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Orders Of The Day

Volume 465: debated on Monday 30 May 1949

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Housing Bill

Order read for consideration, as amended (in the Standing Committee).

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That the Bill be re-committed to a Committee of the whole House in respect of the amendments in Clause 20, page 15, line 45, and Clause 41, page 33, line 2, standing on the Notice Paper in the name of Mr. Bevan."—[Mr. Blenkinsop.]

Amendment made: At end, add:

"and in respect of the new Clause (Insurance Funds) standing on the Notice Paper in the name of Mr. John McKay."—[Mr. John McKay.]

Question, as amended, put and agreed to

Bill immediately considered in Committee.

[Major MILNER in the Chair]

Clause 20—(Amounts And Payment Of Improvement Grants)

3.31 p.m.

I beg to move, in page 15, line 45, at the end, to insert:

Provided that, in the case of an improvement grant to be made in pursuance of an application which could not have been entertained by the local authority but for the proviso to subsection (4) of the last foregoing section, the amount thereof may be such fraction of the approved expense of executing works, in excess of one-half thereof, as may, with the consent of the Minister, be determined as aforesaid.
The Bill already provides in Clause 20 (4) for improvement works with a local authority grant to exceed in certain cases the maximum figure of £600, which is the normal maximum figure in the Bill, provided that the approval of the Minister is given. This provision was included to meet the case of houses of special architectural and historic interest where it was regarded as of special importance that they should be brought up to a proper standard of maintenance and repair, and indeed a proper standard of condition.

Under this proposed proviso provision is made so that the local authority may be able to make a larger grant than 50 per cent. towards the special expenditure for this purpose. It is felt that in many cases it is highly desirable indeed that this work should be carried out in the interests of the nation as a whole, and it is felt only reasonable that the local authority ought in this case to make a grant somewhat in excess of the 50 per cent. which is the normal provision in the Bill.

To give an example of the way in which this would work out a proposal coming before a local authority might cost a total sum of £900. The first £600 of that £900 would be treated under the normal process of the Bill; that is to say, the owner would be expected to make his contribution of £300 and the local authority would make a grant in respect of the remaining £300. In relation to the excess £300, in addition to the total of £600, the local authority would be enabled under this provision to make a grant larger to than 50 per cent. Indeed, they would be enabled, subject to the approval of the Minister, to make a grant up to the total excess £300 which in the case I have instanced would arise. We believe this is a reasonable provision and will help us to ensure that this category of houses of special interest to the nation will be maintained.

We consider that this is a reasonable proposal. For that reason we did not object to the recommital of the Bill. I think it is not unreasonable that the local community also should make some contribution towards the expense, since it derives a considerable advantage from the preservation of historic buildings within its own area.

Could the Parliamentary Secretary say whether the decision of the local authority is absolutely final in a case of this sort? Suppose that an owner thinks that a cottage is of architectural and historic merit. If he applies for a reconditioning grant under this provision, but the local authority take a different view, is there any appeal from the local authority's decision, or is their decision completely final?

No, we must leave it to the local authority to make the decision in the first place. After they have made their decision and have decided to make a grant, it is for the Minister to confirm it.

That leaves a heavy responsibility on the shoulders of local authorities who are not always the most enlightened in these matters. I trust that by circular or otherwise the Minister will indicate to the local authorities that such matters should, at any rate, be discussed with his Department since he is very closely concerned in the later financial arrangements. If he indicated that he is likely to look with a genial eye upon such applications, it would encourage the preservation of such property, which I am sure the whole Committee desires.

As the Committee will know, I have put in the Bill for the first time in the history of housing legislation, these special provisions to try to rescue houses of historic merit from passing out of existence. I should be most unhappy if a local authority was not sufficiently enthusiastic to carry out the provisions of the Bill, and of course we should try to ensure administratively that if the local authority was inclined to be negligent its attention would be called to its duties in the matter.

I only mean that since the recent pronouncement of the President of the Royal Academy, it is clear that conceptions as to beauty and the desirability of preserving certain works may differ greatly among many different people. It may be that what appeals to one generation may not appeal so strongly to another. This is a matter upon which we shall all have to keep a vigilant eye.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 41—(Amendment Of Section 1 Of The Small Dwellings Acquisition Act, 1899)

I beg to move, in page 33, line 2, at the end, to insert:

(2) Paragraph (e) of section twenty-two of the Housing, etc., Act, 1923 (which provides that where an advance is made under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act, 1899, in respect of a house in course of construction, the advance may be made by instalments as the building of the house progresses, so that the total advance does not at any time before the completion of the house exceed fifty per cent. of the value of the work done up to that time), shall have effect with the substitution, for the reference to fifty per cent., of a reference to eighty per cent.
Under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act, local authorities are empowered to make instalment payments of loans which they have agreed while a house is actually being built, so long as the value of those advances shall not at any time exceed 50 per cent. of the value of the work done. My right hon. Friend agreed - in Committee that we should increase this proportion to 80 per cent., and we have now taken the opportunity to do so.

We think it reasonable that this limit should be raised, although it seems to us that at present under Clause 4 there is an unlimited discretion left to the local authority. The Minister is not actually raising the proportion to 80 per cent.; he is lowering it from 100 per cent. However, it leaves the resulting advance at a higher figure than it was previously, and for that reason we approve of it.

I thank the Minister for putting down this Amendment in accordance with the promise he gave in Standing Committee. He will remember that we discussed this matter also in connection with an Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Kendall), which the Minister promised to consider, and I am sorry that he has not been able to cover both Amendments. Could he say something about this?

I am rather sorry that the Minister has not been able to implement his promise. Perhaps he could tell me the reason why. I think we shall find that many local authorities who have already loaned money to joint owners will find themselves in a great deal of difficulty from the legal aspect unless the situation is legalised.

My right hon. Friend considered this matter concerning joint owners very carefully, as indeed he promised to do in Committee. We found that in practice it would mean such a comprehensive amendment of the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act that we could not contemplate it in this Measure. Of course, for the generality of cases there is an opportunity of securing loans under the Housing Act itself—the 1936 Housing Act—so that no hardship to the general cases would arise. Nor do I anticipate that any hardship will arise in the cases mentioned by the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Kendall).

Does that mean that under the Housing Act local authorities can loan money in joint names in any case? Can they do that already?

Will that automatically take care of the money already loaned by the local authorities in joint names?

It will not take care of the cases where money has been borrowed under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act, but, as has been pointed out, I went into this very fully indeed and I came to the conclusion that the alterations in the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act would have to be most comprehensive if we sought to carry out this relief. The point is that it is better for the local authority to lend money under the 1936 Act where the troubles will not arise.

Can it be made known very extensively to local authorities that under the 1936 Act they are able to loan money in the names of husband and wife, or brother and sister, as the case may be, on application?

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause—(Insurance Funds)

(1) A local authority for the purposes of Part V of the principal Act or a county council may (if they think fit) establish a fund to be called "the housing insurance fund" with a view to providing a sum of money which shall be available for making good all such losses damages costs and expenses in relation to houses provided by such authority or council or in respect of which such authority or council has advanced money as may from time to time be specified in a resolution of the council of such local authority or the county council (in this section referred to as "the specified risks").

(2) The establishment of a housing insurance fund under this section shall not prevent the local authority or county council from insuring in one or more insurance offices against the whole or any part of all or any of the specified risks.

(3) In each year after the establishment of the housing insurance fund the local authority or county council shall pay into that fund either—

  • (a) such a sum as shall in their opinion be not less than the aggregate amount of the premiums which would be payable if the local authority or county council fully insured in some insurance office of good repute against the specified risks; or
  • (b) if the local authority or county council insure in some insurance office against the whole or any part of all or any of the specified risks such sum as will together with the premiums paid for the last-mentioned insurance be not less than the aggregate amount aforesaid.
  • (4) When the housing insurance fund shall amount to the prescribed amount (as hereinafter defined) the local authority or county council may if they think fit discontinue the yearly payments to the fund but if the fund is at any time reduced below the prescribed amount the local authority or county council shall recommence and continue the yearly payments to that fund in accordance with subsection (3) of this section until the fund be restored to the prescribed amount.

    (5) The local authority or county council shall provide the yearly payments aforesaid by contributions from the general rate fund or county fund as the case may be.

    (6) ( a) Except so far as the housing insurance fund and the proceeds of sale of securities in which that fund is invested may be necessary to meet losses damages costs and expenses in consequence of the specified risks all moneys for the time being standing to the credit of the fund shall (unless applied in any other manner authorised by any enactment) be invested in statutory securities and the interest and other annual proceeds received by the local authority or county council in respect of such investments shall be carried to the general rate fund or county fund as the case may be;

    ( b) In addition to the sum required to be paid into the housing insurance fund by subsection (3) of this section the local authority or county council shall in every year so long as the fund is less than the prescribed amount carry to the credit of that fund out of the general rate fund or county fund as the case may be an amount equal to the interest and other annual proceeds carried to the general rate fund or county fund as the case may be in pursuance of the last preceding paragraph;

    ( c) If and so long as the housing insurance fund amounts to the prescribed amount the interest and other annual proceeds received by the local authority or county council in respect of or on investments forming part of the insurance fund and carried to the general rate fund or county fund as the case may be appropriated in the accounts of the local authority or county council to the housing department of the local authority or county council.

    (7) ( a) The housing insurance fund shall be applied to meet any losses damages costs or expenses sustained by the local authority or county council in consequence of the whole or any part of all or any of the specified risks in the order of the dates on which such losses damages costs or expenses become ascertained and if at any time and from time to time the insurance fund shall be insufficient to make

    good any such losses damages costs or expenses the local authority or county council may with the sanction of the Minister borrow at interest under and subject to the provisions of Part IX of the Local Government Act 1933 such sums of moneys as will be necessary to make up the deficiency;

    ( b) The amounts of the annual charges in respect of interest on and repayment of principal of any sums borrowed in pursuance of this subsection and the amounts of any such deficiencies as aforesaid not made up by borrowing shall be paid out of the general rate fund or county fund as the case may be.

    (8) In this section the "prescribed amount" means such sum as may from time to time be prescribed by the local authority or county council.—[ Mr. John McKay.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    3.45 p.m.

    I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

    I do not want to trespass too much upon the time of the Committee, but I believe that this Clause raises a question of some importance to the authorities. The Clause provides a good deal of elasticity. The whole question of the specified risks which the authorities undertake, would have to be decided and they would also decide the question of the total accumulated money which the fund should contain when at its full capacity. They will also decide what contribution and what premium will be needed every year.

    In addition, local authorities or county councils would have the option of deciding what prescribed money was necessary to fulfil all the obligations they had in mind. If this Clause were passed the authorities would have three options: first, to contribute the full amount that they think necessary to cover their liabilities; secondly, to continue insuring outside their own funds altogether, if they so wished; and, thirdly, to have a mixed position of insuring part of their liabilities with their own fund and dealing with private companies for the remainder of their liabilities.

    It will be seen that once local authorities are given the power they will have full control and full opportunity to decide in accordance with the needs of their own locality. Each locality, of course, has its varying situation. Some authorities might find it necessary to insure part of their property by means of this fund while others might find that they preferred a mixed method. I cannot see, therefore, that there can be any criticism of the Clause provided we can agree on the principle. The Clause lays down that contributions shall come from the general rate fund or the county fund in order that the new fund may be built up. It also provides that when the money is accumulated it shall be invested in statutory securities and that the interest and other proceeds shall go to the general rate fund or the county fund and shall then be transferred to the housing fund.

    The Clause goes on to deal with the position where, after a time, when the prescribed amount which the local authority considered sufficient to meet their own liabilities has been acquired, the authority may cease contributing. It indicates that in the case of an exceptional position where the authority find, through very unfortunate circumstances, that they cannot meet the liabilities which have fallen upon them, they have power to borrow money with the consent of the Minister. Provision is also made that any other deficiencies can be met by the general rate fund.

    It is not my intention to go into any more details. From our experience at Wallsend we think that this Clause ought to be inserted into the Bill so as to give these authorities the power to deal with the situation in accordance with their local position. There may, of course, be something wrong with the drafting of the Clause, but the chief point which arises is this: is this a necessary step and is it a step which would be useful and helpful to the local authorities? The answer to that question will depend upon the experiences which various representatives have had in their localities.

    I have not attempted to obtain any evidence to substantiate the point, but in Wallsend we find that over a ten-year period we have contributed to the insurance companies four times the amount that we have obtained in respect of liabilities which have arisen. I think that if we investigated the position over many of the local bodies doing this kind of thing—and, as far as I can gather, there are various methods of dealing with the point—we shall find that there is a tremendous gap between the contributions which have to be paid and what is received to meet the liabilities. Our experience at Wallsend suggests that from a business point of view, it would be far better if the authorities had the power to set up a fund of this character in order to deal with their own liabilities.

    If the Minister cannot agree at the moment to accept this Clause as it is drafted, we should be very pleased if he would indicate that he would consider the position later. We seek largely to ventilate the point more than to do anything else and to find out what is the Minister's view on this matter; and, also, if possible, to obtain some of the local experiences of other representatives. If we can have some discussion of the matter and some indication from the Minister that he realises that this is important and worthy of consideration, and an assurance that he will take the matter into consideration in the near future after getting some evidence about it, we shall really have attained the end that we seek.

    I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend for putting his case in such lucid and moderate terms. If I had thought there was very much substance in the complaint that was made, I should have considered the matter earlier, but I cannot think that the local authorities in this regard are indeed suffering any serious disabilities. There is no obligation upon the local authority to insure at all. I should have thought that a local authority that had a substantial number of houses, most of which were semidetached, could properly have carried the onus. A very large number of authorities, in fact, do.

    I see no reason why a local authority over a period of years should continue to pay premiums to insurance companies in excess of any reasonable risk it itself has incurred. In the event of damage to one of its houses, it can of course, carry that on the repairs account and should make provision for it in the repairs account. If the house is a total loss, that is a risk the local authority runs. I should have thought myself that that was a risk a local authority could quite prudently run, and that therefore there was no need for the local authority to run a residual risk. To have a separate account for the loss of houses seems unreasonably complicated, because in the overwhelming number of cases the local authorities could meet the cost of rebuilding houses out of their ordinary annual funds.

    Therefore, my reply to my hon. Friend is that if I thought there was a substantial case I should certainly look at it sympathetically, but my own view is that the local authorities themselves can quite easily face the risk and ought not to be encouraged to evolve novel means of dealing with it. In any case, I am sorry to say that I could not accept the new Clause in its present form because it is not technically correct. I hope that with this explanation, my hon. Friend will not find it necessary to push the matter any farther.

    Motion, and Clause, by leave, with-drawn.

    Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee and on recommittal), considered.

    New Clause—(Provisions As To Further Improvement Grants)

    (1) No assistance shall be given under section nineteen of this Act in respect of the provision of dwellings by means of the conversion of dwellings in relation to which the conditions specified in subsection (1) of section twenty-two of this Act for the time being apply.

    (2) Where by virtue of the giving on any occasion of assistance under section nineteen of this Act in respect of the improvement of a dwelling the conditions specified in subsection (1) of section twenty-two of this Act fall to be required to be observed with respect to the dwelling before the observance thereof by virtue of the giving of assistance on a previous occasion has ceased to be requisite, the provisions of sections twenty-two and twenty-three of this Act and of subsection (4) of section twenty-four thereof shall apply in relation to the dwelling as regards each occasion on which assistance is so given as if it were the only occasion on which it were so given:

    Provided that in relation to any period during which the said conditions are simultaneously required to be observed by virtue of the giving of assistance on more than one occasion, anything which would or would not constitute a breach of the condition as to rent in relation to the application of that condition by virtue of the giving of assistance on the last occasion shall be treated as constituting or, as the case may be, not constituting a breach of that condition in relation to the application thereof by virtue of the giving of assistance on any previous occasion.—[ Mr. Blenkinsop.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

    This new Clause deals with the problem of second application for grant under the Bill, in a way rather similar to the way in which in Committee we added a new Clause where the initial grant had been made under the Rural Workers (Housing) Acts. Where a grant has already been made by the local authority under Clause 19 (3, a), the local authority has to satisfy itself that the dwelling is to be provided or improved up to a satisfactory standard of housing accommodation for not less than 30 years after the completion of the works. We therefore feel that, while it may be desirable for further improvement work to be done to connect up with a source of water supply that has just become available, or an electricity supply, or something of that sort, there is no proper reason why we should accept or consider a second grant for conversion purposes. Therefore, the first part of this new Clause lays it down that so far as conversion is concerned the local authority will not consider an application for a second grant.

    The second part of the new Clause makes the necessary provision where a local authority is considering an application for a second grant in relation to improvements of the kind I have just referred to, and will enable the owner to charge an appropriate increase in rent in relation to that part of the expenses that he has himself incurred, which would be of course the same as in relation to his initial grant. We also provide in this Clause that there shall be proper marrying of the conditions which apply to the improvement grants, if made.

    We think that it would be to the advantage of the legislation if this Clause were added. We are, of course, getting into almost theological complication in consideration of this matter. I am reminded of the old lady in my own country who, going into a small bank to inquire about her War Loan, was asked by the manager whether she was concerned with conversion or redemption, to which her answer was that she thought she had come into a bank and not into a kirk. The real danger is of making this legislation so complicated that those to whom we primarily desire its advantages to be directed, namely, the small owners, may find it very difficult to understand; and all one can say is that, while we are in favour of this, we trust that it will be possible somehow or another, at some stage of our housing legislation, to codify these matters so that ordinary persons will be able both to run and read it. At present we do not think the Minister can alter the rather cumbrous forms into which these Clauses are now falling, and, therefore, we would not offer any opposition to the adding of this new Clause.

    Question put, and agreed to.

    Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause—(Power To Increase Rent Fixed Under Part Ii In Certain Cases)

    If, in the case of a dwelling in respect of the provision or improvement of which assistance has been given under section nineteen of this Act, being a dwelling to which works (other than works for the purposes of the execution of which assistance has been so given) have been executed at a time when the conditions specified in subsection (1) of section twenty-two of this Act are required to be observed with respect to the dwelling, an application in that behalf is made to the local authority, they may direct that the maximum amount of the rent payable by the occupier of the dwelling shall be increased by such amount as may be specified in the direction, not exceeding an amount calculated at a rate per annum of eight per cent. of the cost of executing the works; and where such a direction is given—

  • (a) references in paragraphs (b) and (c) of that subsection to the amount which the rent payable by the occupier of the dwelling is not to exceed shall, as respects any period after the giving of the direction and before the direction is superseded by a further direction under this section or by the application of the said conditions by virtue of the giving of further assistance under the said section nineteen, be construed in relation to the dwelling, for the purposes of this Part of this Act and, where subsection (2) of section twenty-six applies, for the purposes of the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts, 1926 to 1942, as references to that amount as increased under this section; and
  • (b) it shall be the duty of the proper officer of the local authority to record particulars of the direction in the register of the local land charges.—[Mr. Blenkinsop.]
  • Brought up, and read the First time.

