HC Deb 21 November 1946 vol 430 cc1141-62

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Captain Michael Stewart.]

9.20 p.m.

Mr. Marples (Wallasey)

The question I am raising tonight is that of the allocation of houses by local authorities. This question is becoming increasingly important, because the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health has laid it down that four out of every five houses in this country shall be built for and owned by the local authorities. Therefore, the question of the allocation of those houses is of the utmost importance to this country. Any scheme must be fair to the man-in-the-street, and not only must it be fair, but it must be shown to be fair to him. He must understand the scheme, and be satisfied in his mind that it is reasonable as far as he is concerned. Tonight, I want to raise two points. The first is the question of the anomalies which are created by the various or differing rules which each local authority makes for the allocation of its houses. The second point is slightly more controversial—the actual amount of the rent which should be charged for these houses.

To take the first point, the present position is that the local authorities have complete control over the allocation of the houses. Some of them have good schemes, some of them have bad schemes. Some of them have a points scheme which is very fair indeed, others have a points scheme which is open to doubts as to whether it is fair to most of the people in their particular area. Some of them publish a points scheme, so that the people in the district will know exactly how they stand, when they can claim a house, and what is their place in the rather lengthening queue for houses. Others do not publish it, saying that it is on the grounds of public interest that they shall not do so. Some local authorities have a residential qualification, others do not. Some have a residential qualification of five or six years, others of two or three years. Some have a provision that on the grounds of health, such as tuberculosis, priority is given, others have no such provision. Some authorities have a compassionate clause, others have not. But the one thread running through all this is that almost every scheme in this country differs. There are hundreds of schemes for the allocation of these houses, and it is quite certain that no two are alike.

I want to point to some of the anomalies which arise because of the differing schemes which are in force. The first example is that of a man who is in the Royal Navy, and who now lives, or has a room, in my constituency. In 1935 he went out to Shanghai on business for his firm. In 1940, he volunteered for the Royal Navy, and was accepted. In 1946, he came back to the constituency where he was born, and was told that although he wanted to settle in England, in the place where he had spent most of his life, he was not able to qualify to go on the housing list because he had not lived there during the last five years. Therefore, he could not settle in the place where he was born and has spent most of his life, and it is a certainty that no other local authority will accept him. As the Minister of Health has laid down that four out of every five houses shall be owned by the local authorities, his chances of ever getting a house at all are extremely remote. The second example of anomalies created is that of Regular soldiers who have spent most of their years with the Colours perhaps in married quarters. When they are demobilised, they not unnaturally go to the place where they were born or spent their childhood. If the residential qualification is in force, they are not allowed to get into the queue for houses. They cannot afford to buy a house and the local authority will not accept them on their list.

The third example is of a lady who is now 83 years of age. She was evacuated to Blackpool, compulsorily, or certainly urged to go—quite rightly. The house that she left was badly damaged. Recently it has been rebuilt and requisitioned. I have here a letter from a local association which explains that it was requisitioned without her knowledge and that she was promised a flat; but now she has not the slightest hope of getting her own house back or of being placed on the list of the local authority. There may, or may not, be a better case for people who are higher in the list, but, surely, she must have some sort of right either to get her own home back again or to be placed somewhere on the list of the local authority.

A fourth case, which I will quote, is even more serious. It concerns a man who resided at 128, Teviot Street, in Poplar. He was bombed out on 7th September, 1940, and he has a certificate to that effect. Between 1940 and 1943, his wife was evacuated to Pangbourne in Berkshire. In June, 1943, his wife went to the North of England, to Merseyside, and lived in two furnished rooms. In June, 1945, her husband was demobilised from the Forces, and he joined his wife and three children in the two furnished rooms in the North of England. His roots are in Poplar yet he is now in the North of England living in two furnished rooms with his wife and three children, who are growing older. He is employed as a bus driver. What is his position in the present scheme as far as the local authorities are concerned? The first point is that Poplar say quite definitely that although he was blitzed nothing can be considered until he returns to London, gets a job, and finds a home here. It is a little late to consider a matter like this when he gets down here. I do not want it to be thought that I am blaming Poplar for this. I am blaming the system which allows so many methods of allocating houses. In the North of England he is told that he cannot qualify because he has no residential qualifications. This man is condemned to live for the rest of his life, as far as I can see, in two furnished rooms, firstly, because he cannot get into the queue—and there will always be a queue—

Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, Central)

People have always had to queue.

