HC Deb 17 May 1935 vol 301 cc2083-102

Notwithstanding anything in Part I of the Act of 1930 relating to clearance areas, it is hereby declared that where the property has been acquired by a local authority under its provisions for re-housing purposes, the date on which such property shall be deemed to be vested in the local authority shall not be sooner than seven days after the occupants have been re-housed.[Mr. H. Williams.]

Brought up, and read the Frst time.

1.18 p.m.


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

The attention of many hon. Members has been drawn to the fact that there have been a number of cases of real abuse on the part of the local authorities. If houses are taken over either on the ground that they are unfit for human habitation or on the ground that they are part of a clearance area, whether or not the individual houses themselves are unfit for human habitation, it seems to me obvious that they should no longer continue to be lived in. If, on the other hand, the local authority are of the opinion that they are still fit temporarily for human habitation I see no reason why the rents payable should not continue to be payable to the original owner.

In the Committee a number of cases were mentioned. I do not propose to repeat them, but I should like to mention two outstanding cases that were quoted. One was the case of a man who bought some property within a mile of this House. He undertook before he bought the property that the London County Council had come to the decision not to clear the site. Whether he was wise to buy that property or not does not for the moment matter. I understand that he put the bulk of his savings into it. The purchase price was about £4,000 and he spent about £2,000 in putting the property into what he believed to be a habitable condition. Then the County Council apparently changed their mind and the property was taken over. It happened to be leasehold property, and I understand that the bulk of the compensation went to the ground landlord. I think the ground landlord got a fairly square deal out of it, but the leaseholder only got £4 for property which cost him £6,000. The London County Council did not proceed to turn the people out and pull down the property, but some weeks afterwards they were drawing £60 a week for property for which the leaseholder was paid £4 compensation. The last that I heard about the case was that they were still drawing £35 a week.

That seems to me a, scandal. I am not blaming the County Council in particular or any local authority, but if the local authority takes over property in these circumstances and continues to allow people to live in the property, then clearly until they start to make the scheme effective for the purpose for which they took over the house, they ought to allow the original owner to be in effect the landlord for the time being. That is why in my new Clause I have made the provision that the date on which the property shall be deemed to be vested in the local authority shall be seven days after the occupants have been rehoused. The advantage of this provision will be to give a very definite stimulus to the rapidity of rehousing.

The other case, which was a very bad one, was that of a woman in Liverpool. I have forgotten the name of the street. Her property was going to be taken over, but in the first place they were going to do it on a voluntary basis, and they offered her £31 10s. compensation. She said that that was not enough, and there was a suggestion of arbitration. I believe that the actual mechanism of arbitration machinery had been started when the City Council decided to operate under the provisions of these Acts of Parliament. They took over the property from the woman and I think she got £31 10s. For a variety of reasons the property is not to be pulled down for a substantial period of time and the woman is continuing to live in her own house, and the Liverpool Corporation are actually charging her £26 a year to enable her to live in her own house, for which she got only £31 compensation. That is absolutely intolerable and without any conceivable justification.

There is not one of us who does not want these rotten houses, where they are rotten, to be pulled down as soon as possible and replaced by good ones, but if in the meantime rents are to be drawn for houses which are taken over on compensation—the basis of compensation will be better under the Bill but in many individual cases it will not be better—the original owners ought to be entitled to the rent so long as rent is payable. It seems to me intolerable that people should have their own houses taken from them on the ground of their being unfit for habitation and that then the local authority should allow them to live in the houses and charge them rent. If anyone had said 10 years ago that this kind of thing was going to happen we should have thought it a farce. I have heard of a number of cases in Bristol involving the same kind of thing, and I hope the Minister will therefore give serious consideration to the proposal. I am not wedded to the precise wording of the Clause or to the date on which the transfer of the property shall be deemed to have been made, but I do urge that we should bring to an end a number of scandals which are occurring under the existing law, and which are incapable of any defence, whether the authority is Liverpool, London or Bristol. I have no doubt that there are cases in other parts of the country as well.

1.26 p.m.


I beg to second the Motion.

