§ Again considered in Committee.
I was saying that the families in these houses are scared to go to the tribunal because, like some of them mentioned in the report, they think that they will be given only a week's notice. They do not know the terms under which they can be protected for longer.
What can the local authorities do about this kind of accommodation? Apart from providing alternative accommodation, how can they inspect these houses. There is supposed to be some sort of control over multi-occupied premises, but my own local authority, 525 at the last health committee meeting, said that they could not start to inspect these multi-occupied premises, some of which are furnished accommodation, because they have not enough public health inspectors.
§ Mr. Mellish
Even if the authority had enough public health inspectors and if they condemned these properties as unfit for human habitation, the local authority has no accommodation into which to put them.
My hon. Friend is quite right. Because of the Government's policy, local authorities have not enough public health inspectors—because they do not pay them enough in the first place and, therefore, cannot recruit them. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey said, what happens if the inspector condemns these premises? To provide accommodation, the local authority must first find the land. Even in Stoke-on-Trent, land which was a reasonable price a few years ago, is now ten or fifteen or twenty times as much. Nor can we do as London does—put up 17-storey flats. We cannot do this because of mining subsidence. If we did we should have to put more concrete underneath the block of flats than would take to build houses.
Thus, before we start we have to deal with the price of land and the problem of the building. Local authorities are faced with a terrible situation in which they condemn people to live in furnished accommodation of this kind. It is a terrible situation for those of us who like decent homes and want to see every child reared in a decent home.
§ Mr. Fletcher
On a point of order. Is it possible for the debate to continue without the presence on the Government Front Bench of a Government spokesman? No Minister is there at all?
§ The Chairman
As far as I am concerned it is possible to do so. It is not a point of order with which I can deal.
In London, it is an overwhelming, heartbreaking situation for those who live in these conditions and those who care for persons as human beings. We are all very much concerned about it. But the problem is growing in every locality. Not only do they have 526 no bath in many of these houses, not only do they have to share a toilet in some of them, but the furniture for which they pay is appalling. It may be a broken-down chair or a miserable piece of linoleum on the floor, with gaping holes in it. It is still ranked as furnished accommodation, as long as it has a little furniture of the kind which even "Steptoe and Son" would not carry away.
Then what happens? It is true that there are some good landlords, but this has now become such a profitable racket that the situation grows worse and worse, and many of these people not only have to pay terrible rents for this miserable accommodation but lots of rules and regulations are applied, prohibiting them from doing various things. They are allowed no visitors—
I do not complain so much of that because some local authorities have regulations like that.
That is true. There are all kinds of silly little regulations. If they do not abide by those regulations, their lives are made miserable. This is not a laughing matter. It is a serious matter, which we are raising because we are deeply concerned about the people who are forced to live in these conditions. We are deeply concerned because we continue to pass this legislation without the Government deciding how far it really protects people.
§ Mr. Mellish
My hon. Friend comes from Stoke and I come from London, and I should like to ask her a question. I should like to know whether this sort of thing happens in her area: a person takes furnished accommodation and signs a lease containing conditions prohibiting children, and so on. If the terms of the agreement are broken, the landlord immediately takes action in a court of law and the tenant has no protection but is automatically evicted by the court.
Yes, that happens, too, although we do not get so many evictions as there are in London. It is very difficult to tell these people that they have no protection. We attend our 527 "surgeries" to try to help them, but we have no way of helping them in these situations. I suggest that the only solution to the problem lies in the complete overhaul of the provision of homes. It cannot be done in any other way.
We are told time after time that there is a new housing programme in preparation, a new drive. At one time we heard about "The next step forward". Then it was "Houses for the people". Then we had "Protection under the Rent Act" which worsened the situation. Now we have this kind of legislation which we are discussing tonight. What we need is a completely different approach to the whole problem. Unless we do something very quickly, people will be living in these conditions in 1980 and 1990.
We hope not. But if the Government's policy continues, these people will be condemned for ever.
I remember a group of us in Stoke-on-Trent writing a pamphlet about housing in pre-war days. We reckoned that it would take 200 years, at the rate the Tory-controlled council was going then, to house people properly. We have not improved much since then. In some ways, things are worse. Values have risen, and people are still compelled to live in atrocious conditions.
The solution is not complacency—that is what it has been each year as we have re-endorsed this Act—but a spurring to action. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey when he says that the only real answer is to turn that "crowd" out and ensure that we have a Government who really believe in decent homes for the people.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
I am glad to have the opportunity to add my protest to those of my hon. Friends on this subject. One redeeming feature of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill is that we have an opportunity, year by year, to expose the shortcomings and the abuses of this Government in dealing with housing.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I can understand the depth of feeling which has been expressed 528 by my hon. Friends. We find it difficult to speak in moderate terms of the disgust we feel at the behaviour of the Government and the way they have treated people in London and elsewhere.
Technically, what we are discussing is whether or not the Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act, 1946, should be renewed for a further year. I observe that that Act, passed in 1946 and amended no less than three times, was passed in conditions totally different from those which exist today. We are entitled, therefore, to contrast conditions today with conditions in 1946. In 1946, there was a considerable disadvantage in being the tenant of furnished accommodation. In those days, most unfurnished accommodation was protected by the rent restriction Acts, whereas today, owing to the infamy of this Government, a great deal of unfurnished accommodation has been taken out of control. There has been a considerable shift in the balance of advantage between living in unfurnished accommodation and living in furnished accommodation.
In 1946, tenants of unfurnished accommodation had, on the whole, a preferential position. Today, the position is reversed. Tenants of unfurnished accommodation are worse off because the protection which formerly existed has been removed and they can be turned out, as increasing numbers of them are, at a month's notice. Tenants of furnished accommodation, on the other hand, still have the protection, for what it is worth, of the 1946 Act.
To say all this is merely to point to one of the anomalies in the whole of this legislation. As my hon. Friends the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) and the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater) have pointed out, the distinction between furnished and unfurnished accommodation is becoming increasingly tenuous. One has only to put a few strips of linoleum and a couple of broken-down chairs in a place to distinguish an unfurnished tenancy from a furnished tenancy. The whole conception upon which the Act is based is becoming increasingly absurd and meaningless. It never did have very much sense. But in so far as there was a case for giving tribunals the 529 power to fix the rents of furnished houses and to give the tenants of them some security of tenure, these days the case for extending that protection to the tenants of unfurnished houses is all the greater, far greater than it was in 1946 or when the rent restriction Act was repealed. It becomes increasingly greater every year as more and more unfurnished tenancies move out of control.
It strikes me as extremely anomalous for the Government to ask us to renew this Act without making an attempt to bring some degree of rationalisation into the whole of this legislation affecting the relationship between landlord and tenants. I do not want to quote examples—I could do so, just as my hon. Friends have done—but everybody knows, and this is the gravamen of our criticism of the Government, that the balance of advantage is weighted overwhelmingly in favour of landlords against tenants. Everybody knows that the greatest possible social hardship which exists in this country is due to the fact that there is a shortage of houses and that thousands and thousands of deserving, hard working people trying to live decent, conscientious lives and to bring up children are deprived of the minimum normal housing standards which any decent civilisation requires.
§ Mr. Mellish
Obviously my hon. Friend and I are in agreement on this. I should like to ask him—if I were to ask the Chair I should be out of order—why it is that, if he and I agree that this Act is not adequate and does not deal with this terrible problem of housing, not one Tory Member representing a London constituency is present tonight—and could not care less?
§ Mr. Fletcher
I can easily answer that. Surely my hon. Friend knows perfectly well that Tory Members of Parliament have for a very long time, certainly throughout the history of the Conservative Government, exhibited a deplorable complacency about the housing conditions of people in London and in this country.
§ Mr. Peter Walker (Worcester)
While he is dealing with that, could the hon. Gentleman tell us why only six out of twenty-three Socialist Members representing London constituencies are here?
§ Mr. Fletcher
If the hon. Member will have patience and will wait until the early hours of the morning, he will see them here. They are all attending to their constituencies at the moment. They will all be back here later. If the hon. Gentleman took the trouble to read the debates which we had on the corresponding Bill last year—I have been refreshing my memory from them, partly with a view to seeing what I said last year, partly with a view to avoiding the sin of repetition and partly with a view to trying to glean other arguments from the brilliant speeches which my hon. Friends make year after year—he would find that on 15th November, 1961, running into 16th November, 1961, my hon. Friends, in their continuous zeal and industry for the people of London, kept up incessant pressure on this nefarious Government until 4 and 5 o'clock in the morning. On that occasion, not one Tory Member took the trouble to sit on those benches. Certainly none intervened.
This is a very important matter. This is one subject which divides the parties in the House of Commons as acutely as anything. There may be subjects on which we agree or partially agree, but during the time that I have been a Member of Parliament, which is now a very long time, I have always found that, whenever problems concerning the social conditions, and particularly the housing conditions, of the people of this country arise, there is widespread concern, deep human sympathy and protests against the complacency of the Government expressed on these benches. All kinds of suggestions are put forward for improving legislation and remedying the lot of those who suffer from bad housing conditions. On the other side of the House, however, with perhaps one or two rare exceptions, there is a degree of complacency and silence, and sinister silence, which, above all, if nothing else does, will condemn the Tory Party at the next election.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
On the last occasion to which the hon. Member refers, when this subject was discussed all night, the absence of hon. Members from London was deplored by his hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. A. Lewis). Can the hon. Member say where his hon. Friend is this evening?
§ The Chairman
Order. Perhaps the time has nearly come when the Committee should address itself once again to the Amendment.
§ Mr. Fletcher
It is not a particularly helpful contribution, Sir William, for one of the Liberal 'Members to try to degenerate a serious debate into conditions of farce by making a remark of that kind. I cannot be expected to explain the presence or otherwise of every hon. Member.
§ Mr. Fletcher
These trivialities are all very well, but this is a serious subject. I prefer to say what I have to say and to bring to the notice of the Committee some of the acute distress that is caused to thousands of people in London and elsewhere as a result of the neglect of the Government to deal with the problem, as evidenced by their perfunctory request to the House of Commons year after year merely to continue this trivial piece of legislation, unsatisfactory as it is, for another year.
May I give an example? Obviously, the thing that tenants want in conditions of a deficient supply of homes is security of tenure. The Act is designed to give them very limited security of tenure for three months, and then only for a limited number of people. One of the reasons why we object to the continuation of the Act in this limited, circumscribed form is that year after year the Government refuse to carry into legislation the Amendments which my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) and others have suggested to them. The Government cannot complain that we have not put forward all sorts of ideas. We have suggested, for example, that the period of three months during which a tribunal has power to protect a tenant by postponing the date of eviction should be extended from six to twelve months. We have suggested that the same security of tenure Should be extended from furnished lettings to 532 unfurnished lettings and we have made other suggestions.
In that connection, I remind the Committee of the kind of method by which evictions are carried out by landlords as a result of the powers given to them by the Government to evict tenants. Only three days ago, my attention was drawn by one of my constituents in East Islington to a paragraph in a well-known national newspaper. It has this caption—and this is typical of what is happening in this country:Landlord paid 'thugs' to evict families Pressure tactics on tenants".I want to read this, because I think that this is an authoritative statement. It was said by a very responsible social worker in East London, Mrs. Audrey Harvey. She said thathired thugs entered the home of two women whose landlord wanted to evict them. They dragged them from the basement where their children were asleep and they flung them out of the house on to the pavement. It was done by these thugs who had been hired by the landlord to throw the women out. We knew it was going to happen because the landlord had done it to another family. We tried to get the police to help but they refused. I understand they have been given instructions not to intervene in any housing disputes. They merely take people who are sent to Newington Lodge"—that is the London County Council home for the homeless. Mrs. Harvey told the conference of the Council for Children's Welfare ofterrifying things unknown to the public happening to families whose landlords wanted to evict them so they could let their homes at a higher price. To get accommodation freed they would attempt to drive families out by doing such things as cutting off the gas and locking doors leading to kitchens, bathrooms and lavatories. There was a danger in many cases of despairing parents abandoning their children into the care of the local authority after having to harden themselves to part with them in the first place.Another speaker at this conference of the Council for Children's Welfare said that when children were put into the care of the local authorityparents began by visiting them regularly but were driven to despair at being able ever to give them the slighest reassurance that they would soon be coming home to their parents again".This was a responsible social welfare officer addressing a conference of the Council for Children's Welfare in the East End of London, and I can testify from my own experience that this good 533 lady was not exaggerating, for in my "surgery" in East Islington on Friday nights I hear oases of which all I can say to this Committee is that they fill me partly with shame at this conduct of the Government, but I think even more, with a sense of despair and desperation that there is so little I can do to help them. Almost week by week I hear not only of families living in conditions which are a disgrace to a civilised country in the middle of the twentieth century—of a husband and his wife and two or three children living in one room with no sanitary accommodation and having to go down to a basement or semi-basement to get water.
That is bad enough, but that really is not quite so heartrending as hearing of similar families who are going to be evicted by a rapacious landlord in a matter of weeks and who are in despair, with heartrending stories, because not only have they nowhere to go but have no prospect of getting anywhere to go. I have to tell them, and I am ashamed at having to tell them, that owing to the congestion in London, with the best will in the world there is nothing that I or the London County Council or the local authority can do about it.
There they are, faced with having to find some accommodation at some exorbitant rent; or they are faced with going into one of these places like Newington Lodge, where the conditions are such—no blame to the L.C.C., for it does its best—that families are divided. The father cannot go there; the mother can go there with the children; and father can visit them at tea time once or twice a week; and the family is split up.
On top of that, owing to the operation of this pernicious Act which the Government are asking us to renew because of their failure to do anything about it, we get the terrible situation of landlords paying thugs to evict families in the middle of the night when the children are asleep, flinging them out of the house on to the pavement. These are scenes of such disgrace and abomination that surely even a complacent Tory Government ought to bestir themselves and do something about it. It is not as if there is any excuse far this continued state of affairs; this has been going on now for 11 years of Tory rule.
§ Mr. Fletcher
Yes. That is one of the wickednesses of the situation. The tenants have no protection. Once a tenancy has expired, once the tenant has exhausted the very limited grace given him—three months if it is a furnished letting, and one month if it is unfurnished—he has no redress at all. The police cannot intervene. The landlords can turn women and children into the street; and they do it.
§ Mr. Loughlin
It may well be that all reasonable force can be used in a case of trespass—I take it that, technically, that is what it may be—but if unreasonable force is used, surely the police have a duty and responsibility to restrain those using it?
§ Mr. Fletcher
I wish it were so, but that is not the case. Once the period of grace has expired, once the period given by the tribunal has run out, once the landlord has his order for eviction, the tenant has no redress at all and is at the mercy of the landlord, and the landlord can employ any thugs he likes to turn him out.
§ Mr. Fletcher
Yes; and this scandalous state of affairs will continue as long as the law remains as it is. Our law with regard to landlord and tenant is weighted unmercifully in favour of the landlord and against the tenant. That is why so many tenants go in such fear of their landlords.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans) has on numerous occasions pointed out—I have tried to do the same—certain remedies that tenants have. For instance, they cannot be evicted at the whim of a landlord. They cannot be evicted until the landlord has obtained a court order. But once the period of grace has expired, there is no mercy at all.
As this good lady says—I do not know her, but this was in the Guardian and I have no doubt that it is an accurate report—these things are happening every day. Also, these things are known by 535 other tenants to be happening. As a result, hundreds of thousands of tenants are going about in fear wondering when they will suffer the same fate, knowing that in this housing shortage there is nowhere for them to go and that they are at the mercy of the whim of the landlord. It is true that they can go to Newington Lodge or Hillside, but I have been there and do not blame them for not wanting to. But this state of affairs will continue unless and until the Government bestir themselves and ensure that there is adequate housing accommodation for the people.
When all is said and done about the Common Market, nuclear disarmament and other subjects, the failure to provide adequate housing accommodation for 536 our people, and the condemnation of hundreds of thousands to squalor, overcrowding or insanitary housing condition's, while also submitting so many of them to the necessity to pay exhorbitant rents, represents the crucial failure of the Government during their eleven years of office.
I will sit down now because I know that many of my hon. Friends wish to speak. I hope that they will speak with the intensity of feeling with which I wish I could express my condemnation of the Government on this subject. It is a disgrace to the country that these conditions should exist, and it is absurd of the Government merely to ask for this miserable Act to be renewed year after year without any attempt to remedy these appalling conditions.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
I beg to move,That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again.My chief and first reason for asking you to consider accepting this Motion is that so far the debate has been so one-sided, and although it has been a great pleasure to me to listen to the powerful speeches of my hon. Friends, I feel that an a matter of this importance we should be able to pursue the normal practice in debates in this Committee and have speakers alternately from each side.
Secondly, I think that the debate suffers from another defect. This is the day for considering the Expiring Laws (Continuance) Bill, and it is sometimes difficult for hon. Members to know quite how long each particular item will take during the day and I feel that something must have gone wrong with the arrangements for letting Members opposite know what subject we are actually now discussing.
For example, I aim sure that if the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins) or the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. G. Johnson Smith) or the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Partridge) knew we were engaged on this subject at the moment, they would be in the Committee endeavouring to take part. Since something has obviously gone wrong and they apparently do not know what we are discussing, it would be fairer to report Progress and resume our discussion on the subject on an occasion when they will be here.
I am not thinking only of London Members. It will be within the recollection of the Committee that a few days ago the hon. Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne) was offering advice about the problem of homelessness in London, which he attributed, many of us think incorrectly, to immigrants. He claimed then that I never speak for Londoners, and I feel sure, therefore, that if he knew we were talking about London problems now he would be here to take part.
This situation is very unfair to all these hon. Members who are Government supporters, for it might be said by unkind people—and I am afraid that some 538 of my hon. Friends have suggested this—that they are not interested in London's housing problem. I respectfully submit to you that the Committee should now report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Mr. Bence
I support the motion, Sir William, for very important reasons. I did not expect to hear tonight such a revelation of the conditions in London and the Midlands. Coming from Scotland, when I hear of these frightful conditions, I feel that the Secretary of State for Scotland should be here to learn what happens to the 12,000 Scottish people who move every year to the hell of the heavily-populated regions in the South as described by my hon. Friends.
Tonight we have had a revelation from my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater). They have spoken of conditions which we in Scotland would never have believed to exist. We thought that our conditions were had enough, but the conditions which my hon. Friends have revealed are so bad that the Home Secretary should be here to listen to the debate, as should the Secretary of State for Scotland. Every year we lose 12,000 Scots to the Midlands and the South, and they come down here to these frightful conditions and are exploited.
Not long ago, I heard of a three-roomed flat the rent of which had increased over four years to £15 a week. Nearly all the income of the poor people occupying that fiat was absorbed by the rapacious landlord. When I think of my fellow countrymen in Scotland being forced to come South because there is is no work for them and yet being forced into these frightful conditions, I have to ask why the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland are not here to listen to what is being said.