    I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

    This new Clause is to deal with the case where a dwelling has been improved or provided with the aid of an improvement grant made under this Bill, and the conditions attached to such a grant are still operative and further works are carried out by the owner at his own expense. In such a case we think it is only right that the owner should be allowed to charge up to 8 per cent. on the cost that he has had to incur in addition to the rent, which otherwise would be restricted under the terms of the Bill. In this case the owner would have to make application to the local authority, which would, in turn, give a direction to the effect that the owner would be allowed to make such an increase up to a maximum of 8 per cent. on the additional cost of works he had undertaken.

    4.0 p.m.

    Again we make no objection to the inclusion of this Clause, although when one considers how many times we have impressed on the Minister the desirability in some cases, under some circumstances, of a modest increase in rent being made and how the Minister has in all cases resisted any suggestion of the kind, fiercely and, indeed, contentiously, we are surprised, to find that in this case, at any rate, he is willing to waive his principle in favour of an expediency. We are glad to see that is so.

    I cannot permit that one to pass. I am afraid that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has not recalled the circumstances in which I agreed upstairs to do this. The case here is that a cottage which is a rent-controlled cottage and, therefore, one to which the landlord can at the moment make improvement and charge 8 per cent., will be subject to the improvement grant conditions. The work is carried out and 6 per cent. of the cost that falls to the landlord of the improvement is charged. The question then arises as to whether that cottage is to be in a different category from all other rent-controlled cottages, because in the case of all other rent-controlled cottages the owner would be able to make an improvement and charge 8 per cent. on the rent. I came to the conclusion that it would be foolish for this category of cottage to be permanently in the position of not being improved at all, except entirely at the expense of the owner, and, therefore, the cottage can be restored to the same class that it occupied before the improvement grant was made upon it. So it is not in fact an agreement to allow an increase of rent in this case as distinct from all others; it is a restoration of the cottage to the normal category of cottages to which improvement can be made by the landlord and 8 per cent. Charged.

    Is this extra expenditure included in the total of the grant—both the contribution and what the owner himself has put up?

    No. I thought that I had made the position quite clear. The improvement grant has been made on a cottage. A year or so lapses, and the owner of the cottage wishes to make a further improvement. Unless this Clause were put in the Bill, he would have to meet the whole of the expense himself, whereas his neighbour could improve his cottage and charge the tenant 8 per cent. I want to put the two owners in the same position, and that is all that the Clause does.

    Question put, and agreed to.

    Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause—(Power To Increase Rent Fixed Under Housing (Rural Workers) Acts In Certain Cases)

    If, in the case of a dwelling in respect of which assistance has been given under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, 1926, by way of grant, being a dwelling to which works (other than works in respect of which assistance has been given under that Act by way of grant, or under section nineteen of this Act) have been executed at a time when conditions contained in the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts, 1926 to 1942, apply in relation to the dwelling, an application in that behalf is made to the local authority by whom the grant was made, they may direct that the maximum amount of the rent payable by the occupier in respect of the dwelling shall be increased by such amount as may be specified in the direction, not exceeding an amount calculated at a rate per annum of eight per cent. of the cost of executing the works; and where such a direction is given—

  • (a) the reference in that one of the following provisions which is applicable to the dwelling, namely, paragraph (b) of subsection (1) of section three of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, 1926, and section six of the Housing (Rural Workers) Amendment Act, 1938, to the amount which the rent payable by the occupier in respect of the dwelling is not to exceed shall, as respects any period after the giving of the direction and before the direction is superseded by a further direction under this section, be construed in relation to the dwelling as a reference to that amount as increased under this section; and
  • (b) it shall be the duty of the proper officer of the local authority to record particulars of the direction in the register of local land charges.—[Mr. Blenkinsop.]
  • Brought up, and read the First time.

    I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

    This new Clause is to deal with an exactly parallel case to the last but where the initial grant has been made under the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts and where the owner undertakes further work. Here again, provisions are made to enable the owner, subject to the approval of the local authorities, to raise the rent up to 8 per cent. of his expenses.

    Again we welcome this new Clause. Of course, the Minister's contention on the previous Clause that it would be most unjust that two categories of owners should not be placed in an identical position, was in fact one of the arguments we brought forward on more than one occasion with singularly little success. It is a good thing that "while the light holds out to burn, the vilest sinner may return." As long as this little candle of equality which the Minister owns may be kept alight, there is no saying to what distance it may throw its beams. Today the Minister has lighted a candle which may not readily be put out, and we welcome this new Clause very sincerely.

    Question put, and agreed to.

    Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause—(Revival Of Power To Make Byelaws As To Number Of Persons Permitted To Occupy Working-Class Houses)

    Paragraph ( a) of subsection (1) of section six of the principal Act (which included amongst the purposes for which byelaws with respect to working-class houses may be made under that subsection the fixing of the number of persons who may occupy such a house and the separation of the sexes therein, and which ceased to have effect as from the appointed day within the meaning of Part IV of that Act) shall again have effect, but the operation of byelaws made for the purposes specified in that paragraph shall be limited to houses let as lodgings or occupied by members of more than one family.—[ Mr. Blenkinsop.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

    The local authorities had powers under the 1925 Housing Act to make by-laws with regard to the number of persons living in houses let as lodgings or occupied by members of more than one family. This power was extended to separate dwellings by the 1935 Housing Act. The overcrowding provisions of the 1935 and 1936 Acts were regarded as superseding this particular by-law on the operative date when the overcrowding provisions of these Acts came into operation, and the by-law ceased to be effective. Certain local authorities have represented to us that they would find this by-law valuable at this time in view of the number of houses taken over and used as hostels with, in some cases, severe overcrowding. We therefore restore in this new Clause the power to make by-laws.

    Whenever there is a dance to be executed in a white sheet, the Parliamentary Secretary comes forward gracefully and does it. I can compliment him on the grace and vigour with which the exercise has been conducted upon this occasion. It is, of course, an example of the difficulty in which the Government find themselves owing to the lack of housing accommodation. They are not able to maintain the beneficial provisions incorporated during the 20 years of so-called Tory misrule and acted upon during that time, when the overcrowding figure was very rapidly coming into operation all over the country. This is no longer possible, and the Minister is, very rightly, taking power to grant to local authorities the limited and local power to allow a greater degree of overcrowding than that which they previously had. The difficulty in which we are placed is clearly all the greater when the figure which was then suggested as an overcrowding figure was one which everyone agreed was higher than any of us could wish. While it may be necessary to include this new Clause in the Bill, it is an action which I think the House as a whole must deplore.

    Question put, and agreed to.

    Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause—(Development Charges)

    For the purposes of Part 11 of this Act any development charge payable under the Town and Country Planning Act. 1947, in respect of

    approved improvement works, shall be treated as expense incurred in the execution of those works.—[ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

    The purpose of this new Clause is to inquire of the Minister whether he is now able to make a statement upon this subject. The question of development charges was raised in the concluding stages of our Debates on the Bill in Committee. It was clear that a point of some importance had arisen. The Minister then undertook to look into the question and, if possible, to make a statement. I move this new Clause with the object of obtaining from the Minister, if he is able to make it, the statement which he then thought he would be able to make.

    I am happy to say that I am now in a position to make to the House the statement which, as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said, I promised when the matter was discussed in Committee. If hon. Members will cast their minds back, they will recall that this was an extremely complicated matter, as indeed are all these questions of deciding where a development charge alights; It must be borne in mind that here we are dealing with a type of property which has, in fact, attracted a grant from public funds on certain very restricted conditions. These restricted conditions have the effect of keeping down the value of the property to the owner of the property, because, under the terms of the Bill, the rent is fixed where a cottage will be let for the first time and when it is a rented cottage at the present time the addition to the rent is limited by the conditions of the grant. Therefore, it cannot logically be said that a development grant ought to be paid by an owner who has not in fact obtained from the development any addition to the value of his property.

    For those reasons, I am informed, it is highly improbable that a development charge would ever alight; certainly it could not alight if the capacity had not been increased by more than 10 per cent. Even if that be the case, steps will be taken by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning to exempt this class of property from the payment of a development charge. I think that is the assurance Members of the Standing Committee desired me to give, and I am now very happy to be able to give it.

    I should like to say a word or two on what the Minister has said, and on the liability to a development charge of cottages or houses improved under an improvement grant. Perhaps it is right to say that, quite apart from the express exemptions that the Minister of Town and Country Planning may see fit to make by way of regulation, it is, at any rate in my view, very improbable that such work would in any event attract the liability to a development charge. If the House will bear with me for a moment, I should like to say what I think the position will be, because this may be a matter of some interest to those who are seeking to take advantage of these provisions when this Bill becomes law.

    In the first place, it might well be that these operations would not require an application for planning permission at all; and, as the House will appreciate, if there is no requirement for a planning permission there can be no liability to a development charge. I think it likely that the bulk of these operations would come outside the liability to planning permission, on account of the provisions of Section 12 (2, a) of the Town and Country Planning Act. Even if they do not come within that exemption, they will almost certainly come within the exemption from development charge specified in paragraph 3 of the Third Schedule to that Act. Therefore, in at any rate the vast majority of these cases there can, I think, be little reason for anybody seeking to carry out these works as a result of an improvement grant to have any perturbation as to their position in regard to a development charge. Those few who may be concerned in spite of this will be reassured by what the Minister has now said.

    I can only speak again with the leave of the House. I am glad that the Minister has found himself able to make this declaration, although, having been a Minister, I have always a slight uneasiness about declarations made by Ministers indicating that another Minister will do something; the other Minister does not always take the same view, and when I hear that steps will be taken by the Minister of Town and Country Planning to ensure the results which the Minister of Health seeks to bring about, I trust that it will be possible, at any rate in another place, to indicate the kind of steps which the Minister has in mind. It may be that this case will not arise; and in some cases, of course, the amount will be small and will not attract the attention of the Minister of Town and Country Planning. But, as we have already seen, even from the Clauses we have been discussing this afternoon, there may be cases in which the improvement is considerable, and where, although the return is limited, it might yet well be held that a substantial advantage was accruing to the owner of the property.

    The difficulty I see is that, like everything else that has been done over the Town and Country Planning Act charges, this will have repercussions upon other properties and in other conditions, which I do not think we can foresee at this moment. If it is to be held that no property is to be liable to a development charge, if the development is hedged about by restrictions which forbid an increased return to be derived from the property, then a new set of circumstances may apply in cases where previously it has been thought that a development charge might be attracted by alterations in the capital value of the property. At any rate, I am sure that cannot be entirely ruled out.

    While I welcome this declaration on this occasion, I think it does prove the increasing difficulty into which the development of property is being plunged by the operation of the Town and Country Planning Act and the necessity which will arise for still further declarations to be made by the Minister of Town and Country Planning, and it may well lead to requests for sanction to some of those arrangements from the House. I cannot feel that in every case he will be able merely by administrative action to obviate the difficulties which are arising on every hand. Today, however, an action has been taken which removes this property from the purview of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, for which the whole House, and we on this side especially, are grateful.

    4.15 p.m.

    As I raised this matter in Committee, perhaps I might be permitted to say a few words. First, I am very glad that the Minister has been able to make this announcement. I think he has saved himself what might have been a very considerable difficulty, in that in those cases where a development charge might have been attracted the purpose of this Bill might have been thwarted. On the assurance the Minister has given us, that is not likely to happen. But I do not think that the Minister of Town and Country Planning has made his own task very much easier, because it is quite clear that in these cases there will be exceptions to what has been a general rule, and once one starts privilege, so to speak, amongst certain types of property, I think that the Minister of Town and Country Planning will find that his already complicated Act will become even more complicated. Nevertheless, as far as the Minister of Health is concerned, I can only congratulate him on having saved himself what might have been a great difficulty.

    With the permission of the House, I want to make it quite clear, in the first place, that I have already consulted my right hon. Friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning on this matter. I did not quite like the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's inference—it was almost an inference—that on this matter I was giving the House of Commons an assurance not on behalf of the Government as a whole. It is on behalf of the Government as a whole; the Minister of Town and Country Planning has already had his attention called to the matter, and has agreed to act in the way I have suggested. In order that I might protect my right hon. Friend from having this regarded as a precedent, I should like to reiterate the grounds upon which this statement is made. The grounds upon which it is made are that, in fact, this type of property ought not to pay a development charge because the conditions under which the grant is made preclude the owner from having an increment of value in his property.

    Any increment whatsoever, because as I have already explained—I do not want to repeat myself and I do so only in order that there shall be no misunderstanding of the grounds upon which this property is to be exempted—the owner of the property cannot have an improvement grant without first of all agreeing that the money value of his property shall not be increased. That is the ground upon which the exemption will be given.

    Perhaps I might speak again with the leave of the House. The money value of his property shall not be increased during the period over which the restricted covenant runs.

    That is quite true, but it has been contended, and it will be of interest in other connections, that the residual value might remain, which would inure to the benefit of the landlord, and it was on that ground that some Members opposite strongly urged the refusal of grants in certain cases. I only rise to say that this means that when the period has run out, the residual value may inure to the property owner. It is true that, technically speaking, the 20-year period of accountancy exhausts that right, but the Minister will agree that there are many cases, especially buildings of historic interest, where the value is not exhausted in that period. I am glad that in this case the Minister is waiving that; it does bring in a class of property where certain residual values will inure to the property owners after the expiry of the restrictive covenant.

    As the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has asked twice to speak again by leave of the House, I might point out that as the Bill comes from a Committee upstairs, the Mover of an Amendment can speak more than once without the leave of the House.

    Question put, and negatived.

    Clause 1—(Removal Of References To The Working Classes From Certain Provisions Of The Housing Act, 1936)

    I beg to move, in page 2, line 30, at the end, to insert:

    (d) remove the limitation confining to houses for the working classes the class of houses for the purposes of the construction, improvement or purchase of which money may be lent by the Public Works Loan Commissioners under section ninety-two of the principal Act.
    As the position stands, the Public Works Loan Board, under Section 92 of the Housing Act, 1936, has power to make direct loans to certain bodies and persons for the construction, improvement, or purchase of houses for the working classes. This Amendment is to carry out the promise my right hon. Friend made to extend the powers of the Board to enable them to make direct loans for general housing.

    We think that this Amendment is a reasonable one and do not therefore propose to offer any objections.

    As I see it, this Amendment is consistent with the provisions of the Bill, which in the first instance raises the amount from £1,500 to £5,000 and therefore brings within its orbit houses that cannot be classed as working-class. The point I wish to put is this. If the Public Works Loan Commissioners are to be able to lend money over an increased range to private individuals, it occurs to me that this position may arise. The Loan Commissioners lend money at the rate of 3 per cent. to local authorities who then lend the money out to the prospective house owner at the rate of 3¼ per cent., charging only ¼ per cent. for administration. What safeguard is there, where money is advanced to private individuals, or to a company, or to a finance house, that the persons concerned do not lend the money above 3¼ per cent.? It might well be the case that the Loan Commissioners may be lending money to a bank or finance corporation who in their turn may be lending the money to people desiring to buy their houses, not at 3¼ per cent. but at 4 per cent., which is the amount charged by building societies or banks.

    This does' not affect the principle of the law as it stands. All this does is to extend the range of property upon which the Public Works Loan Board can lend money. The dangers that my hon. Friend apprehends have existed—if at all—so long as the powers exist. There is no difference in degree but only in range. I doubt whether statutorily the Public Works Loan Board can lend money to some one who can then in their turn lend it. I think they have to lend it to the ultimate recipient.

    When the right hon. Gentleman says that he is extending the range, I take it that he is extending the limit of £1,500; otherwise it is a very tight limit indeed if the amount is still £1,500. I should have hoped that along with this extension he would have been able to raise the figure to that which he has used in the Bill, namely, £5,000. I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman will look into that?

    There appears to be some doubt on the question I put. Will my right hon. Friend therefore look into it between now and the remaining stages of the Bill?

    Certainly I will look at it, but I should be surprised to find that what my hon. Friend apprehends is statutorily possible.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Clause 2—(Quashing Of Certain Demolition Orders)

    I beg to move, in page 3, line 5, to leave out "are satisfied," and to insert:

    "within a period of two years from the commencement of this Act certify."
    As the new Clause dealing with the quashing of certain demolition orders has not been called we are thrown back on this Amendment to try to make this Clause of some use in bringing back some of the condemned cottages to a state of occupancy. Under the Clause, a condemned house can be reprieved if the work can be carried out within 12 months. As I know two rural district councils which have been trying for two or three years to get a licence to erect cottages, it will be appreciated that this Clause will be of no value at all to an owner. We are endeavouring by this Amendment to extend the period to two years from the passing of the Act for the completion of the work.

    We feel that in these days of housing shortages it is essential to explore every avenue to try to reduce the queues. In our experience, and I am speaking more of the country than of the towns, there has been no standard of condemnation. It has merely been left to the whims of the sanitary inspector with little architectural knowledge, to decide whether a house should be condemned. We think that if some of these houses could be reprieved, it would be of considerable help. I know of many houses which have been condemned because the roof wanted raising or because there was no damp course.

    These houses could be made habitable especially for old age pensioners and people with limited incomes, where the alternative is to pay £1 or 30s. rent which they cannot possibly afford. The rents of these new houses are being increased so much that many people waiting for them are withdrawing their names because they cannot afford to pay the rents. Last week in my constituency a rural district council which is building new cottages suggested that their rents would be 31s. 6d. per week. The result was that eight applicants wrote protesting against the proposed rents, while two withdrew their names.

    4.30 p.m.

    Would the hon. Member like to inform the House which local authority has stated that the rents might be 31s. 6d. a week?

    The Leominster Rural District Council in Herefordshire. I have taken this figure from the local newspaper, and I have no reason to believe that it is not correct.

    I do not vouch for anything in a newspaper, though I have reason to believe that the statement is true. However, whether the rent is 25s, a week or 31s. 6d. my argument remains. If an opportunity can be given to people, especially old people, to live in small houses which can be put into a reasonably good condition that opportunity should be given. There is no desire on this side of the house to have sub-standard houses, but we know that there are houses which, with the expenditure of a reasonable sum of money, can be made fit for human habitation. If that were done there would be a bigger queue waiting for them than there is for some of the new houses which are to be let at high rents.

    I beg to second the Amendment.

    I was not on the Committee upstairs, but I have read the Debate on this issue very carefully and I cannot help feeling that when the Minister said what he did say in Committee he was rather belittling the case. I do not wish to fall into the same fault in the opposite direction by exaggerating; I do not think that anyone on this side of the House who is supporting the Amendment, is doing so as an excuse for lower standards of housing. One of the arguments used by the right hon. Gentleman upstairs was that he had been unwilling to put the Clause into the Bill at all because he feared that it might be used as an excuse for low standard housing. He also expressed the fear that if he allowed any latitude in the matter of demolition orders, he would be opening the door to a demand for a complete reconsideration and revision of the whole system, to which he would take the strongest possible objection.

    I believe that in this Amendment we can meet both these fears. First, it is clear that the approval of the local authority is essential because the local authority themselves will put forward a claim to the court for freedom, so that if the Clause were amended as we suggest, it could not possibly be used to lower standards to a degree which none of us desires. Second, there is a time limit of two years. It may or may not be the case that it is easy to get work done in some parts of the country, but where I live I do not think anyone would guarantee that the sort of work which is contemplated here—very considerable adjustments—could assuredly be done within 12 months.

    Let us consider what steps have to be taken before the stage is reached where the local authority can go to the court. First, the owner has to have the house carefully examined, and plans and specifications drawn up. The cost has to be estimated and then the plans, specifications and estimate have to be submitted to the local authority. Not only that, but, if the owner is wise, under the procedure set out in the Clause, he will not only submit but will also consult with the local authority as to exactly how the work should be done, and whether the work, if it is done, will be sufficient and of such a nature as will enable the local authority to go to the court if they themselves have been satisfied that the house is being improved to the necessary standards.

    Then the actual work has to be carried out. There may be considerable discussion between the owner and the local authority. The local authority may argue that one form of alteration is satisfactory to them and in turn, the owner may argue that another form of alteration is not only more satisfactory but cheaper. I am not suggesting that they will get into a long-drawn argument and dispute merely for the fun of doing it, but both must be satisfied that not more than a certain amount of money is to be spent.

    When it comes to making alterations to an existing house that is not a very easy matter to decide. Alterations are not done quickly or easily. It is not the sort of job to which a large number of men can be put at the same time. Then we come to the final approval of the local authority which may say, when the work is completed, "If you do a little more we would be only too ready to go to the court and apply for the demolition order to be quashed." That may result in further discussion and further delay as a result of more work having to be carried out. All that would have to be done within 12 months.

    There is another matter which can arise. When the local authority have satisfied themselves, they have then to frame their case in such a way as to satisfy the court. The court will not merely be satisfied by the local authority saying, "The work has been carried out in accordance with our orders and to our approval." There may also be another set of circumstances which may be embarrassing. There is the question as to whether the owner of the house will be entitled to a grant for the work which has been done. When the work which is being done has been done, and the local authority have gone to the court and the court have quashed the demolition order, there must be discussion between the owner and the local authority.

    The Minister said he did not think that any of these houses would attract grant. I do not know whether he was right or not, but I cannot find anything in the Bill which rules them out. I am assuming that they will attract grant if the work is carried out to the satisfaction of the local authority and the demolition order is quashed. How much will qualify for grant is a matter which will have to be discussed with the local authority before the work is started. Under Clause 19 if any question of improvement grant arises at all the local authority has to consider the plans from that aspect, and not from whether the house is capable of being occupied when work has been done to it. This Clause as it stands even with the Amendment leaves a serious matter for the owner to decide. If there is no interim quashing of the order, the owner would have to be given fair time to consider whether he is prepared to take the risk involved in such work. He would be in a precarious position. If that doubt were removed from his mind, he will take less time to consider it. Therefore, we will have to allow him time to consider it when there is not an interim order to prevent the local authority demolishing the house. For all these reasons the Amendment is necessary.

    Finally, I should like to say that in one local authority in my division I find that there are some 34 houses which in the eyes of that local authority are capable of reconditioning up to the standard which we should all like to see. Of those 34 houses, 30 are in occupation, and on 18 the local authority themselves have already spent money. That money was obviously spent during the war when they had to be requisitioned, and when houses had to be found for people sent in to the district under the evacuation scheme. It is not such a fiddling little matter as the Minister would have had the Committee believe upstairs. It is quite a considerable matter.

    But did the local authority concerned serve a demolition order with respect to the houses the hon. Gentleman has mentioned?

    Of course, they did. I am talking about houses which are subject to demolition orders, and if the hon. Gentleman has not heard that he has not been listening to what I have been saying. That is the whole object of this Clause.

    Were the local authority satisfied that those houses could not be made fit for human habitation at reasonable expense?

    The hon. Member knows the answer to that point perfectly well. At the time when those demolition orders were made, the local authority felt absolutely justified in saying that within a reasonable expense the houses could not be brought into a habitable condition.

    These were all pre-war demolition orders. Now when housing costs are so much higher and a greater expenditure is economically possible than it was at the time when the demolition orders were made, reconsideration should be allowed because this sort of case is common up and down the country. Out of those 34 houses which are capable of being made decent and habitable, 12 have had work done by the rural district council, and they come under the heading of "Houses taken over for the purposes of emergency housing." They still continue to be occupied. A further four are vacant. This is in only one rural district. It may well be on reconsideration that the Minister may cut the 34 to 17. I do not mind if he does cut them, but it is a considerable number for one rural district. This is by no means a small matter. Under the present economic situation, all sorts of things can be done by reconstruction more cheaply compared to the building costs of new houses than was the case when the demolition order was made.

    Another reason why I would urge the Minister to be careful before he rejects this Amendment is that, upstairs in Committee, he said it was not his purpose or aim to salvage that kind of cottage. I would ask him to reconsider that very wide and sweeping statement, because in these days one of his acutest problems is the salvage of timber. I would draw his attention to the fact that one of the great advantages of reconditioning cottages at the present time is the immense saving in the use of timber. If he wants to use every ounce of new timber for new houses, I would ask him, when considering this, to allow this additional time, so that all possible houses which are under a demolition order can be examined to see whether they can be brought up to the standard which we all want to see. If that is properly done, I claim that 12 months is not long enough.

    4.45 p.m.

    Perhaps the House will not mind me making a statement at this moment, because as I have already informed the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) I shall be compelled to leave the House for a little while at 5 o'clock. The arguments to which I have just listened, and some of the arguments I have seen in the Press upon this matter, are a lesson to Ministers to make no concessions at all in matters of this sort. This particular part of the Bill arose as a result of a reflection of mine that it might have happened—and indeed on inquiries I find it did happen—that owing to the acute housing shortage and the impossibility of looking forward to any increased accommodation during the war, some owners of condemned houses had, in fact, spent money upon them. Indeed, where it had been possible to do it, substantial sums were spent and the houses were brought up to habitable condition. Nevertheless, under the law, they stood condemned, and unless they were rescued by an Amendment they would be demolished.

    It occurred to me that it would be a foolish thing to allow a perfectly good house to be pulled to the ground because no steps had been taken to shift its legal qualification. It is not intended to reprieve condemned houses. The Opposition have got it all wrong. It is not intended to give the owners of condemned houses a second opportunity to have demolition orders revised or re-examined.

    We agree that it is not the intention, but what is there in the Clause to prevent its being done by a reactionary council?

    I am going to show how it is impossible for it to be done. Within a year of the passing of the Act the owner of a cottage must go to the local authority and say, "I have improved that house." Obviously where no work had been done on the house before, it would be clear to the local authority that the house, which was condemned before the war and had had nothing at all spent on it in the meantime, must be in a deplorable condition. Consequently, very substantial sums indeed would have to be spent upon it in order to cause the local authority to change its ground. I agree with hon. Members opposite that there will not be many instances where cottages will be worked upon in the year after the passing of this Bill. That is the answer to my hon. Friend. No owner will spend large sums of money after the passage of the Bill on the off-chance of a local authority agreeing to get rid of a demolition order.

    May I point out that paragraph (a) appears to exclude from the provisions of the Clause the unoccupied house in respect of which an order has been made? I can see nothing in paragraph (b) which prevents the local authority from giving their decision after the work has been done, if the application has been made within 12 months and before that work has been done.

    There is nothing at all. The law applying to demolition orders has not been altered. All that we are saying is that where a house is subject to a demolition order, then, within 12 months after the passing of the Bill it is possible for the owner to appeal to the local authority to reverse their decision. All I can say is that the local authority are not going to give their decision before the work is done. The work has either been done before, in which case it is possible for the local authority to make up their minds, or the work will have to be done. The local sanitary inspector may say to the owner: "In my view, speaking privately, if all this is done, the house will be all right," but the local authority are not going to enter into a contract with the owner of a property and say: "If this work is done it will be all right." The owner has either done the work, or he will have to undertake the work blindly. I want him to do it in that way. I will explain why.

    I want to disabuse the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite of one particular idea. This work will not be the subject of grant. No grant is payable upon a house which is subject to a demolition order, no matter what is done to it. We are not here speaking about public funds being paid out to reprieve condemned houses. The owner will have to spend upon his house a very substantial sum of money after the passage of 11 years in order to satisfy the local authorities that a demolition order ought not to be made good.

    Is the right hon. Gentleman forgetting the case of which I have just told him, where the houses have been in the hands of the local authority throughout the war after demolition orders had been made against them and where just sufficient work of a temporary nature has been done on them to keep them habitable? He appears to be forgetting that case when he says that the houses have been uninhabitable all these years.

    I did not say that they had all been uninhabited. I said that they were subject to demolition orders, although they may have been inhabited in the meantime because there was nowhere else for people to go. The main purpose of the relief is not that owners of condemned houses may rush desperately to get the work done upon them in order that the houses may be reprieved but in order substantially to assist those who have already done work upon their cottages and where some small amount of additional work will be necessary to get the demolition orders abolished.

    My right hon. Friend has just said, repeating what he said in Committee, that houses of this nature, the subject of demolition orders, do not attract grant. We looked for it in the Committee stage, and I have been looking for it since, but I cannot find the place in the Bill where that is expressly stated.

    The answer is in the conditions attached to the giving of the grant. Local authorities will have to approve schemes beforehand. They cannot approve them retrospectively. They cannot say: "We are very glad to see that you have spent £600 upon your house. Here is £300.". The local authority have to approve improvement schemes before the grant is paid. We are dealing here with schemes to which the local authority would not give prior approval.

    I want to give a substantial reason why I do not want these houses to be reprieved too much if hardly any work has been done upon them. They are in the class of houses upon which a very great deal of labour and material would have to be spent instead of being far better spent upon the improvement of houses which are not the subject of demolition orders or upon the building of new houses. It is not true to say that, if we did what the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) wants us to do—as he has said elsewhere—this is a way of getting additional accommodation in the countryside. I say that it is a way of getting less accommodation. It is a way of spending a very large amount of labour and material upon property to the neglect of other properties that could quite easily be redeemed if that were done, and to the neglect of new building. I hope that hon. Members will realise that this opening of the demolition order procedure is exceedingly dangerous. I did it with the utmost reluctance: I will not yield any more on this matter. We have gone as far as we reasonably can be expected to go. I am sure that if the House opened this gate any wider they would have protests from all the local authorities of Britain.

    I am sorry that the Minister has rejected the Amendment in those terms. I do not think he quite understands the scope of the problem. The 12 months time-limit laid down in the Bill is causing widespread concern to many rural district councils. There are various reasons why it will be impossible in many cases, with the best will in the world, to complete the work within 12 months. The Minister has named two of the reasons. One is that in many cases considerable sums of money will have to be spent upon putting the houses now subject to demolition orders into decent repair, and it will mean going through all the paraphernalia of applying for licences for work over £100.

    The hon. Member must take also the other point which I made, that this is not the first class of houses upon which these powers ought to be used. There are other classes of cottage in the countryside that ought not to be neglected in order that these that are trembling on the edge of the grave should be plucked back.

    I was trying to explain to the right hon. Gentleman why the limitation of 12 months is no good. It will be physically impossible to get the work done within that time, because of the difficulties in getting licences and permits through in time to complete the work. The second reason is that many cottages which have been the subject of demolition orders are still occupied. With the best will in the world, how can an owner who may wish to put into good repair a house subject to a demolition order be able to do so until he can find alternative accommodation for the individuals who occupy the property? That straightaway knocks out the 12 months time-limit.

    I have a letter here from the Rural District Councils Association who say straight out, that demolition orders were made in a number of cases by local authorities at a time when property owners were not in a position to carry out the necessary repairs, namely, during the war. Now the owners are able to do so, but because of the 12 months limit it will be totally impracticable for them to do so, for the reasons that have been given from these benches. It is very short-sighted of the Government to refuse to extend the time limit. They are deliberately knocking down, in the physical sense, accommodation which, if the limit were extended for another six months or a year, might last perfectly well for a great many years.

    5.0 p.m.

    The discussion seems to have proceeded on a misapprehension of what the Clause says. There appears on this side of the House to be no misapprehension, however—and I am glad of it—about what the Clause is intended to mean. However, I still have some apprehension as to what may be the effect if it goes forward as it is. The Amendment has been moved by the Opposition on the ground that it provides an additional time limit. I see no time limit at all in paragraph (b). I understood the Minister to say that there is not one, and certainly there does not appear to me to be one. The position is that under paragraph (a) an application has to be made to the local authority within 12 months of the time when the Act comes into force.

    The position under paragraph (b), as it is drafted, is that at any time thereafter, whether the repairs have been done after the application or before it, the local authority may decide to give their certificate and make application to the county court or to express their satisfaction, according to whichever is the form of the Clause at the end. An application is then made to the county court. It is right that I should ask the House at this moment to consider the position when the application is made to the county court. One rather gets the reassuring thought that that is a safeguard, but, of course, it is not, because nobody having a right to object will be before the county court. All that happens is that a county court judge, who adjudicates over a very wide area, will have put before him an application by the local authority saying, "We certify that this house is now rendered fit for human habitation by certain works which have been done since the order became operative, and we ask you to cancel the order."

    For all practical purposes the county court judge will have no alternative to agreeing. There will be no ground on which he can decide to do otherwise. He will not see the property but will merely see a certificate by the town clerk of the local authority, and he will have to say, "Very well. There being no evidence by the opposition, I quash the order accordingly." Hon. Members would not contemplate that procedure with any pleasure, but it is right——

    I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman in the middle of a sentence, but he went rather faster than I expected. Does he not agree that if the county court judge did not feel himself satisfied under the terms laid down by the statute, there is nothing to prevent him from going and viewing the property?

    There is nothing to prevent him, but with great respect to that section of the judiciary, for whom I have approval, and more approval than for others, there is no impulse for him to do so. If a town clerk says that he is certain about it, there is no reason why the county court judge should suspect it. The county court judge has no standards to apply, he is an exceedingly overworked individual, and he has no impulse or reason to go and view the property, and there will be no one in the court to suggest that it would be a good idea if he went. Subject to that, the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) is strictly correct in saying that the county court judge could view the property, if inspiration came upon him at that moment or if he did not like the look of the town clerk's face, which is quite a possibility, from my experience of town clerks.

    Having got that, we therefore come to what is a very fair question to put to the Minister. In answer to my first interjection, the Minister gave a completely satisfactory explanation which he proceeded to demolish in answer to my second. We ought to have it clear. I want to know this. If the reactionary council of some South Coast town which has resented over the years the necessity of having to demolish or make demolition orders in respect of wholly uninhabitable houses, sees in this Clause a chance to reverse that procedure and to assist the landlords in re-opening those properties, what is there in the wording of the Clause to prevent it and what power do the Ministry reserve to themselves against it?

    As drafted, the Clause says, first, that an application shall be made within 12 months from the commencement of the Act. I see nothing in the wording to say that the repairs must by then have been done. The right hon. Gentleman said that it certainly is his intention that that is the type of thing for which he is making provision—a house which is being occupied, a house which is being rehabilitated, a house that is being used now in respect of which an order has been made, and the order should as a matter of justice be moved out of the way. I see nothing wrong with that, but there is nothing to limit it to that. Secondly, the local authority, with no limit on time, may say that they are satisfied as a result of negotiations, as a result of the owner seeing the town clerk, as a result of the submission of a proposal, such as, "We will plaster the ceiling and put a new door in or patch up the windows," that the house is fit for human habitation and get a certificate from the county court.

    It is sought to amend the Clause as drafted. The Clause does not give reasonable safeguards that the Minister's clear intention in the matter shall be the only intention carried out, and I ask him to look at the matter before it goes to another place and see that it is so safeguarded that we shall not have the reproach made against us that we are reopening ancient and unworthy property or even that we are giving power for any reactionary council to try to do so.

    The speech of the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale) clearly demonstrates that an Amendment of this type is needed. As he says, the Clause as drafted makes nonsense. There is no real clarity as to what the Government intend to do about the Clause. Both in Committee and today the Minister pretended that he was dealing only with a very limited number of houses which had been subject to demolition orders and had been improved in order to provide for evacuees in reception areas, and then he went on to explain that it would also be open to other classes of cases. It must be either one thing or the other. If he intends only to deal with houses subject to demolition orders which have already been improved, he should have in the Clause a phrase such as, "works executed prior to the coming into operation of the Act." But he does not want that. He wants to do something else, according to the Parliamentary Secretary, "in view of the peculiar circumstances of the immediate post-war period."

    I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary what are the peculiar circumstances of the post-war period which are causing this wider altering of demolition orders. I believe it is wise. I think it is because when the demolition orders were made before the war, the cost of building a new house was about £290, but the cost of building a new house today is £1,200. The problem therefore has an entirely new aspect. A house which might not have been worth while improving when a new house cost £290, may today, when building costs are so much higher for a new house, be improved at an economic rate. As the Minister pointed out, the owner who does this will be doing it not with any Government grant but because he regards it as the only way of keeping the house habitable for the tenant. Many of these houses are habitable.

    I ask the Government to consider how we are to improve the accommodation in many of the rural areas. I am very alarmed because not only have we these houses which were condemned before the war, but we have also a new crop of houses which will become condemnable in the next ten years. We have the prefabricated houses and, what are very nearly slums already, many new temporary hutments. Therefore, the present Government or the next Government will have to face the question of a large amount of property which may have to be demolished in the next ten years. The more we can do in this period to improve property which was condemned before the war so that it can become of good standard, the better it will be at that time. If the Government thought that these temporary hutments and camps where people are being housed at present would last very much longer than five years, I am sure they will be very much disappointed.

    We therefore suggest the two stages. I believe that we ought to have nearly six months for the first stage for the owners to put in their applications to have the right for this Clause to operate. They will have to get licences from the Ministry of Works, which will take some considerable time. If that is a short period, we want a much longer period afterwards. We want no ugly rush to get this work put before the ordinary building work in the rural areas. The effect of the Minister's 12 months will be that the owner will try to rush this work in priority to other work in those rural areas. Therefore, I ask for an 18-month period for the second part. I believe that this Amendment will carry out the intention of the Minister, although it would be improved if he altered 12 months earlier to six months. I hope he will reconsider his attitude to this Amendment.