I do not propose to recapitulate the arguments with regard to the iniquity of persons having their property taken from them and then being charged a high rent for the property. Nor do I want to assume the role which the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) so courteously described as that of the awkward squad. However awkward I may have been in another place I was none the less responsible for a good many of the amendments which were raised. The explanation why local authorities find themselves able to perpetrate this appropriation of other people's property and then charge them rent is to be found in Section (5) of the Housing Act, 1930. The object of that Act was to reduce overcrowding and clear away slum premises. The object of this Bill is to clear away slum premises, but you will not do that unless there is a definite time limit fixed within which houses must be demolished. Section (5), Sub-section (1) of the 1930 Act provides that a local authority who have acquired property under the Act,— shall demolish every building thereon before the expiration of six weeks from the date when it is first vacated, or before the expiration of such longer period as in the circumstances they deem reasonable. It turns entirely on the view of the local authority as to what they deem in the circumstances to be reasonable. By that loophole in the Section local authorities get through the provisions of the 1930 Act, which were designed to bring about the demolition of these houses. When you have people in the position of being the judges of what is reasonable one of the factors which I imagine they would take into serious consideration is "how much money are we going to get out of the existing circumstances." That is a consideration which would fairly be taken into account by every reasonable person, and if they have paid an owner, as in the case mentioned by my hon. Friend, £4 and are drawing £25 per week in rent they would say that it would not be reasonable in the circumstances to forego such a handsome investment and would ignore the main object of the Act of 1930 and of this Bill. The new Clause is moved in order to tighten up the legislation and to facilitate the operation of the Bill. I am not at all satisfied that local authorities may not be able to put forward another argument in order to comply with the letter of the 1930 Act and yet evade the spirit of the Act. The present Minister of Health was not responsible for that Act, but it says: They shall demolish every building thereon before the expiration of six weeks from the date on which it is vacated. All they have to do is to see that it is not vacated, and they need never carry out demolition. The Section of the Act is drawn in somewhat loose terms, and the sole objective of my hon. Friend and myself is to tighten it up and insist that where houses are not fit for human habitation they shall not be habited by human beings.

1.33 p.m.


I want to resist the suggestion made by the Mover and Seconder of the new Clause in regard to the action taken by the London County Council in a particular case. Actually the action was not taken by the present London County Council, but I should not like it to be thought that the procedure taken by the London County Council under any party is such as has been suggested by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams), namely, that, having taken over an area cheaply and finding that they can extract a high rent for it, they delayed clearing the people out of the area so that they might be able to make a handsome profit. Nothing like that has happened. What happened in this particular case was that in a very overcrowded part of the East End the London County Council took over the houses in a certain street. In the first arbitration the lessee, under the existing Acts, which are not altered by the present Bill, received nothing at all, and he appealed. It was found that such an adjudication was impossible, that he must receive something, and the arbitrator on the second occasion gave him £4. But the expenses of the London County Council were in the neighbourhood of £4,000. They had to pay the ground landlord and various other expenses.


I said that.


The Council then proceeded, with all the haste and speed possible, to clear the area. But this cannot be done in a week or two in an area like London. If the local authority has any respect at all for the comfort and the interests of the tenants of the houses they will be rehoused in the locality close to their previous residences or close to their work. It is extremely difficult to rehouse people who are turned out under a clearance scheme. Nevertheless the London County Council proceeded with all haste to rehouse these people. They had to do it gradually. Now they have all been rehoused. There was no delay for the purpose of making a profit. Such a suggestion is monstrous.


I did not suggest that that was the purpose. I asked on what grounds you could take a man's property, give him £4, and then proceed to take £60 a week out of it. Surely the man ought to be receiving that £60 a week?


Is the hon. Member prepared to admit that the London County Council went on drawing the rent, for some time £60 and ultimately £25 per week, for what, on the hon. Member's own figures, the Council paid only £4? He has admitted that the property occupied was not fit for human habitation.


