HL Deb 22 July 1952 vol 178 cc94-104

2.56 p.m.

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

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

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2:

Contributions and grants for houses occupied under contracts of service.

2.—(1) Subsection (3) of section thirteen of the Act of 1946 (which prohibits the making of a contribution under section three of the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, 1938 for any year during which a house is occupied otherwise than by its owner or a tenant) shall cease to have effect.

(3) No contribution shall be payable under section three of the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, 1938, in respect of a house completed after the seventeenth day of April, nineteen hundred and forty-six, for any year during which the house is at any time occupied in pursuance of a contract of service by a member of the agricultural population unless the condition set out in subsection (4) of this section, so far as applicable to the house at any time during that year, is complied with; and in relation to any dwelling in respect of which an improvement grant has been made, whether before or after the passing of this Act, under section twenty of the Housing Act, 1949, being a dwelling which is for the time being occupied as aforesaid, section twenty-three of the said Act of 1949 shall have effect as if that condition were included among the conditions specified in subsection (1) of that section.

(4) The condition referred to in subsection (3) of this section is that if the contract is determined—

  1. (a) by less than four weeks' notice given by the employer;
  2. (b) by dismissal of the employee without notice; or
  3. (c) by the death of either party.
the employer or his personal representative will permit the employee (or, in the case of his death, any person residing with him at his death) to continue to occupy the house or dwelling free of charge from the determination of the contract until the expiration of a period of four weeks beginning with the date on which the notice is given or, if the contract is determined otherwise than by notice, with the date on which it is determined.

LORD SILKIN moved to add to subsection (1): and accordingly any person who but for the provisions of subsection (3) of section thirteen of the Act of 1946 would have qualified for a grant under section three of the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, 1938, shall as from the coming into operation of this Act become entitled to such grant.

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this Amendment I explained on Second Reading, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, who is going to deal with the matter, is fully acquainted with the point I wish to make. Briefly, it is that under the Housing Act of 1936 subsidies were made available for persons who built houses for agricultural workers. There was at first a subsidy of £10 a year, which was increased to £15, for forty years. Then came the Housing Act of 1946, which repealed that provision, and subsidies were no longer available for persons who built houses for agricultural workers, unless those houses were let in the normal way subject to the Rent Restrictions Acts. It was intended to discourage the tied house, although a number of houses were built after 1946 without the subsidy.

This Bill restores the subsidy, and, when it becomes an Act, any person who builds a house of this kind will get a subsidy of £15 for forty years. The purpose of this Amendment is to require that that same advantage of receiving a subsidy shall be made available to the unhappy person who happened to build his house between 1946 and 1952. I am not proposing that this should be retrospective—unless the noble Lord wishes to give a retrospective grant. I am suggesting that a person who built between 1946 and 1952 should get a subsidy from the time that this Bill becomes law, provided he complies with the conditions.

In reply on the Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, gave what I can only regard as a quick answer, which we all have to give at times, without adequate consideration. He suggested that the person who built a house without subsidy between 1946 and 1952 was likely to build the kind of house that did not need a subsidy. A moment's reflection will bring to the noble Lord the fact that there is no means test in this subsidy. Many people built houses between 1936 and 1946 and are getting their subsidy although they never needed it. There is no question of applying a means test. The only qualifications for getting a subsidy are that the house is being built for a member of the agricultural classes, and that it complies with the conditions laid down in the 1936 Act. I would therefore suggest, in the name of equity and fair dealing, that people who, but for the interregnum during which the subsidy was not available, would have received a subsidy, should now receive it. I hope that the noble Lord will do justice to what I am sure he will regard as a deserving section of the community—namely, those people who have built houses for the benefit of an important part of the population. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 46, at end insert the said words.—(Lord Silkin.)