Mr. Marples

If the hon. Gentleman wants to interrupt perhaps he will stand up.

Mr. Thomas

I am interrupting

Mr. Marples

Having explained the case of the man from Poplar, I will give one more example. It is of a soldier now aged about 25 who was 20 when he joined the Forces. If he was an enterprising soldier, he probably would have married during that period—

Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, West)

A little bit of private enterprise.

Mr. Marples

It is the only part of private enterprise with which the present Government have not succeeded in interfering. The point is that if he had been perhaps a shade more enterprising probably he would have had a family. He will not have a residential qualification, because, being aged 20 when he joined the Forces, he would be living with his parents, and now he is not entitled to a home. If he goes into furnished rooms and has a family, his productivity will be impeded by the lack of the allocation of a suitable house in which to house the results of his productivity.

I have given five examples of serious anomalies which arise because of the different conditions which operate in different parts of the country. The responsibility clearly is that of the central authority—the Ministry of Health. It is their responsibility, because it is not easy for a local authority, in view of the pressure of local people, to introduce a scheme which is fair for the nation as a whole They are inclined to institute a scheme which is fair for their own particular district, and this criticism applies all over the country. Therefore, I say that it is the duty of the Minister of Health to provide some sort of method of overcoming these anomalies.

I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should send round to the local authorities one of his very many circulars asking them to incorporate an elastic compassionate clause which would cover some of the anomalies which will no doubt be brought to the attention of the Minister of Health by other hon. Members of this House. Only in that way, can all these difficult cases be dealt with. In my constituency, there are a lot of these very unfortunate people who can neither get a home in their original district nor in my district and the same kind of thing must apply to hon. Members in all parts of the House. Therefore, it is not a party matter, and I do not want this particular point to be treated as such. The direction must come from the Minister of Health, and I hope hon. Members opposite will support me and will press for some direction from the central authority.

Now, to deal with the second part of my speech, which is a little more controversial, I think some attention should be paid to the amount of rent which is being paid, or will have to be paid by the tenants of these local authority houses. The last time I made that suggestion in the House, there were numerous interruptions, including one from the Minister of Health himself. Physical needs should secure physical possession of a house, and financial need should secure financial assistance, but that financial assistance should not necessarily flow from the fact that a man is given possession of a house. At the present moment, in view of the enormous subsidy granted by the Government, there seems to be some sort of discrimination as to the amount of rent paid by a tenant. I do not say that the amount of rent the tenant can afford to pay should affect the question whether he is to have occupation of the house, but I say that attention must be paid to the fact that, if he can possibly afford it, he should pay an economic rent.

Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

Does the hon. Gentleman mean that, instead of a standard rent, based on the subsidy and the rest, as laid down by the Ministry of Health, there should be a means test, or a test to see whether the individual can pay that amount or more?

Mr. Marples

I am just going to explain exactly what I do mean, which will cover the hon. Gentleman's interruption, and I will explain the system which is in force in the delightful city of Aberdeen. May I give an example to illustrate why I think that a tenant should pay an economic rent in some circumstances? If Lord Nuffield received a local authority house, he would be subsidised by the taxpayer and ratepayer. The hon. Gentleman who will reply and myself, both being humble subjects of His Majesty with very little money, would be subsidising Lord Nuffield. That does not seem to me to be right, and I think it ought to be put on a fairer basis. Some of the people living in local authority flats and houses at the moment have rather large and expensive cars, and I wonder whether the flat is subsidised by the taxpayer and ratepayer or whether the car is subsidised by them. If the hon. Gentleman who is to reply cares to come round with me one Sunday morning to the L.C.C. flats at the White City, I can show him a very large and expensive Buick, a 38 h.p. car, which is outside these flats every Sunday morning.

About 15 or 20 cars are always there. [An HON. MEMBER: "The hon. Member means a car park."] Anyhow, the main point is that by receiving a flat or a house at a low cost, a particular person is able to afford a car. Therefore, it is important that the question of the amount of rent which an occupier of a local authority flat should pay should be carefully reconsidered, especially in the light of the present high building cost and the present high subsidy. I believe that the subsidy is practically half the cost of building. That is a very high subsidy, and it really means that, if the economic rent of a flat or a house is £52, the very fortunate recipient of that flat or house would be receiving £26 a year from the Government. If Income Tax is allowed for on that £26—which is a net figure—he would probably have to earn £40 or £50 to pay the £26 rent which the Government are providing free. Therefore, £40 has been given away by the Government, which really requires a greater test than whether the man needs physical possession or not. In some cases, £40 a year is equivalent to a whole day's wages each week for an artisan, but who is to decide which artisan is to receive a day's wages free each week and which is not? Therefore, there are two separate tests—the physical test for occupation, and the financial need to secure financial assistance.

