heightening of the value payment under Section 11 of the Act. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider the matter sympathetically. I gather from the expression on his face that he is not so well-disposed as I should have hoped, but there are Members on both sides who feel the justice of the claim and feel that there ought not to be a distinction in the method of assessing values under the two Acts.
The expression which my right hon. Friend thought he detected on my face was not an expression either of sympathy or of lack of sympathy. It was rather an expression of mystification. I may be very stupid, but it seemed to me that my right hon. Friend was addressing himself to a quite different point from that raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford (Mr. G. Hutchinson). As I understand my hon. Friend's point—quite irrespective of whether I agree with him or not—it briefly was to bring the two Measures into line for the purpose of securing that if and when, under the War Damage Act, what we called the escalator Clause is put into effect, a similar provision should be made with regard to compensation under the Bill; because he says you could not argue convincingly that a person who had suffered war damage, should be treated better than a person whose property had been taken by some public authority.
My right hon. Friend, on the other hand, was dealing with the case of a person who, under the War Damage Act, had been entitled to a cost-of-works payment, and had had his claim in respect of a cost-of-works payment accepted; but, by reason of the fact that his property is being acquired by a public authority, has to have a value payment instead of a cost-of-works payment. That, with the very greatest respect, is a quite different point, though they both involve the general purpose of trying to bring the two Statutes into line.
May I address myself to that general purpose, with which everyone would, at the outset, have a certain sympathy? I hope that I shall have the indulgence of the Committee in this matter, because it is very technical, and I have to keep a very tight hold on myself, to make quite sure that I do not stray. The first question I have to ask is this—I am not going to quote any Latin on this occasion—Is it possible, in practice, to bring the two codes into line? They make an entirely different approach. The War Damage code is concerned, in the first place, with buildings and not with land. The buildings and the land are to be separated. The Town and Country Planning Bill is concerned with interests in land, or buildings. Secondly, the War Damage Act is concerned with the property as a whole, and not with the separate interests. It does not deal with the separate interests. The Town and Country Planning Bill deals with the question of compensation for each separate interest.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend desires to do justice. I would point out to him that the proposed Amendment provides that the Minister of Town and Country Planning shall be entitled to make an order dealing with any class or classes of case. It does not propose that the order shall apply universally to every class of case.
Yes, I want to do justice to that but I also want to make myself clear. The last intervention has confused the matter, because while, under my hon. Friend's proposal, the Minister of Town and Country Planning would be entitled to make an order dealing with any particular class of interest, that is precisely what the War Damage Act does not enable the Minister to do. That is the point I was making. The War Damage Act is concerned with the property as a whole, and not with the separate interests. I think I am right in saying that, as it stands, there is no power to anybody, under the War Damage Act, to separate the different classes of interest and make separate orders with regard to them. I think you can deal with classes of property but not with classes of interest.
Anyhow, what I am seeking to do now is to address myself to the general proposition that the two codes should be, if possible, brought into line, and I am explaining to the Committee certain practical difficulties. I was coming to the third point, which hon. Members may not have clearly in mind. My hon. Friend talked about scaling up values for the purpose of taking account of changes in the value of money. I assume that we are not being asked at this point to go over the ground that was covered before the Division which took place a short time ago on that very question. What I have to say about the War Damage Act in that connection is that changes in circumstances which may be taken into account, as the War Damage Act stands, are limited to changes in circumstances since the date of the Act, that is to say, since April, 1941. Any change between March, 1939, and April, 1941, is not within the competence of Section II of the War Damage Act. Therefore, I say that it is not really practicable, in my view, to attempt to bring the two codes into line in the course of framing the Bill.
That does not, however, dispose of the question raised by my hon. and learned Friend, because the point of his Amendment is to ensure, somehow or other, that the compensation paid to a person whose property has been taken by a local authority for a public purpose shall not be less favourable than the compensation paid to a person whose similar property, assuming there is no division of interest for this purpose, has been damaged. I am entirely in sympathy with that view. I do not myself see how you could justify treating a person, whose property is taken selectively by a public authority for some public purpose, less favourably than the person whose property has been damaged as a result of the war; but that does not lead me to the same conclusion as it leads my hon. and learned Friend.
