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Clause 6—(Power Of Local Authorities To Make Allowances To Certain Persons Displaced)

Volume 465: debated on Monday 30 May 1949

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

I beg to move, in page 7, line 24, to leave out "such," and to insert "a."

I think that the next six Amendments on the Order Paper, in lines 24 to 31, go together with this Amendment.

Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I were to read the Clause as it would appear with these seven Amendments incorporated, so that hon. Members may readily see their full effect:

"A local authority for the purposes of Part V of the principal Act may pay to any person displaced from a house or other building which has been purchased by them under that Part of that Act a reasonble allowance towards his expenses in removing, and to any person carrying on any trade or business in any such house or other building they may pay also a reasonable allowance towards the loss which he will sustain by reason of the disturbance of his trade or business consequent on his having to quit the house or building, and in estimating that loss regard shall be paid to the period for which the premises occupied by him might reasonably have been expected to be available for the purpose of his trade or business and the availability of other premises suitable for that purpose."
That will show the House the effect of substituting the various words which these Amendments propose to incorporate and of deleting such words as are proposed to be deleted.

Hon. Members who were on the Standing Committee will recall the discussion which took place on this matter. Indeed the Committee was divided, and successfully divided, against Amendments which would have had very much the same effect as those now under consideration. As Members are aware, one of the purposes of a Report stage is to provide a sort of court of appeal to the whole House from the decisions arrived at in Committee upstairs. It is in that sense that we appeal to the House to decide on this important point today.

As hon. Members will see, the Clause as at present drafted, leaves a very wide discretion to the local authority. In the Committee discussions there was an Amendment to substitute "shall" for. "may." That does not figure among the Amendments which we are now considering, but as the House is aware, although "shall" can never mean "may" in the interpretation of a statute the word "may" can at any rate get very near to meaning "shall." If these Amendments are incorporated, "may" in the second line of the Clause will impose a duty upon the local authority to take the steps thereafter prescribed.

If this series of Amendments is accepted the local authority will be empowered, and to that extent obliged, to make a reasonable allowance in respect of the cost of removal and the cost of disturbance in cases of compulsory acquisition under Part V of the Housing Act, 1936. I feel sure that the House as a whole will agree that in such circumstances, compensation under those heads should always be paid to a person thus dispossessed, and if that is so it is clear that the amount that should be paid should be a reasonable amount. The attitude of the Government in this matter is first of all that local authorities should be left with a very wide discretion, though in view of what the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale) said about certain local authorities in the Debate which we have just concluded, it is clear that the supporters of the Government do not ascribe the same degree of wisdom to all local authorities.

The only point that I was making was that, on the whole, the standard of intelligence of local authorities is now slightly less than it was a couple of months ago.

The hon. Member now assesses the intelligence of local authorities on a time basis. I understood from his previous speech that it was assessed on a purely geographical basis, and that by some curious topographical idiosyncrasy, the nearer they were to the sea the less their intelligence appeared to be.

5.45 p.m.

The second defence of the Government in this matter was that the Clause as framed, reproduces exactly or very nearly the words of the previous statute. Why that very conservative approach should be put up so often by the Parliamentary Secretary and his right hon. Friend I am never quite clear. Surely it is right that the House of Commons should keep before it the possibility of making progress in these matters and of improving the words of our statutes so as to give effect to what is the real intention of the House of Commons? If these Amendments are incorporated in the Clause so as to give it the effect which it would have in the terms which I read out in moving this Amendment, the assessment of compensation will cease to be a discretionary matter for the local authority. Surely that is right.

The traditional attitude towards compulsory acquisition and compensation as shown in the statutes governing these matters is that, whereas compulsory acquisition is a matter of policy, and therefore the decision as to whether or not compulsory acquisition is to be carried out is left, with appropriate safeguards, to the acquiring authority, the question of compensation is decided according to certain prescribed standards and is not left to the decision of the local authority. Clearly that is as it should be because the amount of loss, and therefore the entitlement to compensation, can be objectively assessed as a matter of fact, and need not be left to the local authority. That is the effect of the Amendments which it is sought to make in the latter part of this Clause, which require a reasonable allowance towards the loss and enact that the estimate of the loss shall have regard to certain specified matters.