§ Mr. Mellish
There is another disturbing aspect of the debate. The Government Front Bench is manned, as it has been manned throughout the debate, which began three hours ago, by just one junior Minister. When he attempted to leave, as he had every right to do, to collect notes or whatever else it was 539 he wanted, there were protests from my hon. Friends. When we have had debates of this kind before, when it has been known that we were to discuss fundamental problems like housing—and I should have thought that even this unimaginative Government would have known that we would discuss London's homeless—the Government Front Bench has been manned by someone with authority, not just a junior, but the senior Minister responsible.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) that this is not a matter only for the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, because the problem of furnished accommodation raises matters which are connected with the Home Secretary and other Ministers. Indeed, one could argue that the Attorney-General should be here, because it has been suggested that the law is being flagrantly broken and that everyone knows about it. One could have expected some advice on that score, some report by one of the Law Officers. However, we have not had any help of that kind.
The trouble with issues of this kind is that hon. Members opposite treat them as something of a joke. We do not think that this is a joke. As my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) said, not a Member from the Conservative Party is even interested enough to attend the debate, although everyone must have known—because it was in the Lobbies—that we were to discuss London's problem. It may be that hon. Members opposite did not know what time the debate was to come on, and I suggest that we accept the Motion to give us time to establish that. We could make arrangements through the usual channels for the debate to come on at a certain hour, and we could then discuss the problem in the knowledge that we would have a genuine debate between the two sides of the Committee instead of having a debate carried on by only one side and regarded by hon. Members opposite as entirely unnecessary.
§ Mr. Willey
It is obvious that the Committee is in difficulty. We want some enlightenment from the Government, because unless the Government intimate now that they intend to keep us here through the night we shall soon 540 have passed the time when travelling is convenient. This is the time for the Government to tell us their intentions. Otherwise, we shall unnecessarily upset the officers and servants of the House, for travelling is much more inconvenient after than before midnight. In their interests alone, we are entitled to be told what the Government's intentions are. I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary is in a position to inform us about this, but we ought to know. We know what our experience was when we debated this Bill last. We then had the Closure moved in the early hours of the morning. So when I ask the Government what their intentions are I think that they should say quite frankly whether they have arranged with their back-benchers to attend at an early hour in the morning in order to carry the Closure.
The difficulty is that the Patronage Secretary has only just arrived. He has not been in the Chamber throughout the time that we have been discussing the Bill. This is quite outrageous. It is quite outrageous that the Leader of the House has not been present in the Committee either. This is an entirely new practice. It is contempt of the Committee and of the House. It is entirely new and the Committee knows it. If either the Patronage Secretary or the Leader of the House are not enjoying sufficiently robust health to enable them to attend to their duties in the House—the Leader of the House particularly has a direct responsibility to us—and if they feel these duties to be too onerous and that their other duties bear too heavily upon them, then they ought to think about the House and the Committee. It puts us in great difficulty.
I do not know what information the Patronage Secretary has conveyed to the Parliamentary Secretary. We are always apprehensive about any message which he conveys. I hope it is not conveyed to any other quarter. But we are pleased to see him, though the person we really want to see is the Leader of the House because he is responsible to us. Our difficulties have been these. Earlier in the debate we were discussing aliens. Let me pay credit to the Home Secretary. He was here throughout the debate, but when we are discussing Londoners we have not the Minister present.
541 [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to cheer the fact that the Home Secretary was here when we were discussing aliens, but I hope that they will sympathise with my London colleagues that when they are discussing the plight of Londoners and all those facing difficulties in finding accommodation and keeping what accommodation they have in our great cities the Minister is not present. The Minister of Public Building and Works was loudly cheered when he entered the Chamber, but he realised that he had come in by mistake and quickly retired.
We have only had the Parliamentary Secretary who, so far as we know—this is a personal judgment—has, it seems to me, been so intimidated by the weight of the case deployed against him that he has been unable to reply. There is not the slightest doubt that when the Parliamentary Secretary replies it will be inadequate and unsatisfactory. We have waited for him to reply, but he has shown no evidence of wishing to enter the debate. But the debate will continue after he has replied. There is no doubt about that. He is not the Minister, but his right hon. Friend has not thought fit to be here. The Parliamentary Secretary, therefore, will not be in a position to answer the criticism deployed against the Government and his Department.
I should have thought that the Patronage Secretary, now that he is with us, would advise the Parliamentary Secretary that the best thing to do would be to say that we should proceed a little longer but that it is not the Government's intention to conclude the discussion on the Bill tonight.
There is another important matter to be discussed after this. As far as I know, the Government are in no difficulty about their legislative programme. In a legislative sense they have budgeted for the Common Market legislation. There does not seem much prospect of that being brought before the House this Session. They have plenty of time. Why should they not say that since we have had a serious and sustained discussion on this Amendment—I think the Parliamentary Secretary will agree about that—and have also had restrained debates on previous matters, and particularly in view of the fact that, except for a short con- 542 tribution from one hon. Member opposite the burden of the debate has been borne entirely by hon. Members on this side of the Committee, the best thing would be to accept the Motion which is before us so that we can, perhaps, discuss the remainder of the Amendments in another half day? I am sure that this could be arranged through the usual channels without any difficulty, and I hope that the Government will be willing to accede to this request.
§ Mr. Ross
I hope that this part of the debate will not be replied to by the Parliamentary Secretary, because a Motion like this is really one for the Leader of the House. He acts, in that capacity, not as a Member of the Government but as one who has the interests of the whole House at heart, and the whole business of the conduct of Parliament—
§ Mr. Ross
He ought to be. We have seen a lot of Members apposite come in since the word went round that there was a Motion to report Progress. Nobody who heard the speech of my hon. Friend for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher), when he explained what happened to one London family, where the landlord hired thugs to put them out in the street, could fail to be concerned at the absence of people who should be here, sitting on the Government Front Bench.
Hon. Members from Scotland have some excuse when we ask for the Lord Advocate or the Solicitor-General for Scotland to tell us about the law. The Government cannot find seats for them in Scotland. They are afraid to risk a by-election. But surely the English Law Officers, who are in Parliament, should be here to deal with points like this. I am still not satisfied that the law is being complied with, when hired thugs can be used in this capacity, in respect of what I assume to be a legal process.
Quite apart from anything else, anyone who heard this debate last year, and the frightful things that were brought out, and which were not only justified by what we learned later but were underlined by the discussion and by interviews on the B.B.C., would agree that this is something that the Government 543 should be taking far more seriously than they are. Certainly London Members who can manage to appear on television and talk about farming would be far better off here, talking about London housing.
§ Mr. Mellish
My hon. Friend missed the very fine speech that I made. One of the greatest complaints that I have tonight—and this is Why the Motion is so right—is that we had a debate on this subject a year ago, almost to the day, and since then the position has worsened. A year ago we were pointing out how serious it was. That is why we are so distressed tonight that it has been taken so flippantly by hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. Ross
I did not mean any discourtesy to my hon. Friend by not being in my place when he made his speech. He will remember that I heard it last year.
The speech I wanted to hear was that of the right hon. Gentleman who came behind the Speaker's Chair a few minutes ago—the Minister of Health. He was the man who introduced the Rent Act. When he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government he declared that the Government were introducing that Act because of the unbalance in the housing situation for those in London who required houses. We should have been told what has happened. But to have just a Parliamentary Secretary, and a reshuffled one at that, sitting isolated on the Government Front Bench does not do justice to the problem that we are discussing. It is not just a reshuffle that we want, it is a new deal—
§ Mr. Ross
My hon. Friend should not introduce "huntin' and shootin'" terms into this debate. It would have been far better if, instead of shooting pheasants in Scotland last week, the Prime Minister had made a tour of the East End of London. Or, if he had to go to Scotland, he had spent his time interviewing some of the 93,000 unemployed there.
Surely the whole point is that we should not be discussing this matter at 544 this hour. We started this debate on this important subject at about a quarter to nine—
§ Mr. Ross
And I will say that my hon. Friend's speech is far better than mine.
We should not be starting this debate at this time of night. I see that the hon. Member for one of the Brighton Divisions is present—[HON. MEMBERS: "Southend, West."]—yes, Southend, West (Mr. Channon). I do get my watering places mixed up.
§ Mr. Ross
The licensing part will come later.
The hon. Member for Southend, West will remember that he had a whole Friday to discuss the plight of the stately homes of England. But this is the only chance we get for a long time to discuss the plight of the homeless in London and those who are paying fantastic rents to live in furnished accommodation. I think that the next chance will come during the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill at the end of the Session, unless we can manage some time out of our Allotted Days. When we discuss this problem we start at half-past eight at night and we do not even have proper Ministerial representation on the Government Front Bench. It is not good enough.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey said that the position was worse. Of course it is. We have a Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, and a recently reshuffled one at that, who made a speech in the North in which he said that people who were unemployed should move to the South. In the last ten years we have lost 250,000 of the population of Scotland. Every year 25.000 people have to leave Scotland. They do not all come to London, but a considerable proportion do. This adds to the problem in London and to 545 the power of those people who own furnished accommodation. And up go the rents which desperate people are prepared to pay to obtain that accommodation.
It is disgraceful that we should be debating this matter at this time of night. I hope that the Chief Patronage Secretary, if he is still in the Chamber—[HON. MEMBERS: "He is not."]—Perhaps he has gone to look for the Leader of the House. I hope he finds the right hon. Gentleman. The Deputy Chief Whip will appreciate our strength of feeling on this matter. I have been appalled at the evidence my hon. Friends have been producing about the hardship, the misery and heartbreak of this problem. I sincerely hope that we shall be able to report progress and to start again at a more reasonable hour on a subject of this importance.
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Corfield
Of course, I appreciate the concern of the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) that, perhaps unconsciously, some of my hon. Friends may have missed this stimulating debate.
§ Mr. Corfield
It is stimulating if one has a constructive mind. One hon. Member after another has said that the problem and the only answer is to build more houses, but that is something which we cannot discuss. I therefore suggest that on the much more narrow issue, it being only am hour ago since the House agreed to an extension of time, it would be sensible to go on somewhat longer.
I have checked last year's proceedings and find that there seems to be nothing by way of a departure this year, except that I should think we are making rather better progress, judging from the voluminous HANSARD reports of last years' debate. I ask the hon. Member for Fulham to withdraw the Motion and allow us to make more progress, if indeed that be the genuine wish of the Opposition.
§ Mr. Marsh
The hon. Gentleman said that progress is better than it was last year, but he seems to have missed the point. Last year we complained until twenty minutes to eight in the morning 546 because not one Conservative hon. Member had taken part in the debate, which made a farce of the debate. This year the position is even worse, because throughout the whole debate, so far as I know, not one London Conservative hon. Member has been in the Committee. We have reached a stage at which not only do they not take part but they do not even come to listen. That is a serious situation. As the back benchers on the Government side seem to be completely dumb, we are entitled to have some representative of the Government give some indication that they regard this as a serious debate.
It is a point of some importance that when dealing with a problem of this type and when we have spent several hours attempting to debate the Government's policy, the Government have just nothing to say. We are trying to deal with the tragic problem of 4,000 people in London who are homeless, yet not one Conservative hon. Member representing a London constituency even bothers to listen. This is a departure from last year, because then we complained that they did not bother to speak—we do not mind that so much—whereas now we feel that their darkness might be pierced if they listened to what is said on this side of the Committee. We are all agreed that hon. Members opposite have made a terrible mess of the position, but it is difficult to go on saying that until 5 o'clock in the morning and none of them denying it.
In the tragic position in London, we are faced not only with the problem of high prices, but with great pressure on accommodation, yet we have had no Conservative hon. Member for a London constituency present during the debate. We are entitled to some explanation why all the London Conservative hon. Members have failed to arrive and why apparently none of them has any constructive criticism or points Ito make.
Earl of Dalkeith (Edinburgh, North)
It strikes me as surprising that English hon. Members take such a long time to have their say, and I am worried about their reputation in the eyes of hon. Members from other countries. I am surprised that they do not follow the example of Scottish hon. Members, who accomplished their task in the debate 547 with remarkable conciseness, clarity and brevity, and got on with the job. I am sorry and surprised that English hon. Members are taking so long over their part of the proceedings.
§ Mr. Loughlin
It surprises me that the noble Lord the Member for Edinburgh, North (The Earl of Dalkeith) had the nerve even to get up.
I think that we ought to devote a little attention to what we are doing. I would never argue that one could expect the Leader of the House to be in his place the whole of the time, but does not the debate deal with a subject for which he is to some extent responsible? As far as I remember, whenever a Motion of this type has been before the House, within a short period of its having been moved the Leader of the House has been brought from wherever he was in the building to attend the Chamber.
Since 8.30 p.m. we have tried to discuss not merely the question of London's homeless but the question of all those people who are affected by this Measure concerning furnished lettings. This is an issue in which human tragedy is involved. From this side of the Committee we have made speech after speech dealing not only with London but with all parts of the country, and we have had only one contribution—which was short —from the other side of the Committee. Therefore this has not been a debate.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Dr. Horace King)
Order. The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) must take his seat at once.
§ Mr. Loughlin
It is unfair to the people affected by this Act that there should be this one-sided discussion. I do not know how the Minister will be able to reply to all the points put to him.
It is now after 11 p.m. When the Parliamentary Secretary rose to intervene I thought that we should be given some indication of the Government's intentions. Do the Government feel that it will be possible to finish this Measure tonight? Are they prepared to go all night? Or do they want two more hours before they adjourn? Surely we are entitled to an indication from the Parliamentary Secretary, who appears to be the Minister responsible for the conduct of 548 the debate. We do not want to stay here too long, but we want a complete discussion on this issue, and the only way in which we can get it is by adjourning and continuing the discussion at another time.
§ Mr. Fletcher
My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) is right when there is a Motion to report Progress there must be an answer from a Government spokesman who can deal with the Government's timetable. A Minister cannot answer such a Motion by such perfunctory remarks about the Measure being discussed, because the whole substance of a Motion to report Progress is that the Committee has not had adequate time to discuss the question under debate and feels that it is reasonable to report Progress and to ask leave to sit again in order that the debate may be continued at a more reasonable hour, when there is a more responsible representative on the Government Front Bench, able to answer the speeches made in protest against the Government's despicable policy.
This is something which I have never before experienced in my many years in the House. I have never before known of a Motion to report Progress when there has been no senior responsible person on the Treasury Bench to reply. Where is the Leader of the House? Where is the Minister in charge? Where is the Home Secretary, who is condemned for the way he allows the police to protect thugs? Where is any Cabinet Minister? I think I can see one slinking at the far end of the Treasury Bench, though he may not be in the Cabinet—
§ Mr. Fletcher
There is nobody here with responsibility. The only possible excuse for the absence of the Patronage Secretary is that he may be telephoning the Minister of Housing or the Home Secretary.
You know perfectly well, Dr. King, that it has been traditional that when the Motion to report Progress has been moved, various speeches have taken place in the hope—
§ Mr. Fletcher
I gladly withdraw. Every hon. Member knows perfectly well that it has been traditional when a Motion to report Progress has been moved for various Members to speak for a certain length of time. [Laughter.] We have done so tonight purely out of courtesy to the Patronage Secretary in the hope and expectation that sufficient time might elapse to enable the Leader of the House to come.
I am glad to see that we now have the Minister of Education here. I acknowledge also that on the occasion when this same Motion was debated on 15th November, 1961, the Minister of Education was one of the few Members on the benches opposite who were then in their places. I am very glad that he is here tonight. I hope that we shall hear from him because I assume that he is now the senior member of the Government on the Treasury Bench. I hope we shall have some more responsible speech on behalf of the Government than we have yet had.
In addressing my remarks to the Minister of Education—[HON. MEMBERS: "To the Chair."] I am sorry; with great respect to you, Dr. King, may I point out that we now have the Minister of Education with us and, although we are pleased to see him, we still complain at the absence of the Leader of the House, the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister and other Cabinet Ministers. We are still hoping that, although the debate on the Motion to report Progress has been continuing for about thirty minutes, in accordance with the traditions of this House it will not be long before the Leader of the House comes, because this Motion touches business.
The whole question before us is whether we shall continue the debate tonight or adjourn it now and continue it at some other time. One of the relevant considerations before the Committee in coming to a conclusion on that matter is some guidance that we are entitled to have from the Leader of the House about the intentions on Government business, in regard to this Bill and the business next week. But apart from that, I should have thought it was the most elementary courtesy on the part of the Leader of the House to be present in his place on an occasion like this.
550 The House is being treated with contempt, that on a Motion of this kind neither the Leader of the House nor the Minister of Housing nor the Home Secretary, nor any other responsible Minister, apart from the Minister of Education who sits there with his hands in his pockets and his feet on the Table, is prepared to come here to give us the slightest guidance. I wish to emphasise what has already been said about the gravity and seriousness of the subject that the Committee has been considering. The Motion has been accepted by the Chair. Everyone present during the debate has been conscious that the deplorable plight of the homeless people of London and the rest of the country is one of the most serious social problems we face today, worthy of the gravest continuous attention of the House of Commons. That is why, after the speeches which have been made, we are entitled to say that we cannot adequately continue the debate without proper time and without proper facilities from the Government to afford adequate answers to it.
Will the Minister of Education say that the Government intend to allow to go by default, without any adequate answer from the Treasury Bench, the serious charges which have been made by my hon. Friends, and not contradicted by anyone on his own side of the House, about the deplorable housing conditions in London and elsewhere? Do the Government intend to treat Parliament with contempt? Cabinet Ministers have not got the excuse that they are in the Provinces attending by-election meetings. They would not do much good if they were. Where are they? Their duty is to be here to attend the business of the House of Commons.
It is a reproach to the dignity of Parliament that no one is present to deal with this matter. I hope that those hon. Members who are listening will at least have the grace to support us in the Division Lobby so that they also may assert that one of the proper duties of the Government and of Parliament is to give due attention to the disgraceful housing conditions which exist in the country today.
§ Mr. Laurence Pavitt (Willesden, West)
I urge the Parliamentary Secretary to respond to the representations which have been made by my hon. Friends. All hon. Members must be well aware of the tremendous pressure which is put upon us by people in our constituencies who are suffering hardships at this time just before Christmas, the homeless, those suffering the distress of broken families, and all the others whose circumstances we have been considering today.
We have a new Minister of Housing and Local Government. The previous two Ministers, at a very late stage in their careers, discovered the problem of slums and slum clearance. The new Minister has moved much more quickly and has already made some pronouncements.
§ Mr. Pavitt
It is with great pleasure that I welcome the Minister himself. It was precisely because of the need for his presence that we were pressing the Motion. But the situation will still be inadequate if the Minister now, at twenty minutes past 11, tries to take the matter up in the middle of the debate. We should have preferred him to come fresh to it, as we would wish to come fresh to it ourselves, in order that he may be seized of the problems and in order that what we say may have some effect. The whole point of the debate is not only to examine the legislation before us but to convince the Minister of the need for urgent Government action in a number of important ways.
Now that the Minister is here, should the debate continue? It would be far better if he could come to it fresh, after having had the opportunity to read, mark, learn and digest the excellent speeches which have been made from this side of the House. Now that the Parliamentary Secretary is able to consult his Minister, I hope that both he and his right hon. Friend will see that that would be the only fair way to deal with this important matter. I ask them to accept the Motion.
