HC Deb 27 June 1961 vol 643 cc351-62
Mr. MacColl

I beg to move, in page 2, line 7, after "association", to insert: not being an association to which the next following subsection applies".

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)

It may be convenient also to discuss the Amendments in page 2, line 13, at end insert: (2) No subsidies shall be payable to a housing association the funds of which are wholly or mainly provided by an employer for the purpose of providing accommodation for his employees. and in page 7, line 32 [Clause 7], after "association", insert: not being an association to which subsection (2) of section one of this Act applies".

Mr. MacColl

The point of the Amendments is simple and short. Clause 1 deals with the Minister's power to make advances to housing associations. There are varying types of housing associations, and one is the industrial association, which is formed by a company or firm in order to provide houses for its employees, normally with some kind of tied houses. I am in no way quarrelling with the worthy purposes of housing associations and what from their point of view is valuable work, but we said in Committee that we did not think that this was a channel into which public money ought to flow. We said that it was a commercial operation which employers did for their own benefit. I am happy to say, at a quarter past eleven, that that was probably the first issue on which the Government and the Opposition were in entire agreement.

The Parliamentary Secretary said: My right hon. Friend has assured the Committee that Clause 7 schemes are not intended to benefit industrial housing associations. If industrial housing associations or anything based on them are in hon. Gentlemen's minds, I will repeat that Clause 7 schemes are not intended to benefit industrial housing associations."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, Standing Committee D, 9th May. 1961; c. 581.] Accepting that, we have proposed that the law should be what the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister have said it ought to be.

The present loose drafting is unfair to people who turn up Acts of Parliament to find out what are the powers given for the expenditure of public money by an enabling Act, which is what this is, when, in the course of a debate in Committee the Minister lets loose the remark that it is not intended that the Minister should use his powers in this direction. That has no legal authority and puts subsequent Ministers in an awkward position.

11.15 p.m.

How does the Minister get out of an undertaking of that sort? He cannot amend the law, and there is no question of making a Statutory Order; it is, in fact, a purely administrative action, and a subsequent Minister who may think that he has these powers would be in a difficult position because of something which a predecessor might have said when the Bill was going through Parliament. Furthermore, it is unfair to the industrial organisations to find that there is power to get grants, and then, when they go to the Minister, to be told that he does not intend to use the powers. After all, we are supposed to be the guardians of public expenditure, and this is a very reasonable request. We do not want the Minister to have unnecessary powers, and we simply ask that the Bill shall conform with the undertaking which was given by the right hon. Gentleman and supported by his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary All of these Amendments are directed to keeping out of the ambit of the grants, the industrial housing associations which have tied houses

Sir B. Janner

I hope that the Minister will accede to the very moderate request which has been made, especially since we on this side of the House, and, I think, a number of hon. Members on the other side, have emphasised on numerous occasions the great importance of seeing to it that tied houses should not continue in consequence of the associations being set up and that they are not desirable things at all. When it comes to a matter of ascertaining if accommodation is available, it is a hard thing for a person who has a tied house to move to other accommodation. In view of that, it is important that if such houses are erected from which people can be ejected because they are no longer in a particular employment, public money should not be used to subsidise that kind of dwelling.

In view of the undertaking given, it should be specifically stated that this type of association should definitely not be entitled to the grant.

Sir K. Joseph

I do not want, in replying to this group of Amendments, to give a false importance to industrial housing associations and the possibility that they might get a subsidy. At the same time, I must explain in all honesty that there could be circumstances under which they might be entitled to it. [Interruption.] Oh, yes; I am trying to explain.

Mr. MacColl

The hon. Gentleman said "subsidies". I think that we are dealing with loans.

Sir K. Joseph

As I understand it, we are dealing with the subsidy under Clause 2. If the hon. Member is under the impression that we are talking about loans, perhaps he will withdraw this.

Mr. MacColl

I must admit that I became a little confused between the Committee and the House; we are not now in Committee. I think that we are now back in square one.

