HL Deb 11 April 1946 vol 140 cc750-70

Order of the Day for he House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Henderson.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The VISCOUNT MERSEY in the Chair.]

Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.

Clause 4:

Standard amount of Exchequer contributions for flats, etc., on expensive sites.

4.—(1) For a flat provided in a block of flats on a site the cost of which as developed (ascertained in accordance with Part I of the First Schedule to this Act) exceeds one thousand-five hundred pounds per at re, the standard amount of the annual Exchequer contribution shall, subject to the following previsions of this Act, be determined in accordance with the Table contained in Part II of the said First Schedule:

(2) Whore a house (not being a flat in a block of flats)—

  1. (a) is provided on a site the cost of which as developed (ascertained in accordance 751 with Part I of the First Schedule to this Act) exceeds one thousand five hundred pounds per acre; and
  2. (b) is provided under a scheme of development which makes provision also for the erection of one or more blocks of flats on the same site as the house;
then, if the Minister thinks fit so to direct, the standard amount of the annual Exchequer contribution for that house shall be determined in accordance with the Table contained in Part II of the said First Schedule:

Provided that the Minister shall not give any direction under this subsection in relation to any house unless he is satisfied, with respect to the total housing accommodation which has been and is to be provided on the same site as the house, that satisfactory arrangements could not have been made for providing that accommodation on that site in a single building containing in all its parts the same number of storeys, or in two or more such buildings, unless the number of storeys in that single building, or in each of those two or more buildings, was at least three.

5.55 p.m.

LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH moved, at the beginning of subsection (1), after "For," to insert "a house or." The noble Lord said: There are two Amendments on the Paper in my name and they hang together. With your Lordships' permission I will deal with them both on this Amendment. What I am concerned about—and this is one of the points I tried to make on the Second Reading—is the effect that the financial provisions, as set out in this Bill, will have in relation to the question of flats or houses. I am not going, at this stage, to argue the merits of flats or houses, because I think we have really reached agreement that where single-family houses are possible they are eminently desirable. We are all agreed about that here, and that is a view which is shared by about ninety per cent, of the population. I think that every single survey which has been made has produced the result that between eighty per cent, and ninety per cent, of the population want houses of their own if they can have them, houses where they can bring up their children, houses which have gardens and afford privacy and other advantages.

But, as your Lordships know, it nevertheless remains true—and it is agreed—that a proportion of the population must be housed in flats because there is not room for anything else. I think that nobody who listened to my noble friend Lord Latham a few days ago could remain unconvinced of the definite necessity which besets the London County Council, and of the absolute need that there is in central areas, and areas adjacent to the docks and so on of having blocks of fiats on these expensive sites. I want to make it clear that I am not under any illusion about that point whatever. The provisions in this Bill for flats on expensive sites are entirely appropriate for special cases such as those I have mentioned, and, to put a limit on it, I think the special cases, broadly speaking, concern land which costs upwards of £10,000 or £12,000 an acre or even a little higher. But this is not a Bill for special cases. This is the Government's general Bill and one expects it to be in line with their general housing policy. I have congratulated the Government on their policy of dispersal. They have agreed that the congested central areas of the great towns have got to be redeveloped in such a way that the density is lower. That does not alter the fact that in some parts we have got to have high density.

The general policy of the Government is a policy of dispersal into satellite towns and new towns. What alarms me is that this Bill does not seem to be in line with that policy. It is admittedly a long-term policy. If you have got a long-term policy for land use and for dispersal in housing, then your Housing Bill ought in common sense to reflect that policy. I am told that these provisions are only for two years and that then they can be altered. That contention I venture to say is not borne out by the facts. In Clause 16 of this Bill provision is made for the review of contributions. The clause says: Subject to the provisions of this section, the Minister may from time to time by order provide, in relation to new houses completed after such date, not being earlier than the thirtieth day of June, nineteen hundred and forty-seven, as may be specified in the order— (a) for reducing all or any of the standard amounts of the annual Exchequer contribution; —and so on.

