HC Deb 13 April 1964 vol 693 cc163-75
Mr. Millan

>: I beg to move Amendment No. 176, in page 99, line 32, to leave out subsection (1).

This Clause deals with the compulsory purchase of land by the Scottish Special Housing Association. This matter was raised in Committee by two of my hon. Friends who, I regret, are not in their places at the moment. I hope that they will soon take their seats and contribute to the debate.

One is in some doubt why this power should be given to the Scottish Special Housing Association at all. By subsection (1), the Association will have powers for the compulsory purchase of land where the local authority is unwilling to acquire land for S.S.H.A. purposes. It was very difficult for some of us in Committee to understand why this power should be required. If I remember correctly, we were told that there might be circumstances in which the S.S.H.A. would wish to acquire land in which the local authority would have no interest at all. But the S.S.H.A. builds houses on behalf of the local authority. The houses are allocated by the local authority from the local authority's housing list, and the fact that the houses are built by the Association is of certain financial benefit to the local authority.

One therefore finds it very difficult to believe that there will be circumstances in which the local authority will not be interested in the purchase of land and the building of houses by the S.S.H.A., yet the Government seem to envisage circumstances in which, despite this very close interest, one might almost call it a vested interest, of the local authority in the purchase of the land, the local authority is unwilling to acquire it and for that reason the S.S.H.A. is given compulsory powers of acquisition.

Some of us feel that if there is a dispute between the Association and the local authority over a particular piece of land, there must be a very special reason for that dispute; and that, in particular, there must be a very special reason why the local authority is not willing to acquire land for the purposes of the S.S.H.A. We cannot see that in such circumstances it would be just all right to give the S.S.H.A. the power to acquire land on its own behalf. The Association is very willing to serve local authorities, and one ventures no criticism of it when one says that in such circumstances the rights, feelings and views of the local authority should have priority.

I am, and always have been, a staunch supporter of the S.S.H.A., and would like to see its activities extended, but I cannot believe that in a dispute between it and the local authority about the acquisition of any land it can be right to do other than let the view of the local authority prevail. In those circumstances, I find it very difficult to see why we need this subsection, and I hope that, at the very least, the Under-Secretary will be able to clarify the issues.

Mr. G. Campbell

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) knows that I share his high opinion of the Scottish Special Housing Association. Other Scottish hon. Members opposite know that, as I know that they, too, have a high opinion of the work done by the Association.

The object of the Amendment appears to be to remove from the Bill the proposed power of the S.S.H.A. to acquire land for its normal house-building functions under previous Acts. I apprehend that there is a fear that there would be a conflict of interests between the S.S.H.A. and the local authorities; that, indeed, the Association would take land that a local authority required for its own house-building programme. I can assure hon. Members that there is no intention whatever that the S.S.H.A. should be able to over-ride a local authority or acquire land which the local authority itself genuinely required. Indeed, the Government Amendments Nos. 177 and 179 have been put down to ensure that the Association will always consult the local authority before resorting to compulsory purchase; and to give to the local authority the same rights to voice its objection and require the holding of a public inquiry as any person who has a direct interest in the land in question. In the proceed- ings on such a compulsory purchase order the Secretary of State, of course, would take fully into account the views of the local authorities.

10.15 p.m.

The power is not being introduced to provide for a possible conflict of interest between the local authority and the Association. Its purpose is simply to relieve local authorities of a burden. It is true, as the hon. Member indicated, that houses built by the Association under Section 23(1, a) of the 1957 Act are to assist the local authority's own housing programme where the authority's own resources are inadequate. But the Association also builds for several other purposes. Under Section 23(1, b) of the 1957 Act it builds for overspill, and under subsection (1, c), which is being introduced under this Bill, the Association is to be empowered to build for incoming industrial workers. Under Section 18(1, b) of the 1962 Act it is empowered to provide housing accommodation for letting at economic rents or for joint ownership on a non-profit-making basis.

Those are examples of the Association's functions, which we visualise as increasing in future, where the local authority would be less interested in the Association's building than in the building which the Association has carried out in the past on behalf of local authorities. The houses are not being provided for people already living in the local authority's area and to that extent the local authority has much less direct interest in the housing provision than in the days when the Association built solely to assist the local authority itself. It is also the intention that the Association should do a large majority of this building in growth areas in Scotland and less building in direct support of and on behalf of local authorities. This building should not lead to a conflict of interest with the local authorities. It will be supplementary and complementary to what they are doing.

We visualise therefore this power of compulsory purchase for the Association, in addition to the compulsory purchase which is also proposed in the Clause for the Association when it is working on behalf of the Housing Corporation. We consider that this will be helpful in Scotland and that the Association will be able to relieve local authorities of some of their work when these cases arise. They may not be frequent, but there may be occasions when the local authority does not want to go to the trouble and bother of carrying out compulsory purchase itself, because it is not itself interested and concerned in what is happening. If there should be a conflict I give an assurance that with the two Government Amendments the local authority will have every chance to express its view and to make clear that there is a conflict.

