HC Deb 02 February 1956 vol 548 cc1125-33
Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)

I beg to move, in page 6, line 13, to leave out paragraph (a).

It does not seem to me that the paragraph will be helpful in any way to local authorities. There will probably not be many cases where a local authority will want to build blocks of less than four storeys on sites which cost more than £10,000 per acre, but for the sake of authorities which find themselves in this position, it would be helpful if the paragraph could be deleted.

Perhaps we could be given a little explanation of what is behind the Clause. Can we know, for instance, whether a local authority building on a site costing more than £10,000 per acre will be penalised for undertaking a scheme of mixed development? The provision seems to imply that if a local authority erects a ten-storey block on such a site, it would qualify, whereas if it decided, for social, geographical and planning reasons, to provide the same number of units in the form of an eight-storey block and a row of houses to meet the needs of big families, or a row of bungalows round the feet of the block for old people, the low dwelling form of construction would be penalised.

I hope I am wrong about this, but many of my hon. Friends are in the same confusion about it, and it may be that local authorities will also be misled if that is the intention. If the Parliamentary Secretary can help us at this stage, I am willing to give way. If not, I should like to make clear one or two other circumstances in which the provision might cause difficulties. The paragraph refers to the figure of £10,000 an acre, but that is an unrealistic figure for London. We are building on sites of £30,000 per acre. This Clause might just as well not exist so far as Central London is concerned. Therefore, authorities building on such expensive sites will want to go up as high as they can and qualify for the subsidy.

There may be other officials in the right hon. Gentleman's Department who are more concerned with planning who will go to the local authority and say, "Even though this site has cost you £30,000, you cannot put up a tall block because of the density of the surrounding area or because of the daylighting factors"—we are always coming up against that factor on small sites in Central London—"and therefore we have to receive help by virtue of this Clause."

It may be that the right hon. Gentleman wants to say that local authorities building on small expensive sites should not be there at all. However, it may well be, particularly with the degree of congestion in Central London, that we have literally to chase round the houses looking for very small plots which are expensive and on which we cannot go up high because of the daylighting and density factors in the area. It will be unfair for the planning side of the right hon. Gentleman's Department to tell us that we cannot go up high, and for the accountants to say that because we have not gone up above four storeys we are not entitled to the expensive sites subsidy.

Quite frankly, we are in such a desperate position in Central London that we must look to every odd corner and for every plot, however small, on which we can put up even half a dozen flats or even a handful of maisonettes here and there, because every single unit helps some desperate family. I think that we have used up so many of our sites in London that the big projects will not be so easy for local authorities to undertake.

The present Clause seems to be a direct disincentive to the use of the small site with a small development on it. I should have thought that this was a matter which we could have left to the discretion of the local authorities. No one wants to put up fewer flats than possible on a site, not only because of the human need which activates us all, but because of consideration of the rent and rate income. It would be only in circumstances of planning restrictions that we would want to do this. I hope, therefore, that it will be possible to delete this paragraph.

Surely the right hon. Gentleman has enough powers in his loan sanction approval to regulate expenditure on sites without having written into the Bill the figure of £10,000. We do not know what is to happen to land values. They may get even higher, and I cannot see that it is helpful in any way to have this arbitrary figure written into the Bill when the Minister has powers, through the other machinery in his Department, to control the expenditure on sites of local authorities. It would seem, therefore, to be in the interest of everyone and to make for greater clarity in this Bill if the right hon. Gentleman would see if he could meet us on this Amendment and drop paragraph (a).

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

I think that I can lay to rest the apprehensions of the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Jeger). She asked me—and it is convenient to take the specific examples she gave—whether, if a site is acquired at more than £10,000 per acre on which it is proposed to build only one high block of eight storeys, it would qualify for the higher rate subsidy under Clause 6. The answer is "Yes."

What this Clause means is that in order to qualify for the subsidy on a site costing more than £10,000 per acre development must include one building, but need not include more, of four storeys. That is really the only qualification which this Clause imports. The site need only comprise of all the buildings placed on it one of four storeys in order for all the buildings on the site to be covered by the Clause.

There is in fact very little difference between this provision and the one in the existing law. Under the existing law laid down in the 1949 Act, it is necessary for there to be at least one building of three storeys on such a site. This Clause makes the slight change that that requirement applies to four storeys. I suggest to the Committee that it is unrealistic to think that on very expensive building sites costing above £10,000 per acre the development would be such that no building of even four storeys was likely to be erected.

