HC Deb 09 July 1971 vol 820 cc1690-745

11.15 a.m.

Mr. Freeson

I beg to move Amendment No. 5, in page 1, line 16, leave out 'If'.

The Deputy Chairman

I think that it would be convenient to discuss at the same time Amendment No. 7, in page 1, line 19, leave out from 'area' to 'this' in line 20.

Mr. Freeson

This is a simple but important point. The Bill gives the Minister a discretionary power as to whether areas classified as development or intermediate areas within the time span of the Bill should benefit from these improved grants. We do not suggest that the Bill would be deliberately prevented from applying where it was needed, but we wonder why it should be necessary, if the intention is to help, to qualify intentions over development and intermediate areas established within the two-year period.

The Bill is concerned with a very short period. I realise that a number of local authorities' areas are certain to be classified as intermediate. I do not know of any application at the moment for development reclassification, but some areas are seeking intermediate status. Edinburgh, for example, may wish to pursue its pressures to be included in the Scottish development area. If the Government were to accede to such requests, which would be considered by Departments other than the Department of the Environment, it seems illogical even to consider excluding from the benefits of the Bill other areas if they were so classified.

This is why we are seeking to establish a virtually automatic right for any area, like Edinburgh and other areas—Manchester was mentioned on Second Reading—which may seek development or intermediate status to benefit from the improved grant.

The point is particularly valid when one bears in mind those areas which have been putting forward their case to the Government. Manchester has made representations recently by way of personal deputation. I do not know whether Edinburgh has made any recent representations, but there has been some in the past. Both Manchester and Edinburgh have major problems of housing and obsolescence. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) told us on Second Reading about the detailed position in Manchester. We did not hear about Edinburgh, but those of us who are concerned about housing are aware that there are bad housing conditions and serious problems of obsolescence there.

The same will apply to other areas which may become prospective candidates as development and intermediate areas. So it seems logical to have an automatic right of benefit, should the Government, on broader grounds, consider the extention of development and intermediate status. These are the broad reasons for these two Amendments and I hope that, in the spirit of wanting to make the Bill effective, the Government will accept our purpose.

Mr. Ronald Brown

Considerable distress has been expressed about the Government not consulting the local government associations on this matter. The Association of Municipal Corporations, of which I am a vice-president, has asked me to voice its regret that the Government chose to ignore its help and advice in pursuing the Bill, the aims and objectives of which are broadly acceptable to most people.

Distress has also been expressed at the failure of the Government to understand that precisely the same problem of housing decay exists in areas other than the two which are covered by the Bill. It seems illogical for the Government to have drawn the line in the way the Measure discriminates between the two areas mentioned in the Bill and other areas which are suffering from the same problem. Why have the Government chosen to restrict these provisions to development and intermediate areas?

Hon. Members, who like myself, represent London constituencies, will agree that the help which the Bill will provide should be available to London, which every Government since the war, and before, have accepted is an area of great housing stress and should be given the maximum help.

The Secretary of State visited the Islington part of my constituency in May, before the local government elections, and spoke of the "dynamic" work that the Government intended to do to solve the housing problem. London is undoubtedly one of the hardest hit areas from the housing stress point of view. I have no doubt that the areas covered by the Bill are under stress, but it is totally illogical to exclude London.

I appreciate that the Government must allocate their resources on a priority basis and that only a limited sum is available. However, the Amendment merely seeks to give the Minister discretion to extend the help which is available under the Bill to areas outside the two mentioned, so enabling him to use that discretion in determining whether a priority situation exists. Acceptance of our proposal would not cost the right hon. Gentleman anything. It would merely give him an additional discretionary power which he could find extremely useful in future.

Mr. Geoffrey Stewart-Smith (Belper)

I entirely support what the hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Ronald Brown) said about the inclusion of London in the Bill. It seems unjust that the £50 million that will be available should be distributed in a geographically discriminatory way and not on a basis of need.

I have been repeatedly thwarted and frustrated in my attempts to solve this problem in my constituency, where we have identified areas of need. Such areas have been identified throughout London but, as in my constituency, we cannot get the money to enable those with limited means to improve their properties, even when they are extremely anxious to do so.

Belper town is made up of a lot of old stone buildings which are extremely attractive and should be preserved. I appreciate that the central Government are doing their best to get the necessary money to the people concerned to put these properties into good repair, and in the debate last Friday it was made clear that although grants for this purpose are valuable, the purchasing power of the standard grant is dropping because of inflation.

Belper Urban District Council has refused to consider the making of discretionary grants. The council regards them as a waste of the ratepayers' money and open to abuse by property owners and landlords. It is not for me at this time to give a verdict on the judgment of the council in this matter, but I feel that its attitude is extremely unhelpful and high-handed.

The Minister will be aware of this problem. If the Amendment is accepted, the money that will be available under the Bill could be made available outside the intermediate and development areas mentioned in the Measure; and if the money is available, local authorities such as mine could have no possible objection to providing the sort of help that is now badly required.

There is much talk today of cost effectiveness, but the best return on money spent on housing is that spent on improving old houses. I therefore strongly associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury and with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. James Hill) last Friday.

I hope that after the two-year period has elapsed the Government will introduce a comprehensive housing Bill which will cease to discriminate on geographical grounds and will concentrate on need. I hope that the Minister will give us some cause for comfort on this score.

Mr. Marcus Upton (Brixton)

I, too, fully share the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Ronald Brown), for it seems extremely odd that the Government should seek to deny to themselves power to apply to London the funds which the Bill will make available.

After all, it is in London that housing needs are as great as, if not greater than, in any other part of the country. We are seeking not to restrict but to reinforce, widen and strengthen the powers of the Secretary of State in this matter.

Nor do I want the Minister to think that the Amendment is limited to the needs of London north of the river. The needs of London south of the Thames are just as great, if not greater. I hope the Government will not resist this sincere attempt to give them more power. They must be aware of the urgent and distressing problem in London. People in housing stress should be given prior consideration wherever they live, and terminology should not come into this matter. In other words, help should be given on a need and not a geographical basis.

Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)

I echo what has been said about the need to include London in the Bill. I do not understand why, at a time when London's housing needs are tremendous, this part of the country has been excluded.

Let us consider the way in which the Clause is drafted and the way in which the Amendment would apply. The provision states: If … a local government area comes wholly or partly within a development area or an intermediate area, the Secretary of State shall do certain things. The Amendment would delete the word "if" from the beginning of that provision, which would result in the subsection reading: In a case where … a local government area comes wholly or partly within a development area or an intermediate area … this Act shall apply. Is there anything illogical about our suggestion? It seems to be in line with the object of the Government in this part of the Bill. The Amendment is so logical and important that it should be accepted immediately.

I say that in addition to what has been said about London. I feel strongly that the Minister is greatly at fault in not trying to help London's crying needs, which are greater than those in any other part of the country.

11.30 a.m.

Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)

The conception of development areas and intermediate areas that might have been valid a few years ago is not as valid today. A few years ago Birmingham was a prosperous city, but the amount of employment now existing there makes it very doubtful whether in a short time it may not come within the definition of a grey area or an intermediate area. Among the unemployed in Birmingham there are, for the first time since the war, a very substantial number of building and construction workers.

Acceptance of the Amendment by the Minister would lead not only to an improvement of the older houses of Birmingham but also to work for Birmingham's unemployed building and construction workers. That being so, I hope the Minister will be able to accept the Amendment. A house is a house, whether it is in the North-East, or in Scotland or in Birmingham. The case for preserving the country's assets and improving old houses is as valid in Birmingham or London as it is anywhere else in the country.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

I should like to get some clarification about the position in Edinburgh, and then relate the position to other parts of the United Kingdom. In the Second Reading debate, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Education, Scottish Office, said: The scope of the application of the Bill is the same in Scotland, covering the two year period. … But, since all districts in Scotland had development area or intermediate area status at 23rd June, the Bill will apply throughout Scotland."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd July, 1971; Vol. 820, c. 819.] I take that statement to mean that since Leith, a very ancient burgh but part of the city of Edinburgh, has intermediate status, Edinburgh is included in that status. I should like confirmation of that view.

If any part of a local government area is a development area or intermediate area the whole of the area qualifies and not just that part. What is a local government area? Is a district council a local government area? In Scotland it certainly is not a rating authority. The rating authorities there are the burghs, the counties and the counties of cities. A local government authority can be a rating authority, and no more. It can also be an authority which is not a rating authority.

My knowledge of English local government is very unclear at times, but I understand that in England the parishes, though not rating authorities, exist as local government entities. Are they local government areas? Could part of a parish bring within the definition the whole local government unit? If so, what is the local government unit that is brought in? Leith brings in the entire city of Edinburgh, but would a scheduled district council bring in the whole county, with all its small and large burghs?

I realise that this is not the kind of argument that we should have without the appropriate Minister being present, or the Secretary of State for Scotland as representing local government there, but we need clarification, because if we do not have a precise definition of a local government area in the legislation we shall have many rows.

Mr. Thomas Cox (Wandsworth, Central)

The wish on both sides of the Committee is obviously to see the legislation extended to cover as wide an area as possible. The Minister, who has visited many London constituencies, must know that there is a very acute housing problem throughout the inner London boroughs. We ought therefore to do everything we can to provide legislation for the improvement of these properties. The Minister must have read the Greve Report, which tells us of the thousands of homeless families in London. In Wandsworth earlier this year there were over 800 homeless families. The Amendment would provide an opportunity to tackle that problem.

One hopes that the Minister will try to impress upon authorities that they themselves should engage in the work or encourage responsible housing associations to do so, and so provide an opportunity to help overcome London's housing problems. Hon. Members on both sides know that throughout London there are hundreds of empty properties, many of which have remained empty for months, and even for years. Properly amended, the Bill could give an opportunity to start bringing those properties into habitation, and thus tackle the appalling housing and homelessness problems of London.

The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr. Julian Amery)

In addressing themselves to these Amendments, hon. Members on both sides have raised substantial points, and it might be more convenient were I to deal with them when we debate the Clause. I propose now just to try to answer the Amendments, and show, as I hope, that there is very little difference between us.

The effect of the Amendments would be, as the hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Freeson) said, to make the application of the Bill automatic to areas subsequently designated development areas or intermediate areas rather than do it by Order of the Secretary of State. We considered this view very carefully at the time, but decided, for reasons which I think will probably command the support of the hon. Member, that the Bill contained the better formula.

