HC Deb 26 June 1969 vol 785 cc1779-95

6.45 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page

I beg to move Amendment No. 52, in page 20, line 27, at end insert: 'acquire the freehold estate in the whole or a substantial part of the general improvement area, by agreement or, with the authority of the Minister, compulsorily, and let the area on a long lease at a low rent to a housing society, a housing association or other competent organisation upon conditions as to development, improvement and maintenance of the area as shall be satisfactory to the local authority, including such provisions as may be desirable for the subletting of any land or buildings in the area to the local authority for public purposes; and pending the letting of the area on long lease as aforesaid, the local authority may, in respect of land within the general improvement area—'. This Amendment deals with the powers of the local authority when it has declared a general improvement area. The Amendment would require the local authority to consider the acquisition of property within the general improvement area and then let it, perhaps on long lease, to other agencies, such as a housing association or other competent organisation, to develop.

We on this side have given our blessing to the principle of general improvement areas and believe that it is a system which can be made to work, but I fear that some local authorities may, by the use of the procedures of the declaration of a general improvement area, build something of an empire because it will be comparitively easy to use this form of procedure where previously they have used others, such as that of a clearance area and the compulsory purchase orders and so on which follow that.

I do not wish to see the general improvement area procedure create more and more development corporations within local authorities—that is to say, to turn local authorities more and more into development corporations. This new procedure of a general improvement area is a chance to hive off that type of work of the local authority to other agencies, in partnership, perhaps, with the local authority or under conditions imposed by it.

If a general improvement area were to be merely a tidying up, with the installation of a few pleasant amenities in the area, I would not be so worried. There would be no need for an Amendment like this. But Clause 36 gives local authorities a very much greater power than that—to carry out substantial development. If that is to be done, they should be obliged to consider whether it is wise for local authorities themselves to carry out such development or whether it would not be better for other agencies to do it under conditions imposed by the local authorities so as to bring about a policy which the local authorities require.

If there were a provision in the Bill such as we have in the Amendment, it would make a local authority think twice about declaring an area to be a general improvement area and we should not have the result of wide areas being blanketed by a declaration that they should be contained in a general improvement area.

I hope that in exercising this procedure local authorities will look very carefully at the areas which are to be so declared and will bring into the procedure only specific areas of decaying property. If they were small residential areas, they would obviously be appropriate for development, say, by a housing society, supported by finance from the Housing Corporation and from building societies, or by a housing association supported by finance from the local authority, itself supported partially by grants from the Exchequer in this respect.

If the area were more comprehensive than a small residential area, one might consider a development corporation for the purpose, perhaps a partnership between a local authority and a developer. There might be development on those lines, perhaps as substantial as a new town development within the old town.

The purpose of the Amendment is to oblige the local authority to consider the advisability of carrying out the development in a general improvement area by agencies other than the local authority itself. This general improvement area procedure is a chance to open up a new field of development altogether, with perhaps new principles and new policies, using other agencies and not merely building up a large empire for each local authority.

Mr. Murton

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) on this Amendment. As he said, it gives a remarkable opportunity for development to take place in this type of area by housing associations or similar bodies.

My experience is that when housing associations are given an opportunity to develop on behalf of their members, they are normally granted virgin land upon which to do it. When an area is to be cleared, particularly in an industrial part of the country, there could be a far-reaching and imaginative experiment if the land within the clearance areas were redeveloped in this way, under the aegis, perhaps, of a long lease granted by a local authority. In that way private enterprise in some form or another would be allowed to take part in replacing a derelict area. It would be much better for such housing to be done by a housing association, catering, let us say, for industrial workers who desired housing situated within those areas rather than on the outskirts of a conurbation.

Mr. MacColl

In so far as the Amendment extends the powers of the local authority, it is not necessary. The powers under Clause 36 are wide enough for the authority to do almost everything which the Amendment proposes.

What I find rather difficult to understand is the point of difference between myself and the hon. Members for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) and Poole (Mr. Murton) about what we are trying to do. The difference appears to be more fundamental than I had thought. They appear to be thinking of a general improvement area as an area in which there would be a large demolition of property. They have concentrated on clearance powers. The hon. Member for Crosby spoke of the local authority wishing to turn the development into a development corporation and the hon. Member for Poole spoke of a wide area having to be cleared.

