HC Deb 30 June 1969 vol 786 cc162-6
Mr. W. H. K. Baker (Banff)

I beg to move Amendment No. 10, in page 7, line 2, at end insert: (4) Where a local authority exercise their power under subsection (1) of this section they shall make a return of houses so occupied to the Secretary of State at such time and in such form as he may prescribe. The Amendment seeks to do two things. First, it seeks to keep the Secretary of State informed of local conditions. Obviously, any Government, when drawing up their housing policy, must be influenced by the conditions as they are, possibly even in remote areas—certainly in all areas over which they have jurisdiction. Such local conditions as are prescribed in the Amendment come within this scope.

Secondly, there is a danger that local authorities will keep patched houses in occupation almost in perpetuity for temporary rehousing in housing clearance areas. This state of affairs would apply to only a minority of authorities, but the retention in occupation of such houses should be subject to the over-riding decision of the Secretary of State.

Paragraph 208 of the Cullingworth Report advocates the patching of unfit houses for a limited period so that they may be used for temporary accommodation for families awaiting rehousing. In Committee, the Minister of State said: I agree that it is very important that the authorities should not have these houses in occupation for very long—".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, First Scottish Standing Committee, 10th June, 1969; c. 135.] That is part of the purpose of the Amendment. Later the hon. Gentleman posed a rhetorical question to which neither he nor other hon. Members could give an answer—"How temporary is temporary?". That is a difficulty which we appreciate. The Amendment would give over-riding powers to the Secretary of State under other legislation to keep his eye on the trouble and so be able to bring pressure on authorities to end the usage where he considered that desirable.

Obviously, nobody wishes to perpetuate the use of so-called patched houses, but the financial help available to authorities under Section 17 of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1950, makes provision for such activities. The Cullingworth Report said that few authorities had availed themselves of this provision. Paragraph 216 of the Report says: We therefore recommend that the financial provisions for patching should be reviewed as a matter of urgency and that local authorities with a clearance problem which cannot be met within five years should be required to use their powers for the acquisition and patching of property which falls below the Tolerable Standard". We are not asking that a house should be brought to the tolerable standards defined in the Bill, but the Amendment would assist the Secretary of State in approving grants under the 1950 Act if they came within his jurisdiction.

I regret that I do not have a personal first-hand knowledge of the problem as it affects Glasgow, but, evidently, it is there that much of the problem exists. The Amendment would help there as it would help elsewhere.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

I support the Amendment. I did not have the pleasure of serving on the Committee; I was serving on the Committee dealing with the Iron and Steel Bill.

The Minister will be aware of the situation in Glasgow where some houses have been taken over as substandard, maintained by the local authority and occupied for a long time. It would be useful if a return of such houses were made to ensure that they did not remain occupied for too long. An advantage of such a register would be that it would give some indication of the time when a house had been used and occupied in such circumstances.

If this Amendment is accepted, does it refer to tenanted houses taken over for demolition and does the same person stay on? My hon. Friend has detailed knowledge of this. In such circumstances, in an area scheduled for demolition and determined under this Amendment, what is the position of two tenants on either side of a stair, one with a controlled rent, the other with a fair rent?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The real question must be addressed to the return that is being asked for.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

I accept that there is no connection, and perhaps I can reply to that at some other time.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

The Minister does not know.

Dr. Mabon

That is not the case. The hon. Gentleman must contain himself. The Amendment is unnecessary. The Bill already provides for it, and for that matter the 1966 Act, which he ought to know, provides at present that under Sections 20 or 40, as repeated in Clause 8 of the Bill, we may allow claims for grant in respect of expense incurred under section 19 of the 1968 Act.

The point which the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker) was raising—namely, his desire that there should be a record—is a legitimate one, which we try to secure. There are two elements in the grant payment. One runs for a fixed period of 15 years, and the other runs for the number of years for which the house is kept in use. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) is right; we are concerned that houses which are taken over for patching are not kept in use for too long.

Glasgow is perhaps the critical example, and the present position there is that patched houses are kept in use for about five years. In my opinion, that is rather a long time, but I recognise the difficulties in Glasgow. The point is that if we had an annual return such as the hon. Gentleman is suggesting, we should have all the information about this. There are these two elements in the grant payment. When the authorities make their claims they indicate separately houses which have been acquired for patching during the year and houses which have previously been patched and taken out of use. That gives us a running account not only of the new entrants to the scheme but of those for which we are still making annual payments in this category. There is no need to make further statutory provision. If we had a gap, I agree that we should have such a return.

We are often criticised for having too many returns, but this is essential, not only for the supervision which has been suggested but because of the need for financial supervision. I thought that that was the burden of the hon. Gentleman's argument. Housing legislation is complex, and one cannot always recall exactly what is going on. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the chance to explain the provisions as they have applied and will apply when we pass this Bill. I am sure that, with that assurance, he will not want to press his Amendment, which would only duplicate the present statutory provision, which I agree is essential.

Mr. W. H. K. Baker

I thank the Minister of State for that reply, and, since the provisions of the Amendment are adequately covered in previous legislation, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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