If the hon. Members will allow me to continue I will explain. It was not the hon. Member for South Croydon, but the hon. and learned Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Thorp) who definitely suggested that the London County Council did this for the sake of making a profit out of the deal. It is quite true that the County Council for the time being, until they could rehouse the residents, did draw rent from the people living in the houses, a rent which would otherwise have gone to the previous owner. But it went a very little way to repay the Council for its expenditure in purchasing the site and for the huge obligation to rehouse these people in new houses. In the final analysis the local authority is very much out of pocket on the deal. The suggestion put forward in the new Clause is that until the residents of the houses have been moved a local authority should not be in possession of the houses that are to be demolished. So far as I can see you would never get on with any slum clearance at all if that proposal were adopted. It is only by virtue of possession being vested in the local authority that the local authority is able to turn the people out and demolish the houses. If the local authority were not the landlord I do not see what power they would have to get the people out and to get them into new houses, and slum clearance would be at a standstill.

I admit frankly that in some special cases there may be hardships. The Liverpool case that has been cited did sound hard. But I do not think that this proposal is the way to get out of the difficulty. The only way to get out of the difficulty which the hon. Member emphasised is, if they so desire, to increase the compensation. For other reasons I do not think it should be increased. The illustration given by hon. Members it not quite as serious as they would desire, and I am certain that they were not justified in attacking the action of the London County Council in this matter.

1.40 p.m.


I feel sure that the House will be singularly unimpressed by the arguments of the hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. Strauss). He stated that in charging rents to the residents of the property referred to the London County Council were receiving back only a portion of the amount which they had to expend upon this property. It seems to me that the amount which the County Council spent for this property was returned to them by the value of the property which they actually acquired. I know something of the circumstances of the case referred to, and I can assure the House that the County Council acquired that property at less than its market value, treated as a site, and I am not wrong when I state that a short time afterwards the County Council received a definite offer of an increased price for the property in question. The argument which the hon. Member put forward is one which cannot stand any scrutiny.

I appeal as strongly as I can to the Minister to accept the principle of this Amendment. I can assure him that there have been many cases in this country where individuals have been deprived of their property and have subsequently been charged rent for what was really their own. Let me give a typical case. A working man had saved a few hundred pounds, which he invested in the purchase of some cottage property. He had not sufficient money with which to make the purchase; so he created a mortgage in favour of his friendly society. He died and left the property to his widow. The property was valued by the district valuer and death duties were based upon that value. We have this position: the widow inherited the property, subject to a mortgage, and had to pay to the State a specific sum in respect of death duties. Within six months that property was included in a clearance scheme. It was taken over by the local authority. The local authority then proceeded to charge the widow a rental of 7s. to 8s. a week for the particular house which she occupied.

The property was leasehold. She did not receive one farthing by way of compensation. I believe I am right in saying that for a period of seven or eight months the widow occupying that cottage was compelled to pay rent for it. In addition she had to pay interest to a friendly society in respect of the balance remaining on the mortgage, and when application was made to the estate duty office for a return of the money which had been paid in respect of death duties the reply received was that the value of the property was as fixed by the district valuer at the time of the death of the husband, and that in consequence no sum could be returned.

Can the Minister justify a law which creates a situation like that? I suggest that there is no principle of law or of equity which would make such a condition of affairs tolerable in a civilised country. I think my right hon. Friend will agree that if the principle of this Amendment were accepted there would be no delay, as a consequence, in the carrying out of necessary slum clearance schemes. I and those who think with me have done nothing to obstruct the progress of this Bill. All of us are most anxious to help the Minister in every way that we can to proceed with the good work he has undertaken. I suggest to the Minister, in all seriousnes, that the course which he desires local authorities to pursue in the matter of slum clearance will not be impeded by the acceptance of the principle which is embodied in the new Clause. I appeal to him to alter the law in such a way that cases of injustice like those mentioned this afternoon cannot occur. It may be that the actual terms of the new Clause are open to objection but I feel sure that it is the opinion of every Member of this House, irrespective of political views, that some system or some pressure can be devised which, without obstructing the work of slum clearance, will make these injustices impossible.

I would point out to Members of the Labour party that the cases of most acute suffering in connection with this matter occur among working-people who have saved a little money and have invested it in house property. With regard to the particular case mentioned by me I should point out that it was admitted by the medical officer and the sanitary inspector that the house which was occupied by the widow in question, while it had certain inherent defects, was well-maintained and that during the months in respect of which the local authority received rent for it, they did not expend a farthing on repairs to it. There is a very strong feeling on this matter not only among Members of the House but throughout the country. In this country we have not yet reached and I hope we shall never reach the stage at which the principle of appropriation of property without compensation is tolerated. We ought to encourage the purchase by individuals of their own homes and there can be no justification for one department of the State valuing certain property—


I think the hon. Gentleman is now going outside the scope of the proposed new Clause.


