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Housing

Volume 498: debated on Tuesday 1 April 1952

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Private Building

27.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he is yet able to say how many local authorities have intimated their intention to apply 50 per cent. of their housing allocation to private licences; and if he will circulate a list of such authorities in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government
(Mr. Ernest Marples)

This is a matter within the discretion of individual authorities. Information about houses licensed or approved for building by private builders by each authority is given each quarter in Appendix B to the Housing Return.

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that the policy which he and his friends are pursuing in this matter is driving thousands of people, particularly young married couples, to cynical despair? Is he aware that they are now beginning to realise that the first test is not the human need of their problem but the possession of capital resources?

I would draw the attention of the hon. Member to the circular which accompanied the authority to local authorities to increase their private enterprise licences, because in that circular my right hon. Friend drew attention to the fact that those licences should be given to those people with housing needs comparable to those on council house waiting lists.

May I ask the hon. Gentleman if he can repeat that assurance, that his Ministry is bringing no pressure whatever to bear on local authorities to utilise this power, that the matter is entirely one for their discretion, and that nothing will happen if they do not choose to use it?

I said in my original answer that it is entirely at the discretion of the local authority.

38.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether, in order to speed the building of houses, he will permit those who wish to build their own and who possess all necessary building materials to do so without a licence.

With the increase which my right hon. Friend has made in the permitted ratio of licences to council houses, local authorities should be able to deal with any such cases on their merits.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the local authorities are not doing so? Is there any justification whatsoever for stopping a man who has building materials, acquired legitimately, on his site and is prepared to build his house with his own hands from doing so?

If my hon. Friend will send in the details to show that there are unemployed resources of materials and labour, the matter will be gone into.

Derequisitioned Properties (Tenants)

28.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what steps he is taking, in view of his instructions to local authorities regarding derequisitioning, to ensure the protection of those living in properties so to be derequisitioned.

The hon. Member can be assured that before properties are derequisitioned local authorities will make any provision that is necessary for tenants who occupy the premises as licensees.

But is not the Minister aware that men and women are being turned out of houses, that in fact they are served with derequisitioning notices and told to find whatever accommodation they can? Is not the Minister also aware that this kind of thing is causing great hardship and real suffering to large sections of the community, and will he, in the light of this, send a similar circular to the local authorities either urging them to do something about it or to slow down the rate of derequisitioning?

In almost every case the local authorities offer the person affected alternative accommodation—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—but if the hon. Gentleman has any individual case in mind, and will be good enough to let my right hon. Friend have it, he will look into it.

In view of that answer to the supplementary question of my hon. Friend, is the hon. Gentleman aware that in Birmingham there are over 12,000 houses which are derequisitioned? Therefore, how can he say that the local authority finds alternative accommodation when there are already 60,000 on the register of the Estates Department waiting for houses?

The hon. Gentleman said that there are over 12,000 houses de-requisitioned—

They are to be de-requisitioned, but the local authorities will not derequisition them until they find alternative accommodation for the tenants.

West Riding

29.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government how many houses were completed in the West Riding of Yorkshire in 1951; and how this figure compares with the figures for 1949 and 1950.

Ten thousand, six hundred and seventy-six houses were completed in 1951. The figures for 1949 and 1950 were 11,733 and 11,056, respectively.

It is always dangerous to forecast, but we are not without hope of a substantial increase.

Completions

30.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government to what extent the rate of completion of housing schemes has been expedited as a result of the standstill in sanctioning new starting dates for other building work.

But would the hon. Gentleman not agree that the effect on the rate of completions has been almost nil?

It is difficult to isolate the effects of the ban from other effects on the rate of completion. I mean that good weather, the flow of materials, the issue of private enterprise licences, and so on, which may speed up building are all factors that must be taken into account.

Standards

31.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what arrangement he has made to inform himself of the number of local housing authorities which require builders of houses under licence to observe the standards laid down by the National Housebuilders Registration Council, as recommended in the appendix to the circular issued by his Department on 27th November, 1951.

My right hon. Friend considers that this is a matter which should be left in the hands of the local authorities.

If that is so, what possible assurance can the Minister give to the House or to the public that they will be protected from low standards of building, and from the kind of jerry-building which was suffered before the war?

The local authorities are the agents in this matter, and my right hon. Friend is a firm believer in the fact that the "gentleman in Whitehall" does not always know best.

Surely, if the Minister issues a circular giving specific information and advice to local authorities, he should at least find out whether that advice has been accepted or not?

In many cases my right hon. Friend gives guidance to local authorities, but only in rare cases does he make it mandatory; normally it is permissive.

West Ham (Loans)

32.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government for particulars of all types of loans, sanctioned by his Department, so far as the county borough of West Ham is concerned, and the interest rates charged; and if he will state how these will be affected by the recent increases in the Bank rate.

My right hon. Friend's Department sanctions necessary loans to West Ham Council for all their services. The sanction is not concerned with the rate of interest, which may vary with the date, period and source of the borrowing, and he has no information on this. So far as the effect of the recent rise in the Bank rate on loans from the Public Works Loan Board is concerned, he would refer the hon. Member to the statement made by the Chancellor on 17th March in winding up the debate on the Budget.

Yes, but is the Parliamentary Secretary aware of the fact that West Ham is the worst bombed borough in the country and that it has immense financial difficulties because of the loss of rateable property? Whilst we appreciate his generosity in making the £50,000 grant, is he not aware that the increased Bank rate will mean that this council will be in further financial difficulties? Will he, therefore, do something to assist this council, and councils in like position, to offset the increase resulting from the statement of the Chancellor?

