§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Speaker
I should inform the House that it has been discovered that subsection (1) of Clause 11 of this Bill should have been printed in italics, but as any money involved is covered by the Money Resolution, I have thought it unnecessary to have the Bill reprinted and re-produced.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Aneurin Bevan)
I beg to move "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The purposes that this Bill covers are narrow, but I hope that the House will consider them to have some importance. It must be the experience of hon. Members in all parts of the House that a great deal of nuisance arises from the condition of some of the bombed sites in our great cities; nuisance not only to public health, but also to the amenities of the neighbourhood. Indeed, there have been instances where these bombed sites, which are still covered in some instances by structures in process of dereliction, have been used for purposes which are an offence both against the law and against public morality.
Therefore we have come to the conclusion that the time has been reached when it is necessary to arm the local authorities with more power to deal with them than they have at the moment. I have been trying to find out whether the existing law is sufficient, but I have come to the conclusion that although there are Acts under which local authorities could start to work, nevertheless they all have this one very grave defect—that although local authorities could in some instances where there is a nuisance abate the nuisance, or where there is an offence to amenities take action, they could not remain in possession and could not therefore continue the good work which they started.
The Bill is short and easy to understand, except in so far as it relates to the complications of real estate. In these Measures I always start off very optimistically, and usually find out that whenever I am dealing with real estate there are many more complications in the way than 1062 one expected at the beginning. However, we have attempted in this Bill to deal with them, and when we reach the Committee stage, where more particular examination is required, I shall be interested to learn whether there are some breaches which ought still to be filled up.
It is contemplated that the local authorities, that is to say the counties and the boroughs and the county districts, shall have the right to acquire possession of these sites in one of two main ways: they could negotiate a lease with those having an interest in the site, or they could proceed by way of compulsory possession. If they wished to do so by way of compulsory possession they must obtain the consent of the Minister. We have thought it unwise in this connection to use the cumbrous and tedious machinery of compulsory purchase, because it is not proposed that the local authority should remain in permanent possession of these sites; unless of course arrangements can be made with the owners in the ordinary way.
As they cannot obtain possession in the first instance for more than five years, with a renewal up to a maximum of 10 years, it seemed to me and to the Members of the Government that in these circumstances it would be unreasonable to use any other machinery than that suggested in the Bill.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
I am personally interested in this matter and I should like to ask the Minister a question. Where a superior local authority, for example, the London County Council, has given notice of the purchase of a property which includes a bombed site, would an inferior local authority—I use the word "inferior" in no derogatory sense—such as a borough council, have the power to take over this site notwithstanding that the superior local authority has given notice to purchase the property?
§ Mr. Bevan
Speaking on the spur of the moment, and I hope that in Committee we shall finalise the matter, I should have thought that where a superior scheme is in process of being carried out which would absorb the site—I would rather call it "a superior scheme" than "a superior authority"—it would have precedence over a local scheme.
1063 There is however one complication which I must point out to the House. It arises out of the incidence of war damage payment. Where a local authority desires to obtain possession of a site it must first get in touch with the War Damage Commission and find out to what particular classification the site belongs, and whether it is a value payment site or a cost of works site. If it is a cost of work site and those having an interest in it can obtain permission to carry out work there, but have neglected to do so, the War Damage Commission can convert the compensation into a value payment.
§ Colonel Dower (Penrith and Cockermouth)
The Minister said neglected to do so." Would that also apply where they have endeavoured to get a licence but it has been refused them?
§ Mr. Bevan
No, Sir, that is a further matter which I shall deal with later. Here I am referring to a case where it has been shown to be practicable for the person or persons having an interest in the site to carry out cost of works works, but in fact, for reasons best known to themselves, they have not done so. It seemed to us that it would be improper to leave that site in its present condition, and in such a set of conditions the War Damage Commission, can under the terms of the Bill, convert the cost of works compensation into a value payment, in which case the local authority would not be obstructed in its intention.
§ Mrs. Middleton (Plymouth, Sutton)
Would any such cost of works be a converted value payment or a true value payment?
§ Mr. Bevan
It would be a value payment in accordance with the terms of the original Act. This will not affect the situation at all. There are two forms of payment. One is where it is possible for planning permission subsequently to be obtained—but maybe not at the moment—and the original structure, or something corresponding to it, will be re-erected. In this case it would be a cost of works payment. Where in this instance—and this is the only instance where it happens—planning permission can be obtained, where licences are available and the owner has not acted, then public interest demands that local authorities should not 1064 be obstructed. In such a case the individual owner would receive a value payment and the local authority would have access to the land under the terms of the Bill.
I want to make it clear that it is not proposed that the terms of this Bill if it becomes an Act should act to the disadvantage of a person in obtaining a licence. In fact, before the Minister would give permission for compulsory access to these sites, he would first find out whether there is an early prospect of a licence being given and, further, whether the owner of the site would himself carry out works to put the site in a proper condition. This is not a case where we want the public authority to step in to do something that the private individual would do himself.
The normal course of procedure would be that when application is made to the Minister, if the individual owner objects the Minister would then say, "What are your proposals about it? Are you going to enter upon it?" Indeed, even after the Minister has given permission to the local authority, if the individual came forward it would still be open to the Minister to postpone the action of the local authority pending the individual having an opportunity of doing work on the site himself.
I should like to make it clear that the work that the local authority can carry out on the site would be any work which the local authority itself has the legal right to do. It would be able to carry out any of its local government functions, including the power to lay out gardens. It does not necessarily follow that they would be public gardens. They could be private gardens. It would be possible for the local authority, in addition to its normal statutory functions, to lay out these sites in a manner congenial to the neighbourhood.
Furthermore, it would be open to the local authority to enter upon one of these sites, get rid of rubble and things of that sort, flatten out the site and then leave it if it wishes. It does not necessarily follow that the local authority in every instance would go further. Its requirements might be satisfied if it just got rid of all the rubbish that was there and left the place as an open site without any danger, and, I hope, without any disfigurement, on which children could play. On the other 1065 hand, after having carried out certain works, it might want to stay there and lay out the ground in some such way as I have described.
When the five or 10 years, or whatever period is agreed, are up and the site relapses to its original possessor or to the person who has acquired the rights over the site in the meantime, then that person would be compensated at the end of the period for any disturbance that might have been caused by the occupancy of the site by the local authority.
It may be said during this Debate that the Bill has one defect. It is a defect which I am afraid is often found in Bills of this sort. The local authority would not be obtaining any special grant from the Exchequer for this work. I should like to assuage the fears of hon. Members in one respect. Where the War Damage Commission would be liable to a payment to a person carrying out work which the local authority carries out, then the local authority itself can attract from the War Damage Commission such amount of money as the private person would be able to obtain. The War Damage Commission would not be liable to any additional amount. A private person could take possession of the site and, having planning permission and licence, could carry out work such as demolition and clearance, for which the War Damage Commission would pay. If the local authority itself carried out such work in making the site agreeable, it would be doing work for which the War Damage Commission would have had to pay somebody else. In such a case the local authority could obtain that amount of money from the War Damage Commission.
That is the only respect in which local rates could be relieved of some of the cost of carrying out this work. Of course, there is the other instance to which Mr. Speaker called our attention where the local authority is the recipient of exchange equalisation money.
§ Mr. Bevan
Rates equalisation. I beg pardon. We have been involved in exchanges so much recently that our minds get on the tramlines, as it were. Where the local authority attracts a rates equalisation grant from the Exchequer, of course the Exchequer would assist in 1066 this activity as in others. That is the reason why we have the Financial Resolution. Otherwise, it would not have been necessary in a Bill of this sort. Further than that it seems to me unreasonable to ask the Government to go. This is essentially a local service. It is essentially a service from which local citizens will benefit. It will add to the amenities of their areas, it will clear up a nuisance, and it seems to me to be an activity which should properly in such circumstances fall upon the rates.
We are not contemplating massive works, because obviously one could not obtain possession of a site for such a short period as this and involve oneself in very large expenditure. Also, as it has been necessary to limit the capital investment programme, we could not contemplate extensive operations. Nevertheless, there is a lot of ugliness which could be cleared up easily at very little expense especially in our great cities which suffered from the malice of the enemy.
§ Mr. Bevan
Where it can be done voluntarily, I hope that it will be done. I am very glad that my hon. Friend interrupted me. Very often, apart from the heavy work of clearance and other matters which must be dealt with by a competent body, the laying out and the care and protection of these local sites could be done much better by local voluntary organisations than by distant centralised departments. It has been our experience in laying out local authority housing estates that they are most attractive and agreeable at the beginning, and then the whole matter is allowed to go into neglect and before long it becomes an eyesore. In such conditions I have encouraged local authorities to form tenants' associations for the purpose of looking after and tending the open spaces. Here I think that we agree in all parts of the House. There is no more gracious adornment of our cities and villages than green spaces, flowers and trees. Often these are amenities which should be maintained by voluntary exertion.
§ Mr. H. D. Hughes (Wolverhampton, West)
It might be said that this Bill has some connection with the preparations for the Festival of Britain. Would my right 1067 hon. Friend as Minister of Health encourage local authorities deliberately to organise a campaign of voluntary work among organisations and individuals to use this Bill to brighten up their towns in preparation for the 1951 Festival?
§ Mr. Bevan
Certainly, I will look into it to see what can be done in that respect. We must remember that there are other sites besides blitzed sites. I have been looking round the country recently, and I have been dismayed quite often to see the way in which disused industrial premises in particular have been allowed to fall into dereliction. There are, quite often, cases where a judicious use of colour wash would brighten up our villages quite a lot. I cannot understand this distaste of some people for bright colours. Being a Celt, as the House knows, I am fond of high colours, and I hope very much that greater use will be made of this amenity in our cities and on these sites particularly, not only the blitzed sites but also in the older districts of Great Britain. There, a very great deal can be done in this regard, and this is a field where voluntary exertion would be better than the efforts of public authorities.
§ Colonel Dower
The right hon. Gentleman would help a great deal if he assisted people to get the necessary licences to get materials in order to do the work.
§ Mr. Bevan
They do not need very much in this case. I am not talking about building new structures; I am talking about the demolition of disused buildings, the clearing up of sites, the making good of party walls and colour washing, use of paint and things of that sort, which could quite transfigure some of our neighbourhoods.
We had in mind the Festival of Britain when this Bill was first suggested. We do not want large numbers of people to come to Great Britain and to go away again with the conclusion that we are bad housewives and are not looking after our public places properly. Therefore, as I think there is a generally congenial attitude towards this Bill, I beg to move its Second Reading without further ado.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)
The House is accustomed to hear the right hon. Gentleman in what I might 1068 call his major key. But this afternoon, by way of variation, we have heard him in a minor key, and, of course, he is sufficient of an artist in these matters to adjust his rhetorical style to the subject to which he is applying himself. He is quite right to move this Bill in a minor key, because it is a minor Bill. It is not a Bill which will arouse any very great enthusiasm in the country. There are not likely to be many people who will say, "It is true that the housing programme has been substantially cut, but, never mind, we have got the War Damaged Sites Bill instead." There will be few even of the most fervent admirers of the right hon. Gentleman who will go to that extent in their thanksgiving for this Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman has correctly referred to the congenial attitude towards this Bill, which is shared by my hon. and right hon. Friends and myself. Of course, this is a minor Bill; and the only right thing to do, on a long-term basis or on any broad comprehensive view of this problem, is to get the right sort of redevelopment going as soon as possible in order to provide a permanent solution to this problem, of which we are all aware. What is wanted is development useful to the community and pleasing to the eye. As the right hon. Gentleman admits, this process is necessarily retarded by the cut in the capital investment programme; and so, in that state of affairs, and, as the hon. Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. H. D. Hughes) has reminded us, with the Festival of Britain looming ahead, we have this Bill, which, on the long view, can only be considered a patching up Bill and must not be allowed to come a concealment of the real problem that lies ahead.
In the position which we are in today, we on this side of the House do not oppose a Bill which is designed to give power to local authorities to prevent injury to amenity arising from war damaged sites. I cannot however altogether agree with the right hon. Gentleman when he says that this Bill is easy to understand. I made a quick calculation of the number of major and complex Acts of Parliament which are referred to, applied, or amended by this minor Bill, and there are 10, ranging from the Lands Clauses (Consolidation) Act of 1845 right down to the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, and the Local 1069 Government Act, 1948. There are two more, for good measure, in the interpretation Clause of the Bill.
That does not make the Bill easy to understand; and the Minister is quite wrong when he says that it is, because this Bill bristles with problems of various kinds. It so happens that, whether or not as retribution for having a large share of original sin, I have to spend a good deal of time in one way or another on these Acts; and I ask the House to believe that the Acts which are varied, amended or referred to by this Bill are very complex and difficult Acts. Certainly my preoccupation with them has taken away any temptation I might otherwise have felt to indulge in crosswords, acrostics or what I believe are called pool permutations.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
Pool permutations might be more profitable, but as intellectual gymnastics the study of these Acts is probably more vigorous. However, I am sure the hon. Member will agree that the object of an Act of Parliament is not to provide lawyers with intellectual gymnastics.
I am glad the hon. Gentleman agrees with that, because the correct object, surely, is to define the rights and duties of the citizen in a way that is reasonably comprehensible to himself. Any Measure which adds to these complications is from that point of view retrograde. Opinion is divided as to how posterity will judge the right hon. Gentleman as an administrator. I have never made any attempt to conceal my opinion; and, so far as additions to the Statute Book are concerned, there is no doubt that when his term of office closes he is bound to go down to history as the Minister who, instead of clarifying that part of the Statute Book relating to the work of his own Department, made it more cumbrous and complex than it would otherwise have been.
Before I pass on to the one or two comments which I want to make on this Bill, it will probably be right and convenient at this point to make a declaration of interest, to the extent that I am a director of a company which owns a good deal of property in and about London, including two war damaged 1070 sites. I do not think that this company Will be very much affected by this Bill, because one site is in the declaratory area in the City of London, and therefore subject to compulsory acquisition, and the other one is in Paddington and is, I understand, designated for compulsory acquisition under the draft development plan for that part of London. I make that declaration of interest so that the House may have it in mind for what it amounts to.
This Bill applies where three things are established, as set out in Clause 1. The first two, under paragraphs (a) and (b), are matters of fact, but the third—whether or not it is detrimental to amenity—is, of course, largely a question of opinion. It is a strange thing that, although we talk a great deal about amenity in this House, there is, so far as I know, no statutory definition of it. Certainly there is not one in this Bill or in the Town and Country Planning Act; and, peculiarly, so far as I know, there are only two judicial interpretations of the meaning of the word "amenity." One of those dates from the stern Victorian days when amenities were described as "mere matters of luxury." The second definition was given by Lord Justice Scrutton who said that the word "amenity" was obviously used very loosely, and appeared to mean pleasant circumstances, features and advantages. That is the sum total of the assistance given either by the courts or by Act of Parliament when defining this word which we all use so much.
As hon. Members will appreciate, on the interpretation by local authorities of this admittedly very vague term, people are to lose their property, albeit for only a temporary period. In such circumstances, it is the duty of Parliament to scrutinise very closely any Measures which deprive citizens of their rights.
§ Mr. Bevan
No one is going to lose his property at all under this Measure. The very fact that the site is unoccupied means that the owner of it, whoever he may be, is unable to obtain statutory permission to develop the site, and, therefore, he is losing nothing at all. All it does is to occupy a vacuum.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
I did not suggest that the owner would lose the freehold of his property by compulsory acquisition.
1071 But he will lose the possession and the use of his property. It is no use the right hon. Gentleman talking about a vacuum where matters of real estate are concerned. He said earlier that things become complex when matters of real estate are introduced, but it is really of no assistance for the right hon. Gentleman to say that because a site is requisitioned—which is a temporary occupation—the owner of that site is deprived of nothing but a vacuum.
