HC Deb 11 March 1959 vol 601 cc1318-43
Miss Herbison

I beg to move, in page 5, line 17, at the end to insert: not be overcrowded (within the meaning of section seventy-seven of the Housing Act. 1957, which defines overcrowding) and will".

Mr. Speaker

This Amendment might be taken with the corresponding one in Clause 20, page 13, line 34, at the end to insert: not be overcrowded (within the meaning of section forty-nine of the Act of 1950, which defines overcrowding) and will". There can be two Divisions, if they are required.

Miss Herbison

We feel very strongly in Scotland about overcrowding. The Solicitor-General for Scotland will know, as does everyone in Scotland, how serious overcrowding is in our country. We have a very much worse record than any other place in the United Kingdom and almost the worst record of any place in Western Europe. In Committee, two similar Amendments to this were moved, and both were rejected. The Minister of Housing and Local Government said, when rejecting one of those Amendments: But it would be quite wrong to make it a condition of a standard grant that the house shall not be overcrowded when the work is done."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th February, 1959; Vol. 599. c. 710.] The Joint Under-Secretary of State, speaking to the Scottish Amendment on 18th February, said: We feel that we can do no more than leave it to those concerned, the local authorities, to judge each case on its merit in relation to what can or cannot be done by standard grant, deciding whether an application for a grant is a valid one or not. As a housing authority, the authority must do its best to find new homes for those who are in the greatest need."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th February, 1939, Vol. 600, c. 448.] That statement by the Joint Under-Secretary of State might have been made by someone outside Scotland. It is very difficult to reconcile it with representing a constituency in Glasgow.

I want to take up one point, because it contains an argument that we shall be hearing again. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that it was left to those who were concerned, the local authorities, to judge each case. Under the provisions of the Bill the local authority cannot take into consideration questions of overcrowding. If a house satisfies the conditions that it is fit for human habitation and will be so for at least fifteen years, it is obligatory for the local authority to give the standard grant. The reason given by the Joint Under-Secretary of State does not, therefore, hold according to the provisions of the Government's own Bill.

I turn to the other reason given by the Joint Under-Secretary of State and by the Minister. Both suggested that local authorities had power to deal with overcrowding. The obligation is put on local authorities to give the standard grant. When it is found that by giving the amenities a house becomes overcrowded, the local authority can say, "This house is overcrowded", and it must insist upon the tenants being evicted. The Minister and the Joint Under-Secretary of State say, "That is all right. The local authority will find accommodation for the tenants," but that is just not possible. In almost every area that I know in Scotland it is not possible to do so. I am sure that many English hon. Members will confirm that from their constituencies.

There has been much unemployment in Scotland. Redundancies have been caused. In one part of my constituency men have been made redundant who have been living in tied cottages on service tenancies, and they have been told to get out. They have no protection under the law, and they must get out. The local authority tells them and me that the housing position in that village—it is not a city—is such that the local authority can make no promise to find alternative accommodation for the evicted families. It is, therefore, just nonsense for either Minister to suggest that if overcrowding is brought about by the Bill the local authorities can easily find alternative accommodation for the families.

If families are evicted by the powers which local authorities have for dealing with overcrowding, landlords may like that, and they may apply for the standard amenities in the hope that overcrowding will take place. This will ensure that the tenants are evicted, whether or not there is accommodation for them. Landlords, particularly of controlled tenancies, will then be able to sell the houses, getting a much larger sum of money than otherwise. In another part of the Bill the Government, again tender to the landlord, say that landlords will not be forced to pay any part of the standard grant back to the local authority. Under a previous Act by this Government, houses are decontrolled immediately any of the controlled tenancies become vacant. If by overcrowding they become vacant, the very fact that they have these standard amenities will help the owner to get a much higher rent than he might otherwise get.

6.30 p.m.

I come back to the question of overcrowding. We are seriously perturbed about it. The Joint Under-Secretary of State has spoken of the housing record of the Conservative Government. What has that record been? In Scotland, where we have been cursed with the social evil of too small houses—oneroom and two-room houses—this Government, by their form of subsidies, have made it almost impossible for local authorities to build the bigger houses we desperately need. All their actions have been leading to greater overcrowding in Scotland. I beg the Minister and the Solicitor-General for Scotland to have second thoughts on this matter. It is a matter of great importance to many thousands of decent people in Scotland.

Mr. McInnes

I beg to second the Amendment.

I need not reiterate the very strong case made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison). The Solicitor-General for Scotland is aware, as my hon. Friend indicated, that the curse of Scotland is undoubtedly small houses. That applies no only to the older type of property, but to the type of houses being built under this Government. It is a shocking state of affairs that this Government should concentrate on building, to the extent of almost 70 per cent. of the new houses, those of three apartments. In Scotland we have the worst overcrowding problem of any part of Great Britain.

For example, the Solicitor-General knows that in housing standards and size of houses in Glasgow alone 70 per cent. are one-, two- or three-apartment houses, whereas in Birmingham there are only 14 per cent. of that type of houses, in Manchester 10 per cent., and in Liverpool 11 per cent. The percentage of overcrowding in Great Britain, with people living more than two persons to a room, is 3.56 per cent. In perhaps the worst English town, Liverpool, the percentage is 3.56 per cent., but in Glasgow it is 26 per cent. The local authority should satisfy itself before making necessary provision for grant that there will be no overcrowding in a house which qualifies for improvement grant.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

As the hon. Members for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) and Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes) are aware, I know something from personal experience of the housing situation in Glasgow. I agree that overcrowding is a problem which has been with us for a long time and may continue to be with us for some time to come, but I doubt whether that is really relevant to this Amendment.

