HC Deb 07 December 1956 vol 561 cc1624-40

Order for Second Reading read.

11.40 a.m.

Mr. Martin Maddan (Hitchin)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

It might be helpful to local authorities and, perhaps more so, to those individuals who may be affected by private street works legislation if I make a very quick review of the position in regard to liability for making up private streets. The problem, of course, goes back many years, and has its origin when the urban communities began to expand very quickly during the latter part of the eighteenth century. The parish authorities then had to make up all roads within their boundaries, and, as a lot of residential streets came along, very heavy charges resulted.

The first change was made by the Highway Act, 1835, which required streets to be made up to the specification of the local authority before it took them over. As a consequence, streets were left in a very miserable condition. Another milestone came in 1875 with the Public Health Act, Section 150 of which enabled urban authorities to carry out work at the expense of property owners along the street. Many local authorities still use this procedure, but, despite various amendments that have been made to it, it is not wholly satisfactory.

A further milestone—perhaps as a consequence of the position in relation to Section 150 of the 1875 Act—was the Private Street Works Act, 1892, which was an adoptive Act based on various local authority private Acts. This made it possible for a local authority to resolve to make up a street and, under this Act, the local authority has power to contribute to the expense of so doing. There are many checks and balances in the procedure, but the point is that under both the 1875 and the 1892 Acts the initiative for making up the street lies in the hands of the local authority.

Thus, we come to the fourth milestone—the New Streets Act, 1951, which the present Bill proposes to amend. If I may summarise it, the purpose of the 1951 Act is to enable owners of property along a street to compel the local authority to make up and maintain that street. In so doing, of course, it goes back, in some sense, towards the pre-1835 position, but the 1951 Act also includes many safeguards on the expenditure of public money, including the institution of a deposit for the cost of making up the road before building along that road can begin. It also did another thing. It protected purchasers from fraudulent vendors.

I think it will be agreed that, as originally drafted, the 1951 Bill was rather rigid, and certainly had many Amendments made to it to make it more palatable to home owners as well as to builders. If it had not been for the addition to Clause 1 (3) of that Bill of paragraphs (d), (e), (f) and (g), at the instance of hon. Members on this side, the 1951 Act would really not have been workable. Even so, the application of the new principle of the 1951 Act has run into difficulties. One of those difficulties is dealt with in Section 9 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1953, which was introduced by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison).

This present Bill is in the same stream, in that it intends to improve, but not to deny, the principles of the 1951 Act. It deals with what are the more important remaining defects in the procedure laid down by that Act. Clause 1 provides for cases where, between the making of a deposit and the local authority making up the street, the people living along that street do some work on it. In such cases, it enables the local authority to refund money to the extent of work done.

The Bill, of course, deals only with permanent work. For instance, if there is a concrete carriage way, built to the specification and satisfaction of the local authority—and only if the work were done by the people along the street—it would be left to the local authority at a later date only to tarmac the surface. And since the ultimate liability of the property owners along the street is diminished by their having built at their own expense the concrete carriageway, it is only reasonable, in such circumstances, that part of their deposit should be refunded. That is the purpose of Clause 1.

Clause 2 clears up a doubt about the effect of the 1951 Act on Section 146 of the 1875 Act. This doubt arises from the fact that when a deposit is paid under the 1951 Act, it may be regarded as the first step by the local authority towards the local authority itself making up the road in question. This factor might be taken to rule out the subsequent making up of the road by a private developer. It might be very desirable that the private developer should make it up before the local authority does so. Furthermore, in the 1951 Act there is no provision for the refund of the deposit in circumstances such as the making of an agreement under Section 146 of the 1875 Act.

Perhaps I may be permitted to give an example of the circumstances in which this Clause would work. An estate developer intending to build houses fronting on a private street, and selling them off as he builds them, submits plans to the local authority. The 1951 procedure might be called into operation, in which case he pays a deposit. The developer, however, might decide that it would be better, and more to the satisfaction of prospective purchasers of the houses, to complete the road at once. It might help him to sell his houses.

It was for just this sort of case that Section 146 of the 1875 Act was intended, because it enables the local authority and the developer to make an agreement, whereby the work is done by the developer to the local authorities specification and satisfaction and the local authority takes over that road on completion of the work. Clause 2 of the present Bill makes it clear that this procedure can be called into operation after the deposit has been made, and that the deposit can, in these circumstances, be refunded.