The Clause as at present drafted, leaves it to the local authority to give an opinion on the matter of compensation. I am sure that the House will agree that people who are dispossessed in these circumstances, although it may be that the requirements of the community necessitate their being dispossessed, are nevertheless entitled to proper compensation objectively and reasonably arrived at. It is to secure that we on this side of the House have put down these Amendments, and it gives me great pleasure to move the first of them.

I beg to second the Amendment.

The answer which we shall get from the Parliamentary Secretary will probably be the same as that which we got when we discussed this matter in Committee. Neither my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) nor my hon. Friends thought that that was reasonable. That is why we are seeking to appeal on the Floor of the House of Commons for what we consider to be the just protection of the rights of the individual against a local authority which might not be prepared to take a reasonable view. I do not think that the House should quarrel with this view. We feel that those people who are dispossessed through no fault of their own should have certain definite protection in law. If this Bill passes through its various stages we see that there will be on the Statute Book a definite loop-hole as a result of which those just rights will not be protected. I do not wish to elaborate this theme, which has been ably and clearly put by my hon. Friend. It is in the nature of an appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary that I have ventured to detain the House for a few minutes, because I feel that where the House of Commons can protect the individual, the House has the duty to do so.

This Amendment concerns a very narrow point, and I am really surprised that it has been thought necessary to put it down on the Report stage. I say that because, although the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) suggested it was a rather strange argument for me to suggest that this had been the standard wording of previous statutes on this issue, and he apparently thinks that I should take a different line by assuming that the wording would automatically be wrong, it is competent for me to suggest the argument that previous Administrations over quite a long period of years, including very recent Administrations, have found it quite unnecessary to include any wording of this kind.

We want to know, and we have not heard from hon. Members opposite, of any fresh reason why this wording should be included. We are driven to the conclusion that they have suddenly become doubtful about the attitude of mind and the discretionary power of the local authorities. So far from recent events encouraging them to take a less jaundiced view of local authorities, they seem to have done the opposite. We are placed in the peculiar position of defending the new changes in local authorities and assuring hon. Members opposite that this does not affect our regard for local authorities generally, as democratic bodies who ought to be allowed reasonable discretion in matters of this sort which are essentially local matters.

That is what it seems to amount to. Only recently in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1944, it was not regarded as necessary to make a provision of this kind for appeal from the local authority to the court, and it is rather extraordinary that we should be asked to include it now, with no suggestion of any cases cropping up where local authorities have acted unreasonably in this way. This might act in quite an opposite sense from the one in which hon. Members opposite wish it to act. It might prove a deterrent to local authorities using the discretionary power which is in their hands, and I would not assume hon. Members opposite would wish that to be the case.

How does the Parliamentary Secretary expect that that would work out in practice? I did not quite follow the last point he made that the incorporation of these words would have an adverse effect upon people whose property was compulsorily acquired. Will he elaborate that?

It merely means that hon. Members opposite are suggesting there would be a challenge to the courts on the decision of local authorities, instead of leaving in the hands of local authorities the discretion whether or not they shall make a payment in these cases.

With great respect, I did try to indicate that in my view that would not be the result. It will be within the recollection of the hon. Gentleman that I suggested that the word "may" in statutes can, by nice graduation, shade off into "shall," and that this would in effect be one of those cases.

However that may be, clearly it still is the case that we have before us the decision of hon. Members opposite that they have no real faith in the local authorities carrying out their work in a reasonable way. So far we have heard of no cases of that kind, and so far as we know they have carried out exactly similar powers perfectly to the satisfaction of their people throughout the past years. We have heard no argument for altering the wording of the Bill which has been put before the House, and I hope that hon. Members opposite will withdraw their Amendment.

The technique of the Minister is employed with not quite so much success by the Parliamentary Secretary. That technique, with which we are familiar, is to take a small point and blow it up into a gigantic bubble, fill it with many-coloured smoke, and say how unreasonable are the Opposition to bring forward a case of this kind. Put forward with the fire and vehemence of the Minister, it is an engaging performance and one which we all enjoy, but I do not think it is intended to be a serious argument. The Parliamentary Secretary is perhaps following a dangerous precedent if he departs from his own admirable expository style into these merely inflationary walks of argument. When he said that the Amendment showed that we had no confidence whatever in the discretion of local authorities, and then proceeded to build up his argument upon that, he really was somewhat exaggerating his own argument, and not in any way representing the most reasonable proposal which has been put forward. We do not intend to detain the House at any length, but this is a point on which the Government are clearly continuing a course which, in its mere increased application, is already bringing about a new position——

If I may interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, I ask how are we creating new circumstances when in point of fact we are continuing a practice that he and his right hon. Friends have always adopted?