Though it may or may not command the approval of the hon. Gentleman, an essential feature of the Bill is that its operation is limited to two years. We have taken the view that the work has to be completed within that time, though the hon. Gentleman would like to use the word "approved" instead of "completed". We believe that if it were a question of approval, false hopes could be raised. If, let us say, in the last few days or weeks of the two-year period some new area was designated a development area or an intermediate area, that could lead to the raising of false hopes, so we thought that, on the whole, it was wiser not to do it in that way.

I can, however, give complete assurance that it is our intention wherever reasonably practicable to apply the provisions of the Bill to any development or intermediate areas subsequently created and that it would be for practical purposes our intention that the Secretary of State's Order to do so would be made at the same time as the Order conferring development or intermediate status. It will be made in every case where there is reasonable time for advantage to be taken of the higher grant, always allowing for the need for the work to be completed by 23rd June, 1973.

Mr. Gregor Mackenzie (Rutherglen)

My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) has raised what we regard as a substantial point. The Minister's answer did not clarify the situation. When we discussed this matter last week, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Education, Scottish Office—not the Under-Secretary of State for Development, Scottish Office—made a point about the inclusion of Edinburgh on which we are not clear. This is of more general application in relation to local government boundaries in England and parishes coming within the area of a county council for rating purposes. It would help the Committee and shorten our deliberations if the Minister would clear up this point.

Mr. Amery

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Gregor Mackenzie). I have consulted my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs and Agriculture, Scottish Office. There is no problem as regards Scotland, because the whole of Scotland is either a development area or an intermediate area and the whole of Edinburgh is an intermediate area. Therefore, the Bill will apply everywhere north of the Border.

Mr. Weitzman

The Minister has said that it is the Government's intention to apply the provisions of the Bill where a local government area comes wholly or partly within a development area or an intermediate area". Why not say so in the Bill? If that is the intention, why not delete "If" and make the intention perfectly clear?

Mr. Amery

The intention is perfectly clear. It is only that it is to be done by order of the Secretary of State and not automatically. As I explained earlier, our view is that, if it were automatic, a situation might arise in which in the last few days of the operation of the Bill, when enacted, false hopes could be raised and the provisions of the Bill could be brought into disrepute.

We would prefer, and we ask the Committee to support this preference, that we should proceed by an Order of the Secretary of State. I am glad to give the assurance that in every case where there seems reasonable time for advantage to be taken of the higher grants an Order will be made by the Secretary of State at the same time as the Order conferring development or intermediate status on the area concerned.

Mr. Julius Silverman

Will the Statutory Instrument have to be approved by both Houses of Parliament?

Mr. Amery

I will deal with that question in the debate on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill".

Mr. Silverman

Is it necessary to go through all this procedure to bring into operation what is already the Government's intention?

Mr. Amery

On balance, we think it is. We have carefully weighed the two alternatives. We do not want to raise false hopes or bring any of the provisions of the Bill into disrepute and we think that this is the best way of proceeding. There is no procedural requirement: it is an automatic order.

11.45 a.m.

Mr. Freeson

The explanation we have received from the Minister is not clear or satisfactory in terms of the Bill as it stands. I have carefully re-read the subsection. My understanding of it is that it contradicts what the Minister has just told us is the only reason for not accepting the Amendments.

The Minister has said that the reason the automatic provision which we seek to have inserted was not accepted, after close consideration inside the Department, was that it could raise a situation where an area could be declared a development or intermediate area on other broader grounds within the last few days or few weeks of the operation of the Bill, thus raising false hopes. Unless I have badly misread the subsection, my understanding of the wording is that the two-year period for intermediate areas or development areas declared from now on, even within the discretionary procedure laid down, operates from the date of the statutory instrument.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Paul Channon) indicated dissent.

Mr. Freeson

That is how it reads. I will go through the wording carefully so that there can be no misunderstanding. Subsection (2) says that where, after the relevant date which I take to be 23rd June, 1971 within the period of two years … a local government area is declared as a development or an intermediate area the Secretary of State for the Environment, by order in a statutory instrument may direct that this Act shall apply to works eligible for financial assistance if they are carried out in that area and if the application for assistance is made on or after the date when the order comes into force"— that is, the Order referred to in the fourth line of the subsection, and the works are completed before the expiration of the said period of two years", which I take to mean two years from the coming into force of the Order.

That is what the Bill says. The phrase the said period of two years relates to the two years following the making of the Order by the Secretary of State, if he decides to make it. This means in practice that the Order would run beyond the two years immediately following from 23rd June, 1971, because the starting date for such two-year period will be such date as any subsequent local government areas have been declared as intermediate areas or development areas.

Therefore, there may well be a run-over of the present two-year period for areas which may be declared as development and intermediate areas at any date from now onwards. If this is so, the reason which the Minister has given cannot arise. If it is not so, the Minister has raised an even more serious point.

If my understanding of the subsection is incorrect, must we take it that an area which is declared a development or an intermediate area in, say, one year from now would have only one year in which the local residents and the local authority could benefit from the provisions of the Bill when enacted; or that, if an area was declared a development area or an intermediate area 18 months from now, there would be only a six month period in which a local authority and the residents concerned would benefit from the provisions of the Bill when enacted?

If this is the reality of the Bill, it will make a nonsense for such areas. The benefits of the Bill cannot be operated in six months. It is not a question of a few days or a few weeks before 31st March, 1973. It is a question of what is a reasonable period within which local authorities, residents, builders, and so on, can make applications for work to be done and have the work completed within the two years laid down in the Bill for existing development and intermediate areas.

If the Minister is correct and my interpretation of the Bill is incorrect, for any areas so declared in the future there will be a nonsense situation. As I read paragraphs (a) and (b), the two-year period runs from the date of the Order made by the Secretary of State.

I should be grateful if the Minister would clarify these points, because they are very important for any areas which may be declared development or intermediate areas in future.

Mr. Amery

The "said period of two years" refers to the two-year period covered by subsection (1)(b) at line 15 on page 1. I have to ask the hon. Gentleman the Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Freeson), therefore, to accept what he regards as the less favourable interpretation, that is, that we are talking about the two years from 23rd June, 1971, and expiring on 23rd June, 1973. It is not our intention that an area subsequently designated, say, next year, as a development or intermediate area should have the two-year run. It is simply that it would benefit from the provisions up to 23rd June, 1973, but not subsequently.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

Why does the Bill extend to the end of the financial year 1974? Is the right hon. Gentleman arguing that work may be actually finished on 23rd June, 1973, and that is the reason why the payments are allowed within that financial year?

Has the right hon. Gentleman got it right? Surely, he does not mean that. Does he not mean that work could be carried out within the period of the financial year? It cannot literally be 23rd June, 1973, or, if it be so, the thing is getting a bit absurd. The Bill allows its provisions to run during the financial year up to 31st March. Why cannot it be allowed within that time?

Mr. Amery

It is perfectly clear and categoric. The provisions run till 23rd June, 1973, but not beyond.

Mr. Lipton

The Bill offers certain local authorities a two-year period, but, in effect, that two-year period does not mean what it says. During six or eight months of that two-year period, it will be difficult for any local authority to take proper advantage of any of the arrangements made possible by the Bill.

In effect, therefore, the Government are giving to local authorities 12 or 15 months at the outset, and the last six or nine months of the two-year period will be valueless for many of them.

Mr. Thomas Cox

The point is well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton). The Minister's insistence that work must be completed, not approved, within the two-year period will cause a great deal of confusion and disappointment to many people, irrespective of the area in which they live. In spite of the improvement here proposed in Government grants, it still means that many people will be unable to take advantage of what is offered. They will have to save a considerable sum of money to meet their part of the overall cost of improvement as such, and this may well take them some time. Eighteen months or so of the two-year period may have passed. People then start to obtain estimates and secure the approval of the local authority. This takes a good deal of time. The point was made by hon. Members opposite last week that there are some local authorities which do excellent work in this respect, but there are others which leave a great deal to be desired.

If the Minister insists on rigidly keeping to his two-year period, what discussions will he have with the local authorities to try to impress upon them that, when approval is sought for improvement grants, the procedure should be speeded up? Some local authorities have a very lackadaisical attitude towards improvement grants.

Mr. Ronald Brown

I must take the argument a little further. One assumes that the Minister really wishes to get improvement work going quickly and he wants general improvement areas to be associated with that improvement work. I believe that that is his intention. But two points then arise. First, an impetus will be given to the amount of improvement work needed to be done immediately. Second, within a general improvement area, the local authority will immediately have to set substantial procedures in train to come within its two-year period.

The definition of the two-year period by reference to completion of the work makes it almost certain that there will be a flood of work to be done in order to prepare applications. The amount of time available to carry out such improvement work will of necessity be reduced by that factor, and it is a factor which the Minister, though for the best possible reasons, is deliberately creating.

It seems to the local authority associations that this state of affairs, if he sticks rigidly to his two-year period, will be disadvantageous to the aims which the Minister has in mind. It will be impossible to do it. It is being said—I do not know whether the Minister has any views on this—that he can evaluate virtually exactly how many improvements will be done and how much money he will give to the work because there is such a limited group in a position to be able to carry out the work. This is contrary to the intention embodied in the Bill as one reads it and as one understands what the Minister is attempting to do by it. If he sticks to his point about completion in two years, I do not know how the objective of the Bill can be attained.

I urge the Minister to bear this in mind. If he sticks to his two-year period related to completion, it will be suggested that he does not really want to do very much and this is really a gimmick. That would be very bad. All of us on both sides are satisfied that everyone must try to do his best to provide help and money to areas of housing stress. It would be disastrous if the Minister were to be accused of producing a Bill which could be described—as it was to me, and I put it in inverted commas—as "piddling". If his Bill were regarded as a political gimmick, it would be a disaster for the people who are really interested in housing, all the local authorities, housing associations, and a wide variety of interested persons trying to do their best. I beg him to consider whether he is, by standing firm to the commitment as he has now put it, going in the opposite direction from what he should be trying to achieve.

I urge the right hon. Gentleman to discuss this matter with the local authority associations. They are the bodies upon whom, at the end of the day, he will have to rely to make the achievement of the Bill's objectives possible. I urge him to withdraw his firm stand at this stage, look at the matter again, and bring something better before the House on Report, even if that entails a few days delay. I want him to have the benefit of the advice of the people who really understand the problems created by his definition of the two-year period.

