§ 3.47 p.m.
§ The Chairman
The first Amendment on the Notice Paper, in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), is really a paving Amendment to the first of his Amendments in page 2, line 20. Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the Committee to discuss the two Amendments together.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 8, at the end to insert:(not being such a dwelling as is mentioned in subsection (4) of this section).This is one of a series of paving Amendments, with other Amendments attached to them. No doubt the Committee will have noticed that there is a number in each case serving to link the two together.
This Amendment serves what I think the Committee will agree is an important purpose, to continue the existing subsidies in two cases. Those are, first, houses, the tenders or estimates for which have been approved or submitted before 4th November, 1956; secondly, houses or perhaps I should more accurately say dwellings, the sites for which have been acquired before 3rd November, 1955.
I propose to suggest to the Committee that this Amendment is highly desirable, both in the interests of the local authorities and in the interests of those persons who have applied for council houses and might have got them within one or other of these groups. To establish that, I want to begin by pointing out that the local authorities have had extraordinarily short notice of what is now proposed by this Bill.
I will not go back into the history of this matter, but the Committee will remember that in October, 1954, a Review of Contributions Order came up for affirmation, that it proceeded at that time on a basis of 10 per cent. of the average weekly earnings, that it was argued and confirmed, and that nothing whatever 2524 happened as regards contributions, though much happened as regards the rates of interest payable by local authorities on loans between that date in October, 1954. and 22nd June, 1955.
On that latter date the right hon. Gentleman appeared—like a bolt from the blue, shall I say, in order not to attribute to him either diabolical or angelical characteristics—before a meeting of the Association of Muncipal Corporations at Harrogate, and told it, to begin with, that he could not make a statement about the housing policy of the Government there because the House was the right place to make it. One appreciates the right hon. Gentleman's difficulty. He went on to say remarkably little. He stated that:The present unreal basis of housing finance has, over the years, been sustained and encouraged by the high level of the subsidy.He went on:This nettle has got to be grasped.I am not sure what that nettle was stinging, but I am sure that the Bill will be a nettle to local authorities and many other people.
The right hon. Gentleman continued:The Government do not intend to shirk the issue.They have, of course, been shirking it, if that was the matter, for many years past, The right hon. Gentleman proceeded:While we are convinced that the housing subsidy as a whole must be reduced, we are determined to do nothing which might impair the impetus of the all-important drive on slum clearance…I suppose that is why he kept the subsidies the same in that respect.…and on housing the overspill population from the congested cities.Thus, all that the local authorities were told at that stage was that the housing subsidy as a whole must be reduced. It should be noticed that there was no question of abolishing it completely, as we are now told is to be the case. The Minister went on to say that he would be discussing the matter with the local authorities on 3rd October.
On 27th October the Minister made a statement, and on 1st November the Bill was introduced. On 3rd November the Bill was, presumably, printed, and for the first time we had full knowledge of what 2525 was proposed. The net result of all this is that the local authorities had no more than a very general statement made in the summer, and it was not until the meeting on 3rd October that they could have been told anything about the real substance of what is now proposed. The date proposed to be taken in the Bill as the date before which estimates must be submitted to the Minister if they are to rank for the old and higher subsidy is only one month after that meeting—3rd November.
The long and the short of the matter is that on this occasion the right hon. Gentleman has given local authorities one month's notice of a change which I feel certain he himself would be the first to agree is bound to cause most sweeping changes in their housing programmes and generally in their finances.
I will not play what is becoming an increasingly, and, I think, unfortunate, popular game in the House, "1946 and all that," when members of the Government, proposing a somewhat doubtful Measure, say, "You did much the same when you were in office," and right hon. and hon. Friends of mine rise to defend themselves, and we are taken back what is by now a long way in Parliamentary history. However, I want to point to one fact.
I referred just now to a debate in October, 1954. That arose out of a statutory review which the right hon. Gentleman made of the contributions payable to local authorities under the 1946 Act. The review appeared in June, 1954. Paragraph 5 said:Taking all these factors into account, the Minister concludes that the present rates of subsidy can no longer be justified.That was the beginning of the first move to reduce the subsidies since the 1946 Act. I call the attention of the Committee to the following sentence in the review:He has, however, decided that in order to ease the transition, it would be proper to pay the present rates for all houses and flats completed before 1st April, 1955.Therefore, the position was that in June, 1954, the right hon. Gentleman, recognising the need to ease the transition so far as concerned local authorities, and making a far smaller and less sweeping reduction than is now proposed, gave them about ten months' notice. Yet on this occasion, with a far more sweeping 2526 change, they are being given one month's notice.
Let us see what the effect of this is. The Ministry used to produce in its housing returns some figures which showed the position before houses were actually started. I need hardly remind the Committee that the council house as it finally emerges is the result of a whole series of administrative and practical steps. The first of those steps is to get approval of the area as a housing area, and I am not concerned with that. The next is to get right of entry to the area, and then there follow other stages connected with the layout and the development of the site, matters such as putting in sewers, roads, and so on, steps in connection with any new housing estate which are so familiar to us. Then begin the stages connected with the house itself.
Particulars about the earlier stages for the whole country were last given in the Minister's housing returns at the end of last year. They disclose figures which I do not believe will surprise anybody, but they are perhaps slightly larger than most of us would have expected. The returns showed that sites for no fewer than 280,000 dwellings had passed the stage where the local authorities had right of entry, having, in fact, passed the stage which for the purposes of the Amendment we call "acquisition."
I will not argue legal subleties as to any difference that there may be between "acquisition" and "right of entry," for that is not the substantial point. The substantial point is that on the last occasion when we had figures, 280,000 houses were in that early stage of the pipeline. If we can assume that the position on 3rd November last was somewhat similar, the Committee will have some idea of the problem with which the Amendment seeks to deal and which faces local authorities. It should be remembered, for the sake of comparison, that the 280,000 dwelling sites having to be related to an annual output of permanent local authority houses running at that time at about 200,000. The result is that for every house that was completed during that year, nearly one and a half sites for dwellings were in the pipeline at the last available date for which we have figures.
Let me say at once that I have long been convinced that in his Ministry the right hon. Gentleman keeps a Chinese 2527 mathematician whose first duty is to deal with the Exchequer equalisation grant. The influence of this gentleman has been seen in other respects from time to time. I am sure that it was he who provided the Minister's curious calculations about 2d. and 5d. the other day. No one is so brave nor so foolish as to pretend that he really understands any housing statistics. They are the hardest things in the world to follow, but I believe what I have now given to be a roughly correct summary.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to let us know how many sites had been acquired before 3rd November, 1955, as regards which no tender or estimate had been submitted for approval by that date. I am certain from ordinary experience of what goes on with municipal housing that the results will show a figure not very different from what I have just given for the end of 1954.
I ask the Committee to consider that position from the point of view of local authorities. Of course, without necessarily any formal approach to the Ministry, the local authorities make out their building programmes and their own building plans. Like any other large-scale undertaking, the housing activities of a local authority go on continuously. They are not a series of smart, short steps, but a continuous business of housing people in the local authority area who need houses.
Into this continuous business of a series of programmes has come this Bill to interrupt all that the local authority had in mind and all by which it proposed to regulate its finances. It has left local authorities saddled with the expensive commitments of sites acquired and sites where they were laying roads, sewers, and so on, sites under development before the actual house building had begun.
I ask the Committee, whatever the questions of high policy that may lie behind the Bill, whether it is remotely fair to those thousands of people who undertake the unpaid work of local councils and who do a job of primary importance to the proper continuance of democracy and to the effective meeting of housing need and to proper representation in their own local affairs to do this to them, because for some reason or other the 2528 Chancellor of the Exchequer is in such a sudden and tumultuous hurry. Has he not saved the country by taxing pots and pans and pedal-operated hygienic bins—all the matters which we have lately been discussing?
Is this further step with this abruptness —and it is the abruptness to which I specially object—really necessary now? If time could be allowed, as it was allowed to local authorities for a very much smaller change last year, surely there is no compelling reason to harry them in this way, to break up the work which they have been doing and to involve them in additional financial troubles. Local authorities already have many financial troubles. There is a statutory requirement that they should produce their financial statistics to the Minister from year to year. Those statistics show that the rateable value of the country as a whole is now considerably less than the rates and that for the first time the average rate has risen to much more than 20s. in the £. From time to time I have heard hon. Gentlemen opposite complaining about the burden of rates and the troubles of the ratepayer. Local authorities are now faced with a revaluation which will certainly give another considerable shake-up to all their financial arrangements.
Yet this moment is chosen for this abrupt and revolutionary change. We seek to give the local authorities time and the two alternatives which we propose—for it is intended that either of them should be sufficient—are not so very different, as I have shown. Most houses for which sites had been acquired by 3rd November, 1954, will not be completed for, let us say, a year or eighteen months. Most of them are unlikely to be completed by next November, but I am not insisting on a month here or there. If the Minister, with greater knowledge of his office, chooses to say that a year is too long and that the time should be ten months, I should regret it, but I should not quarrel with him on that. Where I do quarrel with him—and what this Amendment is intended to cover—is on those cases where local authorities have already embarked on financial commitments.
There is one other point. Let us see the scale upon which we are proceeding. The right hon. Gentleman seems to have 2529 given one slightly erroneous figure when he was addressing the House on Thursday. It is not a difference in arithmetic, and indeed would eliminate his arithmetical difficulty of finding two figures of 80,000. Local authority housing is at present progressing at the rate of rather less than 140,000 houses a year. Of course, the figure has declined very heavily in recent years as a result of the Government's policy of encouraging private housing and doing everything they can to have private houses for those who can afford them, instead of local authority houses for those who need them most. But I should not be in order in dealing with that matter.
If one takes the figure of 140,000 houses—and it is a falling proportion—and deducts the slum clearance and overspill houses which account for 80,000, one reaches a figure of about 60,000, instead of 80,000. The substantial point is that the rate of building of local authority houses is declining and. the result is that the proportion of sites in the pipeline to the houses for which tenders and estimates have been submitted is likely to be rather larger, instead of rather smaller than the figure I gave just now.
There is the position. I have said what I wanted to say about local authorities. But what I have in mind, and what every other Member of this Committee, I am sure, has, or ought to have, in mind is this. Housing subsidies sound a dreary subject. Housing statistics are terrible. Housing Bills are rather dull. But behind all this and behind the work of the local authorities in housing lie the people whom we in this Committee represent, and who, particularly for this purpose, are most in need of council houses, for they are the people—assuming the councils to work well as I believe they do—who will be deprived of the help which the continuance of the subsidy would have given to houses which were in the site stage, if I may use a rather Irish phrase, before the 3rd November, 1955.
It is the next batch coming along that we are discussing. They are, at the moment, the people who need houses most. Many of them have been on these lists for many years. I am not talking about slum clearance. I am talking about housing needs. Sometimes these people have been on a list for years because they had not a particularly strong 2530 claim in the light of other hardships. I have known young people come to me in my constituency—which is not nearly as bad from this point of view as are many parts of the big towns—who have been married a short time, and who are getting tired of living with the older generation. They tell me that they have been 12, 13 or 14 years on a housing list. They are one category; and we have not much in the way of slums in Kettering.
Then there are the others, the people who have ordinary urgent needs—the people who come to see or write to Members of this House, although we go on telling them that it is not our business but that of their local council—the people who are so driven by need, by their wish for a home of their own, that they come to us, all of us, in this House as a last resort.
I am sure that every Member of this Committee has, at one time or another, had to deal with these cases, and feels that they have got right under his skin. I have. I have told people that I have not had these housing troubles in the way that they have. I have seen the lives of individuals and the lives of families at stake, and this, not on slum clearance, but on questions of ordinary need. I cannot deal with that kind of thing—so far as I can deal with it at all—without feeling more deeply than perhaps any of us would care or feel able to say in this Committee. It is those human figures behind the statistics, behind this bit of legislation, behind the work of the local authorities, who stand clamorously demanding a home and a decent home at long last.
I beg of the Committee not to allow questions of the Chancellor's needs at the moment—even the economic state of the country—to be met in this particular way. I object to the Bill as a whole. I object particularly to that part of it which will hit these immediate applicants, the first people in the queue, the most needy, the ones to whom we owe the greatest duty. I ask the Committee to accept the Amendment, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to accept it, because, after all, this is a human question, and the right thing to do is not to stop a thing like that, not to wreck a great social duty in the course of its performance, not to make miserable the life and the work of those who are 2531 rendering invaluable service to the country which people on local councils do render unpaid and without hope of reward.
§ Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)
I wish to support the Amendment moved by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). My hon. and learned Friend has covered the ground very widely, but I should like to add two points for the further consideration of the right hon. Gentleman and the Committee.
It seems clear to us that the main purpose of the right hon. Gentleman in coming to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government is to undermine and run down the target of housing achieved by his predecessor. There is already a very rapid run-down, and the passing of this Bill will accelerate the speed of that rundown.
We are asking the right hon. Gentleman to eliminate the reference to tenders or estimates approved for the erection of dwellings. That is the basis on which he is to decide whether to continue the existing subsidies, whether to reduce the rate of subsidies, or whether, in other cases, there shall be no subsidy whatever at the end of 12 months or so.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman ought to be fair about this, because his responsibility for local authority housing schemes rests, not at the point where tenders and estimates for the erection are submitted to him, but at a far earlier stage than that, because a local authority can do nothing whatever until it has secured the Minister's approval of the acquisition of the site or of the land for housing purposes. It is the Minister who says, "Yes" or "No." At that point the Minister's obligation arises, and we are saying that he should insert into Clause 1, in the place of the submission of tenders and estimates for the erection of dwellings, the approval by him of the aquisition of land by local authorities for housing purposes.
There is also another stage which is excluded by the present wording of the Clause. The first stage is the approval by the Minister of the acquisition of the land. Then there is a second stage before we reach tenders and estimates for the erection of dwellings. Not in all but in the great majority of cases where large schemes are developing and where the 2532 site is virgin land which has to be provided with roads, sewers and services, and the foundations prepared, the work is undertaken by a contractor other than the contractor who actually erects the buildings on the sites.
Although in some cases tenders for the erection of dwellings may include the preparation of the site and foundations, in many cases they do not. Before we arrive at the stage of tenders and estimates for the erection of houses, there are previous stages where it is the responsibility of the Minister to approve the acquisition of land and tenders submitted for the preparation of the site. Then follow the tenders and estimates for erection. The responsibility of the right hon. Gentleman lies at a much earlier stage in the development than he has included in this Clause. In fairness to local authorities, I think he should start at the point where his responsibility begins, namely, at the point of approval of the acquisition of the land.
If the right hon. Gentleman does not do that, but adheres rigidly to the formula in the Clause, what will then be the effect? The right hon. Gentleman advances the argument that if the land is acquired for slum clearance it will not make much difference. Well, it will and it will not. It depends what the local authority proposes to do with the site. If it is proposed to erect flats on it, that will affect the position, because the subsidies for flats will be on a lower scale than at present. If dwellings are erected for other purposes than technically for the clearance of slums, it will mean that a reduced rate of subsidy will apply for the first twelve months or so. At the end of twelve months or so—and we do not know how long "or so" may be—the right hon. Gentleman is committed to abolishing the subsidies for general housing.
There may be instances where approval has been given to a local authority to acquire land which could not be developed, due to technical reasons, before the subsidies were extinguished. It would follow, therefore, that a local authority might acquire land on the assumption that it would receive the benefit of a subsidy, but by the time it was ready to proceed with the erection of houses it would discover that the subsidies had disappeared. Such an authority would 2533 be faced with the task of completing an uneconomic housing scheme, and thereby impose considerable hardship on the tenants who would occupy the houses after they were built.
I feel that the Minister should pay attention to the principle which we have established. If he desires to be fair to the local authorities, I do not see how he can continue with this; but if his purpose is to destroy the housing schemes of local authorities, the right hon. Gentleman will insist on this formula remaining. If he is interested in developing and stimulating local authority housing schemes, as he states that he is, he must be prepared to vary the formula. I trust that, as a result of the case we have made out, the right hon. Gentleman will find it possible to reconsider this matter and accept responsibility from the date when he authorises the acquisition of the land.
§ Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)
We must be conscious that a purely arbitrary date has been selected in this Bill which inevitably will give rise to the most fantastic anomalies between one local authority and another, quite apart from the broader issues which have been referred to by my hon. Friends. A local authority may have been considering the development of a particular site, but, because of some reasonable difficulty in the area, has not been able to approve tenders and submit them to the Minister within the prescribed time. On the other hand, another authority may have been able to anticipate the Minister's action and press forward with its procedure and gets its proposals sanctioned in time to benefit from the higher rate of subsidy.
It is fantastic that because of a matter of a few days and the timing of a resolution the whole subsidy position should be altered. It is as well in these cases to quote examples from areas with which one is familiar. I understand that in my local authority area a number of schemes have been put up for consideration. One or two have been approved and tenders accepted at a date before the prescribed date of 2nd November, and they will rate for the higher or present subsidy.
But there are other schemes which had to be postponed, for the kind of reasons with which all who have had experience of these matters will be familiar. Sometimes it is because of representations made by the right hon. Gentleman's own Minis- 2534 try, because of the desirability of reexamining some proposal. It may be perfectly proper that there should be this re-examination, but the effects may be that a proposal to develop a housing estate may not have the advantage of the higher rate of subsidy. There may well be cases where, because of the action of the Minister or of his servants, for which he is responsible, local authorities are denied the higher rate of subsidy which they ought to have.
It must be accepted that a local authority may have acquired a site and gone to considerable expense to prepare plans under the impression that a certain rate of subsidy is available. If suddenly that subsidy is taken away, the authority is left to make a difficult decision. It must decide whether to cancel the operation altogether, having spent a considerable amount of money—and quite apart from the suffering which will be caused to prospective tenants—or go forward on the new basis which is being forced upon it by the Minister. It is an intolerable situation for local authorities to face. There have been many changes in housing subsidies, but up to the present they have been linked with the interest rates. Now we have a decision where that has been abandoned.
At this moment it is not our right to challenge that decision, but if that decision has to be taken, and a whole new basis for housing subsidies is erected, local authorities should at least be given the opportunity of preparing their future plans in a proper way. It seems to be the most obvious thing that local authorities who have gone so far as to acquire sites upon which they are going to do work, and have carried out certain actions upon those sites, should be assured that they can go forward upon the same basis as existed for the acquisition of the site, with the underwritten undertaking they had from the Government.
In the north-east—as has often been emphasised; indeed, it is shown by the 1951 Census—there exist very great problems of overcrowding. For that reason the great bulk of the work of local authorities in that area—Tyneside, Tees-side and elsewhere—has had to be concentrated not so much upon slum clearance as upon the overwhelming problem of overcrowding. The sites which have been acquired and are under consideration for 2535 development have been reserved almost exclusively to deal with overcrowding and for general housing needs rather than for slum clearance work.
In such areas, where large estates are about to be developed on a clear understanding that a subsidy is to be available, it would be a very serious breach of faith if the Government said, "In spite of what you have done and the proposals you have put forward with regard to the acquisition of land, we are scrapping all those arrangements and throwing them overboard. We are cutting the ground from under your feet and presenting you with entirely different circumstances." I hope that the Minister will see fit to review this proposal, at least to the extent that every local authority is given some chance of reconsidering its position in an interim period, and the work upon sites which have already been taken over can go forward instead of being crippled. I hope that my hon. Friends who speak later will be able to convince the Minister of the necessity to withdraw this proposal and bring forward a new one which, if not identical with that contained in the Amendment, will at least broadly meet its point, so that some satisfaction may be given upon a matter which has undoubtedly aroused the most bitter criticism from all local authorities.
§ Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)
It was only the very last sentence of the speech of the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) which forced me to rise. He said that this proposal has aroused the most bitter antagonism from all local authorities. All I can say is that I have considerable proof here, from the Ilford Borough Council—which is a not inconsiderable authority, responsible for about 180,000 people—that its criticism of the Bill is not directed to this proposal. It makes no complaint about the date upon which the Bill is to be brought into effect. However strong may be the hon. Member's case, he weakens it a great deal by exaggeration and overstatement. I do not believe that the difficulties which he envisages will be apparent in most local authorities.
I regard the argument that subsidies should be related to the date of the acquisition of the site as a quite fallacious 2536 one, which would be open to very considerable abuse. I believe that the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) has been a member of a local authority for some time. He knows very well that a local authority just does not acquire a certain piece of land at a given time with the idea of building houses upon it in the immediate future. I have been a member of a local authority for a long time, and I know what I am speaking about. It very often happens that a local authority acquires or earmarks land for certain development purposes very many years ahead. It may have bought the land, or acquired it for housing purposes as long ago as 10, 15 or 20 years. In the face of such circumstances, is the argument to be adduced that such an acquisition should still count for subsidy under the terms of the Bill?
