Housing and Local Government

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd May 1960.

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Photo of Mr James Watts Mr James Watts , Manchester Moss Side 12:00 am, 2nd May 1960

I want to say a few words about slum clearance and housing conditions in Manchester. Arrangements are going extremely slowly, and it is important that we should have flats built on the sites of the areas which have been cleared. Between 1951 and 1959 no less than 2,539 houses were demolished, but only 464 have been rebuilt on those sites, and another 284 started. It follows from this that a vast area is still vacant. In 1939, which was the year of the last big review, 65,000 houses were unfit for human habitation. I feel sure that that number has now been almost doubled. I should say that at least 120,000 houses are now unfit for human habitation.

On 2nd December a resolution was moved in the Manchester City Council asking that an inspection should be made of a blitzed area in my constituency, but the council turned down that resolution and the area has not been visited. The House of Commons allows Members to bring up matters of grave import affecting their constituencies, and to air constituency views, and I want to mention one terrible thing that has happened as a result of this neglect, where an owner of a house could not be found.

I was asked to visit a house where one of the ceilings was about to fall in. As a result of a telephone message by me, various officials arrived the next morning, but by the time they had got there the ceiling had fallen in upon a child's bed. Fortunately, this happened during the day, otherwise the child would have been dead. This is the kind of thing that is going on all over the city. Much more serious regard must be paid to slum clearance in Manchester.

I am not making a party speech, but I am supported in what I say by an article which appeared in an evening paper some time ago, written by the hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. H. Lever), for whom I have a very sincere regard although I disagree with him on all matters of politics.

The corporation has refused to inspect this blitzed area. The remaining buildings are rickety, and the conditions are appalling. This, together with the overcrowding which exists throughout the city, leads to crime among the young people. In the evenings the grown-up children are encouraged by their parents to go out, because the parents want a little rest. These children go out and get into trouble and commit crimes. Houses must be built on these derelict sites.

I now turn to a more controversial matter. I support my right hon. Friend when I suggest that corporation subsidising of all those who live in corporation flats and houses, without regard to means, is a most foolhardy experiment. This corporation subsidy amounts to £362,000 a year, which is the product of an 8·3d. rate. That is what is being taken from the ratepayers and given to all corporation tenants, regardless of the incomes of those tenants. Not only is that very unjust to the people who do not live in corporation houses; it is also wrong that the poor ratepayers who live in corporation houses should subsidise the richer ratepayers who live next door. The Minister, by way of an Order or by legislation, if necessary, should restrict such subsidies to cases of hardship and need, rather than allow them to be based upon an entirely unjustified generalised distribution.

Hon. Members opposite will correct me if I am wrong when I say that in cities like Manchester slum clearance has not been arrested because of the removal of subsidies from new houses. It would take all the builders in the world a long time to clear the slums of Manchester. At least 120,000 houses are unfit for human habitation; the figure is probably nearer 200,000. Therefore, since the subsidy for slum clearance, as distinct from the housing subsidy, has not been abolished, the building that has taken place will not make any difference to the question of slum clearance, because if every available building worker were employed it would take ages to make a hole in this problem.

I do not wish to dwell on the appalling conditions, troubles and difficulties which exist in these slum houses. Every hon. Member knows of these problems. There is not one hon. Member who does not visit people in these conditions week after week. I appeal to my right hon. Friend to supervise the actions of local authorities. I beg him to urge them to build multi-storey flats on cleared sites and to watch very carefully the haphazard arrangements which allow subsidies to be given to corporation houses irrespective of the needs of the tenants.