I shall deal with it perhaps from a slightly legal point of view. It seems that, however well-intentioned the Amendment is, it would drive a carriage and four through the whole provisions of the Bill. Under Clause 20 (2), before any grant is approved: The local authority must be satisfied that … and then, in the terms of the Amendment, that the house concerned will "not be overcrowded". [Interruption.] I am sorry, I was dealing with the Scottish Amendment put down to Clause 20, page 13, line 34. I believe we are discussing both Amendments together and I should like to deal with the Scottish one because I am rather more familiar with that part of the Bill. By that Amendment: The local authority must be satisfied that after the execution of the works specified in the application the dwelling will not be overcrowded".

Miss Herbison

No, "unfit for human habitation".

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I am sorry, I am dealing with the later Amendment, by which the words would be "will not be overcrowded". If we put that in, The local authority must he satisfied that … the dwelling will not be overcrowded", and that puts a tremendous burden and onus on the applicant. How can any local authority be satisfied that when the application is granted there may not be another child, or a grandmother, coming into the house? Any local authority which was in doubt would have to reject the application. One cannot put an onus like that on the applicant if one hopes that the Bill will succeed.

Mr. McInnes

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is abundantly aware that the provision ensures that the local authority must satisfy itself at the time of application that such and such conditions do not exist. That is at the time of application and, therefore, must not presuppose that the authority has to anticipate what the additional family might be in the years ahead.

Mr. A. Evans

On the point made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman about another child coming into the house, if he turns to the definition of overcrowding he will see that, if such a child arrives later, that is allowed for and would not itself cause the house to be overcrowded.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I entirely agree, but I put it rather differently, a child may attain a certain birthday, but equally, a grandmother may come into the house. It puts a tremendous onus on the applicant to have to satisfy the local authority that the house will not be overcrowded, will be in such and such a condition, and so on.

Surely the protection we have written into the Bill—I think wisely—in Committee is that the occupier has to consent in writing to the application. If the occupier or the landlord wants to improve the house, should they not be entitled to do it even if overcrowding might possibly result? After all, we are in a free State. The hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North has been talking about Conservative freedom, which I understand she saw mentioned on a non-glossy poster the other day. If the occupier and the landlord both want to improve property, why should not they be allowed to have that done, even though overcrowding may result.

Mr. MacColl

I do not mind the right hon. and learned Member going backwards, but he is going backwards rather a long way because he proposes virtually to repeal the Housing Act, 1935, in England—I do not know what is the corresponding Act in Scotland—which made overcrowding an offence. Parliament made it an offence whatever the landlord and the tenant might think about it, because they thought that it was a public scandal to permit overcrowding. The right hon. and learned Member now tells us, "If the landlord and tenant agree, why should we worry about it?" It is good to know where the Government stand.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

The Government are standing and will continue to stand. I do not know the situation in England. In Scotland there are provisions making overcrowding an offence after an appointed day, but apart from certain burghs in which the appointed day has been named, overcrowding is not at the moment an offence in Scotland. Once overcrowding becomes an offence or a crime, that will stop overcrowding and we shall not need the overcrowding provision in the Amendment. Overcrowding would be stopped by issuing a summons on the person concerned.

Miss Herbison

If the hon. and learned Member looks at Sections 48 and 49 of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1950, he need read only the rubric. Section 48 reads, Duty of local authority to inspect and to make reports and proposals as to overcrowding. Section 49 contains a definition of overcrowding. From the Solicitor-General's statement one would think that we had been very foolish in passing that Act and that we were taking away liberties in not allowing people to be overcrowded. I advise him to reconsider these matters. Is he also aware that local authorities are very careful, when rehousing their people, to ensure that they are not overcrowded? They stick rigidly to what is laid down in the 1950 Act.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I am fully aware of the problem. Had the hon. Lady turned over the page she would have seen that I was dealing not with Sections 48 and 49 but with Section 50 and was pointing out that the offences in relation to overcrowding take effect only from the appointed day. Except in certain minor respects, broadly speaking there has been no appointed day. If overcrowding were a possible result of the execution of works under the Clause, the remedy in due course would be to deal with it under Section 50 when overcrowding was a crime. The law being as it is and conditions being as they are, if both the tenant and the landlord want an improvement, why should they not have it? The Amendment may well prevent them from having it because of the great burden of proof which would be placed on the applicant.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. Willis

I have heard the Solicitor-General for Scotland reply to debates on many occasions, but I am bound to say that I have rarely heard him as poor as he was today. I think that when he reads the report of what he said he will realise just how poor was the reply which he made to the cogent arguments of my hon. Friends.

I have no desire to repeat those arguments, but, to sum them up, they were that we aimed to prevent an aggravation of the overcrowding problem. That is the object of the Amendment. The Solicitor-General's reply was astonishing. It was that the Government are no longer following the policy of seeking to stop the growth of overcrowding.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

That, I hope, was not what I said and it was certainly not what I intended to convey. I said that we were faced with an overcrowding problem. Even with the houses built in Scotland under this Government, that will probably continue for some time. Heaven knows what will happen if right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are returned to power.

Mr. Willis

We are not discussing what will happen when my right hon. Friends are returned to power. We are discussing what the Solicitor-General told us was the Government's policy in relation to these Amendments. He said that if an owner and an occupier want this improvement, even though it means overcrowding, why should they not have it?

