HC Deb 05 February 1959 vol 599 cc658-700
The Chairman

I think that the first Government Amendment to this Clause, that in page 4, line 10, goes with the Government Amendment in page 4, line 34, that in page 8, line 36, and that in page 9,1ine 12.

Mr. H. Brooke

Yes, Sir Charles, they all raise the same point.

I beg to move, in page 4, line 10, at the beginning to insert: Subject to subsection (4) of this section". As will be seen, two of these Amendments are to Clause 13 which relates to dwellings owned by local authorities, whereas Clause 4 relates to those in private ownership. It seems desirable to put into the Bill this statutory limitation which will prevent an application for a standard grant being entertained if the dwelling itself has been provided later than the end of 1944. That, in fact, has been administrative practice in dealing with existing improvement grants. Advice was given to local authorities in a Circular of 1951, and the reason is obvious. One does not want a situation in which someone who, after building a house, immediately makes an application for a grant to improve it and gets that application agreed to.

Until now these grants have been discretionary, so that there was not the same need for statutory limitation; but now that these standard grants will not, in the same sense, be at the discretion of the local authority it might be possible—if we did not make this Amendment—in theory, at any rate, for someone to build a house without, say, a bathroom and, having done so, to apply for a standard grant to put one in.

In such a contingency, it would be an absurdity if the local authority found itself obliged to pay the standard grant to the owner—it would be an unintended subsidy. The object of these Amendments, if they are accepted, is to render statutory what has been for a long time the existing practice, which is to ensure that grants are not paid for houses that were completed after the end of the last war.

Mr. Michael Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, South)

It would seem that the Amendment would exclude flats or maisonettes which come into being as a result of the conversion of old houses, and I do not see why they should be excluded. I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend would so alter the Bill that conversions—and, indeed, new houses—could attract grant. Perhaps he would also take counsel with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and see that the same thing is done for that part of the Bill dealing with Scotland.

Mr. Page

I should like to pursue the point that has been put to the Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. M. Clark Hutchison). Quite obviously, there was a gap in the Bill as originally drawn. If the local byelaws allowed one—as I believe they do in some places—to build a house without a larder or a domestic hot water system one could do so and then, after the Bill became law, claim the standard amenity grant.

Some Amendment was obviously necessary here, but my right hon. Friend has provided that no claim shall be made for this standard grant in respect of a dwelling provided after 1944. Had it been for a house erected after that time, I might not have objected to the Amendment, but dwellings have been provided in the older houses since 1944.

I imagine that a great deal of conversion has gone on during these fifteen intervening years, and, in many cases, the division of older houses into flats has not been accompanied by the provision of separate lavatories or bathrooms for the dwellings provided. If the Amendment stands as it is, it will be impossible for the owner-occupier, or the owner of the building, to obtain a standard grant if the conversion has taken place since 1944, that is to say, in the words of the Amendment, if a dwelling had been provided after 1944. I should have thought that that was just the sort of case which might well be assisted under the Bill, namely, conversions which have taken place in older houses during the past fifteen years.

8.0 p.m.

Evidently one must put on a restriction—and I press my right hon. Friend to consider a restriction which takes the date right up to the time when these proposals were published—so that only those dwellings provided after November last, when the White Paper was issued and one knew the sort of proposals which were coming, should be excluded in order that any conversions of older houses which have taken place in the past fifteen years, for which amenities have not been provided for each dwelling, might come into this scheme.

Mr. Mitchison

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer one question in advance of his speech? He told us that these matters have been regulated by administrative practice hitherto. What has been the administrative practice with regard to conversions?

Mr. H. Brooke

I do not quite know what the hon. and learned Gentleman means by asking me to say something in advance of my speech. If he himself is going to speak, I think it would be better if he were to give his views on the Amendment and that I should wind up the debate in general.

Mr. Mitchison

With respect, I would prefer to wait until the Minister has spoken. I should like to know his answer to that question.

Mr. Brooke

My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. M. Clark Hutchison) and my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) have raised what is, quite frankly, a new point, so far as I am aware, in the whole administration of improvement grants. There have been many complaints about improvement grants from one angle or another, but I am not aware of this particular point ever having been put to the Department at any rate, and certainly not to the Minister. I should like a little time to think about what my hon. Friends from both Scotland and England have said.

Mr. Page

If I may interrupt my right hon. Friend, the point has not been put to the Department as yet, of course, because until now improvement grants have been permissive in the hands of local authorities. Under the Bill there is now at least provision for a partial claim for the standard grants. That is the difficulty. One does not want to give the right to claim to an owner if he builds a house after the Bill has been passed.

Mr. Brooke

I am not speaking in any hostile spirit. I am trying to see my way through this. My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby says that this has not arisen. It did not arise in an acute form because the local authority had power to say "No". Some complaints have come in about improvement grants to the effect that local authorities have said "No" and have said it unreasonably. Certainly I cannot charge my memory with any case where there has been a dispute about the grant application such as my hon. Friend clearly has in mind; that is to say, where there is a dwelling which is without one of the standard amenities and has been built since the end of the war, and where the owner wanted to put one in but found the local authority unyielding.

The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) asked what was the present practice. Here we come to the distinction between the house and the conversion. Of course, there are conversion grants, and anyone who was in the process of converting a house could apply for a grant for that purpose. Indeed, it could be a grant of up to £400 covering far more than the putting in of the standard amenities, so that anybody actually in the process of creating a new dwelling by conversion did not come up against any difficulty of this kind. I gather from the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby that he himself saw difficulties in a case where somebody had built a house since 1944 and left something out and then might wish to put it in with the benefit of grant.

I am not quite sure whether I ought to make another speech after the hon. and learned Member for Kettering has intervened, but I will say at this stage that I hope that the Committee will accept the Amendment. We clearly must have some safeguarding words in the Bill. If my hon. Friends who have raised these points will give me some further particulars in support of the kind of case they have in mind, I will willingly undertake to look into it. I am simply trying to ensure that there is a sensible safeguarding provision in the Bill. There must be a safeguarding provision, and I say quite frankly that I had put into the Amendment the date which has until now been the standard date for administrative practice.

Mr. Mitchison

I have some sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman in this matter. He has produced a Bill under which it would have been possible to play some pretty tricks on local authorities. A man could build a house and if he managed to do it without putting in one thing or another he might then have called on the local authorities to supply the gap he had deliberately left. I do not object to the right hon. Gentleman remedying that. I am rather sorry it has been done by reference to a fixed date. There may be no alternative, but, of course, the fixed date tends to become more and more out of date as time goes on.

As regards conversions, I entreat the right hon. Gentleman to be vigilant. I should have thought that conversions were a far easier case in which something which ought to have been put in could be left out and a claim brought under the Bill afterwards. It might not necessarily be done deliberately; quite possibly, something might be left out because the man concerned was not thinking of this Bill but did not want to spend too much money on the conversion. If that is the position, I do not think that he ought to be helped out of public funds now or be put into a position where he can avail himself of the facilities of the Bill.

I should expect the right hon. Gentleman to share that point of view. I agree that the most satisfactory thing now is to let the Amendment pass. We take no objection to it. Let us see about conversions if and when any question arises.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Reynolds

I beg to move, in page 4, line 10, at the beginning to insert: Subject to the provisions of this and the next following section". With the permission of the Chair, perhaps I may refer to the consequential Amendment in page 4, line 34, at the end to add: (4) Notwithstanding anything in the foregoing provisions of this section, a local authority shall not approve an application for assistance under this section in respect of any dwelling, being one of two or more dwellings owned by the applicant and comprised in one hereditament, unless the local authority are satisfied that on the completion of the works specified in that application and in any other application or applications made at the same time as that application, all the dwellings owned by the applicant in the hereditament will be provided with the standard amenities. We are, of course, now coming to the part of the Bill which makes it compulsory for local authorities, subject to very few safeguards, to make a standard improvement grant to applicants. I am wholly in favour of that. In the past, too many local authorities have not operated as well as they ought to have done in this mattes, or adopted as they ought to have done the various improvement grant provisions which we have had since 1949. It has been up to the local authorities to decide whether or not they made a grant. A great deal of the background material on which they based their decisions about whether or not to make a grant came not from any Housing Act or regulation, but from advice given by the Minister from time to time in the form of circulars to local authorities.

There was no statutory background. In effect, it was just general advice given to the Minister on the sort of things which, from an administrative point of view, he might want to look at before deciding whether or not any particular grant made by a local authority would rank for grant from his Department.

