§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Sir Keith Joseph)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I can, in a few sentences, sketch out the background to the Bill. We have a shortage of houses still remaining from the war-time standstill. We have a high proportion of obsolete and obsolescent houses to replace and our task is made the harder by the great growth in demand for houses caused partly by the rapid increase in population and partly by the even more rapid increase in the demand for houses based on the earlier age of marriage and the greater proportion of our population who are living to the age of retirement.
We have, therefore, set in hand an increase in house building. Our target is to reach 350,000 houses a year during the next two years and to go on from that to reach as soon as possible, and to maintain, a rate of 400,000 new houses a year. Our objective is to overtake the shortage, to eliminate virtually all known slums and to make a significant start on replacing the twilight houses in the next 10 years.
That is. the background, but, as the House is all too well aware, we have the shortage and the obsolescence. The Bill aims at a number of the symptoms and consequences of the shortage and obsolescence as well as filling a gap in our housing provision. The main features of the Bill apply throughout Great Britain and the account I shall be giving of what the Bill seeks to do covers in broad terms the position in Scotland as well as in England and Wales. However, Mr. Speaker, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will seek to catch your eye during the debate to expand on those provisions of the Bill which have a particular significance to Scotland.
Part I of the Bill seeks to fill a gap in our present housing provision. At the moment, almost all new house building is provided either by local authorities 485 or by private enterprise for owner-occupation. That is almost the exclusive preoccupation of two sections of the community, and it tends to ignore the needs of others. There are those, as we all know, who cannot afford or do not want owner-occupation, but who yet do not feel that they should look to the local authorities for housing. For them, at the moment, there is no adequate provision. If they want to rent, what they want is a new house, and at present nearly all the accommodation available to rent is either old or even obsolete housing.
There are also those who, while they are quite ready to pay more than a subsidised price, are not quite able to manage to buy a new house of their own, but who want the advantages of a new house. In the view of the Government there are many who can afford to pay the cost of a new house, but who cannot quite afford to satisfy themselves through the market as it exists today. It was to fill this gap that my right hon. Friend the present Home Secretary in Section 7 of the 1961 Housing Act provided a fund of £25 million from the taxpayer to be loaned to housing societies.
The House will be interested in some account of the success of this £25 million scheme to date. The scheme began to get into operation only about 18 months ago because, although the Act was passed in 1961, the guidance for housing societies was not issued until February, 1962. By the beginning of this year—10 months after that guidance was issued—£1 million of the £25 million had been committed. That £1 million represented 300 dwellings. By the end of June this year £7 million had been committed, involving 2,000 dwellings. Today, about 18 months after the guidance based on the Act was first issued, £16 million of the £25 million has been committed, involving 4,400 dwellings. Several more millions of pounds worth is in the pipeline, representing over 700 additional dwellings.
The results of the 1961 Act are already appearing on the ground. A block of 12 modern two-bedroom flats has been occupied by tenants in Birmingham since last July. Ten modern houses have been built and occupied on the outskirts of Leicester and more building is going on there. I am opening at Bickley next Monday 33 flats for retired people and 486 12 flats and maisonettes have been occupied at Wickford in Essex. More people will be moving in there on Saturday.
More housing schemes from the £25 million fund are on the way. Actual building is in progress in Swansea, Birmingham, Cardiff, Solihull, Thundersley in Essex, Hornchurch, and more schemes are coming forward in London and the Home Counties, Liverpool, Manchester, Plymouth, Leeds, Salford, Barry, Norwich, Bristol, Coventry, Oxford, Aylesbury and Reading, to mention just a selection. This £25 million pilot scheme is providing accommodation for cost rent; that is, housing in which neither profit nor subsidy exists.
Mr. W. A. Willdns (Bristol, South)
It was rather strange to hear the Minister mention Bristol, because the local authority there, which has just returned to Labour control, has had to initiate a housing crash programme to make good the deficiencies caused by the preceding Tory council. Will not the right hon. Gentleman give the other side of the picture?
§ Sir K. Joseph
The other side is that local authority house building is increasing fast. This is not in competition with local authorities or private enterprise housebulding, but is an additional reinforcement to both.
While we owe much thanks to the National Federation of Housing Societies for the great assistance that it has given to this scheme, there has been no strong and paid drive to stimulate the creation of these housing societies. They have grown on their own initiative in response to what was a new venture both by the Government and them. I believe that the success of this pilot scheme entitles us to go on to the development stage of housing societies. Part I of the Bill seeks to do that.
Clause 1 provides for the setting up of a Housing Corporation, the job of which will be to stimulate housing societies to build for both cost rent and co-ownership. Co-ownership involves lending money not to an individual, but to a group which, as a group, never dies and, therefore, makes practicable loans for a longer period than are sensible for mortal individuals and, in consequence, makes possible much lower deposits.
487 The result is that under co-ownership or co-operative methods of house tenure most of the advantages of owner-occupation are available to the occupants at a lower monthly cost and for a very much lower deposit. Co-ownership should, therefore, appeal particularly to young married couples, to middle-aged single people and middle-aged couples beyond the normal age for starting a new individual mortgage, and the cost-rent schemes, which will be the other method of approach by the new housing societies, will appeal to all these same people as well as to the elderly.
The constitution and the procedure of the Housing Corporation are set out in the First Schedule. There will be a central staff, and a number of small staffs will be dispersed through the main centres of population to give advice to the local housing societies. The Corporation will have on its staffs legal, estates, financial and architectural experts. I shall explain in a moment something of what we hope of the Housing Corporation.
In Clauses 2, 8 and 9 the House will find the relevant financial provisions. We hope that about two-thirds of the money necessary will be forthcoming from building societies and other financial institutions. The Building Societies Association has agreed to recommend to its societies that they should co-operate in the scheme. I am glad to say that any such advances by building societies would not be special advances within Section 21 of the Building Societies Act, 1962. But to top up the money found by the financial institutions the Government are proposing to make available £100 million, in two instalments of £50 million, to lend as second mortgage money. So the housing societies can look to £300 million for a start. But, of course, they will also need land as well as money. The societies and the Housing Corporation will need to search for land. The Corporation has the power to buy an advance and thus take the opportunity of purchasing any land which becomes available, even if at that particular moment there is no housing society ready to make use of it.
There is also in reserve the power, which will be found in Clause 4, of compulsory purchase for the Housing Corporation. Compulsory purchase 488 would, as always, need the Minister's approval, and the Minister would expect to be shown that the housing society and the Housing Corporation had asked the local authority concerned to use its compulsory purchase powers to buy the land. The Minister would only be willing to sanction compulsory purchase in the hands of the Housing Corporation if the local authority had been unwilling to use its powers and had not sufficient reason for being so unwilling.
In other words, if the local authority says to the housing society, "We are very sorry, but we need this land ourselves" the Minister will have to judge where the public interest lies and who should have that land. If the Housing Corporation has the staff to which I have referred, I think that we can confidently look to it to see that housing societies pay the greatest attention both to the quality of design and of layout, and the importance of good standards for today and tomorrow, while reconciling ail these with moderate costs.
We shall expect the Housing Corporation to make as much use as is practicable of the new systems of industrialised building. In fact, both on quality and quantity we believe the Housing Corporation, with its housing societies, has the greatest scope. When the Bill is on the Statute Book I shall make sure that the fullest information is made available to the public and particularly to all those who are interested.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House on one matter? Whether or not land speculators are instigating these schemes, is it not true that in any case the initiative is not coming from people who are to live in these houses so much as from building firms which are out for a profitable deal on the job?
§ Sir K. Joseph
The initiative in the £25 million scheme is coming sometimes from those who want to live in the houses, sometimes from groups of professional men, including architects and estate agents, sometimes from builders and sometimes from combinations of these.
As I have already told the House in answer to Questions, my office—and this will be the job of the Housing Corporation in future, when it is set up—makes the most meticulous examination of 489 each stage of any such scheme, relying for an assessment of the value of the land on the district value and protecting at every stage the public purse and the interests of the future occupants.
If I may now turn to Parts II and III of the Bill, which I hope the House will consider together, these are the parts which provide for a large increased pace in the improvement of the least obsolescent of the older part of our stock of houses. As the House knows, grants are available for houses which the local authority concerned believes have at least 15 years∗life in them. They must be solid, potentially decent houses which are lacking in one or more of the basic amenities of internal lavatory, bath, ventilated larder, sink, hand-basin and hot water system.
§ Sir K. Joseph
And, of course, drainage, because of the importance of the bath, the lavatory and the basin.
There are in our housing stock 3½ million houses which have been or remain in this category. That is, they were built without modern amenities but they all have at least 15 years' life in them in the view of the local authorities concerned. Of these 3½ million houses, no fewer than 700,000 have already been improved with the aid of grant since the grant procedure was started. In addition, several hundred thousand—I cannot be sure how many—have been improved without the aid of grant. The full number will be revealed when we get the detailed results of the 1961 census.
§ Sir K. Joseph
Yes, all the figures that I have given are on the basis of England, Scotland, and Wales.
In taking up the grant, owner-occupiers have come forward in far larger numbers than landlords, but there are good reasons in many cases why landlords have not shown so willing. First, there is the fact that many landlords are not what one might call "economic" men and women. They are not seeking to maximise their earnings. They are not sophisticated. There are other landlords who are discouraged 490 by the fact that, whatever rent they may be getting if the dwelling is decontrolled at the moment, under the present legislation, if they accept the grant, they have to see that their rent is pegged, and pegged for 10 years.
Thirdly, there is the fact that in many cases the landlords may be more or less willing, but the tenant is unwilling to consent. So, for all these reasons, we must recognise that there are some excuses for the relative reluctance of landlords to take up the grant.
§ Sir James Duncan (South Angus)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is another reason, that the cost of the repairs has enormously increased, but the grant has remained the same?
§ Sir K. Joseph
I have the greatest respect for what my hon. Friend says, but an analysis of the cost of actually putting in the improvements shows that the grant available more than covers it. My hon. Friend is quite right in pointing out that before one can get a grant one has to repair the house. There is no grant towards that, and that is a disincentive.
All of these improvements are now running at the rate of 120,000 a year which, for a voluntary scheme, is creditable to all concerned. But while it may be fairly creditable, it is not acceptable as a rate of progress to the Government or, I believe, to the country.
We still have about 2½ million houses which can be modernised, and our objective is to modernise these, or nearly all of them, in the next 10 years. If we are to do that, we must aim at a programme of at least 200,000 houses improved with grant every year. There will inevitably be some houses which are improved without grant for various reasons. So, for every extra number that are improved with grant, there will be an unknown extra proportion which are improved without grant.
§ Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but could he tell the House how many of the 200,000 that he mentioned as being capable of improvement are in Scotland?
§ Sir K. Joseph
No, I cannot. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland may be able to give them. The 491 figure of 200,000 is the programme. The 120,000 is what we are achieving at the moment. My hon. Friend will, no doubt, be able to fill in the figure.
We shall rely largely on voluntary measures, but we are introducing an element of compulsion and I hope that the House will recognise that we are offering to all the people concerned some better "carrots" and a slight "taste of the stick" if they will not have the "carrots."
In Part III the House will find a number of improvements in the arrangements for making grant. Grant is to be made available in a more flexible and attractive way. Partial grant is to be made available, for the first time, for partial improvement, that is to say, for houses in which all the amenities I have mentioned cannot practicably be fitted in. There will be a larger grant in special cases, particularly where the addition of the sanitary facilities involves the building of an outhouse at the back, where a cold water supply has, for the first time, to be provided, or where the houses concerned have three or more storeys. Also, we are relaxing the condition which at present requires that a bath must be fitted into a separate bathroom.
Although we are not altering in any way the rent limit for controlled properties, we are making alterations in the rent conditions for decontrolled properties. Whereas, at present, when grant is accepted by the landlord of decontrolled property, the rent has to be pegged at twice the old gross value plus 12½ per cent, of the cost of improvement and has to be kept at that pegged level for 10 years, we now propose pegging the rent at once current gross value plus 12½ per cent, of the landlord's share of the cost of improvements, and pegged not for ten years but for three years.
§ Mrs. E. M. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)
May I go back to what the Minister said about there being no longer a need to make a room a bathroom in order to qualify for grant? He will be aware that I have been trying to deal with this matter with his Department for about 12 months, but without making any progress. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain exactly what he means by the change in that respect?
§ Sir K. Joseph
I know the hon. Lady's enthusiasm in this matter. I hope that she will excuse me if I leave the details till Committee. Broadly, putting in a bath will not attract grant if it is put, for example, in a bedroom, and there are a number of implications here, particularly in connection with the supply of electricity or gas if hot water is to be made available, which touch on safety considerations. I would rather leave it to the Committee stage. I think that the hon. Lady will be satisfied that we are making the grant more flexible in this way.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I am anxious about time. I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I cannot give way much more.
§ Sir K. Joseph
Yes. If the landlord accepts grant and is charging a present rent in excess of the new pegged rent, he will have to bring his rent down; but, instead of keeping it down for 10 years, he will be required to keep it down for only three years.
Finally, on these arrangements for grant, there is a provision proposed which will be of some importance particularly in Wales where there is much leasehold tenure. To obtain an improvement grant, the occupant will, under the Bill, need to have only five years of the lease to run and not, as at present, 15 years to run.
That is a summary of some of the inducements, or "carrots", which we propose to make available.
In addition, it ought to be a considerable inducement to landlords and owner-occupiers to take up these grants when they realise that the area in which their houses are is to be improved systematically. Clause 13 provides, for the 493 first time, legislative sanction for the creation of improvement areas. By Clause 13, when at least half the dwellings in any area, which may be large or small, lack any of the basic amenities and can, in the opinion of the local authority, be improved to full standard and will last at least 15 years, then the area can be designated by the authority as an improvement area. Within these improvement areas special powers of compulsion will be applicable, and to these I shall come shortly.
I believe, and I hope that the House will agree, that the very designation of an area as an improvement area will increase the voluntary take-up of grant. People will no longer think, "What is the good if I improve my property? The area is running down". They will now feel that they are taking part in a cooperative effort which will make their effort worth while. The improvement area policy, of course, was sketched out in circular No. 42/62 from my Department last year, but this is the first time that it has been given legislative sanction.
On the day after the publication of the Buchanan Report, I should, I think, make some reference to how I envisage local authorities choosing their improvement areas. First, I very much hope—administrative guidance will be given in due course by the Ministers concerned—that local authorities will look at their areas not just through the eyes of their planning and housing committees, but will take a synoptic view through the eyes of their transport, planning and housing committees. They will then say to themselves that this or that area is slum or twilight area and needing renewing. But they may think that other areas can be dealt with best through the improvement powers under the Bill. Often, though not always, they will be able to satisfy not only their improved housing needs, but their transport needs as well.
It may well be that it would suit some towns to locate their primary network, to the need for which the Buchanan Report directs attention, in large part through the areas which they will be wanting to renew as twilight or slum clearance areas. In deciding whether an area shall be an improvement area they will thus pay attention not only to the physical survival value of the houses as at present built, but.
494 no doubt, to the marginal nature of such survival value, so that, if it is very marginal, they may decide whether, in fact, they would do better to use it as part of the area for road purposes. I believe that the Buchanan Report shows that urban renewal must be done on a planning, transport and housing basis simultaneously.
The improvement area concept here introduced in the Bill does not amount just to the aggregate of the improvement of individual houses, but is intended to be a lever leading to the total improvement of the communal facilities in the areas chosen. In other words, a local authority will not just see to it that the houses in an area are improved, preferably voluntarily, if not compulsorily, but will also be asked and encouraged by the relevant Ministers at the same time to tackle in those areas specifically all the other campaigns of communal importance—clean air, play space, open space, trees, the street scene generally, cleanliness, the street furniture, the lighting—all the things which can go to make an area desirable or, on the other hand, not desirable and run down.
This, I believe, will be a lever to achieve an important part of our urban renewal and will play a significant part parallel to slum clearance and parallel to the twilight area renewal which will follow slum clearance in this, one of the most important tasks facing the country.
I have spoken of inducements, or "carrots". I come now to the other side of the picture, compulsion. This will apply almost entirely to landlords who will not use the grant voluntarily in cases where improvement makes sense. There will be no compulsion on owner-occupiers. There will be no compulsion on sitting tenants except in two cases. First, there will be some compulsion on sitting tenants at the end of 10 years, and, secondly, there will be some compulsion on sitting tenants who form a dissenting minority of the occupants of the tenement block. Otherwise, there will be no compulsion on either owner-occupiers or tenants.
There will be three categories of compulsion. In Clauses 13 to 18 is spelt out the compulsion which will be exer- 495 cised on landlords of houses within designated improvement areas. Then, under Clause 19, there will be some compulsion on landlords of individual houses outside improvement areas when the tenant has made a request for improvement. Thirdly—this is Clauses 20 and 21—there will be compulsion on landlords of tenement blocks chosen for improvement by the local authorities.
The compulsion will proceed by three main stages.
First, there will have to be either a declaration of an improvement area by the local authority—that is Clause 13—or an application by the tenant of a house outside an improvement area—that is Clause 19—or a decision by the local authority to tackle an individual tenement block—that is Clauses 20 and 21. That is the first stage of the compulsion procedure which triggers off the rest.
Following that first stage there will have to be the service of a preliminary notice containing the local authority's proposals for improvement as a basis for discussion—that is Clause 14—and the final stage of the compulsory procedure is the service of the improvement notice, which is in Clauses 15 and 16. There is provision for the improvement notice to be suspended if the tenant does not agree to it, but the improvement notice, even if suspended, becomes effective if the occupant changes or if the sitting tenant changes his mind.
At the end of 10 years the local authority can enforce the improvement throughout the improvement area of all the tenanted houses, but I must add that where the sitting tenant remains unwilling the local authority is obliged to offer that sitting tenant alternative accommodation.
The local authority can accept undertakings in lieu of serving improvement notices under Clause 24, and Clause 27 contains the powers of appeal for the landlord to the county court. If the improvement is not carried out the local authority can do the work itself and recover the cost under Clauses 28 to 30.
Perhaps I should explain the position of the Crown and Government Departments in relation to all this.
§ Mr. Bruce Millan (Glasgow, Craigton)
Before the Minister leaves the question of compulsion, may I put this to him? So far as I can see, while there are: certain rights reserved to tenants in normal circumstances, the tenants in tenement blocks have no rights at all. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the matter, could the right hon. Gentleman say why this distinction is being made?
§ Sir K. Joseph
We have to face the fact that in a tenement block any effective improvement may involve some interference with the privacy of tenants and, therefore, we are evolving a procedure—this will be largely done by administrative guidance to local authorities—whereby the local authority can take the opinion of the majority of tenants. I agree that this matter needs much discussion and thought, but if the majority of the tenants consent there will be compulsion on the minority. However, we shall need to consider very carefully how we should advise local authorities to go about this procedure.
I was about to explain how the Crown fits in as landlord. By Clause 37, the compulsory improvement provisions of the Bill cannot be applied to dwellings in which the Crown or the Duchies of Cornwall and Lancaster hold any interest except with the consent of the Crown Estate Commissioners, the appropriate Duchy or appropriate Government Department. This is in accordance with precedence. If the Crown is in control of the dwelling—that is, if it is the direct landlord—it will be in a position to carry out any essential improvements and can be expected to do so. But it may not be able to secure the carrying out of essential improvements where its interest is other than that of the person in control of the dwelling—that is, where it is not the direct landlord.
I am, however, authorised to say that in this latter instance the Crown's consent will not be withheld unless in any case there are good estate management or security reasons for so doing. In all cases there will be full consultation between the local authority and the appropriate authority as defined in the Bill.
I have sketched out the background to this rapid acceleration of the application 497 of improvement to the remaining probably 2½ million houses which have at least 15 years life and which can be made infinitely more decent and habitable by the processes of the Bill.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
What the right hon. Gentleman has been saying about improving dwellings and compulsion on landlords is excellent and deals with something long overdue. May I ask about the 15-year term? Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that 15 years is too long for a person to have to live in a house without a bath, hot water and inside lavatory, particularly since many local authorities are unable to guarantee to applicants that the house in question will be standing in 15 years' time?
§ Sir K. Joseph
The hon. Member, who knows about this part of the subject, has his facts wrong. The 15years is the condition for the survival value of the house. We hope to modernise all these houses in about 10 years. It therefore follows that some people will still be eight or nine years without these modern facilities unless there is a great surge in improvements which makes the plumbers run like mad to keep up the pace. I am reliably able to tell the House that I think that we can improve 200,000 houses a year, which, plus the non-grant improvements, will achieve completion of the job in about 10 years.
I turn to Part IV, which is about multi-occupied property. As the House will remember, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made a bold beginning in the 1961 Act to tackle squalor, multi-occupation and the elusive landlord. He knew at the time, and explained to the House, that the Act would almost certainly need review after it had been carried out. He warned local authorities that in 1964—that is, about two years after the 1961 Act came into force—he would ask them for a report so that he could carry out the review and see what, if any, strengthening of the Act should be introduced.
But, in view of the circumstances of this summer, I undertook in July to bring that 1964 review forward, and I carried it out in August and September this year. I consulted some of those local authorities with the most intense experience in their own areas of multi-occupation and I asked them to tell me what snags they 498 had found in their use of the 1961 Act. I should like to say how much I appreciate the most helpful advice that they gave me.
The results of this part of my inquiry are incorporated in Clauses 60 to 65 of the Bill. These Clauses introduce the following features to strengthen the 1961 Act. First the security of local authorities who carry out work in default when the landlord fails to carry out what he is required to do—which is at the moment limited to the immediate landlord who may be a man of straw or may have only a short lease—is now extended to reach all interests in the property. This was, I think, the most general of the requests from the local authorities. That matter is dealt with in Clause 60.
Secondly, it is for the first time made an offence for any landlord to fail to comply with a works order made by the local authority—a criminal offence. Thirdly, if the Bill is passed, it will be possible for a local authority to pursue simultaneously both the works procedures and the run-down procedures under the 1961 Act. As the law stands, a local authority may either proceed by way of requiring works or by way of imposing a maximum number of occupants on the dwelling, which will be reached, not by process of eviction, but by the process of not replacing the people who leave voluntarily. If the Bill is passed, the local authority will be able to pursue a balanced policy in the case of any dwelling requiring works and run-down to the optimum number sensible for that dwelling.
Fourthly, in the Bill we are sharpening the powers of entry of local authorities. I know that this is a very delicate subject, but the fact is that at the moment some of the worst managers take advantage of the 24 hours notice which local authorities have to give them of proposed entry for inspection, either to make entry extremely difficult or to obscure the badness of conditions in the property by temporarily moving out some of the occupants. We are, therefore, proposing, subject to a magistrate's warrant, to allow the local authority to enter without notice in suitable cases. We are also making it possible for the first time to apply the 1962 good management code to tenement blocks.
499 Finally, we are removing the time limit which, at the moment, prevents any local authority from proposing a registration scheme until, I think, the autumn of 1964. By removing that time limit we shall make it possible, as soon as the Bill becomes law, for local authorities to propose a registration scheme for consideration by the Minister. [Interruption.] The hon. Member is teasing me because this is one point about which Members on both sides, including my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Nottingham, Central (Lieut.-ColonelCordeaux)and the hon. Members for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) and Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin), pressed us during the Committee stage of the 1961 Act. We refused their request because we said that the most flagrant cases were well known to the local authority and that it did not need to divert its energies to a registration scheme in order to deal with them. The fact that Birmingham, to which I again pay tribute, has made hundreds of management and works orders under the 1961 Act shows that lack of a registration scheme, while I accept that it may need in addition, has not held the corporation up in its use of the 1961 Act.
