HL Deb 28 April 1964 vol 257 cc893-960

2.53 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Hastings, that this Bill be read a second time. The last time your Lordships debated housing at any length was last July on a Motion dealing with the Government's White Paper. In moving his Motion, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, pointed out that a good many of the things which the Government were then proposing could not be done without legislation and he expressed some doubt as to when that legislation would be possible. The answer is to be found in this Bill. Although it received a lengthy, and at times critical, review in another place, I think it fair to say that it was, for the most part, generally welcomed there.

This Bill, of course, is part and parcel of the Government's larger design for the nation's housing. I should therefore like very briefly to remind your Lordships of the main ingredients of that larger design. First, we aim to break the back of slum clearance within the next ten years. I am sure we all feel that the achievement of this aim is essential and I have little doubt, given the present acceleration, that we shall in fact achieve it. At the same time, we shall overcome within this period the remaining housing shortages and keep pace with the constantly rising demand for housing. We also recognise that there are some 2 to 3 million older houses which, although inadequate by modern standards, still could have useful life in them. We therefore aim to improve those houses within the next decade.

However, although slum clearance, the alleviation of present and potential housing shortages and expanded house improvement are the immediate tasks, we must clearly look to the future. We are therefore laying plans for what will become one of the great tasks of the future—the redevelopment of the twilight areas of our towns and cities. Meanwhile, while ensuring that building by local authorities does not lag, we are continuing to foster home-owner occupation and to develop the housing society movement as a "third arm" in our housing policies.

This, of course, is not the time for a general review of our housing policy. I would merely emphasise that a high and continuous rate of house-building and an adequate supply of land are basic to our plans. As for the rate of house-building, I can report substantial and satisfactory progress. We shall secure more than 350,000 house completions in Great Britain in 1964; and, as your Lordships know, it is our aim to press on to 400,000 house completions a year as quickly as possible.

So much for the broader design. This Bill is designed to fit that design in the following ways. Part I provides framework and finance for stimulating the provision of new houses for letting and for co-ownership through housing societies. Parts II and III contain provisions which are designed to revitalise house improvement. Part IV gives local authorities new and considerably stronger powers to deal with abuses arising from houses in multi-occupation. Part V is the usual mixed bag which we find tacked on to most Departmental measures.

I should make it clear that the Bill is pan-British, extending as it does to Scotland. There was, in fact, some criticism of this in another place, and it is true that there has generally been separate legislation for Scotland in the housing field. However, there have been occasions in the past—the most recent example was the House Purchase and Housing Act, 1959—where it has been found convenient to set out new housing schemes in one Bill covering Great Britain as a whole. This is another such case. However, to overcome any resulting difficulties it is the Government's intention to consolidate all current Scottish housing legislation including the provisions of this Bill, in a measure which will be ready for introduction next Session.

I should like to review in rather more, but I hope not too great, detail the various provisions of this particular measure. Part I, which covers Clauses 1 to 8, deals with housing societies. Almost all the houses built in this country since the war have been either for owner occupation or for letting by public authorities. This has left an unfulfilled need in the middle of the housing spectrum. There are many people who would like a modern home but who may not be able to buy it on ordinary mortgage terms. Again, there are others who may prefer to rent and neither need nor want a council house. The object of Part I is to bridge this gap by providing for such people in two ways—by co-ownership and by cost renting schemes—the need in either case being met through non-profit-making housing societies.

Your Lordships may recall—I do so fairly well—that the 1961 Housing Act contained a pilot scheme under which £25 million of Exchequer loan finance was made available to enable housing societies to finance schemes of this sort. After a rather slow start this pilot project has gone very well. Up and down the country—and this extends to almost all parts—there are now over 80 separate schemes covering 6,000 dwellings in the pipe-line. All the initial £25 million has, in fact, been firmly committed. As yet, it is the cost-rent schemes of this pilot project which have made most of the running. The Government, however, hope to see a growing proportion of co-ownership schemes as the possibilities of this particular form of housing become more generally known.

Co-ownership brings most of the advantages of owner-occupation at a lower monthly cost and for a lower initial deposit. Co-owners now benefit from important tax concessions made in the Finance Act, 1963, and there are in fact encouraging signs that the idea, this concept of co-ownership, which is very popular in Scandinavia and the United States and also, I believe, in Switzerland, may be catching on in this country. I think myself that this form of ownership should be particularly attractive to middle-aged people who may have difficulty in securing a mortgage because they are not young enough to pay it off before retirement. It should also appeal to younger married couples who can raise the small deposit needed for a co-ownership scheme but who possibly either cannot or prefer not to shoulder the higher cost of buying a house on mortgage.

This Bill is intended to fertilise the work of housing societies by strengthening the sinews both of organisation and of finance. I saw myself something of the splendid work which the National Federation of Housing Societies is doing when I was at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, and I should like to take this opportunity of acknowledging all that they have done to make a success of this initial £25 million pilot scheme.

However, now that we are moving from the pilot stage to the stage, as it were, of full production, we clearly need a body which can devote all its undivided attention and all its energies to this particular task. That body will be the Housing Corporation, which is provided for in Clause 1 of, and in Schedule 1 to, this Bill and whose terms of reference are to be found in Clauses 3 to 7 of the Bill. The Corporation is designed to be a small but high-powered body of not more than nine members and it will be appointed by the Ministers concerned, my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. It, in its turn, will appoint its own full-time staff under a general manager and appropriate departmental heads. Apart from this headquarters staff, the Corporation will no doubt wish to set up district offices in the main centres of our population. It goes without saying (but I shall nevertheless say it) that we anticipate that from the outset this new Corporation and the societies will cultivate the closest and most friendly relations with local authorities.

The task of the Corporation will in essence be simple. We think that there is a big future for non-profit-making housing societies. It will therefore be the job of the Corporation to support and "ginger up" by every possible means the development of cost-rent and co-ownership schemes by these societies. It will publicise their objectives. It will promote the establishment of new societies. It will stimulate the activities of established societies. And it will provide services of all kinds to these societies both new and old. Its powers are, I think, pretty clear from the clauses, and I would at this stage highlight only one power which is contained in the present Bill. That is in Clause 7.

Clause 7 outlines the various advisory services which the Corporation will be empowered to extend to housing societies and indeed also to established housing associations. My right honourable friend is particularly anxious that the Corporation should build up a really strong architectural team and be able to offer architectural and technical advice of the highest quality. This will enable it to encourage really first-class design and the use of up-to-date methods of construction, including, of course, industrialised construction, over the whole housing society field.

As for finance, the Government are proposing, after this initially modest £25 million scheme which I have mentioned and which was provided for in the 1961 Act, to lengthen the stride. It is our expectation that there will be £300 million available to finance the new schemes. Of this, some two-thirds will be provided by the building societies. The support of the building societies is therefore crucial to the success of this whole scheme, and the Government have been encouraged by the constructive approach which they have shown to this new and, I think, challenging and exciting field of work. The Ministry have maintained close touch with the Building Societies' Association in formulating this scheme and we are grateful to the Association for promising to recommend its members to co-operate in its implementation.

Clause 8 contains the necessary modification in building society legislation, the modification which is necessary to facilitate this new development in building societies' work. For its part, Clause 9 provides the remaining one-third of capital, £100 million of Exchequer capital, which the Housing Corporation will be empowered to advance on second mortgage. It is envisaged that the Corporation will get their money from the Exchequer at the normal Treasury lending rate, and the normal loan period will be 40 years. So much for Part I of the Bill.

Parts II and III of the Bill deal with house improvement. This is an aspect of housing policy which has always struck me as important and potentially very fruitful. It is an area in which great gains, in terms of human comfort and human dignity, can be won at comparatively small cost. However, I must confess that to someone like me, coming back to housing for a short period after an absence of a year or so, these particular parts of the Bill look rather formidable, containing as they do provision for much detailed machinery and a rather complicated grant structure. But they embrace one clear theme and purpose; namely, to raise, and to raise substantially, the rate at which the nation's older housing stock is being improved. Since 1949 about three-quarters of a million houses have been improved with grant aid.

Nevertheless the present rate has been sluggish for some years, and, I would frankly admit, rather disappointing. It is running now at some 120,000 houses with grant aid alone; there are, of course, other houses being improved without aid by individuals. But this is too low, given the fact that we have between 2 million and 3 million houses in this country which need improvement in this way, and we aim to step it up to 200,000 houses a year. If we can achieve this—and I see no reason why we should not—it will mean that most improvable houses should have been dealt with by the early 1970s.

The houses concerned are those which are structurally sound, and have at least fifteen years of life ahead of them, but lack one or more of those necessities for reasonable living, which the Bill, following earlier precedents, refers to, rather aridly, as "standard amenities". The standard amenities, I need hardly remind those of your Lordships who are familiar with housing legislation, are such things as a hot water supply, a bath or shower, a wash hand basin, an inside W.C., and a proper food store. These are things that most of us, luckily, take more or less for granted, but they are still lacking in far too many homes in this country, particularly those in the older industrial areas.

Hitherto in this field we have relied entirely upon the "carrot" approach—voluntary persuasion and financial inducements. This Bill makes the "carrots" more attractive; it also provides for a measure of compulsion for landlords of tenanted dwellings. In the past, as your Lordships know, owner-occupiers have shown themselves somewhat readier than landlords to make use of improvement grants. It is true that the landlords' share of grants is increasing, and has been increasing for the last few years, but there is room for much greater progress and Part II is designed as the sanction for securing this.

There are three main types of improvement covered by these provisions for compulsory improvement. There is area improvement; there is the improvement of individual houses outside improvement areas at the tenant's request; and there is the improvement of tenement blocks. I propose in these introductory remarks to concentrate on the most important feature, area improvement, because it is here that the biggest potential lies. This is, of course, no new concept, since it is now two years or so since the Ministry advised local authorities to tackle house improvement on an area basis. Some 500 local authorities are already doing so, and there have been a number who have been conspiciously successful in this area improvement approach. Perhaps it is invidious to single out particular local authorities but Leeds has done particularly well in this field.

The Government attach great importance to this concept. Concentration of effort is likely to produce better results, and the whole tone of an area can be raised when most of the houses in it are systematically brought up to a reasonable standard. This is particularly the case when, as the Government hope, the local authorities concerned so cast their plans that area house improvement is accompanied by other measures—such as improved open spaces, better parking facilities, nicer street furniture, and so on—to improve the whole environment of a district.

As I have said, this Part of the Bill carries a measure of compulsion with it. However, I trust that your Lordships will agree that the terms written into the Bill against the possible abuse of these compulsory powers are adequate. Thus, although local authorities will no doubt make an all-out effort to persuade owner-occupiers in such areas to agree to improvements, no compulsion is to be placed on them. As can be seen from Clause 27, there are clear provisions for appeal to the county court on a number of specified grounds against improvement notices. The court, for its part, has powers to quash or vary the notice within certain defined limits. There are the provisions in Clause 24 enabling the local authority to accept undertakings in lieu of serving improvement notices.

Last, but by no means least, there are important provisions in Clauses 17 and 18 defining the rights of tenants. Thus if the occupying tenant in an improvement area does not want the improvement, the improvement notice is suspended. It will become operative only on a change of occupancy, or if the tenant changes his mind, or after a five-year period. As introduced in another place, the Bill would have enabled the sitting tenant to hold up improvement for ten years. There was general support for the reduction of this period to five years.

I turn now to Part III of the Bill. This contains a series of amendments to the existing scheme of improvement grants, all of which are designed to make these grants more flexible and more attractive. Many of these provisions are pretty detailed, and I will not weary your Lordships with all the details. But I should like to single out some of the more typical and more important points.

Hitherto, to attract a grant a house had to have, after improvement, a full kit of the five standard amenities. Under Clause 41, it will be possible in future for grants to be paid for partial improvement, where a house is not capable, at reasonable expense, of being improved to the full standard.

Again, when landlords take grants they have to observe a number of conditions. Some of them are onerous. Under the Bill the period when landlords are subject to this control will be reduced from ten to three years. Finally, under Clause 56, higher grant limits are fixed for the conversion of houses of three or more storeys. In all this, I should like to emphasise that we regard Part II, with its element of "the stick", and Part III, with its bigger and better "carrots", as complementary. However, despite this element of "the stick", the emphasis will continue to be laid—as I am sure it should be—on getting as much improvement as possible done voluntarily. Nevertheless, I commend these Parts of the Bill to your Lordships with confidence, the more so since I note that in our debate last July the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, described our proposals in this field as "very good and very important". They will give the local authorities effective powers for dealing with reluctant landlords, and I think it should be of particular value in making it much easier for local authorities to improve and raise the tone of whole areas within their communities.

Lastly, my Lords, we come to Part IV. Your Lordships know that the sheer pressure on housing in Central London, and in some of our other great cities, has led to the intensive occupation of large, or largish, old houses with the consequent sharing of what are often meagre facilities. You also know what all this mix of overcrowding, inadequate facilities, and poor maintenance—quite apart from exploitation—can mean in terms of material squalor and human suffering.

