HC Deb 16 May 1938 vol 336 cc175-83

Sub-section (i) of Section one of the principal Act (which relates to the submission of schemes by local authorities) shall have effect as if at the end thereof the following proviso were added:

"Provided that the Minister shall not approve any scheme unless he is satisfied that the dwellings in respect of which assistance is proposed to be given will after the completion of the works conform as near as may be to the standard of comparable dwelling-houses towards the erection of which contributions may be made out of moneys provided by Parliament under the Housing Act, 1936."—[Mr. Johnston.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

11.13 p.m.

Mr. Johnston

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

At this late hour it may suit the convenience of most hon. Members if I make my observations brief. This Clause is designed to secure that the Minister shall not approve of any scheme unless he is satisfied that the dwellings in respect of which assistance is sought will, after the expenditure of the grant, be up to the standard, as near as may be, of comparable dwelling-houses towards the erection of which contributions may be made out of moneys provided by Parliament under the Housing Act, 1936. In other words, the Minister has to satisfy himself that the houses being reconstructed shall be houses in which decent working-class families can be reasonably expected to live. It is no good any Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Health saying that that is the common practice. It has not been the common practice in the past. What it may be at this moment I confess that I do not know. There have been cases within our experience in which, after expenditure of public money upon reconstruction, the reconstruction has not satisfied reasonably decent standards.

I turn again to the report of the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee, which has been so much quoted to-night. The majority report included the report of an inquiry by an inspector—not a politician —sent out by that committee. He reported upon III houses which had been reconstructed with the aid of a grant under these Acts. There were 66 houses in Jedburgh, 19 in Inverarity and 26 in Tarbat. In addition, there were 18 houses under construction in Jed-burgh and two houses under construction in Inverarity. His report says that out of III houses only 57—just over half—were considered to have been satisfactorily reconstructed. Of the others, some had no sanitary convenience whatsoever "— after reconstruction and the expenditure of public money, they had neither wet nor dry closets— some were badly lit, while many were damp. Altogether they gave the impression that the schemes had not always received very careful consideration. A relevant point of interest is that in Jedburgh all of the 26 unsatisfactory houses were done before "— that is to say, they had had two goes at it— and all the 4o satisfactory houses during the regime of the present senior sanitary officers. ' What does all this mean? It means that the county council in some areas, packed with representatives of the landlord class —[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh !"]—surely that is self-evident—have been approving the expenditure of public money upon houses which, after that expenditure, have been shown to be damp and without sanitary conveniences of any kind. Tonight I have given one case of a house which was passed for grant and two years afterwards was reported by the sanitary authorities and the medical officer of health as fit only for demolition. I put it to hon. Members: You have refused publicity, and have said that it would be putting county councils under an unnecessary condition. You have said, "Let them all come alike. Let the millionaires come; well and good." Surely in this matter you will insist upon a reasonable standard of housing being provided under these Acts, that the houses shall be as fit as may be for decent folk to live in and that we shall no longer submit to a condition of affairs such as is set out in the report which was made to the Secretary of State for Scotland and from which I have just read.

11.20 p.m.

Mr. Wedderburn

I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the principle of this proposed new Clause is not very different from the principle of the earlier Clause which my right hon. Friend felt himself unable to accept. The earlier Clause did not, however, deal with general terms, but with certain particular provisions which the right hon. Gentleman desired to insert in the Bill. My right hon. Friend explained that he did not think it would be right to withhold certain valuable benefits from the occupants of these houses simply because every other desirable benefit could not be introduced, and I think we should be bound to resist this Clause by the same argument.

The right hon. Gentleman referred particularly to the report of the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee and to certain houses in Tarbat, Inverarity and Jedburgh. I have already made some observations on that subject, not only on the Second Reading of this Bill, but also nearly a year ago, when the report itself was debated. It was debated twice in the House, once on the Adjournment and once on the Scottish Estimates. I am not going to discuss now—it really would not be necessary or relevant to this Clause—the question whether the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee were justified in drawing the conclusions which they did draw from an examination of the small number of houses which they inspected in those parishes. As, no doubt, the right hon. Gentleman is aware, the Association of County Councils in Scotland have issued a statement declaring that the houses inspected were not typical, and gave a misleading and distorted picture. But, to put it at its very lowest, the report did show that there were a few houses—some 50 or so—which had not been satisfactorily reconditioned, and that these 50 houses were not in the area of the same local authority, but in three different parts of Scotland. In these circumstances I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that my right hon. Friend was right in requiring, as he did very shortly afterwards, that in future all proposals for the improvement of houses should be submitted to the Department of Health. I referred to the relevant circular on the Second Reading last week.

There were some local authorities which rather resented having to submit their plans to the Department of Health—authorities which have been doing a great deal of work under this Act, and whose areas had not been given any attention by the Committee. One can appreciate that they do not, perhaps, like having to submit their plans to the Department. But it would have been invidious for my right hon. Friend to distinguish between the local authorities which are liable to do so and those which are not. I read out to the right hon. Gentleman last week what we said in the circular which the Department of Health issued last year: It should also be observed that the Department will not be prepared to agree to the giving of assistance if, after the execution of the works, the dwelling will not contain an inside water supply, water-closet and bath unless they are satisfied that it is not reasonably practicable to provide these conveniences. Since 1st January, when this new decision of the Department came into force, the great majority of the plans submitted have been approved without any variation, and most of the remainder approved with small variations suggested by the Department. As for England, I read out last week the substance of the circular which the Minister of Health proposed to issue, and he also referred to it again, this afternoon. I think that, by these administrative methods we are doing all that is possible to see that houses are reconditioned under this Act in the most satisfactory manner possible. If this Clause were carried, the building bylaws would, in future, apply not only to new buildings but also to structural alterations of old buildings, and the local authority would, I think, have very great difficulty in making a reconstruction in some cases, where the by-laws in regard to height of roof or size of windows might not fit in suitably with schemes designed to preserve the appearance of old houses. I think that, by administrative action, we are doing all that is practicable to ensure that reasonable standards of comfort are observed.

11.29 p.m.

Mr. Greenwood

I feel that we are under a difficulty to-day, because we have had a phantom Minister. It has been very difficult. The new Minister sits on that bench and frowns upon me at this moment, and, having collective responsibility in the Cabinet, he must know all about this Bill. While Cabinet crises come and go—[Interruption]—Oh, yes, they will come and go, and return. This Bill has been dealt with in a very cavalier manner to-day. It is a Bill which has none of the high-lights of the international situation, but it does indicate the attitude of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite on the problem of rural housing. I have said that we have put forward a perfectly reasonable case on this question. If sums of public money are to be devoted to the reconditioning of houses in private ownership, those houses ought to conform to the standards required for new houses built with State assistance. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said that they had arguel this question on an earlier new Clause with regard to baths. I am within the recollection of Members of the Committee who were present when I say that they did not argue it, but that they refused to accept it.

For what are we asking in this new Clause? We are only asking that where public money is devoted to improving existing houses, they shall conform as near as may be—we are giving away our whole case and I am sorry we have to do it—to the standards set out under the Housing Act, 1936. Are right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite prepared to pay out public money to houses under public ownership which do not conform to the standards which have been repeatedly observed in legislation in this House ever since the Housing Act, 1919? Is that the attitude that the new Minister of Health is taking? We are entitled to ask whether this is the policy of the Government. The ex-Minister of Health, who is now anticipating, I suppose, flying the heights that are unknown to most of us, to-day stated quite frankly his view on this matter. He was prepared to do what he could by administration. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has also said that they will do what they can by administration. Why not put these words into the Act of Parliament? In a way I am sorry that my name appears at the head of this new Clause because we are giving our case away, but we want to get something if we can. I ask hon. Members opposite whether it is not reasonable to ask that at least this public money should be expended on houses which conform as near as may be to standards in the Housing Acts where the Government pay the direct subsidy. It is no good hoping, for I fear that hon. Gentlemen opposite will not accept it. We have been treated with the greatest discourtesy. I do not believe that ten words of what I have said have been listened to by right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite to-night.

Sir P. Harris

They are very excited.

Mr. Greenwood

Of course, they are excited, but I am only saying that I think we have been treated with the greatest discourtesy in this Committee. We have had no arguments adduced against the perfectly reasonable Amendments which have been put forward. We think that the Government ought to compromise on this matter. If they do not compromise, they will be convicted, quite definitely, on the case that has been made, of having most shamelessly, with the assistance of public money, given help to the private landlord.

