HC Deb 31 January 1956 vol 548 cc857-80

8.45 p.m.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)

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

The purpose of the Amendment is to cut out that subsection which provides for increased subsidies for overspill schemes. I do not know whether hon. Gentlemen will recall, but on Second Reading I moved a reasoned Amendment for the rejection of this Bill based almost exclusively on those increases, although I also mentioned the parallel question of compensation for those whose houses in the slums are to be knocked down and for those whose property is to be acquired for these overspill schemes. On the latter point I think my right hon. Friend now leans towards a more propitious compensation scheme, particularly for those whose houses are being taken from them for demolition. I think we can leave the matter there; in any case it is not strictly relevant.

On this occasion, unless other hon. Members insist, I do not wish to run this Amendment as a major hare, but rather to revert to it on Report if that will then be in order. The reason is that some of my hon. Friends who are associated with me in tabling this Amendment cannot be present this evening—one, in particular, for very acute personal reasons.

It seems to me little short of amazing that the Government, while making necessary and satisfactory reductions in the housing subsidies for general purposes, should artificially and deliberately stimulate the subsidy in connection with these overspill arrangements. One has to ask oneself who precisely—except possibly the planners and the social engineers—benefits from these arrangements.

First of all, let us take the exporting end. At the exporting end we have the owner-occupier, perhaps occupying premises in an area which is to be acquired. On policy he will do a little better than previously, but on Government pronouncements so far and decisions of the House, his house is to be taken from him with very inadequate compensation. I question very much whether the person whose house is taken and demolished will be willing to be decanted, to use this marvellous, social engineering phrase, and sent to live in a small town fifty, sixty to eighty miles from the metropolis or the great conurbation and put into a house specially built for him at a subsidised rate. We have had replies from my right hon. Friend at Question Time which seem to indicate that there is no guarantee at all that such a man will move that distance and occupy that house.

What will happen is that the local authority at the receiving end by a tie-up with, it may be, the London County Council, will receive this specially enhanced subsidy, build the houses, and all sorts of people who are not in the least bit associated with slum clearance will fill them. I should like to ask my hon. Friend what guarantee there is that when this house has been built, with this special subsidy, it will be occupied by a slum dweller who has been moved. I am sure no guarantee is possible. On the contrary, the tax-payer is being called upon to pay an enhanced subsidy for the provision of a house which merely swells the size of some small town, or it may be some large village, in the countryside, which does not itself want to be converted into any sort of conurbation.

What will be the effect at the receiving end on agriculture? Already farmers are losing farm workers to a very large extent, due to industrialisation in their locality. How much worse will it be in the future if we select ten, fifteen or twenty small towns in the countryside, develop them, call for labour from the countryside in the building of them, and call for people from the countryside to occupy them?

I cannot see the purpose of it, and I do not believe the House, if it really thought about the problem, would want it. We are getting sick and tired of the remorseless urbanisation of our countryside, and it is no answer to this question to say that if we do not have this overspill policy we shall have the continuance of a remorseless urbanisation. We have town and country planning regulations and the philosophy on that whole subject is quite adequate to prevent ribbon development, if we insist. I think this whole process has gone by default and has not been thought out. I do not think my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has taken counsel with many of us on these benches on the matter.

Mr. Herbert Butler (Hackney, Central)


Viscount Hinchingbrooke

During the summer months he was working hard in his Department, and no doubt he was infected by the philosophies of his Department and the attitude of the town and country planners, social engineers, and the like. I know that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are in favour of this policy and always have been, but we on these benches, as far as we have thought about it—and some of us have thought about it fairly deeply—are against it. We were opposed to the Town Development Act, 1952, a Measure which was prepared by the work of right hon. Gentlemen opposite when they were in office. They skedaddled from office in the crisis of 1951, leaving this Bill on the stocks, and it was produced by the Civil Service in January or February, 1952.

The Deputy-Chairman

The argument of the noble Lord is a little remote from the Amendment.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Do I gather, Sir Rhys, that I am out of order?

The Deputy-Chairman

The noble Lord is getting a little remote from the Amendment.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

This policy of overspill has been quietly developing since then. During the previous Parliament that Act was not applied. It was allowed to become a moribund Act, and no special money was spent in overspill development. Now we get the Minister going to the Department during the summer months when I think he could have had a good holiday and done very much better than discovering this interesting Act and concluding that this is the time to set off on the policy of special payment for overspill development.

