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Housing

Volume 530: debated on Tuesday 20 July 1954

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A V Roe & Co, Middleton (Agreement)

3.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government the terms of his instructions with regard to the continuation of tenancies of Middleton, Lancashire, council houses, occupied by workers employed by Messrs. A. V. Roe, after such workers had ceased to be employed with that firm.

I have given no such instructions. The management of council houses is vested by statute in the council.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we now have a position in which tenants of council houses in Middleton are paying rent to the corporation and a rent to their employers—in some cases their former employers? In those circumstances, has not the time come for the right hon. Gentleman to interfere and find what the facts are?

Is the Minister aware that the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich can look after these questions of local interest without the interference of hon. Members opposite? Secondly, is the Minister aware, or can he tell us, whether this arrangement was made with the knowledge and authority of the Socialist Government?

I do not want to be drawn into that matter, but negotiations have been going on for a long time.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, first, that 7,000 workers of A. V. Roe are largely employed in Oldham, West; secondly, the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow) has not raised his voice in this matter, although I have invited him to do so, over the last 12 months; and, thirdly, he has told me on more than one occasion that he is investigating the matter?

4.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he is aware that a collateral tenancy agreement is insisted upon between Messrs. A. V. Roe and Company and the tenant where council houses are let by the Middleton Council, Lancashire, to the company's employees; that this agreement contains a provision whereby a sum of 3s. 5d. is deducted from the employee's wages each week to reimburse the council for the amount of subsidy borne in the rates; that this is in derogation of the council's responsibilities and freedom of action under the Housing Act; and if he will cause further investigations to be made.

29.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he is aware that 90 municipally-owned houses at Middleton, Lancashire, have been let to Messrs. A. V. Roe and Company Limited on terms that they reimburse to the council the amount of the rate subsidy and provide tenants at the full rent; and what action he proposes to take.

No, Sir. If any such agreement exists between the company and its employees, it is not one in which I have any power to intervene.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he told me, in answer to Question No. 88 on Thursday last, that he was of opinion that this agreement was illegal, and, if the corporation has made an agreement which in the opinion of the Minister may be illegal, has not the time come when he should investigate it; and has not the time certainly come when he has ample evidence before him that the statements he made to me in a letter in January last and in a Parliamentary answer on 11th May were not founded on fact?

I think the hon. Member is confused. Question No. 4 refers to an agreement alleged to exist between Messrs. A. V. Roe and Company and its employees. I have never said that that agreement was illegal, nor was there any reference to me about it. It is not a matter with which I could have any concern. There is an agreement between Messrs. A. V. Roe and Company and the Middleton Town Council. It is on that that I expressed the opinion, on advice, that it was of doubtful legality. They are two quite separate issues.

As my Question refers to the agreement between Messrs. A. V. Roe on the one hand and the corporation on the other hand, and Messrs. Roe's employees, surely the right hon. Gentleman is being a little disingenuous when he says he knows nothing about it?

No, Sir. I have no power whatever to intervene in the agreement between the company and its employees. If I am not mistaken, the agreement between the borough council and the company is dealt with in a later Question. The two matters are quite separate.

On a point of order. The right hon. Gentleman has not answered my Question. He is talking about power to interfere. My Question is whether he knew of this agreement or not?

The right hon. Gentleman said that he was answering Question No. 29 with my Question. He keeps on saying that that has nothing to do with the agreement, but it expressly refers to the agreement and to nothing else. It may be that by misunderstanding the right hon. Gentleman has answered the wrong Question with mine.

If I have not misunderstood the point, that may come on a later Question.

The right hon. Gentleman has not only not answered my Question but has made no attempt to answer it. Therefore, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.

5.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he is aware that the Middleton Council, Lancashire, at their last meeting, decided to give notice to a tenant of a council house on the ground that his employment with Messrs. A. V. Roe had been terminated; and, in view of this evidence that the houses in question are tied, if he will reopen his investigation into the principle of these lettings.