Clause 3 will protect purchasers from unpleasant shocks which may come upon them unawares as a result of the operation of the 1951 Act. For example, an owner of land might get approval to build on it, and then sell the land, with the benefit of the approval, to someone else. The liability under the 1951 Act to make a deposit passes with the benefit of building consent. The building consent is normally operative for three years, and most of this time might elapse before the actual building is begun. During this period the land might change hands several times.

It is necessary, therefore, for the purchaser to be able to find out easily and unequivocally what commitments there are to make a deposit or, if the deposit has been made, how much. Further, he will want to know if any refunds have been made under the Bill if this Bill becomes law and the refunds of which I spoke in connection with Clause 1 become operative. At present what happens is that the purchaser or his solicitor has to make inquiries of the local authority as to the position with regard to the deposit, and he does not always get very definite information. In fact, it is the usual practice for the local authority to take no responsibility for any information contained in the letter.

However, the local authority obviously keeps a record of the deposits required, and so this Bill provides that this should be done in the land charges register which is kept by the local authority, because if the information is put in this register the necessary information can be obtained by means of a search, as would happen before the purchase of a plot of land, and for the payment of 5s. this information with regard to deposits and possible refunds will be available.

The owner of a plot of land has a liability to pay for making up the part of a private road on his frontage. The payment of a deposit is intended to meet that liability, but when the local authority comes to make up the road the amount of the deposit is not always sufficient, for various reasons, particularly if prices have changed in the meanwhile. There is always, therefore, a potential liability to pay more than the deposit originally required when the work comes to be done. Details of deposits to be made towards meeting the liability, and refunds made, are, therefore, eminently suitable to go into the land charges register because they help the purchaser to decide what charges by way of deposit, or what money beyond that deposit, he will have to pay.

I believe that some of my hon. Friends who are learned in the law are of the view that this liability is not a charge in the sense in which they use the word "charge", but if that is so, people will start asking "When is a charge not a charge"? And I am afraid that simple lay people like myself will have to answer "When it is a land charge." Therefore, I very much hope that lawyers may find that this proposal in Clause 3 is eminently reasonable and suitable.

I turn to Clause 4 which contains certain minor amendments to the 1951 Act. Subsection (1) is, in fact, an amendment to a part of the 1951 Act which was inspired by some of my hon. Friends. Subsection (1) is designed to prevent the 1951 Act from having to be brought into operation when it is unlikely that private street works will be undertaken for some time for the reason that the road is in quite a good condition as it is.

Although Section 1 (3) of the 1951 Act contains ten paragraphs of exceptions, the exceptions are not sufficiently widely drawn. While it is true that interest is paid on a deposit made, people naturally object to having their money tied up when there is no immediate prospect of work being done. This would apply particularly in areas where there are many private streets, as, for instance, in some of the suburbs around London and our other large cities.

In these cases the local authorities are properly reluctant to make up a street even though the deposits have been paid. A street may be in a tolerable state of repair, and, in fact, in a much better state of repair than others where conditions are bad or even dangerous. This subsection will enable a local authority to exempt the proposed building from the provisions of the 1951 Act where the street is in so satisfactory a condition that the local authority would not be justified in applying the private street works code within a reasonable time.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

The Bill reads "so unsatisfactory a condition." The hon. Gentleman has been making a very good case for putting in the words "so satisfactory a condition."

Mr. Maddan

If the hon. and learned Gentleman will study the 1951 Act, he will find that this is a question of several negatives leading to a positive position. I have studied these words very carefully, and I think that if he does so he will find that to be true. As often happens in Bills, they do not always mean what they may appear to mean.

I now turn to subsection (2). This empowers a local authority at any time to substitute a smaller sum for that which has originally been required and to repay the balance of anything already paid. There are two paragraphs in the subsection. Paragraph (a) alters Section 2 (3) of the 1951 Act in two ways. First, it makes clear that a smaller sum may be substituted by a local authority at any time, including after the deposit has been made.

It may be helpful to hon. Members if I give an instance in which this would apply. Suppose that somebody is planning to build a house and that the deposit has been determined in accordance with the cost of the anticipated expenses of making up the street. After that, it is proposed to build other houses along the street, and the local authority may modify the street plan. It may decide to narrow the carriageway and perhaps put green verges between the carriageway and the footpath. The consequence might be a reduction in the expense. Therefore, the sum required would not be so big as was first supposed, and one object of paragraph (a) is to enable the balance to be repaid.