    The House, which certainly is not clear about the wording of the Clause and of the Amendment, is quite clear about the intention, and on this point there is a division of opinion between the two sides which we shall need to register. The Minister said both here and in Committee that it was not intended to reprieve condemned houses and, indeed, he uttered a bitter lamentation against making any concessions in any circumstances. I sympathise with him, because if one opens a gate it is surprising how much pressure there is from people who try to pass through it. As one who has been a Minister, I can only say that the pressure during the passage of a Bill through the House is nothing to the pressure which comes upon one after it is on the Statute Book.

    Even before the war I was under pressure from hon. Members in various parts of the House, including that vigorous person, Mrs. Tate, who then sat for the Frome Division and had some houses in her constituency which were subject to a demolition order. By her importunity—a quality in which many Members, particularly feminine Members, are experts and which dates back a long time and even into Scriptural periods—by virtue of her importunity the houses were not demolished, and afterwards came in extremely useful, and are inhabited to this day. One can truly say down there, that if one seeks a monument to the late Member, one has only to look around to see a row of houses now inhabited, which, but for her exertions, would not be there.

    In the Minister's contention, a house which had been subject to a demolition order, and on which nothing has been done since, must be in a deplorable condition. That is not always so. If I might ask the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale) to consider his own argument, it was vitiated by his accidental use of the words "town clerk." These are not always houses in towns but, more frequently, houses in the countryside where it is not infrequent that a house which has not met with the full approval of the local authority is one which is not only perfectly habitable but which, for certain reasons, is preferable to some of the new buildings that have been constructed since it was put up. There may be reasons of the lowness of the ceiling or of the insufficiency of window space that could be remedied but which, previous to the war, people thought were not worth altering. Now, as has been said, there are many temporary dwellings of a much lower standard which will have to be inhabited for some years to come. This makes it desirable that any reinforcement of the housing accommodation of this country should be continued as long as it serves a useful purpose.

    The strongest argument of the Minister was that he did not wish to concentrate either building labour or material upon this class of dwellings because they could be more usefully concentrated on dwellings of a better class. That was dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Orr-Ewing), who pointed out that in certain respects, particularly that of timber, there is a saving in material in bringing up to date an older house, and that it is an actual advantage to the building resources of this country to utilise these dwellings.

    5.15 p.m.

    Admittedly we are in a difficulty here. The words "demolition orders" conjure up an image of a house which none of us wishes to reprieve. However, I ask the House to consider the safeguards which the Minister himself has imported into this legislation. First, an application has to receive the sanction of the very local authority which issued the demolition order and which, therefore, by hypothesis, may be expected to know most about it.

    That deals with half of the objection raised by the hon. Member for Oldham because he postulated a local authority so reactionary that it would gladly not condemn a house. But this local authority has condemned a house and, therefore, it escapes from the hon. Member's definition of a reactionary local authority. The only question is, can it have second thoughts? Well, second thoughts are not always reactionary, they can be advantageous; but in any event the second safeguard appears to be the county court judge. The hon. Member for Oldham said that there would be nobody in court to suggest that the judge should look at the house, and that the idea would never strike him unless he did not like the look of the town clerk's face. I wonder what class of judges the hon. Member is accustomed to practise before?

    The right hon. and gallant Gentleman must be fair. What I said was that there was no earthly reason why the judge should do so. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman, who is I believe a member of a learned profession and certainly would speak with experience on this matter, should know that if an ex-parte application is made to a court and if there is no one to put another side, then the normal procedure of a perfectly proper and careful court is to grant the application.

    I hesitate to discuss this matter with one qualified to speak, because I am only a layman, but I should have thought that the court would take notice of the words "if he is satisfied that the house is so fit," and that it would not be so automatic a process as the hon. Member suggested. I say at any rate that the House is here safeguarding itself by the two strongest barriers it knows, the local authority and, above the local authority, the courts of the land. I should have thought these were strong barriers against any reckless or widespread lowering of standards, which is not what we desire.

    The House is debating a comparatively small point about a comparatively small number of houses, but if it is true that this small number of houses is in an area in which it is considered that an unnecessary demolition takes place, it is liable to raise a great deal of trouble and discussion and a lot of correspondence for the Minister. As an ex-Minister I am trying to save the right hon. Gentleman correspondence which he will receive over this. As one who received an infinite deal of correspondence myself, my life was made a burden to me by more than one active Member of Parliament. Looking back on it over a period of some years, and from a position of less responsibility, I say that Members of Parliament were right and the Minister was wrong.

    Now the same considerations may come into the mind of the present Minister at a later date, and I beg him to consider the relief to his thoughts in granting this small degree of latitude to himself and the satisfaction of feeling that he has not been weary in well doing. Although he has made a concession which has aroused a good deal of further pressure, if it is right that a further concession should be made, he should not withhold it from this House this afternoon, or from the country, merely on the ground that even then it might not be considered sufficient and that he might have to make some further extension.

    I have not put my name to this Amendment but I wish to raise one point about it. I understood that in Committee the Minister said that the work was not necessarily to be completed within the 12 months. I believe he gave that impression. I am not concerned with rotten property, but I am concerned about the genuine fellow who wants to take advantage of this provision and whose property is repairable.

    I would point out to hon. Members that, with all the red tape and restrictions of one kind and another, it is not possible to get the work done in 12 months. If hon. Members try to do it themselves they will find that, with all the work of getting licences and permissions from the authorities, of making plans and specifications, and then to getting the builder, who has to find carpenters, bricklayers and the rest, even though they take off their coats and tighten their belts they cannot do it in time. In some cases they might just get through in time, but I do not think hon. Members would be so unreasonable as to say that there must be a race against time and that the work must be completed by the midnight hour. I should like to have some kind of assurance that, where there have been no delays at all, where people have been moving as fast as they could, in genuine cases which would meet with the approval of good-hearted people of all parties, they are not likely to be hit on the head if the works are not entirely finished by the midnight hour.

    I have two suggestions to make to the Parliamentary Secretary. Both arise from what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale). I think the local authority must be satisfied at the time when the written request is made and there would be no difficulty in making that clear by a very simple addition to paragraph (b). I agree with what my hon. Friend said about the position of the county court judge. He has a duty as regards infants in some cases to protect their interests on ex-parte applications. It seems a very different matter to extend that parental responsibility to demolition orders and, in practice, I think this would either put the county court judge in a difficult position, or be nothing more than a waste of time and no safeguard. I suggest that some steps ought to be taken to provide an advocate for the demolition order—a devil's advocate if hon. Members like—even if that means giving any interested person, or the Minister himself—of course through his local representative—power to intervene in defence of a demolition order.

    I am sure my right hon. Friend would have been delighted to have the offer of consideration of the right hon. and gallant Member for Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot). We are interested to hear that we have the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's anxiety and good will. I think my right hon. Friend made his intention very clear on this issue, that it is not our desire to divert the energy of our house building efforts to this class of property. I gained the impression from the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) that he almost thought we should concentrate our attention on condemned property. In spite of what has been said about certain individual cases, that unquestionably would be a most wasteful procedure on our part. Indeed, there has been some criticism today of our concentration upon repair work generally. This would be open to much more severe criticism. The anxiety is continuously to proceed as rapidly as possible with the construction of new houses and, in so far as there is a pool of labour and materials, to make this new provision for reconditioning in such suitable cases as the Bill provides.

    I suggested 24 months instead of 12 in order that there would not be the rush of work which the Clause in its present form will cause.

    We certainly do not believe that any owner of property is likely to come forward with new proposals to carry out new work under this Clause that has not already been undertaken and largely completed. I entirely agree with hon. Members opposite who say that in the period of 12 months new work of this kind cannot be undertaken with any expectation of completion within the period. That period has been put in on the clear understanding that we do not wish new work of this kind to be undertaken on condemned property, but where work has been undertaken and either completed, or very largely completed, we feel that the 12-month period is adequate.

    In regard to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale), my right hon. Friend has made his position perfectly clear and we would be willing to look at the wording of the Clause to make sure that there is no doubt about it. I hope that assurance will not be taken to suggest that we are satisfied that we can find a better form of words, although we note the suggestion put forward by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). I want it to be quite clear that our intention is that expressed by my right hon. Friend, namely, that we desire to give the opportunity to owners of property which has been condemned and where the work has already been carried out, or so nearly carried out that it can be completed within the 12-month period, that there should be this release from the destruction of the house, which would otherwise take place. Beyond that, we do not expect this Clause to provide any opportunity

    Division No. 153].

    AYES

    [5.29 p.m.

    Albu, A. H.Driberg, T. E. N.Kirby, B. V.
    Allen, A. C {Bosworth)Dumpleton, C W.Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)
    Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.Levy, B. W.
    Alpass, J. H.Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly)Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)
    Attewell, H. C.Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)Lipton, Lt.-Col M.
    Austin, H. LewisEvans, Albert (Islington, W.)Longden, F.
    Ayles, W. H.Evans, E. (Lowestoft)Lyne, A. W.
    Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B.Ewart, R.McAdam, W.
    Balfour, A.Fairhurst, F.McAllister, G.
    Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.Farthing, W. J.McEntee, V. La T.
    Barstow, P. G.Field, Capt. W. J.McGhee, H. G.
    Barton, C.Foot, M. M.McKay, J. (Wallsend)
    Battley, J. R.Forman, J. C.MacKay, R. W. G. (Hull, N. W.)
    Bechervaise, A. E.Gallacher, W.McLeavy, F.
    Berry, H.Ganley, Mrs. C. S.Mainwaring, W. H.
    Beswick, F.Glanville, J. E. (Consett)Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
    Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)Goodrich, H. E.Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)
    Bing, G. H. C.Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)Mellish, R. J.
    Binns, J.Gray, C. F.Middleton, Mrs. L.
    Blackburn, A. R.Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)Mitchison, G. R.
    Blenkinsop, A.Guest, Dr. L. HadenMonslow, W.
    Bowden, Fig. Offr. H. W.Gunter, R. J.Moody, A. S.
    Braddock, T. (Mitcham)Guy, W. H.Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen)
    Bramall, E. A.Haire, John E. (Wycombe)Murray, J. D.
    Brook, D. (Halifax)Hale, LeslieNaylor, T. E.
    Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)Hall, Rt Hon. GlenvilNeal, H. (Claycross)
    Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.Hamitton, Lieut.-Col. R.Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)
    Brown, George (Belper)Hannan, W. (Maryhill)Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)
    Brown, T. J. (Ince)Hardy, E. A.Noel-Baker, Capt F. E. (Brentford)
    Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.Harrison, J.Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J. (Derby)
    Burden, T. W.Hastings, Dr. Somerville.O'Brien, T.
    Burke, W. A.Haworth, J.Oliver, G. H.
    Butter, H. W. (Hackney, S.)Herbison, Miss M.Orbach, M.
    Byers, FrankHolman, P.Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)
    Chamberlain, R. A.Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)Parker, J.
    Champion, A. J.Horabin, T. L.Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)
    Chetwynd, G. R.Houghton, A. L. N. D. (Sowerby)Paton, J. (Norwich)
    Cluse, W. S.Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)Pearson, A.
    Cobb, F. A.Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen N.)Platts-Mills, J. F. F.
    Cocks, F. S.Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)Popplewell, E.
    Collick, P.Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)Porter, E. (Warrington)
    Collindridge, F.Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool)Porter, G. (Leeds)
    Collins, V. J.Irving, W J. (Tottenham, N.)Pritt, D. N.
    Corlett, Dr. J.Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.Proctor, W. T.
    Cove, W. G.Janner, B.Ranger, J.
    Crossman, R. H. S.Jay, D. P. T.Reeves, J.
    Daggar, G.Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S. E.)Reid, T. (Swindon)
    Daines, P.Jenkins, R. H.Ridealgh, Mrs. M.
    Davies, Edward (Burslem)Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)
    Davies, Ernest (Enfield)Keenan, W.Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)
    Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S. W.)Kendall, W. D.Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
    Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.Robinson, Kenneth (St Pancras, N.)
    Deer, G.Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.Rogers, G. H. R.
    Dodds, N N.Kinley, J.Ross, William (Kilmarnock)

    for new work, in cases which have not been already started.

    Is the hon. Gentleman quite certain that he wishes to enforce people to live in only partially reconditioned houses which are subject to a demolition order longer than they need? That is what his policy means.

    We are quite certain that if we allowed materials and labour to be diverted to this kind of purpose we would slow up the provision of new houses, for which we still consider there is a vital need.

    Question put, "That the words 'are satisfied' stand part of the Bill."

    The House divided: Ayes, 215: Noes, 111.

    Sharp, GranvilleTaylor, R. J. (Morpeth)Wilkins, W. A.
    Shurmer, P.Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)
    Silverman, J. (Erdington)Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
    Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)Thurtle, ErnestWilliams, D. J. (Neath)
    Simmons, C. J.Titterington, M. F.Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
    Skeffington, A. M.Tolley, L.Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)
    Skinnard, F. W.Vernon, Maj. W F.Williams, W. R. (Heston)
    Smith, C. (Colchester)Viant, S. P.Wills, Mrs. E. A.
    Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)Walkden, E.Wilmot, Rt. Hon. J.
    Snow, J. W.Walker, G. H.Wise, Major F. J.
    Soronsen, R. W.Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
    Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir FrankWallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)Wyatt, W.
    Sparks, J. A.Warbey, W, N.Yates, V. F.
    Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)Young, Sir R. (Newton)
    Stokes, R. R.Weitzman, D.Younger, Hon. Kenneth
    Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.West, D. G.
    Stross, Dr. B.White, H. (Derbyshire, N. E.)

    TELLERS FOR THE AYES:

    Sylvester, G. D.Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.Mr. Joseph Henderson and
    Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)Wigg, GeorgeMr. Richard Adams.

    NOES

    Agnew, Cmdr, P. G.Erroll, F. J.Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.
    Amory, D. HeathcoatFox, Sir G.Odey, G. W.
    Assheton, Rt. Hon. R.Fraser, H. C. P. (Stone)Orr-Ewmg, I. L.
    Astor, Hon. M.Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok)Peaks, Rt. Hon. D.
    Baldwin, A. E.Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)Peto, Brig. C. H. M.
    Baxter, A. B.George, Maj. Rt. Hn. G. Lioyd (P'ke)Pickthorn, K.
    Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.Ponsonby, Col. C. E.
    Birch, NigelGrimston, R. V.Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)
    Boles, Lt.-Col. O. C. (Wells)Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)Raikes, H. V.
    Boothby, R.Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)Rayner, Brig. R.
    Bossom, A. C.Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V.Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)
    Bower, N.Head, Brig. A. H.Ropner, Col. L.
    Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.Henderson, John (Cathcart)Ross, Sir R. O. (Londonderry)
    Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.Hinchingbrooke, ViscountSanderson, Sir F.
    Bromley-Davenport, Lt-Col. W.Hope, Lord J.Savory, Prof. D. L.
    Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T,Howard, Hon. A.Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)
    Butcher, H. W.Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Gasgow, C.)Smithers, Sir W.
    Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (S'ffr'n W'ld'n)Jeffreys, General Sir G.Spearman, A. C. M.
    Carson, E.Lambert, Hon G.Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
    Challen, C.Langford-Holt, J.Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)
    Channon, H.Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.Studholme, H. G.
    Clarke, Col. R. S.Lindsay, M. (Solihull)Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
    Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G.Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd't'n, S.)
    Cole, T. L.Low, A. R. W.Teeling, William
    Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)
    Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.Touche, G. C.
    Crowder, Capt, John E.Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)Turton, R. H.
    Cuthbert, W. N.Maclay, Hon. J. S.Vane, W. M. F.
    Darling, Sir W. Y.Maclean, F. H. R. (Lancaster)Wakefield, Sir W. W.
    De la Bère, R.Maitland, Comdr. J. W.Walker-Smith, D.
    Dodds-Parker, A. D.Manningham-Buller, R. E.Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset, B.)
    Dower, Col. A. V. G. (Penrith)Marshall, D. (Bodmin)White, J. B. (Canterbury)
    Drayson, G. B.Medlicott, Brigadier F.Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
    Drewe, C.Mellor, Sir J.Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
    Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)
    Duthie, W. S.Neven-Spence, Sir B.
    Eccles, D. M.Nicholson, G.

    TELLERS FOR THE NOES:

    Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. WalterNield, B. (Chester)Major Conant and
    Brigadier Mackeson.

    Clause 6—(Power Of Local Authorities To Make Allowances To Certain Persons Displaced)

    I beg to move, in page 7, line 24, to leave out "such," and to insert "a."

    I think that the next six Amendments on the Order Paper, in lines 24 to 31, go together with this Amendment.

    Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I were to read the Clause as it would appear with these seven Amendments incorporated, so that hon. Members may readily see their full effect:

    "A local authority for the purposes of Part V of the principal Act may pay to any person displaced from a house or other building which has been purchased by them under that Part of that Act a reasonble allowance towards his expenses in removing, and to any person carrying on any trade or business in any such house or other building they may pay also a reasonable allowance towards the loss which he will sustain by reason of the disturbance of his trade or business consequent on his having to quit the house or building, and in estimating that loss regard shall be paid to the period for which the premises occupied by him might reasonably have been expected to be available for the purpose of his trade or business and the availability of other premises suitable for that purpose."
    That will show the House the effect of substituting the various words which these Amendments propose to incorporate and of deleting such words as are proposed to be deleted.

    Hon. Members who were on the Standing Committee will recall the discussion which took place on this matter. Indeed the Committee was divided, and successfully divided, against Amendments which would have had very much the same effect as those now under consideration. As Members are aware, one of the purposes of a Report stage is to provide a sort of court of appeal to the whole House from the decisions arrived at in Committee upstairs. It is in that sense that we appeal to the House to decide on this important point today.

    As hon. Members will see, the Clause as at present drafted, leaves a very wide discretion to the local authority. In the Committee discussions there was an Amendment to substitute "shall" for. "may." That does not figure among the Amendments which we are now considering, but as the House is aware, although "shall" can never mean "may" in the interpretation of a statute the word "may" can at any rate get very near to meaning "shall." If these Amendments are incorporated, "may" in the second line of the Clause will impose a duty upon the local authority to take the steps thereafter prescribed.

    If this series of Amendments is accepted the local authority will be empowered, and to that extent obliged, to make a reasonable allowance in respect of the cost of removal and the cost of disturbance in cases of compulsory acquisition under Part V of the Housing Act, 1936. I feel sure that the House as a whole will agree that in such circumstances, compensation under those heads should always be paid to a person thus dispossessed, and if that is so it is clear that the amount that should be paid should be a reasonable amount. The attitude of the Government in this matter is first of all that local authorities should be left with a very wide discretion, though in view of what the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale) said about certain local authorities in the Debate which we have just concluded, it is clear that the supporters of the Government do not ascribe the same degree of wisdom to all local authorities.

    The only point that I was making was that, on the whole, the standard of intelligence of local authorities is now slightly less than it was a couple of months ago.

    The hon. Member now assesses the intelligence of local authorities on a time basis. I understood from his previous speech that it was assessed on a purely geographical basis, and that by some curious topographical idiosyncrasy, the nearer they were to the sea the less their intelligence appeared to be.

    5.45 p.m.

    The second defence of the Government in this matter was that the Clause as framed, reproduces exactly or very nearly the words of the previous statute. Why that very conservative approach should be put up so often by the Parliamentary Secretary and his right hon. Friend I am never quite clear. Surely it is right that the House of Commons should keep before it the possibility of making progress in these matters and of improving the words of our statutes so as to give effect to what is the real intention of the House of Commons? If these Amendments are incorporated in the Clause so as to give it the effect which it would have in the terms which I read out in moving this Amendment, the assessment of compensation will cease to be a discretionary matter for the local authority. Surely that is right.

    The traditional attitude towards compulsory acquisition and compensation as shown in the statutes governing these matters is that, whereas compulsory acquisition is a matter of policy, and therefore the decision as to whether or not compulsory acquisition is to be carried out is left, with appropriate safeguards, to the acquiring authority, the question of compensation is decided according to certain prescribed standards and is not left to the decision of the local authority. Clearly that is as it should be because the amount of loss, and therefore the entitlement to compensation, can be objectively assessed as a matter of fact, and need not be left to the local authority. That is the effect of the Amendments which it is sought to make in the latter part of this Clause, which require a reasonable allowance towards the loss and enact that the estimate of the loss shall have regard to certain specified matters.

    The Clause as at present drafted, leaves it to the local authority to give an opinion on the matter of compensation. I am sure that the House will agree that people who are dispossessed in these circumstances, although it may be that the requirements of the community necessitate their being dispossessed, are nevertheless entitled to proper compensation objectively and reasonably arrived at. It is to secure that we on this side of the House have put down these Amendments, and it gives me great pleasure to move the first of them.

    I beg to second the Amendment.

    The answer which we shall get from the Parliamentary Secretary will probably be the same as that which we got when we discussed this matter in Committee. Neither my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) nor my hon. Friends thought that that was reasonable. That is why we are seeking to appeal on the Floor of the House of Commons for what we consider to be the just protection of the rights of the individual against a local authority which might not be prepared to take a reasonable view. I do not think that the House should quarrel with this view. We feel that those people who are dispossessed through no fault of their own should have certain definite protection in law. If this Bill passes through its various stages we see that there will be on the Statute Book a definite loop-hole as a result of which those just rights will not be protected. I do not wish to elaborate this theme, which has been ably and clearly put by my hon. Friend. It is in the nature of an appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary that I have ventured to detain the House for a few minutes, because I feel that where the House of Commons can protect the individual, the House has the duty to do so.

    This Amendment concerns a very narrow point, and I am really surprised that it has been thought necessary to put it down on the Report stage. I say that because, although the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) suggested it was a rather strange argument for me to suggest that this had been the standard wording of previous statutes on this issue, and he apparently thinks that I should take a different line by assuming that the wording would automatically be wrong, it is competent for me to suggest the argument that previous Administrations over quite a long period of years, including very recent Administrations, have found it quite unnecessary to include any wording of this kind.

    We want to know, and we have not heard from hon. Members opposite, of any fresh reason why this wording should be included. We are driven to the conclusion that they have suddenly become doubtful about the attitude of mind and the discretionary power of the local authorities. So far from recent events encouraging them to take a less jaundiced view of local authorities, they seem to have done the opposite. We are placed in the peculiar position of defending the new changes in local authorities and assuring hon. Members opposite that this does not affect our regard for local authorities generally, as democratic bodies who ought to be allowed reasonable discretion in matters of this sort which are essentially local matters.

    That is what it seems to amount to. Only recently in the Town and Country Planning Act, 1944, it was not regarded as necessary to make a provision of this kind for appeal from the local authority to the court, and it is rather extraordinary that we should be asked to include it now, with no suggestion of any cases cropping up where local authorities have acted unreasonably in this way. This might act in quite an opposite sense from the one in which hon. Members opposite wish it to act. It might prove a deterrent to local authorities using the discretionary power which is in their hands, and I would not assume hon. Members opposite would wish that to be the case.

    How does the Parliamentary Secretary expect that that would work out in practice? I did not quite follow the last point he made that the incorporation of these words would have an adverse effect upon people whose property was compulsorily acquired. Will he elaborate that?

    It merely means that hon. Members opposite are suggesting there would be a challenge to the courts on the decision of local authorities, instead of leaving in the hands of local authorities the discretion whether or not they shall make a payment in these cases.

    With great respect, I did try to indicate that in my view that would not be the result. It will be within the recollection of the hon. Gentleman that I suggested that the word "may" in statutes can, by nice graduation, shade off into "shall," and that this would in effect be one of those cases.

    However that may be, clearly it still is the case that we have before us the decision of hon. Members opposite that they have no real faith in the local authorities carrying out their work in a reasonable way. So far we have heard of no cases of that kind, and so far as we know they have carried out exactly similar powers perfectly to the satisfaction of their people throughout the past years. We have heard no argument for altering the wording of the Bill which has been put before the House, and I hope that hon. Members opposite will withdraw their Amendment.

    The technique of the Minister is employed with not quite so much success by the Parliamentary Secretary. That technique, with which we are familiar, is to take a small point and blow it up into a gigantic bubble, fill it with many-coloured smoke, and say how unreasonable are the Opposition to bring forward a case of this kind. Put forward with the fire and vehemence of the Minister, it is an engaging performance and one which we all enjoy, but I do not think it is intended to be a serious argument. The Parliamentary Secretary is perhaps following a dangerous precedent if he departs from his own admirable expository style into these merely inflationary walks of argument. When he said that the Amendment showed that we had no confidence whatever in the discretion of local authorities, and then proceeded to build up his argument upon that, he really was somewhat exaggerating his own argument, and not in any way representing the most reasonable proposal which has been put forward. We do not intend to detain the House at any length, but this is a point on which the Government are clearly continuing a course which, in its mere increased application, is already bringing about a new position——

    If I may interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, I ask how are we creating new circumstances when in point of fact we are continuing a practice that he and his right hon. Friends have always adopted?

    May I, simply in passing, mention the very difficult situation in which the Minister of Town and Country Planning has found himself in regard to the dispossessing of certain individuals from sites in new towns. Elsewhere, the scale of the dispossession and evacuation of the citizens is much greater than has ever taken place before. The rate at which the Government are claiming the property of the individual is very much greater than ever before. The policy on which the Government are acting is the policy that the rights of the individual should not be considered against the rights of the community—at any rate that they should be less considered than they have been before. I do not think the Minister will object to that. It is the grammar of his creed.

    I most certainly do object. I think it is fantastic that in discussing this Clause a local democratically-elected body is now to be regarded as a body without any sort of proper representation of the feelings of people locally. It is quite fantastic.

    Well, I shall take up the Parliamentary Secretary on that single point. I will take the local authority within whose jurisdiction we are now living—that is, the London County Council—and take as an example the clearances on the South bank which will have to be carried out and the moving of a house, or indeed a trade or business, which may very reasonably have to be carried out there. While I would not rub a raw patch on the political conscience of the Parliamentary Secretary by referring to the way in which a majority was obtained upon that local authority, I certainly would not suggest it was democratically obtained, though I do not suppose he will contend that. I will merely say that it shades off, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) said, into the difference between "may" and "shall"; so indeed there is a very fine line between the point at which democratic sanction was obtained and the point at which democratic sanction was wrenched from the verdict of the electorate.

    The difficulty of the small man against the great organisation is an increasing difficulty. Therefore, it is more desirable than less to make a safeguard. If the House should decide otherwise then that is the decision of the House, and the House must stand by their decision; but we say it is right and proper that the House should have the opportunity this afternoon of pronouncing upon this point, and on this suggestion that in the case of

    Division No. 154.]

    AYES

    [6.0 p.m.

    Adams, Richard (Balham)Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S. W.)Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S. E.)
    Albu, A. H.Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)
    Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)Deer, G.Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)
    Alpass, J. H.Dodds, N. N.Keenan, W.
    Attewell, H. C.Driberg, T. E. N.Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.
    Austin, H. LewisDumpleton, C. W.Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.
    Ayles, W. H.Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.Kinley, J.
    Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B.Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly)Kirby, B. V.
    Balfour, A.Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)
    Barstow, P. G.Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)Levy, B. W.
    Barton, C.Evans, E. (Lowestoft)Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)
    Battley, J. R.Ewart, R.Lindgren, G. S.
    Bechervaise, A. E.Fairhurst, F.Lipton, Lt -Col M.
    Berry, H.Farthing, W. J.Longden, F.
    Beswick, F.Field, Capt. W. J.Lyne, A. W.
    Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)McAdam, W.
    Bing, G. H. C.Foot, M. M.McAllister, G.
    Binns, J.Forman, J. C.McEntee, V. La T.
    Blackburn, A. R.Ganley, Mrs. C. S.McGhee, H. G.
    Blenkinsop, A.Glanville, J. E. (Consett)Mack, J. D.
    Bowden, Fig. Offr. H. W.Goodrich, H. E.McKay, J. (Wallsend)
    Braddock, T. (Mitcham)Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)McLeavy, F.
    Bramall, E. A.Grey, C. F.Mainwaring, W. H.
    Brook, D. (Halifax)Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
    Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)Guest, Dr. L. HadenMallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)
    Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.Gunter, R. J.Mellish, R. J.
    Brown, George (Belper)Guy, W. H.Messer, F.
    Brown, T. J. (Ince)Hale, LeslieMiddleton, Mrs. L.
    Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.Hall, Rt. Hon. GlenvilMitchison, G. R.
    Burden, T. W.Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.Monslow, W.
    Burke, W. A.Hardy, E. A.Moody, A. S.
    Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)Harrison, J.Murray, J. D.
    Chamberlain, R. A.Hastings, Dr. Somerville.Naylor, T. E.
    Champion, A. J.Haworth, J.Neal, H. (Claycross)
    Chetwynd, G. R.Herbison, Miss M.Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)
    Cluse, W. S.Holman, P.Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)
    Cobb, F. A.Homes, H. E. (Hemsworth)Noel-Baker, Capt F. E. (Brentford)
    Cocks, F. S.Horabin, T. L.O'Brien, T.
    Collindridge, F.Houghton, A. L. N. D. (Sowerby)Oliver, G. H.
    Collins, V. J.Hudson, J. H. (Earing, W.)Orbach, M.
    Corlett, Dr. J.Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)
    Cove, W. G.Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.)Parker, J.
    Crossman, R. H. S.Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)Parkin, B. T.
    Daggar, G.Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)
    Daines, P.Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool)Paton, J. (Norwich)
    Davies, Edward (Burslem)Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.Pearson, A.
    Davies, Ernest (Enfield)Janner, B.Platts-Mills, J. F. F.

    a man displaced from his house under this part of the Act, a reasonable allowance should be paid to him towards his expenses of removing; and that any claim for reasonable allowance should be paid towards the loss that the man will sustain:

    "by reason of the disturbance of his trade or business consequent on his having to quit the house or building.…"

    not because there is anything the matter with the house or building, but for the convenience of the community, and that the local authority should not be the sole judge in its own case. Such is the case which we thing can reasonably be brought before the House of Commons. Such is the case which we have brought before it now, and such is the case upon which we ask the House to come to a decision.

    Question put, "That 'such' stand part of the Bill."

    The House divided: Ayes, 203; Noes, 109.

    Popplewell, E.Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)Weitzman, D.
    Porter, E. (Warrington)Stokes, R. R.West, D. G.
    Porter, G. (Leeds)Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.White, H. (Derbyshire, N. E.)
    Pritt, D. N.Stross, Dr. B.Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
    Proctor, W. T.Sylvester, G. O.Wilkins, W. A.
    Ranger, J.Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)
    Reeves, J.Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
    Reid, T. (Swindon)Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)Williams, D. J. (Neath)
    Ridealgh, Mrs. M.Thomas, D. E (Aberdare)Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
    Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)Williams, W. R. (Heston)
    Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)Thurtle, ErnestWills, Mrs. E. A.
    Ross, William (Kilmarnock)Titterington, M. F.Wills Mrs. Rt. Hon. J.
    Sharp, GranvilleTolley, L.Wise, Major F. J.
    Shurmer, P.Vernon, Maj. W. F.Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
    Simmons, C. J.Viant, S. P.Wyatt, W.
    Skinnard, F. W.Walkden, E.Yates, V. F.
    Smith, C. (Colchester)Walker, G. H.Young, Sir R. (Newton)
    Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)Younger, Hon. Kenneth
    Snow, J. W.Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)
    Sorensen, R. W.Warbey, W. N.

    TELLERS FOR THE AYES:

    Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir FrankWatkins, T. E.Mr. Joseph Henderson and
    Sparks, J. A.Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)Mr. Hannan.

    NOES

    Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.Peake, Rt. Hon. O.
    Amory, D. HeathcoatGrimston, R. V.Peto, Brig. C. H. M.
    Assheton, Rt. Hon. R.Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)Pickthorn, K.
    Astor, Hon. M.Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)Ponsonby, Col. C. E.
    Baldwin, A. E.Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V.Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)
    Baxter, A. B.Head, Brig. A. H.Raikes, H. V.
    Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.Hinchingbrooke, ViscountRayner, Brig. R.
    Birch, NigelHope, Lord J.Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)
    Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)Howard, Hon. A.Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)
    Boothby, R.Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
    Bower, N.Jeffreys, General Sir G.Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)
    Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)
    Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.Kendall, W. D.Ropner, Col. L.
    Bromley-Davenport, Lt-Col. W.Lambert, Hon. G.Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)
    Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.Langford-Holl, J.Sanderson, Sir F.
    Butcher, H. W.Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.Savory, Prof. D. L.
    Byers, FrankLindsay, M. (Solihull)Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)
    Carson, E.Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)Smithers, Sir W.
    Challen, C.Low, A. R. W.Spearman, A. C. M.
    Channon, H.MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
    Clarke, Col. R. S.McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)
    Clifton-Brown, Lt-Col G.Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)Studholme, H. G.
    Cole, T. L.Mackeson, Brig. H. R.Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
    Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.Maclay, Hon. J. S.Teeling, William
    Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.Maclean, F. H. R. (Lancaster)Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)
    De la Bère, R.Maitland, Comdr. J. W.Touche, G. C.
    Dodds-Parker, A. D.Manningham-Buller, R. E.Turton, R. H.
    Dower, Col. A. V. G. (Penrith)Marshall, D. (Bodmin)Wakefield, Sir W. W.
    Drewe, C.Medlicott, Brigadier F.Walker-Smith, D.
    Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)Mellor, Sir J.White, J. B. (Canterbury)
    Duthie, W. S.Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen)Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
    Eccles, D. M.Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
    Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. WalterNeven-Spence, Sir B.Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)
    Fox, Sir G.Nicholson, G.
    Fraser, H. C. P. (Stone)Nield, B. (Chester)

    TELLERS FOR THE NOES:

    Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollok)Noble, Comdr A. H. P.Major Conant and
    Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)Odey, G. W.Colonel Wheatley.
    George, Maj. Rt. Hn. G. Lloyd (P'ke)Orr-Ewing, I. L.

    Clause 7—(Power Of Local Authorities To Provide Board And Laundry Facilities)

    I beg to move, in page 7, line 40, at the end, to insert:

    Provided that nothing in this section shall authorise a local authority to permit any person to use any such facilities for the purposes of carrying on a business.
    We had a considerable discussion about laundry services during the Committee stage, and the Parliamentary Secretary will remember that the Minister undertook to look into the point covered by this Amendment. Under this Clause local authorities have very wide powers to provide laundry facilities for tenants on their housing estates. What is more, under this Bill the tenants will be a very wide cross-section of the community, because this Measure deals with houses up to the value £5,000.

    Quite apart from the question of whether or not it is the proper function of local authorities to provide laundry services to a large section of the community at the expense of the ratepayers, we seek in this Amendment to prevent two possible and obvious abuses. One is where the tenant of a council estate takes in washing from those who do not live on the council estate at all and makes a charge for that service, and the other is to avoid the possibility of any local authority setting up a laundry service on a scale much larger than is necessary to provide for the tenants of its own housing estates, and thereby entering into unfair competition with existing laundry companies. We have put down this Amendment to prevent any such facilities being used for the purpose of carrying on business.

    There is in this case no division between us as to the object of the Bill. We are quite clear that we do not wish the facilities that may be provided under this Measure to be used other than for those who are resident on a council estate or a council block of flats, for whom it was intended. As was pointed out by my right hon. Friend when we were discussing this in Committee, there is already power for local authorities to provide wash-houses for the general use of people living in the town or in the area of the local authority. We do not see that there is any real danger here of the sort of abuse about which the hon. Member seems to be worried.

    Moreover, we are concerned that the Amendment may indeed prevent a local authority from making an agreement with some laundry firm to carry out the laundry services for a particular block of flats or estate of houses, which I imagine would be the desire of hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is not essential for the local authority to provide these laundry services itself, and, if it wishes, it can enter into an agreement with outside firms to do the work on behalf of the local authority. We rather fear that the Amendment might endanger a proposal of that kind, and, after looking at this very carefully, we do not feel that there will be any great advantage to be gained by altering the wording of the Clause. We believe that we can rely upon local authorities, with such instructions as may go out from the Minister, to operate it for the benefit of the tenants of the houses for whom it was intended and for whom we believe this Clause clearly intends that it should be provided.

    Could the Minister indicate what machinery he proposes to create in order to confine the use of these wash-houses to the people for whom they are intended in the Bill? It seems to me that this is part of the scheme of this Administration to extend municipal trading, and we should like to know precisely how the local authority can keep control of the wash-houses or laundry so that these facilities apply only to particular groups of people or apartments. I do not like this Clause, because I think all traders in our towns should have the fullest measure of protection in this House, and I should therefore like to be assured that this is not the thin end of the wedge of municipal trading in our larger towns.

    6.15 p.m.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon) has asked the Minister for a further assurance. During the Committee stage the Minister indicated that this was not a Bill for the extension of municipal trading, whether he wished it to be or not—and on that point there is division between the two sides of the House—but a Housing Bill, and it was only in so far as these facilities were incidental to housing that they came within the scope of the Bill. I think we can accept the assurance of the Minister. Both sides of the House are at one here, that there is no desire to extend municipal trading and that the Bill does not in fact provide any further facilities for it.

    I should like, however, to refer to the actual words which the Minister used in Committee, when he said:
    "I should like to have a look at the statutes again."
    He said he would examine them, and later on, he said:
    "We shall, of course, call the attention of local authorities to this facility and also to the views that have been expressed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 12th April, 1949; c. 89–91.]
    We were trying to see whether it would not be possible to get something put in the statute, but I understand that the Minister has assured us that it would not be possible in the statute to provide for the safeguard which we seek here; namely, that these facilities should not be operated by somebody else as a business.

    Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman want to prevent that? I should have thought myself that he and his hon. Friends are now running in opposite directions. It is not possible under this Bill for a local authority to provide laundry services for anybody except their own tenants. That is made perfectly clear. By the Amendment it would be impossible for the local authority to make a contract, but it might be highly desirable for a local authority to make a contract with a private contractor because the number of houses owned by that authority might not be sufficient to enable a laundry to be viable. If the laundry for the local authority's own houses were attached to a private laundry system, both could become viable, and therefore the local authority could make a contract with a contractor to provide the laundry facilities for its tenants. I should not imagine that anybody would now deny the local authority the opportunity of making a contract with a private contractor to provide laundry facilities. I do not believe that this was the intention in the minds of those who have put forward this Amendment but that would be the effect of it, and I do not imagine that anybody would want to accomplish that object.

    I was about to come to the second argument; I was dealing with the first point, which the Minister says is now clear. It was not so clear during the Committee stage, however——

    If I might read the words the Minister used, they were these:

    "I am quite clear that all this does is to enable the local authority to provide laundry facilities for its own tenants and not to carry on a general laundry business, although I should like to have a look at the statutes again."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 12th April, 1949; c. 89.]
    When doubt, even of the most modest kind, arises in the Minister's mind, it is an indication that it may well arise in the minds of others also. I was dealing with the first point, on which the Minister said he would have a look at the statute again. Having done that, he has assured us, as the responsible Minister in charge of this legislation, that he has assured himself that the Clause does not enable the local authority to do more than provide laundry facilities for its own tenants. On that assurance, it would naturally be undesirable for us to press the Minister, although in most of these things one would prefer to see it written into the Bill.

    As to the Minister's second point, which was also made by the Parliamentary Secretary, that the words of the Amendment might prevent a local authority from making an agreement with an outside firm, I should not have thought that these words could have borne that interpretation, though, like the Minister, I should be very glad to look into the wording again. He brings to our notice a point which we are bound to take into consideration. It is certainly not the desire of any of us in any part of the House to prevent a local authority from making use of the facilities of a private firm if it so desired. If the Minister indicates that there is even the slightest danger of that we should certainly not wish to press this to a Division. Having received the assurance from the right hon. Gentleman, first, that the Clause does not bring about the danger against which we seek to safeguard, and, secondly, that the words we have put on the Order Paper might bring an unlooked-for result, I think that my hon. Friend might be willing to withdraw the Amendment.

    In view of the assurance which the right hon. Gentleman has given, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 8—(Power Of Local Authorities To Sell Furniture To Persons Housed By, Or By Arrangement With, Them)

    I beg to move, in page 8, line 5, to leave out Clause 8.

    My right hon. and hon. Friends have been forced to this action because of what we considered the unreasonable attitude adopted by the Minister when the question of the sale of furniture by local authorities was discussed in Standing Committee. As the right hon. Gentleman will remember, during the Second Reading Debate we took the view that as long as proper financial safeguards were taken by local authorities to see that, if they went into this sort of business, they were in fact self-supporting, and that there would be no loss, private enterprise traders, with all their experience, and so on, could compete efficiently under those terms, and we raised no objection.

    In Standing Committee we asked the Minister, in the first place, to impose the period of one year as being the time by which a local authority should be able, having started its business, to run it on a profitable basis. When the Minister felt that he was not able to agree to that suggestion—he thought that a year was too short a period—we said that we were quite willing to extend the period, if necessary, to two or three years. Once again the Minister refused to define what he considered a reasonable time during which a local authority should learn the business of selling furniture.

    My hon. Friends would be perfectly willing to withdraw this Amendment if the Minister were now prepared to state a definite time in which he considered a local authority should be allowed to conduct this sort of business at a loss. We are left with the impression that the Minister is intentionally leaving this matter vague in order that local authorities may be able to continue from year to year to run a highly technical business at a loss without any sanction falling on them from his Ministry or Parliament that their accounts should be properly balanced. We think it is wrong that such trading should be carried out at the expense of the ratepayers of a particular local authority. In Standing Committee, the Minister suggested that it was likely he would issue a circular indicating in broad outline, that he wished that the accounts of a local authority who took up the selling of furniture should be properly balanced, and that the business should be self-supporting.

    Just imagine the unfairness of allowing a local authority to continue to run a business at a loss for an unspecified period of years while, during that time, it is probably making bankrupt, unsubsidised private enterprise businesses in the same locality. That cannot be just, and it is because we feel that we must, in justice to the private trader who has no blank cheque on the local rates, insist that in this Bill a definite term of years is inserted by which it will be necessary for a local authority to publish its funds and to show that it is conducting its business on a sound and economic basis.

    It is only right, in speaking in this connection, that we should make it clear that the furniture business is not something which can be run by amateurs. It is a business which has grown up in the last few years into a vast complicated organisation where the public, owing to the efforts and the ingenuity of the various firms in that industry, are allowed a wide and varied choice of furniture from which to select. It is an industry which has a selling organisation able to cope with the considerable difficulties of storage, and so on; it is a business allowing various terms of credit, and one which must require good management of a technical sort.

    All those are difficulties which will have to be faced by a local authority if it takes advantage of the provisions which the Minister has provided under this Clause. Because of those difficulties, the Minister may say that he is prepared to give them six, seven or eight years in which to learn the business which is at present being run by private enterprise. I do not think that the House of Commons should take that attitude; it is not playing fair with the private enterprise concerns. I do not think it right, that for six, seven or eight years the ratepayers should pay out of the general rate considerable losses in order that a certain department within a local authority may learn how to run the furniture business. That is something on which it is in no way justifiable that public money should be spent.

    As I have said, the right hon. Gentleman has failed to give us in terms of years what he considers a reasonable time during which a local authority should be allowed to make mistakes. He dismissed, in his usual picturesque and charming fashion, our suggestion of one year. He said that we were being too rigid by sticking to the seasons of the year, and that he wished to have some different method. I do not know whether he intends to alter the whole of the accounting methods of this country. He is full of energy and perhaps he has some valuable contributions to make on that score, but I suggest that without some guarantee from the Minister that local authorities who take up this right to sell furniture to people in their area will be set some sort of time limit within which to run their business efficiently, we have no right to give them a blank cheque on the rates with which to pay for their losses. Unless we get that assurance I am certain that my hon. Friends will have no hesitation in pressing this Amendment.

    6.30 p.m.

    I beg to second the Amendment.

    I am concerned at the danger to the small trader of the continued invasion by municipal authorities on his rights and privileges as a citizen. In the past the small traders have made a valuable contribution to every phase of our social life, and it is a great blunder in statesmanship on the part of the Minister in trying more and more to permeate the organisation of business by introducing municipal trading on every conceivable occasion. The local authorities are invited to become manufacturers and salesmen of furniture for the equipment of houses built by local authorities. That means the dislocation of a very important and highly technical business which, so far, has been carried on with increasing vigour and success by private manufacturers and distributors of furniture. Notwithstanding his many commendable eccentricities, the right hon. Gentleman still has the quality of common sense, and I beg him not to inflict a further disability on this trading community.

    I have been highly amused listening to the two hon. Members. I was very interested to see how they would get themselves out of the very obvious embarrassment which has almost overwhelmed them. Perhaps it is not true to say that about the hon. Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon), because it was perfectly clear what he wanted to do. What he wanted to do was to prevent the local authorities from selling furniture to the tenants; whereas the hon. Member for Woodbridge (Mr. Hare), having been on the Committee, knew his position was much more difficult than that. He had to find an excuse to refuse local authorities the power to sell furniture.

    What has happened is that the Opposition have got themselves into trouble with the Property Owners Protection Society. They have not been sufficiently vigilant on the Committee, and when the hon. Member said, "We are forced to take this stand," I agree; I am sure they are forced to take it. It is a most embarrassing situation for them. If hon. Members will look at the proceedings on Second Reading, they will realise what a delightful and ironic difficulty the Opposition are now in. I said:
    "The existing law enables a local authority to hire out furniture but not to sell it. I am quite sure that I shall have the Opposition with me here when I say that it ought to be possible for the local authorities to enable the tenants to become possessors of the furniture. This is my contribution towards a property-owning democracy. I am sure that I shall have the enthusiastic support of the Opposition in enabling the public authority to sell furniture."
    Then the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) said:
    "The right hon. Gentleman is learning. Come along."
    Well, I came along. Then I said.
    "I am indeed glad to have this enthusiastic support for substitution for private enterprise in the sale of furniture. I hope that the Opposition will not succumb to any Lobby pressure from any source whatever in this matter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1949; Vol. 462, c. 2127–8.]
    I anticipated that perhaps they had allowed themselves to be seduced by my blandishments, and that they would be rebuked by those who are so busy contributing to the party chest of the Opposition, because that is what is really wrong here. They are now suggesting that the reason why they will not agree to the principle is that we have not laid down for the local authority a limitation from which private enterprise is exempt. Nobody on the opposite side of the House will suggest a term of years at the expiry of which a private firm should learn the business of selling furniture. The fact is that it is not possible at the moment to lay down what is the period during which a local authority or any firm shall be asked to decide whether it has, in fact, made a success or a failure of the business.

    I should like to tell hon. Members in all quarters of the House that the business of selling furniture is simple compared with the business of hiring furniture. The really complicated thing in the furniture world is hiring furniture, not selling it. It is the simplest business in the world to sell things. All one does is to buy something, stand between that and the customer who wants it and charge a profit. Hiring furniture, on the other hand, is a very complicated business—a very complicated law which involves all kinds of psychological considerations.

    The Opposition are leaving alone the complicated business of hiring, but they wish to refuse local authorities the right to sell, because they do not want to alter the existing law. They do not want to enable the persons to whom furniture is hired to become the possessors of that furniture. The reason why they do not want it is because, as the hon. Member for Moseley said, it would be competing with private enterprise and preventing them from making a profit. That is a very simple, crude and understandable attitude, but the hon. Member did not realise the difficulties of his hon. Friend who moved the Amendment.

    It really is not good enough for the Opposition to take this line at this late stage. I know they will take it because they are compelled to take it, but they must now take it in the light of day so that everybody can see what they are doing.

    I apologise for interrupting the right hon. Gentleman, but in my view it is far more important from the point of view of the ratepayers of Birmingham to sell at a small profit than to be taxed for losses made by the local authority.

    I am coming to the question of loss in a moment. This is not a duty imposed upon local authorities; it is permissive. A local authority can do it, or it need not do it. The Opposition are taking steps to see, so far as they possibly can, that some of the local authorities are so composed that they will not want to do it. If the local authority makes a loss the ratepayers will know all about it. The accounts are published and the councillors will have to justify themselves to the citizens. That is perfectly reasonable. I agree that it would not be a good thing if over a long period of years the supply of furniture was subsidised from the rates. That would be unreasonable, but it might be reasonable over a short period until the local authority had had long enough to be able to balance its accounts and take the rough with the smooth. This is a matter for the local citizens to decide.

    Why must the Opposition always try to deny functions to the local authorities? Why do they not leave the local authorities the power to decide for themselves?

    This is legitimate. Why on earth this insistence on the part of the Opposition that the tenants of council houses should not become the owners of their own chairs, cupboards, tables and other things? I do not understand it. I hope, therefore, that even at this late hour hon. Members opposite will repent and march along as happily as they were before their misfortunes were discovered by their supporters.

    I am sure we all welcome the right hon. Gentleman back from an interlude of discussion which, whatever it was, has obviously freshened his power of argument and enlarged his stock of images. Of course, the Minister is in a very embarrassing position. Like ourselves, so he has just confessed, he desires that local authorities should not subsidise the sale of furniture out of the rates and he is with us in the argument which we have advanced, but it is necessary, in the pursuit of his peculiar ideological convictions, that he should conceal it as far as possible. Indeed, he hedged about that eminently satisfactory admission with a statement that it was not necessary at the present moment, no doubt thinking of the recent remarkable dictum of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that nationalised industries ought not to make profits.

    The right hon. Gentleman is, of course, bound to maintain his very peculiar ideas about trade, which are that the way to trade, the way to sell something, is to acquire an object, stand between it and its potential purchaser and charge toll. That is what he says. It certainly enables those of us on this side of the House to understand the difficulties in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other people promoting the export drive stand when dealing with colleagues who take up such a peculiar position. I can imagine that their difficulty with foreign trade is very great indeed; having the right hon. Gentleman standing between a foreign purchaser and something he desires to purchase, with the object of charging toll, might well deter a purchaser and, no doubt, has deterred a great many.

    As we are selling much more than 50 per cent. above what we were selling before the war, obviously my principle is more effective in selling goods than is that of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman.

    I should have thought that fact was a remarkable testimony to the shortage of supply in the world. The reminders which are continually made to us by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the sellers' market is coming to an end indicate that it is more the course of world events than the success of the right hon. Gentleman's policy of trade which is responsible for the increase in our exports. Certainly I have never heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer adopt that attitude towards trade and bring it forward as one which was most likely to produce the further expansion—the great and necessary further expansion—in our export trade.

    The fact is that the Minister says local authorities should not use the furniture trade as a method whereby furniture is sold below an economic return. But he says it is impossible to lay down any limitation of any period in which this fact can be determined. It is exactly that point which, repeated upstairs in Committee and again upon the Floor of the House, made it necessary for us to suggest that in that case it would be better that they did not embark upon the trade at all. That seems very reasonable to us. There is no difference between private enterprise in this case and the local authority—no difference, except, of course, that the local authority is working with our money and private enterprise is working with its own. If a firm supplying furniture goes on supplying it below an economic rate, the firm goes into liquidation; but if a local authority goes on supplying below the economic rate, it charges the loss to the general rate, to the general citizen. There seems to us—but not to the Minister—to be a very fundamental kind of distinction. It seems to us to bring a sharp sanction upon uneconomic supply in the case of private enterprise which does not exist in the case of the collective enterprise which the Minister is recommending this afternoon.

    We therefore stand most firmly on the proposal which we have put forward. The Minister, whose mind seems to be of a suspicious nature, thinks this is due to pressure by our supporters. In fact, we have indicated all the way through, on Second Reading of this Bill and upstairs in Committee, what was our view. It was on Second Reading and not in Committee upstairs, by the way, that the Minister declared his conversion to the principle of a property-owning democracy. He withdrew from that conversion a little as the Debate went on and he has, indeed, withdrawn from it very considerably just now. But on this matter my hon. Friend the Member for Woodbridge (Mr. Hare) said clearly and definitely that it was only if the property were to be supplied on due economic conditions that we would agree to it and he said there was no reason why the authorities should not sell furniture at the proper economic rate to people wishing to buy.

    We made that quite clear on the Second Reading of the Bill and in Committee, but the Minister would not meet us at all on the point in Committee; he refused to insert any of the safeguards which we brought forward and it is because of that that we are now moving this Amendment, all the more so because during the Debate upstairs certain hon. Members indicated the strangest views about the sale of furniture. The hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Mellish), whose local authority had engaged in this trade, said:
    "The furniture is paid for by the council and we get our money back by increasing the rent in agreement with the tenant; … the only problem we found was that there was the difficulty of people escaping overnight with some of the furniture."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. Standing Committee C, 28th April, 1949; c. 111.]
    That, of course, is one of the problems which does exist.

    6.45 p.m.

    I should have thought it was rather of a nature of removing the more equal distribution of properties, and equal distribution is a view which is strongly pressed by hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is on this side of the House that we bring forward the simple argument:

    "He who takes what isn't his'n,
    When he's cotched is put in prison."
    Hon. Gentlemen opposite, on the other hand, say that under those conditions he is exalted to a high position in the Government and given a job on the Coal Board.

    The argument which we bring forward is the perfectly simple argument that it is highly injudicious to destroy by taxation a ratepayer who is providing an article in pursuit of some shadowy idea of the virtues of the municipality as against the citizen. The difficulties which the municipality discover, one of which is the difficulty of people levanting with their furniture, are precisely the difficulties discovered by private enterprise. The remedy of the municipality for it is the remedy which the trade unions have resented at all times and in all circumstances—the power of a property owner to put the screw on his tenant to make him purchase an article which the tenant might not otherwise wish to buy.

    This method of raising the rent to obtain from the tenant payment for certain properties, which one has by the virtue of one's position as a property owner been able to push upon him, is the sort of thing which, in the Truck Acts, trade unions fought time and time again and on which they conducted many finally successful campaigns. The local authority is in an all-powerful position. Is it suggested that all this purchase would be done solely and entirely by voluntary co-operation between landlord and tenant. That is the sort of argument which hon. Gentlemen opposite would laugh to scorn if it were brought forward in the case of the private individual. I can imagine their attitude towards a private landlord who said, "I have thought of a splendid idea. I will make an arrangement with a furtniture firm and, if necessary, put pressure on my tenants to buy some furniture from this firm. Having the tenants in my houses I am then in a splendid position because I shall include the price of that furniture in the rent, putting the screw on to an indefinite extent." I can imagine what hon. Gentlemen opposite would say to that.

    This is the first time we have heard this one. In the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's search for an argument in the waste in which he is travelling, does he seriously suggest that a responsible local authority will use their power as a landlord to force the tenants to buy furniture from them? That is the kind of respect which an ex-Minister of Health has for the local authorities of Great Britain.

    First of all, if the right hon. Gentleman had been able to devote the same amount of attention to our remarks on the Committee stage all the way through as that which he is now devoting to them, he would know that I advanced this argument on the Committee stage. Why should the right hon. Gentleman suggest that a landlord would put pressure on his tenant to purchase property owing to the——

    I will answer it at once. A Committee of both Houses is now considering the final stages of a Bill introduced by me a few months ago—and resisted by the Opposition—to prevent landlords forcing potential tenants to pay exorbitant sums for their furniture.

    Precisely. The right hon. Gentleman shows the utmost distrust of any individual by himself and the utmost confidence in any individuals acting collectively. He is too naïve in these matters. Large groups of people have shown themselves in the past quite as tyrannical as individuals, and will so show themselves again. The principle of the argument the right hon. Gentleman is now putting forward is that it is perfectly safe for a local authority to do so because it can recoup itself by raising the rent; and that is the very argument which he is trying to withstand in the case of the Measure affecting landlords and tenants of which he spoke.

    The argument which we are bringing forward is that the local authority is in a dangerous position when it begins to sell articles of this kind to the tenant, and it is an argument which every remark of the right hon. Gentleman has gone far to strengthen today. The further argument that local authorities should, if they are embarking on this, carry on according to proper rules of accountancy, and should, within a period of time, make statements which would show clearly the position, is also an argument which, I think, he finds it difficult to rebut—all the more difficult since not only does he—or the Government—mention the term of three years in relation to civic restaurants, but the hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) said that three years was the normal time over which hire purchase agreements should run.

    Therefore, since it has been more than once stated that a period of three years should be sufficient, the right hon. Gentleman is in a difficult position indeed in resisting the argument we have brought forward, and in maintaining his. Since he has brought forward no argument to justify the contention he advances that local authorities in this matter are to be allowed to continue indefinitely in making a loss, and since he is not going to try to bring forward

    Division No. 155.]

    AYES

    [6.55 p.m.

