§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Duncan Sandys)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I hope that the speech that I shall be making may perhaps lower the temperature from what it has been during the last few minutes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Some hope!"] The provisions of this Bill must, of course, be viewed against the background of the country's general housing position. In the 'thirties houses were being built at an average rate of over 300,000 a year, an active slum clearance campaign was well under way, and slum houses were being demolished at the rate of about 60,000 a year. But all that was brought to a stop by the war.
Early in 1945, before the war with Germany had ended, the all-party Coalition Government, in which I was Minister of Works, issued a White Paper setting out our common conception of the nation's post-war housing problem. In it we emphasised what we conceived to be the most important tasks ahead. The first was to get house building restarted on the largest possible scale and as quickly as practicable. The second was to resume, as soon as practicable, the campaign to clear the slums.
In the years after the war the housing shortage was so acute that the whole of our house building resources had to be concentrated on providing dwellings for families who were without a separate home. The then Government— the Government of the party opposite—accordingly gave instructions that slum clearance should, in general, continue, as it had done during the war, to be suspended. In the circumstances of the time, that was unavoidable. I think we can all agree upon that. Any roof then was better than no roof, and a slum house was better than no house at all.
Since then ten years have gone by. During that time 2 million new permanent dwellings have been built in Great Britain, together with another 500,000 temporary houses and flat conversions. 792 Almost all these 2½ million dwellings have gone to people who had no separate home of their own. As I know only too well from my correspondence and from visits to various parts of the country, there are, unfortunately, still a very great number of families without a separate home, living in conditions which are not conducive either to good health or to happy family married life. But I think the House will agree that hardship is not confined to those who have to share a house with other people. There are countless families who have separate homes of their own but who are living in damp and insanitary conditions in wretched slum dwellings up and down the country.
Although, during these last ten years, 2½ million new dwellings have been provided, only a very small proportion of them have been made available to rehouse families from the slums. I think that every fair-minded person will agree that it is not right that the needs of these families in the slum areas should continue to be ignored indefinitely. The time has come when they should be given a reasonable share of the new houses that are being built and, since for all these years they have so largely been passed over, we think it only fair that their share should now be a substantial one.
§ Mr. Sparks
That the people living in the slums are being passed over. They qualify on the housing lists with any other persons. Many of them have been rehoused.
§ Mr. Sandys
I hope the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) will make a speech on those lines in one of the slum areas in Manchester, Liverpool or Birmingham.
It was these considerations which led us to declare in our Election manifesto that we intended to devote a larger part of the nation's house building effort to the elimination of the slums. We had already set in motion preparations for the resumption of slum clearance by the Housing Act, 1954, which required all the local authorities to report the number of unfit houses in their areas, together with their proposals for demolishing them and for rehousing the occupants. Those reports show that in England and Wales 793 there are about 850,000 of these unfit houses. Of those, the local authorities concerned propose to demolish about 375,000 during the next five years. They have set themselves a very ambitious target. I cannot say whether they will be able fully to achieve it, but the Government will do all they can to help and encourage them to do so.
There are two possible methods by which the Government can give an impetus to slum clearance. One method is that of direction; the other is the method of incentive. Any system of direction, to be effective, would not only necessitate the continuance of housing allocations but would involve the introduction of still more detailed control from the centre. In addition to fixing the total number of houses to be built by each local authority, the Government would have to decide how many slum houses were to be demolished in each area each year and, also, how many of the new dwellings built were to be allocated to rehouse the occupants.
I submit that any such arrangement would, in practice, be extremely difficult to work and, in our opinion, would entail a wholly unjustifiable interference in local affairs by the "gentleman in Whitehall." For these reasons, we rejected the method of Government direction and decided to adopt the alternative method of financial incentive. It is with this object that we are introducing in this Bill the principle of a differential in the subsidy rates in favour of houses for slum clearance. We propose to create this differential by maintaining at the present level of £22 the subsidy for houses built to replace slums, while reducing to £10 the subsidy on houses built for general needs. [HON. MEMBERS: "Incentive?"]
I see what hon. Members have in mind. Of course, the differential could be created by the opposite method—that is to say, by increasing the subsidy for slum clearance instead of reducing the basic rate for general needs. We would have adopted that course but for the fact that we were satisfied that the total amount of subsidy which the Exchequer is now paying out in respect of existing houses is larger than is really necessary and provides a margin which can properly be used for financing some part of the future house building programme.
