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Clause 1. — (Payments to Owner-Occupiers of Unfit Houses.)

Part of Orders of the Day — Housing (Slum Clearance Compensation) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th December 1965.

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Photo of Mr Peter Griffiths Mr Peter Griffiths , Smethwick 12:00 am, 15th December 1965

I support the Amendment. I think that similar terms were acceptable to the overwhelming majority of hon. Members in Committee. One remembers the opinions they then expressed. Since I last spoke on this subject, I have had numerous letters and personal approaches from people in my constituency who have pointed out that they only now realise the effect of the Bill. It was only when examples were given at that late stage that they realised what was happening.

The Parliamentary Secretary said that the people who are, as it were, being disfranchised were not distinguishable, but I suggest that they are, inasmuch as they are the group of people who believed that they were safe and would be so treated as to ensure that they received market value. They banked on that and assumed that the proposed legislation would continue to protect them in that way. Now that they find that it is not so, they are a particularly disappointed group. The present proposal means that only persons who have owned houses for less than 15 years are eligible for full compensation if their houses are adjudged unfit. It does not go back even to 1950 because, by the time this legislation is in force, we shall be in 1966 and it will apply back to 1951. This is a kind of creeping decontrol, which we have heard criticised in the past from the benches opposite.

There will be the further anomaly that the 15-year limit does not take account of the individual problems and circumstances of people who bought at round about the critical time. It does not allow for those who have owned their homes not for 14½ years but for 15½ years. There should be provision to ensure that there is not a complete dividing line so that six months or so can make all the difference between market value and site value.

In my view, all owner-occupiers should receive full compensation, because that is the only fair way, but, as the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) said, 1939 is at least a reasonable point at which to start. Since 1939, people have been affected by wartime and post-war conditions, and they may very well have bought properties which they would not have dreamed of buying before the war. By the housing shortage and changes in their place of work, they have been forced to purchase these properties, and they bought on the understanding not that they would make a profit on them but, rather, that they would stay on and make their homes there.

It is estimated that in my constituency more than one-quarter of the properties may well be adjudged unfit now, and a very large number of them were bought in the period which, without the Amendment, will disqualify the owners from benefit. Many such properties were purchased just after the war when people came home from the Forces and went to the industrial conurbations to set up home.

One point brought very directly to my attention in the past few weeks is that the 15-year limit will hit older people particularly. In the normal case, those who have lived in their homes the longest will be the older people, but they will be the ones to lose their homes and get little or no compensation. They expected that they would have to pay only the rates in their old age, and, goodness knows, the rates are high enough, but now they will have to pay municipal rents. A few minutes ago, the Minister reminded us that municipal rents had risen by 50 per cent. in 10 years. These people will find such rents very hard to pay out of their pensions. We ought to offer proper compensation for their homes so that they can purchase other properties, with 100 per cent. mortgages from their councils. Many local authorities are offering such facilities now, and we should encourage them.

In my constituency, with its densely concentrated population, we are finding that about 400 dwellings out of every new 600 built are taken up by people removed from development areas. It will be a terrible problem if everyone who could be covered by this Bill is given no compensation and has to go into a council dwelling. If we ensured that the majority of such people who bought between 1939 and 1951 were offered full compensation, they would have a chance to buy again instead of drawing on our social capital in the form of municipal housing.

10.45 p.m.

We should be seeking equity between neighbours. All the legislation produced by this House should be seen to be simple justice. How can it be simple justice if people on one side of a street, with identical houses to those on the other side, and which they bought at the same time, can be offered different rates of compensation merely because the local council's redevelopment scheme ended in in the middle of the road? The same applies to people living in different parts of the town who bought at different times but are offered different rates of compensation because some bought their houses a few months earlier than others bought theirs.

It is not too late to avoid this anomaly or the bitterness that is welling up. The Minister has received a number of letters from my constituents on this matter. This is of vital concern to areas like Smethwick and others in the great conurbations. I make an appeal to him on behalf of my neighbours in Smethwick who have shown humanity and understanding. I hope that, even at this late stage, this might be matched by the humanity and understanding which has been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

If the Amendment were accepted we should see a restoration of public confidence and it would also encourage local authorities to proceed with redevelopment. At the moment some, my own in particular, are concerned that, with more redevelopment, they might do more injustice—created not through any fault of theirs but because of this legislation.