HC Deb 14 February 1956 vol 548 cc2275-94
Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)

I beg to move, in page 4, line 10, to leave out paragraph (c).

The House may recollect that in Committee I moved an Amendment in the same sense as the one now on the Order Paper, and the Minister gave a partial reply to it. It was a reply which, in the opinion of myself and my hon. Friends, was wholly unsatisfactory, but we withdrew the Amendment in the hope that it might be moved again on Report, in the fuller House which I am happy to see now surrounds me. I have been fortunate enough to get the support of a number of my hon. Friends for this Amendment, and it shows that there is an increasing interest in the matter, at any rate on this side of the House.

Since many hon. Members may not have been present during the Committee stage, I should like to make perfectly clear the purposes of this Amendment. They are to curtail or to remove from the Bill the special £24 per house subsidy given to those local authorities which are deemed to be receiving authorities for overspill, and the object of the Amendment is to raise the whole issue of the overspill policy and to seek to attract the House to the idea that this is a wrongful planning idea and one which ought to be brought to an end.

9.0 p.m.

During the Committee stage, the Parliamentary Secretary dealt with two aspects of my Amendment. He first dealt with the object of this special subsidy, which is to carry out the principle underlying the Bill, and said that … subsidies ought to be pooled over the whole range of houses belonging to a local housing authority … He then explained as follows: The corollary, however, is that in cases where no adequate pool of houses exists, so that there would be a sharp difference between the rents which have to be charged in the future as building development continued and the rents which have hitherto been charged, some special provision should be made; for we cannot accept the general principle of pooling and refuse to provide for instances where, by the nature of things, it cannot be applied. At the conclusion of his speech he returned to that theme by saying: Special arrangements are contained in paragraph (c)"— that is the one which I am now seeking to remove from the Bill— and if the paragraph were omitted a very strong sense of injustice would be felt by the authorities who are co-operating with their fellow authorities in this way, and the Committee would be acting in contradiction to the principles underlying the Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st January, 1956; Vol. 548, c. 864–6.] That really begs the question, because the purpose of my Amendment is to prevent these local authorities from carrying out this policy of overspill, and whether or not they pool their housing subsidies is quite immaterial to my argument. The hon. Gentleman's use of this pooling argument does not deal with the situation which I have sought to describe. If pooling be a consideration, what about those small towns which are not selected for overspill? They are towns in which there is no pooling possible and, therefore, the argument about the necessity for carrying out the principle of pooling cannot possibly be applied to them. There are many local authorities which never attempt and do not want to be overspill authorities, and which will carry on their housing development with the subsidies as they will be provided after the passage of this Bill.

I have here a memorandum, which no doubt all hon. Members have received, from the executive of the Town and Country Planning Association—a very powerful body, which seeks to influence everyone towards a general garden city view of housing development throughout the whole countryside. That executive is apparently incensed because, by raising interest rates and reducing subsidies, the Government are preventing the realisation of this overspill policy. Paragraph 1 of the memorandum states: The Executive of the Town and Country Planning Association"——

Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Though the noble Lord may not set the Thames on fire, has he set the House on fire? There is smoke coming from an aperture.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

That is being seen to.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

As I was saying, paragraph 1 reads: The Executive of the Town and Country Planning Association observes with regret that the progress of negotiations for expanding small towns and districts under the Town Development Act, 1952, hitherto too slow, appears to have been further checked by current financial conditions. I am absolutely delighted to find that that is the view of the Town and Country Planning Association. I am delighted that the Government are doing what they can to bring this process to an end. My object in moving the Amendment is to accelerate its end and to aid and abet the Government's designs in bringing the fantastic and Utopian designs of the Town and Country Planning Association to a swift conclusion.

What sort of housing development do we want in this country? In Committee a few nights ago, the hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) referred to my views on this subject as Elizabethan. I deny that absolutely. The hon. Member thought I wanted to see old-fashioned houses in which people lived in slum conditions, as they did in Victorian times. That was the atmosphere which he created. It was quite a ridiculous view. I want, as every hon. Member wants, to see housing development according to orderly planning. I want to see that everybody in this country has good, decent, enjoyable accommodation. But why does it have to be done, in this country of all countries, by this policy of overspill?

