§ [SECOND DAY]
Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [3rd November]:
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—[A. J. Morrison.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I propose the Question again, it might be for the convenience of the House if at this stage I were to say something about the further course of the debate on the Address. I understand that it is the desire that the general debate on the Motion should continue tomorrow and on Friday, and that Amendments should be moved on Monday and Tuesday of next week.
Today, after the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) has spoken on the general issue, it is proposed to continue the debate with special reference to housing until about seven o'clock and thereafter the general issue will again open. Tomorrow it is proposed to take foreign affairs, and I understand that on Friday the economic situation will be discussed.
What I have said represents merely arrangements made, I understand, through the usual channels for the convenience of the House. Any hon. Member who is called upon to speak, of course, has the Motion which is before the House before him.
§ Question again proposed.
§ 2.48 p.m.
§ Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)
Last night I was endeavouring to make a case for trying to fill a serious gap in our social services, that is, the whole question of problem families and whether we should not have some definite policy for dealing with them and their housing. This question has become important since, in 1948, we got rid of the old Poor 154 Law, because we now have a certain residue of cases for whom there appears to be no full public responsibility when they get into real difficulty.
The Home Office have been approached on this matter and they take the view that under the existing law possibly the welfare authority in the counties and county boroughs should look after this group, but it is not wholly clear. Experiments are being conducted by welfare authorities in various parts of the country to try to deal with these difficult cases. But where in a county different authorities are responsible for housing and for welfare, there is difficulty in dealing with the problem family.
The real problem is where there happen to be children and a family is evicted because the rent has not been paid. They frequently have adequate means to pay if they wish to do so, but when they do not pay, the children suffer. The problem is to turn an anti-social family into a social family once more. I suggest that the Government should organise some kind of inquiry to find out how wide the problem is and what is being done by local authorities in various parts of the country to try to deal with it. Quite a lot is being done in London and the immediately surrounding counties, but this must also be a serious problem in other parts of the country.
I suggest that if we are to try to fill this gap adequately we should collect information as to what kind of family is a problem family. Is it one where there is one sub-normal member or one where someone has possibly been in an approved school? Is it the kind of family where someone possibly has been to an approved school and still feels the need of someone to help him when he comes back into ordinary life and also when he has a family himself? What kind of family gets into these difficulties? What is being done by welfare authorities throughout the country to deal with problem families when they have them in their areas?
There are many instances where these families are fairly well off but, just because they happen to be anti-social, people do not want them as neighbours. The municipalities do not want them as tenants, although usually they have adequate means to give them a reasonable life. I suggest that, from the experience of local authorities, there is a case 155 possibly for housing them in old houses in a kind of community in which there could be a number of families with a warden.
If they went into such houses they should submit to some kind of social discipline and obey certain rules but should be free to leave when they wish if they can find other accommodation. Their accommodation should be rather below the normal standard expected in a council house but, having submitted for a period of time to some kind of help and discipline, when they have become social once more they should be fit to pass on to the normal council house and to become a reasonable family in the community. These problem families are much more numerous than many people believe and they provide a serious problem to local authorities, who have to evict them and then try to deal with them after eviction.
It is important that we should have regard to the children who are involved and should try to see that they get adequate training so that when they become adults they will be useful members of the community. I suggest that we should leave as much authority and initiative as we can to the local authorities and welfare committees. I also suggest that there should be some kind of national policy and some directive from the Home Office to local authorities telling them what they should try to do in dealing with these problem families. There should be some kind of grant from the central Government to assist local authorities in creating this kind of home in which problem families may be trained and made suitable members of the community.
It is a great pity that we have no proposals in the Gracious Speech for some kind of inquiry into this problem. I think that is all we can do at the moment—to ask what are the facts; what is being done by local authorities; what kind of people are in the problem families; how wide is the problem; what steps are being taken and experiments made by local authorities in order to deal with it? If we got that information, I think we could try to work out a policy to deal with the question. It is an important matter and one which has not been thought about very much but one with which sooner or later we shall have to deal. I hope the Government will be 156 able to set up an inquiry of some kind in order to go into this matter and to make recommendations.
§ 2.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison (Lewisham, South)
The Gracious Speech must be one of the most vague and indefinite speeches that we have experienced. It would almost appear that the Government have gone out of their way to tell us as little as possible, although it is true—to be fair—that the speech has been supplemented, or is to be supplemented, by a series of White Papers. But it is an extraordinarily vague speech, and it will be necessary for us to seek a great deal more information from Ministers.
It is understandable that, in dealing with Commonwealth, foreign and military affairs, somewhat general terms should be used. That I understand and accept, although it is another matter when we are dealing with particular issues of domestic policy. But, even in the field of foreign affairs, there is a paragraph which deals with German unity in which reference is made to consultation between the Western Powers, including Western Germany. It is rather curious that there is no mention of the fact that before there can be a unified Germany there will have to be consultation with the Soviet Union and, quite likely, some other countries as well. I presume that the Government are not assuming that it is practical politics to make a unilateral settlement among the Western Powers with the Federal Government of Western Germany.
As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday, there is no mention of Egypt. The answer of the Prime Minister was that negotiations were proceeding and also that there had been references to Egypt in the Prorogation Speech, which is quite true. We shall have to see what emerges from these negotiations. I can only say for myself that I think it is desirable there should be a Middle East military base without interfering with the rights of self-government of anybody. I should have thought that, from the point of view of security and in the interests of Egypt itself, it would be a happy thing if we could only settle this business and maintain the base there. When I was Foreign Secretary I did make an offer of a four-Power agreement, without prejudice to others coming in—who, I think, 157 would have come in—with Egypt as one of the four Powers, the others being the United States, France and ourselves. Egypt would be treated on the basis of complete equality with the best of us—[Laughter.]—with the rest of us—that can be taken in good part I think. It would have been a sensible arrangement. It would have meant that we would be out of it as a single Power with a military base, but it would have been an international, co-operative affair. I still think it was a good proposal consistent with the dignity of Egypt, and that it would have been good for the security of Egypt and the democratic nations of the world.
I do not want to pronounce on anything the Government may be doing—because I do not know what they are doing—but there are rumours. I ask that the Government, in dealing with this matter, shall keep in mind the desirability of general Middle Eastern peace, and particularly peace between Israel and the Arab States. If there should come out of this a situation in which the military strength of Egypt is increased to a great extent it would imperil the security of Israel as a State and, therefore, imperil the peace of the Middle East. I think that would be very unfortunate, and I hope that in the course of our debates we may have some statement upon that matter, as it is bound to cause anxiety in Israel and, possibly, in other countries of the Middle East.
There is a declaration in the Gracious Speech that something is to be done about the Reserve Forces. We are not told anything at all about what is to be done, and I hope that we shall have further information from the appropriate Minister. The statement with regard to the National Service scheme appears to be categorical and clear. That is to say, I gather, that it is proposed to renew the National Service Act as it is by Order in Council. If that is so, the speech is clear upon that point.
Again, I do not wish at this stage to pronounce upon it, but, of course, that means no Amendment at all, and I would hope that before the Order in Council is put before the House—if it is to be done that way and not by legislation, which would be necessary if any modifications were to be made—the Government would in any case lay a White Paper which 158 would give the facts as they see them, including our military commitments, and making the case for the military necessity for continuing the National Service Acts as they are.
I now refer to home affairs, and here we find a collection of generalisations without any indication, in most cases, as to how they are to be implemented. For example, here are some quotations from the paragraph dealing with the economic situation itself. It says:It will be the constant aim of My Ministers to strengthen the national economy…and it goes on to say that they will encouragethe expansion of exports and of services earning income from abroad.There is no indication as to how the Government propose to strengthen the national economy, and no indication as to how they propose to expand theexports and services earning income from abroad,which are, of course, matters of the greatest importance involving the very economic life or death of the nation. It only requires, for example, that our exports should fall or get into serious trouble and we could easily be involved in a million or more unemployed from that cause alone. But if the consequence was that we could not import raw materials because our exports were not paying for them, then we could have an industrial slow-down in the production of goods for the home market with unemployment as well.
I think that in a document of this sort there is an obligation on the Government to say something, not only as to what are their aims, purposes and ideals, but to give some indication as to what they are going to do and how they are going to achieve these things.
On housing, I propose to say little or nothing because my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) will be speaking later in the debate after we have heard the Minister of Housing and Local Government expound the policy for which he stands. Whatever happens, this is a grave problem. It will cost the local authorities a lot of money, and it will be necessary to help them. I wish we could find some new and independent source of revenue for local authorities in these matters. Of course, they can be given 159 additional State grants, and that is proposed. Indeed, that is the story of the present century. As an old local government man I am apprehensive. It is almost inevitable that as the State grants to local government grow, so the State control over local government grows, and, consequently, the healthy independence and initiative of local government tends to be lost.
Therefore, I think there is much to be said for the consideration of the rating of land values as a local authority source of revenue in their own right. I once brought in a Bill with that object, but a Conservative majority rejected it. It was a London County Council promoted Bill. I still say that in my judgment there is much to be said for consideration of this proposal. I want the local authorities, if possible, to have an independent source of revenue—an additional independent source of revenue—of their own, as otherwise we are in the dilemma that we must give them more State money, and, if we do that, then there must be an increase in State control.
After all, we have on the record of this House a speech which pointed out the evils of land monopoly in relation to housing in the city of Glasgow. This speech said:There are 120,000 persons in Glasgow who are living in one-room tenements. We are told that the utmost land that these people can absorb economically and naturally is…40 acres a year.What is the explanation? It is:Because the population is congested in the City the price of land is high in the suburbs, and because the price of land is high in the suburbs the population must remain congested in the City."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd May, 1909; Vol. 4, c. 846.]This speech roundly and vigorously condemned land monopoly and urged that the land owners should be made to pay. Therefore, I am in healthy company, for it was a speech by the present Prime Minister in this House on 3rd May, 1909. [Laughter.] I understood that it was the view of hon. Members opposite that anything said by the present Prime Minister will live for ever. Therefore, they ought not to be so scornful and say, "After all, who was he in 1909? He was abnormal." For that is what it means—that he was off the rails; that he was a Radical mixed up 160 with the late Mr. Lloyd George, and that anything he said in 1909 should be looked upon with scorn or, at any rate, with considerable doubt. I do not think that is treating the Prime Minister rightly. I respect and understand what he said yesterday, and I will say something about it, but that does not in any way debar me from admiring and respecting something he said in 1909.
There is one thing which is always pleasing about the Prime Minister. It does not matter what he says today about anything, one can always find that some years ago he said something in contradiction of it. To do him justice, he takes it very well. Look at him sitting there beaming. He has no sense of shame about it. He finds these references amusing, and he thoroughly enjoys himself every time they are produced. Therefore do not let hon. Members opposite try to get him out of a difficulty, because he is not in any difficulty. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am very glad that I have restored the happiness of hon. Gentlemen opposite.
The Prime Minister is not in any difficulty. He never is. He does not mind at all having said the day before yesterday things in conflict with things he says today or tomorrow. We have had the recent example of the University seats, where the Prime Minister gave the most firm and categorical pledges that he would bring in legislation to restore them. It actually went into his official election document, but the right hon. Gentleman blandly came down here the other day—and I was very glad he did—and said, "Well, it is off. I have altered my mind." We were glad to see the right hon. Gentleman that day because it was his first day back after an absence which we all deplored. Therefore, we were not only glad to see him back, but particularly glad to see the sinner that repenteth. I wish to say but little more about housing, because that subject will be dealt with by my right hon. Friend.
I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will be saying something about the particularly Scottish aspects of the matter. I know that there is a difference in Scottish law and that necessarily there are some differences in the policy as applied to Scotland. I always like to encourage the Secretary of State for Scotland to speak because I, together with 161 my Scottish colleagues, know how much he enjoys addressing the House of Commons.
There is a matter which I take very seriously, and that is the nature of the publicity with regard to this housing matter. I am not now dealing with the policy. There was made available to hon. Members yesterday a document entitled "Houses. The next step." I thought that the title had a propaganda flavour about it, but I remembered that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Housing and Local Government was once associated with a book called, "The Next Five Years." That, possibly, had some bearing on the title he chose. I read the document last night. It does not read like a normal White Paper. It strikes me as a somewhat propagandist document. I wondered whether the Civil Service had been assisted in its preparation for the Minister by the Conservative Central Office, and I thought that some care needs to be exercised on that matter.
This morning my hon. Friend the Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy) drew my attention to something which is very much more serious. We are dealing with a controversial Bill; at least, I imagine it will be controversial. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Why these totalitarian, indignant cries? This is still a free Parliament, and if hon. Members choose to regard a Bill as controversial, they still have a right to do so, although we have a Conservative majority of very narrow proportions. Let me put it this way. It may well be a highly controversial Bill or a controversial Bill.
There has since been published, in addition to the White Paper, a pamphlet entitled "Operation Rescue," which is a summary and popular version of the White Paper "Houses. The next step," and the language of it is such that it is clearly a propaganda pamphlet published for the purpose of popularising a Bill which has not yet been presented to the House of Commons.
I had something to do with Government publicity in the Labour Government, but, to the best of my recollection, there was never any popular edition of this character about a coming Parliamentary Bill, or about a Parliamentary Bill at all. If there had been such a proposal, I should have resisted it. The most that was done in the way of having 162 a popular edition was the provision of the popular edition of the Economic Survey, but that was largely a factual document. [Laughter.] Yes, it was not a fairy story; it was useful and it was within the realm of what we were seeking to do by setting out economic facts. But with regard to Bills which are to be argued by Parliament, to the best of my recollection never has a pamphlet of this sort been issued. It is in colour and is all very pretty, and it has illustrations. Its colour, by the way, is blue. It has a propagandist title, and it is published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office at the taxpayers' expense.
There are two things that I want to ask the Prime Minister. The pamphlet is about a Bill, and a controversial Bill. I should not mind if the Government published a picture of the economic shape of things to come if it had simple and easily followed explanations—we did it, and I think it is right—but for controversial Bills this sort of thing is wrong. This pamphlet could easily have been produced by the Conservative Central Office. I beg the Prime Minister to take this seriously—I will give him a copy of the document in a moment—because if this sort of thing starts, we do not know where it will end.
The Minister in charge of the Government information services, or answering for them, is the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. That hon. Gentleman was the principal leader of attacks upon the Labour Government about its information services, and my answer to him always was that if he could find any instance of the Labour Government having used its information services for party political purposes, I would look into the matter, and if he proved to be right, I undertook that the Government would stop it. The hon. Gentleman who made those allegations, but never proved them against us, now answers for this Government's publicity service.
I respectfully suggest to the Prime Minister that he ought to have a senior Minister looking at the higher policy of public information services. It is not fair to put the Financial Secretary to the Treasury up against the Minister of Housing and Local Government when that Minister wants something that is, I think, pretty near a Conservative Central 163 Office pamphlet published by the Stationery Office, and in the Conservative Party's colour, too, though I am not saying that it would be any better if it was printed in red. The pamphlet is wrong, and I seriously suggest to the Prime Minister that these things need watching. I believe in the information services, but if liberties are taken with them, it can be very bad and it can slide one towards some little element of totalitarianism which all would deplore. I urge the Prime Minister to have a senior Minister to deal with these matters so that he can stand up to his colleagues about it.
I also ask the Prime Minister to bring this matter before his colleagues with a view to instructions being given that the popular edition shall be withdrawn. The booklet which the Prime Minister now has in his hands is the coloured edition. If we get this sort of thing—[Interruption.] I am very serious about this. The Prime Minister talked a lot yesterday about non-party stuff, and I beg him to realise that the issue which I am raising is a non-party subject. I urge him not to answer now but to think about it and get advice and consider with his colleagues whether he ought not to have the pamphlet withdrawn. At any rate, that is what I think should be done.
In the Gracious Speech there is a reference to encouraging the building of schools. We have had a White Paper on housing, followed by the other document upon which I have commented. Would it not be well if we had a White Paper on schools, giving the state of the schools and informing us how many of them are in a state of disrepair? We could have particulars of the black list which has, I understand, existed for many years, and we could be told what actual progress is being made and by what estimated time the accumulation of schools in a bad condition will be repaired and put right.
One of the troubles about school buildings, as in the case of a great many other public buildings, is that municipal architects and engineers often build them to last too long. There are many London board schools still going strong. Not even Hitler's bombs could knock them all down, and I would not wish them to have done so. The elementary schools in Stockwell to which I went are still there. 164 I did relatively better at my school than the Prime Minister did at his. To do him credit, that is almost at his own admission in the book "My Early Years," and they were years, too. Although I did relatively better than he did, I never got a prize; the most I got was a certificate for religious knowledge and, to the best of my knowledge and belief, it was a mistake.
My schools in Stockwell are still there. They were of an age when I first went to them. I would say to our municipal architects and engineers and some of the Government people, "Why must you build things to last for ever? A school ought not to last for ever, because inevitably it becomes out of date." This is a week of White Papers. Why should we not have from the Minister of Education another White Paper? [HON. MEMBERS: "A white sheet."] No, we must not confuse two things; it is for the Minister of Housing and Local Government to turn White Papers into blue sheets.
Why should not the Minister of Education give us a factual White Paper on the state of the schools, giving particulars of the black list and stating how many schools are being built and what the prospects are, so that when we come to debate the matter—it has been debated from time to time, and there have been awful arguments about what the facts are—we should have a document which claimed to be factual? But we do not want a pretty-pretty thing which comes out afterwards and may be misleading.
There is to be a Bill about the Exchequer equalisation grant to local authorities in Scotland. I am very fond of Scotland, and good luck to the Scots, but why is it that there is to be no legislation about England and Wales? What has England and Wales done to be left out of the beneficence of Father Christmas at this season of the year? I should like somebody to tell us whether anything is to be done about England and Wales or not.
On leasehold reform, could the Government tell us whether there will be leasehold enfranchisement or not? There is a lot of feeling about this subject in the suburbs of London, in South Wales and in other parts of the country too. It will be a highly technical Bill. The 165 Minister handling it will have a heavy time and, therefore, the sooner it is produced the better.
When we come to agriculture, the Gracious Speech is extraordinarily vague. It says that the Ministers wish:…to encourage the agricultural industry to increase food production and improve the quality and efficiency of home output.and adds that the Government:…are consulting farmers and the trades concerned about new methods of providing price guarantees and of marketing which will be required as rationing and allocation cease to be necessary.Nothing could be more wordly, windy and uncertain than that. However, we have been promised an agriculture White Paper, as the Prime Minister said yesterday. I am glad to have heard, since my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made his speech yesterday, that we are to have it this week. I hope that there will be something more definite than this monumental vagueness which is to be found in the Gracious Speech.
Agricultural policy affects us all. It is a mistake to think that it is only a matter of concern to the rural areas. It is of concern to the towns. The more we can interest townsmen in agriculture, the better for them, and the better for agriculture and the farmers and farm workers. I recall that at the 1945 Election I once went down to Lewisham and said," Tonight I am going to talk about agriculture," and I did, and they took it although they were a London audience. It is a great error to assume that in our towns and cities we should not talk agriculture in the belief that the towns and cities are not interested. They are, and they ought to be, and knowledge of that would be encouraging to the rural community itself.
Of course agricultural policy is of importance to farm workers as well as to farmers. The present uncertainty in the industry is very bad in itself. It is a threat to agricultural morale and production, which morale and production was at a particularly high level, and was improving, under the Labour Government when one of my right hon. Friends was Minister of Agriculture and other colleagues of mine were in control of the Scottish Office. That was a time of high morale on both sides of the industry, and we were doing well in increasing production. But nobody can say that things 166 are happy now. The agricultural community is very suspicious about the Government, and the sooner we can clear up the difficulty the better. However, there is then the promise of the Government about fish, that they will continue to pay close attention to the welfare of the fishing industry, whatever that may mean.
The Prime Minister said that the Government intended to transfer responsibility for atomic energy from the Ministry of Supply to a public corporation. He mentioned that there would be an Order in Council laid, I think he said, next week. There may be some confusion about this. A transfer from a Government Department to a public Corporation cannot be done by Order in Council, if I remember rightly, under the Act of Parliament which I had the honour to introduce. Transfer from one Government Department to another or one Minister to another can be done. That is what the Act was about. But when a public corporation comes into being—and I gather that is what is meant—then we need legislation and a Bill.
I ask the Prime Minister whether it is intended to transfer from one Ministry to another, for the time being, and to complete the other operation afterwards. If so, to what Ministry is it to go from the Ministry of Supply, and what is the reason for the transfer? What has the Ministry of Supply done wrong, or fallen down on, to make it necessary to have this transfer to another Ministry before the public corporation is set up?
I am doubtful about the public corporation in this matter. I think that some day, in respect of the economic aspects of atomic energy, there may be something to be said for it. But I should not have thought that at this experimental stage, with enormous sums of public money being spent upon it, and with the necessity of safeguarding secrets very carefully, about which we have unfortunate difficulties with the United States of America who, I think, have treated us rather badly in this matter of atomic secrets—having regard to all these considerations, I should not have thought that the time has come to take responsibility for atomic energy out of the hands of direct governmental administration.
There are various other very general considerations in the Gracious Speech. 167 There is to be a Road Traffic Bill specially concerned with safety. We shall be interested to see it. Let us hope that that can be, as it should be, a non-party Measure. I gather that it may be a Bill of substance, and I wonder whether it will be associated with another White Paper.
The Raw Cotton Commission is to be wound up so that the speculators can get to work again. This is part of the Government's calculated policy of denationalisation and taking things out of public ownership and control, not for any particular rational reason, but for dogmatic reasons merely to carry out doctrinaire beliefs which have been forced upon them by the vested interests with which the Conservative Party is traditionally associated.
We should like to know more about the re-organisation of electricity supply in Scotland. I will say nothing about television. We have said something already, and we shall say more. I appeal to the Prime Minister to consider whether there should not be a free vote when the television issue comes before the House. I ask him to consider that, especially in view of the very pleasant things he said about the whole House of Commons yesterday. I ask him, in this instance at any rate, to live up to that point and take the Whips off.
What the Government intend to do with the House of Lords, I do not know. Having dropped the Overlords, they now intend to do something about the Under-lords. We shall see what will happen in due course.
There are omissions from the Gracious Speech. There is nothing about the Gowers Report on office accommodation. There is nothing about a most important subject, namely, fuel conservation and atmospheric pollution. That really would be useful. Fuel conservation would not only save fuel, which we badly need to save, but, properly handled, it could be the means of preserving a decent atmosphere. There is nothing about Civil Defence. I really do not know what the Government are doing about that, or whether the Home Secretary is adequately equipped in the Home Office to lead this noble campaign and effort. I do not know. We shall have to talk about it sometime.
168 There is nothing about shipbuilding, about which there is grave concern on the North-East Coast, in Scotland and in other parts of the country. It is admitted by the First Lord of the Admiralty that there have been diminutions in orders placed by the Government and that prospects are not too good. I hope, therefore, that we can have some information about shipbuilding. No doubt it will be mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) in the approaching economic debate.
I should like, by way of conclusion, to refer to the Prime Minister's speech. It was a thoroughly enjoyable speech. All hon. Members on both sides of the House enjoyed it. It was a nice speech. It was a charming speech. It was ably and pleasantly phrased. It was pleasant. Apart from the political implications, I would not quarrel with the very flattering leader which "The Times" published this morning about it, but, having said that, I must say that it was well up to the standard of the right hon. Gentleman in answering supplementary questions in Parliament; namely, he has developed an extraordinary ability of not giving the House information and not telling us a ha'p'orth more by way of information than he can help. He does it very cleverly and even enjoyably in answering supplementary questions, and he did yesterday. Really, his speech yesterday did not add anything material to the information contained in Her Majesty's Speech, which, as I have shown, was very thin and so on.
The Prime Minister conscientiously did his best on housing and farming. He told us that he had collected a few remarks on housing and farming. He had evidently sent instructions to his colleagues to send him a few kind words, and they did. He also said that this is not a party matter. We shall see; it could be. Not for the first time in our island story would housing be a party matter. On agriculture, he said that there would be a White Paper, and that saved him.
On foreign affairs, he used some excellent statements and sentiments which we all felt very much, and let us hope he is right, but he cannot be sure—none of us can be sure. As it was the case that the poison gas which everybody expected 169 would be used, when there were ample supplies of it on both sides, was never actually used in World War II, whereas it was in World War I, let us hope that the very existence of these terrible new weapons will restrain statesmen all over the world, as indicated by the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister appealed for tolerance and good feeling in Parliament. It reminded me of a speech by the late Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, Prime Minister of the first minority Labour Government in 1924, in which he appealed that Parliament should be a Council of State. His appeal did not have a very good response, and it was not exactly a Council of State.
This is one of the charming characteristics of the Prime Minister. When the right hon. Gentleman is in power, and when he is doing highly controversial things like the de-nationalisation of steel—with the result, by the way, that they are now seeking to pay 7 per cent. on investment whereas we got them for 3½ per cent., and, on reinvestment out of the revenues of the undertaking, only 2 per cent., which will add to the cost of British steel production and place a burden on other industries, including mining—when he is de-nationalising steel and reintroducing, as far as he can, chaos into the transport industry—he is now going to take cotton back into the hands of the speculators—all he says is: "It is I who is doing this. I feel non-controversial today, so cannot we all join together, be good friends and be co-operative in this new and valuable Session of Parliament? "
The right hon. Gentleman even said, "I could have a General Election, but I do not think I will." Again, at the end, he said he could have one, and that was no doubt a warning for hon. Gentlemen opposite in case there is any trouble about Egypt. It is all part of the Parliamentary balance that the power of the back benchers can coerce the Government, and they have a valuable power, but there is the power of the Government over a dissolution, which again is a valuable power for the Government to have when the Egyptian business comes on. Hon. Gentlemen opposite will have to be careful, because the threat is there, although it was uttered in a most pleasant voice.
