HL Deb 01 August 1961 vol 234 cc63-74

3.6 p.m.

Amendments reported (according to Order).

Clause 13 [Regulations prescribing management code]:

THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF HOUSING AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT (EARL JELLICOE) moved, in subsection (3) (c), to leave out "or who live in". The noble Earl said: My Lords, this Amendment and the two following Amendments are linked, and I think it might be helpful if we considered them together. Your Lordships will recall that during the committee stage my noble friend Lord Broughshane, supported by my noble friends Lord Colville of Culross and Lady Horsbrugh, expressed some anxiety about the rather wide scope of subsection (3)(c) of Clause 13 of the Bill as drafted. I assured my noble friends then that the Government intended to use the power in paragraph (c) only for rather minor purposes ancillary to our general objective of ensuring decent standards of management for houses in multiple tenancy. I also explained to my noble friends that there were a number of additional safeguards here, including consultations with all interested parties, which my right honourable friend had undertaken to initiate before he finalised his regulations. Nevertheless, in view of my noble friends' anxiety. I undertook to have another look at the wording of this subsection and to see whether it could be made rather tighter. These three linked Amendments are the consequence of that undertaking.

Their object is to give a clearer idea of the nature of the duties that may be imposed under this subsection on persons having an estate or interest in a house to which the management regulations have been applied and of the nature of the duties that may be imposed on the tenants or lodgers in such houses. Without departing from the underlying intention of the whole clause, these Amendments clarify the subsection to the extent that the duties that may be imposed under it on a person simply in his capacity as the holder of an estate or interest in the house are expressly tied to the giving of information to the local authority. Your Lordships will remember the kind of thing we have in mind is information as to who has effective control of the house in question. The Amendments also introduce a new paragraph (d), which makes lit clear that the duties which the Regulations may impose on persons who live in the house are confined to duties directed to ensuring that the person managing the house can effectively discharge the obligations placed upon him by the regulations.

I trust that these Amendments will meet the anxieties expressed by my noble friends. In expressing this hope, I would again remind them that the regulations in question will require the approval of this House, and that the Minister has undertaken to consult interested parties before they are promulgated; and I assure the House that such consultations will embrace those of your Lordships who are concerned with this matter. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 14, line 42, leave out ("or who live in").—(Earl Jellicoe.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, as I explained, this Amendment is like the previous Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 14, line 43, leave out from ("apply") to end of line 44 and insert ("as to the giving of information to the local authority, and in particular may make it the duty of any person who acquires or ceases to hold an estate or interest in the house to notify the local authority,

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, this Amendment is also consequential upon the two previous Amendments. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 15, line 3, leave out from ("house") to end of line 6.—(Earl Jellicoe.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, during Committee stage, my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross, who has told me how sorry he is not to be able to be in your Lordships' House this afternoon, expressed some doubts about subsection (4) of Clause 13 of the Bill as drafted. He argued that under this subsection a landlord who unavoidably, though not in ignorance, might be in breach of the regulations, would be bound to be convicted by the courts and subject to the quite heavy penalties in the Bill. In suggesting where my noble friend's Amendment might possibly be defective, I made it clear that we felt that his fears on this score were somewhat exaggerated. However, I promised to have another look at the matter.

Having looked at the matter again, I should like to repeat that we feel it is most unlikely that a local authority would elect to prosecute a person who had unavoidably contravened the regulations, or, if they did, that the courts would impose any penalty on that person. Moreover, for the reasons which I gave on Committee stage, we consider that the courts would not feel obliged to convict in any event. Your Lordships know that we are anxious that these regulations should really bite, but we are also anxious that their bite, whilst firm, should be fair and be seen to be fair. In view of this and of what has been said about this subsection, as drafted, both here and in another place, we have felt it desirable to write into the penalty provisions of this subsection by way of this Amendment a specific safeguard for a person who, through some circumstance quite beyond his control, may contravene or fail to comply with the requirements of the management regulations.

As will be seen, the Amendment ensures that. a person who has failed to comply with the regulations can plead a reasonable excuse. I understand that there is a precedent for wording of this nature in the Public Health Act. Moreover, in the Government's view the proposed wording will not blunt the teeth of subsection (4) by weakening in any material sense its penalty provisions. If it did, I would not be moving this Amendment. In sum, we think that the proposed Amendment is a reasonable compromise. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 15, line 13, after ("or") insert ("without reasonable excuse").—(Earl Jellicoe.)