§ Mr. Sparks
A local authority cannot acquire land without stipulating the purpose for which it wants it. If it went to the Minister and said, "We want this piece of land, but we do not know what we are going to do with it," the Minister would not give his consent. In areas which are growing rapidly it is often necessary to earmark land as long as ten years in advance of its being used.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
The hon. Member is quite correct, but that does not invalidate my argument. I am concerned solely with the time that elapses between the acquisition of land and its ultimate use. In moving the Amendment, I believe that the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) had in mind the acquisition of land for immediate development. I do not think he implied that land acquired by a local authority very many years before should qualify. Now that I have pointed out that that would be the effect of the Amendment, the hon. and learned Gentleman must address himself very seriously to that point.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I had in mind those sites which were acquired for building houses. A local authority cannot acquire sites at large. If it acquires sites for building houses it has to pay for them.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
The hon. and learned Gentleman is correct, but under 2537 various Town Planning Acts local authorities earmark land which they wish to acquire—
§ Mr. Mitchison indicated dissent.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
The hon. and learned Gentleman need not shake his head. What I am saying can be proved in the case of many local authorities. In the past, under the Town Planning Acts, areas were scheduled for certain purposes, such as housing, playing fields, and industry. All that a local authority had to do was to obtain planning approval and, if necessary, it could then acquire land with a view to development in the future.
§ Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
I am sure that the hon. and gallant Gentleman, with his experience, would admit that it is not usual for a local authority to spend large sums of money acquiring land too far ahead of being able to develop it. Before the war a large amount of land was acquired which remained in the possession of local authorities throughout the war, simply because they could not develop it, but it is unusual for local authorities to keep paying out money year after year for expensive sites which they do not proceed to develop.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
The right hon. Gentleman is wrong. Many local authorities have, in the past, acquired land with an eye to the future; indeed, if he made some investigations I should not be at all surprised if he found that to be the case in regard to his own local authority.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
It is a very prudent authority which does that sort of thing. All I am trying to develop is this very simple case. If local authorities are to acquire land now with the idea of developing that land now, then there may be some force in the argument put forward by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering, but where the authority acquired that land many years before, it means that we shall be continuing to pay subsidies ad infinitum.
It seems to me that the Amendment which the hon. and learned Member put forward gives to local authorities what is, in effect, a year's notice and destroys the 2538 basis of the Government's plan, as set out in this Bill, which is to place considerable emphasis on slum clearance. If the whole, or virtually the whole, of the resources of the building industry were to be concentrated on building the normal council houses which we are building today with the full rate of subsidy, it is highly improbable that there would be an adequate supply of labour for the slum clearance which we all agree is the essential thing for us to do. It really is a question now of deciding housing according to priority.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman allow me? As his objection appears to be purely on the question of the period of time, would he consider that it should be 10 or 15 years? Secondly, on the question of the amount of labour and materials available, would he agree that some limitation of private building would enable more labour to be available for council house building?
My own position is perfectly clear. I have stated the view, to which most hon. Members on this side of the Committee subscribe, that there must be a proper balance in our building development. People who wish to buy their own homes should be placed in a position to be able to buy them, and there is nothing wrong in that. If a person wants to rent a council house, he should be in a position to rent one. On the other hand, there are people who are living in appalling slum conditions, and it is the duty of the Government to get them out of those slums as quickly as possible.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
The hon. Member says it has been our duty for some time. That is quite right, but the party or the Government of which he was a Member for six years did precious little about it.
§ Mr. Silverman
First, the hon. and gallant Gentleman pays me an undeserved compliment in saying that I was a member of any Government. I never have been. His second point was that the slums have existed for a very long time. That is why they are slums. There were quite a lot in 1939, long before there was a Labour Government.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
It is perfectly true that there were a lot in 1939, but a very great deal was done between the wars to get rid of them. [Interruption.] Well, 365,000 houses have been built. [Interruption.] I am sure we would be out of order if we started to discuss the unemployment figures between the wars.
The point I wish to make is that there must be a proper balance in our building activities, and, undoubtedly, in order to provide for the immediate needs of the people who want homes, we must provide certain types of council houses. In that process we have neglected—and this applies to both parties in the House—quite properly neglected, the serious problem of clearing out the slums. Now is the time for us to make a start upon that task, and I believe that if we were to accept the Amendment proposed by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering it would put back our plans and programme for the clearance of our slums.
§ Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
First of all, I assume that the hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader Cooper) was speaking on behalf of the Tory council of Ilford, and I take it that there are no property owners or estate agents on that council. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, no."] The position with regard to my own local authority is entirely different from that described by the hon. and gallant Gentleman.
The night before last a meeting was held in Leicester at which a very important development scheme had to be reconsidered. I have brought to the attention of the House on a number of occasions the position which exists in the district known as St. Margaret's, Leicester, in the Wharf Street area, where for very many years landlords have been obtaining excessive rents. Instead of repairing houses with the money which they have been receiving in consequence of an Act for that purpose, they allowed the district to become a slum. The result was, and indeed still is, that many people there are living under conditions which I have described in this House before as being unfit for dogs, let alone human beings.
The council decided that it would clear that area, and, of course, obtained the approval of the Ministry to do so. It proceeded to pull down a large number of these houses, and intended to pull down 2540 the whole area. The point made by the hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South can immediately be dealt with by reference to what happened at the Council meeting in Leicester two nights ago. In dealing with the slum area in Wharf Street, Leicester, it had been decided that 750 dwellings should be built to accommodate amongst others those persons who would be removed from the slum dwellings they were occupying either in that area or in others. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman will give me his attention, because this is an interesting point and provides the answer to the case he was making.
It is interesting to note that, at the meeting of the council to which I referred it was said that the whole future of this area and of the surrounding district would have to be reconsidered, because according to the chairman of the committee dealing with the matter the proposal that the area should be used for flats and maisonettes to re-house slum dwellers would now be too expensive as a result of the reduction in the housing subsidies. That is not my statement: it is the statement which is reported of the chairman of the committee, Alderman Keen. He said that the proposal to build 750 dwellings there in three-storey flats and four-storey maisonettes had to be reconsidered. Why? It is because the council stand to lose from £10,000 to £21,000 a year in subsidies, apart, of course, from the rise in the costs of building and so on. Assuming that the accommodation was not to be used for the purpose of rehousing slum dwellers, he said that there would be an additional loss of about £12,000.
The result of this would be that, instead of a three-bedroom dwelling being available at 22s. a week, the tenant would now have to pay something between 37s. and 50s. a week apart from rates. This is beyond the reach of those who were to have been accommodated in that area. Instead of dealing with this particularly important problem of housing and re-housing some of those who are living in Leicester itself, and there are about 12,000 applicants on the housing list, proposals are now to be considered to use the site—which had been regarded as a centre for housing people living in unsatisfactory conditions—for other purposes. I hope the Minister will take note 2541 of this matter, because it is one of immediate moment in Leicester. That is what is happening with regard to one site at least, and I am quite sure that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will be able to quote similar cases in their own constituencies.
The Minister may say, "Build something else there, and select other sites for the displaced slum dwellers," but he knows as well as I do that land is not available. Furthermore it is important that people should be near their work instead of having to spend time going to and coming from outside districts. There is also the very human aspect, which often escapes the attention of those who deal with these matters from a purely theoretical standpoint, that living near the dwellers in slum areas are members of their families and friends and that these have been living next to each other for many years. A kind of warm family spirit grows up amongst them. They are not anxious to go miles away from their friends and relatives to occupy houses elsewhere and restart their lives in a new area.
It is inevitable in some cases that one provides housing accommodation at a distance, but when rehousing people from areas we must do our best to keep them as near as possible to those with whom they have been associated all their lives. Intimate family connections will have grown up in that way, not only for decades but possibly even for a century.
§ Mr. Robert Jenkins (Dulwich)
The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) told us a moment ago that his council were extremely worried over the financial aspect of clearing 700 houses from a slum clearance area. If the council is doing slum clearance, the Minister has provided for that on page 1 of the Bill by promising to give not £10 but £22 1s. in respect of the clearance of slums. I therefore remind the hon. Gentleman that the County Borough of Leicester should not have any problem in this regard because it will get the full subsidy. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] On the other hand, perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not mean that it was a slum clearance area.
§ Mr. Janner
The hon. Member is not aware of the facts of the situation. This is a clearance scheme and, in addition, 2542 it is a question of flats being put up. The hon. Member will find that what the chairman of the committee said was perfectly correct in consequence of the alteration in subsidies, the amounts I have mentioned will be lost on the building of the flats. The council knows its position, and I am certain that the chairman, in giving these facts, calculated the amounts correctly. I am anxious that in any arrangement that is made we shall follow as near as possible the line I indicated, and try to keep people in the districts in which they have lived before.
I want to give an opportunity to hon. Members who have similar cases to raise, and there must be very many. I hope that the Minister will take what I have said into consideration and will give an opportunity to councils who have been sufficiently farsighted to try to provide facilities for housing their slum dwellers in the best possible way to do so by accepting this Amendment. These councils have been encouraged to make their plans by Ministers and their advisers, so the present Minister should at least see to it that the plans can be put into proper effect.
§ Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)
I think it is clear from today's debate that the Minister of Housing and Local Government will have the same trouble as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has had. In the debates on the Finance Bill the Chancellor was somewhat embarrassed by his own back benchers, some of whom attacked his Bill, while those who got up to support it gave it the kiss of death.
The hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader Cooper) made the astonishing statement that we were exaggerating when we said that the Bill received the opposition of local authorities. He produced what he described as proof in a brief that he had received from the borough council and which he said contained no criticism of the Bill in the terms that we are using.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
I said that I had received no criticism from the Ilford Borough Council in connection with Clause 1, which deals with timing.
§ Sir L. Plummer
When the hon. and gallant Gentleman looks at the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow he will see that he was not referring only to that, but was indicating that the Ilford Borough Council 2543 was not criticising the Bill at all. That was mentioned to show that the Bill has the support of local authorities. I shall make it quite clear that my own local authority, the Deptford Borough Council, is very much opposed to the Bill. It passed the following resolution on 23rd November:That this Council registers its deep concern and indignation at the action of the Government in introducing into the House of Commons the Housing Subsidies Bill, which, if carried into law will have disastrous consequences upon the housing schemes of local authorities, more especially those in the Metropolitan Area. The Council calls upon the House of Commons to reject the Bill, which, if it becomes law, will force this borough and many others either to cease providing housing accommodation altogether or to increase the burden of rents or rates, or both.The stern views of Deptford Borough Council are entitled to be heard in this Chamber rather more than those of the sycophantic burgesses of Ilford, represented by the hon. and gallant Gentleman.
There is every reason why the Amendment should have the sympathetic consideration of the Minister. We have in my borough three sites which have not so far been developed. The acquisition of these sites in Metropolitan London resulted very largely from the pressure put upon local authorities by successive Ministers of Housing. Ever since 1945, the council has been urged to secure for the provision of houses. In the Metropolitan area particularly—I know that my hon. Friends who represent Metropolitan boroughs will agree with me —some of these sites have had to be used for temporary housing as the result of destruction caused by bombing.
We in Metropolitan London have not yet completed the replacement of houses destroyed in the war. In my own constituency we lost 2,000 dwellings by bombing; we have built 781. We have, therefore, the appalling problem of making good those war losses, apart altogether from not being able to touch the problem resulting from the natural increase in population. Here we are, with these sites which have not yet been developed. Some of them, as I say, contain these temporary houses—I say "temporary," but they are beginning to grow into a permanency and, if this Bill is passed, I do not know when we shall 2544 ever be able to get rid of these shabby shacks, which are a disgrace to our civilisation, but whose retention will be made absolutely necessary by the provisions of the Bill.
These sites have been sterilised for another reason. Building costs in London are frighteningly high. I do not know why it is so much more expensive to build a block of flats in Metropolitan London than it is to build it outside.
§ Mr. Donald Wade (Huddersfield, West)
Is the hon. Member taking into account the considerable difference in site values?
§ Sir L. Plummer
Now we are really coming down to earth. The fact is that uncontrolled capitalist exploitation of land in London has made the provision of houses appallingly difficult. It is for that reason also that these sites have not been developed. We now have heavy programmes ahead of us, and if these sites are to be developed economically they need Government assistance.
There is no moral reason why the right hon. Gentleman should refuse to provide a subsidy for these sites. They were acquired at his request. It was his, or his predecessor's suggestion that they should be secured. Is he now to argue that, in an area so devastated as Deptford, the nation cannot afford to subsidise houses or flats built on those sites? Of course, he cannot argue that the nation cannot afford them. The nation cannot afford to continue spending money at the present rate on obsolescent arms, if it cannot afford to subsidise the provision of homes for the people.
Another problem is that rents are already far too high. The Chinese mathematician, the friend of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), goes astray when he starts to compute the wages and earnings of people in London. The suggestion is that the average earnings of the industrial workers of this country amount to £11 a week. Those workers do not earn £11 2545 a week in the Metropolitan areas. That is not the average earning of people who work as clerks, warehousemen, porters, bus conductors and all the rest who constitute these great teeming populations of the Metropolitan boroughs.
Dwellers in the Metropolitan boroughs are neither in a position to earn £11 a week nor to pay £3 and £3 10s. a week in rents—which is what they will have to pay if this Bill goes through, as the result of the reduction in subsidy, and the increased interest rates which this Government has authorised.
§ Mr. John Hay (Henley)
How does the hon. Gentleman arrive at that figure of £3 10s. a week? We have had a good deal of information about the general effect in the country, but will he give us the detail of how he reaches such figures?
§ Sir L. Plummer
I am talking about the situation in Deptford. The figures provided by the borough council show quite clearly that, as the result of the increases in the interest rates since 1951, and the reduction in subsidy now proposed by the right hon. Gentleman, the cost of a maisonette—there are no houses to let, because we have not the room for them; we have to build upwards because we cannot go outwards—the cost of a maisonette which is now 53s. ex rates will become 58s. 10d. a week, ex rates. The cost of a two-bedroomed flat, now 36s. a week, will become 55s. 2d., an increase of 19s. 2d. a week, and the cost of a three-bedroomed flat, now 41s., will become 60s. 2d. per week, ex rates. The rates in Deptford can be taken as about 10s. a week.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Sir L. Plummer
Deptford has no pool of pre-war council houses. This illustrates a confusion which exists in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman himself. He has not yet appreciated that the conditions which he outlined in his speech on 17th November as to the application of the subsidy to the new towns could also apply to the Metropolitan area. On 17th November, he said: 2546I come to the special rate of subsidy proposed for houses built in new town areas as part of town expansion schemes and to accommodate overspill population from congested cities. I may be asked why we are increasing to £24 the subsidy on those houses when, at the same time, we are reducing to £10 the basic subsidy for general needs. The explanation is that these new towns have not the same financial resources that ordinary housing authorities have. Their rents are already well above the average"—as they are in Deptford—and they possess no large pool of existing houses "—just as we, in Deptford, possess no large pool of existing houses—over which they can spread the loss of subsidy on their future houses. In particular, they have no stock of low cost pre-war dwellings to help them bring down the average economic rent in their areas."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th November, 1955; Vol. 546, c. 802.]I was probably wholly out of order in allowing myself to be seduced from the purpose of this Amendment. I promise now to stick strictly to it, but I was tempted by the hon. Member.
I ask the Minister to look again at the situation of a heavily-bombed, overcrowded, under-housed borough in London which, as I said before, at the request of the Ministry, has acquired sites for no other purpose than to build dwelling of one sort or another. The right hon. Gentleman's arbitrary decision that the subsidy shall be reduced as from 5th November means that the development of those sites must be checked. Every day wretched, unhappy people write me these simple, agonising letters asking "When can I get a decent place for my own? Have I forever to live with four or five people in two rooms? Is it reasonable that I, who have fought in the war, should come back to raise my family under these hideous conditions?" The Minister's decision means that we have to say to those people" We are sorry; it is reasonable that you should live like that, because the Government think it right and proper to treat the application of the borough council, which wants to do something for you, as though you are indigent paupers asking for something to which you are not entitled."
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not want to go down in history as the Minister who produced such a situation. Possibly he did not intend at the first meeting which he held with local authorities to give the impression that 2547 existing sites would be protected and would receive the subsidies, but certainly the delegates left that meeting firmly convinced that situations like these would be covered, and that the full subsidy would be granted. I ask him to consider most sympathetically my hon. and learned Friend's Amendment and at least to take one of the meaner things out of this disreputable Bill.
§ Mr. James Harrison (Nottingham, North)
I apologise for referring again to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader Cooper), but he is the only Member from the Government benches who has spoken on the Amendment and we are channelled to some extent into considering his speech if we are to make this into a debate.
He stated categorically that my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) had exaggerated considerably when speaking of the opposition of local authorities to the Bill.
§ Mr. Harrison
The point is that he has tempted me to read this communication which I have had from the Nottingham City Council. I might explain, first, that Nottingham has a Conservative-dominated council. All my hon. Friends know exactly what that means when we are dealing with the Bill. This Tory council says:This Council is dismayed at the Government's intention to cut and eventually abolish the housing subsidies. The Council points out that the abolition of the Exchequer grant on Nottingham new houses will mean an extra 8s. 5d. rent per week on each new house, in addition to 6s. 2d. increase already imposed by the latest rises in interest charges. This Council stresses that this is a serious setback which will inflict hardship on 8,000 families on the housing waiting list. It deplores the discrimination against local authorities contained in the Government's latest financial proposals and it calls upon the Members of Parliament for the City of Nottingham to oppose vigorously this unjust and pernicious legislation.Coming from a Conservative council, that should be considered very seriously by the Minister, not only when considering this Amendment but when dealing with others which my right hon. and hon. Friends have put down.
2548 I would also point out that the abrupt introduction of the terms of the Bill has a dual effect in the city, because nine months ago I attended a meeting with the Parliamentary Secretary in the Minister's Office when we were protesting—the town clerk and myself—about a 50 per cent. cut in the housing allocation for the city. We then warned the Minister that if he persisted with this 50 per cent. cut the number of houses in our pipeline would be very seriously reduced, affecting the continuity of building.
On top of that reduction in the number in the pipeline we now have the abruptness of the terms of the Bill, so that we are affected in a dual way by this decision to give a month's notice. Widespread preparation of land has been made for the building of houses and sites have been prepared for a large number of houses. They were prepared as a longterm plan before we were told of this 50 per cent. reduction and before we knew anything about the provisions of the Bill.
When we argued with the Minister about the 50 per cent. reduction we were promised that we could raise the question again at the end of the year with a view to getting an increased allocation. The terms of the Bill make it unnecessary for us to seek an increase in the allocation from the Minister, which reduced the possibilities of our building programme in the city very substantially. Already we have incurred heavy expenditure on the preparation of this very large site which I have in mind.
It is not necessary for me to redeploy the arguments which have been used by my right hon. and hon. Friends about the fairness of the Amendment and the necessity for it. The examples which we keep giving to the Minister could, I am sure, be multiplied many times throughout the country. If he will agree to the Amendment it will make the blow which he has struck at housing less severe. Even he must agree that he should consider the possibility of easing the burden which the Bill will most certainly inflict on all municipal housing schemes.
§ Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)
The Amendment is a very simple and practical suggestion which, I should have thought, would have commended itself to the right hon. Gentleman. On the assumption, regrettable and deplorable as it is, that 2549 we are to have a reduction—a very drastic reduction—in the subsidy immediately and the abolition of the subsidy ultimately, what has the Minister to gain by resisting the Amendment? He will cause a great deal of irritation and annoyance to housing authorities who will feel that he is not just carrying out a policy in which, for some strange reason, he seems to believe, but is almost venomously and obstinately making himself as difficult as possible to the unfortunate people who have the very heavy and often very unpopular burden of trying to carry out housing responsibilities in areas where housing is the gravest social problem.
For many years there has been a partnership between the central Government and local government in the provision of houses. That partnership, which has gone on year after year, has been recognised as part of the service—something to which local authorities have grown accustomed. The Government now propose to break the partnership and to leave this heavy responsibility to the local authorities. They intend to shrink from and to shirk their duty.
All right It is a pity and a tragedy that that is to happen, and we all very much regret that this divorce is to take place, but what is worse, having made up his mind that he is determined to have a divorce, the right hon. Gentleman is being very precipitate in repealing the marriage bill. Why cannot he at least go through the elementary courtesies of allowing some time to elapse in order that the councils can reorganise their lives and their households and prepare themselves for their somewhat lonely future.