11.35 p.m.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Elliot)

The right hon. Gentleman has complained that we have not been listening to him. I listened very carefully to what he said. He has also complained that the Committee is being treated with scant discourtesy because the Minister of Health was not answering on all occasions.

Hon. Members

Which Minister of Health

Division No. 210.] AYES. [11.40 p.m.
Adams, D. (Consett) Banfield, J. W. Broad, F. A.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.) Barr, J. Bromfield, W.
Adamson, W. M. Bellenger, F. J. Brown, C. (Mansfield)
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.) Bonn, Rt. Hon. W. W. Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (S. Ayrshire)
Atlee, Rt. Hon. C. R. Benson, G. Charleton. H. C.
Mr. Elliot

It has been repeatedly stated in the Debate that my right hon. Friend is flying to higher spheres, which are far beyond my humble hopes. I must ask the right hon. Gentleman opposite to believe that I have done my best to listen very carefully to the case that he has made. I think I may fairly claim that I understand the subject matter because as Secretary of State for Scotland I had not merely to consider the Housing Committee's Report, which, as the right hon. Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) knows well, is a very valuable document, but I had to issue several circulars, bringing the lessons of that report to the notice of local authorities.

In the proposed new Clause there is merely an expression of opinion. The words are, "as near as may be." The right hon. Gentleman says that the Ministers themselves will be the judges. Surely, the right hon. Gentleman will agree that that is practically saying that by administrative methods we shall do our best to improve the standard, and that a circular from the Department may have the same effect as the words which are put into this new Clause. The right hon. Gentleman asks us to compromise. Will he accept this compromise that, upon the passing of the Bill, we will issue a circular or a manual to the various local authorities, bringing to their attention the new Statute and the salient points which we hope will be duly observed in connection with it? I shall do my best to ensure that a reasonably high standard is enjoined upon the local authorities, and I shall also do my best to persuade them to adopt it. The standard which is to be. adopted will be, "as near as may be," a good standard of housing. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take that assurance from me and that he will agree that it is not necessary to put it in the Statute, but to leave it to my discretion. I would' ask the right hon. Gentleman and the Committee to accept that assurance.

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

The Committee divided: Ayes, 109;, Noes, 164.