Mr. Willis

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should take the view that in its housing activities under section 23 (1) of the 1957 Act the Scottish Special Housing Association would be undertaking house building in which the local authority, as he puts it, would not be interested.

Mr. G. Campbell

I was pointing out that these were purposes in which the local authority might not be interested. There may be cases where they are, but one cannot guarantee that in all these cases the local authority will be directly interested or concerned.

Mr. Willis

The hon. Gentleman did not say that at the end of his speech. However, I shall not quibble over words. The implication that the local authority would not be interested is not sound. I do not think many local authorities would be disinterested in the activities of the Scottish Special Housing Association, for several reasons; first, because there are a number of local authorities in whose areas there is a very acute land shortage. This is the position in Edinburgh and in other local authority areas. A second reason is that the building of Scottish Special Housing Association houses in an area alongside municipal housing programmes creates a number of rather difficult problems in connection with rents and so on, and anyone who is familiar with local government knows the type of difficulties that this creates. Members of Parliament have in the past had to receive deputations arising precisely out of these difficulties.

Therefore, it seems that the local authorities will be interested in these activities even though they are not part of the general local authority housing programme but are designed for incoming miners, for industrial needs or municipal purposes.

It is true to say that local authorities are very much concerned with these activities purely from the housing point of view. They are also concerned with them from the point of view of the use of land available within a local authority area. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of this difficult problem that has arisen in a number of local authority areas. The hon. Gentleman said that a later Amendment safeguards the position because after "satisfied" in line 2 on page 100 it is proposed to insert: after consultation with the authority. It would be out of order to discuss this at present because I understand it is not being taken with the Amendment that we are now discussing, but perhaps I might say in passing that those words do not mean very much.

In this subsection the Association has to satisfy itself that the authority is unwilling to acquire the land. I should have thought it was impossible for the Association to satisfy itself that the local authority is unwilling to acquire the land without some form of consultation. It is bound to consult the local authority. It will never know that the local authority does not want to purchase the land unless it does consult. In fact, its first job will be to approach the local authority and to say, "We are anxious to acquire this land. Will you take the necessary steps to acquire it and then either sell it or lease it to us?". This is the ordinary procedure that would take place, and that in itself is surely consultation. Discussions would take place between the officials of the Association and the officials of the local authority. Therefore, I do not think that what the hon. Gentleman calls Amendments which will safeguard the position will alter this subsection very much. This subsection gives another authority power to come into the local authority area and acquire land.

My hon. Friends and I have a very great regard for the Scottish Special Housing Association as most people in Scotland have. It has done a wonderful job in Scotland. Without it we would not have been able to overcome the problems with which we have been faced. The Association has worked efficiently and competently. It is not that we are opposed to the Association, but we feel that within a local authority area bodies acquiring land for housing, such as the Scottish Special Housing Association, should do it through the local authority. The local authority ought not to have its powers nibbled into by this or any other body.

If we believe in local government—and we all pay lip-service to it—if we believe that it should be strengthened and developed, the way to do that is not by dividing its powers or giving the powers that it at present possesses to somebody else. The local authorities know the need within their areas. They are more familiar with the problems affecting the use of land within their areas, and it is important to know exactly what it is intended to do with a piece of land within a local government area. We feel that this is the right body to do it, not the Scottish Special Housing Association.

There is another point which, though, perhaps, not quite so important, is relevant here. The local authority is a democratic body responsible to the electors for what takes place. The Scottish Special Housing Association is not a democratic body in the same sense; its responsibility is expressed through the Secretary of State for Scotland. Therefore, the influence of the local people is exerted more directly through the local authority than through the S.S.H.A. For all these reasons, we feel that it ought to be left to the local authority.

The Under-Secretary of State has not given specific examples of difficulties which have arisen in this connection. I know of none. I know of a good many schemes which have been carried out by local authorities in Edinburgh, in Midlothian, part of which I have the honour to represent, and elsewhere, but I have never heard of difficulties arising over this question. When has it become difficult for the Scottish Special Housing Association to persuade a local authority that it requires land and is unable to get it?

I was going to ask whether the local authorities had expressed a view about this. The hon. Gentleman will say that they have never been consulted but nobody has protested, which is rather different, of course. The local authorities have never been asked for their views about it. Quite a lot of them, perhaps, have not read this particular Clause or, if they have, they may not have thought it worth while saying anything about it. Feeling may not be very great. I do not know.