Clause 66 applies Part II of the 1961 Act, as now to be amended, to Scotland. This is a necessary stage towards the application in Scotland of the control order powers later. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary hopes to explain this at a later stage in the debate.
Over and above these reinforcements to the 1961 Act, the need has emerged for more summary power of intervention by the local authority in some cases. Much has been said—sometimes here, more often in the Press—about property racketeers who "sweat" decaying houses by cramming them with people at exorbitant rents for bad accommodation. It is also said that such bad landlords use violence, or threats of it, or other barbarities, to stop complaints or to drive out tenants, particularly controlled tenants. But the very people who allege such racketeering say, also, that the victims are so scared of losing the poor place which they have, or of worse, that they can seldom be persuaded to sustain a complaint to the police or to the local authorities. While it may be, therefore, that such practices 500 exist, it is difficult to obtain clear evidence about them.
One thing which is certain is that local authorities are under a duty under the 1957 Act to be informed of housing conditions in their districts. They get information about this in a variety of ways, including inspection, first and foremost, by their own officers. Here, the public health inspector is in the front line, as he is whenever threats to the public health of the citizen emerge. The local authorities also get information from reports of public-minded people, the citizens' advice bureaux, councillors, clergy, Members of Parliament, neighbours and voluntary bodies. Local authorities get to know about bad living conditions.
The common factor in the cases alleged is bad living conditions, because if living conditions were not bad there would not be the profit by which the racketeer is said to live. These bad conditions can be ascertained by inspection and, as I have explained, we are sharpening the powers of inspection and of entry by the Bill. A local authority need not, therefore, depend on a sustained complaint or even a complaint at all by any tenant who is frightened.
Thus, the formula for an effective assault or. these practices, if and when they exist, must have the following elements. It must provide for summary action. If, as is said, the racketeering landlord is ready to make the lives of his tenants a misery if they complain, or if the local authority undertakes 1961 Act procedures, there must be power for the local authority to intervene at once to stand between such a landlord—and I believe that these landlords are rare—and his potentially victimised tenants.
If we are to have a successful formula, it must provide for a period of stewardship during which the bad living conditions can be rectified so far as is compatible with the numbers living in the house. Although, however, it is right to allow the local authority to act first and argue later, there must be provisions for argument about the need for any action. There must, therefore, be safeguards.
In the 1961 Act, prior notice of each step by the local authority had to be given with rights of appeal at each 501 stage. The 1961 Act will still be the main instrument by which local authorities will secure the improvement of multi-occupied property. We are talking now about the rare case in which there are conditions so bad which are brought about either by a vicious and vindictive landlord or by a landlord who is so indifferent to conditions that bad accommodation results. We are talking about those relatively rare cases in which these conditions are so bad that summary action by the local authority for the protection of the tenants is necessary.
Since the entry into stewardship must, for these reasons, be immediate, it is right that the safeguard should come afterwards, but safeguards there must be against the arbitrary exercise of official power. All these requirements of the formula—summary action and power of stewardship to attack the bad living conditions, with safeguards—are covered by Clauses 67 to 71 and Clause 76.
§ Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)
The Minister is saying confidently that he thinks that he has these powers. I hope that he will say something more definite about the kind of action which he wants local authorities to take quickly. We now get about a case a day of attempted illegal evictions in Paddington. To get at these people, am I supposed to engage in selective name-dropping in supplementary questions? No, not that. How do I get a local authority to watch a new company which has taken over properties and is continuing the process of selective eviction?
§ Sir K. Joseph
The hon. Member should first send the name to the local authority concerned and he is very welcome to send me a copy of any such letter.
The Clauses to which I have referred provide for the making of control orders and for their effect. A local authority may make a control order if, first, the House is multi-occupied, secondly, it is susceptible to action under the ordinary powers of control in the 1961 Act, but, thirdly, it appears that the living conditions in the house are such that it is necessary to make the control order to protect the safety, welfare, or health of persons living in the house.
502 The control order is to come into effect immediately on being made, but its making must be made known as soon as possible thereafter to the tenants, the proprietor and anybody else who is known to have an interest in the property. The local authority is to hold possession of the house against all the world. The dispossessed proprietor's tenants will become the local authority's tenants and his statutory tenants will become the local authority's statutory tenants. During this period of stewardship, the local authority may create what will be for practical purposes new tenancies. It may exclude part of the house that is occupied by the proprietor himself. If the house is in furnished lettings, the local authority will take over the furniture, too. The local authority comes under a duty to rectify the bad conditions of the house.
Clauses 72 and 76(3) provide for the compensation payable to the dispossessed proprietor. The compensation paid for the house is to be half the current gross value.
§ Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)
Can the Minister say whether these control orders can be made in circumstances where the landlord gives notice to quit to the tenants when he hears that the local authority might be taking action?
§ Sir K. Joseph
The local authority can take action the hour that it makes the decision. There should, therefore, be no such interval for the landlord to act. It remains true, however, that a landlord may have a bad conscience and I cannot guarantee that the fear of a control order will not lead to some landlords reducing the number of multi-occupied tenants.
This, however, is inherent in any attack on multi-occupation. I shall hope, with the co-operation of the local authorities, that this will be kept to an absolute minimum. The House must not conceal from itself that it is impossible to improve standards in these worst dwellings without the risk of this occurring in some houses.
§ Mrs. Butler
I have in mind a house from which the landlord evicts all the tenants. I have just come from one in my constituency, where he has given them all notice to quit, removed doors 503 and windows and cut off the electric light and gas supply.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I should very much like the hon. Lady to give me details of the case. She will, perhaps, let me know the address after I conclude my speech. What we are talking about now is the increased powers of intervention that the Bill will provide. That is why I hope that it will be rapidly on the Statute Book.
Clauses 73 and 75 set out the course of action which local authorities must follow to recoup themselves the money which they spend on bringing a house into decent condition. They have to produce a scheme under Clause 73 in which they list the capital works and estimate their cost, say how many people they expect to have in the house and at what rents, and indicate what balance of revenue will accrue to them after meeting the bill for compensation and other running expenditure.
This balance might be referred to as the "settled surplus". The Bill refers to it as thesurpluses on revenue account as settled by the scheme".Under Clause 75, local authorities must keep accounts of what they spend on capital works and periodically set off against this the settled surplus. If at the end of the order period there remains any unrecovered capital debt, it becomes a legal charge enforceable against all interests in the property.
Clauses 74 and 77 to 80 provide for the system of appeals. A person with an interest in a house can appeal to the county court that the local authority was never justified in making the order, or that the local authority's scheme is too elaborate, or that the settled surplus which emerges from the scheme is not enough. The court may quash the order, or may vary the scheme or the settled surplus. If it quashes the order, it can defer the effective date of quashing until urgent repairs have been completed, and it can leave the house subject to orders binding the proprietor to take action he might have been required to take under the ordinary 1961 regulating powers. If the court decides that the order ought never to have been made, the local authority have to render to the proprietor 504 any balances of revenue it may have been holding back, so he will have lost nothing.
Clauses 81 and 82 provide that the control order must in any case lapse after five years, and may be revoked by the local authority or, on appeal to the county court, at an earlier date.
Clause 83 incorporates an important opportunity for ground landlords. If the bad conditions have been created by a lessee and the ground landlords can persuade the court and the local authority that they are willing and able to rectify the evil, they can, by court order, oust the lessee. Good landlords everywhere have nothing to fear from the multi-occupations provisions of the Bill. The Bill will not touch the good landlords.
I do not believe that these control order powers will need to be used very frequently. I could not—and I doubt whether any hon. Gentleman could—name confidently at this moment any particular case apt for their use. I am sure that hon. Gentlemen might be able to point the finger at a case where they suspect the powers might be needed, but confident naming I doubt whether anyone can produce. As I have tried to explain, this is a field where hard evidence does not always emerge. The Bill makes it easier to get evidence for action. What I am sure of is that the very existence of these powers, and the use of them in only a very few cases, will be effective. It will make the business too risky for any who have gone in for it deliberately.
But not every one who "sweats" started out with that object. Some people, particularly immigrants, can most quickly obtain accommodation by buying a house—often a bad house, and generally at excessive rates of interest. Those who lend them money at such high rates of interest will, I believe, be scared off by this part of the Bill. Their investment will be far more at risk than now. In the result, these houses may well still be the refuge of immigrants, but the prices and the interest rates should reflect the control order powers, and thus stimulus to "sweating" should dwindle.
While the housing shortage remains, and the immigrants concentrate, through 505 no fault of their own, in a limited number of areas, there will be overcrowding, but there is all the difference in the world between overcrowding, on the one hand, and, on the other, the deliberately sweated exploitation of housing need coupled with vile living conditions which, I believe, this part of the Bill will stamp out.
Finally, I turn to Part V—
§ Mr. John M. Temple (City of Chester)
Before my right hon. Friend turns to the next part of the Bill, will he give an assurance to the House that he is satisfied that the public health inspectorate of the local authorities is strong enough to cope with all this extra work?
§ Sir K. Joseph
My hon. Friend puts his finger on one of the most important questions here. He put his question in a slightly ambiguous way. I am sure that public health inspectors are admirably capable of handling this matter; the problem is whether there are enough of them. I am in close touch with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, who is the Minister responsible—in so far as any Minister is responsible—for the filling of these posts, and I am encouraged by the fact that there has recently been set up a recruiting board for the public health inspectorate.
Certainly, we shall have to make sure that there are enough people to do this additional work at a time when, by accelerating slum clearance, the clean air provisions and a number of other important activities, they are already strained. My hon. Friend can be sure that the Government appreciate the importance of this matter.
Part V contains a number of consequential provisions, and deals with a number of miscellaneous subjects on which legislation is urgently required. It is, I fear, a heterogeneous lot of subjects. Clauses 87 to 89 deal with aluminium houses, and provide for compensation to local authorities and new town corporations for the failure of aluminium houses, supplied to them, as an extension of the post-war emergency programme, with a Government assurance that they would last for 60 years.
These houses are of two types—B2s, which are considered incapable of 506 repair at economic cost, and BL8s, which are considered repairable. Provision is made in the case of B2s for full compensation for the houses to be demolished, and for the continuation of subsidy to help with the rehousing liability; and, in the case of BL8s, for a flat-rate payment based on the average cost of repair in experimental schemes. The intention is to put the local authorities in the same position as if these houses had been regarded as temporary in the first place.
Clause 90 deals with clean air. The House may recall that on 24th May I had to announce that owing to rapid technological changes in the gas industry, a major increase in gas coke production could no longer be expected; and that current arrangements were to be reviewed in the light of this to ensure that progress with smoke control was not held up. Consultation with the local authority associations about the conclusions reached in the review are proceeding.
Some necessary changes in existing arrangements under the Clean Air Act can be done administratively, but some changes require amendment of the present grant provisions about conversions in private dwellings. Clause 90 is only part of the story. An early announcement will be made about all the measures that are proposed in order to ensure that smoke control can still go ahead, at least at its present pace.
The most important—or, at least, the most costly—of the amendments made is one that will permit grant on dwellings started after 5th July, 1956. At present, these dwellings are not eligible for grant, because it was expected that, from the outset, they would be equipped with appliances capable of burning smokeless fuels. Some of these dwellings were, in fact, equipped with appliances that may now require to be changed if the solid smokeless fuel in best supply—hard coke—is to be burnt. The Clause has the effect that, in that event, grant will be payable.
I would now ask the House to look at Clause 91. This carries out the promise in paragraph 65 of the White Paper to increase patching grant—where local authorities with big slum clearance problems recognising that, with the best will in the world, some slum houses will be standing for a number of years, take 507 action to make them dry, weather-proof and clean, and put in minimum amenities. For these, the rate of grant has not been increased for some time. The authority making most use of the powers is Birmingham, and the new rate of grant is based on Birmingham's experience of costs over the last few years.
To sum up the main features, I would say that the Bill, which must be seen in a context of rising local authority and private enterprise house-building, will release a torrent of initiative canalised both into the provision of standard setting, good value for money, new housing, and into the systematic total improvement of big areas in each of our towns. This initiative will be largely private, but sustained by a framework of public organisation and money in the ways I have already indicated.
Though the Housing Corporation will start by building new houses on a minor scale compared with local authorities and private enterprise, it will have great possibilities. It will unlock large new sources of house-building initiative. It will aim deliberately to reconcile good design and layout with moderate cost. It will use new labour-saving methods. As incomes rise, it may come to provide housing for an increasing, though always comparatively small, proportion of those who would otherwise look to local authorities. It may, in time, make a significant contribution to our housing stock.
Parts II and III of the Bill will lead to the systematic renewal and revitalisation, not just of the sum of the individual houses in large parts of our towns and cities but of the entire community amenities of such areas. This Bill, in the context of the accelerating progress in slum clearance and the twilight area rebuilding which is to follow, forms a key part of our urban renewal strategy. I hope that it will meet with general approval of the House.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
The House is indebted to the Minister for his full and clear exposition of a long and complicated Bill. If we do not all share the optimism of his concluding phrases, it is because we have heard on so many previous occasions announcements of policy by the Government which were to 508 deal with the shortage of rented accommodation and the dilapidated condition of much of it and are aware that these were policy statements which have not been justified in the event.
This Bill is a commentary on private landlordism. Part I is private landlordism as the Minister hopes that, with sufficient encouragement from the State, it may in time become. Parts II, III and IV deal with private landlordism as it is today, with the condition of many of the houses, and with the consequent duties that fall on local authorities to try to keep the housing in decent condition by grant, persuasion, example and, in the last resort, compulsion. Part I is private landlordism as it may be and the other Parts private landlordism as it is, and the Bill, besides being a commentary on private landlordism, is a commentary on the Government's tardiness.
The Minister mentioned what he called one point—the power of local authorities to create a register of houses in multi-occupation—and said that this was one point which my hon. Friends and I would be glad to see included in the Bill because we had pressed for it before. It is not only that one point, as I shall show. Most of the provisions in the Bill which make any major change in housing policy were suggested from this side of the House some time ago. I missed from the right hon. Gentleman's speech rather more frequent acknowledgment to several of my hon. Friends who are in the House today. As he did not make those acknowledgements, they will fall to ms to make them as we go through the various sections of the Bill.
Part I follows up what was pictured in the 1961. Act. Under that Act money was to be committed and advanced to housing societies. The Minister told us that so far £16 million under that Act had been committed already, but he did not tell us how much had actually been paid over. I raise the point because, in July, when the figure of what was committed was £10 million, what had actually been paid over was about £700,000. It was a rather smaller figure, and I had hoped that when the Minister mentioned £16 million today he would tell us also the figure of what had been paid over.
Under the 1961 Act, we are to have a Housing Corporation to regularise, 509 stimulate and assist this work, a fact which will afford much gratification to my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler), who put down a new Clause to the 1961 Act on 14th June of that year. The new Clause had the misfortune not to be called, but I cannot think that it could have escaped the notice of the then Minister, and we are quite happy to see that, though, of course, without acknowledgement, it is tucked into the present Act.
The Minister told us of the progress so far made and the desirability of setting up this Corporation. He mentioned a number of places in which enterprise of the housing association type has been started and is proceeding. I think I am right is saying that none of these places is north of the Trent. This is a matter which will want consideration as we watch the development of this policy.
In assessing the importance of this part of the Bill, what we are interested in is how successful it will be in actual quantity. At most, it deals only with a limited section of the whole housing front. A good deal depends on whether we can get enough people to do the kind of job that is envisaged. It is interesting to notice that the kind of private enterprise on which the Minister is relying to provide private rented accommodation is private enterprise not working for profit. This means that somewhere enough people must be found to do certain jobs of management work in these housing societies without making anything out of it. There are a certain number today. It is an open question how far that number can be expanded and how far these people can obtain the professional and expert assistance, for example, from architects, which they will need.
We therefore must not expect too much of this part of the Bill, though I would not myself endorse the spiteful verdict passed on it by a pamphlet recently produced by the Property Council and written and published by people who are more friendly politically to the right hon. Gentleman than they are to me. There are still some barbarians on the right hon. Gentleman's own side whom he will have to convert to the idea of private enterprise not working for profit.
The pamphlet says: 510The most likely outcrop from the housing societies will be a driblet of high cost and almost entirely middle class houses, some of them rather arty and let at an average rent of perhaps between £6 and £8 a week. This is better than nothing; now that the scheme has been introduced in this form it would be wrong to withdraw it.It is not an enthusiastic reception. I do not think that the Minister will be enthusiastic about what follows, because it suggests in addition that some of this money should be available to people who would provide rented housing at a profit, but, oddly enough, at a controlled rent. This is an odd proposal to be made in a pamphlet the main purpose of which is to attack rent control. The Minister must argue this out with his hon. Friends who were associated with producing the pamphlet.
Let us accept, therefore, that this is a useful contribution but cannot be expected to be a large one. It has been described as the third arm of housing policy. It is not so much a third arm as perhaps an eleventh finger. We have to ask ourselves to what extent it is a real addition to the total housing effort and not a diversion from it, because this is a matter on which local authorities, quite well intentioned towards the Minister's general policy, are genuinely concerned.
It will work with money advanced from the State flowing together with money advanced from building societies. To what extent will this mean that an additional amount of money is advanced for the provision of houses? Or will the building society be advancing money which otherwise would have been advanced to intending owner-occupiers? How can one say with confidence that this will be an addition?
I was pleased to hear the Minister mention one point about building societies. He hoped that these bodies when they built would use new methods of building. One comment which might be made on building societies at present is that they do not look with as encouraging an eye on houses built by new methods as they might. If the Housing Corporation encourages the building of more houses of that kind, it will certainly be a net advantage.
The Minister told us some things which allayed some anxieties we had about the management of these societies. 511 He was careful to say that it would be the duty of the societies, and I think of the Corporation, to see that a proper regard was paid to the size and quality of the houses. I presume that it is supposed that the fact that they are non-profit-making societies will give an element of control over the rents. I am not sure whether that is intended to be automatic, that is to say, that the fact that the society is not renting for profit is assumed to be sufficient guarantee that the rents which will ultimately emerge will be such that the houses can be used by the people for whom they were intended.
One of the things about which local authorities must be concerned is the provision for the purchase of land by the societies and the Corporation. It means, as I think the Minister said, that in some cases he will be the arbitrator whether the particular piece of land goes to the local authority to build council dwellings or goes to one of these societies.
When I ventured to suggest in the debate 10 days ago that it was going to be necessary to increase not only the absolute amount of house building but the proportion which it bore to the whole, the Minister got quite excited about it and began almost to reproach me for advocating a policy of deliberately restricting the number of houses built not under Council aegis. But does not the right hon. Gentleman see from what he said about the Bill that this decision has got to be taken? Assuming that there is a sum total of house building that our resources will allow, inevitably, at some stage, the decision must be made as to the apportioning of that money between council house building, building by private enterprise for owner occupation and building by private enterprise for renting.
The Minister has now taken on that job in this instance and it is important when he discharges that responsibility that he remembers that if he wants to make any real progress with slum clearance he must not seriously obstruct the programme of council house building, because houses produced by this corporation will not make any contribution to the housing of the people whom we hope to get out of the slums.
512 Finally, on Part I, I say to the Minister, let him not brush aside some of the warnings which some of my hon. Friends have already given as to the possible abuse of this scheme by people who promote these societies not so much with the object of getting houses built for the benefit of those who need them as with the object of getting some of their own land sold to the housing association. The Minister will have to watch that point carefully if this scheme is to have the moderate degree of success which, with good management, I believe it can have.
I turn now to Parts II and III of the Bill. These are really concerned with and arise from a matter that has been the subject of comment in this House for several years, the notorious slowness of the improvement grant procedure in relation to private rented houses. The Minister gave us various reasons why that should be so. That it is so is undoubted, and when the right hon. Gentleman delivered his peroration I was reminded of past speeches about the hope of improving previous grant schemes. We must face the fact that, so far, the attempt to do it by grant and persuasion has not succeeded. It may be, as the Minister suggested, because some landlords are not very sophisticated, just as the problems with which Part IV deals arise from the fact that some landlords are too sophisticated.
What are the measures which the Bill proposes for trying once again to tackle this admittedly stubborn problem? Here, again, there is a very interesting parallel between the contents of the Bill and various Amendments proposed in Standing Committee to the Act of 1961. Many of us feel genuinely sorry for the Minister that he should have to use up his time doing things which his predecessors, if they had had imagination, should have done.
The process is to begin properly enough by local authorities conducting inspections of the district for which they have responsibility to see where, whether and to what extent they should make orders for improvement areas. That will delight the heart of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. J. Silverman) who put down a new Clause to have that very effect inserted in the 1961 Act en 13th June that year. That 513 is getting on for two and a half years ago. It is a very proper and necessary measure to have in the Bill. When the local authority has, as a result of inspection, been seized of the size of the problem, it can then tackle it in the three ways set out in the Bill—by designating an improvement area, by operating the procedure for individual properties outside an improvement area, or by the procedure for tenement blocks.
What is common to all three and what is new in the Bill is that, in the last resort, the local authority can say, "This improvement has got to be done". The principle of compulsory improvement, which will be gratifying to my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin), who proposed an Amendment to that effect, also on 13th June, 1961, will be gratifying also to the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party, which about 15 months ago produced a plan for old houses, stressing the need for the principle of compulsory improvement.
A further new feature is that the tenant is to have the right to evoke the machinery of improvement. The Minister gave as one of the reasons why improvement has not proceeded as fast as it might that sometimes the tenant objects. That sometimes happens, but I think the insertion in the Bill of the Clause that gives the tenant the right to invoke the machinery shows that in many cases the boot has been on the other foot, that the tenant would have been delighted, despite temporary inconvenience, to have the improvement done and that it was the landlord that stood in the way.
The fact—we have to go back a little further this time—that the tenant shall have the right to say "this improvement is to be done" will gratify my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), who endeavoured to insert this in the 1959 Act on 4th March that year.
§ Sir K. Joseph
The hon. Gentleman is for once being a little sanctimonious here by scoring a run whenever he or his hon. Friends have suggested one of the proposals which we have adopted. I think I shall have to come in quickly and say that for every one which we have adopted 20 or 30 of his hon. 514 Friend's suggestions were far too foolish ever to have been adopted.
§ Mr. Stewart
But it is the frequency of the coincidence. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman what it was that really caused the conviction of the famous Brides in the Bath murderer. It is possible that a man may marry a young lady, insure her life for a large sum and that she may die unexpectedly in her bath very shortly afterwards. That is possible. But when the same thing happens six times to the same man it passes credibility. It is not just a question of a point here or there.
Nearly all the new things in the Bill are things which we put up previously, and the Minister really will not find that there were so many which could not be adopted. That may be what he says now, but there may yet be time, with the hastening speed of repentance now coming over the Government, for the right hon. Gentleman to introduce yet another Housing Bill. So let him be careful before he calls any of our suggestions foolish. He may have to advocate them in a few months' time.
I think we are all glad to see that some of the arrangements for grants are to be made very flexible and that it is not going to be necessary in order to get the grant to make all the standard amenities and that the bath need not always be in the bathroom. Both these points will gratify my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun), who has been talking about them for a long time, and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Brad-dock), who mentioned today the length of time that she has been hammering at the Minister on these points.
