§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I beg to move, in page 8, line 33, to leave out "buildings being either."
There is a series of Government Amendments to this Clause which deals with the size of re-development areas. The Amendment I am now moving and the second one allow re-development areas to be of smaller extent than they are under the Bill as originally drafted. The next Amendment deals with a technical matter, and the last Amendment is 1773 to this effect; Just because we desire to make a re-development area of smaller extent than it is in the Bill as it stands, we also wish to have power with regard to the area, because the House will agree that there should be some check on a local authority which is trying to call a small group of houses or a patch of ground a re-development area. There-fore, in the last Amendment we propose that the Department of Health should have the power of saying to a local authority, "No, this area, although technically of the right size, is really too fiddling to be called a re-development area." The definition of a re-development area as it stands at present is:that the area contains 50 or more buildings being either working-class houses or buildings which consist wholly or mainly of such houses.From the character of Scottish working-class houses, each individual house being part, very often, of a large number of houses, in Scotland a re-development area might be of a size which might well be too large for a local authority to grapple with at one time and, therefore, the first two Amendments alter paragraph (a) so to read:that the area contains 50 or more working-class houses.That is the minimum allowed for a re-development area.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Sir R. HORNE
This is, indeed, an Amendment of substantial size. When this Bill was first introduced the pre-requisites for an area to be called a re-development area were that it should have 50 or more buildings being working-class houses or buildings which consisted wholly or mainly of such houses, and that at least half of the working-class houses in the area were overcrowded. Those were the conditions when the Bill was presented. In Committee, at the request of the Government, the condition of one-half of the buildings being overcrowded was reduced to one-third of the buildings being overcrowded. Now one is faced with a further Amendment to have the 50 buildings reduced to 50 working-class houses. I look at this Amendment in terms of the kind of working-class houses that I know best, which exist in Glasgow and to some extent through the whole of the industrial areas of Lanarkshire. You find 16 working-class houses in one block of buildings, in one tenement, 1774 ranging from the centre in four wings. You get 16 working-class houses in one tenement of no great area. We started the Bill with 50 buildings, which would have meant 16 times 50 houses. We are now reduced to 50 houses. The re-development area for the purpose of the present proposal is reduced to one-fifteenth of what it started with in the Bill and what the Committee passed. That indeed is a very large proposition to put in front of us on the Report stage of this Measure.
I entirely fail to appreciate what is going to happen. You have three blocks. If any one of those blocks can be regarded as overcrowded under the conditions which are described in this proposal, although the other two may be admirable and well suited to their inhabitants, the municipality may proceed to declare a re-development area which may encompass any district of whatever size the local authority may themselves desire for which they can get the approval of the Department. I am not going to trust too much to the Department. I expect things to be very much better defined, so that the House may know what it is passing. I do not want to entrust the powers of this House to the rule of departments, however well-run, because very often people become departmental-minded, and have a very different kind of mental attitude from that of practical men. I have found too many in my own time who were very unappreciative of business considerations, and I do not want to see such an important matter committed to the rule of a Department.
We are faced with this position. You can have any area of which the Department may approve, no matter how large, and it will be sufficient for the municipality to take over the whole of that area for a redevelopment area if they can find one block which they can describe as overcrowded. They can take over the whole area, decide it as a redevelopment area, and acquire compulsorily the property of people whose houses are in it, which are not overcrowded, which have been kept up-to-date, and properly maintained. For my part as a Member of the House of Commons I refuse to give that power to any Department. It is really yielding up the very functions which we are here to exercise, and I would seek from the Scottish 1775 Office in this matter some definition of the kind of area which they propose to enclose and a much larger proportion of overcrowded houses before they be given the power to acquire the property of people who are content to own it, who, in the meantime, are drawing rents from it and who, it is quite certain, will get very inadequate compensation when the municipality takes over their property. I protest against this vast change which has been made at this stage of the Bill. I cannot consent to it.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. DUNCAN GRAHAM
My right hon. Friend is rather extravagant in his statement of the case. I am rather inclined to think that with 50 houses there might be difficulties such as those to which he has referred. There is really more ground covered by three tenements than appears to have been in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
Fifty buildings might mean a couple of streets. It might be considered to mean both sides of a street. But there are difficulties as the Bill stands at present. I am quite willing to admit that there would be a case for some sort of arrangement between the two. I hope that the Government will reconsider the matter.
