§ Mr. G. Hutchinson
I beg to move, in page 6, line 44, at the end, to insert:and any local Act amending that Act.It might be for the convenience of the House if we were to discuss with this Amendment the following two Amendments in page 6, lines 45 and 47, and the two Amendments which stand in my name in page 7, lines 5 and 9.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
These Amendments relate to the same matter. They deal with what is a minor point, but a point of some importance, and I think it is unlikely that they will arouse any criticism or opposition. As the Bill was submitted, it provided that the private street works code, which is referred to in certain Clauses, should be the Private Street Works Act of 1892, certain sections of the Public Health Act of 1875 and certain local Acts in which parts of those two Acts are incorporated.
When this Clause was examined it transpired that there were a number of local authorities who were operating private street works schemes under local Acts, some of which did not include all the provisions of the Acts of 1892 and 1875 to which this subsection refers. I think it was recognised by everybody involved in this matter that it was not the intention of the Bill to interfere with the powers which were being exercised under these local Acts by the local authorities concerned. The purpose of the Amendments is to rectify that point and to enable those local authorities who have special codes or who have codes which differ from those referred to in the subsection to continue to operate powers which they now possess under their special Acts.
§ 12 noon.
§ Mr. Mitchison
This rather technical point has been put so clearly by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson) that I would not wish to add to what he has said, except that I think that these Amendments, too, represent an improvement.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendments made: In page 6, line 45, after "any," insert "county."
In line 47, leave out from beginning, to second "that," in line 4 on page 7, and insert:
regulating the procedure relating to the execution of street works and payments in respect thereof."—[Mr. Hutchinson.]
§ Mr. Hutchinson
I beg to move, in page 7, line 5, to leave out from the beginning to "and," in line 6, and to insert:(c) in any county borough or county district in which sections one hundred and fifty, one hundred and fifty-one and one hundred and fifty-two of the Public Health Act, 1875, are in force, those sections.This is part of the same matter to which my other Amendments relate, and I do not desire to detain the House with any further observations upon it.
§ Amendment agreed to.
Further Amendment made: In page 7, line 9, at end, insert:
Provided that if in any county borough or county district there is in force a local Act referred to in sub-paragraph (b) of this definition and also either the code referred to in sub-paragraph (a) or the code referred to in sub-paragraph (c) the council of that borough or district shall determine which of such codes shall be deemed to be the appropriate private street works code for the purposes of this Act."—[Mr. Hutchinson.]
§ 12.2 p.m.
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
This Bill which is to be given its Third Reading carries my name—and that, to some extent, will be a curiosity, because I had literally nothing to do with it. I signed a book in the "No" Lobby and chance promoted me to membership of the Billstickers' Union; and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) invented the Bill.
It was a good Bill, and a very fortunate Bill. It had the good fortune to meet with the approval of the Government through the Ministry of Local Government and Planning. It also had the good fortune to meet with the approval on Second Reading of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson)—with qualifications; but I think I am right in saying that it was due to his approval, though qualified, on Second Reading that we were able to take the Bill upstairs. Had he been in direct opposition it is exceedingly doubtful whether we should have got the Bill upstairs at all.
2176 However, having got the Bill upstairs the technicians got to work. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering and the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ilford, North, got out their tools, their saws and chisels—I hope they will not mind my using the word "chisels"—and set to work to mould this Bill into something nearer to their hearts' desire. The hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), also formed part of the team. He, like every alert scout, stood aside with the oil can ready to see that the wheels continued to turn. The remainder of the Committee, I am afraid, were rather like the public who stand on the pavement and watch men at work on the streets. Eventually, as a result of a combined "op," it was brought down here again as a new Streets Bill, and, whatever may have been its value in the beginning, it is certainly, I think, a better Bill now.
But a great deal of the credit for the improvement of the Bill, and even for its reaching this stage, must be given to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ilford, North. On the whole, I think, we are now about to send a stage further on its journey a Bill which eventually may be of real value to a large number of the population, and which will, we hope, in the future prevent what has been recognised as being an evil of the past. Therefore, I hope that, although my name will be always attached to this Measure, those who have done the work will receive the credit to which they are entitled.
§ 12.8 p.m.
§ Mr. G. Hutchinson
When this Bill was first moved by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinley), it seemed to some of my hon. Friends and me that the purpose which he had in mind was a purpose which we on this side of the House should desire to support. Even the speech that was made on Second Reading by the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) did not dispel that first favourable impression.
As the hon. Gentleman has said, when this Bill reached the Committee stage there was at first a marked difference of opinion amongst some of us as to the form which the Bill should eventually take. The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) and I certainly 2177 set to work on the Bill with a number of different instruments. I notice that the hon. Member for Bootle did not include amongst the instruments used tommy guns or battle axes. I think that both of us desired that the Bill should pass into law in a practical and effective form.
The difficulty about persons who promote meritorious causes is that they are inclined at times to allow their enthusiasm to get the better of them. That is, I think, what really happened to the hon. Member for Bootle. This was a New Streets Bill, and in his enthusiasm he applied it not only to new streets but to old streets as well. It seemed to us that that might impose an unnecessary burden upon a large number of persons who desired, if they were able to do so, to build houses for themselves in existing streets. I say an unnecessary burden because the application of the Bill to existing streets did nothing to defeat the particular evil—and it is a great evil—which this Bill set out to remove. The other defect which we saw in the Bill was that it would have prevented estate developers from making arrangements with local authorities before the development of the estate begins, to make up and to complete streets according to the specifications upon which local authorities insist before they take over these streets. The second of those two defects has been completely removed by the Amendments which have been accepted.
The first defect has to a substantial extent been mitigated. How serious that defect would have been had it remained in the Bill was illustrated very clearly by a letter which I received from a young lady after the Second Reading of the Bill. The letter puts the matter so plainly that I venture to read to the House one or two passages from it. She wrote:I am a resident of Ilford, and although but 21 years of age have lived there almost all my life. I am engaged to an ex-naval man, and we plan to marry during this coming July. Our main problem, of course, is that of other young couples the country over—where to live.We thought we would solve our problem without bothering other people overmuch by building a bungalow of our own ourselves.I am sure the House will consider that that was a most laudable ambition for these young people to have.So, with hopeful hearts and all the faith in the world we pooled our resources (a naval 2178 gratuity representing the larger portion of these) and purchased a plot of ground some 150 feet by 77 feet in June last year for the sum of £275….When buying the land we were under the impression that a claim lodged for exemption from payment of development charges made by the previous owners was transferable to us and that we should not have to pay development charges outright, but that they would be set off against this claim. This was confirmed by our solicitor. But, however, after the transaction was completed and our plans for the bungalow were passed by the Council and sent to the Central Land Board, Cambridge, we were informed by these worthies that we should have to pay, although we stood to have the money refunded in securities, in part or in whole, in 1953.After some six or seven months of pleading and discussion with the Land Board and solicitor, we have had to resign ourselves to the fact that in our innocence and zeal we bought the land by the wrong process and that we should necessarily have to succumb to the ruling of the Land Board.We have had the development charges assessed by the District Valuer—a very nice young man I understand from my fiancé who has met him—and the sum arrived at is £170. Well, this is a shock from which we have just about recovered. But enough of that….We have the land, our plans have been passed and approved, and planning permission has been given; we propose to do the work ourselves, calling upon no labour from the Festival of Britain or anywhere else; we have agreed that we must pay the development charges. We are young, we are willing. We want a house, a home and a family…I am aware of the very valuable work you have done with regard to the New Streets Bill.This Bill concerns us in no small way in our proposed building on an unmade road as you will appreciate, and when I learned of your amendments and your fight to eliminate the worst features of the Bill, I thought to myself"—Well, I will not tell the House what she thought to herself. She goes on:Hence this letter—rambling perhaps, a trifle incoherent, but sincere.I ask you…to consider this case and, if possible, to do something that will assist us in our fight to obtain a licence—and in that you may, directly or indirectly, help many hundreds of others.I was bound to write to this young lady in reply to her letter and inform her that if this Bill became law in the form in which it was then being submitted she would have to pay, according to my calculation—I think the cost of street works today is £2 to £3 per foot frontage—on the lowest computation a further £154; and if by the time the streets works charges were assessed their cost had gone up to £3 a foot—I am told it is the present 2179 cost in many districts—she would have to pay £231, so that in addition to a development charge of £170 she might have to pay a further £231 before she was allowed to lay one brick upon another, without any guarantee by the local authority that the street would be made up within any appreciable period of time.
Now I read this letter to the House because I think it illustrates very clearly the type of case in which the evil the hon. Gentleman had in mind to eliminate did not exist, but in which very great hardship would have been done to young persons who were anxious to help themselves, in an age when people are more inclined to expect other people to help them, and who would have had to face a very substantial burden before they were able to do so. I think both the hon. Member for Bootle and the hon. and learned Member for Kettering both saw that in the first blush of enthusiasm they had overlooked the case of people like my youthful correspondent. Accordingly, they were very ready to agree that this Bill should be modified so as to exclude this case. This young lady can now probably start to build her house without having that fear. I hope she will be able to do so soon. I trust that the Parliamentary Secretary will pay attention to this, because if the local authority can obtain the licence from the Ministry of Local Government and Planning she will get her licence before very long.
In conclusion, I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Bootle and the hon. and learned Member for Kettering upon the readiness with which they accepted our point of view on this matter. I think that this Bill will now eliminate an evil, which we all recognise to be a very real evil, although not so widespread as the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch would perhaps have the House believe. Of course, as I said on Second Reading, Hornchurch is not exactly like other places.
This Bill in its present form is a useful Bill, which will not impede progress and building development—when building development begins again in its full vigour—and which I hope will impose no great hardship on people like the young lady whose letter I have quoted, who desire to help themselves in a difficult and rather frustrating situation.
§ 12.20 p.m.