All these things are good and useful in the Bill. But I want to ask the Minister, in connection with Parts II and III, to consider certain other matters where I think the Bill is capable of improvement. First, is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the time schedule of the Bill could not, with advantage, be quickened up a little? I see the difficulty about requiring improvements against the tenant's will, but surely this 10-year period is a very long one. In any case, does the Minister really suppose that either the situation or this legislation will be recognisable form in ten years' time? I very much 515 doubt it. I do not think it is sensible to think in terms of such long periods of time on an urgent problem.
Secondly, there is the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East, raised during the Minister's speech, the question of houses which have less than 15 year's useful life before them. I am not satisfied with the Minister's reply today. Admittedly, it was not a full reply, but it does not fully convince me that there is not a good case for making some provision for houses which have a less period of life before them than 15 years.
Another suggestion I want to make concerns the actual physical and administrative job of getting the work done. The Minister mentioned that we might need plumbers running very fast to keep up with the administrative machine. There is, I think, a real problem, that if one gets an improvement area really going there will be a great many people all making demands on the time of the same small builder who does small repairs. Might we not get better results sometimes—I would not say in every case—if a local authority could say, "Here is a whole street in which a number of houses are going to have repairs done and we propose to the owners an agreed programme for the repairs"—possibly done by the local authority's own works department? I think we might get an economy of administrative time and of manual labour if we could arrange it in that way. It would not work everywhere because of the kind of work to be done, for it is extraordinary how what seems a most simple repair can differ enormously from one house to another, but I believe there are occasions when it would be useful.
The final comment I want to make about possible improvements in this Part of the Bill is a point raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple). I was a little surprised that the Minister had not said anything about it until his hon. Friend raised it, because I am sure it must have been in everyone's mind. Many of the projects in this Bill are admirable, but will there be the people to get them done? It is not a question of the quality of each individual public health 516 inspector. It is the question, are there enough of them? I was hoping the Minister would have developed that a bit more. I think this is going to be a major question to the success of Parts II and III.
§ Mr. Stewart
Indeed, and also in making the most economical use of their time. I think it would be reasonable to ask local authorities, "Are you sure that the people who must do this kind of work are at present spending all their time on work really commensurate with their qualifications and that sometimes they are not doing things which could be done by quite a number of people with reasonable experience of building work?" I think this is a matter which local authorities ought to be invited to look into. As I say, it applies not only to Parts II and III but Part IV of the Bill, to which I now turn.
I think the Minister in various public pronouncements about the Bill told us almost simultaneously that Rachmanism was dead and that Part IV was intended to deal with it. Well, provided Part IV deals with it we shall not quarrel with the rest. There is no point in being pernickety,
But what does Rachmanism mean? Basically, it means two distinct but related kinds of activity. One is owning and running or permitting to be run a house in multiple occupation in an extremely discreditable manner. The other activity which comes under the popular title of Rachmanism is that of deceiving or bullying or persecuting a controlled tenant out of his controlled premises, because that is such an extremely profitable occupation. Part IV of the Bill does make an attempt to tackle the first of these two activities. It does very little indeed about the second.
But let us see, again, what are the steps which it takes to deal with the first aspect of Rachmanism, the running or conducting of a house in an extremely discreditable manner. Well, local authorities are told, "You need not wait till three years are up from 1964 before making a register." And on that I now deal a card to myself. That will delight me, who proposed an Amendment to that effect on 11th May. 1961. Then 517 local authorities are to have the power of entry into the premises for reasons which the Minister most powerfully explained to us, and that will be gratifying to my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl), who proposed a Clause to that effect on 13th June, 1961. Then, if a local authority, having made an order, having required the work to be done, and having in the last resort, and in default done it itself, is to be delivered by this Bill from its anxiety, "Are we ever going to see our money again because the landlord is a man of straw?" I am glad to see that, in the Bill, this is to become a charge on the property, so that the local authority, if it spends public money on the property, can be sure of getting it back. I am pleased to see it there, and so is my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes who proposed a Clause to that effect on 6th June, 1961.
§ Mr. Stewart
Perhaps most important of all, just as in Parts II and III edge and effectiveness is put on by the fact that there is the power of compulsion in the last resort, so in Part IV the edge is put on by the fact that there is a power of acquisition by a local authority. If it is struggling with an ill-conducted house in multiple occupation it can deal with the problem by saying, "We are not spending time serving notices on this landlord requiring him to do this or that. We are dispossessing him, and taking the property, at any rate for the time, into our own possession." I agree with the Minister that the mere knowledge that that can be done can be of great use, and I agree with him all the more because I proposed a Clause to that effect on 13th June, 1961.
What is more, there is one of my right hon. Friends who has special cause to be interested in this Part of the Bill. Not only are local authorities to have the power to make these control orders, which are for a Conservative Government quite drastic acquisition orders, but we have not got to bother when we make it, or delay in making it by having to find out who the owner is. We have to take reasonable steps after we have 518 made it to serve it on him if we can find him, but it becomes effective at once, and to show that there is no doubt that it is effective we nail it on the door. The Minister may remember where he heard that proposal before. I think it is Clause 67 where we begin with the control orders. It says:… the local authority shall post a copy of the order, together with a notice …in some position in the house where it is accessible to those living in the house …Even if my phrase "nail it on the door" is a little too picturesque, one would have thought the door to be accessible to people in the house. But this is exactly the proposal my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made in the famous debate we had in July this year. His actual words were:… the acquisition notice."—He had already described what he meant by an acquisition notice. It came substantially to a control order. In this Bill we give the local authority the full power of ownership.should be nailed on the door of the house. From that moment the house is the property of the local authority and it alone can collect the rent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd July, 1963; Vol. 681, c. 1074.]It is very gratifying to see this proposal adopted.
The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) told us shortly after that debate that the power to do this already existed, and justified this statement by pointing out that one can post a compulsory purchase order or a notice under the 1961 Act on the door. But neither of those is an acquisition notice, and as was made clear by my right hon. Friend on 22nd July, he was talking about an acquisition notice which made the house the property of the local authority.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I do not want to be pedantic, but the hon. Gentleman is persistently using the word "acquisition". The Bill does not give any power of acquisition. It gives power of control and possession and what I have called "stewardship". I am picking him up because people outside the House may misunderstand his reference—which I well understand—to acquisition. As he says, it is only temporary acquisition.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
The hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) referred to posting a notice on the door. He 519 will realise that under the 1961 Act, added to by previous Acts, it could be done pretty rapidly and the local authority could acquire the rents from the property. The law that he has just quoted is a repetition of previous Acts. The situation may be made clearer in the new Measure, but I still think that there was this power under the previous law.
§ Mr. Stewart
I cannot agree with that, nor does the Minister, I think, agree with it. If that were so, I do not think that this Clause would be in the Bill. What the Bill does is to give the local authority the power from the moment it makes the order to step into the shoes of the owner. I fully accept the Minister's point that it is only for a period, but the important thing is that during that period the local authority has the full powers of ownership.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I must, I think, explain to the hon. Gentleman that during the debate to which reference has been made my hon. Friend was also in part dealing with the charge by the Leader of the Opposition that there was delay in a local authority's action where a landlord could not be discovered. What he was rightly pointing out was that there is provision under the compulsory purchase procedure to operate extremely quickly even where a landlord cannot be identified. I agree that the hon. Gentleman is right in saying that the nailing on the door procedure, as he calls it, or the posting of a notice procedure did not operate, until this Bill, outside the compulsory purchase procedure.
§ Mr. Stewart
I am glad that we have that straight. If I appear to have spent a fair amount of time on what may appear to be a debating point, I do so because of the publicity given in the Press at the time the comments were made by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). I am only hoping that those newspapers, particularly the Daily Express, which so much took the side of the hon. Member for Crosby, will now have the grace to admit their errors.
§ Mr. Graham Page
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will permit me to say that I am not responsible for the Daily Express. Heaven forbid
§ Mr. Stewart
I was not expecting that the hon. Gentleman should admit his error. I know him far too well for that. Let us get it quite clear now: this power, which did not exist before, exists now, and a good thing, too!
Here again, there is this long stream of things which could have been done in 1961. The moral of this for my hon. Friends is: to take to heart the tale of the importunate widow and to remember that the Government, like the unjust judge who neither feared God nor regarded man, may at least give way if we wear them down with our continual complaining. I hope that we shall take that lesson to heart.
We should notice that one of the effects of this will be very considerably to widen and change the responsibilities of local authorities. They are going to find themselves the owners of a certain amount of very nasty property, and, with the best will in the world, they cannot be able easily or quickly to get it up to the standard that any decent local authority would expect in the properties which it has built for itself and owned itself. Public opinion for a time will have to accept it that the local authority is being asked to act as the scavenger for private enterprise.
It must be recognised that the role of scavenger is a useful and necessary one. But that will be a rather unhappy position for the local authorities for a time. With the best will in the world, it will be known that certain still unattractive properties are owned by the council, and people must distinguish between the function of a council as a builder and provider of really good accommodation and its function as the picker-up of accommodation which has been shockingly maltreated and sweated by private enterprise.
I want with Part IV, as I did with Parts II and III, to make certain suggestions for additions and strengthening. First, is it really desirable to lay down that in all cases the payment to the dispossessed owner when a control order is made should be half the 1963 gross value? I should have thought that there might be a case for fixing a lower figure to begin with and giving the owner an opportunity to appeal for a higher figure if he could show that, deplorable as the property was, it was not entirely his 521 fault. I think that the owners of the kind of properties on whom these control orders may have to be made may vary from those whom the Minister described as not very sophisticated, who bungled it and did not realise what is going on and those who had been deliberately malicious and unscrupulous throughout. One way of doing justice might be to fix a lower figure of payment with a right to appeal for a higher payment.
Another thing at which we ought to look is the effects at the moment of the working of Section 15(2) of the 1961 Act. It is possible that this may be dealt with by Clause 62, but to a layman reading it it is not easy. The problem is that, under Section 15(2) of the 1961 Act, if a local authority has required works to be done and after that it appears to it that as a result of a reduction in the number of persons in the house the works are no longer necessary, the order to do the works disappears. Some landlords have been meeting that situation in the following way. When an order to do works is served on them, their reply is simply to reduce the number of persons in the house, and it is almost invariably anyone who has any children who goes out first.
This complaint has come to me from a number of parts of London where the operation of the Act has been observed. It is not quite clear to me whether the new provisions in Clause 62 completely cover that point. If they do not, I hope the Minister will deal with it.
The other great thing that needs to be done to strengthen Part IV is to deal with the other aspect of Rachmanism—the cozening or bullying or persecuting of the controlled tenant out of his controlled tenancy. I repeat what I have said before: the motive for this activity is simply that part of the Rent Act which provides for creeping decontrol, which tells everybody—[interruption,] The Minister must grasp this. One buys a property in which there are controlled tenants, and one buys it cheap because they are controlled. If one can bully them out, it is a positive gold mine to one.
I know what some members of the Conservative Party will say, that the 522 real cause of this is that we have got rent control at all. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] What I want to know, and what it is important for the country to know, is whether the Minister echoes that "hear, hear"? Is it the Government's policy—as I said in a previous debate, this is extremely hypothetical, but if they were to be in a position to do so after the next General Election, is it the Government's intention to extend rent decontrol to houses which are at present controlled? Five times we have asked that question, but we have not got an answer. We and the country are entitled to an answer. If the answer is "No, they are not going to extend rent decontrol", then the Government have to look at the problem which I am posing now of the man who buys controlled property and bullies the tenant out.
I would like to see the circumstances in which a control order could be made, or extended, to include cases where it was shown that a landlord, irrespective of the conditions of the property, had been using improper means to try to get the controlled tenant out. Here again, if this power existed, I do not think that it would be necessary to use it often, if at all. If local authorities publicised the fact that they had such a power, I think that a great deal of persecution would stop overnight.
§ Sir K. Joseph
We shall have to discuss this very carefully in Committee. It is my impression that in nearly every case where such allegations are made the control order powers will bite, because, of course, the goldmine, as the hon. Gentleman calls it, exists particularly where the landlord is sweating the accommodation, which is bad accommodation, and where, therefore, the 1961 Act powers will enable the local authority to intervene. If there is barbarous pressure on the individual controlled tenant there is generally the added need to protect the safety, welfare or health of the tenant. There may be cases which the control order powers do not cover. We shall have to examine these. I should like the hon. Gentleman to agree with me that the message should go out from this House, from both sides, that the control powers introduced in this Bill should suffice to deal with just this situation in nearly every case in which I have heard allegations made.
§ Mr. Stewart
I have said already that I regard these orders as useful and that they will stop many abuses. I shall not give at this stage the blanket approval which the Minister is asking for. Nominally this is his Bill and not ours.
I should like the wording of the circumstances under which a control order can be made to be more specific. If the Minister really wants to deal with this problem, he must repeal that part of the Rent Act which provides for creeping decontrol, and I beg him again not to reject this contemptuously. What with his becoming a partial convert to land nationalisation and the hon. Member for Crosby a partial convert to low rates of interest for housing—
§ Mr. Stewart
—we never know when the message at last about evils of creeping decontrol may not sink in to the hearts and minds of hon. Members opposite.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I must say a word here. The evil here, and as the hon. Gentleman has not mentioned a word of it during his interesting speech, is the shortage. The fact is that control by itself is no protection against barbarous practice. The spreading of control or the removal of creeping decontrol would only increase the benefits of obtaining empty properties and getting people out. The fact is that while the shortage continues, and it is the shortage that is the trouble, these sort of dangers will go on existing. The hon. Gentleman ought to acknowledge that. Control will not reduce the shortage.
§ Mr. Stewart
I have not pretended, and I have never pretended, that action about rent control solves the whole of the housing problem, or anything like it. This is a specific problem. It is as simple as A, B, C. If we create a legal situation in which by bullying the controlled tenant out a man can treble or quadruple the value of his property, we are tempting people to behave in that manner. We are pleading not only for the tenant but for the decent landlord who would not do it but who is obliged to say every time he hears a case where this is done, "What a precious mug I 524 am". It is always evil to have laws which make virtuous conduct look silly in comparison with vicious conduct. That is what this creeping decontrol provision does.
If the Minister is not ready for that stage of conversion yet, here are some modest suggestions that he might consider. Could he so amend the Rent Act as to make it necessary to give three months' notice instead of the present one month? That would go far to cover the difficulty raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green earlier. It would give more time to play with and less opportunity for a landlord quickly to push tenants out to counter any measures a local authority might take.
§ Mr. Graham Page
The hon. Gentleman was talking about controlled property just before he made that statement. I must say that whether it is one month or three months does not matter as regards controlled property. He is speaking of decontrolled property now when he refers to a three months' notice.
§ Mr. Stewart
Yes. I suggested various modifications, starting with the one that is really necessary, and working down to what I think is the Government's measure, that might be made in rent control legislation.
Again, would the Minister consider making it an offence for anyone to try to get a tenant out by falsely pretending that a controlled tenancy is an uncontrolled one? This is much more serious than people sometimes realise. We cannot dismiss this by saying that the tenant must be a fool if he does not know whether his tenancy is controlled or not. I have known this trick played on a blind man in his eighties. It would be easy to make this a criminal offence, and the knowledge that it was an offence would I think choke off many people. Another change that could be made in the law of landlord and tenant is to say that there is not to be any eviction without a court order. No one would dispute that in some cases landlords are quite entitled to evict if the tenant will not pay a reasonable rent, if he damages the property and is otherwise a thoroughly bad tenant. Quite properly landlords have the right to evict. 525 I believe that a good and prudent landlord would go to the court and get an order. The fact is that technically one can do it without a court order, but I advise any landlord to consult a good lawyer first because the number of traps that can fall in his way are considerable. But this creates uncertainty so that when bullying does occur no one can be quite sure what the legal position is. If it were the law and known to be the law that a landlord cannot get a person out without a court order, I believe that many undesirable practices would come to an end.
I do not propose to go into the further parts of the Bill, interesting and important although the provisions are. They are of a somewhat miscellaneous character and can be more properly discussed in Committee and by those of my hon. Friends who have special interest in them. This Bill as a whole is a commentary on private landlordism and on the record of the Government.
§ Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)
It may be a commentary on landlords, but it is only a commentary on some, and very few at that. There are bad cases, but this wholesale condemnation, which is doing such harm, should not come from the Front Bench.
§ Mr. Stewart
I have just concluded a paragraph or two pleading the case of the good landlord who hates to be mixed up with some of these repulsive practices. The hon. Gentleman must pay attention to what is said before he makes interventions. I am sorry to delay the House so long, but I think hon. Members opposite will agree that this is partly because I have endeavoured to answer the various interventions that have been made.
The Government's attitude towards this whole problem was, first, that the Rent Act would solve it. Indeed, the more optimistic among them said that it would solve it within a year. That was what the late Minister of Health said. The next position taken up by the right hon. Gentleman who is now Home Secretary was that the Rent Act had solved it as, he said, anyone could see by looking at the "to let" advertisements in the London evening papers. A number of people have been studying them with interest ever since. The third position was that the Rent Act would have solved it if only the Opposition 526 would stop making speeches. I think that the country will come to the conclusion that if the situation is that the Government cannot carry through their policies because of what the Opposition say, it is time that the Government and the Opposition changed places. I think the country will also conclude that this is rather a clumsy and long-winded way of dealing with the kind of problem with which this Bill is concerned. First, most of the proposals have to be made by the Opposition and rejected and then adopted two years later by the Government. I think, again, that the country will conclude that it would be a simpler and more expeditious process, and more conducive to the public welfare, if those who really believe in these policies had charge of them from the start.
§ Sir K. Joseph
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, does not he think that it falls below his normal standard of debate if he retails with gusto a partial list of cases at the end without mentioning that since the Rent Act there has been a big growth of population, a big growth in migration and a big increase in the demand for houses?
§ 5.40 p.m.
Mr. Robert Allan (Paddington. South)
A big proportion of the powers we are proposing to give local authorities under Parts II and IV of the Bill are made necessary, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) has said, to curb the activities of a minority of landlords. I agree with him that it was unfair of the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) to pretend that these powers are made necessary because of the evils of private landlords in general. All housing legislation must, in the long run, depend on a degree of honesty and responsibility.
As the figures of improvements quoted by my right hon. Friend show, in nine cases out of ten that degree of honesty and responsibility is present. It is in the tenth case, where a landlord, from greed or other motives, fails to face his responsibility that compulsion becomes necessary. I was glad that my right hon. Friend laid emphasis in his opening remarks on the carrot in the Bill. But, although I have had dealings with only one rather intriguing proposition under 527 the £25 million scheme for housing societies, it is the compulsory powers that are most important to my constituency.
There, the power of the council to recover the costs of its works is of great significance. So is the power to impose management control orders. In certain areas, as so many of us know from experience, such changes in ownership are made as to make it almost impossible to identify people on whom notice should be served. Very often when these people are at last traced and notice served they turn out to be men of straw.
Under the provisions of Clauses 60 to 63 the council will be sure of recovery. This will mean that council staff will cease to have to do a great deal of detective work and will be able to stick to their proper jobs. As my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) pointed out, and as was emphasised by the hon. Member for Fulham, it is of the utmost importance that scarce public health inspectors should make proper use of their time and not be diverted by any kind of activity not germane to their proper functions. Even the most autocratic powers given to councils will be quite useless unless there is an adequate public health inspectorate to back them up. This has been the greatest single difficulty facing Paddington Council and despite very active efforts it is by no means overcome yet. It was because of the great deal of extra work which would fall on council staff that I was at first so hesitant about the idea of management control orders or, rather, the idea of managing property under control orders. I thought that this was likely to employ many staff who could be better used elsewhere.
But it seems to me that, in the kind of properties in which it is most desirable to use this technique, the threat will be enough to see that the work is carried out. I imagine that in nearly every case where a control order is likely to be used, the rent income, despite revaluation, will be greatly in excess of the gross value, and as only half of the gross value is payable to the dispossessed proprietor it will be a very strong incentive to him to do the work himself. It is an equally powerful threat against the type of financier my right hon. Friend mentioned earlier.
528 But action to improve property under Parts II and IV of the Bill will inevitably displace people. This brings us back to the question of density. My right hon. Friend recently pointed out that he had ideas for making up housing shortages in central London by building over railway property and surplus land like that.
Last July I reminded the House that in 1951 I sponsored a scheme to build over an 18-acre site at Paddington goods yard. This practical scheme was approved by the British Transport Commission, with which we had lengthy negotiations. We had boreholes sunk to prove the practicality of the scheme. No fire regulations would have been contravened; nor would there have been a traffic problem. But the scheme was turned down on the ground of density only and so was a later, less ambitious scheme, called Perkins Heights.
It is no good my right hon. Friend or any of us thinking that the Bill will achieve what we want it to achieve unless it is accompanied by new thinking about density. The Ministry has never appreciated that, in a place with a transient population like Paddington, there is no need to have as low a level of density as there is for a static population.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
It is not entirely the fault of the Ministry. There is a very strong body of opinion across the water at County Hall which has put its face strongly against increasing densities.
§ Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)
Would the hon. Gentleman tell us what attitude the Conservative group on the L.C.C. took towards the Perkins Heights scheme?
§ Mr. Allan
No, I cannot. But I know that the Conservative majority on Paddington Council supported the scheme and the appeal. Unfortunately, however, a Conservative Minister turned the appeal down.
I think that my right hon. Friend has seen a recent survey made in St. Stephen's Gardens, a problem area 529 where 611 lettings were examined. In these lettings the average unit in the family was 1.9, a unit being a person over 10 and half a unit being a child aged 1 to 10. Even among 336 families that had been longest in that area the average unit size was only 2.1. Of the 608 people who were prepared to give information, 360, nearly three-quarters, came from 31 different countries overseas.
Many things could be deduced from these figures. I give them only in relation to density and to show that this area of Paddington is an area where people come and go from all over the world and where they do not raise large families. Yet, the powers that be insist on a density much more appropriate to an area of static population where people are raising large families. This applies to wider areas than simply the area of St. Stephen's Gardens. It applies to much of central London where there are many hotels and large foreign student populations. Redevelopment of old and bad houses is being held up to ensure a standard of density for a population which, because of its character, can derive no benefit from it. While I support the Bill, I believe that it should be accompanied by rethinking on this all-important issue
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
I intervene relatively shortly to ask the Minister to address himself to the provisions of Clause 13 in the matter of the types of people on whom local authorities may serve notices stating that their property has been declared either within or outside an improvement area. During the debate on the Address, I drew attention to an element of our population—and I believe that sections of it exist in almost every constituency—who occupy railway property. Under Clause 13, notices may be served by the local authority on a person having control of a dwelling, on the occupier of such a dwelling and on any person who, to the knowledge of the local authority, is the owner, lessee or mortgagee of any such dwelling.
There is a weakness here. I say across the Floor of the House that the Bill, which should do a great deal of good, 530 should be amended to include property-owning statutory bodies or occupiers of any property owned by such bodies. The question of the occupants of railway cottages is highlighted by the present state of railway finances. This is a problem which is far larger than hon. Members may suppose, and to give some idea of its scale and of the number of people who live in houses, which in many cases are obsolete, out of date and rather unpleasant places, I should say that in 1962 no fewer than 3,066 railway-owned cottages were improved, which is only a small part of the total number which I am discussing.
