HC Deb 19 March 1958 vol 584 cc1268-76

3.32 p.m.

Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Rent Act, 1957, so that in general the rent of a dwelling-house, which is unfit for human habitation and accordingly included in proposals submitted to the Minister of Housing and Local Government under section one of the Housing Repairs and Rents Act, 1954, shall not exceed the gross rateable value; to make corresponding adjustments in cases where the tenant of such a dwelling-house is responsible for some or all repairs or the landlord is responsible for internal decorative repairs; and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid. Section 1 of the Housing, Repairs and Rents Act, 1954, placed a responsibility upon all local authorities to notify to the Minister of Housing and Local Government, within twelve months of the passing of that Act, all dwellings within their areas which are unfit for human habitation and to suggest proposals for dealing with them. Local authorities have submitted to the Minister proposals showing how they propose to deal with a large number of unfit dwellings. Hon. Members will find, in Command Paper 9593. "Slum Clearance", dated November, 1955, the details submitted to the Minister by local authorities. Each local authority is shown separately, indicating how many unfit or slum dwellings are in its area and what it proposes to do about clearing them.

In that document, it is shown that for England and Wales there are 847,112 unfit houses, that is, houses incapable of being made fit for human habitation at reasonable expense. The complaint I have to make is that under the Rent Act these slums will carry the highest range of rent increases, but the enforcible repairs upon them will be of the lowest minimum first-aid standard. It is important to understand what really is an unfit house. To be included in this return, the house must be incapable of being made fit for human habitation at reasonable cost.

The tenants of these slum houses are unable to insist that the houses in which they live shall be made fit for human habitation. That is because the certificate of disrepair granted by local authorities—which is the only lever that a tenant can use to enforce repairs—is valid only provided it contains items which are not unreasonable in regard to cost in relation to the house and the certificate of disrepair must have regard to the age, character and locality of the dwelling.

All these are slum dwellings, old, lacking modern conveniences, and in poor localities. To make them fit would impose unreasonable cost on the landlord and, because unreasonable cost would be incurred, a certificate of disrepair to make them habitable would fail if the landlord took the matter to court. The landlord can claim his full 2⅓ gross value in rent, but expenditure is limited to first-aid standards. I readily agree that if it could be shown that those 847,000 slum dwellings were to be cleared within five years my case would be somewhat weakened by that event.

What progress has been made in clearing these slums? Hon. Members may find that in the Housing Return for 31st December, 1957, and see, in Table VI, under the heading "Clearance Areas," the rate of progress which has been made in clearing these slums. It must be noted that local authorities can do nothing about the slums until the Minister approves of action being taken and in three years all that the Minister has approved for clearance is 81,626 houses. In addition, local authorities have acquired, by voluntary agreements, 5,230, so that altogether there are 86,856 houses which have been approved for clearance. Those figures include a certain number of houses which are fit. They are included in clearance areas with unfit houses. About 10 per cent. are fit houses which have to be cleared because they are in clearance areas.

Nevertheless, I want to give the Minister the benefit of these figures and to accept all those houses as being unfit houses approved by him for clearance. It is a yearly clearance average of 28,900 in the first three years. How does that compare with the total of 847,000 in the returns to the Minister submitted by local authorities? At that rate it will take twenty-nine years to clear the slums of England and Wales. Hon. Members opposite talk a great deal about clearing slums, but they should remember that at their rate of progress it will take twenty-nine years.

It is, therefore, unreasonable to expect that tenants of these dwellings, many of whom will have to live in them for a long time, should be called upon to pay the maximum increases of rent and to have no power, legally or otherwise, to insist that the dwellings should be made fit for human habitation.

It is because of this weakness which appears in the Rent Act that I wish to make an amendment to the amount of money which slum landlords can claim in rent. In view of the condition of these slum dwellings, the conditions in which the tenants of them have to live and their inability to insist upon the dwellings being made fit for human habitation, I think that the maximum rent which should be allowable to a landlord of such a house is the gross rateable value and no more. I therefore ask the leave of the House to introduce this Bill to make that amendment.

3.42 p.m.

