HC Deb 17 February 1938 vol 331 cc2115-20

Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 69.

[Sir DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to amend the law with respect to the making of contributions out of the Exchequer and by local authorities in respect of housing accommodation provided for the working classes, and with respect to arrangements between local authorities and other persons for the provision of housing accommodation, and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament— A. of such expenses as may be incurred by the Minister of Health (hereinafter referred to as the Minister) in making to any local authority— (1) in respect of each new house or new Hat completed after the beginning of the year nineteen hundred and thirty-nine which, with the approval of the Minister, is provided by that authority by way of housing accommodation—

  1. (a) rendered necessary by displacements occurring in connection with any action taken by that authority under the Housing Act, 1936 (hereinafter referred to as the principal Act) for the demolition of insanitary houses, for dealing with clearance or improvement areas, or for closing parts of buildings, or
  2. (b) rendered necessary by displacements occurring in the carrying out of redevelopment under the principal Act, or
  3. (c) required for the abatement of overcrowding,
an annual contribution for forty years of the following amount, that is to say:—
  1. (i) five pounds ten shillings or (in a case in which there are fulfilled the conditions laid down by the said Act of the present Session with reference both to the low level of the rents obtainable from working-class housing accommodation in the area of the local authority and to the inadequacy of the financial resources of that area) six pounds ten shillings; or
  2. (ii) in the case of a fiat provided in a block of flats on a site the cost of which, as developed, exceeds one thousand five hundred pounds per acre, an amount not exceeding twenty-six pounds, determined in accordance with the Table appended to this Resolution; and
(2) in respect of each new house or new flat completed after the beginning of the year nineteen hundred and thirty-nine which, with the approval of the Minister, is provided by the local authority by way of housing accommodation required for the agricultural population (as defined by the principal Act) of the area of the local authority, an annual contribution for a period of forty years of ten pounds or, in the special circumstances mentioned in the said Act of the present Session, a greater amount not exceeding twelve pounds; and (3) in respect of each new house or new flat which, in pursuance of arrangements with the local authority, is provided by some other person, with the approval of the Minister, by way of housing accommodation required for the agricultural population (as defined by the principal Act) of the area of the local authority, an annual contribution for a period of forty years of an amount not exceeding ten pounds; and B. of such sums as may become payable by the Minister by virtue of any provisions of the said Act of the present Session—
  1. (1) amending the provisions of Subsections (1) and (3) of Section one hundred and nine of the principal Act, and directing that Sub-section (2) of that Section shall be deemed not to have come into operation until the date of the passing of the said Act of the present Session; or
  2. (2) directing——
    1. (a) that, in the circumstances mentioned in the said Act of the present Session, houses and flats are to be treated as having been completed after the beginning of the year nineteen hundred and thirty-nine, notwithstanding that they were in fact completed before the beginning of that year; or
    2. (b) that, in the circumstances so mentioned, two or more buildings containing flats shall be treated as if the several buildings were one building on a single site; or
  3. (3) amending the provisions of Subsection (1) of Section ninety-four of the principal Act; or
  4. (4) enabling the Minister to continue to make payments by way of a contribution under Section one of the Housing, etc. Act, 1923, in respect of any house or flat which, with the assistance of a local authority, has been provided by some other person, notwithstanding that it has become vested in the local authority:
Provided that this resolution shall not, by virtue of sub-paragraph (1) of paragraph A, thereof, authorise the payment of any expenses the payment of which is authorised by virtue of sub-paragraph (2) of that paragraph.

£ s. d.
Where the cost per acre of the site as developed—
exceeds £1,500 but does not exceed £4,000 11 0 0
exceeds £4,000 but does not exceed £5,000 12 0 0
exceeds £5,000 but does not exceed £6,000 13 0 0
exceeds £6,000 but does not exceed £8,000 14 0 0
exceeds £8,000 but does not exceed £10,000 15 0 0
exceeds £10,000 but does not exceed £12,000 17 0 0
exceeds £12,000 17 0 0*
* Increased by £1 for each additional £2,000, or part of £2,000, in the cost per acre of the site as developed.—[King's Recommendation signified,]—[Sir K. Wood.]

4.5 p.m.

The Minister of Health (Sir Kingsley Wood)

I beg to commend this Resolution to the Committee. I do not propose to occupy very long, because I feel that I trespassed on the House perhaps unduly on the Second Reading of the Bill; but there are one or two observations which I think the Committee would expect me to make. First I will deal with the point made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) during the Second Reading Debate, about the terms of the Financial Resolution itself, and I hope I may be able to satisfy him with regard to the particular matter that he raised. Naturally I was glad to observe that in the course of his speech the right hon. Gentleman was good enough to express the opinion that in drafting the Resolution we had endeavoured to conform to the spirit of the new Standing Orders. But the right hon. Gentleman had a criticism to make with regard to one paragraph in the Resolution and to it I shall refer. He pointed out that in the case of the additional subsidy payable to certain rural district councils the Financial Resolution merely stated that the increase would be allowed in such circumstances as are mentioned in the Bill, and he suggested that the same procedure might be adopted in respect of the additional subsidy for non-county boroughs and urban districts.