During the debate on the Address, I invited hon. Members to think of the rather squalid little houses which they saw alongside railway lines as they journeyed up and down the great main lines to and from their constituencies, houses occupied by men largely concerned with the maintenance of the track, operating signals and so on. Although I am talking about railway cottages, the argument applies to properties owned by other statutory bodies, and it may be an increasing problem.
When I took up this matter originally with the Minister of Transport, he told me that the British Railways Board was modernising, where practicable, houses which were being retained for essential staff. However, two local authorities in my constituency took up this matter with the appropriate department of the Railways Board and were told that only a proportion of existing houses would be needed in future and, secondly, that financial stringency was such that there was no telling when it might be possible to modernise them.
I know that this is a narrow point, but it is important, because the whole economic history of our railways during the past 50 years has been that wage rates on the railways have been nothing of which we as a first-class nation ought to be particularly proud. If as a result of modernising and putting in the amenities about which we are talking there has to be an increase in rental, I am not at all certain that all railway employees would be able to pay it.
A letter which I received from the Minister of Transport later referred me to an answer which he had secured from 531 the Railways Board and which said that the Board'soverall financial position and not … the availability of grants which at best represent no more than 50 per cent, of the expenditure to be incurredwould be the dominant factor in decisions about modernising. I would have thought that the figure of 50 per cent, and the improvements on that figure embodied in the Bill ought to make this a matter of great urgency to the Board.
I would have been out of order to argue the case for the whole maintenance of these houses, but I can tell the Minister of perfectly horrible cases which have come to my attention since I made my original speech in the debate on the Address. However, we are talking about amenities and not maintenance. When the Minister was speaking, I interjected on the all-important subject of the expenditure which must flow from providing amenities such as baths and lavatories for these houses. I was referring to drainage and the Minister confirmed that drainage would be included for grants, as it should. However, I am a little bothered about the effect of the Bill when there is, for instance, a whole terrace of railway cottages about which the Board, being in financial difficulties, may say, "We do not have the money to carry out these improvements". With a little more forethought, matters like drainage for terraces might be tackled more economically than taking cottage by cottage. I put that to the Minister as something worthy of consideration.
The powers given by Clauses 13 and 19 might be considered with a view to helping the occupants of the statutory body-owned properties. I am particularly concerned about the position of such tenants if they should wish to take action under Clause 19. The tenant of a railway cottage would have to be protected. He might feel—many of the older employees would—that he was being disloyal to the railways, or would have a bad view taken of his action in appealing to the local authority. This is important, and I think that the amenities listed on pages 45 and 49 of the Bill would repay closer examination in the case of such railway houses as are structurally sound. There are many good, solid Victorian houses where it may not be possible to put in
532 a bathroom but in which it might be possible to install a shower, and this is provided for in the list of suggested amenities.
Not long ago I was discussing this matter with a railway worker in my constituency. He made a rather surprising point. He said that many of them did not particularly want baths, but they would like showers. A shower is not to my taste in the matter of ablutions, but that was his opinion. He went on to say that in a building exhibition to which he had been in Birmingham there had been demonstrated showers of a collapsible sort which folded into the wall. I have not seen these, but no doubt this is something which could be looked into.
§ Mr. Manuel
Speaking as a railwayman, would my hon. Friend take it from me that, in general, railwaymen are not of the type to which he referred, but, in any case, I am sure that their wives would vote unanimously against having a bath which folded into the wall.
§ Mr. Snow
I was talking about showers which folded into the wall, not baths, but I do not press the point. It is a matter of taste. I am considering structurally sound houses which do not have the amenities they ought to have. As I understand the position, the Railways Board has not the necessary finance to install these amenities. If this is so, the Government ought to consider whether action can be taken under this Bill to provide the Board with finance.
I deal next with agricultural tied cottages.
§ Mr. A. Evans
I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that, in many instances, a railway cottage is as much a tied cottage as an agricultural one. The occupant of a railway cottage is in the difficult position that he can be given notice to quit forthwith. I am not saying that his employer, the Railways Board, would act without regard to the convenience of the person concerned, but the fact remains that his cottage is nevertheless tied.
§ Mr. Snow
I am obliged to my hon. Friend, but he has merely forestalled me. I was about to refer to agricultural cottages where the same problem, but in a different degree, maintains. 533 No doubt many hon. Members have seen a letter in The Times on the question of tied cottages where there is argued the case against the tied cottage on the ground that the decision whether a man is allowed to remain in his house depends on the judgment of one man, the owner. This is not the case with railway cottages. There the decision to evict a man would come before a proper committee, or at any rate a democratic representative body, and although my hon. Friend is right in saying that it is a tied cottage, I suggest, with respect, that it does not come into the same category as the agricultural tied cottage.
Many agricultural workers are afraid to make complaints about the lack of amenities in their cottages. Only last week I had a case in which it was not the farmer of whom the tenants were afraid but the landlord of whom the farmer was a tenant. The man said, "The Government want to improve the amenities in our houses, but if I complain to my farmer he will say that if he complains to the landlord his tenancy will be threatened". I think that under Clause 19 the tenant should be protected against eviction if he takes advantage of this proviso.
§ Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
Can the hon. Gentleman say how, in those circumstances, the landlord could threaten the tenancy of the farmer? It is almost sure to be a life tenancy.
§ Mr. Snow
I speak from a little knowledge when I say that tenant farmers can, under certain provisions of the existing agricultural legislation, have their tenancies terminated, for instance, on the ground of amalgamating farms into more economic units. Be that as it may, I am saying that in my judgment an agricultural worker who is a tenant of a tied cottage will be, if not reluctant, at least a little worried about taking advantage of Clause 19 of the Bill.
While commending the various provisions of the Bill, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. 534 Stewart) pointed out, seem to be in the main a collection of measures which we ourselves have suggested over the past years, I appeal to the Minister to make quite clear what the position is of tenants of property owned by statutory bodies and whether in these cases such statutory bodies as the Railways Board can be subjected to notices under either Clause13 or Clause 19 of the Bill.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)
I feel that I must deal with the few points that I have to make by not following others who have spoken, and in particular the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart). I did not have the privilege of hearing the whole of his speech, but I heard what he said about Parts II, III and IV of the Bill but not Part I.
The question I ask is whether, because of this Bill, it will be possible to have more houses built? The question that has never been answered to my satisfaction is whether the building labour force in this country is fully extended now or has slack to take up. I appreciate that there are other limiting factors as well as labour, such as the question of density, which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, South (Mr. R. Allan) and the problem of the high price of land. What, however, makes me feel that the Government have gone wrong in regard to Part I of this Bill is that they seem to have abandoned all hope of private enterprise playing its full part in the building of houses. I say straight away that, as a property owner in a comparatively small way, for many years one has had to listen to generalised, and particularised, abuse of the property owner. Perhaps in the House it becomes more particularised, but within the country it has become completely generalised abuse.
These housing corporations have been evolved by the Government from an atmosphere in which the private builder or developer could not be encouraged. One has only to look at paragraph 43 of the 1961 White Paper on housing to see what I mean. It says:As an experiment the Government propose to make arrangements under which money will be advanced to approved nonprofit making housing associations which are prepared to build houses to let at economic rents. They regard this"—535 this is the important thing, and I should like to know how far the Government have gone away from this—as essentially a pump-priming operation and hope that it will serve to show the way to the investment of private capital once again in building houses to let.All that has happened is that housing corporations are to be set up. and we are no neater private enterprise.
I very much doubt whether housing associations—whatever may be the ultimate fate of the housing corporations—will ever get off the ground. The best example I know of at the moment concerns a block of flats called Dolphin Square, in which I am tenant of a flat. It is not very far from here. A housing association was formed there which went through certain difficult times. Eventually the Westminster City Council bought the premises, with a view to handing them over to the management of the housing association, but eventually it was decided that this was unsatisfactory. There was no real support for the housing association, and the result was that the premises remained and remain in the hands of the council.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
Is not the lion. Gentleman aware that housing associations have been in existence and have been successful for many years? One of the best known ones in London is in St. Pancras.
§ Sir E. Errington
Those associations were of an entirely different kind. The kind in which people are equal and the kind which have been created by big trusts are of a very different character.
§ Mr. A. Evans
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman so soon after my hon. Friend interrupted him, but when he mentioned Dolphin Square he seemed to be saying that the housing association was a failure, and that the provision of houses for rents could be handled only by local authorities. Am I to understand him to say that that is the only proper course for the Minister to take?
§ Sir E. Errington
I am sorry. I must have been very obscure to the hon. Member. I am saying not that local authorities should handle everything, but that private enterprise should have an 536 opportunity to contribute to the building of houses. I do not want to repeat myself, but I am saying that I am not satisfied that housing associations will be able to do the job.
My next criticism is that these associations operate only in the case of houses of a minimum rent of £4 a week. The persons who can pay that sort of rent are not the type for whom houses are immediately required. Greater consideration should have been paid by the Government to the differences between various parts of the country. I have an interest in a company which operates in Liverpool, and I know of six flats which have; been built there with rents of £5 a week, of which only three have been let in. the nine months since they were completed. There is a great difference between the situation in London in regard to rents and that in some of the provincial towns. There does not appear to be any realisation of that fact, judging by the way in which the housing associations are to be run. Perhaps the Minister will tell us that the proposed Horsing Corporation will have the right to alter minimum rents according to the needs of the various parts of the country.
I have a letter which refers to the extraordinary fact that a housing association has not been allowed to start because its rents are too low—£3 a week. I am told that that is the difficulty which prevents the association from starting.
If, through the combined operations of the Government and the building societies, £300 million is to be made available, I cannot understand why some of that should not be made available to selected and reliable builders and developers in order that they should build houses to let. I can hardly think that this possibility has not occurred to the Minister. I am aware of his active and intelligent intellect. I can only conclude that it is because of the constant attacks which are being made on the private individual who is keen and willing to produce houses to let.
Possibly one of the worst things that Her Majesty's Opposition have done has been to hinder the use of every resource that the country has to produce these houses. I am fortified in my idea that the Government have given up 537 the idea of helping private investors in houses to let, because the Minister's speech the other day—which I read with great care—referred to the private individual only in respect of what are called the twilight areas. Individuals who are prepared to do something in the twilight areas should be given, as compensation, a little bit of urban development. As the Minister said, this must be at some time in the future, and it wants thinking about, but it is not action now.
It follows from what I have said that I am sad that there seems to be a clear intention not to provide any facilities for the private landlord because of the mud that has been thrown at him in this House and elsewhere. If there were a determination to do it, I believe that it would be possible to obtain a degree of co-operation between the Government, local authorities and private interests.
I tried to make use of the services of a housing association to house people temporarily while redevelopment was taking place in a privately-owned area. I had great hopes that something could be done about it, but I found that it was necessary to have powers of compulsory purchase or powers to knock down old and derelict property. I was assured by the two councils concerned that it was quite impossible for those powers to be used by them for the purposes of development by private individuals who were desirous of rebuilding their houses owing to the fact that they were reaching the end of their useful life.
I do not think that I have more to say regarding the degree of importance of this subject I have been discussing on Part I of the Bill. My conviction is that housing societies may contribute a little, but will not provide the ultimate solution. Generally speaking, the other parts of this Bill are right. But there are some which are extremely complicated in their drafting. Clause 52 is an example. I have looked at this section from all angles but I cannot make up my mind on its meaning. Perhaps it may be improved during the Committee stage.
The hon. Member for Fulham spoke about a period of three months' notice. He thought that there should be a compulsory period of three months. If the hon. Gentleman ever has the opportunity, or if he desires, to evict someone from a tenancy, he will then realise 538 that the operation takes longer than three months even under present conditions. Notice has to be given and there is the delay which follows before a court hearing can be arranged, and there is also the very natural sympathy expressed by the judge for the plight of those who are to be evicted with possible further delay. This means that the operation can hardly take less time than four months and should not be extended.
I cannot see that the summary action—if I may put it that wa—referred to in Clause 18 is of any real advantage. It is difficult to imagine that improvements after ten years would justify the expense of bringing into operation what is a quite difficult method of procedure for improvements that only last for five years. I hope that the Government will devise some way in which private individuals will contribute to what is after all something to which everyone should contribute to the fullest possible extent.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Wade (Huddersfield, West)
I gather that the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) is not very enthusiastic about housing associations, but I will refer to that later. I agree with other hon. Members who have spoken that this Bill should receive a Second Reading. But I think it fair to point out that a number of hardships might have been avoided had its provisions been introduced earlier. There are a number of major questions which have been left unanswered. According to the Explanatory Memorandum one of the two main purposes of the Bill is togive effect to the policy proposals in the White Paper on Housing (Cmnd. 2050).But that policy was closely bound up with the whole subject of the housing programme, of land prices, town development and density of population and on those subjects Government policy is by no means clear.
I am still not clear about what was meant by the Minister in the speech which he made on 18th November. I tried to gain some enlightenment by putting a Question to the Minister on 26th November. I do not wish to score a debating point, but hon. Members will recollect that there was a reference to the public acquisition of land and the 539 Government are so pragmatic—to use a polite word for it—that there is a tendency to believe that almost anything is possible, even a policy of the nationalisation of land, although I gather from the Answers to Questions on 26th November that the Minister really meant that he was awaiting a study to be made of the South-East.
I wish to make clear that I do not favour the nationalisation of land. I believe that it would create a large bureaucracy and more evils than we have at present.
§ Mr. Wade
There is a difference between the nationalisation of land and the taxation of land values, but I do not want to be drawn into discussing that at the moment.
The shortage of land is a matter of real importance as is the competition for land. There has been a tendency for speculators, for example, to grab as much land as possible and hold on to it for as long as possible. The increase in the building of houses which is very necessary may result in an increase in competition for land and this will tend to force up prices still higher. There are three main potential purchasers: the private developer, the local authority and the housing society or association—which !he hon. Member for Aldershot does not like very much—assisted by the Housing Corporation.
§ Mr. A. Evans
I think the hon. Member will find that the Corporation will buy the land, and not the housing societies.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. F. V. Corfield)
The Corporation has power to buy land, if it finds that land is available, in advance even of a housing society being in existence, but that does not mean that a society, once born, cannot buy its own land if it can find land to purchase.
§ Mr. Wade
That is the view which I took, that a purchase may be made by a housing society assisted by the Housing Corporation, or in some circum- 540 stances it may be made by the Corporation.
It may be that there is new machinery to which the Minister has referred but has not yet explained. I want to know whether there is a risk of competition between the private developer, the local authority and the housing societies. How is such competition to be avoided in the effort to secure land already in short supply? Will the housing society get the worst of it and secure only what is left?
I am not one who is sceptical about housing societies. We must be realistic about the future pattern of ownership. I do not see much of a future for the small landlord. I have no ideological objections to ownership by small landlords, but I do not visualise that a large number of houses will be built to let by small landlords in the future. It is partly due to 40 years' experience of rent control and all that involves. We must expect in future that houses will fall roughly into four categories. There will be the owner-occupied, whose numbers, I hope, will steadily increase. There will be the high-class flats built by the private property companies, There will be local authority building to let, and there will be the housing societies building either for rent or on a co-ownership basis. What I fear is that the contribution of the housing society may be comparatively small. I should like to know what the prospects are.
I made a note of the figures quoted by the Minister, but I shall read them in HANSARD. I calculate that under the 1961 Act, if we add the dwellings which have been fully agreed and are going ahead to those which have been agreed in principle and the further dwellings under consideration, we reach a total of just over 3,000. I shall not talk about targets for the building industry because we all know that the amount of building is limited by the number of skilled men available in the industry and other factors, but I consider that the need is certainly 500,000 a year. If the housing associations can provide only 5,000 that will be only 1 per cent. In so far as the Bill will help to increase the activity and growth of housing societies I welcome it, because we must hope that the percentage will be higher than 1 per cent.
541 I shall now deal with one or two points in the Bill. I have been referring to housing societies and housing associations. A housing society is denned in Clause 1(7) and in Clause 7 there is this reference to housing associations:The Corporation may provide an advisory service for the purpose of advising housing societies, housing associations which are not housing societies.Is there a definition of a housing association? It may be that I am very dull on this subject and perhaps I have not done my homework adequately, but I should like to know exactly the difference between a housing society and a housing association. In the White Paper, the expressions "housing society" and "housing association" seem to be used from time to time with the same meaning. Perhaps that point can be cleared up.
When flats are built by a housing society with the aid of the Housing Corporation, will there be a valuation, and by what body will it be made? I understand that in many cases two-thirds will be provided by building societies and the balance provided by the Housing Corporation. In ordinary circumstances, if one goes to a building society one has to rely on the valuation of the society's surveyor. In cases of housing societies building flats, who will make the valuation? Will there be two valuations, one by the association and one by the building society? If so, unnecessary expense would be involved.
I believe these housing societies can make a valuable contribution to our housing needs. I hope they will be developed for the benefit of the elderly. I am at present myself engaged in helping to form a housing society specifically for the benefit of elderly people. On the subject of the elderly and retired people there is a distinction which perhaps should be made between dwellings to let and those to be shared on a co-ownership basis. As hon. Members know, one of the problems of those who retire and wish to buy a house is the difficulty of getting a building society mortgage because of their age and because they have ceased to earn. Would that kind of difficulty arise with a housingsociety on a co-ownership basis? Would the age test apply, or would it be possible for a buyer to keep a share in some kind of society on a co-ownership basis without having 542 to worry about his age whereas on an individual basis age would be a difficult question? Perhaps the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will be able to answer that when he winds up the debate.
In Part II of the Bill there is provision for compulsory improvement. The Minister several times used the word "compulsion", but I take it that compulsion arises only when the local authority decides to act. All these provisions are permissive so far as they concern local authorities. There is no compulsion on the local authority, but it has compulsory power. It should be made clear that for local authorities all these powers in Parts II and IV are permissive.
I have studied the various steps which have to be taken under Part II. It seems that a considerable time might elapse between designation and the actual notice to carry out repairs. One of my correspondents calculates that this would take about two years. He has some knowledge of the problems of a local authority. In his letter he writes:All this in my view tends to load the local authority with an undue bureaucratic burden and really means that the unfortunate tenant (if not in the meantime evicted) is going to have to wait possibly up to two years or more before any action is taken by a recalcitrant landlord, by which time the tenant's disillusionment of the local authority will be complete.I hope that is unduly pessimistic.
The provisions of Part II and Part IV are permissive for local authorities both as to improvements and dealing with overcrowding and multiple occupation. It may be that local authorities will be a little reluctant to act if that is likely to lead to homelessness. If it does not lead to homelessness, obviously it will reduce the number of persons occupying a building and they have to be provided for somewhere. They either become homeless or the local authority has to find other accommodation for them. That may be a serious problem. We have to remember that multiple occupation exists because of an overall shortage of housing and an increase of population in the area. In many cases local authorities will have to find other accommodation. The question must be asked, will it involve allocating accommodation in advance of others who have been on the waiting list for a long time?
I have drawn attention briefly to these points. I think they show that, while 543 the Bill will help, it does not go to the root of the problem. One major problem is regional development. I am glad that we shall have two days next week to debate it. If we have concentration of population in the South-East as at present we are bound to have these problems of overcrowding. I do not think any of the proposals in the Bill will cure that. Secondly, there is a need for a better system of town development and for considering the whole system of land purchase, on which I have not attempted to touch in this Second Reading debate. Thirdly, there is the obvious need for an increased overall supply of housing accommodation. Only if we can solve those major problems will this Bill be really effective.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Holbprn and St. Pancras, South)
I am very glad to join the hon. Member for Hudders field, West (Mr. Wade) in his approach—perhaps not quite one of enthusiasm, but a warm approach—to the idea of housing associations. Not only do I agree with him about that but I thoroughly agree with him when he says that the Bill does not go to the root of the problem. My right hon. Friend the Minister will also agree with him in that view, for my right hon. Friend does not claim for one moment that the Bill tackles the root cause of the housing problem of this country. In his opening speech my right hon. Friend said that the root cause of housing discontent, of Rachmanism and of other abuses is the shortage of housing in our main conurbations, of which London is the greatest and has the biggest problem, with the greatest scarcity of housing. The Bill is a palliative; it is to be welcomed as a very good palliative, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on introducing it.
Since I have been in the House, Housing Bills have fallen year after year almost like the leaves of autumn. The hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) said that the Government were doing things which had been advocated from time to time by his hon. Friends—and, I would add, by some hon. Members on this side of the House.
§ Mr. MacColl
The hon. Member is missing the point. The point is not that 544 from time to time particular things have been tossed out in the course of argument. It is that in the proceedings on the 1961 Bill these things were proposed in Committee and were not supported on any large scale by the Conservative Party.
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
The Minister of Housing at that time was not the present Minister. The present Minister was then Parliamentary Secretary, but he was not the Minister charged with sole responsibility for the conduct of housing affairs on behalf of the Government.
There would have been much force in the point made by the hon. Member for Fulham if my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, then Minister of Housing, and the then Parliamentary Secretary, who is now the Minister of Housing, had closed their eyes to any suggestion that the housing Act of 1961 was capable of improvement. They reserved their judgment about it. It is always easy for back bench Members and for the Opposition to say that a Government Bill does not go far enough. It is not the case that the Government of the day, which enacted that legislation, could see no need for any future improvement in it. They reserved their judgment. When they enact legislation the Government are bound to take a more cautious approach than do back bench Members because they have the responsibility of seeing that the legislation is workable and is carried through. My right hon. Friend made it clear that the Minister of Housing at that time said that the legislation would come up for review in 1964, and in the light of developments which have taken place, the Government were quick to bring that review forward.
It is always possible for us, with the benefit of hindsight, to say that things should have been better or that there should not have been so much need for legislation. But the fact is that the situation changes. New problems arise and old problems are exacerbated. Going back some years, very few hon. Members, I feel, appreciated the extent to which the population of the country would increase, the extent to which there would be vast changes in the distribution of that population and the extent to which the demand for housing would be increased because affluence itself brought about earlier marriages and increased the number of households.
545 Another factor which has exacerbated the situation in our main conurbations was discussed last night—the increased incidence of immigrants to this country. We have heard of the success which the 1961 Act has had, but the Government admit that it left room for some improvement, and with commendable speed my right hon. Friend has presented this Bill.
I should like to devote my remarks to housing associations. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) quite rightly showed that we should not place too much importance on housing associations as a means of solving our housing problem. They are one way of tackling these problems. Speculative builders are another way and local authorities are yet another way. I feel that the housing associations will prove a very welcome source of addition to the stock of houses in this country.
The hon. Member for Fulham suggested that those who represented private landlords were far from enthusiastic about the housing associations. It may be that they feel that by encouraging these associations the Government are encouraging a movement with special powers which puts the private landlord at a disadvantage. I have in front of me the memorandum, dated 26th November, sent out by the National Federation of Property Owners. I quote:The establishment of a Housing Corporation means yet another body with wide compulsory powers, in this case able not only to browbeat the individual but also local authorities who are unwilling to act on terms which are acceptable. The Federation cannot see any way in which private owners of property can co-operate or compete on equal terms.It may be that the pamphlet from which the hon. Member for Fulham quoted, put out by the Property Council, drawing attention to what the council considered would be the output of these housing associations and suggesting that in the council's view these were rather arty buildings, had in mind an average rent of between £6 and £8 a week. It may be that behind this lay the deeper thought of the federation, which is couched in terms of hostility towards this new movement. I can well understand why some members of the Federation feel that this Bill gives an increasingly unfair advantage to others 546 who are trying to add to the stock of houses.