That, of course, is properly put in to meet what we all hope will be the case of falling costs. There is no provision that I see for fundamental alteration of the relation between flats and houses. We have some basic figures which I want your Lordships to bear in mind, and I will trouble you with as little arithmetic as possible. In Clauses 1 and 2 we have a general standard of contribution and that, as your Lordships already know very well, is £16s. 10s. from the Exchequer and £5 10s. from the rates, making a total of £22. That general standard contribution is going to have a capital value over sixty years of £594. Then we come to Clause 4 which I am seeking to amend, and we have the standard contributions on expensive sites. To get them you have: to go to the Schedule. If your Lordships will turn to the First Schedule you see the scale set out on page 22, beginning at £1,500 per acre. I want at this point to mention one rather significant thing. I cannot help thinking that there is here a definite bias in, favour of flats. A significant bit of evidence is shown in the Table in Part III, where you have the standard amount of annual Exchequer contribution and rate contribution in the case of flats. It begins at land more than £1,500, but not more than £4,000, and the Bill goes out of its way to provide for contributions for lifts right down to land just over £1,500. It looks as if the Minister contemplates five, six or ten-storey flats on land costing just over £1,500 an acre.

That makes me wonder whether there is not rather a bias here in favour of flats. That was quite common in Socialist circles in Vienna after the last war. They built what are outwardly some fine blocks of flats, but inside they are not good flats. They are very small, poky little places. The Russians, too, about the same time, thought the single-family house was a bourgeois conception, and they did not like it for that reason. Now, it is true, continental thought has gone back to the single-dwelling house, and I am very anxious to have an assurance that it is understood that what the Government want is to house the population in the most adequate way—that is, in houses—where the land permits. I know that in central areas you cannot have everybody in houses, but what alarms me is the proviso to Clause 4—a very obscure bit of drafting. I will not read it, but if your Lordships will just look at it you will see it begins at line 29, and goes on to line 37. I can tell your Lordships that it means an over-all density of three-storeys. It means that the Minister can only give the higher subsidy where there is an over-all development at a density of three-storeys. In response to my inquiry the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, said on the Second Reading that the maximum development which would be considered satisfactory was thirty-five dwellings to the acre. We have not been told authoritatively what the minimum development would be, but: I venture the supposition that it might be twenty-five to the acre. Thirty-five dwellings to the acre might include seven houses and twenty-eight flats, according to the noble Viscount. That would be 80 per cent, flats.

If I am right in supposing that the minimum density would be twenty-five to the acre, it would give a proportion of 44 per cent, flats—I have had it worked out. It comes to this; nothing less than the development of 44 per cent, of flats is possible on land over £1,500 an acre. The Minister is fettered by his proviso that on land over £1,500 an acre he has to insist, in order to give the higher subsidy, on 44 per cent, flats. I believe there will be 2,000,000 people to be housed in the central area of the County of London, and I refuse to believe that 44 per cent, of them will accept flats. If the County of London plan is developed in the way some parts of it indicate, at 200 to the acre, it means, great areas of 100 per cent, flats of eight to ten storeys. I feel sure that after we have built from 4,000,000 to 6,000,000 houses, these areas would become derelict. But that is by the way.

I want to try and explain what it means to a local authority which wants to build houses and is, as I think, forced to build flats. Here are two figures I want you to carry in your minds for the ordinary three-bedroomed house. The subsidy scale is based on the idea that a house with about 900 feet floor space will cost £1,000, exclusive of land, while a flat, which will only have 750 feet, will cost £1,460. An inferior flat will cost £460 more than a comparable house. That means inferior three-bedroomed dwellings for £1,460. I venture to suggest that this high cost is the reason why this unfortunate scale has come about. The greatly increased cost of building has altered the whole relationship of the cost of land to the cost of building. Before, you could save money by building flats, even on lower-cost land, because the cost of building was so much in relation to the cost of land. Now, it becomes more expensive to build flats than houses, unless on a very expensive site indeed.