Your Lordships will also recall that the 1961 Housing Act gave new powers to local authorities to strike at these conditions wherever they found them. This Act proceeded on what I might term the orthodox method of empowering local authorities to enforce standards and require work to be carried out, with rights of appeal, and with power for the local authority to enforce their will by undertaking the work themselves, where necessary, and by recover- ing the cost from the owner. These were strong powers and some authorities—Birmingham is an outstanding example—have made very effective use of them. But the 1961 Act was covering new ground and its powers were in large part experimental; it was always intended to review them when we had gained more experience. That review was proposed for this year, 1964, and it will, as it happens, take place next year.

However, following the Rachman revelations last summer my right honourable friend called for an interim review which was carried out in consultation with the town clerks of thirteen local authorities who have first-hand experience of this important problem. As a result—it is mainly the result of the reviews—Clauses 60 to 68 contain provisions which are designed to put still more "bite" into the 1961 Act and to stop a number of bolt-holes which the wrong sort of landlord has been using. Purely as examples, I would like to cite five instances in which the 1961 Act is sharpened up. First, Clause 61 affects owners who wilfully fail to comply with a notice requiring execution of works of improvement. Owners of some houses have been reported to be simply ignoring such notices. Now, if they fail without good reason to do the work, they will be liable to prosecution. Secondly, under Clause 63 local authorities will now be able to exercise in parallel their powers to require certain works to be done and their powers to regulate numbers in houses of multi-occupation. This will get round a difficulty which has been experienced.

Third, Clause 64 improves the powers of entry of local authorities into houses. It was formerly at 24 hours' notice, and this gave the worst type of landlords time to cover their traces. Now, with the authority of a magistrate's warrant, local authorities can enter multi-occupied houses without prior notice and, if need be, by force. Fourth, local authorities will, under Clause 66, be able to submit schemes for registration of these houses as soon as the Bill becomes law. Fifth, and finally, under Clause 60 the recovery of expenses by local authorities is made easier than it was under the equivalent provisions of the earlier Act. I would recall that, in our debate last July on Housing, I said that I was certain that my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government would introduce sharper teeth into the 1961 Act if he though this was necessary. I hope noble Lords will feel that this pledge has been discharged in this Bill.

I come now to the new weapon, the control order, which is covered by Clauses 69 to 86 of the Bill. Put briefly, this gives a local authority a means of taking over a property in multi-occupation, in defined circumstances without notice, of putting it into proper condition, and of managing it for a period of up to five years. Your Lordships may ask why the powers in the 1961 Act need bolstering in this way. Last year we read a great deal about Rachman and Rachmanism; we read a lot about exploitation of poor properties, and of strong-arm methods. Despite all this, it has been very difficult to obtain reliable information about the existence, extent, nature or, indeed, location, of these practices. I am not of course suggesting that these practices never occur—much has been said to the effect that they do occur—but really hard evidence is very hard to come by.

What we therefore require is a means which will make it easier to bring any practices of this kind to the light of day, and which will provide an effective remedy when they are exposed. The essence of what we need is that remedial action can be taken summarily so that there is no opportunity for reprisals or for time to cover up the evidence of mismanagement. That is why, under this Bill, this new control order is designed to take effect at the moment it is made, and it can be made on any evidence that the local authority can establish for themselves without labelling anybody as their informant; namely—I quote from Clause 69(1): that the living conditions in the house are such that it is necessary to make the control order in order to protect the safety, welfare or health of persons living in the house". These are of course drastic, even dramatic, powers; and because they are drastic it is all the more necessary that they should be hedged around with safeguards against misuse or abuse. The status of the local authority and the powers which it can exercise in respect of the property must be carefully defined. The financial dealings between the local authority and those who may have an interest in the property must be carefully regulated. The local authorities' action must not be inviolable. It must be open to challenge in the courts and provision should also be made for the eventual lifting of the order.

All these safeguards, and more, are to be found incorporated in the Bill. They are many, and I will enumerate only the more important. Thus, in Clause 74, the landlord is entitled to compensation at an annual rate equal to half the gross value of the house for rating purposes. Again, Clauses 75 and 76 place an obligation on the local authority to prepare a carefully worked out scheme for the period of their stewardship. Clauses 78 to 81 regulate the rights of appeal. Appeals can be made to the county court on the grounds that the order should not have been made, or that the scheme of work prepared by the local authority is too elaborate and too expensive, or that the so-called settled surplus is too small. And the court has the power to revoke the order or to vary the local authority's scheme. Finally, Clauses 82 and 83, in Schedule 4, define how a control order should be terminated.

Thus when this legislation becomes effective local authorities will have a choice of three powerful weapons in dealing with the squalor and evils which have only too often come to be associated with multi-occupation. Their normal instrument will be the code of notices and directions in the 1961 Act—as sharpened and toughened by this Bill. In extreme cases, they will be able to use the shield of the control order to rescue the occupants from the often horrible living conditions which go with exploitation. What is important here, as I see it, is to have this sanction in reserve. Having it, local authorities may well find it necessary to use it quite sparingly. And, thirdly, local authorities may on some occasions conclude that a knife is needed to cut at the root of the problem by taking over the property completely. In such cases they may opt for a compulsory purchase order—an option which has, of course, been open to them for some years.

I would only mention here that my right honourable friend has given a clear indication that he is prepared to consider C.P.O.s in cases where homelessness is threatened. A C.P.O. cannot, of course, become effective until it is confirmed by the Minister, and in the meantime tenants could be evicted. There have been instances of almost senseless victimisation. That is why a new clause, Clause 68, was introduced by the Government in another place providing that where a C.P.O. has been made on multi-occupied houses it becomes an offence to evict a tenant otherwise than by proceedings in the county court.

In your Lordships' debate last July, the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Coventry remarked [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol, 252, col. 236]: a person's character is determined to no small extent by environment, and the home we live in is the most important environment of all. I should like, in conclusion, to echo and endorse those words. And I trust your Lordships will not think that I am doing so in any spirit of complacency. There are still far too many millions of our fellow citizens whose homes fall far below what is acceptable in a rich and humane society in 1964 for anyone to be complacent about the nation's housing. Yet we must recognise that we have made much progress since the war, and especially in the last decade or so. I believe that if we carry into effect the larger design which I sketched at the outset of my speech, we should, within the next decade, have broken the back of our acutest housing problems.

I would not, of course, wish to claim that this measure in itself can do more than contribute to that larger design. It touches on only some aspects, albeit important aspects, of the nation's housing problems. But by the same token I would ask your Lordships not to belittle the possible impact of this Bill. Where there are still acute shortages of housing at the pressure points of our economy, it is important to do all we can to mitigate the effects and evils of multi-occupation. I believe that this Bill will help us to do so. Where we have a large stock of obsolescent, but not yet obsolete, housing it is important to do all we can, and if possible within the context of coherent local plans, to increase the national rate of house improvement. I believe that this Bill will enable us to do precisely this. Where many of our fellow citizens are unable to find suitable housing for rent, or do not have either the desire or the wherewithal to move towards full house ownership, it is important that we should try to fill the gap. I believe that Part I of this Bill will, if energetically carried through, enable this important gap to be filled. It is for these reasons, and because I feel that this Bill will make a real contribution to this vital area of the nation's life, that I ask your Lordships to give it a Second Reading this afternoon. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl Jellicoe.)

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl has introduced this Bill with his usual skill, ability and charm. I am not surprised that he has been recruited from the Admiralty for this purpose, because I believe that only the noble Earl could have done justice to the very difficult and complicated provisions that are contained in this Bill. After all, the noble Earl is an old hand at introducing housing Bills. It is not by any means the first time that he has either spoken on housing or introduced measures. In fact, I went through the number of housing Acts which this Government have introduced and passed since 1952, and I found that this is the twenty-third housing measure. I may have missed one or two, because they may have been introduced under different titles, and a few of them relate to Scotland only, but the noble Earl has himself been responsible for introducing quite a number of these. If the success of the Government in dealing with the housing problem had been in proportion to the amount of time and effort that we have spent in legislation on housing, we should not perhaps have found it necessary to have this Bill to-day.

The noble Earl gave us the background against which we are discussing housing this afternoon. He gave us a few headings, and I should like to touch very briefly on those. Although he will agree that they are not strictly relevant to this Bill, since he thought of introducing them perhaps I may comment on them. The first point is that he said, "We will break the back of the slums in ten years." I have been hearing this statement for a number of years, and it is still ten years. I imagine that at the rate at which we are going it will continue to be ten years in which "We shall break the back of the slums." Because, we have to bear in mind that, as the years go on, houses which to-day are not regarded as slums become slums. This is a factor which we have emphasised on the occasion of every housing debate. It is no good the Government's minimising the problem and patting themselves on the back, because they claim that they are dealing with the reduced size of the problem.

Then the noble Earl said, "We are dealing with the shortage of houses". I have been looking at the White Paper on housing which was published by the Government a year ago. In that White Paper, they said that the shortage of houses in 1952 was about 750,000 and then, later on, they said that they had not overcome the shortage. The shortage is now about the same, between 500,000 and 1 million. So that the more we go on, the more legislation we pass, the more we stand in the same place. The noble Earl made no great claims about the success of the improvement procedure; in fact, he was very disappointed. I am wondering what there is in this Bill that will increase the number of improvements carried out per annum from 120,000 to 200,000. But I should like to say a word later about that matter.

Lastly, the noble Earl claimed that this year 350,000 houses are to be built. That is very creditable and satisfactory, so far as it goes; but even that number, as the House will agree, will not in fact improve the housing situation. At the best, it will leave us where we are, and at the worst it will increase the shortage of accommodation. Moreover, included in that number (and I think we shall all agree on this) are houses which are not necessarily the most satisfactory contribution to the solution of the problem. Let me mention expensive flats. Expensive flats have been built, and I presume are still being built, in seaside towns, in London, and in some of the larger towns, which are very largely remaining unlet because of the high cost of leases or high rents. Such dwellings are included in the 350,000, while making no contribution at all at present to the solution of the housing problem.

We see the building of expensive houses, houses that are selling at anything from £12,000 to £20,000. The noble Earl has only to look in The Times on the appropriate days to see that these houses are being built and offered for sale. As I say, they are making no contribution to the solution of the housing problem, yet they are included and treated as if they are, and the Government are saying that they are building 350,000 houses. Furthermore, if new houses and flats are to be a real solution to the problem they must be built in the right places, where people need them, and not in dormitory towns or seaside resorts, or in places of that kind, which are not accessible to the public who need them. If the Government were serious about dealing with the housing problem, they would make quite sure that houses were built for the people who need them, in the places where they are needed and at rents which the people can afford to pay. Until they have done that I find no ground for feeling satisfaction at what they are doing.

Furthermore, there is nothing in this Bill (I had not expected there would be, although the noble Earl talked about the housing position generally) dealing with the most serious problem of all; that is, the high cost of land. The Government have completely given up the job of trying to deal with the high cost of land. They believe that this is something that must be accepted as inevitable; that there is the law of supply and demand, and that the problem can be met to a certain extent by making more land available. But how the Government are to make more land available in this small island of ours, without encroaching on the green belt or on open spaces, I do not know. This remains a running sore throughout our housing problem.

Having dealt with the noble Earl's introductory remarks on housing, let me say something about the Bill itself. I will make my comments as short as I can, and I will take them in the order of the various Parts of the Bill. Part I deals with the setting up of a Housing Corporation and the encouragement of housing societies, and I am sure that all of us approve of both these steps. But I do not think the noble Earl claimed that they would produce one single additional house. We all know that the resources of the building industry are very much stretched at the moment, not only as regards housing but for all sorts of other purposes. While Part I of the Bill will encourage housing societies to build houses for letting at rents which more people can afford to pay, it is bound to be at the cost of municipal housing, or other housing of that kind, simply because the building resources are restricted and it is not possible to extend them.

Nevertheless, I think that, in so far as Part I caters for a class of person who up to now has been somewhat neglected—that is, the person who, as the noble Earl explained, is either not eligible for a council house or prefers not to live in a subsidised house, but is not in a position to buy one, for one reason or another—then I think it is all to the good, and I fully support the conception of the Housing Corporation and its relationship with housing societies. What I am not so happy about is the financial arrangements. The whole thing turns on getting the support of the building societies. Out of the £300 million required, £200 million will have to be found, under the scheme of the Bill, by the building societies. Except for patriotism, and a desire to support the present Government, I wonder what inducement there is to the building societies to divert their funds, of which they are in short supply, from their normal business of lending money to house owners to this business of lending money to housing societies. I cannot understand why they should do this—certainly from a business point of view—and I do not understand the noble Earl's optimism in imagining that this £200 million a year will be found by the building societies.

When the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, comes to reply, I shall be glad if he could go further into this question, and tell us upon what the optimism of the Government is based, and their grounds for believing that the building societies will provide this money. I have had the opportunity of conversation with one or two of the leading members of the building societies, and the result of my conversation is to lead me to believe that the Government have no real ground for their optimism that the money will be provided. And, if the money is not forthcoming, will that not knock the bottom out of the whole thing, unless the Government are themselves willing to provide the £300 million, or the greater part of it, which they say is required?