Mr. A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)

I rise to invite the House to oppose the Motion. It seems that we are now to traverse the whole of the proceedings of the Committee stage of the Rent Act, although those proceedings have since been enacted and are now the law of the land.

This matter was the subject of an Amendment which was discussed on Tuesday, 5th February, 1957, as reported in column 494 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of Standing Committee A. On that occasion the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) deployed fully all the arguments in support of the proposal, and he will hardly be surprised if the arguments in rebuttal today are substantially the same as they were on that occasion.

They are four. The first is that his proposal would be an unworkable amendment of the Act. What local authorities submitted to the Minister and what he approved were, first, an estimate of the number of unfit houses and, secondly, the number of these with which they proposed to deal in five years. The programme was in terms of total numbers, not individual identifiable houses. Some local authorities based their estimates on lists compiled by detailed inspections, but not all of them did so, and the Minister certainly did not approve proposals in terms of identifiable houses.

Even if the proposal were workable, it is undesirable. As the hon. Member said, there are 847,000 unfit houses in England and Wales, as estimated by the local authorities. Local authorities hope to be able to demolish 375,000 during the first five years but, regrettably, many others may have to remain for periods of from ten to fifteen years.

The hon. Member has made play with the comparatively slow progress which is being made in slum clearance under this Government, but I should like him to compare that rate of progress with the negligible progress which was made under the Labour Government. Had we succeeded in clearing only one slum house it would have been better than anything which the Labour Party did.

If the landlord is prepared to keep these houses in repair while they must still be used, why not give him the rent with which to do so? To restrict the rent to once gross value—that is, the 1939 level—even when the landlord keeps the house in repair, means that the landlord cannot and will not do repairs. The proposal, therefore, condemns these tenants to live in houses which the landlord is given no inducement to keep in repair.

Thirdly, the proposals which give the total number of unfit houses are based merely on a preliminary survey. If the houses are subsequently put in an area for compulsory purchase or made subject to a clearance order, the landlord has a right of appeal against the condemnation of his property. [HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."] To restrict the rent

at the stage when the house is merely in a preliminary list compiled by the local authority is unfair.

Mr. Harry Randall (Gateshead, West)

Full stop.

Mr. Cooper

The hon. Member's proposal is also unnecessary. If the house is in a clearance order, or is subject to any other statutory action for unfitness, that is a bar to any subsequent notice of rent increase.

Since the Rent Act received the Royal Assent the Labour Party has used all means in its power, both in the House and outside, to frustrate the will of Parliament. Its action in the House has had the effect of encouraging small landlords to try to sell their houses rather than offer new tenancies. The result has been misery and hardship. It appears that it is the desire of the Labour Party to see people in the streets. Our task is to frustrate their knavish tricks.

The record of the Labour Party in slum clearance is deplorable. It has never been interested in the subject. This Motion will persuade the outside world to say that the Opposition are developers of slums and apostles of mediocrity.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 12 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 189, Noes 261.