The second change that paragraph (a) makes is to Section 2 (3) of the 1951 Act which provides only for serving a further notice of the deposit required, or a change in it, on the same person on whom the original notice was served. This paragraph would allow further notice to go to the owner for the time being of the land in question. Meanwhile the original owner may have disappeared. He may be dead or, in the case of a limited liability company, it might have been wound up.

Paragraph (b) of this subsection deals with Section 2 (3) and (4) of the 1951 Act. Under those provisons an owner can only appeal against the amount required for deposit if further notice has been served on him, if the further notice is given within one month of his having received the original notice. This amendment allows right of appeal against a further notice whenever this further notice is given. The Bill already proposes in this paragraph that further notice may be given at any time, and it is obviously reasonable that appeal against such a notice should be allowed.

To turn to subsection (3) of Clause 4, this amends Section 1 (3) of the 1951 Act, so that when, as is provided in Clause 1, a refund of deposit is made when an owner does work of permanent value to the street, the degree to which that owner's liability is covered is not the amount of the original deposit but only the balance met after refund. This is really a consequential provision following on the Clauses dealing with refunds in this Bill. Subsection (4) is also a consequential amendment, whereby interest is paid only on the balance of the deposit left when there is a refund, and not on the whole of it.

As regards subsection (5), Section 10 of the 1951 Act defines a private street. but that definition does not cover all cases. The amendment to that Section in this subsection covers the case where, for instance, the house is to be built on a defined plot within a field, and when no separate plan has been deposited for the street on which it is to front or abut. The local authority, nevertheless, expects to be informed, in the building plan, as to the road to which the house will have access, and this road would therefore normally be shown on the building plan. This subsection makes such a road a private street in respect of which a deposit can be required. Of course, the safeguards of the existing Act in Section 1 (3, e) of the 1951 Act still obtain; that is, safeguards for where a street is not likely in a reasonable time to become sufficiently built up to justify the use of powers under the appropriate street works code.

In conclusion, I thank my hon. Friends who have supported me in presenting this Bill which will, I am certain, help local authorities to use their powers to the satisfaction of the public. The Bill will remove impediments to the building of houses, and will thus help in providing what is, after food and clothing, man's most basic need, shelter. In particular, by removing impediments to the building of houses which are likely to pass into private ownership, it will help in providing for the deep desire of men and women throughout the country to own a home of their own, and it will forward the ideal of a property-owning democracy.

12.2 p.m.

Mr. G. B. H. Currie (Down, North)

I beg to second the Motion.

There is not very much that I can add to what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mr. Maddan), except to refer to the proposal which he anticipated might be, to some extent, controversial, namely, that there should be a registration in the local land registry of a land charge.

I have had some experience of cases of this kind. In my view, the 1951 Act was an immense stride forward towards the protection of those people who invested their money in the purchase of a home. It was my experience in a number of cases that money had been paid over to a developer of land by a purchaser on an undertaking which, unfortunately, was not legally enforceable, and that eventually, when the road came to be made up, a person of no great means was confronted suddenly with the necessity to pay the road-making charge all over again.

As I understand the 1951 Act, it was designed partially to protect the property purchaser from that very liability. Unless we take this further step, however, there is still a danger of the purchaser being caught up in that way. Whereas if the property is registered in the local land registry, and is available for inspection there, no purchaser would be so likely to be caught up. Of course, there is the possibility, between inspection by a solicitor acting for the purchaser and completion taking place, of a withdrawal being authorised, but the time limit there would be very short indeed, and I wholeheartedly support this proposition in the Bill. I am not one who engages in that form of the law dealing with real property. I approach this problem very much as a common lawyer and, as I say, the Bill commends itself to me in a remarkable manner.

Finally, in my view—and I must emphasise that this is a personal expression of opinion—it is a great misfortune that the 1951 Act did not extend to Northern Ireland. Neither that Act nor this Bill touches these affairs in Northern Ireland. I say this not only so that right hon. and hon. Members here in this House may hear what I say, but so that it may be heard elsewhere. I have been spoken to by estate developers who would welcome such a provision. They feel that it would give them protection in that it affords security to the public.

I support the Bill in the hope that some day this provision may be extended to my own country.

12.3 p.m.

Mr. E. H. C. Leather (Somerset, North)

If I may intervene for a few minutes, I should like to commend my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mr. Maddan) for the excellent and much-needed Bill which he has brought before the House today and which, I think I can say, is welcomed on all sides.

If this debate should last longer than appears likely, and if I do not stay to the end of it, Sir, I hope that you and the House will accept my apologies. No discourtesy is intended but, like most of my colleagues have already done, I shall shortly catch a train so that I can spread enlightenment and cheer among my constituents—a course which I am sure hon. Gentlemen opposite will appreciate.