I thought that the hon. Member for Fulham was trying to play this new concept down and—I mean no reflection on the federation—that he was bringing to his aid a rather dubious ally in a rather dubious argument. I thought my right hon. Friend showed that in eighteen months £16 million of Government money has been earmarked for dwellings and that some 5,000 of them have been put on the ground. I do not exactly know whether he meant that they had already been built or were in the pipeline or were likely to be built. In any event, it is not a bad record.
The hon. Member for Fulham suggested that the Property Council, in its argument, was suggesting a return to rent control. He was referring to the council's feeling that more incentive would be given to producing more efficiently and to building houses more cheaply if profit-making developers were given the help which is to be given to housing associations. The council thought that this might act as an incentive to the profit-making developer to produce a house which could be let at a rent lower than the £5 to £8 a week which is the general level envisaged by the housing associations.
In a booklet which came out yesterday under the auspices of the Property Council—Rent controls or houses—it is suggested that new methods of house building which are being pioneered, including industrial building techniques, might enable the person who builds for profit to produce houses which could be let at rents lower than £5£8 a week. If this is the case, it is asked, why should not these developers be given the opportunity of receiving assistance from the £50 million which is to be devoted to housing associations under his Bill as a first step towards an eventual £100 million? I hope that in winding up the debate the Parliamentary Secretary will comment on this suggestion by the Property Council.
My right hon. Friend said that £16 million had already been committed out of the original £25 million authorised under the 1961 Act for non-profit-making housing societies. I have been given the impression—I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will be able to correct me on this 547 when he winds up the debate—that there is a danger of this money running out before further finance is made available under the Bill; and that so great is the possibility of the money running out that already those who are applying for the remainder of the £25 million are being rationed. I hope that this impression is wrong.
However, let us suppose that a form of rationing has already been introduced for people who are forming housing societies and who wish to secure some of this money. Let us suppose that there is a gap. Would the Ministry consider underwriting privately secured loans for schemes which had the Ministry's approval? Such a scheme is in existence in trade; it is administered by the Board of Trade in the Export Credits Guarantee Department.
My right hon. Friend would submit, because he shows that due regard for urgency in housing matters which has earned him the respect of both sides of the House, that there should be the least possible delay in the setting up of the new Housing Corporation. I know that it will be difficult to forecast, because we are only now on Second Reading. We have yet to go through the Committee stage. It will be some months before the Bill is enacted. I should like to know what preparations are being made now to establish the Corporation in the happy eventuality of the Bill becoming an Act, because I do not think that a moment should be lost. Further, what thought is being given to representation on the Corporation? Schedule 1 specifies the powers the Minister will have to appoint people to the Corporation. I should like to know whether my right hon. Friend would consider that the National Federation of Housing Societies, for example, should be represented on the Corporation, because it is a very experienced body.
My last point concerns the question of modernisation and improvement grants. The Bill includes the principle that the rent limit imposed as a condition for (he receipt of an improvement grant for houses not at present subject to controlled tenancy should be fixed at the 1963 gross value, which I believe is about four times the 1938 gross value or four times the 548 present controlled rent. Houses at present controlled at 1938 values still have their rents frozen at that level, even if they receive an improvement grant. One might ask whether that will provide sufficient incentive to people who own property of which there are tenants paying such controlled rents. I know that the proposition has been advanced in certain quarters that, if a property which is controlled qualifies for such grants, there should be permission to increase the rent to an extent rather more than is at present permitted. The question is whether it is reasonable that rents should be allowed to rise to at least present-day gross rateable values.
I am sure that there is a disincentive here to owners of property which is controlled at below present-day value. There is a practical disincentive very often when dealing with properties of this nature. If the modernisation or improvement is of a fairly substantial nature, it is extraordinarily difficult to carry it out when people are still living in the property. One of my borough councils took note of this difficulty which applied in parts of my constituency and thought that it might be met by purchasing other accommodation and placing it at the disposal of tenants living in property which had to be modernised. This would encourage the private landlord to get on with the job of proper improvement; the tenants would temporarily live as "decants", which I think was the technical word used, in the property purchased; and, when the appropriate moment came, they could go back to the property in which they used to live and which had been improved. I hope that the practical problem which I have referred to will be examined by the Ministry.
I particularly appreciate the point made by the hon. Member for Hudders-field, West about help for old people. Old people are very often to be found in old property which is in need of modernisation. Old people will, I am sure, benefit very much from the housing association movement. Old people will also benefit from housing modernisation, but in certain circumstances they will find it necessary to move out while the modernisation is taking place.
I quite agree that there are shortages of housing accommodation, as my right 549 hon. Friend has pointed out today and on previous occasions. He not only has to face up to the challenge of these shortages, in terms of improving and modernising houses, improving the rate of new building, and by providing us with Bills of this nature designed to cope with bad private landlords. He has also to face up to the very real question put to him by the hon. Member for Fulham. The hon. Member said that there are people who are tyrannised by private landlords, referring to tenants living in controlled property. If a private landlord gets them out, he knows that the property is decontrolled. There is therefore an incentive for him to do so.
What the hon. Member for Fulham tends to forget, I think, although this is a problem, is that in the days when there was rent control throughout the whole range of housing accommodation prior to 1957 there were also extremely vicious practices. There were people then who wished to evict tenants so that they could convert their premises into furnished accommodation, for which there was no limit. The hon. Member for Fulham tended to gloss over that point. At that time there were other particularly vicious practices involving the exchange of vast sums which were sometimes called key money, which made it very difficult for many people to get into so-called controlled property, because they did not have the capital to put before the landlord. Of course, this was all done secretly.
If the hon. Member for Fulham is challenging my right hon. Friend, it is equally right for us to put this question to the Labour Front Bench. Does the Labour Party intend to return to that sort of rent control? The impression Labour Members create, at any rate in the minds of many of my constituents, is that this is precisely what they propose to do. I think that they should come clean on it. I believe that it would be utterly disastrous to return to those conditions.
§ Mr. MacColl
Why is this a one-way traffic only? Why are we called upon to explain our policy in detail? As a matter of fact, we have done it, but why should we be called upon to explain in detail precisely what we intend to do about rent control when the Government 550 of the day, who know the facts and are in power, refuse to tell us what they intend to do?
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
The hon. Gentleman represents a party which ultimately, like all parties, has to put forward a prospectus to the electorate at the General Election. No one asks the Labour Party to set out its policy in fine detail, with all the small print, and with the i's dotted and the t's crossed. If hon. Members opposite make general accusations and criticise the Government's handling of the country's housing problems, it is only fair and proper for the electorate to ask the kind of measures they would take to solve these problems.
§ Mr. MacColl
We have made it perfectly clear that we desire security of tenure for people. We attach great importance to this, along with the payment of reasonable rents. That is a perfectly clear statement by a party which is not yet in power. The Minister of Housing takes long enough over enormous inquiries, investigations and sample surveys before he can produce a policy. My hon. Friends and I are merely asking the right hon. Gentleman, since he knows the facts, whether or not the Government intend to extend rent decontrol if they are returned to power after the General Election.
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
I am not sure that I am terribly grateful for that intervention because the hon. Gentleman's explanation is as clear as mud to me. When he speaks of reasonable rents what has he in mind and in which spheres of housing? This must be made clear. Many hon. Members opposite appreciate that a strong seed is being sown, certainly in London, to the effect that if the Labour Party were returned to power it would so engineer things that many people would find themselves paying the sort of rents to which they were accustomed up till 1957—the sort of situation which is now ridiculously out-of-date.
§ Mr. A. Evans
The hon. Member, who represents a London constituency, will no doubt be questioned during the next General Election on the Government's intentions about the decontrol of houses. Does he know the policy of the Government on this topic?
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
The actual details of Government policy, as at the last General Election, will be unfolded at the right time. I have not asked the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) the exact details of the Labour Party's policy on this point. I am merely asking that hon. Members opposite should clear up the doubt of whether or not they propose to introduce the sort of rent control we had up till 1957. The impression has been created that that is the sort of thing the Labour Party has in mind. Is this impression true or false? Why are hon. Members opposite so frightened to make the position clear?
§ Mr. MacColl
Frightened? I am annoyed at the unfairness of the hon. Member trying to make this point when he does not even know what his own Minister of Housing intends to do. After all, there is the slight technical difference that when we were in power we kept to our election pledges. The Government in this matter do not keep to theirs. They broke the last pledge on this issue.
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
I am sure that at the appropriate moment my right hon. Friend will give the appropriate answer, but I certainly do not propose to go into the sort of wild allegations of brokenpledges and so on made by the hon. Member for Widnes. They are so much nonsense, anyway.
My main purpose in raising the topic of rent control was to show that it presents a real problem. This problem is not helped by wild allegations or the sort of questions which were put to my right hon. Friend in the latter part of the speech of the hon. Member for Fulham. I am concerned with the welfare of elderly people in my constituency who live in the sort of property that will benefit from the passing of the Bill. However, if they are to benefit fully we must face the problem of their being cared for while the property in which they live is being modernised. As I have said, I appreciate that if rents are to be increased we will have to face in certain circumstances the problem of 552 those who may find it difficult to meet increased rents.
Although hon. Members opposite have often advanced suggestions along rent control lines, I hope that we may look forward to their putting less emphasis on this as a solution in the future. It would only aggravate the problem to revert to policies of the past. However, it would be a humane act if, as the Bill becomes law and is implemented, further thought were given by my right hon. Friend to seeing what other methods of financial help may be given to elderly people living in the property affected by the Bill.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)
I agree with the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. G. Johnson Smith) on one thing: that the Bill does not go to the root of the housing problem. I congratulate him on his honesty in admitting that. In agreeing with him I am, however, entitled to ask the question which immediately springs to mind; when are we going to have a piece of housing legislation from the Government which does go to the root of this problem?
It must be remembered that this could be the last housing Measure not only in this Parliament but also after 12 years of Conservative administration. Despite this, we have just heard one of the Government's most loyal supporters announcing that the Bill is only a palliative. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South pointed out some of the real and basic problems that are not dealt with by the Bill. He admitted, for example, the menace of creeping decontrol which we have attacked as the cause of Rachmanism. He wondered how we could get around this problem; did we have to go back to the old forms of rent control, because they, too, had their evils? The longer the hon. Member talked the more it became clear that the sort of private landlordism about which he was speaking is a difficult customer to make work in the public interest.
It is clear—and it became even more clear as the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South spoke—that the only solution to the sort of problem he outlined is to remove private landlordism out of the sphere of housing and 553 substitute for it either owner-occupation or public ownership of some kind, whether through municipal ownership, housing associations or other non-profit-making bodies. It is obvious that one cannot make private landlordism serve the public interest. Is that the conclusion the hon. Member drew from his own oratory? No, because earlier in his speech, having outlined the evils of landlordism, he went on to say that the right way to deal with the problem was to give subsidies to private landlords—
§ Mrs. Castle
Certainly we are in favour of a large extension of municipal ownership. Municial acquisition is going on by every go-ahead local authority. St. Pancras Borough Council, for example, is moving rapidly ahead in this direction, not only in the working-class but also in the middle-class sphere, and is taking the profit out of house management as the only way any person in this country with a modest income and able only to pay a modest rent or mortgage repayments can be housed. Let there be no mistake about it; not only working-class people but the young professional couple, and large sections of the middle class, know that they cannot get rehoused if they have to wait for the speculative builder, operating in a free market, to provide them with a house within their means. They know that they would have to wait for ever, and that is why the right hon. Gentleman had to come along in this way.
The hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) is right in saying that this Bill constitutes an admission that private landlordism cannot solve the housing problem of the majority of our people, and that the Government now admits balance has to be restored. But the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South, in response, as always, to the vested interests behind the Conservative Party—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—has to contradict himself in his own speech by saying that the private developer should be given a subsidy to enable him to do the very job he is supposed to do.
The hon. Member for Aldershot asked why the private developer is not given the chance to produce houses to let at 554 rents that people can afford. The private developer has been given the chance, and failed to take it. That is why we have had one piece of patchwork legislation after another. The only solution proposed from the back benches opposite now is that we should give public money to the private developer so that he can make a profit out of doing a job that he had failed to do under his own management.
The Minister is one of the most expert members of the Treasury Bench in the art of making sweeping claims for his own achievements. Quite contrary to the impression given by his hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South, that this Bill is merely a palliative, the Minister has given the impression that it is almost the last brick in an edifice of housing policy which will then be complete and perfect. Much as I welcome certain parts of this Measure, I must beg to disagree with him.
What I am most concerned with is the gaps in the Bill. This really is the eleventh hour, and it is hard to be asked to wait for action to be taken on so many of the urgent problems that we have brought to the Minister's attention from time to time. The Bill certainly misses the opportunity of dealing with the housing problems in a constituency like mine. This problem is integrally related to the situation outlined in the Minister's speech of 18th November, when he told us that we still had a terrific obsolescence problem; that 45 per cent, of Britain's stock of houses was obsolescent. I would just point out to him—and I am delighted that he has come back among us because I hope that he will very quickly give places like Blackburn some relief—that the figure of obsolescence in Blackburn's stock of houses is nearer 70 per cent, than 45 per cent.
The Minister made great play, both in his speech on 18th November and again today, of his great housing aim, which he implied was to be almost finally fulfilled by this present Measure. In the debate on 18th November, he said:The object is to clear the vast bulk of the known slums, to keep pace with growth, to overtake all the shortages and make a good start in replacing the twilight houses—all within the next 10 years."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 18th November. 1963; Vol. 684, c. 647.]555 It is bad enough that we have had to wait 12 years for such an ambitious programme to be launched, but it is really rather intolerable that after all this time we should find the Minister still not facing up to the implications of this grand design he has placed before us in the last few weeks.
On 18th November the right hon. Gentleman paid a tribute to the "drive and increasing momentum" of local authority programmes. That was a well-deserved tribute, because the local authorities have been only too eager to press ahead when they have been given the word "go", and it is not their fault that they have been given it so belatedly. But the Minister cannot have it both ways. He cannot claim the credit for this acceleration in local authority slum clearance programmes and then leave those local authorities to struggle with the very real and practical consequences of this increasing momentum to which he referred.
What this sudden speed-up has meant is a sudden acceleration in the declaration of clearance areas and the necessity to announce long-term plans a long way ahead. If we are to have slum clearance at this rate and on this scale, it can be done in areas like mine—where, as I say, nearly 70 per cent, of the houses are obsolescent and more than 20,000 out of 37,000 houses have to be cleared in a period of twenty or thirty years—only in the context of an overall urban development plan.
That means planning ahead, and announcing ahead, and that means, as I have told the right hon. Gentleman, the dislocation of the lives of thousands of owner-occupiers who cannot be expected to have anticipated this sudden change in Government policy. Here, again, peculiar problems in certain areas like mine arise from the fact that not only are the houses obsolescent but the overwhelming majority of them are owner-occupied. They represent the investment by humble people of life-savings in the only type of dwelling that up to now has been available for them to buy.
Added to all this, of course, there is the uncertainty as to whether this acceleration can and will be maintained. We have had a stop-go policy 556 from the Government before, and it can happen again. Some of us believe it to be inevitable, if we continue to have a Conservative Administration, that the stop will follow the go.
Finally, there is the financial burden of this upheaval on both individuals and local authorities. Certain obvious changes in the law are needed to deal with them, and I am very sorry that the Bill does not make them. I hope that it is not too late for them to be included. The first, and comparatively minor point, already referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart), arises from the factors I have described. It is a question of the 15-year life that a house must have before it can qualify for an improvement grant. In this fluctuating situation, it is very difficult to say with any certainty whether or not a house will have that life. We are planning so far ahead, with such fundamental changes, that one cannot say that with certainty.
I ask the Minister to consider this sympathetically, and I will now put a very constructive suggestion to him. I had an example in my constituency just the other day. A man told me that he bought a newsagent's business two years ago, with a house attached that has no bathroom and only an outside lavatory. He said, "I assumed that I would get an improvement grant, but under the accelerated programme I have just been told that this area should be cleared in 1973. I have therefore been turned down for a grant. Have my family and I to live for 10 years in this house without a bathroom or a proper lavatory? Yet, if I put my own money in—I cannot really afford that—do we know how long my investment will endure, as a result of the chopping and changing of Government policy?"
Under Clause 41 the Minister has now provided for reduced standards of improvement to qualify for grants in certain circumstances, the grants to be adjusted accordingly. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman in Committee to consider seriously whether he could not include in the Clause provision for a reduced period to qualify for a modified grant. The man to whom I have referred might then say, "It helps me. It will be less of a financial burden and I shall be encouraged to take the risk".
557 This does not seem to be an unreasonable proposition to my housing authority which is faced with this kind of problem.
A second problem which arises urgently, but is nowhere hinted at in the Bill although I have raised it with the Minister in the past few months, is the question of compensation to the owner-occupier. We know that under the 1957 Act supplementary compensation can be paid by the local authority for owner-occupied houses even if they are technically unfit, provided that they were bought between 1939 and 1955 and provided that they are acquired before 13th December, 1965. This supplementary compensation can bring the house up to full market value.
The reason for this is that Parliament recognised that after the war, with the shortage of houses, slum clearance had to be held up for many years and did not start again until 1955. In the meantime people had no alternative but to buy these sub-standard houses, which were rapidly reaching the end of their useful lives. The result is that almost all their savings have gone into these houses on which they still have mortgages outstanding. Now, with the acceleration of the clearance programme in my constituency and the need to visualise development plans covering over 20,000 houses out of 37,000, this has become an acute problem, particularly if the local council is to plan the town on the basis of any conception of proper urban renewal. The council has to visualise the redeveloping of whole areas and it must let the people know well ahead. This means that the financial value of these houses is immediately blighted by such a scheme.
Owing to the size of our problem it is pretty obvious that my local authority may well be acquiring this type of house after 1965. I raised this matter with the Minister. In a letter he said that he sympathised with the problem but did not want to encourage by extending the compensation provisions, the acquisition of rented near-slum property into owner-occupation. But surely the Minister would not be creating this danger if he were to extend the period beyond 1965, though still maintaining the condition that the house would have had to have been bought between 1939 and 1955. I 558 do not know whether we can move an Amendment on those lines, but I urge the Minister to consider the problem. I had hoped that he would have used this Measure to deal with it. In any event, I hope that we shall have some statement of policy from him on this point.
If we are to do justice to these owner-occupiers in this way by paying them the full market value compensation which they ought to receive, then clearly we shall place a very heavy burden on the local authority. The burden of doing justice will be transferred from the individual to the local authority. The Minister says that he is prepared to give loan sanction for this purpose, but that does not meet the need because loans raised at the present rate of interest for the acquisition of property by a local authority on this scale and paying compensation on a scale of this kind will be an almost crippling burden.
I do not want to be offensive, but the Minister must not boast, as he almost does, of what he has done and will do and then leave the poor local authority, particularly one which is struggling with the financial difficulties experienced by my local authority, to carry the can for him financially. Clearly one solution would be to have, as we on this side of the House have advocated, housing loans at a cheap rate of interest and for the Government to lay down that loans required for these purposes of compensation should qualify for this specially low rate of interest. The Minister has turned this down and has said, "We believe in a subsidy policy instead." We know why. It is because he intends to relate his subsidy increasingly to a means test.
The whole social service development of this Government will increasingly tend that way. We have had warning signs from various directions. Clearly this will be so in housing. Most housing authorities, however, would infinitely prefer a really cheap rate of interest for housing purposes to any subsidy yet devised. If we are to give compensation adequately without crippling the rest of the ratepayers there must be some means whereby the local authority can obtain money for this purpose at low rates of interest.
I was reminded by my housing committee in Blackburn that in a recent slum-clearance scheme in the centre of 559 the town, where most of the houses were acquired at site value and therefore there was not this supplementary compensation on any great scale, the cost of acquiring the land nonetheless worked out at £11,000 an acre, and this in a town where a penny rate brings in only about £12,000. If the Minister visualises the enormous slum-clearance job which we have to carry out he will appreciate the size of our problem, particularly if compensation is to be paid on a more generous scale.
The second way of helping us in our difficulties would be the recognition by the Government that the problem of urban renewal goes much further than the areas at present visualised. My local authority intends to clear the slums and to create a town worthy of the citizens of the future. It faces an enormous bill as a consequence. Cleaning up and redeveloping the town centre will cost about £10 million. There is in the town an enormous number of derelict industrial sites for the clearing of which we do not receive a penny in grant, although some richer areas receive grants up to as much as 85 per cent. In addition clearing the slums and the twilight areas at proper rates of compensation will cost millions of pounds. If the Minister wants this housing job done on a thorough, equitable and imaginative scale he must face the financial burdens on the local authorities much more squarely, and he must give them help to enable them to do the job.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Daniel Awdry (Chippenham)
I hope the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) will forgive me if I do not follow her in the arguments she has put forward, but I really do not think it fair to suggest that my right hon. Friend was in any way boasting. On the contrary, he has always explained the immense task which lies ahead.
I want to sound a rather different note in a very short contribution tonight. It seems to me that this Housing Bill is a progressive and logical step in the formulation of our housing policy, but it does throw more responsibility on local authorities. I mention this because there is clearly a tendency today to place more and more on the shoulders 560 of local government. In the debate last week on housing and land prices, my right hon. Friend said that land which was planned for development should be bought well in advance by a public authority. Yesterday the Buchanan Report was published, and it is again to local government that we shall have to turn to solve the vast problems involved there. All this does amount to a massive challenge to local government as a whole.
I have spent some years and am still spending time in local government on a borough council, and I have come increasingly to realise that local government is really big business. It is now spending £2,000 million a year. We have discussed in this House from time to time local government reorganisation. We are pressing on with it. We have discussed the financing of local government, and I am glad that this problem is also being seriously tackled.
However, in the end, the ability of councils to measure up to the immense tasks in front of them depends on the calibre of the councillors themselves. I want to say to the House most seriously that many able people today with useful professional and technical experience who could have a great contribution to make to local government are unable to serve in local government because they simply cannot afford to do so. It is very important that young men and young women should come forward as candidates in local elections, because it does take a few years fully to understand the problems of local government. Many young and talented people cannot come into local government because they cannot afford to give the time.
I believe: the time may well come, and quite soon, when the country ought to decide whether perhaps it may be right to make some small payment to these people who serve as councillors on local councils. I am thinking particularly of the chairmen of the major committees of large authorities. These chairmen carry on their shoulders immense burdens, very similar to the burdens which many managing directors carry in business. These chairmen do not merely give their time to committee meetings or council meetings. They are doing their job properly only if they are continually, all the year round, giving their time to 561 the problems with which they are faced. Is there not a case for some financial reward to be considered for these people?
From my own experience, I know that councillors tend to get bogged down in day-to-day problems of local government and do not lift their eyes sufficiently to the horizon. The Housing Bill invokes great tasks which lie ahead—as does the Buchanan Report—and to tackle them we need men of vision. It is all very well to talk about local authorities buying well ahead in advance, but there are many property dealers and builders who are trying to do the same. It seems to me that those who take the chair in the planning committees and housing committees of these large authorities should understand big business and understand property development so that local councils will not be under a disadvantage as against those property companies.
