§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Major Conant.]
§ 10.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)
On the first Opposition Amendment to the Gracious Speech on the last occasion on which we debated housing, the present Prime Minister said:The suffering caused to millions of people by the want of houses throughout this island is a tragedy, and this is on quite a different level to any clashes that may occur across the Table or across the Floor between individual Members of the House.I hope that I shall not be thought either rude or presumptuous if I merely say that I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will allow me to debate housing in Hornchurch on the assumption that this is one promise at least—the promise with regard to housing—which his party intend to keep, whatever they may be doing with all their other promises. I am assuming that the Government will in fact build 300,000 houses, and I am asking him for his help to see how Horn-church can be best fitted into this scheme.
§ Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)
Surely my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), with his wide political experience, would not place any reliance whatsoever upon any promise made by any Tory at any time.
§ Mr. Bing
My hon. Friend should not go on what was said at his election by his own opponent. I am sure that the Prime Minister is a man of honour and the Parliamentary Secretary is also a man of honour. They are pledged in honour to carry out the programme of 300,000 houses, and if they do not carry it out I am quite certain that both of them will resign. Let me remind the House of what the Prime Minister himself said a year ago on this same subject. I regret that he had not the courtesy to stay. May I remind the House of what Bacon said of Pilate. Pilate asked what was truth, but did not stay for an answer. The Prime Minister said on that occasion:My personal experience of Government machinery is considerable, and I must say I have never seen a major task which I was more sure of as being within practical limits. I would not fear to take responsibility for this achievement.776 I am quite certain that the Parliamentary Secretary does not fear to take responsibility for it either, and is prepared to wager his office against the achievement of this task.
I do not suppose that any hon. Member thinks that the Conservative Party would be a party to such a cruel and heartless fraud as to got office by promising houses to people who are living in dreadful and distressing conditions, and then within two weeks of the victory secured by those promises come to this House and repudiate the undertakings without which they would never have come to power. The Prime Minister in the same debate, in which the principal speech was made by the Parliamentary Secretary, said:Votes are the means by which the poorest people in the country … can make sure that they get their vital needs attended to."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th November, 1950; Vol. 480, c. 691 and 699.]That is the way in which the poorest people in the country will make certain that they do so at the next election.
Hornchurch was one of the first towns in this country to face enemy bombing, and the people of Hornchurch are proud that they have situated in the centre of the town an aerodrome from which perhaps more than from any other was fought the Battle of Britain. On those grounds alone, I should have thought that the people of Hornchurch had as much right as any other town in this kingdom to benefit from the promise made by the Prime Minister and by the Conservative candidate for Hornchurch, who was helped by so many of his colleagues who now sit upon the Front Bench.
§ Mr. Scholefield Allen (Crewe)
A similar promise was made to the people of Liverpool about the restoration of the Liverpool Cotton Exchange.
§ Mr. Bernard Braine (Billericay) rose—
§ Mr. Braine
I am most grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way in the circumstances, but I was wondering what explanation he gave to the electors of Hornchurch about the promise to build four million to five million houses in a very quick time, a boast made by one of the leaders of his own party.
§ Mr. Bing
All I can say is that I told the people of Hornchurch that I did not see it was possible to build more than 200,000 houses a year. I think it will be generally agreed that if it were possible to have 300,000 houses a year we should all welcome it. Let us therefore try to agree now to further this.
The Conservative candidate in Horn-church, Mr. Wentworth Day, had this to say about houses:The Conservatives intend to build 300,000 houses a year. We have the labour and materials. We shall let the builders build. … we shall also encourage Council tenants to buy their houses on the instalment plan.In a letter to the young electors of Hornchurch, who are on the register thanks to some initiative on these benches, and of which I am rather proud, my opponent said that this programme of building would start immediately the Conservative Government was returned to power. Is that still part of the programme? He also said that they would build them far more cheaply. His actual words were these:East Anglian private builders in Ipswich have just shown the way. On the 28th September last they completed specimen three hedroomed houses with ground floor bathrooms, costing only £1,106 each.If I am not mistaken, these are the houses about which the Parliamentary Secretary himself asked questions on 26th June. He was then told that these houses were far inferior to the general run of houses, were in any event far too small and, when everything was calculated, were only £15 cheaper. In that case, I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will join me in saying that even a Conservative candidate should not buttress his case with incorrect information. I leave that point.