Mr. MacColl

They are paid to make the improvement.

Mr. Willis

The Government hope that they will do it. They are distributing considerable largesse to people who do not need it in order that the improvement may be done. I am surprised that the Solicitor-General, particularly as he represents a Glasgow constituency, should say at the Box, "We are willing to pay people to aggravate the overcrowding situation in Glasgow."

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

That is not what I said. I said that if the tenant wishes to have the amenities he should be entitled to have them under the Bill and should not be hindered by the Amendment, which would deprive him of the amenities which he wants.

Mr. MacColl

Even if he is overcrowded.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

Even if he is overcrowded. Let him have the amenities he wants. The Amendment would take away freedom from the unfortunate tenant, as the Socialists always want to take away freedom. They say that he should be prevented from having what he desires. That is Socialist policy.

Mr. Willis

The Solicitor-General is trying to modify his answer in the light of al examination of it. While I appreciate the political reasons for which he wants to do that, particularly as he represents a Glasgow constituency, if he reads HANSARD tomorrow he will find that he said that the Government were prepared to condone this and to finance it. The Government are financing these improvements to property, and they are anxious to finance them even though they lead to overcrowding. Even though the figure of overcrowding in Glasgow is already 30 per cent., the Government are prepared to see it go higher.

The Solicitor-General's argument was, "Let the people be free. Set them free. Why should we interfere between what the landlord and the tenant desire to do?" There is a very good reason, and it is that we are spending public money. I thought that it was the duty of the House when spending public money to see that it was properly accounted for and, where necessary, to lay down certain provisions to ensure that it was spent in the interests of the community and the welfare of the country. Apparently the Government Front Bench deny that.

So much for the Minister's reply to the first point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) that without these Amendments we should run a serious risk of aggravating overcrowding. The second point raised by my hon. Friend was that unless we accepted the Amendment we ran a considerable risk that the overcrowding could be used for the purpose of getting rid of the tenant by bringing the house within the decontrol provisions of the Rent Act, which would enable landlords to profiteer at the expense of public money. That is what the charge was, and I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North who moved the Amendment, made it very clearly. The sum and substance of it was that unless the Government accepted the Amendment, we should be making it possible for landlords to profiteer at the public expense and out of the expenditure of public money.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman gave no reply to that at all. The reply which he gave us tonight failed to deal with the first point, while, of course, no reply at all was given to the second point made in support of the Amendment. In those circumstances, I sincerely hope that my hon. and right hon. Friends will divide the House.

Mr. MacColl

I do not think that this is a case where Scotland leads England. If I could help the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I would remind him that in the Housing Act, 1936—the English Act—overcrowding was made an offence, subject to an appointed day, just as it is in the 1950 Act, but owing to overcrowding not being such a serious problem in England, it has now been made an offence universally. In Scotland, for the reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes), overcrowding is so serious that only in 1950 was it possible to pass an Act, and, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman told us, the appointed day has not yet been made universal.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman prays in aid the fact that overcrowding is so serious in Scotland that it is not possible to have an appointed day for the whole country, as it is in England, as a very good reason for saying that we should encourage and subsidise increasing overcrowding. The right hon. and learned Gentleman says it is nonsense and just like the Labour Party, which does not believe in freedom, to want to prevent the increase of overcrowding in Scotland because, after all, there is no appointed day to make it universal.

If that is what he said, and if he speaks for the Scottish Office when he says that, I feel more sympathy for my hon. Friends now than I felt for them during the long and weary weeks I have listened to them wrestling with the Scottish Office upstairs, because that cannot be what the Secretary of State intends to do. Is it?

If I may come back to the English position, which is a good deal clearer, my worry, as it is the worry of my hon. Friends who are English Members, is that if a local authority gives one of these improvement grants and creates overcrowding by taking a room out of occupation, the effect will be that it is aiding and abetting the creation of that kind of occupation which is an offence. The present occupation is not an offence, but it would be an offence as a result of the improvement grant. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman appreciates that point, because it is important.

What the Minister said in Committee was that it did not matter, because the local authorities could easily rehouse the people who were displaced from the house. In other words, if the landlord wanted to get rid of a tenant he did not like, say, a Labour Party voter, or something of that sort, all he had to do was to take his grant from the local authority, put a bath in a bedroom, create overcrowding in the house, and go back to the town hall and say "Look, an offence has been created; rehouse these people immediately." Then, whatever the state of the waiting list, according to the Minister's suggestion, the housing committee will have to rehouse these people because they are overcrowded. That is what will happen unless the Amendments are accepted.

For the Minister to suggest that the local authority can rehouse people overcrowded as a result of his own subsidy policy is absolute nonsense. Some local authorities have stopped any building for general need. Certainly, a great many of those I know have stopped it, and the only rehousing that there is available for people displaced as a result of overcrowding are houses which happen to fall vacant casually, and they are not very many.

A good many local authorities which already have a waiting list have put a stop on their waiting lists, and unless people have been on the list for two or three years, they cannot even be considered for rehousing. I know of a case in my own constituency—and I am sure that similar examples could be quoted by all hon. Members who represent industrial constituencies—of a man, his wife and three or four children encamped in one room in a small house. The local authority has admitted that they are shockingly overcrowded, but has said that it saw no hope of rehousing them for a matter of four or five years.