I realise that this is controversial stuff because we have in this country a very long tradition of voluntary service in local government. We used to have that tradition in this House. Can we afford to keep it so in local government? I have heard it said that there are plenty of able people in the country today who cannot come to this House because they cannot afford to do so. If that is so, it is a sad reflection on our system. I know it to be true about local government. We do need able men in local government. That is not controversial, and I am sure hon. Members will agree with me. There are great problems for local government in this Bill, and the problem which we shall have to face very soon is how to keep up the calibre of those who serve in local government.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry), though I agree very much with the sentiments he has expressed. I have spent a long period in local government, but there is no indication in any Clause of this Bill that it is in any way in the Minister's mind just now to do what the hon. Member suggested, and I do not think it is of much use, therefore, talking about it now. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If the Minister is willing to give a pledge that he is willing to do this, it will be a different matter.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I am pledged in this House to enter into discussions at the appropriate time with the local authority associations on the pay content of my hon. Friend's speech. As the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) will remember, this arose on the London Government Bill.
§ Mr. Manuel
I am delighted the Minister is committed, but if he had gone further and made a contribution in the Financial Resolution in connection with this Bill to meet the point his hon. Friend would have been on better ground.
I regret very much that this is a United Kingdom Bill. I regret it very much indeed. Scottish Members are accustomed to having their own Housing Bills. Our housing problems are very different. I do not think there will be any disagreement among Scottish Members on either side of the House on this question. This ought not to have been a United Kingdom Bill. Our legal system is very different, our appeals system is quite different, we have a different Town and Country Planning Act, and so on. I am very disappointed indeed that the Secretary of State for Scotland should not have insisted on separate legislation. He has let Scotland down. I am very sorry that he is not here today to hear the criticism. Indeed, during the major portion of this debate there has been no Scottish representative sitting on that Front Bench. I hope that those of us from Scotland who do get into the debate will have our points considered in a scrupulous manner.
My fear is that Scotland's housing problem will not be adequately dealt with through this Bill. We have a fear already. I do not know how many Members there will be on the Standing Committee, but how many Scottish Members will be on it? We have no idea. Some say two, some say three; possibly, at the very most, four. That is just ridiculous in considering a Bill of this character. Here we have a very large Bill of 102 Clauses, five Schedules, in numerable cross references in the Clauses to Scottish Acts of Parliament. There are many Clauses in the Bill which do not apply to Scotland. The Third Schedule to the Bill extends to 19½pages. It deals completely with Scotland, in connection with the application to Scotland of Part II of the 563 1961 English Housing Act. It is utterly ridiculous that we should be expected to grapple in this way with the problems which are embraced in this Bill, and to try to disentangle the Scottish parts from the English portions of the Bill.
This brings me to the point that I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will convey to his right hon. Friend that we do expect a Scottish reprint of this Bill—if we cannot get anything more just now—in the form of a Bill for Scotland, and that as soon as we can possibly have it. I do not want to be too critical, but from my assessment of the Bill and my knowledge of Scottish housing conditions, I am convinced that it will help only a very small proportion of the Scottish people. The housing societies are for the purpose of building houses either to rent or for co-ownership. What opportunity will there be in Scotland for a housing society to build houses at economic rents where those rents may be between £6 and £8 a week? I am sure that there will be only very limited scope among a very limited proportion of our population.
During his speech the Minister of Housing and Local Government made great play of the fact that there had been an extension of municipal house building. He ought to have realised his responsibility in that he was speaking on a United Kingdom Bill. Figures are compiled separately for Scotland, and these show that what the Minister said is not true about Scotland.
I want to put the Scottish figures on the record. I obtained them last week from the Secretary of State for Scotland. In local authority building in Scotland in 1953, 29,719 houses were completed. By 1962 the figure had dropped to 16,245. It is no solace to the Minister to take public building from all sources. In 1953 the figure was 36,938 houses. Last year it had dropped to 18,912. It had dropped by half during that period. Yet our housing need is getting worse all the time. In Scotland this is piling up to an insoluble problem, especially in our larger cities such as Glasgow and Dundee, and many of our large burghs and small burghs are at their wit's end about building more municipal houses because of the appalling housing conditions which exist.
564 The Minister can gain no solace from the fact that there has been an upsurge in private enterprise building for private owners during that period. In 1956 private enterprise built 4,576 houses. By 1962 the figure had risen to only 7,784. There will be a drop again this year; in the first three-quarters of the year private enterprise has completed only 4,468 houses. I hope the Minister will recognise that we shall have very definite reasons for some of the Amendments that we shall move in Committee, reasons which may not be so apparent in England.
There is another reason why we should be wary about throwing all our resources into the Housing Corporation. We shall have a far larger proportion of houses according to population that we cannot bring into a state of repair which will last for fifteen years because they are past that stage already and have not a life of fifteen years ahead of them. The only means by which the tenants of these houses can be rehoused is by the provision of more municipal house building. Therefore, the figure of 16,000 for last year is ridiculous.
Part I of the Bill brings into being a Housing Corporation which is to give assistance to housing societies which will provide housing accommodation. The Government can make advances to the Housing Corporation for these purposes of up to £50 million and not exceeding £100 million. These are considerable figures. I hope that some good comes from this. Our great need is for more money and easier conditions for local authorities; in undertaking municipal building.
Clause 9 states that these advances shall be repaid at such times and by such methods as the Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland may, with the approval of the Treasury, direct. Can the Joint Under-Secretary of State tell me what these methods and times will be? What does the Secretary of State himself mean by "at such times and by such methods"? Clause 9 goes on to say that the interest on the capital given to the Housing Corporation shall be paid at such rates of interest and at such times as the Minister or the Secretary of State for Scotland directs with the approval of the Treasury. Can the Joint Under-Secretary of State tell us what 565 rate of interest the Secretary of State for Scotland has in mind? This has a great bearing on the rent of the houses to be built by housing societies. I have said that those rents will be between £6 and £8 per week. I hope the rents will not be more because of the rate of interest. Over what time is the loan capital to be spread for repayment and payment of interest?
Clauses 3 to 6 deal with the acquisition and disposal of land. When we are talking about the acquisition and disposal of land for the building of houses, I deplore very much—and so must every other Scottish hon. Member, at least those on this side of the House—that there is nothing in the Bill about land prices. I wonder whether we shall be in order in trying to move an Amendment about this in Committee. Last week the Minister of Housing and Local Government stated that he is concerned about this question and intends to do something about it. As a member of a local authority over a long period, I remember that local authorities have had most painful experiences in that they spent many thousands of pounds in bringing electricity, water, gas and sewerage services to edge of farmland which previously paid no rates at all but then became very valuable, so that the local authority had to pay through the nose for it. Arising out of the Minister's statement about control of land prices last week, is it his intention to have some control in connection with the Bill which will help Scottish local authorities?
Clause 4 relates to compulsory acquisition. I do not want in any way to curb the provision of houses, but I feel that the Clause will need to be examined very carefully in Committee. I am thinking of the local authority's planning proposals and the fact that they should not be brushed aside merely because a housing society desires a certain area of ground. If there is a conflict between municipal housing and private enterprise building of houses, who will win the contest? Also, if plans have previously been made to provide employment on such an area of land, which is of equal social importance, will the local authority be brushed aside?
I hope that the situation will not be that in order to ensure success for the Housing Corporation or housing society—frankly, I do not think they will have 566 much success in Scotland—the local authorities will be brushed aside and no regard will be paid to their long-term or short-term plans. We shall also need to examine the future place and function of the Scottish Special Housing Association. Clause 4(4) lays down that:the Corporation may request the Scottish Special Housing Association to acquire land compulsorily as provided in Section 93(2) of this Act.'I want to ask the Joint Under-Secretary about this. It also lays down that the Corporation may authorise the Scottish Special Housing Association to act as agents of the Corporation for the purpose of carrying out any of the functions vested in the Corporation under this Bill under Clauses 3, 5, 6 or 7 of the Bill. Any of these functions can be vested by the Corporation in the Scottish Special Housing Association.
Clause 11(2) reads as follows:Section 18(1) of the Act of 1962 (which confers power on the Secretary of State to make advances to the Scottish Special Housing Association for the provision of housing accommodation) shall have effect as if it conferred power on the Secretary of State to make advances under that subsection to the Association for the purpose of assisting them to act as the agents of the Corporation in pursuance of subsection (1) of this Section.It appears that the Scottish Special Housing Association is to undertake all the practical work of the Housing Corporation in Scotland. If that is so—this is the point that I have been working up to—why should not we have vested in the Scottish Special Housing Association itself all the powers necessary for it to carryout directly the provisions of the Bill, instead of the Scottish Special Housing Association acting as the agent or the lap dog of the Corporation? In my opinion, it is not necessary to extend the Corporation's powers to Scotland.
Many of us have had disagreements with the Scottish Special Housing Association. We have had complaints from local authorities and tenants of the Scottish Special Housing Association, but I would advise all my friends in local government and also any tenant who has had these complaints that they would be far better to have their own Scottish Special Housing Association than to be under a Housing Corporation extending over Scotland, England and Wales, with headquarters in London, and completely out of touch.
567 Part II of the Bill deals with the compulsory improvement of dwellings to provide standard amenities. While I welcome any addition to local authority powers which will produce more houses or bring houses up to a better standard, it seems a long time to give the local authorities, as laid down in Clause 15, a period of two years to serve an improvement notice. Clause 15 states:At any time after the occasion when the local authority's proposals are so discussed, but not more than two years after the passing of the resolution declaring the area to be an improvement area, the local authority may, if satisfied that the dwelling still falls within paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of subsection (1) of the last foregoing section, serve a notice (in this Part of this Act referred to as 'an improvement notice') on the person having control of the dwelling.That is after two years. Indeed, some time may be lost because of the delay of two years, because after this period houses will have worsened in condition and may not be in the category for improvement that they were when the local authority assessment was first made, two years earlier. In fact, some of the houses may not be in a condition, after such a long period, to have a further life of 15 years.
I want to come to the question of suspended improvement notices under Clauses 17 and 18. This is infinitely worse. Under these two Clauses improvement notices can be delayed for a period of 11 years and then cease to take effect altogether, so we shall raise hopes for this period and nothing may be done.
The repair of tenements comes under Clauses 22, 23, 24 and 25. I do not want to say much about this now, although I hope to say plenty about it in Committee. In Committee, Scottish Members will need to be very active in connection with tenement dwellings.
Part III of the Bill deals with assistance for improvement of dwellings and grants to local authorities. Clause 56 lays down that in England and Wales tenement property of three storeys and over will have the improvement grant increased from £400 to £500. Does Clause 57, dealing with Scotland improvement grants, include tenement property in Scotland as it does in England and Wales? The Under-Secretary of State will be aware that there 568 is a vast difference between tenements in England and Wales and those in Scotland. We have a vast number of small houses in our tenements of one and two apartments, and if we try to modernise these tenements we shall have to knock two or three houses into one. This means that they have to be strengthened substantially—I have seen where this has been attempted—by steel beams and cross members and there is a whole lot of additional work that there would not be with tenements comprising larger houses. Thus it appears that the grant for Scotland should be more than the £500 considered necessary for England and Wales.
Part IV deals with housing in multiple occupation and amends Part II of the 1961 Act. This is what all the difficulty has been about in connection with Schedule 3. What will the application of this provision mean to Scotland? It is an impossible task for hon. Members to grapple with all that is contained in the lengthy Schedule, so I trust that the hon. Gentleman will carefully explain the implications of the change which brings to Scotland Part II of an English Act of which we have had no previous knowledge
Part V of the Bill deals with miscellaneous and general matters. The Exchequer contribution per house to local authorities buying or holding unfit houses for temporary accommodation is to be raised from £7 5s. to £12 5s. a year in Scotland and from £3 to £8 in England and Wales. I do not know the reason for this rise in England, but if English hon. Members are satisfied with their increase I am certainly not satisfied with the Scottish increase. I welcome this small addition, but I hope that the expenditure will not be great because the sooner we get families out of such property by building more houses the better.
It seems to me that the Government intend to operate this increase in order to get better housing figures for publication in the quarterly return. They are carrying cut this patching operation to give a further life of 15 years to houses already unfit by spending £12 5s. a year on each. But by jove! they have some problem in front of them and we should be told the full size of it.
I have covered the main points of the Bill in the short time at my disposal. I am certain. that Scottish Members of the 569 Committee will try to improve it and we earnestly hope that it will be of some help to Scottish local authorities, who need all the help they can get. Many councils and councillors throughout Scotland are at their wits end over housing. They are getting into a morass of loan debt because of the high interest rates for municipal housing.
We must have more municipal houses and while we give encouragement to the improvement of houses for those who can rent houses of this character and for those who are buying them in co-ownership we do not want to curb the provision of municipal houses for those who have a greater need.
§ Mr. E. Willis
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I know that the Under-Secretary of State is not feeling very well and I am sorry to intervene as he is about to speak, but this Bill makes more changes in Scotland than in England. It is, indeed, very much more important to Scotland. Do you intend to close the Scottish part of the debate after the hon. Gentleman has spoken?
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. R. Brooman-White)
It might be convenient if I intervene at this stage, without prejudice to what the Chair may decide in future. Any further points—certainly points concerning Great Britain as a whole—will be dealt with as far as possible in the time by my hon. Friend in replying later tonight.
The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) ranged widely. He asked about the consolidation of legislation and I can reaffirm categorically that it is our intention that Scottish housing legislation should be consolidated as soon as this Bill reaches the Statute Book. I know that that will be of convenience to local authorities and all others concerned in handling that legislation. The question of separate Scottish legislation for these proposals has been discussed at considerable length and hon. Members will have noted the assurance given by my right hon. and 570 learned Friend the Leader of the House after his Business statement today.
§ Mr. Manuel
But that is not the point. What we are asking—and I am sure that there is a large measure of agreement among Scottish Members on both sides about this—is whether, when this Bill becomes an Act, we are to have a separate reprint of these provisions and a separate Act for Scotland.
§ Mr. Brooman-White
I think that this will have to be covered by the nature of the consolidation Measure. However, we note the point made by the hon. Member. I think that it would be to the convenience of the local authorities and others concerned to have the widest measure of consolidation we can get.
I do not want to argue with the hon. Member about building figures at this stage. Rather do I want to deal with specific points raised. We have dealt with the wider issues at Question Time. But the number of houses under construction has shown a sensational and extremely satisfactory increase. In the first nine months of 1963, the number of houses under construction by local authorities, new towns and the Scottish Special Housing Association increased by about 35 per cent, over the same period in 1962, and now that we are making faster progress with central area clearance, that increase will be maintained and further developed.
I do not want to hold up the House by dwelling on points concerning the country as a whole which have already been dealt with fully by my right hon. Friend in discussing Part I of the Bill. But, in case there is any misapprehension following what the hon. Gentleman has said about Clause 4, I should say that we intend that the compulsory purchase power and the powers exercised by the Secretary of State in arbitration should be, on the part of the Secretary of State. reserve powers. We do not envisage any difficulty arising out of this. Naturally we will pay the greatest attention to municipal plans.
I also want to clear up the misapprehension over the role of the Scottish Special Housing Association. Perhaps Clause 11(2) may have put the hon. Gentleman wrong. It is a very limited provision which will simply allow the association—acting as an 571 agent for the Corporation in carrying out certain specific tasks—to be given money for any additional administrative expenditure which the exercise of those wider powers will involve. For the rest, the association will be acting simply as an executive agency.
The reason why this legislation is being done on a Great Britain basis is that a number of important aspects apply to both sides of the Border—building societies, for instance—and therefore it would be much more efficient to deal with this on the basis of my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Minister of Housing and Local Government working in collaboration instead of separately.
§ Mr. Brooman-White
That is the answer to the point made by the hon. Gentleman. If he looks at this again he will see that there is substance in it.
The question of improvements is the point in Part II where there is a great divergence between the English and Scottish provisions. The most important divergence is in Clause 22 which differs in substance from the English Clause 20. The point is that in Scottish tenements in an improvement area—tenement blocks in an improvement area—the owner-occupier can be compelled to make an improvement. The reason for this is perfectly clear to anybody who knows the conditions in Scottish tenements. Unlike English tenements, they are almost always in multiple ownership. For the information of our English colleagues, that means a number of families are the owner-occupiers of houses or flats in the tenement block.
Most improvements will involve radical alterations to the plumbing and drainage system of the building as a whole because of the architectural layout of Scottish tenements. It will almost invariably be impossible to produce a sensible and economic scheme of improvement that does not treat the building as a whole. This is the special problem with which we are faced and that is why special power is taken for Scotland which is not applicable to England.
572 As hon. Members will have noticed, there are safeguards to avoid hardship to an occupier who is unwilling, or, for financial reasons, unable to take his share in the improvement, including the normal right of a period of objection. He gets the improvement grant of 50 per cent, and he can borrow from the local authority the balance of the money needed to meet his share of the cost of the work not covered by the grant. If he does not want to undertake the responsibility of having such a loan from the local authority, he can require it to purchase the house so that the work has to be done for him by the authority. We believe that we have struck the right balance here in our special circumstances between protecting the rights and legitimate interests of the individual and ensuring the improvement of the whole area of housing which should be made in the public interest.
Is the hon. Gentleman clear that these various protections for the tenant apply to tenement buildings as well as to other buildings? I raised this matter with the Minister of Housing, who agreed with my interpretation that that was not so.
§ Mr. Brooman-White
In Scotland the compulsory power is limited to tenement buildings in an improvement area.
Clause 23 is inserted for much the same reasons. It was foreshadowed by paragraph 65 of the White Paper and I need not dwell on it. I am sure that hon. Members will welcome these additional powers.
I now come to Part IV. I think that the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire was under a slight misapprehension about whet our proposals are. I sympathise with him and with the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) because of the difficulty which hon. Members opposite have when they work without special technical advice in this admittedly very complex—
§ Mr. Brooman-White
I was about to come to that. I was not wasting sympathy on the hon. Member. I was saying that even with expert advice this part of the Bill is involved. That is all I am saying and I apologise for an error in printing which might have added to the difficulties of hon. Members. That is in Part II of Schedule 3 where the references to Sections 61–66 ought to be references to Sections 60–65 and a reference in paragraph 1 of that Part of that Schedule to Section 61 should be to Section 60. This is a printing error of which we knew and for which I apologise to the House and which will be put right in Committee.
§ Mr. Brooman-White
I am not trying to blame the printer. I am accepting responsibility and apologising to the House for the error.
Hon. Members will appreciate that what we are trying to do is perfectly simple in essence. The objective of this operation is to have in reserve for Scotland powers precisely similar to those which are being taken in England to deal with the abuse of Rachmanism. This is a reserve power as far as we are concerned, because we have not hitherto, very fortunately for us, had experience of this Rachmanite form of abuse in Scotland. As hon. Members know, in Edinburgh and Glasgow there are certain powers in local legislation, but, as far as we are aware, these powers have not had to be used in Scotland to deal with the sort of problem which is confronting our English colleagues. This type of rat has not yet appeared north of the Border and we have not had to set traps for it. Our private legislation and local circumstances have not led to this form of abuse.
However, it is obviously not right to assume that this could not happen, so all we are doing is saying that we should take the practical experience of the English, who have dealt with this type of abuse, and insert a power into the Bill which will be available for use in Scotland if, unfortunately, we were to come to need it there. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that it is a sensible precaution. The Schedule is simply a rewriting in Scottish legal language of the relevant provisions of the 574 English legislation which will enable us to have these powers in reserve if at any time, unfortunately, we should need them. I think that hon. Members will agree with the objective, even though they differ about the technique.
§ Mr. Manuel
Can the hon. Member explain the difference between the application of Clause 56 to England and Wales and that of Clause 57 to Scotland and the difference in the amount of improvement grant for tenements?
§ Mr. Brooman-White
The answer to that is that the increase in grant in Scotland applies to all types of improvement.
There are several miscellaneous Clauses in Part V and I draw attention to Clauses 92 and 93 which give wider powers to the Scottish Special Housing Association, which will be generally welcome. The association is to play an increasing part in providing houses for incoming workers in the growth areas, and certain powers are to be provided for the compulsory purchase of land, both for use on behalf of the Housing Corporation in its building work and as a reserve for use where a particular local authority is unable to make the necessary land available and for one reason or another is unwilling to exercise its own powers on behalf of the association.
With the development of new building societies, the association has an increasingly important rôle. It would not always be right or fair to expect local authorities with their own problems to carry through compulsory purchase orders for the association. This is a technical expansion of the powers which should be useful to and welcomed by local authorities.
Those are the main Scottish points in the Bill. If any other general or specific matters are raised, my hon. Friend will endeavour to deal with them in his winding-up speech.
§ Mr. Willis
On a point of order. With great deference, might I draw attention to the fact that this Bill affects Scotland more than England, yet we have not had an hour of this debate so far and it does not look as though we shall get any more of it to discuss Scotland. With 575 great deference, I submit that we ought to be allowed to discuss Scottish legislation at greater length.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
If the hon. Member has a criticism to make he must make it in the proper manner. What I would say is this, that the number of Members who are called depends on the length of speeches and the length of interruptions. There is still time for other Members, to be called.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)
I do not propose to follow the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, and I hope that the relative shortness of my remarks will help some of my hon. Friends from Scottish constituencies to have their voices in this debate.
As I think the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. G. Johnson Smith) said, it is important to realise that this Bill is designed as a palliative. It is designed to cater for the period before the Government hope to have built a sufficient number of new houses to provide every family in this country with a house. They say that houses are falling into disrepair, and that this situation must be remedied by the speediest possible means.
In addition, it has been said that by the encouragement given to housing societies and to housing associations the number of houses built during the next few years will be increased. I cannot see this. A certain number of houses will be built. Whether that figure is as optimistic as the right hon. Gentleman believes or not, and whether even his most optimistic figure will in fact meet the desperate housing shortage, seems irrelevant.
It is not possible to create more houses by building some private houses to rent. I have to declare an interest, as I am the chairman of a housing society. It is a provincial one, and I believe that it will do a great deal of good. It will do two things if it is successful. It will provide homes for the elderly to rent, and it will provide homes for young married couples and married couples with growing families who have not the requisite money to put down as deposit for a house, as they will be enabled to rent homes during the intervening period.
576 As a Member for a London constituency, I wonder what advantage there can be in providing for housing associations in London itself. The minimum price at which one can build a new house in the provinces, including the purchase of the land, the carrying out of the necessary road works and drainage, is about £3,000. I estimate that a rental of about 7 per cent, of that figure under a 60-year repayment is about right, and this gives a minimum figure of £4 a week, which I believe is the figure the Minister had in mind. I think he referred to a rental of between £4 and £7.
To build a similar house in London would cost at least £6,000, which means a minimum rental of £8 a week. I know that it has become customary to say that the incomes of people in London are a great deal higher than those of people in the provinces, and that therefore they can afford higher rents, but this is not strictly true. I do not have the figures of the actual difference in average incomes, but I believe that the difference between the Londoner and his fellow citizens in the Midlands or in South Wales is not very great. But his expenses Eire a great deal higher. His fares are higher, especially if he lives in the outlying districts of London. His clothes and his services cost more, and I therefore cannot believe that a rent of £8 a week as a minimum in London is practicable. I do not think that housing associations have a promising future in London. I am not talking about provincial housing societies and provincial co-operative housing associations which are of great value.
As a London Member, I have one or two comments to make on various Clauses in the Bill. I am concerned with Clauses 18 and 55. Under Clause 18 a local authority is required to provide alternative accommodation for a tenant if he calls on the authority to do so. The local authority has to pay the cost of rehousing a tenant and, as I understand it, the house is left vacant. We may get the situation that the owner of a house which is in need of improvement and which has a controlled tenant will be compensated on a full vacant possession basis because the 577 local authority has to rehouse the tenant. This seems extremely inequitable.
