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Housing Bill

Volume 643: debated on Wednesday 28 June 1961

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As amended (in the Standing Committee and on recommittal), further considered.

Clause 30—(Application Of S 29 And Restriction On Contracting Out)

3.45 p.m.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs
(Mr. Henry Brooke)

I beg to move, in page 29, line 40 to leave out from "the" to "being" in line 41 and to insert "passing of this Act".

I think that it would be for the convenience of the House if we considered, at the same time, the remaining three Amendments on the Notice Paper, the first in the name of the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) in line 40, to leave out from "the" to "being" in line 41 and to insert:

"eighth day of November, nineteen hundred and sixty"
and the other two in the name of the Minister, in page 30, line 21, to leave out "on or" and in line 21, to leave out from "the" to "would" in line 22 and to insert "passing of this Act".

Indeed, in the case of the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart), I would have to ask the House to do that, because there is no way of saving it, so it will have to be so discussed.

That would be convenient, Mr. Speaker. The other two Government Amendments are consequential upon the one which I have moved.

In the early hours of this morning we made a number of Amendments to Clause 29, and the question at issue now is simply and solely the date at which Clause 29 should come into effect. We had some discussion of this in Standing Committee and it was argued both ways, some hon. Members wishing to insert an earlier date than the date of introduction of the Bill—which is the date in the Bill at the moment—and others suggesting that it was virtually impossible for anyone who was professionally engaged in these matters to inform himself instantly and precisely the moment the Bill was published, and at once to see that everything he did, or everything he advised his clients to do, was in accordance with that.

In Standing Committee, I expressed the view that we should stick to the date in the Bill. Indeed, I argued both against hon. Members opposite and against my hon. Friends who sought to influence me in one way or the other. But I did say—and other hon. Members made reference to it—that it would be unreasonable to make the date of coming into operation of Clause 29 the date of the original introduction of the Bill if, before the Bill actually passed into law, we amended the Clause.

It may not be unreasonable to expect solicitors and others to obtain copies of Bills immediately they are issued, and, if they see that a particular Clause is to come into operation on the date of presentation of the Bill, to act accordingly and to assume that the Bill will not be amended. But no one, however clever or politically far-sighted, can possibly be expected to anticipate whether Parliament will make Amendments to the Bill before it becomes law, still less what those Amendments will be.

The reason why I am moving this Amendment is because the Amendments which the House agreed to last night will shift the dividing line of the landlord's responsibility and the tenant's responsibility away from where it stood, or appeared to stand, in the Bill as first published. That being so, it seems to the Government that it is not possible to support the proposition that Clause 29 should come into operation from the date when the Bill was first introduced, bearing in mind that the Clause 29 which will pass into law will be materially different from the Clause 29 which was presented to Parliament and was read in the original Bill by solicitors, landlords, tenants and others. The Amendments which we made last night had certain effects which could not have been foreseen either from anything that I said at the beginning of the Session or by reading the terms of the Bill.

Those Amendments, made it perfectly clear for the first time that objects like baths and washbasins would be deemed to be within the landlord's responsibility and, therefore, would be caught, so to speak, by the restrictive provisions of Clause 29. Furthermore, the Amendments made it clear that a landlord would be specifically responsible for all heating installations, whether they were for heating rooms or heating water, that is to say, domestic boilers and geysers and other fixed gas or electric water heaters, radiators and built-in electric fires.

From neither my words in the debate at the beginning of the Session, nor from the Bill as it stands, could it be deduced that those would necessarily be deemed to be the landlord's responsibilities when the Bill left the House, and, in due course, when it received the Royal Assent.

I have been extremely anxious not to make this legislation retrospective, but to bring it into force at the earliest possible time. Having carefully considered it, I came to the conclusion that we would be leaving ourselves open to a legitimate charge that we were legislating retrospectively if we brought into operation from a date in February a Clause whose final form nobody could possibly have seen before a date at the end of June.

It is for that reason and that reason only that the Government have decided to move this series of Amendments which will cause Clause 29 to operate not from the date of presentation of the Bill, in February, but from the date when it receives the Royal Assent. Fortunately, so far as I can tell, the insertion of the date in February brought to a full stop the practice, which was going on in a few quarters, of seeking to put what I call responsibilities for permanent repairs of a structural or major kind on to the short-term tenant. That has stopped and I do not see that there is perceptible risk of it starting again when everybody knows that this new Clause 29, which is capable of further amendment in another place—who can tell?—

None of us can be absolutely certain about what will happen between now and the time when the Bill reaches the Statute Book.

I concluded that the risk of that malpractice starting up again in that short intervening period would be negligible and would certainly be outweighed by the serious charge of deception which could be brought against Parliament it we sought to make effective from a date in February a Clause whose final form could not have been anticipated until a date in June.

Nothing more lies behind the series of Amendments. If we had not amended Clause 29, I would have resisted Amendments on Report to shift the date either forwards or backwards, but, having amended the Clause on Report, the Government are quite clear that the proper and right thing to do is to make Clause 29 operate from the date of the passing of the Bill.

The Minister has argued legalistically in support of this Amendment. This is a matter which has to be treated more widely than that, and considered not only on the basis of legalism but on the basis of justice and public policy. The whole question arises from the fact that agreements between landlords and tenants have been made in recent years and have been of a kind which ought never to have been made, agreements shifting the responsibility for major repairs on to the tenants even when there is a short-term lease.

Our objection, and the Minister's objection, to agreements of that kind is, first, that they are unfair, and, secondly, that they are bad for the property, because it must be known to any landlord who makes such agreements that the probable result is that the repairs will never get done. This was an evil in that it was an injustice to persons and an injury to property. It was an evil which arose directly from the Rent Act, 1957, because landlords were able to get these unreasonable agreements signed because of the enormous bargaining power which was put into their hands when rents were decontrolled in the present state of demand and supply of housing accommodation. We all know that that is so and in this Clause and all the discussions around it we have all been engaged in trying to pick up and repair the crockery which the Minister himself smashed when he piloted the Rent Act through the House.

We drew the Minister's attention to this evil last autumn, when many of my hon. Friends and I waged a campaign about the second outburst of Rent Act evils which occurred when the three-year agreements made in 1957 began to run out. Of all the evils resulting from the Rent Act which we then drew to his attention, only this produced an impression on him. The result of that impression was that he clearly warned landlords in his speech in the debate on the Gracious Speech on 8th November that legislation of this kind would be introduced. It is in the light of those facts that we have to ask ourselves, as these agreements are to be prohibited in future, how far back that prohibition should date.

We argued in Committee—and it still seems reasonable—that the prohibition should go back to the origin of the evil, to the date of the passing of the Rent Act itself. These agreements came into existence because Parliament, on the Minister's advice, passed an Act which allowed a social evil to grow up. The landlords who took advantage of that situation were inflicting an injury on their tenants and on the country, because of the effects on the state and upkeep of property. It was something which ought never to have been allowed and Parliament ought now to take the opportunity to repair as much of the damage as it can. That is why we argued in Committee that the date of the prohibition should go back to 1957, to the date of the Rent Act itself.

As we expected, the Government resisted that Amendment—I say no more about that now—and we were thus obviously prevented from raising that identical question on Report. Let us consider the alternatives which now lie before us. Another date to which the prohibition might be put back is that which the Minister himself recommended in the first place-16th February, the date of the publication of the Bill.

The reason for dating it so far back should be obvious enough to anyone who is aware of the problem. If a Bill is introduced on 16th February containing a prohibition of this kind, and the prohibition does not become operative until July or August, inescapably there is a rush by landlords to draw up as many agreements of this kind as they can before Parliament finally prevents them. Because of their bargaining power under the Rent Act they are in a position to carry through just such a rush.

4.0 p.m.

The Minister knows about what is called creeping decontrol, the fact that whenever a new tenancy arises with an uncontrolled tenancy the landlord is in a position to impose on the tenant an agreement of this kind. I do not suppose that a day passes without a tenant facing a demand of this kind. It is a case of, "If you want a roof over your head, sign an agreement which everyone knows is unjust, which is bad for the property, and which, in a month or two, Parliament will forbid".

The Minister says that his information is that since the Bill was published in February attempts to make agreements of this kind have stopped. How can he know that? What is the source of information from which an extraordinarily general negative statement of that kind can be derived? Is he so certain that advantage will not be taken of the remaining stages of the Bill to redouble the rush to put through agreements of this kind?

The case for dating this prohibition back to at least 16th February was unanswerable, as the Minister knew very well when he put the date in the Bill originally. He also knew that it was unanswerable when he argued against the Amendment moved by his hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), in Committee upstairs. Why has the Minister changed his mind? This was really the substance of his speech. He said, "I have changed my mind. I will allow agreements of this kind to go on being made until the Act is on the Statute Book because we have changed the nature of the Clause. We have altered the definition of what may or may not be allowed in the agreement".

Let us consider the nature of those changes. First, I had better clear up one point. I said in Committee upstairs that if we made changes in Clause 29 which took us further than the general idea of placing on landlords responsibilities which, in common sense, belonged to them, then there would be a case for not making the provisions retrospective. Perhaps I might quote what I said so that there can be no mistake about it. I said:
"Suppose Parliament makes further alterations in Clause 29. I have been arguing—I think correctly—that everybody likely to be concerned had good reason to know that the law was being altered in a way that would put the responsibility for major repairs in short leases where it properly belongs—on the landlord. Everyone knew that general proposition.
So far, in the wording of Clause 29 or in any Amendment to it that might be made, we have been within the ambit of that general proposition. If it were now proposed to make changes in Clause 29 which would go much further than that and put upon the landlord obligations which nobody who had studied the paragraph in the Queen's Speech or the remarks of the Minister could reasonably have supposed them to imply, there would be a case; provisions of that kind ought not to come into force until the Bill was passed into law. While, however, Clause 29 remains within the ambit of that general proposition which I have enunciated—the general proposition that the responsibility for major repairs in short leases should lie on the landlord—nobody can complain that that should come into force at least from the time when the Bill was published."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 13th June, 1961; c. 990–1.]
I stand by every word of what I said there, and no changes made or proposed to be made in Clause 29 have taken us outside the ambit of that general proposition. When one considers the changes which have been made, one finds that they amount to no more than this, that they spell out rather more precisely what was clearly implied, though in less precise language, in the original wording of Clause 29.

There are two points on which it might be suggested that there has been a change. One is the specific inclusion of an appliance for space heating and water heating. Let us be quite clear about this. This does not apply to any movable appliances which may belong to the tenant and which he can pick up and take away when he goes. It does not apply to a portable electric fire. It applies, as the Minister said, to such things as the geyser and the radiator—in effect, permanent parts of the house. Is the Minister or anyone else going to say that those things would not reasonably be understood to be within the meaning of the words "principal installations"?

That is all that has happened. It has been spelt out for anyone who might choose to be awkward that the words "principal installations" when applied to heating mean what any reasonable person would have supposed them to mean. We cannot imagine that any landlord can complain and say, "When I read what the Minister said in November, and when I saw the Bill, I had no idea that it was wrong to make the tenant responsible for anything that might happen to the heating system or to the radiators". That is one change.

What is the other? When one sorts out the complexity of the Amendments, it amounts to no more than this, that it is now made clear that the landlord is to be responsible for wash-basins, sinks and baths. And why not? I would have thought that one's bath was a principal installation in the house. If anyone suggests that a sink is not a principal installation, he should try living for a time in a dwelling without a sink.

That is the sum total of the changes. That is all the justification the Minister can show for going back on the argument he put before the Committee upstairs, and giving landlords two or three months more in which to bully tenants into making unjust agreements. The Minister says that if we do not give them that opportunity we shall be practising deception. What right has any landlord who tries to put an agreement of this kind on his tenant to talk about being deceived? He who seeks equity must do equity. I wonder whether there is to be found anywhere a landlord who has been thrusting this agreement on to his tenant who would be impudent enough to come forward and say, "I have been deceived. I thought that I was to be allowed to go on injuring the country's stock of property and oppressing my tenant for another three months, but now it is not to be allowed". Is that the sort of plea to which the House is being asked to listen?

We ought to notice what the Minister said when he gave his reasons for rejecting an Amendment substantially the same as the one he is now defending. He was resisting the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Crosby. He said:
"A statement in quite general terms was made in the Gracious Speech in November. This Bill was introduced in February. The proposition here—the proposition which I hope the Committee will uphold—is that these Clauses of the Bill should come into operation from the date of publication because it would be wrong to offer an invitation to those concerned with these matters to put into a lease or contract something—provided that it was done before the Bill reached the Statute Book—of which Parliament was in process of expressing its disapproval."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 13th June, 1961; c. 994.]
That is exactly the invitation that the Minister is now offering them. The hon. Member for Crosby has had his way.