Against that background, we are told by the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the Conservative Party is setting people free. We are told about the right of the landlord and tenant, if they want, to have a bathroom put in the house. They can compel the local authority to make a grant and to have it put in, regardless of the effect on the overcrowding situation in the house. That is putting the clock back to about 1936, because as long ago as 1936 we began to tackle overcrowding as one of the biggest menaces in housing. Now, we are apparently told that it is no longer the policy of the Government, because it is not a question of a local authority exercising its discretion in favour of it, but of its being compelled to do it, whether it wants to do so or not. If we are compelling the local authority to reverse housing policy, as expressed in legislation for over twenty years in England, surely we ought at least to put in a saving Clause and say that it need not do it unless it thinks it is in the general interests that it should be done.

The Minister will not agree to that. He says the local authorities will not have any let out at all. The local authorities are to be compelled to make these grants in order to have a room converted into a bathroom, regardless of its effect on the overcrowded situation in the douse, and regardless of the likelihood of the family being rehoused in other property by the housing committee. The situation is bad enough in all conscience, but the way in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman attempts to defend it simply takes one's breath away. It is about time we had some clearer explanation of whether he is interpreting the policy of the Secretary of State for Scotland correctly.

Mr. A. Evans

I think the Parliamentary Secretary should, in due course, reply to the important points we have made on these Amendments, because this is a very serious matter. Unless this Amendment is put into the Bill, or at some later stage some words to the same effect are included, local authorities will be faced with a very serious position.

They are to be obliged by the Bill, when it becomes an Act, to condone overcrowding, and they will be forced by the Act to become parties to the overcrowding of dwelling-houses. They are to be obliged by the Bill to flout the enactments about overcrowding already on the Statute Book. The Government Front Bench must deal with this matter. We cannot allow this to go through without the Minister giving us a very carefully considered reply, because we see that the Bill will in due course oblige local authorities to countenance and be parties to the flouting of the provisions of the 1957 Act relating to overcrowding. We must insist that the Government face this possibility and either accept the Amendment or promise that some similar words will be inserted at a later stage—perhaps in another place—to meet the point.

7.0 p.m.

It is quite clear that the local authority will have no discretion. The Bill clearly lays down that local authorities must make the grant so long as two conditions are fulfilled. The first is that the house will not be unfit for human habitation, and the second is that the owner has a I5-year interest in it. These conditions having been satisfied, the local authority will be obliged to make the grant even though the house is already overcrowded, or may become so as a result of the improvements.

It is incredible that the Government have not become earlier aware of the false position into which local authorities will be driven, and have not attempted to put the matter right. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will not adopt the argument used by the Solicitor-General for Scotland and tell us that if a house is overcrowded the remedy is simple—the local authority just enforces the overcrowding provisions of the 1957 Act. That will not meet the situation, because he knows, as does his right hon. Friend, that it is impossible for many local authorities in urban areas to enforce those overcrowding provisions. I trust that he will help us to find a way out of the local authorities' dilemma.

Mr. Reynolds

I never thought that in this House I would hear a member of the Government arguing, in effect, in favour of public financial help in the creation of overcrowding. I can imagine past generations of sanitary inspectors virtually spinning in their graves at the thought of such a statement being uttered in this enlightened day and age.

One of the main reasons given by the Solicitor-General for Scotland for finding difficulty in accepting the Amendment was that it would place an unreasonable obligation on the owner or occupier of the property. I do not accept that. Section 78 of the 1957 Act lays down the penalties that can be imposed on persons causing overcrowding. There is already a penalty of £5 for the first offence, and a further fine not exceeding £2 per day for the period during which the overcrowding lasts.

Let us look at the obligations placed on the landlord. Subsection (5) of Section 78 of the 1957 Act says that the landlord of an overcrowded house … shall be deemed to cause or permit it to be overcrowded … if, when letting the house the landlord, or any person effecting the letting on the landlord's behalf, had reasonable cause to believe that it would become overcrowded … or failed to make inquiries of the proposed occupier as to the number, age, and sex of persons who would be allowed to sleep in the house … Therefore, the 1957 Act—and that was a consolidation Measure, some of the provisions of which had been in operation for many years—states that a landlord may be deemed to have committed an offence if he forgets or omits to inquire from incoming tenants how many persons there are in the family, whether or not they are married, and the age and sex of those who are to occupy the property. If we accept that a landlord has committed an offence by his forgetfulness or omission, I do not think it can be said that, when an application is being made for a standard grant, we are putting on the owner of a property an excessive obligation by stipulating that he shall tell the local authority—at the time of the application—just who actually occupies the property, and their age and sex. We cannot, of course, look into the future and decide whether or not the property will be overcrowded in two, three or even ten years' time. This is something that has to be dealt with at the time of the application.

The Parliamentary Secretary represents in this House a part of England and Wales that suffers most from overcrowding. I believe that he has had a certain amount of experience on the council of one of the great cities there. He must realise, although his right hon. Friend the Minister did not appear to realise it in Committee, that for most of the urban authorities it is virtually impossible to take effective action on overcrowding under Sections 77 and 78 of the Housing Act, 1957.

It is not good enough to say that the local authorities already have adequate powers to deal with this problem. My own council of the Metropolitan Borough of Islington has not sufficient housing accommodation at the moment to deal with people living in properties that are the subject of closing or demolition orders, let alone those affected by overcrowding notices. It has to deal with the closing and demolition cases first—they are the worst—but it has not sufficient property vacant to accommodate the people taken out of houses that ought to be demolished or closed. The people have to stay in them until the local authority can scrape together one or two flats to rehouse some of those affected by demolition orders. The Islington Borough Council just cannot look at overcrowded cases at all.