I turn now to Clause 55. This deals with the service of a purchase notice. Let us assume that a man owns a house which is hideously overcrowded and is badly in need of improvement. The local authority will be forced to rehouse the many tenants from that house and the owner, by serving a compulsory purchase notice on the local authority, will be enabled to get the full vacant possession price of the house, and this again is inequitable. I would prefer some means whereby, if a house is not in good repair, the amount of compensation payable by the local authority is on a restrictive basis. This would be a better method to adopt than the one laid down in the Bill.
I have one final point to make, and this concerns London because London is really the nub of the matter. It was in London that Rachmanism started and grew to its greatest extent. It is in London that hon. Members on this side of the House have always said that the problems created by the Rent Act are at their worst and their most virulent. It is in London that the housing shortage is at its greatest. I believe that Command 1952 on Employment: Housing Land states that the gap between families who have not got houses of their own and their need for houses amounts to 150,000. In other words, 150,000 families in the London conurbation are without homes of their own.
What will happen when the building spurt that we are promised comes into effect? First, although the building industry is not geared to the maximum—it is capable of increase—it is not able to cope with a programme of stopping and starting, or moving on for two or three years with the green light showing and then being stopped dead in its tracks because of a credit squeeze. This is something that the Minister of Housing cannot cope with, but he might have a word with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is no use saying to the building industry, "Go right ahead," and then stopping it dead in its tracks. The next three years will be the vital years.
The building covered by the Bill is building in the nature of repairs, and I am worried lest we should find that 578 we have an insufficient number of builders to do the job. There is also the question of public health inspectors and town hall staffs. At the moment they are overworked. Every hon. Member who represents a London constituency is aware of this fact. All these additional burdens will be placed on their shoulders. But there is one additional burden that the Government themselves have forced upon local authorities during the past two years—the whole reorganisation of London Government. At this moment the Minister is saying, "You must not only cope with an insufficient building force; you must not only cope with an insufficient number of staff in your town halls; you must also cope with the whole problem of the reorganisation and the new administration of London".
I had not intended these criticisms to be carping. They seemed to me to be criticisms which ought to be considered in a Bill of this sort. Generally, the Bill is a good one. Generally, it tries to achieve something which our people need. But it falls down in one respect. It falls down in the last resort because it can never rid certain tenants—I have them in my constituency, and any hon. Member who represents a London constituency will have them in his—of a certain fear of what will happen to them if they complain. They are frightened of being evicted. It is no use saying that these people do not exist; they do. The advice centres of all London Members contain plenty of such people.
This problem would never have arisen if the Rent Act had not been passed in 1957. Well, the Rent Act was passed, but I make one appeal to the Minister. If he feels that he cannot justify the repeal of that Act at this moment, at least let him see what he can do about creeping decontrol, for it is there that the real root of the problem lies in London.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Forbes Hendry (Aberdeenshire, West)
The hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) will not expect me to follow his arguments on behalf of London. My part of the world is far from London. He was critical of the Bill. I think that it is a splendid Bill, in general terms, but it has one very serious defect.
579 I repeat what has been said by Scottish hon. Members opposite; it is a pity that this is a United Kingdom Bill. All my life I have been accustomed to reading Scottish Housing Acts. I have never come across a Measure which is so obscure from the point of view of Scottish administrators as is this one. It is not good enough to say that a Consolidation Bill will be introduced later on. It is essential that the Scottish aspects of the Bill should be discussed fully in Committee, and I hope that facilities for that will be given.
Generally, however, the Bill is a splendid one. It is a determined step forward by the Government in an endeavour to make sure that every person in this country, whether he lives in an old house or a new house, lives in decent modern conditions. It represents a determined step towards modernising Britain, and I welcome it on that account.
The hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) seemed to agree with me about that, but he also seemed to lay claim to a good many of its features. I do not care who invented these features. They are in the Bill and all hon. Members must extend a welcome to a great many of them.
Parts II and III of the Bill, in which I am particularly interested, are a direct result of the success which has attended the slum clearance policy of the Government. Had there not been such a success in dealing with the slums throughout the country—if not in particular towns and cities—it would not have been possible to take such steps to ensure that older houses in good condition might be saved and brought up to date.
I propose to deal entirely with Parts II and III of the Bill, about which I am best qualified to speak. I have had a great deal of experience in dealing with old property in Scotland. I have acted as a solicitor for the owners of such property. Most of these owners are in humble circumstances and a great many are owner-occupiers. We have heard a great deal about tenant property in Scotland. But a great many of the tenement properties are owner-occupied. I think that people who live in tenemented houses have been forgotten and this Bill will provide an opportunity to assist them.
580 I have had a good deal of experience as clerk to a local authority which has done a great deal of work in modernising old property and I feel that the Bill will enable something to be done in that direction. Another type of property which requires to be modernised is that owned by employers and occupied by their employees. A great many substantial houses in Soctland belong to British Railways, and this type of property was referred to by the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow). In my experience, British Railways have indicated a willingness to modernise such property with the assistance of the grants which may be made available under existing housing legislation.
One criticism which may be levelled against the Bill is that its provisions relate almost entirely to tenanted property and not sufficient thought has been given to houses which are owner-occupied and those occupied by employees, such as tied cottages. It may be argued that the Bill tends to perpetuate, or' to foster, a war between landlords, tenants and local authorities. But I do not believe that such a state of affairs exists. There has been a suggestion that most landlords are bad landlords. My experience leads me to believe that most landlords are good landlords and only too willing to take advantage of such provisions as are contained in Part II of this Bill and in existing legislation, provided that they know how to do so and facilities are made available to them.
The other criticism I make of the Bill is that too much stress is laid on the problems of urban areas and not enough consideration is given to problems of rural areas. My right hon. Friend the Minister referred in his opening speech to urban properties, and this afternoon and evening, apart from the speech of the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth, nothing has been said about rural properties. The Bill deals at considerable length with improvement areas. It may be that improvement areas will be neat, attractive administrative units in urban areas, but in scattered country areas there are many cottages and larger houses which in every other respect are good but which lack modern 581 amenities such as the Bill seeks to introduce. It is impossible in a sparsely populated county to have improvement areas concerned with isolated cottages. My right hon. Friend should look again at Clause 19.
It seems that a local authority cannot initiate action unless it has been prodded by the tenant to do so. There are many cases in which there is no tenant, where the house is owner-occupied or occupied by virtue of an employment. In that type of occupation there is great diffidence on the part of the occupier to take action to force the owner to bring the property up to date. I have had experience of this lately when railwaymen have approached me about the state of their houses and asked if I could get anything done for them. In most cases they were quite unwilling to have their names disclosed to their employers. Not until I had a general assurance, willingly given by the General Manager of British Railways, that they would not suffer damage, could action be taken to bring the houses up to date.
British Railways comprises a large institution which is prepared to give an undertaking of that sort, but many employers would look askance at the occupier of a tied house who asked a local authority to use compulsory powers to have the house brought up to date. I suggest that consideration should be given to giving powers to local authorities to initiate action with reference to country cottages, whether they are in improvement areas or not. In many cases the trouble is due to the fact that the landlord has not sufficient knowledge of the law. In those cases local authorities, without necessarily using compulsory powers, could take steps to make sure that improvements were initiated.
I do not know about England and Wales, but in Scotland every public health inspector has a complete register of all houses in his area. They are all classified as to whether they are good in every respect, unfit for human habitation, or lacking in modern amenities. In Scotland there is no reason why the inspector should not use his initiative in respect of houses of this kind in exactly the same way as he makes representation to the local authority about houses which are unfit for human habitation. He must know whether they have 582 modern amenities or not. He must know if those modern amenities can be easily provided or if it would be difficult to do so.
I had experience recently of a railway cottage occupied by a railway man who was very anxious to have modern facilities provided. The full modern facilities would have cost British Railways no less than £1,500. The Railways Board naturally decided that such an expenditure, even with the assistance of a grant, was not justifiable. It made a very modest proposal at a cost of about £150. That was not possible under the old legislation, but it would be under this Measure. The local public health inspector should be given power to initiate improvements in cases of that sort suggesting what he considers a reasonable degree of improvement for a particular house.
If these things were brought to the notice of the owner, steps could be taken without compulsion. The local authority should be given compulsory powers in cases where the landlord proves refractory and does not act reasonably. It might well be that there should be an appeal to the courts in such cases. That would be reasonable. I ask not only the Joint Under-Secretary of State but also the Minister to consider whether that could be done generally because of the difficulty which many house occupiers find in initiating such work.
I turn to the economics of the improvements. Many more cases would have been dealt with had facilities been given to the owners of houses to carry out the work. In many cases these owners are not Rachmans or rich men. Often they are old widows or bodies of trustees who have not the capital resources with which to improve their houses. I am delighted to see in the Bill provision for the local authority to advance the money necessary to landlords in that position to carry out this work. I am glad to see that the duty is laid on the local authority to do that.
There may still be difficulties where it is not economically possible for a person to borrow the money and to carry out the improvement. But in such a case the Bill provides that the landlord can require the local authority to take over the house. Will the Minister tell us now or later what compensation will be paid in 583 the event of a local authority taking over a house in that way? Trustees and widows are commonly landlords of that type of property in Scotland and to them the question of compensation might be very important, because many of these people rely on tenement and other property of that class for their livelihood. It is important to make sure that if the loan charges cannot be met, then the compensation to be paid by the local authority for an intrinsically good house will be fair and reasonable.
May I deal, in conclusion, with the conversion of tenement property? I am not quite clear about the position of Scottish tenement property, but as a result of my long experience with local authority staffs I know that the best agency for the conversion of tenement property is the local authority. I have a great deal of experience of this, and I believe that the only way to deal with old Scottish tenement property is to remove all the internal partitions and to remodel the building internally. The outside walls may be good but the internal arrangement of the house is often hopeless.
If that is to be done, it is necessary for there to be one proprietor, and it seems to me that that one proprietor must be the local authortiy. Much thought must be given to this, because many good Scottish tenements without modern conveniences have become broken up among a great number of owner-occupiers. Scottish local authorities which have done much of this work have found that this presents almost insuperable difficulties, because the owner of the major part of the tenement may be willing to reconstruct it in accordance with modern requirements but often some owner-occupier is unwilling to do it, possibly because he has not the means or because he feels that he is king in his own castle and does not want his privacy disturbed.
Thought should be given to dealing with such cases. The local authority is generally the biggest landlord in the area and is the only body in a position to provide alternative accommodation for the owner-occupiers or other occupiers of tenement houses in these circumstances. Thought should be given to granting greater powers to local authorities, if necessary to use compulsory powers to 584 make certain that these older tenements are reconstructed in a most efficient way.
I have tried to be constructive. I suggest that thought should be given to the improvement area procedure, especially as it affects rural districts. It does not seem to be necessary there. I suggest that local authorities should be entitled to initiate proceedings under Clause 19 and, as far as possible, they should not use compulsory powers as long as they can get agreement.
I am certain that this is a splendid Bill, no matter what criticisms one makes of it. I know that every member of the Standing Committee will strive to make it a better Bill. I believe that it is a determined effort to achieve the best modernisation of Britain in the best possible way—that is, in the homes of the people.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Bruce Millan (Glasgow, Craigton)
The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) spoke mainly about the improvement provisions of the Bill. I, too, shall do that. The hon. Gentleman made a very genuine point about the distinction between urban and rural areas. It seems, as he said, that the Bill will not be nearly as effective in rural areas as it might be in urban areas. In my opinion, it will not be particularly effective even in urban areas, at any rate in Scotland.
I have two preliminary points on other questions. First, this evening's debate has demonstrated the inadequacy of dealing with the Scottish position in a United Kingdom Bill. With all due respect to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland—I know that he has not been particularly well today—I do not think that we have had an adequate explanation of the Bill from the Scottish point of view. It must be as irritating to English Members as it is to Scottish Members to have these Scottish debates interposed into English debates. We shall have the same difficulty in Committee as we have had today. I do not know why the Government do not learn from past experience and avoid these things.
Secondly, a disproportionate amount of time has been spent today on housing associations. This is so particularly from the Scottish point of view. To put the matter into perspective it is necessary 585 to quote only one figure. The total number of houses built by housing associations in Scotland over the last year for which figures are available was only 26. I do not believe that the provisions in the Bill about housing associations will make any substantial contribution to the building of houses in Scotland. One welcomes houses built by housing associations as much as one welcomes houses built by any other agency, but the number involved is not important in terms of the total. This is certainly so in Scotland. From what I am told by my hon. Friends, it is the case in England also.
I welcome the strengthening of the improvement provisions. I welcome them particularly from the Scottish point of view because if the English figures are unsatisfactory—and as the Minister of Housing and Local Government said that he hoped to double them the implication is that the present rate is unsatisfactory—the Scottish figures are appalling. We have been dealing with only about 4,000 houses a year in Scotland, which does not even compare with the English figure of about 100,000. The total number of houses in Scotland which need improving is proportionately, on a population basis, very much greater than that for England and Wales. One would therefore unreservedly welcome the Bill if one felt that there would be a substantial increase in the number of houses being renovated. I do not believe that this will happen.
We should be clear that, despite what the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West said about rural areas— I agree with him there—the main problem in Scotland is a problem of the tenements.
The provisions dealing with houses other than tenements in Scotland are not as important as those dealing with tenements. I raised this matter with the Minister when he opened the debate and later with the Under-Secretary and T got rather contradictory answers from them. Their replies indicated that there will not be the same rights given to tenants of tenement properties as to tenants of other properties. The Minister said that this would be dealt with by administrative action, but I see nothing to that effect in the Bill and I would like the right hon. Gentleman to clarify the matter.
586 This is an extremely important subject because improvements to tenement buildings in Scotland often mean, as the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West indicated, complete internal reconstruction involving the loss of a number of dwellings. If one reduces the number of dwellings in a tenement building the rights of the tenants, from the point of view of alternative accommodation and so on, must be affected. It is not clear in the Bill that they will have any rights at all. In fact, the tenants in properties other than tenements appear to be given almost extravagant rights, such as holding up certain reconstructions for up to 10 years.
It must be remembered, when considering that a reduction in the total number of dwellings in a tenement may occur, that this could act as a considerable disincentive to local authorities in Scotland to improve tenement properties. I would go so far as to suggest that this is the biggest disincentive created by the Bill. Any reconstruction of a tenement to make it meet all the standard amenities laid down in the Bill and in past legislation will almost inevitably involve a reduction in the number of dwellings. I stress this because anyone familiar with Scottish tenements knows that it is physically impossible to include bathrooms and inside lavatories and at the same time retain the same number of dwellings.
It may be argued that under Clause 29 there exist reduced standards of improvement which could be applied in substitution for the full standards. As a general principle I welcome this; but consider the effect it may have in practice. The reduced standards are now so low that the kind of tenement properties in Scotland which need renovating and which have a sufficiently long life to warrant the work may be properties which will meet the requirements of the reduced standards of improvement.
It is ironical and paradoxical to think that the reduced standards of improvement, instead of increasing the number of improved dwellings available, may have the opposite effect of reducing the small number that are at present being improved. Many houses which Scottish local authorities will want to improve may, it might be argued, come up to the 587 reduced standards of improvement. For instance, good tenement properties already have a hot water supply to sinks because that can be installed by a simple gas or electric heater. They may have a water closet reasonably accessible to the dwelling and some kind of facilities for storing food. In other words, there will be a largo number of tenements which will not fall within the improvement provisions of the Bill.
This also applies to Clause 23, which gives the local authority the right to acquire tenement properties where the provisions about improvement have not been met and, to use the word in the Bill, are "unlikely" to be met. The same serious fault lies in this Clause. Local authorities will not be able to act, because the reduced standard of facilities will already exist in the buildings. The local authority will have no power at all.
There are thousands of buildings in Scotland where it might be unreasonable to go to the full standard improvement involved in the installation of bathrooms and the rest—where there are already the reduced standard amenities—but which still need a considerable amount of internal and external renovation. It is also true that most of them will not be renovated or get the face-lift they require to the external appearance. The physical surroundings which so often need improvement will not be dealt with by private landlords, nor will the provisions of the Bill allow local authorities to deal with these properties.
The only way to deal with this problem is so to extend the provisions of Clause 23 as to give local authorities the power to acquire tenement properties that are falling into a state of disrepair and where it is unlikely that the private landlord, or the mixture of private landlords and owner-occupiers, will be able to provide the necessary renovations. I very much hope that in Committee we shall be able to table an Amendment to provide for this sort of situation. This is a kind of municipalisation, but it does not really stretch the principle in Clause 23 to breaking point.
If the Government accept the principle in the Clause that in certain conditions these tenement properties can be acquired—if there is not to be provision of standard amenities by the landlord—it 588 seems to me that there is an equal, or even a better, argument in favour of allowing local authorities to acquire properties that are just in a general state of disrepair, or where there is a tendency for the properties to be deterioriating.
Many of these are fine properties. They are structurally sound, and the internal walls are in quite good condition. Frankly, some are uneconomical from the landlord's point of view—we may as well face: that—and in many cases the landlord has not the money to renovate them as they should be renovated. Again, following up the point made by the hon. Member foe Aberdeen, West, it seems to me that the only way of getting these properties renovated is to give the local authorities the power to do the work.
I have not quite gone beyond the time allocated to me, but I see that I am getting dangerously near to it. From the Scottish point of view, the provisions about tenements are the most important provisions in the Bill, but at the present time they are thoroughly inadequate. I hope that the Government will keep an open mind on the matter, and will be willing to accept at least some of the improvements I have suggested to the provisions.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)
I imagine that most hon. Members will agree with the hon. Member for Aberdeen, West (Mr. Hendry) and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) that it is extraordinary that we should be considering this highly technical and complicated Bill in two different languages at the same time. I am almost tempted to think that the Government do not really want to get the Bill through at all; that this is some kind of complicated political tactic—to present a Bill with a flourish of trumpets and then do everything possible to ensure that it gets held up in Committee.
Everyone who listened to my hon. Friend's analysis must realise that this Measure raises all kinds of complexities and details that are different in the two countries and must be looked at carefully. If we do rot look at them carefully, we shall get into the same mess as we did with the 1961 Act. We shall find it a failure, and have to ask for further 589 powers. It seems incredible that no one has troubled to explain why we should be endangering the smooth passage of the Bill through Committee.
The Bill is a rather pitiful confession of failure by the Government. In the first place it is a confession of the failure and breakdown of the Government's chosen instrument for the provision of rented property. The Government quite determinedly cut down as steadily as they could the supply of local authority houses in the hope that the slack would be taken up by private enterprise building. As the last White Paper showed, this failed. The people on whom the Government based their hopes and confidence have let them down, and now the Government have to introduce the housing society as an alternative to local authority building for rent.
Last night I found myself chasing in the same pack as the hon. Baronet the Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Eirington). We were harrying the Home Secretary. I thought at the time that he was a rather strange bedfellow. I am not certain at the moment whether I am still in bed with the hon. Baronet. He made perhaps the most effective criticism of the Government, as far as Part I of the Bill is concerned, that has been made in this debate. He was implying that these housing societies are merely a frill, a fad, that the people for whom they were to build houses were not the type of people for whom the housing was most needed, and that the houses would not be provided in those parts of the country where they were most needed.
I do not go the whole way with the hon. Baronet. I welcome the housing societies and I hope that they will play an important part, but I do not understand what that part is to be. In particular, I should like to have another look at the geographical point raised by the hon. Baronet. We had particulars in the middle of summer about the housing societies at that time. I ventured to do an analysis of them by standard regions and I found that of the 23 societies then existing seven were in the London region, six in the southeastern region, and four in the eastern region. In other words, in these three regions, or in the southern part of the country, 17 out of the 23 societies were to be found.
590 This is what one would expect. In the areas where the problem is comparatively easy, where there are people with the capital and the time, where it is easiest to do this work, the societies are doing the job such as it is. They are not making any impact on the rest of the country. I should like to know what reason there is for believing that the Housing Corporation will be able to spread the societies more evenly over the country.
It is a little absurd that if a person is in this class of people who are able to pay over £4 a week rent, which is the class alluded to in the White Paper, and that person wants a house to rent—and private property owners like the hon. Baronet have made the case for the need for property to rent as well as for home ownership in a most devastating way—the only place where that person can secure such a house is in an area where fortuitously housing societies have arisen because of peculiar circumstances.
The Minister said that these societies were not in competition with the local authorities. I found that difficult to follow. What do the societies have that the local authorities do not possess? The main need for housing is land. How will they get land which is not available to the local authorities? Again, as the hon. Member for Aldershot said, if they are getting land which would have been available to the local authorities, or, as he would prefer, to private landlords, they presumably will not add to the housing. They are only exploiting land which otherwise would be used by some other instrument. There is the question of labour, of the technical skill, of the building workers and the designers and architects. Are the housing societies to be more successful than the local authorities or the builders for horns ownership in getting the professional and technical people they have so far failed to get?
Then there is the question of finance, of capital. We know that a certain amount of this capital will come from the building societies, but the building societies, when prodded to lower their rates of interest, and prodded to do more, say, "We cannot, because we are limited by the amount we are lent: we cannot lend out more money than we get." Does that mean that the restricted 591 resources of the building societies, which are already over-demanded, are now to be taken from home ownership in order to subsidise the Housing Corporation? The right hon. Gentleman really cannot just toss a statement to us that they are not in competition without giving more particulars of why it is they are not in competition.
Now we come to the second part of the Bill which deals with improvements. The right hon. Gentleman took us again into the bewildering targetology by which I am absolutely bemused whenever I listen to him. We know that every time a public opinion poll shows that the Government's position has worsened by 5 per cent. 50,000 is added on to the housing target. It does not build any more houses, but it merely inspires people to feel that there is something doing. We have been told that we are going to have a tremendous campaign for improvements. We had a moving picture from the right hon. Gentleman—as it were, of the last plumber staggering along with the last water closet, shoving it into place, urged on by the right hon. Gentleman, for the sake of his country and for improving property.
But what in fact has been happening? Since the 1961 Act came into force what has been happening with improvement grants is, that there were less grants in 1962 than there were in 1961. There has not been this great drive forward towards the new pinnacle of achievement which the right hon. Gentleman painted for us. What has been happening is that it has been going slowly down, and all that we can hope—for it is always in the future, something to hope for in the future—is that in the last quarter of this year there will be such a tremendous jump that we can see our way clearly forward. All I can say is that I wish the right hon. Gentleman well in this work of improvements, but nothing which has happened so far has led us to believe that there is any reason that he will get on with this work at anything like the speed he hopes to achieve.
That brings me to the point which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle). What happens to the houses which do not come within the improvement cam- 592 paign? A most important factor in this situation is demolitions, because that determines how many people are living in inadequate houses. I have not got time to deploy some complicated calculations I have made, but I give the broad results, and if I am wrong I hope I shall be told.
