HC Deb 05 February 1957 vol 564 cc400-12

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Redmayne.]

11.11 p.m.

Mr. W. Griffiths (Manchester, Exchange)

The subject to which I wish to refer this evening arises from the very serious shortage of land available to the Manchester Corporation to carry through its housing programme. Unfortunately, not only in Manchester but throughout Britain there is still a con- siderable housing shortage. Even in 1957, there are still far too many of our fellow countrymen housed in the most deplorable surroundings.

I have the privilege and honour of representing that part of the City of Manchester which contains the business and commercial centre, the great commercial houses, many of Manchester's most glittering and fashionable shops, cinemas and theatres. But behind this facade the electors of the Exchange Division live, and they are among those far too many, not only in the City of Manchester but in the country, who have to endure the most appalling housing conditions.

Mr. L. M. Lever (Manchester, Ardwick)

And in the Ardwick division, too.

Mr. W. Griffiths

I do not think that there is a single street in this constituency or, as my hon. Friend reminds me, in many other parts of the city, where one could go without meeting over and over again tenants who complain of leaking roofs, damp walls, doors which will not properly close, chimneys which have become so decayed and worn that coal fires will not draw properly—an unrelieved picture of gloom and misery which all right-thinking people should wish to change at the earliest possible moment. The idea of baths and hot water is, for very many of my constituents and other citizens of Manchester, no more than a gloomy joke.

It is ironic in the present situation, when we have full employment, when so many people can afford greater amenities in their lives, that as a by-product of their residence in these squalid circumstances people are told, for instance, in houses which are gas lit, that it is impossible to have electricity installed because at some unstated time these houses are to be demolished.

The Medical Officer of Health for the City of Manchester says that at present there are 62,000 unfit houses in the city. My calculation is that that means that about one-quarter of the citizens of Manchester are housed in deplorable circumstances, in conditions which the medical officer describes as unfit, a description which, so far as I know, has never been challenged by any reputable authority. Moreover, this section of the community hungry for houses takes no account of the housing needs of families in lodgings or of the natural growth of population.

I may mention, in passing, that I have been making some calculations as to the effect of the Rent Bill on some of my constituents who live in these deplorable conditions. I know of a street in the constituency—and I am sure it is typical of many others in the city—where houses are let at an inclusive rent of 11s. per week. They are squalid, insanitary houses, yet tenants of those houses will, under the terms of the Bill now before the House, if it becomes an Act, be called upon to pay 19s. per week for that appalling accommodation.

Even in these squalid slums they are being called upon—or will be called upon—to pay more than any reasonable person could consider a fit and proper rent. Manchester Corporation's house-building record has been fair, bearing in mind the post-war difficulties. The number of houses completed rose steadily in the immediate post-war years while the larger sites were available for building purposes. By 1953, the completions had reached 2,630 annually and it was confidently expected by the Corporation that that figure would rise to 3,000 a year by 1957 if sites were available; but, in fact, owing to a shortage of sites, the number of completions dropped. In 1955, the number completed was 1,934, and, last year, it was 1,368. This year it is estimated, although I think that the estimate is somewhat optimistic, that the Corporation will build 1,650.

Now let me list Manchester's housing needs. It is not disputed, so far as I know. At any rate, this is a list agreed by the Corporation without dissent. In October, 1953, the medical officer estimated that, having regard to the housing needs of the city, it was necessary to provide further accommodation amounting to 88,700 houses; and that total is made up as follows: replacement of houses unfit for human habitation, and incapable of being made fit, 68,000, although that figure has been reduced by premises completed since that date, namely, 6,000; houses required to meet the natural growth of population between October, 1953, and 1st July, 1971, 7,700.

That figure, incidentally, was obtained on the authority of the Registrar-General, and takes into account dispersal of people, while the provision of separate houses required for families living in lodgings was put at 13,000. That gives the grand total, which I have already mentioned, of 88,700.

Since that estimate was prepared, in 1953, the Corporation has completed about 6,000 dwellings, and the estimate of needs can be reduced by that extent. Now there is the programme designed to deal with that problem, as approved by the Corporation, and envisaged as commencing from 1955. On the assumption that land would be available for a building rate of 3,000 houses a year, the Corporation put forward a plan to build, between 1955 and 1960, 17,000 dwellings, and then, from 1st July, 1961, to July, 1971, a further 31,500, making a total of 48,500.