If we go to the Continent and look at housing development in Hamburg and in Holland, we see what can be done. Holland is flooded with Indonesians, just as many of us in this country are experiencing an incursion of good Jamaicans. The latter are coming into London in large numbers and settling in accommodation of their choice. When Holland tackles its housing development it does so by the elevation of very fine flats, twelve, fifteen and twenty storeys high. That is also the policy in Germany. They do not spoliate their countryside as we do here.

It does not matter whether or not we are faced with a large immigration of population; the question is how we carry out the design of our housing development. Why cannot we spend this subsidy, now devoted to overspill towns, on creating first-class flats in London in slum clearance areas? Why cannot we have the clearance of the slums, the temporary displacement of the population elsewhere at will—because they will go elsewhere at will in any case—and the creation on the site of fine blocks of flats in the same way as is done overseas? Why must we continue this policy of ruining the countryside and overdeveloping the small towns twenty, thirty and forty miles out of the great Metropolis, leading to vast masses of conurbations and excess industrialism?

It is said that such a policy would cost very much more and that the £24 per house for overspill houses is cheap compared with the cost of flats in London. I maintain that this Government and any Government of this country which thought properly about planning projects would reach the conclusion that it would be better to give a subsidy of £60 or more for flats than have the persistence of this steady industrialism.

What price the hikers so dear to the heart of the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton)? What price his access to the open spaces under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act when London's industries and local authorities and all their messy apparatus conquer the whole of the Home Counties and East Anglia from a line from Portsmouth to the Wash? That is the prospect before us unless we take drastic action.

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, in the same debate, dealt with another point, and on that occasion he let the cat out of the bag. Referring to paragraph (c), which I am trying to delete, he said: Paragraph (c) is not a paragraph to deal with overspill as such. My noble Friend will have noted that it applies only where the houses axe provided in the area of the importing authority. It does not apply where the houses are provided by the exporting authority which ex hypothesi already has a large pool of existing houses. We are not providing this higher subsidy for overspill as overspill, but to meet the case of the importing authority which provides the houses itself for the assistance of another local authority at a distance."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st January, 1956; Vol. 548, c. 865.] In other words, what my hon. Friend meant was this: take a town—it does not matter where it is—for example, in the Home Counties, with an ambitious local borough council, a council which is fed up with the idea that the town should any longer remain the old-fashioned and attractive place it was, but wants the town to be glamorised, with neon lights, its streets filled with a thronging population, wants to put up enormous new cinemas, to neglect the old tree in the middle of the market square, the old church and all the rest of it, and wishes to develop a new industrial concept. It would do that by providing an enormous ring of houses for 15,000, 20,000 or 30,000 people around the locality.

Take such an ambitious council—and, goodness knows, we know of such. All they have got to do to get this subsidy of £24 per house is to make a little avenue of approach to the London County Council; have a few meetings, arrange a little luncheon for the Chairman of the London County Council. The London County Council then says, "We adopt this town. We wave a magic wand over it," and that is all that has to be done. Henceforward, under this Clause, the taxpayer provides £24 per house for that local authority. Is that defensible? Is that really what the country wants to see done?

Mr. Sparks


Viscount Hinchingbrooke

The hon. Gentleman thinks so.

It may be that the social engineers and town planners want it, but I do not believe it is wanted on this side of the House; and I do not believe the Parliamentary Secretary wants it, as I said the other day. Is that the idea of the new age that the Prime Minister is trying to build? Is that a property-owning democracy? Has this Bill, and this Clause in particular, been vetted by the Prime Minister in respect of policy? Does it carry out the principles of a property-owning democracy? I think it does not. Nothing of the kind. If anything, it carries out the principles of a property-less tenants' bureaucracy; a bureaucracy presided over, not by the Prime Minister, not by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, and not by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary who is to reply to this debate. It is a bureacracy presided over by that supreme architect of social engineering and Utopian town planning, Mr. F. J. Osborn of the Town and Country Planning Association.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I beg to second the Amendment.

My reasons for supporting this Amendment are perhaps a little different from those my hon. Friend has put forward, but are no less strong.

Mr. Gibson

More modern, I hope.