§ Mr. Bevan
The hon. Member has misled himself here; he has followed the labyrinths of these Acts to such an extent that he has got himself into a slightly confused condition. May I as a mere layman attempt to clear up a juridical point? What happens here is that if the owner of the property wishes to have access to it, even after it has been taken over by a local authority, and if he can satisfy the Minister that his possession of it will not produce a nuisance and will be an amenity, he can enter into possession of the site.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
I shall come to that point straightaway. I have inspected with some interest the provisions of Clause 7. As the Clause is at present drafted, I am of the opinion that it will not necessarily effect what the Minister now says it is intended to effect, and perhaps it would be convenient if I explained to the right hon. Gentleman straightaway why I have formed that view. Under Clause 7—which is the Clause, I take it, to which the Minister refers—the owner can get his land released if he can get a planning permission and if he can convince the Minister under Section 7 (1, c) that he will be proceeding without delay to do the works necessary for the development.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
I will tell the hon. Member. To proceed without delay, the owner must have got a determination of development charge under Section 69 of the Town and Country Planning Act, because it is illegal to proceed without it. Is the hon. Member with me so far? But in order to get his determination of development charge he must either have an interest in the land sufficient to carry out the development, or be able to convince the Central Land Board that he 1072 can obtain it. Is the hon. Member with me in that proposition? He can only convince the Central Land Board of that if he can show them that he can satisfy the Minister that he will proceed at once, because that is the only way in which he can, in fact, show that he is in a position to get on with the work. But he cannot satisfy the Minister until he has his development charge.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
Yes. In my view, the owner here may be in a complete impasse, if one judges his difficulties by what he has to establish under Clause 7 of this Bill and under Sections 69 and 70 of the Town and Country Planning Act.
§ Mr. Bevan
This, obviously, is a matter which we shall have to thresh out in greater detail in Committee. It is not really a Second Reading point, but, nevertheless, I hope that there will be no misunderstanding. The Minister could not plead that a person wishing to have access to one of these blitzed sites could not expeditiously carry out what he promised to do merely on account of the fact that he could not get permission to do it under any statute. What the hon. Gentleman has to show is that it is the power conferred on the local authority by this Bill which denies the individual owner the opportunity to develop. The owner would make his application in the normal way and the planning authority or the Land Board would say, "You can go ahead. We now tell you that, having access to the site, you can have a licence to carry on the work." Once that was said, the Minister would, in my opinion, be under an obligation to direct the local authority to release the site.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
With respect, the right hon. Gentleman is, of course, quite wrong in his submission. First of all, if he is reproaching me for taking this point on Second Reading, I would point out that I am only taking it in answer to his challenge to me. It is a point, of course, which ought to be taken notice of in Committee. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that his broad and vague interpretation of the workings of these provisions is not, in fact, either adequate or correct.
§ Mr. Bevan indicated dissent.1073
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
It is no good the right hon. Gentleman shaking his head. The Central Land Board and the Minister are bound by statute under this Bill. Whatever he may wish to do—and on this occasion let us give him credit for good intentions—he is bound by statute. That is where the duty of Parliament comes in—to see that what is incorporated in this statute is what Parliament would wish to do. My point is that as the Bill is at present drafted there is that inescapable difficulty. I shall not pursue the point further now, but I would recommend the Minister to take the point to those who advise him on these questions and to look at it again on the Committee stage.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)
Supposing that the local authority had been responsible for a fair amount of expenditure on the improvement of the site, does the hon. Gentleman suggest that the Minister would then be justified in restoring it to its original owner?
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
As I understand the hon. Member's point, it is this. Supposing that during the period of the taking possession of the land money is spent by the local authority, and that then, before the end of the period of requisition, the Minister gives the land back to the owner. Of course, that is only a refinement of the point which arises in any case. As the hon. Member appreciates, these sites are requisitioned, not acquired, so that any work of a permanent nature done by the local authorities upon these sites reverts at the end of the period of requisition for the benefit of the freehold.
That raises a very important point—and this touches also the amenities side—as to what sort of work we can expect local authorities to do upon these sites. In Clause 4 (2) of this Bill they are given wide powers; and their powers are a good deal wider than laying out gardens because, if hon. Members look at the interpretation Clause, they will see that "works" includes the laying out of gardens—I think this is Clause 15—but that it also includesthe demolition, repair or erection of buildings.It certainly would allow them to lay out gardens, and already there are gardens in certain blitzed cities—at any 1074 rate in the City of London—which are very attractive.
But so far as "works" are concerned, the hon. Member will appreciate that no local authority is going to put up anything in the nature of a permanent structure and leave it there after five or at most 10 years, for the benefit of the freeholder. If they are going to put up any buildings at all, will there not be a great danger that these will be temporary shacks, hutments and the like, so that the last state of the site, if we are not careful, may well be worse than the first? I think perhaps that was the point which the hon. Member had in mind and it is, of course, a most important point in regard to the amenity aspect of these provisions.
May I turn from that to the suggestion which has been made that there are these disused industrial premises, and so on, which carry some measure of reproach to those who own them. I am certainly far from saying that such cases may not exist. Of course there may be cases where that is so, but let not hon. Members get the idea that wherever the provisions of this Bill are to be applied it is because the owners of the site are blameworthy in some degree. The difficulties of getting on with the work on their sites are very considerable.
There is the difficulty of building licences, to which reference has been made; there is the difficulty, so far as the re-instatement of war damaged properties is concerned, that they may have asked for a cost of works payment from the War Damage Commission and succeeded in obtaining only a value payment. Then the difficulty of planning permission arises in many sites, for use is made of the General Development Order to make it necessary for them to obtain planning permission to reinstate war damaged buildings.
For one of those reasons, and possibly all of them, many well-intentioned persons have not been able to do the work which otherwise they would have wished to do. Do not let hon. Members take the view that because sites are in this condition there is necessarily any degree of blame to be attached to the private individual, because it may be quite otherwise. As the House knows, these matters are extremely difficult at the present time.
On the subject of amenities, hon. Members will, I think, have it in mind that it 1075 is sometimes the case that local authorities themselves are not very good custodians of amenity. They are better than Governments on balance, because the worst offenders against planning principles are normally Government Departments, but local authorities very often themselves also offend against matters of amenity.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
I did not make that point, but if the hon. Member takes it he will no doubt be able, when he catches your eye, Sir, to inform the House what was the political complexion of the local authority which so violated the amenities of the Green Belt around London. So far as amenities are concerned it will, I think, in some cases be necessary—and no doubt the Minister exercises his avuncular guidance in these matters—to keep the local authorities themselves up to scratch.
May I make a point on Clause 1 which, as the Minister said, empowers a local authority either to take a lease voluntarily or to use compulsory powers? In my view compulsory powers should not be used unless the local authority has been unable to take a lease voluntarily on reasonable terms. After all, even under the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act, which give the Central Land Board powers of compulsory acquisition, the board are allowed to use these powers only if the Minister is satisfied that they have been unable to take them voluntarily on reasonable terms, and I do not think that in this case the little finger of the Minister of Health should be thicker than the loins of the Minister of Town and Country Planning.
Quite clearly, in my view, this Clause ought to provide not for mere alternatives, but for the use of compulsory powers only in the event of a voluntary lease not being available to the local authority. On that point the Minister said he did not intend to put into this Bill the cumbrous and tedious procedure of compulsory acquisition. In my view he ought to do so because it is not very cumbrous and it is not very tedious. The Minister shakes his head, but I venture to say that in shaking his head he is committing himself to an undemocratic and an arbitrary use of policy. After all, requisitioning normally takes place 1076 under Defence Regulations, which are war-time powers, and nobody would suggest, then, that there should be any cumbrous procedure. These powers, which are peace-time powers, should however follow the Schedule to the Acquisition of Land Act, 1946.
§ Mr. Bevan
Nobody is losing any rights at all under this Bill and, therefore, there is no reason for a great deal of this argument. The individuals who possessed these sites are unable to develop them, not because of any statute but because of the physical circumstances of the time. Therefore, no rights have been taken away.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
If the Minister's contention is correct it means this: that in such circumstances the owners will be perfectly willing to lease their land to local authorities on a voluntary basis. That reinforces my argument as to the way in which this Clause should be framed. If they are not so willing it is probably because, in the individual circumstances of the particular case, there is some point which they wish to put forward—some special point—and the only way in which they can put it forward is at a hearing or a local inquiry such as is provided for in the procedure for compulsory purchase, and such as is deliberately left out of this Bill on account of the curious reasoning which the Minister has just given.
I give the Minister notice that that is obviously one of the points on which we shall seek to improve this Bill when it comes to Committee. The only satisfaction that an objector has under this procedure is that he gets notification of the Minister's decision. According to the Schedule of this Bill he is not even entitled to the reasons upon which that decision was based. I say that is a step in the direction of administrative law and it is a step in the wrong direction. This Bill ought to include proper provision for a hearing of a case by that minority of owners who may object to having their land taken over on requisition.
On the point of the entry of the local authorities, I see that Clause 9 gives the right of only 24 hours' notice and, there again, I suggest that that is insufficient and that it pays insufficient attention to the rights of the owner who, if he intends 1077 to object at all, obviously needs more time in which to take proper advice and so on. This Bill, of course, also deals with matters of compensation; but those are inevitably technical matters and to some extent matters of detail which no doubt can best be dealt with in Committee.
I should, however just like to say at this stage that the effect of Clause 5 (2) of the Bill is of course, to narrow down very much the possible basis of compensation which can be given to owners under this particular procedure. The effect of limiting the hypothetical lease to the short period for which the requisition is actually in use is, of course, to shut out the possibilities of the compensation being assessed on the basis of the building leases, or anything of that sort; and, having in mind the recent decision under the main Compensation Act, I have no doubt that that has been done deliberately, with a view to cutting down compensation in that regard.
So far as the war damage aspect is concerned, the Minister has explained the position with regard to converted value payments, but I should just like to draw the attention of the House to a significant difference between the provisions of Clause 11 here and of Section 13 of the War Damage Act. Under Section 13 a converted value payment can be made instead of a cost of works payment if it is the wish of all the owners and proprietory interests and of any mortgagee. The wording of Clause 11, of course, is not "if it is their wish"; it merely necessitates consultation with those interests. Consultation, of course, is a very different thing from agreement; and there are various forms of consultation; and I am sure the Minister will not think it amiss if I say that some of us think that the Bevanesque type of consultation is a long way from the sort of consultation which leads to the agreement of the other party. So there is that very significant difference, from the point of view of the individual, between the provisions of this Bill and the provisions of the War Damage Act, 1943.
§ Mr. Bevan
I do wish the hon. Gentleman would look at the Bill not for the purpose of finding out what is not there but for the purpose of understanding it first of all. We are assuming in such a case that the person can carry out 1078 cost of works work but does not, in fact, do it, and that we will, instead of having a cost of works work, have it carried out at once. Most of the work referred to here is cost of works work; that is to say, the right that the individual has in the site is to have put back the property that the enemy destroyed. That is his right, and what we are dealing with here is, whether the individual is or is not, in a reasonable time, going to exercise the right that he can exercise. That is the whole point. If he does not do so, obviously he ought not to be the steward of such a site but should have a value payment and clear out, so that the site can, in fact, be developed.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
I really cannot go on answering the same point time and again, because, really, however many times the Minister shoots, he does not really get any nearer the target than in his previous exercises. It is quite clear that there may be many reasons, as I have already explained, why even a person who has a cost of works determination is not able to get on with the work. The cost of works payment does not give a man the right to rebuild a house in the form it previously was. All it does is to say that the amount of money which will be paid to him will be the amount of money appropriate to reinstating the house or building in the form in which it was before. It does not give him a right to it at all, and nobody would suggest it does.
What I am saying here is, that, whereas under Section 13 of the War Damage Act there has got to be an agreement with the proprietary interests, here all that is necessary to do is to consult them, and thereafter, apparently, if so minded, to put aside any representations that they may make; and that is, whatever the Minister or anybody else may say, clearly a very significant difference, and it is a difference which may be very significant in practice.
I have touched on some points—mainly with a view to answering questions put to me by the Minister—which are, to some extent, perhaps, precursors of points which may be dealt with more fully at the Committee stage; but I should like, in conclusion, to say this. Points that I have made now as arising out of this Bill are points which have occurred in a weekend of browsing over the Bill. I 1079 know, and hon. Members know, that the defects and contradictions and imperfections of these technical Bills are not all seen at this stage; they are seen after they are on the Statute Book and when they are in operation. I prophesy to the Minister with a good deal of confidence this: that as this Bill now stands, when it is upon the Statute Book it is going to give a lot of trouble and a lot of difficulty in its interpretation and in its construction.
That being so, surely it is not unreasonable to put this to the Minister. We on this side of the House are in agreement with the broad principle of this Bill. We are making no challenge to the broad principle of the Bill. We are dealing with it, as the Minister himself has said, in a congenial atmosphere. Surely, in all those circumstances it is not too much to ask the Minister to take a reasonable and detached view of those points—not merely a gladiatorial view, as of somebody determined to defend his text to the last ounce of his very considerable ability and pugnacity. He should look at it in an objective way, and undertake to give consideration to points from whichever side of the House they come. He should make it his aim that this Bill shall emerge from its Committee stage not less useful but more so, by the removal of points of doubt and of difficulty, thereby making it a better addition to the Statute Book.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ Captain Field (Paddington, North)
As a member of a local authority, I want to assure the Minister, first of all, that the local authorities welcome the powers given them under this Bill to deal with a problem which has long been exercising their ingenuity. I know that some of the Metropolitan boroughs have already been trying to do something in this matter, and have been feeling rather uneasy as to whether they have been breaking the law or not—whether they have had the powers to carry out the work they have been doing. As they have not, in fact, received any admonition from the district auditor, I take it that the matter is in order.
It is to the financial provisions of this Bill, and in particular to their impact upon the Metropolitan boroughs of London, that I want to confine my remarks. Clause 16 states: 1080There shall be paid out of moneys provided by Parliament any increase attributable to the provisions of this Act in the Exchequer Equalisation Grant payable under Part I or Part II of the Local Government Act, 1948.Under this formula, as far as I can see, the London Metropolitan boroughs will receive no financial assistance at all, since the rateable value of the County of London is in excess of the average rateable value of the counties of the country as a whole.
The Minister said something about this being a local government problem, and it is probably true that, as regards carrying out this work that is so; but I should like to direct his attention to the fact that it arises as a direct result of enemy action during the war. During the war local authorities received a 100 per cent. grant for the clearing of war-damaged buildings, and this 100 per cent. grant operates even at this stage with Ministry sanction. I cannot see why the same principle cannot be applied in this Bill. The London area was one of the most bombed areas in the country, and all the Metropolitan boroughs feel that the financial assistance for the purpose of clearing those war damaged sites should be be given by a specific grant in the terms of reimbursement or grant aid.
In the Financial Memorandum which prefaces the Bill, it is stated:It is not possible to say what expenditure will fall on local rates as a result of operations authorised by the Bill, but it is likely to be small.…This is not the view of the London Metropolitan boroughs. I should like to give the House some indication of the financial commitments into which the Metropolitan boroughs will have to enter to implement this Bill. First, the sites have to be cleared of a considerable amount of rubbish and other material which has accumulated over the years. It is felt that it is not the slightest use to do this if the sites are then left for more rubbish and debris to accumulate. We believe that in the majority of cases the sites will require fencing. Estimates have been made of how much it would cost to fence these sites. We believe that it would require at least six feet high chain link fencing, because if a lower height of fencing were used people would dump their rubbish over the top. To do the job properly 1081 with chain link fencing would cost upwards of £1 per yard. The approximate cost of using secondhand bricks to the height of six feet would be £2 per yard. I think that this protective fencing is the least work which the local authority should carry out.
