HC Deb 09 April 1964 vol 692 cc1299-302
Mrs. Butler

I beg to move, in page 7, line 20, after "may", to insert: after consultation with the local authorities in whose area the land is situated". There was some discussion in Committee on the Bill on the point which is covered by the Amendment, and on 16th January my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) moved an Amendment, somewhat on these lines, designed to ensure that if there was surplus land which had been acquired by the Housing Corporation, in whatever way, it should be offered to the local authority before it was disposed of in any way. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary intervened in that discussion to say that he hoped to shorten it by pointing out that there was substance in what my hon. Friend was moving and that We accept that where there is a surplus of land there is a case for some form of consultation with or offer to the local authority…on the undertaking that we will seek to meet the spirit of what the hon. Member for Fulham has in mind, but without committing ourselves to any particular wording or any particular stage. I would ask him to withdraw the Amendment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. Standing Committee E, 16th January, 1964; c. 291.] The Amendment was so withdrawn by my hon. Friend.

There does not appear to be anything on the Order Paper at this stage to cover this point, and this is the purpose of the Amendment which I have now moved. I do not know what the Minister had in mind or whether he had found it difficult to find the right form of words and was proposing to bring it in at a later stage, but it is important that where land has been acquired by the Corporation for housing of a public nature—and these housing associations have the support of public money—for people with limited incomes it should not be disposed of before, at any rate, the local authority has been consulted.

The Amendment does not include any offer to the local authority, but since the local authorities are the main bodies providing public housing for people of limited incomes, then clearly where the land is to be disposed of consultation should take place.

I appreciate that it is difficult to ensure that consultation is adequate, but at any rate some wording should be put into the Bill to cover the point. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will accept the Amendment or, if he does not, will tell us what he proposes to do to cover the point.

7.45 p.m.

Sir K. Joseph

I do not disagree with anything the hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) has said, but something else happened in that discussion which she has not mentioned. My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary also undertook to my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) that, in disposing of any surplus land, the Housing Corporation or a housing society would have an obligation to the original owner, just as a local authority has when it has compulsorily purchased land. The difficulty is to put into statutory form a duty upon the Housing Corporation which will take account of all the possible range of cases. What, therefore, we have in mind is that we shall by direction to the Housing Corporation impose upon it an obligation, but leave to its discretion as a responsible body the exact exercise of judgment in each case in considering offering the land to the original owners, if the original owners would be entitled under present convention to be offered the land back by a public authority and, subject to that, to consult with the local authority before disposing of any surplus land.

I hope that I have explained why we have not put down a detailed Amendment. There certainly will be direction to the Housing Corporation and, except in cases where the public authority is obliged to offer land back to the original owner, it will be required to consult with the local authority. To that extent I can give an undertaking which I hope will satisfy the hon. Lady.

Mr. Cole

The Amendment is quite innocuous. It says nothing more than the Housing Corporation can already do without instruction. It can already consult anybody it likes. This is its function as a public body, but I am concerned with what the Amendment might mean under the surface. We are all concerned about land being, as it were, shuffled between two public authorities, one the local authority and the other the Housing Corporation. We hear echoes of the past when this happened with disastrous results to public confidence. We do not want it to happen again. If the hon. Lady wishes nothing more than that this body should consult, then the Amendment is innocuous and unnecessary because, as I have said, it can already do that.

"local authority" means the council of a county borough, London borough or county district or the Common Council of the City of London, and in relation to Scotland means a local authority for the purposes of he Act of 1950.
(2) In the case of land which is situated partly in the area of one local authority and partly in the area of another, references in this Part of this Act to the local authority in whose area the land is situated shall be construed as references to each of those local authorities.

This Amendment has already been explained.

Mr. MacColl

This is perhaps an appropriate moment—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)

I think that it would be convenient at this point to discuss the Amendment to the proposed Amendment, in line 1, after "means", insert "the Greater London Council", and also Amendment 78, the Amendment to the Government Amendment No. 183, and also Amendment 184.

Question proposed, That those words be there inserted in the Bill.

Mr. MacColl

I have not explored quite to the depths that you have suggested, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. It seems reasonable that we should discuss Amendment No. 78 because it clarifies the position.

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, in line 1, after "means", to insert "the Greater London Council".

This is perhaps an appropriate day, when the Greater London Council is dramatically coming into existence, that we should ask why it is excluded from these functions. This definition Clause deals with the whole of this Part of the Bill. It is not attached only to one Clause

I am much more interested in my right hon. Friend's statement that, as local authorities are required, so the Corporation will be required, where the convention runs, to offer the land to the man from whom it was bought. I am perfectly happy about consultation. I do not mind who is consulted, but I do not like the suggestion that the innocuous word "consult" means to consult with a view to an offer and that the public or the original owner will not get a look in.

Amendment negatived.