Take the case of a local authority which has land at £4,500 an acre. That represents £3,000 more than the limit of £1,500. If the local authority wants to develop it in houses, it means that they have to find £250 additional for the land per house—twelve into three thousand. Now if they are to build these houses, they have either to find the extra £250 from the rates, which is not practical policy, or make their tenants pay higher rents, which is also not practical policy. The only other choice is for the authorities to submit, and build fiats. Once they agree to build flats, they get not £594, which is the capital value of the house subsidy, but £1,078—or £484 extra—for building flats. And that is more than the additional cost of building these flats. I hope that illustrates to your Lordships the absurd extravagance this proposal will lead us into. It is going to cost millions of pounds more. I am perfectly certain that the problem which faces the London County Council is such that it is unlikely there will be any land which is less than £6,000 to £7,000 an acre, even on the fringes. That will mean, because the Minister has fettered himself, that there will necessarily be flats in places where, I am sure, my noble friend Lord Latham would prefer to build cottages.

I will give one or two examples. I take the example of Poplar, and my authority is the London Evening News for December 4 last. I am informed that Poplar had a scheme for 21.5 houses or dwellings per acre, and under the influence of the London County Council they have unwillingly put it up to 23. If my reading of this Bill is right—and I am prety sure it is—neither 21 nor 23 will be possible, assuming the land in Poplar to be worth more than £1,500 an acre—which it is. Consequently, Poplar will have to revise its density and go into flats. There is a great area of high-cost land outside the County of London. I quote such places as Croydon, Willesden, and West Ham, where there is land at the middle figures which would be available without undue encroachment on agricultural land. Or take a town like York. York developed in its central areas at 12 dwelling houses to the acre before the war, and I think that is the sort of development many "blitzed" towns will want to see in their centres. But because the land is worth more than £1,500, they will be prevented from doing it, and millions of money will be spent on subsidies and hundreds of thousands of people will be forced to live in flats who would rather live in houses. This subsidy scale as it stands makes it impossible to do what is sensible in areas where these central conditions do not exist. Central conditions necessitate special treatment, but this Bill applies its treatment to all areas, central and other.

In case the argument is produced that my Amendment would be administratively difficult, I am confident that it gives the Minister the discretion which I want him to have, and that in cases where open development of twelve to the acre was agreed to be suitable, he could give the right amount of subsidy to compensate for the additional cost of land, which is of course what this expensive land subsidy is really intended to do. If it is argued that that would be administratively difficult, I am happy to be able to point to the Scottish Bill, because in the Scottish Bill (which I think has not yet been to your Lordships, but is coming; it has been in another place), the Secretary of State has discretion to make an appropriate contribution. It would be very flattering to my Scottish pride to think that the Scottish Office is able to administer this clause and that the Ministry of Health is not. But indeed in refusing my Amendment my noble friend on the Front Bench is himself putting forward that argument. At least I do not see that he really can escape that dilemma.

Finally I would like to refer to this question of Privilege, because I think it may be argued that this is a Privilege Amendment as it has to do with finance. I dare say there is an argument that it is not Privilege because it does not increase the burden, but in fact diminishes it. But the spirit in which I offer the Amendment to your Lordships' House is that I think this is a technical point of some difficulty which has slipped through the other House possibly without the other House realizing quite what they were doing, and I think it is our duty, as the revising Chamber, to give the other House the opportunity for second thoughts. If your Lordships see fit to accept the Amendment we can send it down to the other place and then they can have a look at it again. Of course if, having their second thoughts, they say, "No, you are all wrong; we are not interested in the Amendment" whether they say it is Privilege or not, your Lordships then will have no more to say, but I think we should exercise our function of a revising Chamber in pointing out this grave defect and I earnestly beg your Lordships to support my Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 1, after ("For") insert ("a house or").—(Lord Balfour of Burleigh.)

6.11 p.m.


I think it would be convenient if I were to emulate the noble Lord, who has moved the Amendments, and deal with his two Amendments together, because they do in fact hang together. I think I ought to make it perfectly clear that the noble Lord is quite wrong when he suspects that in the policy of the Government there is a bias in favour of flats. The issue between the noble Lord and the Government is a perfectly simple and straightforward one. The noble Lord wants local authorities to be free to develop central areas largely or wholly by houses. The Government, on the other hand, are satisfied that the space cannot be afforded.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord—not central areas, any area over £1,500 an acre.