§ Mr. MacColl
Local authorities have great difficulties to cope with in financial planning as a result of the change in valuation next year. Their budgets will be extremely difficult and precarious in the next year or two. Why not at least give them the assurance that for the next few years the schemes which they have already prepared—schemes which in many cases they have discussed exhaustively with divisional officers at the Ministry and which in some cases have already had tacitly and even explicitly the blessing of the Department—will, as part of the gentility and decency of the 2550 divorce, be given financial support by the Ministry? This seems to me a very sensible and very reasonable proposal. This Amendment is not attacking the principle, deplorable as it is, behind the Bill. It accepts that principle, but says that where local authorities were under the impression that the Government were not going to back out of their duties the authorities should be assisted.
It is hard to blame local authorities, in many cases Conservative local authorities, whose members have read Conservative manifestoes and Election addresses and were stupid enough to believe them. They thought the Conservative Government were serious when they talked about the determination to remain in the housing business and to provide houses for the people. On that basis they acquired sites, prepared plans, and got specifications. All those things have to be done before preparing a tender. They have been acting in the belief that the moral assurances of the Government were behind them.
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman wants his reputation for dealing honestly with local authorities to be kept, but unless he is prepared to accept an Amendment of this kind, I cannot see how that can be so. That could be done if he said that, where sites have been acquired, the Government are prepared to extend the subsidy for another period. That seems an entirely constructive proposal to put forward. It is an attempt to do what the Committee should do—to try to improve the Bill, having accepted Second Reading as a fait accompli. On the basis of our knowledge of what is going on in our constituencies we have put this suggestion to the Minister. If he wants to keep faith with the local authorities—with whom his reputation at the moment is rather low —this is an opportunity to establish his reputation.
§ Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)
The speeches which have been delivered from this side of the Committee can be divided into two categories. There have been the speeches of our national experts on local authority matters, such as those of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) and my hon.
2551 Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl). I cannot imagine listening to any speeches more convincing and persuasive.
Those speeches have been supplemented by contributions from hon. Hembers speaking from experience of their constituencies. There was the overwhelming speech delivered by my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) and the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. J. Harrison) showing that in a Conservative council there was a denunciation of the Bill and an implied plea that it should be put off for as long as possible. I want to make a contribution to that second category of speeches. I do so without any apology because, if the House of Commons is to be regarded as a democratic assembly, it is the duty of each hon. Member to express the feelings and experiences of the constituency he represents. If he adds them together, the right hon. Gentleman responsible for this Bill can obtain a picture of the feelings about it in the country.
I do this more readily in this case because I represent the constituency of Eton and Slough, with which the Minister also has some associations. I say frankly that I shall be speaking more from the point of view of Slough than of Eton. Nevertheless, Eton in these matters has been very co-operative about the difficulties of Slough. I want to speak in favour of the purpose of this Amendment, which is that at least one year's notice should be given to local authorities before subsides are withdrawn from new houses.
I was in my constituency last night and met representatives on the local authority. Also, last night, I met tenants from our housing estates. It is almost impossible to exaggerate the sense of bitterness and indignation they are feeling about this Bill. I am astounded that even the Ilford council can have any good word for this Bill, particularly for a Clause which would not postpone the evil day for one year. All experience shows that local authorities, whether Conservative or Labour-controlled, are astonished and almost stunned by the effects of this Measure.
I wish to illustrate why the Borough of Slough wishes to see the Bill postponed for a year at least, as is proposed by this Amendment. Slough is a town which 2552 thirty years ago, was not much more than a village, or rather two villages—the little village of Chalvey, and the little village of Slough. In thirty years its population has grown from 17,000 to nearly 70,000. People have come to it from South Wales, from the North-East Coast, from Lancashire, Scotland, and from Belfast in the years of the depression. As a result of that rapid growth, the local authority have had extraordinary difficulties.
We did not even get the drains which we could attach to houses to be built for that rapidly-growing population. We had plans for a sewerage scheme and drains, but the war of 1939 came and they had all to be postponed. Meanwhile, the industrial expansion of the town was proceeding. Workers were pouring in. The Postmaster-General knows of a similar problem in his constituency of Luton. Until a few years ago our people were living in dilapidated Army huts, which were condemned during the war and were living—as they still are—in old railway coaches. As the census shows, they were living six to a room in houses. Yet we could not build. Only last year was the drainage system put into such a condition that we could begin to build.
The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of local authorities which have a large pool of pre-war houses. Because of the circumstances I have described, in Slough 40 per cent. of our total housing has been erected by contracts signed since January of last year. Those houses have been built whilst the interest charges have been increased. It is not merely a matter of the rate of interest when the contracts are accepted. The loans are made as the housing proceeds. Almost month by month the rates of interest have increased. Consequently, the figures given on the last occasion by the Minister about the increases in rent, even if spread over all the houses, are absolute nonsense as applied to Slough. I am quite sure that they are nonsense as applied to a number of other towns, also.
This argument demands that local authorities, particularly those experiencing the difficult conditions which I have described in Slough, should at least be given a year's notice before the Bill is put into operation. Let me give an example. We are building heavily now. One of our last building schemes is at Cippenham, where we are to have 130 new houses. The scheme was discussed 2553 in great detail with the Minister and was endorsed by him. The tenders went out on the understanding by the council that the subsidies would remain. But suddenly there came this Bill and the date of 3rd November. If housing tenders are received after 3rd November, the subsidies are to be lost.
After all the discussions with the Minister, in which not one warning was given that the subsidies might be withdrawn from these houses, the date for the tenders in Slough was 4th November. By one day, despite all the discussions with the Ministry, the increased subsidy is lost. This represents a loss of £94,000 to the town. It means that as we want to go on building houses to meet the difficulty of the lean years when we were without drainage, we will lose the subsidies upon the new houses that we need.
Therefore, for the local authorities who put through their schemes after discussion with, and endorsement by, the Ministry, the only decent and honest thing that the Minister can do is to give them at least one year's notice before the terms of the Bill are applied. I hope that after both the national and constituency appeals which have been made from this side of the Committee, the Minister will at least accept the Amendment.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Iorwerth Thomas (Rhondda, West)
I am fully aware of the keen desire of some of my hon. Friends to express their opinions about the Bill and, therefore, I shall not detain the Committee very long. We can all apply the effects of the Bill to local circumstances, but the Committee's attention should be drawn to this general fact at least: is this the time for change?
We all realise that we are passing through a phase of inflation. In recent debates, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has indicated on more than one occasion that this is a temporary phase in our economy. While we all realise the impact of this temporary phase of inflation, and are conscious of its existence, I consider that this is the worst moment that the Minister could choose to change his relationship with local authorities so far as subsidies are concerned. The Minister can reassure us by accepting the Amendment. We all hope that his acceptance of it will tide us over the temporary in- 2554 flationary period through which we are now passing.
Unless the Minister accepts the Amendment, it is obvious that all local authorities will be beached with very high interest charges to be met when this tidal wave of inflation recedes. This is a very unfortunate moment for the Minister to choose to break up his financial relationships with local authorities.
There are also other reasons why it is unfortunate that this change should take place. The Minister himself has mentioned in recent debates that the proposals in the Bill are only one of the many facets with which local government and the Ministry are concerned. He has already indicated to the House that he intends within the present Session to announce the Government's policy as to the future relationship of local authorities and the Minister. In that respect, I anticipate that the Minister had in mind not only a change in the structure of local government, but intended this Session to make announcements such as would affect the future relationship of local authorities with the central Government.
One could refer to the anticipated reports of the valuations of the Inland Revenue. One can anticipate the possibility of a change in the equalisation grant formula having regard to that disturbance of the existing values. One can also anticipate a possibility, at least, of an alteration in the derating of industry. If local authorities are facing that situation at present, with their future unpredictable financially, the imposition of this additional financial responsibility upon them is not only unethical, but is anti-social.
Whatever may be the general proposals of the Government, I believe that the proposal to disturb the existing subsidy grants should be not the first step in the Government's comprehensive scheme, but the last step. If that were the case, local authorities would be placed in a far stronger position clearly to appreciate, appraise and assess the financial impact of the proposals contained in the Bill. That being the general setting of this problem, I think the Government have made a mistake in putting these proposals first, and not waiting until such time as they could put their more comprehensive proposals before us.
2555 I think it is proper that I, as the representative of a mining constituency in the heart of the South Wales coalfield, should point out that this Bill will have very serious repercussions. It will strike a blow at, and will undermine, the efforts of all who are really seriously concerned about the coal output of the country.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
I think that the hon. Member is now so extending his argument as to be making a Second Reading speech.
§ Mr. Thomas
No, Sir Rhys, I am coming to the point that the proposals in the Bill do not make provision for subsidy to be paid in constituencies of the character of mine, because no miners have been transfered into my area. I was proceeding to demonstrate that my authority has an obligation to rehouse more miners than many of the authorities that will be able to obtain subsidy under the Bill.
The National Coal Board in my constituency alone is spending over £10 million at present in the reorganisation of the mining industry, and one of the problems it has to face is that of the labour force, the question where to get it from. There are several miners leaving the Rhondda—
§ Mr. Thomas
With great respect, Sir Rhys, I am only asking for an extension of the time by twelve months in order that my authority, which is excluded from the advantages of the Bill, shall have more time to rehouse miners in its areas.
For example—and the example can be multiplied—there are miners who require houses in the Rhondda near their place of work. The local authority, therefore, as a result of the financial impact of the Bill, will be paralysed in the efforts it makes to provide miners with decent homes in mining villages in South Wales. There are miners in my constituency—in my village—who are married and have two or three children, and the man and his wife and children have to sleep in one bedroom. The chances of those people being rehoused are seriously handicapped by the proposals in the Bill.
I ask the Minister to give the matter further consideration. I urge upon him 2556 acceptance of the Amendment, because it will give the authorities more time to do the maximum they can for those to whom they owe responsibilities, more time than is permitted by the Bill. The Bill means notice to quit for many miners in the Rhondda, and they will be tempted to go over the border to the English coalfields, because they can get houses there, but cannot get them in their own communities in South Wales. I hope that the Minister will give very serious consideration to all the arguments which have been reasonably advanced in the Committee for the lengthening of the interim period, so that local authorities may be better placed to appraise their responsibilities, and have more time to do all that is possible before they have to endure the severe impact of the proposals in the Bill.
§ Mr. Walter Edwards (Stepney)
It is not very often I have the privilege of speaking in housing debates, but I think I must speak on behalf of my constituents who are adversely affected by the proposals in the Bill. I hope that the Minister will understand that for East London the provisions of the Bill are very serious indeed. Doubtless other local authorities elsewhere will be in difficulties similar to those of the local authorities in East London, but the boroughs in East London will find it absolutely impossible to rehouse anybody on the basis of general need. I do not want to reiterate all that has been said already, but I do want the Minister to understand the situation.
In Stepney, for example, two years ago, in connection with a scheme of ours called the Smithy Street scheme, we were told by the borough treasurer, when we were first thinking of it, that the rents—the net rents—of certain flats, taking subsidy and loan charges into consideration, would be about 31s. We are now told by the borough treasurer that, as a result of the Bill and the present loan charges, the net rent, which was 31s., will be increased to 74s. Under the old subsidy we could have proceeded with the scheme, but in the face of these shocking proposals we are now having to decide whether, because of this Bill, we ought to suspend or even terminate the operation of the scheme—and that after having gone to so much trouble and cost.
I ask the Minister very earnestly to bear these facts in mind. If the Amend- 2557 ment were accepted it would enable Stepney Borough Council, and many other local authorities in similar circumstances, to go forward with their schemes —[Interruption.]
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis) is now just a National Liberal.
§ Mr. Edwards
We have 4,500 families on the waiting list of Stepney Borough Council, many of them young married people who have never had a home of their own. Because of the provisions of the Clause it will be impossible for my local authority to provide accommodation for young married couples unless they happen to live in a slum clearance area.
I do not want, as I say, to repeat what has already been said by my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee, but I do want the Minister to understand that these are the stark facts with which the local authorities are confronted at the present time. The acceptance of the Amendment would ease their lot for at least twelve months. What will happen after that we all know. It will probably be the end of local authority building for people in general need. However, the Amendment would ease the situation if the Minister would accept it, as I hope he will.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Victor Collins (Shoreditch and Finsbury)
I find it impossible to believe that anyone who really appreciates the mounting tragedy of the housing situation in Metropolitan London, and, indeed, in many other parts of the country, can possibly be responsible for the Bill. The only reasonable explanation is that the Minister of Housing and Local Government has no idea of what our people are suffering. I am encouraged in that belief to some extent by the fact that some months ago the Minister told me that he knew all about my division of Shoreditch and Finsbury because he had once lived 2558 in Finsbury Park. Hon. Members will know, of course, that Finsbury Park is many miles away from Shoreditch and Finsbury.
I urge the Minister to pay particular attention to the speeches of hon. Members for Metropolitan constituencies, mining constituencies and other areas which are densely populated, because as this Measure has become known—and in some areas its details are known it has shocked the people beyond belief. I ask the Minister to realise the situation which confronts some of us who represent Metropolitan boroughs. I do not say that my constituency is in any way the worst, but I believe that it is representative of a good many. It is extraordinary and, indeed, unfortunate that we should have to address the Committee when it is almost completely denuded of Conservative Members. There are two Ministers, two Parliamentary Private Secretaries and Whips, and no one else present on the other side.
One thing which confirms my view that the Government do not know what they are doing is that, naturally, hon. and right hon. Members opposite represent areas where in the main people are reasonably well housed whereas we on this side of the Committee represent areas where people are very badly housed indeed. In my constituency 4,000 flats have been built since the war. The two boroughs easily lead, in proportion to population, in the number of flats built, but even with that number the grand total of dwellings is 2,000 fewer than it was before the war. That is partly because over 18,000 out of 21,000 dwellings were destroyed or damaged by bombs.
The rest of the property in the borough, apart from local authority building, is entirely substandard. There has been no private enterprise building in the constituency for a hundred years. There never will be. It is quite impossible on such land as is available. There are no suitable vacant sites. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will not run away with any idea that there is any hope of rehousing 7,000 families who are on the waiting list, that is, one-third of the total population, by means other than local authority building.
Other hon. Members have referred to some of the housing conditions. How 2559 would the Minister like to have to interview a mother who in two months' time is going to have her fifth child and who is living in two leaking rooms in one of which her four children sleep, two to each single bed at each end of the room? How would the Minister like to have to tell that woman that after consulting the London County Council and the local authority he has found that she is by no means the worst case and that she must go on living there for a long time?
If the right hon. Gentleman does not know about these things let him go and see for himself. I am sure that many of my hon. Friends would be pleased to show him round and complete his education in this respect. It is impossible to believe that anyone in the Committee, Minister or otherwise, could subscribe to a Measure which inevitably will perpetuate those conditions and drive people to absolute despair.
The Amendment merely asks that the operation of the Minister's decision should be suspended for a year. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) gave details of the situation as a whole. Other hon. Members have quoted particular cases. I should like to quote a case affecting the Borough of Finsbury, which covers two points. Finsbury is quite a small borough, but for some time the local authority has been negotiating a big slum clearance scheme for 350 dwellings. The Minister will be aware that before the local authority can even think of making a start and of making proposals to him for approval it must decide where to put the people in the meantime. In this case the local authority decided that the slum site, which is a dreadful one, should be divided into two and that half the people, about 160 families, should be housed in an area, not yet built upon, which is covered by Part V of the Housing Act, 1936. When that operation is completed, the local authority will be able to build on the slum clearance site which by then will have been partially demolished. It is a most sensible scheme and one which one assumes would qualify for the subsidies proposed under the Bill for slum clearance.
What is the position of the council now? The proposal is before the Minister for consideration. It has not got as far as the tender stage, but on 2560 2nd November, and certainly on 31st October, Finsbury Borough Council had every right to think that the scheme was going through. It was a highly commendable and desirable scheme. There is no possibility of rehousing people in any other way than by some such scheme as this. According to my interpretation of the Bill and the interpretation of the local authority, the Part V area to which the people would be sent when the flats were built would not qualify for the rate of subsidy appropriate to slum clearance.
In effect, that means that the scheme cannot go on, because rents would be too high. This is a problem which at a later stage the Committee will no doubt consider. The Minister will be able to tell us whether, in future, he intends to provide that subsidies should be applicable to Part V areas in order that we can take people out of Part III slum areas and so keep matters moving.
If we were granted the twelve months' extension for which the Amendment asks, this scheme, and I have no doubt hundreds of others all over the country, would be covered. They could go for approval. They could be put out to tender and they would be carried out. This is merely a concrete example which illustrates the point.
Whatever the Minister's intentions are, whatever his determination is, it is absolutely unfair and a gross betrayal of the faith which local authorities have hitherto reposed in Her Majesty's Government to announce to them bluntly, as the Government are doing today, "Your schemes are set at naught. All the time that you have spent on planning comes to nothing." It is a complete breach of faith and an insult to our local authorities. More than that, it is a betrayal of the people.
I ask the Minister to look very thoroughly into the points which have been put to him by my hon. Friends and to realise that they are true. I ask him again to accept our invitation to come and have a look for himself. I am sure that he would be appalled at the conditions in which people are living, not only in slum property but, because of overcrowding, in areas which cannot be regarded for a long time yet as clearance areas. I do not think that any Minister who saw the conditions for himself could 2561 go on with a Bill which will condemn his fellow human beings to suffering which he has no right to ask anyone to bear.
§ Mr. William Warbey (Ashfield)
As a number of hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have crossed the Floor, I hope we may take it as a good omen that the Minister will change his mind about this Bill, or if not about the whole Bill, at least about this Clause. After listening to the speeches made by my hon. Friends on this side, I would have thought right hon. Gentlemen opposite would have realised by now how utterly remote from reality were the notional figures which were put into the brief on which the Minister made his Second Reading speech. They were totally un-typical of the situation in which most local authorities in this country will be placed.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Iorwerth Thomas), my constituency is mainly a mining one, but the local authorities will not benefit from the special subsidy for the houses built to meet the urgent needs of industry, because miners are not being transferred into this district. They will not benefit from the new town or overspill provisions. In fact, they will benefit from none of the special subsidy provisions except those for slum clearance. And in relation to slum clearance I find, on consulting the two major local authorities concerned—the Sutton-in-Ashfield Urban District Council and the Kirkby-in-Ashfield Urban District Council—that through slum clearance they will not be able to rehouse more than between one-tenth and one-eighth of the persons on their housing lists.
In fact, the majority of the people on the waiting lists of these councils, as on the waiting lists of most of our local authorities, are persons who are not living in houses which can be designated under clearance orders, but are persons living in overcrowded conditions, living with their in-laws, living in unsatisfactory houses which cannot be condemned, and very desperately in need of decent homes.
During the Second Reading debate, the Minister gave some notional figures which suggested that on the average, to meet general needs, housing authorities would build about the same number of houses as they would build to meet the special needs for slum clearance and the other 2562 special provisions of this Clause. However, having looked into the figures of the local authorities in my constituency, I find that the right hon. Gentleman is wide of the mark as far as they are concerned.
If we take the case of Sutton-in-Ashfield, for example, we find that this authority in its 1956 programme, planned to build 120 houses for general need as against only 30 for slum clearance. If this housing authority were to base itself upon the notional figures which the Minister used, instead of building 120 houses for general need, it would build only 30. I wonder whether that is what the Minister wants it to do? If one takes its long-term programme one finds that over the coming years, on the basis of its estimate of local needs, the housing authority plans to build in all 1,130 houses to meet general need and 183 for slum clearance purposes.
Does the Minister desire that the figure for general need shall be reduced to the figure for slum clearance? Because that will be the effect of this Clause. It so happens that the Sutton-in-Ashfield Urban District Council was caught out specially badly by the date inserted in the Bill, and which is the subject of this Amendment. I have here a letter from the Sutton-in-Ashfield Council dated 16th November, which reads as follows:Whilst my Council are strongly opposed to the Government's policy in regard to Housing Subsidies as provided for in the Bill they are particularly aggrieved, like very many local authorities in the country, by the provisions of Section 1 of the Bill relating to the introduction of the proposed new subsidies. In their own particular case they look like being severely penalised in respect of 110 dwellings the tenders for which were accepted by them on 3rd November, 1955."—which is the date specified in subsection (1, a) of Clause 1. The letter continues:The plans for these particular dwellings were approved by the Minister on 18th July last and authority given for the Council to proceed to invite tenders for the erection of the dwellings.The position is that on 18th July last the Minister himself authorised this local authority to proceed to tender for these houses. In other words, he authorised the authority to commit itself to a degree of expenditure on these houses which he must have known would be greater than it was aware of.