My council is extremely concerned about the situation that will be created. An applicant will be able to demand from the local authority the standard grant for the improvement of property that is either already overcrowded, or—and this is very much more important—will become statutorily overcrowded as the result of the improvement work. Local authorities should not be placed in that position.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland asked why, if the owner of the property and the occupier agree, they should not be allowed to go ahead and have the desired amenities. That could create a profitable racket. A tenant may be half way up the housing list, with not much chance of rehousing at present. The owner will seek his consent to the improvement work. The tenant knows that if one room is taken from him to be converted into a bathrom his points on the waiting list will shoot up and he will stand a very good chance of being quickly rehoused because of his statutory overcrowding.

In those circumstances, he would welcome the improvement, not because it would improve the property but because it would enable him to get further up the housing list and, as it were, jump the queue. At the same time, the landlord would be willing to do the work because he would get vacant possession of that part of the house. That could happen, especially in the congested Metropolitan boroughs of London, and I hope that we shall get at least some concession from the Minister.

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

I should like to give the House a very short justification for the Clause as it stands, but before doing so I think it right to try to dispel one or two of the misunderstandings and misstatements that have cropped up in this debate. It is quite true that I have had some little experience of local government, and my right hon. Friend has had a great deal more. It is equally true, as the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) has said, that certain tricks—some reputable, some less reputable—are practised by people when trying to get houses from local authorities.

Having listened to all the speeches with the greatest sense of objectivity that I can muster, I must say that some of the statements made by hon. Members opposite have almost given me the impression that they are opposed to the execution of any improvement works at all. I am trying to be perfectly fair. That is the impression which several statements from hon. Members opposite have given to my hon. Friends on this side of the House.

The hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) referred to a statement which was supposed to have been made by my right hon. Friend at an earlier stage of the Bill. He suggested that my right hon. Friend had said: "In certain circumstances local authorities can always use their overcrowding powers. They can enforce those powers and they can always re-house the overcrowded families". My right hon. Friend said nothing of the sort. My right hon. Friend said: The hon. Member"— that was the hon. Member for Islington, North— will, of course, grant that many local authorities are able to use these powers now that two million houses have been built in the last seven years. It must not be thought that there is any diminution here in the powers of the local authorities to deal with overcrowding."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th February, 1959; Vol. 599, c. 710.] That was what my right hon. Friend said. That is a very different proposition from the words which were attributed to him by the hon. Member for Widnes.

The hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans) said that in many areas it is not possible for local authorities to enforce the overcrowding provisions of the Housing Acts. I concede at once that in certain areas of the country—certain parts of London and certain Farts of the large provincial cities—that is the case, and that overcrowding undoubtedly exists. Today there is far less overcrowding in these areas than there was seven years ago. Two million additional new houses have been built in the last seven years, all of which have made their contribution to the relief of overcrowding throughout the country.

Mr. A. Evans

With respect to the Parliamentary Secretary, I do not think that on this matter we should enter into a political argument as between the two parties. I asked the hon. Gentleman in my short speech to face the dilemma of the local authorities. The Bill will force them to condone overcrowding. What are they to do?

Mr. Bevins

I am coming to that. I am not trying to escape from any of the arguments that have been advanced during the course of the debate.

The hon. Member for Widnes also asked a rather more serious question as to the position of a local authority which might entertain an application for a standard grant, approve the application and subsequently find that overcrowding exists. His question was whether in those circumstances the local authority might not be held to be abetting the offence of overcrowding in accordance with Section 78 of the Housing Act, 1957. I should like to tell the hon. Member and his hon. Friends that I have studied that question. I confess that when I first looked at it I could see no possibility at all that a local authority in those circumstances would find itself in difficulty. The legal advice which I have received is that there is no real possibility of a local authority in such circumstances committing an offence under the Housing Act. 1957.

May I now turn to the substance of what we have been debating this evening. The Amendment in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) and some of his hon. Friends says quite simply that a local authority must be satisfied that, after the improvements have been carried out, not only shall the dwelling not be unfit for human habitation—I apologise for the double negative—but also that it shall not be statutorily overcrowded. I should like to remind the House that Clause 5 as it stands is so drafted as to ensure that public money is not spent on a house which is not worth improving because it might be pulled down within a period of fifteen years.

The submission that my right hon. Friend made, and I think rightly made, when the point was under discussion at an earlier stage was that overcrowding is essentially a different matter from unfitness, in the sense that overcrowding does not involve the purely physical unworthiness of the house. As was said in the course of earlier debates, the powers of local authorities to deal with overcrowding are completely unimpaired by anything which is given effect to in the Bill.

7.15 p.m.