May I, simply in passing, mention the very difficult situation in which the Minister of Town and Country Planning has found himself in regard to the dispossessing of certain individuals from sites in new towns. Elsewhere, the scale of the dispossession and evacuation of the citizens is much greater than has ever taken place before. The rate at which the Government are claiming the property of the individual is very much greater than ever before. The policy on which the Government are acting is the policy that the rights of the individual should not be considered against the rights of the community—at any rate that they should be less considered than they have been before. I do not think the Minister will object to that. It is the grammar of his creed.

I most certainly do object. I think it is fantastic that in discussing this Clause a local democratically-elected body is now to be regarded as a body without any sort of proper representation of the feelings of people locally. It is quite fantastic.

Well, I shall take up the Parliamentary Secretary on that single point. I will take the local authority within whose jurisdiction we are now living—that is, the London County Council—and take as an example the clearances on the South bank which will have to be carried out and the moving of a house, or indeed a trade or business, which may very reasonably have to be carried out there. While I would not rub a raw patch on the political conscience of the Parliamentary Secretary by referring to the way in which a majority was obtained upon that local authority, I certainly would not suggest it was democratically obtained, though I do not suppose he will contend that. I will merely say that it shades off, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) said, into the difference between "may" and "shall"; so indeed there is a very fine line between the point at which democratic sanction was obtained and the point at which democratic sanction was wrenched from the verdict of the electorate.

The difficulty of the small man against the great organisation is an increasing difficulty. Therefore, it is more desirable than less to make a safeguard. If the House should decide otherwise then that is the decision of the House, and the House must stand by their decision; but we say it is right and proper that the House should have the opportunity this afternoon of pronouncing upon this point, and on this suggestion that in the case of

Division No. 154.]


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Adams, Richard (Balham)Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S. W.)Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S. E.)
Albu, A. H.Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)
Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)Deer, G.Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)
Alpass, J. H.Dodds, N. N.Keenan, W.
Attewell, H. C.Driberg, T. E. N.Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.
Austin, H. LewisDumpleton, C. W.Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.
Ayles, W. H.Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.Kinley, J.
Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B.Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly)Kirby, B. V.
Balfour, A.Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)
Barstow, P. G.Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)Levy, B. W.
Barton, C.Evans, E. (Lowestoft)Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)
Battley, J. R.Ewart, R.Lindgren, G. S.
Bechervaise, A. E.Fairhurst, F.Lipton, Lt -Col M.
Berry, H.Farthing, W. J.Longden, F.
Beswick, F.Field, Capt. W. J.Lyne, A. W.
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)McAdam, W.
Bing, G. H. C.Foot, M. M.McAllister, G.
Binns, J.Forman, J. C.McEntee, V. La T.
Blackburn, A. R.Ganley, Mrs. C. S.McGhee, H. G.
Blenkinsop, A.Glanville, J. E. (Consett)Mack, J. D.
Bowden, Fig. Offr. H. W.Goodrich, H. E.McKay, J. (Wallsend)
Braddock, T. (Mitcham)Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)McLeavy, F.
Bramall, E. A.Grey, C. F.Mainwaring, W. H.
Brook, D. (Halifax)Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)Guest, Dr. L. HadenMallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.Gunter, R. J.Mellish, R. J.
Brown, George (Belper)Guy, W. H.Messer, F.
Brown, T. J. (Ince)Hale, LeslieMiddleton, Mrs. L.
Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.Hall, Rt. Hon. GlenvilMitchison, G. R.
Burden, T. W.Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.Monslow, W.
Burke, W. A.Hardy, E. A.Moody, A. S.
Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)Harrison, J.Murray, J. D.
Chamberlain, R. A.Hastings, Dr. Somerville.Naylor, T. E.
Champion, A. J.Haworth, J.Neal, H. (Claycross)
Chetwynd, G. R.Herbison, Miss M.Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)
Cluse, W. S.Holman, P.Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)
Cobb, F. A.Homes, H. E. (Hemsworth)Noel-Baker, Capt F. E. (Brentford)
Cocks, F. S.Horabin, T. L.O'Brien, T.
Collindridge, F.Houghton, A. L. N. D. (Sowerby)Oliver, G. H.
Collins, V. J.Hudson, J. H. (Earing, W.)Orbach, M.
Corlett, Dr. J.Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)
Cove, W. G.Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.)Parker, J.
Crossman, R. H. S.Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)Parkin, B. T.
Daggar, G.Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)
Daines, P.Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool)Paton, J. (Norwich)
Davies, Edward (Burslem)Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.Pearson, A.
Davies, Ernest (Enfield)Janner, B.Platts-Mills, J. F. F.

