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Requisitioning Of Empty Houses

Volume 885: debated on Wednesday 29 January 1975

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4.18 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to give local authorities the power to requisition all dwellings when unoccupied for six months, except an empty flat in an owner-occupied house.
At the last Census in 1971, there were 676,000 empty houses and flats in England and Wales. If one adds to that the numbers in Scotland and Northern Ireland, one finds that the total represents three times the number of new dwellings built in the whole of the United Kingdom last year. Since then, the number of empty houses has increased. Many thousands of houses and flats have been empty for years, at a time when millions of men, women and children are desperately in need of proper homes.

When a house is left empty, within a matter of weeks children throw bricks through windows. They climb inside and light fires. Sometimes the house is set on fire, together with neighbouring houses. Thieves steal the lead from the roof, and they steal lead piping, with the result that in some cases they cut off the water supply not only of the house concerned but of a whole terrace of houses. Rubbish is dumped inside, leading to rats, mice, bugs and flies congregating there. Before long, the council have to brick up the empty house and often demolish it entirely.

This is an obvious provocation to squatters. There is nothing more galling to people who are homeless or having to share houses with an in-law than to see sound houses and flats going to ruin in this way. It is a major national scandal, and often occurs because property owners are holding out for a high selling price or a high rent. In some cases the owner cannot be traced since he has died, gone to Australia, or disappeared.

I should like to give some examples of this scandal which have been provided to me by hon. Friends within the last few days. I refer first to Consort Management, part of the Freshwater Group, which has 223 vacant units, 81 of them in Camden. They have been vacant for up to 18 months. The owners are deli- berately keeping them empty with a view to obtaining high selling prices. In other words, those units are more profitable when not tenanted.

In Manchester an attractive bungalow has been empty for seven years because the elderly widow who owned it died without leaving a will and the nine near relatives have still not sorted out who is the rightful heir to the property. In Putney nine out of 32 flats in a modern and highly desirable block have been empty for a year. The owners refuse either to sell or to let. In Barrow-in-Furness the council recently discussed the fact that there were more houses empty for a long period than an average year's supply of new homes in that town. In a recent court case Mr. Justice Templeman criticised the owners of the Nash houses in Cornwall Terrace, Albany Street, for leaving property empty for five years when there are so many homeless people.

The rating of empty property has not had the desired effect, nor has the CPO procedure. Compulsory purchase powers exist, but the procedure is so lengthy and cumbersome that in many cases it can take more than a year.

The Bill would provide that at the end of the fifth month notice of intent would be served by the local authority on the owner or his agent. Requisitioning would be selective. Councils would not have to take over rubbish which was not worth maintaining. They would take over empty properties and let them to those in greatest need. Requisitioning under the Bill would cost the council, the ratepayer and taxpayer nothing. No loans would have to be raised for purchase or repairs. Instead, fair rents registered on the properties and paid by the new tenants would be paid to the owners, less the amount spent on management and upkeep.

The main effect of the Bill would be to give owners an incentive to let or sell quickly and at more reasonable rents or prices, and thus would ease the severe housing shortage. It would also deter speculators from entering the private dwellings racket—or perhaps I should say market, although it certainly is a racket.

Some of my hon. Friends think the maximum period for keeping a house empty should be three rather than six months, but, since everybody in the House knows what a moderate person I am, I suggest that we should set a six-months' limit in the Bill. We can then wait to see how it succeeds.

One argument against the proposal is that it would be contrary to our sense of justice to deprive owners of their right of appeal. However, in the Bill there is right of appeal, but without the long delay which is at present involved in the CPO procedure. At the end of the fifth month the owner would be given notice by the council. If no action were then taken the council would install a tenant regarded as a priority case from its waiting list. The owner would be able to appeal although meanwhile the tenant was living in the dwelling. Should the owner later win the appeal, he would regain possession and the local authority would rehouse the tenant elsewhere.

There are other vitally needed housing reforms which are being held back because of lack of finance, but this reform, in contrast, would not cost the Government a penny.

I do not expect any support for this measure from the Conservative benches, but I should like to see the Labour Government take over the Bill, and, indeed, I would gladly hand it over to them.