Sir K. Joseph

There is no question of an industrial housing association being entitled to a loan under Clause 7. My right hon. Friend has already spoken about that point during the Committee stage upstairs. Subsidies fall into two different categories and, as I have just said, as I understand it, it is that with which we are concerned here. They are those for housing associations under authorised arrangements, and the subsidy under special arrangements.

A subsidy under authorised arrangements is by hypothesis a subsidy for a housing scheme which is approved by the local authority as well as by my right hon. Friend. If it occurred that a local authority wanted to make an agreement with an industrial housing association and put up a scheme to my right hon. Friend which it had approved, it would then be open to my right hon. Friend to approve that scheme, in which case the local authority would draw the subsidy and would pass it on, as it always does under authorised arrangements, to the industrial housing association.

I will give the most likely example of that situation. If hon. Members look at Clause 3 (2, a), they will be reminded of the subsidy which is available for the urgent needs of industry—that is both public and private enterprise industry. It could well be that the subsidy that could be drawn under Clause 3 (2, a) might be evoked by a firm's industrial housing association, in which case authorised arrangements with the local authority might be the most suitable arrangement, and a subsidy under Clause 1 (1, d) could be accepted as suitable.

That is one example where an industrial housing association might be entitled —and I think the House would recognise that it might be entitled—to draw a subsidy.

To be scrupulously and pedantically honest, it is proper to remind the House that my right hon. Friend is taking power under this part of the Bill, in the extremely rare case of a local authority going right against public opinion and refusing to co-operate with a beneficial scheme of a housing association, to make a special arrangement. But, as was explained in Committee upstairs, this was a most unlikely and rare contingency. I cannot think of an example now, but there might be a situation in which my right hon. Friend might use the special arrangement procedure, and it might be that that particular housing project was to meet the urgent demands of industry, and it might be that the industry concerned—the National Coal Board with its housing association, or private industry with its private housing association—was operating through an industrial housing association. I think that I am being pedantic about this. It is a conceivably possible situation, but a very unlikely one.

There are therefore those reasons for not removing the discretion in the Bill. I do not want to exaggerate this, but it is a possibility that under certain circumstances such as I have explained an industrial housing association might conceivably be entitled to a subsidy. I hope that with that explanation these Amendments will not be pressed.

Mr. J. Silverman

This is a matter of principle. Under the guise of a housing association an organisation may be constituted purely for carrying on the business of a commercial firm. A firm which builds or buys these houses to let does so primarily—and as far as it is concerned entirely—with the object of attracting a labour force and keeping it. It is a purely commercial transaction carried out by the firm, and as a matter of principle it is wrong that this should be done with public money. That is so whether the local authority agrees or not. There are all kinds of local authorities. Some may, for various reasons, desire to co-operate with commercial firms.

Even if it is for the benefit of an industry, the same considerations apply.

Here is something which is done primarily for profit. It may be done under the guise of a benevolent association, but it is essentially a commercial transaction, and it is wrong in principle that these people should be allowed to have a loan or a subsidy in any circumstances.

I suggest that these Amendments should be embodied in the Bill and that this should not be left to the discretion of local authorities or to anybody else.

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

The House divided: Ayes 86; Noes 150.

