§ Dame Irene Ward
Yes, the subject which was set down for the Adjournment debate was on Gibraltar, but I had the next Adjournment debate.
§ Dame Irene Ward
On a point of order. May I explain that, when I found that the House was likely to rise early, I went to ask Mr. Speaker whether, if I obtained the agreement of the Minister of Housing and Local Government to a second Adjournment debate, I should be allowed to initiate it. Mr. Speaker agreed, and I had a gentleman's agreement with the Minister of Housing and Local Government whose Parliamentary 2133 Secretary has very kindly attended the House. I was merely asking a question in the previous debate. We did have that agreement.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am not doubting anyone's word, but I do not take my orders from back benchers.
§ Dame Irene Ward
No, but I had an interview with Mr. Speaker, and Mr. Speaker's Secretary rang me up and said that if I obtained the agreement of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, I would be able to make my speech. The Parliamentary Secretary is here, and I think he will agree that it would be very hard indeed to prevent me from speaking now, when I had that very friendly conversation with Mr. Speaker.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Lady. As one Tyneside Member speaking for another, may I point out that what the hon. Lady did on two or three occasions was to interrupt the noble Lord who was replying to the debate. She always prefaced the remarks she made in her interruptions by saying "Before the noble Lord sits down—,"which I understood was an interruption in the noble Lord's speech and not a speech of her own. I understand that the hon. Lady feels that she has not exhausted her right to speak because she has not yet made a speech. She has only interrupted the noble Lord, and, if I may say so, very effectively too. I suggest that that is a well-known way of getting into a debate without exhausting one's right to speak, and we have not yet heard the hon. Lady speaking except when interrupting somebody else.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Well, I suppose if it was an interruption before the noble Lord sat down, it was not a speech, and that is that, but it sounded very much like a speech.
§ Dame Irene Ward
Thank you very much, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.
2134 I feel very diffident about keeping the House after the main Adjournment debate is over, and I do so only with the agreement of Mr. Speaker, whose advice I naturally sought on the matter, and with the co-operation of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, to whom I am very much indebted. But, as you know, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, one has to seize one's opportunities in this House, and my experience is that if one misses an opportunity, it does not often return. Therefore, I should have been very sorry indeed, since I have kept the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry here during the whole of the debate on the Gibraltar question, waiting to reply to me, if I were not able to put my point of view. I thank my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary very much indeed for his kind co-operation, and I promise not to detain the House for very long.
I want to make one point about housing. I am very interested in what will happen to what I have always referred to as the small fixed income groups. It has occurred to me that in the slum clearance programmes which are to be carried out by the local authorities, there is one matter which is contained in the Housing Act, 1936, which requires some explanation. I have therefore seized this opportunity to try to get the position made quite clear.
The Act provides that when there is a slum clearance project which has to go to the Minister for his approval, those persons displaced under the slum clearance order must be rehoused. When I looked at the Act, and at the appropriate Section 45, it did not seem to me to be very clear, at any rate to me—and I am only an amateur in these matters— whether the local authorities were bound to rehouse all the householders. That is to say, they would, of course, rehouse the married couples, but the Act did not make clear whether the authorities must also rehouse widows, widowers, bachelors and spinsters, or whether it was within their power, so to speak, to be selective.
I sought the guidance provided in the Housing Act, and I wish to read to the House the appropriate Section, of which I am asking my hon. Friend to give a rather broader interpretation. When I first read that Section, it struck me, twenty years after the Act was passed, 2135 that the language of 1936 was very old-fashioned in relation to housing. Here is what Section 45 (1) provides:A local authority who have passed a resolution declaring any area to be a clearance area or an improvement area shall, before taking any action under that resolution which will necessitate the displacement of any persons of the working classes, undertake to carry out or to secure the carrying out of such rehousing operations, if any, within such period as the Minister may consider to be reasonably necessary.I understand from the investigations which I have made that the Minister has never defined what the words "reasonably necessary" mean. I am very anxious that there shall be no loopholes.
I fully appreciate the power of the local authorities, and I am a supporter of and a believer in local government. Sometimes, however, the Minister himself finds himself in conflict with the local authorities. I might instance how very hard the Minister has tried—and I commend him for it—to get local authorities so to interpret their housing policies as to make possible the provision of houses for ex-Regular Service men who have done their duty to their country all over the world and now find it difficult to get their names on any appropriate housing list. I think all hon. Members of this House have found that to be an extremely difficult matter, on which it has been impossible to persuade the local authorities to do what the Minister wants them to do.
I am very anxious, before we embark on this very large scheme of slum clearance throughout the whole country, that there should be no loophole, and that local authorities will not themselves be able to be selective in regard to the people whom they can rehouse. I think that is a most important matter, and, therefore, first of all, I put down a Question. Then, this wonderful opportunity arises, and I must say to the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), as one Tynesider to another, how grateful I am to him for his support. It was very helpful of the right hon. Gentleman, and I thank him very much.
I want the Parliamentary Secretary to make it perfectly clear that when a slum clearance project is put before the Minister for his approval, all householders—I am not trying to be dogmatic as to whether they live in houses or flats 2136 —affected under the Act will be entitled to new housing under the new scheme arising out of the slum clearance project.
§ Mrs. E. M. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)
Would the hon. Lady say what she means by "householders?
§ Dame Irene Ward
Yes. Householders are people who are householders. They may possibly be owner-occupiers—and I am as interested in the owner-occupiers as in the widows who may be tenants of rented houses. A widow, widower, bachelor or spinster may be an owner-occupier of his or her own house.
