HC Deb 31 October 1947 vol 443 cc1299-302

2.1 p.m.

Mr. Mack (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

I am very glad that we are favoured with the presence of the Home Secretary, because the subject to which I wish to refer briefly is one which indirectly at any rate and perhaps to some extent directly should receive his attention. I hope that I will be as pithy and concise in my remarks as the hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. G. Thomas) in the hope that hon. Members opposite will listen with rapt attention.

Mr. G. Thomas

Where are they?

Mr. Mack

They must have heard the grievances which are being voiced by a great number of people in London in particular about inflated rents for furnished and unfurnished flats. London is different from most other cities because the cost of living in the metropolis is very much higher. That is particularly so in the West End where land is dear and where an opportunity for charging prices for property, totally out of proportion to its worth, exists. Great advantage is taken of that. Time and again we have a situation where perhaps three or four-roomed flats become vacant and the incoming tenant is asked to pay not only a high rent but, in many cases a considerable sum of money for the furniture. I have a case in mind where £2,000 was coolly asked for a flat situated within a mile of the West End of London, where the furniture in its intrinsic value would not be worth more than £200 or £300 at the outside. People do this kind of thing and yet the Government have been unable—perhaps they can explain the reason—to deal in an effective manner with this ramp which is growing greater every day.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if you had the time, leisure and inclination to come with me, within a mile of where we are now, I could show you vast erstwhile tenements which have been in Government occupation and which are now vacated but not actually let, or not actually submitted to the public because of the period which seems to elapse between the occupancy of these buildings and the time when they are derequisitioned. I have never been able to understand that. Many people in London desperately require homes. I am considering this purely from a nonparty point of view. The Government should pay closer attention to this matter. We are facing a housing shortage. The Government are not responsible for the circumstances which make it impracticable to get the requisite timber to build the houses. It is estimated that the population of Greater London is approaching the enormous total of something like 10,500,000 and many people require premises not merely for habitation but for business.

Yet we have a number of property owners and estate agents operating in London whose activities, to put it mildly, are open to grave and serious question. They are the people who have procured some of the choicest property at prices far below their value. Sometimes they were purchased during the blitz when prices were low.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)

The hon. Gentleman seems to be proposing something which would require legislation. If that is so, it would not be permissible on an Adjournment Motion.

Mr. Mack

I am very grateful indeed for your guidance, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Humble Members like myself learn quite a lot from your kindly guidance.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

May I take it that, as the hon. Member has learned, he will not pursue his argument?

Mr. Mack

Heaven forfend that I should endeavour, by devious methods, to transgress in a way which you would naturally resent. I wanted to point out that what I was saying, with very great respect, does not necessarily need legislation. I certainly did not speak with that in mind. It might be very good, if, for example, the Government gave a very strong stricture against this kind of activity without having the question of legislation in mind. I am sorry if my remarks appear to be confused or in any way appear to cause you serious perturbation of mind as to whether I was transgressing. I can assure you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that I have not got legislation in mind. I merely wanted public opinion in general, and the Government in particular, to express views upon what they feel, to use a phrase which in some cases I feel is justified, is a "racket" in commandeering property and using it for the advantage of certain types of property owners who shall be nameless.

If my somewhat disjointed remarks have served no better purpose than at least to cause people to inquire more closely into this thing, they will not have been without avail. In Liverpool, one of our most important cities, where I had the privilege of serving for 18 years on the city council, being unopposed on every occasion, the corporation were able to build flats of three and four rooms which, before the war they let off at rentals from 6s. to about 10s. per week, and they made a profit. On the other hand, one finds erected in London, purporting to be called flats, ramshackle dilapidated buildings for which an incoming tenant is asked to Pay £5 or £6 per week. Surely that is in Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

If the hon. Member thinks it is in Order, why should he be so anxious?

Mr. Mack

Perhaps my sight is at fault, but I thought you gave an inadvertent twitch, and in my zeal and anxiety to co-operate with the Chair, I interpreted it as the preliminary physiological movement to calling me to Order. If I am wrong, I am sorry.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

No, the hon. Member is not wrong.

Mr. Mack

Then in that case, I have the wisdom to anticipate what might have been a mild admonishment from your lips, and that is why I made the remark. All I can say, in conclusion, is that it is time attention was called to this matter. I hope that on a subsequent occasion the House will be able to deal with the specific complaints which I and other hon. Members would be prepared to present in order to deal with what is a very serious matter, a growing evil resented by a great many people, particularly in the metropolis.