HC Deb 11 April 1946 vol 421 cc2084-9
71. Major Tufton Beamish

asked the Minister of Health whether he is aware that part of his housing policy which states that four houses must be built by local authorities for every one built privately, is causing resentment throughout the country; how many licences for private builders have been refused, countermanded or reduced as a result of this policy; and how many more houses for sale and for rent, shown separately, it is estimated would now be under construction had licences not been so handled.

72. Mr. Gammans

asked the Minister of Health what instruction he has issued to local authorities where private enterprise builders are starting or completing houses faster than the ratio of 1 to 4; and how many instances have occurred of licences being refused to private builders or work being held up because local authorities are unable to maintain this ratio.

76. Mr. Hurd

asked the Minister of Health why he issued instructions to the Wokingham Rural District Council which resulted in the cancellation of 48 licences for building by private enterprise; and whether he is satisfied that local builders will immediately be able to erect at least the same number of houses for the local authority.

79 and 80. Mr. Derek Walker-Smith

asked the Minister of Health (1) the reasons which have prompted him to revoke, or cause to be revoked, licences issued by local authorities for the building of houses by private enterprise;

(2) in how many cases have licences, given to build houses, been revoked subsequently, either by the local authority concerned or by his Department.

82. Mr. Lipson

asked the Minister of Health why he has instructed local authorities to cancel all licences granted to private builders on which work had not yet begun.

83. Major Digby

asked the Minister of Health how many houses are affected by the revocation of building licences as the result of action by his Department.

Mr. Bevan

Mr. Speaker, with your permission and that of the House, I will make a statement on the subject of these Questions at the end of Questions.


Mr. Bevan

The great majority of local authorities have exercised with proper discretion the powers to license the building of new houses by private persons in addition to their own housing programme. In some areas, however, as hon Members will see from Appendix B to the Monthly Housing Return, the local authorities have not preserved a proper proportion between the number of licences issued and the size of their own programme; in other areas they have gone further and issued licences far in excess of the whole building capacity of the district. I will deal with these two points separately.

The principal need of people today is a house to be let at a comparatively low rent, and this can only be provided by the local authorities. I have said that local authority house building should, in view of the needs of the people, be in the ratio of four houses to one built by private enterprise, the latter being normally a house for sale. The four to one ratio is intended to be a rough overall guide to local authorities and has not been issued as a specific direction to be adhered to strictly in each case irrespective of the circumstances. However, the Housing Return for 28th February shows that licences had been issued for nearly 34,000 houses to be constructed by private enterprise, while tenders had been approved for only just over 57,000 houses to be constructed by local authorities. This is not related to the needs of the situation.

I have, therefore, instructed certain authorities that no further licences should be issued for the time being without my consent. The number of these authorities is 161 out of a total of 1469. In 32 of these 161 areas there is the further difficulty that licensing was completely out of proportion to local resources in labour and materials, and it must be obvious that where more licences are issued than can be met by the labour and materials available, the effect is to injure either the local authority's own building programme or that of its neighbours. The local authorities in those areas were, therefore, asked to review the licences already issued with a view to cancelling or modifying those which had not yet been acted upon, or had only partially been acted upon. I cannot say how many licences have been withdrawn as a result of this instruction. No licence should have been withdrawn where the house had been begun, but I understand that that has happened in one or two cases, and I am in touch with the local authorities.

I have laid in the Library a copy of the letter sent to local authorities on this subject and of the circular letter to which it refers.

Major Beamish

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, as one result of this narrow minded and prejudiced policy, thousands, and probably tens of thousands, of families will have to wait months longer than is necessary before getting their own roof over their heads?

Mr. Bevan

Is it not perfectly obvious that as the limiting factor on house building is not the number of contractors or speculative builders building houses, but the supply of labour and building materials, an additional number of houses built for sale must be at the expense of the building of houses to let? I do not expect the logic of that to sink into the minds of hon. Members opposite, but it is perfectly obvious that the issuing of licences by some authorities who were not fully cooperating with the Ministry's programme has resulted in putting the whole programme Gut of synchronisation. If we are to plan the programme properly, we must have synchronisation of this sort Furthermore, there are some local authorities who appear to have been actuated by political prejudice.

Mr. Lipson

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it would not have been better to forbid those authorities to give any further licences, rather than instruct them to cancel licences already issued in view of the fact that what he proposes to do amounts virtually to a breach of contract? Many people have begun work.

Mr. Bevan

The hon. Member is under a misapprehension. In the first place, I have prohibited them issuing further licences. In the second place, a licence not operated within two months is automatically cancelled. Where work has begun, licences are not cancelled, or ought not to be, and, therefore, no damage has been done.

Mr. Gammons

Does the Minister mean that because a local authority has not got on to the job sooner, men should stand idle rather than that houses should be built by private enterprise?

Mr. Bevan

It almost invariably happens that in these circumstances local authorities in the neighbourhood have got building programmes and are denied labour and material because other local authorities, who are behind in their own programmes, are artificially stimulating the building of houses for sale.

Mr. Churchill

That is not answering the question.

Mr. Bevan

It is well known that the right hon. Gentleman is well informed on these subjects. The fact is that in those circumstances the local authorities are not denied the right to issue licences, but it is essential that the local authorities should act cooperatively in this matter and not permit one local authority to take advantage of the activities of another.

Mr. Walker-Smith

Will the Minister say whether, before taking this harsh and drastic action, he reviewed the potentialities of private enterprise to build houses to let in conjunction with building societies? Will he further say whether in the ratio of four to one, the houses to be built in the new scheme by private enterprise for sale to local authorities will count in the four, or the one?

Mr. Bevan

The answer, as the hon. Member probably knows, is that I am in consultation with representatives of the building contractors with a view to the building of houses for sale to the local authorities. Where that is done, they will count as local authority houses, and not as houses built for sale, because they will be bought by the local authority to let. I would remind hon. Members opposite that we have already built far more houses in the six months following the end of the war than were built in the three years at the end of the last war.

Mr. Walker-Smith

On a point of Order. There were two parts to my question, and the right hon. Gentleman has addressed himself to only the second part.

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of Order.

Major Beamish

Further to that, the right hon. Gentleman has only answered half my Question, number 71.

Sir Stanley Reed

If I send particulars of a case where a local authority, for reasons beyond its control, has not proceeded with its own programmes and yet, through a misapprehension of the Order, is refusing licences, where labour and material are available, will the right hon. Gentleman look carefully into the matter?

Mr. Bevan

Certainly, I will look carefully into it, but it must be obvious from the February return that a far larger number of licences have been applied for for houses to sell than we can provide labour and materials for in the period. Therefore, it must be brought under some sort of control.

Mr. Bossom

Can the right hon. Gentleman deny that many private enterprise builders have built houses cheaper and quicker—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member must not debate the question of private enterprise now.

Mr. Beswiek

In my own area the local authority has, for one reason or another, issued too many licences to private builders; would it be possible for those houses which are being built for sale to be allocated on a basis of need in the same way as the local authorities are allocating their other accommodation to let?

Mr. Bevan

The houses are in the possession of those who provide them, and I have no control over them. That is why it is necessary to canalise short labour and materials into the building of houses to let so that they may go to those who need them most.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

This is becoming a Second Reading Debate on a housing Bill. I think we had better pass on to the next Business.