The special difficulties of West Ham are met by the grant of £50,000 referred to by the hon. Member, but the Bank rate itself does not affect the rate of interest to West Ham. It is the interest rate of the Public Work Loans Board which matters.

Building Restrictions

34.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he will remove all restrictions on the building of houses, except that, while the housing shortage prevails, no house shall exceed £1,500 or contain more than three bedrooms, subject always to the submission to local authorities of plans and amenities.

My right hon. Friend hopes progressively to achieve greater flexibility and freedom in the building of houses. We have already made considerable progress in this direction.

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that if all restrictions of his Ministry and of the local authorities were removed, except those indicated in the Question, we should get thousands more houses, and that there are enough men and materials in the country to build the houses if all restrictions were removed?

I would remind my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend has indicated that if any local authority has unemployed resources of material and labour, he will consider granting them further instalments of houses.

Has the Minister noticed that in asking for controls on the price and so on of houses built by private enterprise, the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) is becoming infected with Socialist doctrine?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I wish to protest against that Jay question.

Rent Tribunal Offices

35.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government how many rent tribunal offices in the country have been and are being dispensed with and if he is aware that such action will result in hardship to proposed applicants for relief under the Rent Acts.

One office has been closed. Eight will be closed shortly and their work transferred to other offices. My right hon. Friend is satisfied that no hardship will be caused to applicants.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the fact that the purpose of this provision in the Rent Acts was to give to tenants easy access to those offices, and is he prepared to accept the representations in that respect which have been made to him in regard to the cutting down of these important offices?

My right hon. Friend is satisfied that there will be no hardship because, first, the information and forms are available at the offices of the local authority, and secondly, the tribunals will inspect premises and hear the cases locally. Therefore no hardship ought to follow for the tenants.

41.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what proposals he has under consideration in regard to the rent tribunals in the North-West region; and what will be the effect in regard to Cheshire and elsewhere.

Eight offices, including that at Chester, are being closed and their work transferred elsewhere in the region, with, my right hon. Friend hopes, fully satisfactory results.

Is the Minister seriously telling the House that he is proposing to eliminate no fewer than eight of these rent tribunals in Lancashire and Cheshire? Is that not another way of effectively killing the work of the rent tribunals? If that is the object of the Government, would it not be a more honourable course to repeal the legislation?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it is not the intention of the Government to do that. The number of applicants seeking help from the tribunals has dropped by more than 20 per cent., and it is not unreasonable, as the volume of work drops, that the tribunals should be transferred elsewhere.

Does the Minister appreciate that the proposal will mean that the whole county of Cheshire will not have one rent tribunal?

In the case of places like Birkhenhead, it is much easier for applicants to go to Liverpool than Chester.

Birkenhead Tribunal cases are not heard in Chester but in Birkenhead. The hon. Gentleman's announcement means that in all the large towns in Lancashire and Cheshire applicants will have to traipse up to Manchester and such places.

In my answer to an earlier supplementary, I said that applicants to rent tribunals can make their applications at their local council offices and get their forms there. The tribunal will go to the applicants and not the applicants to the tribunal.

Development Charges

39.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he will investigate the fact that a substantial number of private house building licences are being returned to local authorities because the applicants cannot afford the development charge; and if he will take steps to rectify this position.

My right hon. Friend is already investigating the general question of development charge in all its aspects as part of the review of the financial provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947.

It is too early to say yet, but I can assure my hon. Friend that a great deal of time, thought and research are going into a solution of the problem.

40.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he now has any further statement to make on his review of those sections of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, which deal with development charges on building plots for private occupation; and whether he will consider making any relief retrospective.

This matter is extremely difficult and complicated, and my right hon. Friend is not yet able to make any statement.

Hutted Camps

43.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what special arrangements he has made to assist local authorities to rehouse people at present accommodated in hutted ex-Service camps.

In general, the instalments of houses issued to local authorities take into account any necessary provision for rehousing families occupying such camps. In exceptional cases additional instalments are given specially for this purpose.

In view of the deplorable state of the majority of these huts, many of which have been condemned and many more of which should be condemned, will my hon. Friend ask his right hon. Friend to give some time limit within which occupants of these hutted camps should be re-accommodated in reasonable conditions?

Surveys of the hutted camps are made from time to time by my right hon. Friend's principal regional officers, who take account of the life and the condition of the huts. If my hon. Friend has any very bad case in mind, we might get the principal regional officer to make an inspection.

Building Contracts, Lambeth (Stoppages)

44.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government why, in a letter dated 19th February last, he refused an application by the Lambeth Borough Council to pay out-of-pocket expenses to building contractors in the event of steel shortages causing stoppage of work on housing schemes.

The form of contract used by Lambeth Borough Council does not provide for payments of this kind and my right hon. Friend is not prepared to agree to recommend loan sanction to cover them.

How does the hon. Gentleman reconcile that answer with the statement made by his Minister in the House on 4th March last, that housing contracts are not subject to his approval and that the local authorities can come to amicable arrangements with housing contractors on the matter?

If housing authorities come to arrangements with housing contractors to pay out money over and above the conditions of the contract, it is not for my right hon. Friend to provide loan sanctions in advance for them. It is a matter for the local authority. In this case, the application referred to specific work carried out at Solon New Road in the hon. and gallant Gentleman's constituency. The contractor has waived his claim and the work is now proceeding. There is no necessity for any loan at all.