I will not leave the matter as destructive as that; I will make a constructive suggestion to meet the interruption by the hon. Gentleman. There should be a system of rent rebate where the economic rent is not charged, if a tenant can prove that he wants, and is entitled to, a rebate. This scheme is not a new one and is already in operation in some parts of the country. The hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay) was kind enough to give me the scheme of the Town Council of Aberdeen. Normally, I do not like going so far North for my examples, but, in this particular case, it was such a good one that I thought it ought to be brought to the attention of the House. In Aberdeen a tenant is charged the economic rent, which is the rent which would be charged if there were no Government subsidy, but he is given a rebate if he can prove that that is necessary. It says in the actual document that the tenant shall pay either a sum equal to the weekly rent and rate of the house—that is the economic rent—or a sum equal to one-sixth of the weekly income, whichever is the less subject to a minimum of 4s. 6d. Therefore, he will pay the economic rent or one-sixth of the weekly income. That seems to be a not unreasonable scheme. Various other provisions are made in this document relative to the rebate. For example, there is a period for review. Every rebate is reviewed at the end of six months or such period as the town council may determine.

Another question is that of sub-letting, because that is a most important point. It the local authority give a person a flat or a house at a low cost and he sublets part of it at a high cost, he is making a pretty good thing out of it. In this scheme at Aberdeen, which I shall be pleased to pass on to the hon. Gentleman who is going to reply—

Mr. Sparks (Acton)

Has the hon. Gentleman any evidence of local authorities permitting tenants to sublet? I thought there was no authority entitling them to allow that.

Mr. Marples

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is talking about authority to sublet, or actual subletting itself. They are two different things, especially in these days. A lot of people sublet without authority.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Key)

In council houses?

Mr. Marples

Yes, certainly. The hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) knows it as well as I do. People in this country, quite rightly in the present circumstances, are subletting. There must be accommodation; people are entitled to a roof over their heads, with or without permission, and there are many cases of subletting at the moment. In any case, there is subletting in Aberdeen. In this form which I have, and which I will give to the Parliamentary Secretary afterwards, it says in sub-clause (d)on page 2: In deciding whether a rebate should be granted to any tenant who is known to have sublet any portion of his house, regard will be paid to the amount which may reasonably be expected to be obtained by him in return for such subletting and any such amount will be taken into account in calculating the amount of any rebate which may be granted. It is clear that it is legal, and it is even clearer that it is done.

Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)

Is the hon. Gentleman referring to houses built under the slum clearance scheme?

Mr. Marples

No, I am referring to all houses owned by local authorities. The hon. Gentleman may have in mind a local authority which has applied rebate to slum clearance, but in some parts of this country rent rebate has been applied to houses let by local authorities. All I ask is that the Minister of Health should take this matter in hand and devise some scheme for eliminating the anomalies which undoubtedly exist. My second point is that, in view of the great subsidy which is given at the moment by the Government—and that means a great advantage to a tenant—some sort of scheme on the lines of the rent rebate will have to be adopted if fairness is to be carried out over the whole country. At the present moment the scheme is not really fair because the people who are given a modern house receive it at a subsidised rent, and the people paying for that subsidised rent are living in old and dilapidated houses.

Mr. Tiffany (Peterborough)

Would the hon. Gentleman say whether the suggestion which he is putting forward has the support of his party, and if so would he have a talk with his right hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake)?

Mr. Marples

I am raising this matter on the Adjournment, not the Conservative Party. As a Member of this House, I am entitled to raise a subject on the Adjournment without going to my Front Bench every time and saying, "What did you do in your constituency?" I am sure that hon. Members opposite, especially the 53 who voted the other night, would be the first to say that this is a free House. This system of rent rebate, although perhaps applied in rather a clumsy and haphazard manner in Leeds, if applied in the delicate and tactful manner which I know will be adopted by the Parliamentary Secretary, would be -a success throughout the country. In the allocation of these houses, a great deal of jealousy will be created throughout the country as to who receives a house.

There is no doubt of that. I have met a number of people who have said, "Mr. Smith had a house, and I ought to have had it"; or," So-and-So has a 'prefab,' and it should be mine. "The hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary ought to remember the story of Louis XIV who, when he was giving a medal to one of his friends, said, "I have made one man ungrateful and ten men discontented."