§ Mr. MacColl (Widnes)
I understand that the difficulty of the young lady whose letter has just been read was that she had not had very good advice before she started her negotiations. I think that the lesson to be taken from that is that any young lady from that constituency contemplating launching herself in holy matrimony, should always take the advice of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson) before doing so. I feel that if the young female constituents of the hon. and learned Gentleman would do that, probably a great deal of hardship would be avoided.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that where the young lady went wrong was not in a matter of law, but in one of those matters which is, unfortunately, laid down in a circular issued by the Central Land Board; so even if she had obtained what the hon. Member considered to be the best possible advice, she might still have encountered the same difficulty in the end.
§ Mr. MacColl
But the hon. and learned Gentleman would have been able to give advice on many other aspects of this matter, apart from purely legal aspects.
As one who has taken no part in the discussion on the Bill and was not a member of the Committee upstairs, I should like to express my very great appreciation of the work that has been done. My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinley) tried to disown his child, but I do not think he should be allowed to get away with that. I know that some of us who may be fortunate to win in some sort of a lottery would not always take such good advantage of it as my hon. Friend has done. He has rendered great service to the country and I hope his Bill will be of enormous value to the development of these private estates.
It is not only in Hornchurch that these particular difficulties have arisen. My constituency is near that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle, and it is one of my most alarming and worrying problems. My constituents would be grateful to him for having introduced the Bill. I would also like to congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). If he is not the father of the child, he has been an enthusiastic and devoted midwife. He 2181 has accomplished with very great skill, and because of his great legal knowledge and tact, much of the work associated with such a Measure as this, and he has furthered the interests of the Bill.
I do not know what happened upstairs, but there must have been an extraordinary atmosphere, for I have not before seen so many hon. and learned Members of this House cooing at each other as there have been on this Bill—the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ilford, North, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing). The atmosphere must have indeed been very good, and unlike what is usually associated with the work of hon. and learned Gentlemen.
There is one word I should like to say to the Parliamentary Secretary in particular and to the Government in general. I notice that the long Title of the Bill is:to secure"—the emphasis is on the word "secure"—the satisfactory construction, lighting, sewerage, furnishing and completion of streets adjacent to new buildings, and to oblige and empower local authorities to adopt such streets.The great difficulty is that though in this Bill we are providing the financial machinery for making up the new streets, as long as there is difficulty in getting authority for private street work to be done owing to the financial position, it is not going to secure that streets are actually made up. I know the difficulty in my own constituency, and I am sure that it is the same in many other constituencies. It has not been possible to get capital permission for the work and it is not only a question of financial adjustment. If this Bill becomes an Act, to make it effective it will be necessary for the Government to be more sympathetic in the allocation of capital to this work than has been the case in the past.
In my constituency this is a very grave and very pressing problem. This problem is not only concerned with the owner-occupier, who, in many cases, is in the higher income group, but in my own area the particular difficulty is with colliery estates. It will be necessary, if the Bill is to be effective in the future, for a more generous view to be taken of the matter than in the past. I greatly welcome the Bill and I should like to thank those 2182 hon. Members who have laboured so hard and so tirelessly to produce it. It will be of tremendous value and it will be warmly welcomed throughout the country.
§ 12.26 p.m.
§ Brigadier Medlicott (Norfolk, Central)
I am glad to have the opportunity very briefly to express my satisfaction that the Bill is making such good progress on its way towards the Statute Book. All of us to some extent look at this Measure from the point of view of our own constituencies. I have the privilege of representing a constituency, which has a very unusual shape. It is, in fact, a complete circle around the City of Norwich. The whole of the fringe areas of the city therefore come within that constituency, and we have not merely a few unmade streets but miles of them; and many of them have been in an unmade condition for upwards of 15 years.
I make no undue criticism of the builders in the pre-war days when those houses were built. The great anxiety was to get houses erected as quickly as possible, and there was no reason to anticipate that the streets and all the ancillary services would not be provided within a reasonable time. No one had any reason to think that there would be the intervention of war, and that there would be a delay of ten or even more years before the streets could be completed.
In many places, of which Norwich is only one example, there are these miles and miles of unmade streets, and it will be some considerable time, under the necessarily slow procedure of the Private Street Works Act, 1892, before these houses have the normal amenities. It has been obvious for some time that there was a defect in the existing law, and I join with those who have tendered their congratulations to the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinley) and the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) on bringing in what is a very useful Bill and one which has not been impaired in its passage through the House.
As it happens, the Bill will not do very much immediate good to my own constituents, but at least it is reassuring to know that the law on the matter and the general arrangements for the providing of streets and services in the future is likely to be improved. For that reason 2183 we in Norfolk especially are very appreciative of the fact that this Bill has now come forward.
§ 12.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Gibson (Clapham)
As one whose name is on the Bill but who was not a member of the Committee which dealt With it, I should like to wish it well on its Third Reading and to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinky). I think he has rather overlooked his own work in connection with this Bill. It is quite true that it was the luck of the ballot which made it possible for him to join the Billstickers' Union, but billsticking is a very necessary function, and his name and good work have been very useful in connection with this Bill.
I should like also to congratulate my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). He did an enormous amount of work in connection with it, and from the many times he has badgered me in the corridors about Amendments and alterations—about some of which I must confess I was at one time very dubious—I know something of the tremendous drive and energy which he has put into getting this Bill through so successfully. I am sure that the people who live in the streets which will be properly constructed and lighted as a result of this Bill, will have something for which to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle.
The Bill provides for the satisfactory construction of streets. I have long experience of local government housing work and the building of roads, and I know how varied are the specifications for street works which obtain in this country and how costly many of them are. I hope that one result of the consideration which we have given to the Bill will be some attempt to build up a generally accepted specification for road work.
It really is absurd to find that somebody building a row of houses is compelled to put in a road which will carry a lorry or a loaded bus when neither a lorry nor a loaded bus will ever go along the road and all that will use the road will be vehicles like that of the milkman or the baker, and once a week the dustcart. Some authorities insist rigidly upon expensive kerbing, which is necessary when there will be very heavy traffic but 2184 not in small side streets, or less busy streets, or in the culs-de-sac, of which we seem to be so fond in these days. Expensive kerbing in those places is a great waste of public money when it will never be used for the purpose for which it is intended.
I hope that the Ministry will give some thought to this matter. In the past some attempt has been made to get a generally accepted minimum specification for road work. I am sure that the people who will benefit from the operations of the Bill will be very much helped if some minimum specification, suitable for meeting the type of traffic which will go over particular roads, can be worked out. It would have saved the lady friend of the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson) some of the trouble she had. In many parts of this country roads are being laid down at a very expensive rate which is unjustifiable, having regard to the traffic which has to go through them. I hope that the Bill will result in consideration being given to this matter. I congratulate my two hon. Friends again upon having succeeded in getting a private Member's Bill through to deal with this matter and I hope that it will be of benefit to the country generally.
§ 12.34 p.m.
§ Sir H. Williams
Nobody listening to this debate would realise exactly what happened upstairs in the Committee. The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinley) has moved the Third Reading, but I know that during the Committee stage, which he attended with great devotion, he was very much under the weather. He took no part in the proceedings except to vote. I am very glad to see him alive as well as kicking, this morning. I think that the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) was verging on the offensive when he suggested that I occupy the nether regions of the House.
At any rate, we have completely transformed the Bill. As originally introduced, this was a thoroughly bad Bill and if it had become law it would have paralysed building development. We ought to be grateful to those who worked so hard to bring about the change. The debate upstairs revealed that in some parts of the country there have been unfortunate episodes, in which some people appear to have been defrauded. I never 2185 heard of any case like that. Originally I misconceived the purpose behind the Bill but it is now in a very satisfactory form, and will solve the problems which it was designed to solve, without creating evils which might have come from it.
In the Committee I called this Measure the "Aladdin Bill", and I think it was not a bad title. The wealth of experience which emanated from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson) prompts me to suggest to him that he ought to have his speech framed and hung in the front parlour of his constituent. It was also suggested that a copy of HANSARD should be put in a canister and buried in the foundations of her bungalow. There was great substance in what the hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) has just said. It is absurd that streets which are never going to carry much traffic should be constructed in such a costly way and be such an intolerable burden upon public funds or upon private individuals. It is a terrible penalty that is sometimes inflicted upon people quite unnecessarily, because of the enormous variety of specifications.
I know of a most strange case. Many years ago I lived near Port Sunlight, which was developed by the late Lord Leverhulme. He laid out a whole estate and put footpaths down the side of each street. Later, he asked the local authority, which was then the Bebington Urban District Council, to take them over, but they replied: "We shall only take them over if the whole of the footpaths are altered to local pattern." Lord Leverhulme objected, owing to the great expense he had gone to in constructing them. He was a rather autocratic sort of man, so he replied: "If you won't take over my roads, you shall not use the estate", which had five entrances. He had stakes put into four of them, so that they could not be used, leaving only one open. All went well until a fire broke out in his timber store, and they had to telephone for the assistance of Birkenhead fire brigade, which could not reach the fire until the stakes had been taken out of the roads. Otherwise the brigade could not get through. I mention that story as an illustration of the difficulties that sometimes arise. Fundamentally, Lord Leverhulme was right to ask the local authority not to change the footpaths 2186 merely because they thought they could make them look more tidy with the rest of the district.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Clapham has raised this point, which may help the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Local Government and Planning, especially in view of the fact that since the Bill started, his responsibilities have expanded. Presumably that is why he is here this morning. We had no Ministerial assistance upstairs. On two occasions I saw the Minister unobtrusively creep in. He only came in to vote. I do not think he uttered a solitary word. That is the first case I have ever known—and I have been on many Standing Committees—of a Committee being without Ministerial assistance. I believe the Minister did something behind the scenes in the "infernal regions." The Bill is now a good Bill and I hope that, after a happy passage in another place, it will soon become the law of the land and rejoice its promoters and those who will benefit by it.
§ 12.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Bing (Hornchurch)
It is always a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), because, however uncontroversial a Measure is, one can be certain that he will say something with which one can disagree. He was good enough to say that he thought that in its first form the Bill would have paralysed building development. I should like to amend that remark, and then I think I shall agree with him. In its first form the Bill would have paralysed the estate developer. I and a great many of my hon. Friends much regret the changes which have taken place in the Measure, and if we agree to the Third Reading today, it is only because the Bill is the best that we can get.
