HC Deb 20 October 1953 vol 518 cc1935-42

10.11 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)

Now I can turn from some questions which hon. Gentlemen opposite were only too willing to ask to some questions which they are only too willing to avoid having to answer. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing has so little time left to answer because he has a great deal left to answer for. I want to raise at the first Parliamentary opportunity I can the disgusting and dreadful way in which, while his own Government stands by, the people of Hornchurch are being exploited by private enterprise builders.

Today, I asked the Minister a Question. I pointed out to him that in the last year the council have built only 24 houses to let and that, at the same time, there have been built 286 houses for sale. Not one word of reproof from the Minister, not one. He just produced an excuse for the Council. He said, "They cannot start on their principal new site till proper sewerage is available." But is sewerage not available for the private houses, or are houses built under private enterprise under a Conservative Government not connected with sewers? And if the private houses are on the sewerage system, why should not the council houses be put on the sewerage system? Why should it be so simple for private enterprise to get connected to the sewers and so difficult for the council to find a piece of land which is attached to them?

I then asked the Minister whether he could give me the latest available figures of houses under construction and, of course, he was not able to do so. I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary has read the White Paper on British Guiana? If he looks at it he will find this rather revealing passage, which is why we sent a cruiser to British Guiana: When the Ministers were dismissed large arrears of work were found in most of their offices; in the case of the Minister for Works, who was responsible for drainage and irrigation, important issues had been left undealt with for several months. That would appear to be the case in this instance. The Minister had no further information than that contained in the June Housing Return. That information, of course, is easily procurable. The figures are simple—98 houses under construction to let and 508 houses built for private enterprise.

When we discussed this matter in Hornchurch the Conservative Chairman of the Housing Committee said, "Oh, no, you should not believe that; the Minister's figures are wrong." Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell us whether the Hornchurch Council have communicated with his Ministry and told him that the figures are wrong? If he looks up the "Daily Telegraph" he will see that the Chairman of the Housing Committee gave the figure as 200 under construction. What is the number under construction, or are there such arrears of work in the office of the hon. Gentleman that he cannot discover?

In Hornchurch, we are desperately overcrowded. We have 1,500 families on the housing list and we have a Conservative Council, which means that they have practically no hope of being rehoused. The Chairman of the Housing Committee said that some have no housing need. How did he determine that? Because—and this is the most cynical thing I have heard for a long time—they were not overcrowded within the terms of the prewar Act. At this moment any one who likes can come into Hornchurch and build a house if he has the money to pay for it. Anyone who wants to be on the so-called Hornchurch operative list and to have a house must have been a resident in Hornchurch for eight years. There is a wonderful difference of need. Anyone who has money can have the house; anyone who wants to rent a house has to wait for it for eight years.

Hornchurch is particularly interesting, because at one time we had a Labour council. I shall give the figures and show what happened under the two administrations. From April, 1945, to April, 1946, we had a Ratepayer council. It is true that the Ratepayer members who were non-political turned out later as the Conservative candidates in the next election but one. From April, 1946, to April, 1948, we had a Labour Government, and from April, 1948, to the present time we have had Tory control in the Hornchurch urban district. It is important nationally, because Hornchurch is the top urban district council with the number of houses.

What were the number of council houses completed? In the first year of Ratepayer control, taking from June, 1945, to June, 1946, there were none constructed. Next year, the figure was 58. Then, Labour came in and there were 447, and in the next year, when the houses planned under the Labour Administration were completed, there were 429. When the Tories came in, down came the figures in 1949–50 to 305, and in 1950–51 to 280. In 1951–52, they went went up a bit to 338.

Then came in the Conservative policy. In the year from June, 1951, to June, 1952, there were finished the houses which were started with Conservatives at Whitehall and Conservatives in the local offices in Hornchurch. What was the answer? Eighty council houses to let were built, and 522 private enterprises houses were completed. Was that all due to the absence of sewerage?