I wish to thank Councillor Sam Waldman, of Camden, chairman of one of the largest associations of private landlords' tenants in the country; I also wish to thank the hon. Members for Paddington (Mr. Latham) and Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann), and also Mr. Ormandy, of the Public Health Advisory Service, for their help and advice. The 11 Members of Parliament who are the joint sponsors of the Bill are housing experts and represent different areas where this scandalous situation exists.

This Bill for the emergency occupation of empty houses and flats is not intended as a permanent or complete solution to the housing problem. I wish it were. But we are living in a time of grave housing shortage. So long as the emergency lasts, this reform should remain. People must come before property. Although this is hardly an original doctrine, nevertheless it is a good one.

4.28 p.m.

Does the hon. Gentleman wish to oppose the Bill?

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I start on a non-controversial note by wishing you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a very happy birthday? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear hear."] That is probably the last non-controversial thing I shall say today.

I hope that the House will not grant leave to introduce the Bill. I have no doubt at all about the genuine sincerity of the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun), and whatever I may say in my remarks will not take away from that attitude about the hon. Gentleman.

However, the Bill is yet another step in the Labour Party's inexorable policy and campaign against private ownership of property. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member wanted to introduce the Bill, he could have done so instead of making sedentary comments, when he knows that none of us intervened in his hon. Friend's speech.

I have no doubt that successive pieces of legislation culminating in the Housing Act and the Rent Act enacted in 1974 have played their part in drying up rented accommodation and forcing owners to leave their properties empty. Our legal system is so slow that they cannot get rid of people who are squatting on their premises.

Why do owners leave properties empty? There is a wide variety of reasons. I could mention planning permission, death and what follows, builders' estimates and other matters. I could also quote in this context what was said by a junior Minister on 22nd January:
"Houses may be empty for many reasons. They may be in process of being let, sold, converted or improved, or they may be vacant because of coming redevelopment."—[Official Report, 22nd January 1975; Vol. 884, c. 403.]
It is far too easy for blanket condemnations to be made such as those we heard in the speech of the hon. Member for Salford, East.

No, I am sorry but I have only 10 minutes in which to make my points.

The hon. Member for Salford, East is seeking in his Bill to expropriate property and hand it over to the local authority. But will this help? Anyone with eyes who is not blinkered will know that local authorities are as guilty as private landlords of leaving properties empty, and for far less reason. Equally, as the most recent Government circular showed, their standards of management and maintenance leave much to be desired. Until a few months ago I had 25 years of local government experience, and I have criticised councils of both political parties for this. It is clear that we might need to use more penalty rating. I have no time for the Bergers and Freshwaters of this world, but not all landlords are like them.

Local authorities already have too much property which they manage inadequately, as many tenants tell us in our mail. I can give examples from three London boroughs. In Redbridge eight houses in two streets have been empty for five years, in Ealing four houses have been empty for four years and in Lewisham 41 properties have been empty since before 1971. All are in the ownership of the local authority. I doubt whether Salford owns no property which has been empty for that sort of period. I take my figures not from the Estates Gazette or the Estate Times or Aims of Industry but from one of the most recent publications of Shelter.

The Bill will achieve nothing for the homeless but much for Socialism. I hope that the House will be sensible enough to refuse the hon. Member leave to introduce it.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring



[4.32 p.m.