At the close of one of the many meetings of the Standing Committee I remember engaging in a casual conversation with some of my hon. Friends, the subject of which was whether we could have a worse Minister of Housing and Local Government than the right hon. Gentleman. He will be gratified to know that, in the light of what we had heard and seen in Committee, I took the view that we could; we might have the hon. Member for Crosby. I now recognise that those of my hon. Friends who argued that when it came to the point there was not all that difference were quite right. We find the Minister's surrender graciously acknowledged by his hon. Friend the Member for Crosby, who has put his name to the Minister's Amendment. Indeed, the scholarly lips of the Parliamentary Secretary are spelling the words non tali auxilio, which I can best translate as "Spare us from our friends."

Does not the hon. Member agree that that, whatever the merits of his case, it is highly undesirable that Parliament should pass retrospective legislation?

I do not think that the hon. Member has grasped the point. We pass retrospective legislation—in the sense that it achieves retrospection—every year, when we allow decisions made on Budget day to have the force of law from that moment, and do not enact them on the Statute Book until months later.

Does not the hon. Member agree that that is a generally accepted exception, whereas this is a specific instance where we are trying to alter retrospectively one aspect of the law?

No. If the hon. Member will study the Bill he will see that those parts which relate to subsidy provisions arrange that they shall apply to housing projects on which local authorities shall have entered before 16th February, despite the fact that the Bill is not yet on the Statute Book. Those arrangements which give legal effect to provisions from the date of the announcement of the Budget, the ones referring to subsidies in the Bill, and this one, as originally justified by the Minister, are made for the very good reason that if we do not make them we are creating a public mischief, because we allow people to obtain an advantage out of doing something which is anti-social during the months in which the Bill is being passed into law. That was the argument accepted by the Minister. He does not stand where the hon. Member for Clapham (Dr. Glyn) is endeavouring to stand on this point.

That brings me to my Amendment, which we are also discussing. That Amendment would back-date the provision to 8th November, 1960, and I shall show shortly why I choose that date. I refer to it at this point because I think that the Minister's own arguments in Committee show why we ought not to allow or encourage a rush to make agreements between the date when people could reasonably have known what was coming and the date when the Bill will be on the Statute Book. If we accept that principle, surely it takes us back to the day on which the Minister made a clear and unequivocal announcement for any landlord interested in the matter—and any landlord ought to have been interested in the matter—to see and to understand. If we do not back-date it, as the Amendment suggests, to 8th November last, we shall have been conniving in the rush of those agreements that have been going on through these months.

Shrortly before the debate began my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter), who, I hope, may catch your eye during the course of the debate, Mr. Speaker, drew my attention to a letter he had received from his local authority. That authority, in the course of executing its public health duties, found that there was a proliferation of these agreements which put the responsibility for major repairs upon the tenant in the case of a short lease, with the result that property was not being repaired at all, and an ever heavier burden was falling on the public authority trying to discharge its public health duties. We urge the necessity for the House to clear itself of any connivance in that sort of thing—any sharing of the guilt which belongs to landlords who have made that kind of agreement.

I took the 8th November particularly, rather than the day on which the terms of the Gracious Speech became known, because it was on 8th November that the Minister himself pronounced on the matter. In the OFFICIAL REPORT for that day the Minister describes the provision as arising in connection with the kind of agreement which would put on to the tenant responsibility for major repairs, even when the lease is short. He said:
"In the ordinary case a tenant who is holding on a short-term tenancy ought not to be asked to take on that sort of responsibility. No responsible landlord who took an interest in his property would ever ask that. Not only would it be quite unfair for him to do so, but he would know that the repairs would not get done."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th November, 1960; Vol. 629, c. 865.]
That is true—and it is as true now as it was when the Minister said it.

If we accept the Minister's Amendment, which is a surrender to the hon. Member for Crosby, and rejects our Amendment, we shall, as the Minister said in Committee, be doing something that would be wrong and, as he said on 8th November, we shall be doing it for the benefit of unreasonable and unfair landlords.

4.15 p.m.

I want to comment on the Amendment standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart), and to give it my full support. My hon. Friend has put very clearly the point raised with me by my local council. The correspondence that I have received from the Feltham Urban District Council informs me that the council made representations to the Minister that the Housing Bill should be suitably amended so as to provide that landlords of property should be responsible for the repairs of such property which is the subject of a lease or tenancy agreement prior to 16th February, 1961.

A letter was sent to the Ministry on 27th June, setting out the council's representations, which are the result of a report by its chief public health inspector to its public health committee, on the question of what action should be taken in respect of repairs to property when tenants are responsible for the repairs, including, on occasions, external and structural repairs, as well as other matters. The council appreciates that the position has to some extent been covered by the provisions of Clause 29, but it feels that these could be extended to leases or tenancy agreements prior to 16th February.

This is a very important matter to many tenants who recently, have signed agreements making them responsible for outside repairs, structural alterations and major repair work. I do not think that it was the Minister's intention that tenants should be faced with the responsibility for the outside repair of property, including the repair of roofs, etc., and for structural alterations in short-term leases, or tenancy agreements. Therefore, I hope that he will consider the matter.

Surely there is a loophole here. We all know the heartbreaking job that many people have in trying to find accommodation, and as the Bill will not receive the Royal Assent before a waiting period there may well be many people who, in their search for houses and flats, may be forced to sign a three-year agreement or tenancy lease in which they undertake to carry out outside structural alterations which should be the landlord's responsibility.

These agreements are being made every day. Therefore, the period which may elapse before the Bill receives the Royal Assent is very important, and I support the Feltham Urban District Council's request that Section 29 should be extended to agreements or tenancy agreements prior to 16th February, 1961. The public health inspector's action in drawing the attention of the Feltham Urban District Council's Public Health Committee to the state of some of these properties was responsible for the council making representations to the Ministry.

The Minister is aware of the struggle of people seeking accommodation. Between now and the Bill becoming law they will be forced to sign short leases or agreements which will render them liable to be faced with heavy charges for work which ought to be carried out by the landlord. Many tenants do not have the opportunity of legal advice and it is the duty of this House to protect them.

I give this Amendment my full support, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham for the courageous manner in which he has raised this matter today.

I feel that I would be failing in my duty to my constituents if I did not take this opportunity of expressing my amazement and disgust at the attitude of the Minister in this matter. Those are strong words, and I use them advisedly. It is sometimes said of lawyers that they can state the case on both sides equally well. But when they state a case they are not stating their own case. They are merely mouthpieces for their clients, putting their client's case in the best possible way.

However, I find it exceedingly distasteful when a politician expresses in Committee a very strong view on a certain matter and then in a short time completely throws that view overboard and adopts the opposite. I really am amazed and, as I said, I find it very distasteful.

That is what the Minister has done. I know that he has endeavoured to protect himself by talking about an amendment to Clause 29, but my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) illustrated quite clearly that there is no question whatever of any substantial amendment to Clause 29. One may well be forgiven for thinking and deducing from the attitude of the Minister that he has had pressure exerted upon him from certain quarters and has, therefore, given in as he has done.

The Gracious Speech on 1st November said quite clearly:
"A Bill will be introduced to amend the law relating to the respective responsibility for repairs as between landlords and tenants on short-term tenancies."
In the debate that followed the Gracious Speech the Minister made certain remarks which have been quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham and which I need not repeat. But I remind the House that the statement in the Queen's Speech followed repeated complaints by hon. Members on this side of the House about the harsh terms relating to repairs that were imposed by landlords upon tenants on short-term tenancies. That was followed by a warning from the Minister about unscrupulous landlords and the steps that he would take.

Any reasonable person would, therefore, have understood that there was pending legislation that would impose upon landlords a responsibility for repairs in the case of short-term tenancies. It may be that the precise terms were not stated in the Gracious Speech, but obviously, to say the least, a reference was intended to the obligation Do repair the structure and the external parts of the house and matters of that kind.

It was, therefore, no surprise when Clause 30 appeared in the Bill. What was a surprise, however, was that Clause 30 contained the date of liability as from 16th February, 1961. When one remembers that long before that tenants were at the mercy of landlords, when one remembers the harsh terms that were often imposed and also the condemnation made by the Minister himself with regard to such matters, one would have thought that he would have sought at as early a date as possible to undo the mischief which he himself created by his Rent Act, and that at least the date would have been, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham proposes, 8th November, 1960. But the Minister did not do this.

The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) moved in the Committee an Amendment to substitute the words:
"The date upon which this Act shall come into force"—
very much on the same lines as the Amendment which the Minister has moved today.

I have read carefully the debate which took place in the Committee and there is not the slightest doubt—I am sure the Minister cannot dispute it—that he refuted the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Crosby in no uncertain way. He said quite definitely that he could not accept that position. He said it was quite unfair that anyone should take advantage of this period, so to speak. Indeed, he rested himself upon the fact that the only way in which he could possibly consider any change in his attitude would be if there was a substantial amendment to the terms of Clause 29.

The Minister, having said that, having completely rejected the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Crosby, now comes to the House and, by specious argument, attempts to show that he is justified in his change of attitude because there has been a change in the wording of Clause 29. I do not want to go into this in great detail; I do not want to repeat what my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham has said, but it is absurd for the Minister to say that there has been any substantial amendment of the terms of Clause 29.

Is the Minister going to suggest that because of the words "wash-basins and heating" there has been a substantial change in the obligation upon the landlord? It is sheer nonsense. The obligation upon the landlord was clear, and all we have had has been some slight alterations which lie well within the ambit of the words in Clause 29. I cannot for the life of me believe in the sincerity of the statement that the position has been altered because of a substantial amendment of the obligation imposed by Clause 29. In my view, the Minister is just eating his words, the words he used in Committee. I do not wonder that sometimes the ordinary person thinks that the ways of a politician are somewhat curious.

4.30 p.m.

By this Amendment the Minister is giving an opportunity to unscrupulous landlords to take advantage of the period between now and the date of the passing of this Act to place onerous obligations on tenants and to get away with it. It is no good the Minister saying that it is only a short period and that no one is likely to do it. We know very well that if an unscrupulous landlord has the opportunity of doing this sort of thing—and can do it quite legally and in a sense at the invitation of the Minister—he will do it. The Minister opens the door in that way to any bare-faced act of that kind on the part of the landlord.

I think that it was argued by the hon. Member for Crosby that if a landlord imposes terms the tenant can refuse, but that is sheer rubbish. The bargaining is unequal. The tenant is in his home where he may have been for many years and he finds the greatest difficulty in getting other accommodation. He has to submit to the demands of the landlord. He is at the mercy of the landlord in that way. I repeat that I consider this matter disgraceful. I think that the Minister behaved badly in the way he has acted. I hope that the House will recognise how disgraceful it is by rejecting his Amendment. I only wish that it was in order to accept the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham.

I wish to detain the House a few minutes to consider this matter, because I regard it as one of some gravity and importance. To some extent the good faith of the Minister is involved.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) said that he doubted the sincerity of the Minister when he made his statement at the Dispatch Box today. I share those doubts. I hope that before we pass this Amendment the Minister will answer the doubts which have been expressed. I want to examine very carefully the process of change which took place in the mind of the Minister. There is no doubt that he has made a complete reversal of the policy he gave out to the House and the country in March last.

On this matter the right hon. Gentleman has turned completely over. He told the House on 27th March, when dealing with Clauses 29 and 30:
"… there is the point of timing."
That is what this is all about, whether the provisions should operate as from 16th February last, or from the passing of the Bill. That is the point on which the Minister has changed his mind, the question of timing.

The right hon. Gentleman went on to say:
"These provisions will apply to leases granted after the date of the introduction of this Bill."
That was his first statement, which was clearly made and no one could doubt what he intended. The provisions of Clauses 29 and 30 were to operate as from 16th February last. Then the Minister went on:
"I do not like retrospective legislation."
Many of us share that dislike.

The hon. Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn) said today that he thought it wrong in principle to legislate retrospectively. We agree with him, but on this particular matter the Minister had accepted the need in the circumstances for retrospective legislation. We are not now dealing with whether or not we should legislate retrospectively, but with the Minister's change of front. The Minister accepted on 27th March that retrospective legislation on this matter was necessary and justified because of the havoc which landlords were creating among defenceless tenants.

The Minister continued:
"and I do not believe that the mischief at which this is aimed is so widespread that it would be right to go back beyond that date."
That date was 16th February, but the Minister made it clear to the country and the House that he intended to stamp on these people whom he has described in lurid language.

The Minister added:
"But … I do not intend to give unscrupulous landlords a chance to make mischief between the date of publication of the Bill and the date when it comes into force."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 27th March, 1961; Vol. 637, c. 976.]
That was the Minister's case on Second Reading and the country and the House accepted it. Hon. Members on both sides accepted it. The Minister had decided to deal with these people. He has told hon. Members at various times that these people are acting anti-socially and that he would like to deal with them. On 27th March he gave the pledge to the country and the House that he would deal with them and that would be as from the date of the introduction of the Bill.