My Lords, I do not wish to oppose this Amendment—I think that it is reasonable and perhaps an improvement to the Bill—but in commending this Amendment to us, the noble Earl has put up all the arguments which are usually put up against Amendments of this kind: namely, that they are unnecessary, that the position is already provided for in the Bill, that no local authority would prosecute and that, if they did, the penalty would be purely nominal. All my experience in your Lordships' House is that when we put up an Amendment of this kind we are met with this kind of objection and get no concession whatever. This will be a very interesting precedent. When an Amendment of this kind comes from the other side and is regarded as unnecessary, already met in the Bill and so on, at the very last moment, on Third Reading, an attempt is made to meet it. As I say, I have no objection at all, but I hope that when a similar occasion arises on an Amendment from this side, we shall get at least as favourable treatment.


My Lords, I think I can speak again and would remind the noble Lord who has just spoken that we are on Report stage and not Third Reading. Perhaps I did put up arguments which I have used before. Probably the noble Lord may have thought that it was an Aunt Sally, but I put up these arguments merely to emphasise that the Amendment proposes to make assurance doubly sure; no more than that. On the second point the noble Lord made, I would remind him that not long ago from this place I had the pleasure of moving an Amendment on Third Reading to meet a point made by his noble friend Lord Latham.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 21 [Applications of ss. 12 to 15 to certain buildings comprising separate dwellings]:


My Lords, this is purely a drafting Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 24, line 39, leave out ("the next following section") and insert ("twenty-three").—(Earl Jellicoe.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Then, Standing Order No. 41 having been suspended (pursuant to the Resolution of July 13), Bill read 3a, with the Amendments.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Earl Jellicoe.)

3.20 p.m.


My Lords, before this Bill passes from your Lordships' House, I should like to make a few comments upon it, the more so as, since this Bill was given a Second Reading in your Lordships' House, we have had what is stated to be a financial crisis. I suppose we cannot deny any Chancellor of the Exchequer his crisis, but the measures which are being taken to meet this alleged crisis are very apposite to the consideration of this Bill. When it was introduced in another place by the Minister of Housing and Local Government he said that it was a major Bill. It is not a major Bill, and it is a misdescription to say that it is. It is a Bill that might have been a major Bill had it dealt, for instance, with the question of land prices, and had it approached in an equitable and just way the matter of subsidies to local housing authorities.

But since the Second Reading we have it that the only power which is given in the Bill to add a single house or a single dwelling is to be very largely put into suspense: I refer to the provision in the Bill to enable housing associations to receive subsidy if they build accommodation to let. That was on the basis of a 5 per cent. bank rate; but now that the bank rate has gone to 7 per cent., it is quite clear that the housing associations will not be able to build accommodation to let at rents which can be paid; it means that the subsidy will be inadequate, and it will mean that the Chancellor will have, at all events, postponed for a considerable time any activity of this kind by the housing associations of this country.

As regards repairs and renovations to multiple-occupied or dilapidated houses, this will be slowed down, for the landlord will now have to pay something in the region of 8 per cent. for the money that he might need to carry out repairs and renovations. The proposed increase from 8 per cent. to 12½ per cent. which is comprehended in the Bill has been almost completely wiped out by the increase in:the bank rate and the consequent increase which must be paid for loans.

As regards local authorities, their activity will be cut down in two directions. The first is that the Chancellor has said that he proposes to cut down local government expenditure. He has already done so in regard to minor repairs to educational buildings and educational equipment, and 'there is no doubt that he will also cut down building for dwellings by local authorities. For, after all, education is the first capital expenditure in volume, and housing is the next; and it is clear that the Chancellor will cut dawn on housing and on education, with the result that, so far from this Bill being able to achieve any of its purposes, the position will be not improved but worsened.

Then the Chancellor has dealt another blow at housing. In the 1959 Act it was enacted that the Government would provide, through building societies, a fund of £100 million out of which loans could be made to acquire houses built before the end of the First World War, and the building societies could take out of that fund as advanced to them advances up to 95 per cent. of the value or price of the house. That was limited, of course, to houses which were relatively small, costing in the country generally no more than £2,500 and in London £3,000. I understand that something in the region of £40 million has been advanced already out of that first allocation, but not I think the only allocation, of £100 million: in short, something in the region of 40 per cent. has been advanced. Now that is to be stopped completely, except as regards, I understand, 'advances which may be, as it were, in the pipeline. So the Chancellor will have prevented that activity, about which 'the Minister (I feel rather sorry for him, because he was once a colleague of mine on the London County Council) was almost lyrical, for he said, when introducing the Bill in 1959, that it was the greatest measure for assisting home ownership ever introduced by any Government"— I suppose in symbolisation of the slogan, "A property-owning democracy." Forsooth! the Chancellor of the Exchequer has soon stopped that nonsense, and he has, as I have said, suspended further advances from the fund.

Then the increase of the bank rate will shut down considerably the purchase of houses by the ordinary public. We have been told recently by the chairman of one of the largest building societies in this country that, owing to land prices and the rate of interest, it was almost impossible for a person having an income of £20 a week to buy a house. That was when the bank rate was 5 per cent. and it will be much worse and much more exclusive now that the bank rate is 7 per cent.

Moreover, local authorities will be bound to shut down on advances made, as they did when the bank rate was formerly at 7 per cent., and they will be bound, I think, because of the incidence of the additional cost, to diminish at all events, their housing activities. If ever there was a case for increasing subsidy, it is now, when the situation is such that local authorities will have to pay 7 per cent. —and it may be 8 per cent. plus—for the money which they will need. We are told that we have an opportunity State—an opportunity to remain in the slums, or to remain without lavatory accommodation, a separate tap and separate cooking facilities, to name only a few of the squalid deficiencies of over one million houses in this country.

Since the Second Reading of this Bill, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has thrown the Minister of Housing and Local Government out of the window and allowed him to fall on the broken glass of his own grandiloquent promises. Like a crusader, he said in another place, in terms, "I will deal a mortal blow at the slums, at bad housing, at shortage of housing, at over-crowding. This I will do." The Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken an entirely different view. One of the first things on which he cuts down is housing, and this Bill will leave your Lordships' House to add to the number of inadequate housing measures which have been passed since 1951 and which have the one common attribute: that they leave the housing problem unsolved and a continuing shame on all those responsible.

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, I cannot let the lugubrious discourse of the noble Lord opposite go entirely without answer. He is the great champion of the local authority in all forms of housing, but if he goes to one place where the local authority is the entire housing authority he will find the worst housing conditions in Europe—that is, Moscow. The noble Lord had his usual "crack" at the bank rate, as if the 7 per cent. bank rate is now a permanent feature of our economy. I sincerely trust that it is a very temporary feature indeed. But, even then, we must remember that, for many persons hit by the high rate of interest, it is not 7 per cent. they have to look at; it is 7 per cent. less tax, which varies from 7s. 9d. in the £ up to a very high figure.

I greatly welcome the proposals of the Minister in an effort to get the local authorities, or some of them, to adopt a more realistic view towards the rent-paying potential of their tenants. A good many years ago I remember a very high civic dignatory of a Labour council asked me why the Conservative Government could not give him a strong lead, if not a command, to apply a differential rent scheme, because he personally was in favour of it but could never get it through his council. This is a strong lead in that direction, and it may produce results. I do not believe for one moment that it is going to lead to any lesser building by local authorities, except possibly in those parts of the country where the building trade is grossly overloaded at this moment. I often come across cases where the building trade is so overloaded that it is impossible to get tenders, or where tenders for a job which are expected to come to £5,000 turn out to be about £7,000, because nobody wants the work and it is impossible to get architects to devote time to preparing plans, and so on, because of the gross overloading. The Chancellor has stepped in—I think too late myself, but belatedly he has stepped in. He has issued his advice to the banks and the insurance companies, which is all designed to ensure that some of the load will be taken off the building trade.

Part II of the Bill, relating to houses in multiple occupation and so on, I think is much wanted, overdue, and very useful legislation. I know that the price of land has soared because everybody wants to come and live in the South-East of England, and it is difficult to see what anybody can do to stop that, but it is having one useful effect. Go through any of these residential areas within 30 or 40 miles of London, and you will find large gardens now blossoming into maisonettes. People are being tempted to put land into the market which certainly would not have come into the market were it not fetching a highly enhanced figure. No, my Lords, so far from believing that this Bill is a bad one (I am no great advocate of legislation; indeed, I tend to think that if Parliament passed nothing and repealed everything we should be a better country) this is one of the pieces of legislation to which I give my whole-hearted support.

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to speak at this stage of the Bill, but in view of what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Latham, I feel I should at least say a word. He made a great deal of the effect of what has been called the July Budget on this Bill and on the housing situation in this country, and, indeed, on my right honourable friend whom he described as being thrown out of the window. Your Lordships devoted a good deal of time to the discussion of the July Budget in July, and I do not think that, now we are in August, you would wish to go over the same ground again. I would remind your Lordships that we have had five debates on the economic situation during the present Session, and, quite apart from that, it would probably be improper for me, within the rather narrow confines of this Bill, to branch out into a general apologia for the 'housing policy of this Government.


My Lords, the noble Earl said, "the narrow confines of this". The Minister described it as a major housing Bill.


I think it is quite possible to have a major Bill for housing which is not necessarily strictly relevant to the July Budget in all its aspects. That was all I was meaning. I also had very much in mind the fact that the Chancellor at this moment, I think with my right honourable friend, is seeing the local authority associations to discuss the implications of the July Budget in part reference to the housing position. For all those reasons, I feel your Lordships will not wish me to embark upon a long speech on the general housing situation in this country at the present time.

In view of what the noble Lord, Lord Latham, has said, I should like to remind the House that housing authorities in England and Wales have at present a substantial building programme in hand, amounting at the end of June to 170,000 houses and flats—123,000 under construction, and 47,000 with tenders approved, but not yet started. As my noble friend Lord Hawke has said, the strain on the resources of the building industry has been delaying completion, and I would submit that the immediate need is to finish the 123,000 houses now building and to get a start made on the 47,000 already approved, and that there is really not a great deal of advantage to be gained in piling up approved tenders when there is already more work than can be handled. For a time, I would agree that there must be some slowing down in the rate at which new tenders are approved, for that reason if for no other.

I should like to emphasise—I think this has probably been made clear in answers to questions in another place, but I feel it should be on record in your Lordships' House—that the aim is to secure that this slowing down should be in areas where housing needs are less urgent, and to keep any interference to a minimum in areas with the really big and urgent problems. By adjustment of the overall problem in this way, we feel it will still be possible for local authorities with the really big problems to maintain a substantial building programme indeed in 1962. They will therefore be able to carry on building for such priority 'purposes as slum clearance, overspill, the accommodation of the elderly and the re-housing of families living in badly overcrowded and squalid conditions—all of them purposes to which this Bill is relevant. I hope, therefore, it will be appreciated that, notwithstanding the necessity for some moderation in the fixing of new contracts by local authorities as a whole, this Bill, despite what the noble Lord has said, has lost none of its practical importance or value in the help it gives to local authorities confronted with the most pressing housing problems.

After that diversion, if I may so term it, which was to some extent imposed on me by What the noble Lord has said, I should now like to come back in conclusion, to the Bill itself. It came to us after considerable discussions in another place, including, I think, 23 meetings at the Committee stage there, and since the ground was turned over so thoroughly there it is only tight and natural that your Lordships would not wish to plough up the whole field again. In fact, as your Lordships know, you made no Amendments to either Part I or Part III a the Bill 'as it came to us, although both those sections received your close attention. It is Part II of the Bill Which has engaged the larger share of your Lordships' attention. I think all the Amendments which we discussed—in any event, all the Amendments which we approved—have 'been concerned with this Part of the Bill.

As your Lordships by now very well know, this Part of the Bill contains new and stronger powers to be put in the hands of 'the local authorities to enable them to grapple in a more drastic and radical way than has been within their power hitherto with the squalor which we find all too often in many of the older and larger houses in this country now occupied by several families or lodgers. I think the attention which your Lordships have focused on this Part of the Bill shows that we are all, whatever Party affiliations we may have, in full agreement that these often shocking conditions must be put right. Our concern here has been to make certain that we are in fact giving local authorities Ian instrument that will generally help them to overcome this overcrowding and squalor.

The principal change which your Lordships have made to this part of the Bill is the introduction as a result of an Amendment moved by my noble friend, Lord Colville of Cuirass, of what I might call reserve power of registration. This will take effect in three years' time and will enable individual local authorities in those areas Where experience has shown (that additional control of this kind will be valuable to introduce. subject to my right honourable friend's approval, a selective scheme of registration as a supplement to the powers which were already written into the Bill. I know that some of the noble Lords opposite would have liked us to go further in making registration more immediate, more comprehensive and compulsory; and some of my noble friends may not have wished us to go quite so far as we have. For myself, I feel confident that the selective scheme which is now embodied in the Bill holds the balance just about right.

During our Second Reading of the Bill I made it clear that penalties in Part II—that is, its teeth—were fairly sharp. I do not think that any Member of your Lordships' House has been worried about that aspect of it. However, some of my noble friends have been concerned, and quite understandably so. to make certain that the powers of the Bill, while operating firmly are also operating justly and fairly and, above all, are to be seen so to operate. I believe that the Amendments which your Lordships have just approved achieve these objectives; thus the regulation-making powers of Clause 13 have been more closely defined and the Clause has been further improved to the extent that it now assures cast-iron protection against unfair prosecution on failure to comply with the regulations.

I am confident that local authorities will make full and good use of the stronger powers which the Bill will confer upon them. Since the war, under Administrations representing both Parties, a great advance has been made towards raising living standards in this country. Nevertheless, it would be quite wrong to pretend that there is not a great deal still to be done. In particular, I think we have a long and hard slog ahead of us before we can really feel proud of the living conditions in many of our larger cities. However, if the local authorities concerned apply the new powers provided for in this Bill wisely and energetically, as we believe they will, we are confident that we shall witness a cumulative and increasing improvement in those conditions. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Latham, has said, I believe that this Bill, this important and useful Bill, will materially assist with that process of cumulative improvement.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.

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