It is one thing to develop the policy and philosophy of the new towns; they are at least comprehensive measures. If they are not so good as Welwyn Garden City, they are at least an attempt to do something in the modern world to provide centres of amenity, culture, churches, schools and playgrounds and, one hopes, all the appurtenances of modern civilised society. I make no complaint about that, and I am not trying to take out the provisions for increased subsidy for the completion of new towns. But this policy of overspill is adding hundreds and hundreds of houses without schools or other appurtenances and without necessarily getting the drainage and water system into action. It is a completely unplanned and un-thought-out piece of enterprise. It will mean in the end that in many cases charming old towns and villages will be added to by an aggregation of houses resulting in the most hideous develop- ment the United Kingdom has seen throughout her history. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If hon. Members opposite wish to rebut that, what definite knowledge have they of plans selected for these towns and villages? I do not believe there are any, because no thinking has gone into this problem.

Because no thinking has gone into it and because of the need to conserve Government expenditure and reduce the incidence of taxation, I am seeking to move this Amendment and to secure justification for it. I do not believe my hon. Friend can stand at the Dispatch Box and say that he has the assent of the party behind him for this particular feature of the Bill. I know he cannot, and I challenge him to do it. I fundamentally and completely object on the grounds I have adduced to the passage of this part of the Bill, the rest of which carries the warm assent of my right hon. and hon. Friends.

Mr. Powell

I think my noble Friend the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) will teadily understand if I do not deal with the large questions of building up or building out or the basis of compensation which he touched upon in the course of his speech. My object is to endeavour to show that the presence of this paragraph in this subsection is implicit in the grounds on which he approves the Bill and in the grounds on which it has been accepted by the House of Commons.

9.0 p.m.

The reduction and abolition of the general needs subsidy is based on the presumption that most local housing authorities will be able to provide for the general housing needs of their areas, without either charging unreasonably high rents or incurring an undue burden on the rates, if they use the subsidies which they receive on existing and future houses as a pool to be available in aid of the rents of the whole stock of houses belonging to them now and in the future.

The principle of pooling of subsidies, by whatever rent policy it is accompanied, is implicit in the principle of the Bill. I understand that the reduction and abolition of the general needs subsidy and this underlying principle that subsidies ought to be pooled over the whole range of houses belonging to a local housing authority is accepted by my noble Friend.

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. Paragraph (c) provides for one such case, namely, where a large addition to the stock of houses of a local authority is made within its boundaries for the purpose not of dealing with its own local housing need, but of helping congested towns and cities at a distance to do that which they cannot do for themselves.

Clearly, that process of decongestion can happen in one of many ways, but no hon Member, surely, would say that it is always preferable that the houses should be built by the exporting authority. Many would feel that it is desirable that the authority which provides the houses should be, to continue using the jargon, the importing authority. That is the case that we are dealing with under paragraph (c), where the importing authority, to assist in the decongestion of a great urban area at some distance, greatly adds to its stock of houses to such an extent that with any rent policy the pooling of subsidies on existing houses would still leave a very sharp difference between the old and the new rent structure. We cannot, therefore, decline to meet the case of these importing authorities who are co-operating—voluntarily, I may say—with their sister authorities in the cities and towns in meeting these special difficulties which they face.

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 are provided in the area of the importing authority. It does not apply where the houses are provided by the exporting authority which ex hypothesialready 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.

Nor has this measure any necessary connection with slum clearance. My noble Friend asked how we could be sure that the tenants of these houses would be persons displaced from demolished unfit houses. That is not the intention of operations under the Town Development Act. These are directed much more at the decongestion of the urban areas, which is necessary if tolerable living densities are to be arrived at in the great towns and cities.

I would, therefore, ask my noble Friend and the Committee to recognise that the basis which underlies the Bill, the principle that, in general, local authorities will be able to meet their general housing needs by pooling the subsidies on their stock of houses, demands as a corollary that in cases where no adequate stock exists we should make special arrangements. Special arrangements are contained in paragraph (c) 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.

