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Orders Of The Day

Volume 526: debated on Tuesday 13 April 1954

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Housing Repairs And Rents Bill


Order for Third Reading read.

3.55 p.m.

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

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

I have been a Member of the House for nine years, which is a short time compared with the membership of many right hon. and hon. Members. During that time I have always found that the Third Reading of a Bill has certain features which are absent from the other stages. The first is that one is nearly always surrounded by faces which have become familiar during the passage of weeks and sometimes months in Committee and on Report; and of course one is listening to speeches which one can predict with a tolerable degree of accuracy, although not always with certainty.

The second point about Third Readings which has often struck me is that it is extremely difficult to keep in order. We are confined to a discussion of what is within the Bill and we cannot discuss what we think ought to be in the Bill. As a consequence, I have been reprimanded by your predecessor, Mr. Speaker, when I have transgressed this Ruling in the past. I shall therefore be precluded from commenting on the Opposition's proposals for purchasing 6 million houses, because that would be out of order; but if any hon. Members opposite care to tell me at some time in private how they propose to finance it, I shall be obliged.

The third difficulty which I have found on Third Reading is to find something new to say. Generally speaking, it has always been said before and often very much better than one could say it oneself. I am in that difficulty today, particularly as we have had most prolonged, comprehensive and exhaustive discussions on the Bill. On the White Paper we had what was the equivalent of a First Reading debate, a practice which was stopped in the House many decades ago. Next, we had two days for Second Reading.

On Report and in Committee upstairs we spent a considerable time. I have made investigations and I find that it totals 69 hours and that we caused some 516,000 words to be printed in HANSARD, at a rough estimate. I wondered how the figure of 516,000 compared with other important documents, and I found that there were only 181,000 words in the New Testament, so that we caused to be printed in HANSARD three times the number of words recorded in the New Testament. I can compare only the quantity, and I would not take it upon myself to compare the quality of the contributions, particularly as I took part in the debates.

Before I turn to the details of the Bill, I think I should remind the House of the background against which we are considering it, because this is what was called in the White Paper "The Next Step," It is only part of a comprehensive housing policy, the first step in which was the building of the new houses. It was only by building these new houses that my right hon. Friend had the room for manoeuvre necessary to enable him to bring in this Measure. This is the second step; there might be in the life of this Government a third step, but it would be out of order for me to speak on that.

Am I to be permitted to reply to the case about the housing activities of the Minister?

Reference to that made as an introductory paragraph may be in order, but I do not think one can develop the matter beyond what is in the Bill.

I am obliged to you, Mr. Speaker, for your Ruling, and will now proceed to deal with the Bill itself.

I think it would be of convenience to the House if I divided my remarks into three, as the Bill itself falls naturally into three parts—repairs to private houses still in private ownership, slum clearance and patching proposals, and conversions and improvements. I will not detail the whole of the proposals relating to the repairs to sound houses in private ownership, because there has been some discussion of them during the Committee and Report stages. On 30th November, in a long speech, which I am afraid wearied the House, I developed in detail what is in the Bill. If that speech is read in conjunction with the changes we have made, a good idea can be gained of what the Government have introduced by this Measure.

We are all agreed on the objects under this heading, that is, the prevention of the deterioration of sound houses. I was interested to see that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) wrote an article on 26th March in the "Daily Mirror" in which he said,
"It is essential that the vast number of houses that come within the Rent Restrictions Acts should be kept in good repair."
One can therefore start with the assumption that the House is in sympathy with the object. The method which the Government have laid down is based on two principles. The first is that the rent paid by the person enjoying the occupation of the house shall be sufficient to cover the repairs. That poses the question of how we decide what shall be the amount of the repairs increase. The other principle is that if the landlord receives from his tenants that increase, it must be certain beyond peradventure that the landlord spends it on the property. That is a safeguard for the tenant. Those are the two principles, and on the point of what the increase shall be there has been no real challenge. There has been debate, but there has been no challenge of the amount proposed being just and equitable.

If the hon. Gentleman challenges that, he had better take it up with the authors of the Girdwood Report and the Report of the Chartered Surveyors. The challenge was on the question whether the money would be spent. The Girdwood Committee, appointed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bbbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), and commissioned in this respect by my right hon. Friend, reported that repairs in 1952 cost just over three times what they did in 1939. The actual amount of money spent in 1939 was, according to the Chartered Surveyors, a sum equal to what is known as the statutory deduction. Thus if it cost once the statutory deduction in 1939 to carry out the repairs, it is indisputable that it cost three times the statutory deduction in 1952. The difference is the amount of the increase proposed in this Measure.

Controversy arose about the safeguards to the tenant which were intended as hurdles to the landlord, and the question as to how it would be ensured that the property was kept in repair was posed by the Opposition. They wanted a different method adopted from the one in the Bill, which says that a tenant shall at any time be able to go to the local authority and ask for a certificate of disrepair. I cannot elaborate on the Opposition's ideas, because that would be out of order, but that is what is proposed in the Bill. We believe that it will be efficacious, because no tenant is now really afraid of the local authority. He has an ample number of people to advise him about what to do if he is being charged too much. There is the Citizen's Advice Bureau, the local town hall, his Member of Parliament and the struggling prospective candidate of the other party. He has got regular advice now that he has not always had.

One of the Amendments to the Bill was that if the tenant goes to a local authority for a certificate of disrepair and that certificate is granted, the suspension of payment of the repairs increase is made retrospective to the date of the application. That is an improvement which was made upstairs. On the question of the repair element, "The Times" this morning said that nobody had yet produced a workable alternative to the Government's proposal in this Measure. [Interruption.] "The Times" is a most respectable organ and I quoted the "Daily Mirror," to which the right hon. Gentleman is a contributor, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, with that fairness which we associate with him, will not say that "The Times" is not a respectable organ and the "Daily Mirror" even more respectable.

The hon. Gentleman really ought not to say things as though I were saying that "The Times" is not respectable. "The Times" is expressing an opinion, and we do not agree with it.

The right hon. Gentleman does not agree with it on this occasion, but when we first discussed housing in this House, his right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) quoted extensively from "The Times." If he could do it, then in this free and democratic assembly I am entitled to do it.

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his generosity. "The Times" speaks of the Opposition's

"failure to suggest a workable alternative scheme."
We believe we have held the balance fairly between the tenant and the landlord and that there is incentive, but only just enough incentive, for the landlord to carry out the repairs, and that balance is shown by the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman himself. In picturesque language he has called the Measure first a mouldy old turnip and later on a landlord's ramp.

It may be a more succulent phrase, but the right hon. Gentleman ought to use the two arguments in separate speeches and not in the same speech, which he has done in this instance.

One or two minor Amendments have been made to the Bill in Committee. A tenant now has 28 days to contest the landlord's figures where the landlord seeks to prove he has spent a stipulated sum of money, instead of the 14 days laid down originally when the Measure was introduced. Another Amendment was that the increase of rent shall be payable after six weeks' notice has been given, and not four weeks. Both these are of advantage to the tenant.

In this part of the Bill there are also two minor Amendments, to which I would like to refer. The Minister never intended this Measure to be a comprehensive review of the Rent Restrictions Acts, but there were one or two hardships proved by actual cases which it was thought desirable to correct. One was the case of a widow not living with her husband and the Amendment to the Bill now no longer prevents a member of the husband's family living with him from succeeding to the statutory tenancy. That is a small but important concession to certain families to whom the existing law was a great hardship. Another minor Amendment related to the case of Cow v. Casey, where the tenant of premises within the Rent Acts which formed part of a larger property is now protected against the head landlord when the letting of the larger premises comes to an end.

An Amendment of great importance, which is mentioned in the leading article in "The Times" this morning, is the introduction of the Clause which says that new houses and conversions built after the Act becomes operative shall be outside the ambit of the Rent Acts. This Clause has aroused resentment among hon. Gentlemen opposite and support from hon. Gentlemen on this side. I was glad to read in "The Times" this morning, which I think the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) is going to quote—

If the hon. Gentleman is going to quote "The Times," I will quote it also.

"The Times" said:

"Similar action was taken two years after the first war; it is fully justified nine years after the second. The Act of 1920 recognised the justice, in a world of permanently higher prices, of allowing rents to be raised not only to cover higher repair costs but also to permit a fair return on investment."
The year 1920, two years after the first war, thus obviously forms a precedent for our taking action nine years after the end of the second war and we feel we are right in thinking it will encourage others to build houses for letting and, what is even more important, to convert existing premises for letting. That is where we shall get the greatest activity.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite have advanced the argument that surely it is right that the rent tribunal, a fair and impartial body, should fix the rent. The great weakness in this is that when a man invests his money or his labour he is most concerned, before he carries out the task, to assess what the return will be. Imagine a property owner being asked to build a house and not knowing what the return will be. He must be able to predict what return he will get. What hon. Gentleman would in normal life give his services to an employer, and say that he would leave it to an independent tribunal to say what he should get? [HON. MEMBERS: "We do here."] Hon. Gentlemen who fight elections know what the terms of remuneration will be before they enter the House. What is wanted in these matters is predictability. What man will invest in the Co-operative or any other building society if some impartial body is to tell him what return he will get at the end of the year? He will want to know in advance. We hope that this will be a useful provision and that two citizens who wish to make a bargain freely should be allowed to do so without the intervention of the State.

There is another point. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have said that they intend to go round the country and expose this provision as something which will undermine the Rent Acts. They are entitled to their point of view, but I ask them to make it clear that this provision does not in any way apply to any existing tenancies or any existing tenant. It applies only to houses which are not yet built, and which, had it not been for this provision, might never have been built. I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will be fair and reasonable when they go round the country.

I come to the second heading of slum clearance and patching. Slum clearance has been in abeyance since 1939, for reasons largely outside the control of this House. There has been a war and it has been difficult to get the materials and labour necessary to carry out slum clearance since then. The Government have already set in motion slum clearance. My right hon. Friend issued a Circular, dated 22nd March, 1954, which reverses Circular 61 of 1947 which was issued by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale. In it he asked the local authorities not to set in motion:
"procedure for the demolition of unfit houses."
I do not quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman issuing that Circular at that time, because in it he pointed out how short we were of materials, as indeed we were. All I say is that on 22nd March of this year the present Government asked the local authorities to set in motion, for the first time since 1939, procedure for slum clearance. Perhaps I may be slightly out of order, but I hope that I may be permitted to say this, because it is important—

Only a very small amount. This is the first major organised and enthusiastic attempt to carry out slum clearance on a very large scale. I think that is true. In the slum clearance proposals in the Bill, there are two points to which I wish to draw attention. The first is in Clause 1. The local authority has to submit proposals to my right hon. Friend. Two arguments have been used against the provision, which we consider is important. The first was that it was not necessary to ask for proposals because the information was already available. The second argument was that the local authorities had not sufficient people to carry out a survey to get the information required. These two arguments cancel out each other.

We attach importance to the Clause for two major reasons. The first is that it will inject a sense of urgency into local authorities. The second is that it will give them a target at which to aim. Targets have often been derided in the House of Commons. There was one for 300,000 houses which was derided, but it produced results.

No. I can understand the confusion which has arisen. All the time speeches have been made in conjunction with the right hon. Gentleman's plans for slum clearance, but this is not a slum clearance Bill. There is nothing in it about slum clearance. The only reference to slums is in the postponement of the abolition of slums.

Further to that point of order. Is it not a fact that Part I has the express title:

"Further provisions as to clearance and redevelopment …"
with the supplementary title:
"Additional powers in respect of clearance areas and other houses liable to demolition."
Therefore, is not Part I intended to supplement the existing powers of slum clearance?

Clause 1 gives nothing at all. It confers no powers of any sort. However, far be it from the Opposition to seek to narrow discussion. If we are able when we speak to develop the whole thesis of slum clearance, we shall be delighted. The Opposition want broad and not narrow discussion. If the hon. Member is right, we shall be delighted.

It does not rest with the Government or the Opposition to say what is in order. On Third Reading we are on more restricted ground than on Second Reading. We are confined to a discussion of what is in the Bill and not of what ought to be in it. As far as slum clearance is relevant to:

"Further provisions as to clearance and redevelopment…"
and to:
"… reconditioning of unfit houses…"
that is well and good; but the general problem of slum clearance does not appear to be relevant.

I was trying to express the importance which the Government attach to Clause 1. Subsection (1) says:

"Subject to the provisions of this section, every local authority shall, within one year after the commencement of this Act, submit to the Minister in such form as the Minister may require proposals for dealing under Parts II and III of the principal Act or under the following provisions of this Part of this Act with houses within the district of the authority which appear to the authority to be unfit for human habitation…"
Therefore, if a local authority decides to have a slum clearance programme and to get rid of these houses which are unfit for human habitation, the Minister requires it to make plans and to submit them to him. I said that the Government attach importance to the fact that the local authorities were being required to make these proposals to the Government.

On a point of order. This is a very important matter. We are now discussing—as we discussed upstairs—the attempt on the part of the Government to pretend that this is a Measure for the acceleration of slum clearance. Clause 1 confers upon the Minister no powers which he does not possess at the moment. There are no new powers. I must say, with all respect, that if it is ruled that the whole of slum clearance can be discussed on Clause 1, then we on this side will accept such a Ruling with great delight.

I do not think that the reference to Parts II and III of the principal Act would necessarily admit into the Third Reading all that is covered by that Act; but so far as references in the Bill support a relevant argument, the hon. Member is in order.

A duty is conferred in this Bill on the local authority to produce a plan. We attach great importance to that. I had actually passed from Clause 1. I stressed the importance of the Clause which was designed to inject a sense of urgency into local authorities and to give them a target. That was what I said when we had the points of order. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale for being of assistance in the matter of points of order. He was not so successful on Report stage with points of order, but I grant that he has now been a little more successful.

I leave Clause 1 and come to patching, which is completely new. On patching, the Government have always attached importance to the difficulties of those cities which cannot carry out the whole of their slum clearance at once. If it is physically impossible to clear the area, the question is what shall be done in the interim period with those unfortunate people who are continuing to live in houses which are not fit for human habitation. The proposals of the Government are that patching shall be carried out. In this respect the Government have made concessions in Committee and on Report. The finance from the Exchequer to local authorities is better and more generous. It is also more flexible, in that my right hon. Friend has power to vary either the ratio or the amount. We think that the Amendments made in Committee and on Report will make the provision more agreeable to local authorities.

The Minister is said to have power to vary the total and the proportion. Surely he cannot do that without coming to the House and asking the House to authorise a change.

The Minister would have to come to the House, but I do not think that he would have any difficulty in persuading the House to give him power to vary the ratio between the Exchequer and the local authority if the local authorities had asked him to do so.

I hope that it will not be out of order to refer to one thing which the Govern- ment hope to do to help the local authorities in making their proposals for clearance. The local authorities have had imposed upon them a duty under Clause 1. It is not easy for the local authorities which have not carried out extensive demolition since 1939 to have the necessary technical staff available. The Government have therefore set up a small working party on demolition to advise local authorities on the best method of implementing what they are asked to do in the Bill.

We had a few words about demolition in Committee. The position is not as simple as would appear at first sight. It may be that if the matter is properly arranged the contractor will actually pay the local authority for permission to take down houses provided that he gets the value of the rubble. The L.C.C., about which the hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) knows a great deal, has actually received money from contractors who have taken down houses.

I agree, but we hope that this renewed drive will get somewhere in clearance and demolition under Clause 1.

I now come to improvements and conversions I come to this last but not because it is the least. I should like to divide improvements and conversions into two parts. First, there are conversions which nearly always automatically carry improvements with them; and secondly, there are improvements to existing houses which can be done without conversion. The provisions of the 1949 Act formed the basis for undertaking conversions with the aid of public money. They have been frustrated and thwarted for a number of reasons, not all within the control of this House.

For example, the licensing quotas and the shortage of materials made it extremely difficult to implement that Act in 1949 and it got off to a bad start. To improve matters from a legislative point of view, we have abolished the £800 limit on grants. They can be made for houses which have an assured life of less than 30 years. In addition, the local authorities have a greater discretion in fixing rent.

Whatever the legislative provisions in the Bill, the House must recognise that we shall not get the improvements and conversions carried out unless we have the enthusiastic co-operation of the local authorities, the determined interest of private enterprise landlords and, of course, the encouragement and cooperation of the central Government. If I have trespassed against the rules of order, it is because I wanted to give the House some idea of what the Government had in mind to implement the legislation which is involved in this Measure.

In paragraph 53 of the Fourth Report of the Housing Management Sub-Committee of the Central Housing Advisory Committee on Transfers, Exchanges and Rents, it is stated:
"We think that local authorities might well be reminded that the Minister is prepared in special circumstances to approve schemes which do not satisfy all the sixteen points set out in the circular. As an example of what we have in mind, we instance the case of the conversion of a large house into flatlets for elderly persons. It might be actually impracticable to conform with every one of the requirements, in the official list, and yet the flatlets might be of a good standard and admirably suited to the particular needs of the people for whom they were designed. It is wrong that rigid adherence to the list should prevent a house like that from being converted at all."
We all know of large Victorian mansions which are standing idle and which could be converted into reasonable residences for old people, and the Government wish to do their best to encourage local authorities to convert such houses. It may be that, with the advice of the Central Housing Advisory Committee and the co-operation of the local authority housing associations, it might be possible to ease the 16 points so as to make it easier to carry out conversion.

There are three other points to which I wish to draw the attention of the House.

Is the Minister now telling the House that he is making provision for a lowering of the standards that have hitherto been in force under the 1949 Act?

No, it is merely a sensible extension of the provision so that it shall not be drawn as rigidly as it was by the Miles Mitchell Committee. I think the hon. Gentleman can take it that the Central Housing Advisory Committee will jealously guard standards. It is merely to give local authorities further discretion and to simplify their task.

There are three other points. The first is something which the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale said during the Report stage. I have known the right hon. Gentleman for eight or nine years, and he gets more mellow each year. I am surprised how, more and more, he accepts points which he would not have accepted in 1945 or 1946. During the Report stage, the right hon. Gentleman made a most interesting suggestion, and when he did so I nodded my head very vigorously. I am grateful to him for the suggestion which he made with reference to back-to-back houses. He said that it would be possible to convert and improve back-to-back houses so that they would be tolerable to live in.

In certain circumstances. My right hon. Friend visited Leeds and brought back with him to his officials and myself the problem of what we should do with those back-to-back houses which are sound. I am bound to say that I reported that technically we can at the moment build back-to-back houses with good ventilation—the problem with them is the through ventilation—and can convert existing back-to-back houses so that they will be fit for habitation.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for taking up the suggestion. I would not like to deny that, with the passage of years, one does become slightly mellow, but I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that I made all these suggestions in 1949.

I was referring to the right hon. Gentleman becoming more mellow since 1945 and not since 1949. As we get more middle-aged, it is increasingly difficult to sustain the role of a revolutionary.

I was saying that the Committee reported to my right hon. Friend that technically it was possible to convert back-to-back houses, but that the danger was political. If one tried it, one might be accused of trying to perpetuate slums. The suggestion made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that in proper circumstances it would be agreed between both sides of the House that such houses could be converted, gave me immense relief, and I am most grateful to him for the suggestion.

There are two other points on conversions and improvements in regard to which I hope to show that the Government intend to assist local authorities. Every year since 1952 this Government have exhibited something at the Ideal Home Exhibition. In 1952 it was the people's house. In 1953 it was a narrow-fronted house which saved about £50 to £75 a house. In 1954 it was to be improvements and conversions. We were going to build replicas of four existing houses, which were old, and convert two of them by a horizontal conversion into modern flats. The third house was to remain an old house, and the fourth was to be a technical exhibit illustrating improvements.

Unfortunately for the Government, we spent most of the money allotted to us long before the date of building, because we get only a month in which to build at the Exhibition, and then there was an electricians' strike. Therefore, we found ourselves with most of the money spent and nothing to show for it. However, the Government are going to retrieve the situation. They are going to erect this exhibit of conversion, which is at present lying in the builders' yard, on a site in Oxford Street where it will be on show for three months. We hope to invite every hon. Member to see that conversion. We also hope that every local authority will come to see what can be done technically and will go back to its own area and have a similar exhibition for three months so that the people in that area may also have the opportunity of seeing what can be done in this direction.

Will the hon. Gentleman provide refreshments for the visitors to the site?

If the hon. Gentleman will make a suggestion as to what sort of refreshments are desirable, it will be considered.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will get the support of hon. Members in all parts of the House, because I think that everyone wishes to encourage these improvements and conversions.

One final word on improvements. In existing houses which cannot be converted, it is sometimes possible to carry out quite good improvements, especially regarding the heating arrangements. But it is difficult to get this done from a practical point of view, because it is very hard to persuade tenants to remove their old grates or stoves, to which they have become attached, and to install new ones.

The Government hope to do this by appealing to the imagination of the citizens, and especially by the introduction of smokeless zones in the large cities. If an area were designated as a smokeless zone, it would then be easier to introduce fuel-saving appliances which burnt solid fuel and which did not make a great deal of smoke. That would help towards solving the problem of smog.

I think it only honest and fair to tell the House that by regulations to be made under the 1949 Act my right hon. Friend proposes to lay before the House an alteration of the minimum amount which has to be spent on improvement before the work ranks for grant. At the moment, nothing less than £150 spent on a house qualifies for an improvement grant. My right hon. Friend proposes to reduce that amount to £100, because, for example, £150 excludes the installation of a bathroom. In many cases a bathroom can be installed for much less than £150, but at the moment such an improvement is excluded from the provisions of the 1949 Act.

I have spoken for a long time and am conscious that I have gone much wider than perhaps I ought to have done, in which case I ask for the indulgence of the House and say that I am sorry. It was my intention to give as much detail of the Measure as I could, and about how we propose to work it. As I said at the beginning, this is the second step in our housing policy, but the Opposition have condemned it. Although I do not wish to introduce any controversy into the proceedings, I am bound to say that the Opposition vehemently opposed the first step and what the Government had in mind. It would be out of order to refer to it in this debate, but if one cares to go back to the early debates it will be found that some of the Opposition's statements have not been borne out by events, whereas I believe that it would not be an over-statement to say that the Government's forecast has been more accurate. I believe that on this occasion also it will be more accurate.

This Measure required a great deal of courage, resource and ingenuity to bring in. It was brought in at a time when people said that if any Minister tampered with rent restrictions he would be doomed to extinction as a political person. Whatever happens, it does not make my right hon. Friend wildly popular. But, providing that the local authorities cooperate enthusiastically—and I believe they will—and providing that hon. Members try to help us in this respect, I am convinced that the Measure will be a worth-while second step in the housing policy of this Government. It is with the greatest confidence that my right hon. Friend commends this Measure to the House.

4.41 p.m.

I think everyone will agree that we have heard from the Parliamentary Secretary a speech which has indeed gone fairly wide. However, we do not really object very much to that, because no doubt hon. Members on this side of the House will be able to follow up many of the points which, originally, we might have thought were out of order in this debate.

I think it fair to say that most of us welcome some of the technical and administrative comments which the hon. Gentleman made a good deal more than we do his general defence of this Bill. I wish to refer to many of the matters which he has not felt it important enough to discuss this afternoon, but which I am quite sure my hon. Friends feel to be of the very greatest importance indeed.

The Parliamentary Secretary made considerable play with the slum clearance provisions of the Bill. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) pointed out, and as, indeed we have pointed out time after time both in the House and in Committee, the Bill provides no additional slum clearance powers. It would be fair to say that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary could achieve what they desire, and what we all desire, in regard to slum clearance programmes merely by issuing the necessary instructions to local authorities under the powers in existing Acts.

Would the hon. Gentleman say that the drawing up of a plan had no relation to the building of houses, because this is precisely that? It insists that plans should be drawn up, and that, according to those plans, slum clearance shall take place. Clause 1 (1) says:

"Subject to the provisions of this section every local authority shall, within one year after the commencement of this Act, submit to the Minister…proposals.… "
That is the specific instruction.

I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will be able to take part in the debate if he catches your eye. Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

I think it pertinent to point out that for many years before the war, and to a limited extent since the war, local authorities have carried out slum clearance programmes with a proper plan and without needing the provisions of Clause 1 of this Bill. It is fantastic to pretend that this Clause provides anything which the Minister could not have provided by instructions sent out under existing Acts. What the Bill does and what has been a matter of great concern to all hon. Members is the provision for the retention of slum property and the powers given to local authorities to do certain patching work upon property of that nature.

Most of us agree that something of this sort is, unhappily, necessary, but there would be general agreement also on this side, and, I am sure, throughout local authorities, that the financial provisions for aiding that work remain utterly inadequate as they stand in the Bill. It is, therefore, right to insist that the Bill makes no provision whatever for slum clearance but does make some, no doubt, unhappily necessary, provisions with regard to the temporary retention of slum property in local authority ownership and its temporary improvement by means of patching up.

Another point that the Parliamentary Secretary made, and about which he tended to mislead us was that the Opposition did not seem to have opposed particularly strongly the actual amount of increase of rent which is provided under the Bill for private landlords. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has treated so lightly Amendments that I myself moved in Committee, with every seriousness and every intent to secure their acceptance, Amendments which would have reduced the amount of the rent increase that is called for in the Bill.

The Parliamentary Secretary attempts to defend the increase provided under the Bill of twice the statutory deduction by saying it is based upon the recommendations of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, who have stated that in their view the sum available in 1939 was only just sufficient to cover the actual cost; and that, therefore, if the costs have risen since that date by three times, it is obviously necessary to provide sufficient increase to enable that extra sum of money for repairs to be found by private landlords.

We have quoted against that statement by the Institution the findings of the Ridley Committee, which have still not been denied, that by the end of the war prices and costs had not risen above the 1920 figure. That year was the date at which the rents of the great bulk of rent controlled property were fixed and when the last increase of 40 per cent, was accepted. In view of that, surely it is right to say that no increase in cost, other than that which has taken place since the end of the war, is justifiable.