My Lords, so much for Part I. I think that it is probably, if not the most desirable Part of the Bill, at any rate the one more likely to be achieved, provided, as I say, that the Government are prepared to back their ideas by finding the greater part of the money if that should be necessary. Now we come to Parts II and III, and here I am bound to agree with the noble Earl that I find them difficult, obscure, highly technical, longwinded and so difficult to carry out that I wonder how many local authorities will take the trouble to do so.

I have tried to go through the various stages that are necessary when dealing with an obstructive owner—and, of course, if the owner is co-operative, then these provisions do not matter very much. But we must assume that local authorities will be dealing with an obstructive owner; and I imagine that most owners of the type of property that we are speaking about will be obstructive. I say that because the noble Earl talks of a "carrot", but, in fact, it is not a very tempting carrot; it is not a sweet carrot. It is a bitter carrot, if one can discriminate between carrots. It does not give the property owner a tempting return on his expenditure. The noble Earl may talk of 12½ per cent., but it is only for a limited period because, ex hypothesi, the life of this property is limited, and you are asking owners to expend a great deal of money. True, they can borrow the money from the Government, but you are still asking them to make themselves responsible for it, and you are not giving them what they would regard as an adequate return.

So I repeat that you will have to deal with an obstructive owner in the main; and, going through the various stages set out in the Bill, one finds that it is quite possible for such an owner to hold up the work for five years. If the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, who looks surprised, would like me to go through the various stages, and the House has the patience to listen, I am prepared to do so, but it is all in the Bill.

I am assuming that the owner will take advantage of every means of delay, including appeals to the county court and appeals from the county court, and I think that five years is by no means an overstatement in an extreme case where the owner is obstructive. When you are dealing with property which, at the most, has a life of fifteen years, five years is a pretty big slice out of it. I am not sure whether the fifteen years starts to run from the time when the work begins or from the time when the order is first made. I find the Bill a little obscure on that point.

While talking of obscurity, I should like to read out one gem which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, can elucidate for us. I have tried very hard to understand it, but I cannot. This is going back to Part I, but I am talking at the moment of obscurities. It is Clause 8, subsection (2)(b), which says: The following advances, that is to say— … any advance which, under section 21(7) of the Building Societies Act 1962, a building society falls to be treated "— whatever that may mean— (for the purposes of sections 21 to 24 of that Act) as having made by reason of a transfer of the mortgagor's interest under a mortgage", et cetera. I can only think that this was concocted by somebody who was intoxicated at the time it was written. It does not make sense. It does not even read grammatically.


My Lords, I can explain it to the noble Lord, if he wishes.


Perhaps the noble Lord will explain it when he makes his speech. I am sure it will tax his ingenuity. I have no doubt that it means something, but I am dealing merely with the language, and not with what it is supposed to mean. I have no doubt the noble Lord can explain what it is supposed to mean; I doubt whether he can justify the language in which it is put.

This is my main criticism of Parts II and III. First, the machinery is so difficult and complicated that personally I doubt whether any or many local authorities will feel prepared to operate it; and, secondly, there will be a good deal of opposition and local authorities will be faced with having to take extreme steps in going the whole way, including the county courts and appeals from county courts; and then, by reason of the complexity of this part of the Bill, a good deal of extra staff will be needed. The question is where this staff is coming from. Local authorities are already short of skilled staff; they are finding it difficult to get them; and I would say that the implementation of Parts II and III of this Bill will embody a very large increase in staff. Therefore, I wonder whether, with the best will in the world, these Parts are going to be implemented to any appreciable extent, and whether the 200,000 houses that the noble Earl is aiming at will be reached. I very much doubt it.

I come now to Part IV which deals with houses in multiple occupation. Here I wonder whether the Government have really got to the root of the trouble. When we talk of Rachmanism we are not talking so much of houses which are in a bad condition and overcrowded, although that is a factor; we are talking of cases where the landlords get rid of their tenants by intimidation or by other means where they cannot do so by lawful means. We know that this has taken place to a great extent in some cases, and we have called it Rachmanism. This Bill does little or nothing to deal with that particular problem. That a person is, or persons are, being unjustifiably threatened with eviction is not in itself a ground for local authorities to intervene. I know that these threatened people have the law with them, and they can go to the courts and so on; but the very fact that persons are liable to be intimidated in this way presupposes that they are not the type of people who will go to the courts for relief. They might go to the local authority, but if they do, the local authority is not in a position to help them. This part of the Bill does not bite in that kind of case at all.

I agree that it gives increased power, such as the right of entering into possession on certain specified grounds, and that is all to the good. But, on the particular evil which many of us have in mind, especially since the abolition of rent control, this Bill does not bite; and the local authority could not enter into possession or take any action in cases of houses in multiple occupation merely on the grounds that a tenant is being threatened with eviction or has good reason to think he is going to be. I hope that when we come to the Committee stage of this Bill it will be possible to add teeth to it so that the good intentions of the Government to deal with Rachmanism are implemented.

In speaking of the Committee stage, I am bound to point out—as did some of my honourable friends in another place—that a good deal of this Bill would have been unnecessary if the Amendments that were moved to the 1961 Bill had been accepted by the Govermnent. I do not suggest that all the Amendments were put forward by members of my Party, though most of them were. I will not trouble your Lordships by enumerating them, but a very large number were put forward by my honourable friends and were just voted down. Hence we have this Bill. I think that almost all the provisions of this Bill formed the subject of Amendments to the 1961 Bill; and hope that when we come to deal with this Bill in Committee—and we shall have plenty of time; we have nothing much to do between now and October—we can go through it carefully. I hope also that the Government will be much more resilient—and I am sure they will be so as the Election approaches—in accepting reasonable Amendments than they have been in the past.

I observed that the Minister in another place in dealing with this point, which was raised by my honourable friend Mr. Michael Stewart, said that my friends had put forward so many bad Amendments that he did not feel justified in accepting the good ones. That does not show a high sense of discrimination. I hope that, if we do put forward some bad Amendments in this House, that will not prejudice the acceptance of the good ones.

The noble Earl said nothing about Part V of this Bill, and I do not propose to do so. It contains what I think are reasonable provisions resulting from mistakes which have been made by all Parties in the past and which it is only right should be remedied. But he referred to consolidation of the Scottish law. In view of the fact that we have now so much English housing legislation on the Statute Book, is it not opportune for some kind of consolidation to take place of English legislation as well? It is becoming increasingly difficult to find one's way round housing legislation, and I am referring only to legislation passed since 1952. As I said earlier, I may have missed one or two enactments because they are under different Titles. But I would ask the Government in the short time they have left, to consider very carefully the idea of consolidation.

My Lords, I do not expect a great deal of this Bill. I am sorry it is so cumbersome and complicated. The noble Earl justified the complexity of the machinery by the desire to be fair. I think we have been more than fair to the property owners: I think we have been unreasonably, quixotically generous in the time we have allowed them for appealing, in the various opportunities for appealing and in the various steps they can take to frustrate the intention of the Bill. I hope we can put that right. As the Bill stands, I do not think it is going to do very much; nevertheless, even for the little good it might do, we are grateful and certainly have no intention of voting against the Second Reading. In conclusion, I repeat that I hope we shall have a careful Committee stage, and that the Government will be more forthcoming in dealing with such Amendments as may be put forward than they have been in another place and than they were in the case of the 1961 Bill.

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to begin by supporting very strongly the appeal of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that when a consolidating measure is vouchsafed to Scotland, one should also be vouchsafed to England and Wales. At the risk of appearing to attempt to ridicule the present state, I should like to quote a letter which I have had from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. With my limited capacity for understanding legislation, I find it impossible to understand about the new rent level. When I inquired of the Ministry, I had this kind and helpful reply. As you say, the existing provisions for ascertaining the rent level are complicated. They start with paragraph 4 of the fourth schedule to the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act 1958 which applies the Rent Act limit contained in Section 20 of the Rent Act, 1957. Section 20 applies the limit in Section 1 of the 1957 Act of twice the 1956 gross value. This basic limit for the rent of an approved house has been subject to two increases—first an 8 per cent. increase by Section 5 of the Rent Act 1957 and later a 12½ per cent. increase by Section 29 of the Housing Act 1961. A further complication is that the fourth schedule conditions, including the rent limit, were originally to apply for twenty years (under Section 33 of the Act of 1958). This was shortened to ten years by Section 11 of the House Purchase and Housing Act 1959. All the provisions I have mentioned so far make no distinction between the rents for controlled and uncontrolled dwellings where improvements are carried out. But there is provision in Section 12 of the House Purchase and Housing Act 1959 for an application to be made to the local authority to fix a rent for an improved dwelling ½". I think that it is a hardship for legislators and for members of local authorities and, still more, for landlords and tenants to have to attempt to construe legislation by reference. I would ask that England and Wales should be granted a consolidation Statute, as is promised in the case of Scotland.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in his criticism of this Bill, seemed to favour the reintroduction of building controls. Having had some experience of administering them between 1951 and 1953, I do not believe that they would be effective for the purpose of expediting housing in this country. They are all very clumsy instruments and extremely slow in taking effect. In view of the fact that a large building is not completed until 2½ or 3 years after it is begun, restrictions which are introduced now would not have begun to be effective for three or four years.

I was much interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said about Part IV and the omission, which he had thought he had found, of power to deal with the most violent aspects of Rachmanism. I had thought that Part IV was a vigorous way of making the general principles of the Act of 1961 effective. If the noble Lord can establish that there is this serious omission, after this Bill has been so carefully examined in another place, I certainly hope that he will put down an Amendment in order that some of us may try to make the Bill effective for the purpose for which the Government have introduced it.

We are told in the introduction that the purpose of the Bill is partly to deal with these abuses and partly to give effect to the principles laid down in the Government's White Paper of May, 1963. Part I, setting up the Housing Corporation, follows on the pilot scheme of Section 7 of the Act of 1961. I cannot believe that there would be need for this special Housing Corporation if the Government had done more to encourage private enterprise to come back into the provision of houses to let. In 1959, when the present Government came in, the two main disincentives for the provision of houses to let were, first of all, the Rent Restriction Acts and, secondly, the subsidising of council rents out of rates.

As regards the Rent Restriction Acts, at the present time they are a declining evil, but I am bound to say that the danger of a Socialist Government coming into power after the next General Election, and their statements about what they will do to restore rent control to houses that were previously controlled and now have become decontrolled, must certainly be a great discouragement to private enterprise to embark on the building of any houses to let. On March 18, in another place, the Minister of Housing and Local Government gave a pledge that, if this Government were returned to power, in the next Parliament there would be no further measure of block decontrol. I do not suppose that that promise need do much harm, because at the present rate of creeping decontrol most of the properties in this country would be decontrolled by the end of the next Parliament, if it is of normal duration. But I hope that there will be no repetition by this Government of the pledge that was, in my view, most unnecessarily given at the General Election of 1959: that nothing more would be done to amend the Rent Restriction Acts.

I am glad that the Minister's promise does not deal with the question of rents. Obviously, it will be essential that there shall be a further increase in rents in the case of rent-controlled houses. In the Ministry's White Paper dealing with rating valuation, they pointed out that the cost of repairs of houses is now more than four times what it was in 1939. It is manifestly impossible for landlords to keep their houses in a proper state of repair unless the rents they now receive are sufficient to enable them to pay for necessary repairs.

The second disincentive to private enterprise which still operates—and to the extent of about £17 million a year in England and Wales—is the subsidising of council house rents out of rates. I return to my old theme, on which I have spoken to your Lordships before. Under this practice the richer person is frequently subsidised by the poorer; the person in an absolutely up-to-date and new house is subsidised by the person who is worse housed; and tenants who are unwilling to make the sacrifice to buy a house for themselves are subsidised by those who have made sacrifices in order to build or to buy their own houses. When the late Aneurin Bevan did away with the limiting words "working class" as the kind of housing for which local authorities are responsible, he never intended that that should ultimately result in well-off people paying less than an economic rent and the difference being made up out of the rates. Economic rents should normally be charged, subject to rent rebate schemes and to the principle which is applied by the London County Council, which they call comparability of rents. It means that the rents are calculated on the quantity and quality of accommodation provided and not arbitrarily on what the house happens to have cost. I think it is a serious omission in this Bill that nothing is done to limit this subsidising of rents out of rates.

I see that the Socialist-controlled Birmingham Council have recently decided as a general principle to charge economic rents, and that they are modifying this by what I understand is a good and reasonable rent rebate scheme. This policy on the part of the Socialist-controlled Birmingham Council was criticised at a West Midlands Labour Party Conference, but the majority at that Conference supported the Birmingham Council's policy. I am bound to say that I think in this matter, seeing that there are more ratepayers than there are rentpayers, the Socialist Party have stolen what might have been the Tory Party's clothes.

I would say, also, that in order to encourage the provision of houses to let by private enterprise, I do not understand why the principle that applies to farm cottages should not be applied to other cottages—namely, the principle of allowing the person who provides them to write the cost off as capital improvement over a period of ten years. If this Government had taken some measures of that kind to encourage private enterprise, I do not believe there would ever have been any need for this Housing Corporation, with the complicated provisions to which the noble Lord has drawn attention.