2563 I am not suggesting that the date has to be altered because an authority comes inconveniently on one side of the dividing line, but this only points all the more sharply the case being made by all my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee for at least a year's grace during which the local authorities can execute the programmes they have already in mind and in the pipeline, and so that they can carry out their commitments on the basis of the estimates made previously, without having to revise them, and so that they can revise their future programme in the light of the unfortunate situation in which the Minister is now placing them through this Bill.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) spoke with considerable feeling of the way in which people in difficult housing conditions come weekly to the "surgeries" of their Members asking for help. We all know how helpless we feel in that situation. When they come to us on other matters such as pensions, National Assistance, and so on, there is nearly always something we can do about it. We may be able to get a little extra National Assistance through a discretionary allowance of some kind. We may get a pension reviewed or a new medical board hearing. We may be able to ask in this House for scales to be raised, and so on. But when it is a question of housing we can do nothing because we cannot rehouse a family until the house for it is actually in existence.
That is why we are so helpless, and what the Minister is doing through this Bill, and will do still more if he rejects this Amendment, is ensuring that fewer houses will be actually in existence and that more and more of our constituents will get dusty answers when they come to us.
§ Mr. Herbert Butler (Hackney, Central)
My hon. Friend the Member for Shore-ditch and Finsbury (Mr. Collins) suggested that possibly the Minister was not aware of all the implications of this problem. If we are to consider this Amendment, which deals with the question whether we have had adequate notice given to local authorities, and even if we confine ourselves to that aspect of the matter, the Minister will learn something of what actually happens in these housing operations.
2564 In my constituency, last Saturday, we had a ceremony to mark the completion of the thousandth flat by the local authority's direct labour department. We have found that in many cases direct labour is more economical and efficient than private enterprise. Looking into our scheme, we found it had taken four years to complete. That was because local authorities have to enter into negotiations particularly in inner London, for the purchase of existing large houses and then acquire other parcels of land around them, and eventually a scheme fructifies.
Here the Minister is departing from all the practices which have applied in connection with subsidies. Notification has nearly always been given to local authorities and they have been brought into consultation. At the end of the financial year the Minister would state what the amount of the subsidy would be. Local authorities who were keen on providing houses for the people would go ahead and, if possible, expedite their schemes in order to qualify for the existing subsidy if the subsidy was to be lowered. That in itself was an incentive to them to get on with the job.
Now the Minister has suddenly announced that 3rd November would be the deadline. Many local authorities will possess parcels of land which they have purchased, and if he consults his files the Minister will, find that in some instances his inspector has held an inquiry into the compulsory acquisition of other adjacent parcels of land for the purposes of a scheme. Yet the Minister has now told local authorities, who may have purchased parts of the required land two years ago in order to supply houses for general need, "Your subsidy will be cut whatever your proposals are."
I would remind the Minister of Housing and Local Government that in good local government when a scheme is placed before a local authority, estimated figures for the cost of land, the cost of building, and rents are also submitted and considered. Local authorities have acquired properties and parcels of land on the basis of the existing subsidy, and their schemes have been worked out accordingly.
The Minister is quite definite about the way in which he regards his powers in relation to the housing subsidy. He said on Second Reading:I think it is worth remembering that housing subsidies are granted with one object, and 2565 one object only, namely, to ensure that nobody, through lack of means, shall be prevented from having a decent, healthy home."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th November, 1955; Vol. 546, c. 796.]That is his sole conception of the purpose of subsidies. Some of us have regarded subsidies in a little more charitable light, that of the understanding that the community has to come to the rescue of its own citizens if private enterprise fails to provide what is necessary.
In this matter we start by believing that local authorities have provided a service which private enterprise has failed to provide, and we are convinced that the Minister has introduced the Bill to stop that social service being rendered to our people. It is a retrograde step for the Minister, in reviewing local government organisation, to deprive local authorities of one of their biggest functions, that of providing houses for our people. He has emasculated local authorities in other ways. He has made things difficult for them by increasing rates of interest. He is telling local authorities that they cannot carry on their normal services. He has now said that they must stop providing houses for general needs.
There is hypocrisy about this matter. The Minister said that he was giving local authorities an incentive to destroy the slums. However, he is filching from the local authorities the part of the subsidy which made it possible for them to build houses at reasonable rents, and because he does not filch from the slum part of the subsidy, he suggests that that is an incentive. That is an absolute travesty of the meaning of "incentive."
Some hon. Members opposite have said that this is an incentive to destroy slums. However, the Minister has said that if he really met the requirements of the existing financial situation the subsidy should be increased to at least £30. He then got his boys to work out how much it would be per week. Although the Minister says this provides an incentive to local authorities to rehouse slum dwellers, he is, in fact, really taking away from local authorities the power to provide housing accommodation for people living in overcrowded houses and old houses not possessing modern amenities. He is really saying that the only purpose of the Government's intervention is to ensure that the needs of the people shall be analysed and he is rather sorry that he 2566 cannot send them to the old boards of guardians to get some rice and loaves of bread. That is the theory and philosophy behind the Government's proposal.
On this occasion local authorities have not fallen for the Minister's blandishments. No local authorities in the country will write to him and tell him he is a good boy. Local authorities have gone on record against him, and he knows it. If apologists like the hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader Cooper) are prepared to tell their constituents that it is a good thing that the Minister has now said that State money cannot be provided for the purpose of dealing with a social evil, good luck to them.
The Amendment contains a modest proposition. All we ask is that local authorities who have entered into commitments, expecting a reasonable deal from the Government, are entitled to say that they went into those commitments with the Government's agreement because in many cases inspectors from the Ministry had agreed to the compulsory purchase schemes on which they had embarked. It is not right that they should now be told that they are to have the subsidy halved because they are providing housing to meet the general needs of the population.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am not rising to make my contribution to this part of the debate. I hope to catch your eye later, Mr. MacPherson, if it becomes necessary. I should have thought that by now the Minister had heard sufficient to enable him to give his reply and tell us that he accepts the Amendment. If he cannot accept the Amendment, we shall have to try to persuade him further. However, there has been no defence of his position from the Government benches, except in one speech, and I should hardly expect hon. Members opposite to be indifferent to the issue. I should have thought that we had now reached a situation in which he might accept the basis of our Amendment.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Duncan Sandys)
I am only too delighted to accede to the suggestion by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) that I should intervene at this stage in the debate. I was waiting 2567 only because I felt that this was the opening debate on the Committee stage and, with all respect to the Chair, there is no doubt that to a large extent many of the speeches have been Second Reading speeches and have ranged over a multitude of subjects with which it would he out of order for me to deal. However, I will trespass on your indulgence, Mr. MacPherson, to reply to one or two points which are outside the scope of the Amendment.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) said that there were human figures behind the statistics. We can all agree about that. We have all listened to the speeches and we have all of us received disquieting correspondence from constituents who need a home. Nobody has suggested in any, sense that the housing shortage is at an end—except the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, who did that about ten years ago. We have forgotten and forgiven that. He said that the whole housing problem would have been dealt with by the next General Election, which was in 1950; but I do not want to pursue that.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering said that housing statistics were exceedingly difficult, and with that we can all agree. Incidentally, he challenged a figure which I gave during the Second Reading debate when I said that the current rate of local authority house building including new towns, was about 160,000 a year. The hon. and learned Member quoted the figure of 140,000. I have had my figures checked and compared them with those of the hon. Member, and I understand that he now agrees that my figures are correct.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I did agree. That only illustrates the incredible difficulty of getting the right figure in the statistics.
§ Mr. Sandys
The Amendment is really divided into two parts. The first part proposes a postponement of the new subsidy rates for one year and the second part does the same for sites—it exempts sites acquired or agreed to be acquired before the operative date of 3rd November, 1955. The hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) asked why we did not give local authorities some warning so that they could adjust themselves to the new position. That, of course, is just what 2568 we are doing and that is what I made clear in the debate on Second Reading.
We have been quite frank and we have made it perfectly clear that the Government's intention is to abolish the basic subsidy for house building for general needs. To assist local authorities in gradually adjusting themselves to that change, we have introduced—perhaps unnecessarily; but it is better to be on the safe side—a £10 subsidy as a purely interim measure to tide over that period and make the change more gradual and more smooth.
§ Mr. Sandys
I will come to that. The point is that the operative announcement which I made recently is that we intend to abolish the subsidy. To assist the transition we are maintaining the 10 subsidy during an interim period.
§ Mr. Sandys
The hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) knows that there are corresponding subsidies for flats which. in all cases, are £12 less than the subsidy for slum clearance and other purposes, so the two things are related.
Several hon. Members said that longer notice should have been given. The hon. and learned Member for Kettering said that the Opposition, while proposing that it should be one year, would not be unduly insistent upon the figure of twelve months and would be prepared, if the Government were so disposed, to accept some lesser period of, say, nine or ten months.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I was not prepared to compromise on the question of acquired sites. To some extent the other period is an estimate.
§ Mr. Sandys
I was dealing with the first half of the proposal. He said that it would be a reasonable solution acceptable to the party opposite, if we could agree on nine or ten months, or something of that kind. He said that when the subsidies were reduced by my predecessor, the present Foreign Secretary, in June, 1954, the new rates were not brought into force for nine months. He urged me to follow the example of my predecessor. I am anxious to be as helpful as possible in all these things and I 2569 should be willing, if local authorities desire it, to apply the same procedure in this case. Apparently that procedure commends itself to the hon. and learned Gentleman.
I must point out what that means. I discussed this with the local authority associations when we had our consultations, and while some of them were in favour of it it did not commend itself generally; but I am quite prepared to consider it again. I believe that it probably does not commend itself to local authorities generally, because the procedure proposed in the Bill is more favourable than that which was adopted by my predecessor. The nine months' notice proposed in June, 1954, applied to dwellings completed before the end of March, 1955. Since houses at that time were, on the average, taking about ten-and-a-half months to complete, it meant that some houses already started at the date when the notice was given did not qualify for the existing rate of subsidy.
§ Mr. H. Butler
I made the point that many local authorities managed to get the increased subsidy by expediting their programmes.
§ Mr. Sandys
I know that some did speed up their programmes to qualify for the subsidy. I am anxious in these matters to be as forthcoming as I can and if this procedure is felt by the party opposite to be more favourable, I am quite prepared to consult the local authorities.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I hope he will allow me to pay him the compliment of saying that I regard him as highly intelligent and that I doubt, therefore, whether he has really misunderstood what I said. What I did say was that on that occasion nine months' notice was given of the change, and on this occasion I think that it would be only right to give similar notice. I did not suggest that what should be introduced at the end of the nine months was something different from, and less than, what is now suggested.
§ Mr. Sandys
It is very relevant what form the notice takes. There was no notice given—that is what I am really saying—last time, because houses were taking on an average, ten-and-a-half months to build, and the statement was 2570 made that nine months from that date the new rates of subsidy would be introduced. Therefore, if anything, it was a notice of minus one-and-a-half months. I was only answering the point made It was suggested that the procedure which was adopted in the Bill was less generous and less favourable than that adopted by my predecessor. My reply is an absolutely clear and categorical one, and if, on reflection, hon. Members opposite still feel that, I shall be happy—
§ Mr. Mitchison
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman again. But notice of minus one-and-a-half months is exactly like the incentive to slum clearance, which reduces by one-quarter the number of houses that would have been built without the incentive. Of course, it was nothing of the sort. If the right hon. Gentleman will read out—or I will do it for him—what was said at the time he will see that what he has said now is quite inconsistent with what was said then. It was said then:Taking all these factors into account, the Minister concludes that the present rates of subsidy can no longer be justified. He has, however, decided that in order to ease the transition it would be proper to pay the present rates for all houses and flats completed before 1st April, 1955.That gave about nine months' notice of the change which was being made. I suggest that similar notice ought to have been given on this occasion, and that the cure would be by postponing the operation of this particular change for nine months or one year from now.
§ Mr. Sandys
I still do not understand the hon. and learned Gentleman. It seems to me that if what he said has any point at all, which I am sure it has, it must be to suggest that on the previous occasion a longer notice was given. Therefore, when I say that we would be prepared to do the same on this occasion, I think that that is a reasonable reply.
I have been perfectly frank in saying that I do not believe that that would suit the local authorities. The only reason why it was possible to give nine months' notice was because there was no action open to the local authorities in the interval —except by speeding up house building, which was a very good thing, but which did not make a vast difference in the number of houses that would qualify—to alter the number of houses that would 2571 qualify. If it is thought desirable, I will look at this again. My feeling was that the hon. and learned Gentleman was stating something that was incorrect, namely, that longer notice had been given on the last occasion.
§ Mr. C. W. Gibson (Clapham)
I should like to be quite clear on what the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that my right hon. and learned Friend said. Is the Minister suggesting that he is prepared to postpone the operation of Clause 1, as drafted now, for nine months, or is he suggesting that the formula used on the previous occasion by the then Minister, which gave a notice of nine months, should be adopted, because if that is so, it is not worth having?
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Sandys
That is what I am saying —it is not worth having—but I want to dispose of the suggestion that we were taking a less generous attitude on this occasion. I think that in view of the interruption of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) we are all clear on that point. I think that was the point made by the hon. and learned Gentleman and I think that I have answered it. The suggestion was that we had been less generous and less favourable to the local authority in the notice that we have given, and it is obviously clear that that is not so.
§ Mr. Collins
Not only less generous than before but less generous than in its present form. If the right hon. Gentleman is only putting forward this nine months proposal, no houses for which tenders have been accepted will be built in that time, and it is a lesser proposal than the one in this new Bill.
§ Mr. Sandys
This is the real point that I was making in regard to the warning given on the last occasion. If we were to agree to a twelve months' warning period on the same basis as the Bill is now drafted, local authorities would have on this occasion an almost irresistible temptation to approve tenders for an enormous number of houses, a sufficient number to keep them going for a number of years. In this way the purpose of the Bill and the intention of Parliament would be entirely frustrated. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad that we are agreed on that.
§ Mr. C. W. Key (Poplar)
Does not the right hon. Gentleman know that subsection (1) ends with the words:and which is approved for the purpose of this Act by the Minister:"?
§ Mr. Sandys
I wonder what the right hon. Gentleman would say if it were found that local authorities were putting in to me large numbers of tenders in perfectly good order and I was rejecting them just to prevent them getting the subsidy. I do not think that would please them.
What I have been saying about it is not pure conjecture. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that I have given a month's notice. I do not claim to have given a month's notice. I announced in the House the Governent's intention to introduce this Bill to reduce subsidies on 27th October. I consider that that was the first real notice that was given. Between then and 3rd November, there was an interval of only one week, yet several local authorities found it possible during that time to rush through tender approvals at an altogether abnormal rate.
§ Mr. H. Butler
Does not the right hon. Gentleman remember going to Harrogate and what he told them there?
§ Mr. Mitchison
What I had in mind was that the right hon. Gentleman told us that he had consulted the local authority associations and put before them his proposals. He was asked if they agreed and he replied, "Of course, they did not." or words to that effect.
§ Mr. Sandys
I was not claiming that I had given a month's notice, that is all. I think that the point which I have made about 1,000 tenders approved in a day during that week shows the sort of situation with which we should have found ourselves faced if they had had twelve months in which to regulate the position. We might as well have with- 2573 drawn the Bill altogether—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad that we can agree on that, too.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) said that on Tyneside house building had to be concentrated on relieving overcrowding. I realise that is a very serious problem in that part of the world, as it is in many others. But I think the hon. Gentleman under-rated the proportion of houses which, if the plans go through as they are announced, will be devoted to slum clearance and which will secure the present rate of subsidy. The Newcastle Council has stated that it intends to clear 2,136 slum houses in the next five years. To rehouse the occupants will require at least 2,200 new houses and possibly more. That is an average of about 440 houses a year. The present rate of construction in the city is about 1,400 houses a year. This means that houses for slum clearance, which will continue to attract the present rate of subsidy, will account for about one-third of the houses built in Newcastle.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that the point I was making was that his proposals are endangering the other total? If the housing on Tyneside is to relieve overcrowding, the building of the other 1,400 houses may not be able to proceed.
§ Mr. Sandys
There is an Amendment on the Order Paper concerning overcrowding, and I think that we should leave this point until we come to it.
A point which I think pertinent to the Amendment—for a change—is that the hon. Gentleman suggested that the old rate of subsidy would be lost in the case of tenders sent back to the local authorities for revision, as those would miss the date. I can give him an assurance that that is not a correct understanding of the position. Except in rare cases where the tender is completely rejected and a new scheme has to be produced any tender submitted before 3rd November, though it may have to be sent back and revised, will qualify for the existing rate of subsidy; though the final approval be given after 3rd November.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
Suppose, as so often occurs, a tender has been received, in consultation with the right hon. Gentleman's officers on a regional basis, but 2574 has not been approved by the local authority; may I take it that in such a case he will agree to consider it as ranking for the higher subsidy?
§ Mr. Sandys
I should not like to say "Yes" or "No" to some words which the hon. Member has spoken without looking at them carefully. But I have indicated to the Committee clearly that it is not our intention to try to catch out local authorities by holding up their tenders and sending them back for revision, if they have been genuinely submitted to us before that date. If revision has to be made, they will still qualify under the Bill. But if further information is needed, perhaps at a later stage I can give the hon. Member that information in a more precise form, if he would put the question to me in an absolutely precise form.
§ Mr. Brockway
I do not wish to make an unhelpful interruption, but I desire to be clear on this point. The words used by the Minister were that no tender which had been submitted before that date would be ruled out. Does the right hon. Gentleman really mean "submitted" or does he mean "accepted"?
§ Mr. Sandys
If it was submitted by the local authority before 3rd November, even though it may have to be sent back because some revision was required, it would none the less qualify. But if, for some eason it has to be completely rejected, then the new tender would be regarded as a new tender and would not qualify. I think I have now made myself clear.
§ Mr. Sandys
That is what I said.
The hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) referred to my association with Eton, an association happily shared by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering. He suggested that 2575 the average figure of 7d., which I quoted during the debate on Second Reading, was misleading, and that the effect on Slough would be altogether more serious. I have had a calculation worked out for Slough —the same calculation as I had made which produced a 7d. average for the country as a whole—and the figure is a little below the general average.
§ Mr. Brockway
The figure which I have had from the town hall at Slough, which was worked out by the officials there, is 9d. instead of the Minister's 7d.
§ Mr. Sandys
We can compare our sums.
The second proposal in the Amendment is that the new subsidy rate should not apply to sites acquired, or agreed to be acquired, before 3rd November. The hon. and learned Member for Kettering said that, were the Bill to go through in its present form, local authorities would be "saddled"—that was the word he used—with a large number of sites which they had already acquired before 3rd November.
I do not know why the hon. and learned Gentleman should speak in that way. Local authorities will need these sites, they will not be "saddled" with them. If they are to build houses they will need the sites and will be glad to have them. Suppose they had no sites at all. They would have to buy sites and those would come under the new rates of subsidy just the same.
§ Mr. Janner rose—
§ Mr. Sandys
I am sorry, but I cannot give way. I must get on with my speech. I have listened patiently to a number of speeches this afternoon, and I should have been listening still, but for the intervention of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale.
Probably about half of these sites will be required for slum clearance and overspill, and will be attracting the same subsidy, or higher, as before.
§ Mr. Sandys
The problem in London is that there are so few sites left on which to build houses. Therefore, a lot of these 2576 calculations are, unfortunately, theoretical, because there is no land on which to build houses. I am talking about the country as a whole. The remainder will be required for general needs. As I have said, if local authorities did not have sites, they would have to acquire them, so there is no question of hardship being caused because local authorities are "saddled" with a lot of sites which they would not have acquired had they known that the subsidy rates were to be altered.
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, can he give me the number, which I tried to extract on the basis of the need last year, of how many houses are there in respect of which a site has been acquired, and no tender or estimate submitted as at 3rd November, 1955?
§ Mr. Sandys
I cannot give that figure. We formerly gave it in the Housing Returns, but when we checked we found the figure to be so inaccurate and misleading that we decided not to publish it any longer. It is an extremely difficult figure to track down.
As I said during the Second Reading debate, there are already about 250,000 houses in the pipeline for which tenders were approved before 3rd November. These will all attract subsidy at the existing or higher rates. It is impossible to say precisely how many more houses would qualify for the old rates if this proposal were adopted—I am now talking especially about the sites; the second proposal—but since many local authorities have been acquiring sites as much as two years in advance of approving the tenders, which may mean that it is three years before the houses are completed, it is probable that another 250,000 or 300,000 houses would continue to receive the existing subsidy.
This would bring up the total in the pipeline to at least 500,000, and probably more—some of which might not be built for three years or longer—quite apart from the enormous number of additional houses which would qualify for subsidy if we allowed a twelve months' interval to elapse before we closed the date for receipt of tenders. The effect of the two proposals combined would make it quite possible for local authorities to continue to draw the existing rates of subsidy 2577 upon almost all their houses, at least until 1960. The Amendment is really equivalent to an Amendment "That the Bill be read this day five years," and for that reason I cannot accept it.