Even then, as the Ridley Committee pointed out, landlords had enjoyed the increase right from 1920 until towards the end of the war. They had enjoyed increased rent during most of those years when prices had fallen very considerably below the 1920 level. Therefore, the Parliamentary Secretary has no right to suggest that we on this side do not very strongly oppose the actual sum of increase in addition to the whole basis upon which the Bill is founded.

I was surprised that the hon. Gentleman should talk so much about the prolonged discussion that we had on the Bill in view of the fact that he did not even think it necessary to mention that he and his right hon. Friend introduced the Guillotine procedure to deny us the right of proper discussion of the provisions of the Bill. This is all the more startling when our hon. Friends on the Scottish Standing Committee are, we understand, still able to consider and discuss the parallel Bill relating to Scotland, even though they have had more sittings than we were allowed by the so-called generosity of the Minister. Would anybody suggest that there is any real difference in complexity between the Scottish Bill, which is still being discussed, and this Bill, which refers to England and Wales?

I point out to the Parliamentary Secretary, also, that concessions—I will not say major concessions, but concessions of some value—have been made in regard to the Scottish Bill, which, in most respects, is comparable and closely related to the English Bill, which have not been offered so far as the English Bill is concerned. Will the Parliamentary Secretary or the Minister be prepared to have put down on the Order Paper in another place those matters which have been conceded so far as Scotland is concerned? If the Minister will not do it himself, will he at least give the assurance that all such concessions will be granted if they have to be put down even by ourselves in another place?

In view of that, I hope that neither the Parliamentary Secretary nor the Minister will suggest that we have accepted the actual figure of rent increase or that we have had a proper opportunity of discussing the matter fully as the Bill has proceeded. Let me give examples of some of the matters that certainly should have been discussed but which have hardly been touched upon because of the operation of the Guillotine, matters which, I think, everybody would agree are of importance and of vital concern.

In Committee, the Minister introduced an Amendment to the Second Schedule of the Bill which makes a profound change. He introduced a new provision under which a landlord can aggregate the work done on several dwellings within one building and still charge his rent increase on each of those dwellings within the one building, even though in some of the dwellings no expenditure may have been incurred by the landlord during the last year or three years. Provided that the aggregate amount is sufficient to cover the landlord's claim for the whole building, he will be entitled to charge rent increases. The so-called second hurdle that the Parliamentary Secretary speaks about, which has to c overcome by the landlord, is carefully withdrawn in these cases.

I will give an example of the problem as it affects a great deal of property in the North-East. In many industrial towns on Tyneside and in the North-east there are what we call upstairs and downstairs flats; they are common in Newcastle and elsewhere. It often happens that the landlord or a relation may be living in the upstairs flat and the bottom flat is let, or vice versa. Under the provisions, as now amended, in the Second Schedule, it would be quite possible for a landlord in those cases to spend a sufficient sum on repairs to the flat upstairs that either he or his relatives occupy and not spend a halfpenny on the downstairs flat, and yet be able to charge the increase to the tenant downstairs.

Surely this sort of provision, which affects a large number of cases in the North-East—and, I imagine, would affect other parts of the country—is a matter of serious concern. It will also affect, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale pointed out in Committee, large numbers of tenants of blocks of property let off in flats or in tenemented property. I am not sure whether it affects a terrace of houses, but it certainly affects tenants of blocks of property, particularly block flats and other property of that kind.

Yes. Paragraph 6 (3) of the Second Schedule says:

"In the case of a building containing two or more dwelling-houses.…"
Therefore, it certainly includes the case which I have mentioned of the upstairs-downstairs flat. It affects not only working-class property, but property of all kinds. In many instances it may well be found that the landlord would be able to claim his rent increase without, in the specific case of an individual property, having to spend the sum of money which is provided for in the Bill. It is nonsense, therefore, for hon. and right hon. Members opposite to claim that all these hurdles which have been erected are obstacles to the landlord. They are hardly there at all and, in many cases, they have disappeared at a mere touch.

The Parliamentary Secretary—I give him credit—referred to a new Clause that was introduced at a late stage of the Bill and which we regard as of great importance. I was interested to notice that while the hon. Gentleman quoted the commendatory remarks from the editorial in "The Times" about it, he omitted the comment that "The Times" could not understand why the Clause was introduced at that stage of the Bill. That is another point on which we should like some information.

After all, the Clause made a considerable alteration in the effect of the Rent Acts. Why did the Minister choose to make the alteration at that stage? Surely it is a matter which he must have considered and thought about and which should have been included in the Bill right from the start. He had sufficient opportunity to include it. The matter has been discussed long enough both with local authorities and, I am sure, with property owners and everybody else. There was no excuse for introducing the proposal at that late stage. What is more, it is a proposal which we on this side strongly oppose, because it makes clear the way in which hon. Members opposite are hoping to seize the earliest opportunity of ridding themselves altogether of the incubus of the Rent Acts.

I admit straightaway that that is a logical attitude for hon. Members opposite to adopt. I admire the advocacy for the abolition of the Rent Acts by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), who from his point of view, made a very logical case. But if he makes a case for the complete abolition of rent control, he must be quite clear that he has no right to oppose our own proposal for the takeover of this property by the local authorities on the grounds that he and some of his friends often have opposed it, that it weakens rent control.

It is a matter of serious concern to us that we have had this indication from hon. Members opposite that they are anxious to seize an early opportunity of getting rid of rent control. It makes clear that the Bill is only the first step towards a policy of withdrawing the ceiling altogether and, as the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West delicately put it, of allowing the market to settle the price.

I am quoting from my memory of the hon. Member's statement. If he thinks I am wrong, I will certainly give way.

When the hon. Member purports to quote something I have said, the onus is upon him to produce the quotation accurately in its context.

I thought that the hon. Member believed this and advocated it. I am surprised that he should wish to shelter under anonymity about it. I thought this was something of which he was proud, and I gave him credit for his courage and clarity on the matter.

Those of us who did not have the advantage of serving upon the Standing Committee should have the full quotation given to them.

Yes, the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls) is mistaken. It was said on the Floor of the House, on Report. That was the whole tenor of the speech of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, who would agree that that is what he supports.

There is another matter with which the Parliamentary Secretary did not deal today, and I am astonished that he did not, for I should have thought that it was of overwhelming significance. I mean the Chancellor's appeal in his Budget speech. What did the Chancellor of the Exchequer say? He made an appeal to the country. He said:
"We are near the point—and in some cases we may have passed it—where further increases in wages and profit margins will price us out of our export markets. All-round increases in wages have clearly played a large part in the upward movement of prices since 1945. Both stability at home and competitive power abroad require that wage increases should not outrun productivity."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th April, 1954; Vol. 526, c. 213.]
Surely the Minister should have had some consultation with the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the effect which the Bill is bound to have upon the national economy and upon demands for wage advances that are bound to follow the passing of the Bill. No one can possibly deny that one of the immediate effects of the Bill will be to put up the cost of living for many of those who are at the lower standard of living at present. The engineers and the railway workers have achieved after long negotiation and argument, a slight advance in their wages. Workers who have been pursuing wage increases for some time have now reached a settlement, at which, I am sure, we are all glad.

Now the whole of these claims will be reopened. In my constituency, there are large numbers of railwaymen and shipyard workers who will be immediately and directly affected by the Bill. It is bound to mean, for many of them, an increase of about 4s. or 5s. a week in rent, if not more.

Is it not a fact that the rents of council houses, in which a large number of the workers live, have risen consistently since 1945?

That is a strange argument.

The Bill will cause an increase in the cost of living by a very considerable sum, by far more than any council house rent increases in the area I know, for instance. To say that because council house rents have gone up increases in the rents of private houses will not affect the cost of living is about the stupidest argument I have ever heard. The fact from which the hon. Gentleman cannot escape is that these increases of rents are bound to cause further disturbance among the workers generally, who will inevitably be forced to reopen demands upon the country to cover no more than the extra costs in which they will be involved because of the initiative of the Government.

What I want to find out is whether there has been any proper consultation between the Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this matter, whether there has been a proper evaluation of the effect of the Bill upon our economy. This is a matter of very serious concern to all of us. I do not think there is much doubt that the Minister at an earlier stage put the plans of the Chancellor into a pretty pickle through the effects of his housing plans upon the economy of the country as a whole, upon investment in the country as a whole. We have a repetition of that now. What is the Chancellor of the Exchequer going to say about this?

Surely this is a perfectly good reason for calling upon the Government now to withdraw the Bill. After all, there are other Bills that have gone into temporary retirement. I do not think that the Minister should be afraid of withdrawing this one for a while. We have not yet been given opportunity to consider the Teachers (Superannuation) Bill, although we have been promised it week by week. I think that this Bill could go into retirement. If it did it would give great joy and happiness to thousands if not millions of people, and certainly would not cause any weeping on this side of the House.

The hon. Gentleman has been speaking of some rather terrifying consequences. He has suggested that an increase in rents towards the costs of repairs and improvements of houses would bring about a general increase in wages. Does he suggest that every young man who has left rooms in which he lodged because a house has been provided for him, and for which he pays more rent, has his wages increased for that reason?

Not a bit, but this is the policy initiated by the Government, for which the Government must accept full responsibility. This policy will affect thousands of people. It is not a matter of individual choice. These people have nowhere else to go.

The hon. Baronet the Member for Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) opposite seemed to suggest that it was easy for tenants these days to get some other accommodation. He seems to live in some other world than this in which we are living. I agree with the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls) that this is a serious matter, the effect that the Bill is bound to have on working people. It is well known that one of the factors that has entered into all negotiations on wages up to now has been that of rent. To a large extent, the stability of rents has restrained wage demands.

Is the logical conclusion of the hon. Gentleman's argument, and his alternative solution, that everybody should ultimately pay higher rent and have his rent brought up to the rents of council house tenants?

No. I should be out of order if I were now to argue the alternative proposals that we on this side offered and which the House unhappily refused to accept. Under proposals we would bring forward, and shall gladly bring forward when we have an early opportunity of so doing, there would be no cause for the increases provided for by the Bill, and that are to be forced upon the great mass of tenants.

I say that the Government are taking upon themselves a very serious responsibility. All I am asking is whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the senior Minister in our economic affairs, has been fully consulted, and whether he understands the full implications of what is being done by his brother Minister who, on other occasions, outwitted—if that is not unfair or unparliamentary language to use—his right hon. Friend and caused him noticeable distress in following out his economic proposals.

If, as I suggest, the Bill is bound to be damaging to the economy that we are all concerned to maintain, if we all accept, as I thought we did, the importance of ensuring stability of costs, and particularly when we have the opportunity, the almost heaven-sent opportunity, that we have today of relatively low costs for imported goods, why introduce this disturbing factor? If it is true, as I suggest, that the Bill will have such a damaging effect upon our economy, what justification can there be for proceeding with it? In view of what the Chancellor has said I appeal to the Minister to think again about proceeding with his Bill, and, even at this late stage, to withdraw it.

Is the justification that, despite the difficulties I have mentioned, this is "Operation Rescue"? It has become a timid rescue as we have discussed it on Second Reading and in Committee. What has become clear is that neither the Minister nor the Parliamentary Secretary has any expectation of landlords doing much, if any, work on property that needs large improvements. The Parliamentary Secretary referred to the work that it was "hoped" landlords would do on property that was sound and in fairly good order already. It may be that landlords will seek to take advantage of the Bill for that work, but I gather that it is the anxiety of the Minister that in many cases landlords will not operate the Bill because they will feel that the repairs to be carried out will be too expensive.

If that is so, it is a very serious matter. The property I am speaking of is sound property structurally, but needs a good deal of work to be done on it to save it. That is the very type of property to which we need to devote our resources particularly. Yet from what the Minister has himself said it is becoming more and more clear that resources are to be frittered away in an effort to encourage the private builder to build for rent—a thing that has never been very successful in the past; trying to encourage rather expensive conversions into flats; encouraging the use of scarce materials on relatively unimportant repairs to property that is already in reasonably good condition; and all this to the detriment of the property that urgently needs repair.

It is noticeable that the Minister, as he said in his White Paper, "Houses, The Next Step," relies upon the local authorities to see that property in a really bad state of repair is brought up to a good state. They are to have to accept the responsibility for that, as they have to accept responsibility for the slums. What is so noticeable is that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite think it proper to impose upon local authorities the heavy burden of clearing the slums, the relics of private enterprise, and also the rescuing of severely disabled property; but they do not think it right that local authorities should own property that has still some useful life in it.

They think that wrong. They think it proper that local authorities should bear the major burden the private landlords find difficulty in carrying. "Take that burden off the private landlord and let the local authorities have that difficulty," they say. Property that still has useful life, that does not need major repairs, from which there can still be profit, is for the private landlord. The Bill suggests the landlords should have that profit and more.

Because of that it is still quite right to say that though some landlords may find the Bill a "mouldy turnip" others will find it a gold mine. There are some landlords who, because of work done not by them but by tenants, for little or no extra expense on their part, will be able to get a rent increase. I mentioned a case earlier in my speech.

It is quite common. Some landlords, for little or no expenditure, will be able to get the rent increase. On the other hand, property urgently needing repair will not be repaired If we are to use the local authorities for the rescue work in the slums, for the rescue work on the severely dilapidated property, why are the Government not prepared to use them, the effective instruments, to deal with the problem as a whole? That is why we have urged and argued at all stages of the Bill that the alternative to these proposals is that the local authorities should be fully used.

Another matter which has concerned us and has not been dealt with by the Parliamentary Secretary is about the standards set out in the Bill. When we were initially discussing the Bill I thought that the standards provided meant some advance, but the more the matter has been discussed the less certainty I have about it until I am now driven to the conclusion, in view of the refusal of the Minister to accept the very modest clarifying Amendment which we moved in Committee and on Report, that the standards set out in the Bill endanger the position, making it less clear than has been the case in the past.

As has been pointed out before, what the Bill actually says in its definition Clauses—this cannot be too frequently emphasised—is that repair:
"includes maintenance, but does not include improvement or structural alteration or the provision of additional or improved fixtures or fittings, and 'repairs' shall be construed accordingly."
What I want to emphasise is that good repair in relation to premises
"means that having regard to the age, character and locality of the premises they are in good repair both as respects structure and as respects decoration."
The reference to the age, character and locality of the premises could very well cover the sort of property that, unhappily, I have in my own constituency and that I have seen in many towns up and down the country. It is that kind of property that everyone will agree is in a serious state and urgently needs repairs, but, because it is old and is in a locality generally in a bad state, it may very well be that it will be interpreted by the court as being fair for the landlord to do the most modest bits of decoration here and there, leaving some of the structural deficiencies as they have always been.

Even if the local authority takes what we might call a sympathetic point of view about the tenant and issues a certificate of disrepair, in these cases using its own judgment, what is the position under the Bill? There is an appeal by the landlord against the local authority and, therefore, the landlord may very well get the certificate set aside because of the legal interpretation of these words.

Whereas we started out with some hope that this new standard would be of real value to tenants generally, we have little or no hope of it at all today because of the way in which the Minister and Parliamentary Secretary have dealt with our attempts to get greater clarification. Surely one of the major problems we have been facing is to try and get a better use of existing accommodation. Hon. Members on all sides of the House are concerned about this matter. Other countries have done something towards tackling this very problem. Denmark and certain other countries have used special powers to try to ensure that by preventing the private landlord having complete control of new lettings there might be a better use of existing accommodation.

We tried to secure a modest alteration to deal with this question, but it was defeated by the Government. The Bill does nothing to help to get that better use of accommodation in this country which we have all been urging. We are all agreed that merely by building new houses we shall not be able to solve the problem but, nevertheless, we should press on with building new houses. But we are all agreed that we must try to secure better distribution of older property. We cannot do it under these proposals. We can only hope to do it—and this is a strong argument for the case we have been putting forward—if we bring all this property under the common control of the local authorities, who, generally, have shown themselves to be well aware of the importance of the issue. That is another reason why the Bill is wholly unsatisfactory to us.

Finally, we come to the most important point of all, and that is the hardship of these proposals to the tenant. Some hon. Members opposite seem to have deluded themselves that it is an easy thing for tenants of existing property to find alternative accommodation. They seem to have the curious idea as well that there is a happy family atmosphere between all tenants and all landlords. I should not like to say that it does not occur sometimes, but it certainly is not a general common experience of all of us who actually have been in regular contact with these cases.

During the weekend I took the opportunity, in my constituency in Newcastle and also in Middlesbrough, of going round many typical streets in different parts of those towns and talking to the tenants to find out how they are likely to be affected. Perhaps one of the harshest things which this Bill provides and which they resent most bitterly is the fact that in very many cases—indeed, I think it is fair to say the majority of cases—these tenants have been doing not only internal decorations but also considerable repair and improvement to the property as a whole which they are not required to do. They have done it because they have been given some security of tenure under the Rent Acts and they want to have something better in which to live.

They have wearied in trying to get the landlord to do the work he ought to have been doing all these years and, finally, decided to do it themselves. What they resent most bitterly is the fact that by doing all this work themselves it makes it easier for the landlord to step in and. by doing a very moderate amount of work provided under the Bill, can secure the rent increase he should never be entitled to at all. That arouses bitter resentment, and it is a great pity that the right hon. Gentleman, at an earlier stage, did not accept an Amendment we moved, which would have gone some way to mitigate this particular hardship, because hardship it is

People I saw in Middlesbrough only the other day had carried out quite extensive repairs, painting and decoration not just inside but also outside their homes in order to celebrate the Coronation. What good will that do them now, except they are to be faced with a rent increase? That probably might not have happened had they not done all the work. It is not a very pleasant sort of present for the right hon. Gentleman to give to honest, hard-working iron and steel workers, and another group of workers on whom we are so much dependent.

These are our regular experiences. Others of my hon. Friends could quote hundreds of examples, and it is not good enough for the Minister to turn round and say to us that it would wreck the purpose of the Bill if he conceded this point. We have not got much from the Minister in major concessions. Small alterations he has made about the time for putting in complaints. We welcome them, little though they are. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, of course, have managed to get much better fish. The House will recall the new Clause about rent control. The new provisions will make it easier for the landlord to pick three years out of four and also other proposals that are of benefit to the landlord. These proposals will, in many cases, mean increases of between 50, 60 and 70 per cent, in the net rent, even after allowing for the operation of the stopper Clause.

These are hardships which will inevitably force thousands of people on to the Assistance Board. The right hon. Gentleman always takes pride in that. He was proud of the Assistance Board being there to receive them. We are glad there is some way of dealing with these problems, but surely it is a harsh thing to take the initiative and force these cases on to the Assistance Board on top of the greatly increased number that are concerning us month by month today. We are all concerned about it and we want to limit that number, instead of which the right hon. Gentleman is placing more on the Assistance Board at further cost to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

We believe it wrong that private landlords should feel that they have some title to income in perpetuity from property which, in fact, should have been written off and replaced at their cost years ago. Other owners of property face that problem. Owners of private property apparently do not. If we fail to prevent this Bill becoming law, we, on this side, as we are entitled to do, shall do all we can to defend the tenant against the increases, which, in many cases, will be wholly unjust and wholly unwarranted. We shall certainly call upon tenants and owners together to give us power as early as possible to deal effectively with this real problem. The only effective way in which it can be done is by speeding up the municipal ownership of this property to ensure its proper use and proper maintenance.

We shall vote against the Third Reading of this Bill. It was a bad Bill on Second Reading; it is, unhappily, a worse Bill on Third Reading.

5.28 p.m.

I shall not follow the hon. Member for New-castle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) in what I take to be a somewhat traditional Socialist view of this Bill. As a matter of fact, it is some justification to me that from the same set of provisions the hon. Gentleman is able to find both a mouldy turnip and a gold mine for the landlords. If the hon. Gentleman has succeeded in persuading people in the country that that is possible, he has done something more than I imagined he is capable of doing.

I wish to confine my remarks to a very narrow context of this Bill. I want to speak about Clause 32, which relates to the new towns, a matter of considerable importance to the inhabitants, and the protection of the Rent Restriction Acts for the houses which have been built by the corporations in the new towns. At the present time the tenants of these houses are, in fact, protected by the law both as regards security of tenure and increase of rent.

Presumably, the New Towns Act, 1946, deliberately left these houses under the Rent Restriction Acts, and so this matter requires very careful scrutiny before it is enacted because, in effect, it produces a statutory variation of the original contract between the tenant and the new town corporation. I think there was only one hon. Member on the Standing Committee who represented a division in which there was a new town, and so perhaps the question has not been ventilated as it should have been.

It is instructive to examine the history of the demand for Clause 32. It is true to say that some development corporations, though not the one in my division, namely, Harlow, did so for reasons connected with rents. Until this Bill becomes law, the development corporations are prevented from pooling rents and there arises the possibility of a disparity between comparable houses in the same street, so they think it will be desirable to have equalisation schemes to prevent this position happening.

The main reason, however, constantly referred to throughout the reports of the development corporations, is that building costs have been rising. It is apparent from the Aycliffe Development Corporation report of 1951, from the Crawley Development Corporation report of 1949, from the Cwmbran report of 1951, and from Bracknell in 1953 and Crawley again in 1953, that this is the predominant factor which has led some of the development corporations to ask for this Clause. It is a lather extraordinary facet of this problem that at this time the costs of building are falling.

Taking 1948 as 100, they had reached 104 in 1950, 121 in 1951, 131 in 1952 and, for the first time, they started to go down in 1953 when they were 129. Indeed, the success of my right hon. Friend in this matter is to some extent making redundant and unnecessary the provision which he is seeking to enact. I believe it is a fact that the rise in wages in the building industry has been absorbed in the higher productivity produced by my right hon. Friend. So it is extraordinary that the development corporations should be asking for this Clause upon the basis of higher building costs, since they are going down.

The second matter is the question of security of tenure. That also has special features in the case of a new town because more control of tenancies is required. The new town must have self-contained industry and the first claim upon housing there is for the purpose of housing the workmen and their families. But what happens to the man who loses his job, perhaps through no fault of his own? In the same way the development corporations will urge that these new towns exist for de-congesting crowded urban areas such as London. What will happen if the development corporation take the view that a tenant is not effecting that purpose? It is becoming increasingly well known that the development corporations are not de-congesting London at all, and that is one of the reasons why I am somewhat alarmed that this power may be used.

The fears of the tenants, however, are mostly about the prospect of rent increases if the Clauses comes into effect. I have had the opportunity of inspecting some houses in the development area of the Harlow Development Corporation. There is undoubtedly some evidence that the houses are not being constructed as they should be. I am not contending that this is a widespread picture. I do not suppose that the houses there are any worse than any other large-scale building operations throughout the country, because it is inevitable that some defects appear in the course of such a large-scale building operation. However, it is up to new town development corporations, when seeking to effect a development of this kind, to set an example to the rest of the builders of the country. These new towns are meant to be the latest thing in architectural design and they should give a lead to all other housing schemes throughout the nation.

I put down a Question on this matter of increased rents to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. To a certain extent the fears were allayed by an assurance given on behalf of the Government that increased maintenance will not in turn lead to increased rents but, at the same time, fears still exist about this, and so I hope they will be taken into account when considering the effect of this Clause.

As regards rent increases affecting industry, there again they are important in the case of new towns, because a new town depends for its economic existence upon the attraction of appropriate industries which can find work for the people there. If the rents increase to an undue height, industrialists will be deterred from coming there and the new town will lose the chance of its proper economic existence.

My last argument is what I would term the constitutional argument. It is true to say that development corporations are public bodies but, although they are composed of eminent and distinguished people, well versed in questions of building, architecture and so on, they are not elected upon a popular franchise but are responsible directly to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. People may differ about the question of the virtues of the elected as opposed to the technically competent but, at the same time, one can say that the distinguished and eminent people who compose these corporations are not as sensitive to the local feeling around them as local councillors would be. In most cases they do not reside in the area and therefore they are not so much in tune as are the local representatives elected by the people living in those areas.

In the course of the Committee the contrast was made between the new town development corporations and housing associations and trusts, the houses of which are also removed from the terms of the Rent Acts. It is true to say that there are substantial distinctions between the new town development corporation houses and those which belong to the housing associations and trusts. In the first place, the operations of the latter are on a much smaller scale and mainly for philanthropic or charitable purposes and subject to the strict rules which apply to charities at law. That cannot be said in the case of a new town development corporation house. Although no doubt the development corporations and their members are public-spirited people, and are doing their best to create the new towns, they are not electorally sensitive and that is a substantial point which I hope my right hon. Friend will bear in mind.

Fundamentally these development corporations are house-building units, whilst the local authorities around them exercise the rest of the local government powers. They build on an extremely large scale and they build fast. They are unlike the housing associations or trusts because eventually they have to hand over to a local authority, and the housing associations or trusts are to some extent controlled by local authorities because they cannot build in an area unless the local authority approves. What is more, the Government subsidy for housing cannot be paid to them unless the local authority has approved it.

So there we have material distinctions between houses of housing associations and trusts and the new development corporation houses. I hope very much that my right hon. Friend, who has the supreme power in this matter, will give careful consideration to the whole matter and when discussing, as he has given an assurance that he will, the social duties of these development corporations as well as their business duties, I hope he will bear in mind what I have said as a background to the question.

5.40 p.m.

In giving general support to this Bill, although not to the guillotining of its discussion, I must admit that since the introduction of the Bill I have not met either a landlord or a tenant who has welcomed it. In spite of that somewhat chilly reception, I consider that the Bill should be supported as an attempt at dealing with a complex and almost baffling problem, which is becoming more and more difficult to solve with the passage of time.

It has been clear to me during these long discussions of the Bill that anyone who attempts to solve this problem is faced with a dilemma, that of trying to secure reasonable safeguards for the tenant and, at the same time, of ensuring that there will be sufficient income from these rent-restricted properties to make it possible for landlords to carry out necessary repairs. The extent of that dilemma is not due so much to the inherent wickedness of landlords as to the high cost of repairs in modern days.

If it had been in order—I do not suppose it would have been—some of the time and energy devoted to pointing out the failings of landlords might have been more usefully employed in pointing out the high cost of some of the materials used in the building industry and in repair work due to price rings and various restrictive agreements. That problem will remain after this Bill reaches the Statute Book, and it is just as well that we should take that into account in assessing the effectiveness of the Bill.

In introducing the Bill, the Minister mentioned various categories and I am not sure that his classification was sufficiently exhaustive. In the first place there are those houses which must be pulled down. We all welcomed the new drive for slum clearance. Then there are the houses which can be patched up. There is an element of doubt as to how effective will be the Clauses dealing with patching, and only the future will show how many houses will prove to be worth patching. However, that part of the Bill should be welcomed.

Then there are the houses where only minor repairs are required. Again, I think, the Bill will have a useful effect. I would add another class. There is a large variety of houses, some in fairly good condition and others not in such a good condition, owned by the large property-owning companies. As I suggested on Second Reading, I think in that case the landlords will gain on the swings what they lose on the roundabouts, and it should be possible, with this permitted increase in rent, to carry out essential repairs. There still remain certain serious gaps not filled by this Bill.

In many cases, where one or two houses are owned by what we term the small owners, it is doubtful whether they will be able to raise the necessary capital to carry out these repairs. I was interested in an analysis made by the Property Owners Association. I do not know how accurate it is, but it gives an indication of the number of houses owned by various types of owners. According to this analysis, 55 per cent. of the owners of property own between one and five houses and 27 per cent. between five and 20. This indicates that a large number of owners own only one or two or at any rate only a few houses, and many of those owners have very little capital. It may well be found that they are not in a position to raise the necessary capital to carry out the expenditure that is required.

Another gap which will become apparent when the Bill is placed on the Statute Book is that of the low-rated houses to which some reference was made in Committee. They will not be affected by the re-assessments that are to take place for rating purposes. I heard one eloquent speech in Committee by an hon. Member whose name I cannot now recall, in which reference was made to the hardships which will be created as a result of reassessments and their effect on repairs increases. But if I understand Clause 47 (3) correctly, there will be no additional increase in respect of repairs when the reassessments for rating take place, even though that may affect the gross value under Schedule A. The material words in Clause 47 (3) are
"… the valuation list then in force";
that is, on the appropriate day, and the Clause states that
"… the expression 'the appropriate day' means—
(i) the day of the commencement of this Act, …"
It should be made clear that when these probable increases in rates take place, the tenants will not be faced with the additional hardship of further increases in rent by virtue of the Clauses in this Bill which deal with the right to increase rent for purposes of contributing to the cost of repairs. If that is so, it means that the gap will still remain. Whilst I cannot discuss on Third Reading what should be done about the gap, I repeat what I said on Second Reading, that I think it will be found that these cases can only be dealt with by local authority loans. I suggested then what should be done, subject to suitable safeguards for the tenant.

As to the controversial Clause 34, which the "Economist" refers to as having been quietly slipped in on the Report stage, I differ both from the official Opposition and the Government Benches. That, of course, is a situation which has occurred before in my case. I believe that if there is to be decontrol this is the right way to deal with it and there is justification for some decontrol. In the days before the war it was dealt with in the wrong way. There is a distinction between what is proposed now and the form of decontrol that took place before the war.

In this case, the proposal is that houses and conversions should be exempted from control only if they are built or conversion takes place subsequent to a certain date and not when they happen to become vacant. Before the war the test was whether the houses happened to become vacant. The present proposal is a distinct improvement. If there has to be control, I think that it is very much better that it should be dealt with in this way.

I differ from hon. Members opposite on one point. The introduction of Clause 34 removes the only real objection to the maintenance of what has been called the principle of the second tenancy. I can understand the argument that if rent control is going on indefinitely, one should hesitate to introduce an amendment to the law which would have the effect of making it possible for the tenant and his family to be protected indefinitely. But if we are to put some time limit to control, if, as I hope, we expect a time to arrive when houses will be available in such sufficient numbers that landlords will be looking for tenants instead of the other way round, there is no reasonable objection to the undoubted hardship that exists where the landlord can get possession and turn the family out on the death of the tenant or his widow. It has been suggested that to take that course would discourage letting, but I fail to see the force of that argument.

In the case of old houses the great need is for more exchanges. We need to encourage building and conversion of new houses, but the matter of primary importance in the case of older houses is more exchanges. I do not favour compulsory exchanges.

Perhaps the expression that I used was not clear. I was referring to a certain Amendment which was rejected and which would have introduced a degree of compulsion on the landlord, which I do not feel able to support. If we were to remove the anomaly as between one landlord and another which arises1 when one landlord cannot get possession whilst another can do so because the tenant dies at an early age leaving no widow, there would be greater willingness on the part of landlords to permit voluntary exchanges. I would therefore favour a certain tightening up of control over the older houses while freeing from control new houses and future conversions.

The effect of this Bill will depend in a large measure on the action that is taken after it is placed on the Statute Book. That is obvious in the case of the proposals for slum clearance, but I want to deal with grants and also with the provisions of Clause 34. I refer first to Clause 15. It has been suggested that owners hesitated to apply for grants for improvements because the return was inadequate. I believe that that is true, but there were other reasons why the 1949 Act was not used, and I am sure that we all agree that comparatively little use was made of these provisions.

There were four reasons—there was an inadequate return, local authorities, for various reasons, were not very enthusiastic about these provisions, there were considerable delays where applications were made, and, lastly, very few landlords knew anything at all about these provisions. If it is in order for the Minister to deal with this in winding up the debate, I should like to know what he has in mind to make these new provisions better known.

Whilst I am on that theme, I should like to refer to Clause 24 (3), which deals with the form to be prescribed by the Minister. It is most important that that form which will contain important information for the tenant should clearly set out the rights of the tenant, where he should go and what he should do if he feels that the landlord is not treating him fairly. I believe that the Minister intends to deal with that somewhat fully in the prescribed form, but I hope that he will give an assurance that everything possible will be done to make known to the tenant his exact position under this Bill.

The Bill follows very faithfully the traditions of the Rent Acts, not to mention the Town and Country Planning Acts, in that to the layman it is wholly and to the experts it is almost incomprehensible. If in the clearest and simplest language the Minister is able to explain the rights and duties of the landlord and of the tenant, I am sure that he will be performing a valuable service.

5.56 p.m.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) made it clear that he gave this Bill his general support. We gathered that that was his attitude throughout the various stages of the Bill. On some occasions we thought that he was going to break away from his middle position and come down on our side on some matters, but he remained true to the middle of the road, and again today he has given his general support to the Bill, neither wholeheartedly nor with very much criticism.

I agree very much with the hon. Member's remarks about the notice of increase, the document which the landlord will have to present to the tenant. He has touched upon one of the most important aspects of this matter as it affects the private landlord and his tenant. I know that the Minister has promised to incorporate in that document certain information that will enable the tenant to protect himself. We know that it will be a most important document, and I think that the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West was quite right in stressing it. The manner in which that document is prepared will determine largely whether or not justice is done to the tenant. If it is worded in such a way that the tenant is unable to follow it or is not informed properly of his rights, there will be many cases of injustice.

The document must make clear that all the three conditions upon which an increase in rent will be allowed have been fulfilled—that the house is in good repair, that it is suitable for occupation according to the listed number of items in Clause 9 and that the necessary amount of money has been spent in the specified period. It is essential that the Minister should make clear in that document what are the tenant's rights and the address to which the tenant should go to apply for a certificate of disrepair. It would have been better if the terms of this document had been made available to the House before this debate on Third Reading. We are letting the Bill go without having seen the wording of this essential document, wording which will determine very largely whether or not justice is done to the tenant in most cases. If the document is not suitably worded and does not inform the tenant of his rights and the way in which he can obtain his rights, I can assure the Minister that he will hear a great deal more about it in the future.

I find it difficult to believe on this Third Reading that this Bill will achieve its avowed purposes. I had hoped that after its passage through Committee and this House the Bill would have been so rearranged and altered that the slums would have been dealt with effectively and that the Bill would have enabled us to believe that millions of houses that are now in disrepair throughout the country at last would be put in good condition. I had those hopes and I have no doubt that the Minister believes that these things will come about, but I have considerable doubt about it. I am wondering how far local authorities will be able to implement the purposes which the Minister has in mind.

The Parliamentary Secretary paid scant attention to the part which the local authorities will have to play in the implementation of the Bill. His only reference to the local authorities was to the effect that, provided the local authorities responded enthusiastically, the Bill would be a success. It is not sufficient to load local authorities with a vast volume of new tasks and merely say that we expect them to respond enthusiastically.

The Bill will undoubtedly place upon local authorities a considerable volume of new work. Within 12 months they must prepare their proposals for the Minister. They have to survey their areas and decide which parts are slum areas, and following the general survey they have to examine the houses and other premises in those areas individually and decide what their general condition is, how long they will stand up and whether they will be required within the 10-year or 15-year category. That is a big operation. The survey and report to the Minister are in themselves a considerable task for local authorities. It will be difficult for the local authorities to do the task thoroughly and to submit their proposals to the Minister within 12 months. We know that the Minister can give a dispensation and allow a longer period, and I think that he will have to do that in many cases.

The local authorities will have to deal with a great volume of inquiries under Clauses 23 to 26, which deal with rent increase. There will, first of all, be a flood of inquiries from local residents about the gross rents and rateable values of houses, and the local authorities will have to provide that information as it is asked for.

There will inevitably be—certainly at first—a flood of applications for certificates of disrepair, particularly in the urban areas. Thousands of people will go to their town hall within the first few months of the operation of the Bill and ask the local authority to certify that their houses are in a state of disrepair.

There are not enough local government officers to cope with this volume of work. The Minister must know that there are not sufficient sanitary inspectors in the country to carry out the work which he is placing upon local authorities. If the local authority inspection procedure breaks down because there are not enough inspectors, we shall expect the Government to come to the aid of local authorities.

The hon. Member has been talking about a shortage of sanitary inspectors and the inability of the sanitary inspectors to do this work. I have this afternoon received a resolution, passed by 150 sanitary inspectors representing 75 local authorities, which says:

"This conference of the Southern Centre of the Sanitary Inspectors Association begs to assure the Minister of Housing and Local Government that the implementation of Operation Rescue via Housing Repairs and Rents Act will be supported energetically in this area with every available resource."
The hon. Member says that the work cannot be done by the sanitary inspectors, butt the information we have is that at will be done by them.

The hon. Member has had the opportunity now to read out his letter from the sanitary inspectors in the southern area, but his intervention was beside the mark. None of us questions the loyalty of the sanitary inspectors—they are a fine body of men and will do their utmost—but the point is that there are insufficient of them, even with all the enthusiasm for which the Parliamentary Secretary calls, to cope with the volume of work which the Minister is placing upon them.

We know that the intake in the profession is very small. We also know, incidentally, that there is considerable discontent among local authority officers at present. We cannot hope that the present number of inspectors will be augmented in time. If the local authority machinery for dealing with applications for certificates of disrepair breaks down, the responsibility will be upon the Minister and it will be necessary for him to come to the aid of the local authorities.

As the work under the Bill will have to be carried out by local authorities, the Parliamentary Secretary ought to have said something to them. The House ought to recognise the unpaid work which will have to be done by councillors throughout the country in order to implement the Bill. Our wordy battle is over, but the actual work of the Bill in the country will soon begin to be carried out by local authorities. We ought now to recognise the public-spiritedness of local councillors and the capacity and loyalty of local government officers, who, although understaffed, are loyal in carrying out the legislation that we pass. I trust that the Minister will pay due tribute to the local authority people who will carry out the tasks which he is thrusting upon them.

I have noticed in my constituency, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) mentioned on a previous occasion that he has noticed elsewhere, a sudden rash of new paint on many of the meaner properties in the back streets, and there is the sound of trowels as brickwork is being made good. I have not been content just to look at the exteriors of houses. I find that owners are attending to the fabric of their premises, attending to the brickwork and the external painting and ensuring that the properties are essentially sound, but the interiors of the houses are receiving very scant attention.

I hope that a message will go out from the Minister tonight that, however much exterior work is done, a house will not qualify for the rent increase unless the interior is in good repair. If landlords think that they will be justified in slapping on the increase by spending money on the exterior and leaving the interior living conditions unattended to, I am sure that they will make a mistake which will be met with opposition and will arouse the wrath of tenants.

I hope that in time the Bill will enable local authorities to clear the slums of our cities. They cannot do it at once. Their immediate task is to patch up old slum property. That task which the Minister has placed upon them is not a very inspiring one. The fruitful work will come later when they can clear and rebuild. That is the creative work which they like doing, but the patching up will arouse no enthusiasm among local authority councillors. I hope that in the main landlords will play fair and will do the repairs. If they fail, we shall be on their tails and the Minister will have to back us.

6.10 p.m.

Hon. Members in all parts of the House will agree with the hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans) in the tribute which he has paid to the quality and single-mindedness of local authority officials, but I think that he rather over-estimates the additional burden which will be placed upon them by the Bill. I am certain that they are fully capable of fulfilling their additional responsibility in that respect.

I have been trying to think how I could describe in a single sentence the real issue which divides my hon. Friends and myself from hon. Members opposite on the Bill. I believe that the real difference is one of priority and of intention. My hon. Friends and I regard it as top priority that the repairs to the houses should be done, and everything flows from that. Since we regard it as essential that the repairs to the houses should be carried out, it follows as night follows day that there should be some increase in rent. Hon. Members opposite take an opposite view. Their top priority is that in no circumstances whatever should a landlord receive any increase in rent in respect of any house which he owns. That is how hon. Gentlemen opposite approach the problem.

Will not the hon. Gentleman agree with the point that I made, that a property which is sound but is nevertheless in a bad state of repair is not dealt with under the Bill?

My right hon. Friend has made it perfectly clear time and time again that the Bill is not meant to solve the whole problem of all the repairs necessary to all houses throughout the length and breadth of England, Wales and Scotland. Of course, it will not have the effect that every dilapidated house will be put right within the space of a few years. Hon. Gentlemen opposite must be realistic. However, their priority is that in no circumstances should any private landlord obtain an increase in rent.

That gets hon. Members opposite into a difficulty. It follows logically from that that few repairs would be done and, therefore, few houses would be improved. Nevertheless, hon. Gentlemen opposite try to get out of their difficulty. The solution has been repeated this afternoon. The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) said that all rented houses should ultimately be taken over by local authorities.

Hear, hear. That should be done in Birmingham.

The hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer) says, "Hear, hear," but that solution brings a lot of problems in its wake. If ultimately all rented houses or all rent-restricted houses are to be taken over by local authorities, one of two things must happen. The tenants may lose the protection of the Rent Acts, in which case their rents go up.

If the tenants do not lose the protection under the Rent Acts, what is uneconomic for the private landlord cannot be economic for local authorities. I can only say that if hon. Gentlemen opposite really think that the local authorities can take over all rent-restricted houses without any increase in rent the finances of the scheme will make some of their previous ventures, like the groundnut scheme, seem in comparison to be as respectable as an appeal by a diocesan board of finance.

The hon. Member happens to live in Windsor. I happen to represent Birmingham, and for many years I have been on the Birmingham council. Birmingham has 50,000 back-to-back houses. I live in a house which has been taken over by the council for slum clearance. The hon. Member has referred to landlords not receiving rents. What is he going to do about landlords in the big cities who have received a 40 per cent. increase in rent since 1920 but have done no repairs at all?

There may not be many similarities between my constituency and that of the hon. Member, but, broadly, the rents of all council houses have gone up steadily since the war.

Of course, the hon. Member who led for the Opposition made the usual assault upon landlords as a whole. It is true that there are bad landlords; we can all think of some. For that matter, it is equally true that there are bad tenants and we can all think of some, too. There are bad Members of Parliament and bad civil servants; there are black sheep in every walk of life. But I believe it thoroughly unjustified and quite unfair to suggest that landlords as a category are specially endowed with a double dose of original sin, for that is not the case. A great many landlords have kept in good repair properties which were hopelessly uneconomic. They did so because they thought it right and because they had a sense of moral duty just as highly developed as that of hon. Members opposite.

It is true that the class of property to which the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) referred, the four or five low-rated houses owned by one individual, have not always been kept in good repair, but that is owing to the operations of the Rent Restriction Acts, by which there was not the wherewithal to keep them in repair. It is a perfectly simple mathematical sum. Indeed, I am not sure whether this Bill will enable owners of low-rated rural cottages to carry out repairs and improvements in view of the very small permitted rent increases.

My last point is about improvement grants. I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary mentioned this matter. I think it is very advisable that local authorities should be encouraged to take what I should call a commonsense view in applying the 16 points required to bring the houses up to the required standard. It would be quite absurd if, owing to some rigid adherence to the latter and not to the spirit of the Clause, houses which ought to qualify for an improvement grant cannot be brought up to standard because they fail to fulfil some specific condition which, in relation to the general conditions in the area, cannot be achieved.

In this respect hon. Members opposite talk of this Bill being a gold mine for landlords. They conveniently forget that often a great deal of capital expenditure is required on the part of the landlord to bring the house up to the required standard—capital that is not covered by any improvement grant or any increase in the rents. For instance, there is the laying on of electricity—bringing electricity from a main to a house. That is something for which one cannot get an improvement grant. An improvement grant is given for wiring the house when electricity is there, or for putting in a bath with an electric heater but not for bringing electricity from the main to the house, which might easily cost £250 or £300. Technically, reroofing—stripping the roof and putting on new tiles—is not an improvement and that cost is not something for which an improvement grant can be claimed. It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to say that landlords may spend a few pounds and get an increase in rent and that the shekels roll in, but I do not think they would invest their money in some of the houses which they expect landlords to keep in good repair.

I welcome the Bill as a step in the right direction. It required considerable political courage on the part of my right hon. Friend—a great deal more than has ever been shown by the party opposite. For that reason, I welcome the Third Reading and the passage of the Bill towards the Statute Book.

6.20 p.m.

The hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Mott-Radclyffe) speaks on these subjects with a great deal of knowledge, and certainly when we were considering the cottage certificate he showed his knowledge of that subject. He was not going to follow the rebellious back benches and attempt to force the Minister into restoring the cottage certificate because he realised that it was no longer necessary, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) said as long ago as August, 1951.

The hon. Member put to us the point whether we accepted the fact that, if something was uneconomic for a private landlord, would it not also be uneconomic for a local authority? That was a fair point. I have never disguised in any discussion on the subject that I believe an increasing proportion of our national wealth must go towards housing the mass of the people. This would mean increased subsidies and also, in many cases, it would involve increased rents. What we are arguing against is the scheme for rent increases in this Bill. Our argument has not been on the general proposition that there should in no circumstances be an increase in rents. On Second Reading I endeavoured to develop the point about the increased proportion of our national wealth because I regard that as of the greatest importance to any of us concerned with housing.

I take it that the hon. Member is disagreeing with his hon. Friend, who said that increased rents would set off a spiral demand for increased wages, because he is now saying an increase in rent is inevitable in any case.

I was dealing with a general proposition put forward by the hon. Member for Windsor. I am looking ahead, and I think that for those of us who may be in public life for the next 30 years or so—[Interruption.] I said "may be"; the hon. Member for Peterborough is very shaky on this.

My hon. Friend should not let hon. Members opposite shake him, as they do not know what they are talking about.

I thank my hon. Friend for his assistance, but I want to deal with the subject in my own way. I was dealing with the general proposition put forward by the hon. Member for Windsor. On this Bill we have made clear to what we are opposed and I certainly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for New-castle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) that the increases should be related to the speech made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in introducing the Budget, and that is a valid argument against the Bill.

I am glad to see the Parliamentary Secretary back with us. [Interruption.] I am not implying that he deserted his post, but I am glad to see him back. He started his speech in a rather confused manner by his interpretation of Clause 1. He fell into the trap into which many hon. Members and many of the general public have fallen in believing that Clause I had something to do with the speeding up of slum clearance. The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls) indicated in an intervention that he also thought that was so. But the Minister himself said that Clause 1 in no way altered the existing law about slum clearance. He said it was
"not really an operational exercise … it is what we might call an intelligence exercise."
It does not "plan," as the hon. Member for Peterborough implied.

Does not the hon. Member think that intelligence sometimes helps?

Yes, but I am not going to get off on yet another general proposition. It is clear that it is nonsensical to talk about Clause 1 as if it were speeding up slum clearance. I emphasise what the Minister said on the first day of the Committee:

"Clause 1 does not in itself accelerate … slum clearance."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 21st January, 1954; c. 8, 10.]
One of the other points made by the Parliamentary Secretary in opening the debate is important enough to comment upon, especially in view of what the Liberal Party representative said. The Parliamentary Secretary suggested that old Victorian houses should be adapted for the use of old people. Surely they are the most unsuitable houses for old people? Surely it is here that exchange should come in. Exchange is very important in dealing with this problem.

My hon. Friend the Member for New-castle-upon-Tyne, East said this was a bad Bill on Second Reading and a worse Bill on Third Reading. It was such a bad Bill on Second Reading that even the chief housing officer of the Ministry is reported as haying said that Clause 7 was a serious mistake. Clause 7 has now become Clause 9. If the Parliamentary Secretary wants the reference for that, it was in the February edition of "Public Service," in which Mr. Colin Brown was reported as having said this. Right from the beginning the Bill was criticised. We did hard work in Committee, yet nearly every suggestion for improvement was rejected by the Minister.

Suggestions which were accepted were those put forward by property owners. There were some concessions with which the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Horobin) and others were concerned about changing the period of notice and so on, but in the main it was the property owners who received concessions. The "Economist," in that remarkable article of 13th March, said that the Minister would meet their objections, and the magazine "Property" pointed out that its readers would have opportunity for direct representation with the Minister on all property problems. It said:
"Fortunately the National Federation of Property Owners … have not let the grass grow under their feet."
By the time we come to Third Reading, the Bill is infinitely worse than the Bill that we had on Second Reading. Still the onus is on the tenant, still the landlord, spending a certain amount on one occasion, is to go on getting the increase of rent for ever. But there are new features: the three or four years to be taken for the landlord's benefit and, even more serious, the new Clause moved, not in Committee, but when we came back to the full House. This is the Clause removing rent control from new dwellings and self-contained dwellings which were converted without receiving a subsidy.

The Parliamentary Secretary quoted "The Times" leading article and I said that I should quote it, too. The point is that "The Times" regards it as mysterious that the Minister introduced that important Clause so late. "The Times" is a very polite newspaper. We had a discussion about "The Times" earlier. The property owners' journal and the "Economist" are not as polite as "The Times" and they have explained away this mystery. It was because of the pressure that the property owners had brought to bear on the Minister and the Government between Second Reading and Recommittal and Report stage.

We have to recognise that the party of which the Government are composed are like the Communist Party, in that they never publish their accounts. The Conservative Party finances are always mysterious, unlike those of the Liberal Party and the Labour Party, who publish their accounts. [Laughter.] An hon. Member laughs. What contribution do the Property Owners' Federation make to the funds of the Conservative Party? It is a fair question, when we see the legislation brought in to benefit special sections of the community. We should know the answer. If there is nothing in it, and the Conservative Party are not ashamed of it, they should publish their accounts. It would be quite easy so to do.

I have referred to the one major concession that tenants received in the Bill in Committee, the abolition of the cottage certificate. The agricultural workers unions have agitated for this. They are pleased. But it is two and a half years since it became clear that it was no longer necessary. That was clear to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland in the summer of 1951, when he was Minister.

The Parliamentary Secretary talked about slum clearance as if this were really a slum clearance Bill. We have dealt with that point and I have quoted the Minister's views about Clause 1. I want to turn to the deception about the object of the Bill. I was deceived by the Bill when I first read it. I was taken in by the window-dressing. I thought it really would do some good in the slums. I know I am not unique in thinking this way about the slums; hon. Members in all quarters of the House, including the hon. Member for Oldham, East have made references to slum conditions. This one factor made many converts to the Labour Party in the 1930s. It seemed intolerable to people who had known healthy middle-class households that millions of their fellow-citizens were living in slum conditions. The ordinary, decent man who had not suffered by living in slums was immediately affected by the reference in the Bill to slum clearance. As I say, I was also affected in that way. I am sure that many hon. Members also thought that the Bill enabled the Minister to do something about the slums.

After 22 sittings of the Committee it is clear to me that the Bill as it now stands is on this point nothing but a deception. It does not enable the slum problem to be dealt with, and it is right that we should say so and let that fact be fully realised. The hon. Member for Windsor chided my hon. Friends with calling all landlords bad. There are many good landlords, even in the slums. Of course there are. There is even the widow, always trotted out by the Conservatives to prevent social progress, owning one or two slum houses and having a very difficult job because they are not economic. There are also charitable trusts.

But let us be frank about it: most slum landlords are loathsome creatures dealing in a most dreadful commodity. The Bill not only makes the owning of slum property respectable but makes it economically worth while. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay), who has just intervened, intervened on one occasion in Committee. He will remember he said that slum landlords ought to have a chance of making some money now.

I think the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) is trying to be fair, but what he has just said is a misrepresentation. Being a lawyer, he will accept it if I say that it is an innocent misrepresentation. I did not say quite in that way what he alleges, nor did it have that particular context. I have explained this point to the House upon one previous occasion. At the time in Committee I was talking upon an Amendment which sought to limit the amount of compensation when a house was acquired. The object of my intervention was to say that if a landlord, albeit a slum landlord, has been under the handicap of rent restrictions for a very long time, there was no reason why he should not have an opportunity of redeveloping the site and thereby making a bit of money out of a site which had been sterile for so long.

The intervention of the hon. Member in my speech led me to think of his previous intervention, but I accept what he now says. Let me return to the point I was on. The large property-owning societies, associations and businesses have a considerable amount of slum property and "The Economist" made the point that they were going to be able to increase their dividends. It was not only said about slum landlords. [Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) would like to deny that.

Will the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) say how the Bill will increase the return to the owner of slum properties?

The hon. Member will recall that we had a whole discussion in Committee on site values. I hope that he will have a chance of following me and disposing of my argument, which is that the owners of slum property, like the owners of other property, will benefit under the Bill.

May I intervene for clarification on this very important point? We had a very considerable discussion in Committee on the point that the slum landlord will be able to avoid meeting the expenses of pulling property down because he will be able to get the site value of the property and meet the costs of pulling it down.

The ex-Parliamentary Secretary, who has just intervened, makes the assumption that it always costs something to the owner to have a building pulled down. This is not always the case, as is shown by the particulars I happen to have relating to demolitions in Birmingham. There were 173 properties to be demolished, and they were divided among 47 contractors. In 28 cases the contractor paid for demolishing the buildings; in 17 cases the council paid; and in two cases the work was done free of charge. The average cost was £1 4s. 2d. per dwelling.

Perhaps I may now continue my speech and self-denyingly bring it to a close, because many other hon. Members wish to get in.

What is to be done after the Bill becomes law? There has been talk of rent strikes and action such as that, chiefly because there was inadequate discussion in Committee and because the deception is now apparent. It sounds a lot to say "22 sittings" but this is a very complicated Bill. People are just beginning to realise and believe that there was considerable deception in the presentation of the Bill. I do not advise that there should be rent strikes. The law, bad as it is, must be obeyed. I can tell hon. Members that I have had letters containing suggestions of strikes.

It is important that all the safeguards, small as they are, for the tenants, should be taken full advantage of. The Labour Party will organise the tenants as they have never organised tenants before. It is important that it should be done, not to break the law—let me make that point clear—but to see that every step is taken on the tenants' behalf. As far as possible, in every village and town we shall set up rent bureaux to see that what little justice is provided for the tenants is given to them, and so that they may know their rights.

Tenants should not pay one penny of rent increase until they have made certain that the landlord is really entitled to it. That is most important. There will be facilities offered by the Labour Party. There are already some organisations in existence. My hon. Friends realise the problems that the tenants will face, and will advise them to make the greatest use of these facilities. The local Labour parties will do everything possible to help them.

6.42 p.m.

The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) said that when he read the White Paper that preceded the Bill he was deceived. He had thought that the Bill which was to follow the White Paper would be different from what it turned out to be. Perhaps he himself is a greater deceiver. His demeanour is attractive. He puts on a tone of sweet reasonableness; there is hardly any alteration in the tone of his voice yet; in that cooing tone he has said the most outrageous things that had nothing to do with the Bill but were sheer hypocrisy. He misrepresented an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay).

I apologised to the hon. Member for Henley and explained that when he interrupted my speech, my mind went back to an intervention of his in the Committee, but I am satisfied now that he made it on a different point and that I falsely accused him. I did immediately withdraw.

I was not only referring to that point. There are many other points I want to take up. Because the Government have brought in the Bill which improves the conditions of houses, and might well bring some small increase of rent in some cases, the hon. Member asked how much the property owners contribute to Conservative Party funds. I should like to remind him, and also the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren), that the Government are also bringing in a Bill this Session in regard to night baking, and that last Session they brought in a Bill in relation to foundry conditions. The hon. Member ought to ask how much the foundrymen and night bakers contribute to the party funds.

Our party funds are published, and show the contributions made to the funds of the Labour Party. The same is true of the Liberal Party.

The Rent Restriction Act, 1915, was to control rents during a period of war. A Tory Party businessmen's Government came in after the 1914–18 war, and the landlords then got their pay-off in a couple of years. In 1939, another Rent Restriction Act was passed to cover war conditions. In 1945 there was a Labour Government in control, so the landlords did not get their pay-off. The tenants got a pay-off. As soon as the Tory Party get back the landlords get their pay-off again.

I feel that one ought to have an opportunity of answering some of the speeches which have been made by hon. Members opposite, because they have been intended as sheer propaganda for consumption outside this House. The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) suggested that this Measure, was bound to bring with it an all-round increase in wage demands, which would interfere with our general economic and financial stability. I do not agree. His next suggestion was that municipalities should take over these properties. If they were to do that, one must assume that they would carry out essential repairs and would have to increase the rents in proportion to the money spent, so that they would sot up a wages spiral as well. So his suggestion does not bear examination. His own alternative suggestion would bring about the same results.

Not at all. We have always said that we thought it wrong to argue that no rent increase of any kind was justified. We have always said very clearly—my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) more clearly than anybody—that in the take-over by local authorities some rent increases would be justifiable. In that case there would be a guarantee that the work would be done. It has been made perfectly clear that local authorities would not need to raise rents to the extent provided in the Bill.

The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East made his speech only a few minutes ago, and he asked the House whether they thought that the Minister of Housing and Local Government had consulted the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He suggested that the Bill would interfere with the smooth working of the financial ideas put forward by the Chancellor, and went on to put his own alternative suggestion, which would be bound to bring about similar rent increases.

The hon. Member went on to contradict himself by saying that this Bill was described as "Operation Rescue," but that it would fail. I can see no reason why it should, but if it does, and the repairs which will justify an increase in rents are not carried out, where are the millions of people who will use the Measure to justify a claim for an increase in their wages?

The hon. Member is very obtuse. I have taken up far too much time of the House in explaining how many landlords will be able to obtain rent increases without doing repairs, or by doing such modest repairs as will bring the houses to the useless standard provided in the Bill, which will leave them just as intolerable for the people who occupy them.

That underlines another contradiction in the hon. Member's speech. He went on to argue that local authorities were very able, keen and reliable, but his suggestion that landlords will be able to claim increases without doing sufficient work is an innuendo against local authorities. I am sorry to have to take time in making a debating speech, but the whole intention of the hon. Member was to back up the decision of his party to use the Bill, good though it is in meeting the need which he himself has expressed in the past, as one of the main propaganda weapons to be used throughout the country.

The hon. Member for Warrington (Dr. Morgan) interjects in many of the speeches of my hon. Friends, but I thought that he and I had come to an understanding.

We should cast our minds back to the situation which existed before the White Paper was presented. From both sides of the House, and in all sections of the Press, demands were being made that houses should be maintained in a reasonable condition. That was the view expressed officially by right hon. Gentlemen opposite. Their consciences were a little disturbed because, during the six years they were in office, they had not set about trying to provide for some really effective improvements. They tried to do something in the improvement grants of the 1949 Act. I grant at once that that Act was a very good one, but they tied it down with so many restrictions that it frightened people and prevented them from giving effect to what we admit was a very good idea.

It is not fair for the hon. Member to suggest that local authorities and their servants, or the bulk of the landlords, would wish to take an unfair advantage when, if this Bill is passed, they will qualify for increased rents if they do what are after all, reasonable repairs. The hon. Member referred to the standards laid down in the Bill and suggested that my right hon. Friend ought to have accepted Amendments which would have more closely defined the standards laid down. On consideration, I think that the hon. Member would admit, from his own experience in the office now held by my hon. Friend, that it would have been a disadvantage to have laid down a whole list of rigid conditions which had to be fulfilled. That would have had precisely the opposite effect from what was intended.

I come back to the 1949 Act, with which the hon. Member had something to do. He must admit that the improvement grant did not bring about the results which his party had in mind, simply because of the rigid list of requirements. We ought to have learned by now that, having laid down the general line of policy and having provided for directives, both through the Bill and through the Ministry, we should leave a considerable amount of room for discretion on the part of the people who will have to apply the provisions on the spot.

Local authorities have acted as watchdogs in the past, and I believe that they will go on doing so. Indeed, accepting the solution proposed by the hon. Member that local authorities should own these properties, why should they do less as agents for the Government than as owners themselves? From my experience of local authorities—I believe the hon. Member has similar experience—I know that great care and attention is given to circulars sent out from the Ministery. If directives are issued stating that the standards laid down in the Bill are to be used to the full, within the local authorities' discretion, I am quite certain that they will carry out their task.

Does not the hon. Member agree, from his own experience of local government, that the amount of time sanitary inspectors and other officials have to waste in checking up what property owners should have done but have not done is one of the most shocking wastes of experienced men's time? If local authorities owned the properties a great deal of that wasted time would be avoided.

It is part of a sanitary inspector's job to see that the houses in his area are inhabitable and in proper condition. If there is one place where all the particulars are already properly tabulated, it is in a sanitary inspector's office. It is proper that he and his assistants should make regular rounds of their area. It is not a bad thing that they should go out and check the owners on their list, but if they are tied down with rigid definitions, as suggested by the hon. Member, they will never leave their offices, they will have to deal with a huge number of forms and all the usual red tape. If we allow them to use their discretion as servants of their local authorities, or give them a discretion to apply the general directive laid down in this Bill, I am quite certain that we shall reach the conclusion we have in mind, which is to maintain in use properties which would otherwise fall into decay.

The hon. Member also referred to the Second Schedule, and used a particularly mean example to illustrate its effects. The hon. Member conjured up out of his imagination a situation where a landlord, or a friend of the landlord, was living in a flat above an ordinary tenant, and he suggested that in order to claim an increased rent from the tenant below all the money would be spent on the landlord's own flat and nothing on the one underneath. In my professional life I have had some experience of dealing with the sort of properties which this Bill will cover, and that experience tells me that in the majority of cases, where a landlord lives in the area in which his properties are situated, he is inclined to live in difficult and bad conditions himself in order to maintain the conditions of those properties to which he has to go each week to collect the rents and meet all the criticisms that come from the tenants. I am not suggesting that that is necessarily the case with all landlords, but I suggest that my example is nearer the truth than the particularly mean example used by the hon. Member in order to make his point.

Will the hon. Member explain what he means by "mean"? I was putting forward the sort of problem that may arise under the provisions of the Bill.

The Second Schedule has been altered to provide that money spent on a block of property need not be applied to each individual house within that block, and that an increase in rent may be claimed for all the individual houses. In my view, that is a very sensible provision, if one has practical knowledge of what happens. When a landlord owns a block of property and when, for various reasons, certain houses within it are in a better condition than others, then it is an inducement to him to spend more money on those units which really need it if he gets extra rent from all properties within the block.

We had this discussion in Committee. The Amendment to which the hon. Member refers was put into the Bill only on the Report stage, and we therefore have to consider it in rather more detail than we have yet been able to do. Under this provision, how is the intention of the Bill—that the repairs should alight on the house of a particular tenant in order that he may receive the benefit—to be carried out? Secondly, how can the tenant check the statement of his landlord if the money spent has been spent on somebody else's house.

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to proceed. This is a Third Reading debate, and I was dealing with a particular example which his hon. Friend had used in order to put this Second Schedule in a very bad light. I am emphasising that he used a very mean example, which is in no way representative of the mass of property owners.

Surely it is our job to test the possible consequences of the law which we are making, even if it means citing extreme cases.

We are on Third Reading, but the debate is becoming rather like a Committee debate. If possible, let us have speeches and not a series of questions and answers.

With respect, Mr. Speaker, we are in a very great difficulty, to which I hope to refer later. We were never able to discuss this matter. This is a particularly unfortunate example of the use of the Guillotine. This provision was inserted into the Bill after it had left Committee and it could not be reached because of the Guillotine.

I was aware of that and that is why I allowed much more latitude than I normally allow, but I think there is a limit to everything.

I made it quite clear that, because of the nature of the speeches, and particularly that of the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East, I thought it right to let it be known that many hon. Members feel that the example which he used was very unrealistic and particularly mean. If he has to go to those lengths to find something wrong with this Schedule, there cannot be very much wrong with it.

I congratulate the Minister on facing a need recognised by all the Press and all quarters of the House. Having said that, I must let him know that I wish he could have gone a little further. I do not think the terms of the Bill, good though they are as a first step—which is perhaps as far as he can go politically at this stage—will go far enough. When the Bill is put into operation, I doubt whether more than 45 per cent, to 50 per cent, of the property which we want to touch will derive any benefit under it. Nevertheless, we all recognise that it is 45 per cent, to 50 per cent, on which these improvements would not have taken place had we not had the Bill. I am simply pointing out from this side of the House that we are not welcoming the Bill with open arms and saying that it is the complete answer to all our problems.

I want strongly to support the Minister for the courage he has shown in freeing new accommodation from the Rent Restrictions Acts. Again, the practical results which will flow from this step will be those which we all want. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary appealed to right hon. Gentlemen opposite to play fair when they are presenting the facts to the country. He asked them to make it quite clear to their audiences that this provision applies only to new accommodation which previously was not available for letting. If they deliberately misrepresent the position and play upon people's fears, suggesting that we are interfering with rent-restricted properties generally, they will not be playing the game or doing justice either to their constituents or to the country.

It is for us, on this side of the House, to make it quite clear that this has been done because we want to encourage the bringing of new houses and new accommodation into the letting pool. We recognise that this is the only way which will encourage owners of the sort of property we have in mind to set about doing that. All we ask hon. Members opposite is, not that they should sell our point of view along the lines which I have suggested, but that they should not be unfair or give impressions which are not true impressions on a proper reading of the Bill.

Would the hon. Gentleman be good enough to explain to the House whether this departure, or this suggestion whereby new housing should not come within the sphere of the Rent Acts, is entirely new? What does the hon. Gentleman say about converted houses?

I have made my position clear. I think that in giving this freedom from the Rent Restriction Acts, so that people may spend money on bringing new buildings into use for letting, we shall give an encouragement which could not be given in any other way.

I feel that the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale has a conscience about slum clearance. I believe he would sincerely have liked to have gone down in history as the one who set about slum clearance, and I believe he sincerely wants to wipe out the slums which he knows so well and about which he has spoken and written so much in the past. He knows that this is such a good move towards clearing the slums that he is resentful that my right hon. Friend should get any kudos; for what undoubtedly will follow from the Bill is that it will give an impetus to slum clearance, the power for which already exists in other Acts.

The hon. Member is perfectly correct. I envy the Minister that he is now able to enjoy the fact that, eight years having elapsed since the end of the war, we can proceed to slum clearance. I envy him that position very much. If I had the opportunity, I could do it very much better.

The inspiration which the right hon. Gentleman has when he is in opposition is amazing. It is an inspiration which did not flow quite as easily when he was in charge of the Department. He was in charge of the Department for many years, but then I do not think he had the "know-how."

Clause 1 (1) reads:
"Subject to the provisions of this section, every local authority shall, within one year after the commencement of this Act, submit to the Minister in such form as the Minister may require proposals for dealing"
with slum clearance. That is calling for the plan. The fact that they prepare a plan and have to give all the information will be setting off the driving force in order to get on with slum clearance. This Bill has therefore a very relevant connection with the slum clearance which will follow.

But the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, and it is for us to find out, 12 months from today or longer, whether there has been any slum clearance. This Bill will have the effect of bringing forward a scheme by local authorities which will speed slum clearance in the way we want to see it speeded. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman knows that and that his political sense tells him that my right hon. Friend will have all the credit and the kudos which he deserves for setting about it.

Turning to the improvement grant, I want to place on record that I do not think the proposals will be good enough to bring about the scale of improvements which we would like to see. We have had numerous examples of how improvements to housing can bring about many benefits to the people in this country. In speaking about increased rents, the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East said that they would cause a spiral of increases in wages. I would remind him from practical knowledge that some of these improvements will save people money. If any hon. Member will go to the public baths in any of the great industrial towns and cities, particularly at the end of the week, he will see crowds of people sitting on the benches awaiting their turn for a bath, because they have no baths in their houses. For a bath they have to pay 8d. or 1s., in addition to paying the bus fare to the public baths. If, as a result of these improvements in the properties, families of perhaps four or five will be saved money in that way, then they will be saving in cash much more than they will be called upon to pay in increased rent.

Surely if the landlord puts in a new bath or a new amenity, he can charge an increase. He has the 8 per cent, provision. Our complaint is that this increase in rent will be made without any new amenities.

Perhaps the hon. Member did not hear his hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East, who suggested that rent increases from any source would bring about a spate of wage demands throughout the country. I was dealing with that point and seeking to show that the household budget is likely to save money rather than lo spend more as a result of these rent increases.

I doubt whether the permissive increase of 8 per cent, is sufficient to justify a wholesale improvement, and I think 10 per cent, would have been nearer the mark. Nevertheless, we accept the Bill. The change from 6 per cent, to 8 per cent. is an improvement which will bring about some increase, although I think even more could have been done.

I should like to quote from a speech made by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley) when he met local authorities in Bridgend. He said:
"What I meant was that little more than 3,000 dwellings have been improved under the Act since 1949,"—
he was referring to the "Nye Bevan Act"—
"and when one considers that there are four to five million dwellings it is really a drop in the ocean. My feeling is that the Act is a sound one as a good experiment and I sincerely hope that Macmillan—in that part of the Bill—will achieve results. But I think it is doubtful that private landlords will lock up hundreds of pounds in their houses on an inducement of £400 grant aid and 8 per cent, on the rent. I really doubt whether the increment is there for private persons to do it."
That is from one of the right hon. Gentleman's supporters, and I believe it is very likely right, and that a wholesale increase in the scale which we would like to see would not be attained on 8 per cent., but we accept the 2 per cent. improvement, because it may well set the thing on the move. I should like also to congratulate my right hon. Friend on reducing the amount which needs to be spent. He said that the reduction to £100 would allow the landlord to put in a bathroom. Such an amenity can be put in for as low as £60 and it is a good thing that the figure should be lowered nearer to that limit.

I have made what I suppose is a debating speech. I did so deliberately because I wanted to answer some hon. Gentlemen opposite who, I am quite certain, have been using this House once again as a propaganda platform. I would like to have made constructive suggestions of my own, because I am particularly interested in this Bill, but 1 beg the Opposition not to play on the fears and emotions of the people too badly on this issue of housing. This is a matter on which we could go together, and, as far as the intentions of this Bill are concerned, it is a matter on which we ought to go together.

7.11 p.m.

The only observation of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Peterborough with which I agreed was his remark that the Bill could be considerably improved. I had intended to enter into controversy with the hon. Gentleman on the political aspects of this Bill, but I shall refrain from doing so because I am sure the points will be made by other speakers and I have not had the opportunity, as most other Members who have spoken have had, of taking part in the discussions in Committee.

I hope the Minister will elucidate one point of considerable importance which is worrying me, and one which, owing to the fact that the discussions in Committee and on Report were guillotined, is still left in a state of very considerable uncertainty. The point arises under Clause 7 (2, b). In the discussion on the Financial Resolution, I mentioned the contributions to be made by the Exchequer to the local authorities who have the invidious, but no doubt necessary, task in some areas of patching up slum property, which, if conditions were different, we would all hope would be abolished. In some areas, particularly the Borough of Islington, and no doubt in a great many other domiciliary suburbs of great cities, there must be a great deal of patching up.

The extent to which local authorities like Islington can put into operation the provisions of that part of the Bill will depend upon their receiving adequate Exchequer contributions. I appreciate that these are now fixed in the Bill at a sum equal to half the annual loan charge plus an annual payment of £3 a house, or £3 for each separate dwelling where there is more than one separate dwelling in a house.

The problem of my local authority, and no doubt a great many others, is on what basis will a separate dwelling be defined. Am I right in thinking that this is to be dealt with by some administrative action which the Minister will take when the Bill is on the Statute Book? Am I right in thinking that some circular will be drafted giving guidance to the Exchequer and the borough treasurers of local authorities on the way in which, when a house is divided up and lived in by a number of families, it will be decided how many separate dwellings exist in each house? The matter is one of considerable importance in a borough like Islington where the overwhelming majority of the houses are between 70 and 90 years old. They are large houses, many of them with three and four storeys, containing a large number of families.

I have heard it rumoured that, for the purpose of operating Clause 7 (2), the annual Exchequer contribution of £3 for a separate dwelling will be calculated by reference to a definition which considers how many parts of the building have separate cooking facilities. If that is the case, it will be quite inadequate, because we have many houses where there are perhaps only two cooking facilities but where there are three or four families living. There are hundreds of cases of separate families sharing cooking facilities, and therefore that would not be an adequate definition.

Justice can only be done to local authorities with a vast problem of this kind if a liberal definition is applied to "separate dwellings." I hope that the Minister will be able to make a statement which will ease the minds of those worried over this matter, and satisfy them that the annual contribution of £3 will be calculated by reference to the number of families occupying various rooms—not of course self-contained, because they rarely are—so as to make it as easy as possible for those hard-pressed local authorities to carry out the duties this Bill will place upon them. In making this case I have refrained from making any general comments about the inadequacy of this Bill in many other respects.

7.19 p.m.

I hope the House will forgive me if I do not join in the brisk and sparkling exchanges which have characterised the debate up to this point. I intervene briefly to underline the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Finlay), and to put a point of view advanced to me by a body of my constituents. It is quite a narrow point. It concerns Clause 32. My hon. Friend and I were not members of the Standing Committee, but we did seek to raise this point on the Report stage. Owing to a technical point, or whatever the explanation was, our Amendment to what was then called Clause 31 was not selected. We put that Amendment down because we felt that there was widespread misapprehension among tenants in the new towns of Harlow and Basildon, and possibly other new towns, as a result of the Bill taking new town corporations out of rent restriction.

Obviously there is a strong case for including new town corporations in the Bill. It was recognised by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), who advanced powerful arguments in Standing Committee. Certainly the fact that from the outset the new town corporations' houses were included within the scope of rent restriction caused some of them to fix their first rents at a higher level than might subsequently have proved necessary. One cannot read the annual reports of the various corporations without being seized of the difficulty.

In justification of their inclusion in Clause 32, it has been argued that if the corporations have their houses taken out of rent restriction the tenants have little to fear. After all, the corporations are statutory bodies answerable in the last analysis to my right hon. Friend the Minister for the way they treat their tenants. They are unlikely to be bad landlords. I agree. It is common sense that the duty and interest of the corporations are such that they must make a success of their job, and they cannot do that if they frighten tenants away by an illiberal rent policy.

However, the fact remains that the new town corporations are not like local authorities. They are not answerable to the local electorate. That weighs with me very strongly indeed. Many of the tenants coming to the new town of Basildon are from the metropolitan boroughs of Essex and from East and North London. In the main they come from rent restricted properties. They come to seek a new life in the new towns.

The rents that they pay for the new houses are not unreasonable when one considers the amenities which are provided—the happier and healthier conditions in which they live; but neither are the rents low. I am sure that hon. Members well understand the natural sensitivity of tenants in new towns on the subject of rents, especially when there are people who, I am sorry to say, for personal or political reasons deliberately confuse the issue and play upon the doubts and fears of the newcomers.

It is being said in Basildon by some who ought to know better that, if the Bill is approved as it stands, if the Corporations are taken out of rent restriction, rents will go sky high. We all know that that is complete and utter nonsense, but the fact is that many people believe it. It is being said too that the corporations can evict a man, not for non-payment of rent, which would be justifiable, but for changing his job. After all, a man who has gone to a new town to take a job in a specific factory and has been granted a tenancy for that reason, may subsequently lose the job and find employment outside the town.

A man may well do that. I hope that it will never be suggested that a man moving to a new town must for ever remain in the same job. Businesses flourish and businesses go down, and often workers are obliged to move from one job to another.

Has the hon. Gentleman any evidence to justify his statement? Does he know of any case where a tenant has been evicted for that reason?

On the contrary, I know of no such case. I said that there are people who are saying that if this provision remains in the Bill it is likely that a man who changes his job may be evicted from his house because the conditions under which he came to the new town have altered. The time will come when the new towns are taken over by properly constituted local authorities. It may be a good many years before that happens in Basildon. Meantime, those who have come from metropolitan Essex, the county of London and other parts of the country to make their homes in Basildon are entitled to feel that they have a reasonable security of tenure.

Therefore, I wish to ask my right hon. Friend to give two assurances. The first is that, as long as the corporations control the tenancies in new towns, they should observe the same prudent and reasonable policy on rents as that followed by any local authority. The second is that before a tenant is evicted for any just cause, the corporation should, as a matter of obligation, consult the appropriate local authority which, after all, is the local housing authority which will be faced with the responsibility of rehousing evicted tenants.

I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) is not here at the moment, because this is one of the few occasions when I agree with him. During the Committee stage, he said:
"We do not intend to oppose the Minister here because in the main we approve the principle, but we cannot see how it is necessary to lift these houses entirely out of the protection of the Rent Acts. They could have been lifted for the purposes of rents and remained for the purposes of security of tenure."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 9th March, 1954; c. 851.]
I do not know just how practical that would be, but I am certain that if my right hon. Friend can give the two assurances for which my hon. Friend the Member for Epping and I ask, that will go a long way towards removing the doubt and uncertainty which exists in the minds of many of my new town constituents.

7.28 p.m.

I have a good deal of sympathy with the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine) in the problem he discussed, which applies not only to the tenants of new towns but to those of housing associations and trusts. The fear is not so much of an increase in rent but about security of tenure, which still means a great deal to all tenants in the present housing shortage.

I hope that rather more assurance will be given to the tenants. It may be that the new town corporations will not act in an arbitrary and inhuman fashion. On the other hand, they are not subject to the same motives and compulsion as the local authorities, which are nearer to the public. If local authorities evict a tenant, there is immediately a local outcry. The tenant sees his councillor. The local authority is much nearer to public resentment of any unjust action.

I hope that this will be considered by the Minister, but it is merely an incident in the Bill. This is a bad Bill. The more it was investigated in Committee, the more it was appreciated to be thoroughly bad. It consists substantially of two parts. The first is supposed to be a slum clearance part, and the second deals with the increase in rents. The fact that two Bills have been put into one is in itself a most remarkable thing. I think it is the first time since the Rent Acts came into operation that any major amendment of those Acts has been combined with an amendment of the Housing Acts. One wonders why that has been done. The only reason I can think of is that it is a façade, a pretence that the rent repairs increase is intended to get repairs done. In my submission, it will do nothing of the sort.