10.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government how many of the 90 houses built by the Middleton Corporation in pursuance of an agreement with Messrs. A. V. Roe and Company Limited are now occupied by workers employed by the company on tenancies tied to their employment.

28.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he is satisfied that the 90 municipally-owned houses at Middleton, Lancashire, the subject of an agreement between the corporation and Messrs. A. V. Roe and Company Limited are not tied houses.

I am aware that the council decided to terminate the tenancy granted to a former employee of Messrs. A. V. Roe Limited, who left his employment voluntarily. They think it would be wrong to allow the man to retain the tenancy now that the special circumstances in which he was given precedence over others for it no longer exist. I am satisfied that what has happened does not make these "tied" lettings since the council and not the company are in control of the houses.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the report of the council meeting was to the effect that the council regarded this man as a model tenant but felt bound to turn him out under the "tied" clause in view of the agreement with Messrs. A. V. Roe? Is the Minister further aware that almost everyone in the district—with the exception of the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwick (Sir J. Barlow)—is alarmed and excited about this matter? In the circumstances, would he, if he is asked, consider receiving a deputation to go into the whole position which has arisen, in which a pregnant woman is faced with eviction from her home?

I am always willing to see hon. Members of this House, as they well know, and I shall be happy to meet the hon. Member immediately concerned—[HON. MEMBERS: "He is not interested."]—and other hon. Members who would like to discuss this matter with me.

27.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government on what grounds he has advised the Middleton Borough Council that their agreement with Messrs. A. V. Roe and Company Limited relating to 90 municipally-owned houses may be illegal.

I informed the council that I was advised that the agreement was of doubtful legality in some respects. However, this is a matter which in the last resort can only be resolved by the courts.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but is he aware that, while neither side of the House wishes to discourage new industries in any area, it will be a completely new and dangerous approach to have tied council houses for any industry in Britain? Will he tell us whether there are any other areas in Britain where this sort of thing is happening?

There has been a very long tradition since the war, under both Administrations, of trying to facilitate the housing of key workers and so forth in special industries. There may be dangers and difficulties involved, but this is the first instance of trouble that has come to my notice. Normally the matter has been amicably arranged. This sort of thing is of importance to industry, and it is equally important that there should be no sense of grievance or unfairness.

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that similar arrangements have been made in many other places such as Bristol, Liverpool and Bolton and the Development Areas, and that they have been beneficial to the development of new industries?

Arrangements on similar lines have been made, but they are not precisely similar under the terms of the contract.

30.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether the agreement between the Middleton Borough Council and Messrs. A. V. Roe and Company Limited was submitted to his Department before its execution; and on what date his Department first received a copy of this agreement.

No, Sir. The council had no need to submit this agreement to me. It was executed on 2nd March, 1953, and a copy was first sent to my Department on 24th December, 1953.

Can we take it that the right hon. Gentleman has taken no action at all from December last until the present time and that he now admits that the agreement is of doubtful legality?

I take it to be my duty to respect as far as possible the autonomy of local authorities, and I believe that is the view of most hon. Members. I do not wish to interfere with them so long as they are carrying out their statutory duties. The point might arise, but not at this stage, as to whether they have done so. In that case, it will be the duty of my Department, if necessary, to take some action.

Surely the right hon. Gentleman has a duty to the ordinary citizen as well as to private enterprise? If he now admits that the agreement is of doubtful legality and that that was known to his Department over a year ago, ought he not to have done something about it?

It is not a question of any arrangement with the private company but of the rather complicated financial arrangements in connection with the housing subsidies.

Requisitioned Houses

6.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he is aware that when requisitioned houses became vacant, some local authorities re-let them to fresh tenants instead of returning them to their rightful owners; and how long he will allow this practice to continue.

I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to the First Interim Report of the Working Party on Requisitioned Properties in Use for Housing. This recommended that vacated requisitioned property should be released to its owner or used to release other requisitioned accommodation for which the owner's case for release seemed more compelling.

Is it not clear that the widespread power to requisition property is a very serious interference with the rights of property owners and should be used only in the event of some pressing and continuing emergency? Could not my right hon. Friend indicate a date by which all these properties may be returned to their rightful owners?