I am coming to the point in a moment. I am just dealing with the general case. It is suggested that the Government have in mind that the areas should foe mainly developed by flats. I agree that this is the Government's position in the main in dealing with expensive sites in built-up areas. The noble Lord stressed the case of sites costing from £1,500 upwards. I think he is quite wrong when he says that the Government compel local authorities to build flats on such sites. In point of fact, local authorities are free to choose, but if they want the larger subsidy then they must build flats. Perhaps I can relieve my noble friend's mind to some extent by telling him that from a purely financial point of view it can be accepted that it will always be cheaper to local authorities and to the tenants to build houses rather than flats, when the cost of the land is within the lower reaches of the costs set out in Part II of the first Schedule.


HOW far?


I should say, according to my information, up to about £6,000, not exceeding £6,000. Therefore it is wrong to assume that, because the Government provide a higher subsidy for fiats, the local authority is induced by that higher subsidy to build flats, when, in point of fact, as I have just stated, it would be cheaper for them to build houses. There is a general point which I think I must stress. The higher subsidy is not offered as an inducement to build flats rather than houses. It is a compulsion to build flats on expensive sites because of the very serious shortage of building land in central areas. That is the position that the Government have taken up, and it has been announced quite clearly by the Minister in another place. The policy of developing these areas mainly by flats, subject to an overriding density of approximately 35 to the acre, is in agreement with sound principles of planning, and I think I am right in saying in the Abercrombie plan for these areas flats were indicated as the primary need.

Now the real position is that the Government have laid down their policy. As to the Amendment moved by the noble Lord this afternoon, I am not sure how far I am in order in referring to the proceedings in another place which have not been officially reported to your Lordships' House, but I think I may say that during the Second Reading and Committee stages of this Bill in another place the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, were very freely ventilated. On the Committee stage an Amendment somewhat similar to his own Amendment was moved, and, as I slated in the Second Reading discussion in your Lordships' House two days ago, while there was strong opposition from certain members of another place to the policy of the Government, that policy was in fact generally accepted D3 the House without a Division. The position of the Government remains unchanged. They stand by their policy and by Clause 4, and for the reasons which I have stated I am unable to accept the Amendment.

6.21 p.m.


I hope we shall not leave this Amendment and this matter generally in what I think would be really a very unsatisfactory position, after the speech we have just heard. I am not challenging the intentions of the Government and I feel sure the noble Lord has expressed them in a friendly and sincere manner, but I cannot conceive words less well designed to give effect to those intentions than the words of this clause as I read them. I believe there is really very little between us in intention here, but it is very important that we should express that intention with complete certainty in the Bill, and that local authorities and the public at large, as well as the Minister, should understand what this policy is to be.

I am not an expert in drafting and I am not going to say that my noble friend's Amendment will do exactly what I believe the majority of us want to do. It may be that it is admirably phrased for the purpose. However, I want to put to your Lordships what I believe is the common intention of all of us. This schedule and this proviso to the clause seem to me to have been drafted having in mind very expensive sites or very densely populated areas. But it goes a great deal wider than that, because it deals with every piece of land anywhere in the country of which the cost is more than £1,500 an acre, and it deals with it at a time when, the cost of building having gone up greatly, the ratio of cost of land to building is a very different proposition from what it was six or seven years ago.

Let me see if I can carry your Lordships in agreement with me over certain propositions. The first is that where you get a densely populated area which has to be rehoused, where the people have to live near their work and where there is only a very limited amount of ground physically available, then we should all agree that if you can house that number of people on that amount of land only by building flats, there is an unanswerable case for building flats. I think we would also agree that when you get into the very high priced land, land costing £16,000 or £18,000 an acre—well, I will not take the debatable land but land which is not debatable, at £12,000 to £16,000 an acre—where to house otherwise than by flats would involve either a colossal subsidy or an unduly high rent, there again we should all agree that you must proceed by flats.

But surely we should also agree that where there is plenty of room, where the cost is not excessive—and the noble Lord has told us, if I followed him aright, that until you get above £6,000 an acre it is going to be cheaper to build houses—then the Minister should have a discretion to approve a building scheme of either entirely houses or partly flats and partly houses, with no rule-of-three sum, as I may term it, as to the number of houses and the number of flats. This I think will certainly be admitted: that, broad and large, the majority of people would much rather live in a house than in a flat. I do not think there is any doubt about it. Therefore, provided there is land available and the cost is not too excessive, surely the reasonable thing to do is to build houses and not flats. The noble Lord says: "Let them build houses if they want to. It is not the intention to force people into building flats or to induce them to build flats." But surely, if it is not the intention, the inducement is put there most strongly. He says the local authorities are free to choose, but in fact the form in which this schedule is drawn up is a direct bribe to the local authorities to build the more costly and less popular flat. You get £484 more in subsidy if you build a flat than if you build a house.

