HC Deb 20 April 1951 vol 486 cc2169-73

11.43 a.m.

Mr. Mitchison (Kettering)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 42, to leave out paragraph (f), and to insert: (f) in a case where the whole street, being less than one hundred yards in length, or a part of the street not less than one hundred yards in length and comprising the whole of the part on which the building will front, was at the commencement of this Act built-up to such an extent that the aggregate length of the frontages of the buildings on both sides of the street or part constituted at least one half of the aggregate length of all the frontages on both sides of the street or part; (g) in a case (not falling within the last preceding paragraph) where the local authority, being satisfied that the street was at the commencement of this Act substantially built-up, by notice in writing exempt the building from this section. I wonder if it is a sign of the times that having dealt, without a sign of dissension, with witchcraft, we find rather more dissension when we come to questions about new streets. In Committee, considerable alterations were made to this Bill. Some of the most important alterations appear in Clause 1 (3), where there are a number of exclusions from the operation of the Clause. Since that Clause is the one which, as it were, sets in motion the whole machinery of the Bill, these exclusions are most important. Among other provisions at present in the Bill there is subsection (3, f), which deals with cases where streets are already substantially built up and new buildings are to be erected on them.

The effect of that provision as it stands is to leave it to the local authority in those cases, if they are satisfied that the street was substantially built up, to exclude them from the operation of the Bill, and so to have the whole street treated under existing legislation. It was thought that that put an exceedingly heavy burden on the local authority, and that it could better be met by still leaving them with the power to act in that way, but also by excluding from the operation of the Bill those cases in which the street, or part of the street, was half built up already.

11.45 a.m.

The object of my Amendment is, therefore, to add an exclusion: that is to say, the exclusion of all cases where the street, or part of the street, is half built up already. I ought to add that there has been a considerable difference of opinion in Committee about the operation of the Bill in streets which already contain some buildings. The two extremes have been one view that, wherever there was already even a single building in an existing street, then the Bill ought to have no operation there, and the whole street, with whatever additions might be made to it, ought to be treated under existing legislation; and the opposite view that the addition of a substantial number of new houses should bring the Bill into operation and include within its operation the old houses already there.

This Amendment represents a compromise between the two opposing points of view. As such, it has been discussed and I have no reason to believe that it will be opposed, although it does not represent the full views of either of the parties to the compromise, each of whom would have preferred to keep their own version, on one side or the other, of what is now proposed.

Mr. Kinley (Bootle)

I beg to second the Amendment.

Mr. Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford, North)

As the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) has said. this Amendment represents something in the nature of a compromise between those of us who took different views about the merits of the Bill as it was first submitted. One of the principal defects which some of us saw in the Bill was that it applied not only to the new streets, in the sense of streets being laid out for the first time, but that it applied also to existing streets. Some of us thought that the evil which hon. Members were seeking to remove did not exist in existing streets, but was only to be found in new streets which were being laid out for the first time by an estate developer.

We thought that to apply this Bill to streets where there was existing development would mean calling upon a person who desired to build a house in that street to deposit, or to give security for, the full cost of making up the street in respect of his plot, although at the time when he would have had to do that there was no guarantee that the local authority would be able to make up the street within any foreseeable period of time. We felt that that was imposing upon persons who desired to build houses an unnecessary burden and would make no contribution to the removal of the evil which the hon. and learned Gentleman had in mind.

As the hon. and learned Gentleman said, this Amendment is in the nature of a compromise. I suppose that when we are dealing with matters of this sort there is a certain merit in compromise. For my part, I should have preferred that existing streets should have been excepted from the Bill altogether. Failing that, I should have preferred that in those streets where the existing development amounts to less than half the frontage the local authority should have an unrestricted discretion to decide whether the Act should apply or not. The hon. and learned Gentleman thinks they should have that discretion only if they come to the conclusion that the street is substantially built up. There are times when there is merit in compromise, and perhaps this is one of them. Accordingly, I shall make no further comment. I agree with the hon. and learned Member that this Amendment represents a fair compromise between the two opposing views which were expressed with some vigour in the Committee upstairs.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Gibson (Clapham)

I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 4 to 9, and to insert: (g) in a case where the building is proposed to be erected on land belonging to, or in the possession of, the council of a county, county borough, metropolitan borough or county district, the Common Council of the City of London, or a development corporation established under section two of the New Towns Act, 1946. This Amendment, I understand, is also generally accepted. I think it more clearly expresses the intention of the Bill in relation to land owned by local authorities, but it also covers much more clearly what is more or less a technical point. The operative words are "or in the possession of." The House is aware that a local authority may obtain a compulsory purchase order and begin constructing houses, under the law, without actually having secured ownership. They may be in possession of the land but not have finally secured ownership. We intend that this slight alteration in the Bill shall cover that point. It will prevent any difficulties of this nature arising for the local authorities mentioned in the Clause.

I think we can assume that any of the local authorities mentioned do, in fact, carry out the wishes of the Bill which, as outlined in the Title, are to secure the satisfactory construction, lighting, sewerage, furnishing and completion of streets. I am sure they carry out those wishes so that the streets may be of the greatest possible use to the inhabitants. This Clause will more effectively bring about the intention of those who introduced the Bill and I understand it is acceptable to the local authorities concerned.

Mr. Henry Brooke (Hampstead)

I beg to second the Amendment.

It is not often that the hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) and I find ourselves in agreement, but I can testify that this Amendment deals with a genuine point which is of concern not only to the London County Council, of which both he and I are members, but to other local authorities who might, but for the Amendment, find their housing proceedings slightly held up during the period between obtaining confirmation of a compulsory purchase order and the date when the legal formalities are completed and the land passes into their ownership.

It would be regarded on all sides or the House as most undesirable that housing progress should be held up even for a few days or weeks by any trouble of that kind. I trust it will be found that the words which are proposed will remove that slight difficulty and will improve the Bill.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

In view of this strange combination of hon. Members, I should like to put it on record that the London County Council are not entitled to any credit for this Amendment. They did not spot the difficulty in the Bill, but those who took an active part in the proceedings upstairs pointed out what a mess the County Council would be in without the Amendment and, also, that this question also involved the new towns. It was entirely due to the efforts of one or two Members of the Standing Committee, and I think that that should be put on record.

Mr. Mitchison

May I correct the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) on one point? It is not without significance that when we went upstairs with him progress was small. We had to drag him far nearer to the infernal regions in the basement of this building before we could get any further.

As one who has been concerned with the Bill, may I thank the two hon. Members—normally opposed to each other as members of the London County Council—for drawing attention to what is a perfectly good point which would have caused the London County Council inconvenience to a considerable extent and probably have caused other local authorities inconvenience to a lesser extent? I think we all regard the Amendment as making a distinct improvement.

Amendment agreed to.