Chater, D. Jagger, J. Pritt, D. N.
Cluse, W. S. Johnston, Rt. Hon. T. Richards, R. (Wrexham)
Cocks, F. S. Jones, A. C. (Shipley) Ridley, G.
Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford Kelly, W. T. Riley, B.
Daggar, G. Kirby, B. V. Ritson, J.
Dalton, H. Kirkwood, D. Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill) Lawson, J. J. Rothschild, J. A. de
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Leach, W. Sexton, T. M.
Dobbie, W. Leonard, W. Silverman, S. S.
Dunn, E. (Rother Valley) Leslie, J. R. Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)
Ede, J. C. Logan, D. G. Smith, E. (Stoke)
Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty) Lunn, W. Smith, T. (Normanton)
Evans, D. O. (Cardigan) Macdonald, G. (Ince) Sorensen, R. W.
Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H McEntee, V. La T. Stephen, C.
Frankel, D. McGhee, H. G. Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)
Gallacher, W. Maotaren, A. Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)
Gardner, B. W. Macmillan, H. (Stockton-on-Tees) Summerskiil, Edith
Gibson, R. (Greenock) Maxton, J. Thurtle, E.
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. Messer, F. Tinker, J. J.
Grenfell, D. R. Milner, Major J. Tomlinson, G.
Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.) Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.) Viant, S. P.
Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth) Nathan, Colonel H. L. Walker. J.
Griffiths, J. (Llanelly) Noel-Baker, P. J. Watkint, F. C.
Groves, T. E. Oliver, G. H. Watson, W. McL.
Guest, Dr. L. H. (Islington, N.) Owen, Major G. Welsh, J. C.
Hall, G. H. (Aberdare) Paling, W. White, H. Graham
Hall, J. H. (Whitechapal) Parker, J. Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
Harris, Sir P. A. Parkinson, J. A. Williams, T. (Don Valley)
Harvey, T. E. (Eng. Univ's.) Pearson, A. Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
Henderson, T. (Tradeston) Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W. Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
Hills, A. (Pontefract) Poole, C. C.
Hopkin, D. Price, M. P. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Mr. Whiteley and Mr. Anderson.
Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J. Fremantle, Sir F. E. Markham, S. F.
Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.) Fyfe, D. P. M. Mayhaw, Lt.-Col. J.
Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G. Grant-Ferris, R. Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)
Anstruther-Gray, W. J. Grimston, R. V. Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)
Aske, Sir R. W. Gritten, W. G. Howard Moore, Lieut.-Col. Sir T. C. R.
Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.) Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake) Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)
Baillie, Sir A. W. M. Guest, Hon. I. (Brecon and Radnor) Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)
Balniel, Lord Guest, Maj. Hon. O. (C'mb'rw'll, N.W.) Munro, P.
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h) Guinness, T. L. E. B. Nail, Sir J.
Beechman, N. A. Gunston, Capt. Sir D. W. Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.
Bernays, R. H. Hannah, I. C. Nicholson, G. (Farnham)
Boulton, W. W. Haslam, Henry (Homcastle) Nicolson, Hon. H. G.
Bower, Comdr. R. T. Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton) O'Connor, Sir Terence J.
Boyce, H. Leslie. Heilgers, Captain F. F. A. Palmer, G. E. H.
Brass, Sir W. Hely-Hutchinson, M. R. Petherick, M.
Briscoe, Capt. R. G. Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P. Ponsonby, Col. C. E.
Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham) Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth) Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury) Holmes, J. S. Ramsbotham, H.
Bull, B. B. Hopkinson, A. Rankin, Sir R.
Burghley, Lord Horsbrugh, Florence Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)
Butcher, H. W. Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.) Rayner, Major R. H
Campbell, Sir E. T. Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport) Reed, A. C. (Exeter)
Cary, R. A. Hunter, T. Reid, W. Allan (Derby)
Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.) Hutchinson, G. C. Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)
Channon, H. James, Wing-Commander A. W. H. Ropner, Colonel L.
Chapman, A. (Rutherglen) Jarvis, Sir J. J. Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)
Christie, J. A. Joel, D. J. B. Rowlands, G.
Clarke, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead) Keeling, E. H. Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.
Clarry, Sir Reginald Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose) Ruggtes-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.
Colman, N. C. D. Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.) Russell, Sir Alexander
Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J. Lamb, Sir J. Q. Sanderson, Sir F. B.
Conant, Captain R. J. E. Law, Sir A. J. (High Peak) Sandys, E. D.
Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.) Law, R. K. (Hull, S.W.) Scott, Lord William
Cooper, Rt. Hn. A. Duff (W'st'r S.G'gs) Leech, Sir J. W. Selley, H. R.
Cox, H. B. Trevor Levy, T. Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)
Craven-Ellis, W. Liddall, W. S. Shepperson, Sir E. W.
Critchley, A. Lindsay, K. M. Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)
Crooke, Sir J. S. Lipson, D. L. Spears, Brigadier-General E L.
Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C. Llewellin, Colonel J. J. Spens. W. P.
Cross, R. H. Lloyd, G. W. Storey, S.
Crowdar, J. F. E. Locker-Lampson, Comdr. O. S. Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)
Cruddas, Col. B. Loftus, P. C. Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)
Davidson, Viscountess Mabane, W. (Huddenfield) Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Duggan, H. J. McCorquodale, M. S. Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
Duncan, J. A. L. Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight) Thomas, J. P. L.
Edmondson, Major Sir J. McKie, J. H. Thomson, Sir J. D W.
Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. Maclay, Hon. J. P. Titchfield, Marquess of
Erskine-Hill, A. G. Makins, Brig.-Gen. E. Tree, A. R. L. F.
Fleming, E. L. Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.
Turton, R. H. Wedderburn, H. J. S. Wood, Hon. C. I. C.
Wakefield, W. W. Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham) Wright, Wing-Commander J. A. C.
Walker-Smith, Sir J. Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R. Young, A. S. L. (Partick)
Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)
Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull) Wilton, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend) Wise, A. R. Captain Arthur Hope and Mr. Furness.
Watt, Major G. S. Harvie Womersley, Sir W. J.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported, with an Amendment; as amended, to be considered To-morrow, and to be printed. [Bill 148.]