HC Deb 05 December 1945 vol 416 cc2454-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Mathers.]

10.13 P.m.

Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge)

In introducing this subject on the Adjournment, I feel that I am dealing with a national emergency situation that has, so far, been left untouched. I refer to the terrible scandal of overcharging on houses for sale with vacant possession. I emphasise the words "with vacant possession," because it applies to the emergency. It is only people who are in search of shelter who are being so exploited. These people are, usually, women and children, because young men can avoid this scandal of high prices by settling down somewhere, either with their own people or in lodgings of some kind. It is where there is a wife, and particularly where there is a child and probably another expected, that they are forced to look for some kind of home that they can call their own. They are driven from their sub-lets, and when it reaches the stage of the second child even their parents can be forgiven if they feel that it is just too much to put up with children crying in the night, and probably making the father or grandfather late for work. We find that these young people are scraping their bankbooks clean, and their elderly parents are also scraping all of their savings to give to these—I am sorry to say I have no other name for them—barefaced, daylight robbers who are thriving on the emergency which con fronts their fellow men. We have had much evidence of it. At the Blackpool Conference of the Labour party this matter was brought to light, and a Member of the Executive was asked to reply to the demand for action. Here is what that Member of the Executive said: The Standing Joint Committee of Working Women's Organisations which, as we all. know, is representative of the women of the three wings of the labour movement, hopes to give evidence before the Government Committee. That Government Committee was after wards known as the Morris Commission. Believe me, from what we have collected, it will be some evidence, but unless we get the right kind of Government after the Election it does not matter what evidence will be given. This kind of scandal will go on getting worse and worse because it is an ideal situation out of which vested interests hope to make money. One cannot exactly ascribe this to vested interests. Rather is it "man's in humanity to man," and all of us who have put any Questions to my right hon. Friend have been met with the attitude: Abandon hope, all ye who enter here —or, in other words, the' reply that causes all our hearts to sink, "I would refer my hon. Friend to some other reply," which means that there is nothing what ever doing. I do not want to make an attack upon my right hon. Friend; I say very sincerely that I consider he performs his duties with the utmost courage, with close attention to detail, and in a manner with which I, as one who has studied housing for the past 20 years, cannot find any fault at all. I merely introduce this matter because I think it is something which still needs his attention. I believe that in his earlier replies, he closed the door because of the Morris Commission Report. The Morris Commission said that the practicability of their scheme depended on an availability of officials. Let me quote their words: The scheme which we outlined depends for its carrying out upon the necessary, adequate and additional staff in the valuation office. That was a very clumsy scheme. I think any of us on these benches could have evolved two or three very much better schemes. I desire to pay a tribute to the former Secretary of State for Scotland who, because of his courage introduced in Scotland a scheme dealing with a much more intricate problem, namely, over charging for furnished apartments. They are very much more difficult to deal with, but transactions of sale and transfer are all recorded every time there is a sale. The Committee evolved this clumsy scheme. First there is the fixing of a maximum price at 50 percent. Of the March, 1939, value. Then, they thought that the value should be fixed at the instance of the vendor by the Valuation Office of the Inland Revenue, and then there should be certificates—

Mr. Speaker

I understand that all the recommendations to which the hon. Lady is now referring involve legislation. If that is the case, reference to them is out of Order on the Motion for the Adjournment. They cannot be raised, and that fact makes it very difficult for the Minister to reply, because he too would be out of Order.

Mrs. Mann

I will not ask the right hon. Gentleman to introduce legislation. I will merely tell what is happening. The Morris Report dealt with these methods of ending the scandal. I think the scheme is inadequate to deal with the matter, and that the methods suggested are very clumsy. They said they had had the views of estate agents, surveyors, lawyers and auctioneers. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend would agree that they are the best people to guide him to a solution of this problem. It has been said that it would be a great mistake to introduce legislation which would attempt to end the scandal. It has been said that if we did anything along those lines, it would not produce an extra house, or that sellers would be hesitant to come into the market. It has also been urged that, as people have to move from district to district, when they go to another part of the country they are asked to pay the same high price. That shows that the remedy is a national one. If the matter is dealt with nationally, the objection about moving from place to place will disappear. If prices are regulated throughout the country—