That is not at all what my right hon. Friend intends. His idea is that a general improvement area is mainly an area in which we are not displacing people and not demolishing property; we are improving existing property. As an ancillary to that we must have powers to demolish because it may be necessary to open up the area in order, as it were, to ventilate it. There must, therefore, be some demolition. Nor is it mainly a question of acquiring whole areas compulsorily. As the wording makes clear, the immediate power is to do these things voluntarily, although there is a proviso in line 34 whereby they may be authorised by the Minister to acquire any land compulsorily". The main purpose would not involve great displacement or the widespread acquisition of property, but where that was necessary, there are plenty of powers in Clause 36 to do it. In addition, Clause 40(1) makes important changes in the relationship with housing associations. It enables local authorities to make contributions to other people—and these will include housing associations. Subsection (7) recognises housing association expenditure as expenditure for purposes of grant incurred by the local authority. Hon. Members opposite may rest assured that the powers exist, although the need to use them may be more controversial. I do not think that it calls for an Amendment.

Mr. R. W. Brown (Shoreditch and Finsbury)

Is there power for the Minister to assess whether these housing associations are bona fide associations? My hon. Friend has received complaints from me about the mushrooming of so-called housing associations which Conservative councillors are deliberately setting up in an attempt to step up rents.

Mr. MacColl

That goes a little beyond the immediate Amendment. We have to be careful about housing associations and to make certain that they are good and reputable. That is one of the points at which the Central Housing Advisory Committee, under Sir Karl Cohen, is looking to make certain that we are handling our housing associations with the greatest effectiveness.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Peter Walker

I am surprised that the Government do not accept the Amendment. The Parliamentary Secretary's argument was that there are powers in the Bill to enable local authorities to do what is expressed in the Amendment. But the importance of the Amendment is the emphasis it gives on local authorities handing over this work to housing associations and housing societies.

I very much regret the intervention of the hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. R. W. Brown). If carried further, it would give the impression that housing associations were organisations designed to put up rents. Those of us who have had much to do with

the housing association movement know of its already tremendous achievement in the very type of areas with which Clause 36 deals.

I was particularly anxious that the Amendment should be made, because we wanted local authorities when deciding to use their general powers to see the emphasis which the Clause would have put on the possibility of handing over the work to housing societies and housing associations. Those of us who have witnessed the work of these associations in areas such a Notting Hill and Liverpool know that these associations take with them a voluntary spirit and help to tackle many of the social problems connected with these areas.

The Minister obviously agrees, as does anyone connected with housing, that social problems in areas like these are often as bad as the housing, and the associations, even more than the most diligent local authorities, can introduce an atmosphere conducive to tackling the social as well as the housing problems. As housing often deteriorates as a result of social problems, this is an important spirit to capture for these areas.

The Amendment in no way contradicts the powers already provided in the Bill, but it would allow the housing association movement and organisations such as Shelter and voluntary housing societies to tell local authorities that they want to take on this task and that in Clause 36 Parliament had said that that was which it wanted to happen. I much regret that the Government have decided not to include the Amendment because there is no necessity for it. It would have done the Bill no harm, but it would have introduced a completely different atmosphere and been widely welcomed by the housing voluntary movements.

I hope that my hon. Friends will press the Amendment and I regret that the Government are opposed to it.

Question put, That the Amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 107, Noes 148.

