HC Deb 15 July 1930 vol 241 cc1161-6

I beg to move, in page 10, line 34, at the end, to insert the words: Provided that this sub-section shall not apply in the case of dwelling-houses or other premises erected after the passing of this Act specified in a compulsory purchase order which are injurious or dangerous to health by reason only of the narrowness or bad arrangement of the streets. The Amendment has been altered slightly from the form in which it appears on the Paper by the insertion of the words "specified in a compulsory purchase order."


I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, in line 2, to leave out the words "erected after the passing of this Act."

We have no objection to the additional words which have been inserted by the Government, but we think these other words ought to be omitted. The Government must give a certain amount of consideration to the claim that quite sanitary property which is taken over merely on account of the narrowness or bad arrangement of a street should not be put on the same footing as insanitary property erected after the passing of this Measure. If anybody is doing an injury to the community it is the man who nowadays builds property so as to accentuate the narrowness of streets or a bad arrangement of houses. In the old days, and in Scotland particularly, streets were made narrow and crooked in many cases for the purpose of defence, among other historical reasons. Those who built them built according to the town planning ideas of the time and were committing no crime. In many towns adjacent to the frontier of the old enemy any landowner who built wide and open streets would have been vigorously attacked and prosecuted for not keeping the streets narrow and so denying access to the enemies of the town. [Interruption.] "The old enemy" requires no explanation, except to anybody who comes from some other country.

This is a point of very real importance. In many cases clearance schemes have been undertaken as a town improvement, and in such cases the property affected should not have attached to it not merely the financial but the moral stigma attaching to a slum landlord. Many of us know old property which occupies a place at the knuckle or elbow of a street which it may be highly desirable to clear away, but the owner would have every reason to complain if he were called a slum landlord. If after the passing of this Bill, however, a man were to erect a building at the elbow of a narrow street, knowing full well that sooner or later it would have to be cleared away and that it would acquire what was a nuisance value, his action could not be commended but ought to be condemned. If this Amendment be not accepted, we shall be penalising the good man and recompensing the bad.


I beg to second the Amendment to the proposed Amendment.


One point that strikes me about this is that if a man has built property in a narrow and congested street he will be exempt from the provisions that are to apply to other slum property owners; because he has built in a congested part of the town he is to secure better recompense than the other man. I think the man who dliberately builds on a site of that kind should not be treated any better than the man who already has property in a narrow and confined area. There may be some explanation of the distinction, but I do not follow it, and I hope the Under-Secretary will reconsider the point. I think I could argue that the owner of the old property should get no better treatment. All I am concerned about is that, in future, owners of property on bad sites should not get any advantage over other owners. As far as I understand this provision, a narrow street, because it is narrow and congested, and ill-lighted, can be certified as a slum area because the congestion is bad and detrimental to health. A particular house may be fairly decent as to its condition, but there is congestion around it. A person cleared from an area in those circumstances gets another house provided under the slum clearance order. As far as I can understand this proposal, it refers only to houses built in the future.


This Amendment simply deals with cases where a property has been maintained adequately by the owners and kept in good repair, but where through the laxity of the local authorities narrow streets have been permitted to be formed adjacent to that property. The Amendment is so framed that where this man's property is condemned solely because of the bad arrangements of the local authorities in permitting narrow streets, we are taking powers in future to see that in those circumstances an owner should be treated differently from the man next door, who may have allowed his property to get into disrepair and into an insanitary condition. I feel sure that that proposal will appeal to everybody as being reasonable.

The Opposition seek to apply that differentiation to the past as well as to the future, and the Government say that that is not desirable. Our principal reason for adopting this course is that in all the legislation on this subject since 1919 the fact has been faced. It is the law now. A man who owns such a cottage as I have described in a congested area has had his property depreciated by the fact that he lives in that area, and, consequently, his property has a diminished value due to that. An owner such as I have referred to should have the benefit of this proviso, but the man who has bought property in a congested area as a speculation, thinking that the local authority will ultimately have to take over his property, should not get an added value for that reason. Local authorities should not be called upon to pay an added value to the value which property has had since 1919. In practice, the local authorities in the past have not dealt ungenerously, unfairly, or unjustly with the proprietors of the imaginary small cottage surrounded by the narrow street. Local authorities have not dealt ungenerously with cases of that kind, and they have purchased that class of property at its market value. The Government know of no case where such a proprietor has been dealt with ungenerously, and we think it would be wrong to introduce into an Act of Parliament a proviso that the local authority shall be compelled to pay compensation for property which may have been purchased as a speculation with the full knowledge that the narrow streets around that property render it likely that it will have to be demolished.