We all know that the Lord President, who was here during the Minister's remarks, is very anxious that the local authorities should brighten up and beautify the Metropolis and other parts of the country in connection with the 1951 Festival of Britain. Next year is the jubilee of the Metropolitan boroughs, and they have been asked to do some work to commemorate that event. It is possible that some of the local authorities will want to lay out some of these sites as gardens. To do this, the sites have to be cleared, cavities, basements, etc., filled in, and a suitable layer of top soil put on. I should like to give some figures which I have got from the Metropolitan Boroughs Standing Joint Committee, of which I am a member, of the estimated cost to four Metropolitan borough councils, two of which I have selected at random and with two of which I am intimately connected.
In the case of Paddington, it is estimated that to deal with 162 sites by fencing most of them and laying out gardens in some of them will cost at least a 6d. rate. In Hammersmith, where I am chairman of the works committee, it is estimated that we shall have to spend at least £10,000, or a 2d. rate, to clear and fence the minimum number of these properties. To do the job properly and to lay out some of the sites as gardens, we believe would cost between £20,000 and £40,000. Hackney has 250 of these bombed sites. Battersea has 167, of which they recently cleared seven and fenced four at a cost of £681 2s. To clear 167 sites would take at least 20 times that amount, or somewhere in the region of £12,000 to £14,000.
I think that these figures will give some idea of the expenditure involved under this Bill. It may appear to the Minister to be only a small matter, as he says in the Financial Memorandum, but I assure him that to the Metropolitan boroughs it is a very serious burden at the present time. Failing any adequate grant from the Exchequer, they may be unable to carry out the provisions of this 1082 Bill as they would otherwise like to do. Can the Minister tell me whether the powers given under this Bill will enable the local authorities to deal with the many static water tanks scattered about the Metropolitan area, which, even more than the bombed sites, are a source of nuisance and about which local authorities are continually receiving complaints?
In connection with compensation I note that the Minister can, under Clause 7, terminate the possession of the local authority if a site is required by the owner for development, and I should like to know whether the local authority would get compensation for the work which it had already carried out. It may be argued that during the time it has been in the local authority's possession, the local authority has protected the common law liability of the owner as to nuisance, and may have carried out improvements such as the filling up of cavities on the site. Does the Minister think there is a case for the local authority receiving some compensation for the work which it has carried out?
The Minister said that a good deal of this work might be carried out by voluntary effort. As one who has a good deal to do with this problem, I cannot agree that the initial work should be carried out by voluntary effort. It is the initial work which will be the most expensive. I think, however, that there is room for voluntary effort when the sites are cleared and ready to be handed over to tenant associations, allotment committees and so forth. But it is the initial work, clearing up and putting on the top soil, which will cost the money, and it is in that connection that we feel we should have some assistance.
§ Mr. Mellish (Rotherhithe)
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman comment on the Minister's statement that the War Damage Commission would be a source from which money could be obtained by local authorities to compensate them for this work?
§ Captain Field
I do not know how much money they would attract from that source. I feel that the amount so attracted would not be great, and that over and above any such contributions we ought to have something coming direct from the Exchequer.
1083 I hope that in my remarks I have brought home to the Minister that the local authorities in the London area, for whom I am principally speaking, are very concerned indeed about the effect which this Bill will have on their local finances. We feel that the cost of the work is being passed on to them by the Ministry when it should be borne by the Exchequer, since it is a direct result of the war and of enemy action. I am sorry that in the Financial Memorandum it is not possible to say what expenditure will be incurred by local authorities, I can assure the Minister that if his Department had gone to the local authorities in the London area, they could have given him a fairly accurate estimate of the cost likely to be incurred as a result of the Bill. The London authorities have very good estimates indeed, and would be quite prepared to give them to the Minister. I therefore ask my right hon. Friend to see whether he cannot give a far greater measure of financial assistance than is provided under the Bill.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Colonel Dower (Penrith and Cockermouth)
We were all very interested in and struck by the effort made by the hon. and gallant Member for North Paddington (Captain Field), and I am sure that so long as he continues his activities, the local authorities are likely to do a very good job indeed. However, I hope he will forgive me if I do not follow him in discussing the financial side, because quite frankly I have not the necessary knowledge or experience to do so.
First, I must declare my interest. I am not a lawyer and therefore do not get briefs, but I do own a certain number of houses in various parts of London which the enemy seemed to pick out almost individually to drop incendiary or high explosive bombs on them. I do not possess any sites which are likely to be affected by this Bill, so I have no personal interest involved but I put forward my views as one who has tried to repair war damaged houses. I hope hon. Members will believe me when I say that my work in the House has been seriously interfered with by my endeavours to get houses and offices repaired, in order that people may have somewhere to live and somewhere to do 1084 their work, and it has not been an easy job by any manner of means.
I also, for no ulterior motive, spent part of the weekend reading this Bill, and I can assure the Minister that I give it my blessing. The objects of the Bill are what we all want to see brought about, and no party question is likely to arise upon it, unless it be a small one in Committee. I am just as keen as the right hon. Gentleman to clear up these sites, not only because they are bad from the amenity and health points of view, but because they are bad for children who play there and sometimes break an arm or a leg. Indeed, only a short time ago a murder was committed on one of these sites.
There is such a site at the back of my own house, and if only the Minister could persuade his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to put a few policemen in that neighbourhood I am sure he would catch many undesirable people, some of whom pass my bedroom window almost every night between two and three o'clock. I have twice dialled 999 and had an immediate response, but these men escape over the wall into the blitzed area and are never seen again.
§ Colonel Dower
If the hon. Gentleman would like to come on such an adventure with me one night. I shall be delighted.
I do not make my criticism in any carping spirit, and although the right hon. Gentleman may answer me to his own satisfaction according to the strict letter of the law, I assure him that there are real practical difficulties. If any hon. Gentleman opposite set about trying to get a house repaired quickly, he would find that it is not so easy. It is surprising how week after week goes by and one just cannot get the necessary work started if the amount involved is over the statutory limit, which is now £100, although it is altered from time to time. With all the best will in the world, and giving all the time one possibly can to it, it is not an easy job.
I am anxious that this Bill, to which I give my wholehearted support, should not become a palliative. These sites must be rebuilt for rehousing people or for re-establishing 1085 shops and offices of businesses. We want a long-term policy. At present there is a short-term policy, producing a mess which is a disgrace to our country, and we should take all possible steps to prevent foreigners from coming here and saying, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, that we have not started to put things in order, that we have not enough energy and do not care what kind of national housekeeping policy is followed.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman can reply to my criticism by quoting the wording of the Bill, but I ask him not to let this Bill be merely a palliative which will prevent the permanent rebuilding of these sites. I know he says it will not do so, but when I apply for permits I wonder how many different Ministries will say, "Are not the county council occupying that site? Have not they turned it into a most delightful place?" I somehow feel that it will not be so easy to get licences. I am opposed to leaving these sites in a mess, but I ask the Minister not to lose sight of the long-term view, which is the achieving of permanent rebuilding. It is no good letting years and years pass with people living in overcrowded conditions.
The right hon. Gentleman said that there is nothing to prevent the land from being handed back, provided it can be established that work will start on it almost immediately, but in practice that is very difficult. If the Minister interviews whoever is to do that work and comes to the conclusion that he is a genuine person who has sufficient money and men to do the work, and that it is merely a question of waiting for the necessary legal authority, then the provisions of Clause 7 will be extremely valuable. Nevertheless, I can assure him that I have tried my utmost to repair houses in various parts of London, without any monetary gain in view, only to find very often that the process has been continually one of starting and then having to stop. I could give instances where that has happened five times.
I have myself said to the right hon. Gentleman "Please do not do anything about this because I have a personal interest, and I want you to see what is happening." It concerned a house in Hampstead Road, where the rooms were to be let at £1 or less a week—perhaps 1086 only 15s.—on which there is no possible return. Seven or eight thousand pounds must have been spent on that house, only for the local authority to say they intended to acquire it compulsorily. Then followed another notice in which they said they did not intend to acquire it compulsorily, so back went the builders to start again. But then somebody else came along. Three times the work was stopped on that house. That is only put forward as an illustration, and not in any way as a grouse.
§ Mr. Bevan
But he must, with respect. I have lifted the ceiling from the price of any house which can be rebuilt. It is only a little while ago that we lifted the ceiling from £5,000 to £6,000. There are few of them, and one of the advantages of this Bill will be to force the owners to make up their minds whether to rebuild. There is no bar on the cost of rebuilding cost of works houses.
§ Colonel Dower
I do not want to cross swords with the right hon. Gentleman, because we are all in agreement with this Bill. I do not know what he means by the word "bar," but I will give an instance where it has been practically impossible to carry on. The building was started after the plans had been got out a long time before. It was then stopped because the local authority had decided to make a compulsory purchase.
§ Colonel Dower
The local authority had given their consent, but they then revoked the original licence. The house is 209 and 209A Hampstead Road. Licence after licence has been stopped there; when the work started a gentleman came along with a pail and some notices which he pasted up along the whole street.
§ Mr. Bevan
We will certainly make inquiries, but I should like to point out 1087 that I have instigated some investigations where it was obvious that cost of works houses were not being rebuilt, as I was anxious to get on with the rebuilding. I am trying to find out why the houses are not being rebuilt. Sometimes it is because there is a remainder lease and the holder has such a dwindling interest that he has not bothered. We have a conflict between the leaseholder and the landlord. It is our desire to get these houses rebuilt, but we are not dealing here with sites for houses but for business premises.
§ Colonel Dower
I know that the right hon. Gentleman has no ulterior motives and is anxious to get on with the rebuilding, but the fact remains that the moment a person tries to rebuild he meets all sorts of difficulties. In this case, the War Damage Commission came down and said they would not pay any more money because they understood that the local authority intended buying. They said: "It is no good thinking you will get anything from us."
§ Colonel Dower
If the hon. Member wishes to discuss the matter with me, I shall be delighted to do so outside the House. The War Damage Commission, Bromyard Avenue, and the St. Pancras Borough Council had a real set-to, and months and months went by. I would point out that the War Damage Commission do not necessarily pay a claim in full, even if it is absolutely genuine. Very often there is a 10 per cent. or 15 per cent. reduction.
§ Mr. Follick (Loughborough)
On a point of Order. Is this Debate concerned with bombed sites or war damaged houses?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Bowles)
The Minister dealt with the point to which the hon. and gallant Member is now addressing himself.
§ Colonel Dower
I am not trying to take up the time of the House unnecessarily. I am merely indicating the practical difficulties people are up against, in spite of a willing Minister and all the best will in the world. It is like trying to start up a car which for some unknown reason will not go. It is a point I want the Minister to bear in mind while pushing forward with the Bill. Let it not be 1088 taken as a reason for a local authority not granting a licence for rebuilding.
We do not want to lose sight of our ultimate objective in providing for the necessary preliminaries, with which I am in full agreement. I am fully in agreement with voluntary plans being put forward, because if only we can get the tenants together they will do a better job than anyone else. I agree with the remarks which have been made about water tanks. I can give the right hon. Gentleman an instance of some of the difficulties I have had.
In the case of a water tank where the water was seeping into houses on either side, I tried to find out who was responsible for it. A magnificent car and a nice officer from the Fire Service came with me to see it, and we also had representatives of the local authority and the Ministry of Works down, but the water still went on seeping into the buildings, which contained perishable merchandise. Eventually a builder came along and said he could cure the trouble in about five minutes. I told him that he had better be careful as I did not know the legal position, but he went into Oxford Street and borrowed a pneumatic drill. In about half an hour he knocked a hole in the bottom of the tank. He was able to do more than the officials in saving the merchandise from being destroyed. Nearly all these water tanks are leaking, and something has to be done about them. If any Member found himself living in a basement next to a water tank, I can assure him that the walls would be damp morning and night. It is the responsibility of the Fire Service to remove any water which collects in these tanks.
§ Colonel Dower
We can argue the question of responsibility until the cows come home.
All Members will agree that there is one Measure which has worked very well, the Landlord and Tenant Act, by which a tenant is not stung for goodwill and improvements to his property at the end of his lease. I should like to know why this provision which has been of very great benefit to both sides is specifically excluded from the Bill. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not think I have been too critical in my remarks. I have not 1089 meant to be critical, and if there is anything I can do to make the Bill work and speed it on its way, I shall be only too pleased to do it.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mrs. Middleton (Plymouth, Sutton)
As one of the representatives for the most war-damaged of our provincial cities, I want to give a cordial welcome to this Bill and to thank the Minister for having brought it forward. If I may say so, I believe that the hon. and gallant Member for Penrith and Cockermouth (Colonel Dower) was wrong in suggesting that anyone who has either a licence to repair his property, or has any likelihood of getting such a licence, will be adversely affected by the Bill. If he will look at Clause 11 (1, a) he will find the words:that that permission … approval or licence has been granted or would be granted if applied for.It is obvious from those words that anyone who wants to repair or rebuild his property, and who has a licence to do so or has any hope of getting a licence, would not be in any way hampered by the Bill. It is only if he neglects to do so that the local authority is empowered to take action.
The speech of the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) made me think that in his cogitations over the weekend he had laid awake at night thinking of all the possible legal difficulties which would arise under the Bill, and that, falling asleep, his cogitations had turned into the nightmares which he has described to us today.
§ Mrs. Middleton
In all our blitzed towns and cities there are still great problems of reconstruction outstanding, problems due, in the first place, to the extent of the damage caused by the enemy during the war and problems that today are not unconnected with the exigencies of our national recovery. The physical rehabilitation of our bombed damaged cities is turning out to be a much longer job than most people thought it would be when the war was in progress. I am not complaining about that; I realise that when Hitler sat in his shelter, contemplating the possibility 1090 that Germany would be faced with no alternative to unconditional surrender, but, at the same time, gloating over the fact that the impact of two world wars on Great Britain's economy would make our recovery completely impossible, he was probably nearer to the truth than most people in this country thought he was at that time. Indeed, I am reckless enough to assert that but for the fact of this Government he might have been altogether right.
Those of us who live in bomb damaged cities firmly believe that our national recovery must come first, and that reconstruction within our own cities must take second place to the exigencies of that recovery. That, of course, inevitably leads to delays which, together with the stupendous size of the problems which have to be faced in some cities, such as that which I represent, have caused hardship to private citizens and a depressing environment for those who have to live in those cities. The Bill will do something, although perhaps only a little, to ease the hardship of private citizens who are not able to rebuild at present, in that their land will be leased and they will get some compensation for its use. It may do a great deal to eradicate the depressing environment in which so many people in bombed cities have to live.
I should like to support my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Paddington (Captain Field) in urging the Minister to see whether it is not possible for the Exchequer to make a grant towards the cost of this work. Most of the work on which local authorities would engage under the Bill is work of a non-remunerative character, work for which they will have to bear the entire cost. Our bomb damaged cities are already bearing a heavy load of expenditure in reconstruction. Many have lost a considerable amount of rate income as a result of the damage which has been caused. In view of the fact that work such as laying out gardens will not be remunerative expenditure, in the main, I suggest that the Minister should give another thought to this matter, confer with the Treasury and see whether some help cannot be given.
I had an illustration of the kind of thing which can be done under the Bill only last weekend, when I was visiting 1091 people in a corner of my constituency where a bombed site was creating great difficulty for housewives in the neighbourhood. It had become a dumping ground for refuse, dust from the site was blowing into open windows of adjacent houses during the hot summer weather and housewives were finding it quite impossible to maintain a reasonable standard of cleanliness, both during the dusty weather in the summer and the recent muddy weather, because nothing had been done to clear and fence the site. I am conferring with the local authority about this particular case to see whether anything can be done to help even before this Bill becomes law, but I doubt whether power resides in the local authority at present to deal with this particular nuisance. It will be a great boon to many people who have to live adjacent to bombed sites when the Bill is passed and put into operation.