Division No. 296.] AYES [7.3 p.m.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony Black, Sir Cyril
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Batsford, Brian Body, Richard
Astor, John Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward
Awdry, Daniel Bell, Ronald Brinton, Sir Tatton
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Bullus, Sir Eric Holland, Philip Ridsdale, Julian
Burden, F. A. Hunt, John Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.) Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Royle, Anthony
Chataway, Christopher Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Russell, Sir Ronald
Clark, Henry Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) St. John-Stevas, Norman
Clegg, Walter Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Scott, Nicholas
Cooke, Robert Jopling, Michael Sharples, Richard
Cooper-Key, Sir Neill Kaberry, Sir Donald Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Crouch, David Kimball, Marcus Silvester, Frederick
Crowder, F. P. King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Sinclair, Sir George
Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.) Kitson, Timothy Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) Knight, Mrs. Jill Smith, John (London & W'minster)
Doughty, Charles Lane, David Speed, Keith
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Stainton, Keith
Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.) Lubbock, Eric Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Eyre, Reginald Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Fortescue, Tim McNair-Wilson, Michael Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Foster, Sir John McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest) van Straubenzee, W. R.
Gibson-Watt, David Monro, Hector Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) Montgomery, Fergus Waddington, David
Goodhart, Philip Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Walker, Peter (Worcester)
Goodhew, Victor Murton, Oscar Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Grant, Anthony Nabarro, Sir Gerald Walters, Dennis
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Page, Graham (Crosby) Weatherill, Bernard
Gurden, Harold Page, John (Harrow, W.) Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Percival, Ian Wiggin, A. W.
Harris, Reader (Heston) Pike, Miss Mervyn Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Pounder, Rafton Worsley, Marcus
Heseltine, Michael Prior, J. M. L.
Higgins, Terence L. Pym, Francis TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hill, J. E. B. Quennell, Miss J. M. Mr. Jasper More and
Hirst, Geoffrey Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David Mr. Humphrey Atkins.
Anderson, Donald Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Moonman, Eric
Archer, Peter Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Harper, Joseph Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Beaney, Alan Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Bidwell, Sydney Hattersley, Roy Morris, John (Aberavon)
Bishop, E. S. Hazell, Bert Moyle, Roland
Blenkinsop, Arthur Hilton, W. S. Murray, Albert
Booth, Albert Hooley, Frank Newens, Stan
Brooks, Edwin Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Hunter, Adam Ogden, Eric
Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper) Hynd, John Oram, Albert E.
Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury) Irvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Orbach, Maurice
Buchan, Norman Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak) Orme, Stanley
Carmichael, Neil Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Oswald, Thomas
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Chapman, Donald Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Paget, R. T.
Coleman, Donald Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Palmer, Arthur
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Judd, Frank Parker, John (Dagenham)
Dalyell, Tam Kelley, Richard Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington) Kenyon, Clifford Pavitt, Laurence
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham) Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Pentland, Norman
Davies, Rt. Hn. Harold (Leek) Lawson, George Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Lee, John (Reading) Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Dobson, Ray Lestor, Miss Joan Price, William (Rugby)
Dunn, James A. Luard, Evan Rees, Merlyn
Dunnett, Jack Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Richard, Ivor
Edelman, Maurice McBride, Neil Rodgers, William (Stockton)
Edwards, William (Merioneth) McCann, John Roebuck, Roy
Ellis, John MacColl, James Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
English, Michael MacDermot, Niall Rowlands, E.
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Macdonald, A. H. Ryan, John
Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley) McGuire, Michael Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)
Faulds, Andrew McKay, Mrs. Margaret Sheldon, Robert
Fernyhough, E. Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen) Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Mackintosh, John P. Skeffington, Arthur
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Maclennan, Robert Slater, Joseph
Foley, Maurice McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Small, William
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) McNamara, J. Kevin Snow, Julian
Forrester, John MacPherson, Malcolm Symonds, J. B.
Fraser, John (Norwood) Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Tinn, James
Gardner, Tony Mahon, Simon (Bootle) Urwin, T. W.
Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Gregory, Arnold Marks, Kenneth Wallace, George
Grey, Charles (Durham) Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Weitzman, David
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test) Wellbeloved, James
Wells, William (Walsall, N.) Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Whitlock, William Williams, Clifford (Abertillery) Mr. Alan Fitch and
Wilkins, W. A. Williams, W. T. (Warrington) Mr. Ernest Armstrong.
Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Mr. Rossi

I beg to move Amendment No. 53, in page 20, line 40, leave out from beginning to 'to' in line 41 and insert: '(3) It shall be the duty of a local authority'

Mr. Speaker

I have suggested that we take, at the same time, Amendment No. 54, in page 20, line 42, at end insert: 'within a general improvement area as a result of the carrying out of the purpose aforesaid'.