§ 7.12 p.m.
Duchess of ATHOLL
I should like to say to the Government that I am, of course, pleased that they have modified the provision in regard to these houses being overcrowded by limiting the overcrowding to houses with less accommodation than three apartments. That means to say that if there are 16 houses with three apartments or more which are overcrowded under the standards of this Bill, those houses are not to rank for declaring the area as a re-development one. Only houses of less than three rooms if overcrowded are to be so counted. That is a valuable concession, because that means, I hope, that there will not be so much destruction of three-roomed houses, which, after all, are extremely valuable houses, because they allow for the separation of the sexes. The Amendment will mean the destruction of a great deal of property. Glasgow, we have been 1776 told, has many two-roomed and one-roomed houses. No one wants to see the one-roomed house continued. I think that the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) quite misunderstood the attitude of myself and my friends in that matter. I can remember with what pleasure some 25 or 30 years ago I saw the last one-roomed house disappear from a certain corner of Perthshire, but I submit that the two-roomed house has a considerable value for old couples or single persons, and I regret very much that many two-roomed houses are likely to be destroyed as a result of this Bill. Even with this modification the Bill is going to mean the destruction of a great deal of house property that may be in perfectly good condition and may be situated in wide and airy streets, for no other reason than that the houses happen to be occupied by families that are too large for the arbitrary standard of the Bill.
The earlier Amendment, however, is going to widen the area of re-development; it is going to make it easier for a re-development area to be proclaimed. I understand that a re-development area is one in which the local authority is bound to acquire the whole of the land unless the owner of the land can satisfy them that he is going to develop the land in accordance with the proposals of the development plan. It seems to me a very serious matter that, at a time when we know the nation is short of houses and we realise the value of the two-roomed house for one type of family, there should be the destruction of a considerable number of these houses which are in perfectly good condition, and that as a consequence a very great burden will the thrown on public funds.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. TRAIN
I am in some doubt as to the exact meaning of the Amendment. It seems to me from the Government explanation that it is an honest attempt to meet the desires of some of the smaller authorities, which I have no doubt represented to the Secretary of State that a large scheme of 50 buildings would be an expense on the rates, and that thereupon the Government came down to 50 houses. I am afraid that the larger urban areas are being sacrificed for the benefit of the smaller. Take a street in Glasgow, Clydebank, or Dundee, and you find a 1777 great row of tenements. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) spoke of 16 houses in each tenement. The commoner thing is to have 12 houses to the tenement—four flats, and three tenants in each flat. Take four tenements of 50 houses. You say "Here are four tenements, and one of them and one or two other houses are in such a state that we must have them condemned and have a re-development area." The whole frontage of those four tenements would be about 160 feet, and there would be a gap in the middle of that street. There is no intention of rebuilding tenements, but rather of reverting to the cottage type of building, four in a block.
How many houses would you accommodate on this ground? You dispossess 50 people and probably provide for a dozen at the most on that 160 foot frontage. If it is part and parcel of a big re-development area and you are going to do it piece-meal, I suggest that 50 houses are too little. Something between that and the original proposal might be decided upon. The Amendment speaks of a house with less accommodation than three apartments. I would like the Under-Secretary to give a definition of what he Means by three apartments. Does he mean the old three-apartment type of house or the new three-apartment type? I think of an area where we built a lot of four-in-a-block houses. Sixty per cent. of the houses built were of two apartments, with a kitchenette and bathroom and all the up-to-date appliances and sanitation. The kitchenettes were as big as the sleeping room defined here. They were of 110 square feet, and the bathroom was about the same size. There was a large living room about 14 by 16 feet, and a bedroom 14 feet by 12 feet. That was called a two-apartment house. They were very popular houses and were opened by the then Secretary of State with a flourish of trumpets. People were very glad to get these two-apartment houses, as they were called.
