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Clause 2—(Quashing Of Certain Demolition Orders)

Volume 465: debated on Monday 30 May 1949

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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].


[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.)


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


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.


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