This Bill is going to attempt to speed up the improvement of old houses which still have a long period of useful life. My noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty confessed to disappointment at past progress. One of the chief reasons for that disappointment is that 12½ per cent. of the cost to the landlord of the provision of improvements is not in these days a very large percentage and not a sufficient inducement. I certainly should like to see that percentage increased. I suppose this again is one of the many salutary steps which might have been taken, but the Government are debarred from taking it by the loosely-worded pledge that was given by the present Home Secretary at the last Election, that there would be no amendment of the Rent Acts.

As regards decontrolled properties that are improved, I had a letter from my noble friend the Minister of State for the Scottish Office saying: The Bill makes no change for Scotland in the methods of fixing the rent. Although uniform gross annual values are available we cannot use them for controlled houses because of the Government's Election pledge not to amend the Rent Act in this Parliament, and it would be illogical to introduce the use of them for decontrolled houses improved with the aid of grant only. I hope the Government will look at that matter again in this House. I do not think my noble friend should have said it was illogical to do so, because that is exactly what this Bill does in the case of England and Wales.

The Minister, in introducing this Bill, said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 685 (No. 13), col. 491]: Although we are not altering in any way the rent limit for controlled properties, we are making alterations in the rent conditions for decontrolled properties. Whereas, at present, when grant is accepted by the landlord of decontrolled property, the rent has to be pegged at twice the old gross value plus 12½ per cent. of the cost of improvement ½ we now propose pegging the rent at once current gross value plus 12½ per cent. of the landlord's share of the cost of improvements ½ So, in the case of England and Wales, this transition is being made to the new scale of valuations. In view of the desirability of making people aware of what the post-war value of houses is, it seems to me that this change should be made in the case of Scotland.

As things are at present, the rent of an improved house is fixed by the local authority. In many cases it is unreasonably low. I myself found it was advantageous not to take the grant but to charge something more like an economic rent and retain my freedom. So if the Government are desirous of encouraging the modernisation of cottages in Scotland, I suggest they should look at that point.

This Bill is one more of the numerous measures to which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has referred. It is not necessarily a bad thing that there should be frequent legislation in order to keep the law up to date with what is a perpetually changing state of affairs. I think that in several respects this is going to be a valuable measure, though no one is going to pretend that it is a general comprehensive measure dealing with the housing problem as a whole. I believe, however, that the record of this Government is one of dealing with the problem with increasing success. I feel that this is a further and valuable step forward.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, what has been said on this Bill by my noble friend Lord Silkin states the position so effectively from my point of view that I do not propose to say a great deal about it. However, the position in Scotland is so totally different from that in England that I felt I ought not to have the sense of guilt which I did have when the First Lord was beaming across the Floor at me and when he apologised for the fact that the Scottish provisions were included in an English Bill. There may be a number of occasions when it is appropriate for legislation to be on a United Kingdom basis, but I can think of no subject where it is more inappropriately dealt with in that way than on the subject of housing, because in almost every way English and Scottish problems are quite different.

That can be seen from the records that are issued from time to time by Her Majesty's Government. It is because of the fact that the English position is so different from that of Scotland that this Bill will have little or no impact on the solution of Scottish housing problems. When one looks at the statistics and finds that, in the period since the war up to February 29 of this year—the most recent return issued—40 per cent. of the total of houses completed in England and Wales have been for owner-occupiers, and that the corresponding position in Scotland is 12½ per cent., it becomes obvious that we are dealing with quite different problems. I do not believe that the level of affluence in England and Wales—while I agree it is higher than it is in Scotland—is to be measured by the difference between 40 per cent. and 12½ per cent. It is simply because of the tremendous need for providing housing for those who, in no circumstances in the foreseeable future, are going to become owner-occupiers that the number of houses provided by the local authorities and by the Scottish Special Housing Association in Scotland is so much greater than the comparable figures for England and Wales.

The Minister of State for Scotland, during the few years that I have been a Member of your Lordships' House, has frequently been responsible for the passage through this House of masures which he has described as "small, but useful". No one, even if he were the person to whom my noble friend Lord Silkin referred who possibly drew up part of this Bill in a state of intoxication, could possibly describe this as a small Bill. I would not dispute the fact that it can be a useful Bill, but its use is exceedingly limited. It will make little or no contribution to the main problem which faces the whole of the United Kingdom, and it will certainly make an even smaller contribution to the solution of the Scottish problems.

In so far as the first Part is concerned, relating to the provision given for the building of houses by housing societies or associations, the contribution made by the Bill must be very small. Strangely enough, I was approached yesterday by one of my fellow townsmen, asking if I would consider becoming a member of the committee to run a new housing association which is being set up in that town. I promised to think over the matter. But in asking for information, I was not greatly surprised at the information I received. I think that what is to be done by this association will be useful, but in a town of 180,000 people, with a housing waiting list still in excess of 10,000, the contribution which the society propose to make—admittedly, as a first contribution—is to build 27 houses, and these houses, it is expected, will be let at rents of between £4 and £5 per week.

I admit, as my noble friend Lord Silkin admitted, the section of the community concerned in this regard is one for whom little or nothing has been done. But the principal reason why so little, almost nothing, has been done for them is that they are a very small section of the community. Given the tremendous demands which are being made on the building industry at the present time, any increase in the number of houses provided for these people must diminish to some extent the houses provided, either for renting by local authorities, or for those who wish to buy a house for themselves. I do not think it is reasonable, either in Scotland or in England, that there should be provision only of houses for those who wish to rent from a local authority. There ought to be provision, and reasonable provision, for those who want to buy a house, and there ought to be provision, and reasonable provision, for those who wish to rent a non-subsidised house. But I suggest to your Lordships that there is little or nothing in this Bill which will make much impact on these related problems.

I was surprised to hear the figures which my noble friend Lord Silkin gave of the number of housing measures which have been passed during the lifetime of the Conservative Government since 1951. But it is not surprising when one considers that almost every Bill attempts to make good some of the deficiences of the previous legislation, deficiencies which were pointed out to the Government time after time when the measures were going through. The best authority I can quote for that is the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy, when he said that one of the purposes of this measure is to put still more bite into the 1961 Act: and then he proceeded to give five instances of the deficiences of the Act so recently passed. It is not surprising that these deficiences should be there, because the first reaction of the Minister of Housing and Local Government in another place to some of the deficiences which exist was to deny that there was any need for new legislation. He seemed to think that the existing legislation could tackle these aspects of Rachmanism about which it appears there is doubt whether this new Bill deals with them adequately.

In his remarks, the noble Earl said that the sections relating to the housing associations were for non-profit-making schemes. To a certain extent, and to a limited extent, they are. These schemes are non-profit-making in the sense that the housing association responsible for building the houses will not take a profit—but everyone else concerned will. The builder will not turn them over to the housing association at cost price merely because he is building for a housing association instead of for a local authority or for a private individual. It would be quite unreasonable that he should do so, if he wished to continue in business. But that is by far the smallest aspect of profit making in building to-day.

Under this Bill, a house which will cost the housing association £3,000, if it is to be paid for over 40 years at current rates of interest, will attract an interest burden in excess of £3,600. That is where the real profit is being made in housing today; and until this Government, or some other Government, tackle that aspect of it, there will be little impact made on the provision of houses at rents which people can afford to pay, and which can be economic rents. I do not say it is outwith the possibility that many houses could be let on an economic basis, if the economic basis were a more reasonable one, but when more goes in interest to the person who lends the money than to the maker of the bricks, the maker of the cement, the man who lays the bricks, the man who does the joinery, the plasterer, the glazier and all the rest of it, there is something very wrong with the situation.

We know perfectly well that no legislation proposed by the Government, either in recent years or in years far gone by, has done anything other than to worsen this aspect of the situation. The Minister, in apologising for the Scottish provisions in this Bill, offered the hope that the Government would introduce a consolidating measure in the next Session of Parliament. It may well be that there will be a consolidating measure, but I doubt very much whether the Minister will be offering either apologies or praise, because I doubt whether it will be his responsibility. That is as it may be.

The noble Lord, Lord Molson, made a speech which I intend to read in great detail in tomorrow's Report, and I hope that some of its provisions will be given publicity by my noble friends, because I am quite certain that some of the things he said are things which have activated many of the members of Her Majesty's Government in recent years but which they are not going about saying quite so openly as the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has said them. In fact, a great deal of what he stated was not very relevant to the terms of the present Bill, but I do not blame him for that. To get up ostensibly to support the Bill and confine himself to relevancies would have made his speech exceedingly short indeed.

Even this Government are incapable of producing a Bill of this length which cannot accomplish some good, and the provisions of the Bill, in so far as they go, will be helpful to the housing conditions. In improvement grants, in conversions, in the control of unsatisfactory letting conditions in multiple ownerships, and the like, and in the production of houses to let at economic rents, this Bill will make a contribution to the housing position of this country; but the contribution is so pitifully inadequate to the problem that I suggest that it is really a waste of your Lordships' time to consider the Bill. We should have been considering something which would have made a much greater impact on the real needs of housing in the United Kingdom; and I hope that the next housing measure to be brought before your Lordships' House will be one which will have teeth in it and will enable the real problems to be tackled first.

4.33 p.m.


My Lords, one of the main difficulties, it appears, about making a Second Reading speech on this Bill is that if, on this side, one deals with matters which are not in it one is irrelevant, whereas, if one deals with matters which are not in it and sits upon the Opposition Benches, one hardly deals with the Bill at all. But I shall try to avoid both these errors which the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has just pointed out, and I will confine myself to giving the Bill a welcome for the contribution which I am certain it will make to a solution of this problem and to raising a few matters of general interest, I hope, in the actual wording of the Bill. If some of these turn into rather small points which could perhaps be dealt with equally well at the Committee stage, I hope your Lordships will forgive me, because this Bill is so much a matter of detail, of putting right and amending previous provisions of the law, that it is rather difficult to avoid getting down to rather detailed matters.

My Lords, the only point I have to make so far as Part I of the Bill is concerned, is in relaton to the powers that a housing society has to acquire land. The Corporation under Clause 3 can acquire land by purchase, sale, exchange or gift, and can sell it or lease it to housing societies. But the housing societies are entitled, under Clause 4, to go to the housing authority and ask them, compulsorily if necessary, to acquire land for them. Further, they can go to the Minister for a compulsory purchase order if the housing authority either is unwilling to acquire the land for sale or lease to the society or will do so only subject to conditions which the society does not like. Although it will obviously be essential that these societies and the Corporation have sufficient land on which to operate, I deprecate any unnecessary use of compulsory purchase powers by this sort of body. There is a proliferation of this power going on at the moment in almost every Act of Parliament which comes out. For some purpose or other there is a new provision by which private land can be compulsorily acquired. Here is another one, and in this case, as I understand it, the body given the power is not even a local authority.

I hope that my noble friend Lord Hastings when he comes to wind up this debate will be able to give some guidance as to the circumstances in which the Minister might be prepared to confirm a compulsory purchase order where the housing authority had been unwilling to support it. There may be many grounds on which a housing authority could object—on planning perhaps; or on many grounds—and the conditions which it sought to impose and which the housing society did not like might have been very reasonable. I hope that the Minister is going to keep a very strict control over this reserve power which is being given by Clause 4(1) to these housing societies. I hope also that the housing authority which has proved recalcitrant in some way will be given every opportunity to have its case heard at what I imagine is bound to be a public inquiry.

Part II of the Bill deals with the immensely complicated system for the compulsory improvement of houses, and the general point I should like to make about this Part of the Bill is as follows. One of the conditions under which an improvement order can be made is contained in Clause 13; that is to say, that in the area which the local authority chooses to deal with in this way at least one-half of the buildings are susceptible of improvement as set out in the Bill. But what is going to happen to the other half? It stands to reason that the area will be an area of old housing, and probably housing which lacks a great number of facilities; because otherwise the local authority would not propose to set about the matter in the way which Part II of the Bill provides. The danger is always that the rest of the housing in that area will, within the fifteen years, come within the ambit of the slum-clearance laws. So far as I know, there is nothing to prevent the situation arising that if the other half, or quarter, or whatever is left, of the area is subsequently made a clearance order area, under the slum-clearance provisions of the 1957 Act, some of these houses which have been compulsorily improved under this Bill will have to be taken in, in order to round off the area and provide the proper area for redevelopment which the local authority is entitled to get hold of under the 1957 Act.

If there is one thing that brings into disrepute the whole procedure of owners' improvement of houses, whether volun- tary or compulsory, it is for the local authority to put forward some scheme for the house to be given new facilities; for work to be put into it and money spent on it; and then, a few years later, for the same authority to come along and seek to pull the whole thing down under the slum-clearance provisions. This happens at the present moment, under the slum clearance Acts, and it is always a matter for complaint, and I think, justifiable complaint, from the people who own those houses. Of course, it is possible at the moment, under the slum-clearance provisions, for the owner of a house who has put in and had approved a scheme of improvement to obtain from the local authority a certificate which will prevent that house from being classified as unfit for, I think, up to ten years thereafter. That provision appears in Section 69 of the 1957 Act.

Although underlying the provisions of this Bill is the idea that the house, at the time when the improvement order is first introduced, is likely to be fit for human habitation for another fifteen years, the work that can be required to be done to the house under Part II of this Bill deals only with the standard facilities that are set out at the end of this Part. There is no requirement for other possible defects in the house to be put right—for example, the provision of a damp course, or repairs to the roof or something of that nature, which is not a matter of the standard facilities of this Act. As a result, it may well be that some of these houses will deteriorate, and within the fifteen years, despite this improvement grant, may become slums, or technically slums, under the 1957 Act, and have to be pulled down. Or again, as I have said, they may come into what is known as the "grey" area in a slum clearance order.

I hope that there will be some means (and perhaps my noble friend Lord Hastings can inquire about this; I am afraid that I have not given him notice) by which owners can be encouraged, at the same time as these compulsory improvements take place, to deal also with the other matters which may be wrong with their houses, so that they are made fit in every respect and not only in respect of the standard facilities to which Part II applies. I feel that if that can be ensured, there is at any rate a hope that the sort of difficulties I have referred to may be avoided. If, in addition, the local authorities choose the areas for these improvement orders with care, so that they do not find themselves with slum property mixed up with the improved houses, then difficulties can be avoided. Nevertheless, I believe that there is a danger here which should be most carefully watched.

There are one or two smaller points on Part II with which I should like to ask my noble friend Lord Hastings to deal; and if he cannot do so to-day, again it is my fault because I have not given him notice of the points I wish to raise. Why is it laid down in Clause 38 that dwellings cannot be dealt with under Part II if the dwelling was provided by a conversion carried out after October 3, 1961? I cannot imagine that there was any change of by-laws which made any difference to the standard of conversions that occurred after that date, and I do not think it has anything to do with planning control. It can only, therefore, I assume, be something to do with the coming into operation of the 1961 Act; and if the real desire is to get the houses that are susceptible of improvement improved, it seems a little strange to put this arbitrary date upon the conversion after which the house is not capable of being dealt with under Part II. I should have thought that the period should rather be a continuing period, and that any conversion which does not come up to the requisite standard could be dealt with under this Part of the Act. My noble friend, who is I think now the Minister of State for the Royal Navy—


Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy.


I beg my noble friend's pardon: I have not become used to his new title. He dealt with some of the improvements by which the local authority (I think this comes under Part IV, but it occurs also in Part II) can recover money which they themselves are forced to spend, in default of the owner, in putting the houses right. He explained that the demand for the money expended became a charge upon the property. I hope that the wording of this Bill which occurs in Clause 29(4) and also Clause 60(1) will create a first charge upon the property and that it will not be subject to other mortgages and other charges which may have been created before. It seems to me that in this Bill the mortgagees and chargees have been given every opportunity to make representations at all proper stages in the improvement procedure. They can object to the notices and appeal against them. And the same applies in Part IV. If, therefore, despite all that, the procedure has to be enforced against the property, I hope that the local authority will have the first charge upon that property for the money which is spent.

Finally upon Part II, I hope that my noble friend Lord Hastings will be able to say that some of these copious notices which the local authorities are, or may be, required to serve under Part II will be set out in pro forma style in some circular to be issued by the Ministry; because I think that under Part II there are some seven or eight types of form, and if each local authority makes up its own there will be very real confusion.

Part III of the Bill is, of course, that in which total mystification sets in, because of cross-references to other Acts; and it is here, in particular, I feel there is room for consolidation. If we are quoting examples, it seems to me that Clause 49 in itself is no bad one to mention; because, without the other Acts before you—and there are three required—its meaning is quite incomprehensible. But it is not that clause with which I want to deal in particular so much as Clause 56. If the ordinary standard grant is being raised, as it is by this Bill, why have the Government put up the discretionary grant only in the case of houses of three storeys or more? If there has been a case for putting up the standard grant and this other grant in the way the Bill incorporates—because, I have no doubt, of the increased cost of repairs—it seems to me that an opportunity for raising this discretionary grant all round has been sadly missed.

In another place, figures were put forward by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government which suggested that the average for discretionary grants has not reached as high a figure as is allowed under the existing Act. Surely this is the whole point of a discretionary grant. A discretionary grant is not something which has to be given by a local authority: it is something on which a local authority can, if it thinks fit, be generous or not be generous to a particular applicant. Therefore, averages have nothing to do with the matter. It must, I should have thought, be a fair presumption, if these other grants are going up, that a local authority should have discretionary power to raise the discretionary type of grant to the same degree. This is perhaps a matter to which we can revert on Committee stage.

I was delighted to see the provision, in Clause 64(2)(b), for the issue of a justices' warrant, even without warning to a householder, so that an officer of the local authority can go in and inspect the house to see whether or not there has been an infringement of the Act. It is a type of drafting and a type of provision that I have never seen before in any Act of Parliament. It seems to deal with exactly the sort of situation likely to arise in bad cases, and I would congratulate Her Majesty's Government on having introduced so simple and effective a procedure to deal with the perils that are inherent in this situation. I hope that it will have the desired effect.

I do not want to deal in detail with the rest of Part III; because of the very detail contained in it, I do not know whether it is in any way possible to cut out some of the complications. I imagine not, because of what my noble friend Lord Jellicoe said about the need to be fair; but I hope that some simple guide will be given to the ordinary public as to how to deal with this Part of the Bill. I shudder to think what would happen if it got into the hands of a layman, particularly the sort of person likely to be a tenant of one of these houses, because I imagine he would not be able to begin to find his way about it, or to find in its provisions the protections which are there for him to take advantage of if he so desires. I hope that the greatest publicity will be given to this Bill, after it has become an Act, and that people will be encouraged by simple explanations to make use of its provisions.

I was impressed by the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who said he was afraid that the powers in the Bill did not allow the local authori- ties to deal with the sort of Rachman situations that have taken place. I thought that the words about the "safety, health and welfare" of the tenant were likely to be widely interpreted, and that where it was a question of putting Alsatian dogs upon tenants, in order that they should be evicted, or malpractices of this sort by the landlord, the local authority would be able to enter and deal with the house by means of control order: because surely this is very much to do with the safety, health and welfare of the tenant. Most of the other practices to which, apparently, landlords have descended in some very bad cases would also have the same effect and could be dealt with under the Bill. I am disappointed that the noble Lord thinks this is not so.


My Lords, I agree with the noble Viscount; I should have thought these words would, by implication, cover such situations as he has described. I should like to see certain words included to deal expressly with the difficulty, especially as the point was raised in another place, and the Minister, in reply, said that the Bill was not designed to deal with that kind of thing and that intimidation would have to be dealt with in some other way. So if I put down an Amendment to clarify this point, I hope that I may rely on the support of the noble Viscount.


I am much obliged to the noble Lord for what he has said, and I expect that the matter will be made plain in due course; but this was at any rate the way in which I had interpreted this Part of the Bill.

There is in Part V one point which I consider to be a matter for congratulation and which I think I may properly raise upon Second Reading. Noble Lords will see that one of the subjects dealt with in this part of the Bill is the removal of what I think are commonly known as "prefabs". This is in Clauses 88 and 89. In Clause 89 the Minister takes powers to remove houses of this kind: to demolish them if he is requested to do so by a local authority. He is also empowered to remove from the site of the house the substructure and other materials affixed to the land for the purposes of the erection of the house. Many of these houses were, I think, as were the temporary houses erected during the war, put up upon what had been previously open spaces, and there are occasions upon which the local authority wish to return the land to an open space use. But when these houses, which were originally intended to be temporary houses, were put up, they were of course provided with roads, sewers and services of that sort, some of which go under the ground and some of which exist on the land but are not directly related to the site of the house itself. If a local authority wish to return an area to open space under this provision of the Bill and they ask the Minister to do it for them, there should be quite clear power for the Minister, as part of the process, to take away the roads, the drains and that sort of thing, as well. I wonder whether the wording of this clause would entitle him to do so; because I do not think that these things would fall within the definition of "substructure and other materials" specified in the Bill.

With those comments I welcome the Bill. I think it has a part to play in the general scheme of the housing legislation which we now have. But I would ardently join in the plea that has been made by one other noble Lord for the consolidation, which must be overdue. There is one other point in this regard. If Her Majesty's Government want people to use this Bill and the Acts that go with it, and if they want private people to take advantage of the provisions to their limit, they cannot expect them to do so if they merely give them this Bill to read, because no landlord could possibly understand it, and no landlord has access to a Law Library so that he may look up all the other Acts to which reference is made in this Bill. The complexity of the Bill and its drafting are, I think, a disadvantage and a disincentive to its use, and until the earliest possible opportunity is taken of putting legislation of this sort into simple language, and putting it all in one place without cross references to other Acts, there is not a chance of its being used fully and to its proper degree.

I hope, furthermore, that, apart from the hiving off of the Scottish parts of this Bill and of their being replaced by a new consolidated Scottish Act, Her Majesty's Government will not wait for the review to which my noble friend Lord Jellicoe referred as being about to start this year, because there is no time to waste in getting this legislation straightened out and clarified. If we wait for another review and another Housing Bill, then half the opportunity which is going to occur under this legislation will be lost. I therefore press this consolidation as a matter of the utmost urgency. I hope that it will take place as soon as possible, and at any rate within the next Session. I am always pestering my noble friend Lord Hastings about consolidation, as I have done in the case of burial and cremation legislation in the past and he will not be surprised that I return to that particular charge at the end of this speech.

4.56 p.m.


My Lords, I do not usually run long distances, but I ran a long distance to-day and at great speed when I heard that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, was introducing this Bill, because I always regard him as one of the finest expositors of Bills in either House of Parliament, and I did not wish to miss a single word he said. This is an important Bill, and I have no doubt that it will receive a Second Reading in your Lordships' House, with a modified degree of enthusiasm. In my view, several features of the Bill are distincly encouraging. Part III of the Bill, which deals with assistance for the improvement of dwellings, should prove generally helpful. At the present moment there are five standard amenities. Under the Bill there will be seven standard amenities. It is provided that where it is not practicable to provide all seven standard amenities at reasonable expense, local authorities are empowered to pay standard grants towards the cost of providing only three of those amenities, known as reduced grants. In my view, this is a most practical and helpful procedure.

It is also useful that a higher limit of £350 for standard grants will apply where certain specified works have to be carried out. For example, it frequently happens that a bathroom has to be provided by the building of a new and additional room altogether, and in those circumstances it is only fair that there should be some increase in the amount of standard grant. I know that this is rather a private and intimate matter; nevertheless it is one which affects everybody in the country.

The qualifying leasehold interest of an applicant for a grant occupying a house under a long tenancy is reduced under the Bill from 15 to 5 years. That should help to increase the number of applications for grants and the consequent improvement of properties. Further, the reduction from 10 to 3 years of the period for which all the conditions of grant attach to a dwelling should also encourage the urge to improve properties. In my view, the great thing is to improve a property which lacks all or some of the standard amenities, and the attachment of conditions to the grant which helps to pay for that improvement is not really as important as some people would like to urge. A house consists of bricks and mortar and woodwork, and these elements are totally indifferent to questions of ownership and occupation, landlordism and tenancy, or as to who is a mortgagor or a mortgagee of the premises; but nevertheless, these three elements do decay, and the essential thing in my view is that the physical attributes of a dwelling itself should be maintained and improved.

Part II of the Bill, which deals with the compulsory improvement of dwellings, should raise the standard of housing accommodation in some areas. Clauses 69 to 87 of the Bill, which deal with control orders, are an innovation, and raise many matters for consideration. I am not in any sense appearing for high finance or anything of that description, but I am a little apprehensive about the position of mortgagees after a control order has been made and a scheme has been prepared and come into operation. Clause 75(3) provides, among other things, that the scheme shall include an estimate of the balances after deducting all expenditure incurred by the local authority in respect of the house. That may include periodical payments under a mortgage. But if these payments are not kept up, has the mortgagee, say the building society, power to seize the house and sell it? Remember, a control order is in force, and it may be that the Housing Act, 1964, overrides the normal rights of a mortgagee. That is a possible source of litigation, but it would be better to clarify the matter now.

The majority of—in fact, I may say all—building societies do not lend money in the first instance upon property which is insanitary or which qualifies in the normal way for a control order. Nevertheless, some of these properties may have been in a fairly good state when money was advanced for them, and they will have seriously deteriorated in recent years. What is the position of a building society mortgage when a control order is made? Suppose that under the scheme the periodical payments under a mortage are not kept up. In ordinary, plain language can the mortgagee—that is to say, the building society—seize the property and sell it? I should think that the answer is a very expensive law case.

5.1 p.m.


My Lords, one necessity will always remain a subject for constant legislation in these times, and that is housing. Even if the time should come when every family in the country has a roof of some kind over its head, there will always be slums of some kind and there will always be the need for improvements to be made in housing. This is especially true to-day when, as the Minister in the other place reminded us, there is an ever-increasing birth rate. This (to a layman like myself) highly complicated Bill is another measure which the Government have put forward to improve aspects of the housing situation. It will by no means solve a very large proportion of it, but in many ways it is a courageous measure. It has many practical aspects, and for my part I propose to be brief and to deal with only two sections of the Bill.

I hope that one thing will emanate from this Bill, and that is that there will be an end to the recent enmity, which has existed in so many circles, of landlord versus tenant. We have had far too much emphasis placed upon the evil, Rachman-type landlord, whom we all deplore, and the irresponsible tenant. Of course these people exist, but I think in very much smaller numbers than certain organs of the Press and other sources would have us believe. I believe that most landlords are basically honest people who are out to improve the lot of their tenants; and I believe, too, that most tenants are tidy people, not as destructive as is often portrayed, and that both are out to lead a reasonably peaceful existence.

I should like to turn first to Clause 4 of the Bill, which deals with compulsory purchase. My noble friend Lord Colville of Culross dealt with this clause most admirably, with the extensive knowledge which he has on this matter, and it is a very vital clause. My right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government said during his Second Reading speech [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 685 (No. 13), col. 487] that the Housing Corporation has the power to buy in advance and thus take the opportunity of purchasing any land which becomes available, even if at that particular moment there is no housing society ready to make use of it. I am only a layman in housing matters, but I find this a little disturbing, for I interpret it to mean that an order can be made to purchase land which may remain vacant for a considerable time before the housing society or any other society makes use of it for building purposes. If this is going to be done by compulsory purchase, then, although the Minister has the final say, it seems to be something of an injustice, even if the 1961 value is paid. I have not given my noble friend notice of this question but perhaps he could look into this matter of compulsory purchase, particularly if the land is not going to be used immediately.

I specially welcome Clause 7 of the Bill and hope that use will be made of architects and others to be provided in assisting to build these houses. Too many houses are going up to-day which will all too soon need the provisions which Clauses 4 to 7 lay down, and I welcome these provisions. I am a little surprised that £20 should be the grant for storing food and only £70 for a hot and cold water supply at a fixed shower bath. I do not know how these figures are computed, and it is not the time to go into that detail now. It is sufficient to say that this clause is a welcome one.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, made reference to seaside resorts, and I agree with him entirely that many of the rents are too high. In Eastbourne, a town I know well, there are a number of flats which have been vacant for far too long because rents are too high. There is a real need for housing to be provided at some of these resorts, and one hopes that it can be done with the charging of reasonable rents. This is becoming urgent because many firms are setting up light industry in seaside areas and at least one, as I understand it, has been made into a development area. These people will need to be housed.

I echo what has been said in regard to the Committee stage of this Bill. There will obviously need to be a great deal of discussion, particularly on Parts II and III of the Bill, which I certainly do not propose to discuss now as they are highly technical matters. On the whole, I consider that the Bill is an honest effort to see that the landlord and the tenant both get a fair crack of the whip; and although the Bill, despite its length, has only limited provisions, they are nevertheless to be welcomed.

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, whenever one has anything like a housing debate, naturally complaints shower in from every side, because the overall position is one of complaint, in that the number of houses in the country is inadequate.

This is in spite of the fact that the building industry has been working flat out ever since the war. In other words, we have too few craftsmen, and some builders, at all events, would say that many of the craftsmen are either unable or unwilling to produce the same amount of outturn as was done before the war. I greatly believe in the present Minister of Housing, and I believe he has summed up the situation remarkably well very quickly. He has seen that, without more craftsmen and bringing in a completely new solution to this housing problem, there is no hope of ever catching up. He is bringing productivity and automation into the factory, so that the factory-built house can come to the aid of the traditionally built. That, to my mind, is the only hope of our ever catching up with this problem.

Of course, we were lulled into a false sense of security for years by the fact that the Registrar General's Department has only recently become aware of the factors leading to the threatened population explosion. Moreover, it is only in very recent years that we have seen this very heavy tide of immigration into this country. Immigration may not be so important to the question of the actual shortage of numbers of dwellings. But it becomes extremely important when one comes to consider the quality of the dwellings, because it is too much to expect that people who come from countries where the housing standards are very much lower than they are in this country, are going to comply willingly with the Western type of rules and regulations which we seek to impose in our country. People who are coming from the East would regard a British slum as a palace, compared with some types of accommodation to which they have been accustomed for generations in their own surroundings. How can one expect them, and the landlords of their own race who are only too ready to prey upon them, to regard as anything but interfering officialdom the attempts of local authorities to try to make them comply with the sanitation laws of this country?

I greatly welcome Part I of this Bill because, at long last, it recognises the need for rented houses for the lower and lower-middle income groups. The provision of houses for them used very often to be done by private enterprise as an investment, particularly in the case of the artisan or the small trader who left his wife a few weekly rents after he died, as a sound investment in bricks and mortar. Successive Governments have completely destroyed the idea of residential bricks and mortar being a sound investment. There has been rent control with inadequate mitigation. I do not say that rent control ought not to exist, but that there should be adequate mitigation; in other words, rents should move up when the value of money goes down. We have not secured that, and the result is that the best that can be hoped for by the man who has invested in the past in bricks and mortar is, possibly, the same fixed income as he had many years ago with, perhaps, or perhaps not, a sufficient amount to keep that property in repair.

The essence of the provision of those dwellings on lease was that they were an equity investment. When the people invested in them they expected the rents to move with the value of money and so on. We have destroyed that, and therefore we have completely destroyed the supply. Hence we have to call in this new business of the Housing Corporation. If the idea is taken up, I reckon its £100 million will supply between 20,000 and 40,000 houses. Of course we need more than that every year, but it shows that the Minister sees the seriousness of the situation and is making an attempt to tackle it.

Other supplies of housing of this sort are likely to come from people whose houses may be their own property, through having obtained a mortgage and so on, and who wish to move, or who are forced to move, and whose houses go on the market. If anything could be done to make it attractive for those people to let those houses as an investment, rather than to sell them for a capital sum, then that again would make some contribution to solving this problem. At any rate, one is hopeful whenever one sees something new coming. But this question of rent has been so bedevilled by politics that I am afraid that at the back of one's mind one must have some suspicion that all is not as well as one might hope.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, made a number of complaints. One of his complaints was the waste of money on building luxurious apartments in London and selling for very high prices. I think he probably has a good point there, but why do these properties sell for very high prices?—and they do sell. Sooner or later they house a family. Why do they sell for these very high prices, if not because of the taxation policy of the noble Lord's Government and Conservative Governments since the war, who have imposed such a tremendous burden of taxation on the higher incomes? But to anybody who has capital and is prepared to sacrifice the income he gets from that capital, or anybody who has the standing to borrow from an insurance company and who can set the cost of the loan against his tax, the cost of living in one of these luxurious apartments is derisory. It is the taxation policy that is wrong. But for the high taxation, the developers would not find it worth while putting up properties to sell at these prices, because people would not want to buy them.

As regards Rachmanism, which of course we all deplore, I was hoping that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, would suggest some solutions, because to my mind the problem is virtually insoluble. I can see that it is possible to protect in some way tenants who may be threatened with Alsatian dogs, thugs or gangsters and so on, but how on earth can one protect the tenant from the much more insidious methods of getting them out? One method, which somebody wrote and complained to me about, was the landlord getting the vacation of one room and installing in it a group of a good many West Indians who love to play stringed instruments into the small hours of the morning. The old age pensioners in that block had to clear out; they could not stand the noise. Possibly, they might have had some complaint over which the local authority could help them. But it is very difficult when dealing with "multi-coloured" dwellings and the lavatories are used by people who use lavatories in an Eastern rather than a Western way. Against such minor methods of intimidation as that, I cannot see how it is possible to protect the tenant. But if on the Committee stage the noble Lord can produce Amendments to this Bill which can deal with problems like this, I have no doubt that he will obtain a great deal of support in this House. About the technical Parts of the Bill, concerning improvements and so on, I know very little; but I welcome particularly Part I.

5.22 p.m.


My Lords, I should first apologise for not being here at the beginning of the debate, but I was unavoidably delayed. I shall be brief, but I support my noble friend Lord Hughes in some of his speech. I am a member of a body of people who, collectively, are the biggest landlords in Scotland—in other words, I am a local councillor.

What the noble Lord said about money and building houses is, of course, true. That is our big problem. As landlords, we have to borrow money like any other landlord does; and that the interest on a house worth £2,000 is of the order of £3,000 is a fact of life. But it is a fact of life that is applicable to the big and the small landlord in Scotland. It is not applicable only to the small landlord: it is applicable to the lot. The only way in which this state of affairs could possibly be helped would be by a generous grant towards the building of private houses. A grant of £1,000 (I have said this before) would encourage the production of a large number of houses, whereas a £3,000 interest charge on rates still produces only one house. Therefore, I should have thought, thinking of the matter on those lines, that it would still be worth while to give such a grant.

The other thing which confused me, I must admit, is that the noble Lord, Lord Molson, said, if I understood him aright, that you could get back your cost of capital improvements. I have never managed to do that at all. All I have managed to do is to get back the tax over a period of ten years, which is a very different thing indeed if you are not a very rich man. It amounts, really, to about one-third of the cost over a period of ten years, which is not the same thing at all. I am not quite sure whether I am right in this, or whether it was a slip.


My Lords, I referred to writing it off; but even to get back one-third of it by deduction of tax is a great help to any man, rich or poor, who provides a house.


It is better than nothing, I agree. The other point with which, if I understood it aright, I do not agree was from my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross. I certainly hope that sites that have been developed for "pre-fab." houses will not be reconverted to open spaces, because all the services were put in to conform to permanent standards. They were very costly to put in, to begin with, and they are extremely costly to remove or write off. What is more, there is the time factor. If a site is fully serviced, even if you have to adapt it when redeveloping it to more permanent housing, the time factor is helped, and that is vital in these matters. For every reason, of whatever sort—the cost factor, the amount of use and all these other considerations put together—I would say that only in a very exceptional circumstance should a site that has once had houses on it not be redeveloped as part of a permanent housing scheme. I may have misunderstood what my noble friend said, but I would definitely urge that this point should be borne in the forefront of people's minds.


My Lords, before my noble friend Lord Stonehaven goes on, may I say that I did not suggest that all such sites should be returned to open spaces; but there are places, particularly in the South-East corner, and possibly in the North of England, where open space is so short that these sites have to be returned. It was in those circumstances that I was suggesting that the Minister should have power, not only to clear the site of the house and its substructure but also of the other matters as well, so as to make one operation out of it rather than two.

5.26 p.m.


My Lords, I think that at least the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, can be thankful that everybody has welcomed this Bill, though with very modified rapture and in varying degrees. We have heard quite a bit about creeping de-control. I welcome this Bill because it is another bit of creeping Socialism. I always look carefully at the Government's Bills, particularly their current Bills, for creeping Socialism, because it is rather a nice, quiet, satisfactory way to do a job, and certainly better than creeping un-Socialism. This is one more example of the Government's making use of things which we have suggested and, perhaps, sometimes even things we have not suggested of a Socialist variety, in order to get things done which are inherently desirable.

This Bill is, in some ways, a confession of the failure of private enterprise to deal with all aspects of the housing problem, and particularly with the aspect of the provision of houses for those with middle incomes who want to rent rather than to buy them. It was the noble Lord, Lord Molson, who, earlier on, said that there were no houses built to let at the present time. There are, however, a number of flats built to let at very high rents; and I would agree entirely with my noble friend Lord Hughes, and with one or two other noble Lords who have spoken, that the problem really is not the cost of con- struction but the cost of the land and, even more, the cost of the money. It is really the cost of the money which determines the price of the house and the rent of the house, and this Bill, I am afraid, does nothing to help us in that particular regard.

As we have been told, this Bill sets out to create, among other things, housing societies, or to encourage the creation of housing societies, which run without profit. But, again, we have been rightly reminded that these societies will have to operate for profit so far as the money is concerned, so far as the house construction is concerned and so far as the purchase of the land is concerned. The only person who will not get a profit is the developer; and yet development is quite a difficult job—in fact, a very difficult job. This, I think, is going to be one of the hardest parts of the Bill to make a reality, and I must say I am very interested indeed—and I wish to ask the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, certain questions about it—in this conception of a Housing Corporation, with its £100 million.

First of all, the Corporation will have a chairman, a vice-chairman and, I think, up to nine members. I am not at all sure whether they will be part-time or whole-time members. I am not quite sure what kind of people they will be. Will it be like a New Town Development Corporation? Will it be like an industrial corporation? Will its members be like the members of the Coal Board? We understand from Schedule 1 that they are to be paid salaries. What kind of salaries are they to be? Are they to be very high salaries—in which case people will devote most of their time to the job? Or are they to be very much part-time directors, most of the work being done by their officers?

There is, incidentally, in Schedule 1 a very interesting provision for these people, and that is that they can get pensions. This, I think, is something quite new for members of a Government corporation. I welcome this. It is a sensible and good arrangement, and it may enable people to take on a job of this kind who would otherwise not do so. But I think we ought to have a little clarification about that particular point.

Next, we have heard that the Corporation is going to have officers: it will presumably have a general manager, architect, surveyors, and the rest, who will be helping the housing societies and advising them and servicing them to some extent. I hope that this works out as one would like, because the conception of a co-partnership or self-ownership and self-building, in itself, is a very good one. But it is an incredibly difficult job to do, as anybody who has tried to do public development knows. I have had some small experience in self-building schemes, but they almost always ended up—as my noble friend Lord Hughes mentioned—as a great deal of voluntary work going into the building of about 27 houses.

One was cheered and excited when 27 houses were produced because of the overcoming of the technical difficulties, and I cannot help feeling that the real clue to the success of a housing association is the employment of a professional manager to run it. Thus the project becomes more costly, but I cannot believe that the work of dealing with land purchase, local authorities' by-laws, the work of the architect, the quantity surveyors, the solicitors and all the other people concerned, even in a small property development, can be done by amateurs; or, if it can be done, then it can be on only a very small scale indeed.

Next I want to ask about how the £200 million from the building societies is going to come in. Is the Housing Corporation going to lend one-third of the money required to each housing society, and are the building societies to be expected to lend two-thirds? Or, is the Housing Corporation going to lend its £100 million until it runs out and are the building societies to come in after that? I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, will explain how the money is to be balanced. I hope he will also answer my noble friend Lord Silkin, who, in his very cogent and interesting speech, asked why the building societies should be lending money to these housing associations if they are not going to get as much money from doing that as they would from lending it to private house builders. I must say that I am inclined to think that the Economist was right when it said earlier this year that the Housing Corporation proposals may result in a driblet of high-cost and almost entirely middle-class new houses at an average rent of perhaps between £6 and £8 a week, and not a great impetus of new and cheaper houses for the working class.

I would also ask about compulsory purchase by the Housing Corporation. If I understood him correctly, the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, said that the housing societies would have the power of compulsory purchase. I think he said that, but I do not think he meant it. In fact, it is the Housing Corporation which will have the power of compulsory purchase, and I think it is right that it should have it. But I think it is going to have the utmost difficulty in finding and getting the land to do this development; it is going to find itself in competition not only with private developers (who are, after all, extremely skilled at keeping an eye out for available land for which planning permission has been granted) but also with the local authorities. The rub will come when the local authorities want the land and the Housing Corporation wants the land. Although the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, said he hoped that it would work in the greatest amity with all the local authorities—and I hope so too—I think there will occasionally be very real competition for sites between the two bodies. I hope that the local authorities will not be deprived of housing sites in order to make room for this extra kind of housing—although we all welcome it.

Probably this type of housing has been more greatly developed in the social democracies in Scandinavia than anywhere else. One has only to see the housing efforts of the co-operatives there to realise what a good thing it can be. Sweden produces 24.3 per cent. of her total housing output by co-operatives; Denmark, 28.3 per cent.; Norway, 27.3 per cent. The noble Earl spoke about the United States of America. I am willing to bet that in the United States nothing like a quarter of the housing is done by co-operatives; it is a much smaller fraction. I do not know about Switzerland. But if we are going to get anything like the Scandinavian picture it will require a simply enormous effort.

I must confess that I have not studied in detail the method by which these housing co-operatives work in Scandinavia, but I imagine they work in much the same way as the ordinary co-operatives work in Scandinavia. That is, they depend on skilled management. One has only to see the enormous size of the co-operative industries of all sorts in Sweden, Denmark and Norway, their factories of all sorts and their shops of all scales and sizes, to realise that these are highly-skilled enterprises run by first-rate managerial skill. They may have voluntary directors to do a part-time job of direction, but the real management is in the hands of experts who are professional and well-paid. If we really desire to have co-operative housing on a large scale then I am sure it will be achieved only by professionalising the housing associations, and any suggestion that we are going to get an enormous number of houses out of a lot of small voluntary housing associations is, I think, quite unrealistic.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Silkin when he says that this is not going to add to the sum total of houses at all. The sum total of houses depends on the availability of land, the availability of raw materials, the availability of labour and the necessary money to do the developing. That money can be made available perfectly well via private enterprise or by public enterprise, but housing association development can occur only at the expense of one or the other. I hope it will not be at the expense of public authority housing, for which there is, after all, a continuing and great need. But that does not mean that we do not want this Housing Corporation to be successful. We do, and we welcome this piece of enterprise; but we should like to know a little more about how it is going to work in detail.

Now, only a few words about Part II and the remaining portions of the Bill which, as was pointed out by my noble friend Lord Silkin, are a most interesting commentary on the previous Housing Act, because they consist—and anybody who had read the Second Reading debate in another place will realise how much they consist—of Amendments which were brought forward by the Labour Party and rejected by the Government when the 1961 Housing Act was going through. We are glad indeed to see that so many of them have now been taken up and put into this Bill. May I say a word about the worst situation, dealt with in Part IV, of Rachmanism, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, referred? The first thing to do is obviously to compile a register of houses in multiple occupation. This is the beginning of wisdom, as it were. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, could say something about the situation with regard to the number of public health inspectors available for doing this and for acting as the local authorities' police force, as I suppose they are bound to do, because they are the people likely to come across the situation which is endangering the health and welfare of the people exposed to it.

The noble Lord pointed out the subtle difficulties which the exploiting landlord may create and which (quite different from the case of the Alsatians) cannot be dealt with in an obvious way, such as discreet bullying, or the putting together of mutually incompatible people in order to force out rent-controlled old age pensioners. I do not believe that this Bill will deal with these cases. The noble Lord said he did not see how anything could deal with them. The only way—and it is a perfectly simple way—is the compulsory acquisition of premises where this sort of thing is going on. But I do not see how that can be done under the present Bill, although I wish that it could be done. We have a greater measure of compulsory acquirement of premises in this measure than before, yet in the worst kind of case, where these subtle cruelties are being inflicted, we dodge the issue, and I am sorry that this dodging has occurred. One of the things that comes out of the White Paper is the enormous size of the job to be done. As my noble friend Lord Silkin said, it is the kind of job which, when a bit of it is done, seems to go on growing and remains as big as ever.

The White Paper (Cmnd. 2051) says that the number of houses, not many of them owner-occupied, which lack one of the essential facilities is probably 2 or 3 million. That figure has a familiar ring about it. It goes on to say that few landlords have taken advantage of the improvement grants system. So landlords have to be compelled to improve existing sound properties. I am sure that we all welcome the conception of improvement areas, which will be carefully delineated, in which a major drive will be made to get things going and inside which the local authority will have special powers. But, outside the improvement areas, the tenant is going to have a hard time, because it is only if he asks for an improvement that the local authority can take action. And if he asks for an improvement what is going to happen to him? Is he liable to be evicted by the landlord? Is the landlord liable to "take it out of him" later on? Again, where there is a clear case and the landlord does not take action, why should not this property be compulsorily acquired by the local authority?

I think it was the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, who mentioned Leeds and its vigorous use of existing housing legislation. I agree with what he said about Leeds. Under present law, a local authority can launch a campaign for improving property and encouraging landlords to make use of improvement grants, and if necessary acquire property by compulsory purchase for the purpose of improvement, where the landlord will not do it, provided they get the Ministry's permission. Leeds has done this, and, in a way, this Bill reflects the achievement of Leeds. Leeds selected areas, explained to landlords and tenants what the existing legislation was and what the grants were, what the local authority was asking them to do and what help it could give. And Leeds is having a lot of success in getting a great deal of improvement done, with the willing consent of both landlords and tenants. It is also the city's policy, where consent is lacking and the orderly progress of improvement as a whole may be held up by difficulties, to emphasise that it has reserve powers under existing law for compulsory purchase, subject to the Minister's consent, in order to carry out improvements.

Part II of the Bill provides a new procedure for improvement. Once it is on the Statute Book and local authorities try to proceed as Leeds has been proceeding, they may find that if they want to do this under Part II of this Bill it may well be argued that, as they have not used this procedure, the Minister may be unwilling to support them, if it came to a question of compulsory purchase under the old Act. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, can tell us whether compulsory purchase under the old Act will be rendered less easy than at present as a result of Part II of this Bill.

Procedure under Part II is slower and more cumbersome than the procedure at present, and we might well have the position in which a Bill intended to promote and speed up the process of improvement and to spur on less enterprising local authorities puts obstacles in the way of those local authorities using such powers as they have under present legislation. If that were so, it would follow that the right approach to policy would not be through Part II of the Bill, but by building on the experience of Leeds and other enterprising local authorities who have acted in a similar way.

This is not an easy Bill to follow. It has been an interesting debate, in which a number of experts have spoken. I have always felt that housing was not a suitable matter for private profit-making enterprise and that we ought to regard housing as a social service I welcome the provisions of the Bill as taking us one step along the road on which I hope we shall go. I think it is right that we should have a Housing Corporation to encourage the increase in housing societies, and I hope it will be successful, though I think its success will depend entirely, in the long run, on the rates of interest it has to charge on the money lent.

It is clearly right that we should encourage improvement of existing premises wherever we can as vigorously as we can, and that we should not only apply the rather sour carrot to which my noble friend Lord Silkin referred and to which the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, also referred from the other point of view and very much confirmed what my noble friend said—namely, that there was not a great deal in it from the point of view of the landlord, particularly if his property as a whole was going to deteriorate. We welcome these efforts and hope that the new arrangements will work better than the old. However, we do not think they will add to the totality of housing that we need; and more vigorous action will be needed by another Government if we are to get what we require.

5.51 p.m.


My Lords, we have had an interesting and useful debate on this important legislation which has taken up so much time in another place and which your Lordships are now called upon to consider. I am sure all your Lordships, like me, welcome back my noble friend Lord Jellicoe—in fact, some noble Lords have done so—to the lush pastures of housing where he used to graze so happily, pleasantly and to such good effect. I personally am most grateful to him for having introduced this long and complex Bill in such a comprehensive and, if I may say so, comprehensible manner. Indeed, he performed the task so well that I think there is little of substance left for me to say. However, during my winding up remarks I shall try to deal with some of the more important points that have been made by noble Lords who have been good enough to speak in the debate.

To begin with, I think it will be of some interest to your Lordships, especially in view of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, to consider for a moment how the proposed Housing Corporation is likely to set about its work, how it will be composed and, in general, how the Minister proposes to set it up. First of all, as your Lordships know, it is to consist of nine members, and it is intended that these members should serve part-time. The question of pay is left for settlement under the Bill and has to be negotiated with the Treasury. The Ministers—because there are two Ministers concerned in the appointments—will seek to draw the membership from a wide range of experience—of building, finance, estate management, the housing association movement, and so on—in order to get together a thoroughly effective and competent Corporation. Then the Corporation will appoint is own whole-time staff. It is visualised that it will have a general manager and appropriate departmental heads, such as an accountant, solicitor, architect and so on.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, asked for further information, which I think I can give him. Schedule I is very similar to the provisions for the Development Corporations and the Commission for the New Towns. The main point is to preserve pension rights of people who give up a pensionable job—for instance, giving up posts in local government and joining the Corporation.

As for the Corporation getting on with its own work, my noble friend referred to the promotional side of its task and, indeed, so much importance is attached to this aspect that an Amendment was moved into the Bill by my right honourable friend to make it absolutely clear that the duty of the Corporation is to publicise, in the case of societies providing houses for their own members no less than in the case of those providing houses for letting, the aims and principles of such societies. That will ensure that the Housing Corporation will mount a substantial publicity campaign, not only nationally but also locally, and that that campaign will be directed towards explaining and encouraging co-ownership schemes no less than the more readily understood cost-renting schemes.

The Housing Corporation will tackle this problem in two ways. It will stimulate the formation of societies where none yet exist, and will also encourage housing societies which have already launched schemes to extend their activities. My noble friend referred to the success of the £25 million scheme under the 1961 Act and to the fact that these schemes are widely spread throughout the whole country. That fact will serve as a broad and useful foundation upon which the new Housing Corporation will be able to build. But, as I have said, the Corporation will also seek to get new housing societies set up in areas which have never had them, because there is no doubt that the people likely to benefit from such societies are spread all over Great Britain and not concentrated necessarily in any one or several distinct areas.

Therefore, the Chairman and members of the Housing Corporation will need to visit the different parts of the country, making contact with the local authorities, whose help and sympathetic interest we all know will be essential, and also making approaches to those local people whose professional knowledge will be invaluable—the estate surveyor, the accountant, the architect, the solicitor, the bank manager, and so on—and others who are likely to take a general interest in local affairs and may well be willing to help to promote and assist housing societies of either variety for the benefit of their fellow citizens.

I have already referred to the local representatives and housing staffs that the Housing Corporation will need to set up in some of the main centres to follow up the contacts and to help the local societies in their day-to-day work, giving practical help and acting in general as the Corporation's eyes and ears. This help, in the form of technical advice, will also be available under Clause 7 to those housing associations which have been operating under the 1961 Act and have done such good work under the ægis of the National Federation of Housing Societies in charitable fields, and especially in the provision of houses for old people. I am glad to see the President of the National Federation of Housing Societies, my noble friend Lord Gage, is here this evening.