Mr. Amery

The hon. Members for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Ronald Brown) and for Willesden, East (Mr. Freeson) have raised a substantial point, namely, the question whether the two-year period in certain future development areas should extend beyond 23rd June, 1973. In the same way, other hon. Members earlier raised the question whether the Bill should apply to other areas of housing stress not themselves development or intermediate areas. I shall seek to deal with those points in the debate on the question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill".

I ask the Committee to accept as logical that, if we proceed as we are proposing to proceed, on the basis that the Bill applies only until 23rd June, 1973 with reference to development and intermediate areas, the case for the two Amendments does not hold water. I have given an assurance that in all reasonable cases the Secretary of State will make an Order applying the provisions of the Bill to new development or intermediate areas at the same time as the Order is issued creating these new areas. Within the narrow ambit of the Bill, this, I suggest, gives hon. Members opposite the substance of what they seek to obtain.

Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)

We are told that the Minister will act reasonably in certain cases, but does not the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that, if the work cannot be completed within two years, the intentions of the Bill cannot legally be carried out within the scope envisaged?

Mr. Amery

I do not think that that is the subject of the two Amendments. I will discuss that broader issue on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill". I am simply asking the Committee to resist the Amendment because I do not think that it gives anything which our assurances and the Secretary of State's order cannot do.

12 noon.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

I apologise for not being present at the start of the debate, but I had important business elsewhere.

I am fascinated by the arguments of Labour hon. Members, but when my right hon. Friend considers the matter—and he knows my view about the two years—will he bear in mind the wider implications, remembering that the Bill is additional to existing legislation? Whilst a powerful argument is made by hon. Members opposite about the short period left to complete the work from a practical point of view, if there is any whisper that an area might become an intermediate or development area there will be the great disadvantage, unless the Bill is fixed in time, that ordinary alterations and improvements will not go ahead. People will say, "Until the two years are up let us not carry out the alterations and improvements, because if we wait long enough we may get an extra subsidy". We must be very careful that we do not stop the ordinary alterations and improvements that we all want to see. I do not think that hon. Members opposite fully took cognisance of that point when arguing on the narrow issue.

Mr. Freeson

The point made by the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) is very valid in general terms but it is not an argument against the two Amendments, because they seek not to extend the scope in time of the Bill, much as I should like to see that, but to establish an automatic right of any future development and intermediate areas within the time span of the Bill to obtain the benefits of the Bill and not to rely on the discretion of the Minister. I realise that there can be difficulties with regard to designations of such areas within a few days or a few weeks of the expiry of the Bill at the end of the two-year period, but I repeat that there will be difficulties for areas which are declared even six or eight months ahead of the expiry of the Bill. That is why I object to the narrow drawing of the subsection, which the Minister has now clearly explained.

I urge the Minister to give further thought to the matter, if not here then in another place, because if local authorities are not to have the automatic right when they are declared development or intermediate areas, there will be sharply undue discrimination within the positive discrimination about which we are concerned in the Bill.

We all support the Bill, whatever the strong arguments which we shall have to pursue later on extending the scope of such positive discrimination to areas of the country which are suffering housing stress. We are all concerned to get the Bill through and to see those areas receiving the benefits arising from it. But there should be no question of any development or intermediate area so designated within the next two years being excluded from the provisions, notwithstanding the general assurances we have had from the Minister.

As I understand it, his sole argument against the Amendments is that undue expectations could be raised if an area were designated within a few days of the expiry of the Bill. But we all know that before such designations are made there is pretty close consultation between Government Departments, and this will be even more the case under the new structure of Government, with the Department of the Environment. Such designations, should they arise, will not be made without consultations on timing and the nature of the case being considered by Government as a whole with the fullest consultation with the right hon. Gentleman's Department.

If the Amendments were accepted and an application had been before the Government for an area to be designated a development or intermediate area, and if it was seen that such a declaration within a few days or a week or two of the expiry of the Bill could create serious inconvenience locally and to the Government Departments concerned, it would be a simple matter so to fix the date that the designation was made on the expiry of the Bill, should that be a serious point at issue.

I do not see the strength of the Minister's point in defence of the discretionary power. If the Government wish to see the Bill operate in intermediate and development areas whenever they may be declared within the time span of the

Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

12.15 p.m.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

While the Government are considering whether or not they should resign after that humiliation, and while their Chief Whip, for whom I have great sympathy, is also considering his position, I want to make some few introductory remarks about Clause I before my hon. Friends develop the argument further. I seek clarification on a question which the right hon. Gentleman kindly said he would answer at this stage.

The Clause refers to a local government area which may be … wholly or partly within a development area or an intermediate area…". Does this take in the whole of the local government area of which the district

Bill, they can accept our Amendments and meet the single objection they have raised by administrative consultation on the timing of announcements.

Question put, That the Amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 39, Noes 45.

Division No. 422]. AYES [12.8 p.m.
Albu, Austen Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.) Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Janner, Greville Prescott, John
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis) Jones, Dan (Burnley) Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)
Atkinson, Norman Kaufman, Gerald Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton) Kerr, Russell Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Lambie, David Silverman, Julius
Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury) Lipton, Marcus Spearing, Nigel
Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.) Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Stallard, A. W.
de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey McCartney, Hugh Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Freeson, Reginald Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Weitzman, David
Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Mikardo, Ian
Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Ogden, Eric TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hattersley, Roy O'Halloran, Michael Mr. Ernest G. Perry and
Heffer, Eric S. Pavitt, Laurie Mr William Hamling.
Huckfield, Leslie
Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley) Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Hayhoe, Barney Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Bray, Ronald Iremonger, T. L. Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) James, David Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N&M) Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Russell, Sir Ronald
Buck, Antony Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Shelton, William (Clapham)
Channon, Paul Kilfedder, James Sproat, lain
Chapman, Sydney Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Stewart-Smith, D. G. (Belper)
Churchill, W. S. Le Marchant, Spencer Tebbit, Norman
Corfield, Rt. Hn. Frederick Mather, Carol Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Costain, A. P. Moate, Roger Waddington, David
Drayson, G. B. Normanton, Tom White, Roger (Gravesend)
Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Page, Graham (Crosby)
Fowler, Norman Pike, Miss Mervyn TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.) Raison, Timothy Mr. Bernard Weatherill and
Green, Alan Redmond, Robert Mr. Paul Hawkins
Grieve, Percy

in question may be a functional part? I recognise that there is a definition in Clause 1 but I am not sure precisely which interpretation it is open to. There are two possible ways of looking at it. Perhaps the Minister's advisers will want to reflect on this while the debate goes on.

For example, if a district of a local authority is partly in an intermediate area, does this mean that the county council of that area will be responsible? Many county councils organise their housing lists, powers and priorities on a county basis and not on a district basis, although some delegate these functions. Certainly, most county councils in Scotland organise them on a county basis. The operation of discretionary grants or local government grants obviously must be at the centre of local government's own organisation, and if that is in the district concerned, I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman can be content with Clause 1 as it stands.

On the last Amendment I was concerned about the Minister's interpretation of the provision in the Act relating to the date by which the work has to be finished. The right hon. Gentleman has now been in office for a year. Has he worked out the time scale for any of the three categories of persons or organisations concerned? We all know that it takes months to build a house but longer than that to plan it. We have now had experience of the 1968 and 1969 Acts for about one functional year. Are any figures available for the carrying out of discretionary improvements and standard works? What time has been taken physically to carry these works out? What is the average estimate for planning and negotiation?

Sometimes there can be a planning objection. Although this does not often happen, when it does happen it can take a long time. This has happened in spite of all the streamlining which has been carried out in recent planning Acts. There can sometimes be objections in Deans of Guild Courts or in courts set up to arbitrate on matters of sunlight, daylight and other considerations. These matters may result in the improvement of three houses by making them into two, using the third house in the middle for conversion to bathrooms and so on.

I am not seeking to be difficult but am trying to be helpful to the Minister. He should be able to say that there is a neat period of time in which to enable the object of the Bill to be realised. If he is not sure about the situation, I suggest that he should think about extending the period a little.

I turn to the point about the use of the word "approved" rather than "completed" in page 2, line 7 of the Bill, which was covered by Amendment No. 11, which has not been selected. The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) in Committee made the very good point, which was supported by the National Federation of Building Trades Employers'—it is a point which I have heard since from local authorities in Scotland—that work should come within the term "approved" rather than "completed". I feel that the Minister is seeking to draw the matter a little too tightly, and it may be that unintentionally he will defeat the object of the Bill.

I hope that the Minister will give figures to allay our anxieties. If he does not have these figures, he should say "I want this Clause now, but I am prepared to look at the matter again in another place;" and then when the Bill returns to this House for the consideration of Lords Amendments we can see whether the figures and phasing are right, and so on. I am making these remarks in a constructive mood since we are concerned about the tight schedule which is to be imposed. I hope the Minister will take point.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

We can well understand the Government's dilemma over Clause 1 about where and how work shall be carried out. They have specifically referred in the Clause to development areas and intermediate areas under the Local Employment Acts. The dilemma is that the Government are unsure whether this is a housing Bill or an unemployment Bill. It is no coincidence that areas of high unemployment are also areas of bad housing. A visit to an area with a low economic growth prospect—and this applies to many parts of Britain and particularly to Scotland—will show that there are very bad housing prospects and particularly bad housing conditions. From that point of view, I welcome the opportunity given by the Bill to produce some improvement in these areas.

I wish to draw the Minister's attention to an opportunity which has been missed by the Government in drawing up Clause 1. They have missed the opportunity to do something for people who are living in very bad housing conditions. I am concerned that the Government have not taken this opportunity to refer specifically to elderly people, the chronically sick and the disabled.

The Minister showed some insight and some anxiety about this problem of housing when he spoke on Second Reading. After discussing the economic reasons for the Bill he went on to say: But even more important than the economic are the human considerations. We are dealing, after all, not with units of accommodation but with homes and people. Where a dwelling is clearly unfit, those who live in it have to be decanted, to use the jargon, and rehoused elsewhere. At the end of the day they will, of course, get better homes, but the process can be a very painful one. They are uprooted from the surroundings they know; separated from their neighbours; taken away from the shops, pubs and clubs which have formed the background of their daily lives. Objectively looked at by sociologists the end result may be better, but, in my experience, it has often meant frustration and loneliness for the people especially for the older ones."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd July, 1971; Vol. 820, c. 790.] I do not think that the difficulties of elderly people seeking to cope with bad housing could have been more concisely expressed.

These words are even more apposite to people who have some physical handicap or suffer from consistent chronic illness. Those of us who have to deal with the problems faced by people in bad housing realise the tragedy of elderly, sick and disabled people who live in old houses with extremely poor amenities. It never fails to amaze me how in these social circumstances tragedy simply piles on social tragedy.