§ Mr. Parkin
I am in a little difficulty and I may be in a unique position. I came to the Committee tonight prepared to raise, with care and in detail, the 552 question of the letting of furnished dwellings. I had expected that either there would have been a succession of speeches from the Government benches passionately defending the work, importance and success of the tribunals as such dealing with the sort of cases that are brought to them, or there would be none and the Parliamentary Secretary would accept the Amendment and say that there was no longer need for these tribunals.
If, however, I am to make a speech before the Question is put on the subject of furnished houses, I have to ask for a survey of something, which, I think, has never yet been done—a survey of the need for legitimate furnished dwellings in London. That intimately concerns the Minister of Education. Indeed, I am not sure that the Minister of Education would not be in a much better position to reply to me, because probably he has access to such a survey, than the Minister of Housing and Local Government, from whom, so far, we have had nothing on those lines. The Minister of Education must know what demands will be put upon small single-room flatlets, two-room flatlets, and so on, as a result of the expansion of technical education in the London area. Each year, more and more demands are put upon the limited amount of dwelling accommodation.
My difficulty is whether I would like the debate to continue tonight without the presence of both Ministers, because I am not sure that I should get an assurance that both of them would stay and reply to the debate. Therefore, I support the Motion in the hope that we get an assurance from the Government that they consider that we should defer further consideration and that all the principal Ministers will reply on the different facets of this extremely important London problem.
§ Mr. MacColl
I welcome the Minister to our midst. If ever justification for a Motion to report Progress was needed, we have it tonight. Had we not taken this opportunity of moving to report Progress, we would not have had the right hon. Gentleman with us. It has been a hard struggle to get him here, but we have at least landed one of our fish, if not all those we wanted. I should like, through you, Dr. King, to express to the right hon. Gentleman why we think he should be here.
553 The Government treat the continuation of the Act as a routine matter to be put through by the Parliamentary Secretary more or less "on the nod" as something which does not raise any great issues, except, perhaps, a few administrative details, a few statistics, and so on. It was made fairly clear to the Government a year ago that that was far from being the situation. That has been made even clearer tonight, when, throughout the debate, it has been made perfectly clear that behind this comparatively small Act, dealing with a comparatively small element of the housing problem, is the complete breakdown of the Government's housing policy, which is not a matter for the Parliamentary Secretary but is a matter for the Cabinet.
Behind the discussion of the Act, we have the whole time been up against the difficulties arising from the situation in London in particular and in Stoke-on-Trent and other large cities, where the housing shortage has created such a predominance for landlords that a fair bargain between landlord and tenant has become impossible.
That is something which arises from Cabinet policy. It is not an administrative matter for the Parliamentary Secretary to deal with. Therefore, with the greatest respect to the Parliamentary Secretary—I do not want to be offensive to him—it was obviously an insult to the Committee to leave him to answer for the Government on a matter of this grave importance. This is a matter for a major statement on one of the most desperate human problems at present afflicting the country.
Everybody—except, apparently, the Government and the London Conservative Members—knows that this is a terribly human problem which ought to be absorbing all our attention, and yet we have had one Junior Minister on the Government Front Bench, and when I rose to move this Amendment I do not think there was one Conservative Member present on the benches opposite. Therefore, it is important that the right hon. Gentleman should be here, and if we are to continue this debate no doubt an opportunity will be taken to recapitulate some of the major points which have been put in the absence of the right hon. Gentleman.
554 I do not think, though, that we ought to ignore the absence of two other people. First of all, there is the absence of the Law Officers of the Crown. This is a matter which arises from time to time. I feel bitterly disappointed and disillusioned by the Attorney-General, because I remember very well that last year when we had to complain that there were no Law Officers here present the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson) was the only legal person on the Government benches and we had to appeal to him for advice on legal matters which arose. I certainly thought that when the hon. and learned Gentleman became Attorney-General, having seen from the back benches something of the difficulties caused by not having adequate legal advice available to the Committee, he would have made a point of being here tonight to help us.
I am very sorry and disappointed that he has not been with us, because what happened last year will be in the recollection of the Committee. Because we were inadequately advised, and because the Government had inadequate support in debate from the Front Bench, it was decided at a high level that the best thing to do was to have no Government speech at all, and the Parliamentary Secretary of the day was cut out altogether by the decision of the Patronage Secretary, because it was thought that there would be less political damage done to the Government by having no reply than having a bad and ill-instructed reply. I am sure that with the Minister here there is no risk of that at all.
I have been, and I am sure my hon. Friends have been, a bit surprised that the Leader of the House is still absent and has not been in at all in these proceedings. There was a time when—and you as historian of the House will know better than most of us, Dr. King—Prime Ministers regarded it as part of their duty to be on the Front Bench throughout the proceedings of the House, but with the growth of legislative and administrative business that has proved less and less possible; but why do we have a Leader of the House if he is not to lead us? I would have thought that the place to lead us was the Treasury Bench and not somewhere in the back regions. I think that if the Leader of 555 the House had been here he would have sensed the feeling of the Committee, that he would have sensed the feeling of urgency about this problem, and that we would have got a better response from the Government, and that we should have got better progress in the discussions.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Sir Keith Joseph)
I am sure the Committee will wish to make progress with the proposal put forward by the Government. It is an essential part of the ways of tackling the very serious housing problem which still faces this country. I hope that the Committee will make progress on this, as my hon. Friend has been here to listen to the arguments, arguments which will be of interest to me, and which I shall, naturally, read tomorrow, and as I have come myself to listen. I hope the Committee will recognise that what is being proposed by the Government is probably desired by all sections of the Committee and that therefore, now that I have come here, the hon. Member will see fit to withdraw the Motion before us at the moment so that we can make progress on what is thoroughly desirable in the interests of the people who need houses.
§ 11.30 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)
The Minister has asked the Committee to proceed. He has very obligingly told us that he will read tomorrow the comments that have been made. But if the Committee accepts his advice it will be too late because he will not be in a position to make any comment and the decision will have been made, which will mean that the scores of thousands of people who are living in most desperate conditions will continue to do so. The Minister knows what the position of some of these people is because he recently received a deputation from them, but he does not know the plight of the people about whom my hon. Friends have been speaking, but he ought to know before he asks the Committee to sanction the continuance of this law.
There is another reason why we should report Progress—f or the benefit of hon. Members opposite who are weary and fed up and are hanging about waiting to be given permission to go home.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
I can go home when I like. The Patronage Secretary cannot keep me here. I am a free agent. It is hon. Members opposite who are not free in this matter. It is no good the hon. and gallant Member for The Hartlepoods (Commander Kerans) shouting about this. He is very anxious to go home because he is not very interested in the homeless. But we are. We think this is one of the most tragic problems the nation faces. If hon. Members opposite are tired and do not want to listen, let them go home, but let them do so knowing full well that they will come back to a full-scale debate on this subject which affects so many thousands.
It is atrocious, wicked and scandalous that we should be shoving through legislation like this, the Government almost attempting to get it through on the nod, after a three or four hour debate on a subject affecting tens of thousands of people. If hon. Members opposite were living under these conditions they would not smirk and laugh as they are doing. Let them go and see these people and smirk and laugh and see what reception they would then get. They shut it out of their minds. They are not interested, except the many of them in the dividends they get out of the exploitation that is going on. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes; do not let any of the big property-owning fraternity on the benches opposite think they are not part and parcel of the racket. Of course they are, and it is because they are that they do not like to hear this story and be reminded of what is happening.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
We want to tell them. That is why we are here. You have not been here. You have only—
§ The Temporary Chairman
Order. The hon. Gentleman must address the Chair, and I think it would help if he did not point at individual hon. Members.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
Dr. King, I have never known that gesticulations in the House were out of order. If they were, 557 then Lloyd George, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), Nye Bevan and all the great Parliamentarians we have had have been out of order.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
Since the Motion was moved the Patronage Secretary has arrived and had same discussion with the Minister. I am sure the Committee would like to know whether the Patronage Secretary does not feed that it would be better for the dignity of the House of Commons that we should now report Progress, adjourn and return to this very important subject affecting tens of thousands of people with minds refreshed and determined to try to solve the problem.
§ Mr. Mawby
I repeat that I have sat in this Chamber for some considerable time, particularly during this debate. It is important to recall what we were debating. We were discussing an Amendment moved by the Opposition to annul an Act passed by their Government. It is terribly important that I should at least answer the charge made by the hon. Member far Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough) that hon. Members on this side of the Committee are not interested in housing conditions.
The point we were debating is an extremely narrow one, affecting rented furnished accommodation. Because we on this side are not using the opportunity to raise the very wide issues which may be involved, I do not think it is 558 right for hon. Members opposite to suggest that we are disregarding the interests of people in rented accommodation. I suggest that the very fact we are discussing an Amendment—
§ Mr. Mawby
The hon. Member is very kind in reminding me that we are now holding a very long debate on whether we should report Progress. I was saying that before we entered this exercise we were debating an Amendment seeking to delete from the Bill an Act of 1946. It is important that we should remember that and should take a decision now on whether to report Progress or not. If we decide not to report Progress, then we can get back to the business of discussing the extremely narrow issue raised by the Amendment.
§ Mr. Stewart
I listened attentively to what the Minister said, and I think that many of us on this side of the Committee still feel that the debate would be better conducted at another time. But it is apparent that the Government are not of that view, and we now know that if hon. Members opposite cannot talk they can walk if put to the necessity, so that the Government's view, if put to the test, would prevail. In view of that, and because we want to show some return to the Minister for the fact that, unlike so many of his colleagues concerned in this Bill, he is at any rate here, I feel that it would be the proper course for me to beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Mr. Corfield rose—
§ Mr. Mellish
On a point of order, Dr. King. Am I right in assuming that, as we are in Committee, it will be in order for those hon. Members who have already spoken to speak again after the Parliamentary Secretary? There is some confusion as to whether we may speak more than once.
§ The Temporary Chairman
It is in order for hon. Members to seek to address the Committee any number of times, but they would not be able to repeat what they had said in their previous speeches.
§ Mr. Corfield
The debate this evening has ranged rather wider than it would be strictly in order for me to answer, and as—
§ Mr. Manuel
On a point of order. In his opening sentence, the Parliamentary Secretary said that he thought that the debate had gone rather wider than it should if it had been kept in order. Is not that a reflection on the Chair? Should not the Parliamentary Secretary be pulled up just as other hon. Members are pulled up when they stray off the path?
§ The Temporary Chairman
My recollection of what the Parliamentary Secretary said—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) puts a point of order to the Chair he should have the courtesy to listen to the reply. I had not even dealt with his point of order.
§ The Temporary Chairman
Order. My recollection of what the Parliamentary Secretary said was that the debate had gone wider than he had expected.
§ The Temporary Chairman
If he did suggest that the Chair was out of order in allowing the debate to proceed as it did, he was out of order.
§ Mr. Loughlin
Further to that point of order. The Parliamentary Secretary said that it had gone so wide that it would be out of order for him to deal with it.
§ Mr. Corfield
Certainly, if there was any imputation. What I meant was that if I answered all the questions and went right to the root of the matter I would be straying into the question of building houses, which, I am sure you would agree, Dr. King, would be out of order. This is the difficulty. We have been discussing a problem for which speaker after speaker has said the cure is to build more houses, and that, we all know, is not something which we can discuss in this debate.
560 I want to return to the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl), who kept very closely to the question of tribunals for the fixing of rents for furnished premises and the question of the limited increase in security for periods of three months. He asked for information about how much use was made of these tribunals. I will try to answer him and the similar questions put by other hon. Members, notably the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) and the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher).
In the twelve months ending 31st March, this year, there were 6,004 decisions, representing an increase of 23 per cent. over the same period for the previous year. In the twelve-month period ending 30th June, the figures were 5,860, an increase of 12.9 per cent. over the corresponding previous period, and in the twelve-month period ending 30th September, the figures were 5,614, a decrease of 1 per cent. The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West wanted me to break down the figures into decisions in and outside London. I could give many figures, but I think that the Committee would be bored. However, I will give the figure for the twelve-month period up to 30th September, this year, which ties in with those which I have already given. The number of decisions in London was 3,414 with 2,180 in the remainder of England and 20 in Wales, making the total of 5,614 which I have already given.
It was suggested by, I think, the hon. Member for Widnes that some of these tribunals might be overworked. This, quite clearly, is certainly not true from the numbers in the provinces or outside London. Indeed the six tribunals in Wales heard a total of twenty cases throughout the year, but in London, of course, where there are seven tribunals a very quick calculation shows that something like 500 cases per tribunal were decided. I am told that the busiest tribunal is that in East London, that it sits for four days a week and that we have never had any complaints at all about it being overworked. However, I will certainly let the hon. Member know should those complaints materialise, and no doubt he will do likewise.
§ Mr. MacColl
The hon. Gentleman has founded his figures on the period ended 30th September. By a fortunate chance they happen to be lower figures than those for the period ended in March. Therefore, it would look as if the burdens on the tribunals were a good deal heavier in 1961 than they should have been.
§ Mr. Corfield
Actually, I think that the increase comes in the early part of this year. It is always difficult to tell the cause of a rise of this sort. There is, as we all know, a general pressure of demand in London and the other big cities. There have been increasing rents, and it was, of course, the period of a very striking increase in Commonwealth immigration, and that, whether we like it or not, has an effect on the pressure for housing.
Several hon. Members asked me how many tribunals there were in the country. The answer is forty. Over the period since 1st October, 1956, some twenty-two have amalgamated, thereby reducing the number, and in the past twelve months there was one amalgamation, that between Plymouth and St. Austell. But, of course, the limiting factor to amalgamations of this sort, particularly in the country districts, is geography rather than pressure of work. I am sure the Committee will appreciate that that is so, particularly in the more remote regions of Wales.
I will, perhaps, diverge at this point from the debate—and I am sure that the Committee will support me in this if in nothing else—to pay tribute to the people who man the tribunals. Their fees are very low indeed. It is quite clear that they do the work from a sense of public service and try their best to give a fair decision. I would impress upon hon. Members, and particularly upon the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West that they are not told in the Act to settle the rent on the basis of a market rent. They are told to do what they regard as reasonable, and that, of course, is a matter of opinion. It has always been regarded as such, and there is no attempt to base it on the rental evidence of the neighbourhood.
§ Mr. Loughlin
I do not want to pursue that, because I never said it. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the 562 figures he has produced. He will recall that I have raised this question on a number of occasions. He said that there are forty tribunals in England and Wales at the moment and that twenty-two have amalgamated. I asked—I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has the figure—how many of them have ceased to exist.
§ Mr. Corfield
As far as I am aware there is no area not covered by a tribunal. In other words, there has been no complete decease of a tribunal but always an amalgamation leaving the area covered, though by a tribunal covering a larger area. As far as I know that has always been the pattern.
A number of hon. Members gave instances, and I have no doubt that they were correct in what they said, of various forms of evasion of the decisions of the tribunals.
It started with my being a little surprised—and the hon. Member for Widnes mentioned that fact—at some of the methods described by him. Some of the other methods, mentioned later, were quite horrifying. The conclusion that hon. Members tried to draw from that was that the Act was not working because people were frightened to go to the tribunals, and that therefore there must be some other means of policing the Act. I think that is a fair resumé of what a number of hon. Members said—or a fair conclusion to be drawn from what they said.
But surely the local authority is the place where most of these people will have been in seeking relief from their housing troubles anyhow. It is the public health authority, and it is responsible for overcrowding, and I take the hon. Member's point that there may be some degree of fear that the overcrowding provisions will be enforced to their disadvantage. On the other hand, what other authority, or what other body, can conceivably have a better knowledge of housing conditions and an ability to assess the position than the local authority, with its housing responsibilities, its public health responsibilities and, indeed, its responsibilities under this Act?
It is so easy to say that these things happen and that somebody ought to do something about it but not a single 563 suggestion has been made as to what other body could do this job better.
§ Mr. Mellish
Surely the Parliamentary Secretary will take the fair point that many local authorities in London would be inhibited from using their powers under the Public Health Act, especially in respect of overcrowding, because if they did and people were compelled to leave the houses they were living in the local authorities would have nothing to offer them. It is against that background that we have to consider the working of the Act.
§ Mr. Corfield
That is almost precisely what I said before. Of course there are grave disincentives against the use of those powers by local authorities, but it does not follow that because they are reluctant to use those powers they have to turn a blind eye and fail to exercise their powers under this Act.
§ Mr. Mellish
The hon. Member is making our case. Here is an Act of Parliament which is not adequate in the circumstances which he is outlining, in the sense that more must be done to give local authorities some incentive to use their powers. Security of tenure should follow, in any case. It is against that background that local authorities should be allowed to act.
§ Mr. Corfield
With due respect to the hon. Member, my point is that there is nothing whatever to prevent local authorities taking up the case of a man or woman, under the operation of the Act, because of the overcrowding provisions. I think the hon. Member is with me on that. But we all admit that this is basically a question of providing more houses.
The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) said that this was a question of pressure on the South-East of England and particularly on the London area. He went on to say that this was all deliberate Government policy. A large part of the reason for this pressure is an increase in the population. The Government are responsible for a lot of things, but I do not think that they are responsible for that. A large part of the problem, too, is the change in the general pattern of the population, in that 564 people are getting married younger, and creating more households, and people are also—thank Heaven—living longer and so creating more households.
So we have the situation—and it is worse in London because it happens to be an immigration area both for the rest of the country and for countries overseas—in which there is a substantial rise in the number of households in relation to the population, as well as a rising population. It is of some interest to note that it is only five or six years ago—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I was saying that the Committee were pressing for this debate because of their intense interest. But it seems that their interest has worn off with the arrival of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.
It is only five or six years ago that there were no less than 300,000 more households than houses in London. Now the figure is 65,000. Whatever else hon. Members opposite may think, they cannot deny that a very substantial advance has been made in the direction of the only cure for this problem, that is by equating the households with houses. We have had an actual decrease in the population in the central area.
The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West, as were several other hon. Members, was worried and critical about the three-month period. He made the point that if people went to the tribunal they would be giving themselves three months' notice. The hon. Member said that they would know that three months was the maximum that they could get and that the landlord would be likely to resent their action, and that would be that. But there is no limit to the number of periods of three months by which this security can be extended, and the tenant who goes to the tribunal in the first place is bound to know that he can come back again.
§ Mr. Loughlin
Can the hon. Gentleman imagine or understand what it would be like to live under those conditions in a house where the landlord also was living? That very often happens in furnished accommodation.
§ Mr. Corfield
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He has made my next point. A great many furnished lettings are in houses which are also occupied by the owner, and the personal element 565 comes in on both sides. We must realise that if we tighten up the security of tenure measures, as the hon. Gentleman wishes to do, a large number of people who own property which is too large for their own requirements and who, therefore, let furnished accommodation will cease to do so. This will mean that there will be even less accommodation to meet an increasing demand; and how that will help to solve the problem which the Committee is discussing is not easy to visualise.