It has already been said that Part I of the Bill, which deals with slum clearance, does not really provide any new powers for that purpose at all. Indeed, it is doubtful whether it does not actually retard the possibility of slum clearance or demolition by lowering the existing standards which a local authority must observe. There are certainly no fresh powers of slum clearance whatsoever, and to suggest with a fanfare of trumpets that this is a great move towards slum clearance is just nonsense.

The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Nicholls) suggested that here was a great plan for slum clearance. But local authorities who want to do something about slum clearance are already getting on with the job. My own local authority of Birmingham is already getting on with the job. It did not have to wait for the Minister to issue a circular or to blow his fanfare of trumpets. It got on with the job, and has been getting on with the job for the past two years within the limits of its building resources.

For that reason, it is quite unnecessary to have Clause 1 of this Bill and to pretend that it introduces something new and something in the nature of a plan. All local authorities who have the interest of their people at heart will get on with the job without waiting for any impetus or circular from the Minister. So much for Part I of the Bill.

People are more alarmed, of course, about Part II of the Bill, which provides for an increase of rent in the case of six to eight million tenancies, subject it is said to certain safeguards. The more these safeguards were examined in Committee, the more we realised how completely hopeless and ineffective they would be.

One safeguard deals with the state of repair of the house. In view of the definition of "good repair" in Clause 47, I believe that a good many local authorities and sanitary inspectors will hesitate before giving a certificate. We are told about
"'good repair' … having regard to the age, character and locality …"
What is meant by that? One might as well say that the Prime Minister is a good Prime Minister having regard to his age, character and locality. What on earth does this mean in relation to housing?

We must bear in mind that the landlord has the right of appeal to the court, and no one knows how the court will interpret this phrase. It is a most unsatisfactory definition. It means that in a very large number of cases the matter of "good repair" will not be challenged at all simply because the tenant will be doubtful as to his rights and because sanitary inspectors, in view of the vagueness of the definition, may in many cases hesitate to give a certificate.

That has been our experience under the 1920 Act, even though the definition under that Act is not so vague as it is under this Bill. But the fact still remains that, for the past 30 years, landlords have continued to collect their 40 per cent, and very few certificates have been issued.

We as a party shall do our utmost to see that tenants get whatever they can out of the Bill. We shall certainly organise rent committees and advice bureaux throughout the country with a view to seeing that tenants get the best possible advice on how to challenge the effects of this Bill. We shall do our utmost to see that the evil effects of the Bill are minimised. None the less, we believe that in a very large number of cases the landlords will get away with it, and that large sums of money will find their way into their pockets.

The other provision, under which a landlord must have done a certain amount of repairs, was so whittled down during the Committee stage that it will be almost meaningless in practice. It will be a very bold tenant who challenges his landlord and risks incurring costs in the county court in a matter in which the information is entirely in the hands of the landlord, and where the repairs may not have been done in his dwelling but in that of another tenant. How on earth is a tenant to know when and how to challenge a landlord in those circumstances?

The hon. Member for Peterborough suggested that the example quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for New-castle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) was slightly fantastic. I do not know, but I think that is the sort of thing that may happen. The main thing is not what the landlord will do, but the fact that the tenant will not be prepared to challenge the landlord, and for that reason the safeguard will be completely ineffective

Something has been said about the comparison between the records of local authorities and private owners of houses. I think it necessary to say something about that because the hon. Member for Peterborough—who I am sorry to see is not in his place at the moment—raised that point. He said that if local authorities take over houses the rents will go up. That means that there will be the same inflationary effect and that people will still ask for wage increases.

It is perhaps necessary to repeat again the experience of Birmingham in this respect. Birmingham has taken over about 30,000 of these houses and has spent an average of not less than £180 on each house. On some it has spent considerably more, and in each individual case probably more than private landlords have spent in the course of the last two generations. The local authority does that because it has a sense of responsibility to its tenants. The rents of these houses have not been increased by a single penny. They are still rent-controlled. My hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer) tells me that he lives in one of these houses and has derived the benefit of so doing. His rent has not gone up.

This is the real comparison between the way in which local authorities and private enterprise deal with houses. The whole of Part II of this Bill is based upon the fallacy that the state of disrepair of these houses is something which has happened since the war owing to the increased cost of repairs and because landlords have been unable to afford the increased cost. Our experience in Birmingham shows that that is quite fallacious. It is not due to the neglect of the postwar years. The great majority of these houses have had little or nothing done to them for a generation or more. Moreover, these are only some of the houses that are in a bad state of repair. I have no doubt that there are several times as many altogether in the city. I am quoting the Birmingham example to show that private landlordism has failed to fulfil its obligations to the public, has failed to do its job. Therefore, the remedy is the quite simple remedy of letting the local authorities take over.

We do not say that in no case shall rents be increased. They may have to be increased in certain cases, but if the local authorities take over and there are increases of rent, there will be at any rate the assurance that the tenants will get a square deal and will have the repairs done. I am quite sure that the average tenant will face the situation fairly. He is a fair-minded man. He does not want something for nothing. He is prepared to pay an increase if he gets value for his money. But, for the increases allowed under this Bill, he will not get value for his money. If we want him to get value for his money, we should make the local authorities the landlords, for they have an obligation in public service to do repairs, and they are nonprofit making organisations, and they will see that, if an increase in rent is necessary, the tenant will have the advantage of the repairs for which he pays.

By the Bill's provisions the local authorities will take over the worst of the houses, houses that ought to be pulled down. I hope that the local authorities will take advantage even of that, because the distress of the tenants who live in bad housing circumstances ought not to be made the subject of political or private capital. It ought to be remedied at the earliest possible moment. However, it ought to be pointed out that, as by the Bill the dilatory processes of the 1936 Act are to be followed, it will be years before the first tenants receive any benefit by way of repairs, and so it would be wrong to assume that there will be early relief of the distress of the tenants who are living in badly dilapidated houses at the present.

It is part and parcel of the Government's general policy that the local authorities should take over houses from which private landlords cannot make any profit. It is part and parcel of the Government's general policy to hand over dilapidated houses to public ownership through the local authorities, whereas any houses from which a profit can still be made remain in the possession of private owners. The policy arises out of Conservative Party dogma. There is nothing fresh about it. It is general Government policy which they have applied to transport. The public keeps the railways, but the road services, out of which a profit was being made, are handed back to private enterprise. They have applied it to the steel industry. It is not remarkable that they should also apply it to housing.

For all these reasons, I think the Bill is a thoroughly bad Bill. It will not achieve the purpose that it has been proclaimed it will achieve. It will simply impose additional and unfair burdens upon millions of tenants, which they will bitterly resent. They will not hesitate to show their resentment. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Peterborough declared that some speeches made on this side were propaganda. Believe me, the propaganda will become effective when these rent increases begin. Then the Minister will find a resentment, a reaction, probably far in excess of anything he anticipates. It will be the stronger because it will be accompanied by a sense of injustice, and it will have political consequences far in excess of any the Minister foresees. That is what the Minister will have to face.

Perhaps it is even now not too late to ask him, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) did, to reconsider whither and to what the Bill is leading. If he really desires, as, I suppose, as Minister he must desire, to proceed with a genuine scheme of slum clearance and rehabilitation, let him think the problem out again and hesitate before insisting upon this pernicious Bill, which is in substance a landlords' charter. Of course, it does not provide all the landlords want. It would not be politically wise to give the landlords all they want, but it certainly gives them a very great deal that they do not deserve, and does so at the expense of tenants, many of whom have looked after their houses and repaired them, and who ought to be given encouragement. I repeat, it is a thoroughly bad Bill, and I hope that the Minister will think it out again.

7.46 p.m.

Tonight the House will part—for the time being only, if another place makes certain alterations in it—with a Bill with which a good many of us have now lived for quite a long time. We on this side have seriously considered, in the light of all that has been said on both sides in the House and in Committee upstairs, whether or not it will fulfil the very high hopes that were placed upon it when my right hon. Friend first presented it.

As the debates on it have continued in the last three months, I think we have all become pretty familiar with each other's point of view, and with each other's arguments. Indeed, I think that tonight's debate has consisted largely of repetition of many of the arguments we have heard—ad nauseam, I would almost say—in the last few weeks upstairs. I want to draw the attention of the House, not to individual and detailed criticisms made of the Bill, but to some of the wider issues involved in its passing.

A certain amount of play was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) and also by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) with the fact that Part I does not provide any new machinery for slum clearance. I have always thought that that argument, which we heard several times in Committee, was not really a fair one, because the object of Part I is not to initiate a new slum clearance drive, but, as is clear if one reads it, to provide additional powers to local authorities to do certain things that otherwise they would not be able to do, and which are part and parcel of any renewed slum clearance drive.

Therefore, I think it is a little unfair, when my right hon. Friend, quite rightly, is seeking to begin again the interrupted slum clearance effort the country engaged in before the war, to say that the Bill does nothing to help. It is quite easy to make the gibe that the first three or four Clauses do not enable slums to be pulled down but to be kept standing. It ignores the fact that they are part of a far wider policy of my right hon. Friend, who has already given, in the circular to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred which went out a few weeks ago, the starting signal of the resumption of slum clearance.

When this Bill is on the Statute Book, these new powers contained in Part I will greatly assist local authorities to carry out slum clearance more effectively. Undoubtedly that would not be possible if one attempted slum clearance merely using the powers already available in the 1936 Act. We are, in the present conditions of housing shortage, which did not obtain before the war, faced with the problem of what to do with the people actually in the houses which it is intended to pull down.

Unless there were some such provisions as those proposed in Part I to enable houses to continue to be occupied—provided that they can be maintained at a standard which is reasonably fit for the time being—we could not proceed with the clearance of the declared slum areas. It is for that very reason that the patching grant is brought in, so that the money which local authorities are asked to spend can be applied to those houses; not, as my right hon. Friend has frequently said, to put them in a tip top condition but to make them a little more tolerable than that they otherwise would be.

I think that the House—and the country—has to look at this problem and Part I of the Bill "in the round." People must not simply select Clause 1, Clause 2 or Clause 3 and say, "This really does not clear the slums." It is part of the general policy which has been engaged in by the Minister—and by the local authorities from now on—and the major powers are already on the Statute Book, and have been since 1936.

Another aspect of Part I which has been touched on by a number of hon. Members is that of the improvement grants. I do not think that it has yet been fully realised that the increase from 6 to 8 per cent, in the amount of money which a landlord can get by way of increased rent if he carries out any grant-aided improvements will apply to a comparatively small number of properties. If one reads the Bill carefully, it is quite clear that that provision applies only to those houses which are outside the scope of Rent Restriction altogether.

There is another Clause—the number of which escapes me in the reshuffling of Clauses which has taken place in the course of the Bill's many stages, but a Clause in Part II—which deals with the Amendments of the 1949 Housing Act. That Clause makes it quite clear that improvement grants may be made to properties which are already rent restricted, or which, when let, will be rent restricted, but that the rents must then be fixed by the local authorities. There is nothing there about the percentage of return on the capital invested by the owner.

I would put this point to my right hon. Friend. I hope that it is to be made clear to the local authorities, in the very detailed guidance which will go out to them when the Bill is on the Statute Book, that they should, notionally at least, take into account the percentage which would apply were the house in question not rent restricted. That can be put another way. If a local authority decides to make an improvement grant for a rent restricted house, it should fix the rent on the assumption that the owner would get 8 per cent, on that part of the capital which he invests. Although it is, in fact, for the local authority to fix the rent, if the house were not rent restricted he would be able to put on that 8 per cent, anyhow. I think that might be considered.

In addition to that, the local authorities have a further duty to perform. They have notionally to take into account the repairs increases. As I understand the Bill in its present form, if an improvement grant is obtained the local authority fixes the rent in respect of the dwelling, but the repairs increase, as provided in the remainder of Part II, cannot be obtained for that dwelling. I therefore think that the local authority should, notionally, take into account what the owner would have been entitled to by way of repairs increase—provided he had complied with all the conditions—had the house not been subject to this particular provision.

We ought also to give a very warm welcome to the new Clause 34. This has met with a certain amount of criticism from the party opposite. I do not for a moment believe that their fears that this Clause heralds the complete removal of rent restriction are in the least justified. I regard the Bill, because of that Clause, as very much more valuable than when it first appeared.

I wish here to plead for consideration to be given to a slight extension of Clause 34, which, if not made in another place, I think the very force of events will bring home to the Ministry before very long. As it stands, Clause 34 says that the Rent Acts are not to apply if a new house is constructed and let after the commencement of the Act, and similarly if an older house is converted. It does not deal with the case—of which there may be quite a few—where an old house is let for the first time as a whole, and without conversion, after the Act comes into force.

There is here an anomaly. In the case of a new house being built or completed after the Act comes into force the Rent Acts will not apply to any letting of it, but, to take an extreme example, if a house is completed on the day before the Act comes into force, with the first letting thereafter, the Rent Restriction Acts apply and the rent tribunal has jurisdiction.

When he opened the debate on the Third Reading this afternoon, the Parliamentary Secretary quite rightly pointed out the great uncertainty which exists because of this Sword of Damocles of the rent tribunals, when one has a contract into which people have entered honestly and deliberately. I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend will consider extending that new Clause to provide that, on the first letting in the history of a house after the commencement of the Act, it will similarly qualify for the complete removal of rent restriction.

I think that there is no distinction in principle. If the house is let for the first time, there is no distinction whatever between letting it as a whole, or letting it in two separate parts. If one converts it into two parts, rent restriction does not apply, but if it is an old house and it is let as a whole, rent restriction will apply to it. I think it is an anomalous situation.

I pass to Part II, on which the greater part of the argument, both in the House and in Committee has occurred. I want to refer to a point of maximum importance in the operation of Part II. I mentioned this on Second Reading on 1st December. It is a point which I think may be more for the Chancellor of the Exchequer than for the Minister of Housing and Local Government, but it is one which surprisingly few hon. Members—or even people outside this House—have touched upon in connection with this repairs increase.

I refer to the treatment, for Income Tax purposes, of repairs increases. If one accepts, as I do, that the intention of Part II is that the tenant shall pay an increased rent and thereby make a contribution towards the increased expenditure necessary to repair the house, I think that it is unwise to cut the amount of that increase virtually in two by making it subject to Income Tax at the full rate. When I raised this point on Second Reading my right hon. Friend promised to consider it. He referred to the maintenance claim system, about which I want to say something in a moment, and went on:
"But I will consult with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to see if it is necessary or possible to devise any additional means of meeting this problem."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st December, 1953; Vol. 521, c. 1084.]
I hope that tonight he may possibly be able to say what has been the result of the discussions which, I take it, he has been having with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I think that it is of the greatest importance that before this House parts with this Bill and before another place starts to consider it, landlords and, indeed, tenants, and everyone concerned with the public administration of this country should know what is going to be the future position about these repairs increases. Are they to be paid gross and applied gross to the property in the form of repairs—and that is the intention of the White Paper and of the Bill—or are they to be cut in half, as I have said, and only one-half of the amount made available for repairs?

Is not the hon. Member overlooking the other aspect of this question of Income Tax allowance? If in fact the landlord spends, as he is expected to do, three times the statutory deduction for repairs, and the repairs increase is based upon that and he pursues that policy for five years, he is then entitled to a repayment.

I was coming to that point, of the maintenance claim, in a few moments. I would suggest that in this particular connection the maintenance claim does not provide the full answer. It means in fact that the owner getting the money and making the maintenance claim has to wait until the sixth year after the first amount has been received before he gets the benefit of the claim. In effect, the owner has to make a gift or loan to the Treasury for six years before he gets it back.

Having once established a claim, it is continued at yearly intervals for the first five years.

I quite understand that. But what we are seeking to do is to get a fund of money in the landlord's hands here and now which he will at once apply to the property. That is the intention of the Bill, and I think that it is the right thing. He will then apply the money in the form of repairs to the house. If he has to cut that amount in half and wait six years until he gets the rest, that means the amount of money here and now that can be applied in the form of repairs is that much reduced. That may be a very damaging factor in deciding whether this Bill is going to work or not.

I want to refer again to the difficulty which some owners will be in financially with regard to the initial repairs which have to be done before a house can be said to be in good repair, and therefore entitled to receive the repairs increase. I hope that a fairly generous attitude on the part of local authorities and of the Ministry will be shown when it comes to the question of loans at comparatively low rates of interest for purposes of doing repairs. This will help to get the repairs done in the first place, and that is what we all want to see.

So far as the Second Schedule test is concerned, I think that the adjustments and greater flexibility which has been arrived at as a result of Amendments in Committee will in practice make it much easier to operate the Bill than I at first thought. I think that particularly the adjustment which enables an owner to reduce the amount of qualifying work by one-third, if he is prepared to accept a reduction of one-third in the repairs increase, will widen the scope of the Bill, and make it possible to work in the case of far more owners than otherwise would have been the case.

I do not really accept the objection taken by some hon. Members opposite this afternoon about the paragraph in the Second Schedule which deals with the spreading of the qualifying work over a building which contains more than one dwelling. I think that the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East had a point which he raised, quite rightly, about the case of the house where there is one flat up and one down and the landlord lives on the premises. I would say that that argument would be perfectly tenable and would, indeed, indicate some kind of abuse if it was the fact that the landlord living on the premises in one of these flats did all the qualifying work to the interior of his own flat.

But this particular paragraph deals with the work on the building, and, therefore, if the owner did the work on the roof or on the main walls or painted the whole of the outside of the building, that would, I should have thought, quite rightly be an item of expenditure on work done which would enure to the benefit of the tenant as well. Therefore, I think that on consideration the hon. Gentleman will decide that although there is a certain amount of validity in the point he has raised, it is not sufficient to damn this particular provision of the Second Schedule out of hand.

There is nothing in the Bill to provide that the expenditure has to be on the outside of the building. It can very well be on the inside.

I quite agree, but I would not base an argument against the Second Schedule and these new provisions in it on that rather rare type of case. It is a possibility, but I should not think that it is a probability.

I want to close by asking again, if this Bill is enacted in the form in which we part with it tonight, whether it is going to work in any way. In respect of how many houses is it going to work? One hon. Member said that he estimated that only 40 to 45 per cent, of rent-restricted houses in the country would benefit from these provisions. Personally I think the proportion will be higher than that. I think that there is still room for some modifications in the Bill, and I am not here seeking—and I assure hon. Members opposite of this—some particular concession or remunerative benefit for landlords. Perhaps I have on occasion appeared to put the point of view of the landlords, but it is, of course, the landlords who are going to operate this particular Bill.

That is the basic and fundamental fact which we have to face. The Minister's plans, the White Paper, and all the hopes that are being erected upon it, will come to nothing if the average landlord says, "Here is a business proposition. Is it worth while my trying to operate this new scheme and to claim a repairs increase, or is it going to be too much trouble, and shall I run the risk of financial loss?" If he forms an adverse answer to that question, the repairs are not going to be done.

My own view is that probably a much higher proportion than 40 to 45 per cent, will prove to be the case. I would say that it would be about 65 to 75 per cent. I think that it is probably more in the urban areas than in the rural areas that Part II of the Bill will work most successfully, because the amount of repairs increase is based on the Girdwood figures, and those figures in turn are based largely on what it costs to do repairs in urban areas. In rural areas costs are much higher, wages are higher, and, therefore, the figure is less accurate. I think that in the rural areas we shall find that it will be far more difficult to operate the Bill in the sense of getting enough money to do the repairs and keep the houses in repair than it will be in the urban districts.

My final word is to reinforce the plea which has been put to hon. Members opposite. I think that we all appreciate, as we have had our discussions on this Bill, sometimes acrimonious and sometimes quite friendly and good-humoured, that hon. Members opposite have their point of view as we have on this side of the House, but I hope that this new policy and this Bill when it is enacted will not result in some kind of football of politics, always to be kicked round by whatever party happens to be in power.

I think that one thing that the housing situation in Britain needs more than anything else is a realistic approach and a continued and settled policy over the course of the years. It is the absence of that which has, I think, bedevilled housing progress for so many years in Britain; the fact that we have had these constant series of Rent Restrictions Acts, changes in them, de-control and re-control and all the other ramifications which have made it so difficult to own and manage property.

There are great fundamental differences of doctrine which separate us from the party opposite. They do not believe in the private ownership of land and houses, whereas we on this side unanimously do. We believe that it is an essential service that can easily be provided by private enterprise without risk of serious abuse, and, indeed, at a very cheap cost to the State.

If that is the intention of the present Government, as I am certain it is, this Bill will help to give a greater impetus, a greater opportunity and a greater scope to private enterprise in carrying out this great service, which, let us remember, it has carried out for a good many years with comparatively little complaint, when one takes the thing as a whole. I am sure that, ever since I have been a Member of this House—and I admit that that has not been a great many years—I have received very few complaints indeed from tenants about their landlords. It may be that hon. Members who represent other constituencies have had proportionately more, but I am convinced that a great many of the fears expressed and the arguments put up by the party opposite against private enterprise ownership of land and houses are misconceived and over-emphasised.

I hope, therefore, that the House will decide to give a unanimous Third Reading to this Bill, and send it on its way, to set out to do the work which we are all so anxious to see done.

8.12 p.m.

The hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) put the difference between us quite succinctly when he said that the real test of this Bill was whether landlords, looking at the situation as a business proposition, were going to find enough profit in it to make it worth while for them to do the work. I think this is precisely the test of this Bill, and it is just because we on this side think that it is neither morally right nor economically possible for that attitude of mind to be reconciled with the needs of a family in the average home that we think that this Bill is fundamentally on the wrong basis, and we are fundamentally and absolutely opposed to it.

That is, as the hon. Member for Henley said, a difference of opinion between us which we can accept in good faith, but I found my blood pressure rising rapidly when the hon. Gentleman told us that we really ought to learn to behave like good boys, give the Bill a Third Reading and all get together in a Council of State to make the thing work. If the hon. Gentleman wanted to preach that sermon—and possibly sermons are not very popular or well attended even in Lent—he could have done it when we were discussing the Guillotine Motion in this House not long ago.

It is quite absurd for the party opposite to be driving this Bill through—and, after all, we had concession after concessison to the landlords and virtually no concessions at all to the tenants—and then to turn round to us and say, "Well, you had your say; now we have got to make the Bill work." Our point of view is that this Bill is not workable, but that, if we had been listened to, it might be a little less unfair and unjust than it is.

I want to develop that point and take one or two Clauses of the Bill into consideration in doing so, but I should like first to make a general remark on the first part of the Bill dealing with the patching-up process. I do not think the Minister can object—I do not think he does, though some of his hon. Friends do—to our making the point that this has nothing at all to do with slum clearance, because the trouble about this Bill and the way it has been put forward is that exaggerated importance has been given to it. It has been implied that this is a great new departure in housing policy, and that it will make a tremendous improvement in the situation. Of course, all that Part I of the Bill is doing is to say to the local authorities, "You must undertake a difficult, unpleasant and unpopular piece of work"—which I personally think they ought to undertake—"but we are going to get it done on the cheap." If the Minister had really wanted to give encouragement to local authorities and a real stimulus to them to do something about this policy, he would not have coupled it with such mean financial provisions as he has made in the form of the grants which he proposes.

The first Clause upon which I want to comment is Clause 9, which deals with the standard of fitness for human habitation. I think that not sufficient tribute has been paid to the Minister for this Clause. I think it is one of the most clever pieces of Parliamentary craftsmanship that I have ever seen. The Mitchell Sub-Committee of the Central Housing Advisory Committee thought it was trying to raise the standard of houses. The object of that Committee was to tighten up the regulations in order to enable local authorities and public health authorities to establish a higher level for housing. The Minister has taken a good many of the words out of the Report of the Mitchell Sub-Committee, altered them here and there, and put them in a context which, so far from raising the standard, in fact, if anything, lowers it, because in the full flush of enthusiasm on reading the list of requirements issued by the Mitchell Sub-Committee, the Committee was so carried away by emotion that it quite cheerfully accepted the next paragraph, which wipes out all local enactments and byelaws, so that all those local authorities which have been steadily raising their standards are not losing them and are having to depend upon the lesser Mitchell standards which appear in Clause 9 (1).

All that a housing authority can do is to nave regard to this Clause. It may not go outside the Clause or have regard to other possible causes of unfitness, so that the effect of the Clause will be very much to narrow the freedom of the medical officer in making representations that property is unfit for human habitation. It is not just a matter of the enthusiasm of the medical officer and the devotion to duty of the sanitary inspector, but it is, of course, a question of the interpretation which would be put on Clause 9 by the courts, and that interpretation and the narrowing of the requirements in this Clause will bring about a very noticeable deterioration in the standard that can be enforced.

Following from that are two very important consequences, the first of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) was continually making upstairs and failing to get across. It was that these requirements are brought into the rent increase requirements of Part II of the Bill, so that, by lowering the standard, we are lowering the conditions which can be enforced where there is an increase of rent—

The hon. Gentleman will agree that there is a second condition justifying the increase in rent, and that is that the house is in good repair.

That, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) has just said, is vaguer still. This condition was put in for some reason and the court, in interpreting the Clause, will ask what interpretation is to be attached to this particular one. That is one implication of Clause 9.

The other has not come out in the discussion so far, and it is the effect of Clause 9 on Section 51 of the Housing Act, 1936. Section 51 provides that, where a landlord does work on his house, he can go to the housing authority and demand a certificate that the house is fit for habitation, and if he gets this certificate he is protected from the slum clearance procedure for a period of five years; so that the effect of lowering the standard in Clause 9 is, in fact, that the work of housing authorities in clearance areas will be handicapped, because they will be compelled to issue certificates that houses are fit for habitation based on a lower standard than that which they would have liked to accept, because they are bound by the narrow requirements of Clause 9.

That is all I wish to say about Part 1 of the Bill and I now wish to comment on Part II which deals with the requirements of the repairs increase. I wish to take up the challenge thrown out by the Parliamentary Secretary that no one had questioned that it was right to adopt the test of an increase of twice the statutory allowance. I do not accept that standard, or the standard put forward by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors or the estimate made by the Girdwood Committee.

The report of the Institution of Chartered Surveyors was based on a statistical analysis of the costs based on London figures. The Institution did not go outside London in order to obtain this information, and there is abundant evidence, which has never been challenged—the right hon. Gentleman made no attempt to do so—that repairs costs in many parts of the provinces are much lower than in London. In fact, London is about the most highly costing place for repairs.

Hon. Members will appreciate that by comparing the amount of money paid into repairs accounts by housing authorities in the north and north-east with that paid in the south. The amounts paid in in the south are greater than in the north. If I had the time I would go into more detailed evidence, but it has not been challenged that there is abundant evidence to show that southern costs are higher than northern costs.

The Girdwood Committee attempted to get out of London into the Provinces, but of the evidence they obtained, so far as I can work out, about half came from London and the Home Counties, which is a very considerable weight of evidence from the south. A very substantial block of the provincial evidence came from Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester, and from the experience of local authorities in reviewing repairs in those large county boroughs.

Virtually no evidence at all has been taken about either the increase in price or the amount of repair necessary in the north-east. If the figures in the Bill are right for London and the Home Counties, as is indicated by the Institution and by the Girdwood Report, it must follow that the landlords in the smaller northern towns will obtain an unearned increment. They will not find it necessary to spend the money and will make a nice little profit out of it.

The other point I wish to make about this approach—I merely draw attention to it without necessarily offering any criticism—is that on Second Reading there was some criticism about why the Bill did not provide for a percentage increase. The right hon. Gentleman explained that there was difficulty because of the widely scattered areas. He did not go on to say that, so far from having a percentage increase, we are having a diminishing percentage increase. The percentage increase on low rents is greater than on high rents. The effect of that is to make the tenant of a lower-rented property pay a higher percentage increase than a tenant in a higher-rented property. That should be made clear to people—

When the hon. Gentleman says "higher-rented property," strictly speaking he means property in which the rent is high relatively to the rateable value, and not absolutely higher rents.

In the case of property of a higher gross value the percentage increment to the rent is smaller.

It may be or it may not. It depends on the stopper.

The stopper would work in either case. During the discussions in Committee upstairs, the great objection to the stopper was that it would hit the lower-rented rural properties and not allow a sufficient increase there. I think it is a mathematically impregnable argument that if we use the statutory deduction, the percentage on the cheaper property must be greater than on the more expensive property.

The next point I wish to make, in picking out one or two points which have not been mentioned before, is in connection with Clause 25, dealing with the certificate from the housing authority. What happens there is an example of the ingenuity with which the right hon. Gentleman manages to twist things round a little in favour of the landlord and at the expense of the tenant without its being very noticeable. The procedure is that if a tenant is dissatisfied with the state of repair of the property, he has to apply to the housing authority to get his certificate.

He may obtain the certificate and months may pass. It may be that the landlord decides to go no further in the matter and sells the property to another landlord. The new landlord may decide that he can do something about it. Some time in the future—it may be months later—he suddenly brings an action for the rent against the tenant in the county court. The action is not against the housing authority, but against the tenant. The sanitary inspector appears to give evidence, presumably on a summons, and is cross-examined.

The tenant does not appoint the sanitary inspector and has no responsibility for the way in which that official gives his evidence. The sanitary inspector may be a bad witness and may break down under cross-examination. The county court judge may decide that the certificate is not justified on the evidence. The certificate then becomes null, not from that moment but right back in the past to the time when it was originally issued. The tenant can be called upon to pay the increase, which he has quite legally not paid under the protection of the certificate. He can be called upon to pay right back to the time when originally the order was made. That has not been the responsibility of the tenant, who has acted in accordance with the Act, having relied upon the certificate of a responsible officer of the local authority.

That is not where the matter ends, because this is where the cleverness of the right hon. Gentleman comes in. I do not know that he has mentioned it in his speeches, but he has applied this procedure not only to these certificates, but to the old certificates dealing with the 40 per cent, increase under the earlier legislation. Although for something like 30 years tenants have been accustomed to rely upon the certificates of the sanitary inspector and to deduct the 40 per cent.—more of them should have done so, I admit, but the procedure has been used—now, suddenly, the Bill is used as an excuse for getting rid of that protection and throwing open the certificate of the sanitary inspector, in the case of the old Rent Acts, to review by the county court. At the same time these deductions can be collected back to the time when the certificate was issued.

I mention that at some length to indicate some of the ways in which the right hon. Gentleman has given these things a little twist in favour of the landlord—unnecessarily so—at the expense of the tenant. That is some explanation of why the Bill has been received with so much hostility on this side.

A further example was mentioned by the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay), who, I notice, has retired from the fray. He mentioned Clause 29, which deals with the right of the landlord to decide, where there is no evidence one way or the other as to who is responsible for repairs, not to do decorations. The landlord can deduct one-third from his statutory increase and has only to show that he has spent two-thirds of what otherwise he would have shown to qualify. That sounds reasonable, but there is no comparable provision for the tenant. In a case where the tenant has been accustomed to doing the repairs or feels that he would rather have them done himself than have simply a little whitewash slopped on the walls, why can he not say, "I do not want the landlord doing the repairs. I would rather do them myself and not have to pay the rent increase"? There is no provision for this in the Bill. There is no reason way there should not be this adequate protection for the tenant, but it has not been given.

I do not want to deal with the whole problem of the new Clause regarding the exclusion of certain property from the Rent Acts, but I want to deal with conversions. Clause 34 was shoved in on Report. We had no opportunity of examining it in Committee and, therefore, no chance of probing what it means. I am worried about the meaning of the phrase
"separate and self-contained premises produced by conversion."
What I am afraid will happen—the hon. Member for Paddington, South (Mr. R. Allan) will be interested in this—is that in a tenement property, consisting of rooms which are not self-contained, there will be nothing to stop the landlord putting up a kind of pasteboard wall, making the rooms into a self-contained flat and saying that it is a new and self-contained unit produced by conversion, because it was not self-contained or separate accommodation before, thus taking it out of the scope of the Rent Acts.

If that is what the Clause means—we have no means of ascertaining its intention—there will be widespread opportunities with tenement houses of taking acres of property out of the Rent Acts by this kind of conversion. Is that really what the right hon. Gentleman is trying to do? First, there are the workings of the angel of death, who is on the side of the right hon. Gentleman in this, as in many other matters, taking property out of control by the death of the tenant. On the other hand, blocks of tenement property will be taken out of control by conversion. In addition, new property will be taken out of protection by the new Clause. Bit by bit, the right hon. Gentleman is whittling away the protection of the Rent Acts. Long experience on the Bill of the way that these little paragraphs have been manipulated in the interest of the landlord makes me profoundly suspicious of what the right hon. Gentleman was up to on the Clause.

So far from, as the hon. Member for Henley said, the Bill being something which we can all now accept, which we have had the opportunity of discussing, and being a reasonable, constructive proposal, under a facade of trying to do something about the housing problem the Bill is a cynical attempt to break down the Rent Acts and to put the tenant at the mercy of the landlord. Wherever there has been an opportunity of diverting the law against the tenant, it has been taken. This is really a skilful and scientifically devised piece of the class struggle which the right hon. Gentleman is waging, and as such it should be firmly resisted by the House.

8.34 p.m.

The hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) and some of his colleagues on the benches opposite seem to have gone out of their way to find all the possible things that could be done by the most disreputable landlord that anybody could imagine. One of my hon. Friends referred to all landlords seeming to have a double dose of original sin. According to the hon. Member for Widnes, they seem to have the whole conglomeration of original sin and there can be nothing good about them whatever.

I want to take up a remark of the hon. Member for Erdington (Mr. J. Silverman), who said that bureaux will be set up to give advice to minimise the evil effects of the Bill. That is all right, but I think that hon. Members on both sides of this House—and I am giving my own sincere conviction—would be well employed when this Bill becomes law to use their maximum efforts to secure the full benefits of it for the houses, tenants and landlords. I hope we shall all try to do that.

I was very interested to hear the remarks of the hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans). According to his story, landlords have already started to produce the benefits of this Bill. Some of them are doing outside pointing of houses and others are painting them externally. If that presages what is to come, I am very pleased to hear it. Incidentally, I wish that hon. Members opposite could make up their minds about these matters. The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) complained about landlords who normally do inside repairs but do not do outside repairs, and the hon. Member for Islington, South-West referred to their doing outside repairs and doing nothing to the inside.

It is all a question of common sense, but I should have thought that it would be best first to make the outside of the house watertight because it would be a waste of money to carry out inside repairs if the weather could not be kept out. As I say, that is a personal opinion, but as a matter of common sense I think it is right.

I deplore all this alarm and despondency which the hon. Member for New-castle-upon-Tyne, East tried to create in his opening speech. I do not think it is necessary, and too much of it has been made already on this Bill. There is no justification for saying that we shall have a considerable outbreak of claims for increased wages to meet the increased rents which will result from this Bill.

May I point out to hon. Members that since the war there have been statutory increases in rents all over the country because of increased rates by local authorities? In some instances the effect of those rate increases on the rent has been as much as 1s. or 1s. 6d. a week, and in some cases even more. I am not aware that any of the wage claims made since the war had as a basis the fact that there had been an increase in rent because of the larger rate demand by the local authorities. Therefore, I do not think that there will be any great outcry for increased wages because of this Bill.

May I point out something else arising from the figures given by the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) when he was speaking about the ownership of property in this country. He quoted figures which I have every reason to think are correct. He said that 55 per cent, of the property owners in this country owned from one to five houses and 27 per cent, from five to 20 houses, making in all 82 per cent, of the property owners of this country. There must be a large number of workers in this country who come into the first category of 55 per cent, of property owners. Are we to believe the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East when he says that they will rise in their wrath and demand higher wages because of the increased rent from putting into proper repair the house which they themselves occupy, if it is rented?

They themselves are going to get benefits from this Bill, and if there is any benefit to landlords from increased rents they also will obtain them from doing repairs to the houses they own. I do not think a workman in that category is going to claim an increase of wages for increased rent from putting his own house in order. In my opinion, this talk about increased wages is really a political stunt. I do not believe that the workers in this country are going to rise in their wrath and demand wage increases because of this Bill, and I think it is an unfortunate thing that it has been said.

I want to underline briefly some remarks about tax. I wish we could be realistic and realise that many landlords do not take advantage of the five years' maintenance procedure. For all practical purposes, what will happen is that any landlord who is paying 9s. in the £ standard rate on the increased rent will have his increased rent halved and therefore will have, for five years at least, and possibly indefinitely, only half the increase that is available under this Bill. I want landlords to have an adequate sum available to carry out the repairs which can be done under this Bill, so I hope there will be some way of getting round this, not to put money into the pocket of the landlords but to make the sum available such that it will be a practical proposition for them to do the extra repairs to the houses.

In all the years since the war the preoccupation of this country and of hon. Members of this House has been the provision of new units of accommodation. We have now realised that it is little good providing even 300,000 houses a year, whether by private enterprise or by council building, if we do not do something about our existing assets. I believe the picture of large numbers of houses falling down every year has been exaggerated, but it will take us many years of new building to approximate to the existing number of houses, and therefore we should have regard to those already existing and see that they are maintained in a habitable state.

I think it is true to say that if the tenants of this country are made aware of the fact that necessary repairs are being done to their houses, or have been done over the last 12 months or three years, they will not object to paying the reasonable increases laid down in this Bill. I think we cannot expect a 100 per cent, result from this Bill but, like my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay), I hope that 60 or 70 per cent, of our houses which need repair will benefit from it.

I want to congratulate my right hon. Friend on this brave measure which, as has been rightly said, required a large degree of political courage that was not evident in the seven or eight years since the war ended when another party was in power. I hope that this House will give this Bill its Third Reading in the belief, not that we must look out for evils, anomalies or drawbacks, but in the belief that it will do a tremendous amount of good by preserving the houses which are the shelter of our people, and in the belief that it will justify the high hopes that we on this side of the House have about its effect on their happiness.

8.44 p.m.

I cannot follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) in his references to the effect of Income Tax upon the increase which the landlords will get under this Bill. I have enough difficulty in following my own assessment without evaluating others, and I want to speak on the main features of the Bill which is having its Third Reading tonight.

This Bill is a comprehensive and complicated Measure which will affect seven or eight million families over a considerable period of years. It is therefore a Measure which should have had the most careful, critical and prolonged examination during its Committee stage, instead of which it was rushed through under the Guillotine without proper discussion.

Many Amendments were never reached at all for purposes of discussion, and neither were many new Clauses. The Minister, who was quite conciliatory in manner throughout the discussions, was not at all conciliatory in the matter of accepting Amendments. There was not an Amendment of substance that was accepted by the Minister during the Committee stage, with the result that the Bill emerged from the Committee very much as it entered it, with very slight alterations. What alterations were made were rather for the worse than for the better.

The Bill can be divided into two main stages. The first part deals with slum houses. This is not a Bill for the demolition of slum houses. It is rather a Bill for the perpetuation of slum houses. It does not propose to hasten demolition and to hasten the rehousing of the tenants in new council houses. Apparently, we cannot hasten that process of demolition of slum buildings because such a great deal of building labour and materials is now being used by private builders for the big houses for sale. Therefore, not enough building labour and building material are left for the purpose of slum demolition which we all desire to be achieved as quickly as possible.

Instead of their being demolished, the slum houses are being taken over into the ownership of the local authorities and the local authorities are to patch them up. Faute de mieux, if it is impossible to demolish the slums and rehouse the occupants in new areas, the best thing to do is for the local council to become the slum owner and do its best to patch them up, but no standard of patching up is laid down in the Bill. The Bill only says that the patching up shall be adequate for the time being. We have no idea up to what standard the local authorities are to patch them.

During the Committee stage, my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) moved an Amendment to ensure that when these houses were patched up they should include certain desirable amenities. They should have piped water, proper heating and lighting and proper sanitary conveniences, but the Minister refused to accept that wholly sensible Amendment. He said that we must leave the standard to which the patching up is to be done to the discretion of the local authority. Therefore, there will be varying standards throughout the country according to the varying standards which the local authorities think are proper for this purpose.

Again, we do not know from the Bill for what period of time the houses are to be occupied after they have been patched up. Is it for 5, 10, 15, or 20 years? Nothing definite is quoted in the Bill. It is quite possible that the unfortunate occupants of the patched houses will have to remain in them for at least another 20 years, and while they remain in them they will not be able to obtain a new council house. Like other hon. Members on both sides of the House, I have had hundreds if not thousands of letters from my constituents since 1945 dealing with their housing problems. Amongst them I have had letters from people who occupy houses that are insanitary and damp and unsuitable for their children, and in which their children have caught colds and pneumonia. The tenants concerned would like to have a new council house instead of the house that they occupy.

I always put these cases to the chairman of my local housing committee or the local authority housing manager, both of whom are able and sympathetic men. Their reply to these cases is always that they cannot give the families new houses because they already have houses to live in. All they do is to send the sanitary inspector round to examine the houses and issue orders to the landlords to do minor repairs, which may or which may not be done. The people who will have to live in these patched up houses for 10 or 15 years will see council houses being given to people living in rooms while they themselves are unable to get council houses.

The Clause dealing with the financial aid which is to be given to local authorities for acquiring and patching up houses is very unsatisfactory. The local authority is to receive 50 per cent, of the loan charges upon the cost of acquiring the site, plus an annual payment of £3 for administration and maintenance on each house which is repaired. During the Committee stage, various estimates were given of the loss to local authorities for each patched up house by reason of the fact that the grant is to be only 50 per cent, instead of 75 per cent., as has been the case with most housing schemes undertaken by local authorities. The figures for the loss per house per annum vary from £5 10s. to £19. Let us strike an average and say that the loss to the local authority per house per annum will be £10.

Southampton, which has not many slum areas, has 2,000 of these houses. It would be reasonable to suppose that in the industrial towns of the North Midlands and the North there would be at least 3,000 and perhaps more per town. If there are 3,000 houses in a town to be patched up, the loss to the local authority per year will be £30,000, which may represent something between a 3d. to 6d. rate depending upon the local authority's rateable value.

This is at a time when local authorities are already complaining of the additional financial burdens upon them which are compelling them to increase their rates each year, when they are calling for the end of derating to give them an additional source of revenue, and when they are asking the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give them larger grants to assist their local finances. In spite of all this, the Minister proposes to place an additional burden on local authorities.

To sum up the first part of the Bill, we do not know to what standard the houses will be patched up, nor how long they are to remain patched up, and the whole process will impose an additional financial burden upon local authorities.

The second part of the Bill will excite the most widespread and intense hostility among people who are living in rented houses. Let hon. Members opposite have no doubt whatever about that. There is nothing which people dislike so much as being asked to pay an increase in their rents. Under the second part of the Bill, if a landlord spends a comparatively small sum on repairs he is allowed to make a substantial increase in the rent paid by his tenant, an increase which will apparently continue year after year even if no more repairs are done.

The Parliamentary Secretary said in his speech that, beyond peradventure, the repairs would be done by the landlord. It is not beyond peradventure. In the first place, according to the Bill the landlord sends the tenant a declaration, made out in a form to be determined by the Minister, that he has done the necessary repairs, and, as a result, he can claim the increased rent. But the declaration he has to send in is not a valid declaration. He need not attach any receipted bills to show that the work has actually been done. The tenant will have no proof at all that the landlord has done the repairs he claims to have done, or spent the money which he asserts he has spent.

The only remedy of the tenant will be to apply for a certificate of disrepair from the local authority. The local authority, if it can spare him, will send the sanitary inspector to view the house. The sanitary inspector will look at the house and, although the landlord has not done any repairs in the previous year, the inspector may come to the conclusion that, on the whole, the house is in a fair state of repair and refuse to give a certificate of disrepair, although the landlord has not spent three times the statutory deduction on repairs in the 12 months previous to the sending of the notice.

Then the only remedy the tenant has is to take the case to the county court and pay the costs of solicitors and counsel, and the expenses of witnesses and risk the chance of losing his case and having heavy damages brought against him. Very few tenants will take that risk. Very few tenants will go to that trouble. Even if the certificate of disrepair is given and the landlord is forced to do the repairs, if he does repairs in one year only that will be sufficient. He need not do repairs the next year, the year after, or the year after that, but still he will be able to claim increased rent. I am certain that a tenant will not take his landlord to the county court year by year, nor ask for a certificate of disrepair each year. He will shrug his shoulders, pay the increased rent, go to his trade union branch and say, "It is about time we put in for another increase owing to the cost of living."

This Bill weights the scales very much on the side of the landlord and against the tenant. The only people who will get any advantage out of it are the landlords and the lawyers. I understand that the lawyers are already anticipating a very rich harvest when the Bill becomes law.

"For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together."
I hope that kindly and beneficent eagles like my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) will have a fair share of the eagles' harvest.

I think it a great pity that the Minister has been bullied and cajoled by the property owners section of his party into introducing this Measure. Before it was introduced his prestige stood high. He was probably getting more votes for his party than all the rest of the members of the Government Front Bench put together. His star was in the ascendant, but now it has descended very precipitately below the horizon. When the people know what the effects of this Bill really are there will be none so poor to do the right hon. Gentleman reverance.

The Bill will become law in July and will come into operation about October. Of course we shall set up tenants' defence associations in our constituencies, do our best to collect money in order to fee the solicitors and counsel for county court actions, and give tenants advice as to how they can make the best of the Measure. I assure hon. Members opposite that when this Bill comes into operation, and after the tenants have had their first notices of increase in rent, there will be a very strong surge of angry feeling from the tenants of rented houses.

I advise hon. Gentlemen to have their General Election as early as possible, in June or July if they can. If they wait until November, or until next year when the Bill will be fully in operation and its effects will be completely known, there will be only one thing left for Conservative candidates to do on the day of the General Election, namely, to eat a hearty breakfast and to walk with a firm step to the scaffold.

9.1 p.m.

We have listened to a number of speeches from hon. Members on the opposite side of the House. Most of them contained the threat that, if the Bill goes through, action will be taken by the party opposite in their political capacity to organise the tenants of six million houses against the decisions of the present Government.

Let us get clear about that point. We cannot allow that statement to pass without challenge. In my recollection, no one on this side of the House has said that we shall advise tenants to disobey the law. We propose to advise them of their rights under the law.

In the speech to which we just listened from the hon. Member for Itchen (Mr. Morley), fierce antagonism to the Bill was translated into a suggestion that the greatest opposition was going to be put up to the Government's proposals. I hope I interpret the hon. Gentleman correctly when I say that he advised the Government to have a General Election within the next couple of months, and certainly before next year. If that is not a threat as to what is going to happen—

In those circumstances, the speeches of hon. Members opposite can be interpreted by saying that the threat exists, although it may be couched in words which look very innocuous.

There has been a fair amount of criticism of the Bill and of landlords. Many speeches have declared that landlords are responsible for the present condition of houses because if they had maintained their property over the last 20 or 30 years the Bill would be unnecessary. I propose to call attention to a circular issued by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) in 1946. Before I quote from it, I am satisfied that the right hon. Gentleman, like every hon. Member of this House, is interested in getting the houses of the people into first-class order, whether it be by repair or by building new houses. The fact that he was not able to succeed as much as my right hon. Friend in building 300,000 houses—and said that he could not do it—is a different matter.

Let us be quite clear that there is no hon. Member of this House who does not believe that the right hon. Gentleman wished it to happen, but when it is suggested that the landlords are entirely responsible for the condition of houses today, I must remind the House that on 6th December, 1946–12 months after he took office—the right hon. Gentleman sent out to all housing authorities, who had asked him, via their associations, to allow essential repairs to be carried out to houses of the description we are talking of today, Circular 171/46, dated 6th September, which says:
"I am directed by the Minister of Health to draw your attention to paragraphs 11 to 14 of Circular 50/46 dated the 6th March.…"—
with regard to certain matters—
"The Minister is aware that there is a huge pent-up demand for repairs and improvements to existing dwellings and other premises. But this demand in the immediate future can be met only at the expense of seriously impeding the construction of new permanent houses; and the Minister is quite clear that the construction of new houses must come first and that work on the maintenance and repair of existing premises, badly needed though it often may be, must continue to be deferred."
I am not complaining about the circular. All I am saying is that it is unfair and unjust for hon. Members opposite—

This is just one of many circulars of a similar kind which the Minister sent out. I am not saying that it was not the proper and right thing to do, but I am complaining that the Minister, after 12 months in office, refused to grant licences to the owners of properties similar to those which we are discussing today in order that they could keep them in proper order.

The hon. Member will surely recollect that for a number of years after the war a great number of building workers were engaged not only in building new houses but on war-damage repairs. The hon. Member has surely forgotten that one-third of the houses of Great Britain were either completely destroyed or damaged. That was the situation which I inherited. The present Minister inherited an extra 70,000 or 80,000 building workers because war-damage repairs had been carried out.

That is perfectly true. I have already said that I do not disagree with the action taken by the right hon. Gentleman. What I am grumbling about is that it is unjust and unrighteous of hon. Members opposite to suggest that the landlords of these houses did not want to put them into a proper state of repair and maintenance. Therefore, the circular sent out by the right hon. Gentle man to local authorities, refusing to issue licences to landlords to enable them to put their houses into a state of repair—

The long discussion on this circular is getting a little remote from the Third Reading debate.

I have made the point which I intended to make, and it is a convincing point, for the conclusion of it is that the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale has contributed to the state of bad repair and maintenance of these very houses by the action which he took in 1946, 1947 and 1948.

Having been faced with the bad state of repair of these 6 million houses, and having decided that the moment had arrived when he could allow the building of new houses to continue at the present increasing rate and yet turn his attention to the repair of houses, my right hon. Friend has introduced the Bill. It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to say that it will not be a success. Depressing speeches have been made. Hon. Members opposite have said that there is no hope of the Bill being carried out. They have said that the sanitary inspectors and chief officers of local authorities are so overworked that they will be unable to carry it out.

Yet never in the history of any Bill of this nature has a Minister done more to consult those who have to carry out the work than has my right hon. Friend on this occasion. He has been consulting local authorities for months—for months before the Bill saw the light of day and even before the White Paper was issued. Speaking on behalf of the Association of Municipal Corporations, I can say that local authorities are more than satisfied with the results of the Amendments which they have achieved in the Bill. It is quite certain that the Minister has the backing of local housing authorities and will achieve the results which he seeks.

I spoke last Friday afternoon to a gathering of 120 sanitary inspectors in the south of England. They pledged themselves to do everything possible with the utmost enthusiasm to see that the Bill becomes one of the most important factors in housing in this country.

What they pledge themselves to do and what they can do are two different things.

In the working of the Bill there will be no difficulties from local government officers. As they said at this meeting, they had had six or seven years of frustration when they, local government officers of all kinds, had desired to get on with housing but had been prevented from doing so, and from doing slum clearance. There is not the slightest doubt that the Minister will have the maximum backing from the local authorities of this country, from their chief officers and from their entire staffs.

9.15 p.m.

I am sure the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins) will forgive me if I do not follow him, although I will deal with one or two matters which he raised. For him to suggest at this stage, when he has heard time after time factual evidence that the bad landlords have accumulated millions of pounds and not used them for the purposes of repairs that that is not the main contributory factor to the state of houses, is out of all relation to the facts. He must know that the condition of the slums is due to the long neglect by landlords who receive 25 per cent, of the net rent to enable them to do the repairs.

We have come to the stage now when we ought to ask the Minister to declare exactly his specific intention with regard to the Rent Acts. I appeal to hon. Gentlemen on both sides, before allowing the Third Reading, to consider what they are doing by Part II of this Bill. It is no good the Minister saying he has not introduced anything other than slum clearance and the allowance of certain amounts for repairs. Fundamentally this Bill has started the destruction of the whole of the Rent Acts.

First of all, at a late hour, just by a stroke of the pen, the Minister says he will no longer give protection to any house which is built in the future. That puts a ceiling on the Rent Acts straight away. There will be no protection in the matter of rent or security for any house built from now on. He goes further by saying that any house which is converted into flats, or into two separate dwelling-houses, will be taken outside the scope of the Rent Acts. What does that mean? There have been court cases about the question of creating separate accommodation by putting up a thin partition. But it is not very difficult for a landlord to alter a house in such a way as to make it two or three separate dwellings.

Under the Rent Acts, if structural alterations are made by the landlord he is entitled to an 8 per cent. increase in respect of the capital he has spent on those alterations. But a landlord will be able, after the Bill is passed, to alter the houses structurally, to put an additional bit on, and make it into two or three separate dwellings, and instead of having to pay an 8 per cent, increase, the tenant will be quite open to pay whatever rent the landlord asks, and the tenant will not even have recourse to a tribunal. The position is extremely serious. It is not a trivial matter to be brushed aside.

There is a ceiling now on rent control and security for the new houses; there is a ceiling in respect of any house which any landlord chooses to convert into two or more dwelling-houses. Now, no matter what may be the condition, he is being enabled to convert them. They can be in the most deplorable state and he can charge whatever rent he likes without the tenant having recourse to any tribunal or court in any circumstances. That means that a large number of the houses which are controlled today will become decontrolled, and the repairs will not be done, though the Bill assumes that they will.

I go one step further. I think that it will be understood when I make my next point that the matter is even more serious. Since 1915 the position has been that as soon as the notice was given of an increase in respect of rates the house was no longer on a contractual tenancy but came under a statutory tenancy. The result has been that from 1915 onwards, where a family has continued to occupy a house, once the tenant died the widow or a member of the family could take over, but as soon as the second person died the house came into the possession of the landlord.

That may not have been a serious problem years ago, but after so many years of statutory tenancy the result is that the tenancies of thousands of houses will be falling in soon, and possibly hundreds of thousands of tenancies will fall in during the next few years. Of course, the fact that a house comes into the possession of the landlord does not necessarily mean that it becomes decontrolled, but the Minister has opened the way for the landlord to convert these houses into two or three dwellings so that the houses are decontrolled. Alternatively, the landlord can sell the property, as almost invariably he does. Therefore, we have a third lot of houses taken out of control.

Then we come to the houses which the landlords have neglected. The hon. Member for Dulwich wants to brush them aside by saying that that neglect was due to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). What utter nonsense.

I said that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale contributed by refusing to allow at a very important time—one year after the war ended—licences to landlords to effect repairs and maintenance.

I have only a few minutes to spare. I am certain that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to answer the point without my assistance, but I could answer it if necessary. I want to finish my argument so that hon. Members can understand what is being done.

I come to the question of slums. When the houses in the slum areas are pulled down we remove from the Rent Acts control hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of houses within a short space of time. Compared with the present position, there will be very small numbers of controlled houses. In addition, the Minister has generously allowed the landlords of those houses first let after the war to go to the tribunals to get rent increases. That means that the number of houses which are today controlled will be reduced to a very considerable extent. There will be very many tenants who will not be able to pay the increased rent, and who will therefore leave their houses. Those houses, again, will fall into the hands of the landlords, who will either sell them or convert them in order to make them much more profitable.

From the point of view of the community this is a most serious thing. It is destructive. Hon. Members opposite say that we should not use it politically. Why not? Why should we not expose the sinister effect of this thing? Why should we not show that it is a creeping paralysis affecting the Acts which have protected people up to now?

It is no use saying that this means very little. As my hon. Friend said, people will be asking for increased wages and salaries because the Government, having placed them in such a position that their livelihood is imperilled and having made it very difficult for them to keep body and soul together, are now placing this last straw upon them. Why on earth should they not ask for an increase in wages in order to meet this extra burden? The increased rent may represent as much as 12s., 15s., or 18s., which are substantial amounts.

We have been asked about council houses. Of course, that is an entirely different matter. When a person went into a council house he knew that there was the possibility of the rent being increased; but he also knew that his interest would be properly watched, and therefore he went in with his eyes open and was prepared to pay any eventual increase of rent. But the tenant of a rent-controlled house budgeted in accordance with the rent which he thought was a fixed rent.

Finally, I would point out the unfortunate position in which tenants will find themselves when their rents are increased. It is no exaggeration to say that once a declaration has been made by the landlord, the tenant will have considerable difficulty in taking the case to court, not merely because of the expense involved, which in many cases is itself a sufficient deterrent—because there is no legal aid in these cases—but because there are insufficient sanitary inspectors who deal with all the cases. Rent tribunals are not good enough; the tenant has to go to court.

How is the tenant to know what his position is? The landlord will be entitled to charge his increased rent until the court decides otherwise. Up to now there have been numerous examples of people not knowing that they could go to a sanitary inspector to get a certificate, that they could serve a copy of that certificate on the landlord and so have their rent reduced. Hundreds of thousands of people have been in a position to do that, but because of their ignorance of the law did not do it.

How can we expect people throughout the length and breadth of the country to know exactly what their rights are under this Bill? How much time is going to be lost before they take their cases to the courts? This is an attack upon the lives as well as on the homes of the people of this country, and it is important that people should understand exactly that this means that their security is ended. It is a very rapid attack upon that security and upon the inability of their rents being increased.

I think that the Labour Party is fully justified in telling the country what the position is, and in asking the Minister, even at this late hour, to withdraw this pernicious Bill and leave the position as it is at the moment.

9.30 p.m.

It is worth while to start with a general observation that will be agreed in all quarters of the House. There are a good many people not well acquainted with our processes here who are sometimes liable to think that we spend far too much time making far too many speeches and that our methods of dealing with legislation are tedious. I would point out that that criticism is certainly not justified in connection with this Measure.

One of the advantageous by-products of the Parliamentary processes, the long and detailed debates, the critical analysis to which Measures are subjected here, is the education the public outside thus receive in what we are doing and in what their rights are likely to be. In other words, Parliamentary debate is a means by which the public are educated in the nature of the laws we make. So, quite frequently after a Bill has been through the House, there is a considerable pool of information possessed by ordinary men and women about what we have done and about how their positions have been affected.

It is not the case with this Bill. One of the unfortunate results of the Guillotine has been that we have not been able to have the sort of debates the newspapers consider it worth while reporting, and the result is that large numbers of people just do not know what we are up to, do not know what we have prepared for them. They are just unaware of it. Furthermore, we thought it was extremely unwise, to put it no higher than that, to send the Bill to Committee upstairs. We regretted that very much, and we voted against it.

The Bill ought to have been discussed on the Floor of the House, because, after all, we are dealing with six million or seven million families. Our constituents all over the country, had we discussed the Bill on the Floor of the House, would have had a far better chance of knowing how their positions as tenants will be affected. So, by the double act of putting on the Guillotine and sending the Bill upstairs, we have denied the population of the country the educative benefit of the functions of the House of Commons.

I put that to hon. Gentlemen opposite very seriously. Let me add a pendant to it. If our constituents are alerted to what we are doing, it quite often happens that they send in letters to hon. Members indicating their reaction to this or that proposal, and making this or that suggestion, so that we are apprised by our correspondence of the reactions of the public and of the extent to which we are carrying the people with us. Over and over again, in my experience, important Amendments have been made to a Bill because of the reactions of public opinion. So hon. Members opposite must not complain if they discover that what they have done is far less popular than they think. Nor must they complain at all if they discover that their constituents will react very bitterly indeed against what they are attempting this evening.

I therefore put it, as one who is a strong supporter of Parliamentary institutions and as one who has taken a great interest in the procedure of this House, that it is unwise—extremely unwise—almost clandestinely to pass legislation which affects so very many people. After all, we did discuss the judges' salaries on the Floor of the House of Commons, and we should have taken the opportunity of discussing 6 or 7 million tenants on the Floor of the House of Commons. So I start off with that one warning and a protest.

My second major point is this. The Minister for Housing and Local Government is, I admit at once, an extremely astute politician. I have been watching him with very considerable care and listening to his speeches with admiration. Indeed, I wish that I were as adroit as he. Over and over again I get myself into difficulty by failing to hide my real intentions from people. The right hon. Gentleman has obviously spent a good deal of time in studying Professor Pavlov. The Minister knows very well that there are certain words which are evocative. One has only to use them for people's minds to shut up straight away, or to give the appropriate reaction. We know what the words are. One of them is "landlord." "Landlord" is, of course, an evocative word. We use it here—it has most unpleasant associations.

There is one phrase, however, which has now become part of our political stock in trade, and that phrase is "slum clearance." If anyone talks about slum clearance he is certain of immediate support. The Minister when drafting this Bill was in a very great difficulty about it. He had two main intentions. One was to stop slums being pulled down. Here I am much more generous to the Minister than hon. Ministers have been to me. They have been suggesting for years that the housing programme that the Minister finds physically practicable today has been physically practicable ever since 1945. Anyone who knows anything about our economy and about the physical facts knows that that is a monstrous distortion of the situation. I therefore do not complain at all that the Minister of Housing and Local Government does not find himself able to pull down the slums which have long ago been classified as such. I do not blame him. He cannot do everything at once. So there may be something to be said for his proposal.

But what has he done? First, he says, "I must somehow keep up these slums and, in the meantime, I must somehow make them more tolerable." Therefore this is a slum preservation Measure, and hon. Members opposite know that that is true. What the Minister has said is, "If I cannot pull down these slums I will invite the local authorities, and will help them, to spend some money on the slums so as to make them less intolerable for their occupants in the meantime." That is what he said.

This is a slum preservation Measure. But, of course, the second part of the Bill is even more unpleasant. It is a rent-raising Measure. Obviously he cannot come to the House of Commons and say frankly, "I am proposing a Bill, the double effect of which is to keep slums up longer and to charge more rent." That would have have been politically maladroit. So the right hon. Gentleman, with his advisers, sat down and said: "The thing to do is somehow or other to tack it on to the magic words 'slum clearance'." So he produced for us the first Clause.

I have talked to Parliamentary draftsmen, I have talked to lawyers and I have talked to persons of very great Parliamentary experience, and they all tell me that of all the nonsensical Clauses ever put into a Bill, Clause 1 is it. It does nothing at all; not one single thing. It was liable to do mischief, but we cleaned that up in Committee. It is a fact that all that Clause 1 says is that the Minister is going to require the local authorities to send into him their plans for slum clearance, so as to add those plans to the other ones which they already cannot carry out.

The right hon. Gentleman calls that an attack on slums. Of course, what it is is an attack on our credulity; it has nothing to do with slums at all. But, of course, it was necessary to put that attractive clothing on the emaciated limbs of this Bill to try to make them look as little ugly as possible. So Clause 1 does nothing. All that it does is to show the right hon. Gentleman's political adroitness. We had to consider, therefore, whether it was wise for us, and not only wise but whether it was in the public interest for us, to vote for this Bill because of the fact that it does ask for some public money to be spent on slums to help people live in them a little longer; but we have come to the conclusion that that very small amount of sugar is not sufficient to make the rest of the pill palatable, so we are going to vote against the whole lot this evening.

The great difficulty that the tenants are going to be in arises from the fact that the Minister has adopted a device for raising rents which is so complicated that the tenant will find it very difficult to understand it. We tried to persuade the Minister upstairs to accept an Amendment that the Bill should not come into operation until free legal aid was available for tenants all over the country under another statute. This has been refused. Furthermore, since the Bill was introduced—I want hon. Members to pay some attention to this—the Minister introduced on the Report stage a very controversial and important new Clause.

Let me say to the Minister at once that we on this side of the House regard that as sharp practice. There is nothing wrong with the Minister introducing a controversial Clause into a Bill at any time he likes. He can change his mind, but there is something shabby in getting a Guillotine time-table from the House for a particular Bill and then changing its complexion on Report stage.

The right hon. Gentleman, under pressure from his property-owning friends, has introduced a Clause, the effect of which is to bring all rent control to an end in respect of conversions and new houses. There is to be no protection at all for people in our great crowded cities who want flats and other accommodation. There is still, as the Minister knows, a very great shortage of accommodation, and very great privations are suffered in London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and all the other great conurbations, especially by young people and by professional people who cannot get any accommodation.

What the right hon. Gentleman has done—because there are no licences now—is to enable conversions to be made and houses to be built with no protection at all given to the tenants. Any sort of rents can be charged. We say that, from a strictly Parliamentary point of view, that is a wrong thing to do, and, from the point of view of the interests of the country as a whole, it is taking advantage of the housing scarcity in order to put large sums of money into the pockets of housing profiteers.

There is a further consideration. We were anxious to try to protect a large number of tenants from eviction. A very large number of houses are passing out of rent control because of the deaths of the original tenants, and this is a very great problem in Birmingham. I had a letter this morning, not from my constituency, but a very interesting one because it illustrates two of the defects of the Minister's proposal or lack of proposal. I will read it to the House:
"I have just been thrown out of a house in which I have lived with my mother and father since 1920. My mother only died last year. Father died in 1932, so my brother took over, but he died suddenly last February. They have not put any paint on the back of the house since 1921. We have done all the repairs inside the house, and only a few months ago my brother and I spent £28 between us on materials, and did up two bedrooms, the stairway and passage and three rooms downstairs. I cannot get anything back from the landlord and not even tax relief from the Income Tax. The house has got no electric light or bathroom, and the landlord is asking £1,125 for it. I do not suppose the house cost £200 in the first place, for they must have been built about 60 years ago."
Then, he asks me if the landlord has a right to charge, but, of course, he has. The letter continues:
"When I mention about the 1933 Act, where we had to pay half a crown a week extra, they say that is all beside the point. The three of us fought in the 1914–18 war, one was killed, one was wounded and I was a prisoner of war."
That is the letter. He has been thrown out of the house in which he has lived for the greater part of his life. The landlord is attempting to take advantage of the situation by asking him to pay an exorbitant sum. They themselves have been keeping the house in repair, and not the landlord, and yet this is the sort of treatment which the party opposite metes out to ex-Service men.

It is a shabby bit of work, because, surely, there is no hon. Member in any part of the House who would attempt to deny the fact that, in these circumstances, while there is still a shortage of accommodation, it was reasonable to keep rent control and protection for the families who had lived in these houses all this time, and not enable the landlord to throw them on the street in order to profiteer on the sale of the house. Hon. Members opposite were invited to correct that abuse, and they have refused, but all the time the houses of a much, larger number of people are being affected.

Furthermore, there is this other aspect, and this is where the bitterness arises, and hon. Members must face it. It is a fact that one of the results of rent control was that the tenants of the houses had a certain sense of security. They were there so long as they paid their rent. They could not be thrown out. That sense of security led to the result that a large number of tenants started to repair the houses in which they lived. They said, "We are here for a long time. The law protects us. It is no good waiting for the landlord to do something, he will not do it, we will do it ourselves." And so a large number of houses in this country have been kept in good repair by the tenants.

A large number of those tenants have never seen the landlord at all. Their only contact with him has been through the rent collector. Where the difficulty arises is that because a house has been kept in repair by the tenant the landlord can now step in—as landlords are beginning to do—and just spend the amount of money which qualifies him to receive the increase—just the bare amount. Then the landlord draws the increase in perpetuity without doing anything more at all to the house.

The tenant has done the job so that the first statutory condition is satisfied, that is to say, the house cannot be condemned as unfit because the tenant has kept it in a fit condition. The second statutory condition, that the landlord spends the money upon the house, can be satisfied quite easily and then the landlord draws the increase in perpetuity.

In "Operation Rescue" the Minister says—although he denied it on Report stage—
"This second safeguard is intended as a test of the landlord's good faith, and he will be asked to comply with it only once. But the first safeguard is continuous."
That is that the house must be kept in a fit condition. Even there the right hon. Gentleman has not seen fit to leave the situation alone. He has altered the definition of fitness. As my hon. Friend mentioned in his opening speech, we were hoping that the new definition would be more stringent and give more protection to the tenant. But on the contrary. Sanitary inspectors now are not only to be asked to have knowledge about the actual condition of the house but to pronounce sociological judgment when deciding whether they give a certificate.

Now they have to decide if the house is unfit, having regard to its locality. If the house is in a slum area, it can be almost a slum before it is condemned. They have to pronounce on the character of the house. I do not know what that means. It seems to us that this can give rise to great abuse, because in the past it was not possible to challenge a sanitary inspector over the issue of a certificate. Now he may be challenged in the courts. It was always a difficult business, because very often sanitary inspectors were subject to considerable pressure by local property owners. Indeed, so serious was this aspect of the matter, so dangerous was the power of the property owners over local councils and over the sanitary inspector, that the law had to be made that prevents a local authority from sacking a sanitary inspector without the consent of the central authority. That has always been the situation under the Public Health Acts. The reason for it is what I have described.

So, even as it was before, when the sanitary inspector had more precise definitions, he was able to do his job only with difficulty. But now the right hon. Gentleman has made it far worse for him. Now the sanitary inspector is able to give the certificate subject all the time to the threat that the landlord can take him to court and ask the court to set aside the certificate on the ground that the locality and character of the house were such that the certificate ought not to have been given. As soon as one or two decisions go against the certificates in this instance, sanitary inspectors all over the country will be laggard to give them. And so the second safeguard which the right hon. Gentleman talks about will have gone.

It is impossible for us on Third Reading to state our alternative. "The Times" is not right in saying that we have not stated an alternative. We have stated it in Committee and in our programme. We on this side also believe that this piece of social property that is represented by 7 to 8 million small dwellings ought not to fall into disrepair—we accept that position. We say that they have fallen into disrepair because the private ownership of those small houses no longer protects them from deterioration.

We have slums in Great Britain at the moment because private landlordism in small property has failed. Instead of facing up to the full political and social consequences of that situation, the Government have preferred once more in this instance to be doctrinaire. They have insisted upon hanging on to the conceptions of private ownership. We on this side would have saved the nation large sums of money and large sums of capital investment by making available a better use of existing accommodation by handing over all this small property to local authorities. [Laughter.] Certainly. It is no good hon. Members opposite laughing. Why should local authorities have all the slums and all the bankrupt property?

The local authorities always have to give first aid to the victims of private property, whereas we have said that we consider local authorities should have charge of this whole problem. Nowhere in modern industrial civilisation has the private ownership of small tenanted property been successful. Every leading industrial country has this problem.

Therefore, we say to the Government, even at this late hour, "Take it back." We do not ask them to take the Bill back merely because it is unpopular. It would be a very bad thing if statesmen in the House of Commons refrained from doing something merely because it was unpopular. We ask the Government to take the Bill back because it is unjust, because it cannot be worked and because it will not achieve its main objective of protecting the property from deterioration.

There is no reason at all why the Government should not take the Bill back. After all, two major Measures have been passed by the House that the Government cannot carry out. We have had two Bills in suspension because there are so many differences in the party opposite that they cannot be brought forward. So we suggest in the interests of the country and of common decency—take the Bill back because, unless the Government do, they will find before very long that in passing it they have signed their own death sentence.

10.0 p.m.

It is now a period of more than six months since we initiated the discussions on the plan that forms the content of this Bill. We have had a very long discussion, and the speech with which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) wound up on behalf of the Opposition is one which was characteristic of the speeches he has made on many occasions. If I have to repeat myself, too, I hope the House will forgive me.

I was rather amused by the right hon. Gentleman's compliment to me of being adroit. That was a very high compliment coming from him, and he showed characteristic skill in that, having said he was precluded by the rules of order from giving his alternative, he proceeded to give a very good summary in a very few sentences.

Already we have had on this Bill six Parliamentary days and 22 sittings in Committee. We have reached not the eleventh, but my calculations tell me the ninety-ninth, hour of our discussions. Among the Amendments which have been adopted were some from one side of the Committee and some from the other. I think that perhaps the most important was the new arrangements for the division of responsibility for indoor decoration, which everyone seems to feel will make the scheme more workable, and the more flexible period which we have introduced for the expenditure test.

Among the Amendments accepted is one which has still to be made in actual language in another place—the introduction of a penalty on summary conviction for any false statement made by a landlord. Then there is the abolition of the cottage certificate, which was generally accepted on both sides of the House but was initiated by the Opposition; and I think the small but important matter of clearing up the position of security, in the case of a widow who, before her husband's death, had been separated from him.

I frankly admit that we have not tried in this Bill to deal with the broad question of rent control. That was far too great an undertaking, but we have tried to deal with the question of getting houses repaired, and we have taken the opportunity to deal with a few glaring anomalies, revealed in the course of the last few years, in the rent control system. We have dealt with the problem that arises between the head tenant and the sub-tenant, commonly known as the case of "Cow and Casey." We dealt with the question of leasehold premiums, and I am particularly indebted to the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs), who helped to get us the Clauses on that complicated problem which were unanimously approved.

We have been reproved for not dealing with two other matters. The first was that we ought to have introduced a system of compulsory exchange of tenancies. I can only say on that point that a sub-committee of the Central Housing Advisory Committee, which was non-party in character and included some of the most experienced members of the party opposite in the housing field, gave unanimous advice against the introduction of a system of compulsory change of tenancy. I have accepted that.

Unanimous advice against the compulsory system on the landlord of change of tenancies. It was only a year ago that I accepted that recommendation.

The second question was one to which the right hon. Gentleman reverted to night. He said that we ought to have taken steps to alter the system by which the security of tenure, at any rate under the Rent Acts ends after the second life, which would, in fact, make a perpetual tenancy. All I can say to that is that it is a situation about which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen are now very worked up, but it is one which they accepted with their huge majority during the en tire period they were in office, and this moving letter written to the right hon. Gentleman might have been written to him during any period when he was in office. He did not give the date, so per haps it may have been then—

The right hon. Gentleman must keep a sense of humour. Do not let him lose that or he will have nothing left. It is an extraordinary thing that, when he had this immense power and was by way of dealing with the whole law of rent restriction in 1949, he never bothered with the matter. It might be argued that during those years, the temptation, when a house became vacant, to sell rather than to re-let was much greater than it is now because, as the figures prove, the success of the housing policy we have pursued has led to a continual fall in capital values.

There is one important change which we introduced upon the Floor of the House on Report stage, the change by which we are freeing from control new building of houses and flats and new conversions of existing houses for letting purposes in both cases. I put the emphasis on "new" because I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) who said that it would be logical to extend this to other houses that became vacant. I do not quite agree with that. I put the emphasis on "new" because what we want to do is to get more unsubsidised houses built for letting, and more conversions. We want the work done, and it is in conformity with the whole policy of this Bill that we have concentrated on getting the work done, getting things built or getting conversions made.

I have been worried by one feature during the last two years, in spite of the considerable success of our policy, as to the building of unsubsidised houses. Whereas 22,000 such houses were built in Great Britain in 1951, 63,000 houses were built in private account in 1953, an increase of 40,000. At the same time the council houses for letting rose from 172,000 to 255,000. But what I frankly confess has worried me is that, of the privately built houses, so few have been for letting purposes—only about 6 per cent. I am anxious to see whether we cannot get back into the market for the building of houses without drawing upon subsidy, either from the central Government or from the rates—houses and flats for letting and conversions of old houses for that purpose.

This is not a question of jumping the queue, as has been said on so many occasions; this is a question of people being allowed and encouraged to get into the right queue, not forced, as many people of better means are today in effect, to sponge upon their neighbours by living in subsidised houses. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] The thing to do is to give the opportunity to the people who should be living in unsubsidised houses to do so, and I believe we could do it without any fall in the total of houses built for letting purposes, as we have proved in our policy to date.

This, of course, reveals the whole difference in philosophy between the two sides of the House. It runs very deep. Hon. Members opposite believe in control for its own sake. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] They believe in a siege economy and they want to go on with it. They believe that there is a kind of fixed cake of production and that the only job of the Government is to divide that cake in an equitable way. We believe that the cake can be made bigger and we have proved it.

An hon. Member opposite said on the Report stage that every brick taken for an unsubsidised house is taken away from a council house, but it never occurred to him that one can increase productivity and that by impetus of efforts made, and which have been made, in the housing crusade one can make more for everybody. In that respect, I am prepared to be judged by the results. The results of the policy that we have followed so far have not been so bad that I am ashamed to be judged by them.

I am tempted to make a short digression here to one point of importance, which is the decision to take the housing associations out of rent control. On balance, I think that both sides of the Committee agreed that that is the right thing to do, right because their income is really insufficient in many cases to maintain their properties, right because they are non-profit-making and of a charitable character, and right because they fall, therefore, into line with the exceptions from rent control which have been made in all legislation. I think that that was generally accepted so long as the definition was guarded carefully, as I think we have succeeded in doing in the terms of the Bill.

After considerable thought we decided to make the same arrangements in respect of the new town corporations. I want to make some reference here to the admirable speeches that were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Finlay) and my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine). I am very glad that they raised this point, and I am very happy to give the assurance for which they asked. I am quite certain that we can trust the new town corporations. They are not elected bodies like the local authorities, of course, but they are responsible to a Minister who is elected and to a Parliament which is elected, and therefore in the broad sense of the word they occupy a position not altogether dissimilar from that of the local authorities. I am certain, and am glad to assure hon. Members who are interested in new town corporations, that both with regard to their rent policy and the general policy of good landlords in ensuring security of tenure for their tenants, they would act in a way that my hon. Friends would desire.

One of the main reasons that weighed with us in finally reaching that decision was that when the corporations were held strictly to rent control and there was uncertainty as to the future working of the price level, they might be tempted to fix rents rather too high to start with, because they would never have the opportunity of bringing them up at a later date. It is from that anxiety that I want to relieve them in future.

Whilst I am on the subject of housing associations I should add—and this is not covered except by this initial effort in this Bill—that frankly we must say that we have not faced the problem of how large numbers of houses for rent are to be provided for what used to be called the working classes. There is a great future for the owner-occupiers. When an hon. Member opposite said that he thought that all homes should be nationally owned, I did not pull him up, but I assume he meant that he did not disapprove of owner-occupiers.