Division No. 71.] AYES [3.48 p.m.
Ainsley, J. W. Brown, Thomas (Inoe) Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch)
Albu, A. H. Burke, W. A. Ede, Rt. Hon. J, C.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Burton, Miss F. E. Edelman, M.
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse)
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Callaghan, L. J. Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)
Awbery, S. S. Castle, Mrs. B. A. Edwards, Robert (Bilston)
Bacon, Miss Alice Champion, A. J. Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)
Balrd, J. Chapman, W. D. Fletcher, Eric
Balfour, A. Chetwynd, G. R. Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)
Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J. Clunie, J. George, Lady Megan Lloyd(Car'then)
Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.) Coldrick, W. Gibson, C. W.
Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S.E.) Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead) Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.
Benson, Sir George Collins, V. J. (Shoreditch & Finsbury) Greenwood, Anthony
Beswick, Frank Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Cronin, J. D. Grey, C. F.
Blackburn, F. Cullen, Mrs. A. Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)
Blenkinsop, A. Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. Hannan, W.
Blyton, W. R. Darling, George (Hillsborough) Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.)
Boardman, H. Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) Hastings, Sir
Bowles, F. G. Davies, Harold (Leek) Hayman, F. H.
Boyd, T. C. Deer, G. Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis)
Braddook, Mrs. Elizabeth Diamond, John Herbison, Miss M.
Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper) Dodds, N. N. Hobson, C. R. (Keighley)
Holman, P. Mann, Mrs. Jean Short, E. W.
Holmes, Horace Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A. Shurmer, P. L. E.
Houghton, Douglas Mason, Roy Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Hoy, J. H. Mellish, R. J. Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Mikardo, Ian Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)
Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Mitchison, G. R. Skeffington, A. M.
Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Monslow, W. Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)
Hunter, A. E. Moody, A. S. Slater, J. (Sedgefield)
Hynd, H. (Accrington) Mort, D. L. Sorensen, R. W.
Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Mulley, F. W. Steele, T.
Irving, Sydney (Dartford) Neal, Harold (Bolsover) Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon) Stonehouse, John
Janner, B. Oliver, G. H. Stones, W. (Consett)
Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T. Oram, A. E. Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.
Jeger, George (Goole) Oswald, T. Stross,Dr.Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent,C.)
Johnson, James (Rugby) Owen, W. J. Sylvester, G. O.
Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech(Wakefield) Paget, R. T. Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Jones, David (The Hartlepools) Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley) Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Jones, Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.) Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)
Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Parker, J. Timmons, J.
Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Paton, John Tomney, F.
Jones, T, W. (Merioneth) Pearson, A. Usborne, H. C.
Kenyon, C. Pentland, N. Viant, S. P.
Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Plummer, sir Leslie Watkins, T. E.
King, Dr. H. M. Popplewell, E. Weitzman, D.
Lawson, G. M. Prentice, R. E. Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Lee, Frederick (Newton) Price, J. T. (Westhoughton) Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Lewis, Arthur Probert, A. R. west, D. G.
Lipton, Marcus Proctor, W. T. White, Mrs. Eirene (E, Flint)
Logan, D. G. Pryde, D. J. Wigg, George
McAlister, Mrs. Mary Randall, H. E. Willey, Frederick
Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Rankin, John Williams, David (Neath)
McCann, J. Reeves, J. Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
MacColl, J. E. Reid, William Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)
McGhee, H. G. Rhodes, H. Winterbottom, Richard
McInnes, J. Robens, Rt. Hon. A. Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
McLeavy, Frank Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Woof, R. E.
MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon) Younger, Rt. Hon. K.
MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Mahon, Simon Royle, C. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfd, E.) Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E. Mr. Sparks and Mr. Wheeldon.
Agnew, Sir Peter Carr, Robert Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale)
Aitken, W. T. Cary, Sir Robert Freeth, Denzil
Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.) Channon, Sir Henry Gammans, Lady
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.) Chichester-Clark, R. Garner-Evans, E. H.
Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton) Cole, Norman Gibson-Watt, D.
Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William Conant, Maj. Sir Roger Glover, D.
Arbuthnot, John Cooke, Robert Glyn, Col. Richard H.
Armstrong, C. W. Cooper-Key, E. M. Godber, J. B.
Ashton, H. Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Gomme-Duncan, Col. Sir Alan
Atkins, H. E. Corfield, Capt. F. V. Goodhart, Philip
Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M. Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Gough, C. F. H.
Baldwin, A. E. Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Gower, H. R.
Barber, Anthony Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) Graham, Sir Fergus
Barlow, Sir John Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood) Grant, W. (Woodside)
Barter, John Currie, G. B. H. Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)
Baxter, Sir Beverley Davidson, Viscountess Green, A.
Beamish, Col. Tufton Davies,Rt.Hon.Clement(Montgomery) Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)
Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) Deedes, W. F. Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.
Bennett, F. M. (Torquay) Digby, Simon Wingfield Gurden, Harold
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Dodds-Parker, A. D. Hall, John (Wycombe)
Bidgood, J. C. Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA. Hare, Rt. Hon. J. H.
Biggs-Davison, J. A. Drayson, G. B. Harris, Reader (Heston)
Bingham, R. M. du Cann, E. D. L. Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)
Bishop, F. P. Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond) Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)
Black, C. W. Duncan, Sir James Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)
Boothby, Sir Robert Duthie, W. S. Hay, John
Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan) Ecclcs, Rt. Hon. Sir David Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A. Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West) Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.
Boyle, Sir Edward Elliott,R.W.(Ne'castle upon Tyne,N.) Hesketh, R. F.
Braine, B. R. Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H. Erroll, F. J. Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)
Brooman-White, R. C. Farey-Jones, F. W. Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)
Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton) Fell, A. Hill, John (S. Norfolk)
Bryan, P. Finlay, Graeme Hinchingbrooke, Viscount
Bullus, Wing Commander E. E. Fisher, Nigel Hirst, Geoffrey
Butcher, Sir Herbert Fletcher-Cooke, C Hobson, John (Warwick & Leam'gt'n)
Butler,Rt.Hn.R.A.(Saffron Walden) Fort, R. Holland-Martin, C. J.
Campbell, Sir David Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone) Holt, A. F.
Hope, Lord John MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty) Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.
Hornby, R. P. Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax) Sharples, R. C.
Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries) Shepherd, William
Horobin, Sir Ian Maddan, Martin Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)
Horsburgh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle) Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire) Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark) Soames, Christopher
Howard, John (Test) Markham, Major Sir Frank Spearman, Sir Alexander
Hughes-Young, M. H. C. Marlowe, A. A. H. Speir, R. M.
Hurd, A. R. Marples, Rt. Hon. A. E. Spence, H. R. (Aberdeen, W.)
Hutchison, Michael Clark (E'b'gh, S.) Mathew, R. Stanley, Capt. Hon, Richard
Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh, W.) Maudling, Rt. Hon. R. Stevens, Geoffrey
Hyde, Montgomery Mawby, R. L. Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)
Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R. Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)
Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh Storey, S.
Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Moore, Sir Thomas Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)
Jennings, Sir Roland (Hallam) Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles Studholme, Sir Henry
Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Nabarro, G. D. N. Summers, Sir Spencer
Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Nairn, D. L. S. Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)
Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green) Neave, Alrey Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)
Joseph, Sir Keith Nicholson, Sir Godfrey (Farnham) Teeling, W.
Joynson-Hicks, Hon. Sir Lancelot Nicolson,N.(B'n'm'th,E. & Chr'ch) Temple, John M.
Kaberry, D. Nugent, G. R. H. Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Kerby, Capt. H. B. Oakshott, H. D. Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Kerr, Sir Hamilton Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. D. Thompson, Lt.-Cdr.R.(Croydon, S.)
Lambton, Viscount Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N) Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.
Lancaster, Col. C. G. Osborne, C. Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin
Langford-Holt, J. A. Page, R. G. Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)
Leather, E. H. C. Partridge, E. Tilney, John (Wavertree)
Leavey, J. A. Peyton, J. W. W. Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Leburn, W. G. Pike, Miss Mervyn Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.
Legge-Bourke, Maj. A. E. H. Pilkington, Capt. R. A. Vickers, Miss Joan
Legn, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Pitman, I. J. Vosper, Rt. Hon. D. F.
Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.) Pitt, Miss E. M. Wade, D. W.
Lindsay, Martin (Solihull) Pott, H. P. Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Linstead, Sir H. N. Powell, J. Enoch Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)
Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Price, David (Eastleigh) Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Derek
Longden, Gilbert Profumo, J. D. Wall, Patrick
Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby Ramsden, J. E. Ward, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Worcester)
Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.) Redmayne, M. Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold
Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick) Remnant, Hon. P. Whitelaw, W. S. I
Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Renton, D. L. M. Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
McAdden, S. J. Ridsdale, J. E. Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Macdonald, Sir Peter Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley) Wills, G. (Bridgwater)
Mackie, J. H. (Galloway) Robertson, Sir David Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
McLaughlin, Mrs. P. Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.) Wood, Hon. R.
Maclay, Rt, Hon. John Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks) Woollam, John Victor
Maclean, Sir Fitzroy (Lancaster) Roper, Sir Harold
McLean, Neil (Inverness) Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.) Russell, R. S. Mr. A. E. Cooper and
Mr. Gresham Cooke.