The House should remember that this figure, even if reached by 1971, would still leave in the City of Manchester, or the medical officer's own estimates. 20,000 houses regarded as unfit now—already unfit—and which would be in an even more deplorable condition by 1971. To meet this building programme, the Corporation envisaged sites being available between 1955 and 1960, for 5,688 dwellings; and hon. Members opposite are always pressing Manchester to make the most use of its land sites. Between 1961 and 1st July, 1971, the figure was given as 6,636, which gives a total of 12,324.

But those who live in areas designated for slum clearance know that one of the difficulties holding up such clearance is the inability of a local authority to find alternative accommodation for people displaced before physical demolition begins. The Corporation therefore estimated that sites available outside the city would provide for 7,212 dwellings between 1955 and 1960, and 8,369 between 1961 and July, 1971; giving a total in this case of 15,581, on sites agreed with surrounding local authorities.

When these figures are studied in the OFFICIAL REPORT it will be seen that they reveal, between the sites available and the programme of the Manchester Corporation of 3,000, a site deficiency of 20,595 houses. Even if sites had been found for these, we would still in 1971 have 20,000 unfit houses. There, in the shortage of sites, is the heart of the matter and what we want to know from the Minister is where can our people go? Do the Government accept the urgency of the matter? Clearly, they have been made aware of it by my hon. Friends and by the Manchester Members on the other side of the House over and over again.

The right hon. Gentleman who is now the Minister of Defence, on 5th June. 1956, in answering a Question which I put to him, said that he was … well aware of Manchester's serious housing shortage. Apart from the slum areas, the city will before long run out of land …within and around its boundaries. He went on to speak of the failure of the Manchester Corporation and surrounding local authorities to agree, but said: In view of this prolonged deadlock, I am now considering what action should be taken; and I will make a further statement in due course."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT. 5th June, 1956; Vol. 553, c. 401 On 26th June, I asked him whether he had any statement to make, and the right hon. Gentleman said he had nothing to add and that he was still hoping for local authorities to come to an agreement. I then gave notice that I proposed to raise this matter on the Adjournment.

On 30th October, 1956, several hon. Members representing Manchester constituencies again questioned the right hon. Gentleman who was then Minister of Housing and Local Government, and he said: I hope to make a statement shortly". When he was faced with supplementary questions he went on to say: I have been to Manchester and the various areas all around.… I have really explored this matter very fully. … We have now reached the point where I think it is right for the Government to state their view on the whole problem."—[OFFicint. REPORT, 30th October, 1956; Vol. 558, cc. 1228–9] Clearly, the right hon. Gentleman was fully aware of the situation, as, indeed, was his predecessor, who is now the Prime Minister. There is no excuse for the Government delaying any longer meeting the demands of the Manchester Corporation. When the right hon. Gentleman said that he thought it was right for the Government to state their view of the problem, I think so, too: so do my hon. Friends who represent the City of Manchester, and so do the people of Manchester.

However, that was nearly four months ago. This has gone on long enough. The Minister should be prepared to tell the House tonight whether he will agree to Manchester being given permission to exploit a site outside the city of sufficient size to meet the problem. We have argued. In his Department he will see an immense amount of information, correspondence and memoranda about Lymm and Mobberley.

Seeing the unassailable case that Manchester has put forward, recognising as he does, coming from another great Lancashire city, the housing needs of our great industrial conurbations, I hope that he will not allow the political country-side people to keep their broad acres for a privileged section of the community and deny the great masses of the City of Manchester the right of decent housing conditions. If the right hon. Gentleman will not give the City of Manchester some land, such as at Lymm or Mobberley, where a proper. balanced development can be carried through, let him tell the House tonight what is his message to the home-hungry people of Manchester and their sorely-tried and frustrated city councillors.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport.

Air Commodore A. V. Harvey (Macclesfield)

Before the hon. Member sits down, may I put two questions to him? First, to ask him why Manchester has made a worse showing than any other city in Britain in housing its people since the war—

Mr. Griffiths


Air Commodore Harvey

—and, secondly, why he has not paid tribute to the adjacent authorities, who have at least made an attempt to house some of the overspill from Manchester in recent years?

Mr. Griffiths

I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Member should betray his ignorance so completely. The house-building record of the Manchester Corporation compares very favourably with that of any city of similar size.