I think the right hon. Gentleman wants a Coalition; I believe he does. He said 170 there should be no harsh feelings between the parties, but he told us that we were guilty of being something like the Gestapo only a few years ago. A few years before that, the right hon. Gentleman said we were unfit to govern. In the words of another right hon. Gentleman unhappily no longer with us, the right hon. Gentleman "didn't use them there exact words," but says in effect that we were a Gestapo. I remember it so well.
§ The Prime Minister (Sir Winston Churchill)
Naturally, that would not happen while the present leaders of the Labour Party were in power, but it is the inevitable consequence of trying to blend a complete system of nationalisation of all the means of production and exchange upon the ordinary life of the country.
§ Mr. Morrison
What a pity it is that we did not both bring along a copy of that broadcast. I recollect the Prime Minister making that broadcast in 1945. He did not say then that the leaders of the Labour Party were very good chaps, and that he commended them to the country's fair consideration, and add, "I do not agree with them, and, therefore, I advise you to vote against them." He did not say nice things like that, but brought a great weight of argument to show that if we got an extensive degree of public ownership, then, in his opinion, it would inevitably lead to some of the elements of a Gestapo State. That is putting the argument mildly, and I am giving the Prime Minister the benefit. He has done this sort of thing recently about de-nationalisation and so on. He now says, "It is me; I am doing it. I am really a very nice person, so do not let us quarrel; let us be good and come together."
I think the right hon. Gentleman would like a coalition. I think he enjoyed the war-time coalition and that he has never got over it, and, in truth, he has such a beautiful piece of mental evolution backwards and forwards and all that kind of thing that, mentally, he is a coalition in himself. He likes coalitions, and the Conservative Party likes them. They picked up the Liberal Unionists, and they have picked up the Liberal Nationals to such an extent that we do not even know where they are now. They encourage coalitions, because it is very difficult for the Tory Party to get a clear majority on its own, and electorally, of 171 course, we got more votes than they did. But, at the end of the war, he got very cross with some of us when we broke up the Coalition.
§ The Prime Ministerindicated assent.
§ Mr. Morrison
He got very cross with me, in particular. The right hon. Gentleman came down to Lewisham and said there was one man whom he never wanted to see again.
§ Mr. Morrison
What can you do with the right hon. Gentleman? It is true that it was unfortunate for him, and the right hon. Gentleman was very cross. He even came down to my constituency specially to talk about it, and I wondered whether it would not do me some harm, but it turned out that it did me some good. I put it to the right hon. Gentleman now that he likes coalitions, and, of course, he has an additional reason for wanting a coalition at this time. Look at the jam they were in when the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was ill, and when the Prime Minister himself was laid aside. The Government have no reserves—[An HON. MEMBER: "£600 million more than you had."]—on that side of the House for finding further Ministers when vacancies arise. That may be one of the reasons why the Prime Minister would like a wider choice which will help him out of difficulty.
The Gracious Speech is a thin speech. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is not positive, and it is not constructive, and it is largely irrelevant to many of the problems with which our country is faced. The Prime Minister's speech was vagueness itself, though it was a great speech. It was vague. It told us nothing and was meant to tell us nothing. Therefore, in approaching this Session which is now about to begin, we are in a mood of criticism and anxiety, and of apprehension as to the capacity of the Government to get our country through its troubles.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Harold Macmillan)
The speech which the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) has just made is a very happy opening for our Parliament. It was most 172 harmonious and gentle—I will not say "thin"—and well spread with compliments. What he said about the Prime Minister we all enjoyed, and it was clear that he enjoyed it very much also.
It is not necessary for me to defend my right hon. Friend. The only actual thing that the right hon. Gentleman had to bring against him was some speech that my right hon. Friend seems to have made 44 years ago, quite a long time. The curious thing is that opinions of right hon. Gentlemen opposite about my right hon. Friend seem to change much more rapidly than does my right hon. Friend. I remember two years ago that he was supposed to be a warmonger, which was quite good electorally—
§ Mr. H. Morrison
The right hon. Gentleman should not say those things. This is a typical Tory untruth, which I should expect from a Minister who has produced this pamphlet, a typical Central Office product. I never used the word "warmonger." I advised my people not to do so. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] Yes, I did, as people who were at the conference will know. I said that in handling the issues of peace and war—and I adhere to it, particularly in relation to what is constantly said about Abadan—that a Labour Government are more to be trusted to protect the peace than are a Tory Government.
§ Mr. Macmillan
The right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have a very bad conscience on this matter. A few years later, my right hon. Friend has become a great peacemaker and it is we on these benches who are all soldiers and warmongers and who, in my right hon. Friend's absence, are accused of trying to strengthen the forces of war. The right hon. Gentleman knows quite well, in his more friendly moods, that what he has told us today is much more true. For these friendly, harmonious beginnings I am grateful.
The right hon. Gentleman complained that the Queen's Speech was vague. Perhaps it will not be discourteous if I concentrate upon that aspect of it. It rapidly ceased to be vague, because a very detailed White Paper on Housing was published within the hour, setting out in considerable detail the Government's proposals. Other White Papers on other aspects will 173 follow, on atomic energy on Tuesday next and on agriculture tomorrow. The accusation of "vagueness" will no longer stand, having regard to the White Papers. I understand that the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) is to speak later. I shall try, as objectively as I can, to set out what proposals we are putting before the House and the country.
The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South made no comment upon the matter contained in the White Paper on Housing. He contented himself only with saying something about the form. He complained that it was written in clear and intelligible English. I do not think that that is a very great objection to it. It says what it means, and it tries to make quite clear what it does mean. With regard to the popular form of the White Paper, I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman, who is a very great authority on propaganda in all its forms and was at one time head of the Central Office of Information, should hurl accusations against me because I am merely trying to let the people as a whole know, in simple language, precisely what these proposals are.
§ Mr. Macmillan
What other colour could I have chosen? If it had been red it would have been offensive to half the party opposite, and if it had been pink the other half would have been equally offended.
§ Mr. Macmillan
It is just two years since I was appointed to my present office, when, greatly daring, we rechristened the Department "The Ministry of Housing." To most people, housing has meant the building of new houses, and that, indeed, has been the first part of our job. The time has now come to take up the second part and to grasp the nettle boldly. People who live in old houses have just as much right to an improvement in the conditions of their lives as those who are moving into the new houses. In the one case we are dealing with hundreds of thousands of people and in the other case with millions. Each problem must be attacked with the same determination to improve the standards of living for the British people.
174 Before I develop the detailed plans for the improvement of the old houses I must say a word about the progress of the new. In 1952, about 240,000 houses were built in Great Britain, nearly 206,000 to let. and the rest, about 34,000, for owner occupation. I do not wish to tempt Providence, but I have every hope that, in 1953, 300,000 houses will be built, about 245,000 to let—that is, 70,000 more houses to let than in 1951—and 55,000 for owner occupation. I will venture further. Something like the same number will be built in 1954, judging by the number of houses already started and the number for which approval or licences have been given.
The building industry has, today, a new sense of confidence in the future. Building materials are rolling up. In bricks and cement, two of the most vital materials, output is increasing all the time. Since 1951, brick output has gone up by nearly 20 per cent. and cement output by 13 per cent. Encouraged by the determined leadership of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works, building of all kinds is going ahead. If we have had any success in dealing with this part of the problem I would at once express my thanks to those who have supported our efforts so loyally.
From the start, I have tried to make the housing drive a real national crusade and I am deeply grateful to those who have worked in this spirit—the local authorities, whatever may be their political complexion; the officers of my Ministry and particularly the regional officers who have, happily, such close and friendly contacts in each area; the regional housing production boards, and above all, the masters and men in the building industry and the makers of building materials.
As a result of this effort I am fairly confident about the programme of new houses, but I want to sound a warning. There must be no relaxation, no feeling that the target is reached or passed and no let up. The persistent drive must continue towards maximum production and, above all, towards the use of modern methods to bring about the much desired reduction in costs.
There are, alas, a large number of people still on the housing lists, people with no separate home of their own. In 1939, it was estimated that 6 per cent. 175 only of the population were living in unfit or overcrowded houses, and although there was much to be done by way of improvement of old houses and the clearance of slums, the national stock of houses and flats was very nearly equal to the number of separate families.
I am often asked—indeed, this was the first question I asked my advisers—how can it be that there is still so great a need of new houses? After all, successive Governments, since the war, will have seen built by the end of this year over two million "accommodation units "—to use the jargon I inherited. Only about a quarter of a million houses were destroyed in the war. How is it, then, that the housing lists are still so large and that overcrowded conditions still prevail? I think the reason is two-fold. First, higher standards of living have brought about a real demand for a higher standard of housing—
Mr. R. J. Mellsh (Bermondsey)
What about the Labour Government?
§ Mr. Macmillan
—and that is a good and not an evil thing, we all agree. The second reason is perhaps most important. Statistically speaking, apart from any growth in the total population, its character has changed. There are far more single people and old people. There are more young married couples and most of these want a home of their own. Nevertheless, we feel that the success of the new housing programme now enables us to turn to an even more difficult problem which is just as urgent, that of the old houses.
There have sometimes been exaggerated accounts of the loss of houses through decay. I have often seen it suggested that almost as many houses were falling down in every year as were built. No figures have ever been given to me to confirm this, and I am sure that it is not true. But I am equally sure that it is true that for the past 14 years houses have been falling into worse and worse disrepair and that the houses that are falling down, if there are such, are houses which, long since, should have been pulled down, together with many more besides.
In preparing my plans to deal with this problem, I have been greatly helped by the discussions in the Press and in 176 Parliament and by the continuing flow of useful criticisms and suggestions. In particular, the debate in another place in the last Session, with its informed and impartial approach, gave me a number of points of great value. I wish I could have produced these proposals earlier in the life of this Parliament, but the complication of the subject and the large number of investigations which had to be made, as well, of course, as the calls on Parliamentary time, made it impossible to do so until today.
Sometimes I think that in our enthusiasm for building new houses we tend to forget that comparatively few people have the slightest chance of living in a new house. There are about 13½ million individual dwellings—houses and flats—in Great Britain, of which about six million have been built within the last 35 years. Many of the newer dwelling houses are, I think, in fairly good repair. Many are owner-occupied or owned by the local authorities or by housing associations or similar bodies and, in the main, they have been well looked after. The private landlord, too, has been able, or was able up to the outbreak of the last war, to take proper care of the newer houses. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."]
But what about the 7½ million houses built before 1914? Of the total of 13½ million dwellings, 7¼ million are rented from private landlords and most of these were built before the First World War. Indeed, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, 2¼ million of them are 100 years old and another 2½ million are between 65 years and 100 years old. Altogether, 5 million of these were built while Queen Victoria was still on the Throne and many before the great Public Health Act of 1875 was put on the Statute Book. That Act, the House will remember, and the Artisans' Dwelling Act, were the great contributions of the Tory Party under the greatest of its leaders, Benjamin Disraeli. It is a strange thought that the progressive opinion of the day, especially the intellectual opinion of the day, scoffed at these Measures because they conflicted with the fashionable laissez faire doctrines which were then current.
We all know these sort of houses. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have canvassed the occupants and 177 know about these rows and rows of terraced houses in industrial streets, and the all-sorts mixtures of houses in the country towns; the agricultural cottages, often so picturesque, but sometimes so damp, and the little houses in the mining villages in the Welsh valleys. It is in these older rented houses that half our people live. Some of these older houses are in a perfectly good state of repair, or need only minor repair. But some are in a very bad state and many ought to be condemned. Here, therefore, in the older houses is now the greatest housing need. This is now the greatest housing challenge.
Of course, if there had been no war, if slum clearance had gone on at the rate reached by 1938, many of these houses would have been pulled down long ago and replaced. We have, however, to face the fact—and we must face it if we are in earnest—that, except perhaps for the worst of them, we cannot at present do without them. For the moment leave out the worst, because that raises the problem of slum clearance, to which I will come in a moment. What is clear is that from the national point of view none should be allowed to deteriorate further.
Seven million houses are a great many, and were we to build 200,000 or 300,000 a year it would take a long time to replace them. They are an asset which we must preserve and I claim that we cannot, as a Parliament or a nation, afford to turn away from this challenge. Now that we can rely on an expanding building industry we must take up the task. We shall not abate the vigour we have put into the provision of new houses, but we shall try to tackle the question of the old houses in the same spirit.
I suggest to the House that if we are to do this we must not try to oversimplify the problem. It is a highly complex problem and, to my mind, there is not a single and simple solution. We have, first, to analyse and then apply the appropriate remedy. In my view, we must, therefore, have a comprehensive plan for repairs, maintenance, improvement, conversion, demolition and replacement. This plan must cover all types of houses, and it must be, in the real sense of the word, a better-housing campaign.
178 As the White Paper sets out in paragraph 21, we have, for convenience, divided the houses into their various classes. They fall into four main groups. First, there are the best, the houses which are in essentially sound condition. Many of these are now in good condition: all of these in this category could be kept in good condition if the income coming in from the house was sufficient.
Secondly, at the other end of the scale, are the worst houses, the slum houses. These we must pull down and replace as soon as we can, and we must start on this job now, but we really must, at the same time, face reality. They cannot all be pulled down and rebuilt in the next few years. Some must remain in use—a sad fact, but a true fact. The people cannot be put out into the street. The Government feel that so long as some of these houses must remain in use something must be done to give them first-aid and make life a little better for those who are condemned to live in them.
Thirdly, between these two extremes, is what I might term the interim class, the class which we have named the "dilapidated" houses which are in a bad state but which, nevertheless, may be worth repairing, and which the owners have a duty at least to make, in the legal phrase, "fit for human habitation," if that can be done at reasonable expense. Some of these simply cannot be made fit at any expense which the owner can reasonably be expected to bear, and then they fall into the category dealt with by the local authority, the slum category. But some can be dealt with by the owners and it can and must be done.
Fourthly, there is the class of house which would give many years of good service if it were improved. Many hon. Members will have seen with great interest the various experiments which have been made by various authorities or by landlords for this purpose. The tenants want bathrooms, hot water, better cooking arrangements, and so forth, and many houses which are soundly constructed can be brought up to this standard at far less cost—certainly, in far less time—than it takes to build new houses altogether. And then, of course, in this class there are the houses which are too big for present day needs, and these can be converted into 179 good flats and made good living conditions.
I have ventured to dwell upon this part of the White Paper because I think it tries objectively to set out the problem and set it out in the right perspective. We have tried, therefore, to deal with the different classes of houses in the appropriate way for each, and, incidentally, it is the only way in which we can make an advance. Of course, if we could wave a magic wand and if the houses would grow like mushrooms in the night, it would be very agreeable, but no political party has yet gone so far as to promise this in addition to more conventional programmes.
§ Mr. Aueurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, what he has done, so far, is merely to describe the situation which has so often been described by his predecessors of all parties. In connection with the last class, he mentioned the house that can be reconditioned. He refers, in the White Paper, merely to carrying out the Act of 1949, with two minor amendments. The one which is the most important is that which removes the ceiling of £800. How does he think he will be more successful in getting that Act carried out, in the future than in the past, because it is not merely a question of propaganda?
§ Mr. Macmillan
I was going to come to that, but I thought it would not be amiss first to describe the problem. Although it is not always used it is not a bad system of logical thought.
Hon. Members will find, in paragraphs 22–41 of the White Paper, the proposals of the Government for the houses of the first class, the essentially sound houses. The problem here is really quite simple. It is to ensure that an adequate income is provided to keep them sound and to do current repairs—that is the problem—and to see, of course, that that income is devoted to that purpose. It is really as simple as that, and yet I must admit that I have never yet met a more baffling task in searching for the precise solution. The development charge was child's play compared with it.
We have to start with the extraordinary history of rent control. Some rents were 180 controlled in 1914, and have remained fixed at that level, plus the 40 per cent. increase allowed in 1920. Others came out of control between the wars and went back into control at the outbreak of the Second World War. Some escaped control because of the value of the house or the character of the tenancy. The effect has been not only that many rents now bear no relation whatever to the cost of keeping the house in current repair, but also that they bear no relation to each other.
We have examined the rents which are actually being paid in a large number of towns and have found the most extraordinary variations—and I am sure hon. Members will bear me out in this—between houses of exactly the same type, the same rateable value, the same amenities, and in the same street; variations from one tenant paying 17s. 6d. down to another paying 7s. 6d.
I shall try to start with the things on which we all agree, because I am greatly helped, in this problem which I have undertaken, by the joint efforts of the House. I do not think that anyone can dispute that if a house is to be kept in good condition money must be spent on it at regular intervals.
§ Mr. Macmillan
Nevertheless, I am sure that the hon. Member is agreed.
Nor will anyone doubt that the cost of keeping a house in good condition is much greater today than it was before the war. To discover just how much greater the cost is I asked Mr. Girdwood if his committee would examine this. The committee found that it costs today, broadly, three times as much as before the war to do the same amount of maintenance work—and here I would like to express my gratitude to Mr. Girdwood and his colleagues.
What does that mean? It means that in one way or the other the income going into the house, and available to keep the house in good heart, must, in many cases, be increased. I think everyone will agree. There may be differences about the machinery to be used, but whatever the machinery chosen the result must be an increase in the amount available for repairs.
181 How is it to be done? The local authorities have had to face this problem in recent years, and we all know it, in our constituencies, how they have done it. Every day we open our newspapers to read that they have had to put the rents up. The local authorities do not like to put the rents up. They will not do it unless they must; they have to meet their electorate more frequently than we do in this House, but they have done it because they have had to do so willy nilly, and if privately owned houses are to be kept in good repair the rents, in many cases, must be increased.
After the First World War a percentage increase was allowed on all controlled rents, provided the house was kept in good repair. It may be said that this percentage increase in 1920 is the simplest method, the least capable of confusion, the easiest to apply, and the fairest. But I would say not the fairest. The investigation we have made has convinced me that, in England and Wales, a flat rate percentage would be grossly unfair.
The Scottish position is different, and they cannot carry out the English remedy because of differences in the rating system. As I have explained, existing rents are all over the place; one house may already command double the rent of that of the house next door, so any percentage increase would merely add to the anomalies and, far from being the fairest method, I think it would be the most unfair of all.
Then the suggestion has been made that so long as rent control is made necessary by the shortage of houses, a maximum rent should be fixed in relation to the valuation for rating. It was I think, Lord Silkin who, in a most helpful speech, put forward this proposal and seemed to favour it, but as a long-term solution. But he also indicated that this plan could not work until there was a national reassessment. As the House knows, we were forced to deal, in the last Session, with the problem of valuation of houses for rating, and it was only because we found that the existing system would not work that we reluctantly had to legislate for another system.
It must be some time before we can know what the revaluation produces. Much study will be needed before anyone can say whether the revaluation can help us to get a long-term solution of this 182 intractable rent problem. Meanwhile, the house repairs must be done, or the houses will get worse.
§ Mr. Macmillan
We have, therefore, adopted a scheme of repairs increase, with three purposes in view: first, to increase the income of the house with strict regard to the present rent, and to the variations of rent for similar houses, so as to operate as fairly as possible. The most important thing about a scheme of this kind is that it should be as fair as we can get it. Secondly, we have tried to ensure, by the operation of what we call the stopper principle, that no rent shall rise as a result of the repairs increase beyond a certain level. Thirdly, we have tried to secure that the increase shall, in fact, go to the repair of the house and not towards the income of the landlord.
What we had to do first was to discover, if we could, how much landlords need to spend to keep houses of different types in good repair, and in this we were greatly helped by a Report made in 1951 by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and later endorsed by other professional opinion. The Institution found that in 1939 the amount spent on repairs each year was, on an average, equivalent to what is known as the "statutory deduction for rating purposes"—a phrase, incidentally, which does not come lightly off the tongue, and I wish that I could think of another one.
This figure, Members will know, is the amount deducted from the gross value of a dwelling to arrive at the net figure upon which rates are charged. This deduction varies according to the gross value of the house, being £4, £5 or £6 for smaller and older houses, and £7 to £10 for the middle sized and better houses. The amount that used to be spent each year on the repair of houses of different sizes and quality, which one might call the repairs allocation, corresponded, in general, with the statutory deduction. That is something, at least, to go on.
The advice that we received was that work which would have cost £6 in 1939 would cost £18 today. The information produced by these experts, therefore, meant, broadly speaking, that for houses with a statutory deduction of £6, expenditure 183 of £6 was going on repairs, year in and year out, in the years before the war. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] I am talking of houses which come in for repair. If the rent is increased by a figure equal to twice the statutory deduction, there will be enough available to carry out repairs to that standard.
Of course, as the Girdwood Committee said, certain kinds of repair work will not be of the same standard as in 1939. Some houses have deteriorated, and maintenance today must include a higher proportion of structural work and replacement; also external painting and internal decorations tend to be done today at longer intervals. But, by and large, it seems reasonable to try to provide, as a minimum, for about the same quantity of work; and that, therefore, is the principle which we have adopted and upon which the repairs increase is founded.
§ Mr. David Logan (Liverpool, Scotland Division)
I should like to draw the Minister's attention to the speculative men in Liverpool who buy houses and keep them unlet for months. There are many which are not sold, and they are still unlet. What does the Minister intend to do with those houses, of which there are many hundreds in Liverpool? They are good houses, and yet they are lying unlet.
§ Mr. Macmillan
I would certainly think that nothing could be more likely to bring them back into the market than if they were able to command rents sufficient to maintain them. I will admit that the principle of the repairs increase requires some modifications and control in practice.
§ Mr. Macmillan
I cannot give way at the moment. I am now coming to the really vital part. I will give way to the hon. Gentleman when I have finished this part of my speech. It is rather difficult to get on when there are constant interruptions.
That principle requires, as I say, some modification and control in practice. Some rents are already high enough. Some are quite sufficient to enable landlords to maintain the houses in current 184 repair, and no doubt that is why so many of them are in good repair. There is no reason at all why these rents should rise, so we have devised what we have called a brake or stopper which will vary according to the size and quality of the house.
We accordingly propose that no rent should be increased to more than twice the existing gross value of the house, and if the rent is already as high or higher, it will not be affected. The examples given in paragraph 37 of the White Paper, covering the great majority of cases, make clear how the system will work.
§ Mr. Macmillan
I want to make this point absolutely clear, because there is already some misunderstanding about it. I have seen it stated that the rents of between 5 million and 6 million houses will rise by between 4s. 7d. and 5s. 5d. a week. That is a natural misunderstanding of a hasty reading of the White Paper. It is not so. I cannot give the House the average figure, for one excellent reason, that I do not know it; nor can anybody know it. It all depends on what is the actual present rent.
Let me take the first example given in paragraph 37 of the White Paper, relating to 4s. 7d. It covers nearly 4 million houses. The maximum to which the rent on this type of house can rise is 11s. 6d. If it is already 11s. 6d. there is no increase. The rent is already sufficient for the current repairs to be done. If it is 10s. 6d. it will go up by Is. If it is 9s. 6d. it will go up by 2s., and so on, until we have reached a point where, if it is 6s. 11d., and only then, it will rise by the full 4s. 7d. That is the maximum permitted increase, being the weekly value of twice the statutory deduction for a house rated at £15 a year. That is twice £6, which I think my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will confirm amounts to £12.
The object is to see that the income of the house is enough for the job to be done. If it is already enough, there is no 185 increase. The increase on a house of the kind mentioned in the example can be anything from Id. to 4s. 7d., according to what the present rent is. In other words, instead of a flat percentage, it is a sort of sliding scale; it might almost be called an equalisation of rent system.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his courtesy, which cancels the lack of it a few moments ago. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Logan), the right hon. Gentleman said that one inducement to bring back into occupation houses in good repair at present not occupied would be to offer the landlords a better return. Since then he has been explaining to the House that his proposals are not intended to give the landlord a better return because the whole of the extra money he will get is to be expended in repair. Would the right hon. Gentleman like to clear up the anomaly?
§ Mr. Macmillan
I will clear it up in a moment. I suppose there are two emotions in human life. One is to do what is right. If the landlord gets the repairs increase, whether it is a Id. or 4s. 7d., and, thereby, he is able to keep the house in repair, he is doing the job. But, of course, another emotion in human life is to look to his own interests. If he is able to get his asset in good heart without loss to himself he is benefiting from the financial point of view. So, from both points of view, he has a full inducement.
I must now come to the conditions which must be satisfied—this is a very important part of the whole scheme—before the landlord can claim the repairs increase. These are vital since it is our object throughout to increase the money available to be spent upon the houses and to be sure that it is so spent.
§ Mr. Macmillan
The Secretary of State for Scotland will be speaking in due course.
I hope and believe that much of this can be done by friendly agreement between the landlord and tenant by the ordinary method of good will and arrangement. But there are two legal conditions and these must be satisfied. 186 First, the house must be in a good general state of repair. A new definition will be given when the Bill is published—[HON. MEMBERS: "When?"]—in a few days. If I had published the Bill today I would have precluded the debate. The house must be in a good general condition of repair and the landlord must affirm that it is so. If the tenant disputes the declaration, he can apply to the local authority for a certificate of disrepair. If the certificate is granted, the tenant will not be required to pay the increase until the house is put in that condition. Again, this is very important, if at any later time the increase—
§ Mr. Bevan
It is vital to understand this part of the statement and the right hon. Gentleman must remember that we only had this White Paper last night. I am very grateful to him for going into it in some detail, because we want to understand it. We understand that it is the tenant who is to get the certificate of disrepair and not the landlord who is to get the permit to increase the rent?
§ Mr. Macmillan
There are two conditions. If the certificate is granted to the tenant by the surveyor the first condition obligatory on the landlord will not be fulfilled and the repairs increase will not be paid. If, at any subsequent time, the house falls into disrepair, again, the repairs increase will be cancelled. That is the first safeguard and I will come to the second. I did not feel that this was enough, although it has been the safeguard which has operated since 1920. It operated in the six years of the Labour Government and they did not alter it. I did not feel it was enough.
It might be, for instance, that the tenant had done the work and not the landlord. Therefore, the mere condition of the house would not necessarily be a sufficient safeguard. As a test of good faith the landlord must show that he has actually spent, and recently spent, a sum of money on repairs, the amount of which is set out in paragraph 39 of the White Paper and will be laid down in the Bill. In other words, the repairs increase must be earned and it will be earned by the repairs.