9.46 p.m.

Mr. Dumpleton (St. Albans)

I hope that when my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary replies, he will emphasise, as I believe he will, that it is the Government's policy to place this discre- tion and responsibility for the allocation of houses, and for the application or not of rent rebates, fairly and squarely upon the local authorities. We who serve on local authorities have been feeling for a long time that we are having many of our functions and powers taken away, and if local authorities cannot be trusted to know the local circumstances and the needs of local people, and to allocate their houses fairly, it seems there is nothing left for them to do. That is not to say, however, that I suggest that, in raising this matter, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) has not done something of value, because I believe he has This is a real problem.

There is, and there will be while the shortage remains, a great deal of dissatisfaction and discontent among people who are badly in need of housing accommodation, and particularly those, of whom there are many, who fall between two local authorities. A little while ago I ventured at Question time to suggest to the Minister that something might be done about this, and I think he misunderstood the purpose of my Question. He said very emphatically that he would not interfere with the discretion of local authorities in this matter. I am not suggesting, although the hon. Member for Wallasey did so, that there should be directives, and thereby implied some kind, of compulsion, but I believe it would be useful and helpful to local authorities if the Minister could advise local authorities by suggesting to them some carefully considered, standardised form of points system. Many local authorities have adopted points systems for the allocation of their houses. I have examined quite a number of those systems, and I believe many of them are very faulty indeed I venture, however, to inform 'he Parliamentary Secretary that there is one points system, that of the authority which I have the honour to serve, which I believe is better than any other system that I have seen anywhere. If my hon. Friend wants a model points system, I would present it to him, if he would undertake to circulate it, and to recommend it to other local authorities.

I hope that if this suggestion is taken up by the Ministry, they will stress to local authorities, while giving them the discretion and placing the responsibility upon them, that in the allocation of their houses they should avoid the adoption of arbitrary rules, some of which have been mentioned by the hon. Member for Wallasey, and others to which I will refer, which are entirely irrelevant to the question of need. While the housing shortage is so acute, the allocation of houses, in my view, should be entirely on a basis of need only, and residential qualifications, and other qualifications that are irrelevant to need, should be excluded.

Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)

Would the hon. Gentleman make his point clear? Is he, therefore, eliminating any war service qualification from the points scheme?

Mr. Dumpleton

No, I would not. But on that question, as the hon. Gentleman has raised the matter, I would say that there is a great deal of discontent, because it is felt that some local authorities have weighted their points schemes too heavily in favour of the ex-Servicemen.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)


Mr. Dumpleton

I say ex-Servicemen should be given a certain amount of weighting in the points schemes, but we have got to face the men who, through no fault of their own, were not in the Services. Perhaps they were directed into munitions industries, and kept there, and could not serve in the Forces; and now they feel themselves at a great disadvantage, and there is considerable discontent because of that.

I wanted to cite an example to illustrate my reference to arbitrary rules, apart from need, entering into the question. Consider two towns in close proximity to one another, where the people live in one town and work in the other, and there is a cross traffic between them. In some instances, those local authorities—rightly, perhaps, because they feel they do not want to build up a priority list, which it is beyond their ability to meet—have made a rule that all people who do not both live and work in the town shall be excluded from the list—shall not be considered. Well, there may be, among those people who work in one town and live in the next, a most acute and urgent need, and yet they are excluded. There are many other examples, of which the hon. Gentleman has mentioned some. I will not weary the House by mentioning others. But I do hope that this suggestion will be taken by the Minister, that advice could be given to local authorities on standardised forms, whereby many injustices between neighbouring local authorities—or a sense of injustice—would be avoided.

One other suggestion which I would venture to make is, that the local authorities might be requested—or it might be suggested to them—to deal with these matters much more by committee than they do. It happens that many people in urgent need of housing accommodation, dissatisfied, perhaps, with the replies they get from the housing manager, bombard, as they should, of course, their local councillors. That is their remedy. They go and harass the councillors. The councillors have these cases, and begin to use their influence in favour of different applicants. It would be much better, as has been done in one instance, for an allocation committee to be estab-lished, to meet weekly with long sessions. to which those people could go to state their circumstances. If they cannot be helped, they would feel they had been seen by somebody other than an official, and that is a much more satisfactory procedure. Incidentally, if the councillors, or, maybe, the local Member of Parliament, referred the cases they get to that committee, it would relieve them of a lot of trouble, as well.