Air Commodore Harvey


Mr. Griffiths

Secondly, I would remind the hon. and gallant Member of the figure, released the other day, showing that Manchester's rents for municipal tenants are the lowest in Great Britain.

11.26 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel W. H. Bromley-Davenport (Knutsford)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths) on the first part of his well-read speech and, in the latter part of his speech, in injecting practically all he knows how to do by inserting malice, greed and hate into the end of his rather indifferent oration.

The object of the hon. Member's speech can be simply and plainly stated. It is the same object as Manchester's, indeed, the hon. Member admitted it in the tail end of his oration. It is to grab Lymm, in Cheshire, for building purposes. I should like to say how this will affect Cheshire and, indeed, how Cheshire wants to do all that it can to contribute towards this difficult problem that faces Manchester.

The Cheshire County Council and the people of that county, as we all do, have every sympathy with the thousands of unfortunate people who are living in bad housing conditions in Manchester. Indeed, to prove that and to enforc it, if hon. Members opposite can take this in, they have contributed their share to the problem of providing homes for these people by producing an excellent county development plan to help to house them. What is more, this excellent county development plan was approved—and, I think, admired, too—by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he was Minister of Housing and Local Government.

What concerns Cheshire, and, indeed, what should concern both sides of this House, is that the houses required for these poor people should be built in the right places, and not the wrong places. If we go on destroying good agricultural land at the rate we are now doing, we shall only be building houses for the people to starve in.

Mr. Griffiths


Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport

Let us consider Lymm, the area referred to by the hon. Member. This contains, without exception, the finest agricultural land in Cheshire and, probably, the whole of the country. Why does Manchester want it? Why will they—[Interruption.] Let hon. Members opposite keep their adenoids quiet. Why does Manchester—

Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)

Is it in order for the hon. and gallant Member to read every word of his speech?

Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport

I am not reading it.

Mr. Speaker

I did not think that the hon. and gallant Member was reading his speech.

Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport

The hon. Member can go away and play marbles in the cellars, or wherever he spends most of his days.

Why does Manchester not want the excellent alternative sites offered by Cheshire? It is the same old story. The reason that it wants Lymm is that Manchester wants to grab this land, which is adjacent to the city, away from Cheshire. Indeed, all over Cheshire this operation is known as the "Manchester grab".

Mr. L. M. Lever


Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport

The next reason is that, like all the best agricultural land, this site for building purposes fulfils four excellent requirements. First, it presents little difficulty in clearance. Secondly, it is reasonably level. Thirdly, it is well sited. Fourthly, it is well drained. In other words, for some of the planners, I regret to say, only the best land is good enough and agriculture can go to the devil.

When minds have been made up as to what area is to be offered to Manchester for this building purpose, I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to carry out at least three simple principles. The first has been mentioned frequently on both sides of the House. It is that not one acre of good agricultural land should be destroyed for building purposes where other land of less agricultural value is available. The second principle is that Manchester should be made to develop its own sites properly first, before taking other people's sites. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey), with his notably fertile brain, has already noted, my point is that where land is so valuable we should try to adopt a policy of building upwards instead of sprawling outwards and destroying valuable agricultural land.

The House should make no mistake. This case is being regarded as a test case in the county. If Manchester succeeds in grabbing Lymm, it is no good ever again trying to say that we intend to prevent good agricultural land being destroyed for building purposes. The Conservative Party, unlike the party opposite, always works out and carries out a long-term policy in the best interests of the country.

Mr. L. M. Lever rose

Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport

Sit down. The hon. Member should go away and play marbles. or play patience.

We all know that the building of houses quickly at whatever cost bears on the next Election, but the loss of good agricultural land will bear on the next generation.

11.32 p.m.

Mr. L. M. Lever (Manchester, Ardwick)

I shall be brief, because we are all waiting the Minister's reply with avidity.

I want to refute as strongly as I can the suggestion made by the hon. and gallant Member for Knutsford (Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport) that Manchester is anxious to grab any part of Cheshire at all. Manchester has been most conciliatory in its negotiations with Cheshire, and it will continue to be so.

I also refute the suggestion that this is a political party matter. The hon. Member for Wythenshawe (Mrs. Hill), the hon. Member for Blackley (Mr. E. Johnson) and the hon. Member for Withington (Sir R. Cary), all Tory Members, are at one with us on this side of the House in their anxiety to obtain for Manchester a solution of this very urgent and vexed question of housing sites.