Some of the worst cases of nuisance occur not in premises that can be taken over under the Bill but where a cost of works payment has been made to a property owner in respect of nonresidential property and where, because of the nature of the building, it is not possible today to get a licence to carry out the work which needs to be done. I expect that all who live in blitzed towns and cities can call to mind many instances of that sort, where cost of works awards have been made in respect of shells of buildings which are being used for all kinds of practices, not only by children but the less responsible type of adult to the great nuisance both of the local authority and the citizens. I wish we could extend the powers of the Bill to enable a local authority to do something in such cases.
All who have lived in bombed cities have seen cases where ingenuity and initiative have led to the creation of a garden out of a desert. I am sure the House will forgive me if I refer to an experience I had of this kind, not in a British but in a German city. On my first visit to Hamburg, following the war, I was taken by the occupation authorities to see the bombed dock area at the east end of the town. There I saw mile after mile of complete destruction—a desert of destruction. But, in the midst of all this, a working-class middle-aged woman, 1092 who told me that she had had no previous experience of gardening, but who was depressed by her surroundings, living, as she was, in the bombed basement of the house of her former residence, had set to work to make a garden for herself. That little garden which she had made there in the wilderness of destruction was a spot of colour and beauty to everyone who saw it, and it brought refreshment not only to the eye but also to the spirit.
Under this Bill I believe our local authorities will be able to make oases of beauty of that sort in areas, where at the present time, there are still ugly relics of destruction. I am very grateful to the Minister for having brought this Bill forward, and of giving to local authorities the opportunity to do this work.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Mr. J. H. Hare (Woodbridge)
I am very pleased to follow the hon. Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Mrs. Middleton). Like every Member of the House, I desire to associate myself with her remark that anything which this Bill can do to cheer up and make more beautiful the depressed areas formed by these bombed sites in our cities will be welcome. I have not had the privilege of seeing the garden to which she referred, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) mentioned, in this City of London some very ugly spots, which were eyesores, have been turned into pleasant gardens.
I should like to add my voice to the general praise which has been given to the principle of the Bill. I was surprised at the passages which the Minister had with my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford. In his opening speech the Minister made it quite clear that it was not his intention in this Bill to prevent private individuals from developing sites. He argued that, far from that, it was still his intention in every way to encourage private individuals to go forward with the development of these sites if they had the opportunity to do so. For that reason I was surprised that he seemed to resent the two points made early in his speech by my hon. Friend, which affected the liberty of the subject.
In introducing the Bill the Minister said that, far from giving a consent to an 1093 application from a local authority merely on the application being read by him, he would make every possible investigation to see whether or not the individual to whom the site belonged could be granted a licence or planning powers to go ahead with its development. When my hon. Friend suggested that on the Committee stage of the Bill it would be wise to insert a provision that agreement for the requisitioning of these sites should always be tried before compulsory powers were used, the Minister did not seem to agree. He did not seem to appreciate that it was a valid point that, in common justice, there should be some right of appeal. Under paragraph 3 of the Schedule to the Bill, all the Minister has to do is to give notification in writing. With the best intention in the world, the Minister may make a thorough examination of a case, but it is the basic right of a private individual to state his case in public if he thinks the Minister is wrong, and that is something which this Parliament should do its best to preserve.
I should like to say a word or two on a subject which was mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for North Paddington (Captain Field) the hon. Member for Sutton and other hon. Members—the question of some greater contribution from the Exchequer towards the development and beautification of these bombed sites. The Minister, judging from his opening speech, appreciated that there would be considerable criticism on those lines. He said, "There is something in this Bill which, in the minds of many, will be a defect." He was right. The statement in the Financial Memorandum to this Bill that there will be little or no expense on local rates or on the Exchequer is true when it is regarded nationally, but this is not a national problem. It is a very isolated problem, affecting only a few cities. London, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Coventry and a few others—I do not want to go through a long enumeration—are the principal ones concerned. It is a limited problem, and in many of the areas where there has been severe bomb damage there is often a very limited income from rates.
It is true that in many areas a great deal has been done, but a great deal more remains to be done. The cost of this scheme will fall very heavily on a limited number of cities. In those cities where 1094 they get the benefit of the Exchequer equalisation grant they will continue to receive extra assistance by an increase in their grant. As has been pointed out, that does not apply to London at all. We should think of London for a moment. I have a certain interest in this matter, because I am a member of the London County Council, and therefore my interest in matters affecting London is very great. London has a vast number of these bombed sites, which will cost a great deal of money to take over and lay out in a decent way. Many of these sites are in the very poor boroughs, Southwark, Bermondsey and the East End. They are in boroughs which have not the finances to do this work, and I do not believe they will be able to take any steps under this Bill.
There remains the London County Council. It is a body which together with the Metropolitan boroughs, can take its share in a general scheme affecting Greater London. There, again, I am certain that the feeling of those on the London County Council will be that we shall assist, but we feel that this represents something which should be contributed to by the nation as a whole, and that we should not be called upon to bear the whole cost. This Bill is connected with the Festival of Britain, and everyone who listened to the Minister will reecho his view that we do not want foreigners, who will come here in large numbers in 1951, to go away saying that we are untidy-minded and bad housekeepers. The Festival of Britain is a national project, and not one for which the ratepayers in any one city should contribute the major portion of the cost.
Therefore, when it is necessary to make payments as a result of enemy action, why not follow the practice adopted in the case of the clearance of rubble and debris and the development of blitzed areas, under the grants made available by the Town and Country Planning Act? Why should this particular form of war damage be treated in a different way? These blitzed sites are the result of the hail of bombs and rockets which descended in the grim war years. Cities like London, Southampton, Portsmouth, and so on, will be proud to make some contribution to this very excellent purpose which the Minister has in mind, but I feel that the Exchequer also should help.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Mrs. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)
I think this Bill will be particularly useful to those local authorities who wish to benefit from it, but it will be quite useless for dealing with other local authorities because it contains no compulsion at all. A local authority which does not want to do anything will not take any steps in the matter. For my sins I happen to be a member of a local authority. Liverpool has done, perhaps, the least in straightening up the blitzed sites since the war finished. I think it is true to say that the central areas of Liverpool are the most disgusting in the whole of the country. No effort has been made to deal with the skeletons of buildings that are left and which week by week are deteriorating as a result of children going into them and because of the failure to build up the rubble which has fallen. Nobody is prepared to do anything about it.
When this Bill becomes an Act it will not compel the local authority in Liverpool to do anything at all. Knowing Liverpool as I do, and knowing that it is governed from a political point of view by a Conservative majority, the leader of which is much more interested in architecture than he is in straightening up the centre of the city, I do not think this Bill will have much effect in Liverpool at all. We have tried, through the local authority, to get agreements made with the owners of private property which has been blitzed, and every difficulty has been put in our way. Perhaps I may quote one or two of the difficulties so that the Minister may realise the difficulty under which we in Liverpool are labouring.
It was suggested that these blitzed sites in the central areas of the city which were not going to be used for some time and which were privately owned, should be used as playgrounds, particularly in the densely populated areas in the centre of Liverpool. Some negotiations took place with the owners, who said, "If the local authority want to take over these blitzed sites and want something done with them they must do it all. We are not prepared to do anything. In addition, who will take responsibility for any accidents that may happen to children playing on these private blitzed sites? "The private owners were not prepared to take any responsibility if an accident arose out 1096 of the land being filled up or spread over with clinkers and the stuff that comes from the electric supply stations, or if the children climbed over the railings instead of going through the gates. Neither the local authority nor the private owners would take the responsibility. In consequence, nothing was done and the sites remained in exactly the same condition.
The other matter that has been under consideration is the length of time which the War Damage Commission are taking to settle negotiations about particular sites. The local authority will not touch a brick on a private site because the owner may say, "That was my brick and you had no right to move it at all. Because you have moved it I shall claim additional war damage compensation." As a result, struggles have taken place on the local authority. I have asked innumerable questions, some of which I shall quote to the Minister in a few moments with the answers which have been given. Nothing has been done. Questions have been raised whether, following an accident on one of these sites, the site was an unseen trap, and all the legal procedure has been gone through in the local council for the purpose of doing nothing.
Until there is some sort of compulsion on authorities like Liverpool, I am afraid that very little will be done at all. The matter has been approached from the point of view of health and whether these blitzed sites with bricks and rubble on them are a danger to health. The medical officer of health has said that bricks are not a danger to health, so that he cannot give authority for the removal of rubble from the blitzed sites. We are just getting nothing done on these areas in Liverpool.
We have in the central area of Liverpool an old graveyard the railings of which, with the surrounding places, were damaged during the blitz. There are over 620 bodies there on the top, with no protection of any sort, and with all sorts of rubble planted upon them, with children playing on the tomb stones and digging underneath to the vaults. In fact, in one section of Liverpool they were playing with skulls that they had got out of the vaults. Liverpool will do nothing about that. No steps have been taken to deal with it, although the matter has been raised with the local authority time and time again. I and other people have 1097 drawn attention to it. The lack of railings resulted from the blitz; bombs dropped in the area, and the railings, the gate and the stone surround were knocked down. So there we have right in the centre, with buses passing backwards and forwards, 600 odd bodies of former prominent Liverpool citizens exposed to digging by children. Nobody is prepared to do anything about it at all.
When this Bill goes through, it will not force anybody in Liverpool to take any action. I would sooner have seen in a Bill of this sort some sort of compulsion placed on local authorities who are not prepared to do anything. It should be made their responsibility to clear these sites and make them less dangerous; and believe me, there are some very serious dangers in the centre of Liverpool. Perhaps from a political point of view I represent the biggest area of bad conditions in the centre of Liverpool.
A further matter which concerns us is what powers the local authorities have under this Bill when owners of property disappear and do not reappear until the local authority has done something to their property. There are plenty of sites in Liverpool the owners of which cannot be found. Nobody knows anything about them and the local authority will not do anything to any of the sites, because if they did, the owner on his return would claim in respect of the alteration which the local authority had made.
As far as the large sites are concerned, where there is going to be a lot of redevelopment, where industry and commerce is going on in the centre of Liverpool, those sites have been cleared up fairly well. The sections which have not been touched are those parts between shops and houses, perhaps between two shops or two houses, where a place has been partially demolished and parts of the building are sticking to the building next door. No attempt has been made to do anything about that.
Unless there is compulsion, the Minister should suggest to visitors to the Festival of Britain that if they want to look at something decent they had better keep away from Liverpool. The centre of Liverpool is a perfect disgrace, a bigger disgrace than I have seen in any area under any other local authority, and I do not think this Measure will persuade those who are governing Liverpool, from 1098 the commercial point of view, at any rate, to take any further steps than they have already taken.
I have asked questions extensively of the local authority in Liverpool, and I pressed for answers. The Leader of the Conservative Party in the council passed them to the Land Steward's Department. He passed the matter to the Director of Housing, he passed it to the Medical Officer of Health, and he passed it back again to the council. It was a sort of vicious circle, and so we got nowhere. I asked questions on 7th September this year. If I read the questions and answers to the House perhaps the Minister will get some idea of the peculiar situation that we have in Liverpool.
My first question was:What powers have the Corporation to remove debris from sites in the city belonging to private owners?The answer was:The Corporation has no powers to remove debris from privately owned sites unless the presence of the debris is injurious to health so as to constitute a statutory nuisance; and even in such cases the corporation can only act if the owner fails to do so following an order of the court. A survey has been recently undertaken by the Medical Officer of Health, who states that no site was found in such a condition that it could be deemed to be injurious to health within the meaning of the Public Health Act, 1936.The second question was:What powers the Corporation have to require private owners to remove debris?The answer was:The corporation can require owners to remove debris where it is injurious to health. The corporation may also possibly be able in extreme cases to take action under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, if it could be established that the amenity of the area was seriously injured by the condition of any particular site.The third question was:Have any steps been taken by the corporation to require owners to remove debris?The short answer to that was:No.The fourth question was:What steps have been or can be taken to prevent rubbish being dumped on vacant sites in the city?The answer was:It would seem that the only steps which can be taken are either to provide permanent watchmen on sites or to provide very substantial fencing around sites.1099 The fifth question was:Have the corporation any powers to prevent debris and rubbish being dumped on vacant sites?The answer was:Not unless the sites are owned by the corporation, in which case the corporation can only prevent the debris and rubbish being dumped by taking civil proceedings if the offender can be caught.The sixth question was:Has any attempt been made to get co-operation with private owners to clean up and keep clear vacant sites in the city?The answer in this case was:There has not been any general approach to private owners, but in certain cases where complaints have been received the attention of the owners of the sites has been drawn to the complaints.I think hon. Members will see that Liverpool Corporation are not prepared to do very much unless they are compelled.
The Bill is probably the result of discussions that have been taking place with the Association of Municipal Corporations, who have been concerned in this matter. I hope the Bill is not merely going to say to local authorities: "You can, if you want to, but if you don't want to you need not do anything," even though there is to be a Festival of Britain and people may be coming to look at the area. The Bill will only be of use to the local authority which is prepared to take some action. When the Bill is being discussed I hope it will be possible to include a new Clause to deal with local authorities who do not want to do anything and are not prepared to do anything, whether it is a question of cost or not, or whether they do not want to do certain sections of the work. It would be advisable to put something into the Bill to compel them to commence action, at any rate, especially in areas like Liverpool, so as to clear up the difficulties and the debris.
My only other point is to ask whether something can be done about voluntary people or private organisations taking on the work. While Liverpool has an unemployment figure of about 16,000, there might be some resentment if people were discovered to be doing voluntary work that could otherwise be done by those now unemployed. We have tried to get the local authorities to use unemployed people to clear up the debris, but again 1100 it comes down to cost. In areas about which I am talking, and particularly Liverpool, I am afraid very little will be done unless there is some compulsion or some possibility of obtaining a grant from the Government. To local authorities who will get on with the job the Bill gives an excellent opportunity, but with local authorities, particularly my own, who are not prepared to do anything, the Bill might as well not be on the Statute Book at all.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Western)
The hon. Lady thinks that the Bill cannot be good for Liverpool without compulsory powers placed by the Minister in the hands of the local authority, but I think she will recognise that if the Minister were to make these powers compulsory, he would also have to provide a grant. We cannot compel local authorities unless we make it financially possible for them to obey. The hon. and gallant Member for North Paddington (Captain Field) pointed out that in many cases the work would involve something like a 6d. rate. In these times, particularly against the background of our country's financial circumstances, can we expect the Minister of Health to advise the Prime Minister and the Cabinet that grants should be made available to help local authorities with work of this kind, desirable though it is, at a time when housing is to be cut down? Many of us felt considerable sympathy with the hon. Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Mrs. Middleton) and with my hon. Friend the Member for Woodbridge (Mr. Hare) who wanted grants to be made, but I cannot see how they could be made available in present circumstances.
In regard to Liverpool, I must inform the House that I am associated with companies which own property in Liverpool. Some of the property has been blitzed. It is only right to point out that although this property is in the centre of the city we have found the local authority most co-operative. Sites have been levelled, a car park has been established and the whole place has been cleaned up. It is running to the advantage of the local authority—
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
Service premises in a commercial area, yes.
I should now like to raise a different point. The Bill was ordered to be printed on 1st November. It came into the hands of hon. Members on 3rd November. It has come up for Second Reading today, 8th November. In my submission, that is pretty quick going for a Bill which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) has pointed out, contains matters of considerable complexity, particularly in Clause 11, and other clauses dealing with war damage payments. I do not complain unduly that we have had so short a time between Thursday, on which we had the Bill, and Tuesday, on which we have the Second Reading, because we get used to that kind of speed and have to work pretty hard on our week-ends.
Will the Minister, if possible, delay the Committee stage so that the Bill is not taken upstairs straight away? We shall then have time to consult not only local authorities, whose views we want upon the financial implications of the measures of which they are invited to avail themselves, but also professional bodies who can and ought to advise us about matters of the complexity of war damage payments—value payments, cost of works payments and so on. I hope the Minister will give us reasonable time to take advice on such matters.