We are now about to have the rather different situation where the local authority has to make a grant. As I understand, the safeguards that the local authority will have will not be the long list of things which have appeared in Ministry circulars in the past. They will presumably be such safeguards as are actually written into the Bill or are somehow or other provided for by statutory regulation under it. At present I am concerned that local authorities have not the safeguards which they ought to have. The proposal of the Government is that the grant should be given for a separate dwelling. If, as one can only assume, the definition of "dwelling" is that in Section 189 of the Housing Act, 1957, I can see that the local authority may from time to time be placed in a difficult position.

It is unreasonable that the local authority should be allowed only to consider the dwelling in question for which application has been made, and provided that that dwelling is fit for human habitation apparently, as the Clause is drafted, no regard can be paid to the other dwellings in the same hereditament. It may well be that the owner of the property lives in one dwelling and has let two or even three other dwellings within the hereditament and is applying for a standard improvement grant to carry out improvements in his own dwelling.

It may even be that his dwelling is all right and fit for human habitation. It may be that there are statutory notices under the Public Health Act and under the Housing Act outstanding against the owner of that property trying to force him to do necessary work to put the other dwellings in the hereditament in a state fit for human habitation. Yet the dwelling for which the application for the standard grant is made is fit for human habitation and the local authority would have no option, under the Clause as drafted, provided that the other qualifications were fulfilled, but to make a standard grant although the other two dwellings in the house may be in a terrible condition.

This is unfair on the local authority, and although I appreciate that there may be certain difficulties arising from the Amendment, I hope that the Minister can find a way of giving rather more safeguards to local authorities than they have under the Clause as drafted. There may be other reasons which may make it undesirable for the local authority to be forced to make such a grant not connected necessarily with the condition of the other dwellings in the property. The landlord may live in one dwelling of the property, sub-let another dwelling and be doing his utmost to get the tenant convicted by making his life as miserable as possible. I very much doubt whether a local authority should be forced to assist a landlord of that kind. The only safeguard which I can see is to make it necessary for the landlord to make the standard improvements in both of the dwellings in that particular property.

I think that I have said enough to make clear the point which I have in mind. As I said earlier, I am not particularly pressing this Amendment, but I believe that safeguards for local authorities, particularly in cases where other dwellings in the hereditament may be in a state unfit for habitation, should be rather stronger than they are under the Clause as it is drafted.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. A. Evans

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) will not be too modest about the wording of his Amendment, which, I think, would meet a difficulty. I think that my hon. Friend has in mind the tenement house in which there are a number of dwellings in one hereditament. This type of house is to be found in large numbers, certainly in the older parts of London. Unless an alteration along the lines suggested by my hon. Friend is made in the Bill, an owner of a tenement house will be able to go to a local authority and get a grant for standard amenities for only one part of the tenement house, leaving the other parts of that tenement house in a poor state—perhaps in a state unfit for human habitation.

Clause (5) lays down that the local authority shall satisfy itself that the dwelling is fit for human habitation. It restricts the survey of the local authority to the dwelling. Under that limiting proviso, a local authority cannot have regard to the other dwellings in the house. It may be that the ground floor of the house is occupied by the owner and can be passed as fit for human habitation by the local authority, which may decide that it would remain fit for habitation for fifteen years. But the other dwellings in the hereditament may be quite unfit for human habitation.

I am sure that the Minister would not agree that it would be sensible to force upon a local authority—because this is obligatory the grant must be given—to advance public money for the improvement of one part of the house, the rest of which is unfit. To meet this difficulty, I hope that the Minister will accept the Amendment or undertake to insert words in the Bill at a later stage which will meet the point raised by the Amendment.

Mr. H. Brooke

The Government desire that houses should be improved. When I first saw the two Amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds), I felt sympathetically disposed towards the idea underlying them. It was only when I went into the matter further, and tried to think it out in practical terms, that I came to the conclusion that if we accepted the Amendments, and wrote them into the Bill, they would be liable to hold up rather than expedite the carrying out of improvements.

Hon. Members opposite and I have the same type of house in mind—the big house one particularly finds in London, which is often let floor by floor but not in separate self-contained flats. The idea of the Amendment is to ensure that if a standard grant is given for any one of the floors to carry out the improvement, then the necessary improvement should be done throughout the house and not on that floor only. One consideration which one must bear in mind, although it is not conclusive, is that one might find a case where an owner could not afford to do the whole job at once, but could do it bit by bit. In those circumstances, he might find himself seriously held up in carrying out what he desired to do in the house.

There is, however, an even more material obstacle in the way, and that is that in a number of these houses, as I think the hon. Member for Islington, North will agree, one might well find that on one floor it was literally impossible to find room for a bathroom and there would he no physical means of complying with the requirements on that floor. Yet if the Amendment were written into the Bill that would debar the making of a standard grant for any of the other floors and it might he that anybody living in the whole of the house may suffer because we had amended the Bill so as to make it impossible to proceed floor by floor.

This is a serious obstacle in the way of what I confess struck me at first sight as a good idea, but, if the hon. Member considers what I have said, I hope that he will come to the same conclusion as I have—that it would be impossible with any hope of success to impose the kind of sanction which is implicit in the Amendment, and it would be too risky to debar an owner from getting a standard grant if he was not able to do all the work on all the floors of the house at the same time.

It is on those grounds that I must advise the Committee, in the interests of getting on with improvement work, that it would be unwise to incorporate these Amendments in the Bill.

Mr. Mitchison

I share some of the right hon. Gentleman's doubts about the Amendment. I suppose that it would be going too much against Tory philosophy to put into the Bill a provision that the landlord shall not claim a standard grant for himself until he has done all that he can to claim it for the other flats occupied by his tenants in the same building. I put that suggestion forward without much hope that it will be accepted.

I wish to call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to one point. I note what he has said about the floor in which a bathroom could not be provided. When one comes to consider houses, what is to happen to a man who would like to have a standard grant, but who is unable to put in a bathroom, although he would like to do the other things? I am not at all certain that he is provided for in the Bill. We shall see about that when we reach that stage.

Mr. A. Evans

To some extent I see the practical point made by the Minister, that the Amendment might hamper the installation of amenities floor by floor if the landlord could not see his way clear to putting in the amenities in all the floors at one time. However that may be, I drew the Minister's attention to subsection (2) of the Clause, by which a local authority must satisfy itself that the dwelling will be in such a condition as not to be unfit for human habitation and is likely to remain in that condition for fifteen years. I put this point to the Minister and I hope that he will deal with it.

If the local authority inspects a tenement house and finds that the ground floor meets the conditions specified in subsection (2), shall the local authority have no regard to the other part of the hereditament, for example the upper floors? Shall it allow the grant to be made for the lower floor which is passable, whilst the upper floors are unfit for human habitation and, possibly, the roof is in a serious condition?

If the Minister does not alter this part of the Clause, he will be saying to the local authority, "You may use public money. You may make the grant to improve a part of a house the rest of which may be unfit for human habitation." In that event the Minister should come to the aid of the local authority. He should at least undertake to reconsider the matter so that under subsection (2) the local authority will be charged to have regard to all the dwellings in the tenement house.

Mr. Reynolds

I accept a very great deal of what the Minister said in reply to the Amendment. I could probably go on and add another half-dozen instances which it would be difficult to bring within the provisions of the Amendment. I was well aware of that at the beginning, and that was why I said that I was not tied to the precise wording of the Amendment. I hope that the Minister will undertake to have another look at the question which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans) about the rest of the dwellings in the house, or the rest of the hereditament, being at least in a state fit for human habitation. The Minister's arguments were mainly directed to it being perhaps impracticable to make the standard improvements in other parts of the hereditament. To a very large extent I am prepared to accept that. On the other hand, I do not see that it would be impracticable to insist on the other parts of the hereditament being in a state fit for human habitation, because otherwise we are in the ridiculous position of the local authority paying public money for the improvement of one part—

Mr. Cole

I agree with much of what the hon. Member says. Surely he realises that there are other statutes which deal with the rest of the premises to which he refers not being fit for human habitation.

Mr. Reynolds

I was coming to the other statutes. It would be a ridiculous position for the local authority to spend a great deal of public money to improve the basement of the property and the local authorities using the time of many public servants in trying to enforce statutory notices under the Public Health or Housing Acts concerning the other floors of the property. Under the Bill as drafted, however, the owner would have the right o demand an improvement grant. If the local authority turned down his demand the owner would be able to take it to court or take other proceedings to enforce his demand for the improvement grant.