There are a great number of men and women who must rent their houses, and there is a problem of how those are to be provided in the future. There are some who think that they should be provided solely by local authorities. I will be frank and say that I would deplore a future in which the whole of this property was owned by local authorities. I do not think that it would be a very good thing either for local government or for the country as a whole. I should like to see housing associations develop in a variety of forms to perform this function which modern landlords, with the difficulty of Death Duties and high taxation, may find it difficult to perform in the future. I believe that there is an immense future before the housing association in its various forms. I believe that we have taken a step here to make it easier for them to operate.

I now turn to the Bill itself, to which we are really strictly confined. However, we have not really done badly today; once or twice we have slipped out of order, but somehow we have got back into order again. Part I deals with the slums. There has been a great deal of criticism about this. I do not think that it has been very serious criticism. Indeed, I thought the criticism from the right hon. Gentleman about Part I was in a light vein.

However, we intend to make a new attack on the problem. I look forward to being able to run two scoreboards in the future, one showing the houses built monthly and the other the monthly score of houses demolished, and I shall be as proud of the second as of the first. We intend to set about this problem with new effort and new impetus. We were laughed to scorn about our housing crusade for the building of new houses. The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale showed some scorn today. Let him wait a couple of years and see what has happened then. When the right hon. Gentleman says that I have introduced a Bill for slum preservation, he uses words which are not worthy of him, or perhaps I ought to say that they are words which are typical of him.

The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that the deferred demolition measures, the patching measures, are necessary, not everywhere but in some places. The proper purpose of patching, as I hope that I and my Department and my successors will use it, is to allow it where it is necessary, but to disallow it altogether where a local authority can quite well get rid of its slums in a four or five years' period. There are cities which I know to whom, if they asked—I do not say that they would—for a patching grant, I should say, "No, you can do your job of demolition in a reasonable time." However, everybody knows that there are great cities which cannot pull down their slums in five, 10, 15 or perhaps even 20 years. Therefore, we have introduced this system and plan.

When we introduced the plan, there was a great deal of variety of views about it in the Opposition. On Second Reading the deputy Leader of the Opposition made an impulsive attack on the whole system and said that he regarded it as a denigration of local authorities; but the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, as one might expect, is more cautious, more balanced and more circumscribed. Nevertheless, harmony was temporarily restored between them, as I suppose it sometimes is, and they all agreed on a joint policy neither to oppose it openly nor to attack it but to damn it with faint praise. Whatever their verdict may be, I am quite sure what will be the verdict of the people themselves.

When the matter is viewed honestly and not in a purely party attempt to denigrate the Bill, I believe that the judgment of the people themselves will be this. It is not only the work that may be done, though that will be very important; it is not only that the roof may be mended or some little comforts brought in which do not now exist; but it will be the feeling that somebody is really caring. I know, as does the hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer), that the moral results of the Birmingham experiment are as important as the physical results. Therefore, I am not at all afraid of the verdict which the people themselves will give on the results of this Part of the Bill.

I now come to the second Part of the Bill. I believe—although we cannot give precise figures—that broadly in something like these categories there may be one million houses which ought to be pulled down. Let us try to pull them down. There may be a million whose fate is uncertain. Some landlords can be made, by the pressures which I think local authorities will now be prepared to bring upon them, to make them fit for habitation at reasonable expense; but others of these houses, if the landlords cannot be made so to do, or if the houses cannot be made good at reasonable expense, the local authorities may take, and we shall try to help and inspire them to take them and make them good, retaining the rents which they receive as part of their recoupment.

To leave out those which in slum clearance will have to be pulled down and the very big category of those on which considerable work will have to be done, there are probably something of the order of perhaps 5 million houses which can be preserved and must be preserved by ordinary current repairs, if only those repairs can be done in the proper way. They can only be done, as everyone knows, if the rent income is adequate for the purpose and if it is applied to the purpose.

There are two schools of thought in this, as in all, problems, and they revealed themselves very clearly in the Committee stage. There is the old-fashioned, radical, individualist school of thought which says that if something is wrong it must be somebody's fault. I think the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) was the chief protagonist of that school. He says that it must be someone's fault, either the devil or the landlord—or he said they are the same. I must point out that in point of fact the devil was the first victim of summary eviction. The hon. Member thinks that all landlords have a double dose of original sin, and he has made that speech over and over again. The right hon. Member, on the other hand, says quite the opposite—that there must be something wrong with the system. He said that landlordism has failed and, therefore, the State or the local authorities ought to become universal landlords. I do not think that is a good plan from the point of view of the local authority—

The hon. Member for Sparkbrook must distinguish between the purchase of certain properties and 6 million or 7 million houses. Leaving out the effect on the local authority, I do not think the effect on the individual tenant would be good. Since under nationalisation nearly everything goes up except production, hon. Members opposite can be sure that everyone's rent will go up—not by the modest increase proposed in this Bill, but by a much larger increase—and that, by the sole dictum of local authorities, and of course everyone's security of tenure will go.

There is a third approach which we have tried to bring into this Bill. It is practical and based on common sense. Of course, the ultimate aim of us all must be a proper supply of good houses for the people and then a balance between supply and demand, as the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) said—a balance between the demand and the supply and the ultimate restoration of a free market. But meanwhile—it may not perhaps be so far off if we can keep the rate of building up and the rate of conversions and repairs and the rest—if rent control is too rigid the repairs will not be done. In some cases, but by no means in all cases—for very little has been said on the other side about the operation of what we call the stopper principle, namely, where the rents are already high enough there will be no increase or a very small increase—some increase in the rent income will be necessary, but it must not be without the proper conditions.

We have introduced into the Bill two conditions, of good repair in the first place—the over-riding condition is that the house must be in good repair—and secondly, the expenditure test. We have had much argument on the precise definition of these conditions. We have argued it in great detail. We think that our formula today is fair. Of course, it is difficult to keep the balance precisely. It must not be so unfavourable to the landlord that no repairs are done, and it must not be so favourable as to leave a legitimate grievance with the tenant. In other words, it must be neither a mouldy turnip nor—and this is today's new phrase—a landlord's ramp and a gold-mine for the landlord.

I leave the House to decide which the Bill is likely to be. Some hon. Members are still left in uncertainty, declaring on the one hand that the Bill is a mouldy turnip and on the other hand that it is a gold-mine. We have tried to secure that it shall be neither one nor the other, but shall be a fair system. I have not the time to say what I had intended upon improvements and conversions. We believe that in them lies an enormous opportunity for the increase of good housing accommodation.

Division No. 71.]


[10.28 p.m.

Aitken, W. T.Carr, RobertFort, R.
Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)Cary, Sir RobertFoster, John
Alport, C. J. M.Channon, H.Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)
Amory, Rt. Hon. Heathcoat (Tiverton)Churchill, Rt. Hon. Sir WinstonFraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale)
Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J.Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead)Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir David Maxwell
Arbuthnot, JohnClarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W.)Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. D. (Pollok)
Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.)Cole, NormanGalbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)
Astor, Hon. J. J.Colegate, W. A.Gammans, L. D.
Baker, P. A. D.Conant, Maj. R. J. E.Garner-Evans, E. H.
Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. AlbertGeorge, Rt. Hon. Maj. G. Lloyd
Baldwin, A. E.Cooper-Key, E. M.Glover, D.
Banks, Col. C.Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)Godber, J. B.
Barber, AnthonyCrookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.
Barlow, Sir JohnCrosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.Gough, C. F. H.
Baxter, A. B.Crouch, R. F.Gower, H. R.
Beach, Maj. HicksCrowder, Sir John (Finchley)Graham, Sir Fergus
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood)Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)
Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.)Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)
Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.)Davidson, ViscountessHall, John (Wycombe)
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)De la Bère, Sir RupertHarden, J. R. E.
Bennett, William (Woodside)Deedes, W. F.Hare, Hon. J. H.
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)Digby, S. WingfieldHarris, Reader (Heston)
Birch, NigelDodds-Parker, A. D.Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)
Bishop, F. P.Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)
Black, C. W.Donner, Sir P. W.Harvie-Watt, Sir George
Boothby, Sir R. J. G.Doughty, C. J. A.Hay, John
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.Douglas-Hamilton, Lord MalcolmHeald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel
Boyle, Sir EdwardDrayson, G. B.Heath, Edward
Braine, B. R.Dugdale, Rt. Hon. Sir T. (Richmond)Henderson, John (Cathcart)
Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.Higgs, J. M. C.
Braithwaite, Sir GurneyDuthie, W. S.Hill, Dr. Charles (Luton)
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir D. M.Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)
Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)Eden, Rt. Hon. A.Hinchingbrooke, Viscount
Brooman-White, R. C.Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)Hint, Geoffrey
Browne, Jack (Govan)Erroll, F. J.Holland-Martin, C. J.
Bullard, D. G.Fell, A.Hollis, M. C.
Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.Finlay, GraemeHolt, A. F.
Burden, F. F. A.Fisher, NigelHope, Lard John
Butcher, Sir HerbertFleetwood-Hesketh, R. F.Hopkinson, Rt. Hon. Henry
Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A. (Saffron Welden)Fletcher-Cooke, C.Hornsby-Smith, Mist M. P.
Campbell, Sir DavidFord, Mrs. PatriciaHorobin, I. M.

When the argument ends, as it will end in a minute or two, the facts will decide. If I am wrong and my party are wrong, we shall have wasted our time and the time of this House on the Bill. If, on the other hand, the slums are cleared with renewed vigour; if, during this process, the conditions of slum dwellers are alleviated; if houses unfit for human habitation are either condemned or made fit; if the general run of sound houses is kept in good repair, with modest additions to rent when, and only when, they are justified; and if improvements take place with increasing volume; then, after all the clouds of abuse and misrepresentation will pass—there have been plenty of them today—then the people will decide. They have a very fair view. If our plan is fair and if it works, we shall earn their gratitude. We shall, at any rate, be able to say that we are the only Government who have had the courage to deal with a problem which other Governments have run away from.

Question put.

The House divided: Ayes, 296; Noes, 262.

Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. FlorenceMaude, AngusSmithers, Peter (Winchester)
Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)Maudling, R.Smithers, Sir Waldron (Orpington)
Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)Maydon, Lt-Comdr. S. L CSmyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)
Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)Medlicott, Brig. F.Snadden, W. McN.
Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)Mellor, Sir JohnSoames, Capt. C.
Hulbert, Wing Cdr. N. J.Molson, A. H. E.Spearman, A. C. M.
Kurd, A. R.Monckton, Rt. Hon. Sir WalterSpeir, R. M.
Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'rgh, W)Moore, Sir ThomasSpence, H. R. (Aberdeenshire, W.)
Hutchison, James (Scotstoun)Morrison, John (Salisbury)Spens, Rt. Hon. Sir P. (Kensington, S.)
Hylton-Foster, H. B. H.Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard
Iremonger, T. L.Nabarre, G. D. N.Stevens, G. P.
Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)Neave, AireySteward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)
Jennings, Sir RolandNicholls, HarmarStewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)
Johnson, Eric (Blackley)Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)Storey, S.
Jones, A. (Hall Green)Nield, Basil (Chester)Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)
Joynson-Hicks, Hon L. W.Noble, Cmdr. A. H. P.Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)
Kaberry, D.Nugent, G. R. H.Studholme, H. G.
Kerby, Capt. H. J.Oakshott, H. DSummers, G. S.
Kerr, H. W.Odey, G. WSutcliffe, Sir Harold
Lambert, Hon. G.O'Neill, Hon. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Lamblon, ViscountOrr, Capt. L. P. S.Taylor, William (Bradford. N.)
Lancaster, Col. C. G.Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)Teeling, W.
Langford-Holt, J. A.Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-super-Mare)Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. P. L. (Hereford)
Leather, E. H. C.Osborne, C.Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.Page, R. G.Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)
Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)Peake, Rt. Hon. O.Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Lindsay, MartinPeto, Brig. C. H. M.Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)
Linstead, Sir H. N.Peyton, J. W. W.Thorneycroft, Rt. Hn. Peter (Monmouth)
Llewellyn, D. T.Pickthorn, K. W. M.Thornton-Kemsley, Col. C. N.
Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. (King's Norton)Pillcington, Capt. R. ATilney, John
Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)Pitman, I. J.Touche, Sir Gordon
Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.Pitt, Miss E. M.Turner, H. F. L.
Longden, GilbertPowell, J. EnochTurton, R. H.
Low, A. R. W.Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)Tweedsmuir, Lady
Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.Vane, W. M. F.
Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)Profumo, J. D.Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.
Lucas-Tooth, Sir HughRaikes, Sir VictorVosper, D. F.
Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.Ramsden, J. E.Wade, D. W.
Mc Adden., S. J.Rayner, Brig. RWakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
McCallum, Major D.Redmayne, M.Walker-Smith, D. C.
McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.Rees-Davies, W. R.Wall, P. H. B.
Macdonald, Sir PeterRemnant, Hon. P.Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)
Mackeson, Brig. Sir HarryRenton, D. L. M.Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)
McKibbin, A. J.Ridsdale, J. E.Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)Roberts, Peter (Heeley)Watkinson, H. A.
Maclay, Rt. Hon. JohnRobertson, Sir DavidWebbe, Sir H. (London & Westminster)
Maclean, FitzroyRobson-Brown, W.Wellwood, W.
Macleod, Rt. Hon. Iain (Enfield, W.)Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)
MacLeod, John (Ross and Cromarty)Roper, Sir HaroldWilliams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)
Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)Ropner, Col. Sir LeonardWilliams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)Russell, R. S.Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Maitland, Comdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.Wills, G.
Maitland, Patrick (Lanark)Savory, Prof. Sir DouglasWilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Manningnam-Buller, Sir R. E.Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.Wood, Hon. R.
Markham, Major Sir FrankScott, R. Donald
Marlowe, A. A. H.Scott-Miller, Comdr. R.TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Marples, A. E.Shepherd, WilliamMr. Buchan-Hepburn and
Marshall, Douglas (Bodmin)Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)Sir Cedric Drewe.


Acland, Sir RichardBowles, F. G.Crossman, R. H. S.
Adams, RichardBraddock, Mrs. ElizabethCullen, Mrs. A.
Albu, A. H.Brockway, A. F.Daines, P.
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)Brock, Dryden (Halifax)Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.
Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven)Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.Darling, George (Hillsborough)
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)
Awbery, S. S.Brown, Thomas (Ince)Davies, Harold (Leek)
Baird, J.Burke, W. A.Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)
Balfour, A.Burton, Miss F. Freitas, Geoffrey
Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. JButler, Herbert (Hackney, S.)Deer, G.
Bartley, P.Callaghan, L. J.Delargy, H. J.
Bence, C. R.Carmichael, J.Dodds, N. N.
Benn, Hon. WedgwoodChampion, A. J.Donnelly, D. L.
Benson, G.Chapman, W. D.Driberg, T. E. N.
Beswick, F.Chetwynd, G. R.Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John (W. Bromwich)
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)Clunie, J.Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.
Bing, G. H. C.Coldrick, W.Edelman, M.
Blackburn, F.Collick, P. H.Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse)
Blenkinsop, A.Corbet, Mrs. FredaEdwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)
Blyton, W. R.Cove, W. G.Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)
Boardman, H.Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.Crosland, C. A. R.Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)

Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury)Logan, D. G.Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Fernyhough, E.MacColl, J. E.Ross, William
Fienburgh, W.McGhee, H. G.Royle, C.
Finch, H. J.McGovern, J.Shackleton, E. A. A.
Fletcher, Eric (Islington, E.)McInnes, J.Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir Hartley
Follick, M.McKay, John (Wallsend)Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.
Forman, J. C.McLeavy, F.Short, E. W.
Freeman, John (Watford)MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)Shurmer, P. L. E.
Freeman, Peter (Newport)McNeil, Rt. Hon. H.Silverman, Julius (Erdington)
Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Gibson, C. W.Mainwaring, W. H.Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)
Glanville, JamesMallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)Skeffington, A. M.
Gordon-Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.Manuel, A. C.Slater, J. (Durham, Sedgefield)
Greenwood, Anthony (Rossendale)Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.Smith, Ellis (Stcke, S.)
Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.Mason, RoySmith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)
Gray, C. F.Mayhew, C. P.Snow, J. W.
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)Mellish, R. J.Sorensen, R. W.
Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)Messer, Sir F.Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Griffiths, William (Exchange)Mikardo, IanSparks, J. A.
Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)Mitchison, G R.Steele, T.
Hall, John T. (Gateshead, W.)Monslow, W.Stewart, Michael Fulham, E.)
Hamilton, W. W.Moody, A. S.Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)
Hannan, W.Morgan, Dr. H. B. W.Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.
Hardy, E. A.Morley, R.Swingler, S. T.
Hargreaves, A,Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)Sylvester, G. O.
Hastings, S.Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.)Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Hayman, F. H.Mort, D. L.Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Healey, Denis (Leeds, S.E.)Moyle, A.Taylor, Rt. Hon. Robert (Morpeth)
Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Rowley Regis)Mulley, F. W.Thomas, George (Cardiff)
Herbison, Miss M.Murray, J. D.Thomas, lorwerth (Rhondda, W.)
Hewitson, Capt. M.Nally, W.Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)
Hobson, C. R.Neal, Harold (Bolsover)Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)
Holman, P.Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. JThornton, E.
Holmes, HoraceO'Brien, T.Tomney, F.
Houghton, DouglasOldfield, W. H.Turner-Samuels, M.
Hoy, J. H.Oliver, G. HUngoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)Orbach, M.Usborne, H. C.
Hushes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)Oswald, T.Viant, S. P.
Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)Padley, W. E.Wallace, H. W.
Hynd, H. (Accrington)Paget, R. T.Warbey, W. N.
Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)Watkins, T. E.
Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)
Irving, W. J. (Wood Green)Palmer, A. M. F.Weitzman, D.
Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.Pannell, CharlesWells, Percy (Faversham)
Janner, B.Pargiter, G. A.Wells, William (Walsall)
Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. TParker, J.West, D. G.
Jeger, George (Goole)Parkin, B. T.Wheeldon, W. E.
Jeger, Mrs. LenaPeart, T. F.White, Mrs. Eiren (E. Flint)
Jenkins, R. H. (Stechford)Plummer, Sir LeslieWhite, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Johnson, James (Rugby)Popplewell, E.Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)Porter, G.Wigg, George
Jones, David (Hartlepool)Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.
Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.)Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)Wilkins, W. A.
Jones, Jack (Rotherham)Proctor, W. T.Willey, F. T.
Jones, T. W. (Merloneth)Pryde, D. J.Williams, David (Neath)
Keenan, W.Pursey, Cmdr. H.Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Kenyon, C.Rankin, JohnWilliams, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Don V'lly)
Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.Reeves, J.Williams, W. R. (Dreylsden)
King, Dr. H. M.Reid, Thomas (Swindon)Winterbottom, Ian (Nottingham, C.)
Lee, Frederick (Newton)Reid, William (Camlachie)Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)
Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)Rhodes, H.Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Lever, Harold (Cheetham)Richards, R.Wyatt, W. L.
Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)Robens, Rt. Hon. A.Yates, V. F.
Lewis, ArthurRoberts, Albert (Normanton)Younger, Rt. Hon. K.
Lindgren, G. S.Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mr. Bowden and Mr. Pearson.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

Air-Raid Shelters, Eston (Demolition)

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. Studholme.]

10.40 p.m.

I wish to discuss tonight the demolition of surface type air-raid shelters. I am mainly concerned with the demolition of shelters in my constituency in the urban district of Eston. The subject raises an issue of wider application which has been discussed by other hon. Members, and in that connection Birmingham comes to my mind.

Eston, on the banks of the Tees, is a steel-making district. The communal surface shelters complained about have been in existence for roughly 12 years. I am not certain at the moment of the exact number, but it is about 70. The shelters are of brick construction with reinforced concrete roofs. They are not situated in the public highway but behind houses in the access passageways.

In some cases it is true that a narrow path has been left around the shelter, but in others all too often there is no way at all into houses from the back except through the shelters. I have some photographs which the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department can have with my compliments. On occasion, it is unfortunate that we cannot have photographs reproduced in the OFFICIAL REPORT. One can see from the photographs the state in which the shelters are to be found today.

My constituents who are adversely affected are workers living in a dense, industrial area. Their houses are small and by modern standards much too close together, but the housewives, like most British women, are anxious to keep their homes clean and wholesome. Their task is immensely aggravated by the continued presence of the shelters.

The Joint Under-Secretary will agree that in the ordinary way the shelters would have gone if they had been in the public streets, as they have disappeared elsewhere when traffic and other conditions have necessitated removal. However, the Home Office has forbidden the local authority, the Eston Urban District Council, to demolish them on the ground that they would be useful in the event of another war.

I want to be fair to the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and learned Friend. In this matter the Home Secretary is continuing the policy of his predecessor. That is not in dispute, but that does not make the policy right. The question which my constituents and the local authority are asking is for how long is this to go on. Are these shelters to remain there for as long as the state of international tension exists, for as long as there are differences of opinion or of interest between this country and other nations? If that is so, then many competent judges will say that they are likely to be there for the lifetime of most of us, and for the lifetime of the people living in the houses concerned.

I am not—and I do not think that any hon. Member is—against realistic Civil Defence organisation, but why should this very doubtful form of protection be inflicted upon a small minority of the inhabitants of this country? In my constituency there are 600 houses affected. If the Joint Under-Secretary of State were to walk for some miles away from the Palace of Westminster he would find no provision for any kind of shelter, surface or otherwise, though I assume that if the international situation is threatening it is just as threatening in Westminster as in Eston.

The local authority concerned has addressed many communications to the hon. Gentleman's Department. I, too, have written to the Home Secretary. I have asked one Question about it in this House, and recently, for the second time, I made a personal inspection of the shelters, in company with the chairman and the clerk of the local authority. Of course, I took advantage on that occasion to talk to the housewives concerned. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that had I not spoken to them, they would certainly have spoken to me, because they feel very strongly about the matter.

We have all spoken to the hon. Gentleman's Department and said that these shelters should come down. They form dark, damp, unpleasant caves behind the houses. That cannot be disputed. I do not want to dwell on this side of the matter too much, but one does not require to have a great deal of imagination to understand that every kind of undesirable nuisance is committed in these shelters. The women living in the streets concerned have told me that they very much dislike having to pass through these shelters at night in order to enter their homes from the back way.

Coal has to be taken through the front door, and refuse collection is extremely difficult. This has gone on for many years. Those who are familiar with the traditions of this part of the country will know that these back streets are often used for the drying of washed clothes. Owing to the presence of these shakers, that cannot be done, which means that clothes have to be dried inside the homes. The houses are small, and that adds to the domestic inconvenience. The shelters increase the risk of disease, despite the grant made for cleaning. They do damage to drains and to other public services. It cannot surely be disputed that the retention of these shelters is indefensible from the public health point of view.

What I have said so far about the existence of these shelters, their condition, and so on, will probably command a fair general assent, but I am now coming to what is perhaps a more controversial point. I do not agree with the reported attitude adopted by the Coventry City Council towards the matter of Civil Defence. It apparently takes the view—I think wrongly—that all forms of Civil Defence organisation for the future should be rejected.

I speak with a little experience, because for some time during the war years I was vice-chairman of the Civil Defence committee of a local authority. I think it is essential, bearing in mind all the circumstances of a future war, that there should be some kind of Civil Defence organisation in existence. Of course, Coventry has as much right as any place in the country to judge what is possible or impossible in these matters, but I do not agree with it.

I do not believe that these Eston shelters would be of any use at all against most forms of modern developed air attack. The houses surrounding them are of light construction, debris would pile right the way round the shelters and probably entomb the people inside. In the opinion of many experts rescue would be made extremely difficult. Supposing the bomb was of the atomic variety, either hydrogen or uranium, and it fell at such a distance that physically the shelters still stood, does anyone suppose that many of the people inside them would still be alive if radiation had done its work?

Faced with the risks of atomic attack from the air, is it the policy of the Home Office to concentrate or to disperse the population? If the policy is to be dispersal, I should have thought it wrong in principle that groups of people should be encouraged to congregate in shelters of this kind. No one could claim these shelters to be a significant contribution to realistic Civil Defence, but it is plain to everyone that they do make the lives of people now affected by them very difficult. I agree that the Home Office have done all they can, allowing for the existence of the shelters, to mitigate the difficulties, but there is a limit to what can be done. What I am asking is that the Home Secretary should be consistent and logical and give permission for these shelters to be pulled down as irrelevant to the future and a nuisance to the present.

10.52 p.m.

The Home Office is of course well aware of the inconvenience caused by these shelters to those who live nearby them, and of course, as the hon. Member for Cleveland (Mr. Palmer) has said, this is not a matter which is limited to his constituency. There are shelters of this kind in a number of places throughout the country. Those who suffer are understandably anxious that they should be removed as soon as possible. I certainly do not complain in any way of the way the hon. Gentleman has raised this matter on behalf of his constituents. But inconvenience cannot be the only test in this matter.

It might be convenient if I reminded the House of the history of this matter, and of the reasons why the old shelters have been retained hitherto. Immediately after the war the policy was to demolish shelters as quickly as possible. Everyone wanted to take them down, but of course limitations had to be imposed. Indeed, they imposed themselves. There was an acute shortage of labour, there were other demands on our resources, and demolition went ahead at varying speeds in different places. In some areas shelters were all, or virtually all, taken down. But in 1947 it was decided as a matter of policy, having regard to the economic circumstances of the country, that expenditure on demolition of shelters could only be permitted in two classes of case. Firstly, when the result would be the recovery of steel—at that time we were suffering severely from a shortage of steel; and secondly, where the structure itself was a danger to the public. In 1948 the policy was again reviewed, this time in the light of the international situation. It was then decided that all sound shelters ought to be retained except in certain definite cases where there were the strongest reasons for demolition.

The exceptions were first, where it was certified by a responsible technical officer that the shelter was structurally dangerous and beyond repair; secondly, where the medical officer of health certified that the removal of a public shelter was essential on public health grounds and the nuisance created by the shelter could not be abated in any other way than by demolition; thirdly, where the medical officer of health certified that removal of a domestic shelter was essential—I again emphasise the word "essential"—on medical grounds; and fourthly, where the removal was essential to permit approved development of the area. Obviously, it would be ridiculous to leave a shelter when an area as a whole is to be developed. Those were the four exceptions to the general policy decision that sound shelters should be retained.

Mr. Palmer