HC Deb 01 April 1963 vol 675 cc121-7
Mr. Reynolds

I beg to move, in page 28, line 17, after "exercise", to insert "in any London borough".

The Clause provides that the powers which councils and the London County Council have may be transferred to the Greater London Council and may be exercised by that Council, till such time as the Minister makes an order depriving it of those powers, within the present L.C.C. area. The purpose of my Amendment is to enable the Greater London Council, till the Minister makes the order to deprive it of those powers, to exercise those powers in any of the new boroughs, not only the inner London boroughs, but, as I would hope and expect, till the powers are taken away, in all of the new boroughs, so that the powers should not be confined to the present L.C.C. area.

It was said in Standing Committee that I started off with the predisposition to favour the boroughs as compared with county councils or, for that matter, the Greater London Council. I completely accept this. I would much rather, on the whole, see powers given to boroughs than to the London County Council or to the Greater London Council which we are creating by this Bill. Nevertheless, I am personally in favour of two-

tiered government. I think that the days are past of the county borough, the walled city, providing all its services within its own boundaries, and we should realise that in certain circumstances there is definitely a case for a two-tiered authority, in this case the Greater London Council, to have certain powers which, nevertheless, some boroughs would jealously argue should be left solely with them.

In Standing Committee, we approached this question of housing with an Amendment which would have enabled the Council to be responsible for slum clearance. The Minister was opposed to that, and that Amendment was defeated. The Greater London Council will have a number of housing powers within its own boroughs and will itself be a housing authority, and the main purpose of the Amendment is to enable the Greater London Council to use those powers, which it will inherit, for slum clearance in the outer London boroughs as well, while the powers remain to be used.

This affects only a few of the outer London boroughs. In fact, one can safely say that it is a problem which affects few of the inner London boroughs. Slum clearance is a problem, I understand, from the figures published in the recent survey, which affects Bermondsey, Bethnal Green, Poplar and Stepney, and perhaps to some extent some others, and though I am not saying that it is impossible for them, it is a difficult problem for them to tackle without assistance on the wider scale which the Greater London Council could give. I believe that a similar argument can be applied to some of the outer London boroughs—admittedly, only a few—which we are creating by the Bill. I think that a similar problem could be said to exist in Edmonton and Tottenham and the County Boroughs of East Ham and West Ham.

As things stand now we must expect the Greater London Council to come into existence, and we should enable it, as this Amendment would enable it, to assist the existing boroughs and county boroughs, and any other boroughs which require assistance with slum clearance, at least for as long as the Minister allows that to happen. It could assist those boroughs in carrying out the slum clearance programme.

7.15 p.m.

I would suspect that the Greater London Council would not step in so far as East Ham and West Ham, Edmonton and Tottenham are concerned otherwise than the L.C.C. at present works. We know the sort of thing that happens. The Council would make the same sort of approach as the L.C.C. makes, sitting down with the borough authority concerned to see whether it could assist in the difficult task of slum clearance.

We on this side of the House believe that assistance from the Council might well be welcomed by some of the authorities trying to solve their slum clearance problems. On the other hand, they may consider that they are able, and they may indeed be able—we do not know at this stage—to cope with the problem themselves. The Minister may say they can, but I do not want to argue that now. I simply say that the services which the Council could provide should be available to those other authorities if they want the Council to help them, because I am sure that this is the type of function which would be conducted by the Council only in consultation and in agreement with the boroughs concerned.

I appreciate that the Amendment would give the Council other powers in addition to powers with slum clearance, but on this side of the House we are primarily concerned with slum clearance, and we would expect that in the use of all these powers the Greater London Council would consult the London boroughs concerned and get agreement. I am sure that this would impose no difficulty on the boroughs and would give the Council an opportunity to assist some of the outer London boroughs, an opportunity which will not be available as the Bill is framed at present.

I am not sure that my Amendment is as precise as I would wish, but we on this side are absolutely certain that these powers should be operable for as long as the Minister allows them to operate them at all, and I hope that the Minister will accept the Amendment.

Mr. Corfield

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) has made it clear that he has principally in mind the slum clearance powers of Part III of the Housing Act, and he realises, as the House does, that the Greater London Council is, under the Bill, a Part V housing authority. It seems to me, looking at the problems which arise in connection with slum clearance, that the only factor which may prove of difficulty to these greatly enlarged boroughs as slum clearance authorities is the question of rehousing, and here, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the Greater London Council has the powers to help any borough with its relets and, indeed, its rebuilding.