I do not think that we can deal with the contingency that he has in mind by an Amendment of the Bill. We do not know, we cannot tell, what may ultimately be decided under the War Damage Act. That Act did not contemplate any speedy action to take account of changing circumstances. What it contemplated, as the wording of the Act clearly indicates, was that when the time had come for making any substantial number of payments in respect of value awards under the Act, the position should be reviewed, and a duty was put on the War Damage Commission to make a report to the Government, if it appeared to them that, by reason of the changed circumstances since April, 1941, the scale of value payments made by the Commission under the Act was inadequate, in regard to any particular classes of case, or generally. But that is all in the future; that is all contingent. There is no obligation on anybody to step up compensation payments under the War Damage Act in consideration of any change in the cost of living.
The Act will have to be carried out; if is on the Statute Book. In due course, these matters will have to be considered, and if the War Damage Commission, which is a body of a judicial nature, makes a report, the Treasury will have the duty to consider it, and may report to Parliament in favour of making some change. What form that change will be we cannot anticipate, and because of the basic differences in the two Measures it would be quite impossible and wrong to pledge the Minister now to do exactly the same in regard to compensation payments under this Measure as might in due course be right under the War Damage Act.
There is a further reason for the distinction. That is that in the case of the owner-occupier the Town and Country Planning Bill already provides for scaling up the compensation in recognition of the circumstances at the moment of acquisition. I do not suppose that my hon. and learned Friend would claim that if his Amendment were otherwise acceptable it should apply as it stands to the case of the owner-occupier, who is already getting a settlement by his compensation payment, in exactly the same way as it applies to the owner-investor. Clearly that would be wrong, so the Amendment as it stands on the Order Paper would in any case fall. What I do say is that if and when in due course the Government and Parliament have to consider the applica- tion of what we call the escalator Section under the War Damage Act we shall certainly, in my view, for the reasons my hon. and learned Friend has adduced, have to consider afresh the provisions of the Clauses in this Bill dealing with compensation. That, I am afraid, is all I can say on the matter now. I sympathise with the purpose of my hon. and learned Friend's Amendment, but I think the time for dealing with the matter will not come until the question of the escalator Clause under the War Damage Act becomes a practical question.
With regard to this curious series of anomalies which seems to be appearing as a result of the differing provisions of these two Measures, I would like to ask the Chancellor's consideration of a class of case which immediately arises from what we have done in this Committee. There is, let us say, the owner-occupier of a war-damaged factory who would, if it was not acquired under this Bill, get a cost-of-works payment, which would be a sum of money to repair his damaged property and put him in possession of it again in order that he may carry on his occupation.
I must correct the hon. Member. A cost-of-works payment is only given when the work has been done. It is not a sum intended for a certain purpose. It is the paying of a builder's bill.
It would be intended that the money should be given when the work is done; it is conditional upon the work being done. The intention is that the owner-occupier can repair his damaged premises and carry on his occupation. The Town and Country Planning Bill enables a local authority to acquire ruins for the purpose of clearance and replanning the town, a very desirable purpose. If the property we are considering had not been damaged, the owner-occupier, because he was an owner-occupier, would get additional compensation. But it is damaged and he is to get a cost-of-works payment when he can repair it, but the local authority now acquire it for town planning purposes. They buy the ruin and the moment they do that he loses his qualifications for his cost-of-works payment. He is forced back to a very much lower level in most cases, as we know from the amounts of value payments.
I understood from the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister about this matter that there was clearly in his mind—he said it in fact—that persons whose property which had been damaged by enemy action was acquired by public authorities should not be placed in a worse position because the property was so acquired. The owner-occupier will be in a very much worse position; he will lose his cost-of-works payment, because he will be unable to rebuild on the site, and the cost-of-works payment is conditional not only upon rebuilding but on rebuilding on that site, as I understand it. If it is not so I shall be very delighted to hear it. He is stopped from rebuilding on that site because the local authority have acquired that site, and he is driven from his cost-of-works payment on to a value payment. I suggest that some compensation should flow to him, or he should be able to take that cost-of-works payment and apply it to some other site, because he is prohibited from using his old site by reason of the action of the planning authority.