I played a very humble part in the Committee stage of the Measure. I restricted myself entirely to moving the Closure from time to time, but without that endeavour the Measure would never have reached this stage and all that the country would have had would have been a number of orations from the hon. Member for Croydon, East. It is desirable that we should have the Measure even though we have it only in this mutilated form, and therefore I hope that the House will give it a Third Reading shortly so 2187 that it will pass from here to another place. However, we ought not, when passing the Measure, to raise the hopes of people by representing it to be more than it is, and it is very necessary that we on this side of the House, who have been, at any rate to some considerable degree, responsible for it, should point out at this time its limitations so that the hopes of unfortunate frontagers shall not be unnecessarily raised.
The hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson) was kind enough to say that my constituency was unique. I am grateful for the compliment to both the constituency, and I hope, myself. I was very sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for "Greater Norwich"—Norfolk, Central (Brigadier Medlicott)—attempted immediately to explain that his constituency was equally unique. It would be wrong for any of us to say that our own constituencies have more unmade road problems than any other. Most constituencies have unmade roads. They differ only in that some have Members of Parliament who have noticed them and others have Members of Parliament who have not noticed them. While I can congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North, on the way in which he has presented his part in this affair to his constituents, I am not prepared to give him the same degree of congratulation which some other hon. Members have showered on him.
The opposition to the Bill and the unfortunate compromise at which we have had to arrive, have very much weakened the Bill in dealing with estate developers. It is all very well for the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North to say that it is merely a New Streets Bill, but, as everybody knows, one judges a Bill not by its short Title, which is very often put on for convenience, but by its long Title, and in the long Title there is no mention at all of new streets. It says that this is a Bill to deal with the making up, generally speaking, of private streets, and that is the problem with which we have really failed to deal in the Bill because, instead of restricting it—
§ Mr. Hutchinson
The hon. and learned Gentleman recognises no doubt that the bad estate developer, against whom the 2188 Bill was originally directed, does not work in existing streets but only on new estates.
§ Mr. Bing
That may well be so, but the evil that he does lives after him. It may well be that we need some legislation now, and when I deal in a little more detail with the way the Bill will affect my constituency, the hon. and learned Gentleman will see that we need power to deal with the bad estate developer and with what the bad estate developer was doing in 1936 and 1937. One of the principal criticisms of the Bill and of the hon. Gentlemen opposite is that they never introduced it at the time the main amount of street building was being done by means of the Private Street Works Act.
The hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North also said that one of the reason hon. Members were able to give a Second Reading to the Bill was that they were able to ignore a speech made by me on the subject. All I had the temerity to suggest on that occasion was that the Bill might do some good, and I suppose that it was for that reason that hon. and learned Gentlemen opposite, feeling that they could get on the Committee and do away with that provision, felt that it was quite safe to let the Bill pass that stage. But I think that the Bill still does some good, and if I deal shortly with the points in which I think it does some good, it may be a help not only to the House but also to a large number of people outside who place a great deal of trust and reliance in what we are trying to do at long last for persons who live in unmade streets.
I ought just to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinley) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle was much reproved by hon. Gentlemen opposite for not taking a greater part in the deliberations in the Committee. Those deliberations took a great deal of time, and I feel that the best contribution which could have been made to the passage of the Measure on those occasions was silence, and if my hon. Friend indulged in that, he is to be congratulated upon it. But it is fair to say that at the time he was particularly ill and he came to the Committee when he was sick and had no right at all to be in the House. In those days the Committees were composed of 25 hon. Members from 2189 one side of the House and 25 from the other, and although this is entirely a non-party measure, it always happened that whenever the Committee came to be divided it was divided on strictly party lines, and had my hon. Friend not put his illness second and the welfare of the frontagers first and attended the Committee, we should not be discussing the Bill here now.
§ Mr. Marples (Wallasey)
In fairness to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), who has just left the Chamber, he said that he appreciated that the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinley) had been ill and that he was glad to see him restored to his normal state of health.
§ Mr. Bing
I do not want to be drawn into side-lines. I know that the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) has a Bill which he is hoping to move at another stage, but it is fair to say that such remarks in regard to my hon. Friend might have been far more suitably made in the Committee when he was suffering from illness and where he was exposed all the time to what I suppose was intended to be good-natured chaff.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman does not wish to mislead the House. As soon as it was made known to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), that the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinley) was unwell, he at once withdrew the comments in the Committee.
§ Mr. Bing
In that case we have at least reached one point of agreement. We can now all congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle, while during the Committee Stage only one side of the Committee was prepared to do so.
To turn to the provisions of the Bill, the first point worth mentioning is the date on which the Bill comes into operation. There is generally an idea in the public mind that once a matter has passed through the House of Commons the public can immediately get some relief from it, but that is not so in this case, and it is necessary to emphasise that the date laid down in the Bill is 1st July, 1951.
2190 Secondly, it is very necessary to emphasise that, owing to the very unfortunate Amendments made at a later stage, this is the New Streets Bill and that the real problem from which such constituencies as mine are suffering is that of old streets. There are immense quantities of passages between houses which are dignified by the name of streets but into which people very often sink right over the ankles in mud. In many constituencies they are a local monument to private enterprise in building, a monument that we should like to remove. It might well be that for election purposes it would be a good thing to leave it there, but purely from the point of view of the comfort of the people living there it is necessary to remove it.
I want to refer to the sort of difficulty with which the Bill will not altogether deal, although it will in the main in future prevent this sort of thing from taking place. I will take an example from my own constituency. In the wealthier part of the constituency—the part I mentioned when dealing with the matter on Second Reading, the part where the Labour Party seldom secures more than 1,000 votes in the local elections—there was an estate developer of the type with whom we hope to deal under the Bill. This estate developer—the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North, commented earlier that the estate developer always dealt with new estates and, therefore, the Bill would not allow us to go back and deal with old ones—bought an estate a long time ago. How he did it I do not know, because the capital of his company was only £100. He then proceeded—this is typical of the evils we are trying to do away with in this Bill—
§ Mr. Hutchinson
The hon. and learned Gentleman will appreciate that I was saying that they were not typical. There are black sheep in every fold. There are some bad estate developers, and it is with 2191 them that this Bill seeks to deal. The hon. and learned Gentleman is not entitled to say that they are typical.
§ Mr. Bing
I may not be entitled to say that, and I did not attempt to do so; I was saying that these estate developers were typical of the people at whom the Bill is aimed. Now we are agreed.
We are not legislating, I hope, to harm the good developer. He is someone presumably deserving of our good wishes. We are legislating to deal with the bad developer. May I give the House an example of the sort of thing with which I hope this Bill will deal, and which, in its amended form, I think, makes it more difficult to deal with than was the case when the Bill was first introduced by the hon. Member for Bootle.
In the more wealthy part of Horn-church, there was an estate company which bought up valuable land. They proceeded to sell individual plots to builders who came from all over the country in the building boom of the inter-war years. These builders bought plots, and there was an arrangement with the builders that the estate development company would themselves make up all the roads, in accordance with a little paragraph in the agreement, to the specifications of the Romford Rural District Council. It happened that at that time the Romford Rural District Council were no longer the authority. The authority had become the Hornchurch Urban District Council, who had quite different rules and specifications. While the builders thought that they were secure for road charges, in fact they were only secure for road charges worth about 18s. according to the Romford specification as compared with road charges which came to about 25s. to 30s., during that pre-war period, in the Hornchurch Council's specifications.
Each builder, of course, was able properly to charge the person who bought the house with the road charges, because he said, "I paid for them when I bought the plot of land from the developer, and sooner or later the developer will make up the road." One builder, to whom I think we ought to pay tribute, put the money which he received from the person who bought the house into a separate fund, so he was waiting until such time 2192 as the road developer made up the road before he appropriated to himself the money for road charges which he had received from the person to whom he had sold the house. But this was only done in one case.
In the other cases, as soon as the company had disposed of all its plots of land and before much building commenced, because the war intervened, the company was wound up. Therefore, it was impossible for it to fulfil any of its obligations. But there is no obligation on the builder to build up the road because the builder has taken the money from the purchaser of the house and in his contract provided that that gave him the right to have the road made up by this particular company, which, I think, was called the Panklands Estate Company.
The man in the street has no remedy whatsoever. This Bill, as originally drawn, did, I think, deal successfully with that sort of estate company. I am much more doubtful whether the Bill as present drawn is able to do that. It is all very well for hon. Gentlemen opposite to say that this Bill has passed through in its present form because ultimately we reached agreement. The only reason it passed through in its present form was that the Committee was divided 25 to 25. Hon. Members on this side of the House, knowing that we were in Committee on Private Bills, and having some feeling for Private Bills coming later, were not prepared to sit day after day and week after week in an attempt to get the Bill through.
Therefore, we had to make some compromise, as the hon. and learned Member for Kettering and the hon. Member for Clapham—who is my own Member of Parliament and a very good one—know, which was extremely distasteful to the Labour Members on the Committee. If this Bill shows anything, it shows the undesirability of having only a very small Parliamentary majority.
May I turn now to some interesting points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham? He has had very great experience on the London County Council in dealing with all questions of building, and I think that the House should pay particular attention to what he says. May I respectfully endorse the 2193 various remarks that he made and amplify them to some small degree? It is absolutely essential, if this Bill is to be successful, that there should be accompanying administrative action on the part of the Minister, and the Minister should particularly give some general guidance on the type of specification of the road which is to be put down. Failure to do this has led, I think, to continued confusion.
I will give the Parliamentary Secretary an example near to his own heart. It is the dispute between the Essex County Council and the new town of Harlow, dealing with the specifications of the roads in the new town. Normally speaking, when a road is made up in an area where there is considerable building and considerable building of new streets, that generally implies that the district is growing to such an extent that it is likely to form an urban district of its own. Until it reaches that stage, it is not in a position to decide what type of roads it should have. That is a matter for the county council to decide.
It is said that this Bill will mean considerable charges on frontagers. That may be so if the frontagers are compelled to have their roads made up in accordance with the specifications of the county council, quite properly drawn up with regard to the general level of work and quality of county roads. But a County Council, particularly in the new towns, cannot deal with and is not in a position to know what is the sort of development which the new town is planning, and what traffic a particular road is carrying, or even that the new town is not going to build another block so that a particular road will be cut off and will have no general access to it.
As a result of the failure of administrative action in regard to that matter, there is a grave danger that the passing of this Bill may lead to the imposition of excessive road charges. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, will deal very seriously with this question, because, as was said by the hon. Member for Clap-ham, in a time when the construction of roads is limited by our national resources, it is particularly necessary that the material should be spread as well as possible, and that we do not have just one street made up to a tremendous thickness 2194 and strength and a great number of other areas left with their roads not made up.
I speak with considerable feeling on this matter. Although I do not claim that my own constituency is unique, I hope soon to bring to the Parliamentary Secretary a deputation to deal with this question in order to see whether we cannot get some further opportunities of making up old streets, and it is therefore of the utmost importance that we consider the whole problem of the specifications of the streets.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
The hon. and learned Member will appreciate that under existing legislation the question whether a standard specification for a street is a reasonable specification must eventually be a matter for a court and not for the Minister.
§ Mr. Bing
I appreciate that; it is a valuable point and I am glad that the hon. and learned Member has made it, otherwise I might to some extent have misled the House. The real difficulty, which arose also when the Bill contained a number of Clauses—it is a good thing, perhaps, that we do not have them now—providing for ultimate appeal to the courts, is that that is a difficult, complicated and expensive procedure which may involve considerable delay. It would be much better if we were to embark on some administrative means, if only by means of advice, to see that we get a uniform, and perhaps not quite such a superior, specification in some particular cases.
I am sorry I have detained the House so long. I make up for my long silence in the Committee by saying what I want to say now. The House should welcome the Bill and pass it, even limited as it is in scope. If we do so and embark upon this kind of reform of the new streets procedure, we must at the same time attempt to tackle the far greater problem, which we have deliberately excluded from the Bill, of the old streets. I know in my own constituency of the immense human misery caused by these unlighted thoroughfares. I knew of an old age pensioner who fell and broke his leg in a great hole in an unlighted street. No proper provision is made for those streets, and only by getting the unanimous agreement of the frontagers can any sort of temporary repairs be effected. The Bill does not deal with any of these problems, 2195 and it is most necessary that my hon. Friend should give his earnest and immediate attention to that aspect of the matter.
§ 1.5 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Local Government and Planning (Mr. Lindgren)
I join with all those who have spoken in this Third Reading debate in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinley) and his legal adviser, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). They will join a very select group of Members who have been privileged to get a Private Member's Bill on to the Statute Book. On behalf of the Government, I accept the Bill and congratulate my hon. Friends on the good work they have done.
I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) that the Bill is not as definite as some of us would have liked; I should have preferred its earlier structure, but in this age of negotiation and compromise we accept the Amendments which have been made. Speaking departmentally, I think my hon. Friends were wise in accepting many of the Amendments in the light of their desire to get the Bill on to the Statute Book. Had they taken a line which they still think was the better line, not even the Bill in its present shape would have come about.
I emphasise quite definitely the point made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch that the Bill in no way deals with the problems of the unmade roads which are to be seen from one end of the country to the other. Like the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson), all of us who spoke in the Second Reading debate have had a fan mail regarding those roads. Some of the letters were extremely distressing. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch has told the House of the old age pensioner in his constituency who broke a leg in an unmade road. Perhaps the most tragic instance which I have known was on the outskirts of a Lancashire town, where a youngster returning home from school slipped and hit his head on the road; lying in a pool of water about six inches deep, he was unfortunately drowned. Conditions of that kind, I am sorry to say, are not dealt with by the Bill.
2196 Those conditions, for one reason or another, arose in the pre-war years. Since the end of the war many local authorities, in spite of their handicaps and other responsibilities, have been anxious to deal with the problem of the unmade road, but in a time of capital restriction and allocation they have not been able to do as much as they would have liked. My own constituency is badly affected. Some of my constituents have suffered these deplorable conditions for 25 years.
The tragedy is that when there was so much unemployment in the inter-war years, the labour was not put upon doing this work. Now we have neither the labour nor materials available and local authorities are anxious, as they were in former days, could they have got Government sanction—in those days they were deprived of sanction to do the work because of a reluctance to allow the expenditure of public money, which thereby created unemployment—to undertake improvements, but the need to employ labour and material for other purposes makes it necessary to impose certain restrictions. This will present a great difficulty to local authorities, and is one of the problems which the Bill does not solve.
The Bill will, however, prevent a repetition of what has happened in the past. Equally, if the Bill is taken literally by local authorities, the new developer and those concerned with new roads will appear to be given priority over those who have suffered the hardships of the past. That is not a criticism of the Bill as such, but it will present a very big problem both for local authorities and for the Ministry. Members of Parliament, local councillors or anyone who meets people who have suffered from unmade and unlighted streets for as long as 25 years, will have very great difficulty in explaining to them how it is that under a new Act of Parliament the people who are to have new streets, with only a few houses, may be entitled to have the new streets properly made up whilst nothing can be done to the older, unmade roads.
I cannot hold out any great hopes to local authorities on this matter, but as far as possible we as a Ministry will do what we can to help local authorities in dealing with this question. A very heavy responsibility will be placed upon those authorities who have to decide in what directions 2197 they are to use the limited resources which we can make available to them. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Horn-church suggested that he would like to bring a deputation to me in my capacity as Parliamentary Secretary. I shall be delighted to meet my hon. and learned Friend with any of his constituents, or other interests he likes to bring along, at any time and on any subject.
I, too, am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) for raising the question of specifications. This is a matter, in both local government and Government circles generally, that has to be watched. It is true that at times road specifications were almost non-existent. Roads of a kind were made, but on taking them over, local authorities were put to untold expense in bringing them up to some sort of standard and then maintaining them. There was no real bottoming and no real topping; they were just built very haphazardly, so that the maintenance costs of these roads placed a very heavy burden on some local authorities. Therefore, quite rightly, the county or district surveyor said, "This is not going to happen again; we are going to have a specification which is going to make the maintenance of these roads, when we have taken them over, much less of a burden on the ratepayers from year to year than it is at the moment."
My own view, as a layman who has only experience of local government work from a councillor's side and not as a qualified engineer, is that the standard of specifications has swung so far the other way as, more often than not, in the case of a cul-de-sac and a by-road, to make them absolutely ridiculous. It is always unfortunate, and perhaps unwise, to deal with particular instances—
§ Mr. Bing
Before my hon. Friend leaves that point, will he deal with the case, which I did not submit as a particular instance but as one with general application, concerning a new town, where the county council insists on specifications when the reason for which they insist does not exist, because the very fact that it is a new town will mean that they are never to be called upon to take over the road in question. They never had any liability, but have the right to impose specifications 2198 far greater than those which would be normally required.
§ Mr. Lindgren
The point which my hon. and learned Friend raises is a very important one. But, after all, the surveyor to the Essex County Council is not here to answer for himself, and it would, perhaps, be unfair to go too far into the matter. I think I may say that, speaking departmentally, the situation to which my hon. and learned Friend has drawn attention has been under consideration for some months with the Essex County Council, and I am hopeful that it will lead to a satisfactory conclusion. It is a very important factor in the rents, because if part of the development goes into the cost of these houses built by the new town—
§ Mr. Hutchinson
On a point of order. This Bill does not apply to the new towns. Is it in order for us to discuss the question of street specifications in the new towns?
§ Mr. Lindgren
The general question of specifications has arisen, and I believe the situation is as stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham. There has been a swing over from the old conditions, and specifications in many instances today are unreal in relation to what is to be carried over a particular byroad or a cul-de-sac. I could give instances where roads have been required to be constructed in a modern style, steel-barred and concrete-topped, in a cul-de-sac where there have been no more than 10 houses in the cul-de-sac.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman appreciates that the question whether the specification is reasonable or not must be decided by the court, not by the local authority or the Minister?
§ Mr. Lindgren
That only arises when a frontager objects to the charge by the local authority, and there is a dispute. People do not want to go into the courts all the time. Again, what is likely to happen when an individual takes a case to the court in such circumstances, is very haphazard, and in fact is dependent on a particular person who happens to be in charge of the court at a particular time. In similar sets of circumstances, we could have different decisions in two different courts.
§ Mr. Lindgren
And sometimes somebody loses. Therefore, I agree that the less we get this matter settled on the basis of determination by the courts, and the more it is placed on the basis of reasonable specifications—if not universal, at least generally accepted—the better it will be.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will remember that, at one stage of the Committee proceedings, I endeavoured to persuade him to adopt standard specifications, but he was not willing to do so.
§ Mr. Lindgren
That is a very fair point. The hon. and learned Gentleman, or his hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), pointed out that I was not very often present during the Committee stage of this Bill, and there were two reasons for that. The first, and most important one, was that we had the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Bill a little lower down the corridor, at which my attendance was more necessary, and the second reason was that in this Committee we had general agreement, and my hon. Friends who were in charge of the Bill were quite capable of handling it.
I think this is a very serious point on the question of specifications. While at the moment, because of the responsibilities of the local authorities in regard to the taking over of roads, we have not been prepared to come down on the basis of standard specifications, I am prepared to give an undertaking that we will take the initiative in bringing about consultations with the local authority associations, and it may be that my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham will have the advantage of bringing about a situation in regard to which, perhaps, we have been a little slack.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
Will the hon. Gentleman include the building trade organisations in these conversations?
§ Mr. Lindgren
My Ministry is the Ministry of Local Government and Planning and we have certain responsibilities in regard to streets. In the first instance, perhaps it would be better for us to consult the local authority associations and the local authorities themselves, and, in due course, we could bring in those asso- 2200 ciated with the development of new towns and those associated with the building industry. We shall be only too pleased to deal with these bodies and treat with them so that we can get as large a measure of agreement as is possible. I feel that, in certain instances, local authorities building new houses, and those concerned with building houses in the new towns, may find that these matters have a great effect upon the weekly rent which is charged by the local authority.
So far as owner-occupiers are concerned, in the case instanced by the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North, they may be saved a considerable sum, up to £100, and the saving of that amount to such a person is a very valuable thing.
May I again, on behalf of the Government, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering on the really first-class job they have done, and also congratulate all those associated with them, on the friendly spirit which has prevailed in the consideration of this Bill since the early difficulties of the Committee stage? They have produced a Bill which will be a benefit to many people, and one which will enable us all to co-operate in dealing with a particular evil and clear up the mess and muddle which have arisen as the result of people not doing the right thing.
I ought to make this quite clear, perhaps, because I may have overstated the case regarding developers during the Second Reading discussion. I would not like it to be taken from my previous remarks that I thought all estate developers and builders had done the wrong thing. Up and down the country there are examples, a majority of examples, of first-class jobs; done by estate developers and builders, which are a credit to them as individuals and to the industry with which they are associated. As in other spheres, what one remembers and gets cross about and calls attention to is the man who has done wrong, not the one who has done the right thing. This Bill will prevent those who have been doing the wrong thing in the past from continuing to do so, and we all join in giving it its Third Reading and in congratulating the Members concerned.
§ 1.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Bell (Bucks, South)
I heartily agree with the last words of the Parliamentary Secretary. They put the Bill into proper perspective, a perspective which has commended itself to my hon. Friends since we began our consideration of this Measure. I find myself less able to follow the opening words of the Parliamentary Secretary. I do not know whether he meant to imply it, but both he and the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) appeared to imply that the Amendments which had ultimately been made by agreement between the promoters and those who were opposing certain aspects of the Measure, were responsible for the fact that the Bill in its present form would not apply to the unmade roads already in existence.
The Parliamentary Secretary shakes his head in a manner which I take to indicate that that was not in fact, his meaning. I am obliged to him for that because it is desirable that it should be understood in the country that the Amendments which have been made to the Bill since it was introduced have not had that effect, nor was that their object.
This Bill was, when it was introduced, already a forward looking Measure, as indeed its Title implies, and now, when we are considering it on Third Reading, it is still what it was, a New Streets Bill. The only cases in which a house in an old street will be affected is in the case of what is called an in-filler, that is, a person building a new house on an old street which is not yet made up. That was also the case in the original Bill. That should be made clear because the Parliamentary Secretary and the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch referred to unfortunate cases of people who had had unhappy experiences in connection with some of these old unmade streets.
§ Mr. Bell
The hon. and learned Gentleman has, with his customary debating skill, moved from one foot to the other. The challenge he offered me is a stimulating one which at this hour on a Friday 2202 I am tempted to take up. But I know, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you would very soon stop me from entering upon a debate which would be entirely out of order.
The hon. and learned Member implied in his speech, and I wanted to clear the point up, that the responsibility for the fact that this Bill does not look backwards to deal with those cases, in some way lay with those who had sought the compromise whereby the Bill was altered and came forward for Third Reading as an agreed Measure. That is not the case. I do not want to follow the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch and make now, on Third Reading, a speech which I might have made in Committee. I would add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinley) and the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) for the spirit of accommodation and conciliation which they showed on the Committee stage. I wish to congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Kettering on an even greater quality which I now perceive he possesses—he managed to silence the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch. Not until the Third Reading has the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch ventured to make the remarks which he made today.
§ Mr. Mitchison
May I assure the hon. Member that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch is not one of the Members of the House whom I should like to silence?
§ Mr. Bell
In the speech with which he has recently favoured us, the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch described himself as having exercised such rare self-control in Committee that 2203 he had confined himself to moving the closure at certain intervals. I do not think that his recollection was entirely correct in that respect. I remember not one but a number of lively interventions by the hon. and learned Member.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
We cannot now go over the Committee stage again.
§ Mr. Bell
If I may respectfully say so, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that was the point I was endeavouring to establish when I was interrupted by the hon. and learned Member.
The alterations which, in the Committee stage, shaped the Bill as we now consider it, were not opposed. They were the result of agreement, and it is correct to say that the Bill emerges on Third Reading with only the one substantial change, that it is a more flexible instrument of the original intention which was behind the first draft of the Bill. I think that the hon. Member for Bootle will agree with me on that point. What we have done is to make the Bill what we now find it to be, an equally suitable instrument to carry out the policy underlying it while, at the same time, we have removed from it those parts which might have been oppressive upon certain members of the community, in particular in country areas such as the one which I have the honour to represent in the House.
I, therefore, consider that it will be found—and it is right that this should be said here, after some of the speeches which have been made from the benches opposite—that this Bill has not been truncated or mutilated in Committee. We are still considering substantially the same Bill, but an improved Bill, which I have no hesitation whatever in commending to the House because it will do the maximum benefit with the minimum harm, which every rightly drafted Measure ought to try to do. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will also take that view.
I was a little disconcerted to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say that he regretted the form in which the Bill now appeared. That was not the impression that I had earlier gathered. The Parliamentary Secretary now speaks on behalf of the Government. It would have been possible for him to have put that view 2204 during the Committee stage or to have given the Bill Government time if he really felt that the changes which have been made since the Measure was last before the House had done any damage to the primary purpose for which it was conceived.
I think that, on reflection, the Parliamentary Secretary would agree that he was not perhaps really fair in that respect, and that this Bill, as it now emerges, is just as valuable as it was when it went into Committee, and that we have succeeded in removing from it some provisions which might have inflicted real hardship on certain classes of the community. I hope the House will now unite to give the Bill its Third Reading and speed it on its way towards the Statute Book, on which, with all respect, once more, to the opening words of the Parliamentary Secretary, it has not yet arrived.
§ 1.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Deer (Newark)
I should like to congratulate the hon. Members who have produced this Bill on the work they did in its early stages. When I added my name to this Bill I was sorry that, because I was sitting on another Committee, I could not take part in the early discussions. To my amazement I found that the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson) managed to sit on both Committees. I think he must have worn a pair of roller skates to get from one Committee to the other. At any rate, I made a choice and had not the privilege of listening to the debates which took place when the Bill was drastically amended in Committee.
I backed this Bill because of my fairly long experience in local government. For many years I was chairman of a highways and works committee and there were constant complaints between tenants who wanted a road made up and owner-occupiers who felt they could not afford to make it up. In consequence, frequently nothing was done. Frequently we found, when building municipal estates, that we had to drive new streets alongside property already facing roads made up.
I found that the experience of some small property owners who had paid for their 20 or 30-foot frontages was that they suddenly found themselves faced with the position that the whole of the 2205 side of their houses for the full length of the garden would be coming into a new street which was the approach to a newly developed area. They then found themselves in great financial difficulty as a consequence. If the Bill, limited as it is, will prevent that sort of thing from happening, the promoters will have done a good job.
There were some people who, in all good faith, had paid a token sum, thinking that they were paying for the total making up of the road and who found that the sum would not pay for one-tenth of the cost. That sort of thing leads to endless difficulty. There are negotiations in which the developer tries to pass the buck to the owner-occupier who, in turn, goes to the local authority and, generally speaking, there is a deadlock. This Bill will prevent that from happening in the future. I am sorry that we cannot do something for the people who are suffering as a result of what has happened in the past.
I was glad to hear the Parliamentary Secretary's statement and his promise that he will go into the question raised by the hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) regarding specifications. Far too often very worthy surveyors and engineers think that nothing but the best is good enough and they persuade their councils to bring in local bylaws and the most elaborate and expensive formula. This is a burden on the people who have property for which there is no need for this expensive and elaborate making up.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will consult with the Association of Local Government Authorities and the Institute of Engineers and Surveyors to try to institute a less rigid plan. It may be that there could be a number of specifications rather than one dealing with a number of different needs. Then I think the Bill will benefit not only people who will face this problem in the new streets, but will go a long way towards improving the outlook for those not actually covered by it.
§ 1.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)
I do not speak from the legal aspect because I am not a lawyer, although I see that the legal fraternity are well represented on both sides of the House—they know 2206 that as a result of the passing of this Bill there will be litigation. The Bill is another instance of something being done by this Government which ought not to have been necessary; it should have been done by previous Governments if they had the interests of the people really at heart.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Deer), I speak with personal knowledge, having been a member of a local authority for some 16 or 18 years—an urban district authority which dealt with something like 1,400 to 1,500 houses; which is rather a record so far as urban authorities go. I speak, also, as the owner of a small house situated off a short cul-de-sac not yet made up, or adopted by the local authority. The Minister may say that that is not within the purview of this Bill. I know it is not, and if I expressed a regret at all about the Bill it would be that the Preamble to it did not include two other words. The Preamble reads:To secure the satisfactory construction, lighting, sewerage, furnishing and completion of streets adjacent to new buildings "—and here I would add the words; "and old buildings"—and to oblige and empower local authorities to adopt such streets.There is the problem, already outlined, of the person living in a street which is an approach to a new development area. There is such a street where I live, where development is now taking place by private enterprise and also by the local authority, in an area which can be approached only by using certain other streets and roads, one of which has not yet been adopted by the local authority. Like many other people I am living in a house which I was obliged to buy for my family of five children all of whom, thank heaven, came safely through the last war. We had to get a home in which to settle down and do what we wish other people could do—live in a house of their own.
My youngest son saw the deeds of a house and went through them, not as a lawyer but using ordinary common sense. He asked me one or two very pertinent questions. He said, "Father, how does it come about that I am called upon to pay rates out of which other people's streets are kept in good repair, and that I find myself in a house with 2207 a frontage which I shall be called upon later to make good, according to the design, specification and price which is within the specification, and so on?" Not being a lawyer I was not able to answer all his questions, but I think that this Bill will go some way to making it unnecessary for other young men to ask such questions in the future.
Under this Bill all property erected in future will be built with an eye to the need for streets which, having been constructed, being taken over and maintained by the local authority. That is excellent, but it is no solace and not much use to those, to whom reference has been made, who are still under an obligation to make up streets. I know something of the eternal disputes that go on about a matter which should have been put right in the past. The occupiers of most of the houses in a street may have been prepared to have it made up, but there may have been two or three who objected. There are always those who want to know the cost; there is the person with no money; there is the rather affluent steelworker; the young man earning good money, and so on. Those old streets do not come under this Bill. I wish they did.