I am not opposed to the provision, but it is a little unfair on the local authority if a man is trying to force it to carry out work. As the Minister will know, some of these cases drag on for years. The landlord, whom the local authority might have been chasing for years, can then come along and demand the £100 or £150. Whilst the Minister is not prepared to accept the idea of the standard improvement being carried out in all the dwellings in the hereditament, I hope he will meet us to some extent by providing that the local authority shall be satisfied that all the dwellings are at least in a state fit for human habitation.

Mr. Mitchison

Before the Question is put, in the light of the discussion does not the right hon. Gentleman think that he might undertake to examine this matter again, without necessarily undertaking to introduce an Amendment?

Mr. H. Brooke

My desire is to get these standard grants applied for and utilised as widely as possible, because I believe that through the agency of the Clause we should be able to bring about in a comparatively short time far-reaching improvements in the conditions under which many people live. I am quite ready to look at any possibility that is suggested to me for making this standard grant system a success.

I am quite sure that the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds), who is well acquainted with these matters and has studied them, will appreciate also that there may be a house the top floor of which is unfit for human habitation, not because the roof is leaking but because of the narrowness of the stairs or the inadequacy of the lighting, and there may be no reasonable physical means of altering that state of affairs. It would be a pity to put into the Bill any provision that would have the effect of holding up the improvement of the rest of the house if there were these severely practical difficulties about improving one of the dwellings therein.

Having said that, however, I will undertake to examine this and all the subsequent Clauses in the Bill in order to ascertain whether we can further improve the arrangement. As I say, my desire is that these powers, when they are on the Statute Book, shall be widely used and shall not be frustrated because we have not framed our legislation skilfully enough.

Mr. Reynolds

As the Minister has said that he will have another look at this matter, perhaps we can come back to it at a later stage. In the circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Mitchison

I beg to move, in page 4, line 13, after "provided", to insert: for the exclusive use of its occupants". The Minister has provided in this subsection for one of the standard amenities being for the exclusive use of the occupants of the dwelling. They can have, according to paragraph (c), a water closet to themselves, but they may be called upon to share even a hot water supply. I feel that that cannot be quite what is intended, and that the intention must be that these amenities should all be for the exclusive use of the occupants. This Amendment, which is really almost a drafting Amendment only, is moved to secure that result. It would involve a consequential Amendment, which is on the Paper, in page 4, line 18, to leave out from "closet" to "and" in line 19, and would have the effect of giving the occupants the exclusive use of all the standard amenities instead of one.

I am not sure whether I am intended now to refer at the same time to that other Amendment in line 18. It is a matter which may be dealt with shortly and I can do so if it is convenient. It is the question of the water closet. It is suggested from this side of the Committee that if we leave the subsection as it is it would be complied with by providing a water closet down at the end of the garden. I cannot think that that is what is really intended, and it seems reasonable that the water closet should be in the house, or if, as is often the case, there is not quite room enough in the House, for it to be up against the wall of it. I think that is provided for by the word "contiguous" in my further Amendment to line 18, after "closet" to insert "in or contiguous to the dwelling". We do not want houses provided with water closets at a distance nowadays.

Mr. H. Brooke

One of these Amendments raises a somewhat different point from that of the other, but the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) is quite right that it is not desirable that there should be a differentiation between one of these standard amenities and the rest in relation to the question whether they are for the exclusive use of the occupier. I think that that is a wise Amendment. The Government are quite prepared to accept it, with the hon. and learned Gentleman's Amendment providing that the water closet shall be contiguous to the dwelling.

I need not go into all the details because there are some complications in particular, not very common, cases, which would arise in back-to-back dwellings and the like. Nevertheless, there are many cases in which it would be valuable to have this Amendment. The hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the sort of thing that might arise. I have in mind the kind of case one knows so well in the North of England, where there are closets in blocks at a distance from the dwelling, perhaps behind. I do not think that that should be regarded as a satisfactory amenity, and on balance it will be an improvement of the Clause if we alter it as he suggests. On behalf of the Government I am very happy to accept all these three Amendments.

Mr. Mitchison

I thank the right hon. Gentleman. I hope I shall not be regarded as denigrating my own profession when I say that I lived for a long time in a flat in the Inner Temple where the water closet was down the stairs half way between that flat and the one below it.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Reynolds

I beg to move, in page 4, line 16, after "shower" to insert "preferably".

Mr. Mitchison

I regret that it is partly my own fault that my hon. Friend is moving the wrong Amendment.

I beg to move, in page 4, line 16, after "shower" to insert "and a wash-hand basin, both".

I understand that reference may be made at the same time to the first of the Amendments to line 16, the one my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) tried to move, about "preferably". I understand reference may be made also to my hon. Friend's further Amendment about "preferably", in page 4, line 16, after "shower" to insert: and a wash-hand basin, both preferably". I hope I have correctly the Ruling which, I understand, was to be made.

I, therefore, am concerned only with a wash-hand basin.

The Temporary Chairman (Sir Norman Hulbert)

I would inform the hon. and learned Member that the two Amendments to which he has referred, containing the word "preferably", have not been selected.

Mr. Mitchison

There are two other Amendments connected with this matter —Clause 6, page 5, line 21, leave out "fifty" and insert "fifty-five", and page 5, line 26, leave out "twenty-five" and insert "thirty", which add £5 to the two sums. But if I may deal with the substantial point, it is felt widely that if we are to include a bath or a shower as a standard amenity in a bathroom, or preferably in a bathroom, we should also include a wash-hand basin. No council house plan nowadays would omit a wash-hand basin.

There is no difficulty about the water supply, because another of the standard amenities is the hot water supply. This has been so submitted to me by some very practical people, the Urban District Councils Association. I was about to say that it was the Association's major comment on the Bill, but I would hardly put it as strongly as that. It certainly sent me a long and reasoned case for the inclusion of a wash-hand basin, but perhaps I need not trouble the Committee with the argument in detail.

In the other two Amendments in Clause 6, to which I have referred, account is taken of an additional £10 cost for this purpose, that is to say of an additional £5 grant. In a dirty place like London, baths are no doubt desirable and wash-hand basins are a very standard amenity indeed. If I may say so, I know of no place in London dirtier than the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] I mean, of course, physically dirty. I find I have to wash more frequently here, in the Palace of Westminster, than almost anywhere else.

Mr. Bevins

I do not in the least dissent from the hon. and learned Member's concluding remarks. I think that he is wholly right. The Amendment which we are now discussing is linked with the later Amendments to Clause 6 to which he has referred. As Clause 4 stands, the line to which the Amendment refers reads: a fixed bath or shower in a bathroom; I think that the hon. and learned Member would like it to read: a fixed bath or shower and wash-hand basin, both in a bathroom … That would involve an additional standard grant of £5 towards the cost of installing the wash-hand basin.

I am sorry to say that, as drafted, the Amendment does not quite achieve its purpose in that if a house already had a bath hut not a wash-hand basin in the bathroom, the local authority would be obliged to pay up to £30 for the installation of a wash-hand basin only. When that was mentioned to me, I confess that I said that it was a matter only of up to a certain figure and that wash-hand basins do not cost that much money. But I am told that basins of a very lavish kind can be purchased.

In order to secure that only the proper sum is paid for the installation of a wash-hand basin, I am advised that a wash-hand basin would have to be added as the fifth standard amenity and a separate sum provided for it under Clause 6 (2) to which the hon. and learned Member's later Amendments relate. I am not absolutely sure what view my right hon. Friend has on this matter—[HON. MEMBERS: "Chance your arm."]—but I am quite sure that he is ready to give further examination to it. If the hon. and learned Member will leave it at that I think that my right hon. Friend will be able to meet him at a later stage.

Mr. Mitchison

This very human and intimate appeal is really touching, and in the circumstances I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

Before this Amendment is with-drawn—

Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)

It cannot be withdrawn.

Mr. Fletcher

It can be withdrawn eventually.

Mr. Skeffington

It cannot be withdrawn.

Mr. Fletcher

I do not know why not. Sir Norman, I did not rise primarily to argue whether the Amendment could be withdrawn or not. What I wanted to say was that I hope this question will not be dismissed summarily. It is important that wash-basins should be provided in houses which have not got them. I should have thought that as a general proposition it is also desirable that if a bathroom is being added to a house, it should have a washbasin in it. It is the general experience that of all modern houses—[An HON. MEMBER: "Council houses."]—including all council houses, a bathroom is equipped with a bath and with a wash-basin.

