HC Deb 26 July 1935 vol 304 cc2193-9

Lords Amendment: In page 26, line 24, at the end, insert: (5) If a housing association represent to the Minister that they have submitted to the local authority proposals for arrangements under this section and that the local authority have unreasonably refused to make arrangements in accordance with the proposals, the Minister may require the authority to furnish him with a report as to the matter stating the reasons for their refusal.

11.52 a.m.


I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

There has been criticism of the provisions of the Bill relating to housing associations, on the ground that the Housing Association will be entirely at the mercy of the local authority as to the use which might be made of their services. That, I, understand, is inherent in the situation. Responsibility for housing matters in a particular locality cannot be divided among various bodies. It must rest solely with the local authority. The Government hope that the local authority will make the utmost use they can of housing associations, and that they will not unreasonably refuse to allot to them portions of the general housing work which they are competent to perform. I share that view very strongly.

The Amendment is aimed at the local authority which unreasonably refuses to assist a housing association which is able and willing to do some of the necessary work, and secures that an unreasonable attitude by a local authority will receive publicity. I hope that this provision will be very infrequently used or not used at all. It provides that a housing association may make representations to the Minister if a local authority is acting unreasonably, and that thereupon the Minister may require from the authority a report on the whole matter. If the report of the authority is regarded as unsatisfactory by the Minister for the time being, it will be competent for him to order a public local inquiry into the matter. This is an endeavour to meet a situation which I hope will very rarely arise, but a number of people who are keenly interested in the work of the Housing Association seek to have something of this kind incorporated in the Bill to sustain the Housing Association in this field of housing work.

11.45 a.m.


I am bound to say that on this side of the House we take the strongest possible objection to this Amendment. During the time of the present Government there have been repeated attempts to undermine the housing activities of local authorities by denying them the right to build houses unless they can prove that private enterprise is either unable or unwilling to do so. We have opposed proposals of this kind at every stage of the Bill, and now, at the very last moment, we have an Amendment of substantial importance dragged in which is going to strengthen the position of these housing associations. Let us admit that there may be somewhat slow-moving local authorities who may prefer to work through housing associations, and that there may be housing associations which can do very useful work, but the proposal here is that if a housing association, in its view—not in the view of anyone else—thinks that the local authority has unreasonably refused to make use of its services, it can hold a pistol at the head of the local authority and say, "Unless you give us some work to do we are going to report you to the Minister." That is a monstrous position in which to place a local authority. It is a new departure, and I say that it is improper on the part of the Government, in a new experiment of this kind, at the very last stage of the Bill to introduce new powers enabling these housing associations to bully and dragoon local authorities into taking action against their will.

The Amendment provides that the Minister may require the local authority to furnish him with a report stating the reasons for their refusal. That is an interference with the rights of local authorities which I think the House ought to resist. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about ordering an inquiry, but I see nothing in the Bill which gives him the power to order an inquiry. Suppose that he has the inquiry, what is to be the end of it? If his inspector says, "We think the local authority is incompetent, and ought to farm out its work to a housing association," is the right hon. Gentleman going to enforce that; and, if so, how? The right hon. Gentleman's speech has not made it any easier for us to accept the Amendment, but more difficult, and I should hope that hon. Members on the other side of the House would prefer to wait and see how these housing associations work before they are given this power of threatening local authorities in the way suggested in the Amendment. I hope that the House will reject the Amendment.

11.49 a.m.


I suppose I have had as long an experience of the administration of the Housing Acts as any Member present. I say that in no boastful spirit; I was doing this work for 27 years. I have the greatest admiration for the men and women who are associated with housing associations. They are most public-spirited, and have done very fine work, not only in providing houses for the working classes, but in experimenting and, in some cases, setting standards of housing. I need only refer to the St. Pancras Housing Association, which is probably the most famous in the country—a pioneer organisation which has done noble service in that neighbourhood. I also have in mind the Bethnal Green Housing Association, which consists of people who seem to get money from nowhere, and who, as I would remind the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), have in many cases tackled problems that no local authority could have taken in hand. If it is to be said that under this Measure their work may be limited or handicapped by unreasonable opposition from local authorities, then I am all for the Amendment. I gather, however, that it does not relate to the work that housing associations have already done, but rather suggests that local authorities, instead of doing their primary duty of dealing with the housing of the working classes, slum clearance, and improvement, should farm out their work to housing associations. If that be the meaning of the Amendment, I think we ought to resist it. If, on the other hand, it will secure to bodies like the St. Pancras Housing Association the power to go on with their noble and all-to-be-admired work, then we should support it. I have an idea, however, that it means something very different—that it is an attempt to shift from the local authority the responsibility for housing in their own area, and enable them to farm it out to housing associations. I hope that the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary will make the position clear.

11.52 a.m.


I do not think there will be any difficulty such as has been suggested. I should have thought that any local authority, having regard to the size of the task which is now being imposed upon it, would be glad to welcome the assistance of any competent housing association. I understand that the object is that local authorities should entrust the housing associations with work which they cannot themselves do, and the task is so great and so urgent that I should have thought that that would have been very desirable where there is a good local housing association able and competent to do the work.

11.53 a.m.


I welcome this Amendment, and am very glad that the Minister is supporting it. I also welcome the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), because it shows the complete divorce that exists between the attitude of the Labour party when they are dealing with politics and their attitude when they are dealing with administration. The right hon. Gentleman and his friends have done their best to belittle housing associations, quite regardless of the experience, extending over some years, of the way in which voluntary housing associations have helped in the housing of the working classes and in the administration and betterment of housing in various districts. The hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) has referred to St. Pancras and Bethnal Green. I should like to refer to Kensington, where voluntary associations have helped the local authority enormously in the improvement of housing for the working classes. With regard to the divorce between politics and administration—


The hon. Member is really misinterpreting what I said.