Mr. Rossi

Clause 36(3) puts a duty on local authorities to rehouse persons who may be displaced from residential accommodation as a result of the acquisition of their property by local authorities when those persons are unable to find alternative accommodation of their own. The object of the Amendment is to widen that obligation on local authorities so that they must rehouse not only where they acquire land, but where they have declared a general improvement area.

I should be the last person to try to throw an unreasonable burden on local authorities, particularly those which have a difficult situation, as will most of those affected by the Bill. But the obligation laid upon them under the Bill is not a general obligation to rehouse simply because a general improvement area has been declared. We want the obligation extended so that the local authority must rehouse people not only where it acquires land, but where it does anything at all in connection with its powers under a general improvement area declaration.

Mr. R. W. Brown

I oppose the Amendment because it is impractical. Over the past year, almost a break-down in housing has developed in my constituency. It is a very distressing situation. To ask a local authority to be responsible under a directive of this kind to house any persons whom the owners of property may declare as needing to be rehoused so that works may be done, would put an extreme burden on the local authority. They could not do it in my area, and I am sure that it would be an impossibility generally. My local authority cannot house people in urgent need now; it could not even house someone from its own property, things are in such a disgraceful state.

There is also the problem of how one would stop people moving into an area likely to be declared a general improvement area and then, within two or three months, having to be rehoused by the local authority, thus jumping the queue over people who have been waiting for a long time.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's purpose in putting the Amendment down, but I regard it as quite impractical.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. MacColl

The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) said that he would be the last person to put an intolerable burden on the local authorities, and then proceeded to do it. This would be a great burden. I wonder whether the local authority associations, which are always scolding my right hon. Friend for putting burdens on them, would welcome a mandatory direction of this kind.

The Clause as it stands represents what has been past practice, particularly under the planning Acts. It is important, where compulsory acquisition takes place, that the local authority should not be indifferent to what happens to the people displaced. But, as I said on the previous Amendment, demolition will not be a major part of general improvement works. There can be some displacement, I agree, as a result of control on the number of people in an area, conversions, and so on, but the main responsibility will not be to rehouse people. People will stay where they are.

Before making a general improvement area declaration, a responsible local authority would always ask itself, "Is this something which can be tackled? Shall we be able to find somewhere for the people affected by it?". It would be irresponsible if it did not do that. Quite often, I am sure, it would be encouraged to use the procedure which is available of saying that it would help in certain cases and would rehouse certain people.

The local authority has power to do that, but the argument here is not about powers. As on the previous Amendment, it is about directing a local authority to do it. As my hon. Friend the Member far Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. R. W. Brown) said, we ought not to put upon local authorities such a burdensome direction. It is something which one would expect sensible and responsible public bodies to do.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Murton

I beg to move Amendment No. 55, in page 21, line 4, at beginning insert: A local authority may, in a general improvement area, carry out repairs and replacements on land owned by them and assist (whether by grants or loans or otherwise) in the carrying out of repairs and replacements on land not owned by them, notwithstanding that such repairs and replacements are neither incidental to some improvement nor needed for the purpose of making the other improvement fully effective: Provided nevertheless that.

Mr. Speaker

It has been suggested to me that we should take, at the same time, the Government Amendment No. 56, in page 21, line 8, leave out from 'Act' to end of line 9.

Mr. Murton

The object of our Amendment is to enable a local authority to give some encouragement to owners and tenants in a general improvement area even though it might mean the giving of loans or grants or assistance in some other way in respect of land which the authority does not own.

I remind the House that, under Clause 39, it is not incumbent upon a local authority to pay a standard grant in a general improvement area. The Amendment would be an encouragement to those who lived in a general improvement area and who would like to carry out works which would help to improve the general atmosphere in the area, but for which at present no legislative provisions is made.

There is a possibility that a local authority, on land not belonging to it, might make a loan for the erection of a curtain or screen wall to form a close, the clearance of a small area of derelict land where there are the remnants of a building which will not be replaced, the removal of rubble, turfing and planting, the cobbling of a piece of land in a close belonging to an individual which would improve the general amenity, or the erection of boarding or fencing.