I want, in conclusion, to refer to one other matter which has not been mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. I have said that this discretion—although advice and recommendations should be made to them—that this discretion and responsibility should be left entirely to the local authdrities; but there is one matter upon which, I think, there should be some measure of compulsion. I hope that in any future housing legilsation it will be provided that local authorities having houses beyond a certain number will be obliged to engage trained and qualified housing managers to manage their houses and deal with allocations. In fact, too many local authorities leave it to an untrained clerk in the town clerk's or borough engineer's office. I think that women, trained on the lines of the Octavia Hill scheme, are absolutely essential if these schemes are to be maintained properly and fairly.

I will not follow the hon. Gentleman on the question of rent rebates and differential rents; I will only say that, of course, as he has indicated, they have been tried by very many local authorities and very many local authorities wish they had not. They lead to endless trouble, they involve an obnoxious means test, and they lead to dissatisfaction and discontent as between tenants, for if a man gets to know that his neighbour is getting a house at a lower rent, and does not know all the circumstances, it leads to jealousy. But that again is a matter which, in my view should be left to the responsibility of the local authority.

9.56 p.m.

Colonel Wheatley (Dorset, Eastern)

I cannot agree with the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Dumpleton) when he said that these questions should be left to individual local authorities to decide, but that there should be a recommendation from the Minister. That will lead to the same trouble all over again directly one authority prefers its own scheme to that put out by the Ministry of Health. I think that this is an occasion on which the central Government must not only give a lead, but should give directions as to how houses are to be allotted. I do not want to refer to cases similar to those quoted by the hon. Member for Wallasey.(Mr. Marples), but I should like to give one further illustration. In East Dorset, which I have the honour to represent, I have a large borough contiguous to a county borough, which is again contiguous to another non-county borough. On the other side there is an urban district surrounded by a rural district. There is a man working in one of these towns who has a home—you cannot call it a home, he has a room—in one of the other towns, and his wife, because they cannot get accommodation together, is living in the rural area. He can get no points from anybody under the system adopted now. From the point of view of residence he is recognised neither by one nor the other. That is a situation that needs to be dealt with. The man happens to be an ex-serviceman and he happens to be living next to the town where he was born, but he cannot get a room in his own town.

That is a case which brings out the essential reason why the Ministry should lay down a points rule. I am all for the points rule. I do not agree with the suggestion of the hon. Member for St. Albans that there should be a committee to which people could go and state their needs. Who is to decide between the needs of one man and those of another? Each thinks his case is the harder; who is to decide between them? I am sorry for the councillor concerned if they both happen to come from his ward, because neither of them will vote for him at the next election.

Mr. Dumpleton

I am not suggesting a committee in place of a points scheme. The two are complementary and work together. There must be some tribunal to make people feel that they are being properly treated.

Colonel Wheatley

I am sorry if I misunderstood the hon. Member, but I cannot see the good of having another committee; Heaven knows, local authorities have enough committees—and I speak from pretty long experience of local authority work. If a points system is laid down which everybody knows and understands, why is it necessary to have a committee, why should anyone need to go to a councillor or anything like that? It is a mistake. I think a points system, laid down by the Ministry and universal throughout the country, would save Members of Parliament hundreds of letters, and it would save that poor wretched man the housing manager—I am glad to say that in my up-to-date constituency we have a housing manager, such as the hon. Member for St. Albans suggested—who has a harassing life. Unfortunately the points system is not published, and every time a house is allotted 50 or 60 people come along and say, "Why has he got the house? I should have had it first." A settled, published points system would save the whole of that.

I am afraid that I cannot agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey over the question of a needs test, because that was what he was really suggesting. Heaven knows we had enough trouble over a needs test some time ago, and as a Member of one of those tribunals, I thanked Heaven when that situation came to an end.

It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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

Colonel Wheatley

We must have one system which everyone understands.

Mr. Marples

Will not my hon. and gallant Friend agree that if the present subsidy is carried on, there will be a lopsided economy in this country?

Colonel Wheatley

I quite agree. My hon. Friend spoke of the millionaire's son as compared with the serving man. That can only be a passing phase, because a millionaire's son is not going to remain in a council house very long. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am hoping that even this Government will go some time, and then we can get on with housing. Anyone who has had local government experience knows the difficult case of the man in a council house whose family has grown up, who is now in a better position and no longer deserves to live in a subsidised house any more than a millionaire's son. The difficulty of turning out a tenant of a council house because his needs are not so essential as they were originally is very great. If we are to start a needs test, who is to say the income of the householder? Are we to go back to assessing and taking into account the wages of the sons and daughters, having all the trouble over again of families being broken up? I am afraid that I cannot support my hon. Friend in that part of his speech. I wholeheartedly support him in his suggestion that we should have a points system to cover the whole country, because everyone will then know when his turn will come for a house and why he has his points. Furthermore, it should be made public.