That may be, but the argument which I was about to develop was that a large number of cases have occurred in which individuals have purchased houses knowing that those houses have recently been valued by a Government Department. I am informed that that is so, and I think that solicitors and others concerned in the practice of the law in this country will agree with me when I say that cases have occurred in which properties have been purchased and possession has shortly afterwards been obtained under clearance orders by local authorities who have entered into possession of those houses and compelled even the dispossessed owner to pay rent. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to admit the principle of the new Clause.

1.50 p.m.


There are two points on which I would enlarge in connection with this new Clause, especially as it relates to the area which I represent. If a local authority decides that a certain area shall be declared a clearance area and that the persons who have been living there must be rehoused, it stands to reason that in the vast majority of cases those persons must be rehoused in corporation property. In Sheffield, for a long time the conditions of rehousing and the conditions of housing people in corporation houses, have been subject to what is known as a means test. A person can either go into a smaller or secondary type of house or into a larger type of house according to the wages which he receives, so long as there is a guarantee, on the basis of his wage level, that the rent is sure to be paid at the end of every week or quarter or whatever the period may be. So long as that condition is fulfilled that man is regarded as a reasonable applicant for one of these houses.

I brought to the notice of the House last night the case of a man who, when a clearance order has been completed in respect of the property which he now inhabits, will be absolutely bankrupt. The corporation will offer him an alternative house on a corporation estate. But that man, whose position I have already described, will not be able, until he finds a job, to meet the weekly rental of one of those houses. He will be an undesirable applicant for a tenancy on a corporation estate. Assuming that the corporation do not decide to proceed with the demolition which I believe is a matter to be decided between two differ- ent authorities—they will be in a position to say to this man, "Having had our clearance order sanctioned you can remain in this house at a given rent so long as the house continues to exist." This new Clause suggests the only way I can see of eliminating the possibility of a corporation having acquired property on the ground of its unfitness, automatically becoming the landlord of the property over the person who has actually been dispossessed of it on the ground of its unfitness.

It was refreshing to hear the hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. G. H. Strauss) say that the rehousing of the people could not be dealt with in a week or two. If that is his view and also the view of the authority of which he is a distinguished representative, then I claim that it is the greatest possible justification we could have for this new Clause. We all know that rehousing cannot be done in a week or two. Unfortunately, the establishment of clearance orders is something that can be done in a week or two and there is a tendency in this Bill to give powers to local authorities to secure more clearance orders than they are capable of carrying out, in the sense of being able to find the necessary alternative accommodation. If it is true that the London County Council do not believe in compensation that is the very reason why the hon. Member should support the Clause. It does not ask for compensation; it merely asks that the local authority must have rehoused the people whom it has displaced seven days before the property becomes vested in it. In view of the amount of private money which is at stake, especially in the case of owner-occupiers, the Bill would be much fairer if this Clause were accepted. I do not think it would inconvenience the Government or the Minister, and I am sure that, worked sympathetically, it would not inconvenience any local authority in carrying out what we know to be the deepest desire of the Ministry of Health, namely, the abolition of the slums.

1.55 p.m.


This new Clause seems to deal with a difficulty which is inherent in slum clearance. Many cases have been given to show how unjustly the present procedure operates, but it is very difficult to check cases which are thrown across the Floor of the House, without notice. But I have a shrewd suspicion that many of these cases are some of the old hardy annuals that arose in a time when slum clearance was not being prosecuted with great vigour, when there was little experience of it, and when the processes did not synchronise and many of the hardships that were alleged to exist did not exist. By closer supervision and better administration, however, these are disappearing or have disappeared. The case mentioned by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams), if it is the one I think it is, is that of a man who bought a lot of condemned property, knowing that it was condemned, in the hope that an order for slum clearance would not be directed against him. With such a case I have no sympathy. He bought with his eyes open, and he deserved what he got.

