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Clause 1—(Contributions To Be Made In Respect Of New Housing Accommodation Provided By Local Authorities Before Specified Date)

Volume 402: debated on Wednesday 21 June 1944

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(Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

I should like the Minister to make clear whether or not the provisions of the Clause are extended to other than local authorities who may be engaged in the construction of houses in the next two years.

This Bill deals only with houses built by local authorities. I indicated in an answer a week or so ago, and I think in the course of the Second Reading Debate, that legislation would be introduced, after appropriate discussions with the local authorities, dealing with the question of subsidy in respect of houses built by other agencies.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend make one thing clear to me? I understand that the subsidies will be confined to local authorities who are building houses. Can he give any indication as to the extent or manner in which that subsidy will be divided between urban and rural local authorities or, putting it another way, will he give any indication of the number, out of the houses contemplated, which will be erected in rural areas? Although to those in the towns the problem of housing may appear greater than it is in the country, those who are acquainted with conditions in the villages and small towns appreciate that there is a very real need indeed, that some part of the 300,000 houses which are to be built under the provisions of the Bill should be allocated to rural areas, not only to deal with existing needs but so as to enable the industry of agriculture to be carried on and maintained at a high level.

There was a small point that I raised in the Second Reading Debate, which the Parliamentary Secretary was possibly not able to deal with, with regard to an assurance which I understand the right hon. and learned Gentleman gave in the course of his discussions with the local authorities. I appreciate that it is proposed to introduce a Measure at some time in the future, to deal with the question of subsidies in the light of the actual cost of post-war building, and that any subsidy eventually fixed will be retrospective. But I also understand that the Minister gave an assurance about houses commenced at the outbreak of the war but not completed, and I am informed that the subsidy will be available on the completion of such houses in the same way as if they were commenced after the passing of the Bill. I believe local authorities are definitely under the impression that in the case of houses commenced at the outbreak of the war, they will get the same subsidy as houses commenced subsequently to the coming into force of the Bill.

This Clause extends the scope and range of the subsidy but it does not deal in any way with the amount, or indeed the distribution as between the Exchequer and the rates, of any subvention given in respect of local authority houses. I think that, if it is right to postpone the fixing of the amount, it is right also to reserve for the discussion with local authorities which will precede legislation, the further question of the principle of the division, as between the Exchequer and the rates, of any such subvention. It is my intention to leave that point over for discussion at the same time that we discuss the question of amount, which will have to be related to building costs and the level of rents.

With regard to the matter of rural housing, raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller), I cannot at this stage, for obvious reasons, indicate what will be the balance in the first two years as between urban and rural housing, any more than I could indicate the ratio of houses to be built as between bombed areas and other areas. It would be wrong, particularly at this moment, when the housing shortage in London and Southern England is being increased daily, to give any fixed, or even reasonably fixed, proportion of building activity. Of course, in a large measure it is necessary for economic building to use labour where it is available. Building is not economic where it involves direction of labour or anything of that sort from place to place. That my Department and I myself place very great importance on rural housing is, I think, evidenced by the fact that we have had a special Rural Housing Sub-Committee of the Central Housing Advisory Committee, whose report has been made available and with regard to which I have indicated a certain decision. We regard rural housing as being a matter of first-class importance. It has to be tackled not only by means of building new houses but also by other measures which the Committee will have in mind, all of which are under close consideration.

With regard to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), I quite appreciate that there was, perhaps, a certain ambiguity in what I said on the Second Reading in regard to houses already begun but perhaps only just begun. It would obviously be wrong that in proper cases they should not attract subsidy on the new basis. It is our intention, with regard to work approved as part of the building programme in the period we are considering, that the subsidy shall be available in respect of houses completed within the period covered by the Bill.

Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.