10.4 p.m.

Mr. Bing (Hornchurch)

Having heard the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) on many occasions, I never thought the moment would arise when I would find myself in agreement with him, as I did on one of his points. It may be because, as he said, he was not speaking on this occasion on behalf of his party. I would urge three principles which my hon. Friend should attempt to encourage local authorities to deal with. First, there should be some common residential qualification. It often happens that many people are qualified in many areas, while other people, such as regular soldiers, do not have any qualifications in any area. For example, anyone born at sea, or anyone who is married at sear is registered automatically in the Parish of Stepney. If that is taken as a qualification, it would take the combined ingenuity of my right hon. Friend the Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) and the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) to solve the big problem of where to accommodate them all. I feel that it may be possible for my hon. Friend to suggest to local authorities that they should acquaint each other of the qualifications in their areas and come to some arrangement as to what qualifications are desirable I do not think it is possible to have a standard point system, because the needs of various authorities differ very considerably. There are various conditions which have to be taken into consideration in one area, which need not be taken into consideration in another. I would like to urge on my hon. Friend that local authorities should be encouraged to circulate to other authorities their points systems. There are anomalies and difficulties among local authorities which have been solved by various alterations, and while I do not claim any special virtue for my points system it is a standard which might be of advantage to local authorities. Where there are Government schemes for shifting the population there should be some consultation with local authorities as to how the persons who will be affected by the shifting of industry will be accommodated, and dealt with in any local points scheme. It would be of help to local authorities, where such a move was contemplated, if it were possible for the Ministry of Health to indicate the particulars and questions which are likely to arise.

10.7 p.m.

Mr. Drayson (Skipton)

The point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) is one that practically every Member of this House has had to deal with at one time or another. Some of the most distressing letters we get are those from people who are faced with the difficult problem of housing. I have been reluctant to interfere with any scheme that my own local authorities have prepared, because I do not feel that that is the province of a Member of Parliament. If a local authority is having difficulty with a Ministry, then I am only too anxious to do what I can to ginger up the Department. I know that on housing matters local authorities have given a great deal of thought to these questions. Each locahty has its different problem, and it would be difficult to impose a scheme from Whitehall which would suit the circumstances of the different cases. There is quite enough interference from Whitehall already with local authorities, and I should hate to see any more imposed upon them.

We know that lists have been in existence in various towns for many months and years. Some people have been waiting since 1939, and before, for a council house. The problems have been accentuated by families growing up and increasing, and even by members of families returning home with a war disability. I mention these points to show how extremely complex is the whole problem. In some constituencies, the position has been aggravated by squatters, who have moved into unsuitable accommodation. Some of them have had to be put at the top of the list, or they have jumped the queue, which has been most distressing for those who have been waiting for many years for a suitable house.

When I get letters from people on this matter, I write to the local authority and suggest that the letter they send to the applicant might be a little bit more personal, more conciliatory. I have received these inhuman printed letters, not signed by the town clerk or a member of the housing committee, and I have sent them back, and said, "If only you could put the man's name in, instead of saying, 'Dear Sir, In reference to your application,' and signing it with a rubber stamp, it would make it just a little more personal and human." This especially applies to the returning ex-Serviceman. A man who has been abroad, in Burma, India, or some prisoner of war camp for some time requires perhaps a little bit more human treatment than some of the men who have been in England during the war, and who know what to expect after six years of war and one year of Socialism.

When I reply to these letters to my constituents, I am forced to tell them that, while I know of some of the circumstances surrounding the difficulties of providing suitable houses, I feel that the Minister of Health himself, because of the policy he adopts, is to a very large extent responsible for the misery and suffering that is being caused to them at the present time. The country is realising only too well that the wages of Socialism is dearth, and, bearing in mind all the difficulties with which the local authorities are faced, I should be reluctant for any more Regulations to be imposed on them from Whitehall.

10.11 p.m.