Hon. Members


Viscount Hinchingbrooke

I do not intend to withdraw. I have great respect for the Parliamentary Secretary and much affection for him and I congratulate him on his appointment, but I did not understand a single word of his explanation. It was so deliberately shrouded in metaphysical planning language that I believe that he has no sympathy with the policy pursued and shares my view that it is a profound mistake.

The hon. Gentleman spoke of the co-operation of the small receiving authorities. We, of course, often find that four or five officials of the borough council and county council get worked up and excited about the prospect of receiving large masses of fresh population. They can have larger offices, bigger salaries and generally greater grandeur.

One often also finds a small number of tradespeople who think of the profits which their businesses will accrue because of the surrounding population coming into their thoroughfares and who do not realise that the traffic congestion in their tiny streets and roadways will be so great that they will have rather less custom than before.

As to the decongestion of population about which the Parliamentary Secretary spoke, what evidence is there that London will be decongested by having 20 or 30 small towns, 60 or 80 miles away, and planting on them 10,000 or 15,000 people? Is London to be frozen as an immigration centre? The population of London has remained, except for the war years and the period of very heavy bombing, fairly static in the last twenty years. I cannot see an appreciable reduction of, say, a million people sufficient to satisfy this idea of decongesting the population being achieved in a comparable time.

Who is to stop people coming from Jamaica to throng the congested areas of London at their will? Who is to stop people creating new flats in mews and crowding Soho and living where they please. [An HON. MEMBER: "Jack Spot."] If there were a complete ban on enterprise, which nothing but a Communist State could sufficiently ruthlessly organise, I could understand this policy of decentralisation of overspill. The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lind-gren), who leads for the Opposition on these matters, is singularly silent in this debate. I challenge him to say whether when the party opposite returns to office it will carry out the policy of decentralisation and resettlement of population which will ensure that London is not congested, is not overstocked with natural immigration.

Mr. Lindgren

I am not going to satisfy the noble Lord's curiosity, but I assure him that we are sitting back and enjoying the scrap on the other side of the Committee.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

That is a very poor intervention. There is a point of principle and interest here, which I think the Committee should consider. If we are not disposed to do so tonight for various tactical reasons can we not return to it on the Report stage?

I think that right hon. and hon. Members opposite would perhaps like to make speeches on this subject. It is a comprehensive affair and it incorporates much that is very interesting in town and country planning legislation. The steady urbanisation of our countryside is one of the most vicious of the evils of the industrial era. No one who has read the book Subtopia,produced by the Architectural Review, which describes a journey from Southampton to Carlisle, and records by sketches, photographs and descriptions all the grotesque and ridiculous sights to be observed from the roadway under modern conditions, can fail to take a profound interest in this subject.

I shall be only too pleased tonight if, as a result of my venturing to embark upon this topic, though not necessarily with the purpose of carrying it to a Division, we can return to it at a further stage in the Bill. I am quite certain that unless we rake serious thought about it we shall do a real industrial evil to our beautiful country just for the sake of playing about with 20,000, 30,000 or 40,000 people.

The whole question must be thought out afresh. I am not satisfied with my hon. Friend's reply, but in the circumstances, and owing to the lateness of the hour, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Powell

I beg to move, in page 4, line 13, after "Minister," to insert "wholly or partly."

The Deputy-Chairman

It may be for the convenience of the Committee if this Amendment and the Amendment in page 4, line 13, leave out "in the area of that authority," are considered together.

Mr. Powell

I think that I should say that the purpose of the two Amendments, which, I understand, for technical reasons it is necessary to take together, is quite different. The Amendment which I am moving to insert the words "wholly or partly" after "Minister" in line 13 is scarcely more than a drafting Amendment. The point behind it is this. A situation may arise in which a scheme of town development overstrides the borders of the local authority which is promoting it, so that part of the houses are built within and part outside its own boundary.

As the Clause is drafted, the result would be that it could only get the higher subsidy on the houses which happened to be inside its own borders, and in order that all the houses in the town development scheme should qualify it would be necessary for the neighbouring authority to build the houses within its boundaries so that the two pieced together, so to speak, made up the whole scheme. That is clearly a result which the Committee would not desire, so, by inserting the words "wholly or partly," we can ensure that a local authority can proceed to a town development scheme partly inside and partly just outside its borders and receive the full subsidy on all the houses falling under the scheme.