§ Mr. Corfield
We had a rather long speech from the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh). I find it very difficult to answer the hon. Gentleman without going into the whole building programme. But I would willingly do that, and I have no doubt that there will be opportunities to do so. There will be plenty of Supply Days, and I shall look forward to crossing swords with the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Member for Greenwich said that he recognised that there was no overnight cure for the problem, and that if we provided sufficient houses a free market and a free choice was a very good system. This is what we aim to do in the long run, but we certainly do not pretend that we have reached that situation now. He talked about evictions from furnished accommodation, and we had a slightly more lighthearted exchange on the subject of baths. The hon. Gentleman went on to land prices, which I am sure, Sir Robert, you would disapprove of our discussing now. He even spoke of the cost of owner-occupation, with a dig at interest rates. I do not think—
§ 12 m.
§ Mr. Willey
On a point of order, Sir Robert. Is it in order for the Parliamentary Secretary to say that he cannot reply to a matter raised in the debate because apparently it would be out of order? This seems a serious reflection on the Chair.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I understand that the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh), when speaking on the subject, was pulled up by the Chair.
§ Mr. Stewart
Further to that point of order. I do not think you have been quite correctly informed, Sir Robert. Although I believe my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) was pulled up at one stage, a great many of the points he made were not challenged by the Chair. Therefore it would be quite open for the Minister, if he wished, to answer them.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The information I have had is that the hon. Member for Greenwich was pulled up. Of course it would be out of order for an hon. Member to cast any reflection on the Chair.
§ Mr. Corfield
Of course I withdraw any possible reflection on the Chair. The point I tried to make, and I made it to the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) when he was in the Chair and he willingly accepted it, was that if I went into the full story behind all the problems which have been raised I should be widening the debate beyond the extent to which I ought.
§ Mr. Mellish
Will not the Parliamentary Secretary agree that the problems arising from furnished accommodation in particular areas arise because of the lack of alternative accommodation? That being so, is it not reasonable for him when talking about furnished accommodation to argue whether or not there are alternative measures which could be taken which would lighten the strain and pressure on furnished accommodation? The point I made was that there were certain things the Government could do which would have a direct bearing on the pressure on furnished accommodation and would therefore lighten the problem. I should have thought that was completely relevant.
§ Mr. Corfield
I think that if we debated that we could get very wide indeed of the subject of the debate.
§ Mr. Corfield
I will try all sorts of things if the Committee will give me an opportunity.
I must admit that I found it a little difficult to follow the hon. Lady the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater). I am sorry that she is not now present. She raised some matters about the connection between this Act and rateable value and rating assessments. I had some difficulty in following that, but I shall certainly read it in HANSARD with interest and write to her if there is anything that I have misconstrued.
§ Mr. Mellish
The hon. Gentleman made a very important point about tribunals and the knowledge of those who went to them that they had powers of extension of tenancy and so on. In the survey of people in a hostel it was found that 30 per cent. had been evicted from furnished accommodation. How does the hon. Gentleman marry that fact with what he said about their knowing the powers of the tribunal and it then being not half so bad?
§ Mr. Corfield
I took it that the hon. Member assumed that the three months was the limit. I am not going to cross swords with him about whether I understood him rightly or not, but I took it that he assumed that. The three months is the limit of one stretch, but there can be more than one period of three months, although I think it would be rare to find a tenancy extended for twelve months. The reason that people are in the situation mentioned by the hon. Member is that fewer people are prepared to share their houses. Much of the rented accommodation is in houses occupied in part by the owner, and there is no doubt that there is a smaller stock of this accommodation. People are spreading themselves more. Some of the houses have changed hands to bigger families. There is a decrease in the supply of this type of accommodation.
§ Mr. Mellish
Surely that is not right. The vast majority of those in the L.C.C. hostels who had been evicted from furnished accommodation were there because they had in some way broken the 568 terms of the lease of the furnished accommodation, for example in having children when children were barred by the terms of the lease. We do not consider the Act satisfactory and we want a different sort of Act. That has been the point of the argument all the evening.
§ Mr. Corfield
This does not alter my argument that there is a reduction in the supply of this type of accommodation, whether the Committee likes it or not. There is at least a steady, if not an increased, demand and this is bound to lead to some sort of bottleneck.
§ Mr. Pavitt
Are you suggesting that that is the general picture? In my constituency 55 per cent. of the accommodation is still shared. Are you talking of London as a whole?
§ Mr. Corfield
The Committee is well aware that many of these housing problems are local or intensified in certain areas. Taking the country as a whole there are only 55,000 households in excess of the number of houses. If the problem were evenly spread either between the regions of the country or between the various parts of London it would be a relatively small problem; but three-quarters of the difficulty is that it is not spread in this way. I fully accept the point that there are different patterns in different areas, and probably this is bound to be the case.
I come to the hon. Member for Islington, East, who spoke just before the second debate started. He argued, on the one hand, that this was not a satisfactory Measure, and, on the other hand, that conditions were such that it had never been more needed. I was not quite certain which conclusion we were supposed to reach. He attempted to make the point that the conditions today were wholly different from those when the Act was introduced. It was introduced in 1946 at a period of intense pressure for housing. Whatever the defects of the Government's housing achievements alleged by the Opposition, there are nearly a million more houses today than there were then, and with that improvement and the improvement in the balance between households and houses, it is 569 difficult to see why an Act which was so good in 1946, when the pressure was far greater, should be so bad today because it is under a Conservative Government.
§ Mr. Corfield
Of course one should not be satisfied, but an element of humility from those who introduced it might make it easier to accept the criticism.
I want to end by referring to the L.C.C.'s comments on the matter. I have the minutes of the general purposes committee who recently considered the whole problem.
§ Mr. Corfield
It is signed by the hon. Lady. It refers to the state of the law under the Act which we are considering and the Rent Act. It suggests a form of amendment somewhat similar to that put forward tonight—increasing the security—and it ends with this sentence:We are advised that although the extension of control suggested would no doubt prevent some families from being rendered homeless because of the protection afforded, it would not assist homeless families in the lower income groups in London to find accommodation within their means. The effect of differences in the control in London and in the provinces is difficult to assess, but it might be that they would attract population into the area although the restriction on available accommodation due to greater security of tenure would make it harder for them to find accommodation. Any such movement would add to the problems of existing homeless families and would aggravate the problem from the Council's point of view.It must be clear that any attempt to increase control is to give advantages to those who already have accommodation but at the expense of those who have not. That would really be legislation in favour of the haves and at the expense of the have-nots, and, although I believe some odd things of the Opposition, I do not believe that they would accept that.
§ Mr. Loughlin
I do not quite understand the hon. Gentleman's reference, in this context, to providing legislation for the benefit of those who have against those who have not. Will he develop that point?
§ Mr. Corfield
I think it is clear that if existing tenancies are controlled, we sterilise a good deal of property in that we produce a disincentive to people to move out, even though the premises may be under-occupied. That is a disadvantage to those who are looking for accommodation and those who would benefit by people moving out and providing more accommodation.
§ Mr. Pavitt
I recognise that the Parliamentary Secretary has had no easy task this evening, but I must confess that I am profoundly disappointed at the reply that he has given to the debate which preceded his comments. He tells us that the population has grown and that people are marrying younger. He gives other global statistics. But we were aware of those things before. What we were looking for from the Government Front Bench was some action which would deal with the problems these things provide. I hoped he would answer the questions which were asked by my hon. Friends and give an assurance of the possibility of ameliorating the conditions in which so many people live.
It was satisfying to have from him confirmation of the weight of the tribunals' decisions in London, and the figures that he gave will be most useful to us in future debates on this problem. The fact that a large majority of these cases are in London—I believe the figure for London is 3,314 as against 2,180 elsewhere—indicates that the London Members on this side of the Committee who are so interested in the problem have been supported by very strong statistical backing from the Front Bench opposite. I join with the Parliamentary Secretary in the tribute he paid to the members of the tribunals, but I think that the numbers of cases that he has given makes it difficult to prove one thing or the other.
One of our difficulties is not the way in which the Act operates for those who go to the tribunals but the numbers of people who ought to go to the tribunals and who never do so. When we are examining the possibility of renewing the Act, we should also consider whether there should be some changes in legislation covering the tribunals which would encourage people to use them more and perhaps give them the necessary teeth.
571 Neither can I accept the Parliamentary Secretary's complacency about the fact that after three months it is possible for people to apply for a renewal of a further three months. I think anyone who has had the problem of trying to set at rest the minds of constituents who are faced with going to a tribunal, with the threat of the roof being taken from over their heads at the end of three months, will agree that this perpetual insecurity is so abhorrent that some means of altering the situation must be found. As the Parliamentary Secretary rightly said, the conflict often going on under one roof between landlord and tenant only makes the acute misery even worse.
In 1946, when the Act was passed, the situation was very different. The Government at that time had a housing policy designed to encourage the maximum amount of municipal ownership of rented property, and, inevitably, there were not the same pressures upon furnished lettings. Nevertheless, it was necessary to have an Act of some kind to deal with that situation. Since then, there has been legislation affecting the issue, and there have been great changes in social conditions. There has been the inevitable deterioration in places where there is much slum property which has become more "slummy" and required more drastic attention from the local authorities.
The Act is inadequate for present needs. While we continue, year after year, to perpetuate it, we fail to secure the real safeguards which we should provide for the tenants of rented property.
I will give an example of the kind of situation we encounter in places like Willesden. A man and wife and three children are evicted. I had such a case only last Friday week. The two older children are put in care homes The welfare services will provide for them in separate hostels. The baby is eighteen months old and the mother will not part with it. So the couple rent accommodation, one room, and pay £3 10s. a week for it so that they may keep the baby with them, while the other two children are away, one at Enfield and the other at Chingford.
572 The room in which they have to live is furnished, so-called. Cooking facilities are a gas stove on the landing. Each morning, about twelve people line up with frying pans and eggs in the hope of being able to cook on the one cooking stove provided.
The man is in good steady work. He earns £11 10s. a week regularly, and he has been in the same employment for twelve years. But he cannot cope with this sort of situation. Obviously, £3 10s. a week for the room is too much. When I suggest that he go to the rent tribunal and inform him of his rights under the Act, he is too scared to do so lest he and his wife should have to leave and be parted from their baby. Every hon. Member who is a parent can sympathise with that kind of reaction.
The Act goes some way, but it does not meet present needs. We have supported the Amendment in the hope that, perhaps, if we refuse to renew it now we may in the future get the kind of protection for our people which is really required.
The problem is aggravated in a place like Willesden because we are so near to London that people about to do so are prepared to pay exorbitant rents, with the consequence that the whole level of the market is raised and those in ordinary jobs cannot cope. Their only means of redress is to go to the rent tribunal, but they know that, if they do so, they will be likely to be evicted after three months.
The situation is aggravated by the pressure for land. We have none in Willesden for rebuilding. As I said in the debate on the Gracious Speech, the last piece of land we were offered was a quarter of an acre for £28,000. What local authority can attempt to ease the situation by building council houses when the land costs £112,000 an acre, even with very high densities, which Willesden now has? Even with the Minister's promise to the House that he will help councils in this kind of situation, I am not sufficiently optimistic to hope that he can do anything when the land costs £112,000 an acre.
§ Sir K. Joseph
The hon. Member will, of course, take into account the expensive site subsidy, although I recognise his general point. A quarter of an acre 573 is very little help, in any event, in this case.
§ Mr. Pavitt
This matter will no doubt be brought to the Minister's attention again and again from areas in Greater London which have the same problem.
I can quote another case, with which the rent tribunal is unable to deal. It is a case of broken marriage. Because young married people do not have sufficient savings, they cannot put down the deposit for a house, and as they cannot get council accommodation—we have a waiting list of 3,000—they are forced to find rented property somewhere. A case which I have had within the last few weeks is not an isolated one but is typical of what happens.
The young man in question came to me. He is married and his wife has gone back to live with her parents, because the only accommodation they could get was to rent a room in his parents' house, but the mother-in-law could not get on with the wife. This is a common enough occurrence. Practically every hon. Member representing a London constituency will have had a case like this. In this instance, however, it was the second time of asking. The same thing happened four years ago.
The man married and a family was started. Because of pressure of accommodation, the couple stayed with his people. Things did not work out and the wife went back to her own family. Thus, for a period when the marriage was still intact, the wife lived with her folks and the husband with his and the children commuted back and forth between the two. This led to the inevitable divorce. The man now states that he has reached precisely the same point again in his second marriage. How often does this kind of thing happen? I cannot say to the man, "There is sufficient rented accommodation where you can get away from both families, for which a tribunal can fix a reasonable rent, which will enable you at least to solve your personal difficulties and therefore, perhaps, have hope of a happy married life."
It is surely an elementary requirement that if a young couple start out on married life together, they should have the opportunity of building a home of their own and having a family without 574 these pressures, which are caused by the shocking housing conditions in the Greater London area and by the racket which goes on in rented property, which does not permit them to get a decent start.
Then, there is the kind of problem for which, again, the Act does not make provision but which the rent tribunal has to deal with, although ineffectively. My hon. Friends have mentioned the friction that arises in rented property with shared bathrooms and lavatories. I will not weary the Committee with the many kinds of cases of this kind in my constituency, as one of the things I am proud to record is that the Willesden International Friendship Committee, which seeks racial integration between the many immigrants in my area, deals with these matters week in, week out on a casework basis.
There is, however, constant friction from other points when there is common use of property. People have to go through somebody else's premises to get coal, as happens when winter starts, from a bunker in the back yard. In most cases in my constituency, it is literally a hack yard and not a garden. There are innumerable cases of friction which arise over the common use of a scullery or of a passageway from the upstairs in the premises, to the coal stored in the back yard. Rent increases can arise because of that and can go before a tribunal. They are not helped by the continuation of the Act. Precisely the same kind of problem emerges every Monday morning over the use of two tines in a small hack yard for the drying of washing. Friction arises. One of the ways a mediator helps is by persuading the landlord to put in a pulley which can be used from the top floor of the house, so that the tenant upstairs does not have to go through the downstairs premises. All these problems may sound light and facetious, but to a wife trying to bring up a family in such conditions they are a day by day heartbreak and a tragedy.
Another problem is that a tribunal may in all good faith give a wrong decision. The Act does not help over that, and it is a matter with which legislation should deal. I have sent to the Minister recently—I am still awaiting his reply—a case which occurred only last week. 575 The appellant went to the tribunal and appealed to be maintained in the house. I think the case went finally to the county court and as a result, the tenant had to vacate the premises. One of the main grounds for the county court's decision, apart from the amount of the rental, was that the housing need of the owner was greater than the housing need of the tenant. Yet when the premises became vacant—two furnished rooms—what happened was that they were let again at a higher rent. Whereas the rent was previously £3 10s. it was made £6 15s. And the premises were let to somebody not a member of the family of the landlord at all. I have put this case to the Minister and no doubt he will give me his advice in due course. The continuing year by year of the Act of 1946 does not help in cases of that kind.
We have pressure arising from the fact that in a three-month period 20 per cent. of the advertisements for furnished accommodation in my constituency, according to a survey taken by an officer of the London Council for Social Service, included the words "No coloured". It was rather a thorough survey. I was rather surprised that one advertisement said, "No coloured. No Welsh". I do not know what the Principality had done to offend that particular household. Fair enough, I suppose. The landlord who owns and lives in the premises has the right, I suppose, to choose who shall occupy them, but the fact that racial discrimination is practised by landlords inevitably makes this a far more acute problem, and makes the work of the tribunal doubly hard. If we had fresh legislation perhaps this point could be dealt with in a more satisfactory manner.
Then there is the case which the rent tribunal cannot deal with, and which many of us see. I am very pleased to see nearby in the Chamber the hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Skeet), because we spent a very pleasant time together—pleasant for us in a way; unpleasant because of what we saw. We saw old people living in single rooms and receiving "meals on wheels".
On that occasion we saw the tragedy of people in the evening of their lives 576 living alone in rented accommodation with inadequate resources. I think of an old lady of 79 or 80 walking around the place with flowing garments likely to catch fire at any moment from an open oil heater. There was no possible way of getting the landlord to make the place fit for her to live in, and it was not possible to provide her with other accommodation more suited to her needs. If we refused to continue this Act, perhaps some of these problems might be examined by those drafting fresh legislation.
There is also the racket in rented property when the furnishings are perhaps the most minute piece of lino and a spare wooden chair but additional furnishings are offered at an exorbitant price so that, in effect, the person is paying "key money" for a furnished room. Most hon. Members, certainly those in the London area, are familiar with these problems. In some cases we can make representations and find ways of dealing with them at the local authority level, but in the main we look to legislation to provide safeguards and enable tribunals to do their job properly.
How can tribunals fix a reasonable rent when the sky is the limit because of nearness to London? What should one do when in a tenement block one family which happens to be prosperous is able to pay an extremely high rent and the landlord can say to the tribunal "From Flat No. 12 I am receiving £6 10s. per week, so it is obvious that that is a reasonable rent. Eleven others are paying only £3 a week", and the tribunal says "We will make those other rents £5 10s. a week"?
Practically every day the newspapers tell us that there are so many shopping days to Christmas. In my constituency 188 families are broken up, the children in care and the parents in hostels or pitiable furnished rooms at exorbitant rent. It would be a fine thing if we could give such people a Christmas gift from this House of a reunited home. Even if on this occasion the Committee decides that this legislation must be continued, let us do something for these people for Christmas 1963.
§ Mr. Corfield
Sir Robert, I understand that I made a mistake in quoting a figure. I apologise to the Committee and 577 would like to correct the error. I am given to understand that in talking about the excess of households over houses at present I said it was 65,000. It is 165,000.
§ Mr. Stewart
We are obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I am not surprised to hear the correction. I was extremely surprised by his original figure.
I see that we now have with us a London, or Greater London, Member apposite. Whether the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. A. Brown) is to be described as a Conservative London Member is still to be defined. We also have the presence of the Leader of the House and of the Minister of Housing and Local Government. I am sure that our action earlier in seeking to report Progress so that Members opposite could collect their forces—the hon. Member for Tottenham, the Leader of the House and the Minister—was well justified.
Since the Minister is here, I trust that he will make later on some contribution to the debate, because, quite candidly, we did not think much of the reply, if it can be called that, of his Parliamentary Secretary. He referred to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) and excused himself from not replying to it by assuming that he would be out of order. As I pointed out at the time, while at one point my hon. Friend seemed to be straying a bit from a narrow interpretation of the business, what he said was unchallenged and clearly in order and should have been replied to. Indeed, even if there had been a danger of the Parliamentary Secretary getting out of order, a man of spirit would have taken the risk and not contented himself with a narrow, jejune interpretation of the business.
The Parliamentary Secretary also referred to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher). He said it was difficult to understand what my hon. Friend wanted. That was not a difficulty experienced by anyone this side of the Committee. I will explain to the hon. Member what the point at issue is. We say that this Act is quite inadequate in present circumstances, but we know perfectly well that if we simply let it expire and put nothing in its place we would 578 create an impossible position. It should not be beyond the wit of the Parliamentary Secretary to understand that. That is what my hon. Friend was saying. It is a common point and one that very commonly has to be made on expiring laws.