Reference has been made to the fellow who was a black sheep. We know that there are black sheep in every fold, but it takes a good shepherd and some good dogs to sort out the black sheep and to make sure that they get the right treatment. That is the job we are trying to do, and we have now got a Minister who is the shepherd in charge of the dogs which will do the job. We do not say that everybody in the past did willingly that which was evil; but too many people did, and they got away with it. That prompted others to think that they could go and do likewise.
I welcome this Bill, which will serve a useful purpose. We should have had one like it years ago. It will prevent events from which we now suffer from happening again. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton. East (Mr. Booth) will know that I used to have the privilege of being the senior Member for Bolton in this House. When I decided to get married, the house from which I was to be married was situated in a street which he knows very well. As there was not in force a law of this type specu- 2208 lative building had taken place. The street was not made up, and I was stuck in the wedding coach on the way to the wedding. It would not have been so bad if the delay had taken place on the way back; but I arrived at the post almost too late to come under the starter's orders. That was an incident which could have had serious repercussions upon my future life. It is an incident which I recall with a certain amount of diffidence and happiness. I relate that experience as a reminder to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, East, so that he can ensure that those who return from any future wars—if any such take place and we hope they will not—will not be placed in a similar unfortunate position.
Seriously, the House should welcome this Measure. It does not give us all that we on this side of the House wanted, but it goes a long way towards preventing some of the things that have been so badly dealt with in the past. I congratulate those who have been fortunate in bringing this Bill so far along the road and, in spite of the expressions from the Opposition, I hope that it will receive the Third Reading it deserves.
§ 1.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Mitchison (Kettering)
On behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinley), and, so far as I have been mentioned personally, on my own behalf, I should like to thank those hon. Members who have spoken so kindly about what we have tried to do in promoting this Bill. I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) that it was not in order to enable the legal profession to earn more fees that we brought forward this Measure. If he does not feel prepared to absolve me from blame, I hope that he will entirely absolve the hon. Member for Bootle, whose Bill it is. In any case, I had perhaps better put him right by telling him the real reason.
I was much struck, as I am sure other hon. Members have been struck, by the real hardship that the existing legislation can cause. It can cause hardship in two ways. One is the case of the delinquent builder. I agree that delinquent builders are a minority; but they have existed and still exist, and we want them not to be able to cause this damage any longer. We want to be able to make certain that 2209 they do not leave the whole burden of street works to be carried by some unfortunate person to whom, in one way or another, they have represented that the whole matter was complete and there was no more to be paid.
The second hardship had nothing to do with delinquent builders. It was simply that people who had bought a house in a private road found afterwards that there was a most important matter which they had overlooked, and that was that when the private road came to be made up, it was made up at their individual expense. Very often, with public works costing a great deal nowadays, that was not only an unexpected but an extremely heavy burden.
To do anything at all towards meeting this mischief, it was necessary to reconcile three conflicting interests. One was the local authority, another was the builder and the third was the frontager. We on this side of the House have tried to put first the frontager, because he is the least vocal, he is the one who has suffered the mischief. Obviously he is the one whom we should put first. But the other bodies concerned have not been unvocal.
It has been said that I acted as the midwife for this Bill. I am not certain in exactly what capacity I am supposed to have acted; but there certainly were difficulties about the birth which did not arise entirely in this House. The Association of Municipal Corporations, which represents many of the local authorities concerned wrote round to its members asking for the Bill to be withdrawn on the understanding that a Bill which the Association liked better would be produced later. I never appreciated with whom this understanding was supposed to be. This letter resulted in a number of hon. Members being approached by their local authorities. Often they came to the hon. Member for Bootle and myself and asked what it was all about. We came to recognise the letter which appeared, apparently on the ingenious motion of the council or the town clerk concerned, who in fact reproduced with singular fidelity—perhaps a testimony to the amount of hard work which town clerks have to do nowadays—the circular sent round by the Association.
2210 Those, indeed, were birth pangs. It was an attempt to strangle the poor child and to substitute for it one of those fairy offspring which occur more often in legend than in practice. I do not know whether the fairy child would have been forthcoming; but, in the face of all this, we were unable to put all in this Bill which we would have wished.
I say at once that before we brought in the Bill, or took any steps about it, we recognised how much of the present mischief was due to the past, as indeed many hon. Members have said today. It was with the greatest reluctance but, as we felt, necessarily, that we had to abandon the idea as Private Members of any attempt to deal with the past. The position is altogether too complicated, not only because of the multiplicity of the legislation—a not unimportant matter—but also because of the many various positions which have arisen out of it, affecting all sorts of interests in all sorts of ways. It was quite impracticable for private Members to attempt to rescue the frontager from difficulties which hit in the eye anyone who walks about certain parts of England. One can find such difficulties certainly in my constituency, but they become glaringly apparent more particularly in the suburbs of London, on the one hand, and in some of the constituencies of the North of England on the other hand.
We had to give that idea up from the first, but we wanted, if we could, in the case of new buildings to see that the whole liability, once and for all was tied to the house at the beginning and was finally fixed. That would have meant that the risk of a rise in building charges would have had to be borne by the local authorities. It was not so much the reluctance of the local authorities—although I am bound to say that in principle I feel very little sympathy with them—as the many administrative difficulties which would have been involved which led us to accept the provision that now appears in the Bill by which a payment is made in the first instance to the amount of the road charges as then estimated. That was a very large concession. It was made by agreement after a great deal of discussion and, speaking for myself and I think for others concerned, what we had in mind was the smooth administrative working of the Measure 2211 rather than a concession in principle to the local authorities concerned.
The second point in the Bill to which I should like to call the attention of the House is that the right of certain frontagers to require the local authority to take over and to make up a road bordering their houses, a right which already exists to a very limited extent, has been considerably enlarged by the Bill. I have always felt that it was as unfortunate for the local authority itself as it was for some of the frontagers concerned that the right to take such action was so limited. It left to the local authority the unfortunate and rather invidious task of having to take action at the instance of frontagers but entirely on its own responsibility, and I am glad that as a result of the Bill there will be a considerable improvement in that respect.
Particularly with regard to that point, but also with regard to the purpose of the Bill as a whole, we had to make some considerable exceptions, many of which were suggested, I hasten to say, by hon. Members from the opposite side of the House. I believe those exceptions, on the whole, were an improvement, although I did not like the concessions we had to make on the other points I have mentioned. Some of the exceptions undoubtedly involved matters of considerable detail and considerable technicality upon which the present state of the Bill is better than the state of the Bill when it came before the House for Second Reading.
I would sum up, if I may, in this way. Here we have a limited Measure. It is limited because we have been unable to deal with the past and have always known that we could not deal with the past. It is limited because, although we have been able to attach some of the burden of these street works to the house in the first instance—as undoubtedly it ought to be attached—we have still had to leave a small and contingent liability on the frontager at the time the road is made up.
Lastly, the Bill is limited in one important respect already mentioned—that is to say, the total expenditure on street works, and therefore the total amount with which the Bill can be concerned, is itself at present limited by general considerations of capital investment, and 2212 looks likely to be so limited under any Government for a considerable time to come. Let us hope that the frontagers concerned, who have many grievances in this matter, will realise that the Bill is limited and will know, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing) quite clearly pointed out, that it is by no means a complete solution either for all the grievances they feel or for what we might have wished on their behalf.
The Bill is limited in all those respects but is still one step forward, and a step which can properly be fitted in with a more general and more comprehensive advance as soon as the time comes. As I see it, that advance must be made by the Government, and one of the lines of it would undoubtedly be the type of approach which was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson). The more commonsense and the more of what I may call elastic uniformity that can be introduced into the matter of road specifications and the kind of road which is needed, the more practical it will be to use this kind of Measure in the way it ought to be used and to give the maximum of relief to those concerned.
The second line of advance, if I may suggest it to the Government and to the House, is this. Road legislation, to put it quite bluntly, is in a mess at the moment. It has been in a mess for many years. We are trying to clean up one corner of it, but the whole thing needs careful investigation. I believe there ought not to exist two separate and alternative codes and a whole mass of private Acts doing the same thing. If there is to be an advance on that line, which is perhaps the lawyers' line, as well as on the line which some of my hon. Friends have put forward—the practical, local government man's line—I believe we can go forward a long way.
§ Mr. Jack Jones
Will my hon. and learned Friend give us the benefit of his undoubted knowledge of the Bill and of his legal training? Will he tell the House what would be the position under the Bill where development takes place on the opposite side of a road which has not been adopted or made up? Take the case, for instance, where the corporation develop. The frontagers on the opposite side of the road get no benefit under the Act, whereas on the developed side 2213 of the road they would be affected. That is probably a detailed question, but it is one upon which my hon. and learned Friend might give us the benefit of his knowledge.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I should hesitate, for the moment, to embark on a question which has so many possibilities tied up in it, but if my hon. Friend were to consider Amendments made in my name this morning I think he would find the answer to his question. I repeat the thanks I gave at the beginning, on the behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle and myself, for the very kind reception the House has given to our efforts in this matter, on both sides, and I commend the Bill to the House for its Third Reading.
§ 2.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Booth (Bolton, East)
I approach this Bill with a warm welcome and commend it warmly to the House, and as a Member of the Committee that considered the Bill, I want to pay a special tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinley) and to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) for all they have done for the Bill; and also I would go so far as to pay a tribute to the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Hutchinson), for he was very helpful, too.
When one is dealing with a Bill of this kind, dealing with a problem of this magnitude in which such human considerations are involved, one cannot help wondering why nothing was ever done about the matter before. I speak, too, as a member of a local authority, and I knew the trouble in the old days—in the old days when the work on the streets could have been done, when materials were available and labour present and prevalent. It was then a case of getting people to be of like mind so that they would get on with this job—this very essential job.
The reason for which, as much as anything else, I welcome the Bill is a human one. Following the way of all flesh, I got married, and bought a house. I made a very careful budgetary account for myself, trying to think of all the commitments I should have and of all the expenses I should be called upon to meet. I was miles out, as all men are on such occasions, but I was more than 2214 nonplussed when I got the bill for the streetage, and more than put out, when I found that a certain length of streetage at the bottom of the houses that ran at right-angles was also to be apportioned out amongst the ten of us who had houses there. Unlike a Minister, I could not come with a supplementary estimate, and had to meet that bill the best way I could. There is no doubt that if this Bill does nothing more than save people from finding themselves in that position, in which I found myself, and in which many more people have found themselves in the past, it was well worth while to bring it forward.