794 I think it is worth remembering that housing subsidies are granted with one object, and one object only, namely, to ensure that nobody, through lack of means, shall be prevented from having a decent, healthy home.
§ Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
Does the right hon. Gentleman say that was the only reason? He has just said "the only reason."
§ Mr. Sandys
That is what I said. The reason is to ensure that nobody shall be prevented, through poverty or lack of means, from having a healthy home. The purpose is to bridge the gap between the full unsubsidised rent and what the tenant can reasonably afford to pay. I know that the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) takes a different view. I do not know that his view is generally shared by all hon. Members opposite, judging from some of the speeches and writings I have observed. I know that in an article in his newspaper, Tribune, the other day—I have the paper here and there is a very fine picture of the right hon. Member on the front page—he declared:The purpose of the housing subsidies is to keep down the general level of rentsThe right hon. Member is entitled to his view, but we on this side of the House do not agree that it is in the general interest to keep the cost of housing artificially low for all council tenants regardless of their incomes. The justification for housing subsidies is need and, in our opinion, need alone.
We are supported by very fine authorities from the party opposite in that expression of opinion. The further we get away from the basis of need, I maintain, the more unsound, unfair and anomalous the whole system becomes. Before the war, local authorities were responsible for building houses only for the working classes. Since the war, in view of the acute shortage, council houses have had to be provided for those with the greatest housing need regardless of their means. As a result—I am not quarrelling with this, but it is a fact worth noting—today there is a very much wider variation in the income levels of council tenants than there was in the past.
Therefore, while, previously, it might have been reasonable to assume that almost all council tenants needed to be 795 subsidised, and perhaps roughly to the same extent, that position no longer exists today. Housing need is no longer synonymous with financial need. There is no doubt that the rents of a large number of council houses are at present being subsidised to a greater extent than the financial circumstances of the individual tenants require.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)
Would the right hon. Gentleman apply the same principle to the derating of industry?
§ Mr. Sandys
This is a complicated subject and I thought the House would wish to try to follow the arguments instead of producing a number of red herrings, as hon. Gentlemen opposite are doing.
§ Mr. Sandys
We shall have ample opportunity to discuss the provisions of the Bill, so perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to deploy my argument in my own way.
I repeat, there is no doubt that the rents of large numbers of council houses are now being subsidised to a greater extent than the financial circumstances of the tenants require. I would remind the House of something which we must always bear in mind, namely, that money for housing subsidies does not fall like manna from heaven. It has to be collected from the general body of taxpayers and ratepayers, many of whom are less well-off than the council tenants they are subsidising. That, in our opinion, is both unjust and wasteful. We feel, therefore, that the time has come to restore some measure of fairness to our housing finances and to put some reasonable brake upon the continuous growth of the subsidy burden, which bears so heavily upon taxpayers and ratepayers alike. We have felt that for quite a long time.
There is nothing new in what I am saying today. We have never attempted to conceal our views. In fact, as long ago 796 as November, 1953, in the White Paper issued by the Government and entitled "Houses: the Next Step" we drew attention tothe ever-growing burden of housing subsidies which,we said—cannot, in the interests of the general body of taxpayers, continue indefinitely at the present rate.To sum up what I have said so far, the introduction of this Bill is justified on two grounds. The first is that it will give to local authorities the necessary incentive to resume slum clearance on a substantial scale. The second is that it will infuse into housing finance a greater measure of fairness and economy.
As I indicated in my statement to the House three weeks ago, it is the intention of the Government, within a year or so, to abolish altogether the basic subsidy on houses built for general needs. The £10 subsidy is an interim measure for a short transitional period, during which local authorities will be able to adjust their rent structure to the new position. The revised rates will come into effect only gradually over a period, for there are already in the pipeline nearly a quarter of a million council houses for which tenders were approved before the introduction of this Bill. All these houses, some of which will not be completed for eighteen months or more, are not affected and will continue to attract subsidy at the old rates.
So far, I have spoken about houses. Now I turn to flats. The existing subsidy on flats was fixed at a time when there was little experience of the actual costs of flat building, except in London, where costs are always abnormally high. The result has been that the subsidy for flats has for some time been disproportionately high in relation to the subsidy for houses. Some reduction has, therefore, been made to take account of this factor.