It is obvious from photographs of pilot schemes that not only houses for which grants are given, but fringe areas within the general improvement area are affected, where tenants or owners might be persuaded to help to improve the general atmosphere by themselves doing work. It would be a good thing if local authorities were empowered, under certain circumstances and within certain limits, to give grants or loans, or in some other way to assist those undertaking this laudable enterprise.

Mr. Ifor Davies

I am obliged to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the House, for permitting Amendment No. 56 to be taken with Amendment No. 55. The blow of my resisting Amendment No. 55 will be softened, since Amendment No. 56 will meet many points on which the hon. Gentleman has expressed anxiety.

Amendment No. 55 would enable the local authority in a general improvement area to carry out repairs and replacements on land which it owns and also to assist in such other works on other people's land subject to the limitations provided in the Clause.

The power to improve a dwelling or the amenities of the area—for example, external painting or the repair of flank walls—is already within the general powers exercised by the local authority in a general improvement area provided in subsection (1) of the Clause. A local authority should not use the powers under Clause 36 to duplicate the powers of the provisions in Part I to do any improvement work or to make a grant towards the cost of any improvement work for which the standard or special grant could be paid under Part I.

My right hon. Friend appreciates that a grant under this Clause as it is drafted, would also be prohibited where assistance is specifically ruled out for the purposes of Part I. This is considered to be too restrictive, and that brings me to Amendment No. 56. It is recognised that one of the powers given to local authorities by Clause 36(1) for the improvement of a general improvement area is the power to … assist (whether by grants or loans or otherwise) in the carrying out of any works on land not owned by them". It is right, therefore, that a local authority should not use its powers under Clause 36 to duplicate the provisions of Part I; that is, to make a grant towards the cost of any improvement work for which improvement, standard or special grant could be paid under Part I. It is now thought that it is unduly restrictive to go further and prohibit also the payment of grants under Clause 36 simply because assistance is specifically ruled out for the purposes of Part I.

One valuable way of improving the environment may be to give the exterior of a house a face-lift, perhaps by repairing a flank wall, and this is the kind of work which in individual cases could easily be caught by one or other of the restrictions referred to by the hon. Gentleman. The proposed deletion of the final words of subsection (5) will enable a local authority to help in these circumstances if they wish to do so in the interests of area improvement. Amendment No. 56, therefore, goes a long way towards meeting the objects of Amendment No. 55.

Mr. Peter Walker

I am most grateful to the Minister. He has expressed the spirit of the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend, and I hope that my hon. Friend will consider withdrawing his Amendment.

Mr. Murton

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 56, in page 21, line 8, leave out from 'Act' to end of line 9.—[Mr. Ifor Davies.]

Mr. Rossi

I beg to move Amendment No. 57, in page 21, line 9, at end insert:— (6) Section 56(2) to (4) of this Act shall apply to a dwelling within a general improvement area with the modification that the qualifying conditions shall include the condition that the dwelling is of the standard reasonably required by the local authority in respect of dwellings in that general improvement area.

Mr. Speaker

With this Amendment it will be convenient to take Amendment No. 58, in page 22, line 37, leave out from first 'it' to end of line 38 and insert: 'if, when the works specified in the application have been carried out, although the dwelling will comply with the requirements of section 9(1) of this Act, the dwelling will not be of the standard reasonably required by the local authority in respect of dwellings in that general improvement area'.

Mr. Rossi

Amendment No. 57 seeks to import into Clause 36 the provisions contained in Clause 56(2) to (4) inclusive. Clause 56 provides for the circumstances in which rents of statutory tenancies can be increased, and enables a landlord, where he wishes to increase rents but cannot do so because the property is below a certain standard, to ask the county court for leave to carry out works to the property, even though the tenant in occupation has refused to give permission for that work to be carried out. Clause 56(2) to (4) states the circumstances in which application can be made to the county court and the conditions subject to which the application must be made. That is concerned purely with where a landlord wishes to increase the rent.