This is the year of the Festival of Britain. Do not say that has nothing to do with it, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, because it has, you know. Anything which makes a real contribution to making a tidier Britain, as this Bill will, is a very good thing to have in 1951, because there are many eyesores in this country that ought to cease to be eyesores—and certainly there are in the County of Lancashire. There are places where houses were built, and the builder finished and went away, and people moved into the houses, and the womenfolk got carpets down—only to find out that one ought not to put carpets down until the street-ages have been done. It is all a very human problem.
I really do think we shall have to do something about the old streets. A lot has been said about devising some uniform scheme or plan by which there would be some kind of limit for local authorities to work to, that would enable them to proceed with the job without being held up by "ultra" standards that are out of reach in a time like this.
Having regard to the very serious statement made this morning by the Minister of Supply, and having in mind the days in which we are living, and bearing in mind also our commitments in the coming days, I think it is feasible—I think it is right, indeed—to ask that, coincident with this, something should be done for those people who are living in bad circumstances today.
I have a picture here of a housing site in Bolton that illustrates what I mean. It reminds me of a Luftwaffe raid on Merseyside in the last war. The raiders had been instructed to drop most of their bombs on that great city of Merseyside, 2215 but to drop the residue on a town not far away, which shall be nameless. On their way back to Germany from Liverpool they got over this town, and the pilot in the leading bomber, looking down upon this town, which the enemy had never attacked, and which was just as man had made it, gave the command, "Carry on home, boys. The job has been done."
This is an appalling site, although it is a place where there were new houses built in 1939. It is a wasteful business. An average householder here has spent £22 trying to repair dry rot. On this site, no doctor, no tradesman, no taxi driver will go up one particular avenue. The taxi driver will put one down at the bottom of the avenue, and the tradesman will put his goods at the bottom of the avenue. Every householder has protested to the Bolton Corporation, asking for the job to be done.
This is a good Bill. It is good in so far as it will make for a tidier Britain and will avoid this sort of abomination that is to be found in practically every town in the land. It will safeguard men starting out in life as householders, who try to think of all the expenses of keeping up a house and so often overlook the charge for making up the streets, and who cannot possibly find the money for it unexpectedly all at once. Above all, it will deal with the culprits responsible. I agree that they are exceptions, but laws are for the exceptions; by and large the Statute Book is to deal with the people who do not fulfil the ordinary obligations of individual and communal life.
This Bill will get what it deserves—the approbation and support of every Member of the House. After its passage there will be the obligation to see that it is implemented, and we shall have to do something, in justice to the people concerned, to bring ordinary living standards to those people who are still waiting and have waited for so long for these amenities.
§ 2.8 p.m.
§ Lieut-Colonel Lipton (Brixton)
I should like to join with those hon. Members who have congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinley) who has the good fortune of 2216 having brought to such an advanced stage the New Streets Bill, of which he was the principal sponsor. I always regard it as something in the nature of a miracle if a Private Member's Bill gets as far as Third Reading and its passing by the House, because my experience, in connection with other Private Members' Bills, has certainly not been as fortunate as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle. Perhaps next year if he is lucky in the Ballot he will be disposed to accept as the subject for another Bill a subject which I shall be happy to suggest to him when the appropriate time comes, and I hope that in doing so he will have the same good fortune as he has had with the Bill we are now discussing.
I was waiting to hear what the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) had to say on this Bill, because he has a wide knowledge of the building industry and I am sure that the House would hear with interest what he has to say.
§ Mr. Marples (Wallasey)
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will remain after this Bill is passed, he will hear me putting my views on another Bill.
§ Lieut-Colonel Lipton
I should be even more interested to hear what the hon. Gentleman had to say on this Bill than what he might have to say on another Bill because, if I may say so, he would probably speak with far greater knowledge and experience on the New Streets Bill than on such other topics as may engage his attention a little later. I very much regret that, for reasons best known to himself, he is not going to make that valuable contribution to the Third Reading of this Bill which I am sure he could make if he were so disposed.
I am in the happy position of representing a Metropolitan constituency in which there are no new streets, so this Bill can be of little value or interest to the ratepayers of the Metropolitan Borough of Lambeth—which is, of course, the most important of the 28 Metropolitan boroughs. I can, therefore, speak in quite a detached way on this Bill, because I have no constituency interest to serve; I cannot think that any of my constituents will either give me their support or take their support from me because of the attitude that I am adopting towards the Bill.
2217 Nevertheless, it has been brought to my notice by those of my constituents who have bought houses or sites to build houses outside the Brixton division that there is undoubted hardship because they have found themselves involved in expense, owing to abuses which, I hope, the Bill will go a considerable way towards removing. If that is my experience, as a Member representing a London constituency where there are no new streets, I am sure it must have been the experience to an even greater extent of hon. Members representing other parts of the country where there has been building development on a much larger scale than is possible in built-up areas such as the Metropolitan area.
I do not know whether the remarks I have made will induce the hon. Member for Wallasey to make the valuable contribution on the Third Reading of this Bill which I know he could make. I join with those hon. Members who have already spoken in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle on what I have no doubt will be regarded, not only by the people of Bootle but by people throughout the country, as at least one of the redeeming features of this Parliament By means of this Bill we shall have made some non-controversial contribution towards improving a state of affairs that has for too long been allowed to exist.
I conclude by hoping that when the Bill goes to another place it will not be so manhandled as to become unrecognisable, and that we shall not on a future occasion, have to consider Amendments which may come from another place. They are, of course, entitled to make Amendments, but I hope they will not so maltreat the Bill as to defeat the legitimate and praiseworthy object which my hon. Friend and those who support him in this Measure have in mind.
§ 2.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)
I also wish to join in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinley) upon being successful in getting this Bill through to its Third Reading. Those of us who have been associated with local government know full well the tremendous importance and value of the Bill. We know of the vast problem which has confronted local authorities and property owners, the ordinary owners, 2218 because of the failure on the part of builders to construct roads suitable for people to travel on. I also congratulate my hon. Friend upon the scope of this Bill, because it covers a large number of matters which have been of serious concern to local authorities throughout the country.
Those of us who have been associated with developing municipal authorities have watched the growth of housing estates extending out into the country, and we have seen the tragedy of people who have purchased houses and have found that no proper road has been constructed. In some cases the local authorities have decided to apply the Private Street Works Act, and immediately that Act was applied the ordinary owners of property—many of them working-class and middle-class people—were faced with a charge from the local authority which they were unable to pay.
I well remember that on one local authority to which I belonged there was a very able retired naval officer who had just been appointed to represent a ward, and the people of his ward had made representations to him that certain streets were in a bad state of repair and that the council should do something about it. He consulted some of the older members of the council who advised him to move in the direction of the local authority applying the Private Street Works Act, and, not being familiar with the provisions of that Act the gallant gentleman decided to move in that direction. The local authority accordingly passed a resolution, but he then found to his consternation that the people were appealing to him to save them from the expense involved by the application of the Private Street Works Act. He said, quite frankly, that if he had known what he was committing the tenants to, in spite of the fact that the repairs were essential, he would not have proceeded with his motion before the council.
That illustration could probably be multiplied again and again throughout the country. People who reasonably thought, when they purchased their houses, that they were meeting all the road charge costs found afterwards that they had to meet a bill from the local authority which was, to many of them, one they could ill afford. From that 2219 point of view my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle and those associated with him can be congratulated upon making sure that in the future local authorities will be able to protect property owners from the dangers which beset them in the past.
I want to support my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Booth) in what he has said about the need to help cases which will not be covered by the Bill. The problem of unmade streets is a very real problem throughout the country. Many local authorities have been backward in this matter. A number have accepted their responsibilities, in many cases in a very generous way, but the difficulties which are experienced by residents in areas where the roads are not properly constructed ought not to exist today.
In the past, local authorities have had very little opportunity of dealing with these difficulties apart from the application of the Private Street Works Act, and hon. Members, who have sat on local authorities for a number of years, know how much opposition there has been from members on those local authorities, due to pressure from owners of the property concerned. That opposition did not arise because the amenities were not desired. It was because the amenities would cost the property owners more than they could afford to pay. By the Bill the local authorities will be able to ensure that sufficient money is deposited, which will enable them to provide proper street works.
When the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament—I hope it will pass in another place—it will enable local authorities to provide that protection for which the ordinary property owner has been waiting so long. I want to congratulate my hon. Friends on the numerous points which are covered in the Bill. The value of the facilities for Private Members to introduce Bills has been amply justified by this type of Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle can be proud of the fact that he has been privileged to bring in the Bill, and I know that he will feel grateful to all those who have assisted him with it. I want most heartily to associate myself with the Third Reading, and I hope that the Bill will very speedily find its way to the Statute Book.
§ 2.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Nally (Bilston)
I must apologise to the House for not having been present for the earlier stages of this debate, but I shall endeavour to put my views clearly even to Members of the Opposition, of whom there are now precisely five present in the Chamber. Although I have not had the advantage of the guidance and information given during the earlier stages of the debate, this is a subject with which I am not unacquainted. In the years between the two wars it was the Labour Party in most of our great urban and city areas, which drew attention, time after time, to the situation that was arising because large numbers of decent working-class people, who had got together sufficient savings to transfer from private landlordism to the landlordism of the building societies, found themselves face to face with a liability which they did not properly understand, and of which this Bill seeks to relieve them.
I can well recall that in Manchester—which is not, I agree, an area of my division, but is a city which I know reasonably well—in 1936, 1937 and 1938 there was quite a substantial development of owner-occupier estates. During that period the Labour Party continued, in and out of the city council, to advocate that it ought to remain a condition of private building that roads, sewer installations, and so on, should proceed contemporaneously with the building of the houses. The Government of the day did not think fit to adopt such a procedure. They held that it interfered with the sacred duty of private enterprise; and that it imposed upon private builders grave restrictions on their personal liberty. We wanted certain obligations imposed where private enterprise built a house and sold it not so much to the owner-occupier but to the building society. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful in our dealings with the Government of the day and with the majority of the municipalities.