The next stage was when the Bill went to Standing Committee and the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) moved his Amendment in almost identical terms to the Amendment on the Notice Paper today in the name of the right hon. Gentleman. There is the link-up. I have said that I doubt the good faith of the Minister on this matter. I hope that he will remove my doubt before this discussion ends. He seems to have given in to the hon. Member for Crosby and possibly to the Property Owners' Association. There are interests in this House directly connected with that Association. Subject to any further explanation the Minister might give, it seems on the face of it that he has collapsed under pressure from vested interests who deal in property speculation.

The Minister rejected out of hand the Amendment moved in Committee by the hon. Member for Crosby. He would have nothing to do with it, but today he used these words as his excuse for his change of position. In rejecting the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Crosby in Standing Committee, the Minister said:
"Were substantial alterations to be made to the Clause at a later stage of the Bill, the question of date would, in fairness to all concerned, have to be re-examined."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 13th June, 1961; c. 997.]
The right hon. Gentleman relied on that statement made in Standing Committee when trying today to present his case for a change of date. He quoted his words, but left out the word "substantial". He quoted himself in Standing Committee and said "if changes were made." Actually, the words used in Standing Committee referred to "substantial" changes. We have to see whether substantial changes have been made in this Clause.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) dealt with this. He took the Amendments which have been made to the Clause one by one. I think that he made it quite clear that the Amendments so far made were merely Amendments of drafting and redefinition. Instead of leaving in a general phrase about fittings, the Minister has amended the Clause to specify those fittings. That is about as far as the Amendments have gone. There have been no substantial changes in this Clause to justify him saying that he can change his mind about the date.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman realises that not only to this House, but to the country and to poor people who cannot defend themselves against unscrupulous landlords, and also to the Press generally, he owes an explanation. In the light of his first statement on the matter, I very much doubt whether he is acting as a Minister should act in such a situation.

I want to deal with the point at which the Minister changed his mind, because to me it is a very vital point, and I agree that the good name of the Minister is at stake. In the Clause that we amended in Committee we wrote in certain details about what was or was not essential to leases of tenancy. I remember that we wrote in something about fire and tempest, and so on. That, however, is pure detail. We did, however, dispose of the Clause, and the Minister, like the other members of the Committee, was at that time knowledgeable of the changes that had been effected in Clause 29.

If the Minister, as the executive officer, as it were, at that time was not completely in possesion of the changes that had been made and which he quite rightly felt would be ultimately incorporated in the Act, why at that stage did he than proceed to say:
"Were substantial alterations to be made to the Clause at a later stage to the Bill, the question of date would, in fairness to all concerned, have to be re-examined."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 13th June, 1961; c. 997.]
The Bill at that time had already taken shape. I shall not enter into the argument whether there have been major or minor alterations. I am trying to get at the mind of the Minister. Having seen the alterations take place, I addressed myself at that time to whether major alterations had been made. The Committee had no information at all that the Minister had been influenced in any way from his earlier position. I am very surprised to see on the Amendment Paper the words which we are asked to put into the Bill today. My views about this are quite obvious. Apart from the merits of the matter, I feel that the Minister should, in terms of justice and equity, come forward with a fuller explanation in order to clear himself and give us more convincing information on why he has changed his mind.

I was not a member of the Standing Committee. Obviously, I cannot be expected to have followed all the details and the activities of the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). I have, however, sat on similar Committees and I realise what happens. In many cases there is obviously pressure from people who are interested in property, who openly state their interest, and property owners' associations have had and undoubtedly always will have an effect on the Minister of the time who is dealing with housing.

The point to which I want particularly to draw attention is this. I have no doubt that the Minister will remember the deputation of London Members of Parliament, which he courteously received, during the passing of the Rent Act, when we talked about the operation of the three years' agreement. He will, no doubt, remember that his attention was drawn to many cases of owners of property forcing tenants to accept certain responsibilities. Many of the tenants were elderly people who did not understand the ramifications of the law, did not understand leases, had never had necessity to consider the implications of words in leases, and who were faced with a three years' agreement. In my own constituency I found that landlords were endeavouring to pass on to tenants responsibility even for defective drainage.

4.45 p.m.

The Minister, I remember quite distinctly, asked us to let him have details of such cases that may have arisen in our constituencies. I am not saying that the Minister was submerged by a large number of cases as bad as those I am picturing this afternoon. I can say that such cases did arise and are still arising. I still meet constituents whose three-year agreements, have expired and who are now having to face the implications of further agreements. I ask the Minister to realise that he is not dealing with people who can command the best legal brains to advise them. I as a Member of Parliament have to be very careful in advising my constituents to ensure that I do not impinge on the domain of my legal friends, both in the House and outside. I am, however, convinced that there are still many people, particularly in the London boroughs, who are suffering as a consequence of the imposition of the responsibility for repairs which I do not believe were even visualised by the Minister.

What is the Minister doing now, after the speeches which he made and which we applauded when he drew attention to the fact that in his view landlords generally were not so bad as I believe they are, but had to admit that there were unscrupulous people, and drew the attention of the country to the fact that these people were operating in this important sphere? He said then that he would take action against them. What has happened? While he was then considering the possibility of it being illegal to inflict these responsibilities upon existing tenants, he now, by this proposal, is making it legal for landlords to do that until the proposed Act becomes operative.

Constituents come to me and say, "We have had a month's notice to quit. The landlords say that we have to be responsible for the whole of the repairs, responsible for combined drainage, because the public health service authority has served a notice on us, we, the tenants, have to undertake the repair and maintenance of all these things" The Minister is saying today that provided it is done before the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament it is perfectly legal for the landlord to make those demands.

I am surprise at the hon. Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn), who represents a London constituency and who must be faced with some of these implications, talking about retrospective legislation. What has that to do with it? This arises mainly from the action of the Government through the Rent Act, 1957.

I am not in the least suggesting that these excessive demands should continue: in fact, that is exactly what the Bill is designed to stop. All I am saying is that I disapprove of retrospective legislation, or, in other words, having to vitiate a large number of contracts made between the time of the introduction of the Bill and its becoming law. Generally, on the merits of the case, we are all agreed that excessive demands should be removed, and that is one of the things that we are trying to do.

All I can say to the hon. Member is that apparently he takes the view that however bad it is for a certain Act to be carried out, so long as we state a specific date for it, it is quite all right. In my view, the Minister made his view quite clear in the Gracious Speech and even before the Gracious Speech was made. When he met the deputation he quite agreed that this was something which the landlord should not be allowed to do.

I suggest that after the Minister's speeches, after the introduction of the Bill, after the Gracious Speech and statements that the Minister would put matters right, the right hon. Gentleman should remember that many people will suffer as a consequence of what he is doing. On the other hand, the insertion of the date which my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) has proposed would not necessarily harm the property owners. I should like to do a lot more to them. However, in the interests of decency, the date proposed by my hon. Friend should be inserted in order to give some protection to those who are forced to live in property owned by others.

I rise to draw attention to the ingratitude of the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). He has secured one of the most tremendous victories gained in this Parliament. He was handsomely turned down by the right hon. Gentleman in Committee. In fact, he said that he withdrew his Amendment only out of a sense of chivalry towards my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) so that my hon. Friend's Amendment could be voted on rather than his own. Now, the hon. Member for Crosby has in the most offensive and patronising way shown that he acquiesces in the Amendment moved by the Minister by putting his name to the Amendment so that, if the Minister had said that he wished not to move the Amendment himself, the hon. Member for Crosby could even then have saved the victory. It just proves what an adroit Parliamentarian he is, but he might at least have shown gratitude and expressed his thanks in the most effusive way to the Minister for having belatedly none the less certainly accepted his view.

In the circumstances, I am not inclined to say anything hard about the Minister. The treatment he has received from the hon. Member for Crosby and the way in which the Notice Paper has expressed the contempt the hon. Member has for him is, I think, a sufficient indication that, in the end, evil deeds do not go unpunished.

I am one of the victims of what we are discussing. I have a three-year agreement. The time came when it ended and I had to face the fact that, if I did not agree with what the landlord wanted, I should have to put myself to the inconvenience of moving. The increased rent was substantial, and some other things happened as well. One knows that, in the circumstances of today, most people are in a disadvantageous position when arguing with the landlord about these matters. The scriptural injunction to agree with one's adversary while he is on the way with one ought not lightly to be overlooked. There are hundreds of poor people who will, as a result of the Government Amendment now before us, be put in an indefensible position although, by his action in Committee, the Minister appeared to give them a safeguard.

I am not sure where the argument about retrospective legislation comes in. Today, we are doing something retrospectively which alters the position of poor people. Very rarely in the history of the House of Commons in the conflict between poor tenants and landlords have the poor tenants received much consideration. History is to repeat itself today.

I should like to vote for the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, but, of course, as Mr. Speaker carefully explained, we shall not have that opportunity because, no announcement having been made from the Government Front Bench, and the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) being on the alert, we may rest assured that the Minister's Amendment will be carried. Therefore, I shall not have the opportunity of supporting my hon. Friend. I hope at least to be able to show my disapproval of the policy of the Minister and the ingratitude of the hon. Member for Crosby by voting against the Amendment to which they have jointly put their names.

Since the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has so misinterpreted my action, I rise to put on record my gratitude to my right hon. Friend for this Amendment.

On this Clause, hon. Members opposite have stood with haloes round their heads. I ask them to recollect that the first complaint, as far as I remember, about landlords imposing structural repair covenants on tenants came from myself in Standing Committee on the Landlord and Tenant (Temporary Provisions) Bill in 1958. It had not been mentioned before in the House or in Committee.

I myself mentioned it in the House on the introduction of a Private Member's Bill before the Landlord and Tenant (Temporary Provisions) Bill was thought of. I was not the only Member on this side of the House to raise the matter.

If it was on a Private Member's Bill, I withdraw what I said. My recollection is that it was raised by me first on a Public Bill in the Standing Committee. I recollect pleading then that something could or should be done about the imposition of structural repair covenants on tenants. I was satisfied that the terms of the Landlord and Tenant (Temporary Provisions) Bill gave some relief to tenants in such cases.

My objection is in no way to the relief of the tenant from a structural repair or exterior repair Clause such as Clause 29. My objection to Clause 30 as it stood, dating back to February, was that this was a form of legislation by Queen's Speech or legislation by Ministerial announcement. We were told in argument in support of that date that everyone ought to have known about it from the Queen's Speech, everyone ought to have known from what the Minister had said in the House, and everyone ought to have known from the Second Reading debate on the Bill. But that is not the way to legislate.

The hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) referred to the Budget. Of course, everyone knows about the Budget. Everyone reads about the Budget. Are we not taking a great conceit to ourselves if we think that everyone reads a Housing Bill when it is published, that every professional man reads it and knows how to change the covenants in the leases he may be drawing in his office? In the Chamber now there are one or two practising solicitors. The sort of picture which the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) drew of the negotiation of leases during the past few months is so unreal as to be fantastic and ridiculous. We know in practice how leases are negotiated and discussed, how the terms of leases go to and fro between the parties and are eventually settled on the basis of the rent being paid.

Is not the hon. Member aware that the three-year agreements about which we are talking are sent out by estate agents on behalf of property owners? It is not a matter of solicitor and solicitor but of estate agent to tenant, saying, "Unless …".

It is not those three-year agreements that we are talking about here. I join with the hon. Member in condemning three-year agreements of that kind. I condemned the way in which they were made at the time of, or shortly after, the passage of the Rent Act. I condemned them in the House and in Committee because they were imposing too heavy a covenant on tenants. What we are talking about is not those three-year agreements but any agreement made since February last or, as in the terms of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Fulham, since November last. There has been no such spate of pressure by landlords during that period as there was after the Rent Act. There has been no need for retrospective legislation—I use that word advisedly—in these cases. It would be altering agreements which have been made since 16th February last with no real justification for so doing.

5.0 p.m.

My objection to the Clause as it stands is not about the merits of whether a covenant should be imposed on a tenant, but because I object to legislation by threat or legislation by announcement in this House to impose an obligation on a person before it is law. We should wait until we know what the Clause states. It has already been altered several times. Therefore, how could anyone on 16th February or 8th November last know to what covenant in his lease he was being bound? The Clause was altered in Committee and by my right hon. Friend's Amendments yesterday. It may well be altered in another place. We must be definite in the obligations which we impose. We can only be definite at the time of the passing of the Measure.