Abse, LeoFraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)Newens, Stanley
Allaun, FrankFreud, ClementOrbach, Maurice
Archer, PeterGarrett, John (Norwich S)Ovenden, John
Ashley, JackGarrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Owen, Dr David
Ashton, JoeGeorge, BrucePadley, Walter
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)Ginsburg, DavidPalmer, Arthur
Atkinson, NormanGolding, JohnPardoe, John
Bain, Mrs MargaretGould, BryanPark, George
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Gourlay, HarryParker, John
Barnett, Rt Hon JoelGraham, TedParry, Robert
Bates, AlfGrocott, BrucePavitt, Laurie
Bean, R. E.Hamilton, James (Bothwell)Penhaligon, David
Beith, A. J.Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)Perry, Ernest
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Hamling, WilliamPhipps, Dr Colin
Bidwell, SydneyHardy, PeterPrescott, John
Blenkinsop, ArthurHarrison, Walter (Wakefield)Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Boothroyd, Miss BettyHart, Rt Hon JudithRadice, Giles
Bottomley, Rt Hon ArthurHatton, FrankReid, George
Bradford, Rev RobertHayman, Mrs HeleneRichardson, Miss Jo
Bradley, TomHeffer Eric S.Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Bray, Dr JeremyHenderson, DouglasRoderick, Caerwyn
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)Hooley, FrankRodgers, George (Chorley)
Buchan, NormanHoram, JohnRooker, J. W.
Buchanan, RichardHoyle, Douglas (Nelson)Rose, Paul B.
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)Huckfield, LesRoss, William (Londonderry)
Callaghan. Jim (Middleton & P)Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)Ryman, John
Canavan, DennisHughes, Mark (Durham)Sandelson, Neville
Cant, R. B.Hughes, Roy (Newport)Sedgemore, Brian
Carter-Jones, LewisHunter, AdamSelby, Harry
Cartwright, JohnIrvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Clemitson, IvorJackson, Miss M. (Lincoln)Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)Janner, GrevilleSilkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Coleman, DonaldJay, Rt Hon DouglasSilkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Colquhoun, Mrs MaureenJeger, Mrs LenaSillars, James
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)Jenkins. Hugh (Putney)Silverman, Julius
Corbett, RobinJohnson, James (Hull West)Skinner, Dennis
Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E)Johnson, Walter (Derby S)Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)Kelley, RichardSmith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Crawford, DouglasKerr, RussellSnape, Peter
Crawshaw, RichardKilroy-Silk, RobertSpearing, Nigel
Cronin, JohnSpriggs, Leslie
Cryer, BobLambie, DavidSteel, David (Roxburgh)
Cunningham, G. (Islington S)Lamborn, HarryStewart, Donald (Western Isles)
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)Lamond, JamesStewart, Rt Hn M. (Fulham)
Latham, Arthur (Paddington)Stoddart, David
Dalyell, TamLestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)Stott, Roger
Davidson, ArthurLewis, Ron (Carlisle)Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)Lipton, MarcusSwain, Thomas
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Litterick, TomTaylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Delargy, HughLoyden, EddieThomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Dell, Rt Hon EdmundLuard, EvanThomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Dempsey, JamesLyons, Edward (Bradford W)Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Dolg, PeterMacCormick, IainThompson, George
Douglas-Mann, BruceMcElhone, FrankThorne, Stan (Preston South)
Dunlop, JohnMacFarquhar, RoderickThorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Dunn, James A.McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)Tierney, Sydney
Dunnett, JackMadden, MaxTomlinson, John
Dunwoody, Mrs. GwynethMagee, BryanTorney, Tom
Edelman, MauriceMaguire, Frank (Fermanagh)Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Edge, GeoffMarks, KennethWalden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)Marquand, DavidWalker, Terry (Kingswood)
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Ward, Michael
English, MichaelMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)Watkins, David
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)Meacher, MichaelWatkinson, John
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)Mellish, Rt Hon RobertWatt, Hamish
Evans, John (Newton)Mikardo, IanWeetch, Ken
Ewing, Harry (Stirling)Miller, Dr M. S. (E. Kilbride)Weitzman, David
Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray)Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)Wellbeloved, James
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)Welsh, Andrew
Flannery, MartinMolloy, WilliamWhite, Frank R. (Bury)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)White, James (Pollock)
Forrester, JohnMurray, Rt Hon Ronald KingWhitehead, Phillip

in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at the commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes, 223, Noes 204.

Whitlock, WilliamWilson, Gordon (Dundeo E)
Wigley, DafyddWilson, William (Coventry SE)TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Willey, Rt Hon FrederickWise, Mrs AudreyMr. Dan Jones and
Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)Woodall, AlecMr. Mike Noble.
Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)Young, David (Bolton E)