The power to requisition property is the subject of a later Question on the Order Paper. It has not been used on house property, so far as I know, since the war, except in the very special emergency of the floods last year where we had to use it on one or two occasions. The problem of dealing with a large number of families still living in requisitioned property is a very complex one. We are working hard on it and the local authorities have given us very great support. I hope that we shall be able to clear it up within a reasonable time.

12.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government the policy of Her Majesty's Government with regard to requisitioning houses of private persons.

The power to requisition unoccupied dwelling-houses is now exercised only in most exceptional circumstances, the last occasion being that of the floods early in 1953. As the Government have no wish to retain premises on requisition longer than is absolutely necessary, local authorities are under instruction to make the maximum possible reduction in their holdings of requisitioned properties.

Will the Minister please tell the House whether there is any appeal against requisitioning, and especially if there is an appeal to a traditional court of law where evidence can be taken on oath and the public and the Press admitted?

These properties were requisitioned in the war and during the blitz, and we are still faced with a very difficult problem. We still have some 70,000 properties which are mostly round about London and which accommodate a very large number of families. There has been a very substantial fall in the last few years from something like 100,000 to about 70,000.

Is not the Minister aware that such authorities as Hornchurch were very glad to take people from the bombed areas of London and accommodate them in requisitioned property; but that such authorities as Hornchurch are very unwilling to turn people out into the street so that the properties may be sold and people make money out of them?

I think that is rather a tendentious way of putting the question. I prefer to say that I try—and I think that every Government would try—to keep a balance in this very difficult matter, and to meet the claims of both sides.

21.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he will refrain from derequisitioning houses in cases where this would mean rendering the occupants homeless and where urgent cases on local authority housing lists would consequently be deprived of accommodation.

It is important that the requisitioning of houses under emergency powers should end as soon as possible. Local authorities may arrange for the owners of requisitioned houses to accept the present licensees as tenants, or buy or lease the houses.

Is the Minister aware that if he submits to the pressure of the hon. Gentlemen behind him it will mean that thousands of families will be put out on the streets, especially in London and our great cities? Therefore, to assist local authorities to purchase these dwellings where suitable, will he agree to extend the principle of subsidy to them to enable them to undertake the work?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. We are considering all this in its wide aspects, and I hope to be able to make some proposals about it.

Rents

14.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he is aware that some landlords are asking for increased rents from their tenants in anticipation of the operation of the Housing Repairs and Rents Bill; and what action he proposes to take to protect tenants.

If the hon. Member will send me details of the cases. I will look into them. Tenants are already fully protected under the Rent Restrictions Acts against payments of rent in excess of that which is legally recoverable.

May I thank the Minister for offering to look into specific cases? May I ask him if he is aware that in poor working-class areas many tenants are receiving demands for increased rents and that they are not aware of their rights? Would not it be advisable for him to consider making a broadcast on the matter so that everybody will know what are their rights and what are the duties of landlords?

I am grateful for the suggestion. I think that the Question and answer today have helped. As soon as the Royal Assent is given to the Bill, which I think will be in a very few days, I propose to see that widespread information is put about as to the rights of tenants and landlords. If I can have permission, I should perhaps consider making a broadcast.

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, who was looking specifically at me. I would only ask, if he makes a broadcast, that it should be very factual and not politically tendentious, as was the propaganda pamphlet on this Bill which was paid for by the taxpayers.

I will leave the right hon. Gentleman to settle that with his hon. Friend.

Annual Housing Programme

16.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government from what date he has decided that the annual maximum of 300,000 houses shall not be exceeded; and what steps he has taken to ensure that this maximum shall not be exceeded.

The total number of houses completed in any year depends partly or prior planning and partly on sufficient labour and materials being available. In addition, resources vary from region to region. While I have, therefore, had to take some steps to see that the programme does not get out of step, I do not attempt to control it within precise figures. I am hopeful that, with improving production, the total for this year will be at least as large as last year, and I am equally optimistic about 1955.

