Orders of the Day — Slum Clearance (Manchester)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd November 1965.

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Photo of Mr Robert Mellish Mr Robert Mellish , Bermondsey 12:00 am, 22nd November 1965

First may I pay a tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris). He has been a Member of the House for just over a year and, if I may say so without intending to be patronising in any form, he is a credit to the House and to his constituents. It is appropriate that on this Adjournment debate he should raise this very human problem of slums in his own city. I took note of his invitation, and I shall be coming to Manchester, I hope, in the not-too-far-distant future.

The Manchester problem, which has been put so clearly and concisely by my hon. Friend, is, in fact, smaller than that of Liverpool. We sent a circular to all local authorities in February seeking up-to-date figures and Liverpool estimated that 45 per cent. of its dwellings were unfit for human habitation. But 27 per cent. unfit, or one in every four, is still an immense problem, and that is what Manchester faces. This has to be compared with an average of 5 per cent. for the country as a whole.

It has not been a case of Manchester sitting back and failing to face up to its responsibilities. Figures show that Manchester is an authority which has been getting on with the job. I should, therefore, like to take this opportunity to underline what my hon. Friend has said. The Manchester Corporation's record in this direction is outstanding.

Since the drive to clear the slums was resumed in 1955, Manchester has knocked down more slums than any other authority in England and Wales outside London. Well over 20,000 slum houses have been got rid of by the Corporation since the beginning of 1955 and over 13,000 of these have gone in the last five years. Until 1962, Manchester's average clearance rate had been 1,350 houses yearly, but, being a truly progressive authority, it recognised that this was not fast enough and decided as a deliberate act of policy to speed this up. The rate of 4,000 a year for the past three years is something for congratulation.

I know, too, that Manchester has plenty of clearance proposals in the pipeline to enable it to go even faster. There are now with my Department 29 slum clearance compulsory purchase and clearance orders relating to 4,000 houses. In addition, we have received notification of another 196 clearance areas recently declared by the Corporation involving another 6,500 houses. Action to secure the clearance of 5,000 slums yearly is a tremendous achievement. This is the position that Manchester has now reached. If it keeps up this rate, it will by 1974 have demolished all the houses found unfit out of its 1955 estimate of 68,000 slums. This is a very different picture from 1955, when the Corporation gave 45 years as the time that it would take. After 1971, it should be starting to tackle the houses which have become unfit since the 1955 tally.

Let us not forget, however, that this is first and foremost a human problem. It is the rehousing of those who had previously been condemned to live in houses unfit for human habitation that is the prime object of the operation. This means the building of many more new houses by the local authorities with these immense clearance problems. They must be given priority. That is exactly what we are doing as a Labour Government in our National Plan.

During the four years 1961 to 1964, my Department gave approval for 13,900 houses to be built in Manchester. For the four years 1965 to 1968, we are willing to give approval to a programme of 18,000—that is approval for an increase of 30 per cent. over the previous four years. Vastly increased programmes will be given to the other great cities and conurbations. Surely, nothing could illustrate more clearly the Government's intention to give top priority to housing and my Minister's intention to give first priority within the programme to the areas where the need is greatest.

Manchester stepped up its completion rate from 1,260 in 1961 to almost 4,000 in 1964, and that was a post-war record. This record, however, should soon be passed. At 30th September, the Council had over 3,000 houses and flats under construction and nearly 1,500 in tenders approved and about to be started. By 1968, we expect Manchester to reach 5,000 completions.

The House may well say that it is all very well talking about increased programmes of this size, but where will the money come from. My hon. Friend is absolutely right in drawing attention to the additional burden and the effect of this upon rent and rates, or both. He said in effect that its position at the top of the slum clearance league results in Manchester being penalised financially, and that it is easy for a Government to stand on the touchlines shouting encouragement, but they should at least be paid up members of the supporters' club.

The fixing of council rents must be the responsibility of the local authority. Considerable Exchequer contributions are already being made to local authority housing, and such payments to Manchester are now running at an annual rate approaching £.1·4 million. But we have been very conscious from the beginning of the difficulties which face authorities like Manchester, and for this reason we have reviewed the whole structure of local authority housing finance. Our aim is to ensure that local authorities will be able to provide rented houses for those who need them most at rents which they can afford, and to see that the cost of providing them does not impose too heavy a burden either on the ratepayers generally or on the tenants of existing council houses.