The sad truth is that so little is being done about this great problem and the Government have not taken the opportunity to take any steps in this Bill. The reason why modernisation of older property is not being undertaken is the scarcity of resources. Those of us who before coming to this House served on local authorities know in a more intimate way than others how difficult it is to draw a balance of priorities. I am satisfied that in the battle of priorities in housing modernisation it is the elderly, the chronic sick and disabled who almost always lose out because they are in the most difficult circumstances.

Local authorities with a scarcity of resources wish to use the money that is available in the best possible way. They would like to see a modern comprehensive development programme rather than simply taking one house in a street out of turn and bringing that up to standard. They tend to think of a general overall pattern and think about housing improvements rather than social improvements which will benefit the people in the houses. To use an "in" phrase, cost-effectiveness in taking a house out of turn is more expensive than a comprehensive programme and is not necessarily the most efficient use of money. I, like many other hon. Members with large numbers of constituents with housing problems who need urgent improvements in their conditions, want those people to be given a tolerable life.

To give one example, some months ago I saw in my constituency a blind and handicapped woman who lives in a municipal house, which is a reasonable house when one thinks of the normal slum area. She has lived in that house for 17 years. With the kitchen equipment she has she must climb on a stool to get at her pots and pans. As time passes her infirmities become more difficult to handle and she finds the day-today chores of cooking and keeping house much more difficult. But the local authority says it can do nothing. The bathroom furniture in the house is such that in terms of personal cleanliness she is unable to use the bath because of fear of injury. Again the local authority says it can do nothing. The local social work committee says that it has no resources to deal with this kind of programme and that that particular problem is going from bad to worse and the particular case is far from the worst in the area. The housing committee says that it is not its problem because with so many needs in the area its resources are scarce.

I hope that the Clause will be used by the Government to take some action and to encourage local authorities to look at this problem. The Minister in reply may well say that the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, 1970, and the Social Work (Scotland) Act, 1968, are not his responsibility, and that would be an easy way out for the right hon. Gentleman. But in spite of the growth of super Ministries, whose purpose was supposed to be co-ordination of Government action, all that has happened is an exacerbation of what I regard as one of the prevailing diseases of our parliamentary system; namely, government by watertight compartment.

12.30 p.m.

As a result of this, as is so often the case, hardship continues. With the kind of people about whom I am speaking the hardship increases with the passage of time. Much has been said about the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act and the Social Work (Scotland) Act. Lip service is paid to these Measures but now is the time for urgent action. All is not lost, although because of the tight manner in which the Money Resolution has been drawn amendments have been ruled out of order. Despite that, it is possible for the Government to draw the attention of local authorities to their responsibilities.

Where there are priority cases combining housing need and bad personal circumstances, there ought to be specific guidance and help for such people. I hope that the Government will take an opportunity here to exercise compassion and issue a circular advising local authorities that under Clause 1 it is possible for them to do more for those who so far have been badly neglected.

Mr. Gregor Mackenzie

I am sure that the entire Committee is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Robert Hughes) for making one of the most moving speeches on this subject that I have heard for a long time. He hit the nail on the head when he spoke of our concern for those in poor housing conditions and the chronic sick. We in Scotland have taken action to deal with this in some way. Glasgow university has set up a Department of Gerontology, and the professor of gerontology has said very much the same as my hon. Friend, that the care of the elderly and chronic sick in their own homes, within the environment which they know and understand, is best.

This was one of the crucial issues that we debated in the Scottish Grand Committee some years ago. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon), the then Minister of State, Scottish Office, said that there were a number of elderly people who did not want to move out of the older areas into newer areas because they would not feel comfortable or happy. It is our business to ensure that they are comfortable and happy in the community.

I was concerned about this question of the two-year or four-year period and whether we should have "completions" or "approvals". When the Secretary of State for Scotland issued his circular, he said that this was a Bill meant not only to improve the lot of those living in uncomfortable houses but to provide employment. That was not just a phrase used last week on Second Reading by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and others. In view of that I am at a loss to understand why there should only be the two-year period. The problem of unemployment in the building industry is not likely to be solved within the next two years. I may be doing the Government an injustice here, but we would much appreciate an extension.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shore-ditch and Finsbury (Mr. Ronald Brown) said he was sorry that the Association of Municipal Corporations and the local authority associations in Scotland had not been consulted. Many of them welcomed the Bill and its intentions but I think that they would have wanted to be consulted about some of the difficulties that can arise in the next two years. I would like to see "approved" instead of "completed".

For most of my life before I came here I served on a local authority. I mean no disrespect to my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock or his predecessors at the Scottish Office when I tell him that we did not always find the Development Department of the Scottish Office the quickest Department of Government. We sometimes found that it took rather a long time in the initial stages to get any form of approval at all. When we tried to improve houses not on an individual basis but on a street or small area basis—not C.D.A.—we found that it took more time than building a completely new housing scheme.

The Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs and Agriculture, Scottish Office, is present today, and I hope he will refer his hon. Friend (he Under-Secretary of State for Development to an important study carried out by the Department a few years ago about house improvement in Rutherglen. It is a substantial document detailing some of the difficulties the local authority had. We had difficulties because we could not find the contractors to do the work. They were more than willing to build a large new housing estate but we did not get much of a smile from them when we asked them to undertake this work. While it is true that this Bill is about employment, finding work for our bricklayers and plasterers, if the rate of bankruptcies among small building firms in Scotland continues at its present rate there will not be the organisation to harness these building workers.

Mr. Ronald Brown

Will my hon. Friend pursue that point a little further? He will be aware that when we put work out to tender it is found that the price quoted is inordinately high because it is a "one-off" job for the builder.

Mr. Mackenzie

That is very true. Having got over the difficulties of obtaining approval and finding a contractor who would work for us, we found that other problems arose. When we took down parts of the wall we found dry rot. Buildings which looked substantial were not all what they seemed. This presented formidable problems for the contractors and the local authorities. We feel genuine concern about this matter and we hope that the Minister will look again at this question of completions and work instead on the basis of approvals.

Mr. Weitzman

I wish to make three points. First, when we were discussing the Amendment, the Minister very rightly said that he would deal with the question of London on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill." As a London Member I feel outraged that London has been excluded in this way. The housing situation in London is dreadful. I need not go into the figures, since hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have already referred to the dreadful position in the capital. Yet here we have a Bill which makes no reference whatever to London and its glaring housing needs. I make a very strong protest about that. I do not know why London is excluded. The Minister said that he would deal with the matter when we debate the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill". I hope that he will give a satisfactory explanation. Surely the time has arrived when special steps should be taken in this matter at the earliest possible moment. It will be disgraceful if the Government procrastinate.

Secondly, I turn to the eloquent and moving speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Robert Hughes). When the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill was going through the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Freeson), who was then the Parliamentary Under Secretary, leaned over backwards to try to draft the housing provisions in order to assist the chronically sick and disabled. Certain provisions were inserted in the Bill to help the chronically sick and disabled. Special attention was to be paid to their needs. What council has done so? Where has any effort been made? This Clause provided an opportunity to do something for the chronically sick and disabled and to take steps to deal with their crying needs. I need not harrow the feelings of hon. Members by referring to the dreadful cases about which we know and the need for assistance in housing for these people.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North said, the Minister may shrug it off by saying, "This is not the responsibility of my Department. What have I got to do with it?" We hear that sort of excuse too often. We heard it yesterday in connection with another matter when a Minister was talking about priorities. If ever there was a priority, it is the needs of the chronically sick and disabled. Here was an opportunity to deal with them, and it has been neglected.

My third point concerns the very narrow way in which the Clause is drawn. Financial assistance is limited to instances in which the works are completed —and the important word is "completed"— before the expiration of a period of two years beginning with the relevant date". If that means anything, it means that, whatever order is made, financial assistance cannot be given unless the work is completed by 23rd June, 1973. The Minister must realise what a difficult task this imposes. For example, work started at the beginning of 1973 which cannot be completed by 23rd June, 1973, will not qualify for financial assistance. This makes nonsense of the answer which the Minister gave to me when he said, "We do not want to hold out hope to people. We will make orders in reasonable circumstances and in reasonable cases". He cannot do it under the Bill.

An Amendment was tabled, which was not selected—I think that I am entitled to refer to it in this discussion—concerning the words "or approved". It would be very simple to cure the difficulty by adding "or approved" after the words "the works are completed". I respectfully suggest to the Minister that, with this limitation of time, he is imposing an impossible task in many cases and is preventing financial assistance from being given where it should be given. I suggest that on Report or in another place he cures the problem by inserting the words "or approved" in the Bill.

12.45 p.m.

Mr. Norman Tebbit (Epping)

I wish to deal first with the point about the time taken by private owners to save their share of the money needed to undertake the improvements for which the Bill provides. The National Federation of Building Trades Employers has recently made known the arrangements which it has been able to agree with finance houses in order to cope with the problem of advancing money from the beginning and throughout the period that improvement takes place. They will cope very well with the problem.

I turn to the general point about people who might be considering improvements now but who have not applied for a grant. Many of them still think that it will be too expensive for them to go through with improvements, and a large number of them will be helped by the provisions of the Bill. I do not know how many hon. Members have had experience of this matter. In my case, it took about nine months from the time that I decided to go ahead to the time when the works were completed. I accept that the Bill is very narrow in its effect and that the Money Resolution has been drawn very tightly—and what an apt expression that is of anything that the Treasury does. To substitute "approved" for "completed" would be a change of wording which would widen the provisions too much. After all, an approval can drag on for a very long time.

I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to indicate what will happen in cases in which genuine unforeseen delay occurs and somebody who thought that he would receive the larger grant finds, towards 23rd June, 1973, that it looks as though he will receive only the smaller grant. I hope that my right hon. Friend will at least be able to say that he has in mind some way by which he can guide local authorities on how they might manage to avoid the letter of his Bill but obey the spirit of it.

Genuine problems may well arise towards the end of the two-year period. However, the ending of the two-year period does not mean the ending of improvement grants. They may revert to their present level, but one would have imagined from what has been said that they were coming to an end. I ask my right hon. Friend to see what he can do, with his friends at the Treasury and in the local town halls, to make the provisions of the Clause as reasonable as possible.