My second point is that, since the primary purpose of the enabling powers with which local authorities are to be invested is the correction ofa condition detrimental to the amenities of the neighbourhood,a local authority which comes to the Minister and asks for compulsory powers ought to satisfy the Minister that the action which it proposes to take will improve the amenities of the area. I believe that in almost all cases it will do so.
I have been trying to think of some of the things which local authorities might want to do in availing themselves of the terms of the Bill. Laying out gardens is the obvious one, and that is referred to in the interpretation Clause. They might want to clear sites of such buildings as remain, level them and turn them into children's playgrounds, car parks, or pleasure gardens. They might also do as others are going to do and turn them into amusement departments, as is to be 1102 done in part of Battersea Park in connection with the Festival of Britain, use them as exhibition sites, or even cover them with some kind of temporary buildings.
My third point is that I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to give an assurance that neither the local authority nor anyone holding a lease under the local authority in the terms of the Bill should be given licences to do work which has been denied to the owners of the sites. I do not believe they will be and I believe that the whole thing will be cleared up by an assurance from the Minister, but I cannot see it in the Bill, although I believe it is implied that they would not be. We ought to be quite clear that that will not occur.
Here is another matter in which I must declare my interest. Companies with which I am concerned own damaged sites in various parts of the country, and one of those sites is one of the most conspicuous examples of bomb damage in the West End of London. It is an island site on the north side of Oxford Street in what is, I suppose, one of the most valuable shopping areas in the world. It is a great blitzed area with nearly 300 feet frontage to Oxford Street, completely open and exposed. I mention this because I believe that when hon. Members have personal experience of these things it sometimes helps in framing legislation to realise the background—
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
We have let the site free for a number of Government-sponsored exhibitions and have let a corner site free for the last two or three years to the Ministry of Agriculture in connection with recruiting of harvest help and so on.
As long ago as the summer of 1946—over three years ago—we submitted plans to the Ministry of Works for screening the site with a single row of temporary shops consisting of basement and a single storey along the whole frontage and going back to a depth of 50 to 55 feet. We made it clear that we should use practically no materials which were required for the housing drive. Partition walls would be of breeze blocks and not of bricks, and the shop fronts would be done by shop-front specialists, who are not required for 1103 the housing drive. There would be a minimum of timber, and as far as possible we would use salvaged materials, Moreover, we asked the technical Departments of the Ministry of Works if they could advise us as to any other way in which we might economise in the use of materials.
We put forward that plan in the summer of 1946 with the support of the St. Marylebone Borough Council on the north side and the Westminster City Council on the south side of Oxford Street as an attempt to clean up Oxford Street and make that wealthy shopping area as presentable as possible. These local authorities wanted to attract American and other visitors to this country, and while it was perhaps understandable that we should want these visitors to see some of our bombed areas, we thought it was also desirable that they should see that this country had taken steps to clean up the mess in our cities as much as possible.
The application was put up several times and was supported by the Ministry of Works, but it was turned down every time by the Board of Trade. It was put up every year and supported again by the local authorities on the grounds that we wanted to clean up Oxford Street and make it as tidy as possible, using practically no material which would hold up the housing drive. Year after year for three years the application has been turned down. We have now had a licence to screen a small part of the frontage, and that work has been done. I hope that there will be another licence for a further part.
I mention this because the House should realise that the owners of the sites in many cases are not at fault. I believe that in very few cases are they at fault. They have done everything possible to try to clean up our cities, but they have been prevented from doing so by their inability to obtain licences. We want to be quite clear when discussing this in Committee that we do not blame people for failure to do work which, in many instances, they have all along been anxious to do but have been prevented from doing by Government prohibition of one kind or another.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
That is a very fair point, but will the hon. Gentleman carry 1104 it to its logical conclusion? It may be that it is a question of priority.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
I could not agree more. I do not at all suggest that we ought to have priority for trading purposes over others whose need is greater, although in our case, at the request of the Board of Trade, we engaged in work in connection with the export trade which increased our need for stockroom facilities, thus putting great pressure on our retail trading activities. However, I leave that aside.
I agree with the hon. Member that there must be priorities in these matters, but when we are considering cleaning up the frontages of Oxford Street, doing so with little of the material that could be used in the housing drive and using, as we wanted to do, our own labour which had no W.B.A. priority, there were circumstances which might have made it reasonable for the Government Department concerned to allow us three, two or even one year ago to do exactly what they now ask local authorities to do in this Bill. Yet for three years we have been knocking our heads against what seemed to be a brick wall, and at last the Government are asking the local authorities to do work which we would have done a long time ago at our own expense.
In the case of compulsion an aggrieved party is given no right of appeal against the decision of the Minister although he can put his case in writing to the Minister, the Minister decides whether his land is to be requisitioned and intimates his decision to the local authority, which then takes action. Some of us will want to press this point on the Committee stage. I am sorry that it is not possible for the aggrieved party—that is to say, the individual or company whose land is being taken—to be given the right to state his case in person to a tribunal or to representatives of the Minister. In other, words, there ought to be a right of appeal or at least the right to appear in person and to state a case.
I know the Minister interrupted my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) several times to reiterate that no one ought to be aggrieved if his land were taken because it would not delay him in being able to do the 1105 work himself as soon as he received permission. I am not quite sure about that. I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Penrith and Cockermouth (Colonel Dower) that when a private owner has once had to give up his site, by compulsion perhaps, to a local authority, and that local authority either does the work itself or passes the site over under lease to someone else who does the work, it will be much more difficult, and certainly there will be delay in that individual getting his site back. Public money will have been spent on it—
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
My hon. Friend agrees that public money will have been expended and, if I have judged his intervention aright, he is of the view that if the local authority has expended the ratepayers' money in clearing up a site, it ought not to be given up.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
That reinforces what I feel, that once a local authority has taken possession and has done work on the site, it will be much more difficult for the individual to regain possession although his licences have come through. In any case, he can only regain possession with the consent of the Minister and that will delay things still further. It is quite evident that individuals will be aggrieved if their land is taken by compulsion. It is all the more important for that reason, that there should be a right of appeal.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Mellish (Rotherhithe)
The hon. Member for West Aberdeen (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) has followed the line taken by the Opposition since the commencement of the Debate on this Bill. Apart from one or two passing platitudes about how nice it will be for everybody to see a little green where there is now a lot of rubble, they come back to the same argument of the interests of the property owner. It tends to teach us on this side of the House the lesson that whatever Bill we discuss here, hon. Gentlemen 1106 opposite are quite prepared and willing to protect the privileges of their own class.
My own view is that if the local authority has taken over a site, developed it and made it attractive, and has done something which, to a large extent, the owner has not done, I do not think the local authority ought to give it up readily and willingly, and that it should be a matter for negotiation.
§ Colonel Dower
May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman because I would not like him to be under any misapprehension? Why he has introduced this party question, I do not know, but a number of us would be thoroughly in favour of compulsory acquirement. If a local authority spends a lot of money on the land, then let them compulsorily acquire it.
§ Mr. Mellish
I accept that. It is a change of front and I am pleased to hear there will be some co-operation on those lines; but to date all the remarks I have heard from the other side referred to the poor property owner whose property is an eyesore to everyone who goes near it and, if the local authority touches it, he wants assurances that he will get it back.
My reason for intervening is that, like most hon. Members on this side of the House, I have a parochial interest in this matter in that I am concerned about my own local authority not as regards the property owner but as regards the people of the borough. With my hon. Friend the Member for West Bermondsey (Mr. Sargood) I represent a constituency which bore the full brunt of the enemy attack, particularly at the beginning of the war. I do not want to adopt the attitude of "I have had better bombs than you have had," but my' borough has had more bomb damage from the point of view of acreage than any other borough in this country.
It is fair to say that Hitler tore the heart out of Bermondsey but that he did not destroy its soul, and Bermondsey today is a borough of 289 bombed sites. We have contacted some of the more progressive employers and have made arrangements with them whereby they will undertake certain works on their own account to make their sites more beautiful than they are at the moment, and some have agreed to foot the bill. That shows what can be done by negotiation 1107 tiation when a borough council is prepared to co-operate with good owners.
Under this Bill as it stands we cannot go on to do the things we want to do because we shall get no financial aid from the Government since ours is one of the London boroughs which do not qualify for any Treasury grant. It is all right for the Minister to say what ought to be done. We want to do it, but let me give my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary some indication of the cost. My Council obtained an estimate for fencing 21 housing sites controlled by them. It amounted to £3,000. We have 289 sites with which we are expected to deal and our rates at the moment are 19s. 4d. in the pound. It is not our intention to spend money on these sites unless we get some aid, not only from the War Damage Commission which is a doubtful source of income; we want to know before we beautify these sites whether or not the Treasury are prepared to help much further in this direction. The financial provisions of the Bill take no account of this burden.
The local authorities which already, under the Local Government Act, 1948, qualify for a share of the Exchequer equalisation grant are entitled to further grants—and Birmingham comes out of this very well—
§ Mr. Mellish
—but those authorities who, like London, have no such shares will be required to meet this new burden without Government assistance. A London borough such as mine, with all the difficulties facing it today, cannot be expected to go ahead with the proposals of the Bill without help. I beg the Parliamentary Secretary, before we reach the Committee stage, to come to some arrangement with local authorities such as mine to deal with this matter.
Under the Bill the first criterion for action by a local authority is whether or not land is deemed to be detrimental to the amenities of the neighbourhood. A further condition is that the land must be war damaged. The Bill does not extend to land which has become detrimental to amenities by reason of industrial development—for example, slag heaps and similar eyesores. Bermondsey is a typical borough where, because of 1108 industrial development, we have sites which were derelict even before the war. The property-owning democracy, we are told, are so much concerned with people and their welfare, yet Bermondsey has been the victim of industrial development and exploitation on their part. Because of an absence of planning in the past, residential areas mingle closely with industrial premises.
Firms have gone from Bermondsey, throwing many people out of work in consequence, hoping that at a later date they would be able to sell their property. Because of the neglect which followed, places of this kind have become eyesores, but are still owned by private employers. They are not, of course, classified as war damage. One of the major problems which now faces my council and others is whether to beautify only those sites which are damaged by war because we might receive a little help for doing so, and whether or not we should neglect the other kind of site.
Bermondsey has already anticipated the Bill by calling for a voluntary effort on the part of its people, who have done a fine job through voluntary organisations on a number of sites. Certain employers have co-operated with us, but our problem is so vast that we need aid from the Government on a national level before ever we can achieve the objects underlying the Bill.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Braddock (Mitcham)
From the speeches I have heard it does not seem to me that there will be much chance of a great deal being done by the Bill. The owners of property, as was made evident by the hon. Member for West Aberdeen (Mr. Thornton - Kemsley), seem to regard the Bill as something which will give them a better lever to get licences from the Ministry of Works. If the Bill has done nothing else, it has given the hon. Member for West Aberdeen the chance of a good grumble about the way he has been treated by the licence issuing authority. He seems to forget, however, that the responsible Ministry dealing with shops has, apparently, considered his case time after time and come to the conclusion that no more shops are at present necessary in that part of Oxford Street.
§ Mr. Braddock
Let me finish. As I know their site very well, I should like to congratulate the hon. Member and his company on the way they have tidied it up. I do not think, however, that we are justified in using concrete blocks and windows, or either metal or wood, which can be used in house building, for a purpose of this sort.
The Bill is a challenge to the people and to local government authorities. The Government, and my right hon. Friend who introduced the Bill, are to be congratulated on being well ahead of the community, whose conscience is becoming alive to the needs of the future. Probably for the first time in our history no one will be able to look back and say, "But for that Government we could not have done this, that or the other." Although I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Mellish) that it is a pity that the Bill is limited in scope to bombed damaged sites only, it represents a very good start. We have achieved the thin end of the wedge and the principle has been established. I have not the slightest doubt that during their next five years of power the Government will produce an amending Bill to rectify this deficiency.
Many of my colleagues have suggested that the Government would be wise to give financial help to local authorities who cannot at present meet the financial obligations which the Bill entails. It is somewhat difficult, however, for the Government, who are continually being called upon to provide bigger and better armaments, to find money for these purposes. If our responsibilities in other directions could be lessened—and we all hope that they will be lessened in the very near future; I know that the Government are working very hard to that end—I have not the slightest doubt that another amending Bill will be introduced when the Government will be enabled to free a lot of money for the furtherance of the very desirable objects of the Bill.
I do not regard the Bill as a short-term Measure. I know that the period of five years is referred to, but we shall not be able to clear up all the mess in this country within that time. I believe that in the not very distant future, especially with the better education and opportunities now given to them, young people will be asking "Why must we live next 1110 door to a dump like that, with all this rubbish lying about? Cannot we do something to clear it up?" Immediately the Bill is enacted people will approach their local authority. The local authority, of course, will shake their heads—very often they know nothing about these matters—but the young people will point out that the Labour Government has passed a Bill giving them an opportunity of obtaining possession of the site with which they want to deal.
In the not very distant future many people who at present derive their enjoyment at dog racing, football matches and diversions of that kind will want to do something which will give them greater satisfaction. We know that most people are fond of gardening and turn to it as a recreation. There will come the spirit that not only must people's little back and front gardens look well, but that every open space must be as good as the best of our gardens. The Bill will give to local authorities the power to encourage this spirit, and it will not be very many years before the people, particularly the younger ones, will insist that the dumps dealt with in the Bill are cleared up. I congratulate the Government on introducing the Bill. They are right in the forefront of public thought and, because they have done this in this year 1949, they will receive the thanks of the community at no very distant date.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Sparks (Acton)
I have great pleasure in supporting the Bill, because I believe it will bring great advantages, particularly to those areas and constituencies which have suffered severely from enemy action. I cannot understand the criticism of the Bill which has come from some of the Members of the Opposition. It is quite clear that a number of war damaged sites are strewn about the country and have remained in a very bad condition for some years, and that in some cases, because of low priorities in the issue of licences for rebuilding, it may be some time before development can take place. If a site is derelict and strewn with rubbish and a liability to the owner, and then the Government say that they will take over the land until the owner is in a position to develop it, that they will spend money upon it, fence it in and also give compensation for the use of it until such time as the owner wants it, what 1111 more do the Opposition want? I should have thought they would jump at such a proposal.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
Surely the hon. Member is not suggesting that any hon. Member on this side of the House has said that in principle that is not a good thing? That has been said repeatedly, as I am sure he will agree. Criticism from this side has been directed to points of procedure under the Bill whereby it can be improved.
§ Mr. Sparks
I am glad that the hon. Member agrees that so far as that point is concerned the Bill is a good one, but he knows that in view of the general shortages in building materials there must be a system of priorities and the most urgent schemes should receive priority in the way of rebuilding.
I am not quite clear where the sanction for rebuilding on a cost of works site stands so far as housing is concerned in relation to the new policy of the Government as to private building of houses to let, or for sale. We know the Government have decided to reduce the number of private licences issued from now on. It is important that we should have a statement from the Minister as to whether cost of works schemes are included, or not included in that arrangement. I think that cost of works rebuilding schemes concerned with houses are quite separate and distinct from the question of private licences for general house building. That point should be stressed.
In my constituency we have suffered from enemy action, although not so badly as a good many London constituencies. We have a substantial number of large and small sites on which previously there were houses. Many of those houses were leasehold and the leases have not many more years to run. Consequently, the leaseholder has very little interest in the redevelopment of such sites as in a few years time he would lose possession completely. I feel there is a case to be made out for the local authority stepping in and doing something with such sites.
As has been emphasised by nearly everyone who has spoken from this side of the House, those sites are an eyesore to the community and are places where all kinds of rubbish is dumped to the 1112 detriment of the area concerned. At the moment the local authority has no power to enter into possession of them, nor to fence them in. Also, there is no easy way of compelling an owner to fence such a site and, consequently, they remain an eyesore.
We suffer from a serious shortage of land in my constituency. We want more land for allotment purposes and we know that more food production is urgent. There are many people in my borough who would be glad to take over a little land and cultivate it as an allotment. What could be better than to make use of the vacant war damaged sites for cultivation of allotments, if only for a few years, thereby helping to increase the food production of the country?
