§ Question again proposed. That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question:—
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Miss Bacon
I was saying that a short time ago in my constituency the Secretary of the Leeds and District Property Owners' and Ratepayers' Association asked me to take up a certain matter and to ask the Minister to direct the City Council to make a special payment to the person in question. This I refused to do. I wrote back to the Secretary of the Association in these terms:I believe it is significant that owners of slum property in Leeds, having collected rents for years, are now selling. Surely there is some moral obligation on such owners not to sell off their houses in this way. In all this issue, nothing has been said about the previous owner who very luckily collected £225.…I am sure you would be doing a great service to the poorer people of Leeds if you could persuade your members to desist from selling their old houses in this way.There is abundant evidence of the way in which people, who have owned these houses for years, are now getting rid of not one but sometimes of four or five in one street. I have evidence, for example, about five houses in one street which were sold to the occupiers at prices varying from £100 to £165, the vendor in each instance being one owner who also owned a number of adjoining houses. In another street four houses were sold at prices varying from £120 to £225. Again, they were all owned by the same person, and this vendor also owns a number of adjoining properties. I think it clear that the owners of these slum properties are getting rid of them as fast as they can, knowing that the properties are in demolition areas.
§ Mr. Sandys
Could the hon. Lady give any indication of the dates when these houses were sold, as that would be of interest?
§ Miss Bacon
I cannot give the date, but I should say that it was in the last two or three years. This has a bearing on what was said by the Parliamentary Secretary about percentages. I think that if the percentages were absolutely up-to-date the figure would be found to be greater than that of four or five years ago, because a great many houses have been sold in the last year or two in an endeavour by the owners to beat the demolition orders.
One thing that worries me about the Bill is that not all the people who have been buying these houses have done so innocently. There is a minority—I wish to stress that it is a minority, because I do not want anyone to run away with the idea that I am saying that the majority are of this type—who have been driven to desperate means, and have deliberately bought houses in slum areas to ensure that they get a new council house in the fairly near future. Indeed, sometimes the deposit, the down-payment, is regarded almost as "key money" for a new council house. I know of a man who bought such a house for a down payment of £20 or £30 and a weekly payment of £1. When he was told that it was in a demolition area he said he did not mind, because he had been paying 30s. a week for rooms, and was now paying £1 a week off the mortgage. "But," he said "I shall be assured that in a fairly short time I shall get into a new council house."
My hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) told me that only a few weeks ago she received a complaint because the council did not propose to condemn a tenement which the complainants had bought. My hon. Friend was told by the complainants, "We have bought this tenement and now we are told that the council will not condemn it." I wish to suggest that though these people represent a minority, nevertheless they have been able to make a down-payment and are thus able to jump the queue for council houses. They are getting ahead of other people in the queue for council houses. Now, because of the provisions in the Bill, the local authorities will be directed to repay to 2196 them, if not all, at least some of the money which they have already paid.
It is difficult to distinguish between genuine cases, where innocent people have been taken in, and cases of the kind I have just mentioned, but I should like to hear from the right hon. Gentleman some condemnation of owners who for years—sometimes even for generations—have made money out of these slum houses and who are now trying to unload them onto the unsuspecting tenants. That is the problem. I could wish that the Bill had contained some provision to deal with it, or that we may even have more legislation to stop the sale of such houses, or at any rate to regulate their sale in order that this practice shall not continue.
I reiterate what was said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering. The Bill, as it stands, will put an undue burden on great cities like Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle and the rest. The authorities in these cities will not only be called on to provide an enormous number of houses to rehouse the tenants of slum properties, but will be directed by the provisions of the Bill to pay out sums to cover the market value of the old properties. To hon. Members who represent these areas it seems unfair that this burden should be placed on these cities. It seems an unequal burden, which is not shared by the better-off and more beautiful towns where there is no slum clearance problem.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Alan Green (Preston, South)
I should like to add my voice to those of hon. Members opposite who have already welcomed this Bill, at least in general terms. We all, I think, know of plenty of eases that illustrate the hardship which would befall people if, as owner-occupiers, they were to receive no compensation for condemned houses when such houses were demolished. I have no doubt that every hon. Member could give many examples of such hardship.
I should like to give one example mainly because, perhaps, it is not altogether without topicality at the present time in view of the visit of certain distinguished gentlemen from overseas. The case is that of two Ukrainian refugees named Tarala who fled to this country in 1947 and who, I am glad to say, found a welcome in my constituency. 2197 By dint of hard work they had saved enough money by 1950 to be able to put down £300 for the purchase of a house now condemned as unfit. In addition, they had to borrow another £300 on mortgage.
These two people have now raised a family, and if they were not to receive some form of compensation, which will amount, perhaps, to £200 or possibly £250—though I doubt the latter figure—they would be dispossessed and left owing £300 on a property that no longer exists. It would have been a doubly bitter blow for them because the father, Mr. Tarala, had his first experience of dispossession at the age of seven when, along with his father, he was thrown out of his house in the Ukraine in midwinter by the police because his father would not join the Communist Party. Perhaps it is not inappropriate at this time to be able to put that story on record.
These people came to see me before compensation was announced and pointed out that, having settled and received a welcome in England, they would really have no hope left in the civilised world if for the second time they were dispossessed without compensation by an arbitrary bureaucratic decision. Of course, there are many other such cases, some of them possibly even much worse, but in personal history I doubt if there is a worse case than this one which causes me most heartily to welcome the Bill.
There is another reason, quite apart from that of hardship to certain individuals, which makes me glad to say "Thank you" to the Minister for this Bill. It is this. I am sure that the measures for compensation, not only in the case of an owner-occupier on demolition, but also of compensation for good maintenance, will help to prevent the otherwise increasing rate of deterioration in property.
I am quite sure that just because a measure of justice is being done to people who have bought this type of property, those who still own property which is not at the moment condemned, but which is moving towards that state will realise that it will be worth their while to maintain their property in a decent state. I am sure that this will help appreciably to increase the life and serviceability of the 2198 amenities of a whole group of properties at present outside the scope of this Bill. For those two major reasons I welcome the Bill.
Questions have already been asked about the most common sort of date on which these houses have been bought. Of course, I cannot answer for any other area than my own, but it is my impression that most of such houses in Preston were bought between 1948 and 1952. Those four years, so to speak, appear to have been the peak years of activity in the change of ownership of that type of house. I think that the reason for this is quite clear. It was precisely during that period that (a) fewer houses were available to people, and (b) as a result of good wages people were accumulating the money with which to pay the deposit on any kind of house that happened to be available.
I am delighted that, in general, hon. Members opposite welcome the provisions of the Bill. It is always pleasant to receive a bouquet of flowers from the benches opposite even if on this occasion one or two thistles were included in the bouquet. I could not help feeling that some of the thistles were constructed of rather synthetic material, if I may be permitted to say so.
My own local authority has certainly made no complaint or approach to me on the question of the high cost to it of this Bill. I have been in the very closest touch with my authority throughout, and no mention of any complaint by it has been made to me. I agree that that does not mean that it is not going to complain, but the plain fact is that it has not done so yet. I have done my level best to bring all the provisions of the Bill to the notice of my local authority. I have on more than one occasion talked the matter over with the town clerk, but, as I have said, so far I have not received a single complaint.
If I am in order, I should like to make a plea for an extension of the provisions of the Bill. There are a few people—they are quite easily defined—who will be outside the provisions of the Bill because, although they became owner-occupiers after August, 1939, they were not in residence owing to a very special reason on 13th December last. I am referring to those members of Her Majesty's Forces who, purely through the 2199 exigencies of the Services, are posted away from the place where they bought such a house round about the time that the announcement about compensation was made. They represent a very small number indeed and are readily defined as people wearing the Queen's uniform.
I wish to make a special plea for these people because when they are posted away they do not go for the purpose of improving their material circumstances, but simply in order to do the same job for the same reward in another place. They have absolutely no power to refuse to obey an order to move.
I know all the difficulties that are involved in making exceptions the argument that, by opening the gate a little wider, a whole throng of people will pour through it. I know it may be said that local government employees might have had to move out of houses which they were forced to buy—houses now condemned—on, say, 1st December last year. It might be said that they were, in a sense, posted away. Again, an industrial worker may have had the same experience. It may be said that if we grant this right to members of the Queen's Services, we should grant it to everybody who has had to move. But people outside the Armed Forces do not generally move their residence unless they are improving their circumstances. Those who wear the Queen's uniform, however, have no such opportunity.
§ Mr. Sparks
The hon. Member will probably agree that many people are moving from slum dwellings into the new towns and are having to pay twice or three times as much in rents—and their wages are much lower than they were in the industrial areas. That fact cannot be said to support his contention that people who move are improving their financial circumstances.
§ Mr. Green
I said that they do not generally do so. They are not ordered to move. They are not under absolute compulsion to do so. The class of people to which I refer, which is very small in number, may have a grievance which can easily be remedied simply because the class is so readily defined. I have already corresponded with my right hon. Friend's 2200 Department upon this matter, and I would ask him to open his mind—I know that I do not have to ask him to open his heart—to the possibility of including those members of H.M. Forces who, through no fault of their own, were unable to be in residence on 13th December, or unable to sell their houses before that time.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)
My comments upon the Bill might almost be characterised as thistles in the bouquet to which the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Green) referred. The bouquet, so far as it is discernible, will be somewhat obscured by the presence of that very attractive national emblem. I may be doctrinaire and academic about this matter, but I regard with a good deal of concern the departure from the basic principles of compensation for the acquisition of unfit houses.
The tendency of this discussion—by hon. Members on both sides of the House—has been rather to imply that acquisition on site value is a kind of gratuitous fine inflicted upon the owner of the house, and that the housing authority which is acquiring, instead of being honest and paying the value of the house, proceeds to do a rather mean trick and pay only the cost of the site. It has been referred to as though it is a rather shady transaction and that where it will inflict hardship the decent thing is to pay what is called the full compensation value, which is a very question-begging term, as I shall explain in a moment.
But that is not what happens. The reason why only site value is paid is that that is all it is worth. Having declared that a house is unfit for human habitation, that it cannot be made fit at reasonable expense, and that it is dangerous and injurious to health, there is not very much left in respect of which compensation can be paid. When we were discussing the Housing Subsidies Bill I ventured to make some critical comments about the definition of a slum. I suggested that it should be made wider and that, on the whole, it was a little old-fashioned. I was then rebuked by the Minister and by the Parliamentary Secretary, who said, "After all, although it may be quite true that there are lots of other houses which ought to be 2201 demolished, these are real horrors; these are the ones which should really be dealt with first. Therefore, any proposal to extend the definition of a slum is undesirable at this stage".
So we start from the common ground that we are talking about houses which are dangerous or injurious to health and cannot be made habitable at reasonable expense. That is the basis from which we start to access the price that should be paid. That point should be made quite clear. Only in very exceptional circumstances should we depart front that principle, and we should do so only to the minimum extent necessary to remove a really grave social evil.
I find it difficult to understand how the full compulsory purchase value of these houses is to be calculated. Presumably we shall calculate the full compulsory purchase value of another house, which is not this house. If we take into account the full value of this house, we have to take into account the fact that sanitary inspectors are sitting on the doorstep, with piles and piles of orders for repairs to the house, which have to be carried out in order to bring it up to a habitable condition. That will cost so much that by definition of a slum, it is out of all relationship to the value of the house.
How, then, is the valuer to be launched upon the task of trying to find the true value? What is he to exclude from consideration, and what is he to take into account? That question must be settled, otherwise the Bill will not give the unfortunate owner-occupier anything at all. We ought to have a much clearer definition of the measure of difference between the full value and the site value of something which, by definition, is worth nothing. If we say, "Oh, it is the market value—what you can get if you carry on the kind of activities which my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) described, by fraud, sleight of hand, and ignoring sanitary inspectors' notices. It is what you can persuade some sucker to buy the house for."
Is that to be the measure of full compensation value? If so, we should he told that we are paying compensation based upon an unlawful act. If we are basing compensation upon an act which obeys the law I find it difficult to see how 2202 we can inflate the compensation to much more than the value of the site—apart from some notional value of the house as suitable for being patched up, or something of that sort. It would be helpful if the right hon. Gentleman could clear up that practical point.
I start with a good deal of suspicion, uneasiness and alarm about this matter. I wonder just how far it is going; how far the door is being opened in the future, and where we shall end the queue of people who will have quite plausible reasons why, out of pity, they should be given something more than their property is really worth. That is a dangerous principle to play about with, and it should be approached very cautiously.
I am prepared to admit that the Bill is limited in scope and time. It deals with an abnormal situation which arose after the war, and I am prepared to be persuaded by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) that, on balance, there is a case for doing something about that situation. But the Bill is not the answer. If we are trying to tackle the people who, perhaps through no fault of their own or through fraud, and in a few cases through genuine bad luck, have paid more for the property than they should have done, the compensation payment ought to be limited as strictly as we can. We should be very careful to see that we are not allowing anybody to make a profit out of fraud. Why should we be light heartedly chucking public money out in compensation in this way, on the ground that certain people will suffer—a highly laudable motive—without taking adequate care to see that the money will not percolate through to people who, by unscrupulous behaviour, have created the very situation which calls for gratuitous payments out of public money?
Cases were cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East and by the hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. N. Pannell) where legal advice was available but the solicitor, who was ostensibly acting as legal adviser for both vendor and purchaser, had either neglected to make a search or to consult the town hall, or had omitted to tell the purchaser that he was buying something valueless. There ought to be some means to ensure in these cases that no kind of profit will reach those people.
2203 I am a bit concerned about people who are paying for their houses on mortgage. We were told by the hon. Member for Kirkdale of pathetic cases he knew of in Liverpool where people had bought on mortgage houses which were now being condemned and were being left with the mortgage payments to pay, although they were getting no benefit from the payments. These are not cases of saving by buying a house cash down but of people who are paying for houses on mortgage.
Are we really to pay gratuitously compensation which is not the value of the house but is a charitable payment which will be used to subsidise payments to mortgagees, such as building societies or whoever they may be? I should have thought one of the first things to do was to make certain that the building society was not at fault. The building society survey must have revealed the fact that the house, if not actually scheduled as subject to slum clearance, was so near the margin that no prudent person would lend money on it. The hon. Member said that a lot of the money was lent at a high rate of interest. This is not some extravagant Bolshevic outburst of mine, but what the hon. Member for Kirkdale said.
§ Mr. Lindgren
In these cases—I shall quote cases later of my own—it is not the building society but the landlord, auctioneer or estate agent, in association with a private financier, who is at fault.
§ Mr. MacColl
I am glad that my innocent belief in the integrity of building societies is fortified by that of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren).
§ Mr. Kenneth Thompson (Liverpool, Walton)
This is an important point. There is a great deal of validity behind the hon. Gentleman's case, but is it not leading up to an argument for making an entirely different law to govern the conditions under which the initial transaction would take place and requiring the observance of certain practices and rules for the purchase of a house in the first place, and not to a compensation law for someone injured as the result of the existing rules?
§ Mr. MacColl
If this could be made into a Bill to alter the law relating to mortgage payments to building societies. 2204 I should be most happy to make my contribution to it. There is a Money Resolution, and I think I know what is in order and what is not. I am suggesting that a new partner enters into the situation, the local authority. It comes in and says, "We are prepared to pay out—or we are told we have to pay out—money in compensation. We have an interest in what is going to happen." This is not the haggling of two private people in the free market. The community is stepping into this transaction as a third party. The first precaution that ought to be taken in that case is to be sure that nobody is profiting out of fraud, but the Bill completely ignores that side of the situation. That is my first constructive suggestion.
Here is my second constructive suggestion. Why make this matter mandatory on the housing authorities? Let us admit that there are hard cases. We have all met them. Let us also admit, as does my hon. Friend who has such great experience in Leeds, that there are cases where the purchaser has been pretty smart and not a little shady as well as cases in which the vendor has been a little smart and even rather fraudulent. Why not allow the housing authority to make grants by way of compensation in appropriate cases? That would leave the matter open.
I remember we were discussing a comparable point about charities on the Valuation Bill and the right hon. Gentleman saying, "Borough councillors have their ears to the ground. They know the fraudulent charities and the charities which are well run. They are the people who keep a shrewd eye on what happens". Why not apply that principle here? Let the housing authorities, who know the crooked landlords and the shady tenants, deal with genuine cases by an ex gratia payment? That would make it clear that there was no legal right arising out of some value inherent in the house. If this is a compensation Bill for those who are hard hit, why not make the payment discretionary and not obligatory on housing authorities? These are all reasons why I am extremely uncomfortable and suspicious about the Bill.