Mr. Lipton

This discussion has indicated that the Clause is not only tightly drawn, but that it will be even more tightly restrictive in its application. Earlier I said that the last six or nine months of the two-year period would be more or less meaningless from the point of view of the improvements envisaged by the Bill. Now I am inclined to think that it will be during the last 12 months of the two-year period during which it will not be worth while making an application under the terms of the Clause as it stands.

Reference has been made to delays that occur. A number of hurdles often have to be overcome, such as getting planning consent, putting out the contract, and so on. Builders do not like these small jobs. They are a pain in the neck to builders, and local authorities sometimes have to bring pressure to bear to get contractors to undertake this kind of work.

We are faced with the situation that the Clause will be effective for perhaps the first 12 months of its application. After that I should not recommend anybody to gamble on the possibility of the job being completed by the time the two years are up. I cannot understand why a period of two years has been selected. What magic is there in the two years from 23rd June, 1971, to 22nd June, 1973? I am convinced that by the end of the period the housing problems in London will be as bad as they are now, if not worse.

It is no use telling someone in desperate need of housing accommodation that he is not living in a development area or an intermediate area. I can imagine what kind of reply I should receive from a constituent of mine who came to me with his housing problem and I said. "You are not in a development or an intermediate area, and therefore I cannot do anything for you within the terms of the Bill". A housing need is a housing need wherever a person lives. It does not matter a damn whether he lives in a development area, in an intermediate area, or in a grey, blue, pink, red, or whatever colour area it is. The need is there, and it ought to be met.

After all these years during which I have had the honour to represent Brixton I find that I spend more time now on housing cases than I did when I first became a Member. The bulk of my correspondence and work, and the overwhelming proportion of the hardships with which I am expected to deal, arise from housing cases. The numbers are not decreasing, they are increasing all the time, and it is a tragic comment on the whole of our social spectrum, if one likes to so call it that, that in this year of grace, in a capital city like London—and the situation is repeated in our large provincial cities such as Glasgow, Liverpool and Birmingham—there is a growing need for housing, which it seems will never be met.

I understand that we are not going to divide against the Clause, on the principle, I suppose, that anything is better than nothing. Some people may be able to benefit for perhaps up to 12 months after the Clause gets on to the Statute Book, but it is a miserable concession in the face of a growing and ever-increasing need.

Mr. Ronald Brown

I am disappointed that the Minister has chosen to remain seated during this part of the debate. It would have been helpful if he had answered the many useful points raised on the Amendment, but he chose not to. On the contrary, he said that he would reply to them at the conclusion of this debate. It would have been helpful if, at the start of this debate, he had made clear his intentions.

In the absence of a reply from the Minister, we must rehearse all the arguments that have been put forward, in the hope that he will accept them. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) when he expresses concern over the fact that London has been excluded from the Bill. I was hoping that the Minister would tell us why he had decided on that course, because the object of the Bill is to increase aid from public funds for housing and area improvements, and under both those headings London must be at the top of the list. There may be other places sharing the top position, but certainly London ought not to be excluded. The Secretary of State, the Minister, and the Under-Secretary of State, are all on record as having made vast contributions, in words at least, to dealing with London's problems, and it seems extraordinary that they should bring in a Bill whose purpose is to assist housing and area improvement, and exclude London from its provisions.

Since the publication of the Bill I have been approached by people and asked whether I thought that the object of excluding London was to enable London to be dealt with in a special Bill of its own. As London covers one-sixth of the country, and has about 8½ million people living in it, I observed that it jolly well deserved to be treated separately, but I thought that that was unlikely.

It seemed that perhaps the Minister had made an error of judgment in referring to development areas, because he thought that London was a development area. I concluded that in Committee he would confess that he had made an error, having spoken of it for so many months as though it were one and put the matter right. I hope that the Minister will address himself to the reasons why he has decided to exclude London. It has one-sixth of the population, and is represented by one-sixth of the Members in this House, yet it is excluded. London probably has more of the problems concentrated in its area than are to be found in any other conurbation.

1.0 p.m.

I agree with my hon. Friends who have said that the Clause is tightly drawn. I do not complain about that. One cannot have an open-ended commitment. It would be foolish to argue for open-ended legislation. There must be some parameters, financial and otherwise. But the trouble here is that it will be impossible for people to exploit the provisions of the Bill, which is what the Minister desires them to do. The Bill should help people to exploit its provisions as soon as possible in the best interests of housing and area improvements. By conjoining the phrase "two years" with the word "completion" the Minister is making certain that a vast range of people will be unable to do that. It is regrettable that the local authority associations were not asked for their comments. It takes a long time to "assemble" property for an area improvement. Applications for grants cannot be made until after lengthy improvements, which can mean a delay of 12 to 14 months.

Mr. Gregor Mackenzie

A month has already been lost before local authorities can take advantage of the Bill, and one month out of 24 is a large proportion, especially during the holiday period.

Mr. Brown

I was coming to that. The Minister might say that, on the expectation that the House would approve the Bill in toto, the authorities could have prepared themselves. But since the application will depend on these lengthy procedures, it will be 12 to 14 months before they get the grant. Then work has to be put out to tender, which means a further waiting period. Those of us who have been involved in improvement work know only too well the difficulties involved in accepting the lowest tender, because, half-way through, a builder may go broke. One can place much more reliance on direct labour departments.

When I was involved in this type of exercise, I set my authority a time limit of eight weeks for a conversion. That was what we regarded as the value of a conversion as against pulling down and rebuilding, since people were rehoused more quickly and rent was paid more quickly. But we never made it. We were lucky to get it done in three or four months.

Exactly what does the Minister mean by the word "completed"? Does this apply to the original specification of the surveyor or the specification undertaken by the builder? In 99 cases out of 100, extra work is discovered after commencement. No one ever goes for a full survey first, because it is too expensive. It is not always convenient to take up floor boards and so on. It is not until the work is actually under way that extra work is discovered.

The Minister could have discovered from local authorities the average overspending on conversions and improvements of this type—overspending not because they were badly assessed but because extra work emerged. If this happens after commencement of a contract for two years, if a far greater bill is incurred and the deadline cannot be met, will the Minister make special provision for this? My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) says that he has no discretion. In that case, he will not achieve the effect that he claims.

The moratorium of two years may mean that builders will be harassed by applications to get the work done quickly. If the job is skimped, the applicant may have even more trouble. So the increase of the grant from 50 per cent. to 90 per cent. will be offset by greater maintenance costs. Although the Minister gives an applicant £200 or £300, it may cost him £800 in the end. There is a dearth of builders to do this work. Unless he can be guaranteed a long run, a builder cannot assemble all the trades he wants, except at great cost.

Local authorities have been 10th to implement penalty clauses. Now that the Minister has settled on a period of two years, penalty clauses will be necessary for this kind of work. Otherwise, a builder will be vastly out of pocket or will build a safeguard into his price. So the cost to the Minister will be much higher. I hope that he will advise those who do work under the Bill to include a penalty clause in any contract so as to protect themselves.

For an area improvement, local authorities must "assemble" the land, survey it, approve requirements and send out the tender. All this takes a long time. The Minister is not doing the best, in his own interests, to improve older houses.

I pay tribute to any Government who provide more money to improve homes and so add to the housing stock. However, if the Minister refuses to consider our views on this matter we shall have to conclude that he is engaged on a public relations exercise and that the Bill is not designed to do what we imagine he wants it to do. It would be regrettable if local authorities and others were obliged to come to that conclusion, and I therefore beg the right hon. Gentleman to think again.

Mr. Ernest G. Perry (Battersea, South)

Most of the points with which I had intended to deal have already been covered by my hon. Friends. I will not delay the House, therefore, except to mention some glaring anomalies with which the Minister must deal.

Londoners are suffering from some tremendous housing difficulties, including the problem of multi-occupation. This is particularly so in Wandsworth and my part of London. It is grossly unfair, therefore, that good houses in development and intermediate areas should be given 75 per cent. grants to be converted into flats while very poor property in London should receive only 50 per cent. grants. Owner-occupiers and private landlords in the London area are bound to stop applying for improvement grants at 50 per cent. when they realise that, by delaying, they may obtain 75 per cent. in later legislation.

When I refer to multi-occupation in London I am talking of houses which may have one outside toilet shared by 10 or 20 people. Such houses are probably privately owned by an absentee landlord. In many instances of this kind no improvement grant applications are made. Once a landlord knows that a 75 per cent. grant exists in other parts of the country, he will be bound to delay, if he applies at all, in the hope of the same precentage grant being available in London.

It is regrettable that this legislation is still permissive. I am certain that at a future date it will be necessary for the Government, Conservative or Labour, to make provisions of this kind mandatory to ensure that improvements are carried out by owner-occupiers and landlords.

Mr. Frank Allaun

It is staggering to think that 12 million men, women and children in this country will be going home tonight to houses without baths, hot water or inside lavatories. This is an intolerable state of affairs.

In this day and age millions of industrial workers are having to go home in the evening, after completing a day's dirty work, and ask their wives to heat a saucepan of water so that they can wash their feet. The enamel bowl is still having to come out of the cupboard for washing purposes in far too many homes. In many of these houses old people have to go out to the back yard on cold wet nights to visit the lavatory.

It is with pictures like this in our minds that we should be considering the Bill. Many of us have been deeply concerned with these problems for a long time and we are anxious to impress on the Government the urgency of the matter, because Clause 1 is the guts of the Measure. I understand that when Bloody Mary died the word "Calais" was inscribed in her heart. When they dig me up they will probably find the words "Bathrooms, hot water and inside lavatories" inscribed deeply on mine.

1.15 p.m.

I doubt whether the Bill in general and this Clause in particular are the way to solve this problem. Indeed, I am not sure that driving landlords to make improvements is the answer, particularly if it means creating resentment among tenants because of the trebling of rents once improvements are made; but I will not anticipate my remarks on this subject because I shall have something to say about this later.

Everybody is extremely proud to spend more money on improvements grants, but I am not sure that the ordinary families living in the sort of conditions I have described are having these improvements done. I fear that the bulk of the money is going on luxury housing.

According to Government figures, in 1970–after the 1969 Act had been in operation for some time—£11.9 million was spent on discretionary grants and only £7.2 million on standard grants, despite the lavish 50 per cent. grant available under the 1969 Act. It is the standard grant work that we must consider in particular because that provides the necessities of life like bathrooms, hot water and inside lavatories.