I have delayed rising because I assumed that we should have some kind of speech from either the Minister or from the Parliamentary Secretary. Some pretty grave insinuations have been made about the right hon. Gentleman and his handling of this matter. I should have thought that he would want to deal with the charge which has been made. It is a quite clear charge, namely, that he has been bullied into surrendering and eating the words which he used in Committee.

At least the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) is consistent. He always took the view that it was wrong to anti-date the coming into force of these provisions, however the Bill was amended. But it was after Amendments had been made in Standing Committee that the Minister made the statement which has been quoted, that only in the case of major amendment would it be desirable to bring in later the provisions proposed in the original drafting of the Bill.

We were inclined to feel that the Minister would be bullied in this way by the hon. Member for Crosby, since we all know the fiendish influence which the hon. Gentleman has over him. The Minister will remember that, in commenting on what my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) said, I stated:
"I hope my hon. Friend will allow me to say that I have had more experience of the Minister than he has, and the danger is that he is inclined to accept Amendments from the hon. Member for Crosby. That is very dangerous."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, Standing Committee D, 25th April, 1961; c. 289.]
We begged and pleaded with the right hon. Gentleman to stiffen his backbone a little and not to give way. We thought that we had won the day.

The hon. Gentleman will recollect our sitting here for several hours last night, when my right hon. Friend refused to accept at least half-a-dozen of my Amendments.

Unhappily, there is still another place. We do not know what will happen in the time before the Bill comes back here. We thought that we had surmounted all obstacles when we got this Clause through the Committee, but we were wrong.

It seems to me that there are only two views that can be taken of this. Looking at the matter impartially, no one can seriously believe that the Amendments which have been made to elucidate the definitions amount to a sufficient alteration of the Bill to warrant the postponement of its coming into operation. We may believe that the right hon. Gentleman always intended to give way, that he left the door slightly open in the speech which he made in Committee and then looked round to find an amendment which would give him an excuse for escaping. That is a view which can reasonably be held. I am inclined not to believe it.

I am inclined to believe that there is a more complicated and difficult problem which we have to consider, namely, the Minister's subconscious. He was uneasy and unhappy the whole time. He found himself out of tune with the hon. Member for Crosby. He found himself producing something which was hostile to landlords. He had an uncomfortable feeling that something was wrong somewhere, but he could not see where. By some strange movement of his subconscious there suddenly came the idea, "If I amend the Bill, there will be a get-out". I do not think he actually said that. It was something which was operating in the extraordinary and complex chasm which is the right hon. Gentleman's subconscious.

The hon. Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn) will, I am sure, appreciate that this is not a question of ordinary negotiation of an agreement between a willing tenant and a willing landlord in order to try to reach a reasonable assessment of their relative rights and obligations in the free play of the market and that therefore the Legislature should not interfere by retrospection. That is not this position at all, because we have the right hon. Gentleman's own statement that the proposals against which this Clause legislates are unreasonable and unfair. That is what he said in his speech on the Address way back in November. It has been known since November that that is the view which any respectable and responsible landlord would take, because the right hon. Gentleman said it.

It is quite possible—and the hon. Member for Crosby made this point—that it is unfair to professional men who cannot be expected to know what Parliament is thinking until it is incorporated in an Act. Is that really so? Surely if a person is in the business of dealing in property and making agreements and advising clients on property matters he ought to know about a statement on Government policy for the Session made by the Minister responsible for such matters. This was not a chance aside tossed out in the course of a debate in Committee. This was a statement made by the Minister on behalf of the Government at the time of the debate on the Address. There could not be a more clear-cut and formal occasion for a statement of Government policy than that.

I should have thought that there was as obligation on a professional man to make himself acquainted with what was proposed in legislation altering the rights of landlords and tenants during this Session and to advise his clients accordingly. I do not think the danger is that professional advisers did not know. The danger is that they jolly well did know. Many of them have advised tenants to take advantage of this legislation to improve their position.

As the Minister himself said, we are dealing with provisions which no reasonable tenant would be asked to bear by a reasonable landlord. That is the definition of what is in the Clause. Therefore, what has happened is that we are dealing with a situation in which, under pressure to overtop the balance in favour of the landlord created by the Rent Act, the tenant has had no opportunity of making a free decision.

If ever there was a wily bird to negotiate with, it was my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). If I were a landlord, I should not like to do battle with him. However, he has had to admit that, faced with the stark realities of the situation in which he found himself, he could do nothing but yield. That is the kind of situation in which many tenants have found themselves.

For the right hon. Gentleman to have put a date in the Bill and then subsequently, and at this late stage, to alter the date, hits at the reputable landlord. The really reputable landlord would not have put this into the lease at all, but there are some who are midway who would have put it in, but as soon as they realised that it had been disapproved by the Minister they would have realised that it was not regarded as the right kind of thing to do and they would not have put it in the lease. There are some people, presumably, who have been quietly waiting, and they are now going to have a matter of weeks—I do not know how many weeks—before the Bill receives the Royal Assent. It will be a good many weeks, judging by the chaos and mess in which Government business is at the moment. At any rate, it will not be done quickly, but will take time.

The right hon. Gentleman said that we should not know what this would be like by the time it is finished with in another place, and that the Bill may take some time for its consideration before it comes back here. In all that time, there is a clear invitation by the right hon. Gentleman to the landlords and their professional advisers that they should stick in as tough a repairing clause in the lease as they can and try to get the whole thing tied up for a period up to seven years. If they can do that, they will be safe, but if they wait, they will be caught. Could there be a clearer invitation by the Government to landlords to use their bargaining power in an extortionate way? Could there be a clearer invitation by the Government that these landlords are doing something which the Government regard as unreasonable and unfair, and they are anxious to stop, but, out of deference to the pressure put upon them by the hon. Member for Crosby in this mysterious way—which we on this side of the House could never quite understand—they are allowing the landlords to complete the job before the Bill finally receives the Royal Assent?

What is this secret influence? This is a position which we are constantly

Division No. 228.]


[5.13 p.m.

Abse, LeoBraddock, Mrs. E. M.Crosland, Anthony
Ainsley, WilliamBrockway, A. FormerCrossman, R. H. S.
Albu, AustenBrown, Alan (Tottenham)Cullen, Mrs. Alice
Allaun, Frank (Satford, E.)Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)Darling, George
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)Davies, Harold (Leek)
Awbery, StanButler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)Davies, Ifor (Gower)
Bacon, Miss AliceCallaghan, JamesDavies, S. O. (Merthyr)
Benson, Sir GeorgeCastle, Mrs. BarbaraDeer, George
Blyton, WilliamChetwynd, GeorgeDodds, Norman
Boardman, H.Cliffe, MichaelDonnelly, Desmond
Bowden, Herbert W. (Leics, S.W.)Corbet, Mrs. FredaDriberg, Tom
Bowles, FrankCraddock, George (Bradford, S.)Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John
Boyden, JamesCronin. JohnEde, Rt. Hon. C.

coming up against time and time again in legislation, and it will make an interesting thesis for an independent research student in political history in years to come to write, rather as Professor Douglas Cole did about Place. Somebody will discover the hon. Member for Crosby and will rewrite history in terms of the hideous and monstrous influence he had on the progress of social reform in this country.

It will be longer than a page in history; it will be a doctor's thesis.

This is a shameful and disgraceful exhibition on the Minister's part. He has gone back on what was a clear indication of policy expressed in the Queen's Speech, and enshrined in the original draft of the Bill. He has gone back on it and has virtually made the Clause valueless, because he is now giving the people so long in which to get their ill-gotten gains by using their economic power until there will not be any need to have the Clause in the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman, from his Olympian heights, tells us that it is not being used, and that there is no sign of it happening. How can the Minister possibly know what is going on in the musty confines of solicitors' offices? How can he know what leases are being drafted at the moment? He cannot possibly know that. That is the kind of Olympian statement which he makes when he is in a jam, hoping to convince people that he has knowledge which, in fact, he has not got.

Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill:—

The House divided: Ayes 165, Noes 246.

Edwards, Robert (Bilston)Lipton, MarcusRoberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Edwards, Walter (Stepney)Loughlin, CharlesRobinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Evans, AlbertMcCann, JohnRogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N.)
Fletcher, EricMacColl, JamesRoss, William
Foot, Dingle (Ipswich)McInnes, JamesRoyle, Charles (Salford, West)
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)McKay, John (Wallsend)Shimwell, Rt. Hon. E.
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)McLeavey, FrankShort, Edward
Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. HughMacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Galpern, Sir MyerMallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
George, Lady Megan Lloyd (Crmrthn)Manuel, A. C.Skeffington, Arthur
Greenwood, AnthonyMapp, CharlesSlater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)
Grey, CharlesMarsh, RichardSlater, Joseph (Sedgefield)
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)Mason, RoySmith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)Mayhew, ChristopherSorensen, R. W.
Gunter, RayMellish, R. J.Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)Mendelson, J. J.Steele, Thomas
Hamilton, William (west Fife)Milne, Edward J.Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Hannan, WilliamMitchison, G. R.Stones, William
Hart, Mrs. JudithMonslow, WalterStrachey, Rt. Hon. John
Healey, DenisMoody, A. S.Strauss, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Vauxhall)
Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Rwly Regis)Mort, D, L.Swain, Thomas
Herbison, Miss MargaretMoyle, ArthurSylvester, George
Holman, PercyMulley, FrederickSymonds, J. B,
Houghton, DouglasNeal, HaroldTaylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)Oliver, G. H.Thornton, Ernest
Hunter, A. E.Oram, A. E.Wainwright, Edwin
Hynd, H. (Accrington)Owen, WillWarbey, William
Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)Paget, R. T.Watkins, Tudor
Irving, Sydney (Dartford)Pannell, Charles (Leeds, w.)Weitzman, David
Jay, Rt. Hon. DouglasParker, JohnWhite, Mrs. Eirene
Jeger, GeorgeParkin, B. T.Wilkins, W. A.
Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)Pavitt, LaurenceWilley, Frederick
Jones, Rt. Hn. A. Creech(Wakefield)Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)Williams, D. J. (Neath)
Jones, Jack (Rotherham)Peart, FrederickWilliams, LI. (Abertillery)
Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)Pentland, NormanWilliams, W. R. (Openshaw)
Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)Popplewell, ErnestWillis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)
Kelley, RichardPrentice, R. E.Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huvton)
Kenyon, CliffordPrice, J. T. (Westhoughton)Winterbottom, R. E.
Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.Probert, ArthurWoof, Robert
King, Dr. HoraceProotor, W. T.Zilliacus, K.
Lee, Frederick (Newton)Randall, Harry
Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)Rankin, JohnTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)Rhodes, H.Mr. John Taylor and Mr. Lawson.


Agnew, Sir PeterCampbell, Sir David (Belfast, S.)Fletcher-Cooke, Charles
Aitken, W. T.Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn)Foster, John
Allan, Robert (Paddington, S.)Carr, Compton (Barons Court)Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)
Allason, JamesCarr, Robert (Mitcham)Clover, Sir Douglas
Arbuthnot, JohnCary, Sir RobertGlyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham)
Ashton, Sir HubertChannon, H. P. G.Glyn, Sir Richard (Dorset, N.)
Atkins, HumphreyChataway, ChristopherGodber, J. B.
Barber, AnthonyChichester-Clark, R.Gower, Raymond
Barlow, Sir JohnClark, Henry (Antrim, U.)Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R.
Batsford, BrianClark, William (Nottingham, S.)Gresham Cooke, P.
Baxter, Sir Beverley (Southgate)Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)Gurden, Harold
Beamish, Col. Sir TuftonCleaver, LeonardHall, John (Wycombe)
Bell, RonaldCooke, RobertHamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)
Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)Cooper-Key, Sir NeillHarris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm)Cordeaux, Lt-Col. J. K.Harrison, Brian (Maldon)
Berkeley, HumphryCorfield, F. V.Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)
Bevins, Rt. Hon. ReginaldCostain, A. P.Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)
Bidgood, John C.Courtney, Cdr. AnthonyHarvie Anderson, Miss
Biggs-Davison, JohnCraddock, Sir BeresfordHastings, Stephen
Bingham, R. M.Critchley, JulianHay, John
Birch, Rt. Hon. NigelCunningham, KnoxHeald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel
Bishop, F. P.Currie, G. B. H.Henderson-Stewart, Sir James
Bossom, Clived'Avigdor-Goldsmld, Sir HenryHicks Beach, Maj. W.
Bourne-Anton, Ferranti, BasilHiley, Joseph
Bowen, Roderic (Cardigan)Digby, Simon WingfieldHill, Mrs. Eveline (Wythenshawe)
Box, DonaldDonaldson, Cmdr. C. E. M.Hinchingbrooke, Viscount
Boyle, Sir EdwardDoughty, CharlesHirst, Geoffrey
Braine, Bernarddu Cann, EdwardHocking, Philip N.
Brewis, JohnDuncan, Sir JamesHolland, Philip
Bromley-Davenport, Lt. -Col. Sir WalterDuthie, Sir WilliamHolt, Arthur
Brooke, Rt. Hon. HenryEden, JohnHopkins, Alan
Brooman-White, R.Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)Hornby, R. P.
Browne, Percy (Torrington)Elliott, R. W. (Nwcstle-upon-Tyne, N.)Howard, Hon. G. R. (St. Ives)
Bryan, PaulEmery, PeterHoward, John (Southampton, Test)
Buck, AntonyEmmet, Hon. Mrs. EvelynHughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John
Bullus, Wing Commander EricFarr, JohnHughes-Young, Michael
Burden, F. A.Fell, AnthonyHulbert, Sir Norman
Butcher, Sir HerbertFinlay, GraemeHurd, Sir Anthony
Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden)Fisher, NigelIremonger, T. L.

Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)Oakshott, Sir HendrieSmithers, Peter
Jackson, JohnOrr, Capt. L. P. S.Spearman, Sir Alexander
James, DavidOsborn, John (Hallam)Speir, Rupert
Johnson, Or. Donald (Carlisle)Page, John (Harrow, West)Stanley, Hon Richard
Johnson, Eric (Blackley)Page, Graham (Crosby)Stevens, Geoffrey
Johnson Smith, GeoffreyPanned, Norman (Kirkdale)Stodart, J. A.
Jones, Rt. Hn. Aubrey (Hall Green)Partridge, E.Storey, Sir Samuel
Joseph, Sir KeithPearson, Frank (Clitheroe)Studholme, Sir Henry
Kaberry, Sir DonaldPeel, JohnSummers, Sir Spencer (Aylesbury)
Kerans, Cdr. J. S.Peyton, JohnTapsell, Peter
Kerby, Capt. HenryPick thorn, Sir KennethTaylor, Edwin (Bolton, E.)
Kerr, Sir HamiltonPike, Miss MervynTaylor, W. J. (Bradford, N.)
Kershaw, AnthonyPilkington, Sir RichardTeeling, William
Kitson, TimothyPitman, Sir JamesTemple, John M.
Lancaster, Col. C. G.Pitt, Miss EdithThatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Leavey, J. A.Powell, Rt. Hon. J. EnochThomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Legge-Bourke, Sir HarryPrice, David (Eastleigh)Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir OthoThorpe, Jeremy
Linstead, Sir HughProfumo, Rt. Hon. JohnTurner, Colin
Litchfield, Capt. JohnProudfoot, WilfredTurton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)Pym, FrancisTweedsmuir, Lady
Longbottom, CharlesQuennell, Miss J. M.van Straubenzee, W. R.
Longden, GilbertRamsden, JamesVaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hon. Sir John
Loveys, Walter H.Redmayne, Rt. Hon. MartinVosper, Rt Hon. Dennis
Lucas-Tooth, Sir HughRees, HughWade, Donald
McAdden, StephenRees-Davies, W. R.Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
McLaren, MartinRonton, DavidWalder, David
McLaughlin, Mrs. PatriciaRidley, Hon. NicholasWalker, Peter
Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)Ridsdale, JulianWail, Patrick
Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)Rippon, GeoffreyWard, Dame Irene
Maddan, MartinRoberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)Warkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold
Markham, Major Sir PrankRobertson, Sir D. (C'thn's & S'th'ld)Wells, John (Maidstone)
Marshall, DouglasRobson Brown, Sir WilliamWilliams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Marten, NeilRodgers, John (Sevenoaks)Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Marhew, Robert (Honiton)Roots, WilliamWilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)Ropner, Col. Sir LeonardWise, A. R.
Mawby, RayRoyle, Anthony (Richmond, Surrey)Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.Russets, RonaldWoodhouse, C. M.
Maydon, Lt-Cmdr. S. L. CScott-Hopkins, JamesWoollam, John
Mills, StratumSharples, RichardWorsley, Marcus
More, Jasper (Ludlow)Shaw, M.Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Morrison, JohnSimon, Rt. Hon. Sir Jocelyn
Nabarro, GeraldSkeet, T. H. N.TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Noble, MichaelSmith, Dudley (Br'ntf'rd & Chiswick)Mr. Gibson-Watt and
Mr. Whitelaw.

Proposed words there inserted in the Bill.

Further Amendments made: In page 30, line 21, leave out "on or".

In page 30, line 21, leave out from "the" to "would" in line 22 and insert "passing of this Act".—[ Mr. H. Brooke.]

5.25 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government
(Sir Keith Joseph)

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

As the House will be aware, the Bill was very amply studied in no less than 22 sittings of the Standing Committee, and hon. Members will probably wish to know what changes were made during that Committee stage. Naturally, a great deal of time was spent on Part I of the Bill, which covers the changes in subsidy arrangements, and also a certain number of changes connected with housing associations. The Committee considered at length the Government's policy of redeploying the subsidies and the widening of the purposes of subsidies so as to cover the general needs of local authorities where those general needs can be shown to be necessary.

The Committee also considered very fully the resources test, which is enshrined in Part I, by which a local authority will receive either the higher or the lower level of subsidy; receiving the higher level of subsidy as soon as its financial resources justify the help of the taxpayer. Another subject that was studied with great attention by the Standing Committee was the power given by the Bill to my right hon. Friend's successors, after a lapse of not less than ten years and if there is in the future a sufficient change in the rent-paying capacity of the tenants, to cause a decrease or, indeed, an abolition of the subsidy connected with a house built under this Bill. A good deal of attention was also given to the unchanged subsidies provided for high buildings and for expensive sites, and to the increased subsidy arrangements for town development and overspill. In none of this part of the Bill, however, did the Committee make any alterations.

I now come to the next major feature of Part I of the Bill, that is connected with housing associations. Although there was a good deal of constructive criticism, there was a general welcome from both sides of the Committee to the encouragement the Government propose to give by this Bill to the work of housing associations. As the House will be aware, the Government see a growing part for these associations to play, both in supplementing the housing work of the local authorities and in complementing it.

In complementing that work, the Government propose to make available to housing associations a sum of £25 million in loans, through the Exchequer, as a pump-priming operation to increase the number of houses built for letting and to provide houses for that purpose on a non-subsidised basis, bath for their own sake, and also to lead the way for private enterprise back into this important housing field. Here, again, despite a great deal of careful scrutiny, no changes of any consequence were made by the Standing Committee.

Coming now to Part II of the Bill, I have a very different story to tell. In Part II, the Government are really breaking new ground by giving to local authorities stringent new powers with which to deal with one of the evils of the social situation of today—the multiple-occupation of houses. Although this occurs largely only into the great cities, it is a scourge where it does occur, and there was unity in the Standing Committee in the purpose of, as far as possible, eliminating it.

The attack on multiple occupation takes the form of providing local authorities with the power to impose on any house—with, of course, ample powers of appeal—a management code which will carry with it the regulations that my right hon. Friend is empowered by the Bill to make. Local authorities are also given power to require the owners of such houses, or the other people concerned with such houses, to carry out works, to make good any deficiencies in listed amenities in the houses and, in default of action by the person on wham the notice is served, to carry out the works. Additional strong powers are thus given to local authorities to abate overcrowding.

All these powers were combed carefully in the Committee, and although there were differences in detail there was, as I say, a general welcome to what my right hon. Friend has proposed. There were no radical changes made at that stage to this part. As to the powers, I think there will he general agreement that they were much improved and strengthened by the attention given to them in the Committee, and I will tell the House of a few of those changes.

First of all, the test for making a management order on a house which is being badly managed has been put on a more realistic basis. It no longer rests on whether the house in its existing state is unsuitable for the number of households or individuals occupying it. Instead, the test is quite simply whether the condition of the house, irrespective of whether or not there is technical overcrowding, is so bad that it is clear that a failure of management has occurred. This is a matter which should be readily capable of proof, particularly having regard to the minimum standards of management which will be laid down in the regulation to be made under Clause 13.

A second significant change made in Committee was that tenement blocks with shared lavatories and washing facilities have been brought within the Bill. The original purpose was to deal only with those houses intended for single family occupation which are now in multi-occupation, but, of course, the discussion in Committee convinced my right hon. Friend that a tenement block designed far the sharing of washing and sanitary facilities still used in the way for which it was designed may be just as squalid as a large, one-family house now in use by several.

A third change made in Committee was one that resulted from keen interest on both sides, namely, when my right hon. Friend as he always intended to do, undertook to introduce a new Clause, which he did, in fact, introduce at a later stage, to give local authorities power to require that proper provision should be made in houses in multi-occupation for escape from fire.

A fourth important change was that instead of leaving the abatement of overcrowding, as originally inserted in the Bill, on a standfast basis, that is, giving local authorities simple powers to ensure that the conditions in a multi-occupied and overcrowded house do not get worse, an Amendment was made by my right hon. Friend giving local authorities power actually to reduce the overcrowding without in any way leading to any danger of a family or individual being made homeless. This is achieved by giving the local authority power to forbid the occupant or owner of such a house from increasing the number of occupants when any individual occupant or occupants leave an overcrowded house. The power, therefore, is converted from a standfast to what has been described as a "rundown" power, and this is a great strengthening of this part of the Bill.

The powers of entry for local authorities were increased by an Amendment in Committee. A very useful Amendment was made to give local authorities power to require the occupants of overcrowded houses to state how many people are living in a house at any one time, thus overcoming one of the difficulties of this whole subject, that a house can be said to be overcrowded and yet, because of the elusive nature of the people concerned, cannot be proved without this sort of help to be overcrowded. There have been a number of smaller changes, notably of a drafting character, with which I will not weary the House.

The House will wish to know that during the Committee stage my right hon. Friend volunteered that he would after a due period of time be requiring a report from local authorities regarding how this part of the Bill has worked out. In Part III of the Bill there were no alterations or changes in improvement grants, but there was a substantial recasting of Clause 29 which describes the repairing and maintenance obligations to be put on landlords in short leases. This Clause has been considerably recast and it is hoped that the obscurities from which it suffered and for which it was criticised have disappeared.

We have made it clear that the landlord is responsible for the bath, washing facilities and sink as well as for the lavatory. We have also made it clear that he is responsible for fixed equipment for the heating of rooms or water. How much difference the revision has made is difficult to say, because the original Clause was ambiguous, and much depends on what its effect was thought to be. But on any reading of the Clause as revised there is little doubt that the changes made have put on landlords new obligations not present before, and, therefore, it was thought that it would be unfair to give the Clause any retrospective effect. It will apply only after the date of the Royal Assent.

There were a number of changes made to Clause 30. The most important change was, perhaps, that we have made sure that Clause 29 will apply to lettings of agricultural cottages. The Bill has emerged from the Committee considerably strengthened and improved. It is a Measure which reshapes subsidies so as to concentrate the taxpayers' help where it is most needed. The Bill will encourage some useful growth in the work of the housing associations and my right hon. Friend hopes that co-operative housing activities will be much strengthened in this country. Strong new powers are given to local authorities against multi-occupation. Several changes have been made in the improvement grant system. In short, this is a valuable Bill which I heartily commend to the House.

5.36 p.m.

We have a rule on Third Reading that one discusses what is in the Bill and not what might be in it or what one hoped would be in it. The effect of that rule is to make it comparatively easy to deliver brief speeches on Third Reading. This Bill is not, of course, a major contribution to the housing situation. We pointed that out on Second Reading. Indeed, it was the reason why we put down a reasoned Amendment to the Bill on Second Reading. But now, of course, on Third Reading, we have to consider it as it is.

As the small boy said when asked what he thought of the pudding, "It was all right, what there was of it." There is plenty of the Bill, such as it is, plenty of it in the sense that it covers a good deal of paper and required, owing to its complexity, a good deal of time to discuss. It makes some useful additions to the housing policy, but its general effect and scope are not, as I shall show, all that wide or all that useful.

Let us take Part I of the Bill, which is concerned with the readjustment, or, as the Parliamentary Secretary said, the redevelopment of subsidies. That, of course, is its limitation and its defect. If one wants to make a major contribution to the housing problem one has to think in terms of increases of subsidy. This is playing around with the same limited assistance from the Exchequer, and that is why, in the present housing situation, it cannot have more than a very limited effect. Indeed, in so far as one can point to certain areas or certain categories of house where one can say that the Bill helps, that is bound to be balanced by other areas and other categories of house where one has to say that the Bill hinders.

We cannot really make a major contribution to the housing policy if we are not prepared to reconsider the amount of subsidy and not prepared to do something about the burden of interest rates on local authorities, or about the price and the use of land. The Bill makes no contribution in either of these fields. I may remark that from the general financial climate at present it looks as though the rate of interest will soon provide an additional headache for local authorities, and that some of what is done to help certain authorities in the Bill may possibly be rubbed out by changes in the rate of interest before the Bill is actually on the Statute Book. That illustrates the limitations of a Measure of this kind.