I would beg the Government to look at this again and give the Minister a much wider discretion. I would like your Lordships to look at this proviso because it is what appears to me to govern it all. If it were not there, the Minister would have a general discretion, but in the proviso he is deliberately fettering his own discretion. Indeed, I go so far as to say that he has made it impossible for himself to exercise a discretion. Let your Lordships observe what it says: …the Minister shall not give any direction"— that is, shall not exercise his discretion— under this subsection in relation to any house unless he is satisfied, with respect to the total housing accommodation which has been and is to be provided on the same site as the house, that satisfactory arrangements could not have been made for providing that accommodation on that site in a single building containing in all its parts the same number of storeys, or in two or more such buildings containing the same number of storeys.

That merely means that what you have got to do is to put the thing on what I may call a "flat basis" to start with. That means, according to the figures quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, if I understood him correctly, that you have got to build 25 to the acre. If you have to do that, I cannot conceive of any circumstances in which it would not have been physically possible to put up a block of flats and house people in those flats. Why should the Minister's discretion be limited in this way? I am not sure whether my noble friend's clause forces the Minister or not—I do not think it does—but he does not want to force him. He is perfectly content to leave the Minister with the widest possible discretion. What we want—and I really think it is carrying out the intention which the Government have at heart—is for the Minister to have an absolute discretion, where he is satisfied—I think I carry my noble friend who moved the Amendment with me on this—on the representation of the local authority that it is sound economically and socially to build houses rather than to build flats, to build entirely houses or to build partly houses and partly flats. We want to get rid altogether of this rule-of-three sum about so many flats to the acre of three or more storeys. It seems to me that that is a straightforward proposition.

There is no great question of principle involved in this. I know how easily these things slip through when you have your mind entirely on one thing. I accept completely the speech which the noble Lord, Lord Latham, made—and who would not when he speaks with the authority with which he does? Nobody wants to fetter the complete discretion of the London County Council to do whatever it thinks is the wisest from the point of view of planning. But this is not a question of just one or two cities; I beg the noble Lord not to think it is. It concerns every local authority in an area where the land is going to cost more than £1,500 per acre. Although the Minister may have in mind London, Liverpool or somewhere else, what he has done in his Bill is to take in every town, large or small, where the land is going to cost more than £1,500 per acre. I am sure this has been drafted on the assumption, first, that land is a bigger factor in the; cost, as it was in the old days; and secondly having very much in mind these densely populated places in which housing needs can only be met by the provision of flats.

That will not in any way be prejudiced if the Government will look at this again and give the Minister this wide discretion which will enable him, where he is satisfied on the representation of the local authority that it would be sound both economically and socially to build houses, to give a subsidy irrespective of this mathematical formula. I beg the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, to go into this again and to see whether he cannot meet us by some form of amendment, which I have not attempted to draft. I believe I have expressed what is the common desire of everybody in every quarter of the House—on the Benches opposite as well as on this side. If that be so, I would beg the noble Viscount, with the assistance of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor—who has been very good in meeting us over these things, in consequence of which I think we have been able to make great improvements in many of these measures—to give to us that something which will, to his satisfaction and to ours, carry out what is, I believe, the common intention of all of us.

6.35 p.m.


I wish, if I may, to give some indication of the background and approach to this problem from the point of view of local authorities. I will say quite frankly that, representing the London County Council, I have repeatedly pressed for a special subsidy for cottages built on expensive land, although as I said in your Lordships' House on Tuesday there is not much available land within the County of London upon which cottages could properly be built. The Minister was asked if he could find it possible to provide special subsidies for cottages built upon expensive land, but he found himself unable; to do so for, I think, fairly good reasons. We must remember that this Bill is a Bill to deal with, special circumstances, and that the subsidies which are provided in it are to operate for a limited period. The subsidies are high, and the proportion to be borne by the Exchequer has been increased from 2 to I to 3 to I. Nevertheless, it must be remembered—and I think when it is appreciated, my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh will agree he was a little less than fair to the Government when he suggested that in the settlement of these subsidies they were actuated by a bias against cottages and a preference for flats—that this is the first time that a special subsidy has been granted for cottages.

