HC Deb 02 June 1954 vol 528 cc1299-309
The Lord Advocate (Mr. J. L. Clyde)

I beg to move, in page 8, line 35, to leave out" a period equal to the period," and to insert: whichever is the shorter of the following two periods, that is to say— (a) thirty years; or (b) a period equal to that. This is a drafting Amendment which involves no change in the meaning of the Clause. The object of the Amendment is to adjust the drafting of the subsection so that there will be no doubt that it comes into operation only in the case where the estimated life of the house is less than 30 years.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. McInnes

I beg to move, in page 10, line 1, to leave out subsection (6).

The purpose of Clause 10 (6) is to amend subsection (1) of Section 114 of the principal Act, and this also links up with paragraph (i) of the proviso to subsection (3) of Section 111 of the principal Act. The principal Act lays down certain conditions and requirements which must be observed before an applicant can qualify for an improvement grant. First, he must either be an owner or a lessee under a lease of which a period of not less than 30 years remains unexpired, and where the conditions will apply for not less than 20 years.

The Bill seeks to reduce the period of 20 years to 10 years. During the Committee stage we endeavoured to ascertain from the Government why they desired to reduce the period. The Secretary of State for Scotland indicated that it was conceivable that a local authority might desire to demolish such a house because of some road widening scheme or some planning requirement. If that is the intention, the Bill does not make it clear. All it says upon the matter is that this may be done as the local authority may determine. No conditions of any kind are laid down.

If that is the position any local authority may, after 10 years, relieve an individual of all his obligations under the improvement grant arrangement. In these circumstances, he could dispose of his house and cash in at the expense of the State, and in the process he would escape his responsibility of repaying the improvement grant plus compound interest. Hon. Members on this side of the House feel that a Clause of this kind might encourage a racket; indeed, during the Committee stage we pointed out all our anxieties and all the dangers that were attendant upon the Clause.

The right hon. Gentleman himself was not too happy about the Clause. He said: I do not pretend that I, too, do not meet similar difficulties in working out some of the necessarily complicated references to the principal Act. … I think I am correct in saying that there is no alteration in that condition,"— that is, that a repaired house could not be sold.

If that is not correct, I will see that either my right hon. and gallant Friend or myself provide the right hon. Gentleman with the correct information as soon as possible. Later, he said: The intention of the subsection is as I have stated. It would cover only a case where a house would not be retained in occupation for 20 years because of some road widening or other town planning scheme. I readily give an assurance that I will look at it very carefully again to ensure that the point about which the right hon. Gentleman has expressed anxiety is, in fact, covered and that such cases as he has mentioned could not slip through unobserved."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 11th March, 1954; c. 425–7.] I should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman has looked at the matter again. If so, what has he discovered? Does he agree with us that such cases as we have indicated will slip through and that the Clause lends itself to all forms of abuse? If he has come to the same conclusion that we have, I assume that he will agree to the Amendment.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. A. C. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

I beg to second the Amendment.

After the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes) I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree to the deletion of this subsection, or, at any rate, agree that the matter should not be left in its present position. It seems a ridiculous proposition to substitute 10 years for 20 years in this case, when the only reason for the change is that within a 20-year period a local authority may want to carry out a road widening scheme. If something of that nature was going to be required, the Government could surely have dealt with the matter by incorporating some provision, other than that contained in subsection (6), giving a local authority the right, in individual cases, to demolish a house after a shorter period, if necessary.

This provision seems to be some kind of a dodge to allow money to be paid out to many more people than have been paid out hitherto, and to protect property upon which money ought not to be spent. Public money will be granted in many cases where, under the principal Act, owners would not have qualified. I hope that we can have an assurance that the public purse will be safeguarded. If the Secretary of State is worried at the thought that schemes of local authorities may be retarded, all he needs to do is to give power to local authorities to take action in individual cases where street widening or anything of a similar character is involved.

Mr. J. Stuart

I should like at once to assure the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes) and the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) that I did go into this matter after it was raised with a view to satisfying myself that we were not embarking on a dangerous course, and also that I gave the correct interpretation of the object and effect of subsection (6). I hope the House will accept my assurance that the explanation I gave during the Committee stage was correct.