Leaving out of consideration the subsidy for flats, which is not relevant in this connection, the position is this: The main subsidies authorised by the Bill are £5 10s. per house for slum clearance and overcrowding generally and £10 for housing of the agricultural population. The £10 subsidy is itself a special extension of the £5 10s. subsidy and is limited by the Resolution to housing for the agricultural population. We thus have a general subsidy of £5 10s. and in a particular case of £10, the range of the latter being limited by the Financial Resolution. But on the top of these subsidies it is proposed to allow additional sums in special cases. The £5 10s. may become £6 10s. and the £10 may become £12. I think the right hon. Member for Wakefield will agree that an increase of housing subsidies, apart from the merits under discussion, is a matter of real financial moment. Perhaps I am not putting it too high if I say that it would be generally agreed to be unreasonable to ask the Government to leave open in the Resolution the question whether the subsidies should be one amount or a greater amount when the Government had already determined what the amount of the subsidy is to be. I think the Committee will recognise that the amount of the subsidy is a matter properly to be restricted by the Resolution. Therefore, if in certain cases the Government are prepared to allow higher amounts of subsidy, they must, in order to discharge their responsibilities, define in the Resolution the sort of cases in which the additional subsidies may be paid.

I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the subsidy of £10 is already restricted to the agricultural workers, and it is not necessary to restrict it further, except to provide that there must be some special circumstances to ustify the increase of £10 to £12. But of course the position is entirely different on the subsidy of £5 10s. which is not restricted to what is relatively a narrow range. Consequently, there must be some restriction imposed on the power to increase it. That is the restriction which appears in the Resolution. I suggest, therefore, that there is really no inconsistency between the two cases. I also want the Committee to realise that there is real financial substance in the point. If the Committee will turn to the Financial Memorandum on the Bill they will see in paragraph 11 that estimates of cost are worked out on the assumption that there are 270,000 houses or flats earning the subsidy, and of course if an extra £I could be paid to each of these the cost would be £270,000 a year for 40 years, which even in these days is a considerable sum. It is in fact equivalent to a capital sum of about £6,000,000. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be satisfied with the explanation that I have given, and that the Committee will agree that the Government have endeavoured to do what is right in this Resolution and are not misusing their powers when they define in the Resolution the sort of conditions they have in mind which would justify an increase of subsidies within the wide field of cottage subsidy. It is rather a technical matter to raise, but I was anxious to satisfy the right hon. Gentleman.

Lieut.-Colonel Acland Troyte

My right hon. Friend has said that the £10 subsidy is to be given to the agricultural population only. That is quite all right, and I agree with it. But in the Bill it is confined to people who live in rural district council areas.

Sir K. Wood

That raises another issue which, with the definition of "agricultural worker" will be discussed later.

Mr. Georg Griffiths

I do not pose as an expert. In a rural area which spreads almost entirely over my division we have low paid workers who are not agricultural workers and presumably they cannot have the assistance of this subsidy?

Sir K. Wood

As I have just explained, that is a matter which we shall be able to discuss when we come to the question of the definition of "agricultural worker" within the meaning of the Bill. That issue does not arise on the point I am now trying to discuss so far as the scope of the Financial Resolution is concerned; it is a different point altogether. Let me say a few words upon the Financial Resolution generally, in view of the suggestions which were made on the Second Reading of the Bill. I think it can be stated without exaggeration that this Financial Resolution, with the explanatory Memorandum which accompanies it, on fair examination disposes of the rather ludicrous suggestion that there is to be a slowing down in housing or any sort of economy campaign. If the provision to review the slum clearance subsidy and to take into account the expenses which are to be incurred and have been incurred by local authorities is to be the subject of criticism, then the right hon. Member for Wakefield is the leader of the economy campaign, because he, of course, was responsible for imposing a statutory review. As was stated on Second Reading, it was pointed out to the local authorities that an Order might provide for reduction of the grant, and the right hon. Gentleman warned them, quite rightly, that the grant would not be permanent. I do not blame him in any way for having so dealt with these things.

What is the position under this Financial Resolution? On the basis of 60,000 flats on expensive sites, 270,000 houses or flats on other sites and 30,000 houses for the needs of the agricultural population, there will be an annual charge on the Exchequer of £2,710,000. To do justice to the Government's proposals, you must take the subsidies together, the amount of assistance that the Government are giving in regard to slum clearance and with regard to overcrowding, in order fairly to measure what these financial proposals really mean. Having surveyed the needs of the situation both so far as slum clearance and overcrowding are concerned and what is generally the programme of the local authorities—I speak only in general terms, for it may be that a local authority here or there may have a larger slum clearance scheme, but I, as Minister, have to deal with the general situation—it can be said that, generally, the local authorities will during the next few years attack the problem of slum clearance and overcrowding with equal energy. Therefore, in completing the present programme on that assumption there will be paid to the local authorities £11 from the Exchequer for each two cottages, one for slum clearance and one for overcrowding.

Whereupon the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod being come with a Message, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair.

Mr. SPEAKER resumed the Chair.

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