There are thousands of houses built under the Wheatley scheme and the Addison scheme, and if those houses were overcrowded they would come under this Amendment. There is still a subsidy running along for the next 45 years. If you had to pull them down and re-build them it would land us in a bit of a mess. I would like some explanation as to what is meant. We are all anxious 1778 to see this problem tackled, but let us tackle it in a practical way. It is all very well to have little committees here and there and representations from small burghs, and to try to meet them. But there are the larger burghs as well as the small ones to consider.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Dr. WILLIAM McLEAN
I welcome the Amendment as thoroughly practical. There seems to be some misunderstanding as to what re-development means. It is a difficult problem in some cases. I have had much experience of re-development under regulations similar to the provisions made in the Bill. I think it is the only way re-development can be carried out. In the Bill we see that the authorities' plan will show an area for working-class houses and open spaces and so on. There may be also an area left for other developments. In Glasgow and most of the Scottish cities, if you look at the plans you will find the streets comparatively straight, with more or less square blocks, and it is very easy to re-develop them. You take block by block piecemeal. The Amendment allows the work to be done half a block at a time, instead of a minimum of nearly one-quarter square mile in area. I hope the House will approve the Amendment.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Mr. SKELTON
In general, this is a new minimum. It must not be taken that every local authority is going to confine itself to a redevelopment area of this size only. What has been impressed upon me, not merely by the smaller local authorities, but by Glasgow and places like Motherwell, for instance, is that if we did not reduce the extent of the re-development area the chances of re-development were few. We have to keep in view that the improvement area provisions of the 1930 Act have gone wrong through faulty drafting. Therefore, it was of very great importance that a provision should be substituted which satisfied local authorities that they can get on with the work.
I quite appreciate the observations made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne), with regard to the power that is entrusted to the Department, but on this occasion and in these circumstances I think this is the most practical solution. You give a small minimum instead of a large minimum, 1779 and then you give to the Department of State the duty of saying whether any particular scheme, although it falls within the legal minimum, is not of a sort too small and too fiddling to be allowed to pass. I think this is a practical method and one which is least likely to lead to an impasse. Anyone who has had experience of administration will agree that the Department and the Ministers responsible are always open to challenge in Parliament. That is a safeguard, and Question time every day shows the importance of it. Therefore, although I appreciate the theoretical objections to the solution of the small area, I suggest that in this difficult matter it is the most practical solution. It was suggested by one hon. Member that under the Amendment dealing with the three-apartment houses it might be possible for the Addison houses to be torn down by some ruthless local authority. If that kind of thing were to be part of a re-development plan I think even the most supine department would step in and forbid the expenditure of local money on tearing down the results of previous State expenditure.
§ Mr. SKELTON
The definition of "three-apartment houses" is houses with three living rooms as distinct from the appurtenances referred to by my hon. Friend. I think he will agree that not many of the houses built before the War had those additions which post-war houses possess, although I agree they were not unknown in the pre-war houses. The Noble Lady the Member for Perth and Kinross (Duchess of Atholl) made some gloomy prophecies as to the possible, unnecessary destruction of two-roomed houses. I do not share the fear which she expressed. It is true that we have discovered an enormous number of two-roomed houses—some 42 per cent. I believe. I do not think we can deal with the question of those houses until the population is better organised in regard to housing. It may be that there are many people now occupying larger houses who would go into two-roomed houses. There may be a greater demand for two-roomed houses than many contend.