It is true that what is called the readjustment or redeployment of the subsidies will help certain local authorities. Now that we have got to the point where we cannot amend the Bill any further we are obliged to notice that fact and not be anxious to delay its passage. None the less, the readjustment as arranged in the Bill still involves certain quite noticeable injustices. In the first place, it provides for a rate of subsidy of £24 for some authorities and £8 for others. That is the broad general picture.

There are, I know, the special provisions of the First Schedule. But, in the main, it is a question of some authorities getting £24 per dwelling and of others getting £8. There is no provision for any intermediate figure. That was one of the real illustrations of Government obstinacy when we were trying to improve the Bill, the insistence that there should only be these two rates—£8, and the other figure which is three times that amount.

The test by which it is determined whether an authority should get £8 or £24 for each dwelling it puts up is so devised that one is bound to get some authorities whose circumstances are, for practical purposes, the same. One authority, by a difference of a few pounds in the mathematics of the Bill, will get only £8, while its neighbour will get £24. That cannot really be justified and it is a pity that it is still unavoidable in the Bill, unless the Government again turn up the arguments advanced in Committee and make use of the opportunities of another place to put the matter right.

Another injustice is that although the Minister has tried to relate the rates of subsidy to what he calls the "resources of the authority", he has not really succeeded in relating it not only to their resources but to the tasks before them. An excellent argument was put forward in a moving speech in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short), who pointed out that his authority was not likely to do very well under the Bill, although it had a very heavy slum problem and an equally heavy problem of providing houses for the elderly.

What the Bill says, in effect, to any authority that has a specially large slum problem or a large problem of housing elderly people is, "We shall look solely at your resources. Have your ratepayers enough resources to deal with this problem themselves, even at the lower rate of help from the Exchequer?" My hon. Friends and I are convinced that this is the wrong approach. The existence of slums in Newcastle, Birmingham, London, or wherever it may be is not merely a problem for the ratepayers of those areas. It is a national disgrace which the whole nation—all of our citizens as ratepayers—should be helping to remedy. If, therefore, one is redeploying the subsidy, one of the questions that should be asked is, "What help are we giving to those authorities which have a specially heavy slum problem?"

The same is true about the housing of the elderly. We all realise that the number of old people is growing, but that need not, one hopes, with the advance of help from the health services, mean an increase in the number of decrepit old people. We hope that they will enjoy better health than did the old people of earlier generations. But they create a special housing problem, especially when they are living by themselves, their children having grown up and probably married.

That creates a number of problems that local housing authorities must face and it should be regarded, once again, as a national problem. But in approaching it, one should seriously consider the size of the share of the problem that has to be faced by a particular local authority, because the size of the share varies considerably between one authority and another. This, to my hon. Friends and me, is an injustice which is still contained in the Bill.

There was also one specialised but, as I still think, quite sharp injustice done to certain Welsh authorities which have very low rateable values as a result of the complicated operation of certain parts of the First Schedule to the Bill. I will not attempt to weary the House by repeating the arguments I deployed in Committee on this matter. I re-read my arguments and was impressed, as one always is when reading one's own prose, with their cogency and lucidity and style. I still do not see why it makes sense that any Bill which claims to proportion subsidy to need should have an arrangement which causes some authorities to get less help because they are poor. That is what happens as a result of that Schedule. What the Minister said, in effect, was, "They can get out of their difficulties by hurrying up and building more houses"—but the whole trouble is that their limited resources make it difficult for them to do that.

There is another injustice that should be of particular interest to hon. Gentlemen opposite who were complaining, at the end of the Report stage, that my hon. Friends and I believed in retrospective legislation. The Bill puts a local authority in the position where it is told, "You can build houses in the years starting from the first one after this Bill comes into operation. You shall be provided with the subsidy, of £24 if you are lucky and of £8 if you are not lucky. We know that you will have to make your plans in the hope that you will get that housing subsidy for a term of sixty years. But, of course, it is possible that after ten years the Minister will say that he is not going to pay you another penny on your houses."

It is not much consolation to tell them, "We are warning you in advance that that may happen", because that makes their uncertainty all the more grave. We believe that this device for the retrospective cutting of subsidies is profoundly undesirable. Our view is strengthened when one considers the arguments by which such cuts are justified. We are told that the Minister should have power to cut subsidies because the income of the ratepayers and of the council tenants may go up. The idea is that the moment that they become better off the Government are planning to place a heavier burden either on the rates or on the council tenants, or on both.

What does that mean? No one knows exactly by how much the total national income will increase during the next ten years, or how that increase will be divided among those who work for wages, those who earn salaries and those who get their income from property. I notice that in a recent Answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr Jay) it was stated that in recent years profits have been increasing at about four times the rate at which wages have been increasing.

I wonder whether that pattern will continue? I do not know. But what we are providing for in the Bill is that if there is any likelihood of the wages of people who live in council houses increasing, then we shall do something to counteract that. It is a deliberate twist, as it were, in the distribution of wealth, to the disadvantage of the wage earner. It is not very much good the Chancellor lecturing wage earners on the duties of restraint in wage demands, if this is the kind of Bill that the Minister of Housing and Local Government puts through the House.

The only other point I shall make in connection with Part I of the Bill is on the Clauses dealing with housing associations, where my hon. Friends and I are glad that the Government agreed to accept the view, put forward strongly by my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl), that, while it is quite proper to make loans of public money to housing associations, they should not be made at a rate more favourable than the loans made available to local authorities. I am glad to see that provision in the Bill.

Let me deal with Part III first. By sticking to their own view in the debate which we concluded at the end of the Report stage, the Government have now created a situation in which we are obliged to hope that the Bill will reach the Statute Book as soon as possible, because there is no way of stopping the abuses at which Part III is aimed except by the Bill becoming law as quickly as it can. I need not argue Part III any further.

Part II of the Bill was the most interesting part to discuss during the Committee stage. I agree that it is desirable that local authorities should have the powers which are given to them by the provisions of Part II to deal with what is called in the Bill houses in multiple occupation. In practical terms that means houses originally intended for one family and now occupied by several, to be distinguished from tenements or blocks of flats.

It is useful for local authorities to have power to deal with the abuses arising from the bad management of these houses. But do not let us deceive ourselves about what is the scope of the Bill. The Bill does not mean that the local authority has a general power or even a general duty to deal with all houses of that kind in its locality. The Bill proceeds by what one may call a method of pick-and-choose. A local authority, relying on such knowledge as it collects, will pick out this house and that house in multiple occupation, and so on; presumably beginning with those which, from local knowledge, it judges to be the most serious examples of mismanagement.

This is a very limited approach to what in some areas is quite a large problem. I am glad to see that the hon. and gallant Member for Nottingham, Central (Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux) is with us for the last stages of the Bill because, with hon. Members on this side of the House, he urged that we ought to compile a full register of houses in multiple occupation so that a local authority would be able to view its problem as a whole. The Bill does not do that, more is the pity. However, we are to have one kind of register. Where local authorities have decided that they have found a house to which it is necessary to give their special care and attention, a code of management, for which the Bill provides, is to be applied to that house. Local authorities are to keep registers of the proprietors or persons responsible for houses of that kind.

Such people will have what was called by my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) a certificate of mismanagement. It will be officially recorded that these people do not manage their property well. In the reference libraries as a companion volume to "Burke's Landed Gentry" we shall have "Brooke's Propertied Cads"; an anti-social register, as one might call it, in which one may look up the names of persons who have managed their property so badly that a local authority has had to use its powers under the Bill. I think that sooner or later the Minister will have to adopt the idea of a general registration of houses in multiple occupation.

As the Parliamentary Secretary said, we improved this part of the Bill during our Committee stage discussions. I think that I am entitled to use the word "we" as meaning mainly my hon. Friends rather than the Committee as a whole, because, with a few exceptions, a profound silence descended on the Government benches during most of the long and many sittings of the Standing Committee. I am glad to see that the Bill now embodies an improved definition of what is a mismanaged house, and an extension of the idea from houses in multiple occupation to certain tenements blocks. We associate that improvement with the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans). There is the power of entry to see that the code of management is properly enforced and we shall associate that with the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes.

The improved rules about precautions against fire we shall associate with the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North and the discussion on the provision for requiring the names of persons with these houses, in order to make effective the provisions against overcrowding, we shall associate with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds). There is the Bill, such as—

:Has not my hon. Friend failed to mention the part played by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart)?

:My hon. Friend is very kind. My recollection is that so much of my energies were taken up pointing out the defects in the Bill, owing to Government drafting, that I had to leave most of the suggestions for positive improvement to my hon. Friends.

There is the Bill, such as we have been able to make it, and we are of opinion that we should now speed it on its way to another place.

5.56 p.m.

In my few remarks I shall deal exclusively with Part II of the Bill, because that is the only part with which I have been actively concerned. First, I should like to offer my sincere congratulations to my right hon. Friend on the effort which he has made in Part II of the Bill to tackle a very difficult problem. As always happens on these occasions, there are hon. Members on both sides of the House who would have been happier had my right hon. Friend felt able to adopt certain alterations to the Bill during the Committee stage, which, in fact, he did not feel able to do. However, I am convinced that, as it stands, the Bill will be able to do the job for which it is intended, to deal with the evil of the multi-occupational slums, although, of course, from now on the question of whether it will be used to do that job successfully will not rest with my right hon. Friend, but with other people.

For me it was a most encouraging and stimulating experience to serve on the Standing Committee which dealt with this Bill, where all hon. Members serving on that Committee were determined to achieve the same end and convinced of the importance of doing so. No one realises more than myself the vital importance of making Part II of the Bill work successfully. I claim no credit for that. It would be strange were it otherwise. Not merely is this evil of multi-occupational slums rampant in Nottingham; not merely are these slums concentrated mostly in my own division, but I myself have lived for over six years in one of the areas there where these multi-occupational slums have spread and flourished.

In that time I have seen the social life of the district poisoned and racial relations envenomed. In that time I have seen old-established inhabitants leave their houses one by one, when they have been able to do so, and sell the property And who buys their houses? In most cases they have been bought by the very sharks who are running this racket. Because it is such a profitable racket they are able to offer far higher prices than anybody else. As the whole neighbourhood has sunk deeper and deeper into the morass of slumdom and these older long-established inhabitants have left, those who could not afford to leave or could not do so for other reasons have had to stay on, with increasing bitterness in their hearts watching the value of their property go down and down and their own living conditions become more and more miserable. I believe that if the provisions of this Bill are resolutely carried out we can to a large extent put a stop to the spread of this rot. I believe that with this Bill we may reclaim a large number of these recently-formed slums into decent houses and that we can make life a little more bearable for the unfortunate tenants on whom these parasites have been inriching themselves for far too long.

After 22 sittings and nearly sixty hours in Standing Committee on the Bill, followed by our session of ten and a half hours in the House yesterday until 2 a.m., I expect that most hon. Members will be glad to have a rest from this Bill for a while, but we ought to remember that the most important work in connection with the Bill will shortly be starting. My right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, and I am sure the two hon. Members who lead for the Opposition on this Bill, will not agree with me if I suggest that it is comparatively easy to get a Bill like this on to the Statute Book, but at least it is considerably easier than making it work once it is there. The job of making it work will fall principally on the local authorities.

The people who will have to do the main work will no doubt be the medical officers of health, the public health inspectors, the officers of estate departments and similar officers. Local councillors, too, have a job to do here because they are the people who know, or ought to know, where these houses exist. The same applies to hon. Members where these evils exist in their constituencies. After all, if people like ourselves do not let the authorities know where these houses are and make sure that action is taken, nobody else will.

The Bill will not work unless all of us concerned in those areas are determined to see that it works. My right hon. Friend has forged the weapon. It will soon be in our hands. It will then be up to all of us—Members for the constituencies, councillors, local government officials and the magistrates—to use that weapon effectively and ruthlessly.

6.3 p.m.

:Like the hon. and gallant Member for Nottingham, Central (Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux), after so many sittings in Standing Committee and our session yesterday I am glad that we have reached the point at which the Bill goes to another place. I do not follow the hon. and gallant Member completely in his contribution, but I echo his hope that the provisions relating to houses in multi-occupation will effectively deal with the gradually deteriorating areas in so many towns and cities. As a result of the abuse by a very small percentage of landlords, many areas which hitherto have been very good residential areas have gradually deteriorated into slums. I hope that the provisions of that part of the Bill will deal adequately with that problem.

On Third Reading we are restricted to the contents of the Bill, and irrespective of whether it will be our responsibility as councillors and hon. Members, as the hon. and gallant Member suggested, to bring these houses to the notice of local authorities, the provisions of the Bill will not be fully effective because of the difficulties arising out of the lack of registration.