I am quite satisfied that this Bill gives my local authority greater power to use vacant pieces of land, make the necessary improvement upon them and hand them over to a voluntary organisation to manage. In the case of allotments we have a live gardening association, which would manage these small sites for the local authority. Also, in a built-up area such as my constituency and many London constituencies, we seriously lack open spaces for the parking of cars and too many of our children have nowhere to play but in the streets. That is bad from a road safety point of view and from the health point of view. There are many bombed sites which could be used by the local authority as playing spaces for children, which would take them off the streets to places where they could play in safety, away from traffic. If for no other reason, I welcome the Bill because it will give local authorities power to make use of these open spaces in the general interests of the community and the improvement and increase of the amenities of the neighbourhood.
If there is one complaint I wish to make against the Bill, it is that which one or two hon. Members on this side of the House have already made. I do not think the Bill goes far enough as it limits the power of the local authority to temporary acquisition of these sites. I feel there is a sound case to be made out for the point of view, which has been put forward, that local authorities should have powers of compulsory acquisition in suitable cases so that a site may be permanently acquired. If it can be permanently 1113 acquired, a local authority will more readily spend money on cleaning it up and laying it out, knowing that it is public property and will not be taken back in a short period of time. I hope my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will look at that point, because in built-up areas it is very difficult to get small parcels of land. This is a means by which the power of the local authority can be increased to enable it to acquire small sites for the general benefit of the community.
I hope the Bill will have a successful passage through the House and I am confident that it is a step forward in the right direction. I hope that as soon as it is placed on the Statute Book my right hon. Friend will follow it up and see that local authorities actually make use of these powers. It is all very well to give a permissive power in an Act of Parliament, but we ought to insist that where a Measure deserves an Act of Parliament it should be a duty and obligation on local authorities to carry out its provisions.
Otherwise we know that in many of these areas—Liverpool has been mentioned—the provisions of this Bill are likely to remain a dead letter because the people in control of the local authority are not interested in exercising these powers. At a later stage of the Bill there ought to be included in it an obligation upon local authorities to carry out its provisions if it is to be the Measure which we desire it to be in effecting a general improvement in standards of amenities throughout the country.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)
I wish to make some observations upon this Bill, to support a number of constructive suggestions made by my hon. Friends who have made appeals for direct financial grants to aid authorities in carrying out this work, and to conclude by making a short analysis of the Bill and by contrasting the treatment of those who suffered from five years' damage compared with the treatment of those who have suffered for 50 years.
Why and on what grounds or upon what basis has the period been laid down as "not exceeding five years." I know that the Bill states that the Minister has authority to increase the period to not more than 10 years, and it is upon that 1114 aspect of the matter that I feel uneasy. Supposing, for example, that a local authority decides to take action under this Bill and as a result of that decision spends thousands of pounds. Too many speakers seem to have approached the problem in a rather narrow way, with the exception of one or two Members on this side of the House.
Let us consider the case of huge cities which have had large areas absolutely devastated, Manchester for example. Upon one huge area in that city, known as the Victoria site, many buildings stood, including a large hotel which was completely devastated. Large cellars were left and months and months of work had to be done on the site, first in taking out the valuable material there, then filling in the site, levelling it off and then putting good soil over that huge area, afterwards laying it out with grass, trees and shrubs. That remarkable change needed to be effected many years ago in a large built-up area like that, but because the site was not available the change could not be carried out. But what is to be the position of the local authority, which has carried out that work and incurred that expenditure, at the end of five years or at the end of 10 years?
According to the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) this Bill is complicated by the fact that 10 other Acts of Parliament are involved. Is that so?
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
The point I made was that 10 other Acts of. Parliament are either referred to or applied in the course of this Bill and in order properly to understand it one has to refer to those Acts.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I have had no legal experience in matters of property interests but I have had a fair amount of experience about what could take place in the case of workman's compensation prior to the Government introducing the new Measure dealing with that subject. I know the legal quibbling that went on for months. When property interests are affected how much time can be taken up? That must be a very serious consideration when nine or 10 other Acts of Parliament are involved. I shall return to that point later.
The Victoria site in Manchester to which I have referred now attracts the 1115 admiration of all those who pass it and who knew it as it was at the termination of hostilities. What has been done is a great improvement and that site is now one of beauty. This is the kind of improvement which is required in all our cities, and in particular in places where war damage has been done. It is the kind of improvement which is urgently necessary. The people who own the sites have now had four years since the termination of hostilities, and in my view now that it is proposed that action may be taken on the grounds specified in the Bill, such sites ought not, after expenditure on the scale of which I am speaking, to revert to their previous ownership; there should be facilities to enable that change to be brought about. Accordingly, I believe it is wrong to limit the benefits of this Bill to a maximum period of 10 years.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
Surely what the hon. Member is now arguing is that there is a requirement in certain cities for certain open spaces in perpetuity? Surely he would agree that in respect of those spaces the proper procedure to be followed is that of compulsory purchase so that they will never revert to the present owner? That is not what this Bill is about.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
If that is done that is all right, but there have been many difficulties in the way of doing that. Progress in that way has been held up for so long that what I am arguing is that if improvements are brought about by the method proposed in the Bill the period of duration of them should not be fixed at five years or a maximum of 10 years.
I have looked at Clauses 7, 8 and 9, and while I am bound to be guided by others upon this matter I am very suspicious that the provisions will inevitably give rise to protracted legal proceedings. Once that process begins it can occupy a good deal of time. I very much welcome Clause 12, which deals with the disposal of rubble, etc., especially subsection (1). That seems to be very satisfactory, but when this rubble has been cleared away by the local authority is any charge to be made to the owners of the land? What is to be the position in that respect? That should be cleared up by the Parliamentary Secretary. 1116 One of my hon. Friends has said that this clearance might cost his authority a 10d. rate and several of my hon. Friends who have spoken have also been very concerned about the effect upon the rates. [Interruption.] It is a 6d. rate in one case but 10d. in another.
As the whole nation was in the war the logic is that the whole nation should accept the responsibility for financing these improvements. That is surely elementary logic and reasonableness. I should say that London suffered most, then probably Plymouth, Hull and Bootle. Other places suffered, but there are many parts of the country which did not suffer. Is it right, therefore, that the financial responsibility for the restoration of these sites or for their temporary improvement should be borne by the local authorities within those limited areas which suffered from bombing? Should they not be borne by the whole nation in view of the fact that we were all involved in the war?
Turning to another aspect of the matter, Manchester for example is really concerned about the urgent need for the provision of car parks. Will local authorities have the right to carry out work of this description, because "amenities" is open to a wide interpretation. Local authorities can say, "This is an amenity, that is an amenity," and there can be great divergence of opinion as to what is an amenity and what is not. When the reply to the Debate is being made I should like to know whether it would be an amenity—in my view it would—to provide car parks with modern facilities on sites with which this Bill is concerned in large cities such as Manchester. But if this expenditure is incurred on work of that description what will be the position at the end of five years, or at the end of the maximum period of 10 years? In view of the alterations that would be carried out is it fair that the local authorities should remain in this uncertain position?
In many industrial areas we have had damaged sites for 50 years. Acts of slum clearance have been carried out but in many cases nobody has bothered about how those sites have been left. Rubble, glass and bricks have been left and there is a terrible state of affairs in those areas. I consider that this Bill is a step in the right direction, but surely when this 1117 action of a limited character is being taken, which mainly arises out of what is to take place in 1951, it is time that we who represent areas which have suffered not for five, but for 50 years, should stake out our claim. I support what is to happen in 1951; no one supports it more wholeheartedly than I do. But take the city which I have the privilege of representing. It is undermined and has suffered for 50 years from the acute problem of subsidence. The town hall is propped up, churches, chapels and schools have wide cracks in the walls, roads are tilted, and the greatest problem of all is the housing of the people in those areas.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
What I am saying is that if it is right to take action of this limited character, then it is all the more urgently necessary that action should be taken where wealth has poured out for generations. No matter whose responsibility it is, the time has arrived when the whole nation which has benefited from what has been taken from beneath these cities, should face up to its responsibilities and assist the local authorities.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
The hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) has put this discussion on a very much more correct line than some other hon. Members who have spoken. The truth is that the English have always been an extremely untidy people. This Bill is merely the casting of some rose leaves on the muddy waters of English life. Local authorities in the past have had power to do what they liked with their own, and yet they have allowed their town halls to be propped up and their roads to be disturbed—
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I had better remember Parliamentary procedure, but this is very provocative. It is really the whole nation that has benefited from the millions of pounds of wealth in the form of coal which has been taken from under those cities.
§ Sir W. Darling
I entirely agree that the nation has benefited by the removal of coal from underneath these cities, but the fact remains that this Bill brings nothing new to the powers of local authorities. 1118 In the general sense they always have had the power and authority to make their cities places of decency, of beauty and of life. It does not require this Bill to give them that opportunity. But in many instances their property has been neglected. I repeat that the English are a wasteful and feckless people. Their public parks prove the truth of my contention. They belong to the people, they are owned by the people and controlled by the local authority; and yet the litter in them is a disgrace.
This Bill, presented by the Minister of Health and supported by the Lord President, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, does not impress me very much. If ever there was a sprat to catch a mackerel, this kind of legislation would certainly come within that category. This is not an important piece of legislation. Anything that is likely to be done could be done by common agreement. If the local authority said to the proprietors of property in bombed areas, "You can do nothing with this property, you cannot develop it, because of the Town and Country Planning Act; you cannot develop it, because of the shortage of labour; you cannot develop it, because there are no materials; you cannot develop it, because you have no licence; so will you allow the local authority to have possession of it and do it up?"—if the local authority said that, there is no owner of that kind of property anywhere in the United Kingdom who would not welcome the opportunity to hand it over, with no charge whatsoever, for the local authority to carry out their purpose.
I agree that there is a big field in that direction but I do not agree that it requires this House to stimulate the action required. Intelligent local authorities accustomed to doing things, have already done it. I will not particularise the local authorities to which I refer, but their work will be known to anyone who happens to know the constituency which I represent.
This Measure is mainly a London Measure. I see the hand of the Lord President of the Council seeking to get more public money for the resuscitation and rehabilitation of London. I am one of those who believe—and I have said it before—that it may well be a bad 1119 thing to re-build London. I consider that London is much too large. These unfortunate happenings during the war might well be a blessing. I would reduce progressively the population of London by 100,000 every 10 years, and the rest of the community would greatly benefit. London as devised under the London County Council—a centralised government for many years—has become a sprawling web requiring much public money to be spent on it to keep it in some sort of order. That is the duty of the London County Council who require no Bill of this kind to make them do their duty. Have the London County Council asked any proprietor of a devastated site to allow them to put it in order, and been refused? I know of no such application which has been refused.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Blenkinsop)
We cannot allow the hon. Member to go on in this way without some sort of elucidation of the point. It is simply because there is so much doubt about the power of local authorities that this Bill has been presented.
§ Sir W. Darling
I am willing to agree that there may be some doubt about the powers of local authorities, but can the Parliamentary Secretary tell me of any proprietor of a devastated site who has refused permission to the local authority to tidy up that site and make it into a place of beauty, decency and order? I suggest that he knows of no such instance, and I should be happy to know of any local authority which has made such an intelligent advance and has been rebuffed.
Many fruitful suggestions have been made in this Debate. The suggestion by the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) is an admirable one, that the provision of children's playgrounds and car parks, are uses to which these devastated sites might be put. Every opportunity should be given to do that kind of work. But we are told that there is a shortage of labour and that labour should not be diverted unnecessarily. Is this the best way that labour could be utilised, in this titivating and decorating of our bomb damaged areas? I am glad to see that under Clause 9 there are very severe restrictions. I like to think that local authorities will not be encouraged to plunge into this expenditure but rather 1120 that they will be discouraged from doing so. They will do the decent minimum and content themselves with simply tidying up in the present circumstances. More than that, with the present shortage of labour and materials, I do not think they should be encouraged to do.
There is one suggestion I should like to make. In one case these places have been used to provide seats for aged people and persons who like to look at the traffic passing by. The provision of seats for aged people might well be considered. There is one aspect which will not be very popular because it runs counter to the sentiments which most Government supporters hold. Many of these sites have been artistically improved by the erection of suitably placed posters. There is a notable one in Piccadilly which is the example I have in mind. There is a good deal of prejudice against them, but I have always favoured posters. I have gathered a number of interesting facts in an otherwise not very well-furnished mind from the posters—even from those issued by the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Transport and by His Majesty's Government. Let us use some of these sites for posters. It would encourage the artists, it would develop the printing trade, and there are many who can only assimilate knowledge when it is put before them in that fashion.
In this Bill the Government thought that they would put up something of a sentimental character which would attract people of untidy minds who have done nothing in the past, to look forward to doing something in the future. I do not think that very much will be done. The local authorities are already engaged in far too many activities of too diverse a kind to go far in this direction. But I hope that some city architect or planning officer, or some city committee, will make a start in this matter. Heaven knows, a start should be made very soon in some of the areas which are supposed to have been devastated by capitalism, which probably have been attacked by bombing, but which are living monuments to the untidiness of the English mind.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Royle (Salford, West)
Most of us have been sitting here during the afternoon and part of the evening trying to bring our minds to bear upon this 1121 Bill, but the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) walks into the Chamber at a very late stage in the Debate and engages in a lively attack upon a Bill which he does not seem to have studied very seriously. I would only say, when he introduces his frivolities in reference to England versus Scotland, that he might very profitably go to certain parts of that, in many ways beautiful city of Edinburgh, and, not very far from the Palace of Holyrood, he will find some of the worst slums in Europe. Before he starts to make an attack about the neglect of the City of London or any other part of England, I suggest that he might put his own house in order. I am sure that without coming South of the Border he could find much to curb his enthusiasm.
I want to come back to the Bill which concerns the whole of Great Britain. I shall be much more generous than the hon. Gentleman and say that I should like this Measure to apply to Scotland just as it applies to England.
§ Sir W. Darling
I think that the OFFICIAL REPORT will confirm that I never mentioned Scotland in the whole of my remarks. If the hon. Gentleman is not aware of the fact, I should like to tell him that this Bill applies to Scotland just as it applies to England.
§ Mr. Royle
I know quite well that the Bill applies to Scotland as it applies to England. I was merely about to express my fervent hope that it will be used in Scotland as much as it is used in England. We know that the hon. Gentleman did not mention Scotland during his speech. We have become accustomed to the hon. Gentleman's speeches over the past four and a half years, and we know the amount of seriousness to attach to them.
I cannot resist making a parochial speech concerning a city to which Manchester lies in close proximity—the city of Salford. It is a city about which we do not hear very much in this House, but it is one which is most interested in this Bill. Naturally, I think that those taking part in this Debate started with the question at the back of their minds of what will happen in their constituencies. As a result of this Bill I envisage a much brighter and more colourful Salford.
It is not without significance that the speeches made from this side of the 1122 House have come from hon. Members whose constituencies suffered severely from war damage, whereas I think it would be fair to say that we have not had a single speech from an hon. Member opposite whose constituency was seriously damaged during the war. Our point of view has been that of deeply interested constituencies, whether industrial or dormitory. We have been wondering what this Bill will do for our constituencies, whereas it is not unfair to say that, in the main, hon. Gentlemen opposite have been concerned about the effect of this Bill on the private ownership of property. We face the issue in a very different mood from that of hon. Members opposite.
In my division at the next General Election there will be eight wards, one of which is a suburban ward. The remaining seven are in a state of squalor. That is not an exaggeration. It is a state of squalor which has existed since the Industrial Revolution and has become steadily worse. Unfortunately—or fortunately for the suburban ward—it happens that that suburban ward was the one which was not affected by war damage. In the seven miserable wards there was war damage. There is another factor which runs true to form. The suburban ward is the one which has the open playing spaces and parks for the children. The seven wards which are much poorer are almost completely devoid of open spaces and playing places for children.