1780 I cannot on this Clause go into the Noble Lady's proposition as to the position of owners of habitable property which is dealt with in an inclusive scheme, but when the suitable occasion arises I shall be glad to deal with that point. It is the case, however, that in the re-development areas and in the comparatively small number of improvement areas under the 1930 Act which have been scheduled, good property wherever possible will be ringed round and excluded from the re-development area. I know that it is possible to make a debating case and possibly a logical case as to the awful dangers of destruction that will arise from development areas, but one has to meet the situation as it is and the situation is that local authorities on the whole are sensible people who do not want to indulge in any unnecessary destruction or extravagance. Further, as I have said, there is the control of the Department and behind that the control of Parliament. I do not think that experience will show that the dangers anticipated by the Noble Lady will arise in practice. I remember in connection with a previous Bill prophecies that its provisions were so complicated that it would not work. Those prophecies of disaster were not fulfilled and as a matter of fact many things which seem complicated when presented in a form of words, are not so difficult or so dangerous when dealt with in practice. I commend these Amendments to the House from the point of view of one who is most undesirous of spending either public or local money unnecessarily or destroying any property unnecessarily.
§ 7.35 p.m.
Duchess of ATHOLL
May I ask the hon. Gentleman two questions? First, is it not the case that one of the conditions on which a local authority is obliged to declare a re-development area is that not less than 16 or 17 houses in the area are inhabited by too large families, without regard to the condition of the houses. Secondly, if the hon. Gentleman feels that it may be some time before we know the settled demand of the nation for two-roomed houses, will his Department advise local authorities to be extremely chary in the meantime as to pulling down any two-roomed houses that are in good condition?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Hon. Members cannot question each other across the Floor of the House. We must debate this subject in the proper way.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
On a point of Order. When I was giving facts as to the condition of certain people in Lanarkshire the Noble Lady asked me where those conditions existed, and I answered her question. Now she has said that there are certain authorities in Scotland who will act in a ruthless manner under these provisions. I want her to state to the House where are the local authorities who are going to behave in this ruthless fashion. She does not know one.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendments made: In page 8, line 34, leave out from "houses," to end of paragraph.
In line 37, leave out from "area," to end of paragraph, and insert:
fall within any one or more of the following categories, that is to say—
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I beg to move, in page 9, line 15, to leave out "shall," and to insert:unless the Department within one month after the receipt thereof intimate to the authority their disapproval of the resolution, the authority shall as soon as may be after the expiry of the said period of one month.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Will the Under-Secretary explain the meaning of the words that it is proposed to insert?
§ Mr. SKELTON
I thought I had already dealt with that point. As a result of reducing the extent of the re-development area—to which the House has 1782 already agreed—it seemed necessary that the Department should have this power of saying "No" in certain circumstances. The policy of the Amendment is that you reduce the extent of the area but you provide a departmental check—and finally it is open to Parliament—to say "No" in cases where the new minimum is found in fact to be too small.
§ Mr. GUY
I have no objection to the Department having this veto, but I should like to know in what circumstances it will be exercised. The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the case of an area which was found to be too small. Would it also be exercised in a case where all the houses in an area were found to be substantially sound but where there was a certain amount of overcrowding and a certain number of two-roomed houses. If the Department held that the circumstances were not such as to warrant going ahead with the re-development scheme, in a case of that kind, would they exercise the veto?
§ Mr. SKELTON
I do not wish to lay down definitely exact sets of circumstances in which the Department would exercise the veto, but one or two instances may be given. A local authority of substantial size might propose to confine its activities to a small patch, whereas a wise view of town planning and reconstruction would make it desirable to consider a wider area. The Department in such a case might well say, "Before we give our consent to your scheme for dealing separately with this small area, what are your views on the wider area?" Similarly, there might be a case in which the general circumstances would not warrant the scheduling of a particular bit as a re-development area. I should prefer not to lay down hard and fast rules. In practice it will be necessary to be guided by the circumstances of individual cases. I conclude by again emphasising the constitutional aspect of the matter. Hon. Members who fear that the Department may exercise its veto in an unreasonable or an unwise way should remember that on the very next day after any decision has been taken, they will have the opportunity of challenging that decision in Parliament. That is the final safeguard.
§ Amendment agreed to.