My hon. Friend, if he will allow me to say so, is under a misapprehension. What my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister said was this—I do not quote his actual words but I give the substance: He said that a person whose property has suffered war damage and has then been acquired should not be treated differently from a person who has had his property acquired without having suffered war damage. That is what my right hon. Friend said, and that is secured by this Bill. My hon. Friend is addressing himself to an entirely different case. This difference between the person who under the War Damage Act would, in the ordinary course, get a cost-of-works payment and, because it is made impossible for him to restore his property on its original site, can get only a value payment, is not a consequence of, this Bill. It has nothing whatever to do with this Bill. If there had been no Bill of this kind there would still be many cases in which damaged property which would qualify for a cost-of-works payment would, by reason of acquisition under the many provisions of existing law which allow acquisition for various purposes, have to fall back upon a value payment under the terms of the War Damage Act, which we are not amending. That is a result which flows from the terms of the War Damage Act, and the fact of acquisition, irrespective of whether the acquisition is under this Bill and subject to the special provisions of this Bill, or is under any other Act which enables property to be taken for a public purpose.
With the greatest respect to the Chancellor I go back to the words used by the Deputy Prime Minister. I agree with the Chancellor that he said that a person whose property has not been damaged shall not be put in a better position under this Bill than a person whose property has been damaged, but it is exactly what will happen, because the owner-occupier who has not had his property damaged will get compensation up to 30 per cent. above the 1939 level because of his occupancy, and the owner-occupier whose property has been damaged will, by this Bill, be transferred from a cost-of-works to a value payment, and will be in a very different position from a man whose property has not been damaged. I think all this makes it necessary for us not to drift on in the hope that the War Damage Commission will do something about it, but for this House to take action to bring these two Measures into accord so that these injustices are removed.
My hon. Friend is still under a misapprehension. The man whose property is war-damaged, and who would qualify for a cost-of-works payment but who gets only a value payment because the local authority intervenes and acquires his property, is in exactly the same position under this Bill as if the property had not been war-damaged; because the supplement which is applicable to the owner-occupier whose property is not war-damaged is made applicable, by the next Clause in this Bill, to the owner-occupier who has qualified for a cost-of-works payment, exactly as if his property had not been damaged. His property, having a cost-of-works payment attached to it—if I may put it like that—is treated, for the purpose of the supplement under the following Clause, dealing with the owner-occupier, as if it were undamaged property. My right hon. Friend the Attorney-General will deal with that point, but I know he will bear me out. I intervene only in order that we may get the thing clear.
I think the right hon. Gentleman did—perhaps he will look at his notes. At any rate, he gave the general impression that it would be at some very long time ahead. The War Damage Commission will have to make a report to the Treasury, and the report will have to come before this House. I would point out that representations have already been made to the Chancellor pressing for a decision on this matter. Many people are seriously affected, and I hope that the War Damage Commission will make up their mind rather sooner than my right hon. Friend gave the impression that they would.
The answer of the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be a little disappointing—although perhaps that is inevitable—to the owners of property. I have had brought to my attention a case which I think my right hon. Friend should listen to. It is the case of a charitable trust, which owns property near St. Paul's Cathedral. Under the War Damage Act, this property would, I presume, qualify for a value payment; but, being near St. Paul's Cathedral, it is almost certain to be the subject of a planning scheme by the City Corporation, and, not being owner-occupied—for the trustees of charitable property cannot be regarded as owner-occupiers—it will be debarred from any supplement under the escalator Clause of the War Damage Act.