I look at this Bill with those seven wards in my mind. I picture what could be done. My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. Braddock) said that this was a challenge to the local authorities. I shall return to my local authority from this House to beg of them to accept the challenge and to make use of these bombed spaces to bring some beauty into a city which is short of beauty. I welcome the Bill with tremendous enthusiasm. We can examine the snags and the difficulties and the other ten Acts of Parliament when we come to the Committee stage.
This House ought to tell the Minister of Health how we appreciate this opportunity for local authorities to take possession of these sites and to use them for five or ten years in an endeavour to make them attractive and thus to beautify the cities in which they exist. My 1123 division is short of colour and I welcome an opportunity to bring colour to it. Whether or not in 1951 we shall all be enthusiastic about the Festival of Britain, I am satisfied that this Bill gives us a real opportunity to have a festival in Salford.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. H. D. Hughes (Wolverhampton, West)
Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for West Salford (Mr. Royle) and many other speakers from this side of the House, I represent a constituency which was fortunate in not suffering a very great deal of war damage, and I am therefore conscious of the major defect of this Bill even more than I am of the advantages that it will bring to those local authorities which suffered more heavily in the war. Like my hon. Friend, I also represent a constituency with a surrounding neighbourhood much of which is squalid and which has been blitzed, not by war, but by a generation of industrial damage and neglect ever since the Industrial Revolution, and I deeply regret that, when the Ministry of Health was giving these powers to local authorities, they confined them as narrowly as they have done in this Bill.
I feel that I and many other hon. Members who represent similar constituencies will have to go to our hon. Friends like the hon. Member for West Salford and ask them to lend us some of their bomb stories, because that is the only way in which to get the powers we need to go into the areas of derelict land and clean them up. I can see quite a lot of anomalies arising under this Bill. I live in London in an area where there has been some bomb damage and a good deal of neglect for decades. In the area in which I live, there are open spaces and derelict houses, some the result of the war and many others, next door to them, the result of a generation of neglect.
What is the position of a local authority in an area like that going to be? They must look at particular sites and say, "Well, we suppose that a bomb dropped on this house, and therefore we can clean it up under this Bill. Next door, we have a site in exactly the same condition which is simply the result of neglect, and, in this case, we must fall back on the Town and Country Planning Act. All we can do under that Act 1124 is conditional on our being able to argue that the area is seriously injured by the condition of this site, and then we can force the owner of the site to do something to clear it up, but we cannot lease it and do the work ourselves under the short-term procedure of this Bill." I am afraid that these two procedures—the one dealing with an area of neglect arising from the war, in which case the authority is given these powers, and the other an exactly similar site side by side, whose condition is not due to war damage, which has to rely on the procedure of the Town and Country Planning Act—will lead to a good deal of anomaly and confusion.
The main point which I want to make, however, concerns the possibility of action being taken under this Bill, and under the inferior powers given by other Acts of Parliament, to get something done to clean up the derelict areas of this country over the next 12 or 18 months. A number of speakers in this Debate have talked about the difficulties, the problem of labour shortage and about all the economic difficulties with which the country is faced, and there is no doubt that one of the main difficulties of local authorities which are given powers under this Bill will be this problem of labour shortage.
In a question to the Lord President the other day, I put forward a suggestion that, in connection with the Festival of Britain, a campaign might be inaugurated in consultation with local authorities to enlist the services of voluntary organisations and individuals in beautifying urban areas by the removal of industrial blight, the restoration of derelict land and the planting of trees and shrubs, and the Lord President said that he hoped that many matters of this kind, such as the removal of eyesores, would be carried out as labours of love by volunteers. I believe there is considerable scope under this Bill and even wider than this Bill if we can capture the imagination of our local authorities and people, and in particular our young people, for real achievement which will not be done if we regard it as something which has to be left to a large programme of capital investment and all the rest of it.
I have been exploring possibilities in my own constituency, as other hon. Members have no doubt done, and I am 1125 attending a conference with my own local authority this week to see what can be achieved. I know that I need scarcely appeal to the Minister of Health, with his Celtic imagination, and the Parliamentary Secretary, who has a great love for amenity and great experience of young people's organisations and voluntary organisations, to throw the weight of their Ministry between now and the Festival of Britain behind a campaign to get local authorities all over the country really examining what can be done to utilise the enthusiasm of the voluntary organisations, and the youth organisations in particular in this way.
The Ministry of Health and the Festival of Britain authorities could give a lead to them and to the local authorities to get them to draw up lists of projects which are suitable for execution largely by voluntary labour with a minimum of technical supervision and advice from the local authority. If the local Press, for example, would organise competitions for suggestions from organisations as to what they were prepared to do, or from individuals on what can be done, some very illuminating suggestions might come forward which might not occur to the official mind.
Having got a list of projects, the local authorities concerned could then call conferences with all the voluntary organisations in the area, and very considerable support might be obtained. This can be done at this particular stage of our history because of the existence in most parts of the country of full employment. My hon. Friend the Member for the Exchange division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock) was quite right in saying that there might be some difficulty in getting voluntary labour in certain areas of the country where there are still pockets of unemployment. In the Midlands and many other parts of the country, where nearly every able-bodied person has got a job and another is waiting for him, there is no difficulty of that kind at this time. The hesitation which some trade union leaders might feel if full employment was not continued at the present level, does not therefore arise.
When one thinks of the Black Country, one thinks of clearing up the dumps and the slag heaps, and if bombs happen to have been dropped we may be able to deal with some of them under this Bill. 1126 A great deal was done on these lines before the war; at Oakengates in Shropshire, for example, the International Student Service cleared a 60,000-ton pit heap by voluntary labour. There is much that can be done to clear up derelict land, to convert disused ponds in derelict pits into boating lakes, and in the planting of trees, shrubs and flowers and converting these derelict areas into places of amenity and recreation for the local population. The youth organisations could be used to establish playing fields, of which many areas are desperately short, and this can be done with a certain provision of material and supervision by the local authorities, but mainly by voluntary labour.
Three years ago, during a short visit to Denmark, I saw in Copenhagen something of what can be done by a municipality with voluntary help in a campaign for cleaning up its own city. Copenhagen and many other of the northern cities are examples of what can be done in tidiness, neatness and cleanliness by stimulating both municipal and voluntary effort in the right direction, and it is something which might very well be tried on a larger scale in this country. Coming nearer to the provisions of the Bill on the subject of war damage, we should look at what has been done since the end of the war, to some extent by voluntary labour, in places like Warsaw and the blitzed cities of Eastern Europe.
I should like to quote from the "Wolverhampton Chronicle" on this issue. It said this in a recent leader:If once we could recapture the lost spirit of communal service, we should be a long way on the road to national prosperity. Once the ordinary man discovers the joy of putting more into national and local life than he takes out of it he will not be satisfied with the mediocre, either in his leisure or working hours.We discovered during the war that there were great resources of public service, enthusiasm and initiative which could be won from our young people and from our older people in warden and A.R.P. services, and in all kinds of public service, and that the people felt a sense of satisfaction in performing those tasks. It is our duty now, at the end of the war, to recapture that spirit for the tasks of peace which are no less challenging and no less important to our national recovery. The Festival of Britain gives us a chance 1127 to focus this spirit once again in our national life. I appeal to the Minister not merely to rely on the narrow legalistic phrases of this Bill, but to use the Measure as one more weapon in a campaign which can lead to a cleaner and brighter Britain, won by the public service and the public spirit of our people.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Shurmer (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
Much has been said in this Debate to boost this Bill, and although I do not wish to keep the House at this late hour, I cannot allow this opportunity to pass without saying a few words on the subject. I happen to live in, and to represent, a constituency which was very badly blitzed during the war. It is true that we did not have a long blitz, but it was very sharp and did a lot of damage. I have continually appealed to my local authority to do something to clear up the blitzed sites. Most of the hon. Members representing London boroughs who have taken part in this Debate have spoken as though the bombed buildings are still on the blitzed sites in those boroughs. I must congratulate Birmingham on the way it has cleared up its bombed buildings. Nevertheless, those sites are now being used by people for the dumping of bricks, old perambulators and car parts, and on which to park lorries at night. Strange to say, those sites are right in the heart of a very poor district.
I know that the local authority would welcome the power to deal with these bombed sites. I have already been able to get local agents to agree to two large sites in my Division being used by young boys as cycling tracks. They have temporary lighting at night, and visiting teams are coming along. I must say that some of the agents have been very co-operative in allowing this, but nevertheless there is no obligation on them to allow this sport, which has the effect of keeping the boys off the streets with their racing cycles.
I have also been in touch with my city surveyor on the subject of getting youth clubs to clear away the rubble on these bombed sites, provided the local authorities are prepared to use their transport for taking it away. The local authorities say that they have no power whatever to allow people to go on these sites. I agree 1128 with the hon. Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. H. D. Hughes) that here is an opportunity for the Minister to appeal to the youth of the country to do something voluntarily. We in Birmingham are very fortunate because we have practically no unemployment at the present time. The position today is far different from what it was four years after the First World War, when we had 60,000 unemployed. Nevertheless, I believe that we could get plenty of voluntary labour for the clearing of the sites. There is no need to use much material by way of fencing, and it would take only a very small amount of money to lay out gardens on these sites.
Some months ago I had a fight with my council about the cleanliness of the streets. No doubt many will remember a photograph in the Press showing me in the act of sweeping the streets. I still do it in order to encourage the people who live there to follow my example. After all, during the war we were prepared to do all sorts of jobs, so why should we not now be prepared to do something to beautify our cities in peacetime? I hope that the Minister will take note of what the hon. Member for West Wolverhampton has said, and try and get in touch with those local bodies who are prepared to undertake the job of beautifying our cities.
§ Mr. Mellish
Is not my hon. Friend going to say something about the money necessary for carrying out this work?
§ Mr. Shurmer
Yes, I agree. Birmingham is very fortunate in receiving a rate equalisation grant, whereas the London boroughs do not. I should be prepared to support the London boroughs in their application for an equal share with regard to this particular aspect. I hope that the Minister will take steps to see that this work is done and that local authorities are encouraged to do the job.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lipton (Brixton)
While I am not so enthusiastic about this Bill as some of my hon. Friends who have immediately preceded me, I nevertheless welcome it. It is quite clear that for some considerable time past this problem has exercised the minds of local authorities, particularly the Metropolitan boroughs I recall that on 3rd June last year, I asked my right hon. Friend the Minister of 1129 Health whether he would take steps to extend the powers of local authorities to enable them to deal with the inconvenience arising from the misuse of bombed sites as rubbish dumps. At that time, he seemed to be under the impression that the Public Health Acts already gave local authorities the necessary powers to deal with such nuisances; but, as was made clear by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary when he intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling), the legal position up to the time of the introduction of this Bill has been most unsatisfactory.
In the Metropolitan borough of Lambeth, the Brixton Division of which I have the honour to represent, I have for some years past received numerous complaints from constituents relating to the misuse of bombed sites, and to the inconvenience caused, not only as the result of dumping rubbish on these sites, but also to the nuisance arising out of the misuse by evilly disposed persons of derelict and bomb-damaged houses which have not yet been removed, but which have not been made inaccessible to the casual passer-by.
In the Borough of Lambeth the removal of debris from the sites was a service which the Metropolitan borough council did perform, particularly after the war, but upon being informed by the Ministry of Health that such expenditure was not reimbursable, the practice had to be discontinued, to the profound and justifiable dissatisfaction of many people living in the borough. It was the case that although these rubbish dumps were a general nuisance and undoubtedly were injurious to amenities, nevertheless they were not a nuisance within the strict legal significance of the Public Health Acts. I am very glad that the Minister has changed his mind on the subject and does not now maintain the position he then adopted, that the Public Health Acts gave the local authorities sufficient powers for them to deal with this problem.
So far as the London boroughs are concerned, the situation from the financial point of view under this Bill is not satisfactory, and I doubt whether even in the Metropolitan Borough of Lambeth, within the confines of which the South Bank exhibition will take place, it will be found possible to devote a very large sum of money towards carrying out the facilities 1130 which will be available under this Bill. It may well be that to a considerable extent Metropolitan boroughs will have to limit themselves to making use of the powers which will be available under Clause 9, which enables the local authority to do work on the site without taking possession.
These sites of which complaint has been made for some years past are small sites and they do not lend themselves to rehousing schemes on a large scale. All the large available sites have either been acquired or are already earmarked for rehousing purposes. It is these small sites, which do not lend themselves to development on a large scale, which are the cause of the trouble. Most of the people who have written to me will, I know, be perfectly content if the local authority exercises the power to rail off these sites and make them inaccessible to the public, or at least make them accessible only to allotment holders or other suitable occupiers who may be prepared to make proper use of the sites.
If proper use cannot be made of the sites, then local residents will be quite content if they are railed off so that they can no longer be used as rubbish dumps, so that the derelict premises can no longer be used as dangerous playgrounds for children—and in some cases a positive death trap to them—if derelict business or residential premises are not used for undesirable purposes, and if they are simply made secure, under the powers which are available in Clause 9 of this Bill. Even if only to that extent, I think a very useful purpose will be served. I know that, apart from the purely financial aspect, the Metropolitan Borough of Lambeth and other Metropolitan boroughs will welcome the somewhat belated granting to them of powers which they have been seeking for some considerable time.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (Upton)
I am very pleased to have the opportunity, even at this late hour, of taking part in this Debate, because each of the previous speakers has mentioned his own constituency and pointed out his own constituency difficulties. Naturally, I feel that the area which I represent, West Ham, an area which suffered from the first blitz and unfortunately was in the blitz right to the 1131 very end, will be very interested in this Bill. All of us, in whatever quarter of the House we may sit, can support the principle of this Bill, but how can a council such as West Ham or many other London boroughs in a similar position, carry out these activities when they find they have not the money to carry them out, much as they may wish to implement this Bill?
I know it has been said that it is not likely to involve much so far as an increase in the rates is concerned. I mention West Ham specifically, although it is true of almost all of the London bombed boroughs, because when we find an area such as this, where acres have been devastated, where the council have lost the rates which they would normally receive from the houses and the factories which are no longer there, then we face a difficult problem. They have lost thousands of pounds in rates, yet they have to keep up the same local amenities; they still have to provide all the usual amenities for the same area.
We find that in this Bill they are, rightly, given powers to undertake the clearing of these bombed sites so as to make them what we all want them to be—open spaces where children can play, particularly in areas like West Ham, where open spaces are needed—and yet, because of the lack of money, the councils will not be able to get on with the job. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Mellish) mentioned this point, and I would support him on it, because Rotherhithe also suffered greatly. I think it is very unfair to say to a local council, "Here is a Bill which gives you the opportunity of clearing these sites, but if there is any additional cost it will not be much and you can find it out of your local rates." I believe that in West Ham the rates are already about 25s. in the £.
West Ham and similar boroughs suffered in the blitz and have suffered because, as they are situated in an industrial area, they lack open spaces. They have been suffering since the blitz because they have not been able to draw in the rates which would normally have been available to them. They are in debt because of the war. Now they are told, "You can have the power and authority of this Bill to get on with the job of clearing these sites, but if there is 1132 any cost, which should only be small, we are afraid we cannot help you." I ask the Minister of Health to reconsider the question of meeting 100 per cent. of the cost, whatever it may be, into which the council may enter. I ask him to meet that cost from the Exchequer, so that the council can get on with the job without worrying about where the money will come from.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
I think the House generally will be in agreement with me when I say that the Debate has been both interesting and informative and that there has been very little display of party feeling during the discussion. Indeed, in his opening speech the Minister was in a very amiable mood, and in that mood I found him an attractive personality, if I may be permitted to say so. He told us that the Bill was a short Measure and he also said that it was easy to understand, but then he seemed to me somewhat to modify his views because he went on to talk of the complications which arise in connection with values and cost of works payments. He said that they were not very easy to understand.