a man displaced from his house under this part of the Act, a reasonable allowance should be paid to him towards his expenses of removing; and that any claim for reasonable allowance should be paid towards the loss that the man will sustain:

"by reason of the disturbance of his trade or business consequent on his having to quit the house or building.…"

not because there is anything the matter with the house or building, but for the convenience of the community, and that the local authority should not be the sole judge in its own case. Such is the case which we thing can reasonably be brought before the House of Commons. Such is the case which we have brought before it now, and such is the case upon which we ask the House to come to a decision.

Question put, "That 'such' stand part of the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 203; Noes, 109.

Popplewell, E.Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)Weitzman, D.
Porter, E. (Warrington)Stokes, R. R.West, D. G.
Porter, G. (Leeds)Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.White, H. (Derbyshire, N. E.)
Pritt, D. N.Stross, Dr. B.Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Proctor, W. T.Sylvester, G. O.Wilkins, W. A.
Ranger, J.Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)
Reeves, J.Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
Reid, T. (Swindon)Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)Williams, D. J. (Neath)
Ridealgh, Mrs. M.Thomas, D. E (Aberdare)Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)Williams, W. R. (Heston)
Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)Thurtle, ErnestWills, Mrs. E. A.
Ross, William (Kilmarnock)Titterington, M. F.Wills Mrs. Rt. Hon. J.
Sharp, GranvilleTolley, L.Wise, Major F. J.
Shurmer, P.Vernon, Maj. W. F.Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Simmons, C. J.Viant, S. P.Wyatt, W.
Skinnard, F. W.Walkden, E.Yates, V. F.
Smith, C. (Colchester)Walker, G. H.Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)Younger, Hon. Kenneth
Snow, J. W.Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)
Sorensen, R. W.Warbey, W. N.


Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir FrankWatkins, T. E.Mr. Joseph Henderson and
Sparks, J. A.Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)Mr. Hannan.


Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.Peake, Rt. Hon. O.
Amory, D. HeathcoatGrimston, R. V.Peto, Brig. C. H. M.
Assheton, Rt. Hon. R.Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)Pickthorn, K.
Astor, Hon. M.Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)Ponsonby, Col. C. E.
Baldwin, A. E.Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V.Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)
Baxter, A. B.Head, Brig. A. H.Raikes, H. V.
Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.Hinchingbrooke, ViscountRayner, Brig. R.
Birch, NigelHope, Lord J.Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)
Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)Howard, Hon. A.Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)
Boothby, R.Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
Bower, N.Jeffreys, General Sir G.Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)
Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)
Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.Kendall, W. D.Ropner, Col. L.
Bromley-Davenport, Lt-Col. W.Lambert, Hon. G.Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.Langford-Holl, J.Sanderson, Sir F.
Butcher, H. W.Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.Savory, Prof. D. L.
Byers, FrankLindsay, M. (Solihull)Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)
Carson, E.Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)Smithers, Sir W.
Challen, C.Low, A. R. W.Spearman, A. C. M.
Channon, H.MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Clarke, Col. R. S.McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)
Clifton-Brown, Lt-Col G.Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)Studholme, H. G.
Cole, T. L.Mackeson, Brig. H. R.Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.Maclay, Hon. J. S.Teeling, William
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.Maclean, F. H. R. (Lancaster)Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)
De la Bère, R.Maitland, Comdr. J. W.Touche, G. C.
Dodds-Parker, A. D.Manningham-Buller, R. E.Turton, R. H.
Dower, Col. A. V. G. (Penrith)Marshall, D. (Bodmin)Wakefield, Sir W. W.
Drewe, C.Medlicott, Brigadier F.Walker-Smith, D.
Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)Mellor, Sir J.White, J. B. (Canterbury)
Duthie, W. S.Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen)Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Eccles, D. M.Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. WalterNeven-Spence, Sir B.Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)
Fox, Sir G.Nicholson, G.
Fraser, H. C. P. (Stone)Nield, B. (Chester)


Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok)Noble, Comdr A. H. P.Major Conant and
Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)Odey, G. W.Colonel Wheatley.
George, Maj. Rt. Hn. G. Lloyd (P'ke)Orr-Ewing, I. L.