Mr. Gibson

I say straight away that I agree that the Amendment which the Parliamentary Secretary has moved widens the effect of the substantive payment a very little in so far as a local authority has to build houses outside its own area to deal with its overspill population. But it does not by any means meet the difficulties of all our large towns.

9.15 p.m.

I am sorry that "Overlord" has gone, because I should like to discuss with him his Elizabethan philosophy. He may like to go back to the days when London had plagues, and so on, but in these modern days, when a town grows too big, we should by communal action transfer the people into more comfortable and liveable quarters elsewhere. All the large towns have this problem, and certainly we in London have it.

Some months ago it was agreed that to meet the large overspill problem in London, and in view of the shortage of sites which has arisen in this area, the London County Council should be permitted to build at Edenbridge. Unfortunately, no agreement has yet been reached with the local authority in that area. I want to ask the Minister whether this Clause would enable either the receiving authority or the exporting authority in such a case to receive the special subsidy. In principle it is the same as a new town development, but I am afraid that if neither the importing authority nor the exporting authority in that case gets the subsidy, nothing will be done.

Indeed, that is what I fear most of all about general housing as a result of this Bill. There is a limit beyond which no local authorities, including the large and wealthy ones, can spend their capital and I do not think the Government have made it any easier for them by the continual raising of the rate of interest which has to be paid on loans. That in itself will create sufficient difficulties. If, in addition, an authority which is admitted by the Minister to have a large overspill problem, such as Manchester or Birmingham as well as London, cannot solve it without going well outside its own area, the Bill ought to provide that it is given assistance towards the capital cost of the work. If the authority does not get it, I am afraid that this necessary piece of social work and modern planning will not be done and there will be a piling up of population in London, Birmingham and Manchester, a growth of overcrowding, a worsening of the slum position and, in the end, a public uproar which will compel the Government in office to take drastic steps to solve the problem.

As I read this subsection, even with the words moved by the Parliamentary Secretary, it will not enable the subsidy to be paid either to the importing authority or the exporting authority, except perhaps if an agreement had been reached, and in the case to which I have referred no such agreement has been reached with the importing authority.

I do not want to press this point unduly, which is more exploratory than anything, but I would like to know the Ministerial attitude towards this problem.

Mr. Eric Johnson (Manchester, Blackley)

Would my hon. Friend clear up a similar point? The Minister will be aware that under paragraph (c), if a local authority such as Manchester carried out a scheme of town development as defined under the 1952 Act, it would receive a subsidy of £24 for houses built in its own area. If an exporting authority, like Manchester, carried out a similar scheme in a receiving authority's area it would receive only £22 in the case of a slum clearance family rehoused and only £10 for an ordinary family rehoused.

I wonder whether the words "wholly or partly" put this right. Does the provision mean that if Manchester expands outside its own boundary, as it must do, almost adjacent to Manchester, it would receive the full subsidy, or does it not? It seems to me that if the same houses are to be built by the receiving authority or the exporting authority, and if they are to be provided for the same people, they ought to receive the same subsidy. I hope the words "wholly or partly" mean that they do.

Mr. Powell

I am afraid that I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley (Mr. E. Johnson) that, as the hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) said, the effect of the insertion of "wholly or partly" is a very narrow one. It still leaves the subsidy restricted to houses provided by an importing authority, but enables it to be paid when those houses are provided by the importing authority only partly within its own frontiers.

On the main point in the minds of both hon. Members, I must ask the Committee to revert to the point of principle which was under discussion in connection with the last Amendment. It is the underlying assumption of the Bill, and of the reduction and abolition of housing subsidy for general needs, that local authorities who possess a large stock of houses built partly before and partly since the war will be able, by pooling the subsidies payable on those houses, to continue to build for general needs without an undue burden on the rates or the charging of unreasonable rents.

If that be so, it is equally valid whether or not the authority with the large stock of houses builds the additional houses inside or outside its own borders. It is still an addition one way or the other to its stock of houses to which it can apply, according to its own policy, the subsidies which are available to it. Therefore, there is an essential distinction between houses for the reduction of congestion according to whether the houses are provided by the exporting authority or by the importing authority.

