HC Deb 15 July 1930 vol 241 cc1132-8

It shall be competent for a local authority to issue to the owner of any dwelling-house occupied by persons of the working classes a certificate that works of reconditioning, repair, or reconstruction required by the local authority have been executed to their satisfaction, and to fix in the said certificate a period of not less than two or more than five years after which the condition of the dwelling-house shall be further reviewed: Provided that if such dwelling-house is compulsorily closed, demolished, or purchased during the period of currency of the said certificate, compensation at market value shall be paid.—[Major Elliot.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

This matter was raised in Committee upstairs but the Government did not see their way to accept it. Their main contention was that it would put the good owner of property in a less favourable position than the bad owner of property, who had been compelled by reason of a notice from a local authority to bring his property into a habitable state of repair. If the Government consider the matter further I think they will agree that that is an objection which should not be allowed to weigh against the broad and sound principle that a local authority, having asked a man to do certain repairs, should be in the position of being able to say to the man that they accept the repairs as having put the house in a habitable condition, that they would review the conditions of the house in two or five years' time but that during the currency of the certificate the owner shall have the assurance that if his property is taken over it will be taken over as a habitable house. This is not compulsory; it is optional.

It gives a local authority power to put a certain amount of compulsion on property owners; indeed to offer a certain inducement, which is often much better than compulsion. If a local authority is able to say to an owner, "If you do a certain amount of repairs we will give you a two years' certificate, and if you go further and do more we will give you a certificate of five years," they would have something to bargain with and might easily get a much more extensive programme of reconditioning carried through than by simply serving a notice which might lead to the house being condemned and demolished. The report show that several thousands of houses are dealt with in this way every year, and I am sure that more could be dealt with were it not for the uneasiness of owners that after they have executed repairs the house might subsequently be condemned. It might be well worth while for a local authority to say to an owner of property, "execute this work and we will give you a certificate, and if within the period of the currency of the certificate your property is condemned it will be condemned at market value." That would lead to an improvement in housing conditions and the difficulty outlined by the Government could easily be overcome.


I beg to second the Motion.


I hope I shall be able to persuade the hon. and gallant Member and his friends not to press this new Clause. It is proposed to give power to a local authority to give this certificate; and if it gives such a certificate presumably it would have in mind the considerations which hon. Members opposite have in moving this new Clause; that is, the desire to encourage the reconditioning of houses as far as possible. If a local authority had such consideration in mind obviously it is an authority which will be very unlikely to close property or order the demolition of property on which it had requested the proprietor to expend money within a period of two, three, or five years. The Amendment on the face of it is unnecessary. I cannot conceive of a local authority, in normal circumstances, doing other than is suggested in this new Clause. Suppose a certificate has been given to a proprietor that providing he executes certain repairs to his dwelling-house it will not be closed or demolished unless market value is paid within the period of two or five years; and suppose, after the certificate has been given, that dry rot sets in—something entirely different from that covered by the repairs undertaken—clearly it will be unfair to tie the hands of a local authority for the rest of the period during which the certificate has to run. We have no experience of any local authority which would first harass a proprietor of property to spend money upon repairs and then come along at the end of five years and order the demolition of the property. In view of the fact that this Amendment will tie the hands of a local authority in certain eventualities I ask the House not to accept it but to be satisfied with the assurance that local authorities generally are not at all likely to act in the unreasonable manner which, by implication, the new Clause suggests.


It is quite true that something might happen during a period of two years to make a house unfit for human habitation, but while we appreciate the force of that argument the purpose of the new Clause is clear. We think that something should be done on these lines. We are not tied to this particular form of words and I hope the Under-Secretary will reconsider the matter and see if something can be done to meet the object of the proposal. We are quite prepared to withdraw this new Clause if the question is considered in another place.


We are quite willing, without committing ourselves in any shape or form, to see whether it is practicable to meet the views which have been put forward.