What conclusion can we draw from these figures? There is no guarantee that the additional 25 per cent. made available under this Bill will mean private landlords doing this work. The figures show that owner-occupiers are sensibly taking advantage of the availability of grants, but that most private landlords—I accept that there are some honourable exceptions—will just not be bothered. The problem remains and I fear that it will continue to remain. How many decades must pass before, at the present rate of progress, we have dealt with the 4 million homes that are without these necessities of life?

In my view, landlords are not the best people to do this job. Local authorities should have the task, and we have seen in Leeds how vast numbers of ordinary houses which previously lacked bathrooms, hot water and inside lavatories have been brought to a high standard as a result of the efforts of local authorities.

Mr. Julius Silverman

I also object to the restrictive nature of the Clause and particularly to its restriction on geographical grounds. Why is it confined to the development and intermediate areas? It has been suggested that the Government are not sure whether this is a housing or an employment Measure. I suggest that on either count its provisions are inadequate.

A house is a house wherever it is and bad housing conditions are bad whether they are in London or Birmingham or in a development or intermediate area. The problems for the tenants are the same. The provisions of the 1969 Act and earlier legislation were intended to get improvements done at public expense throughout the country, not simply for the benefit of the residents and tenants of those properties but to preserve a valuable asset for the nation. An asset is an asset for the nation whether it is in Scotland or in London or in Birmingham. It is the same asset, and the case for preserving it is precisely the same.

Birmingham is not yet a development area or an intermediate area but if Government policies are persisted in it may get that way. Unemployment among buildings workers in Birmingham is as bad as it is anywhere in the country or in any of the development areas. We have more than 2,000 building workers unemployed. From the employment point of view, there is precisely the same case for applying the provision to Birmingham as to any development area.

The Bill is supposed to continue for two years but that period began to run down on 23rd June last. By the time this Measure becomes law, a few more weeks will have elapsed. Another period will elapse before the benefits of the Bill are made known to the ordinary man in the street who qualifies for grant in the private sector. I hope that the Government intend to publicise the scheme, otherwise the Bill will not do any good. Then there will be further delays due to planning, consultation, and the like. Time is so short that I doubt whether the expenditure of the additional £46 million in the time stated by the Government can be achieved.

Why is the Bill limited to two years? Is it suggested that the back of the problem, even in the development areas or intermediate areas, will be broken in that time? The need will be just as great after that time has elapsed, which means that this provision is quite irrational. It is not surprising that the local authorities—and not only the local authorities—regard the Bill as completely unrealistic. We should like the Minister to reconsider the matter, or at any rate explain the two-year time limit.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

I apologise to the House and to the Minister for rushing in and out of the Chamber, and not sitting throughout the debate. Unfortunately, I have had other matters to attend to.

As my area is a development area it will benefit from the Bill. Liverpool has a high level of unemployment, and the level of unemployment amongst building operatives is much higher on Merseyside than in Birmingham.

We also have a very serious longstanding housing problem. We have in the twilight areas old types of houses which, unless something is quickly done, will get beyond repair. In the postal district of Liverpool 8 there are good, solid, fine houses which, if they were in the Pimlico area of London, would have been rehabilitated, but that could not be done in Liverpool because the money was not there. They have now gone beyond rehabilitation and are being pulled down, and will, I hope, be replaced by new houses for the workers there.

There is no doubt that the Bill will marginally help my area, but a number of very important points need to be mentioned. The Liverpool City Council has in the last six months decided not to go ahead with a whole series of plans for rebuilding. It has decided that schemes which were in the pipeline should in some cases be deferred and in others abandoned altogether. There is a tendency amongst local authorities like mine to believe that because they are going ahead with home improvements they should hold up the development of new housing, but in places like Liverpool we need not only home improvement but a continuous housing programme.

I hope we shall not get into the position where local authorities will use this scheme, as they are tending to use the home improvement plans in the Labour Government's Act, of which this Measure is a continuation, as an excuse for not going ahead with new building. One of the problems is that the Act is permissive and not mandatory, and we find that many landlords, despite applications made by occupiers, are refusing to go ahead with home improvements. That is a very serious state of affairs. The Government must face the fact that sooner or later action will have to be taken to compel landlords to carry out required improvements.

I hope that we on this side would provide a different solution. We used to think that there were other ways of doing the job—by municipalisation, and so on—and I hope that we shall in future do as we once said we would. Meantime, action needs to be taken to ensure that landlords carry out the work.

The Bill will help. I never look a gift horse in the mouth, but am generally thankful for small mercies. The Measure does not give us all we want, but it is better than nothing at all. I appreciate, as some of my hon. Friends have said, that some areas that are not development areas have problems equally as bad as those existing on Merseyside. London has an acute housing problem, and so has Birmingham: all our large cities have. We need a national campaign nationally directed and controlled to direct help to the areas of greatest housing need irrespective of whether they are development areas. Nevertheless, the Bill will help considerably, and it will also help considerably in taking up some of the slack of unemployment.

To suggest that we can solve the problem in two years, or get anywhere near to doing so, is unrealistic. The Minister must look at that time limit again, as he must look again at the problem of the disabled. We had an excellent debate the other day which brought out the simple things that can be done to give immediate help to the disabled, and provision for these people should be in the Bill.

The Bill is a minimal step forward for the development areas, but it is not enough. It will not solve the problem. We need more time than two years, and we need 100 per cent. Government grant, not 90 per cent. We should welcome the Bill as far as it goes, but we must hope to get much further in the future.

1.30 p.m.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

The Committee will understand that other parliamentary commitments have made it impossible for me to be here throughout the debate. I apologise to my colleagues for not having heard the opening speeches.

On Second Reading my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufmann) presented a compelling case for including the City of Manchester within the scope of the provisions of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) has informed the Committee of the very daunting housing problems in our neighbouring City of Salford. I hope that the Minister will reflect carefully and sympathetically on the strong arguments that have been advanced by my hon. Friend.

This is a discriminatory Bill. I am not in favour of discrimination. However, if there is to be discrimination, the chronically sick and disabled should benefit. Wherever there is discrimination, it should be based on need. None of us doubts that the homes of many severely disabled people are painful places of detention: the houses are not adapted to the needs of the severely disabled occupants.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Robert Hughes) has argued this point at length. He talks from a close and sympathetic interest in all the problems of the chronically sick and disabled. He has also referred to the special problems of the elderly. The Minister will accept that the Government's recent survey into the housing and other problems of the severely disabled makes a strong case for discriminating in their favour. It may be that further guidance should be given to local authorities. Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides want to solve the housing problems of the severely disabled. On behalf of all the organisations working to help the chronically sick and disabled, I appeal for further consideration to be given to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North and by myself in this brief intervention.

Mr. Amery

There have been three main themes running through the debate—first, why is the Bill limited to development areas and why does it not extend to other areas of stress or categories of people in need; second, why are the provisions limited to two years; and, third, which goes with the second point, there is the question about compulsion or approval.

I want first to deal with some separate points which have arisen. The hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) asked what constituted a local authority. A definition is contained on page 2, line 23. To amplify that, county councils are not housing authorities with statutory powers to make improvement grants, so county councils do not come into it.

Mr. Freeson

I accept what the Minister has said about county councils, but the Bill does not refer to county boroughs as being one of the defined local authority areas. County boroughs have housing authority powers.

Mr. Amery

The definition is as follows: 'local government area' means a borough, urban district or rural district, and in Scotland means the district of a local authority.

Mr. Freeson

Does that specifically include county boroughs?

Mr. Amery

County boroughs, but not county councils.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

In Scotland county councils, of which there are 33, are housing authorities, but district councils are not. County councils may devolve their functions to districts. My point was that in most cases they do not.

Mr. Amery

The point does not arise, as the whole of Scotland is either a development or an intermediate area and, therefore, all the authorities are embraced within the definition in the Bill.

I was asked by the hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Ronald Brown) about consultations with the local authority associations. The only local authority association that has made any representations to us is the A.M.C. The association wrote to us shortly after the meeting of its Housing Committee only the other day. It raised no major point of substance but sought clarification of one or two minor points.

Mr. Ronald Brown

The association assured me that it had not been consulted. Is the Minister telling me that the association's information is correct and that it was regretting that it had not been consulted about the Bill?

Mr. Amery

There was no prior consultation before the drafting of the Bill. On the other hand, we have been in touch with the A.M.C, because it was the only one of the local authority associations which wrote to us. It made no complaint and expressed no major objection. It sought clarification on one or two points. The other associations have not even made representations, so I must assume that to that extent they are not dissatisfied.

I welcomed the intervention by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). He has been the only representative of an English development or intermediate area to intervene. The fact that others have not intervened presumably means that they at least are not dissatisfied with the Bill.

I agree with the hon. Member for Walton that the building industry in Liverpool, particularly small and medium builders, will benefit from the decision we have taken and from the Bill. I agree with the hon. Gentleman also that the unemployment position in the building industry is even more serious in Liverpool than it is in Birmingham. I am not under-rating the importance of the Birmingham situation, though when I was there recently the employers and the trade unions told me that there was a considerable shortage of skilled building operators in the Birmingham area.

The hon. Gentleman went on, in the context of discussing the Liverpool housing situation, to talk about the need for new building. Here I heartily agree with the hon. Gentleman. Improvement can never be a substitute for new building; it is a complement to it. I hope that when our proposals for the reform of housing finance come forward these will give a new boost to slum clearance and, following from that, to new building.

The hon. Member questioned whether landlords could be relied on to do the job and whether a measure of compulsion was necessary. I have not got the exact provision in my head, though I will write to the hon. Gentleman about it, but I understand that local authorities have powers under the Housing Act, 1964, on representations made to them by tenants, to require landlords to provide standard amenities. I hope that full use will be made of these powers.

Mr. Julius Silverman

Under the 1969 Act, the local authorities also have powers of compulsion in the case of improvement areas.

Mr. Amery

Yes, that is right. The hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) expressed anxiety that the bulk of the grant money was being spent on what he described as luxuries, and he cited in support of that view the £7.2 million devoted to standard grants but more on discretionary grants. In very many cases, the installation of standard amenities requires some additional conversion. From my experience, such as it is, of the work which has been going on throughout the country—I have seen a good deal myself, and I have talked to many people who have seen a great deal more than I have—I judge that the bulk of the expenditure is on a combination of standard amenities and discretionary grant conversions carried out together.

I put it to the hon. Member for Shore-ditch and Finsbury that, whatever reservations he has about the Bill, which he expressed clearly and at some length, it has been welcomed by the development area authorities and by the builders in the development areas, as I have found for myself, and as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has found on his visits to Liverpool and elsewhere, and it has been welcomed by the organs of public opinion, the local Press and the other mass media in those areas.