For many years local authorities have pressed successive Ministers of Health, when questions of subsidies were under consideration, to provide for some special treatment for cottages built upon expensive land. In these proposals it is provided for the first time that, for mixed development of the prescribed order of I to 4, the cottages will, if they comply with the proviso to Clause 4, attract a special subsidy. The special subsidy in respect of expensive land upon which fiats are built was not, in my view, granted initially in order to encourage the building of flats; it was a recognition of the almost intolerable burden which would otherwise have been cast upon certain local authorities if they had to build flats, or indeed any other housing accommodation, on very expensive land. I think it is not perhaps unfair for the Minister, since a special subsidy has to be given because the land is expensive, to insist that the land should be used to the best advantage to provide appropriate housing accommodation, and should not, from the point of view of finding accommodation, be wastefully used by building cottages, or too many cottages, upon it.

In those circumstances, I think the Government have gone some way in these proposals towards meeting the case of the local authorities in whose area land is expensive. Where land in the central areas is expensive it is because there is a shortage of land, and that shortage of land must be taken into account in relation to how it is used to provide the housing accommodation which is needed. Therefore I think that the Government have gone some way to meet us. I cannot say definitely, but I am not persuaded that the proposals suggested in the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, could be satisfactorily administered. Personally, having read them twice, I should imagine there would be some difficulty in making them administratively workable. A good deal has been made to-day, as was the case on Tuesday, of the change in the ratio between the cost of land and the cost of building. There has been a change of ratio, but the result is that the total cost has gone up. The total cost having gone up, the total deficiency has gone up, and the total deficiency has got to be met by the rates or by the taxes. It seems to me that the proposals in this Bill are a fair recognition that in the special and difficult circumstances of high cost of building the State should bear an additional burden.

I do not take the view that these proposals may operate as a bribe to local authorities to build flats instead of cottages. There has been since 1930 a higher scale of subsidy for flats than for cottages, but I do not believe that any evidence can be furnished that any local authority has therefore built flats because flats would attract a higher subsidy. It is the case that local authorities have built flats with great regret, and much against their wish and will, not because flats attract a higher subsidy but because there was no other way of dealing with the housing problem. If it is suggested that these proposals are a bribe, then you have attempted unsuccessfully to bribe local authorities for the past fifteen years, because it has been for that period, or approximately that period—I cannot charge my memory exactly—when there has been a special subsidy for building flats on expensive land. I therefore think your Lordships would be well advised to accept the proposals as set out in the Bill.

I was a little surprised that my noble friend Lord Balfour, who was sitting near me for some time before he spoke, quoted from the Evening News—which newspaper is not always an authority—a statement that the London County Council had insisted that the Borough of Poplar should increase its density from twenty-one to twenty-three. That may or may not be the case, but I should doubt whether the facts are fully stated in the statement in the Evening News. You must bear in mind that in connexion with housing in the metropolitan boroughs, the London County Council frequently have to carry out duties which, as regards the rest of the country, are carried out by the Ministry of Health because we are the sanctioning authority and the approving authority. I can assure this House that if we suggested an adjustment of the density, it was not because of the financial implications, but for other considerations which were thought proper in connexion with the planning of the district. I therefore hope the House will not accept the Amendment.

6.45 p.m.


This Amendment raises questions of great national importance and, for my own part, I should like to offer my support to my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh in respect of the Amendment which is before us now, largely for the reason so fully stated by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, that the scope of this Bill in this particular provision appears to extend somewhat wider than the arguments which support it would extend. He said that those who promoted this provision have in view the centre of great cities like London or other great industrial towns, but in fact the application of this clause would apply to a great number of towns of an entirely different character.