Adley, RobertHall, Sir JohnNott, John
Alison, MichaelHall-Davis, A. G. F.Onslow, Cranley
Amery, Rt Hon JulianHamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Parkinson, Cecil
Arnold, TomHampson, Dr KeithPattie, Geoffrey
Atkins, Rt Hon H.(Spelthorne)Hannam, JohnPeyton, Rt Hon John
Baker, KennethHarvie, Anderson, Rt Hon MissPink, R. Bonner
Banks, RobertHastings, StephenPowell, Rt Hon J. Enoch
Bell, RonaldHawkins, PaulPrice, David (Eastleigh)
Benyon, W.Hayhoe, BarneyPym, Rt Hon Francis
Berry, Hon AnthonyHeath, Rt Hon EdwardRaison, Timothy
Biffen, JohnHeseltine, MichaelRathbone, Tim
Biggs-Davison, JohnHicks, RobertRees, Peter (Dover & Deal)
Blaker, PeterHiggins, Terence L.Rees-Davies, W. R.
Body, RichardHolland, PhilipRenton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Boscawen, Hon RobertHordern, PeterRenton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)Howell, David (Guildford)Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)Howell Ralph (North Norfolk)Ridsdale, Julian
Brotherton, MichaelHurd, DouglasRifkind, Malcolm
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)Hutchison, Michael ClarkRippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Bryan, Sir PaulJames, DavidRoberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Buchanan-Smith, AlickJenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Buck, AntonyJessel, TobyRossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Bulmer, EsmondJones, Arthur (Daventry)Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)
Burden, F. A.Jopling, MichaelRoyle, Sir Anthony
Butler, Adam (Bosworth)Joseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithSainsbury, Tim
Carlisle, MarkKaberry, Sir DonaldSt. John-Stevas, Norman
Chalker, Mrs LyndaKimball, MarcusScott, Nicholas
Channon, PaulKing, Evelyn (South Dorset)Scott-Hopkins, James
Churchill, W. S.Kirk, PeterShaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)Kitson, Sir TimothyShelton, William (Streatham)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Lamont, NormanShepherd, Colin
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)Lane, DavidSilvester, Fred
Cope, JohnLatham, Michael (Melton)Sims, Roger
Cormack, PatrickLawrence, IvanSinclair, Sir George
Costain, A. P.Lawson, NigelSkeet, T. H. H.
Crouch, DavidLe Merchant, SpencerSmith, Dudley (Warwick)
Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford)Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Spence, John
Dean, Paul (N Somerset)Lloyd, IanSpicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Dodsworth, GeoffreyLoveridge, JohnSpicer, Michael (S. Worcester)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesLuce, RichardSproat, Iain
Drayson, BurnabyMcAdden, Sir StephenStainton, Keith
du Cann, Rt Hon EdwardMcCrindle, RobertStanley, John
Dykes, HughMacfarlane, NeilSteen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Eden, Rt Hon Sir JohnMacGregor, JohnStewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)Stokes, John
Elliott, Sir WilliamMadel, DavidStradling Thomas, J.
Eyre, ReginaldMarten, NeilTaylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Fairbairn, NicholasMates, MichaelTebbit, Norman
Fairgrieve, RussellMather, CarolTemple-Morris, Peter
Fell, AnthonyMaude, AngusThatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Finsberg, GeoffreyMaudling, Rt Hon ReginaldTownsend, Cyril D.
Fisher, Sir NigelMawby, RayTugendhat, Christopher
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinVaughan, Dr Gerard
Fletcher-Cooke, CharlesMayhew, PatrickViggers, Peter
Fookes, Miss JanetMeyer, Sir AnthonyWakeham, John
Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)Mills, PeterWalker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)Miscampbell, NormanWalters, Dennis
Fry, PeterMitchell, David (Basingstoke)Warren, Kenneth
Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.Moate, RogerWeatherill, Bernard
Gardiner, George (Reigate)Molyneaux, JamesWells, John
Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham)Monro, HectorWiggin, Jerry
Glyn, Dr AlanMoore, John (Croydon C)Winterton, Nicholas
Goodhart, PhilipMore, Jasper (Ludlow)Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Goodhew, VictorMorgan, GeraintYounger, Hon George
Goodlad, AlastairMorris, Michael (Northampton S)
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)Morrison, Charles (Devizes)TELLERS FOR THE NOES
Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)Morrison, Peter (Chester)Mr. Nick Budgen and
Gray, HamishMudd, DavidSir Brandon Rhys Williams.
Griffiths EldonNeubert, Michael
Grist, IanNewton, Tony

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Frank Allaun, Mr. Arthur Latham, Mr. Douglas-Mann, Mr. Blenkinsop, Mr. Robin F. Cook, Mr. Andrew F. Bennett, Mr. Ron Thomas, Mrs. Wise, Mr. Dan Jones, Mr. Jim Callaghan, Mr. Mike Noble, and Mr. Julius Silverman.

Requisitioning Of Empty Houses

Mr. Frank Allaun accordingly presented a Bill to give local authorities the power to requisition all dwellings when unoccupied for six months, except an empty flat in an owner-occupied house; and the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 28th February and to be printed. [Bill 71.]