As I understand the Clause we are not dealing with modern houses but with old houses built when what are now considered standard amenities did not exist. My hon. Friends and colleagues from Islington know very well that the majority of houses in Islington, apart from those built in recent years by the local authority, are old houses built 80, 90 and in many cases 100 years ago. The majority have no bathrooms and many are without wash-basins. Some are without water closets except at the end of the garden.

Therefore, when the Bill becomes law local authorities will have the problem of considering the circumstances in which these grants should be given, because we are dealing here with the adaptation of old houses to modern requirements. In most cases it may no doubt be possible to put a wash-basin in the bathroom but there will be some cases in which, either for lack of space or because of drainage arrangements or otherwise, it is not physically possible to put the wash-basin in the bathroom. Hence, as I understand it, the introduction into the Amendment of the word "preferable"—[An HON. MEMBER: "It is not there."] Perhaps not, but that may have been the object of one of the Amendments, for we are discussing more than one. I appreciate that the particular Amendment was not selected, but I am dealing with the general case and the Minister has said he is not in a position to give an undertaking about what his right hon. Friend can or cannot do.

Mr. Bevins

I think I made it clear that my right hon. Friend will examine this proposal.

Mr. Fletcher

That is what I understood. I agree that the undertaking was that the Minister would examine this proposal. I shall be glad if in the course of his examination the Minister will consider that, whereas it is generally desirable that wash-basins should be in bathrooms, there is something to be said for having them in a separate compartment in some instances. One advantage of such an arrangement, particularly in a large house with a large number of occupants, is that somebody could be having a bath and at the same time somebody else could be washing his hands. This is sometimes convenient because if the wash-basin is in the bathroom that room can be occupied in most instances only by one person at a time.

8.45 p.m.

It is to be hoped that with the provision of more bathrooms the habit of taking baths will grow among people who hitherto have unfortunately been denied that opportunity. On the other hand, it will frequently be found convenient that while one occupant of a house is having a bath the remaining occupants should not be denied the opportunity of washing, and that is the result if the only wash-basin is in the bathroom.

Therefore, I hope that the Minister in examining this important matter, which has a bearing on the cleanliness and comfort of a great many people, will ensure that the provisions of the Clause are so drawn that they will not exclude either of the desirable alternatives that I have mentioned, a bathroom with a washbasin in it and a bathroom with a washbasin in a separate room.

Local authorities will obviously have some difficulty in interpreting the applica- tions which are made to them under the Clause. Therefore, it is most desirable that when the Clause finally emerges into law its provisions should be as clear as possible and also that it should be defined in such a way as to give the maximum of latitude for the construction of the additional amenities, having regard to the different kinds of old houses which will be adapted and equipped when the Bill becomes law.

Mr. Mitchison

I am sure that hon. Members on this side of the Committee, at any rate, all share the views so ably expressed on behalf of what I might call "United Islington" on the important question of the conjunctional separation of the bathroom and the washbasin.

We cannot withdraw the Amendment now, but the Parliamentary Secretary will understand that we will not say anything when it is put to the vote. He will understand that we are relying on his promise to see that his right hon. Friend considers the matter. We trust that his right hon. Friend will show himself to be favourably disposed towards wash-basins. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman could not have said a little more in support of his right hon. Friend on that matter, but I understand his difficulty.

Mr. Bevins

What has been said will certainly be studied by my right hon. Friend. Perhaps I may be allowed to say that one reason why we have so far taken the view that the washbasin should be in the bathroom is that this is an obligatory procedure for local authorities and it is conceivable that many of them would resent paying grants towards the cost of providing what they might regard as unsatisfactory facilities if the washbasin were not in the bathroom. We shall, however consider what has been said.

The Temporary Chairman

Does the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) seek leave to withdraw the Amendment? It is in order to do so.

Mr. Mitchison

If I can, then I will do so, Sir Norman. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Reynolds

I beg to move, in page 4, line 17, after "supply", to insert: connected to a bath and kitchen sink". If we are to have these grants, which local authorities have to make, and if one of the things required to be put into a house by means of a grant is a hot water supply, it is essential that it should be clearly laid down, so that there shall be no doubt about it whatever, that the supply has to be made available connected to both the bath and the kitchen sink. As the Clause stands, it might well be possible to instal a hot water supply for the kitchen sink, but not for the bath, or, conversely, to instal a hot water supply for the bath, and nothing for the sink.

If there is to be a grant of as much as £75 for the installation of a hot water supply, local authorities should be able to insist that such a supply is made available for both points at which it is likely to be used, namely, at the sink and at the bath. I am even informed that a fixed bath may not have a water supply and that it could be termed a fixed bath so long as it was fixed in the corner of a room and had some means for the disposal of waste water. I am sure that what the Minister intends is that there should he a hot and cold water supply for such a bath.

My Amendment deals only with the hot water supply on which public money is to be spent, although I would appreciate the Minister's views on other aspects of this matter.

Mr. Bevins

One of the standard amenities is a hot water supply, and the hon. Member wants to include in that list a hot water supply, connected to the bath and kitchen sink. I am advised that the effect of the Amendment as it stands is to make available a very generous grant of up to £75, as in Clause 6 (2), for connecting an existing hot water supply to a kitchen sink.

That is the difficulty. It will also give rise to the need to define what a kitchen sink is. That is not an insuperable difficulty, but what is a major difficulty is that where there is an existing hot water supply, and supposing the Amendment were accepted, an applicant would be entitled to this very generous grant. My right hon. Friend's view is that there is a clear-cut case for helping towards the cost of providing a hot water supply as such in dwellings which have no supply.

The new scheme of standard grants applies to those dwellings, but where there is already some form of hot water supply the need to help is less strong, certainly not strong enough to justify the undoubted complications which would follow any attempt to split the amount of grant between the various possible arrangements for supplying hot water.

I confess that I am in some difficulty because my knowledge of plumbing is very restricted, but I can see the major difficulty of making this provision in cases where there is an existing hot water supply of one kind or another.

Mr. Mitchison

This is not a matter of plumbing, but of a little common sense and getting proper drafting if the present drafting of the Amendment will not do. What is intended is perfectly clear. As it is, the provision reminds me of an hon. Friend of mine who was moving an Amendment to a recent Scottish poaching Measure which provided that one should fish only with rod and line in certain places. My hon. Friend observed, not without force, that it all depended on what one put on the end of the line, and he proceeded to give us a lurid description of the things which one could put on the end of a hook and line.

Here we are discussing the provision of a hot water supply. Surely my hon. Friend is justified in insistng that there should be a provision about the purposes for which the hot water supply is to be used. Have we reached the stage of being unable or doubtful about how to define a kitchen sink? I am reminded of the story of the gentleman who was asked to define an elephant and who said that it was difficult to define but easy to recognise. I should have thought that only the most stringent Parliamentary draftsman would require a definition of a kitchen sink. One knows it when one meets it, and that is that. If, in this famous Bill which will revolutionise everything and cause untold benefits to people all over the country, the Government cannot arrange to provide for a hot water supply to be connected both to the bath and the kitchen sink, it is not plumbing knowledge that they lack, but a little horse sense.

Mr. A. Evans

As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) said, it is clear that this matter has not been properly thought out. We cannot have a hot water supply without its being connected to something. It must run somewhere. Presumably it will run to the bath and to the kitchen sink. That would appear to be quite clear. The Amendment seeks to make it quite clear. The Parliamentary Secretary said that we cannot allow £75 of public money to be spent if a hot water supply already exists. Are we to believe, as the Parliamentary Secretary suggested, that a local authority would make a grant of £75 of public money to provide a hot water supply when one already existed?

We could go on talking about baths, hand-basins and hot water supplies indefinitely. The practical course would be for the Parliamentary Secretary to accept the Amendment, and then, on Report, to make any alterations that he wishes. I hope that he will accept the Amendment, with the proviso that on reflection he may have to insert amending words on Report.

Mr. Gibson

I want to raise one point of practical application. The Parliamentary Secretary said that where a hot water supply to the sink already existed and the tenant wanted to have it extended to the bath, he would be able to get a grant of £75, which would represent half the cost. That would mean that it would cost £150 to extend the hot water supply to the bath, which is absolute nonsense. Even in these days of expensive building it does not cost that much to extend an already existing hot water supply from the sink to a tap in the bath.

If the Parliamentary Secretary cannot find a better reason than that for opposing the Amendment I hope that he will accept my hon. Friend's advice and accept it, or at least do as he did previously and undertake to reconsider the matter in order to try to make sure that where conversions and improvements take place they shall be up to the standard which municipal authorities apply in the case of their own houses so that there will be a decent hot water supply to the sink and to the bath. The Minister could agree to that without there being any danger of giving away £75 with which to do the job.