I have refreshed my memory about what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering and other hon. Members in our earlier discussions, which I thought were a little clearer than the discussions which we have had this evening—though there was complete clarity on this side of the House. The anxiety expressed by hon. Gentlemen opposite was that the works of improvement might produce overcrowding and might, therefore, in certain circumstances, lead to a tenant being evicted. That is a serious argument, to which my right hon. Friend has addressed his attention in recent times. I hope I shall be forgiven if I read to the House a short extract from the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Kettering when this was last discussed. The hon. And learned Member said: I look at this piece of Tory legislation having regard to one thing and one thing only—who will benefit in the long run. The answer in this respect is as clear as daylight. The landlord is equipped with the means of promoting overcrowding if he so wishes. Because the tenant's consent is not required, the landlord is enabled to use the provisions of the Bill to procure overcrowding and get the tenant evicted by the local authority."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th February, 1959; Vol. 599, c. 711 and 712.] In fairness to the Government, the House will agree that in view of the Amendments which have been written into the Bill since that date there can be no serious foundation for the fears that were expressed by the hon. and learned Gentleman. As my right hon. and learned Friend said earlier, we have written into the Bill, both as regards England and Wales and as regards Scotland, a specific provision that an application for a grant must contain the statement that the tenant has given his consent in writing to the application to carry out the standard works.

I submit in all seriousness that no tenant is likely to agree to changes which are likely to lead to overcrowding in his home. Let us take the case of a married couple with two young boys. They may be living in a house with two main bedrooms and a small bedroom, commonly known as a boxroom. They might in those circumstances very well agree to the conversion of the small bedroom or boxroom into a separate bathroom which the house lacked. That would be perfectly reasonable. It would not involve any element of overcrowding. Quite clearly, if in the same family circumstances the house contained only two small bedrooms, the tenant would be most unlikely to agree to the conversion of one of the bedrooms into a bathroom.

I feel that we have to look at this from a common sense and realistic point of view. If I were the tenant of one of these houses, and the landlord came along with proposals to improve the property by the provision of standard amenities, quite clearly I should look at that proposal not only from the point of view of improved amenities in my home, but also from the point of view of requiring for myself, my wife and family, the necessary space and sleeping accommodation. With the best will in the world, I do not think that the Amendment, even if my right hon. Friend were able to accept it, would achieve anything worth while.

I reiterate what my right hon. Friend said when the point was before the House at an earlier stage. It would be quite wrong to make it a condition of giving a grant that there would not be overcrowding when the work is completed. In the overwhelming majority of cases this provision would be unnecessary, but in any case overcrowding, unlike unfitness, can be remedied by the ordinary processes of law and changing circumstances.

For those reasons, which I hope that the House will find acceptable, I hope that the Amendment will not be pressed.

Mr. Mitchison

On the occasion to which the hon. Gentleman refers, I began by saying that his right hon. Friend was putting forward the most monstrous suggestions and by pointing out that overcrowding is a public ill. So it is, whether in Scotland or in England. In 1935 legislation was introduced in Scotland to deal with the housing problems, and it is characteristic of the Scottish position that the Act began by trying to deal with overcrowding. In that Act overcrowding was made a punishable offence, as it is in England.

There was another provision in that Act whereby a stock of houses had to be provided to deal with overcrowding. The reason why the 1950 Act was qualified by provisions about an appointed day was that a day cannot be appointed until half of that stock of houses has been provided. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General for Scotland will look at the end of his own Act, he will find that that is so. It is the most striking testimony to the prevalence of overcrowding in Scotland and to the failure of successive British Governments of all complexions to deal with it, that there are still places in Scotland where, because the houses cannot be provided, overcrowding is not an offence, no appointed day having been made.

On paper we are a little better off in England, but it does not need anyone to tell any hon. Member, and particularly those concerned with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, that in many parts of England overcrowding is a very serious matter indeed. Broadly speaking, in every large town in the country there is quite serious overcrowding, and English legislation provides that it is the duty of local authorities to ascertain what there is, to report upon it, to take steps to abate it, and further to enforce the penalties which English law puts on those who commit it or abet it.

We are told by the right hon. and learned Gentleman that it is all right if the landlord and the tenant both want to be overcrowded; why, therefore, should the Government fail to give public money for the purpose? That, we are told, is Tory freedom. A strange light is thrown upon it from Scotland. We are dealing here with public money. The present position is that a landlord, having his tenant's consent—that has been introduced by Amendment—can go to the local authority and say, "My house fulfils the conditions for a standard grant. There are the conditions laid down in this Act of Parliament. I want a grant." The local authority replies, "But the effect of that. will be that your house will be overcrowded." The applicant says, "Yes, I know that. I know it will be an offence, but let us wait till we come to it. Let us do nothing meanwhile. You have got to provide the public money with which I may commit an offence."

An offence is going to be committed by both the landlord and the consenting tenant. What the Government are proposing to do is not merely to promote the commission of such an offence but to promote it by the expenditure of substantial sums of public money. That, we are told, is Tory freedom. In fact, it is Tory freedom to break the law and to do it at the expense of public money. Those who desire to get overcrowding abated and dealt with, as we on this side of the House do, and who certainly do not wish that public money shall be used for the purpose of promoting overcrowding, are told that we are tyrants and oppressors.

If that is to be the argument, where are we getting to? Overcrowding may be promoted at public expense. What about all the other evils from which our cities have suffered for generations, which the Public Health Acts and the like have been brought in to prevent? Are they, too, to be aided and abetted at public expense? Are Tory Governments going to refuse the granting of public money on the ground that public health is going to be injured, or are they not? It is a precisely parallel state.

Overcrowding has been an offence for public health reasons. It is bad for people to live in overcrowded houses, just as it is bad for people to live in unfit houses. The Government are unable to separate the harm and damage that is done by an unfit house from the equally great harm and damage that may be done by allowing people to live in an overcrowded state in a perfectly good house. If that were treated merely as a matter of speculation, no one would object. We have seen stranger doctrines and thoughts come from the Tory Party. But when they allow public money to be used and refuse to protect the use of public money for what is a criminal purpose, we say that, indeed, Tory freedom leads to some remarkable consequences.