The Parliamentary Secretary should have thought of a better reason for trying to dispose of the Amendment than saying that there was only a little amount 2205 involved. We really cannot go back to the old argument that the size of the offspring is relevant to its legitimacy. The Parliamentary Secretary is young and innocent and may have thought he could get away with that the first time, but the Minister is like some old harridan with rows and rows of the little brats all of dubious origin.
The Government now have a long record of having done everything they can to starve and squeeze money out of the local authorities, and of taking every step of stinginess they could to hold up, obstruct their work and to do everything at the expense of the ratepayers, like raising the rates of interest and reducing the general housing subsidy.
Naturally, when it is said that this is to be paid out of the ratepayers' and not the taxpayers' money, no one will believe that it is because it is not administratively worth bothering about. The Government are doing this for their own good purpose and should pay for it. The law in regard to compensation for slum clearance has been in existence for 30 years or more, and if the Government are now to alter it in a fundamental principle they should say that this extra charge should be borne upon the Government's money and not on the money of the local authorities.
By all means let the local authority pay for what it is getting. It is getting an unfit, unhealthy and dangerous house, which must be demolished before it is a danger to human life. That is what it is getting, and that is what it ought to pay for. If there is anything more to be added for reasons of charity, then let it be a charge on national funds and not on the rates. Therefore, 1 say that even if—and of this I am very dubious—this Bill in its wide form is the way to meet the difficulty, the final insult to the local authorities is to make this a local charge on the ratepayer, and for this reason I heartily support the Amendment.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Lieut.Colonel J. K. Cordeaux (Nottingham, Central)
The hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) accused the Government of meanness and stinginess, rather following the line taken by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). I am very glad that those charges were confined 2206 entirely to the way in which the money was to be found. No one on the other side of the House has suggested for one moment that the general object of the Bill is anything but one of generosity and sympathy.
Because I intervene in this debate I hope that no one will think that in Nottingham we have a very great number of slums. As a matter of fact, we think that in housing conditions—as, of course, in everything else—no other town or city can touch us. Unfortunately, Nottingham is divided into four Parliamentary divisions, and nearly all the slums there are seem to be situated in my constituency. Altogether we have listed as unfit for human habitation 2,610 houses which we hope to be well rid of in about five years. From my personal knowledge of those houses I am absolutely convinced that their demolition—and the demolition of all such houses in the country—is the most important item in the whole of the Government's domestic programme.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
Can the hon. and gallant Gentleman give the total figures for Nottingham?
§ Lieut.Colonel Cordeaux
The total number of houses listed in Nottingham as unfit for human habitation is 2,610.
§ Lieut. Colonel Cordeaux
I am glad to say that. I cannot compete with the total figures given by the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon).
As I was saying, I believe that getting rid of these houses is the most important item in all our present domestic programme. I know that that opinion is shared by the very big majority of the unfortunate people who are still condemned to live in those horrible places. Every time I talk to them I am asked the same questions—"When are these houses to come down? Can you not give us a date yet? When am I to get another house?" Thanks to the very big building programme we have carried out in the last three or four years, it is now possible to make a serious start on slum clearance, and one can give those people a much more satisfactory answer.
2207 That is the general type of question asked in those places, but there is a small minority living in those areas who are almost as dismayed by these slum clearance proposals as the majority are elated. I suppose that that was bound to be so, because in any slum clearance programme of any magnitude there must be just one or two who will suffer hardship, and perhaps even injustice. I am very glad that my right hon. Friend has not been content merely to say that hard cases make bad law and do nothing for those people, but instead has brought in the Bill.
I do not want to say very much about owner-occupiers of slum dwelling houses, partly because their case has already been fully argued today, but also because I have only very few in my division. I have only fifty in one slum clearance area and two in the other. I want to speak for another class of people.
§ Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)
Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman give the total figures in each slum clearance area, and what percentage his figures represent? The Minister said 5 per cent.
§ Lieut.Colonel Cordeaux
I cannot do it for the total area but only for my division, which has the majority of the 2,610 houses in it. In one slum clearance area there are fifty owner-occupiers, and in the other there are two.
The people I am anxious to talk about are the small shopkeepers, whether owner-occupiers or tenants, and of those there are quite a few in my constituency. Before the Bill was introduced those people faced real tragedy. If they lived in the premises which also housed their businesses they faced not only the loss of their house, for which they would get a mere site valuation—a token payment—but, in addition, whether owners or tenants, they often faced the loss of their livelihood. It is no exaggeration to say that. Those who say "Well they can go away and transfer their business to another place," have no proper realisation of the problems which face these people.
A transfer does not meet the case. These people have built up their livelihood and their success, such as it may be, because their shop is where it is, 2208 because they have lived there for a very long time, because they know all their customers and have learned to study their needs and to minister to them for a very long time. It is impossible for them at a moment's notice to leave and to try to settle down elsewhere without help and to build up a business again without great disadvantage and loss of money.
§ Mr. Sparks
But in a slum clearance scheme the customers will have disappeared, and the basis of the shopkeeper's trade will have disappeared with them. The customers will have gone to a new area where they have been rehoused, and the local authority has the power to provide in the new housing scheme a shop to which the person who has been dispossessed of his trade may transfer. He goes with his customers to the new area There cannot be very much loss involved in that.
§ Lieut.Colonel Cordeaux
I fully take that point, but the fact that other people may be moving out of that slum area at the time does not alter the fact that the man is losing his customers. Moreover, in Nottingham—and I 'am quoting from my own experience—there are many such small shopkeepers in a rather compact clearance area who are serving people in streets round about which are not actually in the clearance area. Those people have often built up their businesses not only by a lifetime of work but often by the work of two generations. If they are old they cannot be uprooted and then expected to start afresh in some new place. Apart from the fact that they will not know anyone there, it will be difficult to find a site where they can set up their business which is not already served by some existing shop. In addition, there are instances where their own trade association—in the case of newsagents for instance—will not let them do so within a certain radius.
All the local authorities do what they can for people in such cases and often they say, "We will give you the first chance; we will put you first in the queue when the new buildings are finished." But, after all, they have got to live somewhere in the meantime. This applies, I think, to all the small shopkeepers, but mostly to people who own what we are accustomed to call the "corner shop."
2209 I have not referred to half the difficulties which face the small shopkeepers in this position. There are all sorts of factors which daunt them when they face this problem of eviction. If the House will bear with me, I should like to quote one or two examples from my own division to prove what I mean.
The first that I have in mind concerns a man in his sixtieth year, who owns a small sweet and tobacco shop in Alfreton Road, one of our busiest main streets M Nottingham, a large part of which is scheduled. He, his wife and mother, have built up that little business through forty years of hard work. It has been forty years of slogging—working a 14 or 16 hour day in the old days, keeping open until 10 o'clock, and 11 o'clock on Saturdays, and then, after closing, sitting up and working until midnight bottling the ginger beer, making the ice cream, and doing the accounts. During the war they had to open at 3 o'clock in the morning. They had to serve the troops after they came back from night exercises.
Those people have built up a reasonable living, and there is one reason why they have done reasonably well. It is because their shop is next door to a cinema. However slack trade might be during the day, in the evening people go in for a packet of cigarettes or a box of chocolates on their way to the cinema. When that roan is evicted he may get another shop in the neighbourhood. He may, if he is lucky, get one in that same main street, but it will be a miracle if he gets one next to a cinema.
Another example concerns a man 73 years of age, who keeps a small fishing tackle shop. He has worked there all his life; indeed, his father started the business in 1890. It has been an awful struggle nearly all the time. He sells nothing but fishing tackle. He is an expert on the subject, but not very many people want to buy fishing tackle, and those who do do not want to buy it very often. In the last ten years he has begun to reap the reward of his labours. His business has improved considerably every year, and the reason—as some hon. Members may not know—is that the sport of angling has become very much more popular since the war. In fact, I am informed that, after football and cricket, it has become the third most popular sport in the country.
2210 That man would probably have kept his old customers in any case, but all the new customers that he is getting as a result of the popularity of angling have come to him because his shop is situated near perhaps the busiest traffic junction in Nottingham. It is a place where three main roads converge into the town. It is served by no fewer than seven corporation bus routes, three trolley bus routes, and some private bus routes. It is very likely that all the new customers will melt away. Indeed, a lot of them have told him that they will do so if he moves even a comparatively short distance from that area.
§ Mr. H. Butler
Is the shop which is next to a cinema in a house? This Bill deals with businesses carried on inside unfit houses.
§ Lieut.Colonel Cordeaux
Next door to this fishing tackle shop is a small flower shop. Women generally buy flowers at the last shop on their way home if they possibly can, because the flowers must not be at the bottom of the shopping basket, and also they must not be out of water for longer than possible. Near this shop at this main traffic junction hundreds of women every day change buses on their way home.
Stretching out along one of the main roads from that main traffic junction there are dozens of little shopkeepers with the same specialised problems. I call to mind the newsagent, the pet shop, the radio shop, the sports shop, two sisters running a small hairdressing business, and so on. They all have special problems. I believe those small shopkeepers to be among the most deserving people in the country. For thrift, integrity, hard work, patience, and good humour they set an example to us all, and there are no people more deserving of justice and consideration. I support the Bill wholeheartedly because Clause 2 is designed to give them just that.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Mr. C. W. Gibson (Clapham)
I find myself in a considerable measure of agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl). In my opinion, the Bill is a fraud. At least two of the speeches that we have heard from the Government benches—one from 2211 the hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. N. Pannell) and the other from the hon. and gallant Member for Nottingham, Central (Lieut.Colonel Cordeaux)—illustrate that fact. This Bill does not apply to any of the matters which they have discussed, whether it be the man who sells the fishing tackle, the man in the fish and chip shop, or the person who sells flowers. They have to own the places and live in them.
§ Mr. Gibson
They have to own the premises and, as I read the Bill, they have got to live in them or else a relative has to do so.
§ Lieut.Colonel Cordeaux
If the hon. Gentleman studies Clause 2, which deals with business premises and unfit houses, he will find that that it is not so.
§ Mr. Gibson
I have studied Clause 2. I have had a lot of experience of handling these problems in connection with slum clearance schemes. The compensation does not relate to the type of business or to the goodwill of the business. That is already covered by the existing law. I may be wrong, but if so, the Parliamentary Secretary has misled the House. As I understand the Bill, it relates only to the property.
§ Lieut.Colonel Cordeaux
I am sorry to keep interrupting, but in the case of business premises it refers to the existing use value.
§ Mr. Gibson
But it is the property which is the cause of all the trouble, and it is that to which the compensation is related. It is a house condemned as unfit to live in. It is suggested that there is some peculiar reason why a shopkeeper living in such a house should get additional compensation over and above which the local authorities already have power to give him and, in many cases, do give him.
§ Mr. Gibson
I am sorry, but I cannot give way again. I did not interrupt the hon. and gallant Gentleman. The difficulties which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has been referring to are almost entirely provided for by the existing law. Local 2212 authorities can give additional payments if they are satisfied, but we are now providing that additional compensation is to be given if certain provisions laid down in the Bill are carried out. The Parliamentary Secretary was very careful to point out that there are about 5 million owner-occupiers who might be affected by slum clearance schemes, but that a somewhat—
§ Mr. Powell
I never said any such thing. I never mentioned 5 million. I said that 5 per cent. of the houses likely to be affected are owneroccupied.
§ Mr. Gibson
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. However, he said that only a small minority of the 5 per cent. would probably be affected by the Bill.
§ Mr. Powell
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but I did not say that a small minority of the 5 per cent. would be affected by the Bill. I said that the number affected by the Bill would be less than the total number of owner-occupiers.
§ Mr. Gibson
If HANSARD tomorrow proves me to be wrong, I will apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but I wrote down the words as he uttered them, and I have noted that he said "a small minority".
My point is that the Bill does not apply in the wide manner imagined by some hon. Members opposite. It is not a Bill which will help slum clearance work in any way. It will not increase the number of houses which are being cleared. It will not make the job easier for local authorities. So far as it applies to shopkeepers, it applies to a very small number, and so far as it applies to owner-occupiers, it probably applies to a smaller number.
It is wrong to give the country the impression that this is in any way a large-scale attempt to rectify an enormous injustice built up by the present slum clearance law. Of course, it suits the Tory Party to have that impression created. We have all read articles in the Press trying to establish as a fact that the Bill is an enormous improvement on our slum clearance legislation. It is nothing of the kind. As the Parliamentary Secretary said, it will have comparatively a very small effect. I am not sure that it will have even the effect which he said, because of the conditions surrounding the 2213 provision of any extra compensation in these cases.
Those who are trying to create the impression that this is a wonderful effort to speed up the slum clearance programme are encouraging one of the Government's frauds. It is like the Housing Repairs and Rents Act, 1954, which was to have been "Operation Rescue" and was to have brought tens of thousands of houses into a condition of decent, habitable accommodation. We now know that that Measure is a complete flop and that even the landlords' associations are disgusted with it. We were unable at the time to persuade the Minister that the Measure would not work and that it was a fraud, but it is gradually becoming known now that it is a fraud. When this Measure comes to be operated by local authorities it will be found to be a fraud in that the benefits are so small and restricted that they can have no real effect at all upon the admittedly very great problem of shopkeepers, in particular, and owner-occupiers who are moved. I hope that the House and the country will recognise that.
It is wrong that we should so light heartedly break a principle upon which compensation in slum clearance schemes has been based for so many years. The principle has always been that if a house is unlit to live in no compensation should be payable for it. When one remembers the measures that medical officers of health have to undertake to establish that a house is unfit—they have to visit the house, examine every room, look at every wall, look at every ceiling, examine the back of the building. and go on the roof; in other words, make absolutely sure that there is not a room in the house which is fit to live in; and then there has to be a public inquiry before the Minister approves an order—it is obvious that such a house really is unfit to live in.
The house being unfit to live in, the law has said up to now that there should not be any compensation for the building, but that the land values should go to the owner or the occupier and compensation should be limited to that. If we are to allow the principle that rotten houses are to be the subject of special compensation if they belong to owner occupiers or happen to house shops, how long will it be before we find ourselves excusing a baker for selling bad bread—which is 2214 illegal—or a costermonger or greengrocer selling rotten fruit? It seems to me that this principle has been so seriously cut into that there ought to be a protest against it because of the dangers which could result from an extension of what is proposed, and the fact that wide application of it will seriously impair the possibilities of effectively clearin our slums.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite are trying hard to give the impression that a Conservative Government started the great slum clearance programme in this country. They did nothing of the kind. In the case of London, the Government were six years too late, because the London County Council began this work six years before the Government issued their first circular. What is more, the London County Council has already been able to get rid of several thousands of broken down and unfit houses. The same is true of most of our large towns. No special inducements have been given to local authorities, unless one regards the maintenance of the subsidy as an inducement, but that is not much of one when one remembers that interest rates have been raised so high that the cost of building in itself will be up by nearly 50 per cent. long before the end of the year.
It seems to me that we are bound to reach a position where, even with the slum clearance operations, only authorities which are able to obtain money at cheaper rates than those of the Public Works Loan Board will be able to build. It is impossible to expect the average small local authority to be able to build even a few houses when its capital charges are at least 5 per cent. Indeed, rates of 5¾. and 6 per cent. are already being charged on some loans which have been taken up.
If local authorities charge the extra costs to rents, the rents become impossible for the tenants. The alternative is for local authorities to have a heavy supplementary rate charge, and as soon as that happens every ratepayers' association and every local Tory organisation begins to scream. It seems to me inevitable that the tendency, which has already begun, for a serious slowing down in housing—in some quarters there has been a complete stoppage—will affect the slum clearance programme in a few months' time, and there will be virtually a stoppage of house building. That has already 2215 happened twice this century. The Bill will do nothing to arrest the decline.
It is fraudulent to attempt to give the impression that the Bill will in some way be of great assistance to the fairly large numbers of owner occupiers who may be affected by slum clearance schemes and also the small number of shopkeepers for whom alternative shops are not found. It is quite fraudulent to conduct debates in this House and propaganda associated with them so as to give those people the impression that this Bill represents a wonderful move forward by the Tory Party in the furtherance of slum clearance. I hope, therefore, that the House will accept the Amendment.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Smithers (Winchester)
The hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson), whom we all regard with great affection in this House, if I may say so, fell much below himself in the speech he just made.