I should like to give your Lordships one particular instance. During the war I was resident in Oxford, where the Oxford Preservation Trust is very greatly concerned with the effects upon the character of the town of the gradual industrialization that has befallen it, and they appointed a committee for the future planning of Oxford. It included the Chairman of the Planning Committee of the City Council, and the Chairman of the corresponding body in the county together with other experts, and they did me the honour to make me the Chairman of that Committee. This very problem came before us because there is, in the centre of Oxford, a considerable area which is known to many of your Lordships and which has been marked down for some time past for demolition of a number of old and unsatisfactory properties and the rebuilding of that area. The question arose whether a considerable number of flats should be built there or not. That has been a matter of controversy in the city of Oxford for some time. It was agreed that, in view of the general industrial and other conditions of the town, it was necessary to have at all events some blocks of flats in that area or in an adjoining area, but the question arose how far that principle should be adopted and whether the whole of that part of Oxford should be converted into an area of big flat dwellings.

I did not know this question was coming forward, and I have not acquainted myself as to the actual valuation of those particular sites, but I would like to ask the Minister whether, assuming that the value of the sites would bring it within the scope of this clause, the City Council of Oxford would be put in this dilemma. If they cover the whole of that area with blocks of flats would they or would they not get 50 per cent. more subsidy than if they covered a considerable part of it with houses and a comparatively minor part with flats? That is the question which I should like to put to the noble Lord, because the matter is at present not quite clear, at any rate to my mind, and perhaps to the minds of some other members of this House. Will the City Council and the ratepayers be put in the dilemma that if they cover this large area with flats, they would gain financially something like 50 per cent. in subsidy compared to the erection of houses?

I mentioned at the outset that this raised new questions of national policy, because this country is now faced, in this controversy between flats and houses, with a problem closely affecting the future generations, and those of us who hold that the principle of the family is at the present time of supreme importance and that we should deal with these matters largely with a view to the children of the future and not merely to economic considerations, hold most strongly the view that it would be lamentable if the British people were converted into a race of nomadic flat dwellers. What we want above all is to preserve the idea of the English home and have houses which are fit for children to live in, and not only heroes. In so far as the Government could give any financial bias to one set of dwellings or to the other, it should rather be in favour of the house than in favour of the flat. We cannot ignore the fact that the present Minister of Health, in whose hands these questions largely lie, has actually suggested that the way to solve the rural housing problem is to erect in the agricultural districts large blocks of fiats for the housing of the people.

Now legislation passed by Parliament often has quite unexpected results, results not at all intended by the authors of the Bills. It may be that this clause which we are now discussing will, in the course of time, if it remains in its present form, have the effect of changing the character of our old English towns. Places like Oxford and many other similar towns, it may be found, will, in the course of a generation or so, have their character changed by the presence of great blocks of flats such as may be necessary in the centres of great cities—as, for instance, in the centre of Vienna—but are not necessarily called for in less congested areas. Incidentally, I have visited Vienna, and have seen those blocks of flats, and I agree with what has been said about them. But, as I was saying, the ultimate result of this would be greatly to the detriment of the character of our country as a whole. Lord Latham said that he doubted whether this Amendment, as drafted, would be administrable, and he suggested that it might give rise to great practical difficulties. But the noble Lord who moved the Amendment said that a provision to very much the same effect is already included in a Bill presented by the present Government for Scotland, and we cannot accuse the Government, surely, of presenting, in another Bill, a provision which is not capable of proper administration. Therefore, I support the plea that has been made to the Government to give fresh and fundamental consideration to the proposal contained in the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh.

6.53 p.m.


I should like to assure your Lordships that we on this side of the House do not yield to the noble Viscount in our enthusiasm for the English home. We have just as high a regard for the English home as he has. We have never abated our zeal for it, and I hope that we never shall. It is quite evident that the well-being of the race is dependent upon the people having homes in which they can bring up their children and give them a proper life. But that is not, in the very least, the issue that is before the House to-day. May I say with regard to the noble Viscount's conjecture as to what might happen at Oxford, that if the Corporation of that city were inclined to do the very foolish thing that he suggests, then, notwithstanding the increased subsidy it would, in fact, cost the City of Oxford more than if they built houses. So the noble Viscount's illustration is entirely hypothetical, and it has no relation to the actual issue that is before us.