If hon. Members care to turn to the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Committee they will find the whole debate set out in columns 424 to 427. As I said then: … subsection (6) … aims at ensuring that, where the life of the house is less than 20 years, the conditions of grant shall apply for such shorter period as the local authority may determine, as long as it is not less than 10 years. The purpose of the subsection is to remove an obvious anomaly."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 11th March, 1954; c. 425-6.] If we were to omit the subsection we should be retaining the condition that the house should be used for 20 years as a dwelling, so that if it were demolished for road widening or other improvement purposes earlier than that the applicant would find himself in the wrong, and if the local authority desired to do so it could demand repayment of the appropriate portion of the improvement grant. I agree with the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire that we must safeguard the public purse, and I would point out that this subsection will operate only in very exceptional circumstances. The House may be assured that there is no danger of any dirty work in the matter. [Laughter.] I was trying to think of the right term

Mr. Manuel

That one is all right.

Mr. Stuart

I hope it is not unparliamentary. The House can rest assured that there will be no funny business. I hope that with that assurance hon. Members opposite will not press the Amendment.

Mr. Woodburn

The Secretary of State has not made the matter clear yet. The cases he has outlined seem to me to be covered quite well by Section 114 (2, b. ii) of the principal Act, which says: if the local authority are satisfied that the breach, although not capable of being remedied, was not due to the act, default or connivance of the owner of the dwelling, they may, with the like consent and subject to such conditions as aforesaid, direct that the said provisions shall not have effect in relation to the breach. The purpose of that paragraph was to see that nobody cashed in on the grants given for improvements, that nobody was able to make any profit by selling a house at an increased price a few years after the improvements. A limit was put in. If, before the end of that time, someone wanted to get rid of the conditions, he could do so by repaying the loan. It seems to us that this subsection of the Bill quite unnecessarily permits the coming to an end of the conditions in half the time, in 10 years instead of 20. We do not think that any of the cases suggested by the Secretary of State are not covered by that proviso.

I should like him to give us a further explanation of the kind of case that would not be covered. He said there was an anomaly, and that if a local authority demolished a house for the sake of a road improvement the local authority must be satisfied that the breach was not due to an "act, default or connivance" of the owner of the dwelling, but no local authority in its senses would say that it was due to the owner, if the local authority demolished a house for road widening. There may be something wrong in our reasoning, but it was not made apparent by the right hon. Gentleman.

We see no necessity to loosen the provisions of the original Act in the way this subsection does. Has something happened since the Act was passed that causes a need for this extra relaxation? If not, the reason for it is purely imaginary, and it seems to me that this provision can be left out of the Bill. It could be embodied in another Measure, if need for it should arise. So far as I can see that need has not yet arisen. The right hon. Gentleman has not shown that it has arisen. Therefore, we are a little apprehensive that the subsection will permit a relaxation we do not think desirable.

Mr. J. Stuart

By leave of the House, I would point out that such a case as road widening is not covered at the present time. The owner is left to rely on the discretion of the local authority, and a position, therefore, could arise in which the owner could be said to have connived at the demolition. At present, the conditions of grant continue for the full 20 years. Therefore, there may be cases, as I have said, in which they will run after the house has been demolished. The subsection is to deal with such exceptional cases as may arise.

Mr. T. Fraser

I think the right hon. Gentleman is misleading the House, although I am sure he is doing so inadvertently. He talks about the conditions attaching to a grant running after the house has been demolished. However, the conditions attaching to the grant are conditions about resale, conditions about tenancies. We cannot enforce the observance of conditions for the resale of a house that has been demolished. If the right hon. Gentleman is thinking only of houses demolished because of a road development or other scheme carried out by a local authority there is no point in writing in even the period of 10 years.

If a local authority is obliged to carry out a scheme of road widening that involves the demolition of a house eight years after its owner got a grant for its modernisation, surely that owner is not to be penalised, since the house is being demolished at the instance of the local authority in eight years instead of 10?

Under the principal Act, if a house were to be demolished in five, 10, 15, 19, 19½ or 20 years at the instance of the local authority the conditions would cease to apply, because by that Act, for the passing of which we on this side of the House had some responsibility, we said that the conditions should apply so long only as the house is occupied or occupiable. If the Secretary of State insists upon this subsection and it becomes law there will be insufficient limitation of the circumstances in which a local authority may reduce the period of the conditions attached to an improvement grant.

If words mean anything at all this subsection means that, for instance, the Council of Hamilton, in my constituency, would be entitled to give an improvement grant to an applicant for it and to attach conditions to be observed for only 10 years. We believe that to be the only possible interpretation that can be put upon the subsection. If it is correct, then we consider the subsection to be quite absurd. It is proposed by the Bill that the local authorities shall take over unfit houses for patching up and that grants shall be made from public funds, from the Exchequer and from local rates, towards the maintenance of those houses, on the assumption that they will continue to be used for 15 years. By the Bill we shall make grants from public funds to private owners to enable them to modernise their houses, and yet we are permitting the conditions to be attached to the making of the grants to operate for so short a time as 10 years. I am sure the Secretary of State was wrong in the advice he tendered to us. In any case, we believe that when a house has to be removed for some public purpose, due to no fault of the owner and no action on his part, the conditions will immediately be removed. Conditions can attach to a house only as long as it is occupied or occupiable.