I would, therefore, tell the Committee that it would be inconsistent with the principle of the Bill if the words …wholly or partly in the area of that authority… were omitted from the Clause.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Bevan

I beg to move, in page 4, line 15, to leave out from "the" to "or" in line 21 and to insert: local authority's area in which the dwelling is situated. The Amendment has the effect of completely nullifying the Minister's intention in subsection (3, d). I move the Amendment to give the Minister an opportunity to tell the Committee what he means by the provision. Hon. Members will see from sub-paragraph (d) that the Minister can pay the old subsidy for houses …provided by a local authority for the accommodation of persons coming from outside the area of that authority in order to meet the urgent needs of industry, where the dwelling has been so provided in accordance with arrangements approved by the Minister as being desirable by reason of special circumstances and so long as any conditions laid down by the Minister on the giving of his approval are complied with… This is the escape Clause that the Minister has pleaded before in dealing with special housing needs, as he continually pleaded Clause 5 for another reason. Both are escape Clauses.

I shall not argue the matter at this stage, because I want first to know from the Minister what he means by the words. What are the circumstances in which he would provide the ordinary subsidy for the houses? What would be the urgent needs of industry? How would he define them? It is necessary that we should know what is in his mind, because, as I explained on a previous occasion, it is extremely undesirable that legislation should put too wide a discretion in the hands of the Minister.

The other day the Parliamentary Secretary appeared to imagine that the wider the discretion the better the Clause. That is an extraordinary point of view to put before the House of Commons. We usually like to think that when we have passed a Bill we know precisely what authority we have given to the Executive. If the Parliamentary Secretary's point of view were held good, all we would need would be one Clause saying that the Minister should have power to do what he likes in a particular field and then we could sit down and go home.

I hope that the Minister will make the reply. We want to know what are the circumstances in which he would act in order that we might have an intelligent discussion on subsection (3, d). I shall argue the case no further at this point. I shall want to take it further after we have heard what the Minister has to say. I suppose that this will carry over until tomorrow. I should like to know from the Minister how he interprets these powers.

The Minister has not risen. I should like to hear from him at this stage, because the words themselves carry no interpretation and I should like to know what he means by them. We know that there are other circumstances. We know that he has powers in dealing with overspill and new and extended towns. This provision obviously does not apply to them, because provision for them has already been made. We want to know what these additional powers are and how he proposes to apply them.

Mr. Sandys

For the convenience of the Committee, I will intervene at this stage. I understand that the amendment is not intended as a textual one, but is intended to provide a debate on the scope of Clause 3 (3, d) dealing with a point discussed at considerable length at an earlier stage in our debate.

I thought I had made it clear on an earlier occasion that in making the provision in this Clause we particularly had in mind industries of national importance like the mining industry. Of course, the mining industry is only an example of the type of industry which we regard as being of exceptional national importance. We do not intend that every industry which considers itself in urgent need of more labour should, merely by asking the local authority for houses to meet its need, enable those houses to qualify for the higher rate of subsidy under the Clause.

Incidentally, I am not addressing myself to the terms of the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment, which, I think he will agree, does not really make sense as it stands. It would, in effect, give a higher housing subsidy over the heads of local people, to any family which came into the area from outside.

9.30 p.m.

Mr. Bevan

The language of my Amendment makes sense, but it is not the sense which the right hon. Gentleman wants. I am not at the moment arguing the merits of the Amendment, I am only seeking elucidation of the right hon. Gentleman's intentions.

Mr. Sandys

Yes, but my intentions about this Clause are so far removed from the terms of this Amendment that I did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman wanted me to say that I thought that the Amendment, as it stood, would be quite unacceptable. My short answer is that the Amendment removes the reference to industry altogether and gives a special subsidy to any family which goes into the district of another local authority. That might create the ridiculous position that to get accommodation a family would have to move over to the next local authority in order that the local authority would be encouraged to house them because it would get the higher subsidy. I do not imagine that the right hon. Gentleman desires me to pursue that, but it does give me the opportunity of explaining our general attitude towards the problem.

I would like to make clear where we stand on this matter, so that there shall be no misunderstanding. By industries of national importance we are thinking of industries whose development is vital to the national economy. We are also thinking of circumstances in which these industries cannot get the labour they need unless local authorities make an exceptional effort to build additional houses. Coal mining in areas where the National Coal Board is trying to accelerate production is the obvious and outstanding example. Other cases may be those of new generating stations or atomic energy plant which, for one reason or another, have to be sited in remote areas. There may also be other industrial projects where expansion might be sufficiently important and exceptional to make them eligible for consideration under these provisions of the Bill.

