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The Minister made a Freudian slip when at the start of our proceedings he moved that the Lords Amendments should be now "discussed", rather than the more formal "considered". I am sorry that he did not stay to discuss them. I suppose that he has gone to console himself for the fact that in the Division on the Bill we have just finished discussing, even with Liberal support, his majority fell to 16. He left the Parliamentary Secretary to argue what is, frankly, an unarguable case. I think that the House felt a great deal of sympathy with the Parliamentary Secretary, the Casabianca of the Treasury Bench, left to argue the unarguable on the orders of his absent chief. The picture of a good man struggling with hopeless adversity arouses sympathy in the hardest-hearted opponent. We feel for the Parliamentary Secretary.
The Government are being needlessly and hopelessly obstinate. We had a very good debate, as hon. Members will remember, on a similar Amendment in Committee in this House. The Parliamentary Secretary will remember that, apart from himself, not one hon. Member who spoke from either side—and many did—felt happy about this Clause, limited as it then was, which the Lords Amendment would widen. Not one hon. Member who spoke expressed other than criticism.
Indeed, if I may risk an invidious choice, I thought the most vivid illustration of the manifest injustice that the Government are seeking to achieve by the Bill in the form they want it to leave here came in the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Joyce Butler), who described a case where a matter of a few days in respect of two separate dates were going to make all the difference to one of her constituents whose home was being taken for a slum-clearance scheme.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary talked about paying a supplement. I am not sure that that is the right technical term. I doubt whether it is. In any case, we are not concerned with paying a supplement to somebody but with paying to an owner-occupier the market price for the home that is being taken from him so that the local authority may carry out a slum-clearance scheme.
When the Joint Parliamentary Secretary says "It will make slum clearance more expensive," I cannot believe that any local authority is happy at the idea that slum-clearance schemes must be financed at the cost of making people homeless, with only a pittance by way of site value and compensation. I do not believe that anyone wants to see slum clearance carried out on that basis.
Of course, the essence of the matter is this. On 13th December, the day before yesterday, the provisions of the 1957 Act ran out. Under that Act those who bought houses between 1939 and 1955, if taken up for a slum-clearance scheme, got the market value. From early this year hon. Members have been urging the Government to do something about it and, in the debate on the Queen's Speech, when it was announced—I forget by which Minister—that this was to be done, all of us, whatever our general views of the Government, were glad that they were at least doing one good, if limited, thing. How disappointed and disillusioned we were when it turned out that they were doing nothing for those who bought between 1939 and 1950 and only little for those who bought between 1950 and 1955.
The Lords Amendment would take them all on to 1970, but the Joint Parliamentary Secretary made very heavy weather of the difficulties that that would cause; that if one was going to deal with these one should deal with others. That is the traditional argument of a Minister in difficulties. I will not say that I have not used it when the rôles were reversed, although I was always conscious of the fact that it was a bad argument.
Here we have a specific and defined class of people, specifically defined by the 1957 Act. They are perfectly clearly ascertainable. There is, therefore, no real force in the argument that because other people may suffer an injustice we should not seek to remove the injustice from this clearly ascertainable class, a class of people who, until the day before yesterday, had protection in these circumstances.
With respect to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, it is absolute nonsense to say that this would make more difficult the review of compensation which his right hon. Friend and he are undertaking. Why would it? If these people are protected until 1970 it would at least enable the Minister to consider this difficult question of compensation more easily, with the knowledge that these people are looked after while that consideration is going on.
It may happen that when they have considered the matter the Government will bring in more classes or will extend the protection beyond 1970. At least the position would be held until then. I stress, even at this last stage, that that is well worth doing and that, so far from making more difficult would make more easy the general review of compensation which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary says the Government are undertaking.
This is not merely the view of this bench or, indeed, in another place only of this party. The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) is no doubt aware that in another place, when the Amendment was put into the Bill, the noble Lords the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party there joined with the noble Lords of my party to insert the Amendment in the Measure, obviously for reasons which moved their Lordships to feel that this was right. Why cannot the Parliamentary Secretary take this message back to his right hon. Friend—or bring his right hon. Friend back here? I am glad that I have been able to
… call spirits from the vasty deep.
But the quotation goes on I think:
But will they answer?
I hope that the Minister will——