HC Deb 10 October 1946 vol 427 cc337-43
25. Mr. Hogg

asked the Minister of Health what is the policy of the Government in regard to squatters in disused Service huts and camps.

26. Mr. Peter Freeman

asked the Minister of Health whether he will make a full statement concerning the so-called squatters' camps; how many Army and other camps are now being used for civilian housing accommodation; how many persons, approximately, are being so accommodated; how many camps are being supervised under local government authorities; how many organised as communities with all social activities and communal services; and whether he is satisfied that all suitable sites are now being utilised.

Mr. Bevan

These two Questions raise the same broad issues and, as the answer is rather long, I will, with permission, make a statement at the end of Questions.


Mr. Bevan

It has for a long time been the policy of the Government to place at the disposal of local housing authorities camps and huts which are no longer required by the Service Departments or for other Government uses, and are or can be made suitable for housing; purposes; and in January this year my Department issued a circular to local authorities setting out the terms and conditions on which they could take over redundant camps and make any necessary conversions or adaptations. It has to be remembered that many camps although temporarily vacant need, nevertheless, to be retained for Service or other Government uses, and that, even where camps can be made available to local authorities, they may be unsuitable for housing purposes or would require, to make them suitable, an unjustifiable diversion of labour and materials from the national housing programme.

The Government, however sympathetic to the plight of individuals, are bound to condemn the action of squatters in taking unauthorised possession of these premises. In some cases, they have invaded camps which cannot be released for housing purposes. In others they have occupied camps either unsuitable for housing or requiring uneconomical works of conversion and adaptation. Further, where the camps are such as can be suitably taken over by the local housing authorities, the squatters have in many cases jumped the claims of persons higher on the local authorities' lists of applicants for houses. Where squatters have occupied camps which cannot be made available, or are unsuitable for housing, it will be necessary for them to move. Some have already moved of their own accord and for others alternative has been found. It has so far been necessary to institute legal proceedings for eviction only in one case in which it was not possible, after every endeavour had been made, to find alternative accommodation.

Where it has not yet been decided whether the camp can be used for housing, the local housing authority are asked to make all necessary public services available pending determination of the question. Where it is decided that the camp can be offered to the local authority, the authority are invited, in addition to making public services available, to take the camp over in accordance with the circular I have mentioned, or at least to undertake its management as the agent of my Department. Where the local authority take over or undertake to manage a camp, it is for them to consider whether any steps ought to be taken to displace some or all the squatters in order to accommodate other claimants for housing accommodation having a higher degree of priority. These arrangements apply not only to camps which can be permanently released for housing purposes but also to camps which, although ultimately required by the Services or other Government Departments, can be loaned for 18 months or more to the local authority.

The latest figures to hand indicate that in England and Wales 1,038 camps were in occupation by 39,535 persons. Of this total 145 camps, occupied by 6,175 persons, are required for Service or other Government purposes. In 633 camps occupied by 26,495 persons, emergency arrangements have been made by the local authorities, and in 171 camps occupied by 9,280 persons agreement for the taking over of the camp by the local authority has already been reached.

Current problems require the coordination of work between the Service Departments, the Ministry of Works, the Health Departments and the local authorities. This necessary coordination is ensured by regular meetings both at headquarters and in the regions of representatives of the Government Departments concerned, under the chairmanship of principal officers of the health departments, through whom the necessary arrangements with the local authorities are made.

Mr. Hogg

While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for his very full reply to my Question, may I ask whether he will answer this question? I understood him to say that, in certain cases, the camps were handed over to the local authorities for housing purposes. Can he tell us in how many cases, if any, those camps have been handed over after the action of squatters? Will he give us an assurance that the delay in reaching a decision on this matter on the part of the Government will not drive helpless people to take illegal action?

Mr. Bevan

A very large number of camps were offered to the local authorities before, or were about to be offered to local authorities. It does not necessarily follow that the fact that a camp is not offered to a local authority is the result of un- necessary delay, although nobody is going to claim that where so many camps are involved some delay has not occurred. But the camps have had to be adapted to housing purposes before they could be handed over, and very great difficulties have been caused by having to adapt them when they have been in occupation. Whilst I am very sympathetic — nobody, I think, could be more so — with people's housing conditions, nevertheless, I do hope that statements will not be made in any part of the House or in any part of the country which would unduly distress those who are in need of houses.