The kind of case I had in mind is where the need for more houses arises from a major new development which is essential in the national interest and which must be carried out in an area where the local authority has only a small pool of existing houses or, for other reasons, could not reasonably be expected to build a large number of additional houses without the benefit of this higher subsidy. Those are the sort of special circumstances which I should look for and about which I should need to be satisfied in order to consider that a housing scheme would qualify for the higher subsidy under Clause 3 (3, d). I hope that I have said enough to give the right hon. Gentleman a broad indication of our approach to this paragraph and its scope.

Mr. Bevan

The right hon. Gentleman has been quite clear so far as he has gone, but this subsection is a perfect illustration of the difficulty which he is bound to encounter when he has to administer the Measure. Where there is an unusual influx of people into a locality because of certain industrial needs, he sees the necessity for co-operation between the central Government and the local authority by way of an additional financial inducement. In other words, he is trying to put back, in some circumstances, what the Bill takes away.

At the moment local authorities are in partnership with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government—a healthy partnership which has been established by virtue of the fact that, ever since the end of the war, the Government have agreed to share the cost of housing with local authorities. The Government now intend to dissolve that partnership. In the case of most of the houses that will be built subsequently to those now in tender, they intend to pay no subsidy at all, so ending the co-operation established in 1945, which recognised explicitly that public housing was an operation in which the central Government were interested equally with local government. Local authorities are to do what they like in regard to the provision of housing for general needs and, indeed, of other housing.

Having made that general decision, the Minister and his Department are bound to recognise that the matter cannot end at that point, because at certain times a national interest might arise in certain localities. In such cases the central Government must resume the partnership that the Bill violates and re-establish the subsidy in order to persuade the local authorities to build the houses. The right hon. Gentleman is asking the House of Commons to arm him with powers of capricious decision in order to repair the ravages of his own Measure and try to make good the mischief which it does.

These provisions would be unnecessary if the Minister had maintained the partnership which formerly existed. He could then easily persuade local authorities to do what he wants them to do. I had to do that over and over again. For example, in rural areas, where, as a result of the policies pursued for so many years, it was found that there was a deficiency of building labour, I had to encourage the creation of a special type of house to supplement local building resources. We built about 21,000 of those houses. I am not speaking now of the temporary house or the B.I.S.F. house; I am speaking of the concrete house. We found that we had to devise a type of building material which could be used by the small builder, who could not lay his hands upon enough skilled building labour in the deep rural areas. Those houses may be seen in various parts of the country today.

It was not very difficult to do this because, owing to the financial partnership between the central Government and local authorities, we were able to persuade them to build those houses in supplementation of the traditional houses being built up to the capacity of the building resources of rural builders. A few days ago I mentioned a similar case in regard to additional unconventional houses in the coal areas. We had to hand exactly what we wanted. That was a continuing partnership by which we could adjust the activities of local authorities to the national general needs.

The Minister now says, having got rid of that financial inducement, "I must try to put it back in certain cases." He is now compelled to say that only where there is an influx of additional people, creating an exceptional local problem, will he re-establish the financial partnership. That is what he said. He is not able to deal at all with a continuing normal need, say on the part of agriculture. The creation of agricultural houses is declining very rapidly. Anyone who understands the problem of rural housing knows that one of the most serious difficulties facing the agricultural industry is the finding of skilled labour, because there is no accommodation for it.

Does the right hon. Gentleman say that to cut down our import of foodstuffs is not a national need? Yet he is depriving himself of the opportunity of the agency of the instrument for inducing the local authorities in rural areas to build enough houses. I should have thought that if the housing policy of the Government had any organic relationship to the national needs the continuing provision of additional rural houses would stand almost in front of mining.

We are told almost every day by a spokesman of the Government that the gravest possible crisis facing the country arises from the balance of payments situation. That situation is directly attributable to the fact that we are spending a very large proportion of our finances in buying food and animal foodstuffs from abroad. We would have thought, therefore, that the stimulation of domestic agricultural production would occupy a foremost position in Government policy. Instead of that, at the same time as the Prime Minister makes these speeches, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is scratching his head trying to find better solutions than those of his predecessor found, and every public-spirited person in Great Britain is anxiously concerned about our balance of payments position, Government supporters march like sheep through the Lobby supporting a Government who are doing their utmost to hamstring agricultural production.