I should like to know in rather more detail how the proposed 15 per cent. extra allocation will affect Hornchurch. And 778 what steps have been taken to see that Hornchurch Council obtain the full advantage of the new building programme. I am sorry to have to tell the Parliamentary Secretary, but the Conservative majority in Hornchurch Council have not quite the same belief in the capacity of the Conservative Government to build houses as he has, because although they individually were prophesying a Conservative victory, on the council they were refusing to acquire any more land.
When Labour was in power in Horn-church in 1946 and 1947, the council acquired 190 acres of land, in addition to 31 acres on which 300 temporary houses were put. Those 190 acres were sufficient for 2,300 houses, but from that date to this, ever since Labour went out of power, not a single further acre of land has been acquired by the Conservative majority. They have merely followed in their building along the plans laid down by the Labour group.
Consequently, at the end of last month. when there were nearly 2,000 houses either building or completed, there was only land left for a further 300. Replying to art Adjournment debate last Friday, the Parliamentary Secretary said that Newcastle Corporation should be pretty smart to get sewers into particular sites in order, as I understood it, that the houses would be ready for completion in 1954. What is the position in Horn-church, if there is no land now? How can the council deal with the land situation?
I can tell the House that the Tory majority on the Hornchurch Council have faced the housing problem with the same determination as that with which the Liberal Party used to face problems in this House in the last Parliament. When in August the question of buying land came up on the council, four of them, greatly daring, voted in its favour and five of the others voted against. The remaining five of them ostentatiously abstained. It was only because we had a Labour minority group that the proposal that the council acquired any land was carried.
Has the Parliamentary Secretary satisfied himself that that land will be used? The difficulty we are in is that only a minority of the Conservatives are prepared to vote for it because the land is situated in a Conservative area of the 779 constituency, Upminster, where many people think that it would not be nice to have council tenants. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will administer a rebuff to people who think in that way.
I want to ask the Minister when he expects this land to be acquired. Recently the Hornchurch Council were offered by his Ministry an extra 200 houses. Can he tell us whether there is sufficient land at present on which to put the houses? As things are going at the moment, will there next year be enough land on which to build any houses at all at Hornchurch? I understand that the only land available is that which can be used for in-filling or building odd houses here and there.
I now turn to another aspect of Conservative election promises about houses and how they affect Hornchurch. Building at Hornchurch has followed the usual proportion of one to five houses for sale against those to let. Is this proportion to be altered? If it is, Hornchurch, like other authorities, ought to know straight away, as it will obviously affect their buying policy. Perhaps the Conservative majority at Hornchurch have been tipped off and perhaps there is no need for them to acquire more land, but they ought to be told the exact position. The four who voted for the proposal may have made a grave mistake because they did not understand Conservative policy.
Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary can give us some indication of how the proportion will be arrived at. I will suggest one test which he might apply. No doubt when he replies he will be able to tell us the total number on the Horn-church housing list and the total number on the so-called deferred list. I believe that all the people on the deferred list ought to be on the ordinary housing list, but I will not discuss that now.
A short time ago the Hornchurch Council circulated the whole of their list and asked how many of the people on it would be prepared to build their own houses. For some reason the Conservative majority on the council have kept the answers which they received secret. I cannot think why. If I put down a Question, will the Parliamentary Secretary obtain those figures from the Hornchurch Council and give me an answer? These are figures which ought to guide him into 780 deciding how many houses he ought to allow for sale and how many for lettting.
I now come to the problem of the cost of council houses in Hornchurch. Many of the Conservative majority on the council—I make no apology about this; I am sure they are excellent councillors and behave in a most public-spirited way—consist of builders. The chairman of the Conservative Association, though not himself a councillor, is a builder who has built very well, effectively and efficiently for the council. I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary will see that when a Conservative candidate supported by so many of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues says that all these people have been allowing each other to build houses which are £432 too expensive, it is a very grave charge. It is one which should not be made, and it is disreputable to make it.
I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will answer quite frankly whether this Ipswich firm has ever been invited to tender, if it is in a position to tender and if he will see to it that it is given an opportunity to tender so that the truth or falsity of the charge, which I believe to be quite baseless—the chairman of the Conservative Association in my constituency is my constituent and is as entitled as anyone else to my protection—may be established and the charge, if false, discredited and withdrawn.
I now come to the next point of Mr. Wentworth Day's promise on behalf of the Conservative Party:We shall encourage council house tenants to buy their houses on the instalment plan. That is practical politics, we believe, in a property owning democracy.All I ask the Parliamentary Secretary is whether this is Conservative policy or not. If it is, can he tell us what restrictions on re-sale there are and what proportion of houses the Hornchurch Council will be allowed for buying and selling? The Opposition do not forget, whatever hon. Gentlemen opposite may do, about the man who wishes to own his own house and wants no subsidy. All he looks for is a little assistance from the Council in borrowing the money under the Housing Acts or the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act. The sum of £28,831 has been borrowed by 36 people from the Hornchurch Council under those two Acts and in 11 cases the purpose was to build new houses.
781 I wrote to the Parliamentary Secretary before the debate and asked him to let the House have some typical figures to show, supposing this money had been borrowed prior to the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer about raising the interest rate, how much these people would have had to pay on their instalments and how much they would have to pay now. It is all very well for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say that he is going to have a conference with the local authorities in order to deal with the level of subsidy, but what of the small man who wants his house without any subsidy at all? Is it the policy of the Parliamentary Secretary to "milk" the small house owner—the man who wants to buy his own house under the provisions of the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act—in order to provide a bigger income for those who draw upon unearned increment?—because that is where the money goes ultimately when there is an increase in charges.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will answer the points I have made, and perhaps I may suggest to him that he might answer in the same non-party way as that in which the Prime Minister made his appeal just a year ago for consideration of housing matters.
§ 10.31 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Ernest Marples)
The House has listened to a characteristic speech by the hon. and learned Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing)—a few serious points, interspersed with a number of jibes; the type of speech we associated with him in the last Parliament on the occasions that he spoke. He was, however, kind enough to give me notice of some of the points he has raised; it was a comprehensive notice, and will enable me to give a reply to some, if not all, of the questions he has asked tonight.
I think that all the questions could be grouped under three headings. First, there are the somewhat amusing, but quite irrelevant issues of local politics; secondly, the housing question relating to Horn-church only—and by that I mean the acquisition of land—and thirdly, the questions relating not only to Hornchurch but to the entire country. It may be for the convenience of the House if I deal with his remarks under those headings; 782 and so I come to the sometimes amusing but not always effective issues of the first. It is not very profitable in housing matters for any hon. Member to discuss the last Election, or to continue an electioneering atmosphere in this House, because, that is not the way in which to build houses.
§ Mr. Marples
The hon. Member says that we did it last time, but, so far as I am concerned—and I spoke in every housing debate—I think he will find that on each occasion I put forward constructive suggestions, some of which were accepted by the Government. It is not a fair thing for him to say. The private feud between the hon. Member and Mr. Wentworth Day during the last election is something which is completely irrelevant to the important points facing this country in housing. That battle has been fought, and Mr. Wentworth Day is deprived of his right to answer criticisms here; and it is normal British justice and practice that, when one makes an attack, the person attacked should be present to answer.
§ Mr. Marples
If the hon. and learned Member wants to continue his electioneering debates, I suggests that he arranges meetings in Hornchurch. So far as my own opponent is concerned, his party built 1,300,000 houses, I understand, but he gave a figure which lost 213,285 houses. I do appeal to the hon. and learned Member to realise that it is quite irrelevant to the problems facing us to introduce these issues, and I hope that we can deal with those problems in a different atmosphere, because it is about time that housing ceased to be a political football and was discussed seriously. I believe the hon. and learned Gentleman and the party opposite will misjudge the temper of the country if they treat with levity the very serious housing problem facing us.
§ Mr. M. Follick (Loughborough)
Are we to understand that the policy of 300,000 houses a year is now totally abandoned?
§ Mr. Marples
I never quite know what the hon. Gentleman understands, and no logic or words can apparently make him understand.
I have seven minutes in which to reply, and I should be grateful if I could have a chance of replying to specific points. First of all let me refer to the Ipswich house that he mentioned. He compared the price—which was £1,106—and in his letter he was good enough to say the Hornchurch house cost £1,538. He compared price with price, and not house with house, so in effect he was not comparing like with like. He was wrong, in so far as his figures were concerned, because he arrived at the Hornchurch figure by taking four houses costing £6,000 and dividing by four., But one of these four was a doctor's surgery which was larger and more completely equipped. Therefore, his figure was not a correct one.