The hon. Gentleman also said he would welcome a little more humility from this side of the Committee. If he were here, I would be able to tell him that we would welcome from him a little more attempt to do the job of a Junior Minister properly; he has shown very little of that so far in his office. We hope that the Minister, whose ability and application to the job we respect, whatever we think of his policy, will try to remedy the deficiency.
We start with the nominal definition of the business before us, which is whether this Act should continue in existence for another year. When we have temporary legislation on a subject like this and sees that we have gone on continuing it year by year for 16 years, we may well begin to feel that there is something unsatisfactory about the situation. Where we have legislation, like some of the earlier Acts we have been dealing with today, which gives rather special powers to the Executive, there is a case for having it put before Parliament annually year by year, and when we do that we are merely recognising that special jealousy of the Executive which Parliament thinks it right to express on certain topics. But this is a matter of straightforward social policy.
When the Act was passed in 1946, it met the circumstances of the time and it was thought by everybody that there was no need for more than a temporary Act, or that if the need continued, the temporary Act would be replaced by some permanent Measure which would embody the lessons of the experience of the years since 1946. After all these years we are still renewing the same Act, although every time we do hon. Members point out that, whatever the Act might have done in 1946, it does not suit the present circumstances. We therefore have to ask whether we want to continue to deal with this matter on a temporary basis. Is it not time to have permanent legislation?
Surely that is the purpose of the debate —to make the Government run the 579 gauntlet of criticism. If they say, "We want you to do this rather messy thing, not to pass a proper permanent Act and not to bring these powers to an end, but to go on on this 'on tick' basis for another twelve months", it is quite proper that they should have to run the gauntlet of criticism. It was his unwillingness to understand that which made the Parliamentary Secretary's speech so unsatisfactory.
If we apply ourselves to that job, one of the questions which we must ask at once is whether there is any prospect in anything like the near future of there being no need for a Furnished Houses (Rent Control) Act. If there were, if we had genuine reason to believe that in a year or two we would not need to control the rent of furnished houses, Parliament could happily agree to let this Act run on for another two years before coming to an end. But we know that there is not the least chance of the control of the rents of furnished dwellings being unnecessary in two, or five, or possibly ten years. The evidence is all in the other direction, as is shown by the figures of cases brought before the tribunals.
Let me give a rather different figure in this connection, not the number of cases brought, but the number of cases in which rents have been reduced, that is to say, not only was the case brought, but it was overwhelmingly clear that it ought to have been brought, and where the tribunal decided that the case was within its jurisdiction and was one in which the rent ought to be reduced. In round figures, there were 2,300 such cases in 1960 and 2,900 in 1961, an increase of slightly more than 25 per cent. Those were undoubtedly cases in which the tenants would not have been getting their legal rights if the case had not been brought. In face of that, we cannot seriously pretend that we are anywhere near a position in which rent control of furnished houses will not be necessary.
There is another interesting thing among the figures which have been given by the Parliamentary Secretary for the different parts of the country, for they show to what a terrible extent this is a London problem. About 60 per cent. of all the cases in the Kingdom are 580 London cases. That does not mean that we do not find the problem in a fairly acute form in other large cities, but it is pre-eminently a London problem and that is why, although at times we may have smiled, we were not being flippant when we commented on the absence of Government supporters representing London constituencies.
I mentioned the figure of the number of cases in which rents were reduced, but we all know that for every one such case there is probably at least another one, or two, which ought to be brought but which is not brought because of the tenant's fear of the consequences.
It is true that if one brings the case to court one gets a certain period of security of tenure. But one cannot be sure that one will ever get more than three months. The court may extend the period, but one cannot be certain that it will. One knows that one will have an extremely unpleasant time during those three months and that at the end of the period, or as soon as the court will allow it, one will go for certain. That is why when we find the number of cases where the court reduces the rent rising by 25 per cent. we may be quite certain that behind those figures, like the submerged part of an iceberg, there is a very great mass of overcharging against which this legislation is a partial but, while it lasts, an indispensable deterrent.
That is why we have said, and I adhere to the view, that the power of the court to grant in the first instance a longer period of security of tenure should be increased. The Parliamentary Secretary made some remarks about this aspect of the problem which showed how little he understands it. His argument—I am sorry that he is not now here to tell me if I am representing him, though I do not think I am—if I understood it aright, was this. If we gave people who live in furnished dwelling security of tenure for longer periods we should be, what he called, freezing the pattern. He said that would play into the hands of the people who are in possession, those whom he called the "haves", as against the persons who might get into the dwellings in their place, whom he called the "have nots". He called that favouring the "haves" as against the "have nots"
581 But has the Parliamentary Secretary considered that if there is only very limited security of tenure, the more limited it is the easier it is for the landlord to say to his present tenant, "Get out because I have another tenant in view who in a number of ways will be more convenient to me. In the first place, I want to put in your place a tenant who, in defiance of the law and under the counter, will pay me more than the rent which the tribunal says is the right rent for this dwelling. Secondly, you may be a tenant tiresome enough to have children. I want the house let to someone who does not intend to have children. Or you may be an elderly person, and I am not sure that I want the moral responsibility of taking someone into my house who might be seriously ill or have a fall on the stairs. I want a young, fit tenant who ensures for me a good rent and no responsibility at all"?
The less security of tenure there is for everyone, the easier it is for the tenant with plenty of money in his pocket and with all the advantages on his side to get somewhere to live and the harder it is for the poor tenant, the elderly tenant, the tenant with children, the tenant with perhaps in his family a person who is a bit awkward, to get somewhere to live. That is what the Parliamentary Secretary does not understand. I think the hon. Gentleman's ideal world is one in which nobody will have more than a day's security of tenure and where tenants will be moving around, being evicted from one accommodation and moving to the next like a stage army. The Parliamentary Secretary will be consoling himself by saying, "There is no frozen pattern here—there is flexibility and the free play of the market."
I think that the point I have made is a serious one. The lack of security of tenure acts against the weakest competitor in this harsh jungle, the market, at the present time. I hope that when, as a result of this debate, the Government consider permanent legislation they will consider that point.
Another point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) which, again, was misunderstood by the Parliamentary Secretary, was that which related to the part that should be played by local authorities in this matter. A case can be brought before a tribunal either 582 by a tenant or by a local authority, on its own instance. My hon. Friend was pointing out that much more could be done if local authorities made wider use of that power. He was not suggesting some other kind of authority, as the Parliamentary Secretary seemed to think, but that there should be greater use by local authorities of their power, on their own motion, to bring cases before the court. In the light of this debate and the undoubted abuses and hardships that occur in this furnished lettings situation, the Minister should therefore consider circularising local authorities and drawing their attention to their powers in this respect.
The less security of tenure there is the harsher the situation for the tenant who is the weak competitor. That is all part of the general picture around the country, and particularly in the Metropolis. The dice are loaded against the tenant, and it is not a lot of good talking about the free flow of the market when the supply and demand position is such that the tenant is in this desperately weak bargaining position all the time.
If that argument does not commend itself to hon. Members opposite, I would point out that it is not only against the tenant that the dice are loaded; they are also loaded against the good landlord. I was pointing out just now a number of reasons why a landlord may be prepared to say to his tenant "Get out. I am going to put somebody else in." No hon. Member on this side of the Committee would deny—and many of us tonight have firmly stated this—that not all landlords are merciless; we know that there are plenty of exceptions to disprove that allegation. A man who owns property of this kind, in this jungle of a rent market that is London today, may start out by saying, "I will try to behave, not necessarily quixotically but decently; I will not fling an old lady out merely because I do not want the responsibility of having her on my property; I will not turn a couple out because they have children, and I will not turn out people who have been good tenants for a number of years in order that I can put in another tenant who is prepared to pay me a pound a week more than the law allows me". Such a landlord will find, very soon, that there are plenty of other landlords who 583 think that he is a precious behaving in that manner.
The law as it stands now, both by what it permits and what it is powerless to forbid—although it tries to—makes the path of the voracious easy and the path of the landlords who want to behave decently very difficult. That is the real trouble. Bernard Shaw drew our attention long ago to the fact that if we want people to behave well we must have laws under which it looks a little more sensible to behave well than to behave badly. When we create a situation in which it is notoriously true that it pays better to behave badly, we cannot hope that individual virtue will always prevail against that continuing temptation.
I believe that it was the Prophet Isaiah who said,Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place …Our modern practice is different; for the person who does this it is not woe, but congratulations; it is that kind of person who does well. It is woe to his unfortunate tenant, and woe—comparatively—to the landlord who tries to behave decently. Why does this situation exist, and why is it getting worse?
I come now to the only point in respect of which I agree with the Parliamentary Secretary. He pointed out that less accommodation of this kind was coming on to the market. That is one of the results of the Rent Act, for this reason. Although this control over furnished accommodation is a rather feeble instrument and not really adequate to meet the situation, it is at least an instrument. If the accommodation is turned into unfurnished accommodation there is no control at all. It would pay a landlord to get rid of the tenant of furnished accommodation and let it as unfurnished. After all, as several hon. Members have pointed out, the physical jab of turning furnished accommodation into unfurnished is not very difficult. It is only necessary for the landlord to take up the linoleum and take the chair downstairs into his own part of the house and then he has totally uncontrolled unfurnished accommodation to let. No wonder we are getting what 584 the parliamentary Secretary calls a bottleneck.
We are finding that there are more properties in London standing empty and for longer periods. We know from the report of the Ministry after an inquiry into what was happening that 30,000 dwellings were decontrolled under the Act. The interesting thing was that eighteen months after decontrol the proportion standing empty was higher than before decontrol. That is a fact which makes the housing problem either for furnished or unfurnished accommodation no easier.
Another factor which is helping to create this situation is that London, as the Parliamentary Secretary said in one of his more delightful passages, happens to be a place to which people go. That is a simple way to describe this massive movement towards south-east England which is one of the major factors of our time—"it happens to be". Does the hon. Gentleman imagine that this is some curious whim of Mother Nature, which cannot be understood by the application to it of human intelligence? Does it occur to him that, with the application of even greater effort on the part of human intelligence, it might be something which could be mitigated?
It is true that if we do nothing at all about this whole situation, the problems of housing in London, and particularly those of tenants in rented accommodation, will become more acute. That is why we have so often urged on the Government a whole series of measures which could help to solve the housing problem generally and the problem in the South-East and the Metropolis particularly.
If we do not take such measures, we shall find that year by year when we are asked to re-examine the appropriate legislation, and despite the excellent intentions of the Government, the situation seems more serious. We shall be told that the figures of households and houses are more encouraging. But, unfortunately, we find that the number of homeless people keeps increasing. The number of people who go to the rent tribunals to get their rents reduced, because they were too high in the first place, keeps increasing. Those are the facts.
585 What should the Government bear in mind if they want the Committee to say, "Very well, we are not happy about this. But we recognise that we cannot tear up this Act now. You must have it for another year. But please study what has been said in the debate and put up a rather better showing in the next twelve months."? If they are to put up a better showing in twelve months' time, these are the things they have to be prepared to do. I shall be brief about them, because I do not want to take up too much time and I do not want to get out of order. I should mention briefly, however, what I think the Government need to do if we are not to find every year when we discuss this problem that somehow or other the inadequacy of this temporary piece of legislation is becoming more and more apparent.
First, they have to provide for the tenant, whether in furnished or unfurnished accommodation, security of tenure. I do not suppose that by now, as a matter of pride, the Government could swallow the idea of repealing the vital Sections of the Rent Act, but they must look again at the question of whether it is wise to retain the full rigour of its provisions that every new tenancy is uncontrolled and that four week's notice is all that is required. The fact that unfurnished tenancies are held on that slender security can increase the number of people who from time to time will be desperately looking round for furnished accommodation or anything that will give them a roof over their heads. That is why it is relevant to mention unfurnished as well as furnished accommodation in this connection.
I think the Minister will find that there has been a shift of opinion in recent months on this matter. A few years ago it was regarded as a fad of the Labour Party to obiect to the Rent Act. I now find that social workers, people working in Citizens Advice Bureaux, people who usually are very careful to avoid any taint of partisanship, faced with the facts are saying to themselves and to others, "Can't we do something to prevent this ruthless power of eviction, often so ruthlessly exercised, which is one of the factors in the pressure on furnished 586 accommodation and in the problem of London's homeless today?"
Next, the Minister has to consider giving local authorities greater powers, or encouraging or even directing them, to make greater use of the powers they have, to get hold of properties and use them to meet housing needs. I believe one reason why people are prepared to squeeze themselves into inadequate furnished rooms and shrink from going to a tribunal which could reduce their rents is simply that they have no choice of anywhere else to go. That could partly be remedied if we were more rigorous to see that there are no unnecessary empty properties anywhere in the Metropolis. If local authorities were encouraged to make the fullest use of their powers of acquisition this could be done. We have argued before about whether the Government ought to pass laws giving local authorities powers of requisitioning properties, but even if the Government agreed to do that this minute we could not get the Measure through before Christmas and it would not be an immediate answer to the problem.
Local authorities ought to consider whether they are making full use of the powers of acquisition that they have and, if necessary, the powers of compulsory purchase to prevent undue pressure on the market of homeless people trying desperately to find some sort of roof over their heads, be it furnished or unfurnished. I say this on compulsory purchase, and it links up with the point argued between my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) and the Parliamentary Secretary about rents fixed by tribunals. The Parliamentary Secretary contended that the tribunal is entitled to use its own completely unfettered judgment without regard to rents of neighbouring property. I am not sure how correct he is legally, but I am sure that in fact if all over the neighbourhood rents are steadily rising, it is impossible that that will not influence a rent tribunal in the rent which it fixes.
Important in that connection is the encouragement which the Minister recently gave to landlords to screw rents up as hard as they possibly could. He did this in his reply about the compulsory purchase order in the borough which 587 I know so well—Fulham. He told the House at Question Time why he had not confirmed that order, and he said in effect that the tenant could afford the rent which was being asked—between four and five times the gross value. He stuck to the proposition that the means of the private tenant were one of the factors to be considered when deciding whether a rent was exorbitant.
I ask the Minister to consider the result of suddenly thrusting that new doctrine into what is now the law and practice about rents. A landlord finds that one of his tenants is quite well off, and at the first opportunity he has of doing it legally, he screws the rent up to the maximum which he thinks the tenant will pay. The local authority tries to intervene with a compulsory purchase order, but it cannot be shown that the tenant would be rendered homeless by the landlord's action because he is rich enough to pay the rent. That was the Minister's argument. The landlord can get away with it in that way.
He can then try it on a neighbouring tenant; he will try to get the rent up to the maximum which he can get with regard to that tenant's means. Then he can try it on the tenants who have not so much means. And what is one factor to be considered here? It is comparable rents in the neighbourhood. They have already been pushed up by the Minister's ruling in respect of the wealthiest tenants. This will be reflected in the judgment of the rent tribunal on furnished accommodation.
§ Mr. Loughlin
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making the point. I was in the Chamber in the previous debate, and although I would not attribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland words which he did not use, I construed his remarks to mean that one of the ways in which the tribunal arrived at rents was to take account of the conditions in the locality and comparable rents. In practice, the statement of one junior Minister contradicts that of the other.
§ Mr. Stewart
I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. Until the Parliamentary Secretary questioned it, I should not have thought that any reasonable person would have had any doubt about it—and I do not suppose that he has now that he has thought it over.
588 Certain other measures need to be taken if we are not to go on having, preeminently in London but in certain other parts of the country, too, this unhappy position of desperate pressure on accommodation, furnished or unfurnished; of people needing the protection of the law because the market is so harshly against them; of people finding that protection not adequate; and of hon. Members having to say in the House year after year, "We, the Opposition, have not the power to make the protection any better, and therefore we must let it go on, inadequate though it is." If the Government want to improve that situation they can consider the measures which I have mentioned—the need for greater security of tenure, for a more vigorous policy of acquisition by local authorities in which they should be both permitted and encouraged by the Minister—
§ Sir Keith Joseph
I take it that the hon. Member is referring to purchase by agreement or compulsory purchase. He is not, I presume, referring to requisition.
§ Mr. Stewart
Although I do not retract anything that I said previously about requisition, I am not arguing that now, because we should have to pass an Act before the Government could do it. I am talking about things which could be done administratively under the present law. The other things beyond that are the bigger measures, the much greater programme of municipal house building and a real policy to plan the location of industry and the distribution of population and employment throughout the country.
While I am indebted to you, Sir Samuel, for allowing me to mention those subjects, I will not try your patience by attempting to develop the argument. But I am sure, with respect, that the Chair has been wise and generous to make a liberal interpretation of the rules of order throughout this debate, because in common sense one cannot really discuss the plight of the family in a room and a half on £6 a week—and that is not an exaggeration—or the plight of the homeless, without finding oneself drawn into the whole impressive complex of the housing problem.
If back-bench Government supporters, representing areas most affected, have not 589 been here to learn much tonight, let us at least hope that the Government themselves have learned something and that this will be reflected in action before we debate the same subject again next year.
§ Mr. Parkin
I think it is perfectly clear to everyone who has been in the Chamber in this and in previous debates —and, of course, it is obviously clear to the Chair because of the attitude that it takes on these occasions—that these debates would not take place year after year except for the existence of the problem of housing for ordinary working class wage-earning families in an area where there is no room for them.
I think I will leave it to the Minister to try to explain patiently to the Parliamentary Secretary tomorrow morning why his brilliant argument fell rather flat when he inquired why it was that the Labour Party was so satisfied that this was a good Act when it was passed and why it is a bad Act now. Perhaps the Minister will make sure that his Parliamentary Secretary understands that when the Act was passed it was supplementary to ordinary rent control, and it was intended to defend the limited amount of furnished accommodation that was then available from being exploited at grossly inflated rents for people who did not really want furnished accommodation.
Although I will leave it to the Minister to complete the education of the Parliamentary Secretary, I must say that I resent the remark that the Parliamentary Secretary made about an element of humility that ought to come into our approach. Does he really think that the Opposition on this occasion ought to come like the burghers of Calais? Do we have to ask permission to draw his attention to this subject? There are plenty of occasions when one does feel very humble indeed on this subject. A sort of humility of despair comes over me—[Interruption.]—something which is not within the experience of the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams)—when we have failed to help one of our constituents. [Interruption.] I think I might be spared this flippant derision from hon. Members who are not acutely concerned with the week-to-week disillusionment and despair of these cases.
590 We have enough to reproach ourselves with when we fail and find that a woman who was in our advice bureau because she was being turned out of furnished accommodation when her fifth child was coming, has died of an infected abortion in Paddington Hospital; and when a child lands up in the juvenile court because it was impossible for him to find any room in the evening to enjoy any family life. Sometimes one has to repeat these things. People who have not seen these conditions do not have to know them, and I am surprised very often how hon. Members and others who live in other parts of the country are really shocked when they come to meet the realities of the situation. On an occasion like this, one should not have to adopt any particularly humble attitude towards the Government in raising the matter.
