HC Deb 04 June 1924 vol 174 cc1261-4

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the sale of certain vacant dwelling-houses and to cause the same to be made available for letting. The Bill, which is quite a short one, provides that in the case of houses on Government estates which become vacant, at any rate half of them during a period of twelve months shall be made available for letting at reasonable rents, and that only after it has been found impossible to obtain tenants for them shall they be offered for sale. I may say that it is supported in all quarters of the House, and the reason I bring it forward is to put an end, as far as possible, to the practice and policy of the First Commissioner of Works, who on certain estates, when houses become vacant, is holding them up and offering them for sale with vacant possession. Whenever a house becomes vacant, for instance, on the Well Hall Estate, the First Commissioner will not allow it to be let, but insists upon it being put up for sale. He is advertising very extensively the fact that these houses are to be sold with vacant possession at sums varying from £500 to £700 each. I suppose his idea is to get the best possible price for the houses while the boom continues. I dare-say that hon. Members may remember that the Prime Minister some time ago at York said that the present Government were facing the problem of houses that would be let, but just about the same period the First Commissioner of Works was inserting advertisements to this effect:

Well Hall, 30 minutes Charing Cross, modern freehold houses, close to station and trams, for sale with vacant possession. Then it describes the houses— Price £550 or offer. Larger houses with extra sitting room and bedroom, price £700 or offer. Similar houses are available for sale for investment or future occupation. Apply, Superintendent, His Majesty's Office of Works, Estate Office, 163, Well Hall Road, Eltham.


Where did that advertisement appear?


It appeared in the "Evening News" of 26th March. As a consequence, a very large number of tenants in this district—


Does he advertise in the Harmsworth Press?


Or the "Daily Herald"?


There are, I may say, some 3,000 people on the waiting list in this particular district, and, as will be anticipated, a very large number of them are not able to pay the £500 or £700 which the First Commissioner of Works demands. My Bill, which I think will be recognised as a fair one, says that in future, at any rate, half of these houses shall be available for letting. I am one of those who believe that both demands ought to be met. I like to see the owner occupier, but I think the First Commissioner of Works is going much too far when he says that not a single house shall be let on this estate. I think it is correct to say that perhaps with half a dozen exceptions the First Commissioner of Works has not let a single house on that estate since he took office. I, therefore, venture to suggest to the House that this is a proper course to take. I may say that I communicated long ago to the First Commissioner of Works asking him to abandon this practice, which he is following in the footsteps of other people, and at any rate to allow a certain number of houses on the estate to be let, but be has not seen his way to do that, and therefore, very reluctantly, I am compelled this afternoon to take action, and to ask leave to introduce this Bill, which I hope will receive, as the Bill which I introduced yesterday received, the unanimous approval of the House.




Does the hon. Member rise to oppose the Bill?


I do. I rise to oppose the Bill, because we have more urgent business coming before us. I do so, because I believe that the Government is not a suitable landlord, and I have formed that opinion on the evidence of a very distinguished Member of this House, namely, the hon. Member who sits for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood), who on several occasions has called the attention of the House to the treatment of their tenants by the Government.


I wish I could abolish them.


I also do so because on several occasions in Committee and on the Floor of the House the hon. Member has drawn attention to the fact that private enterprise is by far the best way of solving the housing problem. I do so for a third reason. The Government is the proprietor of many houses throughout the country, and it is offering these estates in some places, particularly in Gretna, as a whole concern. My belief is that by the sale of single houses you will get greater security for the tenant than you will if any capitalist friend of the hon. Member buys the whole estate. Knowing that the House has urgent business to get through to-night, I therefore, in these few words, oppose the Bill.

Question, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the sale of certain vacant dwelling-houses, and to cause the same to be made available for letting

put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir Kingsley Wood, Mr. Masterman, Sir Fredric Wise, Mr. Percy Harris, Mr. Snell, Mr. Bowerman, and Mr. D. G. Somerville.