9.0 p.m.

Mr. Reynolds

We cannot accept the argument of the Parliamentary Secretary. I assume I am right in thinking that in this Clause the Government consider that a hot water supply made available with the aid of one of these grants will be laid on to the bath and the kitchen sink. I hope that I am right, and if I am not I shall be amazed. The hon. Gentleman must put himself in the position of a local authority receiving an application for a grant. Local authorities now have to make these grants. They are no longer in the position of being able to turn down an application.

Suppose a local authority receives an application for a grant to install a hot water supply just to the bath or just to the kitchen sink. What is the authority to do? Is it to say, "No, we insist that the supply be laid on to both and therefore we refuse to make the grant"? Can the applicant challenge that decision and take the matter to court, and will this be decided eventually by a judge? If so, it is most unfair to local authorities to expect them to interpret what the Government have in mind.

I assume that the Government desire to do the best possible job and that they want a hot water supply to be available for the kitchen sink. If so, it should be made clear, because otherwise a local authority may find itself in the invidious position of not knowing whether to accept or reject an application and whether, if an application be rejected, the applicant can appeal.

Mr. Bevins

I do not think that there is a great deal that I can add. The view of my right hon. Friend is that there is an obvious case for assisting in the cost of providing a hot water supply where such a facility is lacking. It is true that the effect of the Amendment as drafted, would be to make available a grant of up to £75—I am not saying that the grant would be £75, but it would be up to that figure—for the connection of the existing hot water supply to the kitchen sink.

Mr. Mitchison

If there is a hot water supply, is it not connected to the kitchen sink already?

Mr. Bevins

There are plenty of houses where the hot water supply is not connected to the kitchen sink or to the bathroom.

As the Bill is framed at present it would be possible to bring about what the hon. Gentleman desires only by adding a separate amenity altogether, the amenity of a hot water supply to the kitchen sink, and to provide for separate payment which would not be related to the maximum of £75 which we have been discussing. I doubt whether a grant ought to be paid for this one item if the house has all the standard amenities referred to in the Clause. I appreciate what has been said and suggest that the hon. Gentleman leave it to my right hon. Friend and myself to examine without being committed in any way. That is as far as I can go, and I say that in good faith.

Mr. Mitchison

I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman regarding my advice to my hon. Friends. Once we have taken humane pity on a Parliamentary Secretary left stranded by his Minister and ignorant of the views of the Minister on washbasins. On this occasion it is perfectly obvious that the intention of the Amendment could be carried out. It is no more difficult for a competent draftsman to work this into the Bill than it is for a competent plumber to connect a hot water supply. If the Amendment is badly drafted the hon. Gentleman can get it put right on Report, but we propose to do our best to get it into the Bill in its present form.

Mr. Bevins

If the hon. and learned Gentleman is not prepared to accept what I have said he must take his own course. Under the Bill it is quite feasible to extend the number of standard amenities from three or four to a dozen, if the Committee is so minded. But here the Government are trying to set down clearly and simply a limited number of elementary amenities which all dwellings ought to have. If the list is to be extended and reviewed we are not likely to achieve the primary and fundamental purpose of the Government.

Mr. Mitchison

On this side of the Committee we have no use for a hot water system when we have not the foggiest idea what it is supposed to do except sit by itself somewhere. We would rather that the obvious purpose of the Amendment were put into the Bill properly, and if the Parliamentary Secretary will not undertake to put it in properly we will do our best to put it in improperly.

Question put, That those words be there inserted:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 118, Noes 161.

Division No. 35.] AYES [9.6 p.m.
Abse, Leo Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Mikardo, Ian
Ainsley, J. W. George, Lady Megan Lloyd (Car'then) Mitchison, G. R.
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Gibson, C. W. Moody, A. S.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R. Morrison, Rt. Hn. Herbert (Lewis'm, S.)
Awbery, S. S. Grey, C. F. Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)
Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S.E.) Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly) Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. (Derby, S.)
Benson, Sir George Hamilton, W. W. Oliver, G. H.
Blackburn, F. Hannan, W. Owen, W. J.
Blyton, W. B. Hastings, S. Padley, w. E.
Bottomiey, Rt. Hon. A. G. Hayman, F. H. Paget, R. T.
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.) Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis) Parker, J.
Brockway, A. F. Herblson, Miss M. Pentland, N.
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Probert, A. R.
Burton, Miss F. E. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Pursey, Cmdr, H.
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Hunter, A. E. Reeves, J.
Champion, A. J. Hynd, H. (Accrington) Reynolds, G. W.
Chetwynd, G. R. Hynd, J. B. (Atteroliffe) Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Clunie, J. Janner, B. Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Colllok, p. H. (Birkenhead) Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T. Ross, William
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn) & St. Pncs, S.) Short, E. W.
Craddook, George (Bradford, S.) Johnson, James (Rugby) Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Grossman, R, H. S. Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech (Wakefield) Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Darling, George (Hillsborough) Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Skeffington, A. M.
Davies, Harold (Leek) Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Slater, J. (Sedgefield)
Davies, Stephen (Merthyr) Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Deer, G. Lawson, G. M. Sorensen, R. W.
de Freitas, Geoffrey Ledger, R. J. Sparks, J. A.
Delargy, H. J. Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Spriggs, Leslie
Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch) McAlister, Mrs. Mary Steele, T.
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. McCann, J. Stonehouse, John
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) MacColl, J. E. Stones, w. (Consett)
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) McKay, John (Wallsend) Swingler, S. T.
Fitch, Alan McLeavy, Frank Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Fletcher, Eric Mallalleu, E. L. (Brigg) Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Foot, D. M Mann, Mrs. Jean Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)
Thornton, E. White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint) Woof, R. E.
Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn Williams, W. R. (Openshaw) Zilliaous, K.
Viant, S. P. Winterbottom, Richard
Wells, William (Walsall, N.) Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Mr. Wilkins and Mr. Simmons.
Agnew, Sir Peter Gammans, Lady Mathew, R.
Aitken, W. T. Garner-Evans, E. H. Mawby, R. L.
Alport, C. J. M. Gibson-Watt, D. Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.
Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton) Glover, D. Medlicott, Sir Frank
Arbuthnot, John Glyn, Col. Richard H. Nabarro, G. D. N.
Armstrong, C. W. Graham, Sir Fergus Nairn, D. L. S.
Ashton, H. Green, A. Noble, Michael (Argyll)
Baldwin, Sir Archer Cresham Cooke, R. Nugent, G. R. H.
Barber, Anthony Grimond, J. Page, R. G.
Barter, John Harris, Reader (Heston) Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)
Baxter, Sir Beverley Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Partridge, E.
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Peel, W. J.
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Henderson, John (Cathcart) Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth
Bidgood, J. C. Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W. Pitt, Miss E. M.
Biggs-Davison, J. A, Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton) Pott, H. P.
Bingham, R. M. Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Powell, J. Enoch
Bishop, F. P. Hirst, Geoffrey Prioe, David (Eastleigh)
Black, Sir Cyril Hobson, John(Warwick & Leam'gt' n) Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)
Body, R. F. Holland-Martin, C. J. Rawlinson, Peter
Bossom, Sir Alfred Hope, Lord John Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A. Hornby, R. P. Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)
Boyle, Sir Edward Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire) Roper, Sir Harold
Braine, B. R. Hughes-Young, M. H. C. Russell, R. S.
Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.) Hutchison, Michael Clark (E'b'gh, S.) Sharpies, R. C.
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H. Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh, W.) Spearman, Sir Alexander
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Hutchison, Sir James (Scotstoun) Speir, R. M.
Brooman-White, R. C. Iremonger, T. L. Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)
Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton) Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Storey, S.
Burden, F. F. A. Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Summers, Sir Spencer
Carr, Robert Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)
Channon, P. Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Temple, John M.
Chichester-Clark, R. Johnson, Erio (Blackley) Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.) Joseph, Sir Keith Thompson, R. (Croydon, S.)
Cole, Norman Kerr, Sir Hamilton Tilney, John (Wavertree)
Conant, Maj. Sir Roger Kershaw, J. A. Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Cooper, A. E. Kirk, P. M. Vickers, Miss Joan
Cooper-Key, E. M. Lagden, G. W. Vosper, Rt. Hon. D. F.
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Lambton, Viscount Wade, D. W.
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Leavey, J. A. Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)
Cunningham, Knox Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Wall, Patrick
Dance, J. C. G. Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.) Ward, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Worcester)
Davidson, Viscountess Linstead, Sir H. N. Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)
Deedes, W. F. Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Webster, David
Digby, Simon Wingfield Longden, Gilbert Whitelaw, W. S. I.
Dodds-Parker, A. D. Loveys, Walter H. Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA. Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
du Cann, E. D. L. Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Duncan, Sir James Maclean, Sir Fitzroy (Lancaster) Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Elliott, R. W. (Ne'castle upon Tyne, N.) Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax) Woollam, John Victor
Errington, Sir Eric Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)
Farey-Jones, F. W. Maddan, Martin
Fell, A. Markham, Major Sir Frank TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Finlay, Graeme Marlowe, A. A. H. Mr. Redmayoe and Mr. Bryan.
Fisher, Nigel Marshall, Douglas

Amendments made: In page 4, line 18, leave out from "closet" to "and" in line 19.—[Mr. Mitchison.]