But I must not be distracted from my intention to speak to the Minister about furnished accommodation as such. It is a very important factor in the housing of London. I hope that his Ministry is doing some sort of survey. The rent tribunals now exist as a defence for people who do not want to live in furnished accommodation. There is never any complaint about the rent from people who do wish to live in furnished accommodation, and there are many of them. A young bachelor of 23, let us say, who is starting his career in London after being at university has no problem in finding one or two friends with whom to share the rent. It works out cheaper for them than it does for those who have to live in badly furnished, overcrowded accommodation without amenities such as is to be found in places like Willesden and Paddington. It is, in fact, dearer for people to live as they have to do in Paddington and Willesden than it is to live in Earl's Court in conditions about which the tenants would not complain.
I have previously asked the Minister to consider the subject of hotels. Hotels provide a type of furnished accommodation. There is an enormous range of types of furnished accommodation. People who live in accommodation of the kind provided by hotels do not go to the rent tribunal to complain that they are not allowed to keep pets. Some of those who supply luxury furnished 591 accommodation welcome tenants with pets. Houses tend to attract people with the same tastes, habits, and so on. One gets what one is prepared to pay for.
There is the problem of student accommodation. Surely, this will have to be referred to the Ministry of Housing at some time. I expect the Minister knows that the University of London made a calculation of the increase in the number of students who would require furnished accommodation in single rooms and hostels in London. I am told that the university authorities had the idea that they would advertise in the suburbs instead of trying to find accommodation at the centre. After advertising in the local papers in an effort to find families occupying a whole house who could spare one room, they had four replies.
The Minister will not be able to tackle this matter properly without taking into account what Dr. Beeching is doing. This may seem out of order, but one cannot discuss where a hostel ought to be placed outside the centre of London unless one arranges with the university authorities that they will start teaching at a time when students can come up on the line from the suburbs to the centre without competing with the ordinary rush-hour traffic. One cannot leave that out of one's consideration of where these thousands of people who come to London every year or two should be put.
There are very many people who legitimately seek this kind of accommodation. Post-graduates getting early experience, people called in from provincial branches of firms for a little training in London, nurses, Commonwealth students—all manner of people want furnished accommodation of some kind in London. It is difficult sometimes to define closely what is a student. For hundreds of years, students have gone abroad to other universities and combined a little work and a little study. Commonwealth students in many cases expect to be able to earn their living and save enough to be able to take a course.
Where are these people to live? Would it be profitable for the Minister to subsidise the local authorities in producing blocks of flats? My hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) quoted with horror—
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Samuel Storey)
Order. The hon. Gentleman is going a little far from the Amendment, which deals with furnished houses.
§ Mr. Parkin
With respect, Sir Samuel, I was asking that some should be built, that there should be a policy to provide furnished accommodation, and that the function of the rent tribunal should be directed to furnished accommodation let to people who wanted it. I realise, Sir Samuel, that you are startled that I am concentrating on this fact. The need to have a policy and to have some control over furnished accommodation can hardly be out of order.
§ The Temporary Chairman
The hon. Member was referring to the subsidising of the building of flats. That has nothing to do with the control of rents.
§ Mr. Parkin
I am suggesting, Sir Samuel, that such furnished flatlets are the very type of accommodation that students and junior diplomats want. There are advertisements always in the quality papers asking for furnished accommodation of that kind. People want furnished accommodation for a year or two while they settle down. If the Government had a policy for this provision, it would release a great deal of other accommodation. [Interruption.] I have made the point to the Minister. Whether I have made it to some of his supporters, I do not know.
One last factor which is worth considering is that if such provision of furnished accommodation is planned for the sort of people who, for practical purposes, live "on the town", for whom the whole of London is open for their leisure time, one need not be so fastidious on the subject of density figures as when planning in an area which is a local community. It is reasonable to say that if we were providing for that sort of accommodation, we should not count it as heavily in the density figures as we should if we were providing the accommodation for larger families.
I suggest this to the Minister as one further way in which he might find space to carry out his other housing programme, which, of course, it would be out of order for me to discuss now. Through this debate, in which everyone has tried to look at the picture in the broadest sense, we may ask the Minister to think carefully 593 about the fact that to let furnished accommodation is not a disgrace. It is a skilled profession. It is part of the hotel and catering profession and, generally, it ranges over an immense variety of accommodation. If the Minister would consider giving encouragement to the development of that sort of business in such a way that it would release other blocks, there would be much more positive work for the Government, much less irksome work for the tribunals, less time would be occupied in discussing the problem on this kind of Bill every year and we should certainly be able to make great strides towards solving some of the other problems which we can properly discuss only in a wider housing debate.
§ Mr. John Diamond (Gloucester)
As the hour is so late, I shall detain the Committee for only a short time. Nevertheless, I make the point to the Minister that it is not our fault that the hour is late and that this is a matter which all of us feel to be of intense importance. I hold it as criticism of the Government, and in particular of the Leader of the House, that we should be compelled to discuss at this hour something which is fundamental to the happiness of a great number of our constituents, in which hon. Members opposite should have found the same as I and every one of my hon. Friends have found, that the one topic we get in "surgery" time and time again is lack of housing and furnished accommodation. I regard it as a matter of criticism that the Government should compel us to discuss this vitally important matter at twenty-five minutes past one in the morning. Nevertheless, to demonstrate that I am interested in the topic and not in keeping the Committee up, I will make my remarks as short as possible.
We are grateful that the Minister is here We hope that at the end of the debate he will say something to put right the unfortunate impression gained by the Parliamentary Secretary. This is not a personal attack. The Minister should realise that the Parliamentary's Secretary's speech struck me and my horn Friends as one of utter complacency and a good deal of inaccuracy. His whole speech was based on the fact that although the position had been bad, it was getting better, that there was no reason to be worried about it and that if 594 only we waited long enough it would solve itself. The lack of households compared with the number the Parliamentary Secretary said—[Interruption] The, Minister was not here. I was. I was listening to the Parliamentary Secretary. I am not making up his speech. I was listening to him. I had no desire to take part in this debate until I had heard what the Parliamentary Secretary had to say, and but for his lack of knowledge—certainly of what goes in the City of Gloucester, if not in Gloucestershire, or his part of it: he certainly does not know whet is going on in Gloucester—he could not possibly have made the speech he did. It was based on a misapprehension, and he thought that the position is rather better than it is. It was based on the misapprehension that the position is three times as good as it is. He gave us the figure of 55,000 of households looking for houses, instead of 165,000, precisely three times as much.
§ Sir K. Joseph rose—
§ Mr. Diamond
I took down the figure. I will give way in a moment. I took down the figure. I wrote it down: 55,000. I could not understand it. I was going to challenge it as soon as I had the opportunity to challenge it. The Parliamentary Secretary did very courteously come to the Box afterwards and told us he could not have said that the figure he gave us was 55,000.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I am grateful to the non. Gentleman for giving way. I was here during my hon. Friend's speech, and there is a figure which is very familiar to us who take an interest in these matters in the Committee, and certainly in the Department, and it is 165,000 It would be easy in the course of making a speech, looking at notes rapidly, to say 65,000. That is what my hon. Friend said. and as soon as he sat down I pointed this out. He wanted to get up and correct it. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, who said he wanted to help us in these matters, will help in the way he suggested as rapidly as possible.
§ Mr. Diamond
I must try to make the Minister realise that we are very dissatisfied by the whole tone of the Parliamentary Secretary's speech. He listened to what my hon. Friend the Member for 595 Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) had to say when replying to the Parliamentary Secretary, who, unfortunately, was not here to hoar him. But the Minister heard him. Surely he realises that we are very dissatisfied.
I want to refer to another inaccuracy. I recognise that the Minister has been good enough to call me "learned," but indeed I could make no such claim; but the Parliamentary Secretary, as far as I am aware, is a barrister, and I really cannot understand how, both as a barrister and as Parliamentary Secretary, he could have made the claim that the tribunal is not compelled to have regard to rents in the neighbourhood. I really cannot understand it. So far as I recollect, the tribunal has to have regard to what is reasonable, and how can any tribunal come to any conclusion as to what is reasonable without listening to evidence as to what other people pay for similar accommodation in the neighbourhood? This must be directly relevant and must affect the mind of any tribunal as to what is reasonable. I am sorry, but I just cannot accept what the hon. Gentleman said with regard to that, and it gives rise to lack of confidence as to whether he is really aware of the importance of this topic. I do recognise, of course, that he was helpful over the figures about this.
This is a matter which affects London —and my hon. Friends, particularly from London constituencies, have referred to this—which affects London more acutely than many other cities, but we would say it does affect other cities, and I am aware of this in the City of Gloucester. It affects it very considerably, and perhaps it is worth making this additional comment, that althougih the lack of accommodation is more acute in London generally the level of wages is higher there. We have this difficult situation of being short of accommodation in a city like Gloucester with the general level of wages not being sufficient to be able to cope with the demand which is made for accommodation of this kind.
It is quite unnecessary for me to go over all the points which have been made so fully with regard to the various difficulties about this type of accommodation 596 under this existing Act, but I would just make this one point, as apparently it is the case that some of us are more aware of it on this side of the Committee than the Parliamentary Secretary is, and it is the fact that we are short, and abominably short, of this kind of accommodation inevitably means that, no matter what Act we have, we cannot by law protect the tenant while we have got this fantastic shortage, no matter how strong the husband may be. So we must go to the tribunal and get the rent put right.
The wife has to cope with it all day long. It is misery for her. I am sure the Minister appreciates this. It is a very human problem that we all know about. Wives come to us in tears telling us about all the problems involved in attempting to share accommodation. Women seem to be particularly sensitive about this, and it makes life unbearable for them. We shall never put the matter right until there are more houses.
I would address myself particularly to you, Sir Samuel, and say that what we are discussing is not whether the Act should be amended in a certain way but whether it should be included in the Bill or not. Therefore, I should have thought it was relevant for me to point to the reasons why it should or should not be included and to state what the background is. You will appreciate, Sir Samuel, that often an Amendment is tabled not to be carried to a vote but for the purpose of discussion, for it is the only way that can be obtained.
The very fact that the Act is in the Bill reminds us that it was put forward on the basis that it would be reconsidered in twelve months' time. It is not that the Government are paying us a courtesy by allowing us to reconsider this fundamental matter. It is merely playing fair with the Committee. Far from our having a little humility, the Government should be humble about coming again year after year asking us to continue an Act for twelve months when they know well that that is not what they mean. They do not mean that if we continue it for twelve months they will by then have solved the problem by providing the houses or producing another Act. The Government are asking us to continue an Act in which 597 they do not believe. There is far less reason for humility on our side than on theirs.
The point, Sir Samuel, is that one is compelled to discuss the background of housing generally in order to make the point whether the Act should be continued or not. With the greatest deference, I cannot see that one can discuss it adequately without putting it in relation to the general shortage of accommodation. There is pressure on furnished accommodation partly because there are not enough furnished houses and partly because there are not enough houses of any kind. I am bound to mention this to put the matter into proper perspective.
I want to put two points to the Minister since he is here because of the fundamental importance of providing rapidly much more accommodation of this kind and every other kind. First, we shall never solve our industrial productivity problem until we have more mobility of labour, and we shall never have more mobility of labour until, apart from other things, we have the houses for people to move to. Secondly, with regard to this fundamental problem of raising our productivity, the Chancellor himself said here two weeks ago that we had failed in this country because we had not had a sufficient increase in the population. This has been said by many others, including Colin Clark. Why have we not had a sufficient increase in population to enable us to have increased productivity? It is because we have not had enough people coming here. We have closed the doors. A moment ago the Parliamentary Secretary said that immigrants had caused an increase in pressure for rented accommodation in London—
§ Mr. Corfield
I am absolutely certain —and the hon. Member will, I am sure, see this in tomorrow's HANSARD—that I said that London has migration from both the rest of the country and outside.
§ Mr. Diamond
The hon. Gentleman made two references to immigration. I was listening carefully, as would be only proper when he is speaking. He referred to migration southwards and migration from outside. He was making the point that when one gets immigration there is more pressure on housing. 598 One of the ways to stop pressure on housing is to stop immigration. This is what the Government have done, with the result that there has been a net emigration.
But if the Government stop immigration they stop the increase in the working population and, as the Chancellor said, tie the country down to a position where it cannot increase productivity. Unless we get additional houses to provide accommodation for additional population from within and from without, we shall not, according to the Chancellor, increase our production and productivity. They have had experience of this in Germany. West Germany had an enormous increase in population through immigration from the East and built not 300,000 houses a year but 500,000, with a similar population to ours.
§ Mr. Loughlin
I think that my hon. Friends have been a little unfair to the Parliamentary Secretary. I am grateful to him for having sat throughout the debate taking copious notes. It must have been difficult for a junior Minister to sit all that time listening to speeches from this side of the Committee and not one in support of him from his own side.
I would like the Minister to make a reference to Section 8 of the Act, dealing with regulations. Section 8 says he may make regulations… for prescribing anything which is required by this Act to be prescribed;Most of us will agree without qualification that that is drawn a little wide. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us what regulations have been drawn. We should have this information before agreeing to his request for the Act to be extended for another year.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I agree that we are really here discussing what is a small thread in the tangled skein of Metropolitan housing. The debate has been largely on the Metropolis. It introduced other cities as well, but to a much lesser extent.
It would be important to relate furnished accommodation to the total picture, but we all know that the real answer is not to concentrate on expanding one sector of accommodation, whether it be for students, as the hon. Member for 599 Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) was arguing, or for the mobility of labour, as the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond) was arguing. All these different sectors will look after themselves once we approach the state of balance. We are a long way from it in London. Although we are a long way from it and we are not in the least complacent, it still remains true that we are less far from the state of balance than we were.
§ Sir K. Joseph
The state of perfect balance is 2 per cent. more dwellings than households, perhaps 2½ per cent.—who can say? To provide a surplus of accommodation will achieve two things; it will give mobility and choice, and it will place a discipline on owners and landlords alike to maintain their property. But it is idle at this moment to discuss this perfect state, because we have not got it in London, and the reason we have not got it is due to some extent to prosperity.
It is the increased pressure of prosperity which has reduced the accommodation which is available for the poorest people in the Metropolis. I take this to be a truth which most of us have known all the time over the last few years, and it was emphasised in the L.C.C. report that as prosperity grew so the pressure would reduce the accommodation available for the poorest. We all know that the answer to this is more houses and more decentralisation, and I hope to be able to make a statement as soon as possible, as I have already announced, drawing together all the threads which are covered by that short reference.
In the meanwhile, we have to concentrate on the task immediately before the Committee this evening, namely, furnished accommodation. While with such a great shortage it is not effective or relevant to start worrying at this stage, about one sector of accommodation—and I think that the hon. Member for Paddington, North knows my respect for him —we have always to protect the poorest, and in this case that means that we must emphasise the rôle of the local authority.
The hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) emphasised the importance of local authorities adding to their stock. 600 That is important, because until we get more accommodation in general, private and public, we have to try to secure as much accommodation as possible for the poorest. That is why, against this background, I am encouraging local authorities to buy, by agreement and, if necessary, by compulsion, empty accommodation which they can keep available for the poorest families who have to work in London.
It is against that background that the Committee has to judge the place of the rent tribunals in handling furnished accommodation. It is quite true that rent tribunals are not a perfect instrument—they cannot be against this background of shortage. The hon. Member for Fulham urges that they should give more security of tenure. In a perfect world, one would be able to agree that that would be ideal, but the danger we face is two-fold. The first part of it was indicated by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary—that, in a condition of shortage, every time we protect one family we deny accommodation to another, or are in danger of doing so.
However, to my mind that is not the main risk which we run by too much emphasising the length of security. The main risk is that we shall make the conditions of letting lodgings so onerous that we will dry up the source. It is always open to the owner of a house to say, "I find these conditions too difficult; I shall sell the house, or I shall convert it and deal with it that way". I do not say that the resulting positon of the rent tribunal being able to give only limited security of tenure is ideal. But if we are too ambitious we shall reduce even the accommodation that exists. We all know one thing that the Act has definitely achieved, and that is that it has preserved for renting many houses that but for the Act would have passed into owner occupation. Therefore, I say to the Committee that imperfect though the instrument is and great though the remaining shortage still is, it is only sensible to continue the Statute for a further year.
I was asked by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) a question about the rent—
§ 1.45 a.m.
§ Mr. Loughlin
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the point that he was 601 making about the leasing of accommodation for rent or the retention of accommodation for rent as against sale, will he say whether he thinks there is any very great virtue in the retention of accommodation for rent in, say, the City of London, where rents were previously £200 a year and then became £600 a year, which is not uncommon, as a result of which the house which was previously available to a particular tenant ceases to become available to him because of the high rent? Is there any virtue in that?
§ Sir K. Joseph
I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to property in what are called "desirable area" of London. But I take the point, and I hope that he will be satisfied that I have emphasised throughout that the pressures of prosperity reduce the accommodation available for the poorest. That is common ground, I think. I was going, when the hon. Gentleman interrupted me, to deal with the point which he raised and to tell him that the Regulations to which he referred deal solely with procedural matters, that is, how to give notice and that sort of thing, and what should be written in.
Finally, I should like to take the point made by the hon. Member for Fulham, that we bring this Bill year by year to the House and that it is necessary to look a little way ahead to see whether by next year we can have a clearer view of the length of time for which it will be needed. I think that the hon. Member for Fulham and other hon. Members opposite recognise that this is not a short-term problem and that we cannot eliminate the remaining shortage overnight. We have halved it over the last ten years.
I must restrain myself from touching on the many other threads of this complex tangle of the Metropolitan housing position until I can make a full statement on it, but I would stress that nothing that I shall be able to say in that statement will remove the need to pass for another year. and it is only the coming year with which we are dealing tonight, this Statute.
§ Mr. Parkin
There is one question arising from the right hon. Gentleman's reference. He dismissed the points that I was making in my speech as not immediately relevant by saying that they were not so important. The right hon. Gentleman says that he is encouraging local 602 authorities to buy vacant houses. As far as an estate agent is concerned. a house full of furnished tenancies is a house with vacant possession. Would the right hon. Gentleman include such a house in his scheme and would he consider, arising from the point that I made, that if an authority were able to make provision in new form for the sort of people who want tiny little flats it would be very advantageous for it to buy houses at present occupied by people either in furnished accommodation or by elderly couples under old tenancies and remove them to smaller places? Would he not exclude from his mind the possibility of encouraging local authorities to buy houses of that type too?
§ Sir K. Joseph
The hon. Member knows from our personal contacts how enthusiastic I am that housing associations should deal with individual purposes like that. As for the legal question, whether local authorities have power to buy occupied property, I will take advice about it and write to him.
§ Mr. Willey
The question of student accommodation is of critical importance for university expansion, the right hon. Gentleman knows, since his own city of Leeds has shown the sort of difficulties which are faced by universities. The difficulties are twofold. First, there are the high rentals, which make it extremely difficult for both the older and the newer universities to obtain satisfactory accommodation for students, and, secondly, there is the lack of availability of this type of accommodation. If we are to get a rapid university expansion—and obviously we cannot build in time; the Government have started too late—we shall have to depend on the provision of this type of accommodation.
