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New Towns (Local Authority Payments)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th May 1957.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Wills.]

11.10 p.m.

Photo of Mrs Joyce Butler Mrs Joyce Butler , Wood Green

The part of Section 9 of the Housing Subsidies Act, 1956, to which I want to refer is that part which permits the Minister of Housing and Local Government to recover from the exporting authorities to new towns half the rate contribution or £4, whichever is the less. Before the Housing Subsidies Act came into operation on 1st April last year exporting authorities sending families to new towns could decide which families they would nominate, that is to say, for which families they would make a rate contribution and for which families they would not. They had that discretion.

While the basis of nomination differed from one borough to another, in general the practice was for exporting authorities to pay a rate contribution for families who were on their housing waiting lists and were in acute housing need, or for families from council houses, or families from requisitioned properties for whom they had responsibility, and persons of that kind.

When the Housing Subsidies Act came into operation the Minister was able to claim this £4 rate contribution from the exporting authorities in respect of every family moving from the area of the exporting authority to a new town, and the exporting authority had no say in the matter at all. It was obliged, under the new Regulations, to pay this sum of £4, or a slightly lesser sum, as the case may be.

I am speaking tonight especially for the two local authorities in my constituency—Tottenham and Wood Green —but all the other local authorities belonging to the Middlesex Boroughs and District Councils Association are unanimous in resenting these payments which they have to make. They have no discretion with regard to the families for whom they must make these payments.

They know from their own experience that many of these families moving to new towns are not in acute housing need. In a letter recently sent to the Minister they not only pointed out that many of these families are not in great housing need but that there are also some other glaring examples. They said: The more glaring examples are cases of persons who sell their own houses in ' exporting' areas and move to dwellings provided by ' receiving ' authorities; persons who have only recently moved into the ' exporting' area; persons who move for private business reasons; and key workers who move with their factories. In the last-mentioned case particular hardship could be caused to an authority from whose area a large firm might move to one of the new towns. These boroughs all feel that this is something over which they have no command at all; they are obliged to make this contribution, and the former discretion which they had has gone.

I know that the Parliamentary Secretary has received representations from these boroughs and has considered them with the Minister, and I know more or less what he will say in reply.

It seems unreasonable that the very Housing Subsidies Act which relieved— some of us think wrongly—local authorities from the necessity of making rate contributions in respect of families in acute housing need, at the same time put on them this new responsibility of having to make a rate contribution for many families who have no housing need at all. That is naturally resented by these authorities, and I would assure the Parliamentary Secretary that all is not well with many of the families who moved to the new towns. I appreciate that the machinery is very difficult.

The industrial selection scheme has, to some extent, broken down, for it is not easy to link up housing need with the movement of industry, and naturally things go wrong. But it seems something of a charade for there to be cases, such as I know of in Tottenham, where families have moved to Harlow, the wage-earner has obtained employment in Harlow in order to get a house there, and after a short time has returned to his old employment in Tottenham, while continuing to keep his house in Harlow. That seems to be quite wrong and not the sort of thing for which the new towns were created. Then there is the other type of case, where families move out to new towns, do not like them, and eventually come back to Tottenham or other parts of Middlesex, but in such cases the local exporting authority still has to pay the £4, even though the family does not continue to stay in the new town.

There is the great difficulty, to which I have drawn attention previously that in Middlesex the moving out of many of the families really does not relieve the congestion in the county, because there are always other families moving in. That problem is not lessened by the present scheme of allowing families to go of their own volition to new towns, and not giving the exporting authorities any say in the matter. I think that the exporting authorities know the families in their boroughs pretty well, and if they had some discretion in the matter they would be able to some extent to cope with this problem much better than they can do so at present.

There is also the difficulty that exporting authorities at present have no idea what their financial commitments will be under this scheme. We can only judge by past experience, and in Tottenham it is anticipated that in any one year the number of families for whom contributions may have to be made may be about 125, so that the rate contribution for the first year would be just over £500, for the second year just over £1,000 and so on. But that is just a guess. The local authority really has no idea what its commitments will be, because from the new towns to the exporting authorities come forms out of the blue, saying that a certain family has been accepted, and will the exporting authority pay half the rate contribution.

In this second year of the working of the scheme in Tottenham, responsibility for the rate contribution is just over £1,000, in respect of these families, many of whom have no great housing need. I would compare that £1,000 which they will have to pay with the experience of Wood Green, which was recently compelled to abandon a scheme for rehousing families in acute housing need in Letchworth, because the only way in which they could have made the rents at Letchworth possible for Wood Green people to pay was by subsidising that scheme to the extent of £1,000. In both cases the sum happens to be £1,000.