§ Mr. Smithers
I hope to succeed in doing that, but I cannot be sure; we had better wait to find out.
The hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) has a great reputation for his knowledge on local government matters. He used this debate mainly to attack the Tory Party for its policy; his speech was freely interspersed with words such as "fraudulent", and he said the Bill will not have any effect on the problem.
When the hon. Gentleman began, it was at once apparent to us on this side of the House that he had not studied the Bill; he simply had not read it carefully. One ought not, if I may say so, with respect, to accuse one's opponents of being fraudulent if one does not take the trouble to find out what it is that they are proposing to do. The hon. Gentleman will excuse me if I am wrong, but on this side of the House we received the unmistakable impression that he thought this Bill, in the case of shop property, applied only to the owner occupier of a shop. It does not; he does not have to be living there.
If the hon. Gentleman looks carefully at Clause 2, he will see that the key words are 2216…the house was occupied at the date of the making of the order wholly or partly for the purposes of a business",and that the person entitled to the receipts of the business is the person in occupation. That person may be a tenant; it does not have to be the owner at all. I want to return to that question presently and make a point to the Minister upon it, because I think a genuine difficulty does arise there.
The hon. Gentleman also told us—I took down his words as best I could—that the Bill "would have no effect at all on the problem". If the Bill is to have no effect at all on the problem, I cannot see how it could have any effect on the rates; and if it is not to have any effect on the rates, why should hon. Gentlemen opposite put down an Amendment which amounts to opposing the Bill, because they say it will? It seems to me that the hon. Member for Clapham has joined us on this side in making a most devastating attack on his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), who opened the debate for the Opposition from the Front Bench opposite.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering made a most enjoyable speech. If I may say so, he went very wide of the Bill; he used the opportunity, perhaps excusably, to make a general assault upon the local government policy of the party now on these benches, particularly in its financial aspects. I shall come back to that in a moment or two; I am pointing it out for a reason which will, I hope, presently become apparent.
The hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon), made a very appealing and eloquent speech, as she always does, in which she drew attention to various examples of sharp practice. It is a favourite theme of hon. Members opposite to harp upon the monstrous sharp practices of people whom they particularly dislike. I myself have observed that people always indulge in sharp practice whether there be a Socialist or Conservative Government. I do not think that either of us has succeeded in eliminating it, and when hon. Gentlemen opposite were in power they did not, I think, have any conspicuous success in eliminating the sharp practitioners. Indeed, I think there were, on the whole, more then than now; those were the 2217 days of the "spivs" and other picturesque gentlemen associated with that name.
When the hon. Lady holds forth about the wicked things sellers and purchasers of house property in Leeds have done, she may well be right: but those things have gone on under both Governments; they are very regrettable, and I only wish that hon. Gentlemen opposite had had more success in putting a stop to them.
Next we heard from the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl). He began by saying he was perhaps going to be accused of being doctrinaire. I do not object to that; I expect hon. Members opposite to be doctrinaire in their approach. It is not a bad thing, nor anything to be ashamed of; it is good to have a certain amount of doctrine. Nevertheless, I could not help noticing that he was mainly concerned to apply his doctrine in an effort to discover the same sharp practitioners about whom the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South East was so concerned.
The hon. Member said that we on this side were inclined to think of the compulsory purchase procedure with which we are concerned here as a sort of gratuitous fine levied on owners of property. I would say it is the attitude of hon. Members opposite which has created that impression. When up and down the country people read of attacks made on owners of property in general—and many in particular—they naturally feel they are being exposed to some political discrimination and they suspect that, rather than it being an act of justice, it is an act of class warfare.
The House will have observed that each of the three speeches with which this debate was opened from the other side was principally concerned with matters other than the promotion of slum clearance. Hon. Gentlemen opposite were mainly concerned to point out all the difficulties, all the possible abuses, to discourse upon local government at large, upon political doctrine in general, and the wicked practices of certain people in particular. I do not blame the Opposition for doing their part of criticising the Government; but, for my part, I came to the House today to discuss a Bill designed to promote slum clearance. That is what I am interested in.
§ Mr. Collick
Is not the hon. Gentleman falling into the error of which he 2218 accuses my hon. Friends? This Bill has nothing at all to do with slum clearance as such but, if I understand it aright, it has to do with a basis of compensation which arises out of slum clearance; it is not concerned with the business of slum clearance itself.
§ Mr. Smithers
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention; it enables me to illustrate how little this problem is understood by hon. Members opposite. It is true that the Bill does not actually provide for the mechanics of demolition and slum clearance. What it does is to try to assure justice and, therefore, that element of public support for slum clearance without which the campaign cannot hope to be a success.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite do not understand that if they treat this human problem in the atmosphere of the class war we shall never have the slums pulled down at all; and their own lamentable failure to do so is clear evidence in support of what I am saying. I apologise for digressing; the hon. Member led me a little astray. I will now come back to the Bill.
When I wake up in the morning I am confronted with certain objects which relate directly to this Bill. Four of them are agreeable and the fifth is disagreeable. Through a window at the foot of my bed I see the tower of Winchester College, which is agreeable, although it does remind me of the opposite Front Bench. Through a window on my right I see my garden and the east end of Winchester Cathedral—
§ Mr. Smithers
I am a very lucky man; no one could live in a nicer place.
A little further across to the right I see another agreeable object, a vacant space with no houses in it, which is the result of the demolition of the slums in Winchester under a Tory Government before the war at a time when we were rehousing 1,000 slum dwellers daily. [Hors. MEMBERS: "Daily?"] Yes, daily.
§ Mr. Smithers
Yes, at the peak of the programme.
2219 Now I come to the object which I find disagreeable. It is that between my windows and the cathedral I see a number of houses in which some of my unfortunate constituents have still to live and which are bad slums. I want to see those slums go, and go quickly. The last two or three years have begun to see them disappear, a house here and a house there. The city council has begun to get a move on with its slum clearance campaign.
A little further away, in the centre of the city, a very large area has been cleared but there is much more to go. Winchester is quite a small city, but in it we have 500 unfit houses. Out of our not very large total of houses that is quite a big proportion. Of those 500 unfit houses it is calculated that 30 will come within the provisions of this Bill, thereby providing the House with a percentage—roughly of 6 per cent.—which does not compare too badly with the calculation of the Minister. It seems to prove that our case is a relatively difficult one.
What I am anxious to do this evening is to ask the Minister one or two questions about how this Bill will work, because, obviously, it is trying to do something quite difficult and there are several practical problems involved. If some hon. Members opposite had been a little less anxious to play party politics over this matter, they might have found that this House, on both sides, would have a good many things to say in common to the Minister, which would have been a valuable contribution to the debate.
First, I wish to say to the Minister that we cannot have slum clearance on the cheap. It is bound to be quite an expensive operation, whatever happens. We cannot have it on the cheap mainly for the reason which I have already indicated, that if slum clearance is to go forward successfully it must be felt by the whole community that justice is being done to all concerned in the transaction. The reason why this Bill is, in my view, an important contribution towards slum clearance is that it seeks to do justice in hard cases and, I believe, will prove to do justice in practice.
Anyone who had studied the local Press in my constituency recently in connection with the slum clearance programme, which excites a lot of interest in the city, would have been impressed by the 2220 tremendous amount of feeling, not on party lines at all—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] No, not on party lines at all—in a number of contributions in the Press which indicate that the public at large are concerned about the hard cases which have come to their attention.
I think Clause 1 of the Bill will be the most welcome and is the most important Clause which deals with owner-occupiers of house property. What I want to ask the Minister is related to a point which was raised by the hon. Member for Widnes. It is how district valuers and arbitrators will proceed to access their valuations. That will be very difficult. I will give two examples. First, I take three roughly comparable houses in three different streets. Those houses were purchased, comparatively recently, one in Cannon Street for £250, one in Lawn Street for £550, and one in Eastgate Street for £750. They are comparable houses on sites of comparable value, but they were purchased for widely differing prices.
Now I take three houses in the same street, in Union Street. One was purchased for £275, one for £425, and one for £1,000. If one values those houses on their site value they are probably worth £40 to £50 per site, but under the Bill they will be valued on a different valuation. It seems to me that that would present district valuers and arbitrators with a very difficult problem. If the Minister can give some guidance about that when he speaks later I think that would be of practical use.
§ Mr. Mahon
I am very interested in the point that the hon. Member is making. He has made a comparison between houses in the same street, used for the same purpose, yet there is such a disparity between the prices at which they were purchased. Would he say whether they were owned by the same person and why there was this disparity? Is it because of the condition of the houses, or the method of selling? Are they all slum houses?
§ Mr. Smithers
I do not think that the hon. Member has taken my point. I am not concerned with what people paid for those houses. They wanted the houses and that is why they bought them. They are intrinsically comparable in value. 2221 What I am concerned with is the effect of that situation when the district valuer makes his valuation.
§ Mrs. Harriet Slater (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
Would the hon. Member tell us whether those houses were sold for those very different prices at about the same time? Is he saying that those houses are houses which will be dealt with under slum clearance, including the one at £1,000?
§ Mr. Smithers
In every respect the houses are comparable. They were sold under roughly similar circumstances, at roughly the same time, and they are roughly similar houses. The only thing which varied was the price, and that varied greatly. That is the problem I am putting to the Minister. I do not know what the answer is, but it must be a difficult problem.
§ Mr. Smithers
The hon. Member must be quite familiar with the problem. It is not necessarily fraudulent if a man wants to buy a house for which he has £1,000 and is willing to pay it with his eyes open. That is not fraudulent.
I pass to the next point, which was raised in a leading article in The Times this morning, and which, no doubt, hon. Members will have noticed with interest. It arises in Winchester. Certain small house properties have sites which are so small that they cannot be individually developed, but, when aggregated, a number of them can provide a large site which has a very considerable redevelopment value. Where the owners of those houses are different owners, I think hon. Members will follow me when I say that there can be no moral obligation on the local authority to compensate an owner for the increased redevelopment value in 2222 which in his previous ownership he had no part.
But when a person owns a number of small properties adjacent to one another and they are compulsorily purchased in a block, and when the redevelopment value, therefore, of the whole block is considerable, I submit to my right hon. Friend that that should be taken account of in assessing compensation under the Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That seems to me to be only common sense.
§ Mr. Smithers
For the previous owner.
At present, the district valuer can only give compensation for redevelopment value on the basis of the individual site. He cannot take a block of sites adjacent to one another, belonging to a single owner, and say, "While these individually have no redevelopment value, in the aggregate they have a redevelopment value." That is the point that I hope the Minister will take. If the hon. and learned Member for Kettering does not follow me, he will find it put much more clearly than I can state it in the leading article in this morning's issue of The Times.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I assure the hon. Member that I, too, have read The Times leader. I did not quite see its application to the Bill any more than I see the application to the Bill of what the hon. Member is saying; but perhaps I have misunderstood him. Let me ask him one question. The hon. Member is concerned with Tory progress in Winchester and with the progress of slum clearance. I see that Winchester has 490 unfit houses.
§ Mr. Mitchison
The return says 490; there may be ten new ones since. During the next five years, Winchester proposes to demolish only 160 and to retain 330 for temporary accommodation. Does the hon. Member regard that as a good example of Tory slum clearance?
§ Mr. Smithers
The hon. and learned Member should know better. He knows Winchester quite well. In fact, I am not sure that he did not once live in my street.
§ Mr. Smithers
In that case, I withdraw. However that may be, the hon. and learned Member will know that it is quite a small city. Our total electorate is just under 20.000 and I think that in demolishing at that rate we are doing extremely well.
§ Mr. Smithers
I feel happy to have understood The Times leader apparently better than the hon. and learned Member for Kettering has done.
Clause 2 of the Bill deals with shop properties. A point on which I have previously touched in passing is the position of tenants of shops in dwelling-houses which come within the scope of the Bill. I am not clear that I fully understand this part of the Bill, but I think I am right in saying that if a tenant of a shop has a yearly tenancy he will be entitled to compensation. whereas if he is a weekly tenant at will he will not. That, at first sight, may appear quite logical, but, in fact, by the operation of the rent control Acts, the weekly tenant has for years enjoyed a security equal to that of the tenant who holds his shop on a yearly tenancy. The provision of the Bill therefore seems to me to be logical, but in practice it is anomalous. 1 hope that my right hon. Friend will allude to it when winding up the debate and say whether, if my interpretation of the Bill is correct, anything can be done about it in Committee.
Clause 3 is complicated and difficult to understand, but as far as we can tell in Winchester it appears that it will be quite expensive. As far as we can judge, the sums to be paid out under the Clause will vary from £60 to £200. They are likely to be a considerable item in the total cost of the Bill.
As a Conservative, I am very gratified that we are getting on with the slum clearance drive. We must have a foundation of good will if it is to continue and succeed. I believe that the Bill will help to provide that foundation. My right hon. Friend must, of course, have the good will not only of the electorate at large but of the local authorities. I hope he will bear in mind that some of them will be put in the rather difficult position of being urged to carry on with slum clearance while, at the same time, having to cope with considerably increased 2224 costs. Nevertheless, I am sure that the local authorities, who are all keen to see their slums go, will back up my right hon. Friend in his campaign for slum clearance. I thank him for the Bill and I wish it all success.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Herbert Butler (Hackney, Central)
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member from the delightful surroundings of Winchester (Mr. Smithers) into his examination of the Bill. As far as I know, he made no reference whatever to the Bill.
§ Mr. Butler
The hon. Member told us of three sights that pleased him very much and of one that displeased him. I thought he was going to say that the fourth was when he looked in the mirror in the morning when he shaves.
The Bill is described as the Slum Clearance (Compensation) Bill, and I want to draw the attention of the House to the matters we are discussing. Having listened to the speeches of hon. Members opposite. one understands why the Bill is introduced. All that it does is to give more money to people who possess property which is unfit for human habitation. That is the whole substance of the Bill. Which way it, is done or whether it should be done differently is a matter for conjecture, but hon. Members opposite will devise all kinds of ways and means to ensure that if it cannot be done in one way it will be done in another.
I remind hon. Members and the Minister that we are dealing with property which is unfit for human habitation. Section 9 of the 1954 Act draws attention to the conditions under which a house can be declared unfit the standards of fitness for human habitation are laid down.
To advise him, the Minister has a Central Housing Advisory Committee, which made certain recommendations to him as to the conditions which should operate if property was to be considered fit for human habitation. This is referred to in Circular 55/54 from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, which states on page 14:Section 9 follows the definition recommended by a subCommittee of the Central Housing Advisory Committee in listing the 2225 matters to which regard must be had in deciding whether a house is fit or unfit for human habitation. It departs from the recommendations of the sub-committee in that it does not specify that a house is to be regarded as unfit solely because it is defective in one of these matters. Instead, it leaves the local authority to decide in the first place whether in view of the number or degree of the defects the house is or is not reasonably suitable for occupation in that condition.It therefore admits that the conditions laid down in the 1954 Act are less onerous than those which applied before under the 1936 and other Acts.
We are dealing here with properties which have had a life far beyond their usefulness. We are not dealing with something which has just been purchased and has a considerable expectation of life. This follows a pattern which is found particularly in the London area—and I have said this before in this House—in which tenants for 50 or 60 years have paid rents of £20 and upwards per year for houses which cost only £100 to build. The houses have been paid for to successive landlords by successive tenants five or six times over, and these properties are still in existence. Hitler's bombs destroyed some of them, but some are still there.
Now, the local authority is told by this Bill that if these properties are now declared unfit for human habitation, if they are owned by someone who bought them since 1939, the local authority has to pay the market value, so that what in fact the local authority is being told to do is to pay for a diseased and rotten apple the price of a good apple, which the "spiv" from Winchester puts in front of his barrow.
§ Mr. Smithers
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to say so, we do not have any "spivs" in Winchester.
§ Mr. Butler
I did not introduce the question of "spivs." The hon. Gentleman gave us the story of someone who sold a property in Winchester which is worth £40 for £1,000. Does he not regard that as "spivvery"? I am saying that all that this Bill tells the local authorities to do is to pay for a diseased and rotten apple the price that good fruit could command in the market under the unfettered free enterprise of the Tory Party.
§ Mr. C. N. Thornton-Kemsley (North Angus and Mearns)
Surely, the hon. Gentleman would agree that the market 2226 value of the houses which he describes as diseased and rotten would be very low indeed?