Mr. Mitchison

Will the hon. Gentleman tell them about the Rent Bill?

Mr. Leather


I have taken a considerable interest in the subject dealt with by this Bill, as my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government knows. I have done so since a case arose in my constituency about which I have been bothering him for nearly a year. I hasten to say that my hon. Friend has been, as everybody in this House would expect, most sympathetic, painstaking and helpful but, alas, under the law as it stands at present, all his help and all his sympathy have not prevailed.

This is a case similar to those which have been mentioned already. It is that of a woman who was left a widow in 1938. Just before her husband died he built a little bungalow, right out in the country. He moved her into it before the war and left her £3 a week to live on for the rest of her life. In the meantime, the town developed around the bungalow and the land is now built up, both opposite and beyond. Because of the fact that this lot happens to be right along the whole frontage of the road, that elderly widow, living on £3 a week, is now confronted with a bill for £890.

That is absolutely monstrous. Yet it is the law. Everybody says, "We are very sorry, but we cannot help; it is the law." They may call it the law, but I call it legalised bureaucratic rape of the most outrageous kind. If the law is enforced—the local authority is determined to enforce it—this woman will be made bankrupt. Even if the injustice is put right—I pray that it will be—a terrible fear will have hung over this woman's head for a year.

Mr. Mitchison

I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman says, but will he help me by saying who ought to pay for making up the road?

Mr. Leather

I can only think that it should be the community. I cannot think of any other answer. It should be an Exchequer charge and not a charge on the rates. One may say that this means the Exchequer spending more money, but we are talking about trifling sums. This happens to only a handful of people each year.

Mr. Mitchison

To an appreciable number.

Mr. Leather

Nevertheless, the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that the total sums involved are very small. We are not talking about something which will raise taxation, or put a great burden on the State.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be sympathetic about my next problem. I understand that there may be a possibility that my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin has fallen into the trap into which I fell about a year ago, in that he has drawn the title of the Bill a little more narrowly than he intended. I believe that some of the cases that we have in mind would not be dealt with by the Bill because they are covered by Acts passed before 1951. I suggest to my hon. Friend and to the House that it might be wise to employ in this instance a peculiar artifice which was used to get me out of my difficulty.

I was given to understand at the time that, while this House had no power to change the title of a Bill once the Measure had been introduced, another place has such a power. I found that, because of the way I had drawn the title of my Bill, I could not cover a number of cases which everyone agreed ought to be covered. With the assistance of the Lord Chancellor and Lord Merthyr, it was possible to have the Bill amended in another place. When it returned to this House, we were merely asked to agree with the Lords Amendments, which we did, and everybody was happy.

I particularly ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give very serious consideration to this point. It may be an untidy and rather odd thing to do, but it has been done before. Some such artifice ought to be used to cover the other cases that we have in mind, because the present position is inexcusable.

12.14 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

I am glad that the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather) has raised the general position under the several milestones of law to which his hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mr. Maddan) referred in moving the Second Reading. This is the last, as it were, of a number of bits of legislation about what is substantially a rather serious matter, and that is the condition of roads in towns and elsewhere—mostly in towns—for which the local authority has no responsibility, and the repair or maintenance of which falls on the frontagers.

There have been two attempts to deal with it in the past. One was part of the Public Health Act, 1875, which was a great step forward in English legislation and in relation to the views taken by Parliament of the responsibilities of the community vis-à-vis public health. The second was the Private Streets Works Act, 1892, an adoptive Measure, but it is very widely adopted, probably being the more frequently adopted of the two. As has been said: Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em, And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum. Those Acts were the great fleas, the little flea was the New Streets Act, and the Bill is the lesser flea, but I earnestly hope that we are not going on ad infinitum, because some day or another some Government ought to face this difficult problem.

The New Streets Act dealt only with the future, but we have only to go round some of our towns, particularly in the north of England, to see that we need to deal with something more than the future. There are far too many of these streets, very often marked "unadopted," which are used a good deal but do not get made up. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) has recently repeatedly protested at Question Time about the state of such streets in his constituency. I do not know the circumstances, but he got a friendly reply, within limits, from the Parliamentary Secretary the other day. However, that illustrates what is going on.