In page 4, line 18, after "closet", insert: in or contiguous to the dwelling".—[Mr. Mitchison]

In page 4, line 34, at end add: (4) An application under this section shall not be entertained if it relates to a dwelling provided after the end of the year nineteen hundred and forty-four.—[Mr. Bevins.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause as amended, stand part of the Bill.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. E. Fletcher

I do not think that anybody can pretend to be very happy with the Clause as it now stands. We have made a number of Amendments to it, and we have put forward a number of other Amendments which neither the Minister nor the Parliamentary Secretary really understood but which, at any rate, they promised to examine, some sympathetically and others not so sympathetically. There have appeared on the Order Paper also certain Amendments which were not called and which, therefore, can be dealt with only inferentially but which, nevertheless, give rise to matters which fall within the purview of the examination which the Minister promised to give the Clause between now and the Report stage.

There is one important aspect of the Clause which has not had any discussion, at any rate, not while I have been in the Chamber. I mean subsection (3). I hope that, before the Report stage, the Government will consider the effect which that subsection will now have as a result of the Amendment made in the earlier part of the Clause. As the subsection stands, as I understand it, it operates to provide that no application to a local authority for an improvement grant under this part of the Bill may be made unless the applicant specifies to the local authority that, in addition to the particular amenity he wants to introduce into the dwelling, the dwelling is already provided"— I will just say in parenthesis that I am not sure that I know what "provided" means— with the remainder of the amenities. I do not regard that as a good provision in itself. I am not sure whether my hon. Friends will agree with me, but I myself do not believe that it should be a prerequisite of the making of a grant to a landlord who wants to introduce one particular amenity Into an old house that all the other standard amenities should have been provided. In my view, in a great many cases, particularly in the antiquated buildings in Islington, it just is not practicable.

I ask the Minister to bear in mind the practical application of this part of the Bill. The standard type of house with which I am familiar in my constituency is a house built about 100 years ago, very often not with a bathroom at all, because in those days it was not common to put in bathrooms as we now know them. Very often, there was no water closet. If there was a water closet attached to the house, it was very often outside it. Those houses were intended for occupation by one family. Today, most of them are occupied by three or four families, and it is not uncommon for all the families to share the one water closet in the house. Some of the houses have a bathroom and some have not.

The difficulty with which local authorities will be confronted in applying it is that it does, throughout, speak of dwellings and not houses.

I assume that the word "dwelling" has the meaning given it in the Housing Act, 1957, with the result that in practice a great many houses consist of three or more dwellings, and it is not uncommon for the landlord to occupy one of the dwellings in the house and to sub-let two other dwellings in the same house. There will be many cases in which it is possible and, of course, desirable that the landlord should add some amenity to the house, such as a bathroom, water closet or facilities for storing food in one or other of the dwellings of the house, and if he wants to do that he ought to be encouraged to do it. But I should not have thought that he would be encouraged to do it if it is made obligatory upon him as a condition of doing it to add at the same time to each of the dwellings all the other standard amenities, because in some cases that would not be possible. In many houses it would be possible to provide a bathroom, but not possible for structural reasons to provide a water closet, or vice versa.

Since the Bill was introduced considerable variations have been made to provisions in paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d) of subsection (1). For example, we have now provided that the water closet should be in or contiguous to the dwelling. But if an old house is divided into three dwellings it may be impossible to provide a water closet in each of them. If there is one in the house at present it might be possible to add a second, but not physically possible to add two more water closets and it might be possible in the other dwellings to add a bathroom or facilities for storing food. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will appreciate that there is not much sense in discouraging such landlords by making a condition of what they want to do something which they cannot possibly do.

We have heard a great deal about hot water supply, but we have not been told clearly what a hot water supply is. I think that we all know what a bathroom is, and most people know what a water closet and kitchen sink are.

Mr. Ede

Except the draftsmen.

Mr. Fletcher

Yes, except the draftsmen. But what is a hot water supply? [An HON. MEMBER: "Something which supplies hot water."] We sought to define that by saying that a hot water supply should be connected to a bathroom and kitchen sink. However, that was resisted.

I want the Minister to apply his mind to the facts. We find that a great many houses with three dwellings, one above the other, are heated by a fire in the ground floor dwelling. If the fire in the ground floor dwelling is sufficiently stoked, it will heat a boiler in a bathroom which may be in the same house but in a different dwelling. At the moment, that bathroom is often shared by the three families.

In some circumstances, that sharing arrangement works all right, but in other circumstances it does not. It may well be possible to provide these other amenities in each of the dwellings but it might not be possible, and might even not be necessary, to provide a separate bathroom in each of the dwellings. What is essential, however, is something much more important. The ground floor dwelling may contain the fire which, if properly stoked, provides a hot water supply in the dwellings upstairs. It is important that that hot water supply should continue to function.

If, as frequently happens, the source of the hot water supply is in one room of the house and provides the hot water for the dwellings on the upper floors, is that a hot water supply in the upper dwellings for the purpose of Clause 4? Obviously, it is not an effective hot water supply unless it continues to function. Its operational function is not something which can be controlled by the occupant of the dwelling in which the bathroom is situated, but is within the control of the occupant of a dwelling below.

Though these matters may seem abstruse to some hon. Members, they are fundamental human problems which confront a great many of my constituents and people living in London. Therefore, the practical problem is to ensure that the hot water supply is always functioning. If that is provided for, it is unreasonable to discourage landlords from providing other amenities by insisting that they should go to either the expense or the trouble of attempting to do something which is highly difficult, if not impossible, that is, providing separate self-contained hot water supplies all over the house.

Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)

One agrees with the hon. Member that if a hot water supply which starts in the basement of a house is not kept up, there cannot be an effective hot water supply in the upper floors unless they have an independent hot water supply. One agrees with that and it seems unnecessary to state it. I should have thought that all this was covered. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Perhaps not, although I should have thought it was covered by Clause 5 (2).

Mr. Fletcher

Obviously the hon. Member has not heard what I have been saying—

Mr. Gibson

He has not been here.

Mr. Fletcher

—or he would know that it is not covered. The hon. Member cannot be aware that local authorities, which will have to operate the terms of the Bill and apply them strictly and will want to apply them sympathetically, will be gravely handicapped unless some of these real problems are understood in the drafting of the Bill and are translated into reality. For these reasons, I hope that before we reach Report stage these practical problems will be considered and that, if necessary, the Bill will be very much amended so that these obscurities and uncertainties can be removed.

Mr. MacColl

It has been a very moving experience to participate in this great Legislature wrestling with these vital, important and fundamental issues that we have been discussing on the Clause. It is with great reluctance that I introduce a rather jarring note into the harmony of the proceedings. I find myself in disagreement with both the Government and my own party on the Clause. I do not know whether I am to regard myself as the only man in step or as the only righteous man in Sodom. Whichever it is, I am apparently a lonely figure.

9.30 p.m.

I think it is deplorable that the Government should be mandatorily directing local authorities to spend ratepayers' money without any discretion at all, without giving them any opportunity of exercising the judgment which the electors have given them to safeguard the funds which they collect from the public. It is a fundamental principle of democracy that people who pay rates and elect people to supervise the rates are entitled to expect those representatives to have the right to decide how that money should be spent. If that is not a fundamental principle of representative democracy I do not know what is.

I am a very modest and humble man, and I am prepared to admit that I may conceivably be wrong, but it seems to me that the practice of the relationships between the central Government and local government in the past has universally been quite clear. The central Government pass certain laws and place certain responsibilities on local authorities. If local authorities habitually fail to carry out those provisions, those directions given to them, there are default Sections in the Acts as there are default Sections in the Housing Act enabling the central Government to hand over the powers to another authority or to place commissioners in charge, or to carry out some act of that sort. I know of no case where the local authority has been converted into a kind of corporate cash register to which anybody is entitled to come along and press the button, and out of the cash register comes £150 of public money to be spent on a private house.