§ Mr. Butler
I am not responsible for the deductions which the hon. Member for North Angus (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) or any of his hon. Friends may draw from the statements contained in this Bill.
All I do know is that this Bill proposes to alter a principle that has operated since the 1919 Act. That is the point which hon. Gentleman opposite have to bear in mind, and when I hear the jubilations from some hon. Members below the Gangway about 1,000 people having been rehoused daily by slum clearance between the wars, and when the claim is made that they were rehoused by the party opposite, I must state that that is not so, but that they were rehoused by local authorities, in the London area particularly, which had Labour majorities. Under these slum clearance Acts, local authorities bought—as I myself, as a member of a housing committee of a local authority, have bought—slum property at half-a-crown per super foot. We bought land at that price, and on it erected homes for our people, and now the Conservative Party claim credit for it, when Labour local authorities—
§ Mr. Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
Surely the hon. Gentleman will be fair and will agree that the Tory Party did at least pass the legislation which made it possible?
§ Mr. Butler
The hon. Member might cast his mind back to the time when we had the Wheatley Act in this country and one associated with the late Mr. Arthur Greenwood. I hope the House will never forget those two Acts when considering housing matters.
Now I wish to say something particularly to the Minister, and I am glad that he is here. It has been suggested that this is part of a great slum clearance crusade. I agree that the Parliamentary Secretary never endeavoured to give us that opinion, but I want quite seriously to say to the Minister that it is a little unfair of him to go down into an East End borough and have himself photographed knocking down walls, getting a subpœna to appear in a police court, getting himself interrogated by irate citizens, and spreading these pictures around 2227 the country showing his great desire to assist in slum clearance, while at the same time—
§ Mr. Glover
On a point of order. Is it in order, Mr. Speaker, to suggest that an hon. or right hon. Gentleman himself engineered a subpœna to appear in a police court? Is that not an infringement of the privileges of the House? One cannot get a subpœna for a police court oneself; such a subpœna comes from the police court, and to suggest that a right hon. Member of this House engineered a subpœna for attendance at a police court is surely completely out of order?
§ Mr. Speaker
I did not quite gather the purport of that observation, but I did not hear anything out of order.
§ Mr. Butler
I think the right hon. Gentleman realises that I never intended to indicate in any way that he went round asking prospective Communist candidates to serve him with subpoenas. All I say to him is that, at a time when feeling runs high about this matter, this sort of thing should not be done.
I say that because of what is actually happening. My hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) has referred to the fact that the effect of the Government's general housing legislation is to increase the cost of housing to local authorities. I can assure the Minister that local authorities, while they are proceeding with their housing schemes at the moment, are feeling very diffident about laying down plans for two or three years ahead, because of the implications to the tenants who may be housed.
The increases in the rates of interest, the reduction of the subsidy for general housing and the mere maintenance of the subsidy for ordinary slum clearance are making it very difficult for local authorities to go ahead with enthusiasm in their plans for 1958 or 1959. I am, however, very grateful to note that in many areas of London plans for housing schemes have been made up to 1958. As the Minister and hon. Members in all parts of the House will be aware, these things have to be planned two or three years in advance, and, as a consequence of the general policy of the Minister and the Government, local authorities are now damping down.
2228 What do we find? We are now to pay increased prices for slum property, and these prices will be higher than the market prices of property. The situation with regard to residential property is becoming absolutely absurd. I have in my hand a document which was handed to me as a member of a finance committee when dealing with applications for dwellings under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act. According to it, a property is offered for sale at £1,775, and the valuer who is paid by the applicant and is entirely independent of the local authority, has valued it at £700, subject to first floor possession, and at £1,200, subject to complete vacant possession. Here we have an individual paying £1,775 in order to get into a house which is really worth £700. The values that are being created because of the policy of the Government and because of the impossibility of local authorities continuing to build houses to let are maintaining an artificial cost of property throughout the whole country.
As a consequence of Tory policy, the local authorities, without any assistance from the Government at all, will be forced to make the ratepayers in their areas pay for the slum properties which are covered by this Bill. Why should the local authorities have to pay famine prices for a commodity which Parliament itself decided is unfit for habitation? All Housing Bills and Acts have defined this commodity.
As was confirmed by the Parliamentary Secretary in answer to my interjection, even length of occupation is not a consideration in the Bill. Section 42 of the Housing Act, 1936, provided that where extra payment for well-maintained houses was to be made, there had to be a period of three years occupation before that provision applied. There is nothing of that kind in this Bill. We are entitled to assume that in the main, apart from the bad cases of really crooked people who take on unsuspecting persons and absolutely rob them, anyone who is investing in buying a house for himself will secure the best possible advice about the price and the general condition of the property.
It is a fallacy to assume that the Bill will deal with every house owner who is the occupier of a slum. We are entitled to assume that, generally speaking, people have bought these houses well 2229 knowing their value. I do not know the whole of the country, but in 1939–42, at a time when the country was receiving Hitler's missiles, I believe that there was not a tendency to purchase property but a tendency and desire to get rid of it. Therefore the price paid for the type of property which we are now discussing approximated in the main to the real value.
This Bill is very much on the lines of widows' and orphans' legislation. Whenever the Tory Party wants to do something for a particular section, it serves up the cry of the poor, the needy and the suffering. When we discussed the Transport Act and the question whether the resources of the transport industry should belong to the State, we had the story about the wife of the transport owner sitting up burning the midnight oil to keep the books and tot up the halfpennies and pennies. Tonight we have had stories about a fish and chips shop and a fishing tackle shop and of people working 24 hours a day, and when the clocks were put back they presumably worked 25.
This is an attempt by the Government to respond to their own particular pressure group. It arises from a case which became famous and led to the Ministerial demise of one member of the Government after it was over. Pressure was exerted because certain actions on the part of the Government were allowed to continue. Now the Tory Party is attempting to put the matter right.
If a local authority, through its medical officer of health, says that a house is unfit for human habitation, the owner has a right to appeal to the Minister and has a right to an inquiry. If that inquiry upholds the local authority's representations, I submit that to make the local authority pay the market value for that commodity is much the same as if the medical officer had inspected a load of meat or some other food and had said that it was unfit for human consumption. The corollary of the proposal in the Bill would be to make the local authority pay the market price for the unfit meat or food.
§ Mr. Butler
Why is it nonsense? Hon. Members opposite must remember that the things which make up human life and for which people work in factories are 2230 food, clothing and shelter. Housing accommodation is as much a commodity as meat and fruit and other things that are sold in the market. Therefore, if a local authority had to pay a fantastic price for the diseased, rotten carcase of a house, it would be quite natural to make it pay for the diseased, rotten carcase of a bullock.
The Tory Party has a bad record in slum clearance. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I can take hon. Members opposite to parts of London where their party has been in power on local authorities since 1922 and where no local authority house was built by the Tory Party. When they controlled local authorities in London, hon. Members opposite would not enter into the sphere of house building because that would be competing with their friends the landlords. [Laughter.] It is not a laughing matter. It is a serious proposition.
Hon. Members opposite take the view that if profit can be made out of a commodity it should be left to free enterprise. It was and is the basis of their political philosophy. The Tory Party did not enter into the sphere of house building at all. It argued that it was not its job to do so. Hon. Members opposite have no monopoly in slum clearance. Rather, their records show that they have been laggards. Local authorities of Labour complexion were clearing slums in 1934, 1936 and up to 1939. We shall go on with the job and I hope that we shall eventually deal with the problem of slum property. I have one serious suggestion to make to the Minister.
§ Mr. Butler
The Minister should follow the line adopted by the Government in some other matters. The Government should buy all these houses and then sell them at knock-down prices, just as they sell nails and motorcars and the like. Just as they have bought orange juice, let them buy these slum properties from their friends the slum owners, put the addresses in a hat and let somebody make a bid for them.
If the Government feel that there are certain cases where people, through no fault of their own, have purchased properties which in a short space of time have been termed slums and they want 2231 to help those people, it should be the Government's responsibility. The buck should not be passed to the local authorities. In so far as any extra payment should be made, the Government cannot abdicate their responsibility. If the Government want to call the tune, let them pay the piper.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Norwich, South)
I hardly know what to say in following the speech of the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. H. Butler). The hon. Member gave us a history lesson about slum clearance in London, which apparently related to pre-1934 days with which I and many of my hon. Friends are not very familiar. I should have thought that if the hon. Member had taken the trouble to study the slum clearance record between 1931 and 1939 he would have seen that he could not possibly sustain the attack which he has tried to make on my hon. and right hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Rippon
I would prefer to deal with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Smithers) and brought out by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Collick), about the extent to which the Bill will encourage and assist local authorities in their slum clearance schemes.
Time after time in my experience local authorities have encountered fierce opposition to their proposals for the acquisition and development of land for public purposes, including slum clearance, simply because of public resentment at the gap there is between the real value of their land or other property and the pi ice which is payable upon compulsory acquisition. As this gap grows wider—and it will grow wider the further we get away from 1947 values as far as development value is concerned—so public resentment grows.
I am sure, therefore, that sooner or later we shall have to face the necessity for amending the basis of our present law of compensation upon compulsory acquisition. In the meantime, I feel that the House should welcome the Bill in so far as it is designed to give additional compensation in a limited number of cases to persons who would otherwise suffer acute 2232 hardship as a result of the compulsory purchase of their property.
§ Mr. MacColl
Would the hon. Gentleman explain what he means by a true value of the property? He has been referring to the two-price system introduced by a Conservative Government in the Town Planning Act. We would agree with him on that, but this Bill has nothing to do with that problem. This Bill concerns the right price to be paid for an unfit house. How does the hon. Gentleman define the true value of an unfit house?
§ Mr. Rippon
I will come to that in a moment. I am only saying, at this stage, that I support this Bill in so far as it is designed to narrow that gap in these circumstances. I understood that the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) was with us on the need to provide some amelioration of hardship in the cases that fell under Clause 1.
As I understand the position, there is no division of opinion on this matter, apart from the question of Government grants raised in the Amendment. In fact, it was only from the hon. Member for Hackney, Central and one or two other hon. Gentlemen opposite that we heard the suggestion that the Bill is designed in some way to help a certain class of people, that the Government are giving to their own pressure group some favoured treatment—I think that that was what the hon. Gentleman said. I recommend the hon. Gentleman to read the Daily Herald which said, the day after the Bill was published:There is disappointment today for anyone who saw the chance of a racket in the Government proposal to pay extra compensation to owner-occupiers of slum houses when their homes are pulled down.I should have thought that most hon. Gentlemen opposite would agree with that, as the hon. and learned Member for Kettering agreed with it when he opened this debate on their behalf.
It appears reasonable that additional compensation should be paid in these cases, especially where people bought their own houses for owner-occupation under scarcity conditions during and since the war. Those people face financial loss in circumstances which they could not reasonably have contemplated, partly because of the new standard of fitness contained in the Housing Repairs and 2233 Rents Act, 1954, and partly because at the time they acquired their houses, even if inquiries had been made of the local authority, they might well have been told that no slum clearance scheme as was contemplated in their area.
I want to deal primarily with the Opposition Amendment which, I notice, has not received a great deal of support from hon. Gentlemen opposite who have followed the hon. and learned Member for Kettering. Certainly, it has received no support from the hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson), who said that the additional compensation would cost only a few shillings.
It seems curious that the Opposition should have seen fit to put down an Amendment of this kind to a fairly modest Measure involving relatively little additional expenditure by the local authorities. It seems as if right hon. Gentlemen opposite have used a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Whilst I was much impressed with the vigour with which the hon. and learned Gentleman sprang to the defence of the local authorities, and by the way in which he ranged over the realm of local government finance, I felt that it would have been easier to follow him if the debate had taken place upon another occasion and upon a broader subject.
Having been a member of a local authority for a considerable time, I regret that hon. Gentlemen opposite did not show the same tenderness towards the subject of local government finance when they were in office. I can only repeat what I have said before, that nothing has done so much damage to the structure of local government finance in recent years as the Local Government Act, 1948, for which they were responsible. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] I should have thought that the Opposition would have hesitated to champion local authorities on this occasion when, as far as I understand the position, the local authorities are not complaining.
§ Mr. Lindgren
Let us get this quite clear. The Urban District Councils' Association has circulated their vice-presidents who are hon. Members of this House, including Tory Members, who have been conspicuous by their absence today, asking them to raise the matter in the House because this is an unfair 2234 burden on local authorities, as the Association has informed the Minister.
§ Mr. Rippon
Even if the Urban District Councils' Association has so informed its vice-presidents, that is not the only source of information as to what local authorities feel on these matters. I should think it fair to say that local authorities have given a general welcome to this Bill because they are in sympathy with its objects, for the reasons I gave at the beginning of my speech, namely, that they are alive to the difficulty which arises when they cannot carry public opinion with them on their slum clearance.
I believe that, if there is a fair basis of compensation in these hardship cases affecting owner-occupiers, then a great many of the plans of the local authorities will go forward much more smoothly, much more efficiently, and with none of the difficulties that often arise at public inquiries into these matters.
Apart from that, I think it fair to say prima facie that the local authority which acquires property should, in normal circumstances, be responsible for paying for it. Paragraph 4 of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum states that:The increased payments authorised by the Bill will be met out of rates, but may have the effect of increasing the Equalisation Grants payable by the Exchequer. It is not possible to estimate the amounts involved.That is a factor to be taken into account. Another factor to be taken into account, particularly in the London area, is that in many of these cases the expensive site subsidy will be payable under the existing housing legislation.
The point I want to make is that the additional expenditure incurred would be for a relatively minor amount—at least, that is the view taken by the London County Council—and that the Bill is, therefore, to be welcomed. So the L.C.C., at any rate, is not pressing for any alteration in the grants system.
Apart from the fact that a very small proportion of unfit houses are affected—if we accept the figure of the Minister, as I do, that the probable proportion in most areas is about 5 per cent. of the total number of houses affected—it would 2235 appear that there will not be an exceptionally heavy burden on the local authorities such as would justify putting in a Measure of this kind a complicated provision for the payment of Government grants on a special basis.
I believe that hon. Gentlemen opposite, such as the hon. Member for Hackney, Central, have exaggerated the amounts that will be payable under the Bill. It has been suggested that the difference between paying virtually nothing for the "diseased house" on the basis of site value and some enormous sum for market value will involve the local authority in a considerable additional cost. I do not think that it will work out quite like that.
I think that we ought to bear in mind the procedure which will have to be followed in assessing the amount of compensation which will be payable under Clause 1, which states that… the appropriate authority shall make in respect of that interest a payment of an amount equal to its full compulsory purchase value …which is not quite the same as its market value.
§ Mr. Rippon
The difference is that the full compulsory purchase value has to be assessed under the Housing Act 1936, which is read in conjunction with this Bill, in accordance with Clause 6, and, in particular, by reference to the Fourth Schedule of the Housing Act 1936, being a house which has been acquired under Part III of that Act.
§ Mr. Rippon
I will explain by reference to the Fourth Schedule. The relevant paragraph is paragraph 2:If the arbitrator is satisfied that any premises are in a state of defective sanitation, or not in reasonably good repair, the compensation shall be the estimated value of the premises if put into a sanitary condition, or reasonably good repair, less the estimated expense of putting them into such condition or repair.J am afraid that the position which may arise in some cases is that, having regard to the fact that, having done that sum, one has to deduct, in accordance with Clause 1, 2236… the compensation which was or would have been payable in respect of the interest in connection with the compulsory purchase of the house at site value …one may arrive at a situation by which, under the Bill, one may get a minus quantity rather than even the site value. I am not at all sure that we should not have a provision in this Clause that the owner of the property shall be entitled to the site value if that, in fact, is more than the compensation payable under Clause 1.
In a very bad case it may well be that the effect of this Bill is negligible. But if we get a house which is technically unfit in accordance with the new definition in the 1954 Act and, therefore, properly included in the slum clearance area, if it is a house of which the ordinary man would say. "It has springy floor boards or lacks a damp-proof course, but, although technically unfit, is a reasonably good house," it seems unfair, in those circumstances, that we should pay only the site value, having regard to this new test of unfitness which is of a higher standard than the previous one.
If we get a house which is technically unfit but which is really a good house and we apply the new basis, it may well be the case that there will be considerable compensation payable under the Bill, even after we have made the deduction for putting it in good order.
In the case of the wholly "diseased house," I fear that there will not be very much payable to the owner-occupier.