§ Mr. Bevan
When I was a boy there was a book I used to read several times over with very great interest. It was called, "The Riddle of the Sands." We are having it back again now, in a less attractive form. When the right hon. Gentleman's speech is read by local authorities tomorrow, he will earn a new title—"Shifting Sandys." Later on it may be vulgarised into "Shifty Sandys," because I have never heard a more disgraceful performance than that which he gave in opening his speech. He seemed seriously to be suggesting, following a complete misrepresentation of the purpose of the Amendment, that he was prepared to concede it in such a way as to do very considerable damage to local authorities.
That is fundamentally irresponsible. It was either a silly debating gadget or a serious suggestion. If it was a serious suggestion—
§ Mr. Sandys
I thought I had made it quite clear. I was trying to point out that there was nothing in the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison).
§ Mr. Bevan
On the contrary; the right hon. Gentleman is on the record as saying that if that were the intention of the Amendment—which he knew it was not —he would in fact accept it, or consider it. That is what he said. In other words, stimulated by a piece of vague polemics, he was prepared to mutilate his contract with the local authorities. That is a monstrous way to handle a serious matter like this. If the right hon. Gentleman intends to be facetious, he should give us notice beforehand so that everybody outside can know that what he is going to say is not intended seriously.
He ended by pointing out that the Amendment was a really serious one. It is intended to be serious. It is, in fact, intended to postpone the operation of this proposal for a very considerable time —for a year—so as to embrace a far larger proportion of local authority operations than is now embraced. In other words, it seeks to take into account 2578 those plans—the acquirement of sites, and similar matters—which local authorities have been encouraged to make under previous arrangements made with them by the Government. That was the intention, and the right hon. Gentleman need not be so complacent about the situation. There are many pitfalls ahead for him.
In its leading article this morning The Times gives me a black eye. It always does; I am used to having it from The Times. But it also warns the Minister that his present proposals are by no means as clear as they might be. It says that they are not coherent.
§ Mr. Bevan
It would be a real bore to read that out. It is not news when The Times attacks me, but it is when it attacks the Minister. It says:The Bill…moves in the right direction, but its effects will need to be treated experimentally.We are trying to extend the experiment. We are trying to add another year, so that the whole question can be examined with more leisure, in order to see how it will alight upon different parts of the country. The leading article continues:The reasons for much of what the measure proposes or omits have still to be explained.That is following two days' debate in the House of Commons, during which time the right hon. Gentleman made two long speeches and we did our best to help him. Even after all that The Times does not understand. The right hon. Gentleman has apparently not yet made himself clear.
§ Mr. Bevan
The Tribune is clear about it. The Minister should read it regularly. If he does that his education will be considerably improved. The article continues:Though its basic assumptions were disputable, the formula which determined the Bevan and the Macmillan rates of subsidy was logical and known. The underlying logic of the various new rates is not apparent.It certainly is not. The right hon. Gentleman has suggested that his housing policy is coherent, and hangs together. It "hangs" all right; but "together," no. It is a most disparate Measure.
2579 It is a serious thing that he is doing. I admit that it is always difficult, administratively, to tell when the axe should fall. Whenever one makes a change in a subsidy there will always be some people on one side of it and some on the other. It was always known, for example, that local authorities would complete more houses by 31st March of every year, because they were hurrying up in the fear that the subsidy would be reduced. We all knew that; there was always a bump up in March.
That was perfectly natural, but we did not have such excessive exertions by local authorities as entirely to disrupt all their plans, because the arrangement between the State and the local authorities was such that they knew there could not be very much alteration in the subsidy. They knew what the building costs were throughout the year, and that year by year they were taken into account, as was the 10 per cent. of the average wages. They had some atmosphere or climate or predictability. They knew within very narrow percentages how the subsidy would be affected. That was because, as The Times says, whatever may be thought about the fundamental assumption of the Labour Government's housing proposals and schemes, there was an underlying logic, which was that the cost of providing rented houses by local authorities should have regard to certain factors which were known and which could be measured and, therefore, for which local authorities could plan.
What the right hon. Gentleman is now doing is violating all those arrangements. As one of my hon. Friends said, the Minister is proposing to contract out of the municipal housing business. I want to remind hon. Members opposite of this. I know that some of them regard it as a kind of King Charles's head, but now that the Ministers are getting a little more experience, I hope they will listen to it with more credibility. It is always dangerous to try to bring about abrupt changes in physical planning because of temporary financial difficulties.
This Bill has its origin in the Treasury. It is a part of the general attack on the social services of the country. It is a part of the general attempt to bring about a certain amount of disinflation. It smells of the Treasury from beginning to end. What the right hon. Gentleman 2580 has been compelled to do is to accept certain financial limitations and then to try to work out a Statute which will enable him to live within those financial limitations without doing too much damage.
The Treasury say, "You must retreat from the housing business and retreat as much as possible." The right hon. Gentleman has now to disengage himself from his obligations to the local authorities. The amount of physical damage either way will be very considerable. He has already told us that if he accepts the Amendment local authorities will hurry up and put a large number of houses into the pipeline, so he dare not do that. In other words, the financial changes will bring about very important physical alterations in housing programmes.
§ Mr. Sandys
I was not suggesting that if we accepted the Amendment it would result in a speeding up of local authority house building. I said authorities would put a lot more tenders on the list and get them approved.
§ Mr. Bevan
I did not say that, as the right hon. Gentleman will see if he looks at the report of my speech. No matter how many houses they put out to tender, the physical limitations will still be there as to building them. We know that very well.
On the other hand, if the Minister does what he is doing now he is violating the spirit of the contract made with the local authorities, because that contract was that there would be Government co-operation. Of course there can be no legal contract between the House of Commons and local authorities—we know that; but there can be an understanding, and the fact is that local authorities in Great Britain were for some years extremely diffident about accepting any further cooperation with the State in the building of houses because they had seen so many abrupt legislative changes. For example, after the war the Addison schemes were dropped, and then the Wheatley schemes were put into operation and then suddenly dropped.
In fact, one of the greatest charges made against the State by the building trade unions is that there has never been security of employment in the building industry for long enough—that no sooner has one housing policy been adopted than some political crisis or another has 2581 lopped it off and all the plans prepared for training apprentices and for getting rid of the poison which existed in the building industry have had to be dropped.
The Committee should remember the fears of unemployment which resulted in a species of Ludditeism in the building industry and the fact that the building workers of Great Britain were for years brought up on "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist." Even today it is a fact, as the right hon. Gentleman should know, that one of the imponderables, one of the mystiques, of the building industry is that we cannot get modern methods of building adopted with the success which we want because of the resistance psychology of builders who are afraid all the time that these abrupt changes in Government policy will cut the ground from under them.
Long before the housing problem has been solved and long before this psychology has been cleared up, the right hon. Gentleman is once more engaged in an operation the secret intention of which is to bring about a significant degree of unemployment in the building industry. That is the intention behind it. He shakes his head, but he knows very well that what the Treasury boys are saying is, "Bring about a degree of frictional unemployment—enough unemployment to needle the workers into discipline." That is behind the proposals.
In 1945–46, as a direct result of the continued abrupt changes of Government housing policy, I found for a while the utmost difficulty in persuading local authorities to face up to housing after the war. I went all over the country to conference after conference imploring them not to be depressed by the magnitude of the problem facing them, telling them that the Government were entering into an enduring partnership for housing, telling them that they need not be afraid in building their houses that the Government would ultimately land them with higher building costs, telling them that if they did this job we should not suddenly, abruptly and violently unload on to them higher building costs and withdraw the subsidies.
This was the basis of the bargain, and the reason I am angry now is because the 2582 bargain was made as a result of my efforts all over the country.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
The right hon. Gentleman should recall what was said by his right hon. Friend the Member for Poplar (Mr. Key) on 6th March, 1946, as reported in column 342 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, for it is diametrically opposed to what the right hon. Gentleman is himself now saying. The right hon. Member for Poplar said:…high subsidies must not be an incentive to maintaining high costs, and, since we are determined that high costs shall be temporary, high subsidies must be temporary, too."— [OFFICIAI REPORT, 6th March, 1946; Vol. 420, c. 342.]
§ Mr. Bevan
How does that quarrel with what I am saying now? I am dealing with something entirely different and saying that the basis of the partnership in 1945–46 was that the local authorities and the State should between them build the houses and carry the financial burden. That was the bargain, and on that basis they entered into it.
It was on that basis that local authorities such as Plymouth, Coventry, Hull, Exeter and London put out to tender in a very short time a much larger number of houses than other Government Departments believed they ever would. One of the factors which led to a slight unbalancing of the housing programme immediately after the war was that the Ministry of Works, for which the present Minister of Housing at one time had responsibility, never believed that local authorities could be inspired into such activity so quickly.
The right hon. Gentleman started with his usual sneer about my remark that the housing problem would be solved by ten years ago. But he knows very well the answer to that. The answer was that I took his figure; it was his figure and not mine. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Coalition Government."] It was the Coalition Government; he was a member of it and was a Minister in it. It was intended at that time that the Ministry\ of Works should be responsible for housing after the war—a most unfortunate decision, but that was the intention. The figure which they produced was that if only 750,000 additional units of accommodation—that is the language—could be provided, the accommodation and housing problem would be solved. Then we would be left with slum clearance.
2583 I have explained to the point of weariness that where the right hon. Gentleman went wrong was that before the war the Government did not realise that the unemployment of 2 million men every year concealed the real magnitude of the housing problem of Great Britain. When ultimately those men—women now as well as men—had employment on an unprecedented scale the size of the housing problem revealed itself, and it was revealed only when that was accomplished.
As we all know, that problem of providing additional accommodation is still with us. I can give the right hon. Gentleman this; superficially he is quite clever. He did what his predecessor did. He does what the Tory Party does so cleverly all the time. When it wants to do something really evil, it always dresses itself up in the cloaks of virtue. Whenever it wants to get away with a lot of swag, it pushes the widows and orphans forward. When the predecessor of the Minister was in office he produced a Bill to the House which had nothing to do with slum clearance at all. Slum clearance schemes could go on, but that Bill did not build a single house. Nevertheless, because he wanted to give landlords higher rents, the Minister actually said that it was slum clearance. The Bill had in it a Clause requiring local authorities to send forward their slum clearance schemes. Did he need a Bill for that? Only a letter was needed to do that, yet the Minister has to put it in a Bill—
§ Mr. Bevan
"Operation Rescue," but it did not even rescue landlords. It was one of the clumsiest efforts that has ever been made. [HON. MEMBERS: "A mouldy turnip."] Yes, I called it a mouldy turnip, and that is what the landlords call it now. I shall have to be very careful, or I shall become known as the landlords' friend.
The right hon. Gentleman now says, "We are going to cut down subsidies in order to give an incentive to build slum clearance houses." He cut the subsidy last year and, on his own showing, it ought to be £30. It is lower, not higher. He says that it will encourage local authorities to build more slum clearance schemes by making it too expensive to 2584 build other schemes. He asks what we are complaining about now and suggests that he is giving local authorities notice of his intention and reducing the subsidy now in order to ease it down because later he is to take it away altogether? "Is that not a just thing to do?" he asks. It is like a man saying, "You ought to accept this black eye, now with thanks, because later on I am going to cut your throat." That is what the right hon. Gentleman is saying.
Furthermore, he has the impudence to tell the House that, as a result of these schemes, slum clearance will go ahead. There is not an officer in his Department who believes it. He does not believe it himself. Why? He gave the answer in his own speech. He said the local authorities had estimated that they would be able to build 75,000 houses a year, before they had the incentive—before his scheme was announced. They were going to build 75,000 a year but now he says they are to build 60,000 a year. This is a Bill to prevent at least 15,000 slum clearance houses being built, yet it is put forward as a slum clearance Bill. Of all the dishonesty—it is really dishonest.
I have a few other things in pickle for the right hon. Gentleman later. He is going down as a very bad housing Minister. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I will accept any challenge hon. Members opposite like to make on that business. I am perfectly prepared to accept any challenge they like to make. I said on Second Reading that hon. Members opposite were not building houses but were building a majority and using the majority to stop building houses.
§ Mr. Sandys
All I want to say is that the right hon. Gentleman is certainly a good judge of what is a bad housing Minister.
§ Mr. Bevan
Of course I am. We have seen two bad housing Ministers; we do know it. The houses that have been built recently—in very great numbers, I grant them that—were described by The Times when they were undertaken as "the slums of the near future." That is what hon. Members opposite have built. Later, when we come to the relevant part of the Bill, I shall deal with the decline in superficial feet of houses built since the war to show what has been happening and how careless is the party opposite, not only of the wellbeing of the people of 2585 Britain, but of the amenities of the countryside and towns.
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that of course if he accepts this Amendment it will effectively postpone the operation of the Bill for at least five to six years. Why should it not? It is a miserable Bill. Nobody wants it—nobody on his side of the Committee really wants it. When the full consequences of the Bill are known to the country as a whole, the party opposite will find itself face to face with many an angry demonstration in their constituencies.
§ Mr. Gibson
In many respects the Minister successfully avoided the Amendment, although, in fact, he really provided the case for it.
The right hon. Gentleman started his speech by saying that nobody suggested there is not still a big housing shortage. He said the same in the Second Reading debate. He is right; of course there is a tremendous housing shortage all over the country. If that is so, why is he reducing the subsidies without which local authorities simply cannot build houses to let at reasonable rents—rents which the average working man can afford to pay? My right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) was right in suggesting that the birthplace of this Bill was somewhere else than in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. The Minister is being a willing tool of the financial pundits who run the affairs of the country from Threadneedle Street.
The right hon. Gentleman once defeated me at an Election. He had a very big majority in Norwood, but I remember saying immediately afterwards that we would put him out at the next Election. We did, but there had to be a war in between before we could do so. I warn the right hon. Gentleman that if he does not accept some of the Amendments we are moving to the Bill in an effort to improve it his chances of holding Streatham at the next Election will be very small. Already, there is considerable disturbance among people in that part of London. When we tell them, as we shall, that the right hon. Gentleman admits there is a big housing shortage— not of tens, but hundreds of thousands of families—and that the chances of those people getting houses in the next ten years are to be killed by this Bill, I am sure 2586 he will find a great deal fiercer opposition than he has so far found in his constituency.
The right hon. Gentleman admits that to accept the Amendment might bring half a million houses into the range of the subsidy. That is what we want. It is what the country and local authorities want. None of them is satisfied with the Bill. None of them will agree that there is any case for reducing the subsidies on general housing, for they all agree that the general housing problem has not been solved.
That being so, it is a scandal that the Government should have brought in this Bill. It will inevitably mean that hundreds of thousands of families, living not in slums or in houses which could be declared slums under the existing law, but living in overcrowded conditions, four or five families to a house, in some cases with two or more families in small two-storey houses, will have no chance whatever—there is very little now—of ever getting a decent modern house in which to live and to raise their famlies.
Because the Amendment would bring in about half a million of the new houses, the right hon. Gentleman says that that is too much and would cost a lot more money—it would pour out a few more millions from the Treasury for general housing purposes. But I believe that that policy would be right. Had the country been told during the Election that this would be done, I am sure that the people would have said that we on this side were right about it. In Wandsworth, which the right hon. Gentleman represents with me in the House, nobody mentioned housing subsidies during the last Election. I certainly did not, and none of the right hon. Gentleman's Friends mentioned it, He did not mention it himself, but he was not then, of course, the Minister of Housing and Local Government. I suspect that he had not even thought of it.
The Government have no possible mandate for putting this mean trick across local authorities and across the people who so badly need houses. It is being done entirely at the dictation of a Victorian kind of philosophy which has always failed the country every time it has been allowed to dominate political actions in the past.
2587 Many authorities, my own included, bought sites, as the Minister advised them to do, on which to build years ahead. I used to tell the people who bought sites for the London County Council, "Think four, five and six years ahead and find empty sites. Let us see them and be prepared to buy them." I said that in the belief that we would be able to build decent places for people to live in. Many of the sites bought by local authorities all over the country will not come under the terms of the Bill, because no tenders have been accepted and no resolutions have been passed to build new houses. There will, therefore, be a complete waste of public money. I cannot see any of the local authorities building on those sites which they already own.
One instance is reported in today's newspapers. It is a small one, but is typical of what is happening. Bungay, in Suffolk, has decided that in view of the heavy cost of building and the high interest rates and the loss of subsidies, it will do no more general housing.
§ Mr. Percy Wells (Faversham)
The council in the constituency of the Parliamentary Secretary—East Ashford Rural District Council—has taken the same decision, for the same reason.
§ Mr. Gibson
Not only are local authorities already making that decision, but housing societies are doing the same. The big housing societies, with big money behind them, which have done magnificent work in housing so far as they were able, are deciding that, in view of the situation which the Bill will create, they cannot go on with housing for the next few years. I know that one society cancelled its negotiations for the purchase of a site in a town outside London. This trend will spread.
For a Minister who admits that there is a terrific housing problem and that hundreds of thousands of families badly need homes, to bring in a Bill which will abolish subsidy altogether and make building impossible for all but the very wealthy local authorities, is a crime. He might ease his conscience a little by accepting the Amendment, which is merely a sweetening of the bitter pill which local authorities have to swallow.
Judging by what the Minister has just said at the Dispatch Box, he does not 2588 propose to accept the Amendment. If so, he can be sure that people outside the House of Commons will take note of that and will realise, as some of us have said about the Bill from the beginning, that it is an attempt to kill municipal housing in the hope that it can be thrown into the hands of the speculative builders, as happened between the wars. If that happens, it will be goodbye to decent housing for the ordinary people.
There is a lot more to be said on this subject and I have no doubt that some of my hon. Friends are anxiously waiting to have their say. I hope, however, that before the evening is out the Minister will think again and accept the Amendment, which would afford some little easement of a situation which will be tragic in a few months' time.
§ Mr. Arthur Probert (Aberdare)
I am glad of this opportunity to speak on one of the stages of the Housing Bill. It is nearly twelve months since I last spoke in the House, when I made my maiden speech, but that is not due to any lack of trying. However, I do not propose to waste time with reminiscences.
In introducing the Bill, the Minister commented upon the fact that it was his desire to bring a feeling of reality into the position. This is what he said:I believe that it will be generally recognised that the policy which I have announced represents an important step in the direction of restoring some measure of reality to housing finance."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th October, 1955; Vol. 545, c. 382.]How true that was, judging by the almost unanimous reactions of local authorities. I have quotations from practically all the local authorities of South Wales and Monmouthshire, who are unanimous in rejecting the proposals of the Bill. In that sense, it is true that the Minister has succeeded in bringing some measure of reality into housing finance.
In the twelve months that I have been in Parliament, I have had a high regard for the ability, knowledge and experience of the Minister. What I certainly do not envy are the methods by which he uses that experience and knowledge to settle the problems which confront him on housing. Indeed, the application of the measures included in the Bill can be described by the one word "calamitous."
By no stretch of imagination can it be deduced that the Bill will solve the 2589 housing problem. It may solve certain financial problems which are impinged upon housing by the desires of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but it is obvious that it will bring more and more upon local authorities a burden which is already intolerable. Indeed, there is no question of the blatant fact that the Bill is merely a matter of fiscal policy, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) has pointed out. If we are not careful, it may apply the coup de grâce to the administration of housing problems by local authorities.
The right hon. Gentleman himself has in the past continually stressed the fact that we must be more devolutionary, that we must continually take administration away from the central machine to the local machines. On Second Reading he said that if we took the number of local authority houses as 2¾ million and assumed a mean figure of housing production of 80,000 houses a year, and that if we did this and if we did that we should have a figure of 5d. and 2d. and 7d. per week increase in the rent of every single house. We were warned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale a little while ago that if we intended to be facetious we should warn the Committee. I am not being facetious when I say that many of us will remember a little rhyme we knew in our school days:If ifs and andsWere pots and pansThere'd be no need for tinkers.The right hon. Gentleman's hypothesis of "if this and if that" is by no means inconsequential, as he is already finding out. I am sure that he is feeling by now that that phrase of his is being alluded to ad infinitum, and no doubt it will be used ad nauseam, to his own sad experience.
We have heard much of the experiences of the larger local authorities, and I am grateful to have the opportunity of illustrating the difficulties of the local authorities which comprise my constituency. There are two urban district councils with almost equal populations of 40,000 each. Whatever may be the difficulties inherent in London, the Midlands, and so on, and we know they are very great, the right hon. Gentleman's proposals affect extremely adversely the smaller local authorities whose populations number about 40,000. As evidence of that I will quote some figures which 2590 I have obtained from the treasurer of the Aberdare Urban District Council.