Let me give these figures in terms of percentage. In 1948–49, when the houses started under the Labour council were completed, the percentage of council houses to the total was 83 per cent. By 1952–53 it had dropped to 13½ per cent. In 1948–49, private building accounted for a little over 11 per cent. of the total number of houses finished. In 1952–53, it came to account for over 86 per cent. That is the position in a typical Conservative area.

I raise this not only as a Hornchurch problem, but as a problem that is, possibly, occurring all over England. I shall give the Parliamentary Secretary plenty of time to reply, because I want him to tell the Hornchurch Council whether—to take the figures of houses in building—to have 508 houses for sale for private enterprise and 98 for letting is the sort of proportion of which his Ministry approve. Let the Parliamentary Secretary tell the House what representations he has made to the Hornchurch Council about their miserable and disgraceful record. How was it that when Labour kept a firm control over them they were always able, even though they were a Conservative council, to find where the drains were, and how was it that once there was Tory control at Whitehall, no drains could be found?

Let the Minister answer those questions from the Despatch Box. That is why I have raised the matter in the very short time that was available to me, not so that I can put forward the figures—they are well enough known in Hornchurch; what we want to hear from the Minister is a condemnation of what is going on at Hornchurch, and he has 10 minutes in which to give it to the House.

10.20 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Ernest Marples)

If I can lower the temperature and perhaps add to the information on this subject I should be grateful. The hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) has said that he has taken the first Parliamentary opportunity of raising this subject in the House of Commons and he compares the Ministry's office with that of Guiana by saying that the Ministry in Guiana left work undone. But the hon. and learned Member, with his experience, should know the great controversial value to be attached to understatement. This Government has built more houses for letting and more for sale than did his Government——

Mr. Bing

Will the hon. Gentleman excuse me——

Mr. Marples

No, I have only 10 minutes and the hon. and learned Member has taken 10 minutes and I will make my reply in my own way.

He says that this was the first Parliamentary opportunity to raise this matter in the House but on what is that state-men based? He was kind enough—and I am grateful to him for his courtesy and consideration—to send me a duplicated sheet, a propaganda sheet, written by the hon. and learned Member and dated 26th August, 1953–60 days ago—and signed "Geoffrey Bing."

Mr. Bing

Why not?

Mr. Marples

I quite agree, but if it were so urgent why did he not either send me this in the post and ask questions or come and tell me about it instead of waiting for Parliament to reassemble? I would have dealt with his points then and it would have given a chance to me to go into the matter and to the local authority to reply.

The hon. and learned Member has made accusations against his own local council when they have not had the chance of saying what is their point of view. They may be right or they may be wrong, but they have never had the chance of expressing their opinion.

Mr. Bing rose——

Mr. Marples

I did not interrupt the hon. and learned Member and he must curb his impatience and listen for a change, because on the matter of housing he is not quite so fair and tenacious as on other matters. He is always anxious that fair play should be devoted to other causes. I only hope he will give Horn-church Council the same fair play that he asks for other people, especially from my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

If the hon. and learned Member had given notice of this I would have been in touch with Hornchurch Council and would have gone fully into it, but in the short notice I have had of the Adjournment debate it has not been possible to do so. Every hon. Member who is a member of a local authority will know that their offices close about six o'clock or half-past five and I had notice of this Adjournment after that time. It has not been possible for Hornchurch Council to say a single word in their defence and I think it is unfair of the hon. and learned Member to his own local authority.

The document that the hon. and learned Member circulated is, quite frankly, a propaganda sheet. It says: today, practically every house goes to those who can afford to purchase and need has practically ceased to be the test for rehousing. The Tory council have been in for five years, from 1948–49 to 1952–53, inclusive. During that time they have built 1,432 houses. They have licensed 1,022 for sale, so they have had 310 houses more to let than they have had to sell in the five years they have been in; 40 per cent. more to let than for sale. In the two years before that, from 1946–47 to 1947–48, the Socialist council built 505 houses to let and licensed 556 houses for sale, so the Socialist council have produced 51 houses more for sale than to let while the Conservative council, in five years, built 310 more to let than to sell. Why the hon. and learned Member should reproach me in the few hours that I have had to go into this matter I do not know.