I say "criminal purpose", for look what is going to happen. Take the case which was put recently. A bathroom is put into a house that is full. Any more people added to it or any rooms removed will make it overcrowded. The result of putting in a bathroom is, as everybody knew beforehand, that the house is overcrowded. An offence is being committed by the landlord and the tenant. It is the local authorities' duty to enforce the provisions relating to overcrowding. They will prosecute. Those who finance the commission of the offence are put by the Tory Party in the position of having to prosecute that which they themselves have permitted.

Mr. Bevins

In the case which the hon. and learned Gentleman has just cited, both the owner of the property and the tenant were perfectly well aware that by virtue of the improvement the house would become statutorily overcrowded. In those circumstances—most hypothetical circumstances—the tenant would know that he was running the risk of being evicted from his property.

Mr. Mitchison

We all know that. But the point is that it is said the conditions of the Bill are fulfilled and the local authority, protesting, is not allowed to refuse a standard grant because the Government will not accept the Amendment. Everyone knows that this will lead to overcrowding. We get the absurd result that at the end of the day the local authority is compelled to prosecute for an offence which it had to finance out of public money. Was there ever a more monstrous suggestion put into a Bill?—and that, by the refusal of this Amendment, is exactly what the Government are promoting. Do they really like overcrowding?

We are told that it can easily be remedied. How is it going to be remedied?—by moving people out of the house. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans) said in an earlier debate, where are they to go? I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would consider the

answer to that question? Are there no people at present in London who find it somewhat difficult to get houses, who find that they are driven into unconscionable covenants because of their difficulty in getting houses, who are made to pay too much rent or who have to buy a house simply because there is a great shortage of houses in the Metropolis? Is not the position the same in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and all the large towns? Where are the people to go if, as a result of this Bill, they have to leave their houses in order to avoid committing a criminal offence?

No doubt, the money under this Bill may be well spent, but this is the same Government which has produced this shortage of houses, by decontrolling houses in London and by removing the housing subsidies. The Government must take full responsibility. As for the man driven out because he is a law-abiding person and cannot continue living in a private house, where is he to go?

7.30 p.m.

The Government know perfectly well that they must take full responsibility both for what they are doing now in financing crime out of public money and for the consequences that will happen to the people who have to move out of these houses, because, after all, it still remains crime, is this the sort of expedient that the Government have been driven to? What extraordinary folly—and to do it in the name of freedom. Freedom to commit crime is, of course, a kind of freedom, and we now know what kind of freedom Tory freedom is in this connection.

Question put, That those words be there inserted in the Bill:—

The House divided: Ayes 177, Noes 218.