§ Mr. Rippon
I will amend that word for the benefit of the right hon. Gentleman. I feel sure—I think that is right—that there will not be a great deal for the owner-occupier in those circumstances.
There should be greater relief in cases of real hardship where people have bought at scarcity values, and I hope that particular importance will be attached to the provisions of Clause 3 which provide for a more generous "well-maintained" allowance. I am sure that hon. Members opposite will agree that it is fair that where people have spent their savings on a bad house and have genuinely done their best to put it into proper order, even though they had failed to bring it up to the standard to make it a fit house in the 2237 technical sense, it is right that they should receive some compensation for the repairs which they have done to the house.
Because I believe that the amount involved in the Bill is relatively small and, therefore, does not justify the Amendment put clown by the Opposition, and because the Money Resolution is drawn so tightly that it may be difficult to raise these matters later, there are one or two points which might otherwise have been made in Committee to which I should like to draw attention.
Undoubtedly, the strongest case for assistance is for those who bought at the time of acute scarcity after September, 1939, but, at the same time, I think it is true to say that the people who bought before the war may equally suffer hardship partly because of the new standard of fitness and really because, before the war, the worst slums, in spite of what the hon. Member for Hackney, Central said, had been largely cleared away. Therefore, many houses are included now in a slum clearance scheme which would riot have been included before the war, and the intending purchasers would not have been told that there was any danger.
There is another aspect of this which may appeal more to hon. Members opposite. It may perhaps be invidious for a local authority to tell Mr. A. who bought his house in 1939, that he is to get this extra payment and to tell Mr. B, who bought his house in 1938, that he cannot—two people in the same road in comparable properties. One who bought 16 years ago gets the extra payment and the other, who bought 17 years ago, gets nothing. I should have thought that because of the small number of properties involved—5 per cent., to take the Minister's figure—it would have been more equitable to make a payment for what it is worth to all classes of owner-occupiers, no matter when they bought their houses.
The second point which I would make arises out of the reference in the Clause to the necessity for the house to have been purchased during the "material period," that in between 1st September, 1939, to 13th December, 1955, or the date of declaration notice or order, whichever is the earlier. I would have thought that it might be considered equitable that the owner-occupier who had entered into a 2238 valid contract to buy within the "material period" should have been brought within the Bill. I think that a similar minor variation was referred to by the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Green) relating to the additional payments, which are normally conditional upon occupation upon 13th December, 1955, by the owner or his family.
It appears that there may be some cases where people, for a good reason, have not been in occupation, either themselves or through their families, on that material date. There may also be cases where people have vacated their premises through voluntary action under persuasion by the local authority before that date and they will be prejudiced as against the person who hung on to the last moment and waited to be physically evicted.
These are minor points which ought to be adjusted in Committee, but, as I understand the position as it is at present, the Money Resolution may be drawn too tightly for these matters to be in order when we come to the Committee stage. It seems to me that there has been more shoddy, ill-considered un comprehensible piecemeal and tinkering legislation since the war than anyone would have believed possible 10 years ago. As a matter of principle it seems to me that it would be a great misfortune if reasonable and moderate Amendments could not be introduced or discussed during the Committee stage of the Bill in order to ensure that the Measure which emerges is as fair and just and equitable as Parliament can devise.
Apart from these minor matters which I would not say ought necessarily to be put in the Bill, but which, I would say, ought to be considered as proper Amendments which might be made to the Bill, I join with hon. Members on this side of the House in welcoming this Measure. It is a modest Measure, but I think that it is a useful one having regard to the object which it is designed to achieve. I do not think that it will involve expenditure on the level which has been suggested in the Opposition Amendment. I think that it would be a pity if anything were said in this House which raised false hopes on the part of anybody as to the amount of compensation that may become payable under the Bill. 2239 We have to go a very long way before we can achieve a proper balance between the rights of the individual and the rights of the community upon the compulsory purchase of land. As the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) has rightly pointed out, that raises much wider issues than the ones we are discussing today, and perhaps even a different issue altogether. It is undoubtedly the main reason why public opinion has felt that something ought to be done to meet the cases of hardship with which the Bill is designed, so rightly and properly, to deal.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)
This Bill attempts to remedy certain cases of hardship which have arisen. I well know the experiences of very large numbers of persons employed in the railway service, in which I was engaged prior to 1945. Because of the necessity for them to move from station to station, frequently at short notice, because of the unusual and difficult hours they were called upon to work, and because of the reluctance of local authorities to put them on the housing lists because they had not previously resided in the areas to which they had moved, large numbers of railwaymen had to buy houses of the type we are discussing today. The Bill seeks to remedy a defect in this respect, but I do not think it will do it nearly as effectively as it would have been done if the Minister had placed the financial responsibility for the problem where it properly belongs.
I have listened to the speeches of the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Smithers) and the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Rippon). I find from a document issued in November, 1955, that there are in the City of Winchester 8,874 dwelling-houses and that 490 are estimated to be unfit. In other words, in Winchester one in 19 of the dwelling-houses are regarded as unfit. The County Borough of Norwich has 37,584 houses and there are 1,679 unfit ones, which represents one in 23.
Figures in the document show that the average for the country is about one unfit house in 16. In Bournemouth, it is one in 400. The Borough of Hartlepool has 4,955 houses and 1,384 unfit ones. The Borough of Jarrow has 9,432 dwelling-houses, and 1,772 are unfit. The 2240 Urban District of Blaydon has 9,350 houses, and 1,010 are unfit.
It may be all right for the Parliamentary Secretary to talk about an average of 5 per cent., but it is unevenly spread over the country. The expenditure necessitated by the Bill is bound to be considerable in a very large number of areas which have the biggest slum clearance problem. It will be very much more difficult for the older towns to deal with the problem. It is no use the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary telling us that it is really 5 per cent. over the country. We must face the problem as it is likely to exist in the areas where it is worst and where it will be difficult to deal with it.
After all, on 13th December, the Minister said:From a sample which I have taken of compulsory purchase orders which have come through our hands in the last year or so, it looks as though the proportion of unfit houses which are occupied by owners is probably about 5 per cent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 13th December, 1955; Vol. 547, c. 1015.]We are entitled to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the percentage is likely to be considerably more than that in many places. To the extent that the problem does not exist in towns like Winchester, Norwich and Bournemouth, it must exist to a greater extent in other areas.
Another interesting thing about the Minister's statement on 13th December was that he gave no indication whatever that he would place the financial responsibility entirely upon local authorities. Reading that statement again today, it seems to me that the Minister implied that he himself would accept the responsibility. That was the impression formed by the local authority associations. The hon. Member for Walton (Mr. K. Thompson) said that the Association of Municipal Corporations has not raised the matter as an issue, but it has certainly circularised all its vice-presidents who are hon. Members of the House. I have a copy of a letter, dated 26th March, in which it points out the objections which it has to the Bill and asks that they should be raised during the Second Reading.
§ Mr. Jones
I will certainly read the letter. It says:This Bill will come before the House of Commons for its Second Reading on Wednesday next.… Some time ago, when local authorities were beginning to resume their slum clearance operations, several members of the Association expressed their concern at their inability to relieve the hardship suffered by certain owner-occupiers who had acquired slum houses at high prices during the period of acute housing shortage, many of them having substantial mortgage debts for which they would remain personally responsible.…The letter calls attention to the fact that to suggest that it ought to be met by the Exchequer equalisation grant is not satisfactory because the grant varies from 53 per cent. in the case of Merthyr Tydvil to 1 per cent. in the cases of Norwich, Gloucester and West Ham. It points out that there are very many towns, such as Birmingham, Manchester, Portsmouth, Southampton, Great Yarmouth, Ipswich, and Chester, which:…have comparatively large slum clearance problems but will, of course, receive no Exchequer equalisation grant.…It also points out: that there are non-county boroughs and other urban districts which also have substantial slum clearance problems.
I can think of any number of municipal boroughs and urban districts in the industrial parts of the country which have heavy slum clearance problems and do not receive Exchequer equalisation grants except by way of capitation grants from their county councils. If the Minister wants to get the enthusiasm of the local authorities in tackling the problem he had better look again at the question of financial assistance.
If these difficulties require to be tackled they must be tackled in the only proper fashion. The Minister ought not to place responsibility on the local authorities. The suggestion has been made to the local authorities that the subsidies embodied in the Housing Subsidies Bill will take care of the added expense incurred by them in dealing with these matters. It is not without significance that in the negotiations by the right hon. Gentleman and his officers with the local authorities no mention was made of that matter and that the Minister did not mention it 2242 when he made his statement to the House on 13th December.
It is also not without significance to note that the Housing Subsidies Bill had been introduced many days before the December statement was made and that, therefore, it is apparently an afterthought on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to argue that the £22 1s. now paid for slum clearance must include the added payment. It occurred to him to endeavour to avoid his obligations under the Bill. The local authority associations are definitely opposed to the Bill in its present form, because they feel that the financial obligation which will be placed upon them is considerably heavier than they could be expected to bear having regard to their additional commitments.
I want to raise two other points. The first is whether these payments ought not to be made to cases where there has been a voluntary arrangement with the local authority to buy properties in advance of an order being made. The co-operative and public-spirited citizen who decides to make a deal with the local authority at the beginning of the acquisition of a site and to dispose of his property voluntarily to the local authority is to be treated in an inferior fashion to the person who sits tight and says, "You have to pay if you want to get me out of the house". The right hon. Gentleman says, "We will pay him increased compensation, but the public-spirited citizen will get lower compensation". I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will look at the matter again.
Another problem exercising the minds of local authorities is the case of the slum landlord who has taken advantage of the housing shortage to sell a vacant house to a man that is badly in need of one for a modest down-payment and an annual payment over a period of 20 years, the deeds to be transferred at the end of the transaction. I understand that there are many cases in the records of local authorities of this kind of thing. It may very well be that local authorities and the Ministry will be hoodwinked. There is a danger that the advantages of the Bill will be reaped by slum landlords for whom they were never intended. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will look at this type of case.
The greatest blemish in the Bill was pinpointed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). It is that, if the Minister 2243 really believes in slum clearance and believes that the sites should be cleared as quickly as possible, he will make it possible for even the poorest local authority to get on with the job by putting the financial responsibility for paying compensation where it rightly belongs, and that is on the Treasury.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Brigadier Terence Clarke (Portsmouth, West)
I hope that the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) will forgive me if I do not follow closely upon what he said. I would rather touch upon a different aspect of the matter.
I am grateful to the Minister for introducing the Bill. For a long time pressure has been put on him by myself and by at least one other hon. Member to try to understand the problem of the owner-occupier who, we felt, was having a very raw deal, especially in our constituencies. Although the Minister says that there may be only a small percentage of them over the whole country, in Portsmouth there is a comparatively large number, something between 10 and 15 per cent. That is because Portsmouth is a Service town. At the end of the war, when the soldiers and sailors came back, they were forced to buy property at extortionate prices because there was a very great shortage of accommodation.
§ Mr. Lindgren
Is the hon. and gallant Member openly admitting that, even in a Service town like Portsmouth, Tory slum landlords are prepared to swindle the Service man who fought for his country?
§ Brigadier Clarke
What it really amounts to is that during six years of Socialism hardly a house went up in Portsmouth. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I did not want to bring controversial matter into my speech. It was entirely due to the Government which was supported by the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) that we had housing difficulties, plus Hitler. The hon. Gentleman ought to have tried to help Portsmouth, knowing that Hitler had done nothing to help us. Perhaps he will now let me make my speech in my own way.
The Service people came back. There was a housing shortage, and it was 2244 not due to the landlords. I do not represent a single landlord. If the hon. Gentleman had seen my constituency he would know that it consists of ordinary working-class people who vote Tory because they know they are voting for the better sort of Government.
The Service people paid reasonable prices at that time and not "spiv" prices. Under the existing laws they could have been deprived of their houses and simply given the site value. That would have happened but for the fact that the Minister of Housing and Local Government broke his holiday when he was over in Bembridge and came down for a day. I showed him some of the houses which were going to be declared slums and for which the owner-occupiers were to get nothing but site value. My right hon. Friend must have been greatly impressed with what he saw.
Some of these houses are like new pins, but they have no larders or inside lavatories, and so they are declared unfit. They may be quite fit otherwise in all respects and are lived in perfectly happily by the occupiers. These people will not be delighted to read the speech made by the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. H. Butler), who seemed to think that they were all Tories and ought not to be paid anything at all. As a matter of fact, they are about fifty-fifty Conservatives and Socialists, and I wish to have fair compensation for them all. I was very surprised at the hon. Member making such a speech.
These people are now to get fair compensation, which is the least we can give them. Even so, they are very reluctant to be moved from their houses, in which they have lived for a very long time. All their associates are around them there, and they do not regard the area as a slum area at all. They will be picked up and either put into a council house or called upon to buy a house elsewhere. A house cannot be bought for £800 these days, and if they are to make themselves into owner-occupiers again they are faced with a down deposit and a considerable amount of rent for a long time. I admit that they get a new house instead of an old one, but if a person can see himself living in a house and not paying any rent—and having a certain income—he can plan the rest of his life. If someone just picks up such a man and says "This 2245 house is not fit to live in—you must go and live there "—and he has to start paying rent all over again, it is a considerable hardship, especially in old age.
I would ask the Minister to look very carefully into these houses that are being condemned as slums. According to the book which has been published, there are 7,000 slum houses in Portsmouth. I do not believe there are as many as 700 unfit for human occupation at the present time. I ask the Minister to look very carefully at this, because there are 16,000 people still on the housing list as a result of the administration of a housing policy of hon. Members opposite and those who think like them. We have got on immensely in the last four or five years. Before that we had a most appalling housing programme in the city. We have built many houses recently, and if the Minister will give us a few more years before these old houses are pulled down we shall have built enough new ones to be able to consider whether or not these other places are slums. By comparison with other cities, I would say that there are very few slums in Portsmouth. People living there do not regard their houses as slums.
I am very glad that the cost of paying compensation has been put on the local authority. The local authority will be paying the bill and will have to think again as to whether or not many of the places really should be pulled down. It is much easier to pull down a place if someone else is to pay the cost of it, and now the responsibility is entirely on the shoulders of the local authority. The equalisation grant is quite a different problem. I know that Portsmouth does not get it—although it should—but I do not think that that should be mixed up in any way with the slum clearance problem.
§ Mr. D. Jones
If the hon. and gallant Member is referring to what I said, I was merely pointing out that a large number of towns like Portsmouth do not get even the Exchequer equalisation grant, so the whole cost must be borne by the local people, which we think wrong.
§ Brigadier Clarke
I agree with the hon. Member to that extent, but I am glad that the cost does fall on the rates and not on the central government, because it will make the local authorities more 2246 careful in condemning houses. The equalisation grant is another matter.
I can find nothing in the Measure to help the Service man who, through no fault of his own, is moved away. It may be that his ship is moved to Malta, Gibraltar or elsewhere—or the soldier may be sent to Cyprus. When he goes away his wife, if she can, follows him. If she cannot go with him she may go to live with her mother or someone else. The house is then nominally unoccupied on the specific date and the wife finds that it is being pulled down without compensation. It is not fair to send men away and then to say, "You are not the owner-occupier because you are not living at the address on that date." I hope that in Committee the Minister will put something in the Bill to safeguard Service men who are doing their duty outside the country.
I am not in favour of slum landlords getting any compensation, but there are certain landlords who are good landlords. Very often they are only small, ordinary working-class people who may have saved up and bought a couple of houses. Not all of them are the "spiv" type of landlord. These people who own a couple of houses are, perhaps, old-age pensioners, living in one house and letting the other at a reasonable rent. In most cases the two houses are identical, and it seems queer to me that the authority should say, "In regard to A in which you live we will give £600, because you bought it when property was scarce, but in regard to B which you let at 24s. a week you can only have the site value." It does not seem logical to me.
I know that the Minister is facing great difficulties here, because all the hon. Members opposite will howl like a lot of wolves "They are helping the landlord again", which will frighten the Tory Minister into not giving compensation to the chap who ought to have it. I suppose hon. Members opposite are entitled to howl like wolves. It is part of the game which they are more or less paid to play, but it does not impress in this case.
I would like to raise the case of a Mr. Clarke, who lives in Paradise Row. He is no relative. He has nine children and he was dispossessed of his house by the local authority and put into a council house about three or four weeks before 2247 the crucial date on which he should have been an owner-occupier in order to get his compensation. He would have been in his house today if the council had not picked him up, put him in a council house and given him what was considered fair compensation, which was a little above the site value. Mr. Clarke's house was badly bombed—the whole area was bombed and has been made into a car park, and his house is in the middle of that car park. The council assure me that it has not taken the house in order to make a better car park, but it is very difficult to make Mr. Clarke believe that.