I ask the Secretary of State to think about this again. The subsection leaves the door open very wide, and, with the explanations which we have had so far, my hon. Friends will find it difficult to accept that this subsection should remain part of the Bill. I am not offering any threats. If the right hon. Gentleman can convince us that it is necessary to make this modification and can give any examples or any experience of shortcomings in the principal Act which make this modification necessary, we shall be most willing to listen to him. So far, both in Committee and today, he has not been convincing.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes. 211; Noes, 178.

Division No. 135.] AYES [4.30 p.m.
Aitken, W. T. Drewe, Sir C. Lambert, Hon. G.
Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.) Duncan, Capt. J A. L Lambton, Viscount
Alport, C. J. M. Duthie, W. S. Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.) Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West) Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)
Amery, Rt. Hon. Heathcoat (Tiverton) Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. Linstead, Sir H. N.
Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J. Erroll, F. J. Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)
Arbuthnot, John Finlay, Graeme Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J C
Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W) Fisher, Nigel Longden, Gilbert
Baldwin, A. E. Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F Low, A. R. W.
Banks, Col. C. Fletcher-Cooke, C. Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)
Barlow, Sir John Fort, R. McAdden, S. J.
Beach, Maj. Hicks Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lansdale) Macdonald, Sir Peter
Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. D. (Pollok) McKibbin, A. J.
Birch, Nigel Garner-Evans, E. H. Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)
Bishop, F. P. George, Rt. Hon. Maj. G. Lloyd Maclay, Rt. Hon. John
Black, C. W. Glover, D. Macleod, Rt. Hon. Iain (Enfield, W.)
Boothby, Sir R. J. G Godber, J. B. MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty)
Bossom, Sir A. C. Gomme-Duncan, Col. A Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A Gough, C F. H Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)
Boyle, Sir Edward Gower, H. R Maitland, Comdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)
Brooke, Henry (Hampstead) Graham, Sir Fergus Maitland, Patrick (Lanark)
Brooman-White, R. C. Grimond, J. Markham, Major Sir Frank
Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury) Marples, A. E.
Bullard, D. G. Hall, John (Wycombe) Marshall, Douglas (Bodmin)
Bullus, Wing Commander E. E Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.) Maude, Angus
Burden, F. F. A. Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C
Butcher, Sir Herbert Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Mellor, Sir John
Campbell, Sir David Heath, Edward Molson, A. H. E.
Carr, Robert Henderson, John (Cathcart) Moore, Sir Thomas
Cary, Sir Robert Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton) Nabarro, G. D. N
Channon, H. Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Neave, Airey
Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead) Hirst, Geoffrey Nicholls, Harmar
Clyde, Rt. Hon. J. L. Holland-Martin, C. J. Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)
Cole, Norman Holt, A. F. Nield, Basil (Chester)
Colegate, W. A. Hopkinson, Rt. Hon. Henry Nugent, G. R. H.
Conant, Maj. R. J. E. Hornsby-Smith, Miss M P. Nutting, Anthony
Cooper-Key, E. M. Horobin, I. M. Oakshott, H. D.
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence O'Neill, Hon. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)
Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire) Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.) Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Crouch, R. F. Hurd, A. R. Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)
Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'rgh, W.) Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-super-Mare)
Davidson, Viscountess Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M. Osborne, C.
Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery) Hylton-Foster, H B. H Page, R. G.
Deedes, W. F. Iremonger, T. L. Peto, Brig. C. H. M
Dodds-Parker, A. D. Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Peyton, J. W. M.
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Donner, Sir P. W. Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W Pilkington, Capt. R. A
Doughty, C. J. A. Kerby, Capt. H. B. Pitman, I. J.
Drayson, G. B Kerr, H. W. Pitt, Miss E. M
Powell, J. Enoch Shepherd, William Tweedsmuir, Lady
Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.) Smithers, Peter (Winchester) Vane, W. M. F.
Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L. Smithers, Sir Waldron (Orpington) Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.
Profumo, J. D. Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood) Vosper, D. F.
Raikes, Sir Victor Snadden, W. McN. Wade, D. W.
Ramsden, J. E. Speir, R. M. Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Rayner, Brig. R. Spens, Rt. Hon. Sir P. (Kensington, S.) Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St Marylebone)
Redmayne, M. Stevens, Geoffrey Wall, Major Patrick
Rees-Davies, W. R. Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.) Ward, Miss I.(Tynemouth)