Mr. Page

In Committee, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary put forward, as my noble Friend has said, the reason for paragraph (c) as being that we must provide for those authorities who have not an adequate pool of houses to provide for the reduced subsidies on future building. If that principle were fully recognised throughout the Bill it would, of course, defeat the whole object of the Bill. There must be hundreds of local authorities whose future building programme is greater than their building programme over the past ten years. We do not see any provision in the Bill, in pursuance of that pooling policy, whereby local authorities can go to the Minister and say, "We have only a small pool of subsidies. We have a big housing programme in the future and ought to have the full subsidy and not a reduced subsidy." 9.15 p.m.

I cannot think that that is really the object or the principle of the Bill. Of course the main object and principle of the Bill is to encourage local authorities to concentrate their resources on slum clearance. That is set out in the first paragraph of this subsection. Paragraph (a) refers to a dwelling provided by a local authority for the purposes of slum clearance or re-development; Then the rate of subsidy will be paid. Paragraph (b) can be bracketed with that. That paragraph is about camps and temporary housing accommodation. Paragraph (d) provides for the necessities of industrial production and paragraphs (e) and (f) deal with the desirability of the development of new towns and work by the Development Corporations, but only in paragraph (c) do we find this principle of the small pool of subsidies and the necessity to pour more subsidies into that small pool.

I submit that we ought to retain as the main object of this Bill that the full subsidy is justifiable only if the dwelling is providing alternative accommodation for slum dwellings which are being cleared. We can still encourage what I might call inter-authority slum clearance where one authority is housing the slum dwellers of another authority. There are all the powers under the Town Development Act and very substantial grants can be made to the importing authority under that Act to compensate it for taking the slum dwellers of its neighbours.

Mr. Sparks

Why "slum dwellers"?

Mr. Page

I am using the phrase used in the Bill, which refers to dwellings for the purpose of slum clearance.

Mr. Sparks

Not in this paragraph.

Mr. Page

In paragraph (a)of subsection 3. As the hon. Member has drawn my attention to that point, I will follow it a little further. Paragraph (c) is quite unnecessary for the importing local authority which wishes to take slum dwellers—if I may use the phrase again— from a neighbouring authority. That can be done under paragraph (a). If the borough of X wants to carry out some slum clearance and does not want to build residences on that area as it considers the area would be better devoted to industrial purposes and it has no other place in which to house people moved from a slum area, they can be taken by a distant authority under paragraph (a) and the full subsidy received.

Under paragraph (a) the pooling need only be provided by a local authority for the purposes of slum clearance. It does not matter if it is in the area of the authority or in some other local authority area. Where there is slum clearance and rehousing of slum dwellers paragraph (a) if quite sufficient and paragraph (c) is unnecessary. In fact, paragraph (c) seems extremely dangerous because it would give local authorities power to get the full subsidy by arrangement between themselves. It is true that they would need the approval of the Minister, but it seems to be building an archway in the Bill through which one might drive a coach and four. We must realise that local authorities will be studying subsection (3) very carefully to see how to frame their requirements to bring them within the subsection so as to get the full subsidy. They can frame their requirements by arrangements between themselves for swopping their housing lists so that one local authority houses another authority's applicants. It is true that it needs the approval of the Minister, but it seems to me that the sort of arrangement between local authorities of, "I will scratch your back if you will scratch mine," plus an amenable Minister, might defeat the whole object of the Bill.

I submit that paragraph (c) is not only unnecessary for the main purpose of the Bill, which is to concentrate on slum clearance, but it is even dangerous in that it may be used to defeat the whole purpose of the Bill.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)

I would only say with regard to the speech of the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) that I am sorry to find that while on road traffic he has shown himself so abreast of the times he should now be supporting so reactionary a proposal as this one.