The noble Lord has made an eloquent case, but I may say that I did not reply hastily and without consideration on Second Reading—I merely replied quickly. After all, what is the essence of this question of a subsidy? It is that a house receives a subsidy if it is approved for a subsidy before it is built. I would put the matter in this way. Here are a number of people—I do not suppose it is a large number—who, for their own good reasons, decided to build houses at a time when they knew that no subsidies were available. It is quite true, as I said to your Lordships the other day, that they were obviously able to afford to do it. I did not mean that there should be any question of a means test, but that they did it with a full knowledge of the law. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin—who gave me much encouragement the other day when he made those telling observations on the subject of the large amount of money the country was spending on subsidies—now asks that we should proceed to give subsidies to people who built houses knowing full well that no subsidy was available. It would be an expenditure of public money that I really could not justify, and I hope the noble Lord will not press this Amendment.


I am not sure that the Lord President of the Council is not a little unfair to these people. After all, they did not build these cottages for fun. They built them, presumably, because they thought they were required in order to carry out what public opinion and the Government of the day were continually saying—namely, that it was necessary to increase, or, at least, to maintain, domestic food production. They did not apply for the subsidy because, in their opinion—and they were entitled to that opinion—the terms on which it would have been granted (namely, that the cottage must become a rent restricted cottage, and therefore, not available for future employees on that particular estate) might vitiate the reason for which the cottage was built.

It is quite true that one may assume that they had the money, or were able to borrow the money, to build the cottage without the subsidy. But I should have thought, in view of the claims we heard the other day, the speeches by leading members of the Government on the necessity for increasing food production to-day, and the need, as evidenced by the Working Party on the Storage of Grain, for large capital expenditure by landlords and farmers throughout the country in order to comply with the request of the Government, that there was a strong claim, in equity, for the Government, not, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, was careful to suggest, to give subsidies for the period of time that has elapsed, but, at all events, to enable these people now to receive a subsidy, which presumably would help them to incur the further capital expenditure which the Government certainly are saying is needed in the national interest. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord, the Lord President of the Council, will still keep an open mind upon this matter, because I am sure that when he comes to think it over he will feel that, in equity, he ought to comply with Lord Silkin's request.


I am sorry the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, is so adamant about this. Although this constitutes one more injustice to the farming community, I do not propose to press the Amendment. If the noble Lord wishes to impose this injustice on the farming community, then he must take the responsibility. In the circumstances, while I cannot withdraw the Amendment, I do not wish to take it to a Division.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

LORD WISE moved to add to the clause: (5) If the owner of a house (not being the employer referred to in subsection (4) of this section) fails to receive such a contribution or such an improvement grant as is referred to in subsection (3) of this section by reason only that the employer or his personal representative has failed to permit continued occupation in accordance with the said subsection (4) the owner shall be entitled to recover the amount of such contribution or improvement grant from the employer or his personal representative as a debt due to the owner.

The noble Lord said: This Amendment arises out of something I said in my Second Reading speech, and the noble Lord, the Lord President of the Council, suggested that I should raise it again at a later stage and he would then consider it For that reason I have put down this Amendment. Briefly, the point I wish to raise is this. Your Lordships will see that Clause 2 (3) deals with a contract which may be made between the Government and the owner of a property, whereby the owner of the property, if he builds a new house, may receive a contribution, and if he reconditions an old house, may receive a grant, under certain conditions which are set out in subsection (4). What I have in mind is that, although subsection (3) brings in a contract between the Government and the owner, subsection (4) brings in a third person—namely, the employer, who may not be the owner of the property, but may be the tenant, and who, in his turn, may bring in an occupier under a contract of service. If there should be a tenant who is at all awkward, he can prevent the owner from obtaining the contribution or grant by reason of the fact that he may not carry out the conditions laid down in subsection (4). He can say that he is not a party to the contract and, that being the case, that there is no obligation on him to give his employee notice; and if he evicts his employee, then the owner loses the contribution or grant, as the case may be.

The Amendment which stands in my name seeks to bring in the employer if he is not the owner but a tenant, and to put upon him the obligation of reimbursing the contribution or the grant which the owner may have lost by reason of something which the tenant may have done. This Amendment seeks to protect the owner and also to protect the employee. Although it may penalise the tenant, I hope that the Government will see that there is fairness in this Amendment and will accept it. It may be, of course, that because of my Amendment the whole clause may have to be redrafted, but if the point I have raised is admitted by the Government, then I hope they will deal with it accordingly. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 34, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Wise.)


I do not know what reply we shall receive from my noble friend the Lord President of the Council, but I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wise, on the very reasonable case he has made. My only purpose in rising is to say that when I ventured to introduce the 1949 Bill into your Lordships' House, I received a very severe rebuke from the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald. I must say how pleased and surprised I am that circumstances alter cases in this way.


I am not going to give any severe reply to the noble Lord, but I am advised that in point of fact the Amendment which he has moved is not necessary. I am sure he will agree that the last thing we want to do is to clutter up housing legislation with clauses which are not particularly applicable to housing. I am told that the landlord in this case is quite able, under the ordinary processes of contract law, to protect himself and, indeed, is fully protected. On those grounds, the Minister advised that we should not accept this Amendment—not out of any lack of sympathy for the position which the noble Lord has put forward but because his Amendment means adding an unnecessary clause and because the protection already exists. I hope the noble Lord will be able to accept that view which has been submitted to me.


I understand what the Lord President has said, and if there is already protection under contract law for the owner and the employee, then I am perfectly happy about it. I was trying to do something which the noble Lord tells me has already been provided for in some other way. That being so, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3:

Disposal of houses by local authorities

(3) On the sale of a house in accordance with the said paragraph (d), a local authority may in any case, and shall if so required by the Minister, impose conditions—

  1. (a) limiting the price at which the house may be sold or the rent at which it may be let during any period not exceeding five years from the completion of the sale;
and for the purposes of the Rent and Mortgage Interest Restrictions Acts, 1920 to 1939, the rent specified in any such condition in respect of a house shall be the standard rent of the house.

3.14 p.m.

LORD SILKIN moved, in subsection (3) (a) to substitute "seven" for "five" [years]. The noble Lord said: The present state of the law is that local authorities may, with the consent of the Minister, dispose of their houses, but are compelled to obtain the best price or the best rent. Clause 3 provides that this shall cease to have effect, and that therefore local authorities may dispose of their houses at a price which is below the best price obtainable or at a rent which is below the best rent obtainable. I am not quarrelling with that principle. There may be good reasons for a local authority wishing to dispose of its land at less than the best price. But it does make it essential that there should be conditions provided in the Bill against the possibility of people speculating and making an unjustified profit by buying a council house, not with a view to living in it, but with a view to selling it and making a profit.

The Government have recognised that some sort of provision is necessary and they have provided that within a period of five years the local authority may, and shall, if required by the Minister, impose conditions— (a) limiting the price at which the house may be sold or the rent at which it may be let during any period not exceeding five years from the completion of the sale. The purpose of this Amendment is simply to extend the period from five years to seven years. It seemed to me—and to many Members of another place when this Bill was under consideration there—that a period of five years was rather short in which to ensure that houses sold by local authorities under these conditions did not constitute some form of trade. The clause as it stands does not even make it obligatory on local authorities to impose any conditions at all, but I imagine that that is a mere euphemism and that in practice the Minister will in all cases seek to impose conditions as regards resale. I hope that is so, and perhaps the noble Lord will be able to give me that assurance.

Even assuming that to be so, however, I still feel that five years is too short a period, and that there may still be a temptation on the part of people to buy a house, not because they want to live in it for the rest of their lives but because they can see a quick profit on it. That is not the intention of this provision, and if there is a profit to be made it should go to the local authority. By increasing the period to seven years it would obviate that possibility. Nobody is going to look ahead all that time with a view to making a profit. That is a perfectly innocuous provision. It does not prevent the purchaser from selling his house at any time if he feels it necessary to do so, but he will be able to sell it only at the price which has been fixed by the local authority. At the end of seven years he will, of course, be free. In those circumstances, I hope the noble Lord will see his way to accept the Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 4, line 13, leave out ("five") and insert ("seven").—(Lord Silkin.)


I am grateful to the noble Lord for the support he has given to this principle, which we are satisfied is a right principle. The only question dividing the noble Lord and me is this question of time. There is no doubt that the Minister's consent must be obtained before these sales can take place. Therefore, I give him the assurance there for which he asked.


May I ask whether the Minister will require the local authority to impose proper conditions in all cases?


I think the one is covered by the other—that is, if the Minister's consent is given, then obviously the terms on which the sale takes place must be in keeping with that consent. I should have thought that the noble Lord was at an advantage in being himself a lawyer. I should have thought that that would cover the point. It is certainly the intention that the Minister's consent shall be obtained before local authorities proceed to sell these houses. During the period of five years the rent is fixed. I will deal with the issue of speculation here. First, you have the bar of having to get consent. Second, you have the bar of a fixed rent. Third, you have the bar that the local authority may pre-empt to repurchase, the house if there is a sale. In those circumstances I would suggest to your Lordships that the element of speculation has been very considerably damped down. The noble Lord said that it would be still more damped down if the period were to be seven years, rather than five. I want to submit that there is very little in this. If your Lordships read the debate in another place you will have seen that there was a wide variety of opinion, the term favoured ranging from four years to ten years. Finally, after a great deal of consideration the Minister came down on the period of five years. There, if it please your Lordships, we should very much like to take our stand. I hope that the noble Lord will not feel that this matter is of so much importance that he wants to persist with the Amendment. I am grateful to him for the support he has given on the general principle which this clause embodies.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 agreed to.

LORD WOOLTON moved, after Clause 4 to insert the following new clause:

Power to acquire land for shops, recreation grounds and other ancillary purposes

".The power of a local authority to acquire land under Part V of the Housing Act, 1936, shall include power to acquire land (including houses or other buildings) proposed to be used for any purpose authorised by section eighty of that Act or section seven of the Housing Act, 1949 (which confer additional powers in connection with the provision of housing accommodation), whether or not that land forms part of a site for the erection of houses."

The noble Lord said: Here, I hope, I shall find myself again having the support of the noble Lord opposite. The Minister has been advised for a number of years that he had no power under the Housing Act of 1936 to confirm a compulsory purchase order submitted by a local authority for the purpose of acquiring land for use as a recreation ground or for some other purpose ancillary to the provision of housing accommodation, as contemplated under Section 80 of the Act, as a means of adding to the amenities of a housing estate that has already been completed. In other words, land for this purpose must be acquired in connection with the laying-out of the estate and before the War this meant building estates without the amenities, particularly the provision of playing fields—in which the noble Lord has shown such an active interest—recreation grounds and other open spaces that are normally provided in estate development to-day. These estates cannot be given amenities which we all regard as desirable according to modern standards. We think it is most desirable that activities of the local authorities in providing these amenities should not be stultified in regard to the older estates, and therefore we propose to leave no doubt in anyone's mind as to the power of the Minister. I believe that it was an accident of some sixteen years ago that this particular provision was left out of a Housing Act, and therefore we propose to take the opportunity of putting it in on this occasion. I hope that I may have your Lordships' support for the proposition which I now put to you. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

After Clause 4, insert the said new clause.—(Lord Woolton.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Remaining clauses and Schedule agreed to.

In the Title:


I beg to move to add, after the word "authorities" the words and to extend the powers of local authorities to acquire land under Part V of that Act.

Amendment moved— In the Title, line 11, after ("authorities") insert ("and to extend the powers of local authorities to acquire land under Part V of that Act").—(Lord Woolton.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Title, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed.