HL Deb 12 May 1964 vol 258 cc158-80

Improvement of dwellings: improvement areas Declaration of improvement area

13.—(1) If a local authority are satisfied that any area in their district contains dwellings lacking one or more of the standard amenities and that, of the dwellings in that area which are so lacking, at least one half—

  1. (a) are so constructed that it is practicable to improve them to the full standard, and
  2. (b) will, after they have been improved to the full standard, be in such condition as to be fit for human habitation, and will be likely, subject to normal maintenance, to remain in that condition and available for use as dwellings for a period of not less than fifteen years,
the local authority may cause the area to be defined on a map and may pass a resolution declaring the area so defined to be an improvement area for the purposes of this Part of this Act.

LORD TAYLOR moved, in subsection (1), to leave out "half" and insert "third". The noble Lord said: We are now into Part II of the Bill, and the purpose of this Amendment is to make it a little easier for local authorities, when they are drawing up the improvement areas within which the compulsory provisions of the Bill operate, to draw up suitable areas. Originally, the Bill said that one-half of the houses in the area should be capable of being brought up to full standard before the area could be declared an improvement area. Then, for a technical, drafting reason, during the Committee stage in another place the Minister himself introduced an Amendment to make it a quarter. Then he amended it back again, and made it one-half. This rather peculiar series of events led to a lot of discussion in another place, but we thought that the proper place between a quarter and one-half was one-third, and that one-third was a very reasonable figure.

In fact, a local authority can get round whatever figure is put here by simply drawing a different kind of improvement area. If one-half of the houses in it must be capable of being improved, it has merely to draw an area which includes another half which are not capable of being improved, and that is its area. But this may result in its drawing rather arbitrary and stupid areas in order to get the results that everybody desires. The greater the freedom that can be given to a local authority in drawing up an improvement area the better, and I must say that the Minister in another place said that he was greatly impressed with the argument that the local authority should be free, or should have the maximum degree of freedom.

Then he went on to make a lot of argument about the waste of resources—at least, I think it was on this occasion that he was doubtful about waste of resources—by including a lot of houses in an improvement area which could not be or were not going to be improved. That does not really arise, because the improvement area can be adjusted to any size of area the local authority cares to draw. This is really a matter of flexibility. I hope that the Government will accept this Amendment which seems to me to be reasonable and harmless.

Amendment moved— Page 14, line 13, leave out ("half") and insert ("third").—(Lord Taylor.)


The noble Lord's Amendment would, at first appearance, seem to be reasonable, but I think I shall prove in the course of my remarks that it is not quite as harmless as it looks. I am not suggesting, of course, that the noble Lord wishes it to be harmful; but its effects might not be quite what we wish to see. I hope the noble Lord will agree with me. There was a lot of discussion in another place and there was a change of figures—perhaps the thing had not been fully worked-out and all its implications realised at that time. But the stipulation that at least one-half of the dwellings lacking amenities shoud be capable of being improved to full standard was introduced for quite a limited and particular purpose. But it has led to this sort of discussion and Amendments of this kind.

It was really the local authorities' associations who suggested that compulsory improvement to a reduced standard should be inserted in the Bill. It was not suggested in the Government White Paper on Housing which foreshadowed this Bill. We talked only about compulsory improvement to the full standard. The local authorities pointed out that in some areas which are quite reasonable and where you can bring about these full standard improvements there would be a few scattered dwellings which were jammed in an awkward angle between roads, or one or two that were much smaller and too cramped to be improved to the full standard. It was therefore reasonable, rather than leaving some houses entirely unimproved cheek by jowl with those improved to the full standard, that they should at least have a minimum of some form of improvement. That is how the reduced standard came into the Bill—in order to satisfy this very reasonable argument of the local authorities.

At the same time, it has always been the intention of my right honourable friend to issue administrative advice to the local authorities that they should keep the proportion of such dwellings in an improvement area down to an absolute minimum. The noble Lord talked about flexibility. Certainly we need flexibility; but there can be some very different situations. I should like to sketch one or two. Shall we take, for example, an area where there are 100 houses, none of which has been previously improved? One would expect in such an area that it would be reasonable to say that at least 80 per cent., or even 90 per cent., must be improved to the full standard; because it would be rather ridiculous to plan an area where out of 100 houses only 50 were improved to the full standard and 50 to a much lower standard. It is not quite the idea that we have of priorities or what we are aiming at in designating improvement areas.

On the other hand, if, of those 100 dwellings in a similar area, 80 had already been improved, that would leave only 20 to be improved. Therefore if we take only half as the figure that are improvable to the full standard we are left with only 9 which are to the reduced standard; and 9 out of 100 is not a very large amount. But if you apply the standard of 80 per cent. or 90 per cent. to all areas, then you might well not have the flexibility which the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, suggests is desirable in all cases.


May I interrupt? The noble Lord has got me a little fogged, because in this clause I did not see anything about reduced standard. This is only a decision about whether an area shall be an improvement area and not the degree of improvement to which these houses shall be subjected. As I read the clause, it said that at least half of the houses must be capable of being improved to the full standard; but it said nothing about the reduced standard. Is that correct?


It comes in indirectly. If they cannot be improved to the full standard the assumption is that the others cannot be improved at all or will be improved to a reduced standard. It does not have to be written into the Bill for that conclusion to be reached. But there must be at least half of the houses which are improvable to the full standard. The reascn for this is that we are aiming primarily at designating areas which are substantially well-built, well-constructed and eminently improvable, which will last at least fifteen years and perhaps a good deal longer. If we reduce the qualifying numbers, so to speak, and rather encourage the local authorities to declare areas where only 25 per cent. of the houses can have the full five-point standard and the others are all of lower standard, then really we are spending a lot of money on areas which are bordering on what we should call "twilight areas". This is a question of priority. We want to get the two million or so houses of this kind which we believe exist up to the full five point standard—and better, if we can, with discretionary grants as well.

With that job ahead, and all the new building that has to be done, we feel it would be rather wasting effort and money to declare compulsory improvement areas in places which should be coming up for redevelopment at the end of a decade or so. That will have some reference to a later Amendment about the time factor that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, and noble Lords opposite generally, are submitting. On this particular point, we feel that we want to concentrate our efforts on areas which are reasonably worth while improving because at least half the houses are already good.

We have to remember that when the local authorities designate an improvement area they will be thinking in terms of general environmental improvement, of streets, open spaces, parking lots and of the Clean Air Act; and they will be spending a good deal of money on these things themselves as well as compelling people to improve houses. We feel that that would not be justified if there were not a reasonable number of houses which could be improved to full standard. Therefore we think that to go below half is, in the circumstances, not necessary. Because, in the first place, we could find plenty of areas which conform to that qualifying proportion. Also, it would be undesirable generally to go below this level. I hope I have explained the matter sufficiently clearly for the noble Lord, on second thoughts, to agree with my argument.


This is largely an administrative question. It seems to me, while giving full weight to what the noble Lord has said, in so far as I have been able to understand him, the fact remains that if we leave the proportion at one-half we shall be encouraging local authorities to declare much smaller areas than they otherwise would. In order to deal with a large area, as they might wish to, they might find it difficult to reach the figure of one-half. Therefore they would be forced to divide it up into a number of smaller areas and deal with them piecemeal, which would be both undesirable and uneconomic. It was for that reason that we thought we would make it easier for local authorities to deal with a comprehensive area by reducing the qualification to one-third. It is largely a matter of administration, and I should have thought it was a matter upon which the local authorities themselves would be the best guide.

I do not know whether they have been consulted about this alternative of one-half or one-third, but I imagine that if they were they would all plump for one-third. I suggest that it might be possible, between now and Report stage, to consult them and see what they think about it. There is no political or ideological difference in this matter. It is purely administrative.


I did explain that local authorities had suggested that they could compel people to improve only to a reduced standard because they did not want to leave some houses out altogether, but I do not think they ever had in mind the bulk improvement of houses which cannot be improved to the full five-point standard of amenities. We feel, on the whole, that while they may declare areas as large or as small as they want—because it may be convenient to take blocks or terraces, as the case may be, it is better to give a firm lead here, to indicate what we are aiming at and the sense of priority we feel necessary. It seems to me, in view of all the difficulties, that a half is the right proportion, and that it is better to come down firmly on that than to have too much variation from one part of the country to another.


I think that the noble Lord and I are approaching this matter from different angles. We are thinking that the remaining half or two-thirds, as the case may be, might be houses which did not need improving at all, or were relatively good. It was a question of drawing convenient areas for precisely what the noble Lord mentioned—general improvement, smoke abatement and so on—and it was a shame to force a certain rigid pattern upon local authorities because they would have to mop up half and not exceed half in the total area they declare. That was why we thought it was a better thing, not because we anticipated any difference in the number of houses improved, but merely to give local authorities greater discretion in what they are doing. That is why we still hope that the noble Lord will take another look at this and see whether one-third will give them greater flexibility, without prejudices the position with regard to the generality of housing improvement.


It may not be immediately apparent, but I am sure that, on second thoughts, noble Lords will realise that we are not counting in the houses mentioned those which are already improved and of a good standard. The Bill refers only to one-half of the remaining houses which lack standard amenities, as is stated in Clause 13. On the whole, I think that I must stand on this point. If we thought about it again and came to any different conclusion, I would let the noble Lord know, but I cannot give him any undertaking on this matter.


I am grateful to the noble Lord for pointing out the slip in the opening. I see his point, but I still think that, on balance, ours is probably the better one.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

4.45 p.m.

LORD HUGHES had given Notice of several Amendments relating to improvements, of which the first was, in subsection 6(a), after "if" to insert "(i)". The noble Lord said: Amendments No. 13A and 13B, 13E and 13D, 15A, 20A and 20B, 21A and 21B, 22A and 22B and 35A should be read together, because they all seek to accomplish the same purpose. So far as I can ascertain, they cover all the clauses which will be affected by any decision of this kind, although I should not like to give a guarantee that I have found them all. And perhaps I should mention, in passing, that Amendment No. 15A refers to Clause 17 and not Clause 18.

I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, said about the origin of improvement to the reduced standard. Perhaps it would be helpful if I reminded your Lordships that, in the terms of Clause 39, the full standard of improvement includes seven items. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, said there was a five-point standard—


It used to be a five-point standard. In this Bill hot and cold water supplies have been put in separately, but they were previously included with the bath and sink.


The full standard is (a) a fixed bath or shower, which … is to be in a bathroom; (b) a wash-hand basin; (c) a hot and cold water supply at a fixed bath or shower, which, if reasonably practicable, is to be in a bathroom; (d) a hot and cold water supply at a wash-hand basin; (e) a hot and cold water supply at a sink; (f) a water closet; and (g) satisfactory facilities for storing food. The reduced standard is only the last three of these items.

In another place there was a good deal of discussion on the merits of the insertion of a fifteen-year period. The Ministers did not claim that there was any magic in the period of fifteen years: they admitted that it was an arbitrary period. Some period had to be selected and it was felt, having regard to the cost of doing the improvements to full standard, to the work involved and the calls on available labour, that that might be a fair period. The Ministers pointed out that there might be a greater demand on labour than could possibly be met, and that there was an obligation to ensure that that labour would be used to the best advantage, so that a period should be fixed which gave some guarantee of producing results and of making the best use of the limited amount of labour. That argument I accept as being valid.

I find it interesting that this should be mentioned on this Bill, having regard to what a former Prime Minister was saying yesterday in relation to the ability, or otherwise, in 1951 to build more than 200,000 houses. One of the things which was very much in the minds of my right honourable and noble friends at that time was that the ability to build a great number of houses in the preceding year was very much affected by the fact that a percentage of the available labour was being used on the repairing and rebuilding of houses which had suffered war damage, with a consequent reduction in the number of new houses that could be built. The same argument is being advanced on this Bill, that the more of the available building labour force that is devoted to improving houses, the less there is available for building new houses, and there must be some rational allocation of labour as between these two different aspects of housing need. That argument I accept in its entirety.

I submit to your Lordships, however, that if it is reasonable to accept a period of fifteen years as being the minimum life for a house which is to have all of the standard amenities provided, it is reasonable to suggest a lower period for houses which are going only to be improved to about a bare minimum to make them reasonably fit for human habitation—a hot and cold water supply at the kitchen sink, a water closet and satisfactory facilities for storing food. One of the arguments advanced in another place for reducing the standard to ten years was that, if the period of fifteen years remained in, there were going to be numbers of families in some areas—and in others there might only be a few—who, because of the fixing of the limit at the period of fifteen years, would be compelled to continue to inhabit houses which were the worst houses in the area, for periods of upwards of ten years or even of fifteen years. Members in another place drew attention to the fact that some of the houses to which closing orders had been applied had been occupied for the past twenty years, and were still so occupied.

If we take the grants provided as being some guide to the cost of doing these alterations, we see that the amounts allowed for these three items contributing to the reduced standard are less than half of the total. So from a financial point of view—and I must admit straight away that the Minister in another place pointed out that he did not consider the financial aspect was by any means the most important; but it is not one that can be completely disregarded—having regard to the fact that the grants, and presumably the cost of improving a house to the reduced standard, would be somewhat less than the cost of improving it to the full standard, it would be reasonable to say that economically a figure of ten years for that reduced standard was nearly as good as a figure of fifteen years for the cost of improving to the full standard.

However, like the Minister, I am not concerned primarily with the financial aspect of it. What I am concerned about is that we should seek to reduce to the absolute minimum the number of people living in houses which are the worst in an improvement area, and for which, because of the need for making a selection, nothing at all is being done. These people are being subjected to the most trying living conditions imaginable, and it seems to me—and I am sure it must make the same impression on your Lordships—that it must aggravate their problems if they see round about them improvements being carried out to houses next door, houses on the other side of the street and houses in the adjoining street, which are already better than their own houses for which nothing is being done.

I accept that, even if my Amendments are agreed to by the Government, there will still be houses in that category, because there will be houses which, for example, are so structurally unsound or so damp that it would be a complete waste of money to spend anything on them in the way of improvement, whether to the full or to the reduced standard. But if a house is to be improved even to the reduced standard, it is accepted that it is structurally suitable for such a conversion. Neither the fifteen years' period nor the ten years' period in any way affects the quality of the house which is to be adapted.

In view of the fact that the three Ministers in another place (the Minister of Housing and Local Government, his Under-Secretary and the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland) who were dealing with the Bill all admitted that they claimed no magic attaching to the figure of fifteen years, but they thought, having regard to all the balances, it was preferable to accept the figure of ten years which my honourable and right honourable friends in another place suggested, I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, on this occasion —although he has been quite immovable in regard to all the Amendments going before, even though he has been so friendly in his implacability—to indicate the Government's willingness to accept or to have a look at this proposal, even though he does it in an unfriendly fashion. Quite frankly, I would much rather be accepted with animosity than rejected with kindness.

I would suggest to your Lordships that, in this proposal, I have at least submitted to the Government a case for re-examination, because I think that if they will do this they will bring a great deal of hope to many people who do not see themselves as having any prospect of getting a new house within the next decade, and obviously the next best thing to a loaf of bread is half a loaf of bread. I suggest to your Lordships that this series of Amendments which I have put forward gives that measure of additional hope to those whose housing conditions are amongst the poorest in the land. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 15, line 16, after ("if") insert ("(i)"). —(Lord Hughes.)


There has, it is true, been a lot of discussion about this in another place, but I am still a little surprised at the particular wording of this Amendment and the way in which the noble Lord has presented it, for the following reasons. The first is that he has left in that, where houses can be improved to the full standard, they must be quite definitely worthy houses which will last at least fifteen years. If we accepted the Amendment, the result would be that at the end of ten years, designated improvement areas, which at one time looked very nice and done up well in every corner and all the streets and terraces, would suddenly have a lot of gaps starting to appear, because at the end of that time, according to the noble Lord, the houses would not be lasting longer than that and they might well be demolished, and you would begin to get a sort of patchwork in your compulsory improvement areas, because they would really be improved to the reduced standard. These would be scattered about and could then be demolished as unfit.


Perhaps I could intervene for a moment. If I understood what the noble Lord said in reply to my noble friend Lord Taylor, the other half of the houses, or the lower figure, as the case may be, were not fit houses, but houses so bad that they were not capable of improvement to the full or the reduced standard; there would be some element of houses to which nothing was being done at all. So presumably these houses even in the improvement area are going to be demolished at some time during the fifteen years period, in any event. So whether the number of houses to be demolished are to be the worst lot only, or the worst lot and the second lot, seems to me to be beside the point.


That really brings me on to the big point the noble Lord was making, in talking about compelling people to inhabit houses which could be improved only to the reduced standard for fifteen years, instead of ten years. It seems to me that his whole supposition is based on the fact that the houses are going to be so mixed up that in a compulsory improvement area you will have houses which will last for fifteen years, or perhaps many years more, and yet quite a number will in any case have to be demolished in less than ten years.

Then we come to the question of priorities. We do not think that what the noble Lord fears will happen. The area will be chiefly well constructed and, therefore, worth improvement as a whole. Yet some of the houses that will last perfectly well for fifteen years are in a cramped condition, and it is impossible, for one reason or another, to build in all of them the full standard amenities. That can be done with only a few. We do not consider that these areas are going to be "twilight" areas. It seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, had in mind "twilight" areas, which require development between slum clearance and full standard improvement. Those are areas which we know must be demolished and completely redeveloped. But that is not the Government's first priority. Our priorities are to clear the slums; to keep up with the increase of population as regards new houses, and to improve the better houses before they become less good. Those are the priorities.

Therefore, it is not really a question of accepting reduced standards in houses which would otherwise be called unfit or at best "twilight". It is only reduceing standards to the three points, instead of the five (or, as I call them, the seven points) in the Bill, on the grounds that there simply is physically not room to put in all the standard amenities. So I think we are talking about different areas, and it is not a question of compelling unfortunate people to live in houses which are not fit at all, but which might be made quite reasonable with the addition of the standard amenities, even below three points, because in the main they are going to be in an area which has been compulsorily designated, and the majority will be improved to the full standard. There will also, of course, be environmental improvement.

Local authorities are not going to embark on that in respect of an area which is due for redevelopment at the end of ten years and classed as a "twilight" area. Therefore, I think the argument of the noble Lord is not very realistic, because I do not think that is the sort of situation we are going to run up against. Perhaps I should have said at the beginning that the first Amendment which the noble Lord moved comes under a subsection dealing with Scotland, but as it is a general point throughout the whole Bill I am replying on behalf of my noble friend Lord Craigton. In respect of tenements, again we have the awkward situation in which, at the end of ten years, some tenements down to the reduced standard would be considered habitable for only ten years, and other people on a different floor would be in premises habitable for the full standard of fifteen. I do not know how you are going to demolish one fiat in a building and not the others; it does not seem quite logical. But that is not an important point. I am pointing out the rather anomalous positions that can arise.

When we turn to the economic aspect, again we want to get the best value for money—talking of the national purse, so to speak, because this money is coming out of the Exchequer and the local authority's purse in the form of public expenditure and grants. We must therefore keep our priorities right. We feel that we cannot undertake any more from the point of view of expense and labour availability, and that we should be wasting our resources in both senses if we reduced this qualifying standard for the reduced standard of amenities to ten years. Financially speaking, of course, one has to remember the other partner in this, who is the landlord. We are not now dealing with bad landlords, as we shall under Part IV, but with reasonable landlords, who will be persuaded, often voluntarily, to improve their dwellings. If they do not, then they will be compelled to do so. But there is no question of chasing them or harrying them. They are perfectly respectable people who, for one reason or another, have not yet improved their buildings which they have let. Therefore, one has fairly to state the landord's case.

We must consider the fact that, with the present permitted rent increase of 12½ per cent., will take this type of landlord more than ten years to recoup his share of the cost of the works. In fact, we reckon it will take him twelve years. Therefore, he would actually be out of pocket if we reduced this even on the lowest standard to ten years. For all these reasons, we believe it would not be a good thing, and that it is not necessary to accept the noble Lord's Amendment, and I hope he will believe that my explanation has been genuine. I am sorry that I have not been a bit ruder, which apparently he would have liked rather better.

5.6 p.m.


I am sorry the noble Lord has said what he has, particularly as I did not understand a great deal of it. He succeeded, obviously to his own satisfaction, in rebutting my arguments. A good many of the suggestions he attributed to me I did not make. I was not concerned with "twilight" areas. It may be that we are arriving at different conclusions because we each have a degree of ignorance of part of the problem. I must admit that I am not particularly familiar with the slums and poor houses in England and Wales. I am knowledgeable of those in Scotland. I would submit that by what the noble Lord has said, he has made it equally clear that he would disclaim any knowledge of housing conditions in Scotland, because the conditions he envisaged as not being possible are the very conditions which exist throughout the Scottish cities.

It is because of the existence of these conditions that it was necessary to put subsection (6) into this clause applying to Scotland a reference both to improvement to the full standard and improvement to the reduced standard, whereas in England and Wales there is only to be a reference to improvement to the full standard. The fact is that in Scotland you can have a street consisting of unbroken lines of tenements, one of which is in the ownership of one individual or company and which might be much better than an adjoining tenement, and the one beyond that may be better or worse. If you are unable to deal with the ones which are capable of improvement to the full standard, the Bill as it stands would be completely unworkable in Scotland, because you would have a street of 300 houses comprising fifty tenements, and you would have to make perhaps thirty different improvement orders in order to accomplish your purpose. But by making improvements to the full or to the reduced standard you can bring into one area the whole of the houses comprising that line of tenements. For that reason, it may well be that a different form of treatment is required for the Scottish problem than for the English.

This pinpoints most clearly how necessary it was for the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, to apologise for this Bill's being both a Scottish and an English Bill, because it is attempting to deal in one measure with conditions which are so different in the two countries. But even allowing for the difference, I cannot believe that there would not be advantage in permitting the improvement within the limits laid down by the Ministers for making the best use of labour—of allowing a minority—because it must, for the reasons which the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, has stated and which I accept, inevitably be a minority of the total houses. I think it is wrong to suggest that these houses are not capable of improvement on the estimate which the local authority is making—and everyone concerned has made it abundantly clear that the local authority must make an estimate as to the possible life of the building. They may estimate that a building has a life of fifteen years, and then find at the end of ten years that their estimate was wrong; or they might estimate that a house had a life of only ten years and find, twenty years later, that it was still there. But having regard to the fact that the local authority are making the best estimate possible, I still think there is a good case—in my opinion an overwhelming case—for permitting that small proportion of the total number, whose houses, for whatever reason, cannot be improved to the full standard, because there is no guaranteed life of fifteen years, to get that benefit if the houses could have a life of only ten years.

What, in my opinion, would have been the most telling argument against my proposal was the first one which the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, started to advance. But it was untenable for the simple reason that in the area there would already be houses which were to be abolished within the period because they were not capable of being improved to the full or the reduced standard. That being accepted, as I think he did accept, then what, to my mind, was the only valid argument against my proposal was withdrawn. In these circumstances, I must say that the impression I had is that the noble Lord is adhering to the Bill as it stands because it would appear that he wishes to carry his bat to the end of the innings. That does not seem to me to be serving a useful purpose at all.

I think I made it perfectly clear when I spoke on Second Reading that I have no great opinion of this Bill. I did not seek to move any Amendments to Part I of the Bill because, quite frankly, I think that so far as Scotland is concerned Part I will be a dead letter. I am not prepared to say that no houses will be built in Scotland under Part I; I believe that some houses will be built. But it will be so small a number that they will make little or no contribution to the solution of the problem. I think that Part II of the Bill is another kettle of fish altogether. It can be made to make a helpful contribution to those who are in the worst housing conditions. Accepting that position, I felt myself under an obligation, as my noble friends have done, if I saw ways of making the Bill more capable of serving that purpose, to put forward Amendments to that end. Having regard to all this I still hope that the Government will consider accepting this Amendment.


I will say, very briefly, that of course there is nothing to prevent the local authorities from demolishing those buildings about which the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, is talking. Our argument is that if they are going to be demolished within the forseeable future—say, up to ten years—then they should not have money spent on them on improvements. That is all it amounts to. Therefore, I am afraid to say that we do not see our way to accepting this Amendment.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Clause 13 agreed to.

Clause 14 agreed to.

Clause 15 agreed to.

Clause 16:

Immediate Improvement notices

16.—(1) If when the improvement notice is served on the person having control of the dwelling the local authority have received from the person who is then the tenant occupying the dwelling his consent to the improvement of the dwelling to the standard provided in the preliminary notice, the local authority shall in the improvement notice require the person having control of the dwelling to carry out the works specified in the improvement notice within twelve months (or such other period as may be prescribed) from the date when the improvement notice becomes operative or such longer period as the local authority by permission given in writing may from time to time allow.

5.15 p.m.


moved, in subsection (1), to leave out "twelve" and insert "six" [months]. The noble Lord said: This Amendment is one of a series of Amendments all having the same object. In fact, I might have moved a similiar Amendment to Clause 15, but I have not done so because I am hoping, perhaps vainly, because the noble Lord has shown no signs of being at all flexible about this Bill, that he might be prepared to look at all these times again. On the occasion of the Second Reading I pointed out that the machinery of this Bill was so complicated and so lengthy that it might well take five years before anything happened. The noble Lord contradicted me and said three years.

I think my five years is right, and I could, if need be, prove that it is right, allowing for the fact that there are appeals possible to the county court and appeals from the decision of the country court afterwards. But I will not trouble the Committee to establish the point. I should be quite content to say that it is going to be very slow. Even the noble Lord himself admitted to three years, and I should be prepared to base my argument on three years. But it is very slow, and is too long when one has regard to the condition of these houses, many of which possess none of the amenities which are regarded as essential, and which are going to have a short life in any case.

I was looking at the various provisions to see whether any of the steps that are required could be omitted. That would be one way of curtailing the period. On the whole, I should not be prepared to recommend that any steps should be omitted, but I think that all the periods which are given in the Bill could be curtailed. Let me take the one under Clause 15, which we have passed, but which I think is material. It says, first of all, that when the local authority are determined upon dealing with a particular area they notify the people concerned and take into consideration the representations they make. Having considered these, the local authority have two years from the time after the proposals have been discussed before they take further action, hoping, I suppose, that in the meantime the owners will be doing something voluntarily; but there is no obligation on them to do so.

There may be different arguments as regards each of these clauses, but in the clause with which I am dealing, Clause 16, after the improvement notice has been served—at the end of the two years or such longer period as may be allowed —the local authority serves a notice on the person who has control of the premises, who then has another twelve months or such longer period as may be permitted in order to deal with the matter. This is not the end of the position, because if he does not deal with the matter he gets another notice under Clause 17. While I am not at this stage objecting to the various steps, I think that these periods of two years, twelve months, twelve months, and then under Clause 19 another twelve months and under Clause 21 another twelve months, could be curtailed.

I do not want to argue this matter in detail, because I see the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, is getting very impatient and wants to talk about police. I shall be quite content if the noble Lord will promise me that he will look at the whole question once more and see whether these periods can be cut down, so that once it is decided that an area should be dealt with it can be dealt with within a reasonable time and the tenants have some hope that these various amenities will be provided for them within, say, a couple of years. I would suggest that is not an unreasonable aspiration. This Bill says, "Twelve months—two years—or such longer period"—it could be longer. If the objective could be two years from the time when the local authority decided to define an area to the time when some action was taken, that would be satisfactory, and the noble Lord could distribute that period among the various steps as he pleases. If the noble Lord is prepared to accept that suggestion I will not proceed with these Amendments, and shall be very glad to withdraw them pending the Report stage. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 17, line 26, leave out ("twelve") and insert ("six").—(Lord Silkin.)


I can assure the noble Lord that I share his sense of almost frustration about this matter. One wants, obviously, to get on as quickly as possible, and it is not due to any laggard feelings on the part of my right honourable friend or myself or the Ministry of Housing that these periods have been put in. We realise that they represent rather a shot in the dark; they are experimental, and it is for that reason we have put into the Bill in brackets (and here the noble Lord was not quite right; it is not "or such longer period") "or such other period as may be prescribed".


I did not overlook that; but when you say in the Bill "twelve months", you must have some very special reason for making it shorter. if you say "twelve months" in the Bill it will be twelve months or such longer period. Otherwise, why not put in "shorter period"?


It seems better to give more time than is necessary in the first place, rather than involve the local authority in having continually to give extensions of the time for carrying out work. They would be able to do this, but it means a lot more paper work and nuisance for them. We would rather be on the generous side than on the mean side in respect of time.

Going back to Clause 15 for a moment, and the two-year period after designation of an area in which an improvement notice must be served, I would point out that if the local authority were to serve them all at the same time, all over its area, people would have to finish the job of improvements all at the same time all over the area. It stands to reason that the general improvement throughout the whole area, assuming there are several individual areas where this sort of thing can be done, must be staggered. It is a question of the building labour available. Even in respect of one area it is not always easy to get the builders to finish a job within six months. You have to queue up.

We are not wedded to the period of twelve months in all these cases, or the original two years, but we feel it is better to give a reasonable time—on the generous side—so as not to worry the local authority unduly, but to leave a power to prescribe a shorter period if we find, in the light of experience after a year or two, that these matters can be done in half or three quarters of the time. I hope the noble Lord will be willing to leave it at that. I can look at the matter again, but I do not think there is time to consult local authorities, and all that sort of thing, to see what they think. They have probably been consulted—I am not quite sure, but I think almost certainly—and have come to the conclusion that this is the better way to approach matters.


I am sure the noble Lord is wrong. This period of twelve months in Clause 16, is not the period in which work is required to be done; it is merely the period in which somebody is making up his mind for a notice to be served: that is all. I cannot, for the life of me, see why that period should not be curtailed. I think each case should be looked at on its merits. The noble Lord might have something in his favour if we were talking about the period in which the work was required to be done. But these periods are not that; they are pure machinery, matters of giving notice and people replying to notice, and all this time is wasted before anyone attempts to do any work.

I think that if the noble Lord is serious about this Bill he will be well advised to have another look at these periods, and if he comes back and tells us he cannot see how some could be curtailed but he is prepared to curtail others, that will be reasonable. But to say outright that he cannot do anything is just stonewalling. I am sure he would not wish to do that.


The noble Lord has made a slight error. Clause 16 says quite definitely that the local authority shall in the improvement notice require the person having control of the dwelling to carry out the works specified in the improvement notice within twelve months". I think there are five of these similar Amendments for a reduction of time from twelve to six months. There is one case where it is not a question of carrying out work; that is where after the five-year period the local authority can serve a final improvement notice within twelve months. That is the only one which does not deal with carrying out the work, and there might be a different argument in respect of that.

I am informed that the local authority associations were consulted and thought that the two-year period in Clause 15 and the twelve months period for doing the work were reasonable; that has been accepted by them. I hope the noble Lord will agree with me. We can shorten this period if necessary, but it is really rather easier to do that under Ministerial direction than it is to cause the local authorities continually to have to give extensions.


With regard to the words in brackets—" or such other period as may be prescribed"—I take it the person doing the prescribing would be the Minister.


That is right.


I am very disappointed that this is a matter which the noble Lord is not even prepared to recommend should be looked into. He admits it is very frustrating. He admits it may take years before the work can be carried out. But he is not even prepared to consider seeing whether these periods can be shortened. That gives one an indication how seriously the Government are looking at this Bill. I will not press the matter any further. If the noble Lord is prepared to stand on that, I will come back on Report. I am very disappointed indeed.


Perhaps we were at fault in not putting down the Amendment to Clause 15 to which my noble friend Lord Silkin referred, because I think that is the more serious one—where the local authority has the delay of two years. Would the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, be prepared to look at that point, in particular?


Of course I am going to consider and discuss all these matters. I did not want to give the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, an undertaking in terms that he might expect that we should give any different answer. I think I have given all the argument and the answers. Now I know that the local authority associations have been consulted, I do not think it is likely that there will be any reason why we should change our minds. However, I will look again at these matters and discuss them further—I have already done so to a great extent; but for the reasons given, I think we shall not be able to improve upon this. I will not say that my mind is completely closed in regard to this matter —it is not at all; it is only that it has been convinced that this is actually the right thing to do.


The noble Lord says that the local authority associations have been consulted. Does he mean that the local authority associations agree with the Government?


I did say that they thought the two-year period in the one case and the twelve-month period in the others were reasonable. I cannot say more than that, because I have not the detailed information. But I will inform myself more fully upon it.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Clause 16 agreed to.

Clause 17 [Suspended improvement notices]:


As has been pointed out, Amendment No. 15A is, in fact, an Amendment to Clause 17 and not, as shown, to Clause 18, so that it should come before Amendment No. 15. Does the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, move Amendment No. 15A?


I am sorry that, after all that explanation, I am going to say that I am not moving this Amendment.

Clause 17 agreed to.


I think this was the agreed time for my noble friend Lord Derwent to take over with the Police Bill. Therefore, I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

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