I am just as much impressed with the necessity of getting a right solution of this problem as are noble Lords opposite. I am sure that we all agree on that. I think myself, as the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, has already said, that in principle there is no essential difference between us. It is recognized, as Lord Latham has said with incontrovertible force, that there must be areas in our towns, certainly in London and elsewhere, where the only way of accommodating populations that have got to be accommodated is to build flats. There are such places, as we all know. Their existence puts us under an unfortunate necessity, but there it is. But we must remember that, coincident with that, for the first time there is in this provision an additional subsidy for cottages—which has not been granted before—erected on this highly expensive land. I want to assure the Committee that there is on the part of the Government no bias in favour of flats. We want just as much as everybody else to see homes provided, and what affects us as members of this House is what affects members of local authorities and members of the population generally. I have not yet met a local authority which is enthusiastic for putting its people into flats. Such an authority may exist in dreamland but I have not come across it. Local authorities like their people to live as their people like to live; that is to say, as far as possible in their own homes. Every local authority that I have ever heard of is so minded. But that does not get away from the grim necessities of the case. There must be some flats in some places. To provide them is the only way to deal with the situation.

I was rather surprised and, quite frankly, I was also gratified to find that it is anticipated that, as a matter of fact, it will be cheaper and more advantageous, under the Bill, to build houses instead of flats on land costing up to round about £6,000 an acre. I must say that so far as I was concerned I found that a gratifying assurance. I think it ought also to gratify my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh and to rule out a good many of the misgivings which he seemed to entertain. So that the danger is, if I may say so, very much exaggerated. It is true that this is a Bill of general application, but knowing the feeling of authorities, knowing how, in fact, it is more advantageous to build houses rather than flats, except in the case of very high valued land, I cannot, myself, see that we need be very apprehensive.

A point put by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, impressed me very much. He expressed misgivings that as the relevant proviso stands a special bias is implied in favour of flats. That is, I think, a fair way of expressing it. I do not mind saying that I have read this proviso several times, and I have also read Lord Balfour of Burleigh's Amendment several times. But I am not a lawyer, and I confess that at the end of my reading I had not a very clear understanding of either the proviso or the Amendment. I could quite believe, and I was assured, that as it stands Lord Balfour of Burleigh's Amendment would be unworkable. But that does not necessarily apply to the Amendment only. I had a good look at this proviso, and it appears to me that the misgiving behind the whole of this discussion is that this proviso implies a bias in favour of flats and does not give the Minister—shall we say the discretion which we would like him to have? I believe that is a fair statement of the matter. I have put that point to officials of the Department and they are perfectly willing that I should give the assurance to the Committee that they will look into it between now and the next stage of the Bill and, if anything can be done that will make it clear that the Minister's discretion is a real discretion, we shall be prepared to consider words that will have that effect. I sincerely hope that the Committee will be willing to accept that assurance, and will not ask us to accept the noble lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh's Amendment.

6.59 p.m.


I am very grateful to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for what he has just said. He has expressed my misgivings with perfect accuracy. What I fear is that the mysterious proviso to which he has alluded does in fact limit the discretion of the Minister, and I am greatly indebted to him for his promise to look into it to see whether anything can be done to make it clearer.

I hope if the Department adheres—or if I may put it this way, I earnestly hope the noble Viscount will be successful in securing the redrafting of the words to make the point clear. If he has the misfortune to have to come back to your Lordships' House and tell us that I am wrong, and that this does not limit discretion, I think it would be reasonable for the House to ask him to explain why that is.

A good deal of criticism has been voiced about the clarity of my Amendment. I challenge anybody to say it is not crystal clear, compared with the proviso in the Bill. With regard to my remarks about Lord Latham, I much regret if I have said anything to hurt his feelings. He is a tremendous authority on all that concerns London. I hope he will not take it amiss if I say that he knows so much about London that he is a little bit inclined to judge the national problem in terms of London. That sums up the objections to this Bill. It is not a special Bill for London. It is a Bill for the whole country, and he must allow some of us to have rather strong views. I am most grateful to the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, and I earnestly hope that we may be so fortunate as to secure a redraft. In that hope and in respect of that undertaking I beg leave to withdraw.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Schedules agreed to.