Mr. Gregor Mackenzie

A few moments ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) asked the right hon. Gentleman about the position of local authorities in Scotland. May we have this clear? We do not have the system of urban and rural district councils; we act through burghs or through county councils operating as housing authorities. I do not expect a reply immediately, but will the right hon. Gentleman take this question into account? If someone in the landward area of a county council wishes to have his house improved, do we take it that the only means he can follow to have it done is through the county council, that being the only relevant authority in that place? The county councils are the only bodies who can do it. Is that right?

Mr. Amery

I understood that the anxiety of the hon. Member for Greenock was on the question of demarcation, the question of which authorities could be responsible. The point is really academic to start with because all the areas are covered; the whole of Scotland is covered by the Bill. A local authority need be only partly within a development or intermediate area to bring the whole of its area, burgh or county, within the Bill.

Mr. Gregor Mackenzie

I am sorry to intervene again, but the right hon. Gentleman is missing the point. If someone in the landward area of a county council wants his house improved, to which agency does he apply? Is it the county council? That is the only body to which he can apply, is it?

Mr. Amery

He would apply to the local authority which, I understand, would be the county council. Perhaps I am not as familiar as I should be with the situation in Scotland.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

The right hon. Gentleman is right when he says that the matter is academic, so long as the Bill is not extended and areas are not descheduled, but what we are asking is that he look at this question again because the point might be misinterpreted. My hon. Friend has raised that doubt. Will the Minister consider whether the description should, perhaps, be enlarged a little to make sure that the point is covered? That is all.

Mr. Amery

I shall look at it, and perhaps my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State at the Scottish Office could say a word about it when he speaks on Clause 3, which is specifically a Scottish interest.

I come now to the three main themes of the debate. Why is the Bill limited to the development and intermediate areas? Why is it not applied to London or Manchester, for example? Why does it not make special provision for categories of people in need like the chronically sick?

1.45 p.m.

I fully understand that hon. Members representing certain parts of the country or interested in certain categories of people should take the opportunity to press their needs. Those needs are great. No one who has been Minister for Housing for even a few days could be under any illusion about the terribly serious housing situation in London, the worst in the country. I am not saying that the situation is not pretty bad on Merseyside or in other parts; indeed, the great conurbations are in the grip of a serious housing problem. Equally, none of us can fail to be deeply impressed, particularly after the speech of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Robert Hughes), by the plea made on behalf of the chronically sick. But this Bill is about the development areas. There may be opportunities on another occasion when other measures are brought before Parliament in due course to consider these other problems.

The reform of housing finance will do more to combat housing stress, speed up the process of slum clearance and do a good deal to speed up the process of improvement than anything else. But this Bill is limited to the development areas, because we have observed the phenomenon in the English development areas that the rate of take-up of improvement grants, partly for material and partly for psychological reasons, has not been as good as we thought it ought to be and could be. I do not deny, also, particularly as Minister for Construction, that we are glad of the opportunity to help the building industry in those parts of the country.

The Bill may not cover every problem which could be covered. It is a Bill about the development areas, and to that extent, I suggest, it deserves the congratulation of the Committee rather than its censure.

Mr. Thomas Cox

The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of the appalling problems which London constituencies face. Obviously, from his many travels, he is fully aware of them. But his comments today will give but slight comfort to London Members and the constituents whom they represent. We have heard repeatedly that the Government are to bring forward a special policy to improve conditions. When may we expect to hear about the Government's policy to improve London's housing?

Mr. Amery

We shall, I believe, be discussing certain aspects of the London housing problem next week, and when the reform of housing finance comes forward there will be other opportunities. I have myself called a conference, which, I hope, will meet in the early autumn, of London boroughs and the G.L.C. to discuss all these matters and try to hammer out a strategy to deal with the London problem.

What I am pointing out is the present Bill is not an attempt to tackle that problem. I recognise that it may be disappointing to hon. Members not representing development areas to see the development areas given priority in time at this stage, but I hope that, on reflection, they will regard this as a positive contribution, even if it falls short in certain respects of their ideal. Moreover—I hope that I shall not be thought to spoil the atmosphere by making a partisan point—at least, we are doing something for the development areas which might, perhaps, have been done earlier had further and greater thought been given to the matter in time.

The next great theme is, why a time limit, why the two years? To paraphrase Dr. Johnson in a rather different context, a time limit concentrates the mind wonderfully. It is our view that, if we doubled the period, the effect would be halved. There must be a time limit if we are to get a move on with improvement grants in the development areas. I must tell the Committee that I came away from my visit to Newcastle with this conclusion very much reinforced by conversations with both builders and local authorities.

Mr. Weitzman

That may be a sound point, but what about "approved" instead of "completed". That would cover the difficulty.

Mr. Amery

I said that I should come to the question of "completed" and "approved" in due course. At present, I am discussing the question of a time limit. I am sure that we need a time limit. Have we chosen the right one? It is a matter for argument and judgment. We think that on the whole two years is about right.

My hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Tebbit) presented some strong arguments on the need for interpreting it a little differently, giving a little more latitude. I was impressed by what he said, but I feel pretty sure that if we do not have a strict time limit we shall not get the work moving.

I have been asked how long the grants take to process on average. We reckon that certainly for the first 18 months in which the Bill is in operation it will have a clear and positive effect, and in some cases long after that where the things to be installed are smaller items.

We shall be advising the local authorities to ensure that all applicants, particularly the later-comers are warned of the consequences of not getting the work done by 23rd June. I do not think that there will be cases of hardship as a result of all this. The 50 per cent. grant will always be available at the end of the day for any work which has not been completed.

Why completion and not approval? Our anxiety has been that if we limited ourselves to approval the work might not be started or get done. We have had quite a bit of experience of local authorities approving grants but the work not being done, even today, months after the grants have been approved. Therefore, it has been our view that if we are to get the work done it is not enough to put the ignition key into the car. We must get the car started and put our foot down on the accelerator.

Hon. Members have expressed their reservations about the Bill and their criticisms. It is right that they should, and this is the proper forum. But I hope that having made their representations and criticisms they will join the hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Freeson) in saying that it is a positive Bill, that it does help, and that in their constituencies and the country at large they will help to give support to the Bill and encourage people to make use of its provisions and take up the grants, to take the opportunity afforded to them.

Mr. Freeson

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that long before the present Government came into power, long before the Bill was introduced—indeed, long before I entered the House a few years ago—I had been pressing in local government circles for the kind of policy implicit in the 1969 Act and the Bill. I spent much of my time in local government over a number of years pressing the previous Conservative Administration to adopt precisely the policies that were eventually legislated for in the 1969 Act. I say that not unkindly, but to suggest that on that point most of us with experience in these matters do not need even the most gentle of lectures or moralising. We have been at it for a long time.

I find most of the right hon. Gentleman's arguments unsatisfactory. I shall deal first with the question of the two-year period and the points argued about changing from "completion" to "approval". Whilst the original Amendment has not been selected for debate, a manuscript alternative has been put forward which I understand the Chair finds acceptable and within order, and I understand that it will largely meet the kind of points that have been worrying my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite, as well as myself, on the question of the time limit within the two-year time limit of the Bill—the time limit implicit in the word "completion".

We have a two-year period laid down in which a take-up of an additional £46 million is involved over and above the existing level of expenditure. On Second Reading we sought without satisfaction to get information on the current level of expenditure projected forward into 1972 and 1973, so that we could relate the figure of £46 million to the existing estimates for the three-year period. I have serious doubts whether, under the Clause as it stands, the £46 million which the Government have said they wish to make available can be taken up. I have had to seek this information because it was not forthcoming from the Minister; he can correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that the 1971 expenditure on improvements policy is expected to be about £22 million before the Bill comes into operation. That is well below the £40 million which was forecast in the Financial Memorandum to the original substantive Act, the 1969 Act. Presumably there will be a further increase in 1972, of a percentage that I do not know, and in addition to the £22 million now, there must be about £10 million to £15 million expected by the Government to come from the £46 million allocation spread over.

We do not expect the largest take-up to occur in the first year. It will be a cumulative build-up, no doubt. But let us assume that it is expected to be about £10 million, building up to about £18 million to £20 million extra that will be taken up in the next year. Is the Minister seriously telling us that within the strict ambit of the Clause we shall get a 33½ per cent. increase on the 1971 expenditure on improvement grants? Is he also telling us that if the figure of improvement grants expenditure in 1972–73 is about £30 million to £33 million—a considerable increase on the current expenditure—we may expect a further £15 million to £20 million to be taken up in addition to the £30 million next year within the strict ambit of the Bill?

What the right hon. Gentleman is saying is, in effect, that he expects the Bill will have such a tremendous impact in the intermediate and development areas, to quote what the Under-Secretary said on Second Reading, that we can expect to see about a £45 million total take-up of expenditure on improvement grants in 1972–73, and an even bigger take-up in the following year before the Act expires. I cannot argue on the basis of fact that that will not be so. We cannot know at this stage. But on the basis of experience we cannot expect that to result from a Bill which, as the Minister agrees, is narrowly drawn in terms of time as well as in other respects.

2.0 p.m.

I must express grave doubts as to whether the Bill, because of its very nature and drafting, will enable the money which the Government have provided for to be actually taken up by the local authorities. If I am wrong in this, I will happily join the right hon. Gentleman—if necessary, against the advice of my parliamentary colleagues—in a tour to congratulate the local authorities concerned, although I should like that tour to have included the London area as well as other housing distress areas which are omitted from the Bill.

I do not believe that the Bill will allow this £46 million to be spent. Indeed, I do not believe that the Government themselves are fully confident that, within the narrow terminology of the Clause, such a sum can be taken up. I repeat that it is not sufficient to introduce a Bill and declare that £46 million is available unless we can have the disposal of the money monitored and reported on to the House and the public. We are entitled to know what the take-up of the £46 million is when the Bill is in operation. We are entitled to an undertaking that, whatever means he chooses to use, the right hon. Gentleman will keep us informed of the take-up. After all, this is public money that we are authorising for the Government, and we are entitled to know how it is to be spent.

Mr. Lipton

At least six-monthly reports should be provided showing how the take-up is proceeding.

Mr. Freeson

I would not stipulate six-monthly reports from the very beginning of the operation, but purely for practical reasons. One could not for the first six months get very worth-while information, but certainly within the first year or so—perhaps within nine to 12 months from the date of operation—we should certainly be entitled to have six-monthly or quarterly information, which could be included in the quarterly statistics for housing which are published by the Government.