Commenting briefly on Part I, my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) said that this was not a major housing Measure, but repeatedly the Minister has told us that he intended it to be a major housing measure. Frankly, I do not think that it will make a major contribution to the solution of the country's housing problem. The basic fact that the annual growth of subsidy is to remain the same even though, to use the Parliamentary Secretary's term, the subsidy has been "redeployed", will militate against a solution of the housing problem.

We do not know precisely which local authorities will benefit from the increased subsidies and which will not, The formula is so complicated that it is very difficult to say precisely what will take place under it. But one thing is certain:most local authorities will have to introduce forms of differential rent schemes which may well have a bad effect on housing under local authorities through, out the country. There is much talk about taxpayers' money being spent and about the necessity to prove a local authority's need if subsidies are to be paid. That is a new departure for the Government, because they have been paying subsidies constantly without any question of need.

I fear that the Bill is likely to produce a situation in which local authority housing estates cease to be the mixed communities which they are at present. Even without the Bill there has been a constant drive to ensure that people who are earning reasonably high wages move out of council houses. As a result of the application of Part I of the Bill, many local authorities will try to ensure that council house tenants are only those who can afford no more than council house rents. This would be a major departure for evil, because our council house estates ought to be mixed communities. There ought to be no segregation, and there ought to be a free interchange of ideas and standards within that council estate.

I have never fallen for the idea that because a council house tenant has a motor car there is something wrong with him being a council tenant. I should like to see most council house tenants have motor cars. I would rather they spent their money on their families than in other ways. I do not think that we shall see anything as a result of the Bill other than an extension of differential rent schemes which are likely to be inequitable to the council house tenants who have to face substantial increases in rents.

I want to make a brief reference to the power the Minister has taken to by-pass local authorities on the question of housing associations. Housing associations, which have done a very good job in supplementing local authority housing, have hitherto worked harmoniously with local authorities. At no time has the Minister suggested that any local authority has had difficulty with housing associations or that housing associations have had difficulty with local authorities.

Housing associations which have hitherto worked harmoniously with local authorities will now be able to by-pass local authorities and approach the Minister direct. The Minister will be able to give his consent to housing association projects, whether the local authority concerned wants them or not. If ever there was an instance of the man in Whitehall knowing best, this is it. On no occasion has the Minister claimed that there has been the slightest divergence of opinion between local authorities and housing associations. We pressed him on this continually in Committee. He has resisted all attempts to see reason, because he believes that the man in Whitehall knows best. This attitude comes odd indeed from a representative of the party which constantly jibed at hon. Members of my party when we were in office about the Minister knowing best.

This is one of the nasty features of the Bill. This, and the fact that under the Bill local authorities cannot possibly project their plans ahead, are perhaps the two major defects in the Bill. The Minister—not necessarily this one, but a future Minister—may decide to abolish or reduce the subsidies. This will result in many local authorities having great difficulty in deciding on their future plans. If I were chairman of a local authority housing committee, I should be very careful indeed before committing the authority to any plan projected ahead, because it will not be possible for the authority to be certain of the future total cost and the economic rents it will have to charge.

The Bill is good in parts: it is like the parson's egg. I do not think that it will have a very good reception from anyone in any part of the community. I only hope that what good there is in the Bill will come forth as quickly as possible.

6.15 p.m.

:The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) said that he did not think that the Bill would provide a permanent solution to the housing problem. I am very much inclined to agree with him in that. He spoke of the insecurity from which local authorities will suffer. I disagree with him there. If local authorities have sufficient funds of their own at the end of ten years, the subsidies reduce. What matters is whether the money is available, whether it comes from the local authority or from the Exchequer.

I have two things in common with the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart). First, he and I both represent constituencies which have one of the most appalling housing problems in London. Secondly, I agree to a large extent with what he said today. I will be as careful as he was not to diverge, in a Third Reading speech, from what is in the Bill.

I look upon the Bill as a very useful tidying-up Measure to improve conditions and standards throughout the country. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Nottingham Central (Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux) said, I am sure that with the co-operation of local authorities there will be a great improvement in housing conditions. However, I do not believe that the Bill tackles the problem which exists in our larger cities. We have improved standards, but we have not got sufficient finance to build the housing which is required in the large cities.

I welcome Clause 7. It will help housing associations, which are doing such a very good job. I am glad that my right hon. Friend has recognised this and is prepared to help them. Clause 29 has given rise to a certain amount of criticism. Both sides of the House will join in condemning the practice of landlords in demanding excessive terms from their tenants, but we should be very careful when legislating. We should not allow a state of affairs to develop in which the Gracious Speech, a statement by an hon. Member or by a Minister, or even what is said in Committee, is taken as law. We are here to produce the law. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend that it would he very wrong for us to endeavour to legislate retrospectively. There are many evils in the law of the land which we wish to cure, but we should think very carefully before legislating retrospectively.

Clause 14 deals with standards. I am very happy to welcome this Clause and the benefits which will accrue from it. Clause 5 deals with multi-storey blocks. This is where I departed from my right hon. Friend's line of thought yesterday. Anybody who lives in London or any other large city knows that there is only one way to cure the housing problem. There is only one way to provide the necessary facilities—the play space and other facilities, such as garage and ancillary accommodation, which the modern world demands. It is a national problem in the large cities. It is a problem which is almost beyond the scope of county councils and borough councils.

There is the problem of overcrowding and housing the elderly in London. It is no use the Government hiding behind local authorities and saying that it is their job to provide the necessary accommodation. Parliament is paramount. The Government are responsible for ensuring that decent accommodation is provided in the shortest possible time. Like many Members on both sides of the House, I am deeply appalled by the conditions in which my constituents are compelled to live, fifteen years after the war. Many people say that it is because they do not look around for accommodation. In some cases, that is the fact, but in the majority of cases the accommodation simply does not exist. That is why yesterday, on Clause 5, I departed from my right hon. Friend's line of thought, because I believe that in the Bill we have failed utterly to do one thing: that is, to tackle the main housing problem in the cities and in the overcrowed areas. We have not gone as far as we should in the Bill.

As far as it stands, I welcome the Bill. I am sure that it will produce an amelioration of housing conditions. I reiterate, however, that I do not believe that the Government have tackled the housing problem in the cities with sufficient force and energy. I hope that it will not be long before some other methods are used, even if it means Government subsidies to provide the accommodation in the cities, so that we may no longer be ashamed of the centre of our own city.

6.21 p.m.

:The Government have now become adept at bringing in Bills which contain one or two microscopic pieces of meat between two large slices of dry bread. This is one such Bill. By putting those tiny pieces of meat under a magnifying glass, the Government are able to persuade themselves and some of their friends that they have made a major contribution to one of the great problems of our time. The tragedy is that while these Bills are brought in with a great deal of publicity, and a great flourish of trumpets, these social problems continue to increase and, in many cases, become acute. I am sorry that this Bill, to which we are giving a Third Reading tonight, is not, as the hon. Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn) indicated, more of a major Measure to deal with the acute problem of housing.

After all the discussions we have had in Committee and in the House on the Bill, I wonder whether the Minister can really be satisfied with the provision which he is making in Clause 4 concerning the differential rate of subsidy. It seems to me obvious that if we have a higher rate and a lower rate of subsidy it will be natural for local authorities who get only the lower rate of subsidy to feel that they will be quite justified in not building more council houses. H we have a higher rate of subsidy, it is inevitable that those who get the higher rate will feel that they are the ones to whom the Minister is looking to do the building. Those who get the lower rate will feel justified in not building.

This is not a criticism of local authorities. I am myself a member of a local authority, with a personal responsibility for slum clearance, housing and redevelopment. I know the good work which local authorities are doing, even under the difficulties which they now experience. The Minister's subsidy provision will, however, lead inevitably to a decline in council house building of all kinds. Although some local authorities will get a £24 subsidy, there is a limit to the number of building sites which they can obtain. They are having great difficulty in competing with private enterprise for the limited number of sites available. They have great difficulty in meeting the high cost and the Minister is doing nothing to help them to redevelop the already developed central areas at a higher density, which might be one solution of their problem.

Therefore, it seems to me inevitable, whichever way one looks at it, that there will be less council house building of all kinds for old people, slum clearance and general need, for families suffering from tuberculosis, families with large numbers of children and families who are living in acute conditions of overcrowding.

There is the further point, which the Minister has not faced, of the effect upon local authorities of the power which he takes to himself in Clause 2 either to withdraw or to reduce subsidies. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) said, housing committees, looking to the future and being aware of that power of the Minister, will hesitate before committing themselves to building schemes. I hope that that will not be so, but, being realistic and knowing that Housing Bills tend to set the trend for housing for several years ahead until another Bill comes along, it seems to me inevitable that that will be its effect on council house building generally.

There was considerable discussion in Committee about Clause 7, concerning housing associations and exactly how the Clause would operate. I have looked again at the OFFICIAL REPORT of Our discussions in Committee and what has been said by the Minister, and I am still not clear exactly what the Clause will do and what the Minister intends by it. Even at this late stage of the Bill, I hope that he will be able to give attention to this point.

In spite of all that the Minister said in the White Paper and on Second Reading, there is nothing in the Bill to promote co-operative associations m housing associations by which tenants co-operatively own and manage their own houses or flats. What there is in the Bill, in Clause 7, is provision for the Minister to advance the sum of £25 million to housing associations. It was not at all clear from our discussions in Committee what kind of housing associations the Minister had in mind.

Neither was it clear what form those advances will take. If they are to be advances on mortgage, I would point out to the Minister that housing associations generally do not find difficulty in getting mortgage money. Their difficulty is in getting initial working capital. This will apply particularly to housing associations which are housing associations of tenants. I should like the Minister to clarify this point.

Has the Minister considered that his professed aim of the promotion of cooperative housing associations will be impossible unless some of the £25 million is available to those associations to buy land and to initiate building schemes? I say that with emphasis, because on Second Reading the Minister referred to private builders being interested in housing associations. His reference to private builders immediately followed a reference to co-operative housing associations.

I was puzzled why private builders, who are in business not for philanthropic reasons, but as businessmen, should be interested in co-operative housing associations. I could not see in any way why they should promote these co-operative associations of tenants as I understand them. I therefore would be glad if the Minister would clarify how he expects co-operative tenants' associations to develop as a result of what he proposes to do under Clause 7. As I read it, I cannot see that the Clause will be of any great assistance to them.

My last point relates to the tenor of the Bill concerning the making good of defects in property, improvement grants and generally putting into a better state of repair, where the Bill enables this to be done, existing properties which are defective in various respects. Here again, bearing in mind that the Bill will set the trend for a considerable time ahead, I would ask the Minister whether he has considered the effect that this will have on slowing down the tendency there may be on the part of local authorities to tackle their problems of redevelopment. I asked the Minister yesterday, on an Amendment, and I ask him again, at this stage, to consider very carefully what the effect of this part of the Bill will be on that, and to bring in as quickly as he can some proposals for encouraging redevelopment where redevelopment ought to take place.

I hope that the Bill will not be what one of its critics called it, merely a rearrangement of the same old tired flowers in the jam jar. I hope that there are a few new flowers in the jam jar which will be useful to local authorities and to co-operative housing associations and to all who are passionately concerned with the housing of the people of this country. Because I hope that, I do, in a very limited fashion, welcome the Bill, but because I am afraid that there is very little new in it and very little of importance in it, I hope that the Minister, in asking us to give the Bill its Third Reading, will very quickly have second thoughts about the housing situation in the country and bring in a much more substantial Measure to deal with the problems of housing with which, I believe, the hon. Members who have spoken today are so very rightly concerned.

6.31 p.m.

:I have been searching round in my mind to try to find something nice to say with which to begin my speech on the Third Reading of the Bill, and I think that I have found it in saying that I thank the right hon. Gentleman for having drafted a Money Resolution which enabled us to explore almost all the points which arise on the Bill. I think that the only exception to that was the question which concerned my hon. Friends on the improvement grants, but that, I do not think, was a wilful tightening of the Money Resolution. I think it was simply that the right hon. Gentleman got involved in the interstices of our procedure, so that we were unable to explore that fully in Committee. On the whole, however, I think that we were able to look at most of the main questions which arose on the Bill.

We were able to consider the subsidies. I think that this Bill will disappoint many people. Most local authorities expected that there would be a widespread provision of subsidies for general housing need. This Bill is the abandonment of the limited subsidies on slum clearance and overspill, but there is, of course, as there always is, a catch. It all depends on the right hon. Gentleman's approving the dwellings, and I suspect that a number of local authorities which thought that they would be allowed to indulge in housing for general need will find that, in fact, because of the working of the approval of the Ministry, they will not be allowed to do it.