§ Mr. Marples
If the hon. and learned Member still wants to continue the last election so much the better, but the electors in his constituency will know what to think. The area of the Ipswich house is 820 square feet; the area of the Horn-church house is 1,040 square feet. It works out at 27s. 6d. a foot for the Ipswich house and 22s. 3d. for the Horn-church house. I thought we might get the figures right to start with. If the hon. and learned Gentleman cares to write in with constructive suggestions on that point we shall be glad to consider them.
Now as to the points affecting Horn-church. There is a compulsory purchase order on 44.2 acres of land, and the hon. and learned Gentleman has asked me what is the intention of the council. The intention of the council is clearly expressed in a minute which was passed on 21st August, 1951. It is minute No. 5591, which says that they are going to acquire land for the erection of houses and the hon. and learned Gentleman, if he is a resident, can obtain a copy from the town hall.
§ Mr. Marples
I really wonder then why he asks the question. If he is not satisfied with that, he will find the explanation in the local paper which I am sure he reads 784 assiduously. It says there that the Urban District Council of Homchurch, in exercise of the powers conferred upon it, is making a compulsory order of land for the erection of houses. Therefore, the intention of the council is quite clearly to erect houses on the land on which they have made a compulsory purchase order. The hon. and learned Gentleman must not expect me to say much more about that point because it is at the momentsub judice. Objections have been made to the order. They must be dealt with under the usual procedure which we have in this country, and I must say nothing to prejudice that issue. All I can say is that the intention of the council is expressed in the compulsory purchase order, and that that is to erect houses.
The hon. and learned Gentleman also mentioned the question of sewage. The whole of the order is linked with the sewage scheme. I understand—but I do not know for certain—that there is a comprehensive scheme which will come along in due course to the Minister, but it has not arrived yet. The hon. and learned Gentleman asked me what was the waiting list at Hornchurch. When the houses now under contract are finished the council will have a waiting list of 1,600. He also asked me to state the amount of extra money which would be paid under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act for the increase in interest. Well,¾per cent., which is the rise in the rate, amounts to 10s. 2½d. per annum for each £100 borrowed, so for every £100 borrowed there is an extra 10s. 2½d.
§ Mr. Marples
That is right; on the interest charges.
The hon. and learned Gentleman then raised a number of points which related to all local authorities and not merely Hornchurch. He asked when the policy of the 50 per cent. increase—I think that is what he put in his letter—would be announced; what would be the proportion of houses for sale and what would be the proportion of houses to let; and whether that could be answered immediately.
Those questions are perfectly proper ones, but surely they are asked too soon for an answer. The reason I say that is that I went into the office only seven days ago for the first time; this is my second Adjournment debate in seven days; but 785 it will be found that in 1945, after the first Sitting of the House, it took the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) 79 days before making his statement on housing policy, and I think it is rather unreasonable that the hon. and learned Gentleman should press for such an early declaration of policy when his own Minister took 79 days.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
While appreciating the point the Parliamentary Secretary makes, may I ask him to deal with the question of my hon. and learned Friend, whether or not blitzed cities will get an additional allocation out of that 50 per cent. extra?
§ Mr. Marples
I must confess that I never heard the hon. and learned Member refer to blitzed cities getting an extra allocation within the 50 per cent.
§ Mr. Marples
He never mentioned blitzed cities, and in courtesy, I think I must answer the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch first, if I may.
It is the Minister's job to make the declaration of policy and not mine, and it would be improper and unwise of me t junior Minister answering an Adjournment debate to attempt to take over the functions of the Minister, and I have no intention of even trying to do so. That announcement will be made in due course, and I will promise the hon. and learned Gentleman this, that it will be made in less time than it took the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale to make his declaration of policy.
§ Mr. Marples
I can only promise that it will take less time than was taken by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, who is so closely allied to the hon. and learned Member.
I want to say this in conclusion in the minute remaining to me. It is my job, if I possibly can—and I hope I carry the House with me in this respect—to take housing away from political bickering, if it is at all possible. I shall try my level best to do so while I occupy this position. It is my job to try to make it a problem of production and not a political problem.
§ Mr. Marples
Not a party political problem. My job is to try to create a favourable psychological atmosphere within which we can get much more efficient, speedy and cheap production. That is my job, and I shall try to do it, and if the hon. and learned Member for Horn-church will let me have any constructive suggestions, either by speech or by letter, I shall do my level best to deal with them in a courteous and efficient manner.
§ The Question having been proposed after Ten o'Clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ Adjourned at Seventeen Minutes to Eleven o'Clock.