Division No. 60.] AYES [7.32 p.m.
Abse, Leo Bowles, F. G. Cronin, J. D.
Ainsley, J. W. Boyd, T. C. Crossman, R. H. S.
Albu, A. H. Brockway, A. F. Cullen, Mrs. A.
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Darling, George (Hillsborough)
Awbery, S. S. Brown, Thomas (Ince) Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)
Bacon, Miss Alice Burton, Miss F. E. Deer, C.
Balfour, A. Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) de Freitas, Geoffrey
Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.) Castle, Mrs. B. A. Delargy, H. J.
Benson, Sir George Champion, A. J. Diamond, John
Beswick, Frank Chapman, W. D. Dodds, N. N.
Blackburn, F. Chetwynd, G. R. Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.
Blenkinsop, A. Cliffe, Michael Edelman, M.
Blyton, W. R. Clunie, J. Edwards,Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse)
Boardman, H. Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead) Edwards, Robert (Bilston)
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Corbet, Mrs. Freda Edwards, W.J. (Stepney)
Bowden, M. W. (Leicester, S.W.) Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)
Evans, Edward (Lowestoft) MacColl, J. E. Short, E. W.
Fernyhough, E. Mclnnes, J. Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Finch, H. J. (Bedwellty) McKay, John (Wallsend) Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Fitch, A. E. (Wigan) McLeavy, Frank Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)
Fletcher, Eric MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles) Skeffington, A. M.
Forman, J. C. Mahon, Simon Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfd, E.) Slater, J. (Sedgefield)
Gibson, C. W. Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A. Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Gordon Walker, nt. Hon. P. C. Mason, Roy Snow, J. W.
Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R. Mayhew, C. P. Sorensen, R. W.
Grey, C. F. Mellish, R. J. Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly Mikardo, Ian Sparks, J. A.
Griffiths, William (Exchange) Mitchison, G. R. Spriggs, Leslie
Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Monslow, W. Steele, T.
Hamilton, W. W. Moody, A. S. Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.
Hannan, W. Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.) Sylvester, G. O.
Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.) Morrison, Rt. Hn. Herbert (Lewis'm,S.) Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Hastings, S. Mort, D. L. Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)
Hayman, F. H. Moss, R. Timmons, J.
Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis) Moyle, A. Tomney, F.
Herbison, Miss M. Mulley, F. W. Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Hobson, C. R. (Keighley) Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. (Derby, S. Viant, S. P.
Holman, P. Oliver, G. H. Warbey, W. N.
Howell, Denis (All Saints) Oram, A. E. Watkins, T. E.
Hoy, J. H. Owen, W. J. Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Padley, W. E. Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Palmer, A. M. F. Wheeldon, W. E.
Hunter, A. E. Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.) White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Hynd, H. (Accrington) Paton, John White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Pearson, A. Wilkins, W. A.
Irving, Sydney (Dartford) Peart, T. F. Willey, Frederick
Janner, B. Pentland, N. Williams, David (Neath)
Jeger, George (Goole) Popplewell, E. Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don valley)
Jeger, Mrs. Lena(Holbn & St. Pries, S Pursey, cmdr. H Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)
Johnson, James (Rugby) Randall, H. E. Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)
Jones, David (The Hartlepools) Rankin, John Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)
Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Reid, William Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Kenyon, C. Reynolds, G. W. Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Rhodes, H. Woof, R. E.
King, Dr. H. M. Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Yates, V. (Ladywood)
Lee, Frederick (Newton) Rogers, George (Kensington, N.) Zilliacus, K.
Lindgren, G. S. Ross, William
McAlister, Mrs. Mary Royle, C. TELLERS FOR THE AYES
McCann, J. Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E. Mr. John Taylor and
Mr. J. T. Price
Agnew, Sir Peter Channon, H. P. G. Goodhart, Philip
Aitken, W. T. Chichester-Clark, R. Grant, Rt. Hon. W. (Woodside)
Alport, C. J. M. Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.) Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)
Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton) Cole, Norman Green, A.
Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William Cooke, Robert Grimond, J.
Arbuthnot, John Cooper-Key, E. M. Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)
Armstrong, C. W, Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.
Ashton, H. Corfield F. V. Gurden, Harold
Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M. Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Hall, John (Wycombe)
Baldwin, Sir Archer Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E. Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)
Balniel, Lord Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) Harris, Reader (Heston)
Barber, Anthony Crowder, Petre (Ruisiip—Northwood) Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)
Barlow, Sir John Currie, G. B. H. Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)
Batsford, Brian Davies, Rt.Hn. Clement (Montgomery) Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)
Beamish, Col. Tufton Deedes, W. F. Hay, John
Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) de Ferranti, Basil Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel
Bennett, F. M. (Torquay) Digby, Simon Wingfield Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.
Bennett, Dr. Reginald Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA. Henderson-Stewart, Sir James
Biggs-Davison, J. A. Doughty, C. J. A. Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.
Bingham, R. M. Drayson, G. B. Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)
Bishop, F. P. du Cann, E. D. L. Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)
Black, Sir Cyril Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond) Hill, John (S. Norfolk)
Body, R. F. Duncan, Sir James Holland-Martin, C. J.
Bossom, Sir Alfred Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West) Holt, A. F.
Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan) Eillott, R. W. (Ne'castle upon Tyne.N.) Hornby, R. P.
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A. Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.
Braine, B. R. Errlngton, Sir Erie Horobin, Sir Ian
Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.) Farey-Jones, F. W. Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H. Fell, A. Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Finlay, Graeme Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)
Brooman-White, R. C. Fisher, Nigel Howard, John (Test)
Bryan, P. Galbraith, Hon. T. C. D. Hughes-Young, M. H. C.
Bullus, Wing Commander E. E. Gammans, Lady Hurd, Sir Anthony
Burden, F. F. A. Garner-Evans, E. H. Hutchison, Michael Clark(E'b'gh, S.)
Butcher, Sir Herbert Glover, D. Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark(E'b'g'h, W.)
Campbell, Sir David Glyn, Col. Richard H. Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry
Cary, Sir Robert Godber, J. B, Iremonger, T. L.
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles Shepherd, William
Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Nairn, D. L. S. Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Neave, Airey Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)
Johnson, Erie (Blackley) Noble, Comdr. Rt. Hon. Allan Spearman, Sir Alexander
Joseph, Sir Keith Noble, Michael (Argyll) Speir, R. M.
Kerr, Sir Hamilton Oakshott, H. D. Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)
Kimball, M. O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.) Stevens, Geoffrey
Leather, E. H. C. Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)
Leavey, J. A. Osborne, C. Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)
Leburn, w. G. Page, R. G. Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm
Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale) Storey, S.
Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Peel, w. J. Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)
Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.) Peyton, J. W. W. Summers, Sir Spencer
Lindsay, Martin (Solihull) Pike, Miss Mervyn Teeling, W.
Linstead, Sir H. N. Pilkington, Capt. R. A. Temple, John M.
Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Pitman, I. J. Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Longden, Gilbert Pitt, Miss E. M. Thompson, R. (Croydon, S.)
Loveys, Walter H. Pott, H. P. Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin
Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby Price, David (Eastleigh) Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)
Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.) Prior-Palmer, Brig. 0. L. Tilney, John (Wavertree)
Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Profumo, J. D. Vane, W. M. F.
Macdonald, Sir Peter Ramsden, J. E. Vosper, Rt. Hon. D. F.
McLaughlin, Mrs. P. Rawlinson, Peter Wade, D. W.
McLean, Neil (Inverness) Redmayne, M. Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax) Rees-Davies, W. R. Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)
Maddan, Martin Remnant, Hon. P. Wall, Patrick
Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle) Ridsdale, J. E. Ward, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Worcester)
Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark) Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley) Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)
Markham, Major Sir Frank Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.) Webster, David
Marlowe, A. A. H. Robson Brown, Sir William Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Marshall, Douglas Roper, Sir Harold Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Mathew, R. Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Maudling, Rt. Hon. R. Russell, R. S. Woollam, John Victor
Mawby, R. L. Sandys, Rt. Hon. D. Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C. Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.
Medlicott, Sir Frank Sharples, R. C. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mr. Gibson-Watt and Mr. Whitelaw.