We all desire to bring about variegated development of these sites, and there has been immense improvement in recent years in such planning. We all know that the tendency in pre-war years to have monotonous blocks of four, five and six-storey flats side by side has been succeeded by much more diversified development, with houses and maisonettes and very high flats. It is intended by this Clause to give the utmost discretion that can possibly be desired to a local authority to plan the site.

The hon. Lady said, "Suppose you have just one site on which it is desired to build just one house." I suggest to her that it is unrealistic to suppose that a local authority would wish to acquire a single dwelling site at very high cost and erect on that site one dwelling of less than four storeys. I would agree that in that case it is excluded. I ask the Committee, however, to recognise that it is reasonable when developing a site of very high value that the local authority while going in for diversification and experimenting with different types of diversification should not act extravagantly, and should provide some development at a reasonable height.

Mrs. Jeger

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his assurance. On the second point which I raised, I feel that I may not have made myself quite clear. I do not mean the obvious case of infilling. For instance, in central London there are still bombed sites which should be filled and which, for town planning reasons, are filled up to existing roof level by perhaps three or four houses. There is an instance in Great Ormond Street of land costing more than £10,000 an acre. Of course, we cannot put up ten storey blocks because it is a question of the small job of infilling. Does the Parliamentary Secretary say that that sort of work which would help a few families is excluded from this assistance and is being discouraged by the Minister?

Mr. Powell

I am not acquainted with the actual site. The position at present is that in order to qualify it is necessary for such a building to have three storeys, and that as the Bill is drawn it would be necessary that it should have four storeys. There is that difference between the law as it stands and as it will be under this Clause, but there is only that difference. I should imagine that in most cases of infilling, the existing roof levels to which the hon. Lady referred will be of the four-storey level.

6.0 p.m.

Mr. Mitchison

There is another difference, and that is that the existing legislation was not passed at a time when the Government were cutting the general housing subsidies. The trouble in this case is, taking local authority finances as a whole, that the authorities will not have a penny to spare, but on the contrary will be very hard put to it indeed to go on with their general housing programmes. I quite accept what the Parliamentary Secretary said about the first point put by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. L. Jeger). Indeed, I think that it is clear in the Bill.

However, I do not for a moment accept the answer which he made on the second point. In effect what he said was that there will be very few cases in which local authorities will be building under four storeys on such valuable land.

Mr. Powell

I said that there would be very few cases where, on such valuable land, the local authority would be engaging in development which did not comprise at least one building of four storeys.

Mr. Mitchison

I accept the hon. Gentleman's correction. That is exactly what he said, but I invite him to go into the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South—and not only there, but into the centres of any large towns in this country—and get any land at all at less than £10,000 an acre.

What he is doing is, from Whitehall—from Parliament if he likes—obliging local authorities in no circumstances to have areas containing single houses or houses with a couple of flats under the penalty of losing its subsidy in those areas.

Mr. Powell

The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) is under a misapprehension. This provision obliges them to have no expensive sites on which development consists exclusively of houses of one and two and three storeys.

Mr. Mitchison

The hon. Gentleman has repeated with great lucidity what he already said and there is no need for him to repeat it a second time. He is obliging local authorities in those circumstances not to build low flat dwellings in one of those areas, but, under a pretty severe financial penalty, to build the kind of houses and flats that he and the Tory Party think that they ought to build on this particular type of site. What sense is there in that? I agree with him that there will not be very many cases, but that is all the more reason not to have an unnecessary stopper in the Clause. That and that only is what he is doing. To give another instance; a very distinguished Leicester councillor, Councillor Haig, wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-West (Mr. Bowden), whose utterances in this House are restricted to occasional formal remarks—he is the Opposition Chief Whip—and said that this provision will make things exceedingly difficult in Leicester. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary knows that in Wolverhampton and other large provincial towns the use of flats has not become nearly as extensive as in London. In some parts of England there still persists very strong objection to them.

That is the sort of matter which a local authority ought to be left to decide for itself. The penalty is pretty severe. With land at £20,000 an acre—that is not an unreasonable figure for land in the middle of a big city—the local authority will get no expensive site subsidy at all for the second £10,000 and for the first £10,000 will get £530 a year. That is to say, that up to £10,000, even at the present monstrously high rates of interest, the authority will be getting the annual interest on that amount for 60 years. That is not so bad.