That is an astonishing situation. If hon. Members do not believe it, let them look at the figures or consult their own experience. I know, as the right hon. Gentleman knows very well, that in the deep rural areas agricultural labour is extremely difficult to get. That is almost directly due to the absence of rural amenities and of enough houses. I have pleaded with the Government, and I warn hon. Members opposite that they will pay a very high price indeed for the Bill. I warned them before about the other Bill that became an Act. "Operation Rescue" it was called. It has not rescued anybody. It certainly did not rescue the Minister, because he left office very soon.

Mr. Sandys

Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear to what he is addressing himself? I should like to know.

Mr. Bevan

Agricultural needs.

Mr. Sandys

Is he complaining that the Bill does not provide an additional subsidy for a large influx of agricultural workers into an area, or that we are not providing the higher subsidy for the agricultural population already resident in the area?

Mr. Bevan

I am merely pointing out that if the right hon. Gentleman is arming himself with power to deal with the urgent needs of industry, no industry has a more urgent need for additional housing than agriculture.

Mr. Sandys

For the existing population?

Mr. Bevan


Mr. Sandys

That is my point. If the right hon. Gentleman is referring to that it has no relation to this paragraph at all.

Mr. Bevan

I have been trying to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that what he has done by the provisions of the Bill is to rupture the financial relationship between the local authorities and the State and is now having to put back some part of the machinery in order to deal with certain instances. I am trying to point out that there are certain instances, such as agriculture, where it would be essential for the housing policy of the Government to have some relationship to national needs. That is what I am trying to point out to him.

Mr. Sandys

In support of this Amendment, which asks for a £24 subsidy for persons coming into the district, I cannot see the relationship to that.

Mr. Bevan

The Minister is unable to see any relationship of any argument put by this side at all. He can only see his own relationship. I say that before very long hon. Members opposite will see the consequences of his policy, and what I am striving to do is to persuade him to change that policy as soon as possible or he will be making a very considerable contribution towards the embarrassment of his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I would therefore urge that he reconsiders that aspect.

A further point is the absence of precision in what the right hon. Gentleman is to consider when deciding whether or not to give the additional subsidy. He cites industries of national importance and has mentioned coal and atomic energy. Must they be industries in that sense of the word? A firm may establish in an area a factory which demands a very considerable influx of people into that area—it may be in North Wales or in a very rural area. If that firm's industrial operations resulted in an exceptional housing need there, does the Minister consider that the local authority concerned would be able to obtain the additional subsidy?

It may be that the industry could not itself be regarded at the national level as of high priority, but that would not make the situation of the local authority any easier. The industry would create an exceptional industrial need in the area and a consequent large influx of people. Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that that might attract from him a higher subsidy? We should like to know, because, if he is going to itemise them, it would appear that the only sort of circumstance in which the higher subsidy could be attracted would be where the industry concerned was a nationalised industry—the atomic industry, the railways or the Coal Boad.

This is a very interesting speculation. It means that the only industries which can qualify as industries of high priority in the national need are the nationalised industries. Is that what we are to understand?

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)

I am informed that the copper mines at Amlwch in North Wales may be reopened, and that a small shipbuilding industry may be established there in a few months, in which event a hundred new council houses would be needed in that area. I think that it is relevant to ask the Minister whether that would attract the higher subsidy.

Mr. Bevan

That is what I am asking, because the only illustrations we have had so far are that the right hon. Gentleman does not find it difficult to define exceptional industrial needs where the industry is nationalised. His embarrassments would, therefore, be reduced if we nationalised more industries, because we should then know exactly how to adjust the priorities. Unfortunately, the problem of my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) will not be met, and for a very good and simple reason, that if a particular industrialist, in competition with others in the same industry, established a works in a particular area and was able to obtain staff for his works as against his competitors in another part of the country, then the right hon. Gentleman would be exercising his powers in a manner nearing nepotism. He would then be using public finances to favour one industrialist against his rivals.

Hon. Members opposite do not mean that, do they? They do not mean that the right hon. Gentleman is arming himself with powers in order to make it possible for one industrialist to staff his works as against another—otherwise we should be back to the time of Lord North. Is that what is meant? I should not imagine that it is.