I noticed that the Minister of Education was with us intermittently, and I had hoped that he would intervene on this point. I should like an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that he is alive to this difficulty and is in consultation with the Minister of Education, and that every possible step will be taken. This is a general question which affects the availability of accommodation at rentals that the universities can afford and it is clear that some assistance should be provided by his 603 Department to see that all suitable furnished accommodation in the vicinity of universities, and particularly new universities, should be made attractive for this purpose, so that they can expand as quickly as possible.
§ Sir K. Joseph
There is bound to be conflict between worthy uses of objects of which there is a shortage. But I hope that the Committee will recognise that I do not build any houses; I have to react to the proposals of private or public enterprise—or semi-public enterprise, in the case of universities—and then it may come to me on appeal to decide for what purpose land is to be used. I recognise the importance of the point.
§ Mr. MacColl
The right hon. Gentleman gave us a fascinating preview of a statement that he is to make subsequently, and it is a happy note on which to end this debate—the knowledge that we are to resume this important discussion later on. I do not want to follow him in his housing theories any further than to make the remark—which is perhaps enough at two o'clock in the morning—that he rests his policy for London on the balance between accommodation and households. I hope that he will reflect that those are not independent variables, and that households are a function of accommodation. He can quickly get on dangerous ground if he tries to treat them as independents.
I do not want to say any more, except that if he had been making his speech in 1952 instead of 1962 it would have been an excellent speech, full of hope for the future and full of firm resolution, and all the rest. But the harsh fact is that we have had the Government for more than ten years and that it is a little late for them suddenly to find that there is a housing problem in London. That is not just a debating point, made post hoc; in 1956, when the Rent Act was under discussion, the one thing that I vividly remember was that we begged and implored the Government to make decontrol possible regionally, and to make possible the preservation of control regionally, as the extension of decontrol can be made regionally, under the Act. But the Government would not listen. They said, "No, there is no need for this". They were determined 604 to have decontrol throughout the country, and they ignored regional differences.
This is the major cause of the present crisis in London which we have been discussing so anxiously all through these long hours. It is too late for the Government to start inventing excuses. Some of my hon. Friends have said that we ought to vote against the continuance of the Act, because it is a wrong Act, which causes more suffering than good, and we want something more tough and vigorous. I sympathise with that view, but I am sure that in the present sensitive situation it is important to preserve such security of tenure and such control of rents as there is.
It would be disastrous to defeat this Act and leave nothing at all. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, not with a feeling that the problems are solved but in the knowledge that we have no alternative.
§ Amendment by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
I beg to move, in page 3, to leave out lines 37 and 38.
At long last I am able to move this Amendment. I shall not take a great deal of time, although I think that the issue is of considerable importance. The effect of the Amendment, if accepted, would be to repeal Part II of the 1953 Licensing Act. This is the part of the Act which perpetuates the licensing planning committees which were set up under the Licensing Planning (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1945; but, of course, only for one year. Section 67 of the 1953 Act said that Part II of the Act would continue in force only until March, 1954. So we have been renewing this part of the Act ever since then. I wish to explain why in my view that part of the 1953 Act should not be continued any longer. Were the Amendment passed the committees would cease to exist after 31st March next year.
My main complaint against most of the committees set up under this procedure is they appear to have exceeded the powers which Parliament intended them to have by their frequent objection to application for off-licences. As the Committee should know, the 1953 Act was a consolidation Measure. Part II is the 1945 Act with some amendments and 605 omissions. To understand why these committees were set up and what Parliament intended that their duties should be, one has to go back to the 1945 Act, because, of course, there was no discussion on the consolidation Measure.
Although the Act was passed in 1945, it was not passed by the Labour Government. It was a Measure of the war-time Coalition Government. It was designed to deal with a problem which everyone at the time thought to be urgent and important—how, after the war, in heavily damaged areas the distribution of licences of licensed premises should be made. There would be reconstruction and rebuilding, and in the course of the rebuilding it was envisaged that the character of some of the areas would be changed. Therefore the pattern of the licensed houses in the area would change.
It was felt that neither the licensing justices nor the local councils as planning authorities were the right bodies to decide how the new distribution of licensed premises should be planned. So committees were set up for each of the war-damaged areas, chiefly in London and the provincial cities which had been heavily bombed, and they represented the licensing justices and the local planning authorities.
In a sense I suppose they were advisory bodies, but they were given a special power. It is this power, which they still have, which in my view is causing a great deal of trouble today. They have power to say to applicants for new off-licences whether an off-licence shall be granted or not, although still under the law the licensing justices are the final body to make the decision. In the 1945 Act, and continued in the 1953 Act, if a licensing planning committee has an application before it for a new licence and the committee objects to the application, the application cannot go before the licensing justices. The committees, not the magistrates, have the power in effect to decide whether new licences in any of the areas in which the committees still operate shall be granted.
I have been concerned for some time about the way in which these committees have dealt with applications for off-licences. I had better declare my interest, which started as a rather narrow one. Now I find that I am speaking on behalf of most grocers, most wine and spirit 606 merchants, most self-service stores and supermarkets in the country. I started by intending to draw the attention of the Government to the operations of this part of the 1953 Act as far as they affect co-operative stores applying for off-licences. I find that other people have been treated in the same way. Grocers, self-service stores, supermarkets and so on who ask for off-licences all agree with me that the present position has become intolerable.
I question very much whether the way in which these applications for off-licences are opposed or objected to by the licensing planning committees is in keeping with the spirit and the letter of the 1945 and 1953 Acts. It is also questionable whether the 1945 Act intended the committees to deal with off-licences. I am sure it will be argued that as the licensing law makes no difference between off- and on-licences in regard to the procedure for applications, both are covered in precisely the same way under the same legislation, but I am not so sure. To find what was Parliament's intention about the 1945 Act we have to read the debates on that Measure. Before doing so it is as well to look at the duties laid down for licensing planning committees both in the 1945 and the 1953 Act; the wording is the same. Section 56 of the 1953 Act says:It shall be the duty of every licensing planning committee to review the circumstances of their area and to try to secure, after such consultation and negotiation as they may think desirable and by the exercise of the powers conferred on them by this Part of this Act, that the number, nature and distribution of the licensed premises in the area, the accommodation provided in them and the facilities given in them for obtaining food, accord with local requirements, regard being had in particular to any redevelopment or proposed redevelopment of the area.There is not a word about off-licences in the duties laid down in the Act. Not only is there no reference to off-licences, but in the 1945 Act there was no reference to off-licences anywhere and that Act set up the committees. If one reads the debate on the 1945 Act one sees another peculiar feature. The then Solicitor-General, now one of our leading industrialists, Lord Kilmuir, in moving the Second Reading of that Bill, referred specifically to licensed houses and talked very learnedly and apparently with some personal knowledge about 607 eight-barrel houses and three-barrel houses, drinking areas and the duties of licensees, but he never mentioned off-licences in the whole of his speech, nor did the then Minister of Town and Country Planning, who wound up the debate; nor did any other speaker. From the beginning of Second Reading to the end of Third Reading of the 1945 Bill, off-licences were never mentioned once.
It was surprising that on one occasion Lady Astor and Sir Alan Herbert were in agreement in demanding that public houses should remain open all day to sell tea, coffee and food outside licensed hours, but even they never mentioned off-licences, and if one is to judge the purpose of the Act by all the speeches made on it, the only conclusion which one can reach is that neither the Government nor Parliament intended off-licences to come within the objecting powers of the licensing planning committees. From my reading of the debate it seems that Parliament intended that off-licences should continue to be within the jurisdiction of the licensing magistrates, without any intervention of the licensing planning committees.
At this time of the morning I will not summarise all the cases —or even give a selection of them —which have come to my notice since I put the Amendment down. These are cases in which I think that local planning committees have misused their powers or, if the word "misused" is considered too strong, have gone far beyond what Parliament intended. I have scores of examples to quote of the peculiar way in which applications for off-licences have been turned down.
What happens is that some grocer or wine-and-spirits merchant or somebody opening a supermarket or a self-service grocery store applies in a once war-damaged area, where the planning committee still works, for a licence to sell liquor, and the application goes before the planning committee. At this stage many things happen, because the planning committees are very much concerned about the redevelopment of these areas in which certain properties, including public houses, are being pulled down—nothing to do with war damage. There are licences in suspense.
I could quote examples of these if the Parliamentary Secretary wished, for 608 there are plenty of them, but many of these committees insist that before any application for a new licence is granted they must try to take up one of these licences in suspense. Many of them are owned by breweries and they will not give them up. Many licences in suspense do not belong to public houses. Some have belonged to off-licensed premises which have been knocked down, and they are up for sale. But this is a very peculiar way of deciding whether a firm which wants to get into the business of selling canned beer or wine should get a licence. Why should they have to depend on whether they can buy a licence in suspense? This was never intended in the Act. There is no reference to it in the Act. These licensing committees are misusing their powers by insisting that licences in suspense must all be taken up before any new licences are granted.
Many breweries are keeping suspense licences in their pockets because they want to get public houses in these redevelopment areas later on. So the public are suffering. The opportunities for doing shopping in which the shopping includes buying canned beer, cider and bottles of wine are being denied to the people who want to do this kind of shopping. When an application for a new off-licence looks as if it might be successful, the licensing planning committee lets everybody know that the application has been put in and invites objections. Of course, the objectors turn up—the local licensed victuallers' association, the representatives of the brewers and everybody who is already engaged in the local trade.
The licensing planning committee listens to these objectors and in effect says to them, "Do you want a new competitor?" Of course, they say "No" So the licensing planning committee says, "All right, we will see that you do not have a new competitor. We will maintain the collective monopoly that you have now got." It is interesting to note, by the way, that many of the members of these licensing planning committees are Conservatives and Liberals who believe in competition—but not in this trade. There is always one body of people they do not consult—the public They do not consult the convenience of the public, the shoppers. The only people 609 who are consulted are the people already engaged in the trade, and if their pressure is strong enough the new licence will not be granted, however good it may be from the point of view of the public interest.
§ Mr. Philip N. Hocking (Coventry, South)
It is true to say that the public are entitled to give their views on the granting of a new licence. I have had experience of this.
§ Mr. Darling
I hope it was a satisfactory experience for the hon. Gentleman. It is very difficult to collect public opinion, to decide the view of public opinion as against the organised views of the trade that is already there. I am glad to know that sometimes public opinion does come forward and express its views.
I want to mention what I consider to be one of the worst features, and that is the way in which the licensing planning committees all too frequently reject applications to sell beer, cyder and wines —I am leaving out spirits for the moment, and I will mention why in a moment—in self-service grocery stores. Self-service, as everybody knows, is a recently developed form of shopping which has proved very convenient and popular. Obviously, it has public support. Otherwise people like the hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. Proudfoot) would not be doing so well as they are. Good luck to them.
Of course, housewives go in and, as the hon. Member for Cleveland can tell us better than I can, they select their weekly groceries. At this point it is a great convenience to them if they can also buy the family beer and wines, because wine drinking is becoming increasingly popular. It is a great convenience to them to buy the canned beer for the family when they buy their groceries.
§ Mr. Darling
If my hon. Friend would not be so impatient, I am going to explain it. Staying at home these days, looking at the television and inviting friends in for a social evening at which the family provides the beer and the wine —that is what I mean by the family beer —is the pattern of living today. I would 610 say that it is a desirable pattern from every point of view, especially from the point of view of those who want to see a sober, thrifty and industrious community, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) does. But what the licensing planning committees are saying, in effect, to these home-loving people is, "You must not buy your beer at the grocery store. You must go to the nearest public house, or, if you are lucky enough to have an off-licensed store within a convenient distance, you may go there. But you must not buy it at the grocery store where you buy your family groceries."
This is a grave misuse of authority. The new type of grocery store, the self-service store, is admirably suited, I suggest, to the proper selling of beer and wines. I do not mention spirits because —I am sure that the hon. Member for Cleveland will agree—very few such stores want a spirit licence. The spirit trade does not fit in with the self-service business in the same way as the beer, cider and wine trade does.
It is an admirable way of conducting the trade because it is wide open. Everybody can see what is going on. There is no secrecy about it. If they wanted to do so, the police could exercise supervision over the trade without needing even to go inside the premises; they could see through the window all that was going on. It is very convenient for the customers. For the life of me, I cannot understand on what grounds of social behaviour or of public interest people should be deprived of this convenient way of buying drinks if they want to with the rest of their groceries. It is an intolerable interference with the liberty of subject and for no good purpose.
It is now clear that these licensing planning committees are redundant not only for the reasons I have given—because of the way they reject applications for off-licences which, if granted, would be in the public interest, in my opinion—but for other reasons also. The committees were originally established in 1945 to deal with the aftermath of the war, and only for five years to begin with. We still have them seventeen years later, 611 at a time when post-war planning, even if all the building is not up, ought to have been completed.
It is true that redevelopment not associated with the war is still going on. In my view, the licensing planning committees have wrongly got themselves involved in this sort of planning. In view of the fact that applications for new off-licences still have to go before the licensing justices if the licensing planning committees agree, it should be at that stage, before the licensing justices, that the local planning authority should have its say about whether applications should, on planning grounds, having regard to the redevelopment of the area, be granted or not. That is the stage at which the planning authority should express its view.
It is quite clear that the licensing planning committees have outlived their usefulness. Many have been discarded over the past seventeen years. It is high time that we got rid of the rest. I hope that the Government will accept the Amendment and thereby, in effect, repeal Part II of the Licensing Act, 1953, which still allows these unnecessary committees to continue.
§ Mr. Wilfred Proudfoot (Cleveland)
I believe that the piece of legislation which is the subject of the Amendment is unnecessary.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;
§ Committee counted, and, 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. Proudfoot
I should thank the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) for providing me with a bigger audience than I otherwise would have had.
This proposed legislation is a piece of bric-à-brac which has floated to the top of the surface of legislation once a year. If we pass it, it means that twenty years after the war we are still talking about war damage and this type of licensing planning committee. I first came across this matter a few months ago, when I discovered that people in the London area who applied for an off-licence for grocery stores and supermarkets, as encouraged to do by the Licensing Act, found that they had an extra hurdle to 612 jump. They first had to get licensing planning permission and then to go to the magistrates.
I would think that most licensing applications are for off-licences. If too many hurdles are put up, there is a danger that competition will be stopped instead of having more vivid competition between the people who want to sell these commodities to the public. Most of these off-licence applications probably come from existing premises, and when talking about planning one thinks mostly of the external appearance of these places.
The Licensing Act makes it almost automatic that a person with a restaurant or hotel should get a licence merely on application. Whether people with restaurants who want licences have to go through the licensing planning procedure in certain areas, I do not know. I should like my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State to explain the procedure. In addition, the Licensing Act completely changed the hours during which these commodities could be sold to the public at off-licence premises. They can now be sold during normal shop hours from 8.30 a.m. until half-past ten or eleven at night.
If one can get past the magistrates, one deserves to be able to sell these commodities. During the past year, I have been fortunate to get two licences. Standing in court, one feels like a criminal and not somebody who is applying to give a normal service to the public. One is attacked by the objectors on all kinds of grounds when trying to get a licence. As far as I can make out, the magistrates even attempt to put hurdles in the way which the House of Commons never intended. Some magistrates make it a rule that no beer or wine should be sold by self-service. Other benches permit normal self-service methods, which today are widespread, to be used.
I believe that the London County Council is one of the areas where licensing planning permission must be obtained. I am not familiar with the boundaries of the London County Council, but I know that vast areas of that council do not have bomb damage. It should be impossible from an administrative viewpoint to say that certain areas of the London County Council 613 need not have this type of application whilst others should.
I should like to know from my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary how many areas were originally on the list, how many remain on it and how they are taken off the list once they are on it. I urge my hon. Friend, if the Amendment is not passed, although I hope that it will be, to get rid of these provisions before March, 1964. In any case, I ask him to take the initiative into his own hands now in front of the chief Patronage Secretary, and accept our Amendment.
§ Mr. Pavitt
I do not want to detain the Committee much at half-past two in the morning, especially in view of the fact that I think my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) has been ably supported by the hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. Proud-foot) opposite in making what seemed to me a quite devastating case for this Amendment. Like the hon. Member for Cleveland, I find it rather strange that that which started out to be a temporary provision in 1945 is being perpetuated in 1962.
There are just two points I should like to follow through. I would reiterate the point made by my hon. Friend about the changing habits of a changing society. The Act, if it is continued, is an attempt to make static what has been happening in certain specified areas and gives no opportunity for growth or development or change. There have been changes in consumption; the whole consumers' world has changed since the war, since this provision was brought before the House, and it is only right that we should change it, too, and not just maintain something year after year merely because it was right in the circumstances of war damage in 1945. Like my hon. Friend, I am rather surprised that the Government are anxious to perpetuate monopoly, and do not like to see free competition arising in those areas from new shopping forms which have emerged.
I would ask the Joint Under-Secretary of State what is the position about the numbers. The question was asked by the hon. Member for Cleveland. I understand that Section 55 (4) gives the Secretary of State power to revoke an 614 order which makes an area specified and designated. I would be very interested to know how often since the 1953 Act was put on the Statute Book this power has been used, and how many such orders have been actually put into operation.
It would seem that, in all fairness, it is time the Act should not be renewed. I do not know whether my hon. Friend is proposing to press this Amendment to a Division, but if he does not I should think the Government would take due note of the most cogent arguments he put forward in moving it.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
I should like to support the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) and to agree with very nearly everything that he said. It so happens that I have never had the pleasure of conversation with the hon. Member. I did not consult him about this Amendment, and I did not know he was going to raise the matter until I returned here at a late hour and found the debate going on.
It is a matter of considerable interest to the City of Bristol, which is a licensing planning area, and where we have mixed interests of brewers nearly all amalgamated into one, and a number of wine shippers, in which I am not disinterested, as the Committee knows, and whose activities are not confined only to the City of Bristol but extend to the United States of America. So I, too, would like to say a word or two, as a person mainly interested in that side of the question, rather than those discussed by the hon. Member for Hillsborough and the hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. Proudfoot), because I own no supermarket, and I have campaigned here for the interests of the small shopkeepers and not those of the large ones, although I recognise they should exist side by side.
We are asked by this Bill to perpetuate these licensing planning areas. Many of these areas, in my view, are purely arbitrary in their boundaries. The one which surrounds the City of Bristol, I was amazed to find, extends widely into the countryside around and suddenly stops on a particular road. If one wants to put a "pub" on one side one has to get over the licensing committee's hurdle; if one wants to put it on the other side, which is in the county council's area, one has 615 to go through a procedure which is quite different. There have been a number of extremely difficult cases in the five and a half years I have been a Member for Bristol, and a number have come up to me, people from both sides making complaints, the brewers saying unfair things are said about them although they are only trying to do a good job; and the licensing planning committee, of course, has been attacked. People on the other side have said they would like to build a "pub" but have been prevented by various interests.
There was a case of a vacant site belonging to a brewery, and it was empty for eighteen years. Then at long last some private individual has got permission to build a public house on an adjacent site. But it has taken 18 years to provide the public house for the people in the locality. Any legislation which continues the difficulties which now exist should no longer remain on the Statute Book. I hope my hon. Friend will have something helpful to say in that direction.