I should like to mention that the Kensington Housing Association includes a member of the Labour party, and also that the Chairman of the Housing Committee of the London County Council addressed their last annual meeting, showing that, at any rate in Kensington, the Labour party in London welcome the help of voluntary housing associations. It is only when it comes to the Floor of the House that they oppose it.

12.5 p.m.


The hon. Member has been answering an argument which has never been made. It has never been suggested, so far as I am aware, on this side of the House or by people holding the opinions that we hold, that housing associations may not in proper circumstances fulfil a very useful function. The hon. Member is perfectly right

when he says that local authorities under Labour control, certainly the London County Council, welcome the co-operation of housing associations working in conjunction with them. They have in fact in the past done and still are doing useful work. But the proposal before the House at the moment has nothing to do with that. The proposal that we are now considering is one to give to housing associations, good, bad and indifferent, the power to be a nuisance both to the local authorities and to the Ministry of Health. As far as I am aware, no reasonable proposals by housing associations have been turned down by local authorities in the past without very excellent reasons. We have had no evidence whatever that that has happened and, in order to support such a proposal as this, we should have a little evidence.

It is now proposed that housing associations which have been turned down by a local authority which does not approve of their schemes should have the power of going over the head of the local authority to the Ministry of Health, which is then in a position to ask the local authorities to report to them. If the Minister wants to do something to create bad blood between local authorities and housing associations, he is going the best way about it. If housing associations are to function properly and do the useful work that they can do, the first essential is that there should be good relationships between housing associations as a, whole and individually, and local authorities, and giving them this power to override local authorities and go over their head to the Minister of Health is the best way to create that bad blood by which housing associations, instead of helping in the amelioration of bad housing, will be made useless because they will be the local authorities' enemies instead of friends. For that reason alone, I think it is extremely unwise to press this Amendment.

Question put, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

The House divided: Ayes, 102; Noes, 33.

Division No. 300.] AYES. [12.9 p.m.
Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir William (Armagh) Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks, Aylesbury) Broadbent, Colonel John
Anderson, Sir Alan Garrett Bennett, Capt. Sir Ernest Nathaniel Brocklebank, C. E. R.
Apsley, Lord Bossom, A. C. Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks., Newb'y)
Aske, Sir Robert William Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W. Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.
Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmly) Horsbrugh, Florence Remer, John R.
Caporn, Arthur Cecil Howitt, Dr. Alfred B. Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.
Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston) Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.) Rickards, George William
Cooke, Douglas James, Wing-Com. A. W. H. Rosbotham, Sir Thomas
Cooper, T. M. (Edinburgh, W.) Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univ.) Runge, Norah Cecil
Copeland, Ida Law, Sir Alfred Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l)
Crooke, J. Smedley Levy, Thomas Samuel, M. R. A. (W'ds'wth, Putney).
Cross, R. H. MacAndrew, Major J. O. (Ayr) Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.
Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard McEwen, Captain J. H. F. Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John
Dalkeith, Earl of McLean, Major Sir Alan Somervell, Sir Donald
Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil) Macquisten, Frederick Alexander Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)
Davison, Sir William Henry Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.
Doran, Edward Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'morland)
Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.) Marsden, Commander Arthur Stones, James
Eden, Rt. Hon. Anthony Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John Strickland, Captain W. F.
Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey Mellor, Sir J. S. P. Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Essenhigh, Reginald Clare Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir Murray F.
Fremantle, Sir Francis Morrison, William Shepherd Tate, Mavis Constance
Fuller, Captain A. G. Moss, Captain H. J. Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)
Ganzoni, Sir John Muirhead, Lieut.-Colonel A. J. Thorp, Linton Theodore
Gluckstein, Louis Halle Munro, Patrick Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)
Goldie, Noel B. Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H. Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth) Waterhouse, Captain Charles
Gunston, Captain D. W. Orr Ewing, I. L. Watt, Major George Steven H.
Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Pearson, William G. Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)
Hartland, George A. Percy, Lord Eustace Wills, Wilfrid D.
Harvey, George (Lambeth, Kenningt'n) Petherick, M. Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir Arnold (Hertf'd)
Haslam, Henry (Horncastle) Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilst'n) Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir H. Kingsley
Heilgers, Captain F. F. A. Pownall, Sir Assheton
Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller Ralkes, Henry V. A. M. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston) Reid, David D. (County Down) Sir Walter Womersley and
Lieut.-Colonel Llewellin.
Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot
Attlee, Rt. Hon. Clement R. Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan) Maxton, James
Banfield, John William Griffiths, George A. (Yorks, W. Riding) Parkinson, John Allen
Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield) Groves, Thomas E. Smith, Tom (Normanton)
Buchanan, George Grundy, Thomas W. Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, North)
Cripps, Sir Stafford Harris, Sir Percy Thorns, William James
Daggar, George Healy, Cahir Tinker, John Joseph
Davies, David L. (Pontypridd) Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)
Dobbie, William Lawson, John James Wilmot, John
Edwards, Sir Charles Lunn, William
Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen) Macdonald, Gordon (Ince) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Gardner, Benjamin Walter McEntee, Valentine L. Mr. John and Mr. Paling.

Question put, and agreed to.

Lords Amendment: In page 26, line 30, at the end, insert: