HL Deb 15 July 1974 vol 353 cc934-1000

7.42 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Gamsworthy.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD POPPLEWELL in the Chair.]

Clauses 25 and 26 agreed to.

LORD HUGHES moved Amendment No. 14:

After Clause 26 insert the following new clause: ("Disclosure, of interest by members of committees of registered 1965 Act associations.

(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, it shall be the duty of a member of the committee of a registered 1965 Act association who is in any way, whether directly or indirectly, interested in a contract or proposed contract with the association to declare the nature of his interest to the committee in accordance with this section.

(2) In the case of a proposed contract, the declaration required by this section to be made by a member of a committee shall be made at the meeting of the committee at which the question of entering into the contract is first taken into consideration, or, if the member was not at the date of that meeting interested in the proposed contract, at the next meeting of the committee held after he becomes interested in the proposed contract.

(3) Where a member of a committee becomes interested in a contract with the association after it is made, the declaration required by this section shall be made at the first meeting of the committee held after he becomes interested in the contract.

(4) For the purposes of this section, a general notice given at a meeting of the committee of an association by a member of the committee to the effect that he is a member of a specified company or firm, and is to be regarded as interested in any contract which may, after the date of the notice, be made with that company or firm, is a sufficient declaration of interest in relation to any contract made after that date with that company or firm.

(5) A member of a committee need not make a declaration or give a notice under this section by attending in person at a meeting of the committee if he takes reasonable steps to secure that the declaration or notice is brought up and read at the meeting.

(6) A member of a committee who fails to comply with the provisions of this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £200.

(7) Nothing in this section shall be taken to prejudice the operation of any rule of law retricting members of the committee of a registered 1965 Act association from having any interest in contracts with the association.")

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 14 to insert the new clause as printed on the Marshalled List. Although this is a fairly lengthy clause, the purpose is very simple. It is to require a member of the committee of the registered association to disclose to his filial committee members any interest he may have in any contract which his association has entered or proposes to enter, and makes it an offence for him not to do so. I do not think I need say more than that. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to. Clauses 27 to 29 agreed to.

Clause 30 [Management grants for certain housing associations.]:

LORD GARNSWORTHY moved Amendments No. 15 to 21:

Page 27, line 45, leave out ("subsidy") and insert ("grant").

Page 28, line 5, leave out ("subsidy") and insert ("grant").

Page 28, line 15, leave out ("subsidy") and insert ("grant").

Page 28, line 20, leave out ("subsidy") and insert ("grant").

Page 28, line 22, leave out ("subsidy") and insert ("grant").

Page 28, line 25, leave out ("subsidy") and insert ("grant").

Page 28, line 26, leave out ("subsidy") and insert ("grant").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendments Nos. 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21. They are all identical. Each of them would leave out the word "subsidy" and insert the word "grant". The word "grant" has been used throughout the Bill except in these instances, and it would seem sensible to use the same term. With the leave of the House, I beg leave to move Amendments Nos. 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21 en bloc.

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

Clause 30, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 31 to 34 agreed to.

Clause 35 [Declaration of housing action areas]:

7.48 p.m.

BARONESS YOUNG moved Amendment No. 22: Page 34, line 33, at end insert— ("If, on receiving such a report prepared by the residents of the area in question, the local authority decides not to declare a housing action area, the authority shall send to the Secretary of State a copy of the report together with a statement of its reason for deciding not to declare a housing action area, and shall send to the persons who prepared the report the same statement of reasons.")

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 22. At the same time I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 23, 24 and 25. Broadly speaking the purpose of these Amendments which I have put down is to bring this piece of housing legislation into line with practice in planning legislation. I think no one who has been involved either in local government or central Government can be unaware of the great amount of public interest and awareness of what is going on in each community to-day. This interest and awareness is taking place all over the country, and expresses itself either through amenity societies or through residents' or tenants' associations. I am sure this is a matter on which we shall all agree, and with which we are all familiar. I have therefore put down a series of Amendments to place a duty on local authorities to involve local residents in discussions about either potential housing action areas or general improvement areas, and to keep the residents informed. This seems to me entirely in line with all the proposals under planning legislation for the development of local plans in which the active participation of the residents in the community is sought and involved.

It seems to me particularly important in this Part of the Bill on housing action areas, because if we consider the nature of the action that will be taken, we are at once dealing with an area which is by definition an area of bad housing, and in which it is proposed to institute a crash programme. In order for this programme to be effective, it must affect almost every individual in the area, and it seems to me that if they are consulted about the area and the proposals in it, a responsibility is placed on all the individuals in the area. This is particularly important, as so many people will suffer from a multiplicity of social problems. Therefore, this is a consultative process, and will be of real help to local authorities.

In my experience, difficulties in trying to get improvement in general housing improvement areas have often arisen because the people simply do not understand what is going on. Therefore, they almost create difficulties, simply because they do not understand what is happening, and these Amendments are designed to meet this point. I must apologise if they appear on the Marshalled List not quite in the order I would have wished them to appear. Amendment No. 23 is an Amendment to Clause 35 and should really be the first Amendment. This lays a duty on the local authority to involve local residents in discussions about potential housing action areas or general improvement areas.

Amendment No. 24 is, in fact, taken directly from the 1971 Planning Act and applies this to general improvement areas, as does Amendment No. 25. At the same time, it would be helpful to have a monitoring of the system so that local authorities will know how well they are doing it. I hope that this, too, which comes under Amendment No. 25, will mean that the local authorities will be looking continuously to see what progress they have made in these areas, and that they will send a report to the Secretary of State on what they have achieved. As I say, they are all linked Amendments, and I hope they are ones which the Government will view with sympathy. They are designed to help the residents. They are designed to come into line with what is common practice under planning law. It seems to me that they can do nothing but benefit to those whom the housing action areas are designed to help. I beg to move.

7.51 p.m.


The Committee will be grateful to the noble Baroness for the manner in which she has moved these Amendments. It might be relevant if I said that I think her declared intention of later moving the deletion of Schedule 4 might well be considered at the same time, since it seems to me to be related to the purpose of these Amendments.


I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord, Lord Garns-worthy. My Amendment to delete Schedule 4 goes with a further Amendment. I have two Amendments to Schedule 5 which are linked to these, and I quite agree we should take them all together.


I am grateful to the noble Baroness. Amendments Nos. 22, 23, 24 and 25 clearly have a common theme. I fancy that they reflect the views of Shelter, and I think probably some associated groups interested in housing. They were not tabled in the other place, and I would say right away that we recognise the good intentions which lie behind them. They are clearly designed to involve the participation of residents in the business of housing action areas, and I want to emphasise the importance the Government attach to securing this end. We think we have approached this in the best possible way; I will try to show how we have done this and the reasons for this approach.

The Committee will appreciate that the very essence of the housing action areas concept is built into Clause 35, which refers to securing "the well-being of the persons for the time being residing in the area", that is to say, the housing action area. This is reinforced by the other provisions of the Bill, which cover conditions attached to improvment grants and undertakings about re-housing. I think I might also mention the Rent Bill, which is intended to give security of tenure to tenants living in furnished accommodation, many of whom may well be in housing action areas. It is against that background that we need to consider these Amendments, and to consider them further in relation to the substantial provisions which are made in the Bill which empower the Secretary of State not only to give guidance to local authorities but also to call for progress reports on housing action areas, as set out in Clause 41. The Bill also lays duties on local authorities to publicise the declaration of housing action areas, to give information about them, to make known where people can make representations and to tell residents in advance of the proposed action programme and of the assistance available for house improvement.

In the Government's opinion, to provide for statutory involvement of residents and/or owners before declaration of a housing action area would be a source of delay in a situation—and I rather think that the noble Baroness will agree with me in this, the more it is thought about—where the need is to reach the point of declaration as quickly as possible, since it is so urgent to get the framework for action firmly established. Housing action areas become effective on declaration, and speed in securing this declaration is the great necessity. The longer the period in which it is formally known that the declaration of a housing action area is under consideration, the greater the opportunity for anti-social landlords to put pressure on tenants to leave so that they can sell off property with vacant possession at a profit at the expense of residents.

The cumulative effect of the Amendments would be to introduce procedures which—and we are quite sure about this—would add substantially to the work and time involved, at the expense of action. and it is questionable whether there would be any benefit to people actually living in the area. The Government have sought to involve residents in the stages after declaration where it matters the most; that is to say, we seek a complete involvement, as complete as possible, in the action programme which follows declaration.

Town and Country Planning Acts differ so much from housing legislation that I cannot see any parallel issue involved here. We are embarking on an enterprise for the advantage of communities which have lost out so much already—they have lost out in amenity improvements—and we are concerned with securing for them some amenity and social progress commensurate with the better standards achieved by so many others. While we seek resident participation, we believe that prior to the declaration stage—and we have thought a great deal about this—there is no advantage, but that there is a very definite risk of delay. After declaration the Bill provides for the full involvement of residents, and that is where the worthwhile contribution is to be made.

I repeat that I much appreciate the purpose that lies behind these Amendments. I am very much aware of the anxiety of the noble Baroness, and those who may share her view, to involve the local community. However, I would ask her to accept the view that I have expressed, that we should be placing the interests of the residents at risk if we accepted the Amendments, that in point of fact we have provided for full participation after declaration, and if she is able to accept that I would hope that she would not press these Amendments.


I am, of course, grateful to have had from the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, that explanation of all the detailed consultative procedures there will be once housing action areas are defined. I am bound to say that I do not altogether share his optimism that by not involving the people one will reach a quicker result. I have found from my own experience that it is often true in planning and housing matters that the longest way round really is the shortest way home, although, of course, it does not always appear that way at the beginning. What I think we shall find in many of these areas is that when a local authority moves into one of these areas to sort out a multiplicity of housing problems and social problems a lot of people simply will not understand at all what is going on. A great many of them will be quite put off by public meetings anyway, because they will not like to raise their questions in a hall. They will want somebody on the spot to whom they can go. Many of them will in fact be unable to frame the questions that they wish to ask. They will only know that they are troubled and will wish to have everything explained to them without necessarily knowing how to go about it.

The noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, is quite right in saying that I put down this series of Amendments at the request of Shelter. They seem to me to be eminently reasonable and are designed to achieve something that we all want to achieve by this section of the Bill. I do not think that there is any disagreement between us about that. I was disappointed with the Government's reply because I thought they would say that (hey would look at the Amendments. They may not be correctly drafted that I accept. I would ask the noble Lord whether he would agree to look at this matter in the light of these remarks.

It may well be that housing law differs from that of the Town and Country Planning Acts, but what is undoubted is that if you involve people you are much more likely to get their co-operation. It may well be true, as the noble Lord said, that in these housing action areas there will be problems, and that landlords will put pressure on tenants to leave—although having just gone through the Rent Bill I thought the purpose of that Bill was to prevent precisely that circumstance arising. Therefore, that seems to me a problem that really does not arise under these Amendments. I would ask the noble Lord to consider the spirit of these Amendments, to see whether, on reflection, he agrees with me, that it might well help to get a better housing action area if something on these lines was written into the Bill.


Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness that I was so much aware of her desire to be helpful that I spent quite some time with officials looking at this matter. I wonder whether it may not be more helpful to her if she would come to the Department and have a talk about the details of it. If she was not then satisfied, she could return at a later stage to this point; but I am rather of the opinion that this may be a better way of making progress, in the sense that we could have all the time we needed to look at it and to discuss it.


In the light of that offer I will withdraw the Amendment and accept the invitation to meet the noble Lord and to discuss this subject to see whether we can make some progress. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 35 agreed to.

Clauses 36 to 46 agreed to.

Clause 47 [Local authorities for purposes of Part IV]:

8.6 p.m.

BARONESS YOUNG moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 44, line 31, leave out subsection (2).

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 26, and speak to Amendment No. 27A and to an Amendment to leave out Schedule 4, which is un-numbered but is at the bottom of page 36 on the Marshalled List. During the Second Reading of the Bill I gave notice that I should be putting down such an Amendment because I believe this to be a matter of important principle. The Bill, as now drafted, gives power to the Greater London Council to intervene to create a housing action area or a general improvement area, if necessary, against the wishes of the London borough affected. This principle reverses the clause as it stood in the original Housing and Planning Bill—perhaps it is not altogether surprising that there should be such a change—but the situation is made worse because it applies not only to housing action areas but also to general improvement areas.

I have been approached by the London Boroughs Association over this matter. They are very concerned at what appears to be a complete reversal of local government policy within London itself. I am bound to say it is a complete reversal of local government relationships as I have always understood them. There is not within local government, the power for one authority to intervene in another authority without the consent of that authority.

When I raised this point at Second Reading I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, who replied, and he said that this of course would only be a matter of last resort and it was, in effect, a default power. I understand that point, but I am sure that he will appreciate that, although it is put in as a default power, its effect on a London borough could be precisely as I have described. Not only do I think this to be quite wrong in principle, quite against local government practice, but I also believe that, when it came to the point, it would be quite impractical in securing what I think all of us want to see happen under this Bill.

We all agree with the idea of housing action areas; these closely defined areas of housing stress in which a local authority will make a determined effort to improve the housing conditions for everybody in them. Given that this is what we wish to achieve we must face the fact that a housing action area will be a crisis area calling for a crash programme of repair and rehabilitation. In order to achieve this quickly there will need to be a team of experts all working together, not only the surveyors and the engineers, but many other specialist staff like public health inspectors who will all need to work together as a team. Not only must they work in a practical way to improve houses, but the whole programme will have to be explained to the residents.

I have just been discussing how important I consider this to be in the previous Amendments which I have tabled. I can only emphasise again that, in my experience, in trying to deal with difficult areas of housing the first essential is to secure the co-operation of the residents. The way to secure that co-operation is to have a full explanation of what is going on. Let us imagine an instance of, perhaps, an elderly tenant whose house is in a state of disrepair, who has to move out while the house is being repaired, who does not understand why she should move out and does not want to do so—or indeed does not want the improvements to the house that are to be made. I have met that kind of problem in housing. It seems to me that if you are dealing with such a problem and the two authorities—the G.L.C. and the London Borough—are at logger-heads then I do not see how a housing action area will work out in practice.

There will clearly be the worst possible relationship between the G.L.C. and the London Borough concerned. There will be the least possible co-operation coming from them. There will be maximum confusion to people in the housing action area whom the whole Bill is designed to help. For all these reasons, it seems to me a great mistake to have this power which will never be effective for what it is designed to do. Not only is it wrong in principle that the G.L.C. should be able to have this power but I believe that in the end it would be unworkable. The only sufferers would be the unfortunate residents of a housing action area or a general improvement area. Therefore, I hope that the Government will feel that these arguments have weight and will feel able to accept, if not these Amendments, then the spirit of them, and that they will restore the Housing Bill as it was originally drafted as the Housing and Planning Bill. I beg to move.

8.14 p.m.


I apologise to your Lordships for speaking at this late hour, but I wish to support my noble friend in the Amendment as one who has in her time represented one of the Greater London boroughs and who has in another place represented a constituency which was divided between two of the largest of the Greater London boroughs. In seeking this overriding power to be given to the G.L.C, I believe that we should consider the size and the importance of the authorities over which it is sought to impose this sanction.

The London boroughs—none of them small in size or population—are not in-experienced, nor are they staffed at their heads with other than very experienced officers. The elected bodies with large councils are experienced representatives who know their considerable areas and all the problems very closely, and indeed they command budgets which would make great cities in this country envious. I can speak in particular of the London Borough of Bromley and the London Borough of Bexley. the former with 305,000 population and the latter with 217,000. I should like to point out to your Lordships that that means that Bromley is larger than Plymouth, Hull, Cardiff or Leicester and two-and-a-half times the size of Oxford. I do not think that your Lordships will accept so lightly such an imposition on great cities of that size. Too frequently in this enormous conurbation of Greater London people regard the London boroughs as much smaller than they are. If this legislation is imposed, I believe it will be to the great detriment of the co-operation that there has been over many years between the boroughs and Central London—what was first the L.C.C. and is now the G.L.C.—when the legitimately sought to move considerable populations out of London into the Home Counties.

I have experienced it in my former constituency in the two vast housing estates. With co-operation in the services of St. Paul's Cray, Mottingham came out into what is now Bromley borough and was in those days Chislehurst and Sidcup Urban District, with the support, co-operation and aid of all the accompanying services which are imposed on the smaller local authority. I hope your Lordships will appreciate that this deeply felt problem is not a political issue. The desire not to have this clause has been unanimously agreed by the London Boroughs Association which the Minister for Housing and Construction in Standing Committee in another place described as "socially dominated". They are unanimously opposed to this additional power which they feel will defeat the co-operation necessary to speed-up the housing programme. It is not therefore a Party issue.

The London boroughs opposition represents a deeply-held resentment that the joint understanding and co-operation that is so vitally necessary in the successful operation of any of these schemes should be replaced by a "Big Brother" attitude providing an overriding sanction, almost as if these great and important boroughs do not know their own areas and were not conscious and alive to their responsibilities in relation to solving the housing problem. They are conscious and alert to the housing need. Indeed, since the war their populations have grown enormously, in many cases through migration from Inner London with families escaping from crowded houses and tenements and moving to what was then called the Home Counties to get a house and a garden for their kids and to be in range of the Green Belt. The attraction and pressure of the South-East has caused headaches for more than one Minister, industrially, commercially and socially. Indeed the G.L.C. is already seeking sites in Chislehurst. I think it must be recognised that although the G.L.C. may take the housing forward, the education and community services place a heavy burden and often override the local priorities of these big and important local authorities.

From my own experience, I know that these incursions make enormous demands on the staff and services of the local authority. To give one instance, 13 new schools had to be provided for the then county of Kent to cope with the population located at the new estate at St. Paul's Cray, together with many other community services. As a result the whole of Kent's school programme for redevelopment, rebuilding and upgrading was put back for several years. But all that is water under the bridge. What is vital is that the 4,000-odd people who moved into that area have grown up in the last 20 years and the children who came 20 years ago are now themselves married. I can assure your Lordships that there was not a Saturday on which I do not interview, as a Member of Parliament, that new generation, accepted into the midst of these areas, which was now grown up, married and indeed seeking new accommodation which the local boroughs were doing their utmost to meet.

The London boroughs are not unmindful of the need to provide further housing areas, as is proved by the many new communities that have been put into outer London. What they do resent—and I think rightly—is the imposition of this additional default power, which is the reversal of that policy provided in the original Housing and Planning Bill. It is also of great concern to the London Boroughs Association that the new powers are extended to general improvement areas—a much wider concept, as my noble friend has said, than that provided in the previous Bill. Hitherto they have acted with the co-operation of the local authorities. If, in the judgment of a great and important borough, it is unwise to take such action and they are over-ridden, what sort of co-operation of staff and services can be expected, and at what speed will such a project be proceeded with? A general improvement operation can provide enormous problems—planning, acquisition, compensation, transfer, temporary transfer of people—with all the relevant community problems; and where the good intentions of the G.L.C. and the pretty plans may be evident, the headaches for the existing population and services will fall on the local borough.

The London Boroughs Association are not unmindful of the problem. They have informed the Minister, as I understand it, that they are ready to co-operate. They are ready to take a fresh look at old areas; they are prepared to accept an obligation to submit annual programmes for housing areas—but voluntarily. With good will among the boroughs, the Government and the Greater London Council, I suggest that such co-operative action will be a great deal speedier than if these default powers are imposed. In this Amendment we are not dealing with a group of ill-equipped, modest parish councils; we are dealing with Tower Hamlets, Croydon, Southwark, Brent and, indeed, my old stamping ground of Bexley and Bromley—massive conurbations, of varying political majorities, all united against this infringement of their powers. I most earnestly hope that the Government will think again, because I believe they will get their housing speedier by co-operation than by this clause.

8.23 p.m.


As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has said, these Amendments are designed to remove the Greater London Council's power to declare housing action areas without the consent of the London boroughs concerned in those instances where the Secretary of State has notified the Greater London Council that, subject to the procedure as laid down in Schedule 4, they may do so. Indeed, these Amendments would restore the position to what it was in the Housing and Planning Bill; namely, that the Greater London Council could declare a housing action area only with borough consent.

There was much discussion in the other place on identical Amendments when this Bill was in Standing Committee, and also at Report stage. The opposition to the default powers was advanced on the grounds—and those grounds have been touched upon again this evening—that default powers were ineffective in practical operation; that comprehensive action could be achieved only if a borough agreed to the G.L.C. declaring a housing action area; that the Greater London Council lacked staff, particularly public health inspectors, of whom there was a shortage anyway; that there was longstanding rivalry and jealousy between boroughs and the Greater London Council; and that default powers for the Greater London Council in housing action areas and in general improvement areas would only exacerbate that jealousy. Doubt was also expressed about the capability of the Greater London Council to take a better view of priorities than the boroughs, and about the relevance of the Greater London Council's strategic role in regard to housing action areas.

Two suggestions have been made by the London Boroughs Association as an alternative to the Greater London Council's default powers. First, that the Secretary of State should put an obligation on the London boroughs to submit to him rolling five-year programmes of housing action areas and general improvement areas, of which they would send a copy to the Greater London Council so that that Council could express its view. Second, that the London Boroughs Association would be prepared to make every effort to persuade any individual borough to accept responsibility for a particular area. The suggestion has also been made that, instead of default powers for the G.L.C, London boroughs should be empowered to declare a housing action area in the area of another London borough with that borough's consent.

In view of the fact that a great deal has been said about the London position, I think I ought to say here that when the issue was put to the vote in the other place—that is, the removal of these powers, which is the effect of these Amendments—only 45 Members voted to remove them whereas 139 Members voted to retain them. The relationship between the Greater London Council and the boroughs is an issue on which set attitudes have often been taken up. I take the point—and I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith—that this is, though it certainly ought not to be, a Party political issue, and I have little doubt that, in regard to this matter, it matters little what is the political complexion of the Greater London Council. I am quite certain that I should be taking this same stand this evening if it were otherwise than it is.

The Government believe that a more constructive approach to be made to this problem is to look at the question in terms of the problems that have to be solved in London as a whole, and at the resources available to solve them. I think your Lordships will agree that there is a very great deal more to the Greater London Council's role as a strategic housing authority than the influencing of policies over Greater London as a whole, important though that is. It is both desirable and inevitable that they should have the means to implement their view of priorities on housing action areas. Priorities is what the housing action area policy is about, and the Greater London Council already have considerable resources and powers which can and ought to be used.

It should be remembered that the London County Council and the Greater London Council have made a tremendous contribution to slum clearance and new building over the years, and I think that their potential in improvement and rehabilitation should be recognised by those who are concerned, and rightly concerned—I would go so far as to say proudly concerned—with London's problems. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said on Second Reading in another place: There is quite enough housing stress in London for which the Greater London Council, the London boroughs and the City all have their work cut out, without quarrelling over who does what". Furthermore, as the Minister said when the Bill was in Standing Committee—and I quote from column 243: At the end of the day it is not [a question of] the susceptibilities between points of power in government at whatever level. It is what is done to enable people and their children to grow up in better housing and urban conditions. The Government expect the G.L.C. and the London boroughs to work together and carry out a forward programme of housing action areas and general improvement areas as part of a common approach to London's housing problems. We hope they will generally be able to agree on which areas should be declared and by whom, and that whichever authority formally declares them each will work with and assist the other. We welcome the London Boroughs Association's offer to use its good offices in promoting action by boroughs without seeing any advantage in building into the Bill legislative requirements about the submission of a rolling programme. We see the idea of forward planning and discussion as valuable, but these offers, welcome as they always have been, do not destroy the case for the Greater London Council's reserve powers. If agreement is not forthcoming where housing conditions are such that action under Part IV of the Bill is clearly called for, the Secretary of State has made it clear that the powers which the clause gives to the Greater London Council are there to be used.

The procedure covered in Schedule 4 of the Bill provides the maximum opportunity for agreement to be reached. Even after the Secretary of State has notified the Greater London Council that it may declare against borough opposition, the borough is given an opportunity to reconsider its decision and to tackle the area itself. The fact that the Greater London Council itself proposed that this further opportunity should be available cuts down to size the charge that it wants to act as Big Brother.

The Greater London Council has itself said in a letter to the department that, although it considers its reserve power vital, it has no desire to act against the wishes of a London borough and that it hopes to be able to proceed with the full co-operation of the boroughs. The Government share that hope. The Minister described the powers as a back-up and no more, and he added: If all the London boroughs are able and willing to carry through work in this field as fully as one wants and hopes—and, I believe, for the most part they will wish to do—there will never be an occasion when the Greater London Council will need to apply to the Secretary of State for the operation of the default powers. … I hope that this situation will obtain. … But I believe that, at the end of the day, such reserve powers to get the job done, if it is not being done, must be in the Bill. I have dealt at some length with the issue involved here, first, because I recognise the importance of the issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and her noble friend. I thought that I ought to make it clear that a great deal of attention has been given to the matter. If the London Boroughs Association is speaking on behalf of all the London boroughs and if it is in a position to secure that each and every borough plays its full part and has the resources to carry through the kind of programme the conditions merit, it is clear that the Greater London Council will not have any need to use the default powers in the Bill. I would stress that the powers are included in the Bill as a back-up and nothing more, but I think it very necessary to have them to guard not only against the instance when action may not be taken, but against the occasion when action may not be taken because resources are not available to a particular borough. We ought to preserve a situation in which the vast resources of the Greater London Council could and would, if necessary, be used to the greatest advantage.

8.35 p.m.


I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, for the full explanation he has given of this new clause. Of course, I have read the debate in Standing Committee in another place and I should like to assure the Committee that this is not a sequence of Amendments that I am putting down simply on some Party political point. I did not follow all the voting beyond looking at the voting in the Committee, and I assume that the voting figures which the noble Lord gave were on the Report stage, which I regret I have not had an opportunity to look at. However, whatever they may have been, I do not really see that that need affect any decision which we take in Committee to-day. The issue over the relationship between the G.L.C. and the London Boroughs Association was put admirably by my noble friend Lady Hornsby-Smith who, of course, comes to this House with great knowledge of the complexities of the problems of London government.