I believe that these two proposals are effective and will achieve our purpose. They are fair because, as opposed to a percentage increase in rent, we have a calculated—a very carefully calculated— 187 repairs increase which takes account of all the variations and facets of the rent structure and which by the brake principle prevents any undue increase. It will achieve our purpose of getting the house into good repair because the two conditions are obligatory on the landlord before he can get the increase.
It is true that the second condition, the actual expenditure, only applies to the initial claim. That is right because we know that only by an average yearly expenditure of a sum equal to three times the statutory deduction can he keep the house in repair and if that is not met the increase will lapse. The second condition will have this result, that landlords whose houses are not in good condition will be encouraged to spend money on repairs although they are not adding to their free income, that is interest on their investment. They will be preserving their assets and acting as good landlords.
In framing this part of the scheme we think that we have done the right thing. Our object is to look after the houses. The landlord and the tenant will both benefit, the landlord by keeping his property in good heart and the tenant by having greater comfort in the house. In that sense the house itself will be a beneficiary. The main beneficiaries are the houses; and therefore, since these constitute a vital national asset, the whole nation.
§ Mr. Macmillan
Now I come to the other extreme, the slum houses. Perhaps here we shall be in an even greater measure of agreement than we have been up to now. Many of us know the slums. Most of us do not like to think too much about them. For 14 years, in the war and in the aftermath of war, this problem has been virtually put on one side. The time has come to take it up again as a great national effort. At present, it is not possible to give any very reliable figures as to slum houses. When the last war began about 140,000 were scheduled for demolition. These houses, or most of them, are still being lived in. With the war there has probably been great additions to this number. We cannot make any accurate estimate, but we believe there are now many hundreds of thousands. The 188 National Housing and Town Planning Council, to whose admirable work I should like to pay tribute, made an estimate of about half a million or more, and I think it may be more.
It is not necessary for me to tell the House what a terrible problem it is, as hon. Members know it well. We have the great problem of overcrowding, of families with no home of their own. That is a very big problem, but we can no longer afford to put off, to put aside, the question of the slums. We can no longer leave people living in cramped, dark, rotten houses with no water, sometimes no lavatories, no proper ventilation and no hope of rescue. Therefore, I shall ask each local authority to set before me a definite programme setting out the size of their slum problem and the methods by which they propose to deal with it. I have been in informal consultation with local authorities and I am sure that they will bring to this new task a real sense of urgency and enthusiasm.
We must recognise, of course, that it cannot all be done at once. There are many slum dwellings which, alas, will have to be lived in for many years to come as there is nowhere else for the people to live. In some great cities it will take perhaps 10, 15 or 20 years for us to clear away the whole thing.
I have asked myself this question: what is to happen to the people living in these houses while waiting for their turn in the queue? Something must be done; we cannot just leave them there in houses which are getting worse and worse while their hopes are getting lower and lower. It really is a great human problem and a great challenge to any Christian nation.
We propose, therefore, that local authorities shall not be content with making a start on pulling down those of the condemned houses which they can immediately replace. They will also accept responsibility for the care and maintenance and, within the limits of what is possible, for the improvement of the houses which must be temporarily reprieved. They will acquire all these houses—I hope they will acquire them—as they have a right to do, those which are to be ultimately demolished, at the site value.
§ Mr. Macmillan
That is another problem. They have those powers, subject to my approval. However, that is quite a different problem. With the assistance of the Government they will do what they can for these houses. They will patch and mend them; they will clean and furbish, so that they will at least become rather better places to live in. They will not be good; they never can be good; but the people will know that something is being done for them, that they are not forgotten, and that their turn is coming.
This is, perhaps, a hard thing to ask of the local authorities, because it will be a very uphill task. The local authorities are accustomed to be proud of their properties. They will not like being "slum landlords," but they will be trustees, in the true sense of the word, for the people living in the slums, and it is they and only they who, with the assistance of the central Government, can do this rescue job, and I am sure they will welcome the opportunity to work for it. I am fortified by the example of the great City of Birmingham which has already made this great experiment, and to which I owe the idea of extending it further over a wider field.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
The right hon. Gentleman will agree with me, will he not, that this will be a very expensive job, and that it will be easier for some cities and towns to meet the expense than for others? Will he give an assurance that none of the poorer boroughs and towns and cities will be financially out of pocket, and that somehow or another the Exchequer will meet the whole of the cost, so that they can get on with this job?
§ Mr. Macmillan
No, but I will say that the Government are, of course, going to help. It will cost a good deal of money. The houses themselves are bought normally at site value, but the cost of repairing and maintaining them will be beyond what any rent that can reasonably be charged can support. On the calculations and discussions I am now having with the local authorities I think I can say we are agreed upon a scheme which will be found in the Bill when the Bill is published. It will be a partnership between the local authorities and the central Government.
I do want to make it clear, however, that although we cannot claim, and are 190 not claiming, that we can make these houses good houses, because we cannot make these houses good houses—I am not saying that; no one must think that—they can, if they have still got to have people in them for 10 or 15 years, be made tolerably decent for ordinary human life, and I think that if we can do that it will bring a message of hope to the people who feel that they are forgotten altogether.
These are the two extremes, the sound houses which landlords can be expected to keep in good condition either with no repairs increase or with the increase appropriate to each house where the present rent is too low; and, at the other extreme, those houses that are wholly unfit and inadequate—fit only to be condemned. Then there is a category in between that I have called the "dilapidated houses," houses which are in a bad state but, nevertheless, are capable of being put right.
Landlords have a statutory duty to see that their houses are sound and fit for human habitation. If a landlord fails to do this the local authority may do it for him and recover the cost gradually out of the rent. The local authorities have asked that their powers for this purpose should be strenthened, and provision will be made in the Bill to strenthen them, and after that I shall expect the local authorities to make good use of those powers.
A landlord, of course, will not be entitled to claim the repairs increase in rent just because he has conformed with the minimum duty of making only essential repairs, making the house fit for human habitation. To get the repairs increase the landlord will have to go further, but if he does the first it may not be so difficult for him to do the second. I think the local authorities and the courts, if oases go to them, may feel it easier to insist on minimum repairs when they know that by extra effort the landlord can earn the additional repairs increase by making the house altogether in good condition.
I must now say a word about improvements and conversions, about which the right hon. Gentleman asked me. I have been impressed, of course, by the need to prolong the life of as many houses as possible. We all know of the large number of houses, built especially in the first 191 expansion of the great towns, which are sound structurally, well built technically, and often designed for those our reactionary ancestors called the middle class, now called, I believe, the middle income groups. The trouble about those is that they were built for another age. They lack modern amenities, and they are often too large for single family occupation.
It is a happy feature of a progressive society that the luxuries of one period become the necessities of the next. These changes take place so rapidly that it is difficult for younger people to realise how quickly they happen. One of the most agreeable if not the most dramatic changes in the way of living in my lifetime has been the bath. When I was a child in the nursery there was the tin tub; when I went to school there was a round tin bath that we filled with hot water from a can heated on a gas ring, and then, with great difficulty, emptied into a basin in a corner of the room.
I well remember a bathroom being built in my father's house—over 50 years ago. It was quite an event. It stood in a little alcove on the stairs. I can see it now, of polished mahogany, with shiny brass taps, and something like the tiller of a ship to regulate the flow in and out. The plug had not yet been invented. To approach the bath you had to go three steps up, helped by a great arrangement of handles and ropes for any one who was rash enough to make this great adventure. This mechanism, 50 years ago, was regarded as something of a luxury, while now, in a simple form, it is rightly regarded as a necessity.
There are hundreds and thousands of houses much of the kind I have described which by proper conversion can be improved into good apartments to serve the needs of hundreds of thousands of people for many years to come. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) recognised this in the Act of 1949, and in paragraphs 73 to 86 of the White Paper we deal with (this matter—and anything further the right hon. Gentleman can suggest to strengthen our proposals will be considered—of the legislative and administrative measures which experience has shown to be necessary to make full use of the provisions of that Act.
§ Miss Alice Bacon (Leeds, North-East)
Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether or not he will take any action to expedite the procedure whereby local authorities are making use of compulsory purchase to carry out these conversions? Is he aware that it is taking from 18 months to two years between a local authority's deciding to do it and getting the "go ahead" from his Department?
§ Mr. Macmillan
I certainly will, as rapidly as possible, assist in this part of the scheme.
I am very conscious that the House has listened with great patience to me, trying to unfold a rather complicated scheme, and I therefore return for just a moment to where I began. We must press on with the building of new houses, and we have a good record in that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shocking."] We must also do our duty by the old houses. All these proposals for repair and maintenance, for slum clearance and all that is involved, the repair of the dilapidated houses, the improvements, the conversions, doing what we can for those still condemned to live a little longer in the slums—all these together constitute, I would claim, an important and imaginative conception by the Government. They are really intended as a step towards better use of the nation's houses. To make them effective legislation will be necessary, and a Bill will shortly be introduced.
But if the better housing campaign is really to succeed in its objective, we shall need something more than the provisions of Acts of Parliament. We shall need a national understanding and a national co-operation. In my view, each has his part to play—the landlord, the tenant, the local authority and the central Government. I have been in politics for some time now and I am conscious that in setting out on this journey there are many pitfalls and perhaps many dangers. But it has got to be done; and I believe that the way which I have tried to outline is the only way in which it can be done—and we are determined that it shall be done.
In considering a great step forward of this kind, two questions ought to be posed: are the proposals practical and are they fair? I am confident that in each case the answer is, "Yes." They are 193 practical and will, I am convinced, have the willing support of the local authorities. They are fair because they are based upon the conception which has dominated the whole plan—that the purpose is not to raise the spendable income of the landlord but to increase where necessary, and only where necessary, the income of the house and to secure that any increase is, in fact, spent upon repairs. In a word, it is the house in which the people live that matters.
Later will come the Second Reading, and in the later stages of the Bill we shall have a detailed examination in Committee. I can only say that I shall be only too anxious to have, and to consider most carefully and in a most unbiased way, any constructive Amendments which can be made, for a question so vital to the life of the nation deserves to be treated not with party bias or recrimination, but with constructive criticism. Just a year ago, as I was reminded by my Parliamentary Private Secretary, I used these words in a broadcast:We who have had a happy home life know what a good home means. Every one of us can help in the housing drive. Let's make a success of it together.Those words come back to me with renewed force today when I think of the millions of people who live in older houses. Their human needs are just as important as those of the more fortunate people who are now moving into the new houses. We must not and we will not let them down.
Mr. A. Woodbum (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
There are two subjects dealt with—the slum houses which cannot be repaired and the houses which can be modernised. Would the right hon. Gentleman explain what is the type of repairs which comes between the wind and water type of repair, which is compulsory under existing law, and the modernisation possible under the 1949 Act? What type of repair is envisaged which comes between those two?
§ Mr. Macmillan
I do not want to weary the House, but I feel that there is an intermediate stage. The landlord may be compelled at reasonable expense to make the houses fit for human habitation and, that having been done, the better landlords will say, "We will go on and do the whole thing and move into the other category."
§ Mr. Macmillan
The provision of good accommodation. The higher category is the only category which will earn the increase. We will define more precisely in the Bill what these repairs are. It will mean not only outside work but indoor decorations satisfactory to make it what I would call a class A house, which is the only house which will earn the increase. In the case of the others, where that will cost too much,' they will have to be dealt with by the local authorities under the plan I have tried to describe.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)
It is not my intention to follow the Minister in his detailed examination of this complex problem of housing. I propose going from the particular to the general aspect of the Gracious Speech, and my thoughts will be directed to certain aspects of it and to one very serious omission. In reading the Gracious Speech I was struck particularly by this sentence:My Ministers will continue to work for the progress and well-being of the peoples of My Colonial territories and protectorates.That is indeed illuminating, bearing in mind the record of the Colonial Secretary in recent months. He appears to be imbued with the spirit that all the problems of the world are militant. I believe they are social and economic. This is an age of revolution. It is an age of change. The peoples of Asia and the Far East are moving in the 20th century for the same reasons as we were moving in the 17th and 18th centuries. I suggest that that sentence from the Gracious Speech was illuminating, because I submit that the Colonial Secretary was the Minister responsible for disbanding the Colonial Economic Development Council, a body which advised the Minister on the problems of economic development.
I turn now to another aspect of the Gracious Speech, that concerning National Service. It is proposed to continue National Service for a further period. Having regard to the probable withdrawal of our forces from Korea and Egypt, I submit that a statement should be made as to when we may anticipate 195 a reduction in the period of National Service in the light of that possibility.
Two sentences in the Gracious Speech read:My Ministers will continue to encourage the building of houses and schools. They will also stimulate a vigorous resumption of slum clearance.From this it is clear what size of legacy we were left as a result of the private speculators. This is indeed a social evil. The whole question of housing is being distorted by two propaganda campaigns—one on behalf of the landlords to pretend that they are being badly treated and the other to suggest that the Minister of Housing is doing a very good job.
At one stage, as the Minister reminded us this afternoon, there was a permitted rent increase of 40 per cent., including 25 per cent. for the extra cost of repairs. I appreciate that it was difficult immediately after the war to obtain licences to carry out the necessary repairs, but we ought to remind ourselves that the landlords were able, as a consequence of not carrying out those repairs, to pile up money which ought to have been set aside for those repairs. The lot of the property owner is not quite as bad as it is made out to be by the Minister.
The present Minister of Housing has gained much kudos, and many glowing tributes have been paid to him suggesting that he is making a remarkable drive in housing. A measure of his success has been achieved—indeed, his success has been very largely achieved—by reducing the standard of housing until the houses are now what I regard as sub-standard.
I turn to another aspect of the Gracious Speech—the reference to agriculture and the statement that more food production is essential if we are to survive. I submit that an efficient and prosperous agriculture will form the only basic security for Britain. I submit to the Government that, to restore confidence to the farming community, they must cease the policy of drift for which they have been responsible in recent months. If not, we shall be in a very serious situation which may well lead to national disaster. It is true that many of our farms are producing much above what is known as the average national production. I submit that the Government ought to give cheap credit 196 facilities whereby to assist the farming community so that they may be able to develop their farms to a far greater extent than has been possible up to the moment.
There is, I think, one serious omission from the Gracious Speech. I am referring to the problem of the cost of living which, I suggest, is dynamite in the country at the present moment. I think that the reason for the omission is quite clear. Those of us on this side of the House recall very vividly that during the last General Election there was emblazoned on every hoarding throughout the land, "Return the Conservatives and they will bring down the cost of living." I suggest that the electorate have been betrayed and that today we have the spectacle of ever-rising prices.
§ Mr. John Hay (Henley)
Has the hon. Gentleman considered the form of the latest Index of Retail Prices which shows that in fact prices have been stable for no fewer than three months, and that there has been a fall in prices recently?
§ Mr. Monslow
I do not accept the present index. I believe that there is need for revision and that certain commodities ought to be brought within the ambit of the index figures which are not now in it.
I suggest that the statement of the hon. Member that the cost of living is falling is not one which would be accepted by the housewives of this country, because it is the housewives who are responsible at the moment for the wage demands which are taking place consequent upon the rise in prices. They are indicating to their husbands that their household bills are going up and they want—what is, after all, their legitimate right—something to meet the ever-increasing rise b prices.
What are the facts? It is true that profits in the last year dropped by 18 per cent. but while profits dropped 18 per cent. there was a 9 per cent. increase in dividend distribution. If the shareholder is to take the larger share of a small cake, I suggest that it is quite illogical to exhort the workers of this country to accept the philosophy of wage restraint, in the light of the fact that the shareholders are presumably going to enjoy a higher ratio of dividend for the express purpose of meeting their increased costs.
197 When we examine the present situation, particularly in regard to the mining industry, railways and the engineering industry, I want to say that, while we have shareholders who are prepared to take advantage of the present dire economic circumstances within the country, these workers within those industries have a moral right to share in the prosperity of those industries. What is good by way of increase for the shareholders is equally good by way of increase for the wage-earners.
The Government have abandoned social planning and returned to competitive free enterprise. I submit that all the appeals for wage restraint will avail nothing unless the Government are disposed to adopt a policy which means the pegging of prices. The stabilisation of prices will help not only those engaged in industry as wage-earners but also those living on fixed annuities and old-age pensioners subsisting on a miserable pittance. The pegging of prices is the only solution to this vexed problem, and I am convinced that the economic factors will sooner or later compel the Government to adopt some measure such as I have suggested.
If the employer is encouraged to get the biggest profit and the biggest dividend, I submit that the trade union leader has no other duty than to protect his members by getting for them the highest wage possible. That, after all, is what free enterprise means.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
I know that it is the practice when a back bench Member pays a tribute to one of his Ministers to be met with some friendly jeering on the other side. I think that this is an occasion when I ought to risk that. I think that it will be acknowledged on both sides of the House that the Minister, in presenting his very complicated explanation today, did it superbly and with such clarity that we have all benefited very considerably as a consequence of it.
When we recognise how intricate and difficult is this problem and the presentation of it, I think that is the answer to the intervention by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) when he made the opening speech today. I think that he produced his criticism of the popular 198 version of the White Paper as rather a red herring, and I hope that he does not succeed in drawing attention away from what was the clear intention of the Minister.
I think that in dealing with matters of this sort, where so many intricate details have to be examined if the problem is to be understood, something more than a formal White Paper was needed. Far from criticising my right hon. Friend for taking the trouble to produce this popular version, I think that, on consideration, we should all be very grateful to him. Those who do not agree must be in that group who do not want the people to understand the position, and who want to gain some party advantage from his proposals. I believe that from the reception given to the Minister's speech so far they will be very much in the minority.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have recognised for a long time that we need courage and initiative from the people who have the responsibility of government. Because we all recognise that, I think that those who try to make party capital will be in a very small minority indeed. There was one intervention this afternoon that we ought to examine. It was suggested that the 40 per cent. increase of rent allowed under the 1920 Act had not been passed on, and that that was a bad thing. I accept that assessment absolutely. Landlords who did not pass on the 40 per cent. increase when they charged it in the rent proved themselves to be very bad citizens and almost verged on breaking the law.
§ Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
Is it not a fact that the majority of those who collected that 40 per cent. did not continue to do the repairs which they should have done?
§ Mr. Nicholls
I would not say the majority. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I wanted to agree with the hon. Gentleman. I do agree that any landlords who collected the increased rent and did not pass it on in the form of extra repairs were bad citizens, verging on breaking the law, but they were not the majority. The suggestion explained to us today takes into account the experience of 1920. The very nature of the explanation given by the Minister shows that in the light of that experience—which, I say, was the experience of the minority and not the majority—every safeguard will now be taken to 199 see that landlords face up to their liabilities.
There may be a minority of property owners who would want to take this money and not pass it back again in the form of repairs. But because there is that risk, the Minister has explained very clearly that on this occasion landlords are not likely to get the extra rent unless there is a certain guarantee that it will be passed back in the form of better maintenance.
It is clear from the White Paper and from my right hon. Friend's speech that the Government are out for house improvement and for slum clearance. Who would not desire that? If there is any criticism to be levelled, then it should be levelled against both parties for delay, because when the Labour Party were in office they delayed long in tackling this matter. The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) knew about this problem as far back as 1948. The need for doing something along these lines was very clear at that time, and we have the evidence of what actually happened in various local authorities in connection with house repairs.
We find that by 1948 increased rents were being charged by local authorities of all political persuasions. They had to increase rents because the cost of repairs and maintenance showed that to be necessary.
§ Mr. Nicholls
On this occasion we must see that private owners do the repairs. [HON. MEMBERS: "How?"] The White Paper and the explanation given by my right hon. Friend this afternoon is a complete answer to that.
I now want to develop my point that by 1948 the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale and the previous Government realised that something on these lines ought to be tackled. In Tottenham, rents were raised by 1s. 10d. a week; in Wood Green, by 1s. 3d. to 3s. 10d.; in Finchley, by 1s. l0d. to 3s. 6d.; in Folkestone, by 6s.; in Bristol, from 6s. to 8s.; in West Ham, by 10s.; in Portsmouth, by 12s. 6d.; in Acton, by 1s. 2d.; and in Wycombe, by Is. a week.
200 Some of the councils concerned were Conservative councils, and many of them were Socialist councils. None of them wished to increase rents, but all of them were facing up to their responsibility as managers, and seeing that their housing accounts were balanced. They recognised that the increase in the cost of repairs and maintenance made it necessary to increase rents, and I believe that at that time the right hon. Gentleman opposite and the previous Government believed and knew that some amendment of the Rent Acts should be carried out.
In my opinion, my right hon. Friend and the Government which I support ought to have dealt with this matter last year. We had all the evidence we wanted to enable us to do last year what we are doing today. I do not think it need have cut across the building of the new houses, which has gone on so successfully.
Not only was it the view of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale in 1948, but it was also the view of his party as recently as this year, because we see it set out quite clearly in their document "Challenge to Britain." In that document they say:Many new houses must, of course, be built. Labour will continue with a large programme of new house-building, but it will see that other needs are met. Labour will ensure that our existing stock of houses is more sensibly used.…Large houses must be converted into flats wherever possible.That is precisely what my right hon. Friend is trying to do by this measure.People must be encouraged to move out of houses or flats, which are too large for them, into smaller ones.I believe that the extra inducement of the 8 per cent. instead of the 6 per cent. under the 1949 Act, will help in the conversion of these bigger houses into smaller units which ordinary people can afford to rent.
"Challenge to Britain" goes on to say:Labour will, therefore, instruct all local authorities to submit schemes for gradually taking over and modernising blocks of rent-controlled private properties within their areas.This is not the end, but only the means to the end. It is the view of the party opposite that this job ought to be done, but only by local authorities.
§ Mr. Nicholls
That the large majority of houses have been maintained in good condition, despite the fact that many landlords have not had fair rents for years, is a proof that private owners will do exactly what my right hon. Friend wants them to do.
"Challenge to Britain" also says:Rents will be fixed by local authorities in relation to the rents they charge for their other properties.That means that if local authorities take over these houses they will, or can, increase the rents in relation to those charged for council houses without giving the guarantee given by my right hon. Friend that an increase in rent can only be charged when improvements to living conditions are actually carried out. That is something which the country must keep in mind when listening to the many criticisms on detail which, very properly, will be coming from the right hon. Gentleman opposite.
I hope that this important, intricate, and in many ways unpopular measure will not be made the basis of party politics, because the end envisaged by this proposal is one that is accepted by right hon. and hon. Members opposite. The only difference between us, as far as I can see, is whether it should be done by private owners or by local councils. I know from personal experience and some knowledge of private development, plus some 14 years' experience as a local councillor, that the agency most likely to bring about the desired improvement quickly is the agency of the private owner.
I am quite certain that a system of monthly committee meetings, of approval, of supervision by innumerable local government departments, which is inevitable when the Government machine is set in motion, is not a speedy one. This is a problem which ought and must be dealt with quickly, and in my opinion the private owners are the best people to deal with it. In this way, the improvement will not only be carried out more quickly, but also more cheaply. I am sure that the speed in reaching agreement on contracts and alterations in specifications in the case of a private owner, which cannot obtain in the case of a local authority because of the committee 202 system, will result, in the long run, in the work being done much cheaper.
If the difference is one the main question of amendment of rent restriction, we can be confident that the agency to carry it out is the private owner rather than the local council. However, if there is another argument and hon. Members opposite are opposed to maintaining in existence houses which for many years yet will have to be the homes of millions of our people, I do not think hon. Members opposite will have the support of their constituents.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
I suggest that there is another difference. My hon. Friends and I regard it as entirely wrong that the tenant should be required to get a certificate of disrepair. Why should not the landlord be required to get a certificate of repair?
§ Mr. Nicholls
The hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend got a very fair reply on that point from the Minister. If one accepts the principle that, if repairs are done, extra rent ought to be paid, the machinery for bringing that about is a matter which can be examined on Second Reading and in Committee. The Minister has made it clear that he is willing to listen to suggestions about machinery for carrying out the general principle, which is one which we ought all to accept.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I cannot see how the proposal produces repairs. We have a jobbing industry which, at the moment, has a large waiting list. How we are to get more repairs done by inserting a demand for more, I do not know. We shall throw everything into chaos and get inflated prices, but we shall not get more repairs done.
§ Mr. Nicholls
The will to do it is the real driving force in getting something done. I have no doubt that the post-bags of hon. Gentlemen opposite are similar to mine, and that they have had many experiences from their own constituencies of people owning small properties who want to do repairs but have not the money with which to do them.
§ Mr. Nicholls
The hon. Gentleman should have listened to what I had to say to his hon. Friend; I will not waste time by repeating it.
Our responsibility today is to maintain existing houses. I do not accept the overall condemnation of hon. Gentlemen opposite of the property owners of the past. I know that there were many black sheep, for it has been part of my job in life to sort them out, but many people have done their duty at great inconvenience and kept their houses in good condition when they could not really afford to do so. My reply to the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis), who is a very young man, although not necessarily young in service in this House, is that it will not do to hark back to supposed omissions in the past.
The Minister has faced that sort of criticism by introducing the very definite safeguard of ensuring that no property owner gets a penny increase in rent until he has carried out improvements and repairs. If the hon. Member has no faith that the Minister's words can be translated into action, perhaps he will accept the principle, for if the words can be translated into action, that is the sort of thing that all of us want. Until we have examined the Bill in Committee and ascertained the words which will give effect to those desires, we ought to show a united front in presenting this difficult matter to the country.
With regard to improvement grants, I am certain that the Minister is correct in carrying on where the previous Government left off. Section 20 of the 1949 Act was designed to secure the modernisation of houses which are structurally sound but have out-of-date amenities. It was a very sound idea, and it was a very good step towards the maintenance of large numbers of houses in good condition. When the 1949 Act was introduced, the Minister anticipated a terrific rush of applications to take advantage of it. At that time materials were in short supply, so the Government introduced various restrictions and difficulties in order to regulate the rush. There could 204 have been a rush of applications, but there was not.
My right hon. Friend has recognised that the scheme must be made a little more attractive than when it was first introduced, and it is to be made more attractive in the two ways he explained, it is to be made popular by means of a clear explanation of the benefits which will accrue to property owners—that has never been done effectively—and also by raising the percentage increase which will be allowed on the money which the owners of the properties spend.
Under the provisions of the 1949 Act, if the property owner spent £400 of his own, in addition to an improvement grant, he could charge only 6 per cent. on the £400 in the way of increased rent to cover his expenditure. That meant he had to wait 17 years before getting the money back, and that was not attractive enough. My right hon. Friend is right in allowing increased rent to be charged on the basis of 8 per cent.
If the cost of borrowing money for repairs remains at its present high level, it may be that even the 8 per cent. will not prove satisfactory, and in view of that, I hope that there will be provision for private owners to borrow money for these repairs at a rate of interest equivalent to that of which local authorities borrow from the Public Works Loans Board. If, in addition to the improvement grants, they can borrow at a lower rate of interest, I am sure that the use which can be made of Section 20 of the 1949 Act will be extended.
Paragraph 7 of the White Paper states:One object of future housing policy will be to continue to promote, by all possible means, the building of new houses for owner-occupation.The White Paper explains towards the end that negotiations are going on between the building societies and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ascertain whether local government guarantees for private borrowing can be extended. I believe that the system of local government guarantee of mortgage will not bring about an increase in house purchase in the class of the community in which we want to encourage it.
At present, we are building 245,000 subsidised council houses each year. 205 Each council house costs £2,000, and the subsidy—£35 annually for 60 years—represents £2,100. Although we badly want these houses, I do not believe that the country can afford 245,000 subsidised houses a year on that scale and I suggest that my right hon. Friend would reap dividends by giving careful thought to schemes for encouraging people now or the waiting list for subsidised houses to become owner-occupiers.
The scheme I have submitted to my right hon. Friend on many occasions is that if a housing grant of £300 were to be made to such people, I estimate that 50,000 a year, with the help of that amount, would become house owners rather than remain subsidised council house tenants. Today, the gap is too wide and they either remain subsidised tenants or have to pay the full cost of housebuilding.
Many people with incomes of £8, £9 or £10 a week cannot afford the full cost of building for themselves. Their limitations are those of building society borrowers. The biggest mortgage that a building society will lend to a man with £8 a week is £1,100. The system followed is that no more than a quarter of his income must be used in house purchase, otherwise he is not a good risk.
If a grant of £300 were added to the £1,100 mortgage he could raise, plus his own deposit, thousands of people would be brought every year into the range of house ownership who, today, have to remain outside. It should be remembered, too, that £300 as against £2,000 represents a saving which any Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to examine with some care.
On the proposals explained by the Minister there can be no doubt that all reasonable men in this House and in the country recognise the need for the end which he has envisaged. If, in arriving at that, we hold a different view on the machinery to be used, I can think of no better place than Parliament to decide on that. And if we can reach the stage of working out the machinery, we must face up to the problem of unpopularity, which ignorance of details by the public will bring. If we approach this with a unity which recognises the need, we shall be doing our duty to millions of people in the country.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
I suppose that the speech of the Minister of Housing and Local Government has set the theme of our debate for the rest of today's Sitting whereas I would like to have spoken at greater length than I propose to do on an issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Monslow), namely, the renewal of the National Service Acts. The Government are complacent if they think that they can merely ask Parliament to renew the period of call-up for another five years without making substantial concessions to this side of the House, and to those many people in the country, of both political parties, who feel that the present period of two years' National Service is much too long.
As I want to keep within the main line of the debate set by the right hon. Gentleman, I shall say a few words on the issue he has raised. Like the Parliamentary Secretary, I speak with a good deal of practical experience. After the First World War, over 35 years ago, when I took up practice as a surveyor with a London estate agent, I lived constantly with the Rent Acts, including the 1939 Act which controlled at the beginning of the war all properties up to a certain rateable value. The remarkable thing is that not one Government since 1915, when the first Rent Act was passed, has passed an Act of Parliament on rent control which has not been severely criticised by Her Majesty's judges in the courts.
All the Rent Acts are in a state of anarchy, and the consequence is that to get a clear definition of any one of those Acts, innumerable court cases have had to be taken right up to the House of Lords, and even those have created a problem for future courts. I shall have something to say later about the right hon. Gentleman's definition of what he calls "a good state of repair."
As most hon. Members know, rent control applies to houses in London of a rateable value up to £100. In the provinces I think it is £75. So far as the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman is to introduce is concerned, I presume that it will apply only to those houses, namely, those within the control of the various Rent Acts. Houses outside that control have what is known as a free 207 market. I wish the right hon. Gentleman had said a little more about some of the recommendations of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, because it would be interesting to know what is the actual cost of repairs in those properties out of control or, indeed, of those properties which have been requisitioned by local authorities. I have some intimate knowledge of that. For example, it would be interesting to know what it costs the Royal Borough of Kensington, where I live, every year in the repair of houses which they have requisitioned.
This White Paper is paper only. The right hon. Gentleman will not get his repairs done, for the simple reason that it will not pay property owners to carry out the repairs that are vitally necessary, on the figures that he has put in the White Paper. It leads me to the conclusion that it is impossible for private enterprise to "house the working classes"—that was the definition given in previous Acts—because it will not be possible for any private landlord to do so unless rents are increased considerably beyond the amount stated in the White Paper.
I agree with the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls) to this extent, that if it takes £2,000 to build a council house, with rents heavily subsidised by the National Exchequer and the local rating authorities, it is impossible for the private landlord to build houses for the working classes to rent. Therefore, with my hon. Friends, I am driven to the conclusion that the only organisations or authorities that can do it are the local authorities. Indeed, that is what they have been doing since long before the last war. It is what the Government themselves say must be done.
For example, what do they say about slum houses which are past a "good state of repair"? They say that those houses must be acquired by the local authorities at site value. But they are not departing from the principle laid down in previous Housing Acts, that houses marked red on the local authority map must be acquired by the local authorities at the site value only. I think that the Government are quite right in saying that slum 208 housing must be tackled, and they are also right in saying that it can only be tackled, and will only be tackled, by local authorities.
If we say that with regard to slum houses what are we to say in relation to that next class of house, a little higher in value and condition but which still need a large amount of money spent on them if they are to be kept in a proper state of repair? I suggest that that next class of house, which I think the right hon. Gentleman calls an "essentially sound house," may be structurally sound but that does not prevent it from needing a very large sum of money spent on it to make it absolutely habitable by modern tenants according to modern conditions. No private landlord will carry out those repairs on the terms laid down by the right hon. Gentleman. It will not pay, and private enterprise does not work unless it pays it to do so.
I suggest, therefore, that we are viewing this whole problem in a totally false perspective. The right hon. Gentleman, with all his eloquent language and with all his picturesque talk of how he first became acquainted with a hot bath, is simply talking moonshine. It is beside the point, because it is not tackling a problem which has to be tackled and can only be tackled—
§ Mr. H. Nicholls
The right hon. Gentleman is very fair, but does he say that while he agrees with the need for the problem to be tackled it can only be tackled by either the rent being higher than is envisaged by my right hon. Friend, or certainly the rates being higher, which is the same thing?
§ Mr. Bellenger
I say that private enterprise will not tackle this job at these rates and, therefore, that the only alternative is to make it incumbent upon local authorities to do the job which private landlords have long since ceased to be able to do.
The right hon. Gentleman started off by telling us that to obtain the increase which he lays down in the White Paper the landlord must first go to the local authority and obtain a certificate that the house is in a good state of repair. If it is in a good state of repair why do we want these increased rents in order to do anything more to it?
§ Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)
Can my right hon. Friend explain where in the White Paper, or in the Minister's speech, it is made plain that before he can apply for the repairs increase the landlord has to repair the house?
§ Mr. Bellenger
The right hon. Gentleman said that the landlord has first to go to the local authority to obtain a certificate that the house is in a good state of repair.
§ Mr. Bellenger
If I am wrong in that, somebody at least has to obtain a certificate that the house is in a good state of repair. I took down the right hon. Gentleman's words. Under the 1920 Act, which gave the landlords 25 per cent. of the net rent for repairs and 15 per cent. on top of that for administrative expenses—not 40 per cent. for repairs—it was laid down that the landlord could put that increase on the rent merely by serving a notice and then, if the tenant thought that the repairs were not being properly carried out, the tenant could go to the sanitary authority and, by paying 1s., could obtain a certificate that the house was not in a good state of repair.
Perhaps I am wrong, but I understand that that procedure is now to be reversed. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Very well, if the position is that the landlord can now make the increase merely by serving a notice on the tenant and that the onus is then on the tenant to go to the local authority and say that he should not pay that increase because his house is not in a good state of repair, the right hon. Gentleman is merely following the principle which was laid down in the 1920 Act.
§ Mr. H. Macmillan
I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to misunderstand. The landlord must conform to two conditions. First, the house must be within the new definition of a good state of repair which is in the Bill, and the landlord will declare that in his opinion that is so and he will ask for the repairs increase. He will also have to comply with the second condition. He will serve notice on the tenant, "I declare that within the stated period I have spent £X." If the tenant believes the first condition not to have been fulfilled he will do as 210 the right hon. Gentleman said. He will apply to the local authority for an independent inspection. If the surveyor thinks that the landlord has not complied and the tenant thinks that he has lied about his expenditure the tenant will not pay for the repairs increase. The landlord will have to sue him in the county court and prove that he has spent £X.
§ Mr. Bellenger
The right hon. Gentleman says that the landlord must prove—I do not know to whom—that his house is in a good state of repair. Does he really serve notice on the tenant saying, "My house is in a good state of repair and I can show that I have spent at least six times the statutory allowance"? May I ask the Minister which statutory allowance—the old one or the new one? Is it the statutory allowance which remains constant while the rateable value remains constant?
§ Mr. Macmillan
I want to help the right hon. Gentleman. All these details, including the last one, will be embodied in the Bill.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I realise that we are debating in the dark today and although the right hon. Gentleman took a great deal of time in trying to explain the White Paper, presumably so that we could understand and follow him, now, in answer to probing questions of mine, he says that we have to wait until we have the Bill.
§ Mr. Macmillan
The right hon. Gentleman knows quite well that the Bill is ready, but if I had introduced it yesterday there could be no debate at all under the Rules of the House. Therefore, I thought it more proper to have a White Paper with a broad picture and to introduce the Bill as soon as the debate on the Address is over. If I had introduced the Bill today there could have been no debate at all.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I am not complaining, but what is the purpose of a White Paper? Surely it is to elucidate the subject so that hon. Members are at least informed of the main issues and, therefore, can discuss them and, as the right hon. Gentleman has asked us to do to-day, help him to improve his Bill when he introduces it to the House.
I am saying that his White Paper is mostly moonshine. It is not real. It does not, and will not, solve the problem 211 which, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, ought to be solved. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman had better think again before he introduces a Bill. He had better realise that the only way to tackle the problem of housing of the so-called working classes—that is a legal definition—is to leave it to the local authorities to do it, and realise that it is not possible for private owners to do it.
I should like to continue what I was saying when some of my hon. Friends thought that I was wrong. After listening to the right hon. Gentleman I am not sure that I was wrong. He has told us that the landlord has to declare to somebody, somehow, that his house is in a good state of repair. Having done that—and we do not know to whom he does it or how he does it—he then has to show that he has spent six times the statutory allowance in the last three years or three times the statutory allowance in the last 12 months.
If, by a declaratory announcement, he can show that his property is in repair or, somehow or other, that he has spent a certain amount of money, he can proceed to tell the tenant that he has to pay more rent. All I wish to say about that is that if the landlord can show that he has been able to keep his property in a state of repair, where has he got the money from? Presumably he has got it from the rents, at any rate in the case of the small property owner. Therefore, why should he have a greater rent for it? The right hon. Gentleman is destroying his own case for an increase of rent by laying down these two conditions which have to be satisfied before the landlord can get any increase in rent.
There is another factor which enters into this matter. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman has put the cart before the horse in putting first on the list of forthcoming legislation the modification or amendment of the Rent Acts. He should have tackled the leasehold system first. What happens if landlords carry out improvements to their properties under the leasehold system, especially the system which operates in London, in the case of many houses—particularly in Kensington—which are nearing the end of their leases?
All those improvements go to the freeholder. The freeholder has all that at the end of the lease, when he comes into 212 his reversion, and not only has the freeholder the benefit of those improvements; he can call upon the leaseholder to put all the improvements made by the leaseholder into thorough and proper repair when the house is handed over. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should bring in a Bill—I do not know whether he will do it—if not to enfranchise leaseholders, at any rate to modify many of the covenants in these leases, under which properties in London and, probably, in other parts of the country, are held at present.
I have mentioned the question of the cost to local authorities of repairs to the houses which they have requisitioned. I say, without fear of contradiction, that if the right hon. Gentleman will only call for statements from local authorities—particularly London local authorities—of what they have spent on their requisitioned houses during the last five or six years, he will find that the average total, year by year, is out of all proportion to the figures mentioned in the White Paper. Therefore, with the best will in the world, and realising, as we do, that this problem has to be tackled, there remains the fundamental difference between us as to who is to carry out the work and how it is to be done.
It is a waste of our time to discuss the details of this White Paper. We shall look forward to the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman will introduce later, and he can be quite sure that many hon. Members on this side will be only too pleased to suggest to him the best way to save the old houses which are worth saving. I am afraid that it will cost a lot more money than is suggested in the White Paper. It will cost the taxpayers and the ratepayers a lot of money, because private owners will not do it on these terms.
For many years it has been accepted that the housing of the lower paid members of our community should be carried out by local authorities. That is what has happened in the last seven or eight years. How many private houses have been built to let to tenants at controlled rents? There have been very few indeed. They have been built mostly by industrial companies who have had a reason for housing their workers near to their factories, and it is probable that some of the cost has come not out of the Schedule A assessment on the houses 213 but out of the Schedule D profits of the companies.
Before this debate is over, and before the right hon. Gentleman introduces his Bill, I sincerely hope that he will consult Her Majesty's Opposition and will not be so hidebound in old Tory principles—as hidebound as many Tories were before they were forced to recognise that the housing of the working classes should be carried out by the community and not by private enterprise. I hope that he will be a little more progressive. If he is, he will be able to tackle this subject not from one side of the House but with support from all quarters, but so long as this is the Government's policy we shall certainly not give him the support for which he asks.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
At the beginning of this Sitting Mr. Speaker announced that he had been given to understand that the debate today would be divided up into compartments; that for a certain portion of the day the debate would be upon the housing proposals of the Government, and that during the rest of the time there would be another debate upon the colonial proposals of the Government. He went on, rightly, to point out that the only Motion before the House was the one on the Order Paper, which was moved yesterday, that a reply be made to Her Majesty for her Gracious Speech. He added that whenever any hon. Member was called he was entitled to speak to the full Motion.
I am glad that he made that perfectly clear, because I want to protest against the division of the time of the House by the arrangements made between the two Front Benches. This is the great opportunity for hon. Members to consider the whole question of the policies of the Government, and for ordinary Members of the House to raise matters which concern them most closely. In the past it has been the custom to have a general debate lasting the whole week, right up to the end of Friday and then, on Monday, to have the first official Amendment moved by the Opposition, after which the debate becomes limited.
I propose to go back to where we began, when the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) dealt 214 with these matters generally, but I want to say a little about the question of houses. This is a matter which concerns us all, from John o'Groats to Land's End, east and west, in every constituency and parish, and it cannot possibly be disposed of by the few speeches made tonight. That is not the right way. A White Paper has, very properly, been introduced by the Government. That is the right procedure, but it is not right that the moment it is introduced the House should be invited to debate it, when the whole object of a White Paper is to invite constructive suggestions in order to assist the Minister in the framing of the Bill.
What is more, I understood that the Prime Minister, yesterday—in that very remarkable speech to which I shall refer again in a few moments—invited the House to join with Her Majesty's Government in framing a Measure which would provide justice and, at the same time, what is needed throughout the country—decent houses for the people at fair rents. It is an absolute scandal that, at a time when we boast about our welfare services and the Welfare State, thousands of decent men and women are living in circumstances and in houses which are an absolute disgrace. Here we are, with our National Health scheme, with doctors, nurses and everything of that kind, when a large part of the suffering and the diseases are caused by bad and damp houses which ought not to exist. This has been going on for a long time.
The Prime Minister then invited us all to make our suggestions to solve this problem. The Minister of Housing and Local Government, at the end of his speech today, also made that same invitation. I suggest to him that that invitation would be much more likely to meet with a favourable response if he were less assertive and less acrimonious and if he had couched his approach in a more generous fashion and realised that every one of us is deeply concerned about this matter, which concerns the whole country.
This is what I ask the Government to do. The White Paper came into our hands only at about 6 o'clock last night, and it is impossible for the House to express its opinions today in a few speeches during the course of a few hours. If the Government want suggestions, I suggest 215 that the right hon. Gentleman postpones introducing his Bill, which, he says, is ready, and that before it is made public he invites a further debate in the House.
The difficulty is that once a Bill has been made public, the Government generally feel that they cannot give way; a question of face saving is involved. If, however, the right hon. Gentleman had invited further debate—and I suggest not merely one day, but two days, on this vital issue—I am perfectly sure that, having heard the views of the House, each one of us would be doing his best to put forward the ideas which occur to us. The right hon. Gentleman then might be able to reconsider his Bill before he introduces it.
Let me deal now with a point that was made by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South. Undoubtedly, under the scheme that the Minister is introducing—and, I think, under any scheme, including that put forward by the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger), who spoke with authority and knowledge about this matter and said that it ought to be operated by the local authorities—there will be a heavy burden upon the local authorities. Some are capable of bearing it, and some are quite incapable of doing so. What is to happen with regard to those authorities who cannot bear it? Why should people, who have to bear the same national burdens, on one side of a boundary have a decent house because the authority can afford it, while on the other side, just because of a boundary which nobody can see and which is only marked on a plan, people should have to put up with bad houses merely because they happen to be under a local authority which cannot afford the burden? This will mean a heavy burden on the local authorities.
The next point is that because of the rising costs of repair, of new buildings, and so on, rents are now high and are rising all the time. What are the proposals to meet the case of those who cannot afford even to pay present day rents? It is all very well to tell people that they will be given a better house and a repaired house in which it will be easier and better for them to live, but they will have to pay more rent; and the poor tenant says that he cannot even pay the present rent. That difficulty has to be realised. What it means, I suppose, is a 216 great addition to the claims already made on the National Assistance Board.
I leave the housing problem and come back to the general debate. I have had the privilege of hearing the Prime Minister on scores, probably hundreds, of occasions. He has always loved to speak. His words are always in fine, classical English. One heard him during the war, both in the House and outside, giving utterance to speeches which will long remain in the memories of those who heard them and which have become part of the English language. But I felt yesterday that great as were many of his speeches in the war, the last three or four paragraphs with which he ended that great speech were worthy to be placed alongside those others.
The Prime Minister is a great lover of peace and a great lover of liberty. I am quite sure that his sincere desire and ambition today is that he goes down in history as a man who had one and only one desire in these days, and that is to bring about universal, permanent peace for mankind. I cherish the words with which the Prime Minister ended that great speech.
I regret that so far we have not heard a word with regard to the economic position. I take it, again, that we must have another debate on that. The position is undoubtedly better than it was two years ago, far and away better than anybody dared hope or prophesy, but nevertheless it is far from satisfactory. As far as I can make out, the increase in the national wealth during the last year has been in the neighbourhood of £600 million, which is a substantial figure. But about £400 million of that has gone in consumption, about £100 million in housing, and another £100 million in other capital expenditure by the Government. If my figures are right, £400 million and another £200 million having already been dissipated, very little of that £600 million could have been spent upon productive capital goods, by which I mean new machinery, new plant and new building. That is what is so essential if we are to maintain our position and our standard of living. I hope that we shall have the Government's proposals and be told when the Government intend to introduce them.
I come next to the question, raised by the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness 217 (Mr. Monslow), of what is to happen with regard to the continuation of the National Service Act—that is, conscription. The position that I have always held is that conscription in time of peace is wrong and conscription in time of war is the most democratic way in which we can call upon people to defend their liberty and their country.
We had conscription, and I voted for it, in March, 1939. We had it continued to the end of the war, and it was continued afterwards—and continued by a Labour Government. It was continued until 1948. I protested at that time and asked why it was necessary. The reply that used to be given was that it was the only way in which we could keep up the numbers. The reply that naturally had to be made to that was that if we wanted to keep up the numbers in the Army, we could do so only by offering to the soldiers the same wages and conditions as they would get in civil life, so that there was fair competition with the attractions of civil life.
That argument was rejected time and time and time again until, in 1948, we had this conscription continued, to be followed immediately by a rise in pay and an improvement in conditions. Up to that moment, the complaint had been that we could not even keep our young officers, but having raised the pay and improved the conditions, there have not since been any complaints that we could not get the officers. What I feel is that if we want an Army it should be a highly trained Army. That cannot be done in a year or even in two years. We should offer attractive terms that will bring the men in. It has to be done today for the Navy and for the Air Force, and it should be done for the Army.
One realises, of course, that we have heavy commitments both in Europe and in Korea. When the Korean war broke out I said in this House that now that war was threatening and was so near, I was in favour of conscription being continued. Today there is a truce in Korea. What may happen I do not know, but we are all hoping that there will be a peaceful solution. If a peaceful solution is arrived at, why is it necessary to ask this House to continue conscription for another five years? That is not the democratic way of doing it.
218 Ever since the time of Charles II we have had an annual Army Act, and I do not see why we should give an extension to conscription of more than one year. If it is needed for a longer period and good reasons can be given for it, let the Minister come to this House and persuade us of the necessity. If the case is a sound one, the House will agree. If it is not, then conscription should end. Otherwise, are we to be faced with the threat that in the opinion of the Government and their supporters conscription has now become part of our life, whether there be war or not?
I want to say one word about reform of the House of Lords. The Government propose to reconsider that matter. May I point out that if the Conservative Party had not taken up the attitude they did in 1948, the House of Lords would probably have been reformed by their predecessors, the former Labour Government. I know that there are a great many in this House who object to the House of Lords, but I think that on the whole the Labour Party leaders were agreed at that time that they would recommend a scheme of reform to the House.
I myself was privileged, as the representative of my party, to be concerned with the discussions that went on then. I would remind the House that in the recommendations drawn up the then Labour Government stated that a Second Chamber was absolutely necessary, and recommended that it be in the form which was agreed by us in our meetings.
There are other much more serious constitutional questions, however, which I should like to see discussed. Above everything else, there is the position of local government. When is that going to be looked into? I have already mentioned the immense extra cost that will fall upon local authorities. All the time we are adding year after year to the burdens of local authorities, but we have not inquired into this matter since the first boroughs were formed in 1884 or the district councils in 1894.
Those local government bodies were formed at a time when administration was difficult. It was long before either the telephone or the motor car were in general use. The advent of those two 219 things made a world of difference in administration, and yet we continue, without any inquiry or change, with the extraordinary difference in wealth between one local authority and the other, while all the time adding to the burdens of both. I ask that serious consideration be given to this matter, which affects the administration of the whole country, and I wish it had been included in the Government's programme.
One other matter I should like to mention is the burden that there is upon this House, a subject which I have mentioned time and time again and which is known to every hon. Member. We are overburdened with detail, and it is about time that a number of these details were referred to regional authorities so that this House would be allowed to deal with more general business. The best example of what I mean is Northern Ireland.
We are now to have explained to us the subject of the new housing scheme as it applies to Scotland. Why should that not be done in Edinburgh? If there are any special conditions relating to housing in Northern Ireland, they are dealt with not here but in Belfast. If that were done in regard to other parts of the United Kingdom, it would relieve the House of a considerable amount of detail.
I remind the House that the most difficult area of all is not Scotland, Wales or the north of England, but the area within 30 miles of this House, where one quarter of the population of this island, or 11 million people, live. There are 145 local authorities, and it is about time that more attention was paid to the government of London and the living conditions which affect the lives of so many of our people. So far nothing has been done about it.
There is only one other subject on which I wish to touch. I should like again to make an appeal to the Prime Minister. It is all very well to discuss our own home difficulties, important as those are and affecting, as they do, the lives of every one of us; but they are as nothing compared with the problem of how to achieve peace in our time. I think we are all under a deep debt of gratitude to the Prime Minister, not only for the last words of his great speech 220 yesterday, but for the efforts he is still making to bring about an understanding, which he believes he can bring about, with Russia and with her satellites. I conclude by sincerely hoping. as I am sure does every Member of this House, that peace may be brought about in our time.
§ Mr. A. S. Moody (Gateshead, East)
On a point of order. Is it your intention. Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to stop the general debate on the Queen's Speech at seven o'clock in order that the House may consider Colonial affairs?
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. James Stuart)
Before I pass to the subject of housing in Scotland, I should like to assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) that it is not our desire or intention to restrict in any way discussion on this housing problem. We were perfectly prepared to continue it had it been the wish of the House, but I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that there will be a good many opportunities for debate in the future when the Bills dealing with the matter are introduced.
I should also like to say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I am sure my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be most grateful for his very kind and generous references to him as the outstanding peacemaker of our time. I do not propose at this stage to go into the question of National Service or House of Lords reform, two subjects to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred, because other opportunities will arise for debating those subjects. I am sorry he wanted to send me off to Edinburgh. It is rather a case of the right hon. and learned Gentleman wanting to lose me but my not being sure that I want to go.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) will not think that I am trying to take up too much time. I believe that he intends to speak soon. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has fully covered the wide field.
§ Mr. Stuart
I should like to make it clear that our objectives in England and in Scotland are identical, but owing to the different conditions in Scotland there are certain points at which we have to part company with England and proceed along a different path. I wish to deal with these differences.
The proposals for Scotland are set out in a separate White Paper issued yesterday. They are designed, as are those for England, to deal with the increasing dilapidation and disrepair in the older houses which are mainly found in the centres of our cities and towns. I need not describe the conditions. They are only too well known to hon. Members, especially to those who represent urban constituencies. The trouble is, and has been, that, apart from a certain amount of slum clearance and redevelopment undertaken in the thirties, these older areas are very largely untouched. It is our desire to do what we can to handle this most serious and important problem. Whatever hon. Members may say about our methods of tackling the problem, I know that they will agree that it is a most serious matter.
Most of these old houses were built in the last century. They represent more than half our total housing accommodation. Many of the houses are ill equipped by modern standards, and are in a serious state of deterioration, due to lack of repairs. Attention has been called to this problem from many quarters, including the local authorites, sanitary officials, the Churches, the Press and naturally the property owners also.
We want to take the right action and to put into effect the best and fairest plan we can devise in the interests of the tenants who have to live in the houses, and also, in the interests of the nation, to preserve what must remain for some years as an important national asset. For these reasons, and in spite of the fact that the task is a most diffcult one—and I admit not necessarily a popular one—the Government decided that the problem must be tackled. Now that the output of new houses has been raised to a satisfactory level, we feel that the time has come when it is the duty of the Government to turn their attention to the problem.
I will not repeat the details of the proposals which are already available to hon. 222 Members in the White Paper. Nor will I go into the facts about the economics of house letting. Many of them will be found in the Report issued last week by the Committee of which Mr. Lockhart Hutson was Chairman, which dealt with the rise in the cost of maintaining houses between 1939 and 1952. I am most grateful to Mr. Lockhart Hutson and his Committee for the valuable work which they have done.
New building is progressing, but we cannot break records every year. We hope, however, that it will be possible to maintain the output at approximately the level at which we are running now. In this year, all being well, we should see the completion of 38,000 new houses in Scotland. The House will be glad to learn that in the first 10 months of 1953 we have already passed the total of 31,000, which was the total for the whole of 1952 which was in itself a record year for building in Scotland.
I want to make it clear that the new proposals for temporary retention and repair of unfit houses are not to be regarded as substitutes for slum clearance. In the view of the Government, all unfit houses should be knocked down as soon as practicable. In some districts, where substantial inroads have been made into the waiting lists and the housing shortage has been reduced, local authorities should be able to make an early start with slum clearance work, and the Government will encourage them to do so. Other districts will follow as progress permits, but while the aim is to accelerate slum clearance to the utmost extent, we must also be realistic about the matter. We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that in most districts the housing shortage is still acute and that houses which are unfit and should be demolished will have to remain in occupation for some time to come.
We mean to see that these houses, pending demolition, are made reasonably habitable for the tenants, and we propose that where necessary financial assistance should be given to local authorities for this purpose.
§ Mr. Manuel
On the point about houses being rendered reasonably habitable, the right hon. Gentleman knows that our big problem in Scotland is that there are many small houses, one- and two-apartment houses, many of them occupied by four, six or eight persons. 223 If he can still get tradesmen—because the Government intend to continue to build new houses—how can they be put to work in homes of that kind which are grossly overcrowded? How does he think that the work can be performed if other accommodation is not found first for the people in the houses?
§ Mr. Stuart
It depends on the degree of the alterations carried out. I agree that continuation of the provision of new and alternative accommodation is essential. I said that we feel that we have made progress with new houses and that we hope to continue with it at approximately the same level, but we hope in addition that it will be possible to carry out improvements. I admit that there are difficulties. On the question of labour, there are small firms—not the big building contractors—who will be able to do repair work.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned improvements. As far as I gather, improvements will come under the second part of the Bill where there is allowance for improvements carried out under the 1949 Act. The water- and wind-tight condition already exists in Scottish law. I ask the right hon. Gentleman the question I asked his right hon. Friend. What is the kind of repair envisaged that justifies an increase of 40 per cent. to the landlord? What will the landlord do for the 40 per cent. which is not covered by the second part of the Bill about improvements but by the normal condition of keeping the house wind- and water-tight?
§ Mr. Stuart
The landlord has to keep the property in good and habitable repair. The trouble is that in many cases at the present time they are not able to do so, and we want to restore the conditions which will enable this essential work of making the house reasonably habitable to be carried out.
I was about to say that owners themselves will be expected to put their houses into good repair and to keep them so, as upon this very largely depends the success of the scheme. It is only those unfit houses which owners will not or cannot put right that local authorities will be empowered to acquire and on which they may carry out work pending demolition. Generally speaking, we look 224 to owners to play their full part, with the help of the repairs increase, to restore their properties.
Here the Scottish proposals differ from those for England and Wales, because the rents for similar or identical houses may vary widely in England and Wales, due to the results of decontrol between the wars. Therefore, the rent in England and Wales is not a satisfactory basis on which to calculate the repairs increase, but in Scotland generally there is no great disparity between the rents of houses which have been continuously controlled under the Rent Acts and those which have not been so controlled. Therefore, since controlled rents in Scotland are roughly in line, it seems equitable and fair to follow the precedent in the Rent Act of 1920 and to allow all controlled rents to go up by a flat percentage increase of the existing rent.
The Scottish White Paper and the Lockhart Hutson Committee's Report show that the cost of repairs has trebled since 1939. At that time, owners spent on the average about one-fifth of the gross rent to keep their houses in repair, and therefore they would now have to spend three-fifths to achieve the same purpose, or an increase of two-fifths, which is 40 per cent. of the existing rent. Therefore, we propose that all controlled rents should be allowed to go up by this amount in order to enable repairs to be carried out. For example, a house with a rent of £15 a year, excluding occupier's rates, would be increased by £6, making a total of £21, an increase of 2s. 4d. a week, provided—and only provided—that the necessary repairs are done. [Interruption.] The Bill will follow; I am trying to give all the details I can.
This alone would not be enough, because in Scotland, in addition to the control of rents and the trebling of the cost of repairs, owners have had to shoulder substantial increases in owners' rates, unlike owners in England and Wales. These increases have varied from one area to another, but, nevertheless, the combined effect is serious. I could give examples, but I will not detain the House. I will only say that in these circumstances it will be clear that, if this repairs increase in rent were to be subject to owners' rates, it would have to be greater than the Government 225 propose; that is to say, in order to leave enough in the hands of the owner to carry out the required repairs. Therefore, it is proposed that the repairs increase shall not attract owners' rates.
I also propose that owners' rates payable on the present controlled rents should be stabilised at the level prevailing when our proposals are passed into law. Thus, the increase in rent will be left intact and will not be whittled away by rates increases. Similarly, occupier's rates on controlled houses will not be affected; that is to say, occupiers will not pay on these rent increases, since the increase will be treated as their contribution towards the owner's necessary outlay on repairs.
This is a somewhat complicated point, but I have done my best to deal with it. I assure the House that we gave these matters the most careful and prolonged consideration, and this method of dealing with the matter appeared to us to be the fairest. It is an interim method of handling this very difficult problem, and I say "interim" deliberately because, as hon. Members know, a Committee is sitting under the chairmanship of Lord Sorn reviewing the rating and valuation system in Scotland. We know that this system has been much criticised in many quarters, and these proposals are made in order to hold the position until we receive the Report of Lord Sorn's Committee.
§ Mr. James H. Hoy (Leith)
Does the effect of the proposal mean that any increase in rates in future will have to be borne by the tenant and by the owner-occupier and that no part of it will be carried by the landlord?
§ Mr. Stuart
I think I can give an example that would help. If we take a house which is rented at £15, the rent will go up by two-fifths, or £6, to £21, and no owner's or occupier's rates will be payable on the increase of £6—I repeat neither owner's nor occupier's. If subsequently owner's rates are increased from their present level, owners of controlled houses will not pay that increase. For instance, to take the example I have already given, if we say the owner's rates are at present 7s. in the £ and they rise to 7s. 6d. in the £, the owner will continue to pay at only 7s. in the £ on the existing rent of £15.
§ Mr. Stuart
Its meaning is exactly as I have described it. It is the same position for the whole country. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes it is. This is an interim proposal until action is taken, which will not come about until we have the Report of the Sorn Committee.
§ Mr. Manuel
Will the right hon. Gentleman clear up the point about the increase in rents? After the proposed Bill becomes law, and the local authority increases the rates in its area, that increase of rates will only be paid by tenants and owner-occupiers living in that particular area? Is that not so?
§ Mr. Stuart
It is what I say; in England, they do not pay owner's rates at all. In Scotland, if the owner's rates are increased, the owner will continue to pay the rates as at the time when the Bill becomes law. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the tenants?"] I have explained the position, although I know it is very complicated.
This is not an easy task, and I never expected that it would necessarily be popular or a good vote-catching operation. The Government foresaw perfectly well when they decided to take this action that it would be very easy for anybody to say that they were putting money in the pockets of the landlords or that they were putting up the rents. Nevertheless, we believe that, in the interests of the tenants of these houses, it is essential that this task should be handled, and this is the first Government which has had the courage to do so.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
Before my right hon. Friend sits down, will he make it plain that he is proposing no change in the law, and that if rates go up the tenants will pay more rates and if they go down the tenants will pay less rates?
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
I want in the first place to point out to hon. Members that this debate is going on rather longer than was expected, and therefore I shall speak until some time after seven o'clock. In the second place, I want to say to the Secretary of State for Scotland that if in the course of the 227 debates on the Gracious Speech my hon. Friends from Scotland do not deal with what he has said, it is because, even if they had been educated in the classics, they would not be able to understand it, and secondly they want to leave it until they see the Bill. It will be understood that if we are silent on the matter it is for those reasons.
I can assure hon. Members opposite that, before these debates on the proposed housing legislation conclude, they will know more about housing than they know at the present time. Indeed, their education is necessary in order that they may be able to realise the situation into which their Housing Ministers have got them. They have been cock-a-hoop in the last year because they have succeeded in achieving a target of houses which was imposed upon them at their conference. I want to show what havoc the Conservative Administration have dealt to the housing programme of Great Britain in order to be able to achieve a good headline in the Press.
I shall first of all start with what the Minister of Housing said about my right hon. Friend's question on the pamphlet. I think that hon. Members in all pants of the House will agree that the right hon. Gentleman dismissed it rather too lightly. This is a very serious matter. It is not the first time that the Minister of Housing and Local Government has dealt with the public finances in a light-hearted way. He did the same thing over the pilot scheme for valuation, which was a disgraceful departure from constitutional practice, by spending money that he had not been authorised by Parliament to spend. He was spending without Parliament knowing at all. Indeed, he said at the time that this would be an excellent way of preparing legislation, having a pilot scheme to find out how an Act would work, so that we would have a clear idea of what it would do. That was what he said, and it was a disgraceful performance. I was astonished that the Treasury allowed it. If any Minister in the Labour Government had attempted to do it at that time, "Austerity" Cripps would have stopped it.
This sort of propaganda is a dangerous element to introduce into our constitutional practice. If funds raised from the taxpayer for national purposes, by both 228 direct and indirect taxes, are to be diverted for party purposes, we shall have a very serious situation in the country. This is more characteristic of Goebbels than it is—
§ Mr. Macmillan
I do not want to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman unduly, but if he will examine the pamphlet he has in his hand he will find that it is very factual, and that it compares favourably with "The Budget and Your Pocket," published in 1949 before the Finance Bill was passed into law. It was printed in blue, I will admit that, and it had a strip cartoon. We have not got that. It has much better pictures; but if that was a proper document—
§ Mr. Bevan
It was after the Budget, and therefore the statutory Resolution had been passed by the House. It was, in fact, an explanation of the financial situation of the country at the time and not a piece of propaganda carefully prepared in order to try to make—[Interruption.] Will the right hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. M. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it right for the Minister to take a pamphlet of that kind and deliberately exhibit it to the Public Gallery?
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not know that there is any rule against that, but I would say at the same time that when hon. Gentlemen have finished their speeches they should remain and listen. Interchanges in this House should be confined to oral exchanges and not extend to a display of documents. [HON. MEMBERS: "Apologise."] That closes the matter. There is nothing to apologise about.
§ Mr. Bevan
The Minister of Housing started his speech by pointing our the background of the housing programme with which this country had to deal at the conclusion of the war. He said that the housing problem had never been really understood until quite recently, because it was believed by Government Departments—and here he was quite right—that in 1939 the amount of accommodation available in the country 229 equalled, on the whole, the number of families. That was the situation which the Conservative Government of 1944–45 described in their White Paper on the post-war housing programme. They said—I repeat it, because hon. Members opposite may have forgotten it—that they were basing themselves on the statement that if 750,000 additional homes were provided, the accommodation problem would be satisfied.
I am sorry to say that I believed them. It is the first time I have ever done so, and it will be the last. I accepted the figure of 750,000 additional homes, including re-occupied war-damaged houses and the temporary housing programme itself. I said: "If that is the problem we have to face in terms of accommodation, then we can complete it before the next General Election." In fact, we did it in September, 1948, when we reached the 750,000 mark. The assumption, therefore, was that any additional houses built afterwards would be an improvement on the pre-war accommodation problem. But we found that the estimates made by the Government Departments were all wrong, because they had forgotten to take into account that before the war the pre-war demand for houses was kept down by the existence of 2 million unemployed.
§ Mr. Bevan
Not only the difference in the number of families, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, not only the number of additional single persons and old persons, but the fact that with full employment single persons could afford to demand a house of their own and old people could continue to live in homes of their own, whereas before the war they were all crowded up in order to be able to pay the rent. Therefore, there was no demand for houses, such as we saw. That is the first point I wish to register with right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
The next point I want to make, so as to try to get them to see the housing programme in its proper proportions, is that by 1948 we had in fact—in terms of the effort of the building force of Great Britain and the Administration of the time—more than equalled the housing achievements of 1953. In other words, we provided in that year accommodation for 274,000 families. In addition to that, 230 we were carrying out a war-damage programme which my officials estimated to have been equivalent to 100,000 new houses. When the right hon. Gentleman says, in 1953, that he may complete 300,000 houses this year, it is an example of the ambition of the Conservative Administration. They hope that eight years after the war they will achieve what we achieved three years after the war.
That is what they are hoping to do. They are not quite certain they will be able to do it, because a few difficulties are intervening. I admit that one difficulty they could not have foreseen was the shortage of cement due to the floods in East Anglia. Very large quantities of cement have had to be diverted from building construction to building bulwarks against the sea. I agree at once that, in so far as they have suffered from that disability, they are entitled to have consideration. Of course, when we said we ought to be entitled to consideration in 1946–47 because we had had the worst winter for 100 years, one leader writer in a Conservative newspaper said that he had not noticed that the winter had been any worse than in any other period.
There is one figure about which the right hon. Gentleman ought to know, and that is the figure of the production of bricks. The stock figure of bricks has reached a very serious position indeed. Whereas we kept the stocks well above 100 million each year, they are now down, I believe, to 72 million, and this year bricks are being imported from abroad. It is true that we also imported bricks from abroad a little time after the war. One would think it natural to do it at that time, because then we were in fact having to recruit labour from all parts of the world into the brickworks—Italians and Baits of various kinds. But the right hon. Gentleman should have known that he was going to be short of bricks. I am now told that you have to order 15 months beforehand in order to be sure of getting bricks. I am also informed that the increased cost of bricks from abroad will be equivalent to £50 per house.
This is the planner; this is the man—I beg his pardon, the right hon. Gentleman—who started a year ago by saying that he was going to show the planners how to plan. He has shown them how to plan all right. He is now in the situation of 231 being able to say to us that in 1954 he will also complete as many houses as in 1953. I am sure he will. The housing programme has now become, not his achievement, but his Nemesis.
§ Mr. Bevan
His Nemesis. He is mounted on Pegasus and cannot get down now. In fact, in 1954, secretly he would like to build fewer houses; but he can build fewer houses now only by stopping those houses he has begun, because he has really begun far more houses than he wanted to do. Let us see what "The Times" says:'"At the end of the year (1951) Mr. Macmillan had inherited 226,000 unfinished houses started under his Labour predecessors. Thus, regardless of the Government's completions, only some very singular bungling could have prevented the completion of at least 230,000 during 1952.
§ Mr. Macmillan
I do not want to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but there is just one figure I should like to ask him to consider. Brick production is 20 per cent. above last year. September was the record month, and I think that, with good management, there will be no serious shortage of bricks now. If the last figure the right hon. Gentleman has given is correct, why did the Leader of the Opposition, in a public broadcast before the Election, say that only 200,000 houses could be built?
§ Mr. Bevan
I will come to that. I will not neglect it—oh, no. I said at Margate that I was going to lift the lid. I will take it off.
Then it was said in the "Architects' Journal" that we are probably building no more bedrooms, that is, rehousing no more people per month, than we were a year or two years ago. In other words, the houses that the right hon. Gentleman is putting up at the present time provide no more additional housing accommodation. They produce additional housing entities, but not additional housing accommodation, because of the sharp reduction in the number of bedrooms.
There is no reason at all why hon. Members opposite should consider that they have achieved such a remarkable programme in housing. Let me point this out to the right hon. Gentleman. It has been said that one of the reasons the 232 repairs to our old houses were neglected was that successive Governments had not paid enough attention to them. That is not correct. As a matter of fact, the only Government that effectively repaired our stocks of houses was the Labour Government of 1945–50. The "Sanitary Inspectors' Journal"—the journal of the Sanitary Inspectors' Association—calls attention to the fact that we were in fact engaged upon a very great programme of war-damage repairs. It says:It must be remembered that the condition of many houses in certain parts of the country is much better than it otherwise would have been, because of improvements effected as a result of war-damage repairs.
§ Mr. Bevan
Yes. I am not using this language. It is the sanitary inspectors', and, believe me, the sanitary inspectors of Great Britain know rather more about housing than hon. Members. I am not suggesting that the repair of war damage was a voluntary act on our part, but what I am pointing out is that immense resources of building materials and labour had to be diverted. And, indeed, it says:It is understood that such repairs have been carried out to approximately 2½ million houses in England and Wales.Therefore, through the involuntary agency of war-damage repairs carried out between 1945 and 1949–50, of the 6 million houses referred to as rent-controlled houses, the Labour Government were responsible for providing the materials and labour for the repair of two and a half million houses, and it is not correct to say that, in the course of our term of office, we were neglecting the repair of houses.
Housing repair, housing reconditioning, and the provision of new housing are not necessarily a legislative operation. It is a physical one. It depends entirely upon how the resources of the country are going to be allocated among the various applicants. We can pass all the legislation we like, and make all the speeches we like in the House of Commons, but if the resources are not distributed intelligently, all the speeches will come to nothing.
What was significant about the speech of the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon was that he gave us a series of rhetorical descriptions of the various 233 categories of the housing problem, but he gave not one single figure as to how he is going to use the nation's resources to deal with each category—not one. The only thing he suggested was that he is going on with the programme of 300,000 houses each year, and the Secretary of State for Scotland said that in Scotland it is proposed to build houses at the same rate.
What the Minister of Housing and Local Government did when he took office was to increase the number of smaller new houses by gravely unbalancing the whole programme of house building and house repairs. I shall say nothing about schools and factories and power stations, because this is a debate on housing, and I want to keep it to housing. When hon. Members look at the figures of the distribution of the housing force, they will be able to see what has actually been happening.
In May, 1947, 251,000 workers were engaged on new housing; on other housing work, 306,000. November, 1947, on new housing work, 275,000; on other housing work, 304,000. Hon. Members will see how the figures are moving here—a slight increase in the building force on new housing, and a slight fall in the force on other building work, but nevertheless more than on new housing. That expresses what was happening to war-damage repairs and what was happening to other forms of housing repairs.
In May, 1949, there were 224,000 on new housing; 298,000 on other building work. In May, 1950, there were 239,000 on new housing; 240,000 on other building work. Hon. Members will see that the two figures are now coming into balance, and that the allocation of labour to new housing work is beginning to reach the allocation of labour for repairs. That, of course, was because war-damage repairs were slowly coming to an end.
Let me go to 1951, when the right hon. Gentleman began his depredations. In May, 1951, there were 234,000 on new housing; 219,000 on repairs. In May, 1952, 261,000 on new housing; 188,000 on other building work. In May, 1953, 314,000 on new housing; 174,000 on other building work. In other words, the right hon. Gentleman has thrown the building force completely out of balance, 234 and now we are engaged in trying to bring it into balance again.
The first thing that we want to ask the right hon. Gentleman is this: If he is serious in saying that the houses which are to be repaired are really to be repaired, is he serious in his claim that the housing programme is going to remain at 300,000 a year? What is behind the White Paper—just wind? Is it all rhetoric? Are the landlords of Great Britain being deceived by their friends? Are the Government really serious in their suggestion that behind the Bill they propose to bring forward is a real programme of housing repair?
§ Mr. H. Nicholls
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House from where he gets the figures which he has just quoted?
§ Mr. Bevan
Yes, from the Ministry of Works, and lest the hon. Member considers that the Ministry of Works are hostile, let me say they are always hostile because they know very well that the Minister has been clawing back, as he said two years ago. When asked where he was going to get the labour for that housing programme, he said he was going to claw it back, and from where? From housing repairs. That is what he said and, of course, the Ministry of Works did not like it.
§ Mr. Bevan
Were all these on black markets? Do not talk nonsense. These black market figures do not appear at all, for the precise reason that they are black market. As a matter of fact, I can give the right hon. Gentleman a piece of consoling information here. Whenever we had to consider the allocation of manpower and express it in terms of monetary figures, we always had to insist on a margin of error in regard to capital expenditure of £100 million a year in regard to those on the black market trying to search for illegal profits. So those figures represent the picture.
We have always said—and I give this to hon. Members opposite—that it has always been possible to build 300,000 houses a year. Any fool could do it, and I have said so. All one needs to say is What one is not going to do, and what the right hon. Gentleman said he was not going to do was to repair the houses 235 occupied by the tenants over whom he has been shedding crocodile tears this afternoon. There was more humbug in that speech than I have read in most speeches for a very long time.
What is his actual proposal? The fact is that this housing problem is extremely complicated and serious, I grant that. It is one that perplexes not only Britain but every country in the world, because most political parties fail to face the fact that it is not possible adequately to house the lower income groups of modern society by allowing houses to remain an ordinary commodity to be bought and sold. This is the centre of the problem.
If the old laws of supply and demand could operate, the problem would be solved. But long before it becomes profitable for builders to build houses to let at rents which soar upwards, the people are unable to afford the rents and they crowd into other houses, and so the new houses are not built. The fact of the matter is that, as a means of ordinary capitalist enterprise, the provision of rented houses for the vast mass of our population has now absolutely failed. We have, indeed, to take the provision of low-rented houses out of the whole area of private enterprise if the problem is to be solved at all.
We said to the owners of private property, including small houses—rather differently from what we say to anybody else—"Yours is a product which you are not entitled to exploit." A control was put on it, and the reason for this was that it would be unendurable in modern society if rents soared too high, and it would become politically so unpalatable that no party dare remove rent control entirely. That meant that the owners of the property no longer possessed the normal incentives that property owners enjoy in a capitalist society. We left them the custodians of a valuable piece of public property, without permitting them the opportunity of enjoying it. That is what we did.
I said when I introduced the 1949 Housing Act that we are not entitled to leave a valuable piece of national heritage in private hands unless we assemble the circumstances in which it can be looked after properly. This is the centre of the right hon. Gentleman's position. He has said, "Here are 6 million houses" 236 —less the 2,500,000 which we have made good—"The rents are insufficient to induce the landlords to make the proper repairs and they are falling into decay." In other words, we have refused to assemble the political and social circumstances in which those owners can enjoy the normal functions of private ownership. The reason we have done it is obvious; it is. because we dare not allow ordinary market operations to influence rents.
Private owners of small residences are not fundamentally interested in the condition of those dwellings. They are interested in their profitability. Why should not they be? They are capitalists, and they are not in business for their health. It is an investment, and they expect to get a proper return upon it. We prevent them from getting a normal return from it by the legislation of this House. They are not concerned about the condition of the property fundamentally. I do not say this about all of them, because it is possible to make far too sweeping generalisations. There are some good landlords who look after their property, but very large numbers of them do not. Indeed, very large numbers of them have never seen their property because they buy it up as a financial investment in large chunks.
We know that large portions of the East End are owned by people who are now exploiting the East Enders after having exploited the miners for the last 100 years—Lord Tredegar's estates for example, and people like that. I do not mind uttering names; they have estates all over the country. There are plenty of instances of them. They do not see their property. They buy up the estates for mortgage purposes and they work out the returns on the tape.
An instance of the fact that a landlord is not concerned about the state of the property but only its profitability is to be found in the figures of houses reconditioned under the 1949 Act; the number was about 3,000. The 1949 Act provides excellent inducement. It enables a person to spend £800 upon modernising houses and he has to find only £400 of it. In addition, he can get an increase of 6 per cent. of the cost of the work he has to undertake. How much has been done? Hardly anything.
237 It may be, of course, that after going into all of the facts, schemes do not turn out to be sufficiently profitable to stimulate the owners to do the work. Therefore, we are caught here in a clamp. If we make the proposal sufficiently profitable to the landlord, it is unendurable to the tenant. On the other hand, if we try to improve the situation on the tenant too much, it is insufficiently stimulating to the landlord. So we are locked between those two factors because we have not faced the fact that property of this sort can no longer be regarded as a normal commodity like any other commodity. It is a social service and has to be treated like one.
The right hon. Gentleman has not faced the dilemma. On the contrary, he has run away from it. He has run away from the physical facts of planning, and when he talks about slum clearance, reconditioning and about making this great drive, it is rhetoric. He has not found the means to do it at all in his plans. There is only one way in which he can do it. He can ensure that the productivity of the building industry is sufficiently increased. When new houses are being built, productivity is only at 2 per cent., and I am informed that the productivity on housing repairs has actually fallen. This is not a nationalised industry. It is a private enterprise industry, with all the defects of private enterprise, and some added to it.
The right hon. Gentleman has not only refused to face the physical facts, but he has refused to face the quasi-philosophical difficulties of the situation. What does he do? He brings forward a formula. I studied this problem at the Ministry of Health on several occasions, but hon. Members must bear in mind that for me at that time this was not a legislative problem, because the physical resources of the nation were still being used on repairing those 2,500,000 houses. We had not reached the point where legislative agencies were necessary to bring about the diversion of physical resources. Therefore, there is no reproach against us for not having brought forward legislation.
I grant at once that when we looked at the problem honestly we could find no solution on traditional lines, for the 238 reason that I have given, that if only we increased the rents sufficiently to cover the cost of repairs the landlord would not operate. Indeed, he was not operating before the war. This can be seen in the report of the sanitary inspectors for May of this year. Even before the war the 40 per cent. was being dishonestly extracted from millions of tenants.
It is correct to say, as I have written elsewhere, that even before the war the landlords enjoyed some very considerable advantages. They enjoyed the 40 per cent. That was worth much more when it was put on in 1920. They enjoyed continuity of tenancy and the fact that, for many of them, the rents were paid out of public funds by the public assistance boards. They enjoyed all that, but they never spent the money on repairs. The sanitary inspectors' reports shows that in hundreds of thousands of cases action had to be taken against landlords by local authorities in order to make them repair the houses.
I wish that hon. Members opposite would face the facts realistically. They will not achieve the objective they have set before themselves in all sincerity—to get the houses repaired—merely by providing a sum of money sufficient to cover the repairs, because that will not be a sufficient inducement to move the landlords.
What are they going to do? The right hon. Gentleman produces a formula. I refuse to face these formulas, because I know very well that, although one can make a good House of Commons speech about them, they can never be translated into intelligent reality. The fact is that the repair, reconditioning and siting of houses contains such diversifications, so many different physical circumstances, that they cannot be fitted within the frontiers of a formula. The formula remains arid and abstract and never alights upon a particular set of circumstances, which is exactly what will happen in this case. It will never be able to get down to the grass roots, because it is merely a piece of "Whitehallese."
The right hon. Gentleman says, "If we have a formula by which we can relate the actual increase of rents to the statutory deduction, with a ceiling, and say that it must not rise above twice the gross rateable value, it will be all right." I had this put to me. We have 239 heard of this animal over and over again, but we knew very well that it would hardly limp. We knew very well that it would not get anywhere, because if one works out the tables one will see that under such a formula only minor repairs can be carried out. Before the repairs reach any figure, the ceiling stops the right to increase the rent, and the landlord does not get any encouragement to go on.
This scheme will operate only in a limited number of cases, where there will be an element of profit above the cost of repairs, in which case the tenant will be exploited. The ceiling rule will operate to prevent any large programme of repairs from being carried out, because the landlord will not move. The Government have brought forward a scheme with a maximum of political odium and a minimum of physical results. The right hon. Gentleman described himself as a man of political experience when he made his speech this afternoon. It looks as if the laurel wreaths on his brow were going a bit awry. [HON. MEMBERS: "What?"] I was using the French way of saying "awry."
How should we face this problem? We are prepared to consider the whole matter. How should we face this tangle? How are we to come to the rescue of these tenants who, because of a situation compounded of historical neglect and statutory inertia, are compelled to suffer under conditions from which they should be relieved? We must acknowledge the fact that not only slum clearance and reconditioning should be carried out by local authorities, but that all rent-restricted houses must eventually become the property of local authorities. [Interruption.] I have tried to address myself to this problem honestly and objectively, and it is not for hon. Members opposite to sneer at the situation. If we cannot keep the problem in a healthy capitalist category, let us pass it to a healthy Socialist category. It is obvious that we cannot keep it in a healthy capitalist category.
If what I have suggested were done we should have a situation in which the houses that would be repaired first would not be those which, under the right hon. Gentleman's formula, became profitable to the landlord, but those which needed 240 repair first. The programme of repair would be fitted properly into all the other schemes. The local authorities would digest this form of property strictly in accordance with their physical capacity to do so. The right hon. Gentleman frowns. I am sorry if he is offended by these gastronomic metaphors. If he thinks about it, he will understand what I am talking about.
I may be asked, "Are these local authorities going to take over all these properties overnight?" Of course they are not. The right hon. Gentleman does not expect the local authorities to take over slum clearance overnight. He asks them to prepare schemes. They could do this work in each area. That is a concrete, empirical operation and not a theoretical formula. This question could be looked at together with the question of house building, slum clearance, reconditioning and housing repairs, and fitted into local plans which would be much more easily digested than a wide national formula. That is what we suggest, but the party opposite have got themselves into a hopeless tangle.
§ Mr. Anthony Marlowe (Hove)
How does the right hon. Gentleman square that remark with the speech made by his right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) who, in dealing with the matter of slum clearance, said that he very much doubted whether local authorities could take over the half million houses involved.
§ Mr. Bevan
My right hon. Friend said no such thing. Hon. Members opposite have to face the fact that if their formula were effective in getting all the repairs done, the carrying out of those repairs would be a diversion from the resources available for the other operations, and such a diversion, such a plan, is more capable of being made in relation to local conditions by the local authorities than are any paper plans in Whitehall. It would be related strictly to what is most required by the tenants and not to what is most profitable to the landlords.
Hon. Members opposite have become the victims of their own slogans. So far from being a practical party, they have, as my right hon. Friend quite properly said this afternoon, tied themselves up in a lot of arid political declarations. They have decided that they are to fight against 241 the Socialists and for public enterprise at every stage, and the more they do so the more foolish they become. They started off this Parliament by giving something to their friends the brewers. They went on to give something to the road haulage people, and then to the steel barons and the bankers. Now they want to give something to the landlords, and what they have given is a mouldy old turnip.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Brooke (Hampstead)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) has mocked the Government for being proud of achieving in 1953, so he says, no more than the Government of which he was a member achieved in 1948. If he was pleased with that 1948 achievement, why did he not keep it up? Why was it necessary for the Labour Government to reduce the number of new permanent houses built by 30,000 in 1949, and keep it down to the lower figure? Because, though he may swell his statistics with figures of temporary "prefabs" and war damaged houses repaired, what the ordinary families throughout the country want are permanent homes.
§ Mr. Brooke
The right hon. Gentleman knows well that that is a very weak answer. I have heard him himself alleging that the "prefabs" were no solution at all to the housing problem.
§ Mr. G. Lindgren (Wellingborough)
Is it not a fact that at present the Minister of Housing and Local Government is urging local authorities to build two-bedroom houses at 650 square feet, and that that is the size of a "prefab"?
§ Mr. Brooke
The Minister is urging local authorities to build houses of the types that were recommended by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) when he was Minister.
§ Mr. Brooke
The country will decide between the hon. Member and myself.
What was made clear by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, in a speech 242 which, I thought, was vague enough as coming from a party accusing my right hon. Friend of vagueness, was that he disliked the Government's White Paper. If that is so, if the dislike is real, many of us on this side of the House look forward to seeing an Amendment put down by the Opposition to the Motion for the Address. We want an opportunity of discussing in fuller detail both the White Paper and the alternative policy which he has put forward.
I take it we are to accept the right hon. Gentleman's speech as a speech made officially for the Opposition, and that it is henceforth the policy of the Opposition, for dealing with the problem of rent restriction, that the local authorities should take over all the rent restricted houses. I do not think that those hon. Members on the other side who have wide local governmental experience will be so enthusiastic about that policy as the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Brooke
Let me explain at once to the House what the significant result of it would be. The effective result would be that the rents paid by the tenants would go up considerably more than under the Government's proposals. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) made that clear enough in his speech. He said these proposals did not go sufficiently far. He said that the rents that would be chargeable under these proposals would not enable the owners to carry out their duties of putting the houses into sufficiently good repair.
If that is so, and if the local authority takes control, the local authority will have to put up rents still higher, and the local authority—if it behaves with the general respect for good finance which Ministries attempt to enforce upon local authorities, whatever the colour of the Government-will certainly have to have regard not only to the cost of repair and maintenance but also to the cost of amortisation of the sum which it will have to pay to buy the houses.
So, what the Labour Party are saying tonight is, "Higher rents. Vote Labour and put your rent up much higher than it will go up under the Tory scheme." I hope that we shall have this Amendment, to debate it adequately. I hope 243 that this will not be another occasion similar to that in December, 1952, when my right hon. Friend made an important announcement about housing policy and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) said that it was desirable to have an immediate debate on it, and then, though there were some 20 Supply days in the rest of the Session, the Opposition did not ask for a single day to debate housing.
In the White Paper this is described as a "Better Housing Campaign." Let us take items in it. One proposal is that, for the first time, there should be a statutory definition of what is meant by "unfit for human habitation." Do not hon. Members opposite welcome that? Do they not know that it has been a constant trouble, that though it may have been a lawyers' paradise it has been a local authorities' hell, that there has not been up to the moment a legal definition of what "unfit for human habitation" means?
Then the White Paper says that under the Government's plan local authorities are to use their existing powers more freely to see that all houses are made fit for human habitation. Do not hon. Members opposite welcome that feature in the Government's policy? The White Paper says that there must be greater use of the 1949 Act. That was the Labour Government's Act, and, in general, a good Act. Will not hon. Members over there support my right hon. Friend and applaud him for taking steps to see that that Act shall be used more freely? The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale argued that it showed the inherent wickedness of landlords that they had refused, or failed, to make houses so habitable.
§ Mr. Brooke
What the right hon. Gentleman was saying applies equally to local authorities so far as the 1949 Act is concerned, because, though he gave figures to show how little Section 20 of that Act had been used by private landlords, he must know that the powers under Section 15 have been used equally little by the local authorities. I propose 244 to quote from the circular that was issued in September, 1949, under his personal authority, when he was Minister. It says:Part II of the Act of 1949, by the provision of financial assistance, makes possible improvement of existing houses on terms reasonable for the tenant and for the owner, whether a local authority or a private person.That is what he thought then. He apparently thinks something different now. I think that the Act needs amendment, but it is perfectly clear that the history of the matter cannot possibly support the kind of interpretation that he in his speech was seeking to put upon it.
The White Paper foreshadows, indeed enjoins on all local authorities, the preparation of a new slum clearance programme. Do not hon. Members opposite welcome that? I am certain they do. I am certain that the whole House is at one in being thankful that a time has been reached, eight years after the war, when once again local authorities can be given the fullest encouragement from the Ministry to draw up a long-term slum clearance programme and to proceed with it rapidly.
Do not hon. Members on the other side approve of the White Paper when it says, in paragraph 64, that though this will impose burdens on the Exchequerthere should be countervailing savings on sickness, disease, human degradation and crime"?Are not we all, throughout the House, at one in believing that bad housing is the worst of all social evils at the present time, and that we can all too easily waste money in other directions unless we give the families of this cuntry decent homes to live in; and are not we all prepared for a policy which will impose additional expenditure, both on local authorities and on the Exchequer, provided we can get unfit houses either pulled down or put right?
§ Mr. Brooke
I had been paying the Opposition the compliment of assuming that they were in favour of better housing. I do not think we need argue about 245 that. Let us therefore examine the White Paper further, although, if I may respectfully say so, I do not think that the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale set a very good example in that respect.
Turning to improvements and conversions under the 1949 Act, surely we can be at one in believing that the real reason why that Act got into its stride so slowly was not the selfishness of private landlords but the bad luck of the right hon. Gentleman that soon after the Act received the Royal Assent, heavy cuts in all sorts of expenditure became necessary. The Act had to be played down, new restrictions were placed on maintenance and conversion expenditure by local authorities and, consequently, everybody was discouraged from going forward.
§ Mr. Brooke
I do not think I am called upon to try to defend or explain further what happened when the right hon. Gentleman was in power. All I am saying is that the 1949 Act was well conceived but did not work in practice, and what I am hoping is that the present Government are bringing forward amending proposals which will make it work.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be pleased that I am now going to make a critical remark about the White Paper. Paragraph 85, on page 16, says that two things are necessary: first of all, that house owners know of these grants, and, secondly, that local authorities do their utmost to help. I will add a third—that the Ministry does its best to expedite decisions on applications for grants, because I have heard the complaint of slow decisions under both Governments throughout the whole of the four years that the Act has been in operation.
I trust that both sides of the House will be gratified that new measures are to be taken to help in dealing with those houses which are not slums and yet have not 30 years' life in them. We have many streets of this type in my constituency. About two years ago, under the 1949 Act, the borough council sought to acquire some houses of that type. The 246 difficulty was that they were ruled not to have 30 years' life, and, therefore, there was no statutory power for the local authority to proceed and acquire them and make them properly habitable for the remainder of the period during which people will have to live in them. Although we shall certainly have to examine proposals in this respect very carefully in Committee, surely we can all see the utility of and the need for new action for those houses with 20 but not 30 years' life.
Without doubt the most contentious part of the White Paper will be the passages which deal with the rents of the ordinary rent-restricted houses. I wondered whether the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale would this evening venture to use again the argument which we have so often heard from him in this House and elsewhere, namely, that if the landlords had not spent on their own pleasure the rents which they were restricted from spending on their houses during war-time, they would have plenty of money with which they could put their houses in proper repair now; but that argument exhausted its usefulness to the Labour Party about two years ago, when the report was published by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors which, I imagine, was one of the progenitors of my right hon. Friend's present proposals. In that report, a copy of which I have in my hand, we read:However enlightened and conscientious a landlord may be, it is impossible, in present circumstances, for him to continue to make ends meet, and a great number of houses are increasingly and inevitably falling into disrepair.That is an independent and authoritative statement, and unless Parliament can find a solution to that problem, something which will restore hope where, at present, there is nothing but grave decay and disrepair of property valuable to the nation, then this Parliament will be failing in its duty. I suggest that no one in any quarter of the House has a right to voice criticisms of the White Paper, whether here or elsewhere, unless he is putting forward a practical alternative.
Several right hon. and hon. Gentlemen have this evening raised the question of the precise procedure to be followed when a landlord is desiring to claim and a tenant is desiring to resist the fixing of 247 a higher rent. I do not think we should overburden the local authorities by asking them to do the impossible, and for that reason it seems to me that it would be a mistake to do as, I think, was suggested by some hon. Members opposite—make the landlord get a certificate from the local authority that the conditions have been fulfilled even when there is complete agreement between the landlord and the tenant about their fulfilment.
On the other hand, we must certainly make it simple for the tenant to understand what are his rights. These proposals are complicated; when we see them in a Bill they may be even more complicated; and hon. Members on both sides know that thousands of our constituents need assistance from us—if they can get it nowhere else—in finding their way through the complexities of the law.
I therefore hope that in Committee this proposal will be examined very closely to see, first, that we do not overburden the local authorities by asking them to do too much, and, secondly, that it will be not only possible but easy for the ordinary tenant, however ignorant in these legal matters, to discover his rights and, it may be, find means of enforcing his rights.
Further, from the landlord's point of view, I hope that when the Bill is considered by the House and in Committee we shall pay particular attention to the type of case in which the landlord is so far down financially, owing to the effect of rent restriction hitherto, that he literally does not know how to find the money to bring his houses up to the standard to qualify, even if he wants to do so. These may not be a matter for law, but rather for other agencies. But they are two very important human subjects. I suggest, into which we must probe and of which we must know more than this White Paper can possibly tell us.
I warmly welcome the proposal to do something at last about repair and rent restriction, because in my own London constituency it troubles me deeply that the pool of unfurnished accommodation is shrinking the whole time, as the landlords find that rents are so severely restricted now for that type of property that the only way they can make ends meet is by letting the property furnished.
248 There are good landlords and bad landlords and some of these furnished flats are excellent, but in others the furniture is not worthy of the name. I do not want this inducement to let flats furnished to become stronger and stronger. I believe that it is much more in the interest of the ordinary family that a large pool of unfurnished accommodation should be available to them, and if that is to be done the law must be altered, and altered quickly.
Nobody, so far as I can tell from the debate, has yet raised the question of the old people, who may find it hardest to afford any increase at all. Of course, so far as those people are on National Assistance, I take it that any increased rent will be paid by the Assistance Board. At present, the Board has local rent rules which fix a ceiling to the amount of rent that the Board is willing to pay, but I presume that the Board will revise its rent rules in the light of the practical effect of any legislation which may eventuate, and that the tenant on National Assistance will not be hit by these proposals.
I am as conscious as anybody of the difficulty of carrying our examination of this White Paper into greater detail tonight. I most certainly hope, if we are not to have an Amendment on the Order Paper, that the Bill will be introduced early and debated early, so that there can be a great deal more clarification. What gives me satisfaction is that it seems to be agreed on both sides of the House that some amendment of the law is needed.
I am not going to indulge in wishful thinking and plead that this should be regarded as above party politics. On the contrary, I am inclined to think that the truth is likely to emerge from our own correction of one another's mistakes. Nevertheless, in our debates do let us remember that what we are really considering is the home life of five million families of our fellow countrymen, who are not greatly interested in us as party politicians, but are intensely interested in Parliament providing laws which will enable them to bring up their children in decent homes and spend their old age in happiness and peace.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Hubbard (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
I trust that the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke) will excuse me if I do not follow him in the debate by focusing my remarks on the paragraph in the Gracious Speech dealing with housing. It is not because I want to minimise in any way the importance of this matter or of its possible impact upon those who will be asked to meet the higher rents.
There are, however, some 25 or 26 paragraphs in the Gracious Speech dealing with a variety of subjects. One thing which they all have in common is that they have some effect on the standard of life under which the people of this country are to live in the future. It is not under the most happy circumstances that we are entering a new Session of Parliament. We have many of our young people in countries scattered all over the world, perhaps not all in a shooting war, but standing by because of our unhappy relations in different parts of the world.
Our position at home, I think, is equally unhappy inasmuch as there is a large volume of those in productive employment at the moment seeking increased wages. Because of that, I would select that paragraph in the Gracious Speech which deals with the economic stability of the country as being of the greatest importance to us at the present time. I think that most of us would agree that an increase in the standard of life in this country, or, in fact, in any country, must now be coupled with an increase in production. That is a rule, of course, which should apply to everyone in whatever walk of life. Indeed, if I had my way there would be a diminishing standard of life for those who make no contribution to production at all. That would be a fair way of dealing with the matter.
Those who now have applications pending for increases in wages have not submitted those applications on the basis of an increased standard of living, but to maintain their present standard of living and that which they have enjoyed in the few years past. That is a different matter.
I think that everyone who finds his standard of living diminishing is entitled to try to stop the rot and to maintain his standard of living at its existing or a 250 higher level. It is my opinion that when dealing with this matter of production far too much attention is focused upon the individual effort required by those in productive industry to put us in a more stable economic position, and not enough attention is paid to the collective effort required of us all.
It is very easy for people who do little or nothing to suggest that the miners, the engineers, the shipbuilders and those engaged in agriculture ought to work harder. If we are to be in a position to demand an increase for these people, we have to give them the confidence of knowing that the Government are concerned with the maintenance and improvement of their standard of life.
When I say that more attention is required to be focused on the collective effort, I think that the Government have failed woefully in maintaining or improving the standard of life of our people. We have had recently a number of statements from the Government about the increased cost of living. The figures, in the main, are absolutely unrealistic inasmuch as the cost-of-living index figures do not relate to the ordinary things that ordinary working people use. They include a number of things that are not normally within the purchasing power of the great bulk of the people. Therefore, the figures are not realistic.
As far as the Government's wish for increased productivity is concerned, it is all very well to speak about more coal being required. More coal is required. Coal is still the basic industry of the country, and unless we can increase the volume of coal, there will be a continuation of the present trend of importing coal. The Government are breaking the question of productivity, particularly with regard to coal, into isolated compartments.
I happen to live in a coal development area which is busily engaged in sinking new mines. It has a higher production target, which is essential if we are to improve our economic stability. In the sinking of those mines in the county of Fife, we must have regard to the fact that we require men to work in them. There are a number of redundant coal areas in other parts of Scotland where it is no longer possible economically to work the existing mines. It is proposed, therefore, to transfer the miners from those areas into the 251 areas that are planned for coal development.
But what do we find? In Fife, although large sums of money are being spent, quite properly, in the development of the mines, nothing else has been done to attract the skilled mining labour into these areas so that we may take advantage of the new mines. There is a complete new mine in the new town at Glen Rothes and there are extensions of a number of large collieries in the Fife area. It is well known that the highly skilled miner is to be found in the higher age group.
If we are serious about our intentions to increase productivity in the mines, we must consider not only the sinking of new mines, but the provision of labour to work in them. We can have as many mines as we like, but without the skilled labour there will be no additional coal. What we find in the county of Fife, however, is that one Government Department is at loggerheads with another on the question of attracting highly skilled mining labour into the area.
It is always difficult to persuade families to leave areas in which they are rooted and move into new areas. People will only go to a new area when there is attractive employment for the other members of the family. In these coal development areas, however, although new mines are being sunk, no alternative industry is being provided for the other members of the families which we hope to bring in. Let me give an example of one direction in which more could be done. There are in Fife two deep water docks that are practically unused, while raw material, even in connection with mining, has to be transported right across Scotland. If the Government are really anxious for increased productivity in coal, so that we may make our country economically more stable, they must take a wider view of these matters.
We had a statement recently from the Minister of Transport about the prospects of building a Forth road bridge. The right hon. Gentleman did not think it would be possible to build this bridge, at any rate, in the next 12 or 13 years. This means that this coal development area is in almost splendid isolation. Despite the building of houses to attract 252 new miners into the area, the sinking of new mines and the expansion of existing mines, we shall be unable to attract other industries because of the high cost of development of new industries in the area.
That is a much more important matter than some of the wild statements that are being made and the urging of the miners to produce more coal. If these matters were dealt with properly, there would be better results and earlier economic stability than if the Government continue with their present rather blind policy. The Government must provide work for people in areas where mines become redundant, and attract new industries to the areas where new mines have been sunk. Productivity in itself will not solve our economic difficulties. There is also the question of consumption, both at home and abroad. The policy carried on by the Government in the last two Sessions and that which is foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech, will in no way help in these matters.
To increase wages without increasing productivity is a bad thing. On the other hand, if the standard of life is being lowered, something must be done to maintain it. That means a demand for increased wages. Whatever the Prime Minister may say, and however undesirable it may be regarded, if this trend goes much further and ordinary wage earners find themselves faced with a continually diminishing standard of life, some day they will be forced to take action that each one of us is bound to deplore. If that should happen, and the productivity of the country is interrupted by industrial disputes, our economic position will be in complete chaos, especially when it is realised that all the raw material that we import and the great bulk of our food is paid for by the goods that we export.
A continual lowering of the standard of life, and consequent demands for increases in wages, would increase the cost of productivity and leave no one any better off, and when we tried to sell our goods on the world's markets their prices would be no longer attractive. In that way we would be heading for economic disaster. The Government would do well to take stock of the position at this juncture and to consider whether their policy of releasing control over the cost 253 of living, the release of control which is foreshadowed by the complete abolition of subsidies and the contemplated increase in rents, will make it still more difficult for the ordinary wage earners to maintain their standards and will lead in the long run, whatever may be the Government's underlying intentions, to a lowering, rather than an improvement, in our economic stability.
None of us wants to see industrial trouble, but there is a breaking point at which those in the productive industries and on whose efforts we depend for exports—whose effort, indeed, is the backbone of our economic stability—will break down. Let the Government be warned in time.
Already the engineers, shipbuilders, miners and a great many others are demanding wage increases in order to maintain their existing standards of life. But what about the old age pensioner? The hon. Member for Hampstead referred to the old age pensioner in connection with the possible increases in rent for the older types of house in which these people are mostly to be found.
If other wage earners are in difficulty, what is the position of these old people because of decontrol and the removal of food subsidies? These people have 32s. 6d. weekly on which to exist at present. There is no mention in the Gracious Speech of anything that the Government propose to do to increase the standard of living of old age pensioners, but there is abundant evidence that their prevailing standard of living will be decreased further through increased rents, the removal of the remaining food subsidies and other controls over the cost of living. That is very serious indeed.
The longevity of people is creating quite a problem. The number of old age pensioners is in excess of the number before the war and, indeed, of the number at the beginning of the present century. It is likely that that number will go on increasing, and because of that the old people have been encouraged to work longer in industry if they are fit. That is a desirable thing, and no one would object to it.
Under the legislation introduced by the Labour Government and operative from July, 1948, old age pensioners were encouraged to continue in work, and the 254 promise was given to them that they would get an extra 2s. per week added to their pension for every year that they continued in industry after reaching the retiring age of 65. They had expected then to have a basic pension of 10s. a week, based on the number of contributions paid since the 1912 Act. That was no longer to be paid, and compensation was to be given in the form of 2s. a week, which was subsequently increased to 3s. a week. Many of them continued in industry because of that, and have been contributing to the common pool while a great number of younger people have been contributing little or nothing.
It is sad to realise that many of these elderly people are now being paid off. When unemployment happens the older people are declared to be redundant. There are rules in certain trade unions and professional associations which insist on retiring people at a particular age. Furthermore, some of these old people have broken down because of advancing years, with the result that we find a tremendous increase in the number of them making applications for National Assistance.
By virtue of working longer in industry, some of these people have earned the right to 6s. or 7s. a week more on their pensions, but discover, when they make application for National Assistance, that the full amount of their pensions is taken into consideration, and the sum earned by staying on in industry is deducted from whatever supplementary pension they are entitled to. That is shocking and a disgrace. These old people were induced to continue in industry to help the nation at a difficult time, and they now find that the few extra shillings to which they are entitled as a result of their additional labours are deducted by the National Assistance Board when assessing their pensions.
Some may argue that the cost of living has only gone up by so much, but the price of the sort of food that the old people eat, such as bread and the cheaper type of meat, has increased considerably. Sausages, for instance, which the old people eat because they were cheap, were l0d. a lb. a few years ago; now they are 2s. 8d. a lb. Last week, milk went down a halfpenny, but coal went up 6d. a bag. By the very nature of things, those old people are more in the house than the 255 rest of us and they need more coal and heat.
Two completely independent medical investigations into their conditions have now been published. In both cases it was discovered that many old age pensioners are suffering from malnutrition. These reports were not made by political parties, but are medical, scientific investigations. The reports show that the intake of calories by these old people is down to 1,000, whereas medical authorities tell us that 2,000 calories is the minimum intake for a person who is to remain physically fit. One of these medical investigations was in Liverpool and the other in Sheffield. Without any collaboration they have reached the same conclusion.
The time has come for the Government to give consideration to these points. Something must be done, and done quickly, to increase basic pensions. This country owes much to the old age pensioners and we owe it to ourselves to do something for them. The Government actually do themselves an injury by ignoring this matter. I do not think any hon. Member on the Government side of the House, as an individual, is bad. I do not think that any one of them would do anything to hurt the old age pensioners. I do not think that any one of them would enjoy reading reports which suggest that many old age pensioners are in a poor state of health. I do not think that any of them would deny that it is much more expensive to provide hospitalisation to restore these pensioners to health, which has been lost through malnutrition, than it would be to increase the basic pension.
But first things first. When one thinks of those who own property, which ought to have been repaired long ago, receiving increases in rents; when one thinks of the gifts and the increases of income given to people who are in nonproductive industry, such as the brewers and the others who have been mentioned in this debate; and when one thinks of the old age pensioner and the position he is in at present, one is forced to the conclusion that not sufficient is being done for him. I am satisfied that individual hon. and right hon. Members opposite would not injure the old age pensioners, but, collectively, they do nothing to relieve their plight.
I appeal to the Government to be more realistic, and to appreciate the fact that 256 so long as we maintain large forces abroad we are keeping the younger people out of productive industry. So long as we simply appeal to those in productive industry to make a greater individual effort and forget our collective responsibility for the increase of productive capacity in industry, then we are falling down on the job. So long as there remains a single old age pensioner, young person or child who is shown, by medical evidence, to be suffering from malnutrition, then the Government cannot be happy, and, for all the 25 or 26 paragraphs in the Gracious Speech, that is a confession of failure on the part of Her Majesty's Government.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow, East)
The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Hubbard) will absolve me from any discourtesy if I do not follow him in the very interesting remarks which he has been making, but I shall follow him in the precedent he has set tonight in departing from the subject we have been discussing today in order to raise another matter mentioned in the Gracious Speech. I should like to deal quite shortly with the question of the reform of the House of Lords.
When the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition referred to this yesterday he did so in somewhat slighting terms. He said:Since he has been considering"—he was referring to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—it for 43 years, a year or two more will not do any harm."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November, 1953; Vol. 520, c. 18.]I do not think that that was typical of the drive for progress on which the right hon. Gentleman and his party pride themselves. I thought that it was somehow on the question of delay that there had up to now been some difference between us. I think we and the country are entitled to more than the right hon. Gentleman told us yesterday and to more than the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) told us today as to exactly what is the position of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite about the Second Chamber. I am very glad that the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) has just come in; he may be able to tell me this evening. We should like to know. 257 Do they want a Second Chamber or do they not, because that has not yet been made clear?
There are certain aspects of the existing Second Chamber with which we know that the party opposite are not in agreement. I shall touch upon one of them—the hereditary principle. I am in sympathy with their views to some extent in that respect, but I am not in sympathy with any view that the Second Chamber should be abolished. I think we should be told quite clearly, as I am sure we shall be, whether or not the party opposite are in favour of the retention of a Second Chamber in this country.
The Second Chamber has two very clearly accepted uses. I would not venture to give a lecture tonight on constitutional procedure to so qualified a House, but it would seem to me that these two functions are particularly important at the present time. Firstly, there is the function of revision in a calmer atmosphere than sometimes prevails in this Chamber. No one, whatever his views may be on the use and value of the House of Lords, will, I feel sure, deny that over the past years, particularly the past ten years, most valuable Amendments have come from the other place. Moreover, there is not, in the other place, a tendency to look over the shoulder at an electorate, and decisions are very often made in a clearer, calmer atmosphere than they are in this place.
Secondly, now that the functions and role of Government have extended socially and economically throughout the whole community, it is valuable to have in the other place men who have vast experience, treasured up from the past, and who are able to contribute to their deliberations qualities and advice which they have drawn in the prime of life from their occupations.
I should like to be told whether hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are in favour of retaining these advisory and revisionary powers in another place because, if so, they must then justify the retention of the Second Chamber; and once that is so I cannot see how they can justify the continued existence of a Second Chamber which in many ways is out of tempo with our present political development.
258 That brings me to the major issue of the hereditary principle. I honestly believe, and I believe that there are many of my hon. Friends who agree with me, that the hereditary principle should no longer be the sole basis for representation in our Second Chamber. [HON. MEMBERS: "Sole."] I believe that among those who have a hereditary tradition there is a wealth of value to this House and the nation, as we have seen in the past. I believe there is a good case for having a percentage of the Second Chamber based upon the hereditary tradition and as a result of election by Peers from among their own numbers. That applies at present to the Scottish Peers, and this country has learned a good many sound things from Scotland, as the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs will no doubt agree with me.
Secondly, women have no right to take their place in the existing Second Chamber. I cannot see how anyone can justify the continued exclusion of women from that place. Thirdly, there is a sound case for the creation of life peerages for those who have served the nation in various capacities, culturally, industrially and economically. Members of this House know only too well that the calls upon Parliamentary time are such that many people who have a great contribution to offer cannot offer it because they are precluded by their other activities from doing so. In a reformed Second Chamber I believe that we could quite easily call upon them to give of their best in that respect. There is also a case for inclusion in a reformed Second Chamber of those who have a particular knowledge of Commonwealth problems.
I was glad that there was no reference in the Gracious Speech, though there was in the last Session, to the question of university representation. I feel that it was wise and right that a decision to restore university representation to this Chamber was not taken. It is extremely difficult to justify any one member of the community having more than one vote now that the social basis of the community has been so broadened.
§ Mr. Harvey
For the same reason as the hon. and learned Gentleman's party 259 allowed it to go on for so long. The intervention of the hon. and learned Member brings out the point that in the Constitution and in the development of our political affairs there have often been anomalies, and whereas it is possible to justify the retention of an anomaly it is not, in my opinion, possible to justify the restoration of one.
University representatives in this House made a great contribution, and whatever may have been said in party speeches since their abolition, or whatever might be said in the future, they were, all in all, free from party political approach. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman, who has obviously just come in, has not been taking in my argument. If I may repeat—
§ Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)
I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman's argument in which he described university representation as non-party. Does he say that of the hon. and learned Gentleman who is now Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade?
§ Mr. Harvey
I said—the hon. Gentleman had not completely taken in my argument as he was peripatetic at the time—that, all in all, and generally speaking, they were not strictly party men, and they made a contribution which reflected an independent mind. That was one of the main justifications for retention of university seats.
§ Mr. M. Follick (Loughborough)
Does the hon. Gentleman know that Hitler became a German subject through a university seat in Germany.
§ Mr. Harvey
That was a typically delightful but utterly irrelevant interjection.
There can be no doubt that had university representation been restored in this Chamber in an atmosphere of controversy such as we have already seen growing up, allegations such as that which has just been made by the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Follick) would have been hurled across the Floor of the House, and the standing of university representatives would have been vitiated. The first to regret that would be the universities concerned.
I am glad that that decision has been made, but I hold the view very strongly 260 that there is a clear case for the collective wisdom of the universities—and it is true to call it wisdom in their case—being available in another place, where it can be brought to bear on some of the decisions made by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite and ourselves.
I trust that this matter will not be dismissed by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite with the suggestion that it can be deferred a little longer. I do not think that it can be deferred a little longer. If we agree that a Second Chamber has a valuable part to play in our democratic system—and I believe that it has and I thought that the observations of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on democracy yesterday were of great importance, especially with regard to Parliamentary democracy—then the Second Chamber must be fully respected by the people.
There is no suggestion, there can be no suggestion, that it should be an elected or competitive assembly. I am certain that was not in the mind of my right hon. Friend, but if it is to be effective it must be more fully representative of the social and political conditions which now prevail. If right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite want to destroy the Second Chamber there is no easier way than to leave it be until it has fallen into possible disrepute. If that is their intention, let them say so.
I should like to see the Second Chamber strengthened and vitalised. The hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Follick) interjected with an anecdote about Adolf Hilter—
§ Mr. Harvey
No doubt the hon. Gentleman is a greater authority on Hitler than I am. I would say that one of the things that Hitler did not believe in was a Second Chamber—
§ Mr. Harvey
—because he knew that any form of revision, amendment or advice was hostile to a programme of totalitarian development.
We benefit here from the delay imposed by a Second Chamber. We benefit from the advice that it gives us, and I should regret its removal. The people who would like to see it removed are those who 261 believe in hasty and autocratic legislation. My right hon. Friend has issued an invitation to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite to join with us in considering this problem. We have not yet been favoured with an answer as yet except that the matter could well be delayed.
I think that my right hon. Friend would be wrong to brook delay. It would be undesirable, generally speaking, that this Measure should be taken by one party alone; but if we cannot reach agreement, I hope (hat my right hon. Friend will pursue the matter to its rightful conclusion and bring a Measure before this House supported by this side alone if no one else will join us. If that is done, we should be prepared to be judged by the country on our action.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Mr. A. S. Moody (Gateshead, East)
Because of the lateness of the hour perhaps I may be forgiven for not joining issue with the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) though I should have enjoyed doing so. I want to discuss matters which concern me much more than the question of the survival of the House of Lords.
In considering the Gracious Speech one is forced to the conclusion that in this new Session the Minister of Housing and Local Government will take up most of the time with his legislation. To him have been given great privileges. We on this side do not feel too comfortable about how he will use the great privileges conferred upon him. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will realise that privilege is eternally welded to responsibility, and that he has a responsibility to many thousands of working-class homes in addition to his concern about providing wealth for the landlords of slum property. In his actions I hope that justice will be tempered with mercy. He has great opportunities.
I regret to note that the housing policy of the Government is confined almost completely to the one simple matter of giving an increase to the landlords. I should congratulate any Minister who was prepared to suggest alterations to the Rent Restriction Acts. There is a case for revision, but the Government are taking a very dangerous path. If the matter is not handled in a spirit of humanity, the legislation may cause more 262 hardship than the hardships which it is being sought to remove. I regret that the Government's housing policy is so narrowly confined.
I should have liked to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that he would pay attention to the great gap between controlled and decontrolled houses, and that he would do something drastic to get rid of the swindle which operates in every large town and city, especially in the City of London, where exhorbitant rents are charged for property under the guise of furnished rooms.
Many young ladies, having gone to business colleges and passed examinations, are attracted to London by high wages. When they get here they find very often that they have to take one cold, furnished room which is re-christened a "flat" and pay anything from 30s. to 50s. a week in rent. It is difficult for these young ladies to keep on the path of respectability when they are exploited to that extent. I should have liked the Queen's Speech to make some reference to that problem.
I have another suggestion to make to the Minister of Housing and Local Government. In his building of new houses he has an opportunity to make a greater contribution than has yet been made to the health of the people. Is he bold enough to insist that it should be a condition of subsidy to new houses that they shall be fitted with grates which will burn only smokeless fuel? I believe that, if we did that, it would cost nothing, but it would be a start.
Perhaps its effect would be felt in the City of London, and on us poor mortals who, on many occasions in our Tea Room, while we are trying to digest our kippers—and kippers it must be, because our salaries are not big enough to enable us to buy anything better—are also swallowing quantities of smoke. I believe that if the Minister would specify that kind of grate, he would make a start in dealing with the smoke problem, both in London and elsewhere in the country.
I hope that the Minister, in dealing with rents, will not follow the bad example set by his colleagues in the Government, who, when they start to amend or reform things, usually end by giving presents to the brewers, the bankers, the road hauliers and the steel barons. I warn the right hon. Gentleman that he 263 will be making a mistake if he uses this opportunity to make presents to his friends the landlords, because there is a limit to what working-class people can pay. That great Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone often used to say that one-eighth of a man's income was the correct proportion which he could afford to pay for rent, and, in my own experience, I have accepted that formula. I trust that the Minister will remember it when he thinks of raising rents.
We are also suspicious of what might happen, in view of what has happened in the past, because the record of the landlords has not been such as to encourage us to have much faith in them. They have already had a 40 per cent. increase, and, when the Second World War came, how they hid behind the exigencies of a state of war and did absolutely nothing. They have gone on doing nothing ever since, and, when they received the 40 per cent. increase, very little of it was spent in repairing the people's homes.
I contend that, if the purpose which the right hon. Gentleman has in mind is to provide more money in order that property shall not lapse and be finished with, that money must be accounted for, and I make this suggestion to him. When he brings in his new Bill he should make it compulsory for all landlords to introduce a new type of rent book, which should have four columns. In the first, it should show the amount which the landlord takes for his investment; in he second, how much he pays in rates; in the third, how much he will collect from the tenant in order to do repairs; and, in the fourth, how much he actually spends.
I can imagine that a landlord will look at his house and say, "Oh, yes; I will repair it, put in a new fall pipe, patch up the backyard, paint it and spend 30 quid on it, and you will have got a grand house." Is that landlord to draw £7 or £8 a year in perpetuity for once spending £30? If the purpose of the Bill is to keep property in repair, when the repairs have been carried out, he should have no right to draw an increased rent, except in regard to a certain reserve out of which to meet burst pipes and other contingencies. If a reasonable figure is fixed to meet this risk, then the landlord should have no more right to go on raising the rent in the name of repairs.
264 Moreover, when the landlord received the 40 per cent. increase, he was morally and legally bound to do a certain amount of repairs, but many of them forget all these obligations. When he receives the new increase that is now proposed, he should be under a moral and legal obligation to see that the money is used to make his property habitable for the people who live in it.
If the Minister is prepared to do that and to see that tenants are not exploited, I believe that the nation as a whole will probably be sufficiently reasonable to accept the higher standard of rents, but I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that all property cannot be saved by increasing the rent, even to the utmost which the tenants could pay. The Government have allowed these things to accumulate by neglecting them in the past. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about you?"] I said the Government—six years for us and 96 years for you.
This increase of rent will not do the job. The Government will have to pay the expenses for a lot of these repairs. The money ought to be easily obtained after an arrangement or agreement between tenant and landlord on a commonsense basis, such as the repair of drains, and it ought to be paid for by the Government, without calling in achitects or surveyors to exploit the situation. The Minister must be careful not to give too much rope to these people. The Government should allot an annual sum to meet the necessary repairs which neither landlord nor tenant can meet, even with increased rents. That would be far better and cheaper than spending money on housing subsidies. Whatever happens, I hope that the Minister will remember the human element and will approach these problems in a humanitarian way.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Bernard Braine (Billericay)
I am sorely tempted to follow the hon. Gentleman in the provocative remarks he has made. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I shall put that temptation behind me because I see that the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs has been for some time sitting on the Front Bench. In view of the fact that the Gracious Speech makes a reference to the Government's intention toensure that measures of social and political advancement and of economic development are promoted in the interests of all races265 in the Colonies, I should like to say a few things about our colonial affairs.
Just over a week ago we debated the constitutional crisis in British Guiana. I will not go over the same ground. The House, and I believe the country, endorsed the Government's action.
§ Mr. Braine
There was no division between the Leaders of the Opposition and the Government sides of the House on the necessity to take action. There was difference of opinion upon the method that was adopted. The hon. Member for Warrington (Dr. Morgan) was asleep half-way through the debate.
§ Dr. Morgan
Mr. Speaker, a very serious point is involved in making such an accusation against me. I never sleep in the House. I can get plenty of sleep at home. The hon. Member is not right in making such a charge against me, when I never did sleep.
§ Mr. Braine
I am most willing to withdraw. What led me to make the statement was the observation made by the hon. Gentleman, which showed quite clearly that he had not taken in the lesson of the debate. I repeat that there was no division between the two sides of the House on the necessity of taking effective action.
What has been happening in British Guiana still needs to be put into perspective. It is curious that in foreign or economic affairs the House and the country can always fit each happening into a broad picture and see it as part of a whole. Korea, Trieste, Germany—we can see how each situation fits into the world picture and we approach the problem in each case in terms of global strategy. That at least is one lesson the Communists have taught us. But it is not so when we come to colonial affairs. When trouble in some territory hits the headlines, we speak about the matter here in hurt and horrified terms. We turn inward upon ourselves and ask what it is we have not done, or what it is we have done, which has provoked the situation.
266 There are two things we should get clear in our minds. The first is that the story of achievement in the Colonial Territories, under both the previous Government and the present Government, is very much greater than that of failure. If we have a riot or a disturbance in some part of the Colonial Empire, attention is at once focused upon it. It is a fact, as I saw in some obscure report the other day, that in 1948, before antimalarial work was undertaken in the Colony of Mauritius, there were 46,000 notifications of malaria, which is a killing disease. In 1952 there were only 27 such notifications. In my judgment that is a wonderful achievement for which we in this House should give credit. Then again, in the very week that we were discussing the constitutional crisis in British Guiana the Secretary of State for the Colonies announced in this House Government approval of further constitutional proposals for the Gold Coast.
If any evidence was wanted of the good will of the Government towards colonial peoples in their movement towards self-government under conditions which will enable them to enjoy reasonable standards of living and freedom from aggression, that was it. But it was very largely over-shadowed by what was happening in British Guiana.
§ Mr. Stan Awbery (Bristol, Central)
If that is the case, will the hon. Member explain why there is so much unrest and trouble in a large number of our Colonies at the present time?
§ Mr. Braine
Here we have a situation where young peoples are moving towards self-government. The pace of political and constitutional advance is tending to out-run the pace of social and economic advance, and all the time it should be our duty here in this country to try to bring the two movements into some sort of adjustment.
§ Mr. Awbery
But who should determine the correct speed? Is it for this Government to determine how fast a Colony should go, or should the Colony decide?
§ Mr. Braine
I do not think there is any easy answer to that question. If we look at the Gold Coast, for example, we see a people moving steadily and surely towards self-government. And why? 267 Because of the degree of statesmanship shown by their leaders, and also because in relative terms there is reasonable prosperity in the country. In the Gold Coast there are natural resources. There are a large number of cocoa farmers. There is relative prosperity. Therefore, it is much easier to encourage political and constitutional advance than it would be in circumstances where there is a dearth of resources and difficulty in ensuring for the great mass of the people those conditions which would enable them to take advantage of constitutional advance. On this I do not think there is really any difference between the two sides of the House.
§ Mr. Braine
The second thing we should recognise is that, by now, we ought to be able to distinguish between genuine nationalist movements in the Colonies—and I accept colonial nationalism as a natural, inevitable and healthy influence for good—and those movements that are inspired from Communist sources. I have no doubt whatsoever that Dr. Jagan and some of his associates are Communists.
I remember that when I was in British Guiana in 1951, during a tour of the West Indies which I was then making in an endeavour to meet leading personalities in the trade unions, and in politics and trade out there, I asked to see Dr. Jagan, because I had heard a lot about him. I was told I could not see him. I could not see him because it was common knowledge in the Colony that even then he was in East Berlin conferring with Communist leaders. There are, we know, not a few in this House who make light of visits behind the Iron Curtain. I remember that before the war Dr. Gottwald, who is now the President of Czechoslovakia, made frequent trips to Russia. He was asked in the Prague Parliament what he did there. The answer came a little too quickly, and has never been forgotten by the Czechs, "We go there to learn how to wring your necks."
Some time before the subject of British Guiana was debated in this House, the "Daily Argosy," one of the principal newspapers in the Colony, was saying:To the detached observer, British Guiana is now undergoing an interesting political ex- 268 periment—the attempt by majority party not only to manipulate the reins of Government but to impose its will and tenets, by means of the methods and techniques employed by Fascism, Hitlerism and Communism, on all sectors of the national life of a dependent territory under the nose, and almost the protection, of the metropolitan country which granted the constitution now being abused.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels
I have always understood that one of the conditions that we proposed to be applied was that we had to get behind the Iron Curtain and that Russia was preventing people from getting there. I should like to know from the hon. Gentleman whether he is now saying it is wrong to go there or what is the attitude that he is taking now.
§ Mr. Braine
It depends entirely what the purpose of the visit is. I seem to remember a prominent member of the party opposite who was severely taken to task, and rightly so, for certain trips behind the Iron Curtain at the height of the Korean fighting, but I do not think it worth while pursuing the point.
There are two reasons why interest should be shown by the Communists in this relatively remote Colony. The first is strategic. British Guiana occupies a position not far removed from the narrow waist of the Atlantic, which gave the Allies trouble during the last war, not far away from the Panama Canal and not far from the oil installations of Trinidad.
There is a second important reason. It so happens that British Guiana is the only British Colonial Territory which has an exportable surplus of rice. In April of last year the world rice position was very serious—
§ Mr. Braine
I raised the matter in this House and the then Minister said in reply:This is a matter of the very greatest importance, and he would be a foolish Member either of the Government or of Parliament who attempted to minimise the gravity of the situation.He then outlined the Government's plans for increasing rice production throughout the Colonial Territories.
I might mention in passing that our Far Eastern Colonial Territories are dependent, to the extent of about 700,000 or 800,000 tons a year, upon imports from countries which are menaced already by 269 Communists. The Colonial Empire as a whole is dependent for about half its vital import requirements upon sources of supply which we do not control and which are menaced by Communism. The Minister of State went on to say, speaking of the plans for the expansion of rice production:It is in the West Indies that our hopes are highest, and particularly in British Guiana.…The best results can be looked for in British Guiana."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th April, 1952; Vol. 498, cc. 3015, 3019.]If we in this House do not realise the strategic significance of rice—and I believe we do; from time to time there are references to its importance—I can assure hon. Members that the Communists do understand its importance. [Interruption.] I notice that the hon. Member for Warrington (Dr. Morgan) is now very much awake. May I suggest that it would be more helpful, on a subject which is vital to the people of the Caribbean, if he would remain silent.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
It would be to the advantage of the House if these interjections were restrained.
§ Mr. Braine
This is a matter of prime importance. When rice is plentiful, there is contentment in the rice-eating lands When it is scarce and dear, there are hunger, misery and unrest. Communists well understand that. There is a direct connection between the situation in South-East Asia and this attempt to produce chaos in British Guiana. There was reasonable hope that British Guiana would be making a substantial contribution to the rice supplies of the Colonial Empire in a comparatively short time. What I should like to know—I do not know if the Minister of State will have an opportunity to reply—is whether the recent setback in the Colony has had any adverse effect upon rice production and whether any special steps are now being taken to intensify production.
§ Mr. Awbery
May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the fundamental 270 difference between his side of the House and ours is that he regards as of first importance the strategic position of Guiana, and secondly the production of rice for export, and he has not said one word so far about the human well-being of the half million people living in Guiana.
§ Mr. Braine
The human well-being of about three out of five human beings in this world depends upon rice, and if the hon. Gentleman cannot grasp that he obviously cannot grasp the rest of my argument. I was naturally assuming that he was aware of that simple fact.
What I want to ask is: Where do we go from here? I understand that the Colonial Office have sent out two experts to the Colony; one is Mr. Lacey, an adviser on drainage and irrigation, and the other is Mr. F. A. Brown, recently Manager of the Sudan Gezira Board. That is excellent, if it yields results, but a steady stream of experts has been going out to British Guiana in recent years. There was the Evans Commission, which recommended that a development corporation should be set up, specially designed for the Colony. As far as I know, that recommendation was never put into operation. Then there was the Beachell-Brown Mission. Mr. Beachell and Mr. Brown were rice experts, who went out to the Colony, surveyed the scene, and said, "It is possible vastly to increase the production of rice here," and then went back. Then the Colonial Development Corporation sent out a mission, and at long last a rice development company was set up.
I should like to know what is being done in a practical way to speed up land settlement, because I am firmly of the opinion that it is quite idle for us to talk about the economic development of the Colonial Territories in terms of large-scale effort and large-scale corporations if it means forgetting the effect of the development upon the human beings engaged in it. We ignore the social consequences of economic development at our peril.
If we want to effect an agricultural revolution in a Colonial Territory—in British Guiana, for example—we simply must harness the will of the local people to co-operate. It is true that a very high proportion of the workers on the sugar estates are smallholders. They work on the sugar estates for a certain time 271 during the year and on certain days of the week—the sugar industry is a seasonal industry—but quite a large proportion have smallholdings.
The great problem is to discover exactly what is the economic size of a reasonable smallholding. No doubt that is one of the things which Mr. Brown is going to investigate. This is a matter of high importance, and I was very disturbed to learn that some investigations into the economic size of peasant holdings, which were being carried out at the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture in Trinidad, have come to an end for lack of money. It seems singularly odd that, at a time when we should be intensifying agricultural development not only in British Guiana but elsewhere in the Colonial Empire, these investigations should be brought to an end for lack of money. It may be that there is an explanation for it, but I should have thought that this was the moment when we should be bending our energies to promoting this type of experiment and development.
We can perform no more valuable service in the Colonial Territories, where these young nations are developing, than by helping to build up a peasant proprietor class of people—sturdy folk who have a stake in the land, because, socially and politically, this kind of development is bound to promote stability, and without stability—without a man feeling that he has a stake in the land—I do not see how, in the colonial atmosphere, we can develop sound political institutions.
I am certain that the main reason the Gold Coast has been such a success, so far, is the fact that there exists in that territory a large class of peasant proprietors, who have a chance to make a reasonable living. I should like to see that sort of pattern repeated elsewhere and I am hopeful, therefore, that in the months ahead, as the Gracious Speech indicates, we shall see considerable progress along those lines.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)
I should like to commence by apologising to the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Braine) for not having been here for the beginning of his speech. 272 I had no idea he was going to discuss colonial questions. If I had had I should have cut even the small snack to which I escaped after sitting in the House for a number of hours. With that portion of his speech I heard I found myself in entire agreement, and I hope that before the conclusion of my speech I may be able to make some particular reference to the subject he raised.