The other major criticism and corn-plaint which I have about the subsidy provisions is the break Clause which is now introduced for the first time. The Minister can break his agreement to pay subsidy at the end of ten years. It is quite true that when we were discussing this in Committee upstairs the Minister endeavoured to imply that it did not really matter at all, that it was of very little financial significance. I do not believe that he would have gone to all the trouble he did to get it into the Bill were it not for the fact that it was to have some financial bearing, and I think that he has created a very difficult problem indeed for local authorities and their financial advisers, who now cannot be sure over what period they will receive subsidy. They incur certain obligations for paying off loans over a period of years, but then they are not able to say that they are certain of getting subsidy for a comparable period, and I think that, although no doubt it appeals to the Minister because it gives him that extra flexibility, he has done an injury to local government by putting it in and that the advantages are nowhere near to equalling the uncertainty which is caused.

I think also that it is a criticism of this Bill that it adds one more incursion into higher mathematics in local government. Yesterday I compared trying to understand housing legislative provisions with some of the problems presented by colonial constitutions. Nowadays one has to be equipped with higher mathematics to move at all in the field of local government. There is the most complicated formula dealing with grants. Nobody knows until he does some very difficult sums, most of the terms of which he does not know until too late, what grants he is going to get. Now no local authority will be clear what subsidy it will get. Conflicting views have been expressed time and again by different local authorities, and in Committee by representatives of different constituencies, whether they will qualify for the full £24 subsidy or whether it will be cut down to the £8 subsidy.

All that uncertainty is not good for local government or for housing planning and does not encourage the local authority to look ahead and try to plan housing for the future, and that, I would have thought, is a very grave weakness in the Bill. It is not encouraging really careful planning and looking ahead.

Again, on Part II of the Bill, which deals with the houses in multiple occupation, I have never hidden the fact that I am doubtful about how valuable its provisions will be. There has been a great deal of blowing of trumpets welcoming them as a new deal for enabling some of the social problems facing us to be treated. I still hope that is right, but I am doubtful about it.

I have two main reasons for my doubt. The first is that the Bill is extremely weak for the initiation of proceedings, finding out where abuses are taking place. As I said yesterday, I think that the local authorities which have these problems to face will be able to deal with a few bad cases which may immediately occur to them, but when it comes to searching for and finding the bad cases in the future their powers of inspection, their powers of entry, are not adequate, and I am afraid that the result will be—as has so often happened in the past, as happened with public health enforcement, and as happened with the enforcement of the repairs provisions in housing legislation—that this Bill's provisions dealing with management will turn out to be a dead letter, simply because local authorities have not got the powers to enforce them. I think that the Minister should give local authorities more power to deal with the bogus companies, the people who continually change their addresses.

One weakness in the Bill is enforcement of the cost of doing the work. There are useful provisions here for enabling a local authority to make a charge for some of the costs of improvement done to a house, but I feel that the provisions are inadequate to help meet some of the day to day problems which present themselves to local councils.

However, although that is my feeling, and although I feel that we are really trying to restore the position which was thrown away in 1954 when the byelaws were abolished, nevertheless, I certainly welcome them and hope that they will be successful. I hope that the effect of the provisions will be, as the hon. and gallant Member for Nottingham, Central (Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux) said, to deal with the social problem which everybody recognises and everybody wants to tackle. We all agree on that, and I personally hope that the Minister will take a very strong initiative in issuing a circular which will in considerable detail explain these powers to local authorities, explain to local authorities how they can use these powers and carry out the functions. He has promised us that when the code of management is prepared he will allow us to see it and will consult with the local authority associations about it. It is important that it should be a practical and thorough code and it is certainly important that the right hon. Gentleman should do that.

I can only say to the right hon. Gentleman that I wish him good fortune in this tremendous job which this part of the Bill presents. I wish that he had taken more advice. I think that he ought to have listened to the advice offered to him in a genuine desire to improve the Bill and based on the experience of people who have had to tackle the problems, like the public health inspectors and members of local authorities. I am sure that later he and some of the tenants will regret that he has not been as flexible in these matters as he should have been.

We, however, welcome the Bill as it is. We hope that it will be successful and I am sure that I speak for everyone on this side of the House in saying that in our constituencies and in whatever connection we have with local authorities we shall want to give the Bill full scope to succeed in its job. A great deal of work has been done on the Bill but a great deal of it has been frustrating work. It is always a tiresome business if week after week we put up proposals and make suggestions for improving the Bill and we draft Amendments and at the end we feel that a wonderful opportunity has been missed.

If only the Government had shown more flexibility, many of the difficulties could have been avoided. I hope that I shall be proved to be wrong but I have not much optimism. I am afraid that the responsibility will lie with the right hon. Gentleman, because I do not think that he has given the local authorities enough discretion and flexibility to do the job that he is asking them to do.

6.43 p.m.

There seems to be some inconsistency between the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) and the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart), because the hon. Member for Widnes said that it had been a frustrating experience to have all the Opposition's Amendments turned down and the hon. Member for Fulham laid stress on the fact that "we", meaning the Opposition, had greatly improved Part II of the Bill in Committee. Personally, I think that we all improved Part II in Committee and I want to express at the outset my gratitude to the House and, in particular, to the hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee for their co-operation in that long work on the Bill.

I hope that it will not be taken amiss, or will in any way embarrass them, if if I refer to the hon. Member for Fulham and the hon. Member for Widnes, because I should like to say that I thought that their opposition right throughout our proceedings was constantly vigorous and always fair. The comprehensiveness of the speech of the hon. Member for Fulham in this Third Reading debate today testifies to the immense amount of study he gave to the Bill and to his part in leading the Opposition on it.

I find that barbed personal pleasantries are apt to fall from the lips of the hon. Member for Widnes, but we must all stand up to that kind of thing; and as Minister of Housing and Local Government I have endured worse. I should like to single out one of my hon. Friends who served in Standing Committee, and that is my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Nottingham, Central (Lieut.-Colonel Cordeaux). By common consent he added a great deal to our knowledge and wisdom by the use he made of his experience in the great City of Nottingham.

There, as much as anywhere, I shall be following with keen interest the progress that the local authority finds it possible to make in dealing with the conditions which he described in that city where, as he rightly said—and it does not only apply there—social life has been poisoned by some of the happenings and we need, in his own phrase, to reclaim these areas that have gone downhill.

I would couple with my hon. and gallant Friend the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin), because although he has said some rather nasty things against me in the course of debate I have not the slightest doubt of his sincerity and his deep interest in these matters. It may be that we can agree to differ on some things, but respect each other for our mutual desire, in our own ways, to try to clean up some of the squalid burrows. I hope that, finally, I may express my own thanks to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. It is not for me to praise him as a party man, but I hope that I am entitled to say that when he serves on Standing Committee hon. Members on both sides gain by the clarity and lucidity and courtesy of his speeches.

I know, also, that the whole House will wish me to express thanks to the many civil servants and the parliamentary draftsmen who have been concerned with the Bill because they too, each in their own way, have been serving the House of Commons. Local authorities and their associations have also played a part in framing the Bill. I look to the local authorities to have a great part in implementing it, and also to the housing associations.

If, in this short time, I do not deal in detail with the points raised by the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler), I assure her that I am already in touch with the National Federation of Housing Associations about these matters. I shall be anxious when the Bill reaches the Statute Book to give much more detailed guidance on the part which, I hope, housing associations will play.

With particular reference to co-operative housing associations, I hope that the hon. Lady will not mind my saying that the very essence of them is that they are co-operative. They spring up by themselves. They are not created by Governments or local authorities. I entirely agree with the hon. Lady that further guidance will be needed on the manner in which they can play their part.

In spite of what has been said, I believe that we have succeeded in stilling the fears of local authorities about Clause 2 (4). If not, let me say again that there is no thought whatever in the Government's mind of using that subsection in a way that would stultify the work or embarrass the finances of local authorities. The subsection will not be used unless a situation arises in which a subsidy on the houses in question will genuinely no longer be needed.

The hon. Member for Fulham criticised the Bill in that there are only two rates of subsidy and not any interim ones. The Government considered the possibility of having some scale but, frankly, I believe that these arrangements are already sufficiently complicated and I doubt whether we should have improved them or made it easier for local authorities if we had introduced additional scales. Had we done so I think that we should have been more likely to increase than to reduce the sort of marginal anomaly to which the hon. Gentleman called attention in his speech and which we discussed in the Standing Committee in relation to one or two Welsh authorities.

The hon. Member for Fulham asserted—wishing, I know, to refute what I said in moving the Second Reading of the Bill—that the Bill was no major contribution to housing progress. We shall see. We shall all have to submit ourselves to the test of results here. At any rate, I can say that the Bill breaks fresh ground in more directions than one.

First, the Bill introduces a fundamental change in the subsidy system by making subsidy henceforth depend upon the actual or potential financial resources of the local authorities. I am grateful to the local authorities and the local authority associations for the calm and reasonable way in which they have received that radical change and shown that, whether individually they like it or not, they are all ready to try it out and seek to work it.

Secondly, the Bill breaks fresh ground in a direction which I have already mentioned. It gives local authorities not only strengthened powers, but same powers which are wholly new to deal with the squalid conditions in houses occupied by several families. Here again, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. I am not speaking of the "pudding" to which the hon. Member for Fulham referred. What I am speaking about is what should concern us all—the sort of lives our fellow-citizens have to live in some of the places where they find themselves.

My own impression is that as the years go on, and local authorities vigorously implement the powers in Part II of the Bill, the health visitors, the home nurses, the public health inspectors and the social workers, who all gain experience in such conditions, will not seek to dismiss Part II as of no account. I believe that if the local authorities use wisely and tirelessly the new powers which they are given we shall gradually see an improvement and gradually the squalor which is a disgrace to the country will disappear until it is gone for ever.

The hon. Member for Widnes has told me frequently in the course of our proceedings on the Bill that the Government's legislative programme is in a muddle. I would only say that today we are giving a Third Reading to a Bill which implements a whole range of proposals in a comprehensive White Paper published a bare four-and-a-half months ago.

No Bill will, of itself, secure enough good homes for everybody. Please do not let my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn) think that he is embarrassing me by the kind of speech which he made today. Not a bit. He is helping me. We want that kind of pressure. We want that kind of constructive criticism. We want, above all, people reminding the country that housing problems are not cured by Acts of Parliament. An Act is only the beginning. All we can do here is to frame the legislative skeleton. It must be given flesh and blood by local authorities, housing associations, builders and people of vigour and good will who care about the unhappy conditions in which still far too many people are having to live in my hon. Friend's constituency and mine and elsewhere in the big cities.

Do not let my hon. Friend or anybody else imagine that I think that the Bill is the last word on housing. I believe that housing policy has to evolve from year to year and decade to decade, and that from time to time Parliament must make fresh legislative provision for the needs that lie immediately ahead. I am sure that in the next Parliament there will be another Housing Bill—and I hope that it will be as comprehensive a one as this—to meet the needs of that day.

But, as I have said, to secure enough good homes for everybody depends on the vigorous determination of builders, architects, planners, local authorities, housing associations—everybody. We must get the legislative framework right. No Minister of Housing and no one who cares about the housing situation must ever forget that we have 3⅔million houses in England and Wales which are now more than eighty years old. The limelight is so often focused on the slums or the squalid houses in multi-occupation, or on some other feature, but at the back of it all we have that immense mass of older houses which have progressively to be replaced. That is one reason, and only one, why we must contemplate for years a big housing programme.

If I may revert to the White Paper, which is, in a sense, the father of the Bill, we have said there—and I reassert it—that during these last sixteen years there has been an immense improvement in the housing situation. The census figures which have just come out testify to that.

But again, as the White Paper says, and as I am not afraid to repeat in the House of Commons, it is not yet enough. There are still serious housing shortages in some areas. There remains some terribly bad housing. I should like hon. Members in their own constituencies, if they feel that there are housing conditions which are not being adequately tackled by the local authority or are not sufficiently known to the Minister of Housing, to take action themselves and expose them and bring all the pressure they can to bear on the local authority or otherwise to speed up action, bearing in mind that no local authority and no Minister can do everything at one time. All must be phased.

In the Bill we have implemented proposals in the White Paper which, as stated there, should give fresh impetus to solve the housing and slum clearance problems of big towns and cities, speed up building for old people, start a drive against overcrowding and squalid conditions in houses in multi-occupation, help local authorities which are in genuine difficulty about completing their housing tasks, point the way to a new development in building to let, and hasten the modernising of thousands of older houses.

These and the continued high rate of new building are the prime needs of the next few years. My concern as Minister is to give an unceasing lead: to get about and see for myself: to prod where prods are required and to praise where praise is earned: and, above all, with the backing of the House of Commons, to get those prime needs met. Housing Bills are not concerned with inanimate units; they are concerned with men, women and children and, above all, homes.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.