This is not owner-occupied. These things are very complicated, but I am trying to put the matter as clearly as I can, surrounded, as I am, by a battery of lawyers. Under the War Damage Act this property, which has been destroyed, is eligible for a value payment, and that would be open to supplementation under the escalator Clause of the War Damage Act. The City of London Corporation, however, will acquire it at the 1939 price, without any supplement of any kind. Therefore the trustees, who for years have been doing valuable charitable work in Kensington, both educational and philanthropic, will be to that extent deprived of the opportunity to continue that work. The hon. Gentleman opposite seemed to think of the landlord as some rich villain, but here is a case where the freeholders are going to be deprived of the opportunity of doing good—although they are landlords—to the poor of Kensington, simply because the supplementation which would be available under the War Damage Act will no longer be available because of this new Clause, which allows of no supplementation on the 1929 price.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the manner in which he has dealt with this Amendment; I am particularly glad to find that he recognises that this Clause will involve an injustice, which he is desirous of setting right. It seems to me unfortunate that we should pass this Clause, containing, as it does, an admitted injustice, and that we should be unable to find any means by which that injustice could be remedied. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the assurance that, at some later stage, when a report is made by the War Damage Commission, under Section 11 of the War Damage Act, the quantum of compensation payable under this Bill is to be reconsidered. I hope that I understood the assurance correctly. I would ask my right hon. Friend, before I withdraw this Amendment, to go one step further, and to undertake to consider, between now and a later stage, whether this injustice, which he admits to exist, cannot be put right by some further Amendment of this Clause. Having said that, and having expressed my gratitude to my right hon. Friend—
I would like to get this absolutely clear, because there may be a misapprehension; and I am not quite sure that it is entirely on this side. Let me deal with the case put by the hon. Member for Kennington (Mr. Wilmot). Suppose the property is damaged in the ordinary way, or destroyed. It may be entitled to a cost-of-works payment if the building is of such-and-such a character. An application is made to do the repairs which are necessary. It is refused, on the ground that the local authority are going to acquire the property. The result is that the house-owner, or the occupier, or the shopkeeper, or the tenant, has to take other premises and to pay rent. He is out of his premises altogether. Another shop or house may remain intact until the very last moment, and there is no inconvenience caused. Can I have an assurance that a person who would have been entitled to a cost-of-works payment, or, it may be a value payment—but the cost-of-works payment is a stronger case—and who, throughout this period, has been out of his property, will not be worse off under a compulsory acquisition order under this Act than he would have been otherwise? I do not know if I have made myself clear. The whole Committee feel that the Chancellor has done his best to make the position plain, but I would like to feel satisfied on that point.
That is done, of course, under the next Clause, but I agree it has a certain relevance to this Amendment and my right hon. Friend is quite right. I will try to put it in quite simple words. Take the case of a man whose house has been damaged, maybe very badly damaged. The point is that he has been earmarked for a cost-of-works payment. Of course if it was not acquired by the local authority that would mean that the fund would pay the builder; the man would be entitled, out of the fund, to a habitable house reconstructed as it was before the damage. When it comes to be acquired by the local authority, he will get compensation as if his house had not been damaged, that is to say, he will get the 1939 value of the house as if it had not been damaged. He will not be deprived of the owner-occupier bonus merely because he does not happen to be in occupation.
No. Surely it would hp quite wrong that he should he given a sum over and above the cost of repairs in 1939 simply because building happened at the moment to be very expensive. I do not think he would be worse off because he would get compensation as if his house had not been damaged. The investor gets exactly the same, but he does not get the supplement. The value payment, of course, is quite a different problem.
Before the Amendment is withdrawn, may I raise one point? The hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) suggested that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had given an assurance to the Committee that when, under the procedure of the War Damage Act, application was made by the War Damage Commission, and duly approved and forwarded by the Treasury and submitted to this House for approval in the form of an Order, on that procedure being applied and the escalator coming into force, something should be done in relation to this Bill we are now considering. I did not myself gather the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, and I think it would be appreciated if the point could be cleared up.