I will now turn from those introductory remarks to try to pick up a few of the points which have been made about Part I of the Bill. The point has been made more than once that this will make only a small contribution and that no single extra house will be built as a result; that these houses might, in fact, be built at the expense of private ownership houses or of local authority building. We have to remember, at the same time, that the total number of houses is going up very much beyond the rate of building which would be possible to the Housing Corporation and the housing societies. We are reckoning on a rate of 15,000 or, perhaps, 20,000 houses a year when things get going, and the increase of building generally is already going up by 50,000 and we hope by 100,000 in the not too distant future. So, in point of fact, these will be an addition to the total sum.

The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, rather belittled the whole Bill. I was rather surprised when he tried to make out that it was hardly worth while doing. I am sure it is a worthwhile effort to satisfy the needs of a class of the community, however small, that has been neglected; and I hope all noble Lords will look upon it in that way.

The noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, had some pertinent questions to ask about Clause 4 and compulsory purchases. I do not think he need worry very much about this (the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, mentioned the subject, too) because the Housing Corporation's power of compulsory acquisition is very much a reserve power. From the landowner's point of view, it does not widen the compulsory field, because the power can be exercised only in circumstances in which the local authority already has power to acquire—that is to say, on behalf of housing societies.

There are safeguards for the local authorities. For instance, the Corporation must consult them, and the authority is given the same right as the owner to object and to demand a hearing from the Minister. So I do not think these powers can really be described as yet a further proliferation of compulsory purchase powers. Also under Clause 4, the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, asked about purchases in advance. Here again, the very short answer to that is that these purchases can be made only by agreement, and there are no compulsory powers for buying land in advance where the housing society is not already set up. It is the housing society which has to ask for compulsory purchase, and this cannot happen if one does not already exist.

I think I may have missed out something from the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. I knew there was one rather important matter to which he will wish an answer. That was the question of the building societies producing the necessary loans. The point was taken up again by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor: why should the building societies produce this money? The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, took a very pessimistic view about almost every part of the Bill, particularly on this, and again—I shall come to them—on Parts II and III. I do not know to whom he has been talking, but certainly the council of the Building Societies Association are in no doubt that the societies will be able to put up £200 million in the five years or so over which we are expecting this money to be spent, at about £40 million a year.

They are having no difficulty in raising funds at the moment, and their lending is going up very steeply. It went up by one-third between 1962 and 1963, and I am informed that this year the building societies expect another increase of something in the nature of one-quarter over last year's record figure. Therefore, they will be lending something in the neighbourhood of £1,000 million a year, of which £40 million would represent only 4 per cent. Therefore, the Building Societies Association are confident that they can carry this type of loan which we are making it possible for them to advance, without starving the owner-occupier of funds. I hope the noble Lord will feel a little happier about that aspect of that part of the Bill now.


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point, can he explain whether the housing association will get one-third of its money from the Corporation and two-thirds from the building societies, or how will it get it?


That certainly is the intention, and I have no doubt that matters will be worked in that way. When the housing society requires money it will, of course, have to qualify under the conditions laid down in the Bill and under the rules of the Housing Corporation for a loan from the Corporation, and, when it is assured of a loan, then that is the stage when the building societies will come in. They will not come in, of course, until the Housing Corporation approve of their own loan in the first place. Having done so, the building societies, as we know, take the first mortgage. That is how the Bill is designed to operate, and I think there is little doubt that it will in all cases operate in that manner except when the Housing Corporation is allowed—I cannot remember the number of the clause which allows an exception—to promote its own building and management on a temporary basis until it can get the housing society to take it over. But that will be an unusual power which it will seldom use.

May I now turn to Parts II and III of the Bill, which are perhaps the most difficult to follow through and to comprehend in their entirety. This, perhaps, might be a suitable moment at which to sympathise with the noble Lords who have made pleas for consolidation of housing law in England and Wales. My noble friend Lord Jellicoe has already said that we were aiming to consolidate the Scottish laws in this field in the next Session. But certainly it is in our mind already to do the same for England and Wales. It was only because there was pressure of legislation to bring forward, both in the field of housing and in other fields, that it was not possible to find the time to do so on this occasion. But it is the intention of the Government to bring in consolidating legislation for the whole of the housing law for England and Wales. I agree it is extremely difficult to follow at the moment.

In spite of this difficulty in relation to Parts II and III of the Bill, I think my noble friend explained the framework very clearly, and will have enabled your Lordships to appreciate the procedure in both parts of the Bill in which the use of the stick and the carrot are complementary and, indeed, essential. The Government are, of course, aware that in bringing forward these provisions they will be putting a considerable load on the local authority. However, such is the importance of the task, and so rewarding will be its fulfilment, that we have little doubt that the local authorities are anxious to push ahead. Indeed, during my travels about the country I found nothing but enthusiasm for this part of the Bill among the local authorities whom I have visited. It must be remembered that landlords vary from the large, well-organised estates, armed with professional advice, to the old lady who has inherited one or two houses and finds it hard to face up to the trouble and bother of undertaking improvements, quite apart from the expense involved, and the numbers of these smaller landlords are very large indeed.

It will be the local authority who will determine if a house is worthy of improvement, who will specify the work to be done, and supply an estimate of the cost. It will be the local authority who must lend the money to finance that part of the cost not met by grant if a compulsory purchase notice has been served and if the landlord wishes to ask for a loan. The local authority may actually carry out the work as the landlord's agent. Finally, the landlord may require the local authority to buy the house if he prefers that course. On the other hand, there is of course the element of compulsion which will be bsrought to the aid of local authorities for the first time and, as a result of which, one can be reasonably sure that the vast bulk of the houses which are structurally sound and ought to be improved will in fact be dealt with, saving for another generation a vast number of dwellings which would otherwise all too soon become due for development.

The noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, queried the meaning of Clause 13. He assumed that if only half the buildings were in such a condition that it was possible to improve them, the other half must be of the nature which we should find in twilight areas, and which would soon be redeveloped. But I do not think that is quite a correct reading of that clause. It is more likely that the area will already contain a number of improved dwellings and that it is regarded as desirable to bring up the other three-quarters, or whatever proportion it may be, to that standard. It is clear that if well over a half, or even nearly a half, of the dwellings are of such a nature that they cannot be improved decently, even to the reduced standard, and that they will not last for fifteen years, then that area will obviously be for early redevelopment as a "twilight" area, after the prior commitments of the Government and the construction industries are fulfilled in respect of slum clearance and the improvements of the sound buildings under this Bill. So I think the noble Lord need not worry about that particular clause.

I think we are all agreed, to whatever Party we may belong to, that some element of compulsion is necessary. It is evident, however, judging from the speeches made in another place and, I think, by inference from what we have heard here this afternoon, that we are not necessarily agreed on all the details of compulsory powers to be found in the Bill. Nevertheless, the Government believe that the balance of "stick" and "carrot" is about right and that, as a result, the great majority of all improvable houses will be improved. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, was very gloomy about this. He seemed to think that this Part of the Bill would not have very much effect and, in particular, that a landlord could evade a compulsory improvement notice by as much as five years. My Lords, that is not so at all. The local authority may have to wait five years if the tenant is not willing to have the improvements done. But if the tenant is willing, the maximum time liable to pass will be three years, because a local authority is allowed up to two years before serving the improvement notice, and it may well prescribe within a shorter time than that if it is able physically—staff-wise and so on—to produce orders more quickly than that.

But not more than two years after the designation of the area, the local authority must serve an improvement notice. After this, the right of appeal could mean that the matter would be held up for six months after that; and, on an appeal from a county court, for another few months. So the total time would certainly be under three years. But, of course, it is our hope that most of those improvements will, in fact, be done voluntarily and by agreement, by the use of the "stick" and "carrot", and that there will not be many cases involving undue delay.

Where this agreement is not forthcoming, as I said, local authorities will have power to enforce the improvement after a waiting period, ultimately, of five years, and before that they can enforce it, of course, if the tenant agrees to the improvement. But the local authority would acquire properties only if the landlord requested their purchase rather than incur the cost of carrying out the improvement himself. The Government believe that this is the right way to tackle the problem, and that it will also prove to be effective. We do not believe that municipal ownership, or making possible municipal ownership of these privately owned houses is the only solution, or that the letting of houses by private landlords is in any way a bad thing. Nor do we believe in compulsory acquisition when some other means of achieving the desired result is available, as it is in this case. In short, my Lords, the Government believe in the minimum of interference in the rights of property and not, as one must believe from some of the things the Opposition say, in maximum interference with those rights. I think that is the essential difference between our two Parties.

My noble friend Lord Colville of Culross raised a point in respect of Clause 38. He could not understand why grants could be withheld from conversions made after 1961. That was the date of the Public Health Act, after which all new buildings, including buildings produced by conversion, are required to have the standard amenities. Clause 38, I would remind the noble Lord, refers only to compulsory improvements and has nothing to do with grants as such; they are dealt with in Part III. I think that that should clarify that point. My right honourable friend will be setting out notices in a pro formâ style, so that there will be uniformity in this field. I think that is about all on Parts II and III to which I need refer at this juncture.

To turn to Part IV, the Bill deals here with multiple occupation. The Government are introducing measures which, as my noble friend says, constitute a drastic interference with property rights. But, of course, we are dealing with an entirely different situation from that with which Part II is concerned. Part II relates to compulsory improvements. There, in the great majority of cases, it is a question of convincing, inducing and, in the last resort, compelling ordinary decent landlords to bring their property up to date. Here, it is a matter of arming local authorities to deal effectively, should the need ever arise in their areas, with extreme forms of exploitation of tenants by evil landlords, or by those who are so ignorant or negligent that the product of their ignorance or neglect is evil.

As my noble friend Lord Jellicoe pointed out, it is because the remedy is so drastic that safeguards for the private property owner are necessary. It should not be made excessively easy to exercise these drastic powers or to allow these powers to be abused to the extent that they become a means of beating over the head any landlord of multi-occupied property for any reason the local authority might think fit. This is not a question of showing a lack of faith in local authorities; it is much more important than that. It is a question of a deeply seated principle; namely, that when unprece- dented powers are given to interfere with property rights it must be possible to show justification in terms of overriding public interest.

The other aspect of this matter is that the powers given to local authorities should be powers which they are competent to exercise. That is a convincing reason for attaching the control order power firmly to physical and living conditions; for this is something that local authorities are fully equipped to judge and measure. They do this every day in exercising their powers to deal with bad housing conditions; by requiring work to remedy defects; in making decisions on slum clearance, or the closing or demolition of unfit houses. Local authorities are not equipped to try issues which raise matters of evidence as to threats of violence and the like. These are matters for the courts of law.

Because the Bill proceeds on grounds with which local authorities are familiar and yet, at the same time, gives them a battery of powers, it will be all the more effective in protecting the occupants of multi-occupied property from exploitation. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, doubted whether there were sufficient powers in the Bill for bringing about what he, and I think all of us, wish to see, particularly where there are cases of intimidation, and even violence and threats and so on. I think my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross was right in this when he directed attention to Clause 69 which says, and I quote: … if it appears to the local authority that the living conditions in the house are such that it is necessary to make the control order in order to protect the safety, welfare or health of persons living in the house. That clause is widely drawn so as to give the maximum scope to the local authority to act quickly and effectively.

The noble Lord will remember that immediately a control order is applied there is nothing the landlord can do about it: the local authority steps into his shoes, and takes over on the spot all powers and contracts with the tenants. The local authority will have power of entry, if necessary (and it presumably would be necessary in the sort of case the noble Lord has in mind), without giving previous notice. If previous notice would vitiate the whole purpose of the entry, the local authority can obtain from the magistrates a warrant authorising immediate entry, if necessary by force. I think that this power should meet this particular anxiety of the noble Lord; and I think it worried the noble Lord, Lord Taylor as well.


My Lords, if the only difference between us now is whether the particular words in the Bill meet the case, then I take it that we can discuss them in Committee and, if necessary, include new words to make that abundantly clear. But at the moment I have some doubts about that.


My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, but I thought it should be explained at this stage as it is rather a cardinal point in the Bill. Of course we can go into this matter further at Committee stage. That applies to almost all the other points which have been made by noble Lords, on both sides of the House. I think they are essentially Committee points which could be dealt with at another time. I would close by thanking all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I would only say that I am rather sorry that noble Lords on the opposite side have tended to do what my noble friend Lord Jellicoe asked them not to do—to belittle the importance of the Bill. No doubt they have their own reasons for doing so—


My Lords, I should like to get this point clear. I am not belittling the importance of what is intended by the Bill. What I tried to say—and perhaps I did not succeed in saying it—was that I did not think that the Bill, as drawn, carries out the intentions which we all have and which are implicit in the Bill. That is why I said I thought it needed a great deal of amendment in Committee.


That is quite a different point: I was referring more to the discursive opening of the noble Lord, and to one or two remarks by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, in particular. It was suggested that this Bill was a rather miserable affair; that it did not carry out many things which noble Lords opposite are apparently anxious to carry out, including, so far as I can make out, socialisation and municipalisation of housing, and socialisation of land. That is very largely what their policy amounts to, and what their criticisms have amounted to. Apart from that, I agree with the noble Lord we must be quite certain that the Bill carries out what it sets out to do. We believe that it sets out to do a necessary and useful job, and it will be my pleasure during Committee stage to help noble Lords to ensure that this is precisely what it does.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committe of the Whole House.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes past six o'clock.