The Amendment seeks to carry that right to go to the county court to compel works to be done where the landlord is concerned more to bring his house up to the standards of a general improvement area. Clause 36 deals with the standards of property, and the way in which they have to be brought up to certain criteria required by the local authority. Where the landlord is desirous of bringing his property up to those standards, we feel that he should be given the same rights to go to the court and ask for leave to do certain works, even if the tenant does not wish him to do so, where his desire is to improve his property. We think that it is right and logical that that provision should be made.

Amendment No. 58 concerns Clause 39, which provides that a local authority cannot be compelled to give a standard grant for properties in a general improvement area. The Amendment seeks to cut down the protection given by the Clause to the local authority by saying that it will not be able to refuse a standard grant if the result of that standard grant is to bring the property up to the required general standard of houses in the general improvement area. In other words, the standard grant can only be refused where, even with that money being spent on it, the house will still not come up to acceptable conditions as laid down by the general improvement declaration of the local authority.

I hope that both Amendments will find favour with the Government.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. MacColl

Amendment No. 57 is directed to a situation where a tenant is not prepared to give his consent to improvements being made. In the desire to get better quality improvements, I do not think that it would be very helpful. It would mean that a landlord would have to go to court for authority to carry out further works in addition to the standards accepted as reasonable. In other words, not only would the landlord be putting in standard amenities. He would also want to carry out extensive improvements in the face of the tenant's opposition, even though that lower standard was adequate. This is not a prudent use of compulsion. Any desire to improve standards should be left as a matter for negotiation between the landlord and his tenant, and so try to get a better standard if both want it.

I could not advise the House to accept the second Amendment, either. It would be unrealistic to refuse to accept the situation where both might agree to bring a sound house up to minimum standards. If one can get agreement to that extent, I would think it unwise to add any extra compulsion.

Mr. Graham Page

That is a disappointing reply to an attempt to be constructive.

I deal with Amendment No. 58 first. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) said, the words in Amendment No. 58 are an addition to Clause 39. We on this side are not happy about the removal of the compulsion on local authorities to make standard grants in general improvement areas. In Committee, we understood that the basic reason for this was that, outside general improvement areas, a local authority is compelled to give a standard grant in the case of a house which will be fit for habitation when the improvement has been made, but that, in the case of general improvement areas, the local authority will want to bring up the houses to a higher standard than just making them fit for habitation and will seek to set a standard for a general improvement area.

If that is the reason for Clause 39, we have tried to spell that out in the Amendment and say that the local authority shall still be required compulsorily to make standard grants unless, when the grant has been made and the work has been carried out, the house will be below the standard which the local authority has set for that general improvement area.

Mr. R. W. Brown

I am a little worried about the standard. If the hon. Gentleman takes the standard of the G.L.C.'s property in my constituency, it is to have a bath in the kitchen which is covered over when it is not in use. Does the hon. Gentleman consider that that should attract a grant?

Mr. Page

We are embarking on a new procedure altogether when we talk about the general improvement area procedure. The principle which may have been adopted up to the present in accepting that a house will be fit for habitation after the improvements have been carried out may be below the standard applied in general improvement areas in the future.

The principle behind both Amendments is that there will be a standard of repair to which a local authority will strive in a general improvement area. If the owner is prepared, when installing the standard amenities, to bring the house up to the standard set by the local authority, there should be compulsion in the grant being made.

As for Amendment No. 57, if there is to be no compulsion about standard grants, an owner is put in a difficult position. He may want to co-operate with the local authority in bringing up the standard of properties in the general improvement area. He may say to the local authority that he wants to do all that he can to bring his properties up to this state and ask if the authority will give a standard grant. The local authority may say that under Clause 39 it is not obliged to and that it has not made up its mind, whereupon the owner may carry out the improvements himself. He may then be faced with a difficult tenant.

If he were getting the improvements in the normal way, Clause 56 would operate and he would have a right to get facilities from the tenant to carry out the necessary work. But he will have no rights if he is merely trying to bring his property up to the standard which the local authority will require in the general improvement area. Where he is trying to bring his property up to standard in a general improvement area, we have tried to give him the same rights as he might have outside that area when he is getting a standard grant or an improvement grant.

Amendment negatived.

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