I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to the First Interim Report of the Working Party on Requisitioned Properties in Use for Housing. This recommended that vacated requisitioned property should be released to its owner or used to release other requisitioned accommodation for which the owner's case for release seemed more compelling.
Is it not clear that the widespread power to requisition property is a very serious interference with the rights of property owners and should be used only in the event of some pressing and continuing emergency? Could not my right hon. Friend indicate a date by which all these properties may be returned to their rightful owners?
The power to requisition property is the subject of a later Question on the Order Paper. It has not been used on house property, so far as I know, since the war, except in the very special emergency of the floods last year where we had to use it on one or two occasions. The problem of dealing with a large number of families still living in requisitioned property is a very complex one. We are working hard on it and the local authorities have given us very great support. I hope that we shall be able to clear it up within a reasonable time.
The power to requisition unoccupied dwelling-houses is now exercised only in most exceptional circumstances, the last occasion being that of the floods early in 1953. As the Government have no wish to retain premises on requisition longer than is absolutely necessary, local authorities are under instruction to make the maximum possible reduction in their holdings of requisitioned properties.
These properties were requisitioned in the war and during the blitz, and we are still faced with a very difficult problem. We still have some 70,000 properties which are mostly round about London and which accommodate a very large number of families. There has been a very substantial fall in the last few years from something like 100,000 to about 70,000.
Is not the Minister aware that such authorities as Hornchurch were very glad to take people from the bombed areas of London and accommodate them in requisitioned property; but that such authorities as Hornchurch are very unwilling to turn people out into the street so that the properties may be sold and people make money out of them?
I think that is rather a tendentious way of putting the question. I prefer to say that I try—and I think that every Government would try—to keep a balance in this very difficult matter, and to meet the claims of both sides.
It is important that the requisitioning of houses under emergency powers should end as soon as possible. Local authorities may arrange for the owners of requisitioned houses to accept the present licensees as tenants, or buy or lease the houses.
Is the Minister aware that if he submits to the pressure of the hon. Gentlemen behind him it will mean that thousands of families will be put out on the streets, especially in London and our great cities? Therefore, to assist local authorities to purchase these dwellings where suitable, will he agree to extend the principle of subsidy to them to enable them to undertake the work?