I quote these figures to impress on the right hon. Gentleman what will be the impact of the immediate cessation of the housing subsidies. These figures are grouped in four sections, and in each the treasurer has included a rate of interest of 5 per cent. which, I think, is a fair assumption. When last I was employed by this local authority on housing we were building about 300 a year. That was the tempo of building, and I think it fair to assume that that would have been the tempo in the future, but for certain things that I shall mention in a moment.
The treasurer has also included a number of houses recently completed, approximately 200, and houses which are built on sites where we are endeavouring to build for the future. The sites in that locality are difficult because of mining subsidence. Therefore, the inclusive cost of these Laing's Easiform three-bedroom houses is £1,970. That is fairly high but inclusive. It is fair to assume that the type of house we shall build will cost at least that. However, I want to be fair, and I shall assume that the figure is exact.
In fairness to the Minister I would say that we in Aberdare, at least, have incorporated a pool system of rents. That local authority, with the exception of one or two, has the lowest rents of any authority. I do not say that with any special pride, because there are relevant circumstances that enable that to be so, but I think that it will show these figures in a more glaring light.
The treasurer says that assuming an Exchequer subsidy of £10 and a rate subsidy of seven guineas and a rent of £1 2s. 11d., then if those houses are to be economic the rent will increase by 90 per cent. to £2 4s. 2d. If the rate of interest is 5 per cent. and the Exchequer subsidy £10 and the rate subsidy nil—we have to consider that eventuality—the mean rent of £ 2s. 11d. goes up more than 100 per cent. to £2 7s. immediately. With the Exchequer subsidy nil and a rate subsidy of seven guineas—which is likely within a year or so—the rent will go up 109 per cent. from £1 2s. 11d. to £2 8s. The extreme possibility is a rate of interest of 5 per cent., 2591 Exchequer subsidy nil and rate subsidy nil, when the rent goes up 122 per cent. from £1 2s. 11d. to £2 10s. 10d. I admit that is the extreme case.
I am pleading for a period of grace for these authorities, which is what the Amendment seeks. Let us assume that we build at a tempo of 300 a year, as we did in the past, and that we can pool these rents with the present rents. There are approximately 2,000 houses owned by the local authority. I want to remind the right hon. Gentleman of his quotation of 2d., 5d. and 7d. These will be the facts. I take the fourth category to save time. If the rate of interest is 5 per cent. and the Exchequer subsidy nil and the rate subsidy nil on 300 houses, the rent of every single house owned by the local authority of that area goes up 4s. per week per house. That is how these proposals will affect my local authority.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Fenner Brockway) and my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Iorwerth Thomas) that it is our duty to bring constituency problems to the committee. Therefore, I will tell the Committee that about 18 months ago the building programme of my authority was thwarted by what I can only describe as a stupid decision of the Minister. I shall not now go into the reasons why it was stupid, but his decision stopped the local authority from acquiring—I think it was —a hundred or so acres of land, which meant that, in view of the difficulties of subsidence in our area, the local authority found it could not build for some years to come, because the National Coal Board had suggested to the local authority that building should be halted on those sites until investigations had been made to see that they were sound.
The effect has been that for practically 14 months not a single house has been built in the area of my authority. But recently the local authority received the approval of the Ministry for the acquisition by compulsory purchase of a site on which to build 200 houses. It now means, because the local authority has not been able to build in the last 14 months, that the houses will bear rents at the high scales which I have indicated.
2592 I say quite sincerely as a Socialist that we on this side of the Committee apply our experience to this problem and attempt to make a human approach to it. It has been obvious in the twelve months that I have been a Member of Parliament that that is not the case with the other side of the Committee, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale has indicated. The approach of the other side of the Committee is enshrouded with platitudes and red herrings. The truth is that the Bill is a fiscal Bill and the Minister, whose position I do not envy, is dictated to by the desires of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I remember from my worst days and most embarrassing experiences some of the words of Hamlet. I am not being facetious in saying that the time will come when the Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will wish that the earth would swallow them up. They will say, in the words of the immortal Prince,O! that this too too solid flesh would melt,Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew;Or that the Everlasting had not fix'dHis canon 'gainst self-slaughter! O God! O God!How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitableSeem to me all the uses of this world.Those last two lines are particularly applicable to the Minister.
We on this side of the Committee will attempt to bring that situation about for him as quickly as possible. I realise that the right hon. Gentleman may not worry about us, but he will worry when the general public, and in particular the electorate, begin to worry him. That time will come quickly. I shall do my best to bring it about as quickly as possible, and when it comes I shall welcome it.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
On Second Reading I referred in particular to the disastrous effects of the Clause on my constituency. I am tempted to repeat what I then said, but I shall refrain. I understand from my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Collins) that the Minister had the honour of either living or being stationed in Finsbury Park. That is part of my constituency and, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman should be very well acquainted with what will be the serious results in that area of the application of the Bill.
2593 I want to put this matter from a new point of view. If anyone said to the Minister and to any member of the Government that they were doing something which was in conflict with the recognised principles of our law they would be aghast at the idea. If any person makes a representation that a certain state of affairs exists, and on the strength of that representation another person does something or alters his position, it is a recognised principle of our law that the person who has made the representation cannot change his position and say, "I did not do it." It is the principle in English law of estoppel.
The Government are today breaking the bargain they made. They are not only breaking it in the ordinary sense of the term, but they are doing something which is in direct conflict with a recognised principle of our law. They have represented quite definitely to the various local authorities that if the local authorities built houses, adopted planning schemes, and drew up their estimates, they could do those things upon the basis of receiving the old subsidy. The plans of the local authorities have been drawn up on that basis.
On Second Reading, I gave certain figures in relation to this matter in connection with Stoke Newington Borough Council and Hackney Borough Council. It was made clear that they had involved themselves in very considerable expenditure in adopting plans and acquiring sites on the basis of receipt of the old subsidy. Compulsory purchase orders had actually been drawn up and approved by the Minister in connection with schemes taken up because the local authorities believed—and were led by the Government to believe—that they would be able to receive the old subsidies.
Is it not little short of a fraud on the part of the Ministry to go back on that? I cannot conceive of a business man entering into an arrangement with someone and then altering the whole basis of that arrangement, going back upon his word, and not being accused of a gross breach of faith, of a breach of contract, or of actual fraud. I know that the Minister said by way of answer to criticism, "It is all very well. They will get the sites and will he able to use them." 2594 Does not the Minister recognise that when a local authority draws up its plans and arranges its finances it has to have regard to the position as it then knows it to be? How can the Minister say afterwards, "It does not matter. They can utilise the sites for something else, on the basis of the reduced subsidy."
I ask the Minister to consider this matter again and look at it from this point of view, bearing in mind that the local authorities have drawn up their plans and he has approved those plans and therefore has recognised that the local authorities are justified in adopting them and preparing to proceed with the work. I ask him to consider whether it is not elementary justice to postpone the effect of the Bill for a period so that the local authorities will be able to proceed with their plans as originally intended.
If the right hon. Gentleman will consider the matter in that light, he will recognise that unless he adopts a proposal like that put forward in the Amendment he will be open to a charge of a breach of faith and of sheer fraud, because he has previously made representations to the local authorities that he, on behalf of the Government, was prepared to see that their plans went forward on the basis of the old subsidy. Now, as the Minister himself says, with only one week's warning he is going back on that representation. I hope that the Minister will look at the matter again and agree to accept in some form an extension of the time before the Clause comes into effect.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mrs. Slater
I want to add my plea to that of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) to the Minister to look at this Amendment again. It was obvious when the right hon. Gentleman spoke that he was trying either to make a clever debating point or to delude people into thinking that he was really concerned about the local authorities. I hope, therefore, that he will reconsider this point in the interests not only of local authorities but of the many thousands of people on the waiting lists for houses.
There is no doubt that this Bill is part of the policy of the Chancellor, continued from the Budget into housing. That statement was made time and time 2595 again in the debate last week. The hon. Lady the Member for Edgbaston (Miss Pitt) said that it was part of a deliberate policy to stabilise the financial position of the country and to tackle inflation and that it sought to put realism into the country's housing policy. So there is no doubt that this Bill is a continuation of the Budget in another direction. Therefore, the immediate policy in this Bill is to cut down the expenditure of local authorities on one of their most important services, houses.
§ Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
My hon. Friend is making an interesting point. No doubt she is aware that in tonight's newspaper there is news of the failure of the Glasgow Corporation loan on the London money market on the ground that the interest rate offered is too low. This is a typical result of the policy of the Government.
§ Mrs. Slater
I thank my hon. Friend for that interruption, because it is an added argument for my case. The longterm policy in this Bill is to force gradually more and more local authorities into the position where they will have fewer and fewer houses to let. The next step will be to take away rent control, so that we hand over those poor folk at present in rent-controlled private houses to the people who are making money on the money market.
The year before last, when we listened to the arguments put forward on the Housing Repairs and Rent Bill, we were told that the Bill was "a crusade" to get more houses fit to live in. I suppose that this is part of the same crusade. We are told that this is a crusade to get more houses built for slum clearance, but it is a blow to many thousands of folks living in conditions which are degrading.
I speak tonight on behalf of my own local council, the Stoke-on-Trent City Council. My city council is at the head of 24 county boroughs in its housing record. Why is it in the lead? Because we had a Labour-controlled council which was determined to build houses for the people. Anyone who looks up the record of county boroughs and local authorities will find that some of the best housing records are those of Labour-controlled councils. This is because, as my hon. and learned Friend said, it is a matter of 2596 our philosophy, namely, that we must build decent homes for the people.
Soon after 1945 our housing committee decided to ensure two things in its housing policy. One was that we would give continuity of labour to those employed on our housing sites. That we have done, and we have done it because we have had a follow-on of houses. We have known that so many had footings in, so many could go on to the next stage, others to the succeeding stage. There was definite planning, so that when the bad weather came the workers could work inside. In pre-war days those same building labourers had to go on the dole in the winter months.
The second was that we would endeavour to give continuity of building to the contractors and the public works. We met the contractors and the people who supplied the bricks and the concrete. Concrete was almost impossible to get then but we came to an arrangement with the suppliers. This was important in such an area where concrete is vital because of mining subsidence, since we have to put more underneath to ensure that the houses last the length of time for which they are built. When it was impossible to work with the bricks we had them sent to the sites so that as soon as the frosty weather was over, we could go ahead. In this way we gave continuity to the contractors and the workers.
In addition, the council decided to experiment. When we were told that we must erect prefabricated and non-traditional houses, we decided instead to build traditional houses but to cut expense, not by reducing standards but by good organisation. We were successful in this. We were also determined to plan our housing policy for the kind of people we desired to serve. For the last two years we decided to build 1,200 slum clearance houses before this idea was thought of, and we arrived at the stage where we were building 2,500 houses a year.
Not only have we experimented in cutting the cost of houses without reducing living standards, but we have experimented in the type of houses built, in the variety of design and in the variety of size in order to serve families of different sizes. We have built houses so that our old people can be housed. Recently, the 2597 Parliamentary Secretary opened a good block of flats for single persons which I think is a credit to our local authority, showing originality and a desire to serve this class of people in need of homes.
We have about 8,000 folk on our waiting list, 3,000 of whom are desperately urgent cases. Some of them have tuberculosis in the family, so it is necessary that they should be rehoused quickly. Many of those 3,000 live in terrible housing conditions. As a woman, I suggest that it is difficult for two women to work continually in one small kitchen. There is nothing more annoying and soul-destroying than having somebody under your feet all the time and it is almost impossible to work in such conditions.
To those 3,000 urgent cases as well as the other 5,000, all of whom have a housing need, we now say, because of the attitude of the Minister, "You cannot expect a house within years. You must go on living in overcrowded conditions. If you have decided that you will not have any children until you have a house of your own, then you will not nave a family. If you decide that you want children, you must be prepared to have your mother-in-law or father-in-law saying that you must get out because they cannot stand the crying of the child." We shall have to tell them that they cannot have a decent room in which to put a cot, and they will not be able to buy new furniture because they have nowhere to put it. That is the kind of thing that we are now saying to these people.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I do not wish to interrupt the hon. Lady, but the point of the Amendment is an extension of the time.
§ Mrs. Slater
I am coming to that, Sir Rhys. It is necessary for me to say what I am saying now. It is a reason why it is necessary to extend the period for the benefit of local authorities like my own, who have a plan of operation which they will be unable to carry through unless the period is extended. I urge the Minister to look at the matter in the light of the facts which I have given him, bearing in mind the desire of local authorities to provide their folk with homes.
It is absolutely necessary that local authorities should have a longer period in which to submit their plans so that 2598 they can assure the people on the waiting lists who are in desperate need that they will at least receive human consideration. The Minister's attitude is that there is no human approach to the problem. I urge him to look at the problem not in the way that he has done but as a person possessing some milk of human kindness who is anxious to help local authorities desiring to build houses in which their people may live comfortable lives.
§ Sir Frederick Messer (Tottenham)
I think all hon. Members will agree that the matter has been very well argued. However, there are one or two points that I should like to make.
It has been represented to me that here are certain local authorities, and even local authority associations, which believe that they are being subjected to what they describe as, in effect, a breach of contract. There is not a local authority which has purchased a site on its own responsibility. Local authorities have obtained consent from the Ministry to borrow and have then succeeded in raising the necessary loans on the understanding that the site was being acquired for house building. They have then begun to meet their obligations. They have had to meet sinking fund charges and interest charges on the loans.
If local authorities have to build houses without the subsidy, will it be possible for them to find tenants who can afford to pay economic rents? The answer to that question is easy. Many hon. Members have quoted figures. In my constituency, not a prosperous one, the type of person who would enter such a house is not earning enough to be able to afford the economic rent. The result would be an accentuation of the present deplorable situation.
At present there are 11,000 people on the Tottenham waiting list. Week after week people come to me and say, "Can you give me a letter to the registrar of the county court, because a court order has been made against me?," "Can you obtain an extension of time for me?," and "Can you get the local council to place me high on the priority list?" I have given up. I know full well what the answer is. Finally, we come to the breakup of family life, and the father is 2599 accommodated in one place and the mother in another, and the children are in a children's home.
The Amendment might at least prevent some break-up of family life and give local authorities an opportunity to rearrange matters. We have to realise that local authorities have bought their sites on the anticipation that they would receive a subsidy. Not one thought it would be left to foot the bill itself. In this respect I limit myself to the terms of the Amendment. I am asking for nothing more than that local authorities should be given an opportunity. The notice which they have received gives them no opportunity.
I should like to know what will happen to the site if the local authority is convinced that it cannot let the houses which are built without a subsidy. Does it mean that it will have to continue paying sinking fund and interest charges, and that the site will be left unused? Local authorities are entitled to have these matters explained to them.
I realise the Minister's difficulties. What he is saying is, in effect, "I am telling you frankly that ultimately the subsidy will go. I am not cutting it off all at once. The present stage is to warn you of the coming complete abolition of it. We are letting you down lightly at the moment by cutting by a first instalment only."
That does not take full cognisance of all that is happening. I appeal to the Minister to look at the matter in the light of what my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater) said. This is not a financial problem but a deep, painful, human, social problem. We who live fairly comfortably in our homes probably find it difficult to appreciate what it means to persons living in overcrowded conditions and people who have been on housing lists for a long time and are in real distress. They will now be told that, no matter how long they have been waiting and no matter what the circumstances of their home life may be—they may be living in congested conditions, perhaps with a member of the family suffering from an infectious disease, maybe tuberculosis—they can be given no hope.
2600 It would be easy to make political capital out of this, but I put it on a higher level than any party interest. I hope the Minister will be able to show us a change of mind, which we shall not get unless there is a change of heart, and will do something to minimise the severity of the situation which the Government will find facing them if they continue with the policy outlined. What I want to know is what will happen to the people if fewer houses are to be built.
§ Mr. Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)
I should like to reiterate the plea, made by my hon. Friends with such moving eloquence, that at least the Minister should reconsider the operative date for the reduction of the housing subsidies. I venture to suggest that if an ordinary commercial undertaking were to behave as the Government are behaving in this Measure it would be out of business within a few weeks, because no one would enter into an agreement with it. Its word would be unworthy of belief, it would have a dishonourable reputation and would be rapidly out of business altogether. If we play ducks and drakes with local authorities like this, there is a very grave danger of local authority administration completely breaking down.
In planning their housing development, local authorities are entitled to make certain financial assumptions. Where a local authority has, with the Minister's approval, acquired land for the building of houses, it is entitled to assume that the subsidies prevailing at the time of approval of the acquisition will continue. When that assumption is proved by reason of a change in Ministerial policy to be wrong, how can local government officials and councillors, who so generously give freely of their time, have any faith in central government? Already the difficulties of local councillors are considerable. One of the effects of this kind of Measure on some councillors is to make them shrug their shoulders and say to the Government "Get on with it yourselves. We will have no part in it."
There is a tendency by the Tory Government to make local councils more and more the hand-maidens of their dirty work, and that is proving increasingly unacceptable to local authorities. There is also vacillation in the policy of the Government on local authority matters in this as in many other subjects. How can any 2601 local authority build a stable policy on the shifting sands of Ministerial vacillation? In this Bill the date of tender is regarded as the test of the operative date for the reduction of these housing subsidies, but it is clear that the acceptance of the tender is almost the last stage in housing development. A great many expensive and difficult things have had to be done before that: compulsory acquisition of the land, or agreement to purchase it, and obtaining Ministerial approval.
What earthly comfort is it to the authority to be told by the Minister, "At least you can keep the land"? The land is acquired for the building of houses. An authority like West Ham, with the desperate housing need there, does not want to acquire the land for market gardening or playgrounds, but to relieve a hideous social problem of gross overcrowding and miserable living conditions which is defeating the whole fabric of social security and welfare which we have sought to build in this century in our country. The terms of this Bill inflicted on local authorities without due warning constitute a grave breach of faith by the central government with local authorities.
I ask the Minister to look again at least at this part of the Bill. Overwhelming arguments have been put to the Minister on this point. He has dealt with it in his own observations in a most inadequate fashion, and I ask him once again to apply his mind to it and to tell the Committee that he will at least make the operative date for continuance of subsidies at the higher level the date of the acquisition of the land with Ministerial approval. I ask him to look at this again, because it is putting the good faith and good name of the central government in issue and providing a very serious conflict between us and the local authorities.
§ Mr. Sidney Dye (Norfolk, South-West)
The whole weight of the arguments on the Amendment so far has come from those representing London and the larger towns. They have made their case, and an effective case, but the Minister has sat there with a very hard and tight-drawn face which has indicated that he has made up his mind and is going to stick to it, that he will see the Bill through as it was brought in, and he will carry out the 2602 intention of the Government at whatever cost and against whatever arguments are put forward.
I should have thought that on the first day of the Committee stage of the Bill he would have been able to indicate that he will be reasonable with the Committee and will listen to arguments, that he knows the human problem with which we are concerned and that he will give way on some aspects of this problem. This is the first, namely, to postpone the date so that some local authorities can make more progress with the larger scale of subsidy. That argument probably applies with greater force to the rural areas than to the towns. The object of the policy which the Government have pursued over the past year or two has been to encourage private building. That private building has very largely taken place in certain towns.
However, in agricultural England there has been a comparatively small amount of private building to meet the needs of farm workers and similar people. As, no doubt, the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to advise the Minister, in the Ashford area of Kent practically no private building has taken place in the villages to meet the needs of the workers. He can probably also advise the right hon. Gentleman that in those areas there is as great a need to attract and hold farm workers as at any time and that the difficulty is now at its most acute, and that the problem of houses is one of the matters that enters into the holding of the farm worker population in the countryside.
Where fewer privately built houses to meet the needs of the workers have been erected, I should have thought that the Minister would have looked at the problem from the broader point of view. In some parts of the country a good many privately built houses have been erected in the past two years. But not so in the agricultural districts if it is the expectation of the Minister that during the next year or two there will be more privately built houses and, therefore, there will not be the need for rural district councils to build so many houses, I think that it is wrong for him to think along those lines. Only this week there has been announced a reduction of 10 per cent. in the price of pigs.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Dye
With great respect, Sir Rhys, my argument is that if the purpose of the Minister in reducing the subsidy for council-built houses in the rural areas is to encourage farmers to build more houses for their workers, a reduction in the price of pigs will not give the farmers security for the future, and that they will not invest in houses built for their workers.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I would point out to the hon. Member that this Amendment is concerned with postponing the date of the subsidy.
§ Mr. Dye
It is for that reason that I want the rural district councils to have another year in which to build houses to meet this great need. If you do not wish me, Sir Rhys, to look at the prospects of private individuals investing money in building houses for the workers in agriculture, I will turn to another aspect of this important problem.