Before buying the house on mortgage, Mr. Clarke got a clearance that the house was not to be pulled down. He got it on mortgage—and mortgagees look into these matters very carefully. He had £300 worth of war damage work done less than three years ago, and now he cannot get even £300 for the house. It is an appalling waste of public money. Mr. Clarke might have been told that his house was unfit, that war damage work should not be done on it and that he should not, in fact, buy it at all. Having ben allowed to buy it he now has an enormous mortgage and, as I say, was turned out of it a few weeks before the date on which, had he stayed, he would have got reasonable compensation.
§ Brigadier Clarke
That is a legal matter. I would say that it would go to the mortgagee because the man owes that money to the mortgagee, but it is of little consequence to Mr. Clarke because he has still got to pay the mortgagee the amount that he owes.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
It seems to me that the hon. and gallant Member is going into Committee details rather than confining himself to the Second Reading.
§ Brigadier Clarke
I apologise for getting involved in this matter, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I know what the hon. Gentleman was trying to get at, but he was 2248 wrong. The man borrowed the money from the bank. The bank can demand money back and the man has got to pay it back. He has had a raw deal and the Minister ought to look into this case, the details of which I have already sent him on two occasions, and if necessary I will send them to him a third time.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)
I am somewhat surprised that the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) should have challenged the return made by his council on the number of unfit houses in the area of Portsmouth. The Portsmouth local authority gave its return to the Minister and estimated that some 7,000 houses in Portsmouth were unfit for human habitation. The hon. and gallant Gentleman queried that with the Government and suggested that only 700 were really unfit. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is entitled to his opinion, but he should bear in mind that the return made by his council was made after due consideration by the medical officer of health for the city of Portsmouth, and he should not lightly cast aside that considered estimate.
I noticed that the hon. and gallant Gentleman at one point in his speech asked that slum houses other than those occupied by their owners should receive additional compensation for which the Bill provides. I think he is treading on very dangerous ground. His right hon. Friend would certainly not countenance any suggestion that the provisions of this Bill should be made wider and that the additional compensation should go to owners other than owner-occupiers.
§ Mr. Evans
I should like to offer half a word of congratulation to the Minister for his new-found concern for the owner-occupier or, at any rate, for a limited number of owner-occupiers. Up to now he and the Government have done nothing at all to assist the owner-occupier. Indeed, we know that over the years they have piled up penalising rates of interest upon owner-occupiers. Perhaps this is a small sign of repentance for past misdeeds and the right hon. Gentleman is now coming to the rescue of some of the more unfortunately placed owner-occupiers.
2249 We welcome this attempt by the Minister to come to the rescue of these people who and themselves in difficult circumstances, who have been obliged to buy slum or sub-standard property in order to get a house and who have subsequently found themselves subject to a clearance order. We welcome his sympathy and his attempt to assist them, but having said that, we should remember that there are certain principles involved in this Bill which we should consider instead of allowing our sympathy to run away with us.
First, we must impress upon the Minister that our Amendment is not a frivolous one. We believe that he is not doing his duty by the local authorities in putting this additional burden upon them. I have tried to get some estimate of the size of this problem and of how much he is really placing upon local authorities. It is very difficult to know exactly, but we can make some rough estimate. We know that during the next ten years 800,000 unfit houses are to be cleared—400,000 in the next five-year period and the remaining 400,000, according to the return, presumably will be dealt with in the following five years.
We know that some 800,000 houses are due for demolition over the ten-year period covered by this Bill. On the Minister's sample we can, with rough accuracy, arrive at the conclusion that 40,000 slum houses which will be cleared during the term covered by this Bill will be occupied by their owners. That is for England and Wales. The Minister shakes his head, but I have taken the number of unfit houses to be dealt with in the ten-year period and I have taken the number of owner-occupied houses from his 5 per cent. sample.
§ Mr. Powell
The 5 per cent. includes the houses to be dealt with by Clause 1, but it is not identical with them.
§ Mr. Evans
There are qualifications to be made on that rough estimate, but it is not wildly out to say that the 5 per cent. sample is a good sample on which to work.
We get a rough figure—it may be a few more or a few less—of 40,000 which have to be dealt with under Clauses 1 and 2, since Clause 2 deals with houses occupied as business premises. I think 40,000 is not wildly out as an estimate. 2250 It is difficult to reach any firm figure of how much compensation will be paid, but from cases which have passed through my hands I would say that about £200 to £300 would be the average amount of additional compensation for these 40,000 houses. If that is a fair, or even a rough, basis of computation, we see that over the whole of the 800,000 unfit houses which will be dealt with in the next ten years the rough total will be £12 million.
That is not an immense sum. Indeed, the Minister said this is only a small Bill. It is, however, a necessary Bill containing some good parts. The amount of money involved, £12 million on my computation, is quite a small amount when set against the Exchequer expenditure over the next ten years. It would be an almost negligible impost upon the Treasury during the next ten years. I should have thought, therefore, that in justice to local authorities the Minister would have asked the Treasury to carry this burden.
I speak seriously to the right hon. Gentleman: surely it is part of his duty to defend local authorities at the Treasury, and in my opinion he has again failed to do so. It is not only in this small case that he has faltered and has thrust the financial burden on the local authorities. This small sum is an addition to past burdens which he has put on the local authorities while he has been Minister. One would have thought that to redress to some extent his past lack of fighting spirit on behalf of local authorities at the Treasury he would have found it in him to stand up to the Treasury and insist that this small amount should be a central charge and should not fall upon local authorities.
It would be bad enough if this total compensation of £10 million to £12 million over ten years could be spread evenly over the country. The Minister recently replied to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison)—-a quite inadequate reply, as my hon. and learned Friend said—that he was confident that the effect upon the rates would be very small. Even if that is true as a broad statement applying to the country, the Bill and the financial burdens involved in it will bear very heavily upon certain local authorities, and it will be the inequality of the burden which will be the main, outstanding injustice in the Bill.
2251 We know that the extent of the problem facing local authorities who have to re-house people from the slums varies considerably from area to area. We have only to look at this Command Paper 953, giving the returns for slum clearance, to see at a glance that this burden is very unevenly felt by different local authorities. In Bethnal Green, which is known to the Minister at first hand and where he has had some practical experience, the authority has to clear in the next five years 2,434 slum houses. In Stepney, where again he has had first-hand experience, the local authority will have to clear i,888 slum houses in the next five years.
When we turn to Hove, we find that in five years the task will be to clear one. The Minister has signified some responsibility and direct interest in Bethnal Green where the figure is 2,400-odd; let us compare that with the situation in the wealthy borough of Holborn where only 36 slum properties are due to be cleared in the next five years.
It is obvious that the burden upon local authorities will be heaviest where the problem is greatest. Those very areas which are in housing distress, if I may put it like that, where there is the greatest task to perform, will suffer the heaviest burden in cost under this administration That is quite wrong.
The Minister has shown some interest in Bethnal Green, and I hope he will think very seriously about the hard-pressed central urban authorities which are faced with such a tremendous problem in comparison with places like Bournemouth and Hove.
In Bethnal Green, where some 2,400 houses are to be cleared in the next five years, on the basis of 5 per cent. owner-occupation there will be 121 cases to be dealt with under this Bill. If a sum of, shall we say, £300 is given in compensation, the total cost will be some £36,000. In Bethnal Green that is equal to a Is. 8d. rate.
§ Mr. Lindgren
Even if it be spread over 80 years, that merely means that even more goes to the financiers in interest charges.
§ Mr. Evans
I am not going to be drawn into argument about the refined calculations made by the Parliamentary Secretary. He can be as clever as he likes. I want the House to look at the stark contrast which is presented. In Bethnal Green, the compensation the local authority will have to find under the Bill will be equivalent to a Is. 8d. rate. In the neighbouring Metropolitan Borough of Holborn, it will be equivalent to less than one-tenth of a penny.
There is the contrast. The poorest, the most hard-pressed, local authority will have to bear the greatest burden. The injustice of that has caused us to put down this Amendment. But for that injustice to the local authorities there probably would not have been that Amendment before the House and the Bill would have received its Second Reading without opposition from this side of the House. It is because of the Minister's lack of concern for hard-pressed local authorities, because we believe that he as Minister of Housing should fight their battles at the Treasury, that we have moved this Amendment which we invite the House to accept.
I want now to deal very briefly with another aspect of this matter, which has already been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) and also by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon). They both were concerned that some of this compensation money would go to unscrupulous people who had been dealing in slum property during recent years. We know it has been going on. We know this "spivvery," as it has been called, has been widespread during the recent housing shortage. The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Smithers) dismissed it by saying it was human nature and that nothing could be done about it. We do not accept that view. Where we see fraudulent dealings and innocent people being fleeced, we want to do something about it.
I want to give details of an actual case which occurred whereby an unscrupulous dealer will receive compensation money. A constituent of mine in August, 1953, desperately needed a house and took a lease on a small house. The whole matter was arranged by a West End firm of agents who acted in a dual capacity. They arranged the mortgage and put the 2253 whole thing through. My constituent, a simple working man, signed on the dotted line and engaged to pay £400. Two months later there was a clearance order on the property. Those of us who have experience in local government know that anyone could and out from a local authority that such action is to be taken. Local authorities are always willing to assist and they wish to hide nothing at all. This was a clear case of deception. It was dealing with the finances of innocent people and avoiding the penalties on small landlords by passing them on to innocent poor people.
I ask the Minister to think about that aspect of the problem. It might not be possible to deal with it under this Bill, but he must agree that if possible he should take action to prevent public money passing to the kind of person who deals unscrupulously in small property. I ask the Minister to consider that matter and devise sonic means of dealing with it if he can. I am not sure that it is possible to do so within the confines of this Bill, but the right hon. Gentleman ought at least to consider whether that can be done.
I think that some Committee points will have to be raised on Clause 2, which deals with business premises. There is no limit there on the time at which the house was built; it could be in the 1930s or at some other time and still come within the compass of Clause 2. That is quite different from the position in Clause I which deals with the ordinary dwelling. We shall have to look closely' at that provision when we reach Committee stage.
We can approve this Bill if the Minister will show courage and face the Treasury again. The Money Resolution has not yet gone through, and need not go through tonight. If the right hon. Gentleman showed courage as the Minister of Housing and Local Government and went boldly to the Treasury he would reassure some of us that he was concerned about local authorities. I hope he will employ his undoubted obstinacy in that regard, for I believe that he has to fight the Treasury. The sum involved is not large, but a principle is also involved. If the right hon. Gentleman will take that course, I hope we shall get this Bill through without delay, because the people 2254 concerned have not large resources and they cannot wait for their money.
Once the argument is out of the way, I hope that we shall not waste time in getting the Bill through. I hope that, whoever makes the payment, the procedure will not be long drawn out. It is a failing of local authorities as well as of the Treasury to keep people waiting for months before they are paid in these circumstances. Therefore, I hope that when the argument is out of the way we shall all do what we can to make the Measure work as speedily as possible.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
I should like to say a word or two about this Bill if only because I have been very critical of the abuses and injustices—I do mean injustices and not the kind of fractious and bogus injustices of which we have heard from hon. Members opposite—which the Bill seeks to remedy.
I particularly welcome this sign of grace from a Minister who is responsible for a Department which has become regarded in the public mind as the repository of those Socialist doctrines of punitive vindictiveness against the institution of private property.
I welcome the Bill. My borough council welcomes it. Never mind who has to pay for it, they have been appalled at the thought of the injustices that would have had to be remedied had it not been for the Bill. I know that constituents of mine who will be effected by it welcome it, too. For all I know, there may be sinister figures in the world such as those who have been conjured up by hon. Members opposite—
§ Mr. Iremonger
All I know about is my own constituents, who have been subjected to intolerable injustices which I could not possibly defend to them and which will be remedied by the Bill. Therefore, I welcome the Bill and I welcome it on their behalf, just as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) welcomed it on behalf of his constituents.
There have been times in this debate when some hon. Members opposite have departed from the standard of magnanimity which the House has been accustomed to expect from them. I think 2255 that the spirit in which the Bill has been received is in some respects quite deplorable.
I want to make two points arising out of the speeches which have been made by hon. Members opposite. I am sorry that the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) is not present, because I do not want to do her an injustice and I am not certain that I properly understood her argument. Her case was that the Bill would make the compensation payable for houses which are to be demolished greater than it would be were it not for the Bill, and that, therefore, a lot of "spivs" would speculate in property and thereby get compensation which they would not have got; or, as it was put, if they are landlords they will prevail upon their sitting tenants to buy the houses and divide the spoils with them. That was how I understood the hon. Lady's argument, and if I took it that way, it is quite possible that that is what she meant.
Surely, it is impossible for anybody who has read the Bill to sustain that argument, for Clause 1 states that the person to be compensated—the owner-occupier—must have been in occupation on 13th December last and made the transaction during the material period, which the interpretation Clause defines as between September, 1939, and 13th December last year, or possibly earlier. If hon. Members read the number of other subsections in the interpretation Clause, they will see that it is quite impossible for anybody row to buy one of these houses and to cash in on the Bill. If I take the hon. Lady's argument correctly—
§ Mr. Iremonger
That seemed to me to be the point she was making, but anybody who has read the Bill correctly knows that that argument cannot be sustained.
The hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) asked how the amount of compensation should be determined when a house was by definition valueless. Again, I may be wrong, but I think that the answer is "Read the Bill," because it is laid down there that the compensation shall be the full compulsory purchase value, and that, again, is defined—admittedly, most inadequately, but, all 2256 the same, defined with precision—in the interpretation Clause of the Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Precision?"] Yes, but with the most unsatisfactory kind of precision which always confuses me. Indeed, we can have precision that is unsatisfactory, because we can have the kind of precision which puts everybody to a great deal of trouble in order to find out what is meant, and that is what the Parliamentary draftsmen do. They put such things into their Bills very largely in order to conceal their meaning.
If anybody takes the trouble to read the interpretation Clause and looks at what is the meaning of the full compulsory purchase value, he will get a very precise definition, but for anybody who tries to understand the Bill it is rather like going up a series of staircases in the dark and arriving at landings that are not there. If one goes on with the process, eventually one will arrive—[Interruption.] I always carry the Housing Act, 1936, in my hare pocket; that is what I have a hare pocket for. Anybody who goes to the trouble to look at the interpretation Clause will eventually arrive at Schedule 4 of the 1936 Act, and there, at last, will be found the basis upon which this full compulsory purchase value is assessed.
I do not think it is really fair for the hon. Member for Widnes to say, as I understood him to say, that this Bill leaves in the air what the payment is to be, because I think that, in its own peculiar way, the Bill tries to make that absolutely clear.
§ Mr. MacColl
The point I was trying to make was actually made with rather more clarity and precision by the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Rippon), and it was that if the premises were unfit and injurious to health the compensation might well be negative, because the value would be less than the site value. That was what the hon. Member for Norwich, South said, and that was the point that I was trying to put across—that the full compensation value is assessed, after taking into account how much it would cost to put the house into repair, and, therefore, make it habitable. That is by definition an unreasonable amount in relation to the value of the house in the case of a slum.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I thought that what the hon. Gentleman was doing was not 2257 complaining about the definition given in the Bill, but complaining that, when one found out what the value was, it was not enough. I should have thought that, in that case, he would have been the last to complain, because the burden of the complaints from the other side of the House has been that people will have to pay a lot for something that is not worth anything. If the effect of the interpretation of the Bill is to make it worth nothing, I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have been perfectly happy. I apologise to him if he was not complaining about the difficulty of finding out what the Bill means.
As hon. Members have said there are some gaps in this Bill, and I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Green) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) have said. It should surely be possible to stop the gap whereby serving members of the Fores are, quite possibly, to be penalised because they do not fulfil the conditions of Clause 1. It would be quite possible for a Service man to be away on the critical date, whereas he was, in every other respect, one of the people whom this Bill is intended to serve. I hope that in Committee we shall be able to remedy this very serious defect, because I think that a great number of those whom this Bill is designed to help will, in fact, be deprived of its help on this point.