We think it wrong that the owner in that case should have exceptional treatment. If the local authorities do their duty in the future, there will be no narrow streets, and the proprietors will see that local authorities do not set up narrow streets. There is an awakening public conscience and public opinion on this question, and the local authorities will prevent narrow streets being created in the future. We cannot accept this Amendment because of the administrative difficulties which it would cause, and because we believe it might lead to speculations in buying and selling property in order to get an increased value. We have gone so far as to say that in future people who have erected property, and have had that property depreciated by narrow streets, shall be treated differently from those who have purchased the property in the full knowledge that their property would increase in value.


I understand that this Amendment has been put down by the Government as a concession to the Opposition. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has stated that in his opinion the local authorities in the future will not allow narrow streets to be constructed. While we are much obliged to the Government for putting forward this so-called concession which has been very ingeniously framed, it really amount to nothing. Nevertheless, we thank the Government for making this concession, and we are really more indebted to the Under-Secretary for the statement that he will look into the matter to see if something can be introduced in another place to meet the point which we have raised. We thank the Government for the statement that they will see whether something substantial can be done to meet the ease of hardship arising of owners who have held their property for a period before 1919.

Duchess of ATHOLL

I wish to point out that there is property in the smaller towns and burghs which has been held not merely for 10 years or even for 40 years. There is a great deal of house property which has been handed down for generations and possibly for centuries, and it is obvious that in those days narrow streets were an advantage and nobody thought of street planning. It seems to me very difficult to understand the desire of the Government to differentiate in their treatment of those who have bought property in narrow streets for speculative purposes and owners who have inherited old property dating from long ago. We must remember that the Government are recognising the value of historic buildings and the amenites of the town. We have inserted a Clause providing that local authorities shall have power to protect historical associations, some of which are to be found in old and narrow streets. I think that the Government should extend this concession to the people who are responsible for house property that may be of the old and picturesque kind, and which would have been pulled down years ago had it not been picturesque. It may be that a considerable cost has been incurred by the owner in regard to this class of property.

It is not always easy or by any means inexpensive to modernise some of these old buildings. The walls are very thick, and, if you want to increase the size of the windows, as it may well be necessary to do, you have to cut through very thick walls, which costs much more than in a modern and perhaps rather jerrybuilt house. I would, therefore, press the Government to remember how much house property of this kind there may be in Scotland that has been held for a very long time and has picturesque associations, which are, perhaps, largely responsible for the fact that it is in existence to-day. I must further say that I am unconvinced by what the Under-Secretary said as to local authorities not having dealt harshly with owners of property of this kind, because, as I have said, I think that property of this kind may be largely in the smaller burghs, and, although we know that some of our big cities have been doing a good deal in the way of slum clearance in the last few years, there has not been very much of that kind done by the smaller burghs, and, therefore, this situation has hardly arisen to any considerable extent. Finally is it not the duty of the Government to give a lead to local authorities in the matter of fair dealing with owners who, admittedly, have kept their property in good repair, and who may not be in any degree responsible for the fact that these houses are situated in narrow streets?


The Noble Lady asks us to give a lead to local authorities to deal fairly with the proprietor of good property which is surrounded by badly arranged streets. Does the Noble Lady know of any case in the last 10 years in which a local authority has dealt unfairly with the proprietor of such property? We know of none.

Duchess of ATHOLL

I did not suggest that local authorities had done so, but I said that, because local authorities in the smaller burghs had not done very much in the way of slum clearance, I did not think that the situation had arisen.

Proposed words there inserted in the Bill.