HC Deb 18 March 1938 vol 333 cc755-60
Sir K. Wood

I beg to move, in page 3, line 5, at the end, to insert: (4) The last preceding subsection shall have effect in relation to any proposals of the council of a rural district to provide any housing accommodation to which this section applies, as that subsection has effect in relation to proposals of the council of any non-county borough or urban district, subject however to the modification that for any reference in that subsection to the borough or district council, to the borough or district, or to non-county boroughs and urban districts there shall be substituted a reference to the rural district council, to the rural district or to rural districts, as the case may be.

11.19 a.m.

Sir P. Hurd

I wish to thank the Minister for this Amendment. It is, in substance, the Amendment we moved when the Bill was in Committee, when it received a large measure of support. We wish that the Minister had been able to adopt the interpretation of the words "agricultural population" in the same sense as that in the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, 1936, but he has not been able to do that. We thank him, however, for this Amendment, by which he brings rural district councils into the same category as urban district councils, and not county boroughs, when dealing with this extra encouragement for the housing, not only of agricultural workers in the strict sense of the term, but of rural workers generally. On behalf of the Rural District Councils' Association, which speaks for the councils of England and Wales, I wish to thank the Minister for his acceptance of the Amendment, to congratulate him on the Measure as a whole, and to assure him that the rural districts will do their utmost to give full effect to this provision.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

11.21 a.m.

Mr. Tinker

This Clause deals with the grants to be made by the Treasury and the local authorities, and provides that the grants from the Treasury shall be for a period of 40 years, and those from local authorities for 60 years. I would like to ask what will happen about the payment of these grants if something happens to the houses? They have to be sanctioned by the Minister of Health, but, after a time, owing to their being on land under which mining is taking place, they collapse and become derelict before all the money has been paid. Who will then find the money? I have in my possession a picture taken in my constituency of a number of houses which were built under Government grant. They collapsed after ten or 15 years and have now become derelict. If that happens to houses under this Bill, who will be liable to find the money for them? I am in quandary, because this week-end I am going to my constituency and I shall be met by this question. My constituents will want to know what steps are being taken to protect the inhabitants and the local authorities against this kind of thing happening. It is a grave position, and when we are putting a new Bill on the Statute Book we should be in a position to know what will be done in the event of similar things taking place. It will be an almost impossible position to ask ratepayers to pay something towards buildings which have passed out of existence because of subsidence.

There is another question. Sub-section (4) deals with the categories of houses which will be provided, and in paragraph (a, ii) it is explained that they will be houses to replace others which are unfit for human habitation and are not capable of being rendered fit for human habitation at reasonable expense. In the case of the houses to which I have referred, which are now falling into a state of desolation, can a further grant be obtained in respect of the same persons, who now have to leave these other houses because of what has happened? In mining areas subsidence is a constant menace to the houses which have been built out of money provided by the local authorities and the Treasury, and what I am trying to find out is whether it is possible to force those who are responsible for the destruction of those houses to make good the loss which has been caused by the mining subsidences.

11.27 a.m.

Mr. Gordon Macdonald

I wish to call attention to a similar situation in my own division. The Amendment which has just been accepted by the Minister puts rural councils on the same basis as urban district councils and county councils. My division embraces a rural area in which several pits have recently closed down, being worked out, and subsidence is setting in rapidly. One council has built houses in this area, and two of these comparatively new houses have had to be taken down on account of subsidence, and the council is faced with heavy expense. In rural and semi-rural areas where there are disused pits heavy burdens are being imposed on the local authorities as a consequence of subsidence, and sooner or later something will have to be done to meet that situation. Both the State and the local authorities are undertaking heavy expenditure upon building in those areas where subsidence will certainly occur before the houses have been up for many years, and in spite of the damage to the houses payments in respect of them will have to continue over a period of 50 to 60 years. I want the Minister to realise that we have here a position which must be dealt with at an early date, because otherwise many rural councils will be crippled.

11.28 a.m.

Mr. David Adams

I should like to amplify what has been said on this subject in view of the situation prevailing in the county of Durham. The Minister will know from the discussions which took place on the Coal Bill how serious the position is as regards subsidence, and County Durham is more honeycombed with colliery workings than, probably, any other part of the country, not excepting South Wales. The local authority there has been driven to build a considerable number of houses upon land where the possibility of subsidence occurring is admitted on all hands.

The Chairman

I cannot see how the hon. Member can connect this speech with the Clause which is under discussion.

Mr. Adams

Surely we are dealing with the position in areas which are affected by subsidences, and will certainly be affected by subsidences in future. It has been drawn to my notice by several local authorities in County Durham and by private individuals, and associations have been set up for the purpose of dealing with this particular difficulty, and what I desire to know is what protection there will be for a local authority which has been driven to use for housing sites land where there is every probability that subsidence will take place. Will there be some protection afforded to the local authority in the event of such subsidence occurring and damaging the property of the municipality.

The Chairman

A question was asked on this point and I thought that was a little outside the limits of possible discussion on this Clause on recommittal, but the hon. Member is now getting very far beyond anything which is in the Clause.

11.31 a.m.

Sir K. Wood

I will endeavour briefly to explain the position in this matter. This Clause, of course, follows generally the lines of previous housing legislation As regards the method of payment of subsidy, one has to adopt one of two courses—either to make a lump sum payment or to adopt the course which has been generally followed, as in this Bill, of extending the payments over a period of years, with contributions from the State and from the local authorities. The payment of a lump sum at the beginning would mean loss of control altogether, and the other method is regarded as the more practicable and convenient method. Under the present housing operations of local authorities the payments from the Exchequer go into a housing pool, and it is wise to remember that it is not a case of a payment made in respect of a particular house. To put it in another way, the payment does not follow a particular house, but is made in respect of a number of houses, and on that account the money goes into a general housing pool. Even if the property were empty or for other reasons ceased to be in existence, the payments would still go on.

The hon. Member has raised the general question of subsidence which, of course, concerns not only housing problems but arises in connection with factories, and the general reply so far as local authorities are concerned can be said to be this: that obviously a local authority and a colliery company have to be considered in relation to one another in any particular matter that may arise. It would be a question, upon which I could not make any comment now, of whether in any particular case a local authority would have a right of action against a colliery company in respect of subsidence. That is really the legal position. So far as this Bill is concerned, it follows the usual course and makes no alteration in the existing law.

Mr. G. Macdonald

In the case to which I have referred the two houses have gone altogether and no rents are being received at all, but I understand that for the remainder of the period the local authority will have to continue paying the full amount in respect of them. They have lost the houses and they cannot get rent, but they will have to continue to pay.

Sir K. Wood

Yes, and so will the State. The position appears to be rather curious at first sight, but when it is realised that the money is coming out of the housing pool, I think it does put rather a different complexion on the situation.

11.35 a.m.

Mr. James Griffiths

Subsidence has been one of the worst features of the housing problem in mining areas, and although it is very difficult, it is perhaps a little easier now than it was, because modern transport enables people to live not quite so much on top of the pit. It is, therefore, largely a matter of planning. It ought to be easier in future than it has been in the past in such Bills as this to deal with this problem. The House is considering a Measure to bring whole royalties under one control, and it should be possible in future, therefore, to have closer co-operation between the Ministry of Health and whatever body has control of the coal, in order that much of this difficulty might be avoided.

Mr. Tinker

I should like to get one point clear. Will houses unfit for human habitation and left empty, but in respect of which there has been Government grant under another housing scheme, come under the Bill, and can the people who are put out now apply to the Council to come under the scheme of the present Bill?

Sir K. Wood

Yes, Sir, provided the houses are demolished under the Housing Acts.

Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.