I am glad to have the opportunity of opposing this Amendment and of urging the Minister not to accept it. I am reminded of the old Punch cartoon of Mrs. Partington, who tried to push the sea back with a mop. Whenever I listen to the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) on home affairs, I feel that I am listening not to an Elizabethan argument but almost to a feudal argument. I cannot reconcile his broad view of foreign affairs with the very narrow view he takes on domestic affairs. Quite simply, his case is this. He knows what he wants in this Amendment. He wants to destroy any attempt to deal with the overspill population. He is saying, "The population of Great Britain is going up; let it go anywhere except to South Dorset. London is expanding year by year and people are worried about the expansion of our great cities; let them build higher and higher anywhere except in the countryside." Whatever the problems with which London has to cope, the noble Lord this afternoon has managed, in one speech, to speak with almost equal contempt of Indonesians, Jamaicans and Londoners. We hold the view that Indonesians, Jamaicans and Londoners are equal human beings with any other human beings in any other part of the country. According to the noble Lord, London should deal with its own problem for ever. The simple fact is that London is building the flats which the hon. Member wants it to build. It is doing everything that it can inside London. The figures which he quoted in his earlier speech on this same topic show that the overspill and new town programmes which this country has adopted since the war have worked, and that whereas the rest of the great cities of England and the rest of the urban areas are expanding, we have at any rate checked the growth of London.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Will the hon. Gentleman give some figures about that? There are no overspill schemes in active operation.

Dr. King

The hon. Member does not know that in my own county of Hampshire, for instance, there is an overspill scheme actively in operation and working very successfully in Basingstoke. If he will turn to the figures which he quoted on the last occasion, he will find that the post-war policy of this country has succeeded in preventing a further expansion of London and, difficult as it has been, has kept it in check.

The noble Lord's worry about the countryside is that if we take industries there we will interfere with the farmworkers who are tending to gravitate to industry. On that, one would only say that if farming wants to keep the farmworker away from industry, it must pay him such wages as will keep him from industry, and that when the little old town, of which the noble Lord spoke so delightfully—one shares his appreciation of the beauty of the little country towns —gets the expanded population and the existing housing accommodation and it becomes a larger unit, that unit can provide in the countryside the kind of schools that we longed to see in the countryside any time during the past fifty years. It can provide the sanitation and the water supply and it can provide the kind of unit that one wants to see in the countryside.

It is a pity that the noble Lord should show as opposites the towns and the countryside of England. We want to blend the best qualities of both. The townsman going into the countryside can learn a lot from the countryman and by the same token the countryman can learn a lot from the townsfolk. The townsfolk coming from urban areas into the countryside are making demands, and it is the social demands of townsfolk in the countryside that make people like the noble Lord a little uncomfortable. I hope that the Minister will resist the Amendment.

Mr. John Hay (Henley)

It is a pity that the rather waspish speech to which we have just listened from the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) has introduced an unnecessarily acrimonious note into the debate. The idea of my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), in putting down the Amendment, was to draw attention to the fact that we had had no proper opportunity of considering the Town Development Act since it was passed by this House. The implementation of that Act and the added impetus which paragraph (c) will give to it is a perfectly good reason why we should debate the important issues which that Act and the whole question of overspill raise.

The hon. Member for Itchen, I think, did not understand that those of us who represent rural constituencies do not regard overspill as something evil in itself. It is not that we do not want people from the towns to know about the countryside. We say that it is not possible to get the expanded towns schemes in the countryside without raising grave economic and even social problems.

Two economic problems at once come to mind. The first is the whole question of agricultural land. My noble Friend mentioned Holland and how, in Rotterdam and other towns and cities, the Dutch have not adopted any policy of this kind. They have chosen what we ought to give more consideration to doing in Britain, that is, to build upwards. Holland is equally short of land, possibly even more chronically short than we are in this country. As we all know, Holland is practically all land which has been recovered from the sea. That was what my noble Friend meant, and it was unkind of the hon. Member for Itchen, to use the mildest term I can think of, to say that my noble Friend had spoken in such slighting terms of Indonesians, Jamaicans and Londoners. That was not what he meant, and I am sure that the House shares my view.

The question of agricultural land in relation to the Town Development Act and overspill schemes is of great importance. If we are to get the maximum agricultural production, it follows that a very steady balance must be held all the time between the competing claims of urbanisation on the outskirts of existing country towns and the claims of agricultural land. Therefore, this is no matter to be lightly shrugged off but is something we must think about. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and his right hon. Friend the Minister are thinking about the long-term consequences of the Town Development Act.