Mr. Hogg

I do not think the right hon. Gentleman heard the first part of my supplementary question. I asked him specifically if there were any cases, and if so, how many, in which the action of handing over the camps took place subsequently to the action of the squatters.

Mr. Bevan

In quite a number of cases. If the hon. Gentleman will read my reply — I do not expect him to have gathered the full import of it on hearing it at first — but if he will study it, he will see that a quite considerable number of camps have been handed over to local authorities after they have been occupied by squatters.

Mr. Peter Freeman

May I ask whether these camps taken by local authorities and organised on communal lines are giving satisfaction and working satisfactorily? Are there any camps not taken over by local authorities, and what arrangements are being made to make them available?

Mr. Bevan

A very thorough examination of the whole question has been made in the course of the last two months, and, as hon. Members will appreciate, where camps are available they are immediately offered to local authorities. But I should like to point out that, had I offered some of these camps to local authorities, Members of the House would have taken grave objection.

Mr. McGovern

Is it not the case that in a number of districts where camps and huts were seized, it appears to the public that their occupation was afterwards legalised by the Government, and that that was a direct encouragement to a large number of people to seize other camps? Can the right hon. Gentleman square that with the fact that certain men have been placed in court for seizure, while others were legalised in a proper manner?

Mr. Bevan

It must inevitably happen that quite a number of anomalies were created in this matter. It is not the English manner to Lake a 100 per cent. precise view as to whether a person has or has not stepped over the borders of legality. We did not want to expel large numbers of people from camps in these circumstances. But I think everybody would agree that the whole episode was brought to a conclusion in a very dignified manner.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House how many persons now squatting have received orders to quit, and how many are still not provided with alternative accommodation?

Mr. Bevan

I said in only one instance.

Mr. Piratin

Can the right hon Gentleman say how many of the 145 camps are to be provided for Polish soldiers?

Mr. Bevan

As far as I know, none at all.

Mr. Piratin

Does the Minister know?

Mr. Bevan

I said, so far as I know, none at all. There are limits to my knowledge.

Mr. Wilfrid Roberts

In the camps which are to be handed over to local authorities, what total number of families does the right hon. Gentleman estimate will be accommodated?

Mr. Bevan

A very large number of camps were in the possession of local authorities before, and if the hon. Member will look at my reply he will see the precise figures.

Mr. Roberts

The question I asked was not how many were being accommodated now, but how many families will eventually be accommodated in these camps?

Mr. Bevan

I cannot tell yet.

Mr. Churchill

I take it that the right hon. Gentleman is definitely accepting a much lower standard of accommodation in these camps for people who wish to live there than would be acceptable in any permanent system of housing, and that the local authority regulations will be relaxed to a considerable extent in cases of people who wish to have any kind of home but who cannot have the kind of home which we think proper. and which we intend to secure for them?

Mr. Bevan

It is quite true that the standard of accommodation in these camps is very much lower than we would consider to be desirable. However, it is very much higher than that of the slums in which the party opposite left people for so many years.

Mr. Drayson

As the term "squatter" is rather an inelegant phrase, would the Government consider changing the name of these people who are occupying such camps to that of "Bevan boys," in imitation of another Minister's great achievement?

Mr. Henry Usborne

In the case of camps that are said to be unsuitable from the point of view of living conditions and also uneconomic, would the Minister consider displaying notices thereabouts, explaining precisely why they are unsuitable, because a great many people would have their anxieties relieved if they knew why the camps were considered totally unsuitable?

Mr. Bevan

Certainly I will consider that.

Major Legge-Bourke

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider making two suggestions to local authorities? One is that, in these camps which are only going to be taken over for a very temporary period, they should keep some huts in hand as emergency accommodation, for people, especially those coming out of the Forces, who find themselves without a house. Will he also consider making some arrangements whereby local authorities other than those responsible for the area in which the camps are situated may be able to take over certain camps?

Mr. Bevan

It is precisely because certain camps were held idle for emergency purposes that hon. Members accused the Government of handing them over too slowly.

Mr. Rankin

Would the Minister encourage local authorities to give most sympathetic consideration to the special cases of those squatters who formerly had no homes of any kind whatsoever?

Mr. Bevan

I am certain that the local authorities take a very sympathetic view about people in their own localities in this matter.

Mr. Osborne

Would the Minister insist on local authorities putting in public services as quickly as possible?

Mr. Bevan

That is being done.

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