I regret that the Secretary of State has given even a modified undertaking to consider this new Clause. I can promise him that so far as some of us on these benches are concerned we will not listen for a moment to an Amendment moved in another place which has in view the object of hon. Members opposite. I have had considerable experience of trying to put such property as is indicated in this proposal into a state of repair. It is no use trying to perpetuate rotten property by propping it up here and there, and I regret that the Government have not indicated without any qualification at all that they are absolutely opposed to the new Clause. It is an insiduous attempt to alter the basis of valuation in the matter of slum property. Owners are wanting market value for property which a housing authority has allowed them to retain for a period of two or five years, provided he carries out certain structural alterations. I can visualise what is going to happen. Take a vermin infested property. It is utterly impossible to eradicate vermin by the simple process of spending money in trying to repair the property. I have had some experience of this type of property; I question whether some hon. Members opposite have had that experience. They desire that the property owner, at the expiration of this period, should get the market value. Quite frankly, as one who has always viewed with suspicion anything emanating from the other side of the House, I think that this is another insidious attempt not only to bolster up old property but by a side wind to get something which they cannot get by the Bill itself.


I hope the Government will not accept this new Clause. It is a little hole which will allow many difficulties to occur in the future in regard to slum clearance schemes and improvement schemes. It seems reasonable and fair on the face of it, but in effect it will interfere seriously with many slum clearance schemes. It is true that if a dwelling house is compulsorily closed or demolished during the period of the currency of the certificate that compensation at market value shall be paid. That is not at the expiration of the certificate but during the currency of the certificate, but it may be that during that time the conditions of the surrounding property have made it absolutely necessary to go in for a bigger scheme of improvement. In that case this new Clause is going to add to the expenses of any slum clearance scheme. If this market value, which may be much exaggerated, and often is, has to be paid it will add to the expense of the scheme. I hope the Government will not give way in connection with this new Clause. There are sufficient difficulties in the way of the Bill as it stands at the present time. As the Under-Secretary of State said yesterday, there are many local authorities that are not too keen about proceeding with schemes. By means of this new Claue, an instrument would be put into the hands of a reactionary local authority which would tend to make the Measure nugatory in that particular district. The Government will be well advised if they do not accept the new Clause.


I think the Government are right in agreeing to the suggestion that they should reconsider the whole matter. I listened with great attention to the speech of the hon. Member for Partick (Mr. McKinlay) and, if I may say so with the greatest respect, I do not think he quite appreciates the situation. This new Clause insists upon two things. The local authority must satisfy themselves that the building can be repaired, reconstructed or reconditioned. I cannot imagine any local authority asking anybody to recondition a building in the state described by my hon. Friend. The second essential is this, that the local authority, if they require an owner of property to reconstruct, repair or recondition certain property, must be satisfied that the property is thoroughly repaired, reconstructed or reconditioned. It is only when these two essentials have been brought into play that the owner can get his certificate for two, three or five years. The market value, as the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) pointed out, is payable only within the time that comes in the certificate. I do not think there is anything reprehensible in that. If the hon. Member for Partick will reconsider the situation, I think he will be satisfied that there is nothing wrong in his Government promising reconsideration of this particular point. I am very glad that the Government have taken the view that they will reconsider it. I was sorely tempted to support the new Clause if it went to a Division. I am hopeful that by the time the Bill comes back from another place, the Government will have satisfied their own supporters, as I am sure they will satisfy the country, that there is a good deal of fairness in the suggestion underlying the new Clause.

Miss LEE

I am afraid that I do not altogether share the sentiments as to whether local authorities would abuse such power if it were placed in their hands. There is a danger of local authorities, being very human institutions, finding that there is a local property owner or someone else whom they want to help. It is easier for influence to be used in a small local neighbourhood than on a wider scale. Apart from that point, the whole thing that impresses me is that if property is so bad that it is on the verge of being condemned, it would require more than the property owner would get in rents to put it into a reasonable state of repair. I think that hon. Members opposite, inclined to be kind to the slum property owner, are simply prolonging the agony and putting off the evil moment when that property owner will be forced to part with his spoiled goods. In the interests of the slum property owner, and particularly in the interests of the people who may be given this inferior substitute for a new house, and to ensure that the local authority has no back door by which it can get out of responsibility to build new houses, I think the Committees would be very wise to reject such an Amendment.


I would ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to recall the fact that in Committee, when this matter was discussed, we arrived at what I understood to be the arrangement that wherever this type of property come under review, no repairs should be carried out unless under the authority of the local authority. If the local authority takes an area and calls it a slum area or a clearance area, any repairs or alterations that are sanctioned must come from the local authority. When this Bill becomes an Act, the full control will rest with the local authority as to whether any repairs of any kind can be carried out. If that point could be cleared up, we might get nearer to a settlement of the matter at issue.

Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and negatived.