Is the Minister aware that his policy already denies to active housing authorities like the Lambeth Borough Council the same completion rate in 1955 as in the two previous years? Should not the right hon. Gentleman in those circumstances be a little more honest and admit that his so-called limit to expansion is really a cut in the housing programme, so far as the more active housing authorities are concerned, which is not being imposed on private builders?

I do not think that we are doing too badly on housing. I think that it ought to run to something between 60 per cent. and 70 per cent. above the last Socialist Government's figures.

Is it not the case that the decision of the Conservative Party conference, under which the Government are acting—because the conference gave them their instructions—was that there should be a minimum of 300,000 houses a year? Is it not the case that, in a letter which his Department sent to the Lambeth Borough Council, it was pointed out that the Government were in danger of going substantially over the 300,000 figure, and that therefore the enterprise of the Lambeth Borough Council must be checked'? Why is the right hon. Gentleman stopping the Lambeth Borough Council from building houses, when they are willing, able and competent to do it?

They are building six times as many houses as they built under the previous Administration.

I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that that has nothing to do with the point. Inevitably and properly the post-war housing programme would develop as it went along. Is it not the case—apart from his party political stuff—that the right hon. Gentleman has stopped the Lambeth Borough Council from building the houses which it is competent and able efficiently to build; and is it the case that the Government are determined that the housing programme shall not materially exceed the figure of 300,000?

I do not know about the post-war programme. The trouble was that the numbers fell from 240,000 houses in 1947 down to under 200,000. It went backwards—

and our programme has gone forward. As for Lambeth. I have to keep regionally to some reasonable plan by which we shall be able to proceed without having the kind of follies which we had under the former Administration, where far more houses were planned and started than could be finished.

Neglected Properties (Owners)

17.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he is aware of the continued and growing practice of certain landlords in allowing their properties to deteriorate into slums, refusing to carry out repairs under statutory and sanitary orders, and failing to leave a forwarding address whereby they can be traced for action to be taken against them; that this has created difficulties in Stanley, Livingstone and Biggerstaffe Roads, Stratford, E.15; and what action he proposes to take to compel these landlords to meet their statutory duties.

The statutory powers for enabling local authorities to deal with unfit property belonging to an untraceable owner have been strengthened in the Housing Repairs and Rents Bill. I am informed, however, that this difficulty does not arise in the areas mentioned by the hon. Member.

I appreciate that the powers have been strengthened, or that they will be, but does not the Minister agree that that means that local authorities will have to take over at great local rate expense these neglected houses which the landlords have literally sucked dry? Does the Minister think that it is right and proper that those landlords who have made huge fortunes should be allowed to get away with it while the local authorities have to pay?

That was not the Question I was asked. The Question was about landlords who cannot be traced. I know that the hon. Member is interested in the other matter. We discussed it in Committee on the Bill. What we have done in the Bill is to take additional powers to deal with the problem raised in the Question.

Subsidies

18.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he is aware that the rent of a £1,500 council house will have to be raised by some 1s. 2d. per week to cover the deficit which will arise in the housing revenue account when the proposed reduction in the rate of subsidy takes place as and from 1st April next; and what action he proposes to take to see that the local authority housing revenue is in balance.

Why is the right hon. Gentleman so coy about giving a direct answer? Is he aware that it is estimated that when the reduced subsidies come into operation on 1st April next there will be a deficit of 1s. 2d. per week per house on all houses which cost £1,500 built after that date, and that unless he does something about it the rents will have to be increased by that figure?

The hon. Gentleman talks about reduced subsidies. As soon as the Bank rate was put up the subsidies were put up. It does not seem to be unreasonable that when the Bank rate fell there should be some reduction in subsidy.

Will the Minister agree that the new subsidy rates will in fact reduce the income by 2s. 4d. per house per week whereas the reduced rate of interest will make up only 1s. 2d., the balance having to be met by an increase in rent?

The rent will depend upon the circumstances of each local authority, the cost of building, which varies, and the rent or rate policy which the local authority adopts.