Wood Green felt unable to pay a £1,000 subsidy to that scheme for people in acute housing need. But Tottenham is compelled, willy nilly, to pay £1,000 for families going to new towns, many of whom are not in acute housing need. If one weighs up the two sums in the two boroughs, the difficulty becomes obvious, and it explains why these boroughs feel resentment about this contribution which they are having to make.

Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will say that some other exporting authorities are not experiencing the difficulties that Middlesex boroughs feel, that some of them are working the scheme quite happily and do not resent it. But I would ask him to realise that for all these Middlesex authorities to be feeling as they do indicates that there is something in their case. They are very much individual boroughs and district councils. They do not often speak with one voice, but in this matter they are speaking with one voice and there is something in what they say.

Instead of the Minister replying to their letters with the bland assurance that everything will work out all right, and refusing, as he did recently, to receive a deputation from Tottenham when my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Sir F. Messer) and I asked him to receive one, I hope he will realise that there is something in this question; that he will ask the boroughs and district councils of Middlesex to meet him in order to see whether something can be worked out so that they will feel happier about the arrangement and will have more control than they have at present over these rate contributions which they have to make. That is all I am asking.

The Minister has a discretion in this matter, and I am asking that he will try to see whether something can be worked out to the benefit of himself and the boroughs and district councils in Middlesex. I am sure that the Minister cannot be happy about the present position. A number of cases in many of these boroughs are being held in abeyance for the time being and no payment is being made.

Certainly the Middlesex boroughs and district councils are not happy about the position. It seems to be a matter of common sense that the Minister should see whether he can meet them and work out some formula which will help the exporting authorities to have some control over the payments that they have to make and the families for whom they are responsible, and relate the question a little more to housing need—although I appreciate that it cannot be completely related to housing need.

The Minister makes some play in correspondence of the fact that what he calls a fifty-fifty basis is a fair one—that is to say, that he anticipates that there will be about one family in acute housing need for one family not in acute housing need going from these exporting authorities, and that therefore it is fair to ask exporting authorities to pay half the rate contribution. I would only say that, while I do not know the figures for other boroughs, in Tottenham the figure has been more like one family in acute housing need out of five families going from Tottenham. The relationship of one family to five is rather different from the figure of one to one on which the Minister is working. If only from that angle I hope that he will look at the matter again.

I know that the Parliamentary Secretary is restricted in what he can say about this matter, but I once again urge him to have a talk with the Minister and see whether he can persuade him to look at the matter again, to broaden his attitude a little and try to work out something to the mutual satisfaction of all concerned.

11.25 p.m.

Photo of Mr Reginald Bevins Mr Reginald Bevins , Liverpool Toxteth

The question raised by the hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) arises out of London's housing needs, which clearly cannot be met within the area of Greater London. It is therefore necessary to accommodate the overspill population of London both in the new towns under the development corporations and in other receiving areas under the Town Development Act. All these problems connected with overspill, whether they relate to the Greater London area or to the Provinces, and whether they are financial or otherwise, are all very complicated and arouse a great deal of controversy.

In the first place, this is more than a mere rehousing operation. The families which are moving out of the Greater London area may or may not be in need of new housing, but as a rule they are taking on work in the receiving areas due to the movement of industry to those areas, whether they are new towns or not. It is the case that the exporting authorities are to some extent relieved of their housing liabilities because of this exodus of population, and to that extent it is only fair and reasonable that they should make some financial contribution to the receiving areas.

It is true, as the hon. Lady said, that prior to the 1956 Housing Subsidies Act this financial help took the form of a housing rate contribution for ten years on each house occupied by a nominated tenant from their area. When the 1956 Act was introduced it abolished the housing rate contribution and put in its place a standardised £8 a year subsidy for a period of ten years. That is exclusive of the £24 annual subsidy for a period of sixty years which is payable in these cases.

The first question which we need to consider is, who is to pay the £8 subsidy? It is quite correct that not all those people who leave the Greater London area and go to the new towns are in housing need while they are resident in Greater London, and it is equally true that the housing liabilities of the exporting authorities are not diminished to the full extent of all those who leave those districts, but the question, as I see it, is what proportion of those who move out are in housing need and therefore relieve the housing responsibilities of such local authorities as Wood Green, Tottenham and other authorities in Greater London. The estimate of my Ministry is that 50 per cent. is a fair figure. That figure was adopted after full consultation with the local authority associations It provides that 50 per cent. is the amount of the £8 subsidy which shall be recovered from the exporting authority.