The difficulty in the long run is: who is to pay for it? It is true, as the hon. Member for Somerset, North said, that the amount involved in the case of any individual frontager is not large in comparison with the volume of the local rates, but it is often very large for the individual frontager because the cost of road works has risen and houses have, on the whole, as is the habit of houses, tended to get no better, but rather worse. Consequently, what some time ago was a small burden has become progressively larger and larger.

I do not want to provoke the Parliamentary Secretary into too rapid a disclaimer of responsibility in these matters, but I suggest to him and to the House that the kind of Bill that we are considering this morning in itself illustrates that something is wrong. From time to time, in our constituencies all of us meet the kind of case in which there are two simple propositions—a road which obviously ought to be made up, and the difficulty of getting it done at the expense of the frontagers.

That was the problem which my friend, Mr. Kinley, formerly Member of Parliament for Bootle, had in mind when he introduced the New Streets Act. The Bill makes a small alteration in the Act, but I would agree with the hon. Member for Hitchin that it was a compromise Measure, and it is not the particular virtue or vice of either side of the House that it happened to be that. We had different views on the matter at the time. I remember the discussions very well and I have never regarded it as a fully satisfactory compromise. Today, we are considering a few small points which were not dealt with at the time.

I most earnestly hope, not from any party point of view, but as a matter of public interest and public responsibility, that this problem will be tackled and a proper method evolved for dealing with these bad roads. I agree with the hon. Member for Somerset, North that nowadays one cannot continue to try to make the frontagers responsible. It has to be a common responsibility, the responsibility of the community. The hon. Member was quite right in that and also quite right in not precluding the responsibility of the Exchequer, as distinct from the rates.

No more can be put on the backs of local authorities at present. They already have more than they can carry and must be helped over this sort of problem, if anything is to be done about it. The Bill has the support of both the Association of Municipal Corporations and the Urban District Councils' Association, who are probably the two bodies most concerned with it, and it is right that the Bill should have a Second Reading.

I cordially support the first three Clauses of the Bill. I dare say there is some technical objection—I do not know what it is—to registering the matters, to which Clause 3 refers, in the local land charges register, but it is clearly to everybody's advantage that that should be done and that people should not have to go to the local authority about it so that the local authority is bothered with something which can be handled in another way and should not have to send out a cautiously worded notice saying, "We hope that this is all right, but we take no responsibility for it."

Clause 1 is obviously quite right and Clause 2 removes a doubt, if a doubt ever existed, which arises through the existence of the two codes, the Public Health Acts, on the one hand, and the Private Street Works Acts, on the other. Clause 4 still needs consideration. I can assure the hon. Member for Hitchin that I have not only read the New Streets Act, 1951, but have it before me now. He will see that it is not very clearly worded and that there is more possibility of ambiguity than he thought.

It seems to be quite clear to him, so perhaps that is enough. We always remember the story of the man who was kept in the War Office to read the dispatches upon the ground that, if he understood them, everybody else would. I hope that the clarity of the Clause to the hon. Member will, in practice, prove sufficient. One has to remember that some local authorities are more energetic than others and that the directions in which local authorities exercise their energies vary.

To leave the question of the satisfactory condition of the road, and the time when it is to be made up in the future, entirely to the discretion of the local authority may be rather unsatisfactory. It is certainty worth considering whether a term of years should not be stated as a guide as, for instance, in the matter of the life of houses in some housing legislation. But that is a small and obviously a Committee point.

My hon. Friends and I all welcome the introduction of this small flea, or Bill, and we are very grateful to the hon. Member for Hitchin, who has seized the opportunity to produce a bit of legislation which will clear the doubts and help the work of our rather overstrained local authorities. Goodness knows, they have difficulties enough at present. Anything we can do to help them is surely to the good.

12.25 p.m.

Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)

I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mr. Maddan) and to wish him well with this Bill. The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) referred to fleas and lesser fleas upon them. A difficulty with the Bill is that although it deals with a number of matters which arise out of the New Streets Act, 1951, it does not deal with that most difficult feature to which my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather) referred.

I, too, have had a case very similar to the one he quoted. It was that of a rather aged lady who happened to have a small house with a large garden which she had inherited, through her father, from her grandparents. All seemed well until the local authority, which owned the land on the other side of the road, decided that the street should be made up in accordance with the Private Streets Act, 1892. The result, from her point of view, was a bill for £400. That came completely out of the blue and she had no resources out of which to meet it. She was prepared, if necessary, to sell the land or part of the land, but she was not able to do that, very largely because of the liability which had to be met.