    Adams, Richard (Balham)Field, Capt. W. J.Murray, J. D.
    Albu, A. H.Foot, M. M.Naylor, T. E.
    Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)Forman, J. C.Neal, H. (Clay cross)
    Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)Ganley, Mrs. C. S.Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)
    Alpass, J. H.Glanville, J. E. (Consett)Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)
    Attewell, H. C.Goodrich, H. E.Noel-Baker, Capt F. E. (Brentford)
    Austin, H. LewisGreenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)Oldfield, W. H.
    Awbery, S. S.Grey, C. F.Oliver, G. H.
    Ayles, W. H.Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)Orbach, M.
    Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B.Guest, Dr. L. HadenPaling, Will T. (Dewsbury)
    Balfour, A.Gunter, R. J.Palmer, A. M. F.
    Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.Guy, W. H.Parker, J.
    Barstow, P. G.Hale, LeslieParkin, B. T.
    Barton, C.Hall, Rt. Hon. GlenvilPaton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)
    Battley, J. R.Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.Paton, J. (Norwich)
    Bechervaise, A. E.Hardy, E. A.Pearson, A.
    Berry, H.Harrison, J.Platts-Mills, J. F. F.
    Beswick, F.Hastings, Dr. Somerville.Popplewell, E.
    Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)Haworth, J.Porter, E. (Warrington)
    Binns, J.Harbison, Miss M.Porter, G. (Leeds)
    Blackburn, A. R.Holman, P.Pritt, D. N.
    Blenkinsop, A.Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)Reeves, J.
    Boardman, H.Horabin, T. L.Reid, T. (Swindon)
    Bottemley, A. G.Houghton, A. L. N. D. (Sowerby)Ridealgh, Mrs. M.
    Bowden, Flg. Offr. H. W.Hughe, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)
    Braddock, T. (Mitcham)Hughes, H. D. (W'Iverh'pton, W.)Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
    Bramall, E. A.Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)Ross, William (Kilmarnock)
    Brook, D. (Halifax)Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)Royle, C.
    Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool)Sharp, Granville
    Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.Shurmer, P.
    Brown, T. J. (Ince)Janner, B.Simmons, C. J.
    Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.Jeger, G. (Winchester)Skeffington-Lodge, T. C.
    Burden, T. W.Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S. E.)Skinnard, F. W.
    Burke, W. A.Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)Smith, C. (Colchester)
    Chamberlain, R. A.Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)
    Champion, A. J.Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)Snow, J. W.
    Chetwynd, G. R.Keenan, W.Sorensen, R. W.
    Cluse, W. S.Kenyon, C.Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
    Cobb, F. A.Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.Sparks, J. A.
    Cocks, F. S.Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.Stokes, R. R.
    Collick, P.Kinley, J.Stross, Dr. B.
    Collindridge, F.Kirby, B. V.Sylvester, G. O.
    Collins, V. J.Lee, F. (Hulme)Symonds, A. L.
    Corlett, Dr. J.Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)
    Cove, W. G.Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
    Daggar, G.Lindgren, G. S.Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)
    Daines, P.Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.Thomas, D. E. (Aherdare)
    Davies, Edward (Burslem)Lonsden, F.Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)
    Davies, Emest (Enfield)Lyne, A. W.Thomas, John R. (Dover)
    Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S. W.)McAdam, W.Thurtle, Ernest
    Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)McAllister, G.Titterington, M. F.
    Deer, G.McEntee, V. La. T.Tolley, L.
    Dodds, N. N.McGhee, H. G.Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.
    Driberg, T. E. N.Mack, J. D.Viant, S. P.
    Dumpleton, C. W.McKay, J. (Wallsend)Walkden, E.
    Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.McLeavy, F.Walker, G. H.
    Edwards, John (Blackburn)Mainwaring, W. H.Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)
    Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly)Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)
    Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)Warbey, W. N.
    Evans, E. (Lowestoft)Mellish, R. J.Watkins, T. E.
    Evans, John (Ogmore)Messer, F.Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)
    Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)Middleton, Mrs. L.Weitzman, D.
    Ewart, R.Mitchison, G. R.West, D. G.
    Fairhurst, F.Monslow, W.White, H. (Derbyshire, N. E.)
    Farthing, W. J.Moody, A. S.Whiteley, Rt. Hon W.

    any provision specifying the period in which they have to account to the electors, naturally we have no recourse left to us but to do our best to convince the House by weight of numbers, and that we shall proceed to try to do.

    Question put, "That Clause 8 stand part of the Bill."

    The House divided: Ayes, 210 Noes, 100.

    Wilkins, W. A.Willis, E.Yates, V. F.
    Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)Wills, Mrs. E. A.Young, Sir R. (Newton)
    Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)Wilmot, Rt. Hon. J.Younger, Hon. Kenneth
    Williams, D. J. (Neath)Wise, Major F. J.
    Williams, Ronald (Wigan)Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.

    TELLERS FOR THE AYES:

    Williams, W. R. (Heston)Wyatt, W.Mr. Joseph Henderson and
    Mr. Hannan.

    NOES

    Amory, D. HeathcoatEccles, D. M.Odey, G. W.
    Astor, Hon. M.Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. WalterOrr-Ewing, I. L.
    Baldwin, A. E.Galbraith, Cmdr. T. O. (Pollok)Peake, Rt. Hon. O.
    Baxter, A. B.Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)Peto, Brig. C. H. M.
    Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.George, Maj. Rt. Hn. G. Lloyd (P'ke)Ponsonby, Col. C. E.
    Bennett, Sir P.Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)
    Birch, NigelGrimston, R. V.Rayner, Brig. R.
    Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)
    Boothby, R.Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)Renton, D.
    Bower, R.Harvey, Air-Comdre, A. V.Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)
    Bower, N.Henderson, John (Cathcart)Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)
    Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.Hope, Lord J.Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)
    Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.Howard, Hon. A.Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)
    Bromley-Davenport, Lt. Col. W.Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)Sanderson, Sir F.
    Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.Hutchison, Col. J. R. Glasgow C.)Savory, Prof. D. L.
    Butcher, H. W.Kendall, W. D.Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)
    Butler, Rt. Hn, R. A. (S'ffr'n W'ld'n)Lambert, Hon. G.Smithers, Sir W.
    Byers, FrankLangford-Holt, J.Spearman, A. C. M.
    Carson, E.Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.Stoddart-Scott, Cot. M.
    Chatlen, C.Lindsay, M. (Solihull)Studholme, H. G.
    Channon, H.Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
    Clarke, Col. R. S.Low, A. R. W.Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)
    Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G.MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.Touche, G. C.
    Cole, T. L.McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.Turton, R. H.
    Conant, Maj. R. J. E.Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)Wakefield, Sir W. W.
    Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.Mackeson, Brig. H. R.Walker-Smith, D.
    Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.Maitland, Comdr. J. W.White, J. B. (Canterbury)
    Darting, Sir W. Y.Marsden, Capt. A.Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)
    De la Bère, R.Marshall, D. (Bodmin)Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
    Digby, Simon WingfieldMedlicott, Brigadier F.Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)
    Dodds-Parker, A. D.Mellor, Sir J.
    Donner, P. W.Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen)

    TELLERS FOR THE NOES:

    Drewe, C.Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.Commander Agnew and
    Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)Neven-Spence, Sir B.Colonel Wheatley.
    Duthie, W. S.Nield, B. (Chester)

    Clause 22—(Conditions To Be Observed With Respect To Dwellings)

    I beg to move in page 16, line 44, to leave out from first "the," to "or," and insert "owner."

    This Amendment is put down because of the assurance which the Minister gave on Committee stage that he would deal with this point. As the Clause is drafted any dwelling which is receiving an improvement grant would have at all times to be occupied either by the applicant for the improvement grant or by a member of his family or by the tenant of the house in question. We feel that it would be unfair to confine this to a member of the family and for that reason we have put down the Amendment. Is there any particular reason why, if the original applicant for the grant had left the house to one of his kith or kin or had even sold the house, the benefit of the improvement grant should not pass to the subsequent purchaser if the house fell vacant in the meantime? There appears to be no valid reason why the purchaser of the improved house from the original applicant for the grant should not enjoy all the facilities which the original applicant enjoyed. As the Clause stands, it draws a quite unfair distinction between the two. For those reasons we wish to insert the word "owner" to cover either the owner by will or the owner by purchasing. The Minister, in a subsequent Amendment, has made it more restrictive by covering only the person to whom the property was bequeathed.

    While in the majority of cases the word "owner" and "applicant" would in fact be synonymous, there would be a series of categories of different types of owner, for example, fee simple, 99 years' lease and a whole variety of owners whom we feel it would be unwise to include in the Bill. This is in fact a small point, but we think that we must retain the word "applicant," otherwise there would be no clear definition of the person.

    The point at issue is that "owner" could be the man who purchased the house from the original owner who made the application. It is not confined to the person to whom he bequeaths his house by his will. Why should the purchaser of the house for which an improvement grant has been obtained be any less better off than the applicant?

    We are dealing here with the occupier. Since the house is rented we do not mind who buys or sells the house. The point is that the owner or his relatives are going to be in occupation of the house and it is necessary to safeguard ourselves. In other parts of the Bill, it is made clear that where the house is sold and is not going to be rented then, of course, the development grant must be repaid.

    This is rather an intricate point, and I think that it might repay a little further study. What we are afraid of is that it may arise that on some occasion the whole grant has to be repaid, and the whole process thereby slowed up. As the Minister says, the point is that the house should be let and kept available for letting, and the person who is the actual owner of the house is, to the Minister, a secondary point. So it is to us. What we fear is that the Clause does not exactly carry that out and that unless the owner was the original owner of the grant the conditions of this legislation would not apply.

    I see the point made by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. I will certainly look at it again. I am quite clear in my mind that if there were a succession of owners it would not matter and would not affect the position of the grant so long as the house was let at the controlled rent.

    On the undertaking that the Minister will look at this matter again, we may, I think, be satisfied. I am not sure that the words of the Clause could be held to mean what the Minister has said, that even though there was a succession of owners, so long as the house was kept available for letting, the conditions of the Act would continue to apply. That is a point which we desire to clarify, and as the Minister has undertaken to clarify it, and we accept his assurance that it is his desire that, if the Clause does not mean that, words shall be inserted to make it so read, I think that my hon. Friend may find it possible to withdraw the Amendment.

    I am perfectly prepared to withdraw the Amendment. As the Clause is now drafted it reads:

    "the dwelling shall, at all times at which it is not occupied by the applicant for the improvement grant.…"
    The applicant for the improvement grant clearly means the man or woman who made the original application and not someone to whom that individual bequeathed the dwelling or sold it.

    In view of the assurance which the Minister has given, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    I beg to move, in page 16, line 45, after "family," to insert:

    "or a person to whom the interest of the applicant in the dwelling has been devised by him."
    This is an Amendment to carry out a promise made by my right hon. Friend in Committee. Where the owner who has received a grant under the Bill leaves a reconditioned or improved house by will, the person to whom the house is left would, under the Bill as it stands, have to repay the grant. My right hon. Friend agrees that in that case repayment should not be required, and this provision is made by the Amendment.

    We welcome these words and would be glad if they were inserted in the Bill.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move, in page 16, line 45, after "family" to insert "either (1)";"

    Perhaps it would be convenient to discuss at the same time the following Amendment: in page 17, line 3, at the end, insert:

    "or
    (ii) be occupied under a contract of service."

    I think they could be taken together, because we do not wish to delay the House. This is the first time that either the House or the Committee has had the opportunity of deciding sharply upon the issue whether a dwelling occupied in virtue of a contract of service should qualify for the improvement grant. The arguments which took place in a somewhat ragged fashion in Committee on various subpoints—such as whether a grant or a loan should be made, and later on whether it was possible to devise some code of conduct, such as a three months' notice to deal with the question of summary ejectment—never brought us sharply to the simple point: should a service cottage be able to come in all respects under the conditions of the Bill?

    There is a conflict of opinion between the two sides which must be faced. Hon. Members opposite say that the conditions of the service cottage are so advantageous—I wish to state the position as fairly as I can—to the owner that anyone who has such a property should not be granted any form of public money to improve that dwelling. Our contention, quite shortly, is that, as the improvement will go to the tenant or the person who is in the cottage it is quite wrong for this House to withhold funds which would certainly improve the condition of the cottage, and therefore improve the condition of the person inhabiting the cottage. I hope the hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) will agree that I have fairly stated the conflict between us, because at one point or another we have had long discussions on this.

    I do not wish to delay the House, but I do wish to come to a decision upon this point, which is in some ways smaller than would warrant the enormous amount of heat and argument which has been directed upon it. Yet it is a point which is felt very keenly by both sides. The hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) has more than once spoken very strongly on the matter, and on her consideration of the question has put in a minority report of a very uncompromising nature; indeed, so uncompromising that she suggested that for such rural houses on which improvements were made a full economic rent should be charged. That is a very strong statement, but I am afraid rather out of the sphere of practical politics at the present time.

    We on this side have felt the other viewpoint very strongly indeed, and considered that it would be a blot upon this Bill, which meets the general approval of the whole House—it was not divided against on Second Reading, and it will not be divided against on Third Reading—if it went through, removing those properties altogether from the operation of the Bill, for the Minister has emphasised more than once in relation to small cottage property in general that unless, not merely loan facilities but grant facilities are available such property will not be improved. Indeed, he vigorously opposed some of his hon. Friends who suggested that grants should not be made, and that the whole operation should be conducted by loans. The danger is—and the Minister said this also—that if these facilities are not granted in the case of ordinary cottage property, then ordinary cottage property will not be improved. He said, in effect: "I fear far more a shortage of applications than a rush of applications for the benefits of this Bill." That is what we fear, too.

    It is not necessary to go over again the point as to the deserving nature of those who occupy these particular service cottages. They are admittedly the cream of the agricultural workers of this country; they are the key men of one kind or another—mostly stockmen, but some others as well. Therefore, both their competence and their necessity are admitted on all sides.

    7.15 p.m.

    I wish to ask the Minister to consider, apart from these arguments, the sort of position which he knows very well. Let him consider a small farm in Wales; let him consider his own country which, like my country, is more of a peasant country than the great nation of England, and where the mentality, the make-up of individuals is much more that to which one is accustomed in, say, French literature than in English literature, and where we can appreciate the intense application of the peasant to the soil, and the intense and corroding quarrels which often arise in those connections. Let him consider the position of a small farm in Wales whew a quarrel had arisen between the farmer and the shepherd or cowman; the nature of the quarrel was such that it was impossible to bring it before either the agricultural executive committee or the courts; it was one of those personal things which only a peasant can fully appreciate and understand; the sort of thing which makes a man perfectly capable of cutting off his nose to spite his face thereafter. Imagine these people unwillingly locked in propinquity for months, and indeed for years thereafter, simply because some quarrel had arisen from which neither side was willing to withdraw. In so far as that quarrel continued it would hold up production, because inside that cottage would be living one who would not co-operate in the work of the farm, and without whose co-operation the work of the farm could not satisfactorily proceed.

    The right hon. Gentleman has recognised that position more than once in the case of furnished lodgings—more particularly lodgings shared with another person. He has recognised that to lock these two people together indefinitely is certain to bring about the greatest possible disadvantages. That is rather in the nature of the case we are thinking of, although the sharing of such premises is much more intimate than the sharing of ordinary lodgings or furnished apartments. People can continue to inhabit the same house, it may be for years, without speaking a word to each other. Even man and wife have been known to continue in a house for a period of years without interchanging even the most perfunctory remarks. But a Welsh or a Scottish farmer and his cowman or shepherd cannot carry on for months or years without ordinarily friendly relations between them. The ultimate point of resolving these things is when the man is told that friendly relations are no longer possible, that a new man will have to be got and new quarters will have to be obtained.

    We have not yet come to the end of this long argument, and I do suggest that the Minister should think again on the subject. Only recently, in the last few days, I again saw a resolution from some conference or other complaining that the question of the tied cottage had not been resolved. We recognise that on this issue the Minister is under pressure from his own supporters, and that more than one Labour Party conference has passed a resolution very strongly against the whole idea of the tied cottage. But the Minister himself has pointed out that as far as he can see the tied cottage is indispensable for many years to come to the conduct of agriculture in our country. All he has said is that he does not find it possible for him ill present circumstances to make any grant towards the improvement of these cottages, that is to say that the person in a tied cottage is liable to all the disadvantages to which he is liable at present, and in addition liable to the disadvantage that his house may not be improved. That, we believe, is a deadlock which administration should not continue to contemplate. Our suggestion is that the tied cottage should also be made liable for grant under this legislation. We say that the onus of proof is on those who would refuse it, and for that reason we have set down the Amendment.

    We have, indeed, discussed this in Committee at very great length. Every single combination, involution and permutation of the subject was considered, and eventually the Bill was restored to the House of Commons more or less as it went to the Committee in this respect. I should like to make it clear from the outset that we are not discussing tied cottages but improvement grants. Tied cottages are an entirely different matter. All we are saying in the Bill is this. It is not the Government that decides whether an improvement grant is to be paid on a service cottage but the owner of the cottage. The right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) put the cart before the horse, if I may use an agricultural metaphor appropriate to the circumstances.

    All we have said is this. If the owner of a service cottage—I would rather speak of service cottages than tied cottages—says, "I am not going to apply for an improvement grant because if I do I have to create a tenancy, and if I do that I have no power of summary ejection," then at once we argue that the owner of a service cottage is putting the service cottage in the category of being a part of the hereditament, not of being a cottage in the ordinary sense of the term, and therefore not entitled to have an improvement grant upon it. He is saying that it is not a tenancy he wants but the right to put the occupant of the service cottage on the road overnight. He argues that he needs the occupancy of the cottage to get the farm work done efficiently.

    If he is arguing in that way, what he is saying is that, so essential is the occupancy of the cottage by a person whom he selects for the pursuit of farming that he cannot have a tenant in the cottage possessing tenant rights no matter how rudimentary. But if he says that, I must regard his building as part of his farm buildings and not therefore as a cottage, a house or residence that ought to attract grants in the ordinary way. I suggest with all respect that that logic is impregnable. It is not therefore the Government or the Bill that denies improvement to the service cottage, but the owner of the service cottage who will not improve the cottage under the conditions of this grant because he wishes to retain the power of summary ejectment.

    It is perfectly true that upstairs the Opposition put down an Amendment suggesting this power of summary ejectment should be modified by a three-month period and that at the end of three months the power of ejectment should be restored without any proceedings in the courts. We argued in reply, and we still argue it today, that within two, three or four months at the outside a farmer can get possession of the cottage now. He can proceed to the county agricultural executive committee for a certificate. In other words, he has to prove his case before his peers. He has to prove it before a representative of the men, a farmer and another person. He has to show that it is in the interests of his business to have possession of the cottage, and if he gets a certificate he can then go to the county court and in most cases get an order.

    As a general rule, therefore, the possession of these cottages for agricultural purposes can be obtained within two, three or four months. Where the period is longer than that, it ought to be longer than that, because there the judge will have arbitrated that more hardship will fall upon the occupant of the cottage than upon the farmer, and therefore the period should be longer during which the occupant can look around for alternative accommodation. I should have thought that that is all a reasonable farmer would want. As a matter of fact, I have been told by many farmers that they do not want the power of summary ejectment, which is an arbitrary power they find too repugnant to exercise, and consequently they are prepared for some protection to be given to an occupant of a cottage.

    Some of my hon. Friends argued that the farmer ought not to have the power to get an occupant out of a cottage at all unless alternative accommodation could be found. We have considered that right to be too substantial a denial of business efficiency to be permitted all over the country, because here we are speaking not only of agricultural but of all restricted tenancies in various parts of the country. It is quite easy to give an example of how embarrassing it would be. A local authority might employ a watchman over the sluice gates of a reservoir, and occupancy of a cottage in such an isolated place might be part of the work. If the watchman decided to give up his work, the local authority would be unable to find anyone at all, because the watchman could still sit in his cottage and the local authority would have to find alternative accommodation. There would be public hurt and public injury; this would be the exercise of an individual's right against the common good. That is why the Rent Restrictions Acts have always recognised the necessity of enabling people to get possession of houses where it is necessary for the carrying on of the business or profession.

    The improvement grant cannot be paid in the case of a service cottage. There, I think, I am marching with enlightened opinion on both sides; the farmer who says, "All right, I will take the improvement grant because all I am losing is a right I do not want to exercise and I very rarely exercise. I am perfectly prepared to submit my case to the arbitration of my fellows."

    The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned one case which he did not finish. The case he had in mind is where it might be difficult for the farmer or owner of the house to make his case before the county agricultural executive committee because the relationship between the farmer and the occupant of the cottage might not be due to contractual considerations but to subjective and emotional considerations. But not only could the farmer find the occupant of the cottage emotionally objectionable but the occupant could also find the farmer emotionally objectionable. The farm-worker could not get rid of the farmer. There is no reason why on these purely subjective grounds the farmer should be able to get rid of the farmworker.

    When all is said and done, the farmer is responsible for the running of the holding and is answerable to the county agricultural executive committee, which the worker is not.

    All the farmer would have to do in such a case would be to dismiss his worker and then go to the agricultural executive committee and get possession.

    7.30 p.m.

    The hon. Member is conjuring up a set of circumstances to make a case for which, on more general grounds, he and his hon. Friends have no case at all. I need hardly repeat the old adage, "Hard cases make bad law." I do not think that we can amend the whole of this Bill and expose thousands of agricultural workers to unnecessary hardship in order to deal with a few cases where emotional disturbance might arise out of physical propinquity. I think the case has been made abundantly for these provisions in the Bill which, I believe, will be welcomed by every enlightened landlord.

    I am sorry to take up the time of the House but this is an extremely important matter, especially as it concerns agricultural districts. The Minister and Members on this side are so close together that it is a pity that we cannot bridge the gap. The Minister said that we had argued for a three months' tenancy and wanted summary ejection. I differ from that; I do not think that was argued at all. All we want is a reasonable opportunity to get possession of a cottage when a man gives up his job.

    I do not wish to misrepresent the situation, nor do I wish it to be misunderstood. What the Opposition wanted was that the improvement grant should be paid upon a service cottage and that when a cottage had a grant of that sort the landlord, if he wished to get rid of the tenant, would have to give three months' notice, at the end of which the axe would fall.

    I do not think that the words "summary ejection" were ever mentioned in the argument.

    I think the difference is between the lawyer's use of the term "summary ejection" and the lay use of that term. The layman's idea is that it means throwing a man out overnight, neck and crop. The lawyer's point is that a man can recover possession of his property. The question whether it is done by violence or by any other means does not really arise in the legal connotation, although it does arise in the mind of the layman.

    The proposition was that the owner of a service cottage should give up a right in return for an improvement grant. That right was the right to turn out his tenant. In return for an improvement grant the landlord would say to the tenant, "Here is three months' notice," and all the owner would have to do would be to sit back. At the end of three months he could put the tenant out, as he could at the beginning, without any processes of law. His right of summary ejectment would be restored at the end of the three months.

    Speaking on behalf of the best farmers, I can say that we do not want the right of summary ejection. What we want was well illustrated by the Minister's point about the night watchman. When the night watchman gives up his job he has to give up his cottage. Similarly, when the shepherd gives up his job he should give up his cottage, but should continue in it until he can get somewhere else to live. We want men to remain on farms, carrying on their work, until they can find other accommodation.

    That has nothing to do with what is now before the House. Ordinarily, the sensible workman, if he intended to leave his employment, would first look around for a house and then, when he had found it, would give notice to his employer. What the hon. Member wishes to achieve is, generally speaking, the case now.

    We ask the Minister to protect us from the unreasonable workman; there is no difficulty with the reasonable workman. We want protection against the unreasonable workman who simply sits in his cottage and will not get another job. The gap between us is small. The Minister and the Minister of Agriculture both appreciate that we have to have service cottages. All we want is a means of protection, so that when a key man gives up his job he gives up his cottage. Farmers do not want to be left high and dry in the lambing season. I believe the position can be met, and I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has withstood the pressure from his own back benchers on this matter. Members opposite who delight in their prejudice against the landed estate owner will do a lot of harm to those who have to carry on farm work if they slightly hurt that landowner. It has been said that farm workers are in shackles. I do not believe that is true, but even if it is, the right hon. Gentleman should build council houses and give to men who feel that they are being intimidated, an opportunity of going into those houses. No farmer will take the risk of finding himself saddled with a man whom he cannot dismiss, and the cream of the farm workers will suffer because of the prejudice against the tied cottage.

    We have already been reminded that service cottages apply to other than farm workers—that there are railway cottages, miners' cottages, and the like. Why is it that as one after another Member has intervened in the discussion today the Debate has got right back to the farm? It is because the problem does not affect miners and railwaymen and others who are doing vital jobs and have to live near to their work. It does not affect them because they have powerful trade union protection. The mines and the railways are nationalised. In other words, opinion in industrial areas is such that we are comfortable in our minds. We are not afraid of abuse: we know that our people, collectively, can protect themselves. The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) said in Committee, and again today, that the same balance of power exists in the countryside, and that although there might be an unreasonable farmer and farm worker they cancelled each other out.

    In the whole of Great Britain no widow of a poor miner could be thrown out of a colliery cottage even before the mines were nationalised. There was the powerful Miners' Union, and the men would not have tolerated that kind of behaviour. But that can happen in the English countryside. There are not a great number of ties, but in the countryside, if one is politically, economically, and socially weak, even although one is not victimised, not only a man, but his wife and children can have their nerves frayed by a feeling of insecurity.

    The hon. Member shakes his head. At a recent election in my own constituency there was a farmer in a meeting who got up to ask the candidate how he earned his living. It was the whole atmosphere of the man which was suggestive. I am not saying that the hon. Member would behave that way, nor am I saying that that farmer was representative of the farming community, but we are not legislating here for kind and reasonable people. We are legislating for the special problem, which is a countryside problem. We are dealing with people who abuse their powers. I am still puzzled and astonished that the farmers of the countryside are not delighted that they cannot get public money unless they untie their cottages. It should be clearly understood that if they do untie their cottages and give the minimum protection, they will come into the scheme.

    The Minister has only given us the minimum protection. He could not have given us less than he has done on this particular point. In fact, he has given us so little that I cannot understand why hon. Members opposite, particularly the hon. Member for Leominster, are not delighted that they can go back to the countryside and explain that there is no problem about this. All they have to explain is that if the service cottage is substandard, and if the employee is given a little bit of protection, then the owner comes within the provisions of the Bill. I hope that this Amendment will not be pressed. On the other hand, why should I say that I hope this Amendment will not be pressed, I would rather see it pressed to a Division, and then the Division Lobbies would show us where we stood in this respect.

    The Minister said that the main point of this Amendment referred to improvement grants and was not a discussion on the merits or demerits of the service cottage system. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that in a speech in Committee on this part of the Bill he referred to these agricultural cottages as pieces of social equipment, and something which, as far as possible, we should see were kept in a proper state. He was advancing the argument about pieces of social equipment against his hon. Friends who were asking that the grant should not be given when a service tenancy had been agreed to and entered into.

    Also during his speech he commented that his logic was impeccable. I cannot see that I can understand the logic of the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) that no grant should be given in a case where there is not 100 per cent. freedom from the tie or at least an offer of alternative accommodation. However, we have gone beyond that by the fact that the Minister says now that an improvement grant can be given in a case where possession can be obtained under the cottage certificate procedure, or by a certificate from the county agricultural executive committee. I do not think his logic is impeccable, but if it is, he should go a little further so that we can make a grant towards improving these pieces of social equipment wherever they are still in control of the landlord or under control of the agricultural committee.

    7.45 p.m.

    The Minister also said we wanted grants for cottages where the occupier could be thrown out on to the road overnight. He was fair enough later in his speech to remind the House that we moved an Amendment on the Committee stage to give an improvement grant only in the case of a cottage where agreement had been entered into by the occupier and the owner, and that three months' notice should be given. I was sorry that on that occasion the Minister could not accept the Amendment, because there is a genuine desire on both sides of the House, and between both parties in the industry to try to get some compromise on the question of these particular cottages. Here let me say that in spite of moving or supporting this Amendment many of us are appreciative of the effort that the Minister has made to meet us. There were rumours before this Bill appeared that the service cottage and tenancy were going to be excluded altogether from the Measure.

    The Minister has made a gesture to meet us in so far as a grant can be obtained if a tenancy is entered into and a certificate obtained from the county agricultural executive committee before possession can be gained. That will meet the vast majority of cases in the more populous parts of the country, but it does not meet the difficulty of the more remote parts, where less labour is employed on the farm, and where there are just one or two key men. It is important that the farmer should retain control of these particular cottages. The Minister says that that is just the sort of case where the county agricultural executive committee would give a certificate. My right hon. and gallant Friend has already mentioned the sort of personal difference which may arise in those cases and, unless the agricultural executive committee are going to allow a divorce for temperamental incompatibility, it is difficult to see how the farmer can hand over this particular responsibility and control over these tied cottages.

    Now that the farmers are doing so well and are in such a well-paid occupation, why cannot they themselves put their cottages in proper repair without seeking public funds?

    I do not think I need answer that, because we had a very long discussion on it on the Committee stage, where it was pointed out to the Minister that a very large gap exists between the case of any farm building work and improvement, and the rent which can be charged under the Rent Restriction Acts. Indeed, in the case of the service cottage no rent at all is charged. The whole object of this Bill is to try to bridge that gap, and encourage people to carry out this work, without levying too high rents upon the occupiers. I do not wish to detain the House any longer, but we appreciate what the Minister has done to met us on this point, and I am only sorry that he could not come a little nearer so that this Bill would leave the House as a more or less agreed Measure on this particular point.

    I expected that we were going to have a full-dress Debate on the question of the tied cottage. The Amendment from the opposite side of the House raises this question in its sharpest form. The right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) suggested that this Clause would be a blot on the Bill if it remained as drafted. It would be a much greater blot if the Amendment were accepted. I am pleased to note that the Minister has made a firm stand against the attempt by the Opposition to retain the power of summary ejection of agricultural workers. It is suggested by the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) that the Opposition want to protect the rights of the farmer against the unreasonable workman. We want to protect the rights of the workman against the unreasonable farmer. To suggest, as has been done in the Committee, that there should be a three months' interregnum or delay before this power of summary ejection operated is simply to beg the question. What would the life of the agricultural worker and of his family be during the three months when the notice was in suspension?

    Something has been said—and I did not know that it was possible to introduce it—about the power of the farmer to get a certificate from the agricultural committee. That is a right which no other owner of property possesses. No one else can go to any committee and get a certificate which waives the condition that there shall be alternative accommodation provided before possession is granted to the owner. We shall very much resent it if this power still remains.

    The hon. Gentleman is wrong in saying what he has said. With a service occupancy, which is the arrangement which farmers generally have with their men, it is not necessary to get a certificate. Farmers can apply direct to the courts. The certificate is necessary when the farmer wants to bring into service occupancy a cottage which is let in some other way.

    For many years I was a member of a committee which made an inspection of cottages to ascertain whether a certificate should be granted. It may be said that I have exaggerated the extent to which certificates have been granted under that special provision. The number last year was not 1,000, as I said, but 999. That is not a very great error. I hope that we shall show our determination to safeguard the rights and to protect liberties of the agricultural worker by refusing to continue this right of arbitrary ejection. I would remind the hon. Member for Leominster that although he himself would not operate this power in an unjust fashion there are many cases where farmers have gone to a house and turned the people out on to the verge without any notice whatever. It is the exercise of that unjust power which we are anxious shall not remain in the hands of anyone in the future. I hope that we shall show our very strong resentment against retaining this power of arbitrary ejection by defeating the Amendment, even if we have to go into the Lobby against it.

    It is true that the Minister has gone some way to meet us, but I do not think I can say the same about the hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass). I find it difficult to believe that the farming community in his part of the world are so different from the farming community anywhere else.

    The Minister said that it was for the owner to decide whether to untie his cottage and obtain the grant. That is technically true. The right hon. Gentleman has obliged the owner to decide but it is the tenant who suffers. The right hon. Gentleman will know that under the old Housing (Rural Workers) Act owners reconditioned their cottages either with no financial return to themselves where the maximum wage-deduction was already made, or with a very small return—namely the difference between the actual deduction and the maximum permitted.

    What the hon. Gentleman is really saying is that the landlord is prepared to do an injury to his tenant in order to retain a mediaeval right.

    The right hon. Gentleman is doing an injury to a large number of occupants of tied cottages because of his political prejudices.

    Why are the agricultural workers overwhelmingly against continuance of the tied cottage system?

    The answer to the hon. Member is that they are not. I do not know how many agricultural workers in this country are living in what are called tied cottages, but the Ridley Report put the number a few years ago at 200,000. There must, therefore, be a considerable number of houses of this category. It is true that the owner can get a grant by untying his cottage. The right hon. Gentleman says that all that the owner has to do if he wants possession of his cottage is to go to the county agricultural committee and get a certificate, but only 50 per cent. of applications for certificates are successful. There are certain cases in which the certificate procedure must be totally inappropriate.

    We all know examples of a farm worker who is efficient in his job, but either quarrels violently with everybody on the farm or drinks too much. In those circumstances the agricultural committee could not be asked to allow a certificate. We know of circumstances in which the tenant of a tied house makes life so unbearable for everybody else on the farm that the other employees say to the farmer, "Either this man goes or we all go." There are circumstances which cannot be dealt with by the certificate procedure. The right hon. Gentleman very properly said in Committee that occupancy of a house was sometimes a necessary part of the efficient operation of an industry, and also of services like education, and railways. That is correct.

    The Government are probably the largest owners of tied cottages in England. The right hon. Gentleman knows that very well. He himself is the owner of tied cottages, through the Ministry of Health. He has asked for powers whereby local authorities can earmark a particular house for the district nurse in any particular area. How can the district nurse operate in any area without living in a house? Of course, she cannot. That cottage is part and parcel of the "social equipment."

    If the district nurse gets married and leaves her job is she to be allowed to live in that house?

    Certainly. Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that what I have asked local authorities to do is to provide houses for the district nurse, and that if she ceases to be the district nurse she is to be put out on the road? All I would ask is that the local authorities provide another house. That is all.

    8.0 p.m.

    Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that public money should be spent on providing houses for district nurses, which everybody agrees are necessary, and if the nurse decides to give up nursing, can she still stay in the house earmarked for a district nurse?

    I suppose the right hon. Gentleman will say that that applies to houses owned by the Forestry Commission and to those occupied by village constables.

    All the time hon. Members are arguing as though the matter before the House were the issue of tied cottages. It is no such thing. It is whether the improvement grants should be withheld from one type of cottage or another. The issue of tied cottages is not dealt with in the Bill and is not before the House.

    I agree entirely with the Minister. The general question of tied cottages is not before the House. The question is the conditions under which an improvement grant will be made. I therefore hope that for that reason and others hon. Members will be good enough to be brief and to the point.

    I was only trying to argue the reason why an improvement grant should be made in respect of tied houses. I do not think I am going any wider on that argument that did the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee). That was the argument to which I was addressing myself. I still think that the analogy of the policeman's house makes the right hon. Gentleman's argument totally illogical. Perhaps most illogical of all is the insertion in the Bill of the provision relating to a parsonage house. Is it the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the diocesan authorities will allow a parson who has given up the living to remain in a certain rectory which has received an improvement grant——

    I do not think that question really arises in that form. The question is the condition under which a grant shall be made. I do not think that these illustrations of what happens to tied or semi-tied cottages really help the situation.

    With great respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I cannot find the Clause at the moment, but a parsonage house certainly does come within the terms of the Bill relating to improvement grants. That is referred to in a letter which I have from the Ministry on the subject.

    That is an entirely different issue. The situation is that an improvement grant is paid upon a parsonage because the ecclesiastical authorities concerned could get possession of the parsonage by due process of law. It is a restricted process of law, or rather the rights of the tenant are restricted. That is an entirely different matter from an improvement grant being paid for a service cottage where no rights of any sort whatever exist.

    I appreciate that the Minister finds himself in some difficulty in trying to keep to a logical argument. His argument so far has been that public money should not be given to an owner of a cottage where the occupancy of the cottage goes with the job. He made a most impassioned speech about that and about the home being broken up when the job finished. The hon. Member for Cannock said that it would not be possible for eviction orders to be carried out in respect of colliery cottages as they were in the case of farm cottages. She may remember that I recalled a case during Committee of a widow of a colliery company cashier who had lived in a colliery company's cottage for 30 years, and following the death of her husband, she was evicted by the Coal Board without being given sufficient time even to clear up her husband's affairs.

    Although unfortunate cases occur in agriculture and in other industries creating hardships for certain individuals, we are certainly not asking for powers to enable us to cause unnecessary hardship to any of the farming community. All we are asking is that the 200,000 odd agricultural workers who are now living in tied houses should not be deprived through sheer political prejudice of having their houses improved at great benefit to themselves and no financial benefit to the owners.

    I am rather surprised that the Debate has taken the turn it has done. The point at issue here is a very simple one. A house which is tied in the manner in which a cottage is tied today is not let in such a way that the tenant has any protection. Indeed, he is no tenant. I would point out to the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) that he can be ejected without going to court and there is an end of the matter. It is no good arguing that an attempt to retain that right means anything else. It merely means what it says, and that is, that a right is left for the farmer, without giving any reason whatsoever, to turn out the person who is occupying the cottage. That is what the Opposition wish to retain.

    No, the hon. Member is entirely wrong. We have said time and time again on the Floor of this House and upstairs that we do not want the right of summary ejection.

    Mr. Janner