I want to see—I am sure everybody wants to see—a water closet in every home. I recognise the political implications of this Clause as a slogan. We are about to face the heat of a General Election. We can already hear the Tory battle cry, "Every voter a Tory and every Tory in a water closet." I understand that those wise and prudent men who preside over the destinies of my party feel that it is dangerous to resist a cry of that sort. I recognise that, and therefore I recognise that I am in a hopeless minority. However, I feel that I should make my own position clear, that in this situation, with this frantic attempt to rush a Bill through for Election purposes, there is a very important constitutional principle which is being overridden.

There must be some tremendous reason why it is necessary to mandate a local authority to do this. We have been told by my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks), who has very great experience in these matters, that the local authorities have been doing this slowly. That may be true, I think some local autho- rities have been very dubious whether it is the right thing to do with public money, whether it is a reasonable thing for public men to do. I am quite prepared to think that if they feel that they may be wrong. I am not arguing the merits of it. I am simply saying that it is a reasonable point of view for responsible public men to take, that it is wrong to put public money into other people's property. If public representatives take that line it is possible by means of circulars, by the means of persuasion through the democratic processes which are open, to persuade them that they are wrong.

However, I think there is another reason why the local authorities have not always worked the existing legislation as much as they might have, and that is because there has, I think, been a great deal of unwieldy bureaucracy in the right hon. Gentleman's own Department. I think that most people on local authorities have found cases where, owing to the hidebound administration of the right hon. Gentleman, if I may use that description, local authorities, even when they have wanted to do work of this sort, have not been able to do it.

I heard of a case only the other day in Kensington. It concerned a friend of mine. It was not connected with the fundamentals referred to in this Clause, but it was a case of prudent housing procedure. He got his proposals approved by the Kensington Borough Council. Because it was necessary for the right hon. Gentleman to exercise his discretion to waive a restriction the work was not allowed to be done, because the right hon. Gentleman would not exercise his discretion.

The right hon. Gentleman reserves that sort of discretion to stop local authorities using the powers which they already have and at the same time refuses to give them power in this respect to exercise their discretion. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner), for example, is concerned with the saga of Mr. Brady. Mr. Brady can go along to any housing authority in the country and, providing that a house comes up to the minimum standards of the Housing Act, the local authority has no discretion to say, "We will not touch it with a barge-pole. We are not satisfied that the house will be properly used." Mr. Brady has the power to say to the local authority, "You must cough up public money with no questions asked."

My hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) produced yesterday an embryo Mr. Brady, a gentleman who is growing up aspiring to the stature of Mr. Brady. In the same way, that gentleman will be able to go to his local authority and, provided that the letter of the law is fulfilled, an elected public authority will have no discretion left to it at all as to what it should do with public money. That is a shocking state of affairs for us to have got into. I say with regret that it is unfortunate that the House of Commons, unanimously and without a word, has sanctioned the incursion of this entirely new principle into local government legislation. It is something that we shall rue very much in future.

I warn hon. Members opposite that it is a principle which will not be lost on my right hon. and hon. Friends after the next General Election, because it will be a splendid principle and a splendid precedent to quote—that it is right to direct the local authority on how to carry out public duties placed upon it by the legislature. This will not be lost on my hon. Friends. It will be a precedent which hon. Members opposite will live to regret bitterly.

Mr. Gibson

There is a very unfortunate aspect of the housing problem which is in no way touched upon in the Bill. By definition, the Bill will deal only with houses which have been erected before 1919. That means that the youngest of them is at least forty years old, and there are hundreds of thousands of them in London alone which are seventy, eighty, ninety years old and more. A very large proportion of these houses suffer from severe rising damp. There is nothing in the Bill to encourage landlords to cure that defect.

I am not surprised, because the Rent Act was carefully framed so that a tenant could not obtain a certificate of disrepair by reporting rising damp. Everyone who has visited these houses knows that they were built without damp courses, because in most cases there were no regulations in those days requiring them to be provided. There is hardly anything that one can do now to stop the rising damp completely, but it might be possible to hold it back a little.

My hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) has said that we shall pour large sums of public money into these pre-1919 houses. In that event, I should have thought that one of the things which we should have tried to do was to make the houses more habitable by dealing with this trouble of rising damp in property where, frequently, the walls are damp from the basement to the top floor, with paper and distemper pealing off. Apparently that is not thought of in the standard amenity conditions which have to be applied under this Bill.

Sir James Duncan (South Angus)

Is not that kind of thing covered by Clause 5 (2)?

Mr. Gibson

I wish it were. I have tried to get houses in my constituency condemned as unfit to live in where all the ground floor walls were very damp through rising dampness, and the local medical officer has told me that it is impossible to condemn them as unfit to live in and that there is nothing he can do.

Sir J. Duncan

Clause 5 (2) states that the houses must last for fifteen years, but, according to the hon. Gentleman, at the end of fifteen years they will have rotted away.

Mr. Gibson

That is the point. As the law stands we cannot condemn those houses, yet the Government are to allow owners to put in amenities to improve them slightly, perhaps by putting in a bathroom which may or may not have hot water in it—and, indeed, does not necessarily have cold water either—or a water closet inside or outside the dwelling. Or they can provide what are called satisfactory facilities for storing food. I would like to ask what that means. I remember that on one occasion, when, in Committee upstairs, we were defining what were satisfactory storage facilities for food, we took many hours to reach a decision. It is clear to me that a large number of the houses which the Bill will affect, and at which it is aimed, are suffering from severe dampness which makes them very uncomfortable, and, from the point of view of health, dangerous to live in, yet the owners are not to be encouraged to get rid of that dampness.

My other point is concerned with subsection (2), which states: The Minister may by order vary the class of amenities which are the standard amenities for the purposes of this Part of this Act. What does that mean? If it means that the Minister may add to the list of amenities, I am happy, but I am not sure. Can we have an assurance that the following will not happen: that by order the Minister can reduce the number of amenities which this Bill says the owner can give and, as a result, receive public money to the extent at any rate of half of the £150? The Committee and the country are entitled to know this.

I doubt whether the Bill will do very much to improve housing conditions in the country generally, but if it will I wish it luck. What I am annoyed about, and what I think the country will be annoyed about, is that we shall give considerable sums of money, if the Bill works at all, to owners who ought to have done their duty long before this by putting such amenities into the houses for which they are drawing rents, and for which they have recently been able to double and sometimes treble the rents they have drawn.

Mr. Reynolds

There are one or two points to which I want to refer. One can safely say that it is one of the most ambiguously worded Clauses one has ever seen, and that in years to come it will cause untold trouble to a large number of local authorities who will have to look at the plans and proposals they receive and will have to try to reach some conclusion as to whether or not they come within the ambit of the Clause, knowing full well that if they refuse the proposals, they are liable to be hauled before the courts by the proposers in an attempt to reverse the decision.

I want to refer particularly to one condition which will make it almost impossible for much work to be done in my constituency under this Clause. I am referring to paragraph (a) which reads: a fixed bath or shower in a bathroom … That is fairly clear except that it does not say whether there is to be a water supply to the fixed bath, though apparently it is to be in the bathroom. This legislation will make it difficult in a large number of places for advantage to be taken of the proposals in the Clause.

9.45 p.m.

In many parts of London, particularly in my constituency and other parts of the Borough of Islington there are old houses which have not sufficient accommodation to enable one to take a room and decide to use it as a bathroom. I cannot understand why in this legislation, when the Minister would have us believe that this is to be a lower standard of improvement grant than we have previously had, the standard in respect of baths is being made higher. The 1949 Housing Act laid down that in order to secure an improvement grant under that Measure there must be provided a fixed bath preferably in a separate room. In spite of the very high standard called for by the 1949 Act, a separate bathroom was not insisted upon. Now that we are reducing the standard in order to ensure that more work shall be done we are apparently to insist upon a separate bathroom. In a large number of cases it will be impossible to comply with this requirement.

On the other hand, it may well be possible to fix a bath with a hot water supply in a scullery, which is better than not having a fixed bath. In a number of older houses which have large bedrooms it might be possible to have a modern shower cabinet in a bedroom corner. While I agree with the Minister that it is better to have a bath or shower in a separate room if possible, a bath in a scullery or a shower cabinet in another room is better than not having any bath or shower in the house.

