HC Deb 29 July 1957 vol 574 cc1025-8

11.4 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. J. Nixon Browne)

I beg to move, That the Housing (Payments for Well-Maintained Houses)(Scotland)Order, 1957, dated 18th July, 1957, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th July, be approved. Between 11 p.m. on the night of 21st May and 3.30 a.m. on the morning of 22nd May this year the Scottish Standing Committee discussed in great detail Clause 20 of the Housing and Town Development (Scotland)Bill, which was given the Royal Assent on 17th July. It is under the authority of subsection (1)of that Section 20 that this Order is made.

As originally drafted, that Section proposed that this Order should have retrospective effect, as did the corresponding English Order made last year. The result of our discussion in Committee is that this Order is not retrospective in its effect, but operates from the day following its approval by both Houses.

The effect of the Order is to increase by three the multiplier for well-maintained payments made under Section 40 of the Housing (Scotland)Act, 1950, as extended by Section 20 of the Act of 1957 to which I have already referred, by local authorities in respect of well-maintained houses. These are houses in a clearance area acquired compulsorily, or houses subject to a clearance order, or well-maintained individual houses which are unfit and demolished, or closed, or acquired for repair by a local authority.

The owner, or anyone else who has spent money on the house, can, uncle; Section 40 of the 1950 Act, receive payment under the more favourable to him of two methods of calculation. Unless proof could be given of having spent a considerable sum on the house over the five years prior to the qualification for payment, the more favourable basis of calculation, and that usually used, was that the amount of the well-maintained payment be calculated by multiplying the rateable value by one and one-fifth, or two and two-fifths if the owner or a member of his family had lived in the house continuously for three years prior to the material date.

These multipliers are trebled by the Order and now become three and three-fifths and seven and one-fifth respectively. The present multipliers were fixed in 1935. The rateable values have not altered substantially since then, but the cost of repairs has increased at least threefold since. Hon. Members may ask what this Order will cost. Well-maintained payments are met by local authorities. There is no element of subsidy. In the last eleven years payments have been made in respect of only ten houses. That is about one in every 450 or 500 affected.

Now that the scope of payments has rightly been extended, more payments for well-maintained houses can be anticipated. If the pattern of clearance demolition and acquisition continues we can expect that in Scotland between 15 and 20 houses a year may qualify at a maximum average cost of£100 a house and a total cost for Scotland of£1,500 to£2,000 a year. About half that, probably under£1,000 ar year, may fall on Glasgow.

As I promised in Committee, the local authorities associations have been consulted by letter and a meeting was offered. The Association of County Councils and the Association of Counties of Cities both made no observations. The Convention of Royal Burghs advised us that it did not consider that a meeting was necessary. We understand that the general feeling among the burghs is that a three-fold increase is overdue.

This Order gives justice to the few deserving cases concerned. It is correct for today's conditions. When the revaluation takes place in 1961 my right hon. Friend will have to look at the multipliers again and may ask the House to approve an amending Order.

11.7 p.m.

Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)

The Joint Under-Secretary could not have heard the debate on local government earlier today. The Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education expressed the anxiety of the Government to give more powers to local authorities, to allow local authorities to spend their money as they think fit. That is what the Government have been asking all day, that local authorities should have more power.

This is an Order made by the Government instructing local authorities to pay three times the compensation they have hitherto paid for unfit houses which are to be demolished. Who pays the compensation? It is the ratepayers, the local authority, with no assistance from the Government at all. I should have thought the Joint Under-Secretary, had he listened to speeches made by his right hon. and hon. Friends today on behalf of the Government, would not have seen fit to ask for approval of this Order.

If the Government had merely taken the opportunity of saying to local authorities that the compensation they have been paying up to now was inadequate, notwithstanding the fact that the houses were unfit and were to be demolished, and given them power to pay a little more by way of compensation, one could have understood that, but here there is not just power to pay more but an instruction to do so. This is put forward by a Tory Government which, all day long, have been saying they are anxious that the local authorities should have more power.

I ask the Joint Under-Secretary to give local authorities a little more power by withdrawing the Order and bringing in another if he thinks fit to increase compensation which local authorities may pay if they think fit. The local authorities would have power of decision in the matter instead of being instructed that they must pay a certain sum in compensation in respect of houses which are being demolished, and that the bill must be met out of the pockets of the ratepayers.

Mr. J. N. Browne

Because I thought that the hon. Member might raise that point, I gave him the cost of this provision. We reckon it at between£1,500 and£2,000 a year at the maximum. I think he is stretching comparison too far when he compares this little piece of "fair do's" for those concerned with the major debate, to part of which I have listened.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Housing (Payments for Well-Maintained Houses)(Scotland)Order, 1957, dated 18th July, 1957, a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th July, be approved.

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