Mr. Lindgren

Would the hon. Member not agree that it is not a question of twelve or fourteen houses to the acre eating up agricultural land but rather his middle-class development of one, two, three or four houses to the acre that eats up agricultural land?

9.30 p.m.

Mr. Hay

I do not think that that sort of interruption is really helpful in relation to the point which I am trying to make. I am looking at this matter, not from the point of view of densities, but from that of the overall picture. I am not complaining that the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) has raised the question of private building. The problem is that we run annually the risk of a considerable loss of agricultural land to all forms of building, whether public or private. In this case we are discussing the public building which follows from the Town Development Act. I agree at once that private building comes into the picture, but it is to the overall problem that I wish to draw the attention of the House.

Another economic aspect, and one which we frequently fail to remember, is the transport problem. The idea behind the building of new towns was that we should take the population into the countryside and build up an old, existing settlement or centre of population and provide industry for those who went there; but no such scheme exists in connection with the Town Development Act. Building under that Act is done without any provision for industry to provide employment. That adds greatly to the problems of transport, and it adds to the resistance of many people who are asked to move into the country.

A great many things can be said about the social problem. It is worth remembering that when Stevenage was being established an old lady in Tottenham was asked whether she and her husband would like to go there to live. The answer was, "What! Me live at Stevenage when my old man has followed the Spurs for years?" It is not easy to cope with that kind of sentiment by Act of Parliament. People have a great attachment to their homes and to places in which they have lived for so long.

We ought not to shrug off this problem. I do not suppose for a moment that my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South really intends to test the temper of the House and press this matter to a Division, but I know that the Parliamentary Secretary thought a great deal about this subject before entering the Government, and I hope that he will continue that process now that he is in office. I hope that he will be prepared to say that the Ministry is keeping constantly in mind some of the points which I have mentioned.

Unless we are careful, we run the risk of urbanising our countryside, with grave consequences to our agricultural production and our social life. Therefore, we ought to consider very carefully whether or not we should not change some aspects of the Town Development Act.

I have not yet made up my mind on these points, but I think that we passed the Act in 1952 in rather a hurry, without fully considering all the things which we ought to have considered. We passed it also without the knowledge which we now have of the experiments and developments in building upwards inside our' existing towns and cities, as in the case of High Paddington and the New Barbican scheme which, if fully carried out and given adequate assistance, not least by public opinion, might solve this great problem which is always present in such a small island as our own.

Mr. Sparks

I can support much of what my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Dr. King) said about the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), because it is quite obvious to those of us who represent intensely congested and over-populated areas that the noble Lord and his hon. Friends have not the vaguest notion of our problems. The noble Lord's speech has helped us on this side of the House considerably. It will strengthen the Labour Party in practically all the great towns and cities. If we use his speech in the forthcoming Election it will do us a great deal of good.

The noble Lord would cover the entire area with 15-storey blocks of flats. Has he paused to consider what he has advocated? These flats would not be service flats. Does he think that a man could bring up his children 15 storeys above the ground, at the top of a huge block of flats? Where would be the open spaces for the children? An area covered with 15-storey blocks of flats would shut out the light and air and sun——

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

There would be gardens underneath.

Mr. Sparks

The noble Lord says there would be gardens underneath. Although he despises town and country planning legislation, he is asking, in effect, for its application, because what he suggests could not be done in our great towns and cities without the application of the principles of the Town and Country Planning Acts. Earlier tonight we argued with his right hon. Friend that he should continue the rate of subsidy to local authorities to enable them to carry out comprehensive redevelopment under those Acts in order to provide a better layout of our old towns and cities and so that in appropriate cases we can go upwards but, at the same time, provide open spaces as well as putting industry in the proper location.

Today our towns and cities are completely built up and before we can talk about putting up 15-storey blocks of flats something has to be knocked down. What will be knocked down? [HON. MEMBERS: "Slums."] Technically, slums do not exist in many areas where there is serious overcrowding.