I find the Amendment quite lamentable. We are being invited to decline to give a Second Reading to a Bill which sets out to and, in my opinion, does remedy a patent injustice, because the cost of remedying that injustice should be borne, according to hon. and right hon. Members opposite, by the Exchequer instead of by the local authorities. It is perfectly clear what has happened. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite saw the Bill and said, "We cannot have this." They are fundamentally opposed to the institution of private property. They said, "Here is a Bill which, on the face of it, is right and equitable. How shall we oppose it?" They searched their minds for a reason like a water diviner searching in the desert and said, "We can call in aid the oppressed local authorities."
If hon. and right hon. Members opposite divide the House, they will be dividing against the principle of the Bill, 2258 which is to give fair compensation. The Amendment is merely a device for opposing a Bill to which they object in principle, but have not the courage to say so.
§ Mr. Mitchison
May I ask the hon. Member to accept it from me that that is quite untrue? Our reason for opposing the Bill is the reason given in the reasoned Amendment and no other. I told the Parliamentary Secretary several times, when I spoke at the beginning of the debate, that we should have given the Bill an unopposed Second Reading if there had been a proper provision for Exchequer subsidy, and I expressed the hope that nothing of the kind the hon. Member is now saying would be said because I do not regard it as fair and honest criticism of the attitude which we have taken.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I am most grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) for making that point. I am very glad that he said that.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I am quite sure that the hon. and learned Member for Kettering believes it, but he is very innocent. I am sure that that is true of him, otherwise he would not have said it, but I have heard what his supporters on the back benches have said and it is impossible to believe that the hon. and learned Member is supported in that respect.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I was not looking along my finger, so I cannot say whether I was pointing at the hon. Member. If he thinks that I was pointing at him he can assure me, if he wishes, that he would like to be associated with the excuse made by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I am glad that the hon. Member has risen. I had not noticed him in the House, not that he evades notice. If I had seen him I certainly could not 2259 have said what I did say without a blush at failing to exclude him. I am happy to acknowledge that the hon. Member has to be excepted. I was grateful to him for the moral courage which he showed on the occasion when, alone of his party, he signed a Motion on the Order Paper in my name and the names of some of my hon. Friends. I am happy to except any other hon. Member who would care to rise and ask that he be excluded.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
I think that the hon. Member might now come back to the Second Reading.
§ Mr. Iremonger
But the journey has been worth while. With the exceptions which I am happy to acknowledge, I assert that the Amendment is supported on principle and not on a matter of detail by a great many hon. Members opposite. They dislike the Bill in principle because they hate owner-occupiers of private property and know that as long as the country is salted and seasoned by owner-occupiers of private property there will be no success for Socialism.
§ Mr. Iremonger
Speaking of humbug and rubbish, I will not debate with an expert, but, as I have said, I am moved to support the Bill simply because of the personal experience that has come my way from constituents. They have come to me with grievances that seemed to me to be undeniable. I brought them to the attention of my right hon. Friend and was glad to find that these things were much in his mind. This House should be glad that in this Department of all Departments there is a Minister who has the courage and sincerity to bring forward a Bill which gives defence to a certain type of citizen of this country who is so often the victim of the Department.
I welcome the Bill. Outside this House, where less attention is paid to doctrine than is paid here, the Bill will also be welcomed. I thank the Minister for it, and I shall be glad if the House will leave the doctrinaire nonsense of hon. Members opposite and give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Mr. G. Lindgren (Wellingborough)
I will start by referring to something on which we all agree so that later we can disagree with the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger). I want to pay a compliment to the Parliamentary Secretary for the manner in which he introduced the Bill. The hon. Gentleman did so with the competence and clarity which we have come to expect from him at the Box, and he replied with good humour to the continual interruptions made by my hon. Friends who wanted clarification of certain points. Such interjections often put speakers off their stroke, but the Parliamentary Secretary dealt with them very competently and was not put off his speech.
Having said that, may I tell the hon. Member for Ilford, North that most hon. Members in this House would agree that the existing law is sufficient to compensate slum landlords when their property is taken over by the local authority for the purpose of demolition. There is an obligation on a landlord to maintain his property fit for human habitation. It is true that there is a power on the part of the local authority to require him to do so, and even to do the work for him and to charge him for it if he does not do it himself. Where, however, a landlord has so neglected his duty as a property owner as to render the property for which he is responsible unfit for human habitation, I should think that few hon. Members on either side of the House would agree that he is entitled to compensation after a clearance order has been made and the property is demolished.
What we are really dealing with in this Bill is the slum landlord who, in an unholy alliance with estate agents, financiers and sometimes solicitors, sells property to unsuspecting individuals to whom it should never have been sold.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I may be wrong, but I do not see that those people will get anything out of the Bill. If injustice is done to the owner-occupier, it is because the owner-occupier has his property acquired for less than its value.
§ Mr. Lindgren
If I continue the point I am making, the hon. Member for Ilford, North will perhaps understand what I am trying to convey. It may be difficult, however, because he completely misunderstood what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon). The hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. N. Pannell) and the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East gave instances of the alliances I have mentioned, and later I will give some instances from my constituency. Landlords, knowing that a clearance order was to be made for certain property in alliance with estate agents, auctioneers, valuers and independent financiers—not building societies—with the same solicitor acting for both parties, have used the housing shortage to induce people to buy property which should never have been sold. That shortage arose immediately after the war. I and the majority of my hon. Friends on this side of the House would agree with the Parliamentary Secretary in his opening statement that there is much to be said for making the date from which this Bill operates 1945 and not 1939, and had the Government put that date in the Bill there would again have been no objection from this side of the House.
It is true, as the Parliamentary Secretary said, that the same type of landlord took advantage of persons who were bombed out of London and other cities and went to live in the rural areas to sell them properties which ought never to have been sold. Some of them had been empty for a considerable time, and but for the fact that the local authorities had not proceeded in those days with demolition, they would have been condemned and the property pulled down.
I can give the hon. Gentleman examples in my own constituency. Much of the debate today has centred quite naturally on Liverpool, Leeds and London, but the slum landlord exists just as much in the rural areas as he does in the towns. The hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Rippon), who has a very creditable record in local government in the borough of Surbiton, referred in his speech to the fact that this was not a great problem in some areas, but in Surbiton, as I interjected, there are only six houses for demolition. Wellingborough Urban District, with 550 houses to be demolished, has only 2262 a total of 4,000 houses in the rural area. The problem is a rural and a small urban problem just as much as it is a large city problem, the only difference being that, together with the normal housing problem, it shows up much larger in cities like Liverpool, Leeds and London.
In my constituency, at Finedone and Earls Barton, this sort of thing happened. The landlord, and the auctioneer and valuer who acted for the landlord, and the financier who provided the money, knew of the local authority's intention to put clearance orders on property, but then sold the property to persons in desperate need of housing who were quite unsuspecting. Of course, it can be said, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. H. Butler) said, that a person who buys property ought to take the precaution of seeing whether or not a clearance order is to be placed upon it. But there are a large number of people who do not take elementary precautions, and in one instance, in my constituency, a person who bought a house thought that the solicitor from whom he got the bill was acting for him and would protect him. When he was told afterwards that all that the solicitor was doing was to carry out the conveyance, he began to feel a little sore about it. I think that he had every entitlement to feel sore about it.
It is from that point of view that we accept the Bill, but no hon. Member opposite should get the idea that the Government are being over-generous. All that the Government are doing is putting right, with taxpayers' money, a wrong done by Tory landlords—I will just leave it at "slum landlords"—who ought never to have sold the property. What would be much more satisfactory would be legislation to make the compensation payable by the people who sold the property, because they ought never to have sold it and it was really a matter of selling it under false pretences.
There are a number of Committee points. The Bill in itself creates hardship. One knows one's own constituency better than other constituencies, and it is often easier to give examples from one's own constituency. This is the sort of thing that will happen in the Finedon clearance area to which I have referred. In spite of what the Minister has said about this Government starting slum clearance, local authorities have been 2263 carrying out slum clearance work ever since 1945. The Wellingborough Urban District Council has been doing slum clearance for some years. Some of the people in the Finedon area have already accepted houses and been moved.
The Wellingborough Urban District Council gave the first houses to the people whose need was greatest. A man with four or five young children who had been forced into one of the properties with which we are dealing would be one of the first to receive a council house. Those with only one child had to remain where they were, because their need was less, until other accommodation became available for them.
The position is that the man with one child who is still in the property will be entitled to compensation, but the person with two or three children who was moved last year will be outside the additional compensation provisions under the Bill, although the house vacated by him may still be standing and waiting to be dealt with by the local authority under a comprehensive clearance area scheme.
We were glad to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary that his view was that the Money Resolution is wide enough to permit during Committee consideration of some Amendments to bring more people within the compensation provisions.
We object to the Bill because it deals with compensation for property which ought never to have been sold. We are, however, relieving the hardship of a person who purchased a property who still has the mortgage to pay after the property has been demolished and has the rent of a council house to pay, and is very hard hit by it all.
The Parliamentary Secretary said that the total figure would be 5 per cent. He may be right on averages, although spokesmen of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government have not in recent months been very strong on the figures they have quoted. I addressed a rents protest meeting in Wellingborough last night, and rents there have gone up by 10s. to 15s. a week. Those figures are rather different from the Minister's average of 8d. to 9d. a week. It is true that the Wellingborough Urban District Council has taken off the rates subsidy 2264 to which the Minister was referring in his calculations. We object to the Bill because it places an additional burden on the local authorities and it is not really their responsibility. National legislation allowed this racket, if racket it be—and we consider it was—to be carried on. Now we are placing the burden on those local authorities which are hardest hit.
There is no comparison between Surbiton, with six unfit houses, and the Wellingborough Rural District Council, with 500 unfit houses. I do not know what a penny rate produces in Surbiton, but very likely it is thousands of pounds; in the Wellingborough Rural District the product of a penny rate does not amount to many hundreds of pounds. When the local authority has to make provision for compensation that means an added burden on the rates.
The Minister is continually saying that he is anxious that slum clearance should proceed. Some of us have expressed doubts whether that anxiety is really genuine; but, if the Minister really is anxious, he seems to be going a very funny way about it. He is putting in the way of the local authorities every possible objection and obstruction that he can find. I recall how interest rates have been rising. Since the further addition of last Friday the minimum that a local authority has to pay is 6 per cent. On a £1,500 house, on repayment of loan over 60 years, 1 per cent. in interest charges represents 6s. a week on the rent. On a £1,500 house, £1 15s. a week has to be found for interest charges. This burden faces local authorities which wish to provide new houses for people from clearance areas.
In Wellingborough rents are being raised because of increased interest charges, but the local authority is still trying to carry on its slum clearance programme. With interest at 5½ per cent., at least £1 15s. per week per house has to be paid in interest charges, and now the authority is faced with compensation payments for houses which every member of the council knows ought never to have been sold. They realise that, from their point of view, the selling of them is a complete and unjustified racket.
As was aptly said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), "It is the last straw that breaks the camel's back." Local 2265 authorities could carry on with slum clearance in spite of reduced subsidies, but when they face reduced subsidies, plus increased interest charges, plus compensation payments to owner-occupiers of these properties, that will make the authorities of the smaller rural and urban districts think twice before they go ahead with their schemes which would put an even greater burden on the rates of those who already live in the district. Residents of council houses now know that every house built in the district in which they live will mean that their own rent will be increased. Now the increased compensation comes along.
It may be that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering was not accurate in his figures. He is a lawyer and not a mathematician. It may be that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans) was not correct and that the Parliamentary Secretary is correct that this is a very small problem and we are exaggerating it. I do not see the exaggeration when it comes to 500 houses in Wellingborough rural area and 450 in Wellingborough urban area. If it is a small problem, what are the Government giving away by accepting the principle of Exchequer contribution? When they persist in not accepting responsibility, some of us are suspicious enough to believe we are right in assuming that the burden will be fairly heavy.
An hon. Member mentioned 5 per cent. of owner-occupiers. My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Mahon) passed across to me earlier in the day a return he had from his town clerk showing that in that county borough there were 10 per cent. owner-occupiers. One could not have assumed that owner-occupiers were as numerous in Bootle as in Portsmouth or that Bootle was an owner-occupier area. If it is 10 per cent. in Bootle one is inclined to believe that it might be high in other places.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
The percentage differs from area to area. Would the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) take it from me that when we recently cleared an area in Ilford there was not one owner-occupier?
§ Mr. Lindgren
I am delighted to have that interjection. It is a pity the hon. and gallant Gentleman was not here when his hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, 2266 North was speaking about the thousands of people to whom Ilford Borough Council would have rendered an injustice but for the Bill, and was saying that Ilford Borough Council welcomed the Bill because it saved them from the iniquity and injustice of taking away the properties of hundreds of people.
§ Mr. Iremonger
May I point out that there are two Ilford constituencies? I know that the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) could not resist making that point, but what I said was perfectly consistent with what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader Cooper). It is simply that there have been owner-occupiers in areas cleared in my constituency but not that of my hon. and gallant Friend.
§ Mr. Lindgren
Far be it from me to intervene in a war between hon. Members representing the same borough, but it would be nice if now and again we could get the same story from them. It is not the first time we have had differences of view between the hon. Members representing the Borough of Ilford.
If the Minister is adamant about compensation to owner-occupiers, will he say why the burden of compensation for business premises should be placed upon local authorities? It might be extensive in some places. The contribution for business premises is different from that for the owner-occupier. As the Parliamentary Secretary said in his excellent opening statement, there is a time-limit on compensation for the owner-occupier, accepting that there were abnormal conditions after the war ended. If compensation for business premises in clearance areas is to be a permanent addition to the compensation law of the country, we think that the local authorities ought to have assistance from the Exchequer.
One hon. Member opposite after another has said that local authorities are accepting this Measure wholeheartedly and enthusiastically. The A.M.C. and the Urban District Councils Association, speaking on behalf of local authorities, have said that they welcome this Bill in so far as it remedies an injustice that might be done to people who unsuspectingly bought property which they ought not to have bought, but they have asked that the Bill should be amended so that 2267 the central Exchequer accepts responsibility for the payment and that it is not placed on the local rates. This Bill does make a contribution towards the needs of those who have been hard hit, but we feel that it should be based on an Exchequer grant and not based wholly on local rates.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Duncan Sandys)
Although there has been a certain amount of controversy during this debate, I think there is no doubt that every hon. Member in the House wants to do what he can to speed up slum clearance, to ease the path of local authorities in carrying it through on a large scale and to resume that work after the interruption of the war and the years following.
I repeat what I said during the Second Reading of the Housing Subsidies Bill, that I would certainly be the last to criticise in any way the decisions of the party opposite, when it was in power, in continuing the stoppage of slum clearance during the years immediately following the war, when any roof was better than no roof, and when it was quite clear that it was right to hesitate to pull down a house when the housing shortage was so fearfully acute everywhere. It is still acute in many parts of the country, but it is of a different order of acuteness from the situation we faced immediately after the war.
Now I feel, and I think that the country as a whole feels, that the time has come when these people who are living in these wretched conditions should be given a fairer and a fuller share of the new houses that are being built. In dealing with compulsory purchase orders and slum clearance orders since I have been in my present position I have felt acutely unhappy and uncomfortable, during the year-and-a-half that I have had to consider such orders—and I look at them all.
I have felt very unhappy and uncomfortable when I have seen that within these areas there have been cases—not numerous but very hard cases—where there have been families, and very often pensioners, who have bought a small unfit house at an inflated price after the war, not because they wanted to live in 2268 a slum house, but because there was literally no alternative.
I have known that as a result of my confirming that order they are deprived of their house, deprived of their savings, and, in some cases, find that they have not only no house but have a rent to pay for a council house and have a mortgage to pay off perhaps for the rest of their lives. In pressing forward with slum clearance, one felt that one was merely increasing the number of these cases and accelerating and augmenting the cruel hardship which must inevitably be caused.
Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether it goes on the Exchequer or the rates, the principles of this Bill seem to me to be generally acceptable in all parts of the House. They certainly were accepted by the local authorities. There has been a certain amount of reference to whether I said this or that to the local authorities about the rates. I have been in correspondence with the local authority associations and I do not think they have been misled about that.
On the principles of the Bill, I think there is general agreement that something on these lines was only an act of common justice. A few hon. Members opposite—I think the hon. Members for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) and Hackney, Central (Mr. H. Butler)—seemed to think that the whole basis was wrong and unfair and that it was an altogether unsatisfactory Measure. But I think that the House generally agrees with the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) when he said that, although the Bill involved a radical departure in certain ways, in the principles of compensation, from the 1919 Act, nevertheless there is a good social reason for doing so.