19.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what is now the value of the notional house upon which his standard of subsidy is based: and since what date such value has been accepted for this purpose.

One thousand five hundred and eighty-three pounds was taken as the latest available figure for the notional house when the local authority associations were consulted on 21st June.

Regional Organisations

20.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government to give an assurance that he will not abolish the present regional organisations for housing and planning.

Proposals for the gradual closing of these regional offices over a period are at present under consideration.

Does the Minister know that last week his Parliamentary Secretary said that he had not decided one way or the other on this matter? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if he closes these regional organisations it will create great hardship especially for the small local authorities?

May I ask my right hon. Friend not to be deflected from his policy of closing regional organisations where-ever he can?

Hornchurch

23.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government why his Department has limited the building programme of the Hornchurch Urban Disttrict Council to 124 houses during the present housing year.

This council has always been hampered by shortage of developed sites. This difficulty is now being partially overcome. They were given authority for an additional 74 houses and flats on 5th July.

Is not the Minister aware that when there was a Labour administration, as there is now again, in Horn-church, no fewer than 500 to 600 houses for letting were built every year, and that the council is prepared to put up that number, that sites are fully developed with roads for this purpose, and that his Department obstinately refuses to grant them any licence while 600 to 700 private houses are in the course of erection?

I understand that the difficulty was that of obtaining developed sites.

If I can show the Minister that developed sites are available, will he receive a deputation from the council which will bring plans and show him exactly where sewers and roads have already been laid?

I should be happy to receive a deputation whether it can show me that or not.

Can the right hon. Gentleman answer the important point made by my hon. and learned Friend? Private enterprise has been given its head to an ex tent that the local authority has not. Will he say why he is specially favouring private enterprise and here, as with Lambeth, bringing his hand down and cutting the local authority?

The circumstances vary in each locality. I can only remind the right hon. Gentleman that both houses to let and houses for private occupation are much larger in number now than they have ever been under his Administration.

Surely the right hon. Gentleman ought to tell the House in truth that this is the smallest allocation of houses ever allowed to the Hornchurch Urban District Council, and that they have built far more houses than this in any year except the last year when he himself said that: the Conservative Administration were prevented by purely local considerations from building more?

The hon. and learned Gentleman had better give this information to the deputation.

24.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether, in view of the limitation of licences for new building imposed by him on the Hornchurch Urban District Council, he will reconsider his decision to require the council to return all requisitioned property by the end of October.

I have allowed the council until the end of next January to terminate the requisitions they hold. They have assured me that they should be able to do this.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say, first, whether it was the old Conservative council or the new Labour one that told him this? Secondly, does the right hon. Gentleman realise that every one of the houses he has licensed them to build would not be enough to house the people who would be turned out of the derequisitioned houses, let alone to house any of the 2,000 or so families on the housing list?

My information is that there are about 90 families in requisitioned properties.

Building Standards, Blackburn

26.

asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government why he has refused to confirm a building byelaw of the Blackburn Borough Council laying down a minimum ceiling height of eight feet for habitable rooms, in view of the smoke-laden humid atmosphere and low sunshine record in the town.

Health in living rooms depends not on ceiling heights alone but also on adequate ventilation, floor area and window space. Even considering the conditions in Blackburn, I do not think it necessary to insist on a minimum height greater than the seven feet six inches, which is now almost universally applicable.

Is the Minister aware that a minimum of eight feet has been in operation in Blackburn since 1934 and that the council strongly protests against this reduction of building standards, especially as the right hon. Gentleman announced on 13th April a concession for three other Lancashire councils, including Wigan and Farnworth, whose climatic conditions do not differ in any way from those at Blackburn?

Is the Minister aware that the Blackburn Borough Council will greatly deplore that frivolous reply and that they asked him to allow them to stand by the building standards which have been in operation in the area for many years? Will he reconsider the position in view of the low sunshine record and the humidity in the area?

This is contrary to the technical advice which I have received from the London School of Hygiene and other people whom I have consulted. I have made one or two concessions, but they were exceptional.

In view of the unsatisfactory and frivolous nature of the reply, I give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.