We have been promised an early reply by the Minister. We cannot wait any longer. The matter is most urgent. Thousands of decent, hard-working citizens in the City of Manchester are very anxious to get new homes. Until these sites are released, or we hear from the Government how Manchester is to secure sites, we shall not do justice to a large section of the population who have languished far too long in the rotten housing conditions in which they live.

I appeal to the Minister to realise that this matter will not brook further delay. I remind him that all hon. Members opposite who represent Manchester constituencies and all Manchester Members on this side of the House are unanimously anxious to achieve an early solution of the problem.

11.35 p.m

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. J. R. Bevins)

As a Liverpool man I always thought that Manchester men were gentlemen, but I am not so sure now. Three years ago I thought that I had escaped from the horrors of overspill, but the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths) reminded me very forcibly tonight that that is not the case.

There are one or two things which I should like to say very briefly, because I have not much time. First, I should like to confirm some of the broad statements made by the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange. It is quite true that the housing situation in Manchester is very serious. There are in the city about 200,000 houses, and at least 68,000, or about one-third, are classified as unfit. It is also true that, three or four years ago, Manchester was building at the rate of about 2,600 houses a year. Since then the number has dropped—not because of subsidy changes or changes in the rate of interest—to about 1,500 a year. That is due primarily to the shortage of sites both within and outside Manchester.

It is quite clear to Manchester Members of Parliament that Manchester's problem will never be solved in the long-term until that Corporation is able to build extensively outside its own boundaries. In saying that I am allowing for the fact that in the heart of Manchester there are probably about 60,000 slum dwellings which have to come down. But, as has been said, the people who live in those dwellings have to be housed elsewhere before those properties can be demolished. Therefore, the question is: where is Manchester to build so that it can rehouse its people?

It has been said by hon. Members opposite that the contention of the Manchester Corporation is that it still needs one large scheme under its own control if it is to solve the problem over the years. The hon. Member has referred to Manchester's desire to build what amounts to a new town in Lymm—a proposition which is heatedly opposed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Knutsford (Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport), for reasons which, one has to admit, are in themselves very good reasons indeed.

Manchester applied for planning permission to carry out this project in 1953, and it was turned down then by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—who was then the Minister of Housing and Local Government. It was rejected primarily on the ground that it was wrong to allow such fertile land to be built on until all the various alternatives had been fully explored. I have not the time at my disposal to go through many of the alternatives which the Manchester Corporation has been looking at during the last two years, but I think that even the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange will agree that some progress is being made in Lancashire, at places like Middleton and Heywood.

At Middleton, work is going on upon the construction of about 3,000 houses and at Heywood, although work has not yet begun, it is hoped to begin very soon. In Cheshire, at Hyde, sites for 4,000 houses are reasonably well assured in the near future. At other places, such as Whitefield, in Lancashire, and Maccles-field, in Cheshire, there has been cooperation between the two county councils and the Manchester Corporation but objections have been raised by the local authorities, and at the moment those schemes are frustrated. Even so, in spite of all those alternatives, my right hon. Friend recognises that Manchester still desires to embark upon one of these major schemes either in Lancashire or in Cheshire.

As has already been said, my right hon. Friend who is now the Minister of Defence devoted a great deal of time to this problem. He went to Manchester and talked to representatives of Manchester Corporation, and also to county council representatives.

Mr. L. M. Lever

And promised a decision.

Mr. Bevins

And promised a decision, but, as matters turned out, he was moved from his last assignment to a rather more important one before a decision could be taken.

My right hon. Friend the present Minister is fully seized of the problem, although he is new to it. I can give the House the assurance that my right hon. Friend has been giving his attention to this problem. The hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange demanded that I should say tonight whether the Government will give their blessing to the Lymm project. He was being a little guileful in asking that, because he has been informed that my right hon. Friend is meeting a deputation from the Manchester Corporation in about a fortnight's time. When he does so he will discuss with the representatives of the Corporation all the implications of this and other proposals affecting overspill.

Whatever decision my right hon. Friend may come to I am quite certain that it will be one which will take account of the very many factors which are involved—a decision which will be in the interests of the nation and, I hope, in the interests of Manchester as well.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at nineteen minutes to Twelve o'clock.