I looked at the law about this matter and the only remedy I could see was for her to go to the local court of summary jurisdiction and object on certain very limited grounds. In fact, she had no grounds and was put in the very gravest difficulty. Three small cottages caused a similar difficulty, involving their owners in what, for them, was a substantial sum of money.

The difficulty about the Bill—and I ask its promoter carefully to consider the position—is that it amends the New Streets Act, 1951, while the amendment which is probably required is that to the Private Streets Act, 1892. In view of the Long Title of the Bill, which is merely To amend the New Streets Act. 1951 it may be difficult to remedy this situation, which I think is very unsatisfactory.

Mr. Mitchison

I would remind the hon. Member that under the Private Streets Works Act of 1892 local authorities have power to remit charges. I think he will find that they hardly ever do that, but they very often give time to pay.

The complete objection to trying to deal with the difficulty to which he has referred is the fact that money is involved. The Government would have to do it, because a Money Resolution is required both as regards public funds and local authority funds. Therefore, apart from the difficulty of the problem, it could never be dealt with in this Bill.

Sir E. Errington

I appreciate that in those circumstances it is rather difficult for my hon. Friend to do very much about it.

I should like to make one further reference in connection with Clause 4 (1), which deals with the Amendment of Section 1 (3, e) of the 1951 Act, which reads as follows: In a case where the local authority, being satisfied that the street or such a part thereof as aforesaid is not, and is not likely within a reasonable time to become, sufficiently built-up to justify the use of powers under the appropriate private street works code for securing the carrying out of street works in the street or part thereof, by notice in writing exempt the building from this section. Will that exemption apply for all time? If not, it seems to me that if a person obtains an exemption, although he may be happy in the thought that he will not have any liability, it may well be that if the local authority considers that the position has changed that person may subsequently find himself liable for something. If it were possible I should like to be satisfied that the exemption is of a permanent character. If it is not it may be a very considerable trap for the unwary.

12.33 p.m.

Mr. Richard Body (Billericay)

The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) called the Bill a "little flea". It may be appropriate that the "little flea" should be introduced by the "hon. Member for 'Itchin".

Mr. Maddan

With respect to my hon. Friend, I must ask him not to drop his aitches, because there is an hon. Member for Itchen. I am the hon. Member for Hitchin.

Mr. Body

I hope that the dislike of the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) of Clause 4 will not cause the rest of the Bill to be scratched away, because I feel that that Clause is no less valuable than Clause 1.

The problem of the making up of streets is not a general one throughout the country. As a rule it applies only in isolation, to individual highways in various parts of the country. There is. however, one exception to this, namely, a very large area in Essex, which is included in the new town of Basildon and various areas round about, where there are a total of about 85 miles of unmade-up streets, all within the Billericay division. All these miles of road are occupied by small properties, mainly bungalows, most of them with a few square yards of garden around them, built during the inter-war period, when the 1951 Act did not apply. Invariably, those properties became occupied by people with modest wages, of whom many are now old-age pensioners, with incomes still more modest. In all, there are about 10,000 people living on unmade-up streets in that area.

My hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather) and my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) were both able to quote individual cases. I can assure them both that such cases could be repeated a hundredfold or more in the area of Essex to which I have referred. A great deal of hardship is being caused by the fact that during the inter-war years there was no Act comparable to the 1951 Act.

I therefore support the Bill. In my view, it removes a few of the blemishes which exist in the 1951 Act. That Act has already greatly encouraged the advance towards the property-owning democracy which hon. Members on this side want to see. In so far as those blemishes are removed, I welcome the Bill, and hope that it will have the support of the House and go through unamended.

12.36 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. J. Enoch Powell)

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mr. Maddan) indicated, the Bill is very limited in its scope. A number of hon. Members who have spoken have taken this opportunity to throw into the air the question of a major change in the general law of liability for the making up of streets and, in doing so, have brought out the fact that any such change must have very wide financial implications.

I will not enter into a discussion of that matter further than to remark, in reply to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington), that the exemptions provided in Section 1 of the 1951 Act are not, as he seemed to think, exemptions from liability for the cost of making up streets, but exemptions from the duty of paying or securing sums under that Act either in satisfaction of that liability or towards the satisfaction of it. I am also afraid that I cannot undertake to advise my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather) about what might happen to a Private Member's Bill in another place.

As for this Measure itself, however, I think we are all agreed that it makes useful if minor improvements in the 1951 Act, which has proved in itself a useful Measure.

Although there may be Committee points upon various of the provisions, I join with other hon. Members who have spoken in trusting that the House will give the Bill an unopposed Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).