Then we had a speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) and at the conclusion of his speech I decided that the Bill was much more complicated than even I had anticipated. I fully agreed with the right hon. Gentleman, however, when he spoke of the number of war damaged sites which are seemingly derelict, which in many cases are miniature refuse dumps, if not something worse, and which are anything but pleasant from any point of view.
Apart from the wider aspect, I think all of us feel very much distressed that month after month and year after year what were once magnificent industrial, business, shopping or housing sites remain, except for a little amount of tidying up which was done at the time, more or less as they were immediately after they were bombed. I must say that I have wondered from time to time why, for example, large areas of the City and other parts of London which were destroyed in the blitz, have not been rebuilt. After all, some four and a half 1133 years have passed since the end of the war.
There may be some reason why rebuilding has not been done. It may be that the owners have not yet decided the type of re-development they would like to go in for. It may be that there is a shortage of money. It may be that the planning authorities have been unable to decide a plan, and therefore have had to withhold planning permission. It may be due, as someone suggested, to delay on the part of the War Damage Commission. And, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) said, certain of these cases attract a development charge, the amount of which, when the Land Board has decided it, has been found to be too high—so high, indeed, as to make rebuilding a very doubtful proposition from the economic angle. Then again, perhaps principally to facilitate the right hon. Gentleman's housing programme or some other building project, the Government have felt it necessary to give priority to those ventures instead of priority to the replacement of houses and other buildings on war damaged sites.
But, whatever the cause—and here my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Penrith and Cockermouth (Colonel Dower) and my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeen (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) have pointed out the great difficulties which exist in certain circumstances—it is surely a grave reflection on somebody that so little progress has been made in bringing war damaged sites into some kind of productive use again. If for some good reason, either the economic crisis or the need to restrict capital expenditure, it has been impossible to bring those sites into productive use now, then so far as this Bill results in putting them to some use and in making them less of an eyesore, it is indeed, in my opinion, to be welcomed.
If the provisions of the Bill are to produce the greatest possible benefit, it would seem to me that they should apply equally to all war damaged sites. I can think, for example, of quite a number of church sites which would benefit greatly, and present a much more pleasing picture to the eye, if they were subjected to tidying up. That also applies to land owned by statutory undertakers. It may be that such lands are not really excluded, and 1134 that, while compulsory acquisition is in fact inapplicable, a local authority can still, in the terms of Clause 9, enter on to all sites for the purpose of making them presentable. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman, when he replies, will be good enough to clear up that point.
I must say that at no time do I like compulsion or the use of compulsory powers, for it always seems to me that their use must tend to create an unhappy and unfriendly atmosphere. Therefore, I reinforce the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and express the hope that such powers will not be used under the Bill until an effort at agreement has been made and it is quite obvious that agreement cannot be reached. I should like to say in that connection that the right hon. Gentleman's assurance that he would not grant compulsion until the intentions of the owner had been ascertained did a good deal to reassure me on that particular point. The hon. Lady the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock) pointed out that this Bill was purely permissive so far as the local authorities were concerned, and that there was no element of compulsion in it. That is perfectly true. However, I hope that the position in Liverpool is not so black as she would have us believe. I trust that no local authority will hold back. I hope that all local authorities will go ahead in putting their war damaged sites to rights.
I feel a certain amount of sympathy with the point made by the hon. and gallant Member for North Paddington (Captain Field), the hon. Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Mrs. Middleton), my hon. Friend the Member for Woodbridge (Mr. Hare), and other hon. Gentlemen in regard to the cost of the work which the local authorities are being asked to undertake. It is true that this cost will be incurred as a direct result of enemy action, and it seems to me that they have made a case which is worthy of examination for the money to be given from the Exchequer. If that happened, it would go far to ensure the fulfilment of the hope that I have expressed.
It might, in addition, be well that the powers which the Bill entrusts to the local authorities should be given the widest 1135 possible publicity, so that if there happens to be any backward authority, then it will be brought into line by the weight of public opinion. I commend that suggestion to the hon. Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool. I also hope that no local authority will confine its activities merely to sites which are in use for its own purposes. I further hope there will be no outbreak of unsightly temporary buildings. I think it should be remembered all the time that the purpose of this Bill is to make existing scars less unsightly than they are at present, and not to enable buildings to be substituted for them which would be detrimental to amenities.
By Clause 7 the local authorities can in certain circumstances be directed by the Minister to surrender sites which they have occupied—that is, where the present owners with an interest in the sites wish to develop them and have obtained planning permission. Apart altogether from what my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford said, where such cases arise I trust that planning permission will never be withheld merely because the local authority happens to be using such a site for some statutory purpose. That was a point which was also stressed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Penrith and Cockermouth.
I observe that in this, as in other matters which have been introduced by the present Government, the powers of the Minister are very wide—
§ Commander Galbraith
—and I submit that they should be subject to a greater Parliamentary control. It may be, as some of my hon. Friends have said, that there should be a right of appeal given to owners of these sites. In that and in other respects this Bill will call for close examination during the Committee stage. Meantime, I trust that the hon. Gentleman who is to reply to the Debate will be able to deal with many of the points that have been made, not only by my hon. Friends but by hon. Gentlemen behind him, and that his replies will enable us who sit on these benches to accord an unopposed Second Reading to this Bill without any mental reservations of any kind whatsoever.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Blenkinsop)
This modest Bill—for it is a modest Bill—has, I think, received a real welcome from all sides of the House, as, indeed, one would have anticipated. Indeed, the position is that I find myself pressed by my hon. Friends on this side of the House to extend these powers rather than to limit them. I have a great deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. H. D. Hughes) and others who have pointed out the difficulty of areas which have been blitzed and ravaged, but not by bombs, and the urgent need for dealing with that problem as well as with this one. It is clear that under this Bill we are dealing, and must deal, with a much more limited problem; and we are trying to deal with it in a manner which will not in any way interfere with the proper long-term development of the sites, which is, of course, the only real solution.
I would remind my hon. Friends who raised problems about sites in the country other than bombed damaged sites, that they seem to be making a plea for a long-term use of those sites which cannot be dealt with under the provisions of a temporary character which are contained in this Measure. I assure my hon. Friends that if I do not seize on the suggestions which they have made to me about the desirability of extending the scope of the Bill to embrace these wider projects, it is not because I lack sympathy, because I live in the middle of this problem on the North-East Coast of England and I recognise very sincerely how urgent it is. But it must be dealt with in other ways.
I would point out that this Bill is merely intended—I say "merely," but it is important—for the tidying-up of the bombed sites in the interim period before we get on with the long-term measures of development which we all want to see take place, but which must inevitably in present conditions be delayed, regrettable as that is. In view of the fact that this is in many ways an interim Measure to fill the gap before long-term development can take place, it seems to me wrong that we should raise complicated administrative issues at this stage. Surely it is desirable in a Measure of this kind to secure as simple an administrative 1137 process as we can and not tie ourselves to much more cumbrous measures which may or may not be desirable for Bills which deal with long-term development projects, which are a very different matter. The hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) was inclined to suggest the inclusion in this very limited-purpose Bill of all kinds of safeguards of private interests which would be more suitable to a long-term Measure.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the number of cases in which an owner would object would probably be only a small minority as opposed to cases of compulsory acquisition where it is, as the hon. Gentleman knows, quite normal; and does he not think it proper in this small number of cases where some special point may well arise which cannot always be foreseen that this procedure should be adopted in the interests of the liberty of the subject?
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
When the hon. Gentleman speaks of the liberty of the subject, surely that is well and fully provided for in this Bill. All we ask is for power to get in and tidy up sites without in any way altering the problems of ownership—tidying up sites which are a nuisance and, as hon. Members have said, a disgrace to this country. We shall do that work as quickly as possible. It would be quite intolerable, having that in mind, to try to impose a long complicated procedure, which has its merits possibly in a Measure which is dealing with the ownership of land and the problem of acquisition, because here we are not dealing with the problem of acquisition but merely with the question of very temporary possession.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
Both the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman have referred to the length of this procedure. They must know better than anyone else that the actual reason why such procedure needs to be lengthy is the delay which may take place in their own Department in considering the report of the inquiry.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
The hon. Gentleman would not expect me to accept that. As everyone knows, many local authorities will be deterred from taking this action in the short-term period available for it if they have to go through the procedure 1138 laid down under other Acts where problems of acquisition actually arise.
Many of my hon. Friends have raised the question of finance and have suggested that unless some special grant is made available many authorities will not find it possible to undertake work of this kind. I say to my hon. Friends that whenever we bring forward a Measure to extend the powers of local authorities, that does not mean that we automatically provide special Exchequer grants for that purpose. We have to face the fact that at the present time we cannot envisage under this Measure any large-scale expensive project coming forward. This is not intended to meet that type of expenditure. If it were proposed to involve the use of a large amount of labour and material in schemes of this kind, clearly it would not be practicable to do so at the present time, and, therefore we are thinking of more modest schemes which nevertheless will be, I am sure, of great value, and which local authorities have not been able to carry out because their powers were so doubtful in the past.
So far as a contribution is made through equalisation procedure to that expenditure, an Exchequer grant is in fact being made available. I recognise that that does not apply to all areas, but we also have to face the fact that there is no likelihood of our being able to afford Exchequer grants for this purpose.
§ Mr. Mellish
The hon. Gentleman spoke about these schemes being very modest from the point of view of the work to be done; but I think he will understand that many local authorities cannot face a small expenditure such as £3,000 for fences at the present time when rates are 19s. 4d. in the pound. That would be over a 1d. rate in Bermondsey. Cannot he do something to help?
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I think that my hon. Friend is suggesting that the whole of this expenditure would fall upon one year, whereas presumably the actual loan charge cost of such expenditure would be very much more modest. That is without taking into account any money that may come in from the War Damage Commission, and the value of the voluntary side of the work, which I believe can be very great. The hon. Member for West Wolverhampton and other hon. Members have suggested the importance of recruiting 1139 voluntary work in this field. I believe that this can be of enormous advantage not only from the point of view of general national pride in the work done, but can also be a great contribution to ensure that the actual expense falling on the Exchequer or local authority shall be very small.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
As my right hon. Friend explained this afternoon, work that is done by the local authority which would in any case have to be done by the owner before he could commence rebuilding, would be compensated for by the War Damage Commission. In cases where demolition work has to be done and some clearance of rubble made it might well amount to a considerable sum. I would point out to my hon. Friends who press for an Exchequer contribution that in other types of work in the past it has often proved possible for voluntary work to make a very real contribution indeed, not merely in the planting of a few seeds but in recruiting the people of a district to try to deal with their own immediate problems.
§ Captain Field
I tried to explain that the intial laying out of these sites could not be done by voluntary labour. The Metropolitan boroughs, in particular, cannot afford the initial charge. I also tried to make clear that the initial work—the fencing and the levelling of the ground—meant for Paddington a 6d. rate, and for Hammersmith an expenditure of from £10,000 to £14,000.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I admit that fencing is not work that we could normally expect voluntary labour to carry out, but there is a great deal of other preliminary work from which we need not necessarily exclude voluntary labour. Indeed, it is my experience, and that of other hon. Members, that in the past voluntary 1140 workers have very often done that sort of work in order to clear away the offensive relics of past industrial development in the industrial areas. However, as I say, we cannot regard this as a charge which should properly fall all in one particular year, and it seems reasonable that we should consider what would be the loan charge, which would be very much less than the figures suggested by my hon. Friends.
§ Mrs. Middleton
My hon. Friend says that this charge would not fall within one year. Surely if this work is to be done and the sites cleared in time for the Festival of Britain, it would have to fall within two years.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I agree that we want this work carried out straight away, as soon as it is practicable to do it. I am merely making clear that I do not believe it will be possible to offer Exchequer aid at this time for these schemes; that if the schemes prove to be so expensive in labour and material as hon. Members seemed to suggest, it would be impracticable at this time to carry them out; and that we must limit ourselves to the most modest schemes.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
I really cannot give way again.
It has been suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock) that we need compulsory powers. As has been said, it would be impossible to impose compulsory powers without an Exchequer grant; but apart from that, this does not appear to me to be a matter in which compulsory powers should be used by statute. I think that this is a matter on which local democracy should make its voice heard. After all, we have our local bodies, democratically elected, and it is naturally their views that we would expect to hear on a question of this kind; and we would expect them to press their own authorities to ensure the carrying out of this type of work, which is so much for their own improvement and betterment. The question of the absentee owner was raised, and the difficulty of presenting notice to him. That is provided for in the Bill. In fact, notice on the site is provided for, as on other occasions.
1141 The hon. Member for West Aberdeen (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) suggested that neither the local authority, nor any person granted a lease under the local authority, should be given power to do any work which the owner himself was able to carry out. I am sure the Bill adequately covers the position of the owner in that case, because before the local authority can go in to do the work opportunity is given to the owner to object. One of the issues that arises is whether or not the owner will be able to carry out within a reasonable time any suitable work on the site himself, and it would be our intention to see that this Bill did not in any way interfere with the right of the owner to do this clearing up work, or indeed the longer term development work that we wish to see done.
Turning to the problem of hearing objectors, I think that if we tried to insist upon a full hearing of objections we should be drifting into the much more complicated procedure of measures more suitable for problems of acquisition, and here we are not dealing with such problems. Those powers are already in the hands of local authorities under other statutes. We are here dealing purely with the temporary use of land, not of acquisition.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Wolverhampton both today and by means of Questions in the House, has raised the wider problem of the help that voluntary labour can give in schemes of this kind. We firmly believe that this work affords an opportunity for people in the areas concerned to get together to see whether, with the powers provided by this Bill, they cannot help to clear up and beautify some of these bomb damaged sites which have been so much of an eyesore for so long. There is a great multitude of voluntary organisations of all kinds—youth clubs, tenants' associations, co-operative guilds, and many others—who I am sure would welcome the opportunity of doing such work. I know of many tenants' associations on housing estates who have built excellent halls for themselves, and have levelled land in order to make playing fields for the estates. I know of many youth clubs who have built their own premises. I want that type of initiative and effort encouraged and taking place in all our big cities.
1142 It is important to get local authorities to encourage all the voluntary bodies in their areas to come together and put forward their proposals for tackling the problems in their own districts. I am confident that if we get, as I am sure we can, the co-operation of this variety of voluntary organisations, both youth and other organisations, in trying to look after their own districts, we can ensure that the objects of this Bill are carried out and that the areas are cleaned up and beautified, and also stimulate what I consider to be of equal importance, and that is a new civic pride in the areas themselves. Members opposite on recent occasions have seemed to pour a good deal of cold water upon the incentive public interest has as against private interest. This is a very good opportunity for us all to show that the incentive of public interest and public desire can co-operate together to relieve our immediate problems, and that it is on the increase and not on the decrease.
§ Colonel Dower
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, before he concludes, will explain why the provisions of that excellent Act, the Landlord and Tenant Act, are excluded from this Bill.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
This is really to protect the position for the local authorities where the tenant under a local authority carries out certain work on a site, so that the local authority shall not be compelled to reimburse the tenant for the work that has been done. It must be remembered that the local authority is only a temporary tenant for five years, or at the most for 10 years. It is intended that any improvements of a temporary character should not fall upon the local authority, where the sub-tenant has been doing the work, in the same way as when a site is returned to the owner the local authority will not be able to charge the owner for work done which would in no way obstruct the owner in his future long-term development.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
It is not contemplated that there is likely to be any major structural development on these sites. Obviously, as they are in the hands of the local authorities for only five or 10 years, it would be absurd to do so. I 1143 am anxious to make an appeal to all local authorities to do what they can to encourage voluntary bodies in their areas to help in this scheme, because I am convinced that with their support and the support of the local people valuable work can be done under this Bill without any added expense to the Exchequer, and with a very limited expense to the local authorities concerned.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Tomorrow.