We have also taken this opportunity to make an important change in the structure of the subsidy for flats. Hitherto, all flats have been subsidised at the same rate regardless of the height of the building. Since construction, in practice, costs more as you go higher, the result has been that flats in low blocks have been more heavily subsidised in relation to costs than flats in high blocks. Apart 797 from being inequitable, this has unintentionally influenced local authorities to concentrate on building blocks of three, four and five storeys, which, I believe, many hon. Members will agree are most monotonous.
§ Mrs. Harriet Slater (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman what is the position in areas like mine, where there is mining subsidence, where we cannot build higher than three storeys? Are they to be denied the opportunity of having flats? His hon. Friend saw some very successful ones there last week.
§ Mr. Sandys
—she will see that the subsidy is graded according to the height of the building. There is a sliding scale.
As regards mining subsidence, the existing preferential subsidy will be continued for the future. Therefore, there is no point about the position in areas of mining subsidence and nothing will stop local authorities from building blocks of flats of three, four or five storeys. They can build as high as they like. We only thought it right that the subsidy for flats should be related to the cost of building, and that there should not be an incentive to build lower blocks just because there was a financial advantage.
§ Mr. Sparks
Would the right hon. Gentleman allow me to make an important point? He is telling the House that he proposes to bring all subsidies to an end except for slum clearance. Is he proposing to bring subsidies to an end with the very kind of flats he is now talking about, because some are for slum clearance purposes and others are not, coming under Part V of the Housing Act? Could he clear up that important point?
§ Mr. Bevan
I know this is a very difficult and complicated subject, but we should like to get it clear for the sake of the debate. The right hon. Gentleman has been quite correct in saying that there is a close relationship between the financial provisions and the physical pro- 798 grammes of the local authorities. He has just told the House, with respect to additional accommodation that is not slum clearance, that he proposes, in a year or two, to end the housing subsidy altogether. That is what he said. One would assume that that would be applied to flats which are additional accommodation and not built for slum clearance schemes. That is the first point.
The second point is this, and it is a very important one. In the past, local authorities have always known that subsidies might be varied in March, but they have always known that the subsidies were fixed on the basis of building costs. Now the subsidies may be ended upon the ipse dixit of the Government. Thus an element of very considerable uncertainty is to be introduced into local authority schemes, and if the right hon. Gentleman is to do something of this sort, ought he not to be clearer about how he is going to do it?
§ Mr. Sandys
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is hoping to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, to make a speech in this debate, and I think it would be better if be deployed this point then, and we shall answer him. I thought I had made it quite clear—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—that we want to give an impetus to slum clearance, and that that is why we are creating this differential; not because it necessarily costs more to build houses in replacement of a slum, but because we want to give a definite incentive to local authorities to get on with slum clearance.
We intend at a later stage—we have not decided exactly when it will be—to do away with the basic subsidy on houses for general needs. I am not prepared at this stage to say exactly what the arrangement will be at that time. [HON. MEMBERS: "Well, well."] It is all very well for hon. Members to say "Well well." There will have to be an announcement before any change is made in these subsidies, before the £10 subsidy is removed, and an affirmative Resolution will have to be proposed, as the Bill provides, and so there will be plenty of opportunity for the House to discuss it.
Obviously, the question of flats raises a problem different from that of the abolition of the basic subsidy for houses, not only because of the extra cost of flats. Very often flats are built in the centres of cities, and the cost of their sites is, 799 perhaps, the most important element in their total cost. Therefore, I am not proposing to make a statement at this stage. We have said that it will be a year or so before we make the change in subsidies, and I think then will be the time to make clear exactly what is proposed for flats.
§ Mr. C. W. Gibson (Clapham)
I understood the Minister to say—and it is very important to get this clear—that the new subsidy for flats is so arranged as to meet the extra costs as a result of their being built higher. Is it not a fact that under the proposed arrangement there will be less subsidy for flats up to nine storeys high, and that the additional and, as it were, profitable subsidy does not begin to apply until the flats reach to ten or eleven storeys? Is that the policy of the Government?
