HL Deb 28 April 1955 vol 192 cc629-40

3.17 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.—(The Earl of Munster.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF DROGHEDA in the Chair]

Clause 1:

Transfer of rights to local authorities for limited period

1.—(1) On the commencement of this Act, any power of the Minister to retain possession of requisitioned houses shall be terminated, and the right to possession of every such house shall vest in the appropriate local authority.

(2) Subject to the provisions of this Part of this Act, the local authority in whom the right to possession of a requisitioned house is vested under this section may retain possession of the house until the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and sixty, and no longer.

LORD SILKIN moved to add to subsection (2): Provided that if in the case of any local authority it appears to the Minister that, in view of the large number of requisitioned houses in respect of which the authority have the right to possession under this section, or of other exceptional circumstances it is not reasonably practicable for that authority to complete the release or acquisition of all such houses by that date, he may direct that as respects that authority this subsection shall have effect as if for the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and sixty, there were substituted such date not later than the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and sixty-two, as he considers appropriate.

The noble Lord said: I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Listowel. When we had our Second Reading two days ago, I criticised this Bill on the ground that I thought it afforded little or no protection to the tenant, and I considered that the time, five years, at the end of which requisitioning came to an end, was in certain cases too short. The noble Earl who is in charge of the Bill will know that in the course of the passage of the Bill in another place an Amendment was put on the Paper by Mr. Jenkins. That Amendment proved to be out of order because it did not conform to the Money Resolution; nevertheless, it met with a great deal of sympathy on both sides of the House, and the Minister himself gave an assurance that he would at a later stage look sympathetically at that Amendment and see whether it could be put into order.

In the course of a later discussion on the Bill, the Minister stated that he would be prepared to put down an Amendment on the lines of Mr. Jenkins's Amendment, provided that the Opposition did not vote against the Third Reading. He emphasised, however—and I want to give the whole story—that he himself did not think that such an Amendment was necessary. He did not say it was undesirable: he said he did not think any extension was necessary. What is the Amendment? As the Bill stands, at the end of five years all requisitioning comes to an end, regardless of whether or not in that time it has been found possible by the local authorities to provide satisfactory alternative accommodation. There is no way out. We should remember that there are some 60,000 houses under requisition, involving, as we were told, 90,000 families, and that this requisition is confined to a very narrow circle of authorities—to a limited number of authorities in the County of London and the outskirts, and, I think, in Birmingham. There may be a few odd requisitions outside those places, but, by and large, it is confined to this limited number of congested areas.

We have to remember that this Bill may involve local authorities in a grave problem if they have to find other accommodation for the persons who are at present living in requisitioned accommodation. It may turn out that, contrary to the expectation or the advice of the Minister—who, after all, is no more reliable a prophet than anybody else—a number of local authorities will not be able in that time to rehouse their people. The Amendment which Mr. Robert Jenkins tried to move, which received sympathy from all parts of the House and which was even given some encouragement by the Minister, was to the effect that, where it turned out that it was impossible for a local authority to provide housing for its people who were living in requisitioned housing, the Minister, at his sole discretion, should have the power to extend the period. I cannot for the life of me see what possible objection there can be to that.

Let me just read the Amendment—it is much easier to read it than to try to paraphrase it. It follows the paragraph which says that at the end of five years all requisitioning of houses comes to an end. The Amendment says: Provided that if in the case of any local authority it appears to the Minister"— and to nobody else— that, in view of the large number of requisitioned houses in respect of which the authority have the right to possession under this section, or of other exceptional circumstances, it is not reasonably practicable for that authority to complete the release or acquisition of all such houses by that date, that is, March 31, 1960— he may direct that as respects that authority this subsection shall have effect as if for the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and sixty, there were substituted such date not later than the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and sixty-two, as he considers appropriate. Therefore, at his sole discretion, if he is satisfied that the local authority have not been able to provide accommodation or that there are other exceptional circumstances, the Minister may extend the period for two years, or for a lesser period, as he thinks necessary. I should have thought that that was a power that the Minister would welcome.

It may be said that it would encourage local authorities to be slack in their efforts to rehouse the people who are at present licensees. But that is nonsense, because the local authority would have no guarantee that the Minister would exercise his power on their behalf, and they would be open to considerable censure on the part of their inhabitants if they had not taken every possible step in the meantime to provide other accommodation. This gives the Minister a loophole in the event of necessity, and, with all respect to the Minister, it is sheer pigheadedness if he does not accept an Amendment of this kind after the history that I have given, of the efforts of Members of all Parties to get an Amendment of this kind carried.

If it is a condition of accepting such an Amendment that we do not vote against the Third Reading of this Bill, well, I am prepared to give the noble Earl an assurance that we shall not vote against the Third Reading. If my honourable friends had been prepared to give such an assurance in another place, I should not have been here moving this Amendment. I am sure that, on reflection, the noble Earl will agree that that is not a proper condition to make for accepting or rejecting an Amendment. There is nothing I can add in regard to what seems to me to be an eminently reasonable Amendment. I doubt whether, since I have been in the House, I have ever stood at this Box and moved a more reasonable and acceptable Amendment. I hope that the noble Earl will find himself able to accept it. I beg to move.

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


I should like to support the Amendment. I may say that I have had some experience of housing in London and this is mainly, though not by any means entirely, a London problem. The essential reason for this Amendment, which was put, I thought, clearly and forcefully by my noble friend Lord Silkin, is that it would safeguard the families now living in requisitioned houses against the risk, however small it may be (no doubt noble Lords opposite will say that it is very small indeed, and perhaps that it is negligible) of having nowhere to go when requisitioning ends in five years' time. I think everyone will agree that most of the 90,000 families affected by this Bill will have made satisfactory arrangements with their existing landlords either to stay where they are or to move elsewhere, either to private accommodation or to accommodation provided by the local authorities within the course of the next five years; but even if there are only a few families—a mere handful in a particular area, possibly in some part of London—who find themselves without alternative accommodation when requisitioning comes automatically to an end, surely they should be protected against the risk of losing their homes.

I have no doubt that it will be said that the risk is very small indeed because, broadly speaking, it is anticipated that everyone will be provided for within five years, and that this Amendment is unnecessary. If the noble Earl gives that answer—I should not be at all surprised if he did—he may be perfectly right. I hope he is right. All I am saying is that neither the noble Earl nor anyone else can be absolutely certain that he is right, because, if the position is examined care fully, it is clear that there are many entirely unpredictable factors which may affect the rehousing of these families in the course of the next few years.

For example, their rehousing may depend on how long it takes for the tenants to make arrangements with their existing landlords. If they do not make arrangements with their landlords, it may depend on how long it takes them to find accommodation in privately owned houses or flats, or to get the local authority to place them in local authority properties. Most of these families will not be able to afford unsubsidised flats or cottages, and will therefore look to a local authority for accommodation. But local authorities have long waiting lists—I speak from personal knowledge of this matter in London, where there are still long waiting lists for houses owned by the London County Council. Many of these families, some of them living in the most wretched conditions, have already been waiting a long time to have their applications accepted by the Council. Surely it world be unreasonable to expect local authorities to give the tenants of derequisitioned houses priority over the more urgent cases, some of which have been on the waiting list for many years.

Again, the speed with which local authorities can deal with these urgent cases of the highest priority upon their waiting lists will depend upon new building, which in the case of the London area has been considerably slowed down by the lack of central sites. In view of all these imponderables, which no one can assess precisely at the present time, I cannot see how anybody can be absolutely certain that all the tenants of derequisitioned houses will be satisfactorily provided for within the course of the next five years. I do not want to overestimate the risk, and I am prepared to accept the view that it is slight; but however slight it may be, that risk could be completely removed by giving the Minister the discretion for which this Amendment asks, to postpone, for a very short period of time, at the request of the local authority, derequisitioning in a particular area.

I apologise for repeating, in different words, what my noble friend Lord Silkin has said, but I feel that the case for this Amendment should be put as completely as possible. There is one argument which my noble friend did not use but which is important, because it is a Parliamentary argument: that this Amendment is not controversial. It would be unreasonable to expect Her Majesty's Government, at this stage of the present Parliament, to accept a controversial Amendment, for such an Amendment would cause discussion in another place and very probably would result in the loss of the Bill. And as we know that the Government want this Bill, we should not press a course of action which would probably lead to its loss. This Amendment is not controversial: in substance it is precisely the same as an Amendment put down in Standing Committee by a member of the Conservative Party in another place; though the wording is slightly different. Clearly, we did not want exactly to repeat the wording of an Amendment moved in another place.

As my noble friend Lord Silkin pointed out, the Minister offered to accept an Amendment on these lines when the Bill was under discussion in the course of its passage through another place. It is true that this offer was accompanied by a condition, but that condition had nothing whatever to do with the merits of the Amendment, and I feel sure that the noble Earl will not lay down that condition this afternoon. The Minister's whole argument was that the Amendment was unnecessary. The noble Earl, Lord Munster, repeated the Minister's argument during the Second Reading debate in your Lordships' House on Tuesday. If the Minister was willing, in spite of this objection, to accept a similar Amendment in another place, why should there now be unwillingness to accept it? Can the noble Earl explain what would appear to be a very astonishing change of mind, in view of the extremely short lapse of time between consideration of this Bill elsewhere and its consideration by your Lordships? I hope that this Amendment will receive your Lordships' usual objective and dispassionate consideration, for it seems to me that a completely unanswerable case has been made for it.

3.34 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Earl replies on this Amendment, I should like to ask the Minister to keep an eye on two points. It appears to me perfectly possible for local councils to hold requisitioned property in order to cover up, to a certain extent, their bad housekeeping. It is a pity that council houses should not have been earmarked for the rehousing of licensees removed from requisitioned houses. If this extra time were allowed, it would give an opportunity for some councils—not all, but perhaps a few—who will not bother to do their housekeeping properly, to make it even worse. There are many owners of small requisitioned houses whose sole livelihood is a requisitioned house for which they get a very small rent. If they are to be asked to carry on for a further few years, the burden on them will be great; it will be an overburden on poor people who cannot even now afford it. It seems a pity that licensees who are to be rehoused when their present housing is derequisitioned and who are probably the people for whom such requisitioning was originated—people who have been bombed out and so on—should be given no sort of priority in rehousing on local estates. They should be given priority over ordinary individuals on the housing list, and it is a pity that this has not been done. It cannot be done; nevertheless, I would ask that the Minister keeps an eye on these points when he reviews the various cases.

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, I could not in any way complain of the reasonable manner in which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, proposed his Amendment, and the equally reasonable way in which the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, supported him; but, for reasons which I will endeavour to explain to your Lordships' House, it is not possible for me to accept this Amendment. As the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, rightly pointed out, the Amendment is in almost identical terms to that which was not moved in another place. Though I am unacquainted with the procedure of another place, I understand that the reason that it was not called was because it would mean an increased charge on the Exchequer. If I were to accept this Amendment now it would mean a new Money measure in another place, because the Resolution which has been passed covers the Bill up to March 31, 1960, and no longer.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said that one of the purposes—perhaps the main purpose—of this Amendment was to safeguard against the risk of those now living in requisitioned houses having nowhere to go at the expiration of the period of five years. I endeavoured to point out on Tuesday last, and I will not repeat my arguments today, that at the end of the period of five years, under the terms of this Bill no one will be homeless. If a requisitioned house is returned to the owner, individuals who might have been in that requisitioned house will move to other houses which at that time will either have been purchased or leased by local authorities. There will be no chance whatever for those who may have left requisitioned houses to "jump the queue" to the detriment of others endeavouring to find council houses.

The main complaint against the Bill appears to be that this period of five years was too little time to give local authorities—especially in the London area—in which to wind up the whole of their requisitioning. I have no quarrel with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who explained the views of my right honourable friend the Minister, as given in another place; but I would emphasise to the House that, in replying to the Amendment, my right honourable friend made the point that in his opinion it was totally unnecessary to insert this Amendment within the Bill. I am certain that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who is well acquainted with all these matters concerning housing, is well aware that the whole purpose of this Bill is to provide new powers and additional assistance from the Exchequer to enable the problem of requisitioned houses to be settled within five years, and my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing has impressed upon me that he is absolutely confident that this is a task which it is not beyond the ability of local authorities to fulfil. I think it would be true to say that there is no magic whatever in the period of five years; it might just as well have been four years; and I have reason to believe, from the information which my right honourable friend has given me, that he thinks that, subject to the powers which are contained in other clauses of the Bill, requisitioning can be wound-up in all areas within that period of five years.

I will certainly take into account, and my right honourable friend has always taken into account, the point made by the noble Earl who sits behind me. That, indeed, will hold good in the future, as he has pointed out. For the reasons which I have given, quite apart from the fact that to send this Bill back to another place with the Amendment inserted in it would mean, as I understand, a new Money Resolution in another place, to accept the Amendment is clearly something which it is not possible to do at the present time. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will not press this Amendment to a Division but will accept my guarantee—as I know he does—that no one will be homeless at the end of five years, and that at the end of the period every local authority will certainly have the ability to bring all requisitioning to an end.

3.42 p.m.


The noble Earl has asked me to accept his guarantee. I would accept any guarantee which the noble Earl gave, provided that he was really in a position to fulfil it. But he is in no better position to fulfil any guarantee which he gives in this respect than the Minister or anyone else. He cannot say that everyone at the end of five years will, in fact, be rehoused: it depends on so many factors. The chance of rehousing all those who are concerned rests, among other things, on sufficient requisitioned houses being made available during the five years, by purchase or otherwise. How does the noble Earl know that it will be possible to ensure this? He cannot know it. While I am prepared to admit that most authorities will be able to carry out this task in five years, I feel, so far as one can be, equally certain that some will find the strain very heavy indeed, and may fail by, perhaps, six months. They may not want as much as two years' extension; they may want one year's extension, or some months' extension. If the only possibility of rehousing

these people who are licensees without their "jumping the queue" (I was glad to hear that the noble Earl is not in favour of allowing people to "jump" the housing queue) rests on Clause 4—and I do not want to go into that to-day—it is by no means certain that the Minister, however certain he may feel at the moment, will be able to ensure that no one is, in fact, without other accommodation.

On the technical side, I appreciate that this Amendment was out of order, because it contravened the Money Resolution. I thought, however, that it would be simpler to put down an Amendment with which the Government had already expressed sympathy. The Government knew what we wanted, and we thought the Minister himself might put down an Amendment on these lines. We did not vote against the Second Reading. It seemed to us that the difficulty which the noble Earl, Lord Munster, visualises, was not insuperable, and we thought that he and his advisers could easily draft an Amendment which would be in order and would not contravene the Money Resolution. Therefore, I hope he will not insist that the technical difficulty is a legitimate reason for not accepting the spirit of this Amendment. Nor do I think there would be any difficulty if such an Amendment went to the other place. As I understand the views of the other place, everyone was in favour of the principle of the Amendment: I do not think anyone objected to it. The only thing that prevented its acceptance was that the Opposition decided to vote against the Third Reading. In those circumstances, if the noble Earl finds himself unable to give us, at a later stage of the Bill, any help about this Amendment I must ask my friends to support me in a Division.

On Question, Whether the Amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided:—

Contents, 15; Not-Contents, 47.

Jowitt, E. Burden, L. [Teller.] Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Listowel, E Haden-Guest, L. [Teller.] Pethick-Lawrence, L.
Lucan, E. Henderson, L. Sempill, L.
Kenswood, L. Shepherd, L.
Stansgate, V. Kershaw, L. Silkin, L.
Sinha, L.
Kilmuir, V. (L. Chancellor.) Goschen, V. Ebbisham, L.
Hudson, V. Fairfax of Cameron, L.
Cholmondeley, M. Soulbury, V. Geddes, L.
Lothian, M. Stonehaven, V. Gridley, L.
Reading, M. Swinton, V. Hawke, L.
Willingdon, M. Jessel, L.
Amherst of Hackney, L. Leconfield, L.
Elgin and Kincardine, E. Barnby, L. Lloyd, L.
Fortescue, E. [Teller.] Belstead, L. Mancroft, L.
Gosford, E. Birdwood, L. Milverton, L.
Home, E. Carrington, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Munster, E. Chatfield, L. Salter, L.
Onslow, E. [Teller.] Chesham, L. Sandys, L.
St. Aldwyn, E. Denham, L. Teviot, L.
Dorchester, L. Teynham, L.
Furness, V. Dormer, L. Waleran, L.
Gage, V. Dovercourt, L. Wolverton, L.

Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Release of dwellings falling vacant]:

On Question, Whether Clause 3 shall stand part of the Bill?


I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to subsection (6) of Clause 3, which reads as follows: Before applying for such an authorisation,"— that is, the authorisation to retain a requisitioned dwelling, even though there is no licensee or licence for it— the local authority shall give notice in writing of their intention to do so to the owner of the dwelling; and, if within two weeks beginning with the day on which that notice is given, the owner commences proceedings… and so on. I should like to know whether it is possible for the Minister to require local councils to give this notice in writing in a proper manner. I know of several cases, one of which I will cite—and I am sure many of your Lordships know of others—where the local council's idea of giving notice in writing that they proposed to retain a requisitioned property was to paste a notice on the door of a house, though knowing full well how to get in touch with the owner. In the case I have in mind, the owner was notified by a friend just in time, before the expiry of the two weeks, and he was enabled to take appropriate action. I do not consider that that is a proper manner in which a local authority should notify an owner of requisitioned dwellings. I would ask the Minister, if it is possible for him to do so, to instruct councils to deliver such notices in the same way as summonses are delivered. There must be some form of acknowledgment of receipt of that notice in writing. It should be provided that every reasonable step must be taken by the local authority to trace the owner and that the two weeks should start from the date of the receipt of notice.


My Lords, I am glad that the noble Earl has raised this point and I hope I shall be able to give him a satisfactory assurance. It is not the intention of my right honourable friend to allow local authorities to give notice in writing by merely pasting such a notice on the door of requisitioned property. I can give the noble Lord a guarantee that what will happen is this: the two weeks' notice will be given in writing by the local authority to the owner if his identity is known. If the identity of the owner of requisitioned premises is not known, the notice will be given to his representative who is now receiving the compensation rent—that is to say, in all probability, to the solicitors or house agents acting on behalf of the owner. They will receive such notification from the local authority in writing, and it will be their responsibility, as representing the owner of the requisitioned property, to inform the owner of the intentions of the local authority.


I thank the noble Earl for his reply.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.

Then, Standing Order No. 41 having been suspended (pursuant to the Resolution of April 20), Bill read 3a, and passed.