The second point in this propaganda sheet, prepared not with the objectivity nor subtle skill one normally associates with the hon. and learned Member, is that the Conservative council have reduced the size of the houses to the minimum possible. What does he mean by the minimum possible?

Mr. Bing

The hon. Gentleman must be fair. That is from his own answer to me in this House before the Recess.

Mr. Marples

The hon. and learned Member says, reduce to the minimum possible area. What does he want for a three-bedroom house or a two bed-room house?

Mr. Bing

I am greatly obliged to the hon. Gentleman. He said that this matter was not discussed with the Hornchurch Council. There was a debate with the Hornchurch Council and it was a condition that the hon. Gentleman should be invited but the Conservative Central Office objected to his presence.

Mr. Marples

The hon. and learned Member is being less than fair. What size of house does he want for a two-bedroom house? He has made a suggestion in a broadsheet, which is a propaganda sheet, that the Conservative Council has reduced the size of houses built to the minimum possible. What size does he want them to build for a two-bedroom house?

Hon. Members


Mr. Bing

I am going to answer the hon. Gentleman. That was the object of this debate. It was an attempt to get an answer from the Government but, like his right hon. Friend, the hon. Gentleman seeks information and does not give it.

My complaint about the Hornchurch Council is that they have not built in the last year any three-bedroom houses. They have built only two-bedroom houses. Now they are going on to build one-bedroom houses, which is surely the smallest they can build.

Mr. Marples

I must repeat that the hon. and learned Member has asserted in his propaganda sheet that the council are building to the minimum possible. What size house does he want a two-bedroom house to be, how many square feet or cubic feet? Will he specify what the council are doing wrong?

Mr. Bing

I will specify what they are doing wrong. They are scarcely building any houses at all. They are building houses of less than 900 square feet super, and the whole standard of housing is much reduced.

Mr. Marples

If it is much reduced what should it be increased to?

Mr. Bing

It is really for the hon. Gentleman to conduct his own speech in his own way, as he promised to do. If he wants to know how houses should be designed in Hornchurch, I suggest that they could have done worse than follow the plans laid down by their Labour predecessors. In those days we built good houses.

Mr. Marples

That is precisely what they have done, because the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) was the first to introduce the People's House. All my right hon. Friend did was to take the plans of the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland, perfect them and make them technically more perfect by reducing the circulation space in a reasonable way and issue instructions to local authorities that they conform to all the Dudley Committee's standards. What does the hon. and learned Gentleman mean by statements like that? He does not know what he means. It is pure propaganda. He has not the slightest idea what the size of a two-bedroom house or three-bedroom should be, and it is no use pretending that he has. To use the vernacular, he "hasn't a clue."

We have built to the designs laid down by the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland. I believe that on this occasion the hon. and learned Gentleman is not playing at national politics. My view is that he is playing at local politics. He is trying to get at local loyalities and trying to sway the people in Hornchurch to vote in a certain way. I do not often speak harsh words, being a mild-mannered man and not being so skilful in discussion as the hon. and learned Member, but I think that on this occasion he is doing less than justice to himself. My right hon. Friend the Minister has, I think, done a greater service to housing in this country than any other Minister who has preceded him in that office.

If the hon. and learned Member has any point about Hornchurch which he wishes to raise and will be courteous enough in future to give a little more notice of notes which he is circulating I promise him that I will go into the points which he raises and answer them either in debate or in Questions or by private conversation or letter. My right hon. Friend has laid down that we must try to answer Members' genuine queries as fully as possible, but I make my protest to the hon. and learned Member that in the last hour of the first day of Parliament he should have deemed fit to issue a broadsheet and send that to us as being what he proposed to raise on the Adjournment. I do not think that that is giving the Government a fair chance and is certainly not representing Hornchurch to the best of the hon. and learned Gentleman's ability.

The Question having been proposed at Ten o'Clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Half-past Ten o'Clock.