Skip to main content

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

Volume 465: debated on Monday 30 May 1949

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

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.