HC Deb 24 July 1924 vol 176 cc1555-8

The Amendment standing in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for St. Albans (Lieut.- Colonel Fremantle)—in page 1, line 19, at the end to insert the words Provided that a proposal for the provision of twenty-five or more houses under this Act shall not be approved, nor shall any provision be made towards any expenses incurred by a local authority, or by a society, body of trustees, or company in such case unless or until the Minister is satisfied that the carrying out of the proposal or any part of it will not be prejudicial to any town-planning scheme required to be prepared or executed under the Town Planning Acts, 1909 and 1919, or any other Act amending those Acts "— has already been covered by one of the new Clauses.


I beg to move, in page 1, line 25, at the end, to insert the Words Where a local authority purchase any such hiatuses as are referred to in the said paragraph for the purposes of Part III of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, the houses shall not be treated as houses provided by the local authority themselves within the meaning of the said Act of 1923 or this Act if the houses are houses which have been completed before the passing of this Act or have been occupied prior to the purchase. The House may remember that during the Committee stage there was a long discussion on the question of granting power to local authorities to purchase houses from people who had erected them without having gone through the ordinary process, and I promised to insert words ill the Bill which would make that perfectly clear. In the course of the discussion, the right hon. Member for Lady-wood (Mr. N. Chamberlain) pointed out that local authorities had already power under the Act of 1919 to purchase these houses, but what the promoters of the Amendment had in view was to re-assert that power and to make it quite clear that houses so purchased might, in certain circumstances, become eligible for the subsidy. It was never the intention of the promoters of the Amendment that the local authorities should exercise their power under the 1919 Act and that all houses they purchased should be entitled to the subsidy. Quite clearly, they wanted to exempt existing houses, because the object of the Bill is to promote the construction of new houses. Therefore, in drafting this Clause, what we have clone is to exclude the houses which will not be eligible for the subsidy and to confine it to the houses that will—to those erected after the passing of the Bill. I intend issuing a Circular to the local authorities after this Bill becomes law to draw their special attention to these powers and to the provisions of this Clause.


The paragraph of the 1919 Act referred to appears to be paragraph (b) of Sub-section 1 of Section 1. I was not aware that that paragraph had ever been held to entitle a local authority to purchase existing houses.


Try Section 12, Sub-section (2).


Section 12, yes. But surely this Amendment comes at the end of Sub-section (2) of Clause (1) of the Bill, and, as the Bill reads, the said paragraph is Paragraph (b) of Section 1 (i) of the Housing Act 1923.It is not Section 12 of the Act of 1919. I do not want, however, to delay the House on a question of pure drafting. Section 12 of the Act of 1919 gives the local authority power to purchase houses which can be made suitable for the working classes. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman's Department has always interpreted that as meaning that the local authority could buy any house, could buy a working-class house, and let it to members of the working class, and that it did not merely refer to a house which required to be reconstructed or adapted for the purpose of the housing of the working class. I want to ask whether, in the Circular to which he referred, he will give definite direction to the local authorities that Section 12 of the Act of 1919 does give them power to purchase any house which will be suitable for the housing of the working class, whether by adaptation or whether by taking it simply as it is.


Our desire in pressing the Amendment which my right hon. Friend agreed to meet on the Report stage was, of course, to create new houses much more than to deal with any adaptation of existing ones. Our great desire was that the local authority should be able to purchase houses outside those offered them by what is called the building trust. I agree with the Noble Lord that the words seem to be the jargon that is familiar to, and desired by, local authorities. It is exceedingly difficult to follow, but, in so far as I have been able to acquire the power of interpretation of that jargon, this seems to me to meet fully the request which was made on the Committee stage. It will give local authorities power to purchase new houses front anyone who cares to put them up under any conditions they please, subject to the overriding conditions of the Act itself, and, as that is what we primarily desire, we are glad to accept the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman.


As one who spoke in the discussion in Committee, I think that the Minister has fully met the views of those who put the Amendment down, though not perhaps in the exact form in which we desired it, giving in this Act an explicit power of purchase. But, I think, we do, by reference to Section 1, Subsection (1, a), get the power we need. I think the expenses which are authorised by that Section could be used for the purchase of houses such as we desire. I am wondering whether the Minister has paid any attention to, or has looked at Sections 54 and 55 of the. Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, with a view to deciding whether or not it will be necessary, in the case of a proposed purchase by a rural sanitary authority, for them, in addition to obtaining the consent of the Minister, to apply to the county council for sanction to adopt the Act, and whether it will be necessary to hold a local inquiry under that Act. It seams to me that such an inquiry would be necessary, and I have not been able to find anything which would make the holding of such an inquiry unnecessary. If the Minister agreed that such an inquiry might have to be held and that it was undesirable to have both an appeal to himself for his own consent and also a public inquiry, would he be willing to add at the end of the Section words something to this effect: Where a purchase is made by a rural sanitary authority with the consent of the Minister of Health, it shall not be necessary to hold an inquiry or obtain the certificate referred to in Sections 54 and 55 of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890. I am glad that we have this opportunity of dealing with a question of very considerable importance in the provision of houses. Speaking as one who has served on a housing committee, I can say that we certainly did not know that we had the power to purchase completed houses and obtain the benefit of any subsidy, and I believe that on an inquiry once being made to the Department we got a very doubtful answer as to the powers we possess. Now that this is made clear, I am glad that the Minister is going to circularise the local authorities and press upon them the powers which they have. I would like to join in the appeal which my hon. Friend (Mr. Black) made a little time ago not to be very severe in pressing the ordinary conditions which apply to houses built under these Acts. We have, in most cities, large numbers of partly-developed estates, and they can be fully developed and houses can be obtained for the working class at a very much cheaper rate than would be possible if the Minister had to insist on all the conditions, which quite properly he asks for in the case of new estates, being complied with. I hope that he will deal leniently with them, because I believe that the provision of these houses by small builders will be a very great safeguard against an increase in the price of building. They keep no expensive staff, they work along with their men, and the experience of all who have been engaged in the building industry is, that houses produced under such conditions are built much more cheaply than and equally as well as, those produced under large contracts, similar to those made by local authorities recently.

Amendment agreed to.