We should like to know from the right hon. Gentleman whether it is so; whether there are to be any backstair methods, whether he is to be nobbled, or whether he is to have undue influence. I know sufficient about the right hon. Gentleman to believe that he has not that in mind at all. I am quite certain that he is sufficiently public-spirited and sufficiently scrupulous and desirous of maintaining the highest possible standards that he would not use public money merely in order to favour one business rival against another.

If that be the case, we are driven to the conclusion that the only circumstance in which he can use these powers at all is where the industry is nationalised. That is a tribute to nationalisation which we never thought possible. The only circumstance in which the right hon. Gentleman can be virtuous is where we have pioneered, because otherwise he is in a very great difficulty: he either has to be nepotistic or he has to assist nationalisation. What an awful dilemma for a Conservative Minister. We have there an encouragement on our part to nationalise more industries, and then the right hon. Gentleman will be able to have a sensible housing policy. Until industries are nationalised, we cannot go any further. Take steel, for example. Hon. Members opposite are dismantling the industry [HON. MEMBERS:"NO."] Yes; they are dismantling public ownership.

Mr. Sandys

Output is higher than ever.

Mr. Bevan

The Minister says that output is higher than ever. It is not yet all in private hands, and already the steel owners are warning us that they might be producing too much steel. The right hon. Gentleman must learn his facts. In 1945 we were producing less than 12 million tons of steel, and under public direction and public ownership this was raised to nearly 20 million tons. Even now we are spending far more dollars on imported steel than we should be spending.

In the case of steel, if the industry had remained in public hands, and there arose an exceptional need for houses for steel workers, the power would exist, for the right hon. Gentleman could do the same for steel as he says he can do for atomic energy, coal and railways. Those industries, being nationalised, he would not have to discriminate, but as soon as steel is handed back to private enterprise he cannot do this without favouring one steel firm against another. Or does he intend to do it? If Lancashire steel competes with South Wales steel, is he to provide it with cheap houses as against its rivals? Will he do it? We should like to know.

As I tried to explain earlier, it would not be easy to do that, and it would not be easily defended because other people in the industry would soon complain. They would say, as the Tories say over and over again, "Why should my tax be greater in order to make my rivals better off?" The right hon. Gentleman finds himself in this situation; the more industry is taken into public ownership the more sensible and intelligent his housing policy becomes, and the more extensive private enterprise is the more nonsensical is his housing policy and the less is he able to adjust his policy to the national needs. It seems to me that he has completely exposed the futility of his policy and revealed to hon. Members opposite that his housing policy has not been conceived to fit in at all with the requirements of the nation as a whole.

Mr. MacColl

I feel that we ought not to part with this Amendment without a little further probing of the real meaning of the paragraph we are seeking to remove. The right hon. Gentleman rather poked fun at the Amendment by suggesting that it was vague and indeterminate in its meaning, that it left too wide the discretion for local authorities and implied that the words he has introduced into the Bill are models of accuracy and precision. I think a certain amount of obligation rests on the Government, who introduced this paragraph, to be accurate and precise in the words they use.

This has to be discussed in housing committees all over the country. The advisers of local authorities have to make reports to housing committees precisely defining the circumstances in which they will receive this subsidy from the Government. Surely it places an impossible task on anyone who has to try to interpret this paragraph and make precise recommendations or advise local authorities.

There is an Amendment in my name and the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks), in line 16, to leave out from "industry" to "or" in line 21. That Amendment seeks to probe this matter. If we are to decide whether or not the Amendment my right hon. Friend has moved is looser than the original words, surely we need to know what precisely is the meaning of the discretion which rests with the Minister. How are we to judge whether or not arrangements are likely to receive the approval of the Minister? How is a local authority, trying to develop its housing programme and which has been discussing the possibilities of exporting people or receiving people from another area, to decide whether this kind of proposal is likely to receive the approval of the Minister?

How can that local authority make up its mind whether the Minister is likely to think its proposals are desirable by reason of special circumstances? What kind of circumstances is the Minister going to regard as special? If this were a straightforward case that wherever there was an urgent housing need, a need to bring in industrial workers and provide them with housing the kind of case which my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) mentioned—

It being Ten o'clock,The CHAIRMAN Left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again

Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.