My impression, according to the Social Survey figures about the number of slums, the number of houses with a life of under five years and the number with between five and fifteen, and so on, and applying to this an extremely generous estimate of the number of demolitions; I took in fact a figure of 80,000 per year—is that for England and Wales it is something like 10,000 more than what has been achieved so far for the whole country. Therefore, I assume that in England and Wales alone we are going to do 10,000 more than so far we have succeeded in doing for Great Britain. I reckon that in ten years—for the right hon. Gentleman said this was a ten-year programme—by 1973, what the Government will have done will have been to have demolished all the slums and those houses which had less than five years' life in 1960. In other words, in 1973, thirteen years later, they would just have succeeded in abolishing the last of the five-year-houses which ought to have been demolished in 1965. Therefore, we should still have left standing and occupied some 1 million houses with a life of between five and fifteen years. If that is correct—it may not be meticulously accurate—it immediately raises the point made by my hon. Friend about what is to happen to the houses which are under the fifteen years and cut out from any kind of improvement grant even on the basis of the reduced standards. Surely we ought to have something to offer the people who are in them.
Let us now look at some of the problems involved in what is perhaps the most emotionally charged part of the Bill, that which deals with what is broadly known as Rachmanism. I find it very difficult to keep my temper when I talk about Rachmanism. I have served on Paddington Borough Council for practically thirty years, and I can say that these practices have been commonly known to be going on throughout that 593 period—such things as the spiv company, the landlord who skips off to Ireland, and the unknown man who employs somebody to collect the rents and pay them to an empty room so that nobody can serve a notice on the landlord. These things have been common knowledge certainly on public health committees during my thirty years' experience. Having served for some time on the bench dealing with public health prosecutions in neighbouring boroughs, I can say that the same sort of thing has been going on there.
All through this period we have been raising the cry "Do something about it. For goodness sake, let us get something done about the problem." But virtually nothing has been done. What happens? Suddenly one landlord out of a whole host of bad landlords is injudicious in the selection of his mistress. Had he not been injudicious in the selection of his mistress none of this ballyhoo, none of the 1961 Act and none of this commotion would have happened at all. It seems tome that it is a really intolerable slight on a civilised community that that should be the position, that it is only when there is a salacious background to the whole story that anybody takes any trouble about it that the Press take an interest in it, and that the right hon. Gentleman sends for the borough councillors, carpets them and tells them what to do. The whole of this is introduced as the result of a certain small incident during the whole long history of the trouble.
§ Mr. G. Johnson Smith
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that the 1961 Act, which was designed to deal with badly managed multi-occupied property, became an Act before this House heard about Rachman and his injudicious choice of a mistress?
§ Mr. MacColl
I have no time to enter into a detailed argument with the hon. Gentleman. I will quote just one instance, the question of the mushroom company. We moved an Amendment, one of the innumerable Amendments that we moved in Committee and on Report, to tighten the law relating to mushroom companies. Nothing had been done. The Government confessed themselves defeated by the problem. The Amendment was moved because my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, 594 North (Mr. Parkin) and other hon. Members with experience in this field knew perfectly well that this was the problem that we had to tackle. It is because nobody took the trouble to do this until Rachmanism burst out that we have had all these problems arising.
I will give two examples of problems which have arisen. The first was referred to earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler). This is the very typical story of a landlord who knows that a compulsory purchase order is floating in the background and is determined to get a sale in with vacant possession before the council comes along to serve its order. So he threatens to cut off the gas, and removes the furniture and fixtures, including beds, cupboards, and cookers, and removes several window frames. One tenant with four young children has been left with a bed. Another had to go and live with her sister because of the absence of windows. One tenant had to accept responsibility for all the electricity charges for the whole house in order to get the service provided again. Also, the likelihood is that the children who will have to be taken into care will become chargeable upon the county council as the welfare authority. That is the sort of case that I have no doubt at all, when it comes to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman, will be dealt with.
The other case I want to mention is when the Paddington Borough Council, having been somewhat brusquely treated by the right hon. Gentleman—it is the first time that I have a fellow feeling for the right hon. Gentleman; I have been treating it brusquely for a very long time and it is nice to have him joining me—began to serve for the first time its management orders and overcrowding orders. Of the first batch that was served one was on a block of four houses. The landlord lived in one of those houses and there were tenants in all of them in large numbers. One family with four children received notice to quit and was told to get out. This came up in the council. There was a row about it. I wrote to the right hon. Gentleman about it. There were phone calls. The public health inspector went to see the landlord. At that stage it is generally agreed that the landlord first recognised that he did not have to throw these people out, because all he had to do was to have an overcrowding limit and not relet the place.
595 The town clerk has promised to explain to the landlord all the principles of the 1961 Act and how it works. Of course, if one creates a stink in these cases something is done about it, but we cannot govern the country and administer our housing on the principle that the thing is only going to work properly every time people make a stink about it. We have to have it working in such a way that these things will not arise. I am not saying that this unfortunate man is a Rachman. I do not think for one moment that he is. But if your kids are in the gutter, it is precious small comfort to be told that your landlord is unsophisticated. What happens is that you are the person to suffer.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will point out that if only people would complain earlier they would get more benefits from the law and from those who try, like all of us, to see that the law is enforced.
§ Mr. MacColl
The right hon. Gentleman must realise that the only way to give a tenant safety is by providing him with security of tenure, so that he can snap his fingers at the landlord.
The right hon. Gentleman is sighing deeply. It is annoying when the facts of the situation interfere with one's principles and prejudices. I admire the right hon. Gentleman for having these firm beliefs in private landlordism. He has much more firm belief in private landlordism than the hon. Member for Alder-shot, as a private landlord, has in him.
§ Mr. MacColl
If the hon. Gentleman will read his speech in HANSARD he will appreciate what he said. If that is a real assessment of love and affection and high regard for the right hon. Gentleman, I should like to be at the party meetings to hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying when he is really having a row. Inevitably, the brunt of this will fall on the people who can least afford it. That does not only apply to the complications of housing in multiple occupation, but to the improvement procedure as well. Wherever there is a chance of getting the tenant to bear the brunt, fair 596 numbers of landlords will feel that that is the course to adopt
Of course, it will be good business for them to do so. It is good business to evict a large family if otherwise one would have to put in another water closet. It may be good business to avoid having a management order served because of the difficulty of running the house, and if one can get vacant possession, as in the case quoted from Wood Green, one can sell the house at a substantial profit. All this means that the families with young children will feel the brunt unless we lake steps to slop it.
It is important that we should scrutinise the Bill very carefully to see that every possible protection is included for the tenant. My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) chipped the Government because so much of the Bill contains what we have ourselves long suggested I know that that kind of argument irritates some people who ask, "What does it matter now?" Why go on chewing this over? The main thing is what the present situation is."
But, of course, the importance of what my hon. Friend was saying lies in the fact that we have learned from bitter experience that, however hard we work on this matter in Committee, however many constructive suggestions we put forward, we shall have them turned down, just as similar suggestions were turned down by the right hon. Gentleman and the present Home Secretary when the last Measure on housing was going through Committee. And that is what is so maddening. The Bill requires very considerable attention in Committee and considerable concessions from the Government.
It also requires something else—careful attention by the local authorities who will have to work the Bill. I do not understand why it is that never until after the Third Reading of a Measure do they come along with all sorts of difficulties; entailed in it after we have been sweating away month after month in Committee trying to get it into shape. It is only then that they come along with wonderful thoughts. I hope that this time the local authorities will get out of bed earlier and bring forward their proposals at a reasonably early stage.
597 I come back to the point with which I started. I do not believe this will work unless more is done about security of tenure, to give adequate protection from the use of this machinery for getting rid of the tenant.
I remember—if my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham will forgive me—hearing in earlier days of Fulham Council being very keen about getting the public health byelaws invoked. A landlord would respond by putting a bucket of whitewash in the front room, leaving it there for three weeks and saying that the borough council had told him to do it. That is the sort of operation which must be avoided if we are to get really improved housing conditions. But, in order to achieve that, we must know what the Government's intentions are about security of tenure.
I ask the Parliamentary Secretary what my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham asked and what I asked earlier in an intervention—are we or are we not to have any further extension of decontrol? I was asked what our views were and I say quite clearly that a Labour Government would increase security of tenure. Is the hon. Gentleman, or his right hon. Friend, prepared to say that he would increase security of tenure; or would he leave it as it is; or are the Government going further towards decontrol? This is the question to which people want the answer; this is the question to which the tenants want an answer; and this is the question to which the hon. Member for Aldershot and the landlords want to know the answer. If everybody wants to know the answer, why cannot we have it?
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. F. V. Corfield)
We have had quite a long debate in the sense that many questions have been posed, and perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I tried to go through the questions more or less in the order in which they were asked.
The hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) naturally—and we do not blame him for this—made great play with the fact that some of the provisions in the Bill, in so far as they altered the 1961 legislation, follow lines somewhat similar to the Amendments moved by 598 the Opposition in Committee at that time. However, I have checked what he said and he is not quite accurate about his own contribution in 1961 What he moved on 13th June, that year, the date he mentioned, was an Amendment designed to bring multi-occupied property within the compulsory order procedure of the 1957 housing legislation. So far as I can make out, he withdrew that Amendment on the assurance, very properly given, that local authorities had power to acquire that type of property compulsorily. I do not want to be labour the point. We do not grudge the hon. Member his pleasure.
Nor would I grudge the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) any credit which his hon. Friend likes to give him about the alteration in the grants for baths, but as a matter of strict accuracy I find that this was first argued out in the course of the Bill concerned in correspondence with the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield).
The hon. Member for Fulham suggested that in the Housing Corporation financial support there might be room for abuse. This is clearly a possibility. Perhaps I can help the House by saying that in my Department we look at these proposals very closely at every stage. We have a check from the district valuer as to the value of the land; our quantity surveyors look at the bills of quantity, our architects look through the drawings very carefully, and so on.
This is something we expect the Corporation to do. Indeed, we regard this as very largely its function. I do not think that I am giving away any important secrets by disclosing that where we have a housing society which clearly contains members who are likely to be doing work for that society for a fee or profit, we look at it with extra care. That is the right thing to do.
However, there are broadly two different types of interest which might arise with members of a housing society. For instance, if a housing society contained one or more young architects willing to give their services free in the hope that the result would be a good advertisement for them, this is something which should be encouraged. Surely we want to give architects a chance to come in with new ideas and 599 new designs. This is not a subject about which as a nation we can afford to be smug and I do not think that anybody would think that that was a type of interest which we need necessarily exclude or regard with suspicion.
Several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl), question the geographical distribution of some of the pilot schemes under the £25 million scheme of the 1961 legislation. I do not want to be pernickety with the hon. Member about his geography, but Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester and Salford are probably north of the Trent. We also have one which was not mentioned in Nottingham, which is on the Trent.
One of the main purposes of setting up this Corporation is to endeavour as far as possible to obtain a distribution of housing societies over the whole country. Despite the criticisms of the hon. Member for Widnes, I do not think that the spread that has been given under the £25 million scheme is at all unsatisfactory, bearing in mind that this has been a pilot scheme. I think the fact that it has got off so well should give us confidence that the more elaborate structure now being set up will do so also.
Several hon. Members raised the question whether we were going to have enough public health inspectors—I am afraid that I am dropping on to Part II—to do the job under the improvement scheme, and indeed under Part IV. I assure the House that my right hon. Friends the Minister of Housing and the Minister of Health are in very close touch with the public health inspectors education board with regard to recruitment, and I have no doubt that the suggestion that perhaps some of the work may be at any rate supervised by people who are not fully qualified will be considered. I am sure that hon. Members would not wish us to commit ourselves on that without consultation with the public health inspectors.
The hon. Gentleman asked how much of the £16 million committed was actually spent. It is actually very much smaller, about £1½ million, but I am sure he will appreciate that this is an inevitable part of any operation of this sort. If one is going to approve these 600 schemes with any care, one approves them in advance of the expenditure being made. We naturally do not part with any money until the building starts, and so on, and until the money has actually been expended or is needed.
That sum represents quite a number of developments actually on the ground. Although they are small in number, I think that they give concrete proof of something that is happening, and I am sure that there are many people living in them who are grateful for the initiative of the people who formed the society and for the Government backing they received. The position is that 12 two-bedroomed flats were opened in Birmingham last July; 10 houses were completed on the outskirts of Leicester, with more being built; 33 flats for retired people are to be opened in Bickley next Monday; and 12 flats have been built in Wickford in Essex, with six more people moving in the day after tomorrow.
The range of rents quoted in today's debate has been rather wider than appears to be the case. Of the schemes under construction and actually opened, the particular ones range from £3 at one end of the scale to £4 10s., with an extra 10s. for garage.
§ Mr. Corfield
The figure of £4 10s. was for a two-bedroomed flat.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the 10-year period both in regard to the biting of the improvement area provisions in the event of there being no change of occupation in the meanwhile or the tenant not having changed his mind to consent, and the 15-year period with regard to the fitness of the house. I do not think that there is anything sacred about the 10-year period. We merely felt that it was right, having decided on the general principle that the tenant should not be forced into something he could not afford, and to give him a reasonable run. As I said I do not think that there is anything sacred about ten years as opposed to 7 years or 8 years, or 11 or 12years, and I am sure that this is something we can argue in Committee.
601 I am afraid that I was not present when the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) suggested that where a house could be satisfactorily improved only to the reduced standard and, at the same time, had a life of less than fifteen years, it would be right to reduce the fifteen-year period The real difficulty here is that a house of that type is, almost by definition, fairly high on the list for the next phase of slum clearance. Whether it is worth the expenditure is very doubtful. Where a local authority is making fairly rapid progress with its slum clearance it will, no doubt, consider buying this type of property fairly well ahead of requirements for demolition, and then the patching grants may apply. But where there is a bigger gap, such as in the twilight areas, we must look at demolition as the ultimate result, and reasonably quickly if we can, in certain areas. There are difficulties in the North.
§ Mrs. Castle
I am grateful to the hon. Member for referring to this matter, but it is simply a question whether we can expect a family, perhaps with young children, to live for ten years in a house which has no bathroom and only an outdoor lavatory. I want the full standard and not the reduced standard, because the reduced standard excludes a bathroom. Would it not be possible to give a reduced grant where there is a reduced life, even with a full standard? Will the Minister consider this question sympathetically in Committee?
§ Mr. Corfield
I would not throw it out at once, but the hon. Member was talking of something which, by definition, is a different type of building altogether. We will not shut our minds to the point, and we can consider it in Committee, but there are difficulties.
Then there is the general problem, arising in Part IV of any form of order, whether under the Public Health Act, this Bill or the 1961 Act, which requires a landlord to reduce the number of people in his house. I cannot see that we can begin to justify these powers unless we are prepared to see some people being thrown out. Under the Bill, and under the 1961 Act, there is no requirement to do more than undertake not to fill vacancies, as the hon. Member for Widnes explained.
602 The real problem, which occurs in many fields outside housing, but especially in the social field, is that with the spate of legislation and its present complexity the old adage that ignorance of the law is no excuse has a hollow ring to the sort of people of whom we are talking. This is a problem to which we might give a lot of thought, but in the meantime all that we can do is to encourage Citizens Advice Bureaux to make their services better known and to help in this way. Throughout the debate there has been an expression of opinion that we must do more for the person who does not know his rights. There are rights of appeal to the courts, and in the great majority of cases people cannot be evicted without an order of a court, but I cannot see that any amount of extra legislation will help, unless we can bring it to their attention and show them how to go about obtaining their rights.
My hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, South (Mr. R. Allan) raised the general question—which is more of a planning matter—of the densities to be observed in rehousing these people. I can only tell him that the general problem of densities in Paddington is under discussion with the London County Council at the moment. I am sure that he will realise that it is not just a question of having X number of people to the acre. Whether the population is mobile or static we have to provide for schools and other services, all of which require land and which reduce the net density of people per acre.
The other thing which one must bear in mind, although it is only remotely-connected with the Bill, is that these areas, particularly in London, change their character relatively quickly. It may well be that in five years' time Paddington will have a more static population and we must be careful not to plan for all time for a particular pattern of population.
I come now to the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow), who raised an interesting and not a very easy matter relating to railway cottages. It is perfectly straightforward so long as there is a straightforward tenancy, because in that case the provisions of Part II of the Bill apply. The fact that the 603 landlord is the Railways Board or the Coal Board, or any other nationalised industry, does not make any difference. We had that type of body particularly in mind in providing for local authorities to accept undertakings. Very often it would be to the advantage of big owners of that kind to say that it would be wholly uneconomic for them to interfere with the running of the organisation because of improvement in an area and ask that an undertaking be accepted that they would do what was necessary within a certain time, but without being tied to a particular date that might fit in with a properly planned programme. I said this was not an easy matter because a difficulty arises when cottages whether agricultural or owned by the Railways Board or the Coal Board are actually tied cottages, in the sense that they represent part of the remuneration of an employee rather than a tenancy which is independent of the money paid to the employee for doing his job.
These we have deliberately left out, because in the ordinary sense of the word there is no tenant. We feel that it is wrong to place an obligation to spend money upon a landlord, who can get no rent in return. There is obviously a much greater inhibition on the part of the man who may have not only his house but his job at risk—so to speak—to go to the local authority and say, "Please take action against my landlord". That is the present situation.
Regarding agricultural tenancies—and here perhaps I may speak from my own knowledge—I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the provisions of the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1948, are such that a landlord could not get rid of a tenant farmer because the farmer decided to repair his cottages, or even if the farmer was the occupant and applied to his landlord to do so. There are provisions by which it is possible to get rid of an agricultural tenant, but it is difficult to do that even for amalgamation. In any case, it would mean going to the Agricultural Lands Tribunal. Generally speaking, it is purely for redevelopment. But if the hon. Gentleman has a case in mind, I should be interested and surprised to hear about it.
§ Mr. Corfield
I do not think so. The difficulty here—without knowing the details, but the hon. Gentleman did indicate from the letter which he quoted—is that the railways have said that with their essential personnel they are going to do the job.
§ Mr. Corfield
Yes, at some time. But I take that to indicate—though I should want to make inquiries—that with the balance of their property they would probably create ordinary tenancies, in which case the provisions in the Bill would apply.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) raised a similar question, and also the question of compensation if property is acquired in respect of a purchase notice by the local authority instead of the landlord carrying out the repairs. The basis of compensation would be market value, and the fact that a house lacked these amenities would be reflected in the market value. I hope that that answers the point raised by the hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin). I do not think that there is great difficulty in that respect.
There is, however, difficulty regarding the matter raised by the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn on extending the 1955–1965 bracket for owner occupiers. This is a very difficult matter, as I am sure the hon. Lady appreciates. The theory of that bracket was that anybody buying before 1955 would have got ten years' use, which would be a fair return on the type of property with which we are dealing. Admittedly it was somewhat ad hoc, but it would become even more ad hoc if we altered any understanding by which people would know the position, or would have been advised of it by solicitors.
My hon. Friend the Member for Alder-shot (Sir E. Errington) was not very welcoming to the Bill, but I am afraid that we have to face the fact if we are to test the market for rented property we must realise that private enterprise is not testing that market. Whether it is because private enterprise fears the success of 605 hon. Members opposite at the next election, I would doubt, but the fact is that private enterprise is not doing it. We must continue to reinforce success rather than failure—as Field Service Regulation No. 1 says, and this is a very good adage. We have had with this pilot scheme certainly enough success to justify reinforcing it.
In regard to such associations as are involved in the purchase of Dolphin Square, I have made some rather rapid inquiries. I understand that there is no sign of any real obstacle to negotiations reaching a satisfactory conclusion, but it is a much more difficult operation than the sort of operation we have in mind under the Bill. Under the Bill we shall normally start with people who have come together and reached an agreement and want to work together. In the other case there is a vast collection of people, many of whom do not know each other, who are suddenly deciding to try to reach agreement for a particular operation. That is bound to be more difficult. We have in mind that the great bulk of housing societies will be able to build new houses rather than the provision of money to take over existing blocks of flats or whatever it may be.
I hope I heard my hon. Friend aright. I think he said that the Corporation would vary the rents for different parts of the country, but there is no question of the Corporation fixing rents. The Corporation will look at a scheme to satisfy Itself that the costs are so much and that therefore a cost rent is likely to be within a certain bracket. It will then find from the district valuer whether there is a market in that area for flats or houses in that rent bracket.
§ Sir E. Errington
My hon. Friend will realise the immense differences between London and the provinces in regard to the rents, I hope.
§ Mr. Corfield
Yes, but district valuers are resident in those parts of the country. I am sure that any man stationed in Liverpool will not advise us about London rents. That is the crux of the matter. I do not believe it is a difficult problem, or one likely to lead to much difficulty.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade), who courteously informed me that he was unable to stay until the end of the debate, raised the 606 matter of the powers in Parts II and III being purely discretionary on the part of local authorities. That is only partly true. A duty is imposed on them by the first Clause under Part III to look for improvement areas and tenement blocks which could be improved and to decide if they should be improved. Having imposed that duty, it is not a practical proposition to say that a local authority will do so-and-so. There must be a matter of judgment as to the worth of a house and what makes a decent improvement area and that sort of thing. We could not put in a mandatory power at the second stage unless we were prepared to go into very complicated and probably fruitless efforts of definition.
The hon. Member asked me to state the difference between a housing society and a housing association. It is rather fine, but the old words "housing association" appear in the Housing Act and refer largely to and certainly include mainly charitable organisations such as the Guinness Trust and the Peabody Trust and those organisations concerned with producing either rent-free accommodation or very much below cost rent accommodation. We have chosen the name "housing society" to distinguish these societies; they are concerned with producing cost-rent accommodation.
The hon. Member asked whether we visualised that the housing societies, whether co-ownership or otherwise, would provide accommodation suitable for the elderly. I very much hope that they will. Certainly under the co-ownership scheme the great advantage will be that there will be no risk of the "community" dying. A collection of co-owners can borrow on a long term irrespective of the age of the members, and as there is a close connection in some respects with owner-occupation they will be able to take out the money which they put in. In other words, if they want to move after four or five years, or if one of them dies, not only the original deposit but probably some share of any increase in value can be recovered. This, therefore, produces a degree of mobility without there being any concern about the individual's age.
I hope that many of these societies will grow up for the old. whether co-ownership or otherwise. I have recently 607 opened in various parts of the country a number of very inspiring schemes of local authorities, but very little is being done for the next income group up, and we all grow old, whatever our income. I hope that this sort of thing will be done. A few of these schemes are being undertaken under the £25 million scheme by such organisations as Rotary and the Round Table.
My hon. Friend the Member for Holbom and St. Pancras, South (Mr. G. Johnson Smith) asked about the valuation of the property. I hope that he will be satisfied with what I have said—that a close examination of the cost will be made at each stage. He asked how the members of the Corporation will be selected and whom they will represent. There is no intention that it should be a representative body. The intention is that they should be selected for their managerial ability in this field. The same hope is expressed that members of the societies will come forward as people with experience of managing or of designing and so on, and will bring into this scheme a new class of management.
The clock marches on, and although I have not answered all hon. Members who have spoken, I hope that I have answered most of them.
§ Mr. Corfield
I will come to decontrol. Hon. Members opposite are quite convinced that all this depends on decontrol.
§ Mr. Corfield
The hon. Member for Widnes tells us that he has known about all this happening for 30 years, and it is a good deal less than 30 years since the Rent Act was introduced.
§ 9.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilkins
In the two minutes which remain, may I express my great surprise that not one word has come to us from the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary on one of the principal considerations involved in the operation of the Bill when it becomes an Act. No mention has been made of land. Clause 4 provides for compulsory purchase by the Corporation. Why cannot we hear something about that?
§ Mr. Michael Hughes-Young rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put accordingly and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).