I want to make this absolutely clear and to have no room for misunderstanding on what was said from this side. I did not give any assurance, perhaps, in the sense that the hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) accepted. What I did say was that I agreed with the general principle of his Amendment that there should not be more favourable treatment of the war damaged person than of the person whose property has been taken without any war damage. I said, therefore, that there would have to be some step taken at the proper time to bring this Bill and the War Damage Act into line, but I held out no particular expectation as to the form which the process of assimilation might take. That will be within the control of the House at the proper time. What the Committee should understand from me is that I did say, on behalf of the Government, that we recognise that, if and when the question of applying the provisions of the War Damage Act, either as they stand now or with amendments in respect of what we call the escalator—if and when that question arises, the form of these provisions in this Bill will have to be looked at again. That is the assurance I gave.
I am obliged for what the right hon. Gentleman has said. That was what I understood him to say in the first instance. Perhaps the fault was mine for introducing the expression "assurance." Perhaps it would be as well that I should not make a second attempt to paraphrase what he has said; and so I again express gratitude to him for at least this small measure of comfort, and now beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
I beg to move, in line 32, at end, add:
() Where any person entitled to compensation for the compulsory acquisition of an interest in any land assessed in accordance with Sub-section (1) of Section of this Act (hereinafter referred to as 'basic compensation') erects, within the area of the local planning authority by whom such basic compensation is payable, a building of a value not less than that of any building which existed on the said land immediately before its compulsory purchase (or, if the said land has sustained war damage, immediately before the occurrence of such war damage and if the said land has sustained war damage on more than one occasion, immediately before the occurrence of the first war damage) and completes the erection of such building within five years from the commencement of this Act, the person so entitled to basic compensation shall also be entitled, in addition thereto, to recover a sum (hereinafter referred to as 'additional compensation') equal to the amount by which the proper cost (in terms of Section eight of the War Damage Act, 1943) of erecting the said building exceeds the aggregate of—
Such payment of extra compensation shall be made on the completion of the reinstatement of the said building, and the amount thereof shall in default of agreement be settled by an official arbitrator appointed under the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act, 1919.I must apologise to the Commitee for bringing forward this Amendment at so late an hour. What I am proposing, in fact, goes to the very roots of the matter, because, in this Clause, I am proposing to introduce a new criterion, a distinction, not between owner and owner-occupier, but between reinstater and non-reinstater. One naturally hesitates to talk at length on this Measure, when one realises how technical it is, but we are concerned with the practical position as it will be. The people we are concerned about are those who will get cash compensation under the present proposals, and who may not be in a position to acquire for themselves equivalent accommodation. The words which I have put down on the Order Paper suggest a means for ensuring the possibility of reinstatement without asking the Government to commit themselves to he very generous in the way of cash compensation, which might be taken in the form of cash profit, by persons whose property had gone up in value, or because of whatever change in economic conditions there might be.
The short effect of what I am proposing is that everyone, whether owner or owner-occupier, would be entitled to basic compensation on the basis of the 1939 prices, but that any person who decided to claim compensation under this Bill, and who was willing to reinstate the property, would be able to claim an additional payment to cover the extra cost of building, as compared with 1939 costs. I want to make that quite clear. I did not intend to propose that a man should be able to get a new house for an old one. It may be the effect, but that was not the effect that I provided for, and I was told that the words I used would avoid that. I hope it may receive serious consideration, and I put it forward, not in any hope that the Government will alter their whole scheme of legislation at the present stage, but in the hope that my right hon. Friend will take this proposal into serious consideration in the sense that some modification of what I am proposing may offer a way out of many very difficult cases. I do not wish to say more at this stage, but I would make one further point in explanation of what I am aiming at. I would put it to the Committee, and to the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he were here, that a general provision on those lines would really be extremely helpful to the general financial position. I appreciate that the Government would not wish to encourage unlimited expenditure on house building in the years after the war. That will have to be closely controlled, if it can be controlled, but it is also very important that there should not be large sums of money paid out in compensation in the form of cash. That would have a definitely inflationary effect. If there is a chance for people who are willing to reinstate to get extra payment the cash paid out will be earmarked against houses arranged to be constructed. That is an important point. The local authorities will avoid having to pay out money twice over, to the person buying the house and to the builder.