Division No. 227.] AYES [11.25 p.m.
Ainsley, William Howell, Charles A. (Perry Barr) Redhead, E. C.
Albu, Austen Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Hoy, James H. Rogers, G. H. R (Kensington, N.)
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Ross, William
Bacon, Miss Alice Janner, Sir Barnett Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Blyton, William Jeger, George Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)
Bowden, Herbert W. (Leics, S. W.) Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)
Bowles, Frank Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Sorensen, R. W.
Brockway, A. Fenner Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Brown, Alan (Tottenham) Kelley, Richard Steele, Thomas
Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper) King, Dr. Horace Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Castle, Mrs. Barbara Lawson, George Stonshouse, John
Cliffe, Michael Lee, Frederick (Newton) Symonds, J. B.
Crosland, Anthony Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.) Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Logan, David Thomas, lorwerth (Rhondda, W.)
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Loughlin, Charles Thomson, G. M. (Dundee, E.)
Davies, Harold (Leek) MacColl, James Thornton, Ernest
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Mapp, Charles Wainwright, Edwin
Delargy, Hugh Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A. Watkins, Tudor
Dodds, Norman Mendelson, J. J. Weitzman, David
Driberg, Tom Mitchison, G. R. Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Edwards, Walter (Stepney) Neal, Harold White, Mrs. Eirene
Evans, Albert Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.) Whitlock, William
Fletcher, Eric Oram, A. E. Wilkins, W. A.
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Parker, John Willey, Frederick
Hannan, William Parkin, B. T. Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)
Hayman, F. H. Peart, Frederick
Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur(RwlyRegis) Pentland, Norman
Herbison, Miss Margaret Prentice, R. E. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Houghton, Douglas Probert, Arthur Mr. Irving and Mr. Short.
Aitken, W. T. Digby, Simon Wingfield Jackson, John
Allan, Robert (Paddington, S.) Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E M. Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)
Allason, James du Cann, Edward Johnson, Eric (Blackley)
Barter, John Duncan, Sir James Johnson Smith, Geoffrey
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Joseph, Sir Keith
Berkeley, Humphry Emery, Peter Kershaw, Anthony
Bidgood, John C. Errington, Sir Eric Langford-Holt, J.
Biggs-Davison, John Farr, John Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Bishop, F. P. Finlay, Graeme Litchfield, Capt. John
Black, Sir Cyril Fisher, Nigel Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)
Bourne-Arton, A. Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Longbottom, Charles
Bowen, Roderic (Cardigan) Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton) Longden, Gilbert
Box, Donald Freeth, Denzil Loveys, Walter H.
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. John Gammans, Lady Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh
Boyle, Sir Edward Glover, Sir Douglas McLaren, Martin
Braine, Bernard Glyn, Sir Richard (Dorset, N.) Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)
Brewis, John Goodhew, Victor Maddan, Martin
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Gower, Raymond Marten, Neil
Buck, Antony Green, Alan Mawby, Ray
Bullard, Denys Gresham Cooke, R. Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Hall, John (Wycombe) Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.
Carr, Compton (Barons Court) Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough) Mills, Stratton
Channon, H. P. G. Harris, Reader (Heston) More, Jasper (Ludlow)
Chataway, Christopher Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles
Chichester-Clark, R. Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Nabarro, Gerald
Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.) Hastings, Stephen Noble, Michael
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.) Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Cleaver, Leonard Hiley, Joseph Page, John (Harrow, West)
Cooper-Key, Sir Neill Hirst, Geoffrey Page, Graham (Crosby)
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Hocking, Philip N. Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)
Corfield, F. V. Holland, Philip Partridge, E.
Curran, Charles Hornby, R. P. Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)
Currie, G. B. H. Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Patricia Peel, John
Dalkeith, Earl of Hughes-Young, Michael Percival, Ian
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Hutchison, Michael Clark Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth
Deedes, W. F. Iremonger, T. L. Pitt, Miss Edith
Pott, Percivall Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick) Wall, Patrick
Price, David (Eastleigh) Smithers, Peter Ward, Dame Irene
Prior, J. M. L. Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.) Wells, John (Maidstone)
Prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir Otho Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm Whitelaw, William
Proudfoot, Wilfred Storey, Sir Samuel Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Pym, Francis Studholme, Sir Henry Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Quennell, Miss J. M. Summers, Sir Spencer (Aylesbury) Woodhouse, C. M.
Redmayne, Rt. Hon, Martin Sumner, Donald (Orpington) Woodnutt, Mark
Rees, Hugh Taylor, Edwin (Bolton, E.) Woollam, John
Ridley, Hon. Nicholas Temple, John M. Worsley, Marcus
Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.) Thompson, Richard (Croydon, S.)
Roots, William Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)
Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard Turner, Colin TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Sharples, Richard Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H. Mr. Edward Wakefield and
Shaw, M. Walder, David Mr. J. E. B. Hill.
Shepherd, William Walker, Peter
Mr. M. Stewart

I beg to move, in page 2, line 11, at end to insert: Provided that, on any occasion on which the Minister withholds his approval he shall state, in writing, to the local authority, development corporation, or housing association as the case may be, his reasons for so doing. There was a punctiliously polite Greek who, at the funeral of his small daughter, felt obliged to apologise to the assembly for bringing it so ridiculously small a corpse for its attention. I feel rather the same about this Amendment. This is not only the most modest Amendment we have proposed, but almost one of the most modest one could conceive to a Bill.