For over twenty years I have been a member of a rural district council. Many of the rural district councils are largely composed of farmers or their wives, or of solicitors and other people connected with them. The most difficult thing to get any rural district council to do is to condemn a cottage, and if the right hon. Gentleman is expecting that the rural district councils will now off with their jackets and turn up their sleeves to go into this question of slum clearance on a great scale to remove the blots—these wretched little hovels which have been inhabited in many cases for 500 and 600 years—
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;
§ House counted, and, 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. Dye
Now that we have some representatives of rural England and Wales present, I want to take up most seriously with them this question of slum 2604 clearance. The argument of the right hon. Gentleman, and, no doubt, of his Parliamentary Secretary, is that the rural district councils will now face up to the question of slum clearance, pull down the old cottages and build anew. I notice that the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) shakes his head.
§ Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)
They do not have slum cottages in my area. They have some good ones.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Dye) is getting wide of the Amendment. This Amendment is concerned with postponing the date of the subsidy.
§ Mr. Dye
The argument in favour of maintaining the position as stated in the Bill and by the right hon. Gentleman in his Second Reading speech was that he would expect slum clearance to take precedence over the building of council houses to meet the needs of those who are on the waiting lists. Now that we have had an indication from hon. Gentlemen opposite that they do not think this will happen, it makes the arguments in favour of this Amendment even stronger, if we are to overcome this problem of housing our rural population at a suitable standard.
Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite argued on political platforms, to win votes for the Conservative Party, that they had built so many houses and done so much. But they did not indicate that, when they came to power, one of the first things they would do would be to reduce the number of houses being built. Obviously, there are hon. Members opposite who are sincere in their desire to see the people of agricultural England and Wales adequately housed; and they would welcome the chance to express their feelings against the Minister and of postponing this reduction in the subsidy, so that district councils might make further progress in rehousing the people. That is important from the point of view of producing much which we need.
I have met a number of rural district councillors who would like to see local authorities given another three years to build more houses in an effort to ensure that no one will be without a decent home. I think that it would be a good thing if hon. Gentlemen opposite would realise that the arguments for this 2605 Amendment are stronger when applied to the needs of agricultural England than to the needs in the big towns.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
Is not the hon. Gentleman in some degree anticipating the permissive power to pay an extra subsidy under Clause 4?
§ Mr. Dye
I do not know what may be contained in the permissive Clauses until the Minister has explained them more clearly.
We must be concerned with councils who are engaged in the task of rehousing. There are difficulties, but what is needed more than anything is continuity of policy, a continuous programme of building, if we are to have decent housing at a price which the nation can afford. I hope that these points will be given attention by the Parliamentary Secretary, and that if he cannot accept this Amendment, because the Minister will not permit him to do so, he will look favourably on some of the other Amendments which we have yet to discuss.
§ Mr. Lewis
With the exception of an occasional few moments' absence, I have sat here the whole afternoon. I know that the Minister is himself interested in averages, particularly when they concern a ld., 2d. or 3d. on the rent, and therefore, it is interesting to note—as I am sure the Minister has noted—that on average there have never been more than four Members at any one time during the whole debate on the Government back benches.
§ Mr. Lewis
I was trying to give an example, Sir Rhys, of how this question of extending the period for another 12 months was relevant, and to point out that if more hon. Members opposite had been present to listen to the debate, some of them would probably have supported our endeavours to get this Amendment accepted by the Minister. Of course, the fact that there are now fourteen hon. Members present on the benches opposite is solely due to the fact that we recently had a count, and I would like to recapitulate for their benefit our argument in favour of the Amendment and why we think that the Minister should accept it.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The hon. Member ought not to give me warning that he is going 4o engage in repetition.
§ Mr. Lewis
I would not dare attempt, Sir Rhys, to flout the wishes of the Chair, and I am now going on to explain the objectives of this Amendment and how it will affect not only my constituents, but the constituents of many hon. Members opposite who are now present for the first time in this debate, and to explain to them what great damage will be done if the Amendment is not accepted, particularly in the rebuilding of blitzed areas.
I think it is true to say that local authorities have to go through a long rigmarole of procedure before they can acquire sites, can get Ministerial approval and can get on with the job of actually building the houses. Inevitably they have to enter into great financial obligations which some of them cannot really afford, even with the assistance of the existing subsidy. My own local authority is in that position. We in West Ham have the unenviable reputation of being the worst blitzed borough on the country.
West Ham lost completely 14,000 houses, and, as a result, two-thirds of its rateable income. It has vast areas on which probably stand one or two derelict ruins. The council acquired the land, but has not got on with the actual job of rebuilding because it wants to do that which the Tories never did in the inter-war years—build on a proper basis instead of building potential slums. The council has got its plans prepared, but has not got down to inviting tenders for rebuilding on the sites.
It is true that the present Minister, his predecessor and other Ministers advised the blitzed areas to get on with the job of rebuilding. But under the Bill as drafted, we find that unless councils actually invite tenders before 3rd November, they will be left in the difficult position of not having the financial assistance which is rightfully theirs.
That may not worry hon. Members opposite who represent Henley-on-Thames, Bournemouth, Bath or Boscombe. Their local authorities are in the happy position of having a good rateable income and a relatively low rate. But what will be the position of an area 2607 such as West Ham, or a blitzed London borough, or any other London area? West Ham now has a rate of 28s. in the £, and with the increase in the interest rates which the Government have put on a further £30,000 will have to be found, meaning an increase of at least 6d. in the £ upon the rates for the next 60 years, assuming that there is no further increase in the cost of living, or other inflationary effects from the Budget—which, of course, will certainly not be the case.
That means that areas such as West Ham will have to do one of two things. They will either have to try to rebuild and put the cost on to the rates—and hon. Members opposite will appreciate how difficult that will be with a rate burden of 28s. 6d. in April and inevitable further increases—or stop house-building except in respect of slum clearance. But West Ham's problem is not so much concerned with slums, because one good job that Hitler did—although he did it with a great amount of tragedy, and loss both of human life and treasured possessions—was to clear practically all the slums in West Ham. He has left the problem with the local authority, because it cannot invoke the Clause relating to slum clearance and, hence, cannot get the so-called additional subsidy. It must now either rebuild and add the whole additional cost to the rates or, as the Minister suggested, spread the burden over both the pool of existing houses and the new ones which it intends to build.
I do not know where the Minister gets his 2d. or 3d. from, but the West Ham borough treasurer has told me that, spreading the cost over both the old and the new, it will mean 5s. 8d. per week on the rents, assuming again that no further increase in interest rates takes place. It will mean—and it is already happening—that many tenants of prewar council houses will pay more than the tenants of rent-controlled houses owned by private landlords.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
Is it not a fact that, if this burden is spread over all classes of houses, the more houses that are built the higher will be the rents of all the council houses?
§ Mr. Lewis
I was going on to show how essential it is for the Minister to accept the Amendment, and to explain that, unless he does so, it will be impossible for local authorities such as West Ham, East Ham, Poplar, Clapham and even the Minister's own constituency, to carry out the normal job of rehousing persons in urgent need. It is essential for the Minister and his hon. Friends to appreciate why we are so insistent that the Amendment should be accepted or at least considered by the Minister.
When the Minister interjected, by invitation of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), he never attempted to deal with any of the legitimate and very concise arguments put by my hon. Friend. No part in the debate has been taken by hon. Members opposite, except the hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader Cooper), who said that Ilford was very happy with the Bill; they wanted it, and wanted to see all the housing subsidies done away with.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
The hon. Gentleman is entitled to a little hyperbole, but not to exaggerate out of all knowledge.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Lewis
It appears that he is neither for it nor against it, neither for the Amendment nor against it. He said that the Ilford Council were not opposed to the Clause and are not in favour of the Amendment. I do not know whether they are in favour of it or not. I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman is in favour of it or not. All I know is that there was a rent strike recently in Ilford, and if the Amendment is not carried—
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The hon. Gentleman comes back to the Amendment now and again. I wish he would stick to it a little more.
§ Mr. Lewis
I was about to explain, Sir Rhys, that unless the Minister accepts the Amendment the strikes which we have seen in Ilford will be as nothing compared 2609 with what we shall see not only in Ilford, but in West Ham, East Ham, Clapham, Woolwich and elsewhere.
This is a very serious matter. Some hon. Members have mentioned the present difficulties of local authorities in trying to rehouse the people on their growing waiting lists, even with the present limited subsidy. The Minister has himself admitted that with the increased cost of living and the depreciation in the purchasing power of the £, the existing subsidy is not sufficient. Unless he accepts the Amendment to continue the subsidies for the next twelve months, we shall find that because of inflationary effects the subsidies will be pro tanto reduced, and as a consequence we shall not even rebuild the slum areas.
That is the situation which now confronts local authorities and which will be aggravated if the Amendment is not carried. We have 14,000 people in West Ham on the urgent, priority waiting list. We have had to scrap our general waiting list because there are so many on it that we cannot keep count. When I hear hon. Members speaking about four, five or six people living in one or two rooms, I tell them, with respect, that that is nothing; in East and West Ham families are having to live apart, one parent in one borough, one parent in another borough and the children spread all over the country. That is going to be made worse now. West Ham will not be able to build houses for those in urgent need because the subsidy has been reduced and will eventually be completely abolished.
If it is the desire of the Minister, I am sure it is not the desire of his hon. Friends to see that housing for those in urgent need shall cease altogether. If it is their desire, perhaps they will give the Committee the reasons why they feel that housing should cease. I have sat here all the afternoon and have not attempted to take part in the debate. I have sat and listened because I wanted to hear the views of hon. Members opposite on this Amendment. I am open to correction, but I think the hon. and gallant Member for Ilford. South is the only Member opposite who has taken part.
I am glad to see that the Parliamentary Secretary has been away from the Front Bench, I hope it was in order to get information from his advisers. Since all 2610 my hon. Friends have taken the opportunity of explaining the difficulties to him, I hope that at least he will do better than the Minister in considering the points we have put to him. I want particularly to emphasise that those areas which of necessity have had to clear sites and are in process of clearing sites will not rank for grant under the reduced subsidies because, technically, that work will not be slum clearance within the meaning of the Bill. I do not think it right that people who were bombed out, not once but four or five times in the war—people who are having to pay 28s. in the £ rates—should have to pay increased rates because the Minister refuses to accept the Amendment. I see, Sir Rhys, that you are attempting to rise—
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The reason I was about to rise was because the hon. Member was repeating an argument which has already been used.
§ Mr. Lewis
With respect, Sir Rhys, I have not repeated the argument. I was going to explain to the Parliamentary Secretary that there is an additional point that I have not mentioned. It is that people have been bombed out four or five times and have not had a home of any sort for ten years since the war—and many of them during the whole period of the war. We think it is immoral, it is indecent and, in fact, disgusting to expect them to have to pay an additional amount per week, either on rent or rates, to have houses to replace those knocked down during the war. That point I have not mentioned and I want to emphasise it, because it is a point with which the Minister did not attempt to deal. I want to ask him to give consideration to it in so far as it affects his division of Streatham.
I know my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson), had he had an opportunity, would have liked to develop the point he made about the effect this provision has on areas like Clapham. I am glad to see by hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mrs. L. Jeger) present. She has been here all the afternoon and she will agree that it affects her area as well. I ask the Minister not to dodge the issue but to give us some answer that, even if he will not accept this Amendment, he will favourably consider granting to 2611 authorities in the situation I have described an extension under Clause 5 of the Bill—
§ Mr. Gibson
I should like to ask my hon. Friend through you, Sir Rhys, if it is not a fact that houses built in the next 18 months in replacement of those destroyed by bombs will not come under the subsidy provisions at all.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
May I make an appeal to the Committee. This discussion is getting beyond the Amendment. The Amendment is a serious Amendment—[HON. MEMBERS: "Very serious."]—and the Committee should keep the arguments directed to the Amendment.
§ The Deputy-Chairman rose—
§ Mr. Lewis
With respect, Sir Rhys, will you let me put the point of order? I was putting to the Minister and to the Committee that unless the Amendment is accepted there will be areas which have been badly blitzed and damaged in the war which will now be in even worse financial difficulties. I suggest that is a very serious and pertinent argument to put forward on this Amendment.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)
I listened with considerable interest to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis). Although perhaps on one or two points he strayed near to going out of order, I think that on the whole he expressed his case within order.
I was interested to hear the Minister's intervention and was impressed once again that he seems to have failed to 2612 realise the complete departure from previous subsidy reviews which is embodied in the Bill. He told the Committee within the last hour or so that he was prepared to consider rearranging the Clause so as to permit the same length of time to be given as was allowed with the last review of subsidies. He offered to consider allowing local authorities a period of ten months. In effect, he said, "I will allow local authorities, as was done previously, to claim subsidies for those houses that are built within the next ten months."
The Minister, in making that tentative concession, which, in fact, was no concession at all, seemed to assume that his proposals in the Bill were of the same nature and on the same level as have applied in the past when the House has reviewed the housing subsidies. The right hon. Gentleman, it seems, fails to understand that his Bill is quite different from any past review of subsidies. Indeed, the Bill is not a review of subsidies but represents a definite slashing of them to the extent of a very large cut. It is insufficient, therefore, for the Minister to propose that the same measure of time as was allowed with previous subsidy reviews should apply to the Bill, for the whole method of dealing with subsidies is now on a different level and is a far more vigorous cutting policy than we have had in the past. The Minister, no doubt, believed that he was putting forward a reasonable concession, but we know there would be no concession if we were to allow the same interval to elapse before the subsidy ends as was allowed on previous occasions.
I am rather inclined to think that the Minister fails to realise the gravity of the charge laid against him this afternoon. Time after time, hon. Members have charged him seriously with breaking faith with local authorities. He has been told of the view of authorities throughout the country that this wholesale slashing of subsidies, unprecedented in severity, is a breach of faith. My hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. McColl), my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Collins) and many other of my hon. Friends have made that charge against the Minister.
The time allowed for the local authorities to adjust themselves to the new rates of subsidy was indeed very short. 2613 Today, the Minister has himself admitted there was only a week's notice for the local authorities to adjust themselves to the 50 per cent. cut in the basic subsidies he proposes. What happened? Local authorities were obliged to adopt all kinds of unusual procedures and to snap at contracts to get as many contracts as possible before 3rd November so that the old rate of subsidy would apply.
My own local authority, in carrying out its duty to the ratepayers and to the many thousands who are in housing need, took some vigorous action in that miserably short week the Minister allowed. It called a special meeting of the housing committee, an extraordinary meeting of the council, to push through one or two tenders ready to be endorsed by the council, and it did that to get the tenders through before 3rd November, so that the houses to be built to those tenders would qualify for the existing and higher subsidy.
It is quite wrong that local authorities should have to adopt such tactics to pursue their housing policies. The Minister forces them to such tactics. He forces these authorities to cast aside their accustomed usage, to disregard the normal dignity and usual procedure of their committee and full council meetings, forces them to adopt extraordinary procedures to push in a few tenders to obtain higher subsidy rate.
The Minister knows very well—he has been told this several times today—that the local authorities during the last twelve months and longer have devised schemes, in great detail in many cases, acquired sites, set their officers to elaborate preparations; members of councils, giving up their own private time to the public service, have met night after night to work out schemes for rehousing the people; and the schemes have been prepared. The Minister's approval was sought for the schemes, and in many cases the Minister approved them. It would be interesting to know how many schemes the Minister has approved during the last twelve months, all of which he now intends to repudiate. Schemes which he himself approved he now intends to overthrow.
I repeat what my hon. Friends have said, that that kind of action can justly be called a breach of faith. The Minister, in acting in that way, is making for himself 2614 considerable difficulties with the local authorities. The smooth functioning of his Department largely depends on the good will of the local authorities. He knows that. He knows that behind him he has a local authority organisation which is the finest in the world. If he sacrifices the good will of those authorities, if he tries to work at cross-purposes with them, his function as the Minister will be retarded.
It is of fundamental importance that the Minister of Housing and Local Government—if the present Minister can make a claim to that title—should have close understanding and a smooth relationship with the local authorities.
I warn the Minister that this action of his in suddenly and arbitrarily overthrowing agreed understandings will undermine his whole position as the Minister of Housing. I know that we cannot expect the treatment from a Tory Minister of Housing that we had from my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) from 1945 to 1950, but there are differences even between one Conservative Minister and another. The right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, the present Foreign Secretary, at least attempted to help forward housing programmes. The present Minister does not even attempt to do it and he has forfeited his right to the title of Minister of Housing.
§ Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
I support the Amendment for which, within the strictest terms, there is an unanswerable case. Nothing that we have heard from the other side of the Committee suggests that there is any answer at all. My hon. Friends are murmuring round me about the lack of contributions from the benches opposite. I hope that the public will comment on that lack. It is unfortunate that at a time when the Committee is discussing a matter affecting thousands of households not one hon. Lady has occupied the benches opposite and shown interest in the debate. We have opposite a collection of gentlemen so lethargic that they have not even the strength to rise in an attempt to intervene. Either they do not understand or they do not care. I submit that they are guilty on both counts.
In asking for a few months' consideration, local authorities are coming forward in full seriousness and appreciation of the 2615 difficulties involved. I should like to put this matter into some perspective. We have all been rather parochial in the debate and it is quite right that we should have been, because the subject of our discussion impinges on local authorities. It is only by reference to the way in which it so impinges that we can judge the justice or otherwise of the Government's proposals. Therefore, I make no further apology for trying to relate the Amendment to the situation in St. Pancras.
I do not pretend that St. Pancras is a typical borough. In fact, it is a very distinctive borough. There is none like it in London or elsewhere. In our attempts to rehouse some of our people we have tried very hard to acquire sites and use them to the best advantage. We have on one site on the edge of Regent's Park a most remarkable housing development. It is so remarkable that it has been visited today by a Royal personage.
Under the existing arrangements we receive, on a four-storey block of flats, equipped with lifts, a subsidy of £56 8s. a year. If the Clause with which we are now concerned is approved without amendment that £56 8s. will be reduced to £20. That is an enormous reduction when one is concerned with a big, bold and imaginative scheme for clearing away many acres of obsolescent property which does not qualify under the tight definition of slum clearance. The Ministry of Housing and Local Government gave loan sanction and another Department gave planning consent for the proposals. Therefore, everyone, including the Minister, agrees that the proposals are not irrelevant, frivolous or unnecessary.
I submit that there is a more than adequate case for the consideration of local authorities who find themselves in this difficult position. If we were able to persuade the Minister that a certain area was part of a slum clearance scheme, he would still give us only £32 on a comparable block of flats. How, therefore, does he expect local authorities to effect slum clearance when he has told my council that although last year they had £56 for this job, next year they will get only £32 even if the work is slum clearance. The only argument we have 2616 heard from the other side of the Committee is that the Bill will help slum clearance but, as I have demonstrated, in this case the subsidy is reduced, even on a slum clearance basis, by £20—
§ Mr. Graeme Finlay (Epping)
The hon. Lady should get her facts right. Would she not consider that if a 10-storey block of flats is built for slum replacement and a council gets under the new arrangement £59 14s., this would be an increase of £3 6s.?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The level of the subsidy is only relevant here because the reduction is an argument for postponement, but it should not be gone into as a separate argument.
§ Mrs. Jeger
I will keep to the Amendment, Sir Rhys, but I am glad that at least one hon. Gentleman opposite has been lured to his feet.
We are engaged in a great deal of housing which is not strictly slum clearance within the definition of the Act. I find from a report on slum clearance published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, on behalf of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, that a five-year slum clearance proposed for St. Pancras involves the demolition and rebuilding of 371 dwellings within the next five years. But we have 7,000 families on our waiting list, and that is a measure of the proportion which we must observe in approaching this Bill and in trying to evaluate how far it is any help to us. Those 371 slum houses are, apparently, the only ones in which the right hon. Gentleman is interested.
Over the next five years the London County Council is to erect 18,500 dwellings for slum clearance but has on its waiting list 165,000 families, and that list is growing at the rate of 30,000 a year. Fifty thousand are in Category A. It is in the attempt of the L.C.C. to house these non-slum dwellers that Clause 1 is completely frustrating the efforts of local authorities. It is all too modest on our part that we are asking for only a year's grace. We know from experience of local authorities how short a time a year is for all the machinery and paraphernalia that has to be gone through before the builder arrives at the given site.
It is most unfortunate if the Government are not prepared graciously to accept 2617 the Opposition's moderate approach. In pressing our Amendment, we are deeply concerned about people living in houses which do not come within the definition of "slums" but are, nevertheless, most uncomfortable, undesirable and unhealthy places for people to live in.