I should like to tell the House exactly the situation in relation to an estate in Manchester, which I know very well, and which is what I might call—if I may use a phrase which the Opposition will understand—the better type of working class owner-occupier estate. This estate is limited in size. There are on it fewer than 400 houses. What exactly is the situation there? This is what is pro- 2221 claimed by the Opposition as private building and liberty for the private builder at its best.
This estate was begun in 1937 and was completed within the first month of the outbreak of war. There are no streets and no roads. One section of this small estate, where it had been intended, before the war, to drive a trunk road through, has 40 houses on either side. There is a road width between them of approximately 40 yards. That road width became a complete swamp. When we conducted an investigation we found that the houses had been built at different times and that the conveyances under which the owner-occupiers had acquired, on behalf of the building societies, at least a residential right to a dwelling, laid down conditions which varied from private builder to private builder.
The small private builder may have pointed out in advertisements in the "Manchester Evening News" and "Manchester Evening Chronicle" how easy it was to acquire this or that desirable semidetached dwelling at such and such a price. In some cases the price of the street works was not included in the price paid for the house. In other cases there was a separation of responsibility. The builder took part of it and the owner-occupier the other. In some cases the price of building the new street works, in my own estate of 400 houses, was included in the full conveyance price and the builder undertook in due course—"in due course" should have a capital "I," a capital "D," and a capital "C"—that he himself, on his own responsibility, would undertake at such time as suited his convenience to carry out those street works which were not the obligation of the local authority.
In the meantime, there came the little matter of the Second World War. It is important to bear in mind an interesting addition to the petty cash of the private builder before the war. Suppose he built a number of houses in 1937 and derived from the owner-occupier £40, £50 or £60—[An HON. MEMBER: "How many?"]—well, mostly less, it would be more reasonable to say £20, £30 or £40—on account of the work which he was going to do. Suppose he built 15, 20 or 30 houses. That meant that he could put into his banking account, and draw interest upon, all the money he had 2222 derived from the owner-occupiers for the purpose of building streets. Many of these private builders before the war—there were some notable exceptions—had, therefore, a vested interest in not building streets or roads contemporaneously with the houses. If the builder allowed 12 months, 18 months or two years to elapse he was able to draw the interest on the money standing in the bank on account of the expenditure which he was rightly expected to undertake at some time in the future in the provision of streets or roads.
Time does not stand still. When the war began, in September, 1939, the position in Manchester and in my own constituency was that builders had deliberately not proceeded with the speed and despatch that some hon. Members opposite always proclaim is the habit of the free private builder. To draw interest on the money that had been paid to them by small, decent, ordinary people to build up streets or roads, they had left the money in the bank, but now they found themselves unable to fulfil their obligations because there was a war. They could not have done so even if they had wished, because of restrictions.
Many of those small firms, one-man or two-men firms—I do not use these expressions disrespectfully—have disappeared. Some have gone through the process of bankruptcy. One or two of them, I know. The result is that only by undertaking an expensive civil case can any owner-occupier whose road is in a frightful condition, and who paid the cash necessary in 1937 or 1938 to build that street, obtain redress. He cannot do this if the builder is bankrupt or if the firm has disappeared. If the work is done by the local authority, they will be entitled to levy a charge upon the owner-occupiers, who have already in 1937 paid to have the work done.
The great merit of the Bill, subject to one or two qualifications and technical points, on which I should like to comment, is that for the first time it states clearly the existing situation. We have now reached the point where, having given private enterprise, so-called, and the private profit motive its full head, municipalities all over the country, including those that now have and will have for some years to come complete Tory majorities, are compelled on behalf of their citizens to undertake collective 2223 responsibilities to make good the derelictions of duty of private enterprise before the war.
§ Mr. Lindgren
My hon. Friend is making a very good case, but it is very sweeping. I certainly agree with it, but he was not here when I was speaking. There is a very large number of cases such as he has described, but it would be wrong to state a case which would lead one to believe that that type of thing was universal. There were good builders and good estate developers. They built good estates, according to the life and times in which they worked, and they fully carried out their obligations in respect of roads. I should not like it to be thought that the other type of behaviour was universal. My hon. Friend is certainly bringing out the evils that existed.
§ Mr. Nally
I have a very natural desire to save time and, as a consequence, I was compelled to make generalisations. In view of what my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has said, I will venture to qualify my remarks. It is true, and the six Members of the Opposition who are present—the number has grown—will be glad to hear that I know of private builders—they will be able to quote me case after case—who took pride in their job and who regarded it as part of their responsibility to see that at the same time as the small, semi-detached, desirable whatever-it-was was going up, the roads and streets were being made.
I know an old builder who very often has a lapse of taste because he mostly votes Conservative, but some delightful small estates have grown up under his guidance and he has never ended his association with them until the roads, streets and everything else have been completed. We are dealing not with that type of builder but with a substantial minority of builders who took advantage of the desire of a large number of citizens to acquire, as they thought, their own houses—that is, instead of their having a private landlord, the building society would be their landlord for 18, 20 or 25 years—and besmirched the fair name of private enterprise, to put the case as it would fairly be put by the Opposition.
The Bill attempts to deal with them, but it does not go far enough. It does 2224 not deal adequately with the case of the person who bought his house in 1938 and 1939 and paid the builder the money to complete the street works and now cannot trace the builder and does not know who carries the builder's legal liabilities and is now forced to ask the local authority to complete the work. That is a most grievous situation and it has relevance to the present situation. In any form of private house building in future it would be intolerable to leave the question of whether the streets and roads are to be built to the discretion of the private builder, depending upon whether he wanted, quite unfairly, to draw the interest on money paid to him by purchasers for certain works. The Opposition has nearly doubled in strength; there are now nine hon. Members opposite. I invite any hon. Member opposite—
§ Mr. Osborne (Louth)
On a point of order. Is it in order for an hon. Member to cast a reflection upon hon. Members sitting on this side of the House when he himself had not been in the House more than five minutes before he began to talk on a Measure about which he apparently knows nothing?
§ Mr. Nally
Far from reflecting on the Opposition, I was about to say that two or three hon. Members opposite who are present could say whether my statements are correct about private builders who, before the war, received money from would-be occupiers to carry out street works which they could have carried out then but failed to do.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order! We are dealing with streets and not houses. This is the New Streets Bill. We are not discussing the building of houses.
§ Mr. Speaker
In speaking of new buildings we cannot go back to 1939. The Bill refers to new buildings.
§ Mr. Nally
In that case, I shall certainly bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. 2225 I hope that my final point will come within the rules of order.
The Bill, with all its weaknesses, seeks to provide at least a partial contribution to the old problem in that it provides that, no matter how old houses are, there shall be an obligation upon the municipal authorities to provide the streets and roads to add to the happiness and convenience of the people living there. The Bill is grossly overdue. The time for the introduction of the Bill, even with all its weaknesses and deficiencies, was in the middle thirties, and if hon. Members will look at HANSARD for 1935 to 1939, four years' of extensive work—
§ Squadron Leader Burden (Gillingham)
On a point of order. Have you not already ruled, Sir, that we are dealing with the New Streets Bill and that it is not necessary for us to go back as far as 1939?
§ Mr. Nally
I was completely unaware, Mr. Speaker, subject to your Ruling, that I was out of order. I should have thought that if we are to talk about streets which are to be built, it would be equally relevant to discuss streets that are not now built. The only point, for hon. Gentlemen who do not already know it—I see that the number opposite has now been reduced from nine to eight—
§ Mr. Speaker
The Bill deals with the present and we must stick to what is in the Bill and not deal with what one would like to see in the Bill. To talk of the past was a very good thing on Second Reading, but it is not on the Third Reading.
§ Mr. Nally
The only thing that worries me in making any speech is that one day I might gain the approval of the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), who has just, happily, left the Chamber, in which case I should have to reconsider my attitude to the point that I had made.
As the Bill applies to the future, I am sure you will accept, Mr. Speaker, that 2226 we may discuss what will happen in the future. What will happen is that people will now have the benefit of elementary protections in respect of their houses, whether built by municipalities or private builders, which have been far too long denied. For that reason I urge the House to give the Bill its most cordial and unanimous approval.
§ 2.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Proctor (Eccles)
I think that the House is well advised on the merits of this Bill. I feel sure that in future hon. Members will not be faced with the same difficulties as they have met in the past. This Bill compels those who desire to build houses to make the necessary provision for the streets as well. We are all aware of the difficulties which follow when that is not done. In many cases, a person buys a house and he is not aware of the charges which naturally fall for the making up of the street. His whole economic budget is unbalanced when he discovers that he is responsible for a much greater liability than he at first expected.
Not only is that an individual difficulty; it is one that faces the whole community. We have in many towns, and in the town of Eccles, which I represent, and Swindon, great difficulties arising because the operations envisaged in this Bill have not been carried out in the past. Not only do we find this difficulty bearing harshly on the individual, but the whole community may find themselves unable to make use of streets because they are not made up.
Had this Bill been in operation earlier, streets could have been made up much more cheaply in comparison with present costs. Now the local authorities are faced not only with the difficulty that the streets are not made up but with the immense cost of making them up. I feel that the Bill places an obligation on the right shoulders. Those who plan and construct new buildings will be responsible for making up the streets at the time when the buildings are constructed, or at any rate, they will be responsible for making the necessary payments to the local authorities in order that this work may be carried out.
I think that it is a fair and sensible arrangement, as envisaged in the Bill, that the complete unit, the street, the house or the building should be planned 2227 and each brought into being at the same time. Recently, I had a deputation to see me about the difficulties which had arisen as a result of streets not being made up. Sums of money had been paid to builders in the past, and those builders had disappeared over a period of years. While the owners of the houses thought that they had no obligation whatever to make up the streets, they discovered that they were personally liable. That is something which cannot arise in the future if this Bill is given the support of the House, as I feel certain it will be, today. It is a piece of planning which will be beneficial to the whole community, and I have very much pleasure in commending the Bill to the House.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.