Mr. Ronald Brown

I hope that my hon. Friend will be wary in asking about the take-up of this money. We must not forget that the cost of improvements will be heavily inflated. During the two-year period, there will probably be far greater cost in carrying out this work. The result may be that, while the take-up will be adequate, fewer improvements will be done because the cost of each improvement will have been inflated. Thus, even if the take-up of the money is at a high level, it does not necessarily follow that the range of work being done is as great as it might have been.

Mr. Freeson

I appreciate that point. but in the quarterly housing statistics there are figures on a regional breakdown basis of take-up of improvement grants, which would balance up my point. It might be possible to include in the statistics a column of figures showing not just the regional breakdown but a breakdown for the development and intermediate areas for which the money is being authorised. I hoped the right hon. Gentleman will consider that suggestion. We are entitled to this information. We want to know how the policy is working.

It could be said, I suppose, that it is easy enough to say this now that we are in Opposition, but the sophistication of the statistics of housing was an aspect in which I was particularly interested during my short spell at the old Ministry of Housing and Local Government. For example, statistics on improvement grants now appear. That, however, was only the first move. I hope that we can have a much greater breakdown of information on how the policy under the Bill is working. I hope that that information will be equivalent in detail to other information about housing. I make this point seriously and not just as a debating point. I have indicated broadly the way in which such information could be made available to the House and the public.

The other major point to cause so much concern, not only on this side of the Committee but on the other side, is the exclusion from the Bill of housing priority and housing stress areas. The question of the representations by the Association of Municipal Corporations about the Bill has been raised. The right hon. Gentleman said that no complaint or any point of substance had been made about the Bill to the Department. I do not know the basis of that statement, but I have here a letter from the A.M.C. which has been sent to a number of hon. Members. There is no doubt about the language used. The letter says: The Association's Housing Committee are strongly of the opinion that, in addition to authorities in the development areas or intermediate areas, there are other authorities with housing needs which would welcome the increased assistance now provided for improvement of older but still substantially sound housing stock. The letter makes a number of other interesting points which the A.M.C. hoped that we would put and would be accepted by the Government. I shall not go into more detail about these representations because some of my hon. Friends have already dealt with them, but it should go on record that the Minister has understated the position with regard to the association's view of the Bill. It does have points of substance to make about it and it has stated them in correspondence with hon. Members. I should be surprised to learn that similar points of substance were not directed to the Department. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us. If the A.M.C. has not contacted the Ministry in similar terms, that is not my responsibility, but there is no doubt about the terms of its letter to hon. Members. It refers to the fact that the association was not consulted on the Bill before it was presented to the House.

Mr. Amery

I want to clear this up. I would not want there to be any impression that I misled the Committee. The only regret expressed by the A.M.C. which I am aware of was that expressed about the drafting of Circular 46/71, which was related to the 1969 Act. Whether this has been confused with the drafting of the Bill I do not know. To the best of my knowledge and that of my senior officials, we have had no representations on the Bill. Equally, the other criticisms have not reached me.

Mr. Freeson

I can only place on record what has reached me and other hon. Members about consultation. The letter from the association says: It is, however, a matter of regret to the Association that it was not consulted on the Government's proposals, and that no opportunity was given for discussion on the inclusion of other local authorities within the scope of the Bill. That is quite specific. However, the correspondence between the association and the Department is a matter for the right hon. Gentleman and the association and not for me.

I turn now to the major point of the exclusion of housing priority and housing stress areas from the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman has not replied to this matter. He has merely restated the position. He has said that the Bill is concerned with development and intermediate areas. That we already knew. Indeed, that is what we are querying—not that it applies to development and intermediate areas but that it does not apply in equivalent terms to other areas with equal housing difficulty or, in most cases, of greater housing difficulties. To answer by merely stating what we already know is neither an argument nor an explanation.

The Minister says that we must await further legislation and proposals on the London position which will arise from the review of housing finance which is under way in the Department. This again is no answer. In the first instance, the review and the White Paper which will be presented to the House prior to legislation will deal not only with London, but with the housing situation in the country as a whole. So far as it deals with stress areas, it will deal with a variety of such areas in order to assist the large conurbations with the worst housing problem. Therefore, it is no argument to say that, because there is to be general housing legislation to deal with certain major policy matters which are related to what is before us, we should leave it at that and that the matter of stress areas does not arise in connection with this Bill.

I argue the opposite way, as I did on Second Reading. If we are now to accept, as I accept, that it is right to try to shift the emphasis of help to those areas with the gravest problems, then it is wrong that this Bill should run in the opposite direction. Figures were quoted on Second Reading last Friday—and they are correct because I have checked them—which showed that the majority of areas which will benefit from this Bill are not in areas of the worst housing stress. A breakdown of the figures was given by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman), and they were very interesting figures indeed. They give an explanation as to why in these particular areas the percentage of increase in take-up of improvement grants in the general system has not been as great in some instances as in areas like London, Birmingham and others.

I feel that the Ministers are playing with percentages and their argument factually is weak. The points covered by the Bill undoubtedly include areas of serious housing stress. However, when one examines the list of areas which was attached to the Press release issued when the Bill was announced and checks the housing situation in those areas against information available in the Ministry, it can be seen that the majority are not the areas of greatest need, whereas areas outside the scope of the Bill have the worst housing problems in the country.

There has been no argument either on Second Reading or in Committee today to justify this view on housing grounds. The only argument which can be used, and which has been suggested by one or two of my hon. Friends, is that basically this is an unemployment Bill; that it is not concerned with areas of high housing priority so much as with areas of depression—largely, though not entirely, due to the dismantling of the previous Administration's policies in the development and intermediate areas. If one looks at the facts, it cannot be refuted that there is a case for including within the Bill areas of housing stress. I hope that between now and the time when the Bill is dealt with in another place the Government may yet have further thoughts on this matter.

2.15 p.m.

I should like to give some important basic facts and I shall concentrate on the area of most serious housing difficulty, the Greater London area. According to the latest available Ministry information, contained in studies made in 1967 on the London conurbation—and the situation will not have changed markedly since that time—some 46 per cent. of dwellings in Greater London were built before 1919. This compares with 39 per cent. for England and Wales as a whole. A further 36 per cent. of houses in London were built between 1919 and 1944, compared with 29 per cent. for the country as a whole. So that, although 31 per cent. of dwellings in England and Wales were built in or after 1945, in the last generation or so, in the Greater London area the figure is only 18 per cent. That paints the broad situation in London in terms of the age of property.

If we look at some other basic information which is directly relevant to this Bill, we find that in Greater London as a whole over a third of all households lack the exclusive use of the basic amenities of a hot water system; namely, bath, handbasin, inside toilet and a kitchen sink. In regard to the other areas which lie around the Inner London areas, excluding Greenwich which has somewhat suburban housing conditions compared with the rest of Inner London, one sees that in places like Brent and Haringey, which should be classified as Inner London boroughs although officially they are classified as Outer London, 46 per cent. of houses lack bathrooms, inside toilet, a hot water system and the like.

The figure in Islington—I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. O'Halloran) is present, and he will know all about this figure—rises to 67 per cent. But that area is excluded from the provisions of the Bill. There is no area in the country with a figure that high. There is a gradation from a figure of 40 per cent. to 53 or 54 per cent., and then one goes through the central London area and finds in Islington this appalling situation. Since I am sure we all agree that this is an appalling figure, why have the Government brought forward this Bill, which is good so far as it goes but deliberately excludes from the Bill's benefits those areas with the worst housing problems? Why does the Bill include the local authority areas which are at the top of the 50 or so areas with good housing conditions?

This is not good enough. We do not expect the Minister today to say that he will change the nature of the Bill, but I hope that something can be done when the Bill goes to another place. Although I realise that we have not been able to debate an Amendment on this matter, I would make one plea to the Minister. This refers to what I would describe as the Minister's false argument in saying that we should await the statement of Government policy about future legislation on housing finance which, among other things, will it is hoped deal with areas of stress. If that is the situation, then the sooner it happens the better. We must presume that conclusions have been drawn in the Department relating to problems of slum clearance and new building. If the Minister is saying that consideration of housing priority areas in the big conurbations cannot be included in the scope of the Bill but that we shall have an alternative later in the year, I urge him seriously to consider including in the White Paper provisions such as are contained in Clause 1 on the development and intermediate areas to enable subsequent legislation to deal with areas of stress and greatest housing need.

If we are to confine ourselves in this future legislation to slum clearance and new building it will in no way be relevant to this Bill which does not deal with new building or slum clearance but with giving certain help in certain areas for the improvement of properties which are basically sound, but in need of modernisation. The problem in London is that there are about 250,000 such dwellings in the Inner London area—a very high percentage. If legislation is to be announced shortly dealing with the problems of stress areas that is when we can take up the question of London again. I hope that the Minister will give an undertaking that the proposals in a future White Paper will deal also with additional help to the stress areas for housing improvements, broadly on the lines before us today.

Mr. Ronald Brown

My hon. Friend is whistling in the wind. From information already well-known and well-founded there is no such element. This is purely a financial Bill which is to come before the House and which is an attempt to push up council house rents and to reduce the Government commitment as far as possible.

Mr. Freeson

It is precisely because until now we have understood that the White Paper being drafted is confined to council estates, rent policies, subsidies, slum clearance and new building that I put it to the Minister that if he is raising the prospect of a White Paper to help the stress areas as an answer to the arguments being advanced today dealing with the exclusion of such areas in this Bill, it follows logically that he should have another look and include this extra help on improvement policy in such legislation.

I would have argued this even if we had not had the Bill today. It is not sufficient to provide this additional help only to limited slum clearance and new building. We need a special effort for those much larger areas of housing improvement, for properties which will be with us for many years to come. I hope that the Minister can give an indication, if not an undertaking, that he is prepared to look seriously at the possibility of bringing the treatment of housing stress areas into line with the general objectives of the Bill, which we all support.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Deputy Chairman

Before calling the next Amendment I wish to say that new Clause 2 and the Amendments which have been submitted have now been selected. It might be for the convenience of the Committee if I were to read the Amendments to the new Clause which is on the Notice Paper. They are: In new Clause 2, line 2, delete the words "and subsection (3)". In line 3, delete the words "and subsection (4)" and the last word "and" of that line and In line 4, delete "section 18, respectively,". It will be possible to read them when we come to the new Clause, but I thought it would be for the convenience of the Committee to have the details now.

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