Renton, D. L. M. Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.) Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
Ridsdale, J. E. Stoddart-Scott, Col. M. Watkinson, H. A.
Roberts, Peter (Heeley) Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray) Webbe, Sir H.(London & Westminster)
Robertson, Sir David Studholme, H. G. Wellwood, W.
Robson-Brown, W. Taylor, William (Bradford, N.) Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)
Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks) Teeling, W. Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
Roper, Sir Harold Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. P. L. (Hereford) Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Russell, R. S. Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Ryder, Capt. R. E. D. Thornton-Kemsley, Col. C. N. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Savory, Prof. Sir Douglas Touche, Sir Gordon Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith and
Schofield, Lt.-Col. W. Turner, H. F. L. Mr. Wills.
Scott, R. Donald Turton, R. H.
Acland, Sir Richard Hamilton, W. W. Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)
Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven) Hannan, W. Palmer, A. M. F.
Awbery, S. S. Hargreaves, A. Pannell, Charles
Bacon, Miss Alice Hastings, S. Parkin, B. T.
Bartley, P. Hayman, F. H. Pearson, A.
Bence, C. R. Healey, Denis (Leeds, S.E.) Popplewell, E.
Benn, Hon. Wedgwood Herbison, Miss M. Porter, G.
Blackburn, F. Holman, P. Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Blenkinsop, A. Houghton, Douglas Proctor, W. T.
Blyton, W. R. Hoy, J. H. Pryde, D. J.
Boardman, H. Hudson, James (Eating, N.) Rankin, John
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Reeves, J.
Bowden, H. W. Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Reid, William (Camlachie)
Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Rhodes, H.
Brookway, A. F. Hynd, H. (Accrington) Robens, Rt. Hon. A.
Brook, Dryden (Halifax) Hynd, J. B (Altercliffe) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Irving, W. J. (Wood Green) Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Beiper) Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Janner, B. Ross, William
Burke, W. A. Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T. Royle, C.
Burton, Miss F. E. Jeger, George (Goole) Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.) Jeger, Mrs. Lena Short, E. W.
Callaghan, L. J. Jenkins, R. H. (Stechford) Shurmer, P. L. E.
Carmichael, J. Johnson, James (Rugby) Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Jones, David (Hartlepool) Skeffington, A. M.
Champion, A. J. Jones, T. W. (Marioneth) Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke-on-Trent)
Chapman, W. D. Keenan, W. Slater, J. (Durham, Sedgefield)
Chetwynd, G. R. Kenyon, C. Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)
Clunie, J. Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Sorensen, R. W.
Coldrick, W. King, Dr. H. M. Sparks, J. A.
Collick, P. H. Lawson, G. M. Steele, T.
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Lee, Frederick (Newton) Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.
Cove, W. G. Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Lever, Leslie (Ardwick) Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.
Crosland, C. A. R. Lewis, Arthur Sylvester, G. O.
Cullen, Mrs. A. Lindgren, G. S. Thomas, George (Cardiff)
Daines, P. Logan, D. G. Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. MacColl, J. E. Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)
Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) McGovern, J. Thornton, E.
de Freitas, Geoffrey McInnes, J. Timmons, J.
Deer, G. McKay, John (Wallsend) Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Dodds, N. N. McLeavy, F. Warbey, W. N.
Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John (W. Bromwich) McNeil, Rt. Hon. H. Watkins, T. E.
Edelman, M. Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)
Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse) Mann, Mrs. Jean Weitzman, D.
Evans, Edward (Lowestoft) Manuel, A. C. Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Fernyhough, E. Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A. Wheeldon, W. E.
Fletcher, Eric (Islington, E.) Mason, Roy White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Follick, M. Mellish, R. J. White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Foot, M. M. Messer, Sir F. Willey, F. T.
Forman, J. C. Mikardo, Ian Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Monslow, W. Williams, W. R. (Drayladen)
Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N. Moody, A. S. Willis, E. G.
Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale) Morgan, Dr. H. B. W. Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R. Morley, R. Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Grey, C. F. Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.) Wyatt, W. L.
Griffiths, William (Exchange) Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.) Yates, V. F.
Hale, Leslie Mort, D. L. Younger, Rt. Hon. K.
Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Oliver, G. H.
Hall, John T. (Gateshead, W.) Oswald, T. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mr. Wilkins and Mr. John Taylor


Mr. J. Stuart

I beg to move, in page 12, line 7, at the end, to insert "of that Act."

This Amendment is simply to make clear that Clause 14 (2) refers to Section 9 (4) of the 1950 Act.

Amendment agreed to.