§ Mrs. Braddock
That is not the question. This is a very important matter, because in many slum clearance areas some of the houses due to be demolished are sublet, and one such house may be occupied by more than one family. Does the hon. Lady suggest that only the householder of such a property should be rehoused if the house is demolished, and not those who occupy sublet accommodation in the house? They are not householders; they are sub-tenants of the householder.
§ Dame Irene Ward
I do not want to get involved in the wider aspect of the question. I am quite certain that that problem is properly covered in the slum clearance programmes, although I appreciate that there may be some difficulty about rehousing lodgers. I hope that the hon. Lady will not ask me to interpret the meaning of the word "lodger." Under Section 45 of the 1936 Act, the Minister has power to examine every project which is put before him, to see whether the local authority concerned is rehousing the people who were meant, under the original Act, to be rehoused.
I only require an assurance that no difficulties will arise in respect of people who are regarded as householders. As the hon. Lady knows, priority has quite rightly been given by some local authorities to rehousing married couples, couples who are living apart or with their in-laws and have never had houses of their own, and people living in overcrowded or unsuitable conditions. The people who have gone by the board are the widows, widowers, bachelors and spinsters. Everyone agrees that it was right, after the war, to give priority in these matters to the men returning from the Forces.
2137 I want to know if it is absolutely clear that Section 45 of the 1936 Act gives the Minister power to say to a local authority which puts forward a slum clearance scheme, "You are not providing fairly and squarely for those people whom you have displaced." I leave out altogether the question of the various categories. I want to know whether that Section, in fact, gives the Minister power not merely to guide local authorities but to impose an obligation upon them.
§ Mr. G. Lindgren (Wellingborough)
I want to help the hon. Lady. Her plea is one in regard to which hon. Members on this side of the House have a great deal of sympathy. She says that persons who had previously had homes of their own and have been displaced, because of slum clearance, should once again be given homes of their own, but her whole emphasis has been upon the position of householders. In the case of slum clearance schemes in London or the vast majority of the big cities, most of the widows, widowers, spinsters and bachelors are sub-tenants, having their own homes or homes within a household which is in the charge of a householder. Her request to the Parliamentary Secretary excludes all those sub-tenants. Does not she mean to include them?
§ Dame Irene Ward
I am not out to interpret the whole Act, because I should not be capable of doing so. All I am trying to find out is what power the Minister has. If he has power to impose his will upon local authorities it is for the House of Commons to see that justice is done. The Minister has never defined what Section 45 of the 1936 Act really means, and I am anxious to know whether it gives him power to disapprove of a scheme and say to a local authority, "You are not in fact rehousing the people who have been displaced." My argument is directed entirely to finding out the power possessed by the Minister. Parliament passes Acts of Parliament and it is tremendously important, whether or not we are all in agreement with it, to know what powers the Minister has under a certain Measure. That is what I am asking my hon. Friend to define.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. J. Enoch Powell)
I should 2138 like at the outset to assure my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) that it is always a pleasure to be in attendance to answer questions upon matters which she raises, even at much more untimely hours than this. In this case, I believe that I can set at rest entirely the anxieties which she feels in regard to the interpretation and effectiveness of Section 45 (1) of the Housing Act, 1936.
I would first remind her that by the Housing Act, 1949, the words "of the working classes" were deleted from the 1936 Act and, therefore, the words "any persons" occurring in the phrase, "displacement of any persons" are now unrestricted in any way. I would further draw her attention to the fact that the approval of the Minister, implied in the words:as the Minister may consider to be reasonably necessary.applies not only to the period of rehousing operations but also to the operations themselves. He must be satisfied that the rehousing operations will meet the situation created by the displacements.
The Minister has, from time to time, drawn the attention of local authorities to their obligation in regard to rehousing. The most recent instance was the circular issued less than two years ago—Circular No. 75 of 1954—which drew the attention of local authorities to their obligation to rehouse any persons displaced in the course of these clearance operations. Perhaps I may be permitted to explain to the House how the Minister is in a position, in fact, to secure that the "reasonably necessary" arrangements for the rehousing of persons displaced are carried out.
§ Mrs. Braddock
This is very important. Will the hon. Gentleman please explain that the responsibility for rehousing relates only to those people who are living in the slum clearance area on the date when the schedule is taken? Will he make it clear that once notice has been given that a certain area is to be scheduled as a slum clearance area and that the houses in it have to be demolished, only those people living in that area when the schedule is made have to be rehoused? I ask because not only in my own area but in other parts of the country the idea exists that anybody living in a house pulled down in a slum clearance area 2139 must be rehoused, whether or not they lived there when the census of those living in the area took place.
§ Mr. Powell
The Act refers to "persons displaced" in the course of the operations which are referred to. The displacement involved in the course of those operations is a question of interpretation, but I think it would be helpful if I were to explain how the Minister's judgment on the matter contained in Section 45 is, in practice, exercised.
The Section refers toA local authority who have passed a resolution declaring any area to be a clearance area".Such an authority must then adopt one of two courses of action laid down in Section 25 (3) of the Act. The local authority can either make a compulsory purchase order and submit it to the Minister for confirmation, or it can make a clearance order which, 2140 similarly, requires his confirmation. The Minister does not confirm either of those kinds of order unless he has before him a detailed statement of the manner in which the local authority intends to carry out its rehousing obligations.
If he were not satisfied with the arrangements proposed for rehousing he would be quite within his rights—indeed, he would be thoroughly justified—in declining to confirm the relevant compulsory purchase or clearance order. Therefore, my hon. Friend may rest assured that the obligation exists in the Act and that, in the administration of the Act, the Minister has the necessary powers and the necessary opportunity to insist upon that obligation being fulfilled.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at twenty-three minutes past Six o'clock.