The hon. and learned Gentleman described Clause 1, in particular, as a good social Measure, and he said that he and his hon. Friends would not have thought of opposing the Bill as a whole if it had provided for an Exchequer subsidy. Therefore, the differences between us are not differences on the major intention of the Bill or its principles or objectives, but on whether or not there should be an Exchequer subsidy. I am not asking hon. Members to commit themselves in any way to give it an unopposed passage through Committee, but I believe that we shall all approach it from the same point of view in Committee and 2269 will try to improve it in such ways as we can.
I feel that there is no justification for a special Exchequer subsidy, for, as my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary well explained earlier in the debate, this is a small aspect of one part of the cost of building a house. If we started with that, we would have radically to reconsider the whole structure of housing subsidies. Under every Government in the past a subsidy has been paid on the house that was built and not an a particular part of it, except in these special cases where there were exceptionally expensive sites.
The element that is going to arise here, as has been stated by a number of hon. Members, is a very small element of the whole cost—not because it may not be a large figure; as has been said today, it may be a large figure in a particular case, but the number of cases involved are very small indeed. Of course, there can be disagreement on whether that is a correct statement and whether, in fact, such cases are going to be few. I can only base myself on such information as is available to me, and I have done it in the way that has been explained—that is, to take a sample of the cases which have arisen in practice.
The hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) said that the sample that I had taken was out of date. I do not know how she knows that it is out of date, because I do not think anything has been said so far about the date of the sample, but I will gladly give the hon. Lady information about the sample which I have taken. It is about as up to date as we can get it.
The figures which I have taken relate to 1955, and they are a cross-section of 3,000 houses included in compulsory purchase orders and slum clearance orders during 1955. In all, during 1955 there were 9,000 such houses under compulsory purchase and slum clearance orders, which means that the sample which I have taken is not only up to date but covers about one-third of all the houses involved last year. Anybody who knows anything about Gallup Polls and public opinion polls will agree that that is a rather large sample. Much more sweeping conclusions have been drawn from much smaller samples than that
§ Miss Bacon
The right hon. Gentleman misunderstood what I said. I said that to take past figures does not give an indication of what will happen in future years, because a great many of these houses have been sold during the last two or three years and will probably come under slum clearance orders in the next few years, so that the percentage is likely to be greater.
§ Mr. Sandys
I have taken the last year available. Obviously, I cannot take a sample of the future. The House has been asking me for information and I am doing my best on such figures as are available—and they are most up to date.
§ Mr. D. Jones
If slum clearance had been proceeding in the past at the rate at which the right hon. Gentleman thinks it ought to proceed in the future, his sample would be sound; but the very fact that he has had to give special subsidies and to urge local authorities to get on with slum clearance proves that the slum clearance during 1955 was infinitely less than it will be in the future, so that the future problem will be much greater.
§ Mr. Sandys
I am dealing with the proportion. If we had two or three times as many houses I see no particular reason why the proportion of owner-occupied houses among them should be different. It might be different, of course, but there is no particular reason to suppose that the number will be more or less than that in the sample. I shall be surprised if the number is very different from that in the sample which we have taken from all parts of the country.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering said that my estimate of 5 per cent. slum houses being owner-occupied was much too small. He cleverly based himself on a White Paper issued by the present Government entitled "Houses. The next step". This stated that there were 13¾ million dwellings altogether in Great Britain and that 3¾ million of them were owner-occupied. As 3¾ million is about one-third, he used that as his basis for his estimate that 33 per cent. of these houses are owner-occupied and not 5 per cent.
That is correct as far as it goes, but about 3 million out of the 31 million are less than 40 years old, and it is most unlikely that any of them will be scheduled as slum property for quite a long time. 2271 That leaves us with only about three-quarters-of-a-million of the older houses which are owner-occupied; and I am advised that three-quarters-of-a-million out of 13½ million comes to about 5 per cent. I am glad that the hon. and learned Member made his calculation, because it made me make this calculation; and it is comforting and reassuring to find that I have reached the same result of 5 per cent. by two entirely different processes.
On his basis of 33 per cent. of these houses being owner-occupied, the hon. and learned Gentleman estimated that the cost over the country as a whole would be the equivalent of a 2d. rate. If we take 5 per cent. owner-occupied instead of 33 per cent. we must obviously scale that figure of 2d. down quite a lot. I have my calculations. The hon. and learned Gentleman pressed me at one stage to give an estimate, but he was most helpful, also, because he complained that I was relying upon my intuition in arriving at conclusions and advised me to be cautious in making guesses. I will take his second piece of advice and not make any guess on this occasion.
The hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South East spoke of people who bought homes not realising that they were unfit. Some she said, were misled by slum landlords who were for their own advantage unloading their houses upon other people. She asked me to condemn this practice and to take action to warn people to be careful in buying houses which might be scheduled for slum clearance.
I have done better than the hon. Lady thinks. I had already taken some action quite a long time ago, in a circular dated 26th September, 1955, which I sent out to all local authorities. It is entitled, "Slum Clearance—Advice to Intending House Purchasers". It says:I am directed by the Minister of Housing and Local Government to inform the Council that the renewal of slum clearance makes it necessary for action to be taken to ensure as far as possible that intending house-purchasers do not, in ignorance of the Council's intentions, buy houses likely to be included in a clearance area in the next five years or so, or to be the subject of demolition orders. He has specially in mind people who are buying for their own occupation including sitting tenants".2272 At the end of the circular, it says:The Minister accordingly recommends that Local Authorities should take early action on the lines suggested below:—Local Authorities should issue a general reminder to the public through the Press, and in any way they think proper, that they are preparing a comprehensive programme of slum clearance; and should make such other statements from time to time as they think fit ".Finally, the circular says:Local Authorities should advise those who are proposing to buy older houses in the district to make inquiries at the Council offices in order to ascertain whether they will be affected by the slum clearance programme".The circular goes on:Sometimes it may be difficult to give a very definite answer.… But the Council's object should be to give the inquirer as much information as they reasonably can to help him in making his decision".That circular received very good publicity. I have a sheaf of Press cuttings here—
This one will please the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South East:
- "Helping would-be house-buyers"
- "Councils asked to protect Public".
- "Warnings about slum clearance schemes".
- "Don't let them buy in the dark".
- "Purchases of old houses".Sandys warns on house cheats ".The House will see that we really are already on to that point.
However, I will do one additional thing as a result of the hon. Lady's speech. She said she knew of cases where solicitors who had been dealing with the property, and who should have known that the houses concerned were scheduled for demolition or in a clearance area, had not brought that fact to the notice of the clients. It is obviously most desirable that solicitors, like any others, should play their part in helping to see that people do not become involved in deals which will, in the end, cause them hardship.
I am not expressing any view on the particular case, of which I have heard no more than the details given by the hon. Lady, but I will write to the Law Society, draw its attention to the speech of the hon. Lady, and ask the Society to see whether that kind of thing is happening. If it is, perhaps the Society may think it worth while to draw it to the attention of solicitors.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
Surely solicitors are under an obligation to make the usual searches when investigating a title, and are bound to know.
§ Mr. Sandys
I know nothing about it except that the hon. Lady alleged that solicitors were not drawing the attention of their clients to this position. I do not know whether that is correct or not, but I thought it would be worth while to draw the attention of the Law Society to the matter.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) referred to the position of Service men who, owing to the conditions of their service, have been obliged to leave their houses before the operative date, 13th December, and thereby would be excluded from the benefits of this Measure. I should like to look further into that.
There will be every possibility of raising that question during Committee stage. Perhaps my hon. Friends would put down al Amendment to deal with it if they think fit and we can discuss the matter then. Naturally, I have sympathy, as I am sure the whole House has, with anyone who, by reason of his service, is obliged to leave his house and as a result suffers disadvantage. I cannot give any promise at this stage, but I will look sympathetically at that point.
The hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) asked for an assurance that where a local authority is able by agreement with the owner to purchase an unfit house in a clearance area the authority should take into account the additional compensation which would be possible under the Bill if they had instead proceeded by compulsory purchase. I can certainly give the hon. Member that assurance. There should be no difficulty about local authorities making an allowance for that, and I shall see that the matter is drawn to their attention.
My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Smithers) raised a number of points. I cannot deal with them all tonight, but there was one in particular which I think was of interest to the House, more especially as it was referred to in the newspapers today. That was the question of separate valuations of a number of adjoining sites belonging to 2274 the same owner. That, of course, is outside the scope of the Bill as it stands. The position is that the compensation payable is the value of the separate sites for their existing use, plus the 1947 development value of the site as a whole. Where the resulting compensation turns out to be unduly low—as it does in a number of cases—I submit to my hon. Friend that that is normally due, not to the procedure of separate valuation, but to the inherent difficulties of establishing claims for development value under the 1947 Act. That is a much wider issue which I do not want to be drawn into tonight.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I asked the right hon. Gentleman specifically to answer one question. Why is Clause 2 necessary when there is already a similar discretionary provision, under Section 44 of the 1936 Act?
§ Mr. Sandys
That Clause deals with the business occupier. Discretion is not the same as a right. I felt, especially having regard to the extraordinarily widely varying practice of local authorities in different parts of the country, that it was desirable that we should put this on to a statutory footing. Then the small shopkeeper who has set up his business in a house which is declared to be unfit will have the protection of the law and not be dependent on an act of charity by the local authority.
§ Mr. Sandys
The other right will not be operative in his case, but it will be useful and that is why there was no question of removing it. The discretionary power will be useful to deal with the point raised by another hon. Member. That is, to deal with the position of the small shopkeeper who is a weekly tenant. It is not simply in regard to slum clearance, but in regard to other matters. If he cannot claim that he has a sufficient interest to get the statutory compensation, then he will still be able to be treated under the ex gratia method. I propose to draw the attention of local authorities to this point when the Bill becomes law.
The hon. and learned Member also asked why Clause 1 was temporary, whereas Clauses 2 and 3 were permanent.
§ Mr. Sandys
Clause 1 is temporary—there is a ten years' limit—and the other two are permanent. Clause 1 is temporary because we feel that when an owner-occupier of a slum house has had ten years' or, perhaps, up to 26 years' occupation, he has probably had good use from the house and there is no reason why he should have special treatment after that time.
I think that hon. Members will agree that the problems raised in Clauses 2 and 3 are permanent problems. There are no special post-war circumstances about the well-maintained Clause. It should provide a reasonable payment having regard to the costs at the time. If those costs vary in the future, the rate ought to be varied, and that is what we are pro
§ posing. In the same way the shopkeeper, in the slum house is a problem which is not a temporary post-war one. If it is right to do it now, it is obviously right to do it later in the future.
§ This Bill is a modest Measure. I certainly do not claim that it is a great reform. On the other hand, I hope that it will remove the cause of cruel hardship in a small number of cases. As a small act of simple and overdue justice, I ask the House to give it a Second Reading.
§ Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 190, Noes 139.2277
|Division No. 134.]||AYES||[9.58 p.m.|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Gibson-Watt, D.||Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.)|
|Aitken, W. T.||Glover, D.||Lindsay, Martin (Solihull)|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Godber, J. B.||Linstead, Sir H. N.|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Gomme-Duncan, Col. Sir Alan||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)|
|Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat(Tiverton)||Graham, Sir Fergus||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Grant, W. (Woodside)||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)|
|Astor, Hon. J. J.||Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)||Lucas, P. B. (Brenford & Chiswick)|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||Green, A.||Macdonald, Sir Peter|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)||Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)|
|Barber, Anthony||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John|
|Barter, John||Gurden, Harold||Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley)|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Maddan, Martin|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark)|
|Bidgood, J. C.||Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Marlowe, A. A. H.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Marshall, Douglas|
|Body, R. F.||Harvie-Watt, Sir George||Mathew, R.|
|Bossom, Sir A. C.||Hay, John||Maudling, Rt. Hon. R.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Mawby, R. L.|
|Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry||Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.|
|Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton)||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Medlicott, Sir Frank|
|Bryan, P.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Moore, Sir Thomas|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Hirst, Geoffrey||Neave, Airey|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R.A.(Saffron Walden)||Holland-Martin, C. J,||Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)|
|Carr, Robert||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Nicolson, N.(B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Horobin, Sir Ian||Nield, Basil (Chester)|
|Channon, H.||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)||Nugent, G. R. H.|
|Cole, Norman||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Oakshott, H. D.|
|Conant, Maj. Sir Roger||Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)||O'Neill, Hon. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)|
|Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert||Hughes-Young, M. H. C.||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Hurd, A. R.||Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark(E'b'gh, W.)||Partridge, E.|
|Corfield, Capt. F. V.||Hutchison, Sir James (Scotstoun)||Peyton, J. W. W.|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Hyde, Montgomery||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Iremonger, T. L.||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.|
|Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Pitt, Miss E. M.|
|Cunningham, Knox||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Dance, J. C. G.||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Raikes, Sir Victor|
|D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Johson, Eric (Blackley)||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Deedes, W. F.||Johson, Howard (Kemptown)||Ridsdale, J. E.|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green)||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)|
|Doughty, C. J. A.||Joseph, Sir Keith||Roper, Sir Harold|
|du Cann, E. D. L.||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. Sir Lancelot||Russell, R. S.|
|Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.||Kerr, H. W.||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.|
|Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Kershaw, J. A.||Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.|
|Errington, Sir Eric||Kirk, P. M.||Sharples, R. C.|
|Farey-Jones, F. W.||Lambton, Viscount||Shepherd, William|
|Finlay, Graeme||Langford-Holt, J. A.||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Fisher, Nigel||Leavey, J. A.||Speir, R. M.|
|Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Leburn, W. G.||Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)|
|Freeth, D. K.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|George, J. G. (Pollok)||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)||Vane, W. M. F.||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Storey, S.||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.||Wills, G. (Bridgwater)|
|Studholme, H. G.||Vosper, D. F.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)||Wall, Major Patrick||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Teeling, W.||Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)||Woollam, John Victor|
|Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)||Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.|
|Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.||Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Touche, Sir Gordon||Webbe, Sir H.||Mr. Richard Thompson and|
|Turner, H. F. L.||Whitelaw, W.S.I.(Penrith & Border)||Mr. Edward Wakefield.|
|Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Ainsley, J. W.||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Owen, W. J.|
|Albu, A. H.||Hannan, W.||Palmer, A. M. F.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Hastings, S.||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Hayman, E. H.||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Herbison, Miss M.||Parker, J,|
|Anderson, Frank||Hobson, C. R.||Parkin, B. T.|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Holman, P.||Peart, T. F.|
|Baird, J.||Holmes, Horace||Popplewell, E.|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Houghton, Douglas||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Howell, Charles (Perry Barr)||Proctor, W. T.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Randall, H. E.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Hunter, A. E.||Rankin, John|
|Boardman, H.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Redhead, F. C.|
|Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.)||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Reeves, J.|
|Boyd, T. C.||Irving, S. (Dartford)||Rhodes, H.|
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Issacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Brockway, A. F.||Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.||Ross, William|
|Broughton, Or. A. D. D.||Jeger, George (Goole)||Short, E. W.|
|Burton, Miss F. E.||Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Jones, David (The Hartlepools)||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)|
|Callaghan, L. J.||Jones, Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Chapman, W. D.||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead)||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Sparks, J. A.|
|Collins, V. J.(Shoreditch & Finsbury)||King, Dr. H. M.||Steele, T.|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Lawson, G. M.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Stones, W. (Consett)|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Lewis, Arthur||Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)|
|Darling, George (Hillsborough)||Lindgren, G. S.||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||Logan, D. G.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Delargy, H. J.||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)|
|Dodds, N. N.||MacColl, J. E.||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch)||McGovern, J.||Thornton, E.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||McInnes, J.||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||McLeavy, Frank||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Mahon, Simon||Warbey, W. N.|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Weitzman, D.|
|Fienburgh, W.||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Hudderfd, E.)||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Fletcher, Eric||Mellish, R. J.||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Mitchison, G. R.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Moss, R.||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Gibson, C. W.||Moyle, A.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Gooch, E. G.||Mulley, F. W.||Woof, R. E.|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||O'Brien, Sir Thomas||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|Greenwood, Anthony||Oliver, G. H.||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.|
|Grey, C. F.||Oram, A. E.||Zilliacus, K.|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Orbach, M.|
|Hale, Leslie||Oswald, T.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. Deer and Mr. Simmons.|
Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.