The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), who seconded the Amendment, inferred that paragraph (c) was concerned only with moving slum dwellers from one area to another. That is not the case. The paragraph is designed to relieve over-population and congestion in the large towns and cities because it is physically impossible to provide people now living there in over-crowded conditions with a decent home. In any case, some local authorities are anxious to develop industry in many of these outside areas. They are not all of the pattern which the noble Lord seems to think they are. The noble Lord seems to think that they want to shut themselves in a small ring which they do not want anybody to penetrate. On the contrary, some authorities want to develop industry and they want populations to come to help man those industries.

As for agriculture, it must not be forgotten that many agricultural workers leave the land largely because they have not got decent housing accommodation. The Town Development Act should help to bring back to agriculture much of the labour it is losing.

Mr. Hay

Is the hon. Gentleman telling us that people who are going from towns to live in expanded townships under the Town Development Act will go into agriculture?

Mr. Sparks

It must be realised that as children grow up they look for employment and it is by no means unknown for industrial workers to want to work on the land. I can tell the hon. Gentleman from my knowledge of the railway industry that in the old days the railways used to recruit their labour largely from farm workers and agricultural labourers. The reverse is now the case and many railway-men are leaving the railways to go back to the land. Although there is that trend, nevertheless agriculture is losing an alarming proportion of its workers, and I submit that to some extent it is due to the poor housing in the rural areas.

I am not suggesting that the Clause is mainly designed for that purpose. It is not meant to force an importing authority which does not want to operate it. However, where there is an authority willing to negotiate with the authority of a congested area, such as mine, and willing to take a certain number of our surplus people who are ready and willing to go into country districts, those people should not be denied that opportunity. Many of them would prefer to live in the country to being bottled up in a flat in a town. They are as good citizens as any found in the countryside. This idea that they are all down-at-heel slum people is incorrect. I can understand that attitude in Conservative-ridden areas where they do not want these people to come into their midst.

Many people now living in overcrowded and congested areas want to live in the country and want their children to be brought up in the country, but the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South is closing the door to them.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

They will not go.

Mr. Sparks

The noble Lord says that that they will not go. London is a case in point. At the end of the war, according to the Abercrombie Plan, London had an over-population of about three quarters of a million. Through the policy of over-spill, the London County Council and other local authorities have been able to attract out of London about 350,000 of these people. If the noble Lord had had his way, those people would have been penned in the density of the London area in 15-storey blocks of flats.

Although it may embarrass him, on this occasion the Minister deserves our support. We have opposed him many times on many other things, but here is a matter where he should adhere to his view. This is of great importance to constituencies in London which want to do something to rehouse people who are now in very bad conditions and many of whom would like to live in the countryside.

Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)

I do not like to accuse any hon. Member of adopting a selfish attitude, but when the noble Lord was speaking I thought that I detected a large degree of selfishness.

Viscount Hinchingbrookeindicated dissent.

Mr. Brown

The noble Lord denies it. What would he do if the Minister accepted the Amendment? What would he do in mining areas where there is no spare land at all? I represent a division in which there are seven urban authorities, three of which have not one yard of land upon which to develop their housing schemes or build houses for slum clearance.

9.45 p.m.

The reason is that they have no land which is not subsiding or liable to subsidence. Where are they to go, other than to the countryside? Why should these people, who have been living in slums, and whose families have for generation after generation lived in slum property, not live in the countryside? Now the opportunity is to be presented to them to remedy this condition.

Will the noble Lord try to visualise those districts? Not one local authority can find land upon which to build houses to implement the slum clearance proposals contained in the Bill. They have not an inch of land within their boun- daries. How would the noble Lord deal with the problem? Where would he go to build, except to the semi-rural and rural districts? I am with him all the way in a desire to preserve the countryside, but it is impossible to do that if we wish to carry out the great scheme of social reform embodied in the Bill.

I ask the Government not to accept the Amendment. If they do, it will make it almost impossible for the division which I represent to carry out a scheme of rebuilding to relieve the slums.

Mr. Page

The examples given by the hon. Member are confined to slum clearance. Cannot that be dealt with under paragraph (a)? Paragraph (c), which we are discussing, deals with the removal of people who are not slum dwellers.

Mr, Brown

That is really overcrowding, is it not?

Mr. Page


Mr. Brown

But there is no room at all. The local authorities are "cabined, cribbed, confined." They cannot move one inch either north, west, south or east within their boundaries, and therefore they must go to the countryside to build these houses.