§ Mr. Sandys
I do not want to go into great detail about this now, though not because I do not know what the basis of the subsidy is. However, since the hon. Member does press me upon it, and as he has been the Chairman of the Housing Committee of the London County Council, I will say in general terms what the basis of the new subsidy is. We find that it is the tendency of many authorities not to put lifts in blocks of flats up to a certain level—I think it is four storeys. We have, therefore, made an allowance for that. In a high proportion of blocks of five storeys they do put in lifts. There is, therefore, a jump in the scale of the subsidy on this account.
For reasons of building construction the cost of a building of six storeys goes up considerably, because then steel framing has to be used for the building. That is the reason for the special jump in the scale of subsidy applied to six storey buildings. Above that, though one cannot be precise about it, the cost goes up more or less progressively as additional storeys are added to a building. That, broadly, is the basis on which we are working. I will gladly give the hon. Member more information in Committee. We should get out of perspective if we were to go into that matter in more detail now. Thus, we are proposing to vary in future the rate subsidy for flats according to the number of storeys in the building.
800 As for houses, the new rate of subsidy for flats built for general needs, is £12 lower than the rate for slum clearance and other special purposes, as the House will see from the Bill, especially the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, in which the matter is very clearly set out.
I 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, and they 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.
Small towns which are being expanded under the Town Development Act are faced with somewhat similar problems. Without the proposed subsidy—I am talking of the subsidy of £24—the rents of the new houses built for the incoming population would be too high for most people to pay, unless they were averaged out with the lower rents of the existing houses in the area. That would mean—and I ask hon. Members to address their minds to this—that the rents of the local inhabitants would have to be put up to subsidise the rents of the strangers coming in from the big cities. Not only would that be bound to create the most fearful resentment against the newcomers, but it would certainly make it much more difficult in the future to get agreement for further schemes of town expansion.
Similar considerations may in special cases apply in connection with housing schemes to accommodate a large influx of workpeople to meet urgent needs of industry in some areas. When I made my statement the other day the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) asked about miners. It is the coal mining industry that we have particularly in mind in including this provision in the Bill. An approved scheme of this 801 kind will qualify for subsidy of £24 in the same way as an expansion scheme under the Town Development Act.
§ Mr. Bevan
Many of these points may be Committee points, but we can save a lot of time if we are clear about them from the beginning. It is quite clear that where there is a big transfer of miners from one area to another, say, from Fife-shire into Lanarkshire, or places like that, this provision will apply, but as far as I can see—unless the right hon. Gentleman tells me to the contrary—it will not apply where miners' houses are normally built, in expanding mining areas where there is no migration of population from one part to another.
§ Mr. Sandys
I understood that the right hon. Gentleman was merely giving an example, but I wanted to make clear that the Bill does not apply to Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman asked me whether this special subsidy would apply to the building of houses for miners already resident in the area. The answer is, no. It is the normal duty and responsibility of a local authority to provide houses for the people who live in its area. The reason why we are providing a special increased subsidy in these cases is because we do not consider that it is reasonable to expect local authorities necessarily in the same way, and on the same basis, to provide additional accommodation for a very large influx of population which would involve a building effort entirely out of proportion to their normal building programmes.
Some very alarmist statements have been made about the effect on rents of the reduction in the subsidies proposed in the Bill, combined with the rise in interest rates during the past year. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] They have been very alarmist statements, and I am glad that hon. Gentlemen opposite agree. Leading Labour members of various local authorities have asserted that rents will have to go up by about 15s. a week. [HON. MEMBERS: "More than that."] In the House the other day, the right hon. 802 Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) quoted a figure of 16s. 3d. a week. These statements have undoubtedly given a most misleading impression. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I think that it is a shame that people who really must know better should needlessly cause anxiety and dismay among countless families on the waiting lists.
§ Mr. Sandys
All these calculations seem entirely to overlook two facts. The first is that in the years ahead a greatly increased number of houses will be built for slum clearance and overspill. These houses will continue to attract the present subsidy or a higher subsidy. The second fact is that local authorities will continue to receive large amounts of subsidy on their existing houses, and they are free to use some of this money to subsidise the rents of any further houses that they may build. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to jeer at that, but I have no doubt that is what the local authorities are going to do. Therefore, it is wholly misleading to suggest that local authorities will, in fact, put all this increase on the new houses.
§ Mr. William Ainsley (Durham, North-West)
Will the Minister allow me to explain? I come