But the whole purpose of the provisions of this Clause giving the Greater London Council slum clearance powers within the L.C.C. area, as I am sure the House appreciates, was to enable the Council to carry on schemes which are either in an advanced stage of preparation or actually in the process of execution by the L.C.C. There really does not seem to be any logic in the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that this should be extended to areas where no such schemes are being taken over from the L.C.C. and where there will be much more powerful authorities as the principal slum clearance authorities. I would, therefore, suggest that this really goes quite outside the logic of this particular provision.

I am bound to say that the hon. Gentleman has not made the case for the outer London boroughs, all powerful authorities, many of them comprising units which were themselves full housing authorities before the merger, and for giving the Greater London Council this extra power on top of the existing power to help with rehousing, and I would advise the House to reject this Amendment.

Mr. Mellish

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary has talked of the Greater London Council carrying on where the L.C.C. leaves off, certainly in the inner London boroughs. Is he saying that the slum clearance powers will be left to the G.L.C.?

Mr. Corfield

I understand that the intention is that these shall be transitional powers and that once the whole set-up is running the London boroughs will be Part III housing authorities, when there will be no overlapping of authority.

Mr. Mellish

The hon. Gentleman has not treated the Amendment quite as frankly as he should have done. Those of us who are from the inner London boroughs know that our slum clearance programmes could not be tackled without the help of the L.C.C. Even when our local authorities are merged with one another they will be unable to do the job by themselves. It is essential that the present powers of the L.C.C. should be retained in this case for ever, otherwise we shall never be able adequately to deal with slum clearance in London.

The hon. Gentleman said that at the moment there were certain schemes which would be left to the G.L.C. to complete but that after that its powers would end in the matter.

Mr. Corfield

I am afraid that I have misunderstood and misled the hon. Gentleman. I did not mean to imply that the G.L.C.'s power to help with rehousing would come to an end. As was pointed out in Standing Committee, the G.L.C. will have a pool of housing as far as we can foresee, even though at an early stage it will begin to hand over some houses to the boroughs. It will have a substantial pool of housing for a long time.

Mr. Reynolds

Nothing in this subsection gives any indication of a definite time. Apparently, the Minister will only have to make an order taking these residual powers away from the G.L.C. If the Minister wants to allow the G.L.C. to finish off what the L.C.C. has already started, it would be better to insert a date, for the L.C.C. has a programme which is settled for the next few years. If this subsection is supposed to cover such schemes, why should there not be a definite time limit? Such a limit could have been worked out with the L.C.C.

It is all very well to say that an authority is powerful because it has a population of 250,000 and so much yield from a penny rate. In that sense, it is powerful. But both in the London area and in other parts of the country, when it comes to slum clearance, and where an authority has an overspill problem, it is only as powerful as the smallest parish council prepared to allow development in its boundary under the Town Develop- ment Act, 1952, for there is no other way in which it can act.

I agree that the G.L.C. will be a Part V authority and that by agreement with the boroughs it will be able to rehouse people dispossessed by slum clearance projects by the boroughs themselves. The problem of slum clearance affects only a minority of the London boroughs to a great extent. But the G.L.C. will be composed of members representing constituencies covering the whole area, although financially this particular housing operation will only be borne by the existing L.C.C. area. I cannot imagine that that area will be able also to finance housing generally in the new Greater London Area, or that its representatives on the G.L.C. will be particuarly disposed to provide houses for Outer London boroughs. Later on, the financing of this work will be borne by all the London boroughs and then the reverse will be true. I cannot see the members representing outer London boroughs being particularly happy about giving extra houses to inner London boroughs.

There is, therefore, danger that unless the Greater London Council is given slum clearance power, it may be under pressure from members representing various part of the area. For instance, there would be considerable struggle over the allocations if an extra large percentage of housing became available. That will be the case unless the Greater London Council, as the upper tier authority, is given specific responsibility for doing a certain amount of slum clearance.

While I accept much of what the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said, I must point out that this problem in the inner London area—where some of the boroughs have peculiar problems—will be difficult to solve without the assistance of the G.L.C. The same problem, of course, applies to a limited number of the outer boroughs. All these boroughs should have available special assistance from the G.L.C.—certainly for longer than is contemplated by the Government as applying to a number of the inner boroughs.

Mr. Corfield

We are discussing the area rather than the timing, but the object of these transitional provisions is to ensure that they are continued until such time as the London boroughs have produced their own programmes and it can be seen how the two phase together. But, of course, any Part V housing authority is obliged to compile its housing programme in relation to its housing need. I cannot, therefore, think that the G.L.C. will be able to fulfil that function if it tries to do it on a strict arithmetical principle irrespective of the slum clearance programmes the boroughs undertake, so that it finds itself with an exceptional number of people to rehouse. I consider that this is covered by the Part V powers.

Amendment negatived.