Mr. Sparks (Acton)

I would beg leave for a few moments to make one or two points which I think are rather important. I think that the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) is to be congratulated by the House on raising this matter tonight, because the complications involved in the whole question of the allocation of houses and rents is one that needs our very careful consideration from time to time. I believe that it is impossible to adopt a universally acceptable standard for all areas. There must be some variety because circumstances and conditions vary so much from place to place. I was a little amused at the hon. Member's reference to Lord Nuffield, or a person in such a station of life, occupying a council house, because I am sure that my hon. Friend realises that today if you have the money, you have no need to be homeless. You can get a house—I was going to say almost anywhere—if you have the money, and are prepared to pay for it. You can come into my constituency at any time and buy a house if you have the money to put down. Therefore, a person in the category of Lord Nuffield would soon be able to find accommodation, if he were really looking for it, without having to resort to a council house.

One other factor which I should like to mention is that of the evicted tenant. We can lay down whatever points scheme we like, but it must provide for emergency cases. One of the greatest headaches of local authorities in the Greater London area is caused by the large number of families evicted from dwelling houses and rendered homeless. They have no one to whom to appeal except the local authority, and the local authority, more often than not, has to vary its points system in order to accommodate families in dire need.

Mr. Marples

Not only in the London area.

Mr. Sparks

The same may apply in other areas, which shows how difficult it is to lay down a universal scheme on points.

Colonel Wheatley

Why not say that the eviction cases should become No. 1 priority, that persons turned into the streets must have houses?

Mr. Sparks

Of course, it depends on the area. In some areas in London, where the problem is acute, hon. Members would be surprised at what people resort to in order to get accommodation. If the precise points basis for allocation is to be publicised it will leave the system open to fraud and misrepresentation. It is very difficult indeed for local authorities to test the bona fides of the cases which come before them. If it is published that so many points are to be allowed for so many children, all sorts of children will be claimed for, which will not be legitimate. [Laughter.] That may seem amusing to hon. Members, but I have had specific cases brought to my notice where additional children have been brought into the family in order to increase the number of points allocated to them. Obviously we give the best information we can, but in view of the shortage of accommodation we want to ensure that as accommodation becomes available it is given to the people who are next on the list, and that the scheme is not left open to misrepresentation and fraud. I hope we shall get some information from the Parliamentary Secretary upon this very important matter which has been raised by the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples), and I hope he will be able to clear up some of the anomalies and difficulties which many of us see.

10.17 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Key)

I am afraid I felt during this Debate that some of my hon. Friends were getting very near to being out of Order in the things they were saying, because the proposals they have been making would involve a considerable change in the law so far as the control of housing is concerned. Under Section 83 of the Housing Act, 1936, the general management, regulation and control of houses provided by a local authority are vested in that local authority; and no power is given to the Minister of Health to give any directions to the local authority about what they shall do in the management and control of those houses. The duty of allocating their houses and selecting their tenants rests with the local authority. The only restrictions which Parliament has placed upon the local authority's freedom of action in selecting tenants is contained in the direction embodied in Section 85 of the Housing Act, 1936, that a reasonable preference must be 'given to persons who are occupying insanitary or overcrowded houses, have large families, or are living in unsatisfactory conditions. In other words, Parliament has decreed that the local authorities shall be free to choose the tenants for their houses, save that they must ordinarily choose first those persons whose housing need is greatest.

I am certain it would be a very backward step for the Ministry of Health to try to interfere in any way with the freedom of the local authority to carry out its functions under the conditions which have been laid down by Parliament. It is, of course, for the Ministry of Health to give what assistance and advice they can to local authorities in this matter, and we have done that. In 1945, a Sub-Committee of our Central Housing Advisory Committee was set up to inquire into problems in connection with the management of municipal housing estates. They made a very detailed report to us, and we sent out that detailed report to the local authorities, with a covering circular in which it was definitely stated that the Minister concurred in the Sub-Committee's recommendations, and would be glad if all local authorities would give early consideration to them.

It is surprising how that Sub-Committee covered, very carefully indeed, the vast majority of the points which have been raised here tonight. First of all, with regard to a scheme of allocation of houses, they went into a consideration of various points schemes that had been put before them in evidence, they gave examples, and then, in the end, they made their recommendations with regard to those schemes. They said that where a points scheme was in operation, it should be used as a sieve for sorting applications into priority groups, and not for determining the final order in which the applicants should be offered tenancies. They stressed the point that that final order within the leading group should be determined on the merits of individual cases within the group, after investigation by the officers of the local authority concerned; but they also went on to point out, as has been pointed out tonight, that you can make any points scheme you like, and in the end you will find that there are cases which are bound to be outside that scheme and will require particular attention in individual cases. Therefore, they said that close attention should be given to the working of the scheme, so that cases in which special consideration is wanted are picked out, notwithstanding that they may not be within the leading priority group. This opinion of the Committee was endorsed by the Minister and local authorities were asked to give particular attention to it.