However, the moment one gets beyond that, the difference is very sharp, and the financial penalty of going beyond £10,000 is very heavy. I repeat that I agree with the hon. Member that there will not be very large numbers of these cases. In fact, the cost of the concession for which we are asking would not be very large. What the provision means is that the Minister is telling local authorities, who are surely the right people to judge matters of this sort, what kind of development they will have in their own areas.

Not all local authorities will be affected, probably not rural or most urban councils, but the big towns will be affected, and the city councils ought to settle it for themselves and not be obliged by financial considerations to adopt something that may not fit in with their requirements, and perhaps with their prejudices, in the matter in the way which it is sought to do now.

I cannot help feeling that here is the stern hand of the Treasury, which sometimes gets hold of these financial Clauses and whittles off a few pounds here and there, and that this provision is put into a financial Clause without enough consideration for the independence of local authorities. The Bill already goes far too far in that direction, and I beg the hon. Gentleman either to say that he will reconsider the matter—not to give an answer now, but on Report stage, if he wishes—or, failing that, to take it from me that we regard it as such a serious matter from the point of view of the right of local authorities to do their work in

their own way and from the point of view of the needs and prejudices in some cases of the larger towns that we propose to divide the Committee.

Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 219, Noes 172.

Division No. 99.] AYES [6.5 p.m.
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G. Green, A. Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley)
Aitken, W. T. Gresham Cooke, R. Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)
Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J. Grimond, J. Maddan, Martin
Ashton, H. Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury) Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)
Atkins, H. E. Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G. Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark)
Baldook, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M. Gurden, Harold Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.
Baldwin, A. E. Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.) Marlowe, A. A. H.
Balniel, Lord Harris, Reader (Heston) Marples, A. E.
Barber, Anthony Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Maoclesfd) Marshall, Douglas
Barlow, sir John Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.) Maudling, Rt. Hon. R.
Barter, John Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Mawby, R. L.
Baxter, Sir Beverley Harvie-Watt, Sir George Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.
Beamish, Maj. Tufton Head, Rt. Hon. A. H. Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Molson, A. H. E.
Bennett, F. M. (Torquay) Heath, Edward Morrison, John (Salisbury)
Bennett, Dr. Reginald Hlcks-Beaoh, Maj. W. W. Nabarro, C. D. N.
Bavins, J. R. (Toxteth) Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton) Nairn, D. L. S.
Biggs-Davison, J. A. Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Neave, Airey
Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Hill, John (S. Norfolk) Nicholls, Harmar
Bishop, F. P. Hlnchingbrooke, Viscount Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th. E. & Chr'ch)
Black, C. W. Hirst, Geoffrey Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.
Body, R. F. Holland-Martin, C. J. Nutting, Rt. Hon. Anthony
Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan) Holt, A. F. Oakshott, H. D.
Boyle, Sir Edward Hope, Lord John O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Horobin, Sir Ian Osborne, C.
Brooman-White, R. C. Howard, John (Test) Page, R. G.
Bryan, P. Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.) Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)
Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T. Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J. Partridge, E.
Bullus, Wing Commander E. E. Hughes-Young, M. H. C. Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Burden, F. F. A. Huibert, Sir Norman Pilkington, Capt. R. A.
Butler, Rt. Hn. R.A. (Saffron Walden) Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh. W.) Pitt, Miss E. M.
Campbell, Sir David Hylton-Foster, Sir H. B. H. Pott, H. P.
Carr, Robert Iremonger, T. L. Powell, J. Enoch
Cary, Sir Robert Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Price, David (Eastleigh)
Channon, H. Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Profumo, J. D.
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.) Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Raikes, Sir Victor
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Rawlinson, Peter
Corfield, Capt. F. V. Johnson, Erle (Blackley) Redmayne, M.
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Johnson, Howard (Kemptown) Renton, D. L. M.
Cunningham, Knox Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W. Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)
Dance, J. C. G. Keegan, D. Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)
D'Avigdor-Goldamid, Sir Henry Kerby, Capt. H. B. Roper, Sir Harold
Deedes, W. F. Kerr, H. W. Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Digby, Simon Wingfield Kershaw, J. A. Russell, R. S.
Doughty, C. J. A. Kirk, P. M. Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.
Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond) Lagden, C. W. Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.
Duncan, Capt. J. A. L. Lancaster, Col. C. C. Sharples, R. C.
Duthle, W. S. Langford-Holt, J. A. Shepherd, William
Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir David Leather, E. H. C. Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn Leavey, J. A. Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)
Errlngton, Sir Erle Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Spearman, A. C. M.
Farey-Jones, F. W. Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Speir, R. M.