In order to make his case, the hon. Gentleman ought to have said that the practice which has prevailed for a very long time does not work, that difficulties have arisen, that the Scottish Special Housing Association has had a problem and it is now felt necessary to do something to help it. In face of the lack of any evidence to this effect, it is very difficult for us to accept what the Government propose.

Mr. Manuel

Scottish Members who served on the Committee have all the time tried to do what they could to enhance the reputation and powers of the local authorities. We deplore any attempt to take power from them. I was surprised to hear the Under-Secretary of State say that circumstances could arise in which houses could be built by the Scottish Special Housing Association in which the local authority itself could have little or no interest. How could this be so? Any development within the area of a local authority is bound to be the concern of the local authority.

There are repercussions from the development of a housing scheme by the S.S.H.A. or any other association and, inevitably, there must be close and harmonious working between the association and the local authority. The Scottish Special Housing Association is not in the same relationship with the area as the local authority is. After the houses are built, the local authority has to make arrangements for cleansing and all the other services to suit the particular scheme. In the preparatory work, the site preparation, connection with the main sewers, and so on, the local authority must inevitably be consulted. Above all, there will be an added rate-bearing asset to the local authority through Scottish Special Housing Association houses being built. In every case, the local authorities have worked in harmony with the Association.

10.30 p.m.

I cannot understand why, in subsection (1) of Clause 95, we envisage a situation in which the Scottish Special Housing Association, of its own volition, would need to take power compulsorily to acquire land within the area of a local authority because of a dispute with that authority. Subsection (1) refers to the Association being satisfied that the authority are unwilling to acquire the land for that purpose or that the footing on which they are willing to do so involves the sale or leasing of the land to the Association". If the Under-Secretary of State has proof of this situation arising, he must give the names of the local authorities and the areas wherein it has happened. I cannot see it arising. It would be bad practice to write into the Bill that an outside body could come into a local authority's area and have compulsory powers to acquire land to build houses.

The situation is governed by other circumstances. Planning powers for an area will have been exercised by the major authority, if a county council or a large burgh, in its own right. In the case of a small burgh, the county council exercises that right on behalf of the burgh. The permitted planning is already laid down for the area, comprising, say, areas for housing development, local authority development, private housing development and factory and industrial development.

If the Scottish Special Housing Association wants to build houses in the area zoned for industry and not in the area allotted to housing, does the Under-Secretary envisage that the planning authority's decision will be overturned? He must recognise that the Bill will permit something which, possibly, is quite wrong. The planning authority's recommendations for the planning of an area will have been endorsed by the Secretary of State. Certainly, there should be the greatest consultation with the local authority which has either accepted the plan for the area or has made the plan before it is overturned.

There is mother aspect concerning the need for the provision which is contained in subsection (1) of Clause 95. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) spoke of land shortage. Possibly the Government envisage a situation where the local authority in its planning has laid out a certain area for housing development, and they envisage the local authority saying to the S.S.H.A., "This is the only acreage we have for housing development and we need this because of the comprehensive development which we have agreed upon. We need it in order to rehouse our own people who are either living in unfit houses or in grossly overcrowded conditions, or in sublet houses. "The Under-Secretary is possibly envisaging a situation where the Housing Corporation devolves its powers and responsibilities, as it can do under this Bill, to the S.S.H.A. and the Association wants to set up a housing society to build houses in the area. It can only do it for two purposes: either to get a combination of people within a society, who will build houses to sell—the houses will ultimately become the property of the people moving into them; or, alternatively, for the S.S.H.A., under the aegis of the Corporation, to build houses to let at an economic rent, a rent of between £5 and £8 a week, I work it out to be.

If the local authority is convinced that the majority of its people are low-wage earners who could not pay any such rent, or pay the weekly sums to buy off the houses over 20 or 25 years, whatever the period may be, and it needs this land to rehouse its own people by building the houses itself, getting subsidy help or rate help, to provide houses for the lower income groups, does the Under-Secretary think it would not be wrong if, over the head of the local authority, against its considered views, compulsory acquisition should be allowed, because the local authority is unwilling to acquire the land itself for the S.S.H.A.? I think it would be deplorable. Much as I admire the work which has been done in nearly every local authority area by the S.S.H.A., I think it would be quite deplorable to allow a situation to exist in which what I have instanced could happen if this unlimited power is given to the S.S.H.A. in the area of any local authority.

I hope, therefore, that the Under-Secretary will have second thoughts about this matter and will really study it with a view to avoiding the friction would could arise between these two bodies because of this subsection.

Mr. G. Campbell

The Amendment seeks to remove subsection (1) from the Clause, but not to remove subsection (2) under which the S.S.H.A. would retain the power of compulsory purchase on behalf of the Housing Corporation. I think it is the intention of hon. Gentleman opposite to remove the other power of compulsory purchase, powers for building functions, which are proposed in subsection (1). The hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) said that I envisaged some dispute, and asked for examples and cases.

I must make it clear that I do not envisage any dispute. That is the theme of what I am saying. I do not think there need be any dispute between the S.S.H.A. and a local authority. I agree with what hon. Members have said, that in a large number of the cases, normal cases, the local authority will be interested, and interested enough to carry out the compulsory purchase itself. It was only in explaining some cases which we visualise and explaining the word "unwilling" for the hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) that I went into the kind of circumstances in which we foresaw that the use of the compulsory purchase power by the S.S.H.A. itself would be helpful.

We are here talking about functions which the S.S.H.A. has only recently assumed and which it is increasingly in the future to operate. We certainly do not know of conflicts and disputes, and we sincerely hope that we shall not encounter any in the future, because we do not visualise them.

Pursuing what hon. Members have said, I can foresee situations in which under the functions which I have described the S.S.H.A. will be building houses for incoming workers or for overspill from other areas. Again, in the majority of cases the local authorities will be interested enough to carry out the compulsory purchase themselves, but in some cases they may be very busy with their own compulsory purchase and housing problems on behalf of their own residents and may not be sufficiently interested—they will, of course, be interested if people are coming to their area—in persons in these categories coming from outside to wish to carry the burden of the compulsory purchase procedure. If they are, so much to the good. Then these powers will not be needed. But if they are not, then the local authority can feel that it will not be burdened with yet more work, because the S.S.H.A. itself will be able to carry it out.

Mr. Manuel

With regard to the case which the hon. Gentleman is instancing, surely he is aware that before overspill can take place and workers come into the area, there will be consultations between the local authorities and an overspill agreement will be made between them designating the whole thing. Therefore, the difficulty which the hon. Gentleman foresees would have been overcome already.

Mr. Campbell

Not necessarily. I said that the local authority will be interested in the people coming in, but it may not wish to be involved in the business of building houses for them, which is, after all, what the S.S.H.A. is doing on its behalf, and part of that process is the purchase of land, which may need to be carried out compulsorily.

Mr. Lawson

Is it not the case that in a subsequent Amendment the hon. Gentleman gives the local authority power to object as any person may object? Does this not suggest that he is giving the S.S.H.A. power to act in ways to which the local authority may object? Is not the whole basis of his argument that the local authorities may not want to do something or that they are leaving it to the S.S.H.A.? But, on the other hand, he is giving them power to object, which may mean that they may not wish this to be done at all?

Mr. Campbell

No. I am glad to be able to make this clear to the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson), who was not a member of the Standing Committee. The object was to clarify the fact that this was the position in response to requests from hon. Members opposite. It was in response to their requests that this should be spelt out that we tabled a series of Amendments. But before the matter was raised in Committee we were perfectly clear that this was the position and that this kind of conflict need not and, in our opinion, would not arise. It was to make it absolutely clear that if such a conflict arose the local authorities would be able to object and be heard as they should be that this was written into the Bill.

The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire asked about planning. The position is that all the normal planning requirements would have to be observed in the usual way. I am glad to be able to set the hon. Member's mind at rest and to be able to confirm his view.

10.45 p.m.

The main objects of the S.S.H.A. are to relieve local authorities of the financial, administrative and technical burdens of house building and the proposed new power is to relieve them also of the burden of acquiring land where that has to be done compulsorily. I hope that hon. Members, whose views I have listened to—and I quite understand what has inspired them—will accept that this is not some sinister move to give the S.S.H.A. power which would immediately bring it into conflict with the local authorities, but simply something which, in the problem of housing in Scotland, may provide even more houses where they are needed, to assist the local authorities and to give the S.S.H.A. yet another function in which it can help not only local authorities, but the housing problem in Scotland generally.

Amendment negatived.

Amendments made: In page 100, line 2, after "satisfied", insert: after consultation with the authority".

In line 21, leave out "and".

In line 22, at end insert: and as if in Part I of Schedule 1 to that Act (procedure for authorising compulsory purchases) references to an owner of any land comprised in the compulsory purchase order included references to the local authority in whose area the land is situated".—[Mr. G. Campbell.]

Mr. G. Campbell

I beg to move Amendment No. 180, in page 100, line 33, at the end to insert: (6) 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 section to the local authority in whose area the land is situated shall be construed as references to each of those local authorities. This Amendment is similar in effect to Amendment No. 21 and is consequential upon the group which we have just passed. The group provides that the S.S.H.A. shall consult a local authority before resorting to compulsory purchase and that the local authority shall have the right to object to any compulsory proceedings initiated by the S.S.H.A. The new subsection makes it clear that where land is situated partly in the area of one local authority and partly in the area of another, both local authorities would have the right to be consulted or heard.

Amendment agreed to.