I also want to point out other recommendations in that Committee's report. For instance, they say: We recommend that whatever method of selection is used local authorities should make generally known the principles on which tenants are selected, and the general factors of which account is taken in Individual applications. The point has been raised here that the people in each area should know the conditions under which houses are given, and that is the Committee's recommendation. With regard to the selection of individual applications that have been sifted through the points scheme, I want to say that as far as my experience in a local authority is concerned, it would be a very bad thing indeed if individual applicants are selected as a result of interview of those individual applicants by a committee, and the sub-committee have made a recommendation about it. They recommend that the local authority should also arrange when applications are brought before the appropriate committee that the names and addresses should be withheld, and the application dealt with under a definite code number in order that no prejudices whatever are allowed to enter into it when the decisions are made.

A great deal has been said about the residential qualifications. This sub-committee gave advice to local authorities with regard to that matter. The recommendation was that local authorities should now review the conditions that they laid down with regard to any residential qualifications, because conditions which the war years have brought about, have been such that residential qualifications required to be looked at very carefully indeed, if injustice to particular individuals—whose service either in a military capacity or an industrial capacity had taken them away from particular areas in which they had lived—was to be avoided. With regard to the point made about newly-married couples, this also was considered by the sub-committee who recommended that local authorities should allot a proportion of their tenancies to recently married couples without children. The problems, which have here been raised, have been given very careful consideration and suggestions have been made to local authorities with regard to the method in which they should carry out this duty and the allocation of their tenants.

Mr. Osborne (Louth)

Is the Parliamentary Secretary satisfied that, on the whole, local authorities have acted on those recommendations?

Mr. Keenan

Labour local authorities have.

Mr. Key

In the vast majority of cases I am convinced that the local authorities have endeavoured to live up to the recommendations which were made by that sub-committee. A thing we must recognise, however, is that no points scheme can be made, which will be of universal application, and an individual local authority must take account of the conditions in its area and adopt a system to meet the needs of that area. Take the case of the man who had had his roots in Poplar and who now has a job somewhere else and a place there in which to live. Is it suggested that a person with a job somewhere else, and shelter and cover there, is to take priority in an area like Poplar where there are thousands of people who have no accommodation at all and whose jobs and duties mean that they have to carry on there?

Mr. Marples

The gentleman referred to in the question is living in the North of England in two small rooms with his family of three and his wife, making five altogether. I do not ask that he should be given priority, but that he should get on some list somewhere, somehow.

Mr. Key

And some day he may, but at the present moment there are people actually in Poplar working and living under far worse conditions than that, and they should get priority because the man in question has the accommodation which he can use With regard to the question of Service men, the "caretaker" Government sent out a circular to local authorities on this matter and gave advice and suggestions that consideration should be, given to ex-Servicemen. But they themselves recognised, and said in their circular, that the overriding consideration must be that of need at the particular moment—not merely a question of service or of past history. The thing that should determine the allocation of accommodation should be the need at the particular moment.

There is just one other point, and that is the question of rent. Again, we are being asked to try to impose on local authorities something which Parliament does not permit us to impose. In Section 71 of the Housing Act of 1936 Parliament has placed upon local authorities the statutory duty of providing houses for working class populations in their areas, and in Section 85 they must, in deciding the rents, take into account the rents ordinarily payable by persons of the working class in their localities. Having decided the matter on that basis they are then given authority to charge a lower rent in the case of people whose capacity does not rise to the average. But what we are being asked to do here is to use the local authority machine to charge higher rents than those here involved to people with higher wages and salaries.

In other words, we are being asked to use this local authority machine to play the ordinary capitalist game of making the rent depend upon what money the people have in their pockets to pay. Whatever hon. Members may say about the differences which may arise in various local authority areas because of the different characters of the schemes that are involved, it is absolutely certain that the basis on which local authorities are letting their houses, however many grievances there may be in particular individual areas, the carrying out of the schemes results in a fairer distribution of the accommodation that is available than could possibly be the case if it were left to the ordinary monetary market to decide that rent should be according to the ability of the person to pay.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-Nine minutes past Ten o'Clock.