Fell, A. Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.) Spence, H. R. (Aberdeen, W.)
Finlay, Graeme Lindsay, Martin (Solihull) Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)
Fisher, Nigel Llnstead, Sir H. N. Stevens, Geoffrey
Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F. Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)
Fort, R. Lloyd-George, Maj. Rt. Hon. G. Storey, S.
Foster, John Longden, Gilbert Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)
Freeth, D. K. Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chlswlck) Studholme, H. C.
Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D. Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Summers, C. S. (Aylesbury)
Garner-Evans, E. H. McAdden, S. J. Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)
George, J. C. (Pollok) Macdonald, Sir Peter Teeling, W.
Glover, D. Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, S.)
Gomme-Dunean, Col. A. Mackie, J. H. (Galloway) Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.
Cough, C. F. H. McLaughlin, Mrs. P. Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.
Cower, H. R. Maclay, Rt. Hon. John Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)
Graham, Sir Fergus Maclean, Fitzroy (Lancaster) Touche, Sir Gordon
Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich) McLean, Nell (Inverness) Turner, H. F. L.
Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H. Ward, Hon. George (Worcester) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Vickers, Miss J. H. Watkinson, H. A. Woollam, John Victor
Vosper, D. F. Whitelaw, W.S.I. (Penrith & Border) Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.) Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Walker-Smith, D. C. Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Wall, Major Patrick Wills, G. (Bridgwater) Colonel J. H. Harrison and
Mr. Godber.
Ainsley, J. W. Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Coine Valley) Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)
Albu, A. H. Hamilton, W. W. Pargiter, G. A.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Hannan, W. Parker, J.
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.) Parkin, B. T.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Hastings, S. Paton, J.
Anderson, Frank Hayman, F. H. Pearson, A.
Bacon, Miss Alice Healey, Denis Plummer, Sir Leslie
Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J. Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis) Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)
Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.) Hobson, C. R. Probert, A. R.
Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S.E.) Holman, P. Proctor, W. T.
Benson, G. Holmes, Horace Reeves, J.
Beswick, F. Houghton, Douglas Rhodes, H.
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Howell, Denis (All Saints) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Blackburn, F. Hubbard, T. F. Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Boardman, H. Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Ross, William
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.) Hunter, A. E. Royle, C.
Bowles, F. G. Hynd, H. (Accrington) Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.
Boyd, T. C. Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Shurmer, P. L. E.
Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Brockway, A. F. Irving, S. (Dartford) Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)
Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper) Janner, B. Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Jeger, George (Gooie) Snow, J. W.
Burke, W. A. Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St. Pnes, S.) Sorensen, R. W.
Burton, Miss F. E. Jones, David (The Hartlepools) Sparks, J. A.
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Jones, Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Steele, T.
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Callaghan, L. J, Kenyon, C. Stones, W. (Consett)
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)
Chapman, W. D. Lawson, G. M. Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)
Chetwynd, G. R. Ledger, R. J. Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.
Clunie, J. Lee, Frederick (Newton) Sylvester, G. O.
Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead) Lever, Leslie (Ardwlck) Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Collins, V. J. (Shoreditoh & Flnsbury) Lindgren, G. S. Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Mabon, Dr. J. D. Thornton, E.
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) MacColl, J. E. Timmons, J.
Cronin, J. D. McKay, John (Wallsend) Viant, S. P.
Daines, P. McLeavy, Frank Warbey, W. N.
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles) Weitzman, D.
Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) Mahon, S. Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Davies, Stephen (Merthyr) Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A. West, D. G.
Deer, G. Mellish, R. J. Wheeldon, W. E.
de Freitas, Geoffrey Mltohison, G. R. White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Dodds, N. N. Monslow. W. White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Moody, A. S. Wigg, George
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.) Wilkins, W. A.
Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) Morrison, Rt. Hn. Herbert (Lewis'm, S.) Willey, Frederick
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Mort, D. L. Williams, David (Neath)
Fernyhough, E. Moyle, A. Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Ab'tillery)
Fletcher, Eric Mulley, F. W. Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Neal, Harold (Bolsover) Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)
Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N. Oliver, G. H. Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Gibson, C. W. Oram, A. E. Winterbottom, Richard
Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R. Owen, W. J. Yates, V. (Ladywood)
Grey, C. F. Padley, W. E. Zilliacus, K.
Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)
Griffiths, William (Exchange) Palmer, A. M. F. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mr. Short and Mr. J. T. Price.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.