With regard to the proposed new Clause, I hope I may be able to satisfy the House that by administration and close supervision we do in fact attempt to get rid of an injustice which should not accrue to the owner. Let me explain exactly how it happens. The House will realise that this difficulty never occurs in the case of a clearance order; it only occurs in the case of a compulsory purchase order, and it only occurs then when there is rehousing on the site. If you are rehousing elsewhere, of course, you can synchronise the two processes by administration, so that the demolition and the provision of new houses, the vacation of the houses and the entry into the new houses, can coincide, but owing to the extreme difficulty of dealing with a site which you have purchased and on which you are rehousing, it happens that, in order to carry out the construction of flats on the old site, the local authority has to get possession. It gives notice to treat, and it enters the premises, but all that is a slow process, and it may happen that after they have entered, rents are collected by the local authority.

Let me state what the House, I know will accept as a sound principle of administration. It is a principle of administration and supervision that we are anxious to secure and that, I think, we do secure. It is, that after the entry of the local authority, nobody, neither the owner nor the local authority, should make a profit by the collection of rents, and that, in so far as rents are collected, they should be devoted to making as tolerable as possible the lives of the tenants before the new accommodation is provided for them. That is a principle that we try to enforce by supervision, and I think we are enforcing it.

Complaints have been made in respect of Liverpool. It sometimes happens that complaints are not justified. In fact, I spend my life examining cases put up to me, and in 99 per cent. of them there is no foundation in fact for the complaint. We have just taken up the case of Liverpool, and I have here a categorical assurance from the Corporation of Liverpool that in respect of the particular houses regarding which complaint is made, no profit has in fact been made, but all the rents collected—and some of the rents were not collected, because the tenants refused to go on paying rents in respect of this derelict property—were put back into the property to make the lives of the tenants tolerable until the new provision was made. I think, with that assurance, the House will see that they and we are in agreement in trying to carry out what is obviously a good and sound principle of administration.


I am prepared to accept the hon. Gentleman's statement that no profits are made and that the actual rent is devoted to making conditions tolerable, but are we to take that statement as a direct reply to the hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. G. R. Strauss), who said just now, with respect to the case mentioned by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams), that it is true that the London County Council made a profit? Is it not true in the case of Liverpool but true in the case of London?


I think the hon. Member is talking about some cases that happened in the past, but I am talking about the present. If London are making a profit—and I should be extremely surprised to hear it—we should immediately take it up, but I am sure they are doing what other authorities are doing and that, in so far as they collect rents, they are putting them back into repairs until the new accommodation is provided.


The Parliamentary Secretary is right. I will not vouch for every individual case, but taken as a whole the money collected in rents from tenants of condemned houses does go back to keeping those houses in proper repair until the tenants are given an opportunity of better accommodation. That is the practice.

2 p.m.


I have listened with great interest to the discussion on both sides, and it seems to me that we are rather forgetting that a very important principle is involved. We are not so much concerned with what has happened or with whether the London County Council or Liverpool are worse or better than some people think. We are really concerned with whether we should put on the Statute book a law by which a local corporation, having dispossessed a slum landlord, can become the slum landlord itself and take the profit. No amount of argument about particular cases can alter that fundamental point. The Ministry never think they are unjust, but some of us never think they are anything else. That is a matter of opinion. I am not for a moment expressing any criticism of the Minister or his Parliamentary Secretary, who are very much more reasonable than those who actually administer the law after they have introduced it. Nevertheless, the position as I understand it is this, that we were told in 1930 that no injustice would result, but who believes that now? Property can be taken from a landlord under this Bill and will be taken, and some of it will be worthy of condemnation while some of it will not. That is the universal experience of all of us. Is it right that property that is not worthy of condemnation should be treated in the same way as property that is?


That matter does not arise under this Clause, which deals with the question of when the property should vest.