The Minister of Health (Mr. Aneurin Bevan)

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. This is a matter of very great difficulty for me. All the grievances— which are real grievances—to which my hon. Friend refers, can be dealt with only by legislation and I cannot reply to any of her observations without transgressing the Rules of the House. A question was put on the Order Paper about this matter some while ago, and the Government then stated that they could not provide time for legislation. It is extremely difficult for me to have to reply to a speech when my reply would involve references to legislation which would be entirely out of Order.

Mr. Speaker

The right hon. Gentleman is quite. Right. I was allowing the hon. Lady to proceed rather hoping that she was not proposing to deal with any matter requiring legislation. She must realise that it is very difficult for the Minister to reply because he could make no reference to the recommendations of the Morris Report, which require legislation. Such reference would be out of Order upon the Adjournment Debate.

Mrs. Mann

I do not know whether to give way entirely, or simply to point out the condition in which these people find themselves. After all, this Debate is not so very different from other Debates in which hon. Members have pointed out the condition of ex-Service men abroad and expressed the hope that something could be done for them. I can only express the hope that something will be done for the men, women and children who are suffering because this undue pressure is put upon them when they seek shelter. I would like the Minister to know the conditions that exist and to know that those conditions are not lessening in any degree, but are becoming more extreme.

Mr. Speaker

If the conditions can only be remedied by legislation, the matter must be out of Order. The hon. Lady has stated her case, but the Minister cannot reply without breaking the Rules of Order. I think this is a matter which ought never to have been put down for discussion on the Adjournment, because necessarily it involves legislation.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)

If my recollection serves me rightly, in the last Parliament you were disposed, Mr. Speaker, to allow hon. Members on the Adjournment to raise matters which did touch upon legislation, but you always refused them permission to go into those matters in any detail. In this case, is it not a fact that the hon. Lady is doing nothing more than give certain information which is in her possession? It may very well mean that the Minister cannot reply because his reply might involve details of legislation, but is it not in Order for the hon. Lady to state what the actual conditions are and to reveal to the House information in her possession, without going into details?

Mr. Speaker

That is rather a different point. In the last Parliament Ministers had far greater powers of doing things by Regulation than now. Even then, I stopped Debates which in the end would have involved legislation after the war was over. This is a pure case in which nothing can be done except by legislation, and therefore, it is not a matter which can properly be raised on the Adjournment. Some other occasion ought to be found.

Mrs. Mann

Might I conclude by giving some of the examples of prices that are being charged? The £250 house is being, sold at £1,050, the £300 house is being sold at £1,300, and the £500 house at £3,000.

Mr. Bevan

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. I must ask for your protection in this matter. I am under a grave disability. A grievance cannot be raised if the remedy for that grievance is legislation and the description of the grievance is by no means a way of getting round the Standing Order. I cannot even reply to any point which is now being raised, so that only one part of the case will be placed before the House. I respectfully submit to you, Sir, that the whole matter is out of Order, because I cannot say a sentence in reply without transgressing the Rules of the House.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Further to that point of Order. It does not fall within the competence of the Minister to say whether or not the Debate is out of Order according to whether he is in a position to answer or not. Surely, it is perfectly proper for the hon. Lady to state her grievances, even if at the end of the Debate the Minister can do no more than get up and say, "I have noted the grievances, but any further reply would involve discussing legislation." That is all that is required of him. I cannot see that it would be out of Order for the hon. Lady to make her statement.

Mrs. Mann

I had credited my right hon. Friend with more resource than he appears to show with regard to his reply. If he cannot find any method of replying I will withdraw from the Adjournment Debate.

Mr. Speaker

I want to make this quite clear. In a case which requires legislation, its introduction should be by the Minister and not from the Floor of the House. Therefore a case which requires legislation is definitely out of Order on the Adjournment Motion.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes past Ten o'Clock.