The Government are aware of our motive. It is quite a reasonable one. In the White Paper that preceded this Bill it was made clear that, although there was to be some redistribution of subsidies, it was not expected that the total of the nation's expenditure on housing subsidies would be increased by the Bill. Yet, despite that limitation, we were told much about the help to be given to certain local authorities. The problem was, therefore, how were certain local authorities to be helped if the total expenditure had to remain the same? The answer could only be by a restriction on other authorities.

One of the instruments which the White Paper indicated that the Government would use to that end was a rather more stringent use of the Minister's power of disapproval of a housing project of a local authority than we have experienced hitherto. Of course, if the Minister disapproves a project, no subsidy is payable. This power has been in earlier Housing Acts, but in the White Paper, as I say, we were given to understand that it might be used more stringently in the future. We felt that if that were to be done—it is a rather serious depar-

ture from previous housing policy—the nation ought to be entitled to know on what principles that Minister was acting in withholding or granting approval. Therefore, during the Committee stage proceedings we moved an Amendment that the Minister should make quarterly returns to Parliament of the occasions on which he had refused to approve and his reasons for doing so.

It seemed to us then, and it seems now, quite a reasonable proposition. But the Government turned it down. All we are asking now is that when the Minister withholds approval, he shall tell the person affected—local authority, development corporation, or housing association, as the case may be—in writing why he has done so. We think that this will be a reasonable guide to authorities in the future. They will get a good idea from successive statements of the principles guiding the Minister's actions, and I think that it will be a salutary self-discipline for the Minister. He will have to reflect that if he is considering withholding approval he must be prepared to state in a document—which may later be quoted—why he has done so. It would be a check against unreasonable and arbitrary action.

It is common form in the progress of a Bill to say that nobody suspects the present Minister of being liable to engage in arbitrary action. One always says that of the present Minister on any Bill, whatever the Bill may be about, or whoever may be the Minister, and however improbable the proposition may seem in view of what one knows about the Minister. I say it just to comply with precedent.

I add, of course, that we do not know who may be the Minister in the future and it is not desirable that this power of disapproval—which we have been given to understand is likely to be used more stringently in the future—should be used without any check or without the local authorities and the nation being able to form some opinion of the principles guiding the Minister. I do not believe that the Minister, or the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, can pretend that this Amendment is administratively unworkable, or that it would put an intolerable burden on the Minister, or that it means something quite different from what any reasonable person would suppose it to mean. There is no reason why it should not be accepted.

Mr. Brooke

The very affecting story from the Greek implied to my mind that the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) was not giving his Amendment a very long expectation of life. He moved it most persuasively, and at one time I even thought he was going out of his way to be polite to me, until he inserted those damning words, "whoever the Minister is", implying that his politeness was not directed to me exclusively but was part of the general exchange of the courtesies of Parliament as a whole.

This is an Amendment which comes nearer the mark than the one moved in Committee, but it still misses the target because, as I sought to explain in Committee, the normal stage at which approval would be withheld would not be at the stage of deciding whether subsidy would be payable or not, but at the stage of deciding whether loan sanction would be granted or not. At that stage, which is the critical stage, this Amendment would not bite at all. It would bite only in the rare case where the Minister had agreed to give loan sanction to the erection of a house but subsequently intimated to the local authority that he would not approve it for the purposes of subsidy.

There are certain types of case where that would happen. It would happen when a housing association was building with the help of a loan under Clause 7 for some purpose other than housing old people, but there would be no need there for the Minister to give his reasons in writing because the housing association would know from all that had been said about the scheme that it would not be able to obtain subsidy for that purpose. I suppose there are very rare cases where a local authority might have succeeded in obtaining a loan sanction to build houses for some people avowedly not in need of financial assistance and there would not be need for subsidy, but there again there would not be any reason why the Minister should be put under statutory obligation to put his reasons in writing.

On that account I must advise the House that it would not be an advantage to the Bill if these words were written into it.

Amendment negatived.