Whatever the political complexion of the Greater London Council or the London Boroughs Association, the point at issue is whether or not one local authority ought to have these default powers to act within the boundaries of another without the consent of the authority in question. That seems to me the most important general point at issue on this series of Amendments. I recognise that the Greater London Council has a very good record in house building and, I believe, in rehabilitating old property. My object this evening is in no way to criticise the Greater London Council because that, again, is not the point at issue. Members of the Government and we on this side of the House agree that we want the housing action areas to work. This is a new concept which is intended to deal with areas of housing stress where there are great problems which have remained unresolved for many years and which will remain unresolved unless some action is taken very quickly.

I really do not think that the London boroughs will act more effectively if they feel that there is this spectre of the G.L.C. behind them looking over their shoulder to see whether they are doing their work properly. Again, my noble friend Lady Hornsby-Smith explained most thoroughly that the London boroughs are large and important local authorities which must know what is best for their areas, if one believes in local authority freedom at all.

I am sure that, as we all wish to achieve some effective action in the hous- ing action areas, the London boroughs will work better if left to get on with it than they will if they have the threat of Greater London Council intervention. After all, they have gone a considerable way to meet the point which the Government have written into the clause. I will not repeat it because the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, himself set out what they are prepared to do. This seems to me to be a sensible compromise. We all hope that there will be co-operation but, in my experience, one is much more likely to get co-operation if there is never a threat at all and if, as we all hope, no occasion ever arises, there is no need to have the power at all. I regret that I found the answer of the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, very disappointing. I had hoped that he was going to say that he would look at this matter yet again, because I believe most sincerely that we will not get the best results for housing action areas except by co-operation and agreement, and not with any threat in the background.

8.40 p.m.


I wonder whether I could come in for a moment on this matter. The suggestions which were spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, of the alternatives put forward by the London Boroughs Association seem to contemplate in their own proposals that there can be a situation when a borough ought to be taking action and does not do so. The first one, the five-year rolling programme to be submitted and the G.L.C. notified of it, is not in that category. But the second proposal which they put forward was that the London Boroughs Association would be prepared to make every effort to persuade any individual authority to accept responsibility for a particular area, but then it goes on to say: And the suggestion has also been made that instead of the G.L.C. having default powers the London boroughs themselves should be empowered to declare a housing action area in the area of another London borough. So even within this sphere the London boroughs themselves are accepting a situation that there should be a default power which should be used; and the suggestion is that instead of it being used by the Greater London Council it should be by either another London borough or by the London boroughs collectively.

The noble Baroness has spoken of these powers as a threat being held over the London boroughs. I suggest to the Committee that this is the wrong way to look at it. It is by no means a threat, it is a policy of last resort; and all of the proposals put forward by the London boroughs I should have thought were the sort of things which would automatically be done if the boroughs felt some action should be taken by a particular borough against whom, if all else failed, the G.L.C.'s default power would be used. If what is being suggested in these alternative proposals would work, then obviously all this will have been done before a request is submitted to the Secretary of State for the default power to be used. If all of this were to be proposed by the London Boroughs Association and it failed, there would demonstrably have been the occasion for the Greater London Council's power to be there and to be used. It may be that it never would be used. So often the main justification for a reserve default power being put in is that the fact that it is there to be used as a last resort is what creates the situation in which it never will have to be used.

My noble friend did not refer to the defects, because he wanted to confine the matter completely to its merits; and it is never a satisfactory point of view to say that an Amendment has drafting defects, because after all if the Government were accepting the principle they are in a better position to remedy drafting defects than are Opposition Members. But the defects of the Amendments—and I do not think that this was the intention of the Amendments—not only remove the power of the G.L.C. to declare a housing action area against the will of a borough, but they remove the power for the Greater London Council to declare it even where the borough is in agreement that this should be done. No one has ever suggested that that should be the position, but that is one of the effects of the Amendment and one of the difficulties about drafting an Amendment to take out part of the situation.

I strongly urge the noble Baroness, Lady Young, further to consider very carefully what my noble friend Lord Garnsworthy has said, because it was the putting of these arguments in another place which persuaded the Members there in such substantial numbers to accept that this was something which, at the end of the day, was meant to help the people of London, was not placing a cudgel in the hands of the G.L.C. to be used against which in a very extreme situation would the London boroughs but was something be what was needed while hoping very much that it never would be used.


Would the noble Lord answer one question? He has made great play of the fact that this is a last resort power, but is there anything to prevent the G.L.C, if they opt for their own plans in an area in another borough overriding and taking their plans and powers through against the wishes of the local authority with its own plans for the area?


Is it not the case that they have to apply to the Secretary of State for this? Obviously, the Secretary of State, desirous of having the greatest degree of co-operation between the G.L.C. and the boroughs, will certainly not grant that consent if it is prematurely put forward and is merely attempting to ride roughshod over the wishes of a borough.