I accept your ruling, Sir, but the real point of the Clause is whether the ownership should vest in the landlord at a certain time or not; whether in fact he should not have a right to the property until he wants to destroy it. That is the real purpose of the Amendment, and, as I say, all sorts of abuses can and will creep in if a local authority can become a landlord without any limit as to the time before it has really to put the matter right. The only excuse for taking away the landlord's property and becoming the landlord yourself, for practising what is virtually confiscation, is that in the interests of the community it is no longer right that people should live in that property. But while they are in that property undisturbed, the landlord also should be undisturbed. Until you take them away, you should not take him away either. That is a cardinal principal of justice.

The whole basic principle running through this Bill and through the Housing Acts is that property is taken away from a landlord because it is no longer fit to live in, and until you in fact take the people out of that property, you have no right to remove the landlord from his right. It is absolutely going against the rights of property which have existed practically from the foundations of society. It is a thing also which may be used as a precedent on future occasions for all sorts of improper actions. This may not be in itself confiscation or a grievance, but it will result in serious hardship. Probably in this case the number of actual injustices inflicted will be very much less than the number of complaints of injustice, but that does not alter the principle that you are doing something that is utterly incongruous with the order of society in which most of us believe. You are taking away people's property sooner than you need. Your only justification for taking it away is the fact that you are to give the people better conditions, and that you have to take it away as an act of social justice. If the local authority remains in possession of the property, they ought only to use it as an agent of those to whom it really belongs. It is time that, in dealing with this Measure, we got back not merely to Conservative principles, but to principles of fundamental commonsense and honest dealing with those who own property as well as to the tenants who live in it. Without the least desire to be controversial, I beg the Minister, even if he cannot accept this new Clause, to realise that we are not moving it because we want to embarrass him, but because we feel very anxious about this Bill lest in future it should be interpreted in an unwise spirit as some previous Measures have been. If the right hon. Gentleman met us in a reasonable way on this point a good part of our anxiety might be removed.

2.8 p.m.


I am somewhat astonished at the hon. Member's speech. At times politics, like adversity, makes strange bed fellows, and I find myself on this matter in greater sympathy with the Minister than I did yesterday. The hon. Member spoke about what he called the real point of the Clause, but the real point of it is to get more money for slum landlords.


Will not the local authority be a slum landlord if it draws the rents?


We are very glad to have the hon. and learned Member's presence at our debates on this Bill. If he had only waited about two sentences I should have come to that point. Nobody will defend local authorities holding for any inordinately long time property which has been condemned. That would obviously be wrong, and I do not think any hon. Member ought to charge local authorities with deliberately doing that kind of thing. There may be cases where local authorities have perhaps been rather dilatory, but that is not a case for providing a little more money for a little longer period for the slum landlord who owns condemned houses. It is a case, as the Parliamentary Secretary said, for improved administration, closer supervision, and shortening the period of time between the acquisition of the property and the rehousing of the people. The proposal in this new Clause in cases where people are to be rehoused on the site, would defeat the whole purpose of the Bill. You could not rehouse on the site under the terms of the new Clause. Hon. Members are asking that houses which have been condemned and which by that condemnation are unfit for human habitation shall continue to be in the possession of the landlord and that he shall be able to continue to draw rent. I suppose it is quite a proper and Christian thing for him to do it, but a wicked thing for the local authority to do it.


Some of us feel that neither a landlord nor a local authority should draw rents for houses which are not fit to live in, but if the local authority can do it, the landlord should be able to do it. We feel that if rents are to be drawn at all they should be drawn by the person who owns the property.


I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman has helped his case. If he would care to follow me in proposing that no rents at all should be charged for condemned houses, there might be something to be said for it, but he is not making that proposal.


Is the right hon. Gentleman making it?


I am prepared to make that proposal, but the hon. Gentleman for Gorton (Mr. Bailey) is trying to twist it into an entirely different case. The case that has been put forward for the purpose of this new Clause is that landlords should be permitted to continue to draw rents from their property after the property has been condemned and acquired by the local authority. I submit that if any rents are to be drawn during the period when steps are being taken to rehouse, nobody is more entitled to draw them than the local authority—for two reasons. In the first place, we have been assured by the Parliamentary Secretary that the local authority can be trusted to do the right thing by the tenants during this period when they are living in unfortunate housing conditions, and that the rents collected do one way or the other inure to the advantage of the tenant. That would not occur in the case of a private landlord. The second reason is that the property has been acquired by the local authority because the authority has undertaken the responsibility of rehousing the people. Surely if any rents are to be drawn in this period it is right that they should be paid to the local authority, which spends the rents to the advantage of the tenant. I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will see the wisdom of withdrawing the proposed Clause. They cannot build up a big series of arguments on two or three hard cases, the dates of which have never been given to us. We cannot allow them to rediscover the poor working-man and the poor widow who owns all this property. Reluctant as I am to support the Government, I shall be prepared to do so in the Division Lobby on this new Clause.