The Gracious Speech has one paragraph devoted to colonial affairs which is unexceptionable in its statement of broad principles, but broad principles are of no value unless they are put into practice, and the record of the Government so far does not encourage us to believe that these admirable principles will be put into practice in future. I intend to be very critical of the policy of the Colonial Secretary, but I am glad to begin by congratulating him and the Government upon the response which they have made to the Government of the Gold Coast in asking for emendation of their Constitution so that they may advance towards further self-government.
The first question I want to put to the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs is this: when is it proposed to introduce in this House legislation for the amendment of the Gold Coast Constitution? The Secretary of State, in replying to me a fortnight ago, indicated that, on principle, an agreement had been reached. I was profoundly disappointed that the Gracious Speech by Her Majesty indicated no intention of introducing legislation for the amendment of the Gold Coast Constitution.
There was also one passage in the Colonial Secretary's reply which made me a little uneasy. It was to this effect, that agreement had not been reached with the Gold Coast Government on the subject of a transference from the Colonial Office to the Commonwealth Relations Office. The aim of the Gold Coast is to become a Dominion within the British Commonwealth. If it be said that stage cannot yet be reached, I would point out that there is an example in the case of Southern Rhodesia, which is already under the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations.
I cannot cast from my mind the doubt that the real problem here is the opposition of one other member of the Commonwealth to the recognition of the 273 Gold Coast as a self-governing Dominion. I will say only this, that if the issue arises between the recognition of the Gold Coast as a self-governing Dominion and the loss of the South African Union under its policy of Dr. Malan, I hope that there will be no hesitation in the answer of the Government to that issue, because it is an issue that will concern not the Gold Coast only: it will concern the whole African population within the British Empire, who regard the one as the promise of freedom and regard the other as the suppression of all the liberties of the African population.
Secondly, I want to express modified appreciation of the policy of the Colonial Office in respect of another West African country, Nigeria. There was a fear, before the recent London Conference, that the unity of that Colony would be destroyed, but Northern Nigeria has agreed to come within the Federation. There are two points I want to raise on that subject. The first is the future of Lagos. It was a matter of distress to us that the two large parties in Nigeria, the Action Group and the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, which had come to agreement about their demand for self-government, should come into conflict on the issue of Lagos.
I very much hope that even now an agreement can be reached about the future of that city, and I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that careful consideration should be given to that suggestion that, before a final decision is reached about the future of that city, there might be a plebiscite of its inhabitants, and that in that way the agreement of the population might be secured to whatever solution is reached.
The second problem I want to put to him is this. One of the little parties in Nigeria which was represented at the London Conference was the National Elements Progressive Union from Northern Nigeria. From all I have heard, not only from African delegates, but, if I may say so, from representatives of the Colonial Office itself, the representative of that party at the London Conference, Mr. Aminu Kano, was one of the most helpful participants, yet he has gone back to the Northern Region of Nigeria to find a proposal for the repression of his party, to find members of that party being imprisoned, to find them being beaten up by 274 gangsters on the streets of Kano. I ask the representative of the Colonial Office, if the future Nigerian Conference is to have good results, that he will secure that minority parties in that country, and particularly in the Northern Region, shall be guaranteed political and civil rights. That seems to me an absolute essential in any advance of Northern Nigeria towards full self-government.
On the next subject—Central Africa—I want to be more critical. I shall not repeat the arguments which have been advanced from this side of the House against Central African Federation, but to impose on that vast territory of the two Rhodesias and Nyasaland a Federal Parliament which has 26 European members, who represent fewer than 200,000 people, with only three Africans representing six million people, and with two Europeans nominated to represent African interests—to impose that against the will of the people seems to me to be an outrageous act of dictatorship by the Government.
§ The Minister of State for Colonial Affairs (Mr. Henry Hopkinson)
The hon. Member will recall that there will be two Africans in each territory. That makes six. Then there are three Europeans representing African interests, which makes a total of nine. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will want his figures to be correct.
§ Mr. Brockway
I am very grateful. The case is so strong that I do not want to misrepresent it. I should have begun by saying 26 instead of 29. I accept at once the correction which the right hon. Gentleman has made, but it makes no difference to my essential argument.
I would have said that the one hope of saving this bad scheme would have been to encourage the African population in the two protectorate countries. Since the Bill passed through this House, the actions which have been taken in Nyasaland and now the actions which have been taken in Northern Rhodesia and Southern Rhodesia, to which I will refer, indicate that the Government are not going to seize the opportunity of having control of the two protectorate countries to establish racial equality and social and economic development.
There has recently been a conference in London regarding the Constitution of the Legislative Council in Northern Rhodesia. This is a matter directly 275 under the Colonial Office. It gave them an opportunity to prove their case that their concern was to move towards racial equality in Central Africa. Instead of that, whilst the old Legislative Council had two Africans in 23 the new Legislative Council is to have four Africans in 27. Does that really represent the mind of the Government in seeking fuller representation of the African population of Northern Rhodesia?
In addition, there is not to be a single African on the Executive Council. They are there in Uganda, in Kenya, in Tanganyika, but not one in Northern Rhodesia, where we ought to take this opportunity of extending racial equality. More than that, the very dangerous move has been made of reducing protectorate authority over that territory. The number of ex-officio members is to be reduced from six to five, reducing the authority of this House in its duty to protect the African population and increasing the representation of the settler population.
The next point which I want to raise in connection with Central Africa is not the direct responsibility of the right hon. Gentleman's Department, but I hope that he will excuse my raising it. It is the question of how the African representatives are to be appointed in Southern Rhodesia. "The Times" of 30th October reported that two African representatives and the European representative of African interest in Southern Rhodesia are to be elected by the ordinary electorate of 49,000 Europeans and only 400 Africans. I want to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the statement which his colleague, Lord Munster, the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, made in another place on 28th July. It will be found in the House of Lords OFFICIAL REPORT, col. 988.
Lord Munster said that he would draw the attention of the Governor of Southern Rhodesia to the fact that Africans might like to choose their own representatives. He said he understood that the African candidates would be selected by an African organisation before nomination. I have studied the Federal Gazettes and I have studied the Southern Rhodesian Press. I have found neither in those official documents nor in the Southern Rhodesian Press any reference to any African organisation nominating those African candidates.
276 Instead, I have found reports that two African candidates have been put forward by the Federal Party and one by the Confederates. That is a complete repudiation of the statement given by the Government, by Lord Munster, in another place. I ask the Government, either tonight or tomorrow, to reply to this point and to insist that Lord Munster's statement in another place shall be carried out.
I turn from Central Africa to Kenya. One could say very much in criticism of the Government's policy in that Colony. I shall not say much tonight, because I believe that the most important part is to concentrate upon a constructive solution of the situation there. I only say to the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs that I have passed on to his Department many reports of occurrences there—of shootings in the back of Africans asked to leave their huts and of conditions of prisoners—which I do not believe represent actions by the British troops in that country, but which do represent charges, at least, against the Kenya Police Reserve and against African police, which ought to be investigated thoroughly by the Government. I content myself with that criticism.
I pass on to what, I believe, should be the solution of the present situation. The greatest mistake which the Government have made in their Kenya policy has been to refuse to accept the co-operation of Africans who, while critical of the Government, abhor the methods of Mau Mau just as much as the methods of the Government. The attitude of the Government has been that unless any African was a 100 per cent. supporter of their policy, he was outside the pale.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to begin a course of conciliation in Africa, first by responding to such men as Mr. Joseph Murumbi, who have put forward constructive proposals in a helpful and conciliatory way, and to look to the detention camps and prisons for Africans there who can speak for the African people, against whom there has been no charge of violence or of outrage. Unless an approach is made to them, we will not make the contact with the African population in Kenya which is essential to any solution.
277 I am only going to list the heads of the other subjects upon which I believe agreement must be reached, but before I list them let me say this. I have always taken the view that there were men in the European, Asian and African races alike upon whose co-operation in a constructive policy one must rely to find a solution of Kenya problems.
I suggest, first, that the Government must deal with the land problem of the African population. When I came back from Kenya last November, the parallel which struck me after my visit to the African reserves in Kenya was the valleys in South Wales in the 1930s. Seventy per cent. of the population unemployed and whole population driven out from those valleys. In some South Wales towns one did not find a young man or a young woman. That is the same with the Kikuyu reserves. They are of 450 to 1,000 per square mile. To the Africans, land is what work is to us. Land is life, and with the populations so crowded on those reserves there is no living there for them.
The Government must deal with the problem, and I suggest to the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs that the European population in Kenya should recognise that the African population has the first right to land in that territory. Where there is unused and unoccupied land in territories which have been reserved for the Europeans, that land ought to be made available to contribute towards the solution of the land hunger of the African population. I do not pretend that that will be enough, but the psychological value in encouraging good relations would be almost immeasurable.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, in thinking of this land problem, will remember that the Gezira scheme in the Sudan is the best project which the British have undertaken in the whole continent. I believe that, happily, the right hon. Gentleman had some associations with that scheme. There is a semi-desert area in Kenya. Water is there, but it would cost a lot to tap it. If that water were oil it would be tapped, because oil is profitable. Water is more essential to the human race than oil, and the Government ought to take the responsibility of developing that desert area on the Gezira lines.
278 Thirdly, I turn to the problem of the Africans in their own land. I admit that their farming is often primitive and unproductive. The solution to that would be to develop the farmers' co-operative movements out there.
§ Mr. Brockway
In a little way it has been going on for years, and it was encouraged immensely when my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) was Secretary of State for the Colonies. It has not advanced so rapidly since. I was there in November and I found that the secretary, who was responsible for the co-operative movement, had actually been transferred from that job to another. I saw him, and his story was one of pessimism about the failure of that co-operative movement because the Africans had not the technical attributes necessary for the job.
That brings me to the constructive point which I am now making. The Indian Government have offered 25 scholarships to Africans from Kenya to go to India to learn all there is to know about Indian co-operative farming, to learn about community projects which have been so successfully developed in India. That is a policy which we should encourage. I am not only making my appeal to Her Majesty's Government to give these facilities for the acquiring of the necessary technical experience. I appeal to our own Co-operative movement in this country and to the Labour movement to provide the facilities which they can do in that respect.
I would put community projects next in a constructive plan. At present, if the Africans are driven from their land in the African reserves in the way I have described, they must become servants to the European farmers. I have seen contracts; they are simply appalling. A little bit of land is given on which they can grow produce, 15 head of goats and material to build a hut are provided and then payment of from 3s. 6d. to 4s. 6d. per week. There are clauses in the contract which say that if a boy becomes 279 16 years of age he must work for the farmer as well; there are clauses in some contracts saying that children and wives, must, at the demand of farmers, also work for them. That is appalling serfdom, and it should be a matter of shame to any of us that such conditions should exist inside the British Commonwealth or the British Empire.
How are we to end those conditions? By providing alternative employment—light industries in the African areas, cooperatively run, which would be an alternative to that appalling slavery of the labourers on many of the European farms. Not only Her Majesty's Government should give encouragement in that way. African wages—the conditions of Africans driven from the reserves to the towns—are often worse than those on the European farms which I have described The wage for African labourers in Nairobi is 56s. per month. The medical officer of health says that the lowest figure a man can live on if he spends the whole of his money on food is 60s. The natives cannot bring their wives and children, who are left in the reserves to scratch what existence they can from the land around their huts.
The whole standard of wages must be lifted, and there should be a minimum wage for the workers on the farms and the workers in the towns. I welcome the fact that the Government have now begun—[Interruption.] I do not know what the hon. Gentleman opposite is muttering. Perhaps he will get up and say.
§ Mr. Beresford Craddock
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. He was talking about wages, and I was mentioning the fact that under the Kongwa groundnuts scheme promoted by his Government the wages paid to Africans was, I think, about 30s. a month at the most.
§ Mr. Brockway
I appeal to the hon. Member not to be so petty. I am not trying to score party points tonight; I am honestly trying to put forward constructive proposals, and all that the hon. Member can say is "Groundnuts."
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
If pay comparisons are being made, it is on record that it was provided in contracts made by the leader of the Europeans in Kenya that wages should be 12s. per month.
§ Mr. Brockway
I do not intend to be diverted from my argument.
I welcome the fact that in the last few months an international school has opened in Nairobi. When I hear the argument that the colour bar is instinctive in human beings I always recall something I saw in Nairobi—the children's queue for the cinema on Saturday morning, with European, Asian and African children standing side by side eagerly discussing the film "Robin Hood" that they were to see.
Those same children were segregated in the schools, with European schools better than the Asian and the Asian schools better than the African. If we are to build up one community in Kenya the place to begin is the school. I am glad that there has been an experiment with one school. I hope that the experiment will be greatly extended.
Finally, I urge that there must be constitutional reform and that the basis of it should, in the first stage, be parity between the three races. That is a very moderate demand to make. There are 35,000 Europeans, 120,000 Asians and 5 million Africans. To suggest that they should at least have equal representation in the Legislative Council is a moderate proposal, and I hope that it will be accepted.
I did not want to take up more time, but I had intended to pass from my criticism of policy in Kenya and my constructive proposals to a reference to the situation in British Guiana. I will be brief. I do not think that I need assure the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs or this House that I believe so intensely in personal liberty that I hate the totalitarian conceptions of Communism. I had friends who were leaders of the Socialist movement in most of the European countries. They are now dead—murdered by the Communists. Therefore, my approach to this subject is one of no sympathy with Communism, but I say to the right hon. Gentleman that the Government are making a mistake in dismissing the People's Progressive Party in British Guiana as totally Communist.
The best contribution to our recent debate was made by the hon. Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson), who said that the People's Progressive Party was not under 281 orders from Moscow. He even said that he thought that Dr. Jagan was quite sincere in saying that he is not a Communist. He said that Dr. Jagan had been behind the Iron Curtain and that he had been inspired by an enthusiasm for a workers' democracy and had come back with it.
Those who know the People's Progressive Party in British Guiana know that it is an alliance of Nationalists, Socialists and Communists. The policy which Her Majesty's Government have pursued has made more Communists than any of the propaganda of the Jagans and the other Communists in British Guiana. When we examined the White Paper we found only one charge of an intention of violent action to create a situation of revolution in British Guiana.
That was the charge—a charge of arson to burn down the Government buildings and European premises. That charge was splashed over all the newspapers of the world. I venture to say that no one who has gone into the charge now believes that charge to be true. [Interruption.] Well, let me give the evidence. In the White Paper, it was stated to have come from reliable sources. On 21st October, the Colonial Secretary was asked why these men had not been brought to trial if they were guilty of a criminal offence in plotting to burn down Georgetown. These are the words he used in reply:Whether this plan would ever have been carried out is a matter of conjecture."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st October, 1953; Vol. 518, c. 1959.]He was then asked what were these reliable sources and his reply was "Police agents." Our own experience during the war and our experience in other Colonies shows just how much reliance can be placed upon stories from police agents.
§ Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)
I do not want to disturb the development of the hon. Gentleman's argument, but I think he is going a bit far here. I should like to ask him whether he is prepared to place more credence on the word of, and information supplied by, a Governor appointed by one of his right hon. Friends or upon the suggestions and excuses made by a most incompetent collection of very unworthy Ministers?
§ Mr. Brockway
I am not going to reply in that spirit. I am not relying either upon the one or upon the other. I am using my own intelligence and trying to indicate the reasons for refusing to believe this story. The OFFICIAL REPORT has this. The date on which the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Home Secretary went to Balmoral Castle to get the signature of Her Majesty to the decree for the suspension of the Constitution of British Guiana was 4th October.
I asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies in the House what was the date when the report of this plot to burn down Georgetown was brought to the Government's attention, and his answer, given in the House, was 2nd October. That was only two days before the decision to suspend the constitution. In the OFFICIAL REPORT, the date 2nd October has been changed to 7th October; that is to say, the White Paper uses as an argument for the justification of the suspension of the Constitution an incident of which the Government were unaware until three days after the decree for suspension was signed.
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that there are two points here which he must answer. If he is not prepared to bring into public trial those who are charged with these offences, what right has he to make these charges in a White Paper? Secondly, what right at all has he to include this evidence in a White Paper justifying the suspension of the Constitution when the Government themselves appeared to have no knowledge until three days after the decree was signed?
I want to repeat what I have said outside, because I believe it to be the duty of Members of Parliament to say inside these walls what they write and say outside. I want to say to the right hon. Gentleman that I regard the policy now being pursued by his Department in Central Africa, Kenya and British Guiana, and the policy of the Secretary of State for the Colonies as a menace to this country, as a menace to the colonial countries and as a menace to the world.
I regard it as a menace to this country, because it is losing us the good will of the African and of the coloured populations of the Empire to a degree which makes our co-operation increasingly difficult. It is a menace to the colonial 283 countries not only in its direct effects but in the dispair which it is causing among the peoples of the colonial countries, causing them to turn away from the hopes of political action. It is a menace to the world, because two-thirds of the world's people are coloured, and unless there is harmony between the coloured races and ourselves there is no hope of peace in the world.
In my view, the Secretary of State for the Colonies and his Government ought to be indicted before the world as a danger to its security and peace.
§ 9.42 p.m.
§ Mr. John Tilney (Liverpool, Wavertree)
Until the last part of the speech of the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) I found myself, somewhat to my surprise, in almost complete agreement with what he said. In the next decade, in this ideological fight in a split world, it is vital to the West that Africa should be friendly to our ideas. We shall achieve that only if we can only achieve a multi-racial community in Africa. Whether we shall do that no one yet can say.
I was much interested in what the hon. Gentleman said about the Gezira scheme. I have urged my right hon. Friend to have a film taken of it and, I hope, of the Cameroons Development Corporation scheme, too, and have them shown in many areas of Africa to show what the land can produce. The hon. Gentleman referred to community development. South of Enugu there is one of the best community development schemes in Africa. It surprised me what the people in Eastern Nigeria had done for themselves. It can be done in other parts of Africa, too. I, too, hope that this country will sponsor the Gold Coast as one of our Dominions, though I cannot believe there is any potential Federal Capital of Nigeria other than Lagos.
Two major questions should be uppermost in our minds when we discuss colonial affairs. The first is the possibility of a Commonwealth Civil Service, so that we can have continuity running over a long period of years. The case for it was admirably put in two articles in "The Times" during the Recess. The other question is the need for great capital development for the roads, ports and railways of much of the colonial Com 284 monwealth. I am very doubtful whether we can provide that capital alone in this country. We may have to borrow from America to produce some of that development capital which we so badly need. Both questions would require a whole day's debate.
I would put one small point to my right hon. Friend. In America, I was immensely impressed by what has recently been achieved in air conditioning. The Prime Minister of the Gold Coast admits that the Colonial Empire will require the guidance of European administration for many years to come and that applies throughout the whole Commonwealth and Empire. Much of that administration ceases to be efficient because we, who are used to working in a temperate climate, find the extreme conditions in some areas of the Commonwealth very trying.
I realise that there are degrees or humidity and extreme temperatures much greater in parts of the Commonwealth than are found in the United States. But in the United States much has been achieved in air conditioning, and I believe that it would pay to invest quite a lot of money in air conditioned offices and houses so that the European administration can put out the maximum effort for the benefit of the Commonwealth.
It will require quite a lot of money, but I urge my right hon. Friend to see that any new offices and flats built for the European community in areas such as West Africa should be properly air conditioned I believe that such an investment would pay very handsome dividends. May this technical improvement help on our ideal of partnership between Asia, Africa and Europe.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ The Minister of State for Colonial Affairs (Mr. Henry Hopkinson)
I had not intended to speak but I must correct a point made by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) with regard to the date. Dealing with the date of the receipt of this report, my right hon. Friend used the date of 7th October in this House. I think the hon. Member must have misunderstood him. It was always 7th October that he had in mind. What he said was:I have not got it here, but I think it was about 7th October."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd October. 1953; Vol. 518, c. 2171.]285 He never said a specific date; he qualified it in that way.
This very important matter, this charge of arson which, as the hon. Member said, has been blazing across the headlines of the world, was in fact only a minor reason for the action taken against the P.P.P. in British Guiana. It was the cumulative effect of a series of events over a period which led to this decision to suspend the Constitution.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
May we get this clear? In the debate we had, I put a question to the Secretary of State and I think I may put this to the Minister. Whatever may be his view, in the discussion this charge was not a minor point. Indeed, it was the most serious charge made. Am I to gather that this charge still stands and the Attorney-General in British Guiana still considers it a grave charge which ought to be preferred or withdrawn? May I take it that it still stands?
§ Mr. Hopkinson
This is a matter which was the culmination of a series of events over a long period, and is still in the hands of the Attorney-General in British Guiana who is considering the possibility of prosecutions.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Rugby)
If these interchanges continue I shall have to ask for protection against the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs and the former Secretary of State for the Colonies.
I wish to touch on one point which I must condense in view of the time, but before that I wish to refer to a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) regarding the question of Lagos. We were all very happy indeed that there was such amity in Lancaster House during the sittings of the Nigerian Commission, but I do want to warn the Government that this award, shall we say, of Lagos to the country as a whole is the one burning topic in Nigeria. In fact, West Nigeria feel it so keenly that they almost threaten to secede and become an independent territory.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough talked about a plebiscite. If it was as simple as that Mr. Awowolo, Leader of the Action Group, would not be worried at all, because the Yorubas 286 are 71 per cent. of Lagos population, but I would say that while I would discount this question of having a Canberra or an Ottawa somewhere in the centre of this vast territory I would support the solution which I think would commend itself to both northerners and southerners, which would be to have Apapa harbour as the commercial lifeline of the Northern territory and employ the eastern part of the island, Ikoye, as the administrative centre.
I am very worried, because in my mind is the still, small thought that as the Westerners Mr. Awowolo, Mr. Akintolo, Bode Thomas and Chief Arthur Prest were not good boys in the council of 18 there might be a slight bias against their view point. I hope that there has not been at Lancaster House an arrangement, to put it mildly, between the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, because there is that feeling among many people—that there has been that slight bias against the West.
While a declaration cannot be made here by the Minister on his own I do hope that he will ask the Governor, Sir John Macpherson, to see whether he could use his good offices to get together the northerners and the westerners, and also Dr. Azikiwe and others, to work out a modus vivendi, because there are so many spiritual associations between Lagos and the Yorubas, the Obas, and others of that ilk. However, I have been led away by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough, and if I touched upon his other topics I would be a long time indeed.
I turn now to the point I wanted to raise. My right hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Attlee) gained much credit, and will in history gain much more, for bringing liberation to half a thousand million Asians in India and Pakistan. The next step is quite straightforward, and is, I think, conceded on both sides—to give Dominion status to the Gold Coast, Nigeria. I think if that is done happier times will arise there, I look forward, also, to the West Indian Federation.
But where do we go beyond that? Does anyone in his senses think that St. Helena, or Malta, or Aden—never mind Pitcairn—will become independent in this particular context? At the moment, we have in Gambia a commission examining the 287 finances of that Colony. I would even put in this category Sierra Leone, and I would put it to the Minister tonight that there is a case in that respect as regards Malta.
There, Dr. Mintoff, the leader of the Labour Party, has put forward the point of view that a case can be made out for incorporation, if you will, into the United Kingdom of these smaller, weaker, poorer dependencies which will never stand completely on their own feet—to incorporate them into our own Imperial Parliament here. It would be a livening thing to have about 20 Africa faces and colonial voices in this House of Commons. It would do the House a great deal of good. It would be a gesture against all those symptoms which I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough, detest so much—Malanism, apartheid, the colour bar, and so forth.
These places with poor soils and small populations which lack water supplies, metals and minerals, will need to be aided for many years ahead. Therefore, we should go beyond merely having them administered by a far-off benevolent metropolitan Power, and we should give to these peoples full local autonomy such as is conferred on Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland has its own Parliament, but it sends its Members to the Imperial House.
Let us give to Sierra Leone and Gambia full local autonomy, but let them send their Members to this House so that they can give to these debates a much more moving, vital and genuine expression of their hopes, fears and desires than any Anglo-Saxon who speaks of these benches, even though he may feel deeply about his subject. Even though a Member may have been out to the country concerned, he is speaking from secondhand information and he can never be the echo or the voice speaking on their behalf.
We have had this bother with the People's Progressive Party in Guiana. In Mauritius, there has been an election where the so-called Labour Party—I quote "Labour"—has won 14 seats out of 19. In the Honduras there is to be a new Constitution in 1954, and there will be elections the results of which will give the unofficial members a majority, as has happened in Guiana and Mauritius. I 288 am not saying that the Labour parties in those countries will go too far left. I certainly hope they will go left, but not as far as has been alleged in Georgetown in Guiana.
Would it not be much better for whichever party is in office here, and whichever right hon. Gentleman is Secretary of State for the Colonies, if we had representatives in this House from places like Mauritius and Honduras, who could act as media between the territories and this country and who would be able to give us full and personal information? Then, perhaps, there would not be so many White Papers or so many allegations which do not stand up to the full light of day. Many of these charges either require much more evidence to support them, or conversely the people who are accused of these offences should be taken to court. If we had representatives here from Mauritius or Honduras we would have this much more vital, personal, genuine and dependable medium as between the metropolitan Parliament here and those distant, far-flung Dependencies.
Without talking any more about populations and statistics, I should like the House to consider this point. It is not merely myself or Mr. Mintoff, in Malta, who are thinking on these lines. I should like to put this question in the hope that the Minister of State will convey it to the Secretary of State for the Colonies. May I have some explanation or amplification of a significant sentence or two which were uttered by the right hon. Gentleman in winding up the debate on Guiana about a week ago? He said:Let me be quite clear. So long as Her Majesty's Government have a responsibility to this House for the affairs of Colonial Territories, that is to say, before those territories gain complete independence"—and these are the words I want to stress—and some may never be in the position to do so—[Interruption.]—some of them may never be in a position to do so—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]—hon. Members who follow these affairs know that I am referring there to Colonies likely to be permanently grant-aided—there are no means by which they can lay aside their responsibilities for peace and order."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd October, 1953; Vol. 518, c. 2165.]
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.