I am very glad to have the answer to the last question by my noble friend put in those particular terms, but all the same I do not think that it meets the case. I said that I felt that the London boroughs had made a very reasonable offer to meet the point that has been made here by the Greater London Council and the Government. I am not sure that I myself would particularly support the idea that one London borough should insist on housing action areas in another borough. But that is of course a matter for them to agree upon. It is wrong in principle for one local authority, as I said in relation to the Greater London Council and the London Boroughs Association, to exercise powers in another local authority against the wishes of that authority. I think that principle applies. Nevertheless, I accept that the London boroughs have evidently met and discussed this matter and it is one of the options that they have put up. It reflects their genuine wishes to meet this point. I recognise that what we are talking about is a last resort, a last resort as defined now quite narrowly by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. But the fact is that this Bill is reversing the policy of the 1969 Housing Act whereby there is not this last resort policy with regard to general improvement areas. It is applying it not only to general improvement areas but also to housing action areas. I am bound to say to the Committee, as I said at the beginning, that not only do I believe this to be wrong in principle but I believe ultimately it will not achieve what it is designed to achieve, and it is for that reason that I feel that I cannot withdraw this Amendment.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

8.50 p.m.

BARONESS YOUNG moved Amendment No. 26A:

Page 44, line 35, at beginning insert: ("(3) The Greater London Council may exercise the powers of a local authority under section 35 above with respect to any area in Greater London, but only with the agreement of any local authority in whose district the area or any part of the area is situated; and")

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 26A. To clarify the point may I say that I spoke to Amendment No. 26 but No. 26A goes with it, so I am moving formally.


I ought to make it perfectly clear that the Government are not happy about these last Amendments. The only reason for not allowing the Committee to be divided on them is that we cannot guarantee that there are sufficient people present to enable the Business to continue, and I do not think it would be the wish of the Committee that we should be counted out at this stage of the proceedings.


I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for that explanation, but I am sure he will accept that it is not really the duty of the Opposition to keep the Committee in these circumstances. I, too, have no wish to count out the Bill, but I feel that I should be entitled to press an Amendment if I wish to do so.


I was not suggesting that it was the duty of the noble Baroness to do so, but I think she will agree that we had no indication that she would divide on this Amendment, particularly at this time. I wanted to make it clear that the fact that we allowed this Amendment to go into the Bill in no way indicated a change of mind by the Government. The fact that we have allowed this second one to go in as consequential does not mean that we are turning somersaults one after the other.


I am sure the noble Lord is doing nothing of the sort, but I may say that I gave notice at Second Reading that I would put down this Amendment. So the noble Lord must have been aware that it was one to which I attached importance.


But that is not the only Amendment which the noble Baroness said she would put down, and others have been withdrawn.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD GARNSWORTHY moved Amendment No. 27: Page 5, line 12, after ("under") insert ("Part II or").

The noble Lord said: Clause 47(4)(a) lists various powers which the Greater London Council need in the housing action areas declared by them; that is, powers which they do not already possess in their own right. Amendment No. 27 adds to the powers of a local authority under Part II of the Housing Act 1957. These enable local authorities to require the repair of unfit houses capable of repair at reasonable cost, to make demolition or closing orders on unfit houses which are beyond repair at reasonable cost, and to purchase condemned houses. The Greater London Council have these powers by virtue of Section 40(2) of the Housing Act 1969 in general improvement areas that they have declared. It was always desired by them, and indeed intended, that they should have them in housing action areas as well. The omission is a defect which the Amendment puts right.

The Amendment has nothing to do with the much debated question as to whether the Greater London Council should be able to proceed to declare a housing action area with borough consent when the Secretary of State notifies them that they may do so. It is concerned with the powers which need to be available to the Greater London Council in housing action areas. Ministers and the Greater London Council have always stressed it is their wish that the Greater London Council and the London boroughs should be able to agree about Greater London Council declarations. The London Boroughs Association have been informed of this Amendment. At the time I am speaking, I believe I am justified in saying they have not commented. I beg to move.


I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, for his explanation on this point. Am I right in thinking that what he has said is that the powers provided by this new Amendment are similar to those which already exist under the 1969 Act with regard to general improvement areas, which are now being extended for housing action areas?


The noble Baroness is quite correct.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 47, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 48 and 49 agreed to.

After Clause 49.

LORD GARNSWORTHY moved Amendment No. 27A:

After Clause 49 insert the following new clause—

Declaration of priority neighbourhoods"

  1. PART VA 16,486 words
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