I believe that the right hon. Gentleman sees the necessity for preventing, if possible, rents being received for property that has been condemned, whether by a local authority or a private landlord. Surely a Clause which suggested that an authority should not be regarded as the owner—an authority that had condemned the property—until seven days after the late tenants had been rehoused would liven up the whole procedure. If the authority desire a scheme of demolition and rehousing, they will not become the owners, if the new Clause is adopted, until all the tenants have been rehoused for seven days. That will help the Minister in his desire to rehouse the people, and will help the local authority to help the Minister to do his job.


The hon. Gentleman does not seem to understand the new Clause, which just makes nonsense of the Bill. In cases of rehousing on the site the new Clause will make the Bill unworkable because those will be the larger number of cases. How can you take possession seven days after rehousing the people when you cannot rehouse the people on the site until you have got possession? If the hon. Member had followed the question in Committee a little more closely he would have realised that a large proportion of people will be rehoused on the site. Indeed, one of the right hon. Gentleman's motives in providing a subsidy for the building of blocks of flats is to enable people to be rehoused on the site, and it makes the Bill absurd if local authorities cannot acquire property until seven days after the period when the people have been rehoused on the site on which the houses will stand. I am sure the hon. Member, on reflection, will see that that is a very reasonable statement.

2.17 p.m.


In my opinion, the Parliamentary Secretary has dealt quite satisfactorily with the proposition in the Clause, but I would like to say that I am certainly in accord with the spirit contained in it. I certainly do object to any local authority making profit out of property which, through its own officers, it has been able to obtain through a compulsory purchase order or a clearance order. After listening to all that has been said in this Debate, I am bound to agree with the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) that there is bound to be a certain period before the order can be carried out, unless, of course, you adopt the method of using explosives and blowing the property sky-high. I listened very attentively to one remark of the Parliamentary Secretary with regard to the method of carrying out these clearance orders, because we have had a certain amount of experience of that in Manchester. A certain area was acquired in Hulme, which is three to four miles from my division, and, so far as I understand, no provision was made for the re-housing of the disturbed tenants. That was the part of the proposed new Clause which appealed to me until I heard the whole of the arguments. The clearance order was carried out, all the property was razed to the ground and the tenants were then driven either to take houses, four or five miles away from their work, or, as they did in most cases, thrust themselves into property not condemned or pulled down. The result was that all round that particular clearance area overcrowding was worse than ever before. I must say, however, I think that this Bill will deal with that matter of overcrowding, so that this Clause in itself is not necessary from that aspect. I think, too, with the assurance given by the Parliamentary Secretary, that such things as the local authorities making profit out of condemned property will not occur in the future. I take assurance for that, but the instance given seemed to me like the hardy annual I have heard for the last four or five years.

2.20 p.m.


It seems to me that there ought to be a way out of this difficulty. It is monstrous to think that a local authority can condemn a property, and then take hold of it and draw anything out of it. It is fundamentally wrong. It is judge in its own case. It has happened. I had a case in the courts about it. It seems to me that if the hands of the local authority are to be clean, the obligation ought to be on them, if there be any profit on the transaction, to see that it is handed over to the people who own the property.

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


The next Clause, which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. North)—(Reasons for the condemnation of property to be supplied)—it seems to me, can be discussed together with the Clause standing in the name of the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton)—public inquiries and appeals.


Do you mean the Clause standing in my name with regard to the method of holding public inquiries?


Yes, the Clause. (Public inquiries and appeals.) The two Clauses can only be discussed together by the leave of the House, but it may be for the convenience of the House so to discuss them.


Does not the Clause in the name of the Noble Lord impose an additional charge on public funds?


It appears to be quite in Order.