I think it would be of interest if I were to give, very briefly, the figures of the families which have been rehoused in the London new towns up to the end of 1956. A total of 28,800 London families were rehoused in the new towns, and of that figure 14,600, or rather more than 50 per cent., had their names on the housing waiting lists in London. Almost 10,000 families were rehoused from Middlesex in the new towns, and of those 4,700 were on the housing waiting lists. For Tottenham, 923 were rehoused of whom 500 were on the housing waiting list.

For Wood Green, the hon. Lady's constituency, of 315 rehoused, 100 were on the housing waiting list. I agree that for her constituency the proportion was lower than was generally the case throughout London, but it is a fact that the proportion of Londoners rehoused who were on waiting lists is about 51 per cent. of the total number. It is 47 per cent. in the case of Middlesex, 54 per cent. in the case of Tottenham and 31 per cent. in the case of Wood Green. The view has bean taken that the 50 per cent. formula is not equitable, but although there have been objections from several of the authorities in Middlesex there has been none from the London County Council itself. I will say a brief word about some of the objections.

I have read the letter which the Ministry received some time ago from the Middlesex Boroughs and District Councils Association. It made two or three objections to the working of the Section 9 subsidies. The first was that it placed an unfair burden on the exporting authorities, because they were asked to pay contributions in respect of people with no housing needs—who had sold their houses in the locality in which they lived or who had moved for purely private reasons. That may be true, but those considerations have been taken into account in arriving at the 50 per cent. formula. It has never been assumed that one hundred per cent. or anything like it of the people who moved out of the Greater London area into the new towns would be people on the housing lists of the localities in which they lived.

The second objection is that it would be wrong that we should recover from exporting authorities over a period of ten years in respect of people who move from the house in the receiving area after a shorter period. There are cases in which a family might leave Middlesex and go to a new town for six months or two years and then leave that particular house. The London authority might think itself penalised if it had to pay the subsidy for ten years.

We have administratively urged new town corporations to take this factor into account and where such a family leaves the house in the receiving area after a relatively short period, to take steps as far as possible to see that a substitute family comes from the same district.

Assuming that the 50 per cent. principle is reasonable, the next question, which is rather complicated, is whether it is possible to ascertain correctly where the people who move out come from. That is one of the bones of contention. It is not an easy question to resolve. How it works out is this: if a firm is operating in the reception town and it informs the corporation or the local authority that it is about to take on a new employee, it asks for a house to be provided for that man and his family. The man is then asked to give his address in the exporting area, that is, in the London district. If he comes from an exporting district which has been recognised by the Minister under Section 9—as Wood 'Green has—that area is invited to give a written certificate of its willingness to pay to the Exchequer one half of the contribution. If the certificate is given, there is a straightforward matter of accounting from then on. If the certificate is not given and the local authority object, the only question before the Minister is whether the man and his family come from the area in question.

Sometimes the exporting authority objects to the issue of certificates. In many cases the grounds of objection of the local authority disregard the fact that we are asking not for the contribution of £8 for a period of ten years, but for only 50 per cent. I think it right to say that as a general rule it is fair that the recovery of half the contribution paid to the new towns should be met from the area from which the people come. That is in recognition of the fact that half those people are likely to have a housing need in the area from which they come. I agree that there might be exceptional cases. There may be cases of families which have resided in the Greater London area for a very short period. I assure the hon. Lady that in those cases my right hon. Friend is prepared to take a sympathetic view in order to diminish the total number on which subsidy is recovered.

The hon. Lady also referred to the industrial selection scheme. That scheme was inaugurated in 1953 because it was felt at that time, as it is still felt, most desirable that as far as possible people who move out with industry should also be those with the greatest housing needs. Only if the process can be carried on in that way are local authorities in the London area likely to have the maximum relief. I do not want to go into the detailed working of this scheme, but it is true, as the hon. Lady said, that the scheme has not worked quite as effectively as we had wished. My right hon. Friend and I are sure that if that scheme can be made to work more effectively if receiving areas and exporting areas are prepared to take rather more trouble, in one case, by compiling accurate information about the occupations and abilities of the people who wish to move from London and if, on the other hand, industrialists and new town corporations are prepared to co-operate to the full.

To sum up, I would say that on the basis of the figures so far we are satisfied that this 50 per cent. formula is reasonable. We are prepared to look sympathetically at cases of doubt as regards residence in boroughs of the Greater London area, and certainly my right hon. Friend and I will study with the utmost care all that the hon. Lady has said in this discussion, because I agree that it is a detailed and complicated subject and we are anxious that both sides to the bargain should feel they have a square deal.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingy at twenty-three minutes to Twelve o'clock.