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

I was just going on to say that my own Minister is hoping to announce details of the new subsidy scheme this week. When it is announced I am sure everyone will agree that it has been well worth waiting for. I believe that his proposals will give a new impetus to local authority housing building. My hon. Friend will understand that I cannot say more than that. Indeed, I dare not.

Manchester Corporation did write asking if the Minister would receive a deputation so that it could put its financial problems to him. In our reply it was suggested that the proposed meeting should be deferred till after the Government's proposals generally were announced. If the deputation still wants to come, after it has heard what we are proposing, we will gladly meet it.

The Minister is anxious that direct labour organisations should play their full part in the expanding house building programme. This was explained in a circular issued to all local authorities a few days ago. Manchester has an active direct labour organisation which is already making a considerable contribution, and it is hoped it will continue to do so. Of course, costs must be kept at a satisfactory level.

A house building programme which in total will be working up to half a million houses a year is dependent on both a rising level of productivity in traditional building methods and on increasing use of industrialised methods. Manchester clearly recognises this. In its forward programme up to 1968 it has said that from 20 to 25 per cent. of all its dwellings are likely to be system built. There is also plenty of scope now for direct labour departments to make extended use of industrialised methods. If Manchester's own organisation has not gained experience of industrialised house building, now is the time to do so.

Finally, let me say this to the House. Events of the past few weeks have shown a fundamental cleavage between the Labour and Conservative Parties over the way in which we should tackle these problems in Manchester and elsewhere. Let us make no mistake about it: we are not even going to begin to get to grips with the slum problem without a radical increase in the number and proportion of council houses built. Let us make no mistake about it: if the Opposition were in power today—and there is not one of them here to listen to me—they would not be announcing anything like the enormously increased programme I have just outlined for Manchester and we shall be announcing for all the other great towns and cities shortly.

The Opposition, through their Leader, the right hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath), object to such increases, and refer to them in such terms as "swindle" and "betrayal". I have no doubt that such sectional and irresponsible attitudes come all too easily to the comfortable bachelors of the Albany and its environs. Nevertheless, it is a great shock to all those, of whatever political persuasion, who have looked at these problems dispassionately, to see a desperate Conservative Party dissociating itself from all the lessons to be learned from the Milner-Holland Report, surely one of the most important social documents of our time. Thoughtful Members may think that some of the opposition to a massively increased and soundly based programme is becoming just a little too sour and fanatical to be explicable on anything remotely approaching rational and humanitarian grounds.

The existence of so much squalid housing in the so-called affluent society of the third quarter of the twentieth century is an insult to our nation's past sense of priorities. It is for that reason that my Minister and I make no apology for making need—the needs of the regions, the needs of the conurbations and great cities, and needs arising from slums, obsolescence and a rapidly growing population—the criteria by which we shall plan our housing programme. Judging by the opinion polls it seems that that is what the nation wants. I hope that I have said enough tonight to convince my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe that Manchester will play a full and I have no doubt an illustrious part in this programme.

My hon. Friend referred to the land problems of Manchester, and I can only say to him that he will know that there has been a compulsory purchase order with regard to Westhoughton. Discussions are still in progress between Manchester Westhoughton and the county on the next steps at Westhoughton. I hope very much that these will lead to early and rapid progress.

We believe that Manchester can perfectly well make a start on the basis of the present confirmed compulsory purchase order and the approved town map without fear of being left in a difficult position. We accept the council's view that the development should be of new town proportions and when endorsing the compulsory purchase order, as we did, we did so with no reservations. I am saying in effect that whilst we recognised that Manchester's land problems are difficult, we for our part will do what we can to help them.

My hon. Friend rightly referred to my coming from London. I was born in a slum and know something about the conditions. I think my Minister is absolutely right to ensure—and he has given me this personal task—that in allocating our future programmes of housing to the regions we shall put the accent on the needs of the regions. This means that if we are going to give larger housing programmes to the great conurbations, the Londons, the Manchesters, the Liverpools, the Birminghams, the Nottinghams, and the rest, elsewhere in some of those re- gions there may well have to be cuts. But the whole basis of our arguments on future planning must be to ask where is the need greatest. Those which have slums must have priority. That is why so far as Manchester is concerned I am pleased to announce tonight this 30 per cent. increase in the programme. It can have the assurance that my Department will do all it can to help it overcome its serious and disgraceful problems. But Manchester has already done an enormous job, and my hon. Friend can be proud of his own city.