A great deal has been said about the off-licence. The hon. Member for Hillsborough was mostly on that point. With the growing social trend for food and drink to be sold together in the supermarket and in the licensed grocery, obviously there is no good case to be made out for preventing people buying the two together.
The subject of wines has been raised. In the view of myself and many hon. Members, it is not appropriate for wine to be sold by the bottle in the public house. The off-licence or the licensed grocery is the appropriate place because on the whole wine is consumed with food.
It should be easy for anyone of good character and with proper premises to obtain a licence to sell drink, at any rate wines and beers, though spirits may be another matter. There should be a very good reason indeed why a licence is refused, and it should not be refused just because someone else has a licence round the corner. It is in the interests of all concerned that there should be absolute freedom. Then the law of supply and demand will ensure that it all works out.
The idea that we shall have a betting shop in one place and a drink shop in 616 another and then another betting shop and so on, with a sort of general decay of society, is nonsense. That could not happen because of the law of supply and demand.
The Act was the result of war damage. It has been said that we are 20 years on now. This is true. I remember, when a small boy, being driven out from the centre of Bristol to the countryside, and it used to be an amusement to me to count the number of public houses on the way. I was a small boy after the days of war damage, and so I merely saw the ones still standing. There seemed to be more or less a public house to every three houses in certain parts of Bristol.
This is an indication of the enormous number of blitzed public houses which, according to these regulations, have to be taken care of. It is easy for a brewer to say that he has, perhaps, 300 barrels —I will not go into the technicalities of that at this hour—but a private individual, and not a brewer, who wants to build a public house has to go to the planning committee and tell it that he has no barrels. It is all very well to say that there shall be fair play, but many of the public houses, whether war damaged or not, would be completely uneconomical, and if one wanted to re-site some of the public houses in the city one would have to extend Bristol 50 miles in all directions. Although that method of doing it might have been all right at the beginning, it does not work now. The whole procedure seems to be completely out of date.
I would not like the Bristol Licensing Planning Committee to think that it has done wrong. It has not; nor have, the others. But they are bound to find difficulties because there are interested parties. The people who are on one side may be the type who are against drink altogether and so they will be against it; and, as hon. Members have said, brewers have their interests. With the changing social habits with regard to the purchase of alcohol in one form or another, the old regulations cannot work.
I am sorry to have detained the Committee at this late hour. I was urged by many of my hon. Friends not to take part. But I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will take note of what has been said on both sides of the Committee. Instead of this out- 617 of-date Act, what we really want is some good Tory principle of the law of supply and demand put to work after 20 years of out-of-date legislation.
§ Mr. Loughlin
I cannot help but think of the many queer bedfellows who must have combined in this Committee over the centuries, but I doubt if the Committee has ever seen such a queer lot as are combined in this debate. We have had the co-ops, a supermarket proprietor and a wine shipper, and I understand that the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Hocking), who is a builder, wants to support the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling). They are all ganging up against the brewers. I suppose this is a creation of history.
We are reaching the stage when the sale of drink in all sorts of shops is swinging from the restrictions of the past not to freedom but to licence. If I understood him correctly, the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) said that anyone of good character, provided he had the right kind of premises, should be free to sell wine.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
No. The correctness of the premises could perfectly well be decided by the licensing justices. I would not deprive them of that requirement.
§ Mr. Loughlin
I did not mean that in an offensive way. He has qualified it as far as I am concerned. He has explained himself more fully. He should not be so sensitive. He has been here too long for that. From the words he used, I could only construe that meaning as suggesting that anyone of good character—in the context of this debate I take that to be anyone with a shop, including the small shopkeeper—should be able to sell wine. But why restrict it to grocers? Why not have it in any shop? Why not in a fish and chip shop?
§ Mr. Proudfoot
I am certain of the fact. I am only doubtful as to whether the town was indeed Bishop Auckland.
§ Mr. Loughlin
I would want more evidence of that one.
The hon. Member for Bristol, West made a joke about betting shops. If a bookmaker is of good character and has good premises, why not let him sell wine? My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough used the tactics of I.T.A. commercial advertising. One got the picture of a family round the table drinking beer.
§ Mr. Loughlin
When my hon. Friend talks about families he talks about people of varying age groups.
§ Mr. Loughlin
If one talks about a family, I get the picture of a man, his wife and various children of different ages. The lovely picture of catering for the family is false. This is the selling of "booze". I do not want to see in this country the sort of figures for drunkenness which apply to France precisely through this development.
§ Mr. Darling
There are countries other than France which have got rid of these restrictions and which are very sober. Will my hon. Friend remember that if the Amendment were passed every application for a new licence would have to go before the licensing justices and would not be granted automatically?
§ Mr. Loughlin
My hon. Friend can qualify it as much as he likes. I have listened not only to the words but to the tenor of the debate, and we have to consider the general pattern of what has been said. There is increasing pressure in all quarters to get an expansion of the sale of intoxicating liquor almost without restriction. I drink and I am not against drinking, but we have to have at least a degree of common sense in our approach to it.
§ Mr. Loughlin
This combination of co-operatives, supermarkets and wine bibbers is not a combination which I want to support.
§ Mr. Hocking
I am pleased to support the Amendment. It is fascinating to notice that some hon. Members opposite recognise some of the problems of the affluent society. The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) is still very much behind. He is the reactionary to the affluent society and does not recognise the trends in modern society.
I have some experience of a licensing planning committee. It operates in the City of Coventry, and many years ago it was argued that it was a satisfactory way of getting over the problems of the bombed quarters. But many of those areas have now been rebuilt, and now, as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) said, one finds that it deals with the problems of the twilight areas in the city and is anxious to perpetuate this sort of system.
It is utterly wrong that a person can go into Leamington, which is only a matter of ten miles from Coventry, apply for and get an off-licence just by going to the licensing bench. He can do exactly the same in Rugby, again ten miles away, Nuneaton and Bedworth, while on the outskirts of Coventry, but still within the city boundary, it is impossible. Time and again I have seen a refusal which has been against the best interests of the residents of the district. This is a part of the law which has far outlived its usefulness and which should have been scrapped many years ago.
If we take note of the sort of things which happen in a modern society and of the drinking habits of the public, we will find that the public house trade is going down and that people are more interested in having a drink, of whatever beverage they like, while watching television around their hearths. This is a practice which it is well worth encouraging, because, far from increasing drunkenness, as the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West suggested it would, it ensures that those taking a drink are in their own homes and not likely to be a danger to traffic—and 620 can go to bed if they do not feel well, no doubt with the aid of some member of the family.
§ Mr. Loughlin rose—
§ Mr. Hocking
It is late and I do not want to keep the Committee for more than a moment. I hope that when my hon. Friend winds up the debate he will at least give us some hope that this section of the law which, as I have said, has outlived its usefulness and which only applies in certain districts in the country will be repealed so that the districts affected by it will be relieved of this encumbrance.
§ 2.45 a.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. C. M. Woodhouse)
By moving this Amendment the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) has, I recognise, done a service to the Committee and to the public interested in the licensing laws. He has, in addition, given me a distinction to which I am not entitled and which other hon. Members have wrongly followed.
I am glad to have this opportunity of replying to the debate, and I hope that I shall be able to persuade the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his Amendment. It is rather a surprising one to come from an hon. Member opposite since it would involve removing from the Statute Book legislation allowing for planning.
§ Mr. Woodhouse
I hope to show that it is good planning, which is still needed.
The Amendment would have the effect of bringing to an end on 31st March next year the provisions of Part II of the Licensing Act, 1953. This Act consolidated two previous Acts, which made special arrangements for the redistribution of licensed premises in severely bomb-damaged areas. It is perfectly natural that many hon. Members should inquire why at this stage we should be asking to continue Acts introduced sixteen and seventeen years ago as temporary Measures to deal with one of the aftermaths of the last war.
I welcome the opportunity of giving the Committee a very brief summary of the situation and an explanation of why the Measures are still necessary together 621 with some indication of how long we think it may be necessary to continue them. I must ask the Committee to forgive me if I have very briefly to recapitulate some facts known to hon. Members in order to establish the need for continuing this legislation.
It empowered the Home Secretary to constitute an area where there had been extensive war damage as a licensing planning area. In each of these areas a licensing planning committee was set up, composed of equal numbers of representatives appointed by the licensing justices and the local planning authority, with a chairman appointed by my right hon. Friend. Provision was also made for including in such an area, for licensing planning purposes, other areas to which a substantial transfer of population from the original area had taken place or was expected to take place—in planning parlance "overspill areas." In the area of which my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) spoke there are four or five such licensing districts in the case of Bristol.
The function of these licensing planning committees is to ensure that the number, nature and distribution of licensed premises accord with local requirements, having regard in particular to actual or proposed development. For this purpose the committees are empowered to formulate proposals for removals of licences or, with the agreement of the owners of the premises, for surrender of licences. These proposals are subject to confirmation by the Minister of Housing and Local Government, who is required to hear any objections that may be made them.
The Home Secretary is the authority empowered to bring these arrangements to an end in any area where, after consultation with the licensing planning committee, he is satisfied that there is no longer any need for this special machinery. This, I think, answers a point raised by the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt). There were originally thirty-three such areas and they include, and still include, a number of major cities, including the County of London, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol and Liverpool. The number of areas has been reduced over the years and is now twenty-one.
622 In the first ten years after the passing of the Act there were no revocations; in the following five years there were five, and in the last two years there have been seven. Obviously, this planning procedure, and its winding up, has not worked as speedily as Parliament intended when passing the original Acts. Apart from the question of timing there have been complaints about the misuse or misinterpretation of the powers of these committees. One complaint has been that they have left the distribution within their areas more or less unchanged. I have a number of figures with me, but I do not want to weary the Committee by referring to them. I am sure they would convince hon. Members that this is not true.
But there have also been complaints about the grant of new licences—to which the hon. Member for Hillsborough particularly referred—and some complaints, but not many, about the veto by the licensing planning committees on the granting of new licences to hotels or restaurants. Under the new Licensing Act, 1961, we have met that complaint by providing that licensing planning authorities may no longer veto the grant of a restaurant or residential licence. I say this to show that we are not insusceptible to genuine grievances.
§ Mr. Darling
The hon. Gentleman says that there have been few complaints, but to whom does an aggrieved applicant—a person whose application has been turned down—make his complaint at this stage? He has no right of appeal to anybody.
§ Mr. Woodhouse
The usual way is, through his Member of Parliament, to the Home Secretary.
There is also alleged to be ill feeling due to the refusal of such committees to give a certificate of non-objection to the granting of off-licences to supermarkets and others. On the legal position, I have taken advice since the hon. Member was kind enough to give me notice of his intention to raise the question, and it is quite clear under the 1953 Act. I cannot say what were the intentions in the minds of Members of Parliament in 1945, but the law that we have to apply consists of the Acts passed by Parliament as finally framed, and there can be no doubt that those Acts cover off-licences and, equally, that if Parliament had intended to exclude them from the purview of this 623 legislation its only course would have been to do so explicitly in the Acts. I think that disposes of the legal question, which was removed from any possible ambiguity in the 1953 Act, as I think he recognises.
Recent complaints have risen only from the conjunction of two circumstances—first the new provision in the 1961 Licensing Act, which enabled off-licences to be open during normal shopping hours, which was not possible previously, and, secondly, the rise of the supermarket and the self-service store. The supermarket and self-service store naturally tend to be established in areas which are already reasonably well equipped with off-licence outlets. I am aware of the complaints which have been made by the Supermarket Association about decisions by the licensing justices in this matter, but so far as I know, there have not been complaints against the licensing planning committees. It is significant that these complaints against the licensing justices are not confined to licensing planning areas.
The hon. Member for Hillsborough rather gave the game away on this point by saying that he had become the spokesman of supermarkets, etc., all over the country and not merely in licensing planning areas.
§ Mr. Darling
I can correct the hon. Member. I was referring to licensing planning areas all over the country. I have examples which I could quote to the House in that narrow sphere.
§ Mr. Woodhouse
I willingly accept the correction, but I think that the hon. Member will find that he said "all over the country" unqualified.
In the one case where I have been able to make inquiry—in the County of London—I find that there have been only six cases in which the licensing planning committee has objected on planning grounds to the grant of a licence to a supermarket.
§ Mr. Woodhouse
I got these figures today from the County of London Licensing Planning Committee. I do not think that we can usefully argue about this at this hour in the morning.
§ Mr. Hocking
Is my hon. Friend aware that when a person makes advance inquiries of the planning committee and intimates that he would like to establish an off-licence shop he is invariably told by the committee that such an application would not be approved? In fact the person is discouraged from making the application, and that is the point that we are trying to make.
§ Mr. Woodhouse
I think that my hon. Friend will find that that point is covered in what I am about to say.
I have no details of a large number of complaints from applicants other than supermarkets and self-service stores. But I readily recognise that it is perfectly natural that people should have grievances if they are rejected. On the other hand I have no grounds for thinking that the people rejected by the committees would have obtained licensing authority had the committees not existed. They would still have had to go through the legal procedure. Apart from such understandable grievances my understanding is that the machinery has been generally recognised to have worked well. I know that that is the view of the brewers and the licensing authorities—
§ Mr. Woodhouse
They are people who are entitled to their view and to quote one considerable individual authority in this House, the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) who told the House so in a debate two or three years ago. Nor can I see any advantage in the premature winding up of this machinery, though we intend, as soon as we practically can, to bring it to an end. There can be no advantage in abolishing it overnight. This would not simplify the process of obtaining a licence. The applicant would still have to go to two bodies to which my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland (Mr. Proudfoot) referred, first the planning authority and then the licensing authority.
§ Mr. Proudfoot
Surely one does not require planning permission inside a 625 building yet? One has to abide by the by-laws, but one could install six bathrooms in a house without the planning authority interfering, and I cannot see why one could not have a number of shelves carrying beer and wine without being interfered with by the planning authority.
§ Mr. Woodhouse
I think that my hon. Friend will find that I have correctly stated the law. The applicant would have to get planning authority and the permission of the licensing authority. With the present machinery he has a body on which both authorities are represented and can exchange views instead of being out of touch with each other.
The abolition of the planning committees would not give a greater guarantee of success in obtaining a licence. Since the licensing justices could only look at each case in isolation instead of in relation to the needs of the entire neighbourhood, the public interest would be less adequately served by what would become piecemeal planning instead of comprehensive planning.
I think that it has been generally recognised that the reason for the delay in winding up these committees is essentially that redevelopment has been a more involved and lengthy process than was originally envisaged. Even after making allowances for general process of redevelopment the committees were intended as a temporary measure and the Committee has every right to ask at this stage what is meant by temporary. When the Measure was last debated my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of the Department for Technical Co-operation said he would call for a progress report and as a result we found ourselves in a position to revoke licensing planning in seven new areas in the last two years. Recently we have called for a further progress report and my right hon. Friend hopes that on the basis of that it will be possible in the next year to revoke licensing planning in something like half-a-dozen further areas.
Some of the committees have indicated that they still need several years to complete their work. I must remind the Committee that my right hon. Friend is obliged by statute to consult them before 626 he revokes their planning status, but I think it is the view of the Committee and certainly one from which I would not dissent that it would be unjustifiable to continue for many years temporary Measures made for a five-year period. I am persuaded nevertheless that some areas need more time to work out plans and I hope the Committee will agree that it would not be very sensible for the sake of a few years to waste a lot of work on the part of the committees which have already rendered valuable public service at very little public cost.
It would not be right for me to enter into a binding commitment to bring these provisions to an end by a specific date, although we shall continue to revoke licensing planning in areas where it is no longer needed. We shall continue to keep the matter under review and I hope that we shall bring it to an end in the next few years. I hope that in the light of these explanations and assurances the hon. Member will wish to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Mr. Willey
I intervene briefly because a few hours ago I saw my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) who informed me that he would be the occupant of the Chair at 4 o'clock and I said that he could safely go to bed.
I intervene for several reasons. One is that I hope the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) will shortly occupy her place because she has given notice that after this debate she is to raise the question of unemployment in the North-East. As the Leader of the House will know, this matter has caused us the greatest anxiety.
In his absence, I complained of the right hon. Gentleman's absence. I am glad to see he is now present. I do not know whether to assume that he looked in at midnight to see that we were quite safe and is now here to keep a kindly eye on the interests of the brewers to make sure there is no back bench revolt. I must say to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) that I had no idea that he would deploy such a powerful case. I am still tempted to divide the Committee on this matter, but there is some dereliction of duty in the fact that I did not inform my hon. Friends of the 627 nature of the case to be deployed or I doubt if some of them would have left US.
I do not think the Joint Under-Secretary has given a completely satisfactory reply. I was absolutely convinced by my hon. Friend that there is an overwhelming case here. The Joint Under-Secretary was good enough to concede that it is very doubtful whether Parliament intended this to be the effect of the legislation. I know that it does not affect the legal consequences of the legislation, but it seems that this is something which was not carefully thought about at the time when the Act was passed. As the hon. Gentleman also conceded, it was never expected that this legislation would persist for so long. If the consequences were not so direct one would not be so troubled about it, but from what has been said in the debate it seems obvious that the consequences very directly affect this particularly enterprising class of business.
I am sure that the Leader of the House would agree that it is unfortunate if one gets this lackadaisical sleeping vested interest stopping enterprise. That seems to be the position. I am not taking the opportunity to attack the brewers. I can see that if one has a vested interest one clings to it as long as one can, but if one is considering a new development—I do not want to upset my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) when he reads HANSARD to see if I have commented on what he said—but one has to recognise that people are much more accustomed nowadays to order beer and wines with their groceries. If they wish to do this, they should be allowed to do so. Otherwise they are caused inconvenience, and we should not unnecessarily cause inconvenience.
The Under-Secretary of State said that there are only 21 of these committees when previously there were 33 and that the rate of their disappearance has been accelerating. He assured us that by the time we consider this again, if we do, there will have been further progress. He said that he must consult another vested interest—the committees themselves; but I do not think that he should be too much influenced by that interest. He should consider the general convenience of the public.
628 Without being doctrinaire or dogmatic, I think that this is not a very good example of planning. There is no particular virtue in its persisting. I hope that we shall have something better than a good progress report when this matter comes up for discussion again. I hope that the Government will have taken a decision that this matter should be left to the licensing justices and that these areas should not be in a position in which they are discriminated against by comparison with other areas. What is good for the country is good for these areas.
If the Minister were making a powerful case, as he endeavoured to do, then he would be bound to provide this procedure for the rest of the country. He put a case that it was convenient for the applicant to appear before a committee which represented both planning and licensing. But the whole argument has been the other way, and it is that this appears to act unfairly to supermarkets, co-operatives and grocery stores in these areas. I am sure that the Leader of the House will agree that the best thing to do is to bring this type of legislation to an end as rapidly as possible.
§ Mr. Darling
May I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) for the tribute which he paid to the case which we have put forward? I think that it is an overwhelming case, and the Minister has not convinced me that these committees should continue. I am sure that he has noted the support on both sides of the Committee for the proposition that we should get rid of them.
But it will serve the convenience of the Committee—although I am not convinced by the Government's reply—if I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule agreed to.
§ Preamble agreed to.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment: read the Third time and passed.