The Committee ought to spend a moment thinking about what a slum is. The definition adopted for legal purposes is very narrow. What makes a slum? I could take the right hon. Gentleman to charming houses in my constituency, some of the delightful—
§ Mr. Bevan
On a point of order and a point of explanation, Sir Rhys. The Minister himself said that, if the Amendment were carried, the housing programmes of the local authorities would be so inflated in every respect that the Bill would not operate for five years. That seems to expand the Amendment to almost every part of the Bill.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I have nothing to do with the merits of the argument. I am only seeking to interpret the relevance of the Amendment.
§ Mrs. Jeger
I was thinking that it would help in relation to the Amendment if the Minister would come with me on a trip to St. Pancras—
§ Mrs. Jeger
Thank you for that advice, Sir Rhys.
The Amendment seeks to safeguard the non-slum issue for a year. The majority of people on waiting lists are not necessarily living in what are generally defined as slums. What makes a slum? I submit that it is the circumstances in which a family has to live, and that one person living in a dwelling which the Ministry would schedule as a slum may be better off than a whole family living in one room with no conveniences, although living in a perfectly sound house which no medical officer of health could conscientiously condemn or represent as a slum.
2618 There are many houses of the sort that I have in mind. I refer, in particular, to the Nash houses behind the terraces in the Regent's Park area, which were built for single family accommodation and, as such, could never be represented as slums. They have become slums only because they have been neglected as a result of war damage, because they are over-occupied, and because they contain facilities sufficient for only one family, there being, for example, only one toilet. Because many people are having to live in these houses, they are, in effect, slums which the right hon. Gentleman under Clause I will be depriving—
§ Mrs. Jeger
It is because the right hon. Gentleman will not, under Clause 1, help these people that we have tabled our Amendment, and I urge it upon the Committee for the sake of people living in that kind of accommodation, people living in houses which are not materially and intrinsically in bad condition, and separated families.
I have just seen a young married couple in the Central Lobby. The husband is an ex-Service man. They have been married for two years. They began by living with their in-laws. It all went wrong; they did not like their mothers-in-law. The wife is living with her mother and the husband with his, and they meet on Sundays. Now, when we try to help people like that, the Minister says that it is nothing to do with slum clearance and that the tender for the new flats in which this couple might have made a home was not put in before 3rd November, so nothing can be done.
I have tried to keep within the terms of the Amendment, but it is far-reaching and affects thousands of people who live in London and in my constituency particularly. I have referred to St. Pancras and to be fair, and with your indulgence, Sir Rhys, I must refer to Holborn, which is another delightful borough of London which will greatly benefit from the Amendment, if the Government feel able to accept it.
§ Mrs. Jeger
It might be a good idea for the right hon. Gentleman to go through the boroughs one by one. He might see the cumulative effect of what he is doing to London housing. In Holborn—
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I am trying to keep the debate within order. I cannot do so unless I get assistance from the Committee.
§ Mrs. Jeger
I am sorry that I am being so unsuccessful in assisting you. Sir Rhys, but I am very concerned about hundreds and hundreds of families in Holborn and I maintain that it is my right to come here and say so. I am sorry if the Committee is bored. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Even if some hon. Gentlemen are so disinterested that they want to leave the Chamber, I shall not mind.
To return to this most interesting part of my constituency, 650 homes were destroyed by bombing in the war and the borough council has so far managed to build only 2N. The L.C.C. has built 20, making a total of 300, and that means we have not got half-way to catching up on war damage. Tenders approved up to the date embodied in the Bill amount to only 23. I am very ashamed of that, but it is a Conservative council, so I may not be entirely responsible.
That means, without paying any attention whatsoever to slum clearance, to general overcrowding, the needs of young married couples, tuberculous children, or cripples living up long flights of stairs, that the Minister has said that for building, even to replace that which was lost in the war, there will be either no subsidy or a very reduced subsidy. In this Amendment, which asks for only a year's grace that will help every local authority just a little further forward in its housing plans, we are putting before the Government a case which in equity, in reasonableness and above all in humanity and justice they should accept. A refusal to accept this very modest Amendment must indicate to the people, and will certainly indicate to my constituents, a completely cynical lack of concern and interest by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. Those of us who have to say to these people, "Well, we told you so" will, unfortunately, be right again.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Gibson
Surely we are to get a reply from the Government Front Bench. It is now nearly three hours since the Minister spoke and a number of speeches have been made since then, none of which has repeated what another hon. Member has said. Surely we are entitled to expect the Parliamentary Secretary to make an effort to reply to the discussion. If he does not intend to do so, I have no doubt that there are hon. Members here with plenty to say. We can understand his worry to get away from this subject, but I appeal to him, out of respect to the Committee, to reply to the many points which have been raised and to which no answer has yet been given.
§ Mr. Lewis
I support what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson). The Minister did not make one reference during the whole of his speech to the question of blitzed areas. This Amendment, I suggest, has a great bearing on areas such as those represented by my hon. Friends the Members for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. L. Jeger), Deptford (Sir L. Plummer), and Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Collins), which will be in grave financial difficulties.
Is it too much to ask the Minister to say that he appreciates that for these particular areas especially the Amendment is necessary, or, if he cannot accept the Amendment, to say that he will at least favourably consider bringing in some other Amendment on the Report stage, or when the Bill goes to another place, which will give to these areas some indication that they will not suffer again?
They suffered during the whole period of the war and after the war. They are suffering now, and they cannot even get a reply from the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary. Surely we are entitled to ask the Parliamentary Secretary not necessarily to commit himself, but to say that he will give consideration to the Amendment between now and the next stage of the Bill.
§ Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
Are we, Sir Charles, to have no democracy in the Committee at all? There has been only one hon. Member opposite with the audacity to speak in support of the Government's policy and 2621 the feeble arguments of the Minister. Are we now to say that there are no arguments against this Amendment at all, apart from that of the vested interests of hon. Members opposite? We have had six hours' debate, and presumably hon. Members who have spoken and listened to it are entitled to know whether there are any reasons for voting against the Amendment.
§ Mr. A. Evans
I addressed to the Minister some questions about his relationship with the local authorities, and
§ said that as a result of certain actions this relationship has deteriorated. This is a serious matter.
§ The Minister should explain to the Committee how he regards the present position in relation to himself and the local authorities.
§ Question put, That these words be there inserted:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 172, Noes 217.2623
|Division No. 70.]||AYES||[9.35 p.m.|
|Ainsley, J. W.||Hamilton, W. W.||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Albu, A. H.||Hannan, W.||Probert, A. R.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.)||Proctor, W. T.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Hastings, S.||Pursey, Cmdr. H,|
|Anderson, Frank||Hayman, F. H.||Rankin, John|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis)||Reeves, J.|
|Hartley, P.||Herbison, Miss M.||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Holman, P.||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Benson, G.||Holmes, Horace||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Houghton, Douglas||Ross, William|
|Blackburn, F.||Howell, Charles (Perry Barr)||Royle, C.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Hubbard, T. F.||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Blyton, w. R.||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Short, E. W.|
|Boardman, H.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Hunter, A. E.||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S. W.)||Irving, S. (Dartford)||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Boyd, T. C.||Janner, B.||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Jeger, George (Goole)||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)|
|Brockway, A. F.||Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St. Pncs, S.)||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Johnson, James (Rugby)||Snow, J. W.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech (Wakefield)||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Burton, Miss F. E.||Jones, David (The Hartlepools)||Sparks, J. A.|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Jones, Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Steele, T.|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Stokes, Rt. Hon. R. R. (Ipswich)|
|Callaghan, L. J.||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Stones, W. (Consett)|
|Champion, A. J.||King, Dr. H. M.||Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)|
|Chapman, W. D.||Lawson, G. M.||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Chetwynd, G. R,||Ledger, R. J.||Swingler, S. T.|
|Clunie, J.||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Coldrick, W.||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead)||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)|
|Collins, V. J. (Shoreditch & Finsbury)||Lewis, Arthur||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||MacColl, J. E.||Thornton, E.|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||McGovern, J.||Timmons, J.|
|Cronin, J. D.||McInnes, J.||Tomney, F.|
|Daines, P.||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||McLeavy, Frank||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)||Viant, S. P.|
|Deer, G.||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Warbey, W. N.|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Weitzman, D.|
|Delargy, H. J.||Mayhew, C. P.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Dodds, N. N.||Messer, Sir F.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch)||Mitchison, G. R.||West, D. G.|
|Dye, S.||Moody, A. S.||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Moss, R.||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N. E.)|
|Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Moyle, A.||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)||Mulley, F. W.||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Oram, A. E.||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Fletcher, Eric||Orbach, M.||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Owen, W. J.||Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)|
|Gibson, C. W.||Padley, W. E.||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Palmer, A. M. F.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Gooch, E. G.||Pargiter, G. A.||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|Gordon-Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Parker, J.||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.|
|Greenwood, Anthony||Parkin, B. T.||Zilliacus, K.|
|Grey, C. F.||Pearson, A.|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Peart, T. F.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Plummer, Sir Leslie||Mr. Wilkins and Mr. A. Allen.|
|Griffiths, William (Exchange)||Popplewell, E.|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Gresham Cooke, R.||MacLeod, John (Rose & Cromarty)|
|Aitken, W. T.||Grimond, J.||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)||Maddan, Martin|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark)|
|Amery, Julian (Preston, N.)||Gurden, Harold||Markham, Major Sir Frank|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Marlowe, A. A. H.|
|Atkins, H. E.||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)||Marples, A. E.|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Marshall, Douglas|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)||Maude, Angus|
|Balniel, Lord||Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfd)||Maudling, Rt. Hon. R.|
|Barber, Anthony||Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.|
|Barlow, Sir John||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Molson, A. H. E.|
|Barter, John||Harvie-Watt, Sir George||Morrison, John (Salisbury)|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Hay, John||Nabarro, G. D. N.|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Head, Rt. Hon. A. H.||Nairn, D. L. S.|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Neave, Airey|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Heath, Edward||Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)|
|Biggs-Davison, J. A.||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.||Nugent, G. R. H.|
|Bishop, F. P.||O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)|
|Body, R. F.||Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)|
|Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan)||Hill, John (S. Norfolk)||Page, R. G.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Hirst, Geoffrey||Partridge, E.|
|Braine, B. R.||Holland-Martin, C. J.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Holt, A. F.||Pitt, Miss E. M.|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Pott, H. P.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T.||Horobin, Sir Ian||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Horsburgh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Howard, John (Test)||Ralkes, Sir victor|
|Carr, Robert||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Ramsden, J. E.|
|Channon, H.||Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)||Rawlinson, P. A. G|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Hughes, Hallett Vice-Admiral J.||Redmayne, M.|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Hughes-Young, M. H. C.||Renton, D. L. M.|
|Cole, Norman||Hurd, A. R.||Ridsdale, J. E.|
|Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert||Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'gh, W.)||Rippon, A. G. F.|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Hutchison, James (Scotstoun)||Roper, Peter (Heeley)|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Hyde, Montgomery||Robertson, Sri David|
|Corfield, Capt. F. V.||Hylton-Foster, Sir H. B. H.||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Roper, Sri Harold|
|Crouch, R. F.||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Russell, R. S.|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.|
|Crowder, Petre (Ruislip-Northwood)||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Schofield, Lt.-Col, W.|
|Cunningham, Knox||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Sharples, R. G.|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Jones, A. (Hall Green)||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbough, W.)|
|Dance, J. C. G.||Keegan, D.||Smyth, Brig, J. G. (Norwood)|
|D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Kerby, Capt. H. B.||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard|
|Deedes, W. F.||Kershaw, J. A.||Stanley, Geoffrey|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Kirk, P. M.||Steward, Sri William (Woolwich, W.)|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Lagden, G. W.||Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Doughty, C. J. A.||Lambert, Hon. G.||Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Storey, S.|
|Duthie, W. S.||Langford-Holt, J. A.||Summer, G. S. (Aylesbury)|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Leavey, J. A.||Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)|
|Leburn, W. G.||Thomas, Rt. Hn. J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Thomes, P. J. M. (Conterbury)|
|Errington, Sir Eric||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)|
|Farey-Jones, F. W.||Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.)||Thompson, Lt,-Cdr, R. (Croydon, S.)|
|Fell, A.||Lindsay, Martin (Solihull)||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|Finlay, Craeme||Linstead, Sir H. N.||Tilney, Sir Gordon|
|Fisher, Nigel||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Foster, John||Longden, Gilbert||Vickers, Miss J. H.|
|Freeth, D. K.||Low, Rt. Hon. A. R. W.||Vosper, D. F.|
|Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Wade, D. W.|
|Garner-Evans, E. H.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)|
|George, J. C. (Pollok)||McAdden, S. J.||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Glover, D.||Macdonald, Sir Peter||Watikinson, H. A.|
|Godber, J. B.||Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry||Whitelaw, W. S. I. (Penrith & Border)|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.||Mackie, J. H. (Calloway)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Gower, H. R.||McLaughlin, Mrs. P.||Vates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Graham, Sir Fergus||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John|
|Grant, W. (Woodside)||McLean, Neil (Inverness)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Green, A.||Macleod, Rt. Hon. Iain (Enfield, W.)||Mr. E. Wakefield and|
|Colonel J. H. Harrison.|
Question put and agreed to.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I beg to move, in page 1, line 8, at the end to insert:(not being such a dwelling as is mentioned in subsection (5) of this section).
§ The Chairman
This Amendment, I think, might be discussed with the Amendment in page 2, line 20, at the end to add:(5) Contributions shall continue to be payable under the said section one, subsection (2) or subsection (3), as the case may be, in respect of any new dwelling, as regards which the following conditions are fulfilled, that is to say that—
- (a) each such annual contribution is not less than the annual Exchequer subsidy payable under this Act in respect of such dwellings as that dwelling, and
- (b) that dwelling is provided by a local authority in exercise of their powers to provide housing accommodation or, in pursuance of authorised arrangements with a local authority, by a housing association and is situated in an area designated under the New Towns Act, 1946.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I agree, Sir Charles.
This is a smaller and less general point than the one we have just been discussing. The Amendment relates entirely to the subsidies for dwellings provided by a local authority in a new town area. We desire that those subsidies should continue at the existing rate. It is of course £22 1s. as far as the Government are concerned, and the Bill provides for a slightly higher rate—£24—with regard to houses provided by development corporations in new towns.
If the Bill stays as it is, unless I am quite mistaken in my reading of it, when houses in new towns are built by a development corporation they will attract a subsidy of £24, but if the local authority puts them up they will attract the standard reduced subsidy under the Bill, and the local authority will stand to see the subsidy disappear altogether in a year or so, as we were told by the Minister.
We desire—and in this matter we have the support of the District Councils (New Towns) Association—that both development corporations and local authorities in new towns should be treated in the same way. The Minister may very well say, "Well, after all, the duty of the local authority in a new town is to house the existing inhabitants. True, the number of existing inhabitants may increase, but 2626 it still remains the duty of the local authority to deal with local area needs." He may go on to say, "The development corporation is in a different position. It has to deal with a large influx of population; it is dealing not at all with people inside the town," and so on.
One could very closely and critically examine that sort of ideological difference between a local authority and a development corporation inside a new town. These new towns are highly important social experiments. They are not just housing or industrial estates with other buildings attached; they are attempts to create new and good communities, which will serve the double purpose of giving some relief to the large towns from which the people for those new towns will come and of starting, as we believe, a very valuable form of community life which has great possibilities. That is the broad intention behind the creation of the new towns.
Our proposal ought not to be looked at as a mere matter of this, that or the other section of this, that or the other Act. It should be looked at in the light of the real position which exists in the new towns. I have the new town of Corby in my own constituency. When Corby became a new town the urban district council had already done a considerable amount of house building. Some more had been done rather earlier by Stewarts and Lloyds, who are the largest employers in the town, and behind all that were the remains of a comparatively small Northamptonshire village. That is the way it grew up.
Although the history of these new towns has not been the same, and the conditions are not the same, one is apt to find an old and small community, with accretions to it partly from the development corporation and partly, as in the case of Corby, from the local authority. The position in Corby was, for some time, that the urban district council were building nearly half the new houses that were going up, and the development corporation were building others. There was a line through the middle of the town, on one side of which was urban district council buildings and on the other development corporation buildings—and if one looked at both sorts of houses one could not see very much to choose 2627 between them. In fact, I think the council houses were rather better than the development corporation houses, but that is a matter of opinion.
It is now proposed that for any houses built by those two bodies in the future there shall be a complete difference in the rates of subsidy which they attract. It is true that these local councils in the new towns have had to reduce by quite a lot the amount of building which they can do, and of course if they are now to receive only a reduced subsidy, that will mean a complete stop everywhere. Is it advisable that when we get similar houses built by the two authorities in the same town, as will be the case, their rents should be different because some are built by the council and other by the development corporation?
It may be said that already there is a very wide difference in rents between the two and that a little pressure on the council will push up the council rents and bring them more closely into line with those of the development corporation. I have been looking carefully at the last reports of the new towns and I think a fair summary of the position is this: that there is now nothing like the same acute problem of disparity between development corporation rents and council house rents as there was some time ago. The reason, of course, is that council house rents have risen under the rise in interest rates which has taken place in the last year and generally under the discouragement which has been given by this Government to council building. That has had the unfortunate result from one point of view in pushing up the council rents instead of what we would all have preferred—bringing the development corporation rents down.
I come back again to Corby. The position in Corby is that for some considerable time past quite a number of workers in that town have been offered development corporation houses and have been unable to take them because the rents were too high. What is now alarming is that exactly the same thing is happening, to a rather smaller extent, with council houses. If that is the position—and I believe it to be so—this is certainly not the moment in areas such as that to dock the council house subsidy. It seems to me perfectly clear that from a social point of view, at any rate, the right thing 2628 to do is not to reduce the council house subsidy at this moment but to allow it and the development corporation subsidies to be as nearly level as they may be.
Another point to be considered is that the development corporations are not eternal; there is a provision in the New Towns Act—a highly important provision—that in due course these new towns shall pass over to the local authorities. I see no particular reason for attributing to these temporary creatures of ours, the development corporations, some particular sanctity in the matter of subsidies and rents. It seems to me fair, not only in the present but in view of what will happen in the future, that those rents and the corresponding subsidies should be as nearly level as possible.
I could go on dwelling on these points. I want to come back to a very simple thing. We are told that the reason why these cuts will be so little felt is that they can be spread over a pool of existing houses. We have no pool in Corby, and most new towns have no pool. The most they have is a puddle. The puddle in Corby is 84 pre-war houses in a town of 22,000 or 23,000 rising, as it is intended to rise, rapidly to 40,000. We shall not get much further by puddling rents in a place like that. Broadly speaking, it is the same in practically all the new towns.
We should remember that a development corporation brings with it not only population from an adjoining big town, not only—as in the case of Corby and some other towns—a particular industrial population for industrial purposes, but that it also brings a natural increase of all the ancillary trades, shops, transport and the rest. It puts on the council not only the burden of dealing with the housing needs of those people because that falls principally on the council, but also the burden of considerably more local authority expenditure on the ordinary services. That includes things like sewerage, refuse disposal and things of that kind which fall on a local authority which has to meet the heavier cost because there is a new town.
I therefore suggest that the right hon. Gentleman—on the grounds of fairness, on the ground of making as homogeneous a social community as we can in these new towns, on the ground also of fairness in the matter of finances of these local authorities, on the ground that they have 2629 not the resources to fall back upon which other places are said to have—that the right thing to do is quite clearly to give similar treatment to councils and local authorities. So far as we can do it within the terms of the Money Resolution in respect of this Bill, we should do it by continuing the £22 1s. subsidy for the ordinary house, corresponding not exactly, but as nearly as we—we not being the Government—can get to the £24 given in the case of development corporation houses.
In those circumstances, I move the Amendment. I hope that when we next meet the right hon. Gentleman will have thought the matter over with great care and be able to say to us, "Well, I did not think very much of this when I saw it on the Paper, but I was profoundly and deeply touched by the speech made to me so late at night. I have come to the conclusion that you really were right, although the Amendment did not quite do you justice." It is a small point I hope we should be able to dispose of as such, but I rather hope the right hon. Gentleman is not going to get up now and dismiss all the councils of all the new towns in 60 seconds. That would be a bit too much.
§ Mr. Sparks
I should like to support my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) in the case he has made this evening and to ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider the point of view which is being put forward, because it seems quite clear that an anomaly does arise here.
It may have arisen through the Minister not being aware of its existence, but it is really absurd to have an area of a local authority containing the development corporation side by side with the local authority and to grant a subsidy to the development corporation of £24 per house but to the local authority only £10 and, at the end of 12 months, nothing at all. In many cases the local authority is an auxiliary to the development corporation and as the new town development corporations—
§ It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.