I know that the hon. Gentleman will argue that when the people living in the slums have been rehoused, the local authorities can build on the land after the slum properties have been demolished. But that is impossible. At the moment these houses are tumbling down. They are spragged up back and front. I ask the noble Lord to conceive the conditions prevailing in the mining areas, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will not accept this Amendment.

Mr. Powell

The speech of my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) fell into two parts. In the first part he took the principle which I had described during the Committee stage as underlying this Bill and endeavoured to show that paragraph (c) was inconsistent with that principle. If I may once again state it, it is that the subsidies available to a local housing authority will in future be pooled over the whole range of the houses already owned by the authority, or those to be built in the future.

I argued that it was a corollary that, where there is no adequate stock of existing houses and where a receiving local authority is likely to build on a large scale for overspill, extra assistance should be given to that authority, if it was not to be placed in a disadvantageous position. My noble Friend asked, "What about small towns not selected for overspill?" The answer is that they will not be expanding at the same rate as the local authorities covered by paragraph (c). They will be building only for their own internal requirements, and the ratio between their new houses and those they own at present will be a relatively great one.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

The effect is that if an authority builds extensively it gets a subsidy; if not, it does not get one.

Mr. Powell

I am coming to that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) made a similar point when he said there were a large number of local authorities whose programmes in the next few years might be larger than their postwar building. If that be so, and if the result is that, after pooling the subsidies, they find themselves faced either with unreasonably high rents or unreasonably heavy rate burdens, they are covered by Clause 5 of the Bill. My noble Friend then says that that is a positive bribe to ambitious local authorities to expand under the Town Development Act. I do not think it is. It keeps the subsidy at virtually the same level for houses built in future by those authorities—because they are authorities which, in the nature of things, will be building a number of houses entirely out of proportion to their existing stock or their own needs.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby referred to paragraph (a). I am afraid that that paragraph does not enable the importing authority to build for the slum clearance purposes of the exporting authority. If my hon. Friend will look at the definition in Clause 11 he will find that it has to be the same authority which clears and which builds, for the purposes of that paragraph.

Finally, he suggested that paragraph (c) might lead to local authorities defeating the purpose of the Measure by swapping housing lists. That ignores the fact that the paragraph is governed by the Town Development Act. Unless the Minister authorises a scheme under that Act as being for the decongestion of an urban area, it does not qualify at all. The Bill therefore contains ample means for preventing the paragraph from being used for any nefarious purpose.

In the second part of his speech, my noble Friend showed that he accepted the logic of this paragraph. He accepted that it was necessary to enable these authorities to build, because he disclosed that his real reason in moving the Amendment was, by the deletion of that paragraph, to prevent them from building for town development at all. My noble Friend therefore accepts the fact that paragraph (c) is logical and essential to the structure of the Bill. He has frankly admitted that he is using the Amendment as a stalking horse for an attack upon the Town Development Act, 1952, itself. In doing so I fancy that he was guilty of some little exaggeration. His picture of the area south and east of a line drawn from Portsmouth to the Wash being completely urbanised by this process was somewhat overdrawn; it is really quite a big area. I feel that my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) put the matter in a much better perspective.

This is a Housing Subsidies Bill. The Town Development Act of 1952 is on the Statute Book and in use. The House could not rationally pass a Housing Subsidies Bill which took no account of the special position of local housing authorities who are fulfilling the provisions of the 1952 Act. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Henley that the progress of development under that Act is something which the House ought to watch and to debate from time to time; but we are here concerned with the narrow question of the way in which the subsidies should be adjusted in relation to towns with town development schemes. I submit that this debate has reinforced the logic of paragraph (c), and that the whole structure and implications of the Bill require that it should stand part of the Bill.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

I think I have the right of reply, and I think the House can congratulate itself——

Mr. Speaker

The noble Lord has no right of reply, and he can only speak again by leave of the House.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

With the leave of the House, may I say that I think that the House should congratulate itself on the fact that the debate has introduced some new thinking on this subject, and that, on the whole, hon. Members have imported rather less prejudice into the discussion than I thought was going to be the case. I am not, however, satisfied with my hon. Friend's reply, and I must beg leave to press the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.