I hope the Minister will ensure that local authorities will not be forced to make a grant for the installation of a hot water system unless the water is heated by some appliance which will be recognised under the various clean air regulations that local authorities wish to make. We do not wish to see local authorities providing public money for the installation of boilers and then a few years later having to pay more public money to convert the boilers to comply with the clean air regulations.

Mr. Cole

I commend my right hon. Friend for the very earnest effort that he has made in connection with these improvement grants. There are some innovations in the Clause, and I think they will help towards what we want to see, which is the improvement of many houses which but for these grants would not be properly or fully occupied. We should give the Clause our support.

The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) said that a local council would have to look at an application to see whether it complied with the requirements stated at the beginning of Clause 4. The hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) spoke as though the local authority would have no discretion whatever and would, as it were, merely have to put a rubber stamp on an application. The two arguments are mutually contradictory. I would call the attention of hon. Members, particularly hon. Members opposite, to the very important words towards the end of subsection (1), where it is stated that the application must be made—that is obvious—and that it must be approved by the local authority. In the last half hour, it has constantly been said that local authorities will have no say in whether approval should be given.

Mr. MacColl

We must not anticipate the next Clause, but the hon. Member will find in Clauses 5 (4) that if a local authority disapproves of an application, it must give its reasons in writing. It will thus be subject to a writ of mandamus, or something like that, if it refuses an application.

Mr. Cole

If the reasons for disapproving an application were good enough, the local authority would win its case. I was thinking that there would be an appeal to the Minister, and I cannot see the Minister taking a view different from that of the local authority if its reasons were sound.

We must attach sufficient importance to the approval of a local authority. If an applicant does not think that his case is good enough, if he is turned down by the local authority after having made an application, he will be the last person in the world to start a court action on something which he knows to have a bad foundation. I commend the Clause since I think that it will help towards the object which we all have in mind.

Mr. A. Evans

I hope that I may be allowed to offer some solace to my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) for the lonely path which he has taken on the Clause. The Minister has laid down that a local authority shall do certain things. That might have been reasonable if the Minister had carefully considered those things, but it is evident that the details have not been carefully studied.

Local government officials have informed me that they find it difficult to see how these provisions will operate in practice. The Minister has denied them the necessary discretion. I hope that in future he will consult very closely with local government officers who have to operate provisions of this kind before he inserts mandatory requirements in a Bill. He would have done well to have consulted local government officials as closely as he consulted building societies on the earlier provisions of the Bill. He would have received practical advice and the Clause would have been more workmanlike as a result.

I hope that he will bear in mind the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes and remember that any shackling of local authorities is to be deplored and that local authorities must be allowed full discretion in their public duties.

Mr. H. Brooke

The Government are anxious to work as closely as possible with local authorities in furthering a common aim. The Government's approach to the problem is perfectly simple. It is that we must find ways and means of stimulating the progress of the improvement work on older houses.

In 1949 certain provisions relating to improvement and conversion grants were put on the Statute Book, but they were so unsuccessful that after five years no more than about 10,000 grants in all had been made. When he held my present office, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister piloted through the House the 1954 Measure, which had a most valuable effect in stimulating the making of these improvements. As compared with 10,000 grants in five years under the Labour Government's legislation, under the 1954 legislation grants have been running at an average rate of between 30,000 and 40,000 a year. That is an immense improvement, but it is not enough.

The Government are bringing forward these fresh provisions to try to raise that figure substantially. The Opposition seem to be divided in their view. The hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) is, as he said, out on a limb, by himself. He does not seem concerned that improvement is not going forward as fast as it should in the Government's view. We are concerned about it and we intend to do something about it.

Mr. MacColl

The right hon. Gentleman should not have said that. I made it quite clear that I was in favour of the full use of these powers. What I object to is that the right hon. Gentleman, in a state of election panic, is cutting across the proper constitutional relations between central and local government.

Mr. Brooke

I know that the hon. Member can think of nothing except the results of the election, but hon. Members on this side of the Committee think about the good of the people.

Mr. A. Evans

On a point of order. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to me to be about to embark upon an election speech. He said that the Government were concerned with the good of the people. Would it be in order for the right hon. Gentleman to pursue that election speech?

The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Gordon Touche)

I must hear the right hon. Gentleman's speech before I can object to what he is saying.

Mr. Brooke

Despite the delay which the Opposition are seeking to cause, we are trying to get upon the Statute Book a Clause which is designed to improve the housing conditions of the people. The Opposition must make up their minds about this matter. Their Amendments have sought to tighten the conditions, and in view of some of the speeches made by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. A. Evans), and others, I am beginning to wonder whether we were right to accept the Opposition Amendment to insert the words: for the exclusive use of its occupants". Immediately we accepted it the hon. Member for Islington, East explained that if one insisted upon a provision of that kind in his constituency it was liable to hold up the work on these improvements. Nevertheless, I believe that it was right to accept the Amendment, and I also think that we ought to insist that all the standard amenities should be provided before a grant for any of them is made. That is an essential part of the task of improving houses.

The hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) asked what we meant by varying the class of amenities. From the point of view of the Government, any variation would be limited to extending the list. I do not know whether the hon. Member had in mind that a Labour Government might somewhat reduce the list of standard amenities which were considered necessary.

I can certainly say that any wise owner would wish to instal a hot water system which was not going to produce a smoky atmosphere, because I trust that his borough, and other boroughs in the big cities, are going ahead with the introduction of smoke-controlled areas. If they do so an owner will be imposing expenditure upon himself as well as upon the local authority if he has subsequently to alter the hot water system to make it smokeless.

Having sought to get the Government to agree to a restrictive Amendment to the Clause, which would have prevented the standard grant being made unless all the dwellings in a particular house were being improved at the same time, the hon. Member then asked whether we could not loosen up in another direction, and give a standard grant even though the shower was not in a separate room. We must make up our minds one way or the other, and if we are to have this system of a standard grant it seams to me that we should impose certain conditions, and make sure that for all the dwellings in the house in which the standard amenities are being put the result will be a satisfactory one.

10.0 p.m.

I deny absolutely the allegation against my Department, made by the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl), that by bureaucracy and red tape we have sought to hold up local authorities who have been seeking to give improvement grants. On the contrary, our policy is to treat these cases on their merits. But it is necessary that the conditions laid down in the Statute should be observed. If the hon. Gentleman for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) thinks that any of these conditions for the standard grant are too restrictive, let me remind him that it will still be open to anybody to continue to apply for the old type of improvement grant which will not be so tightly bound round by conditions. There is no difficulty about that.

Here, we are seeking to add another facility in such a way that it is likely to be used, and that there will not be any unreasonable hold-up in the making of grants. If this Clause fulfils my hopes and expectations, we shall see that figure of 35,000 a year for old improvement grants rise rapidly to a considerably higher figure.

Mr. Mitchison

The right hon. Gentleman has only himself to thank for provoking me into doing what I did not intend to do, into saying a word or two more at the end of this discussion. I have never heard a larger collection of unbelievable inexactitudes in any one speech. I think that the "plum" of the moment was when the right hon. Gentleman laid his hand on his heart—if any—and declared that all he cared for was the good of the people. That a Minister and a Government who have been responsible successively for the Rent Act and for the failure of the general need housing subsidy, and then for the introduction of the general grant, should seriously suppose that they have done anything whatever for the good of the people in the matter of housing, passes the belief of the ordinary man. Let me go one stage further—

The Deputy-Chairman

Order. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will not pursue this too far, because he is going far beyond the terms of the Clause.

Mr. Mitchison

I was led there, Sir Gordon, by having to reply to the right hon. Gentleman. I have to answer what he said.

Returning strictly to the Clause, I say this about it. The practical reason for it is perfectly clear. The right hon. Gentleman said that during a period of about nine years, seven of which—or rather more—have been under Tory Governments, not sufficient use has been made of improvement grants and the Acts providing for assistance in the purchase of houses. That is true, and we all know who is responsible. It is, of course, the Tory-controlled councils who have failed to operate the improvements grants and to give assistance in the purchase and conversion of houses to people who really needed it.

Because we recognise that difficulty, and the existence of the hardship which that difficulty has caused, we have reluctantly accepted the principle that it is time something was done about it. It is not the Labour-controlled councils who have been slow in these matters. They have operated the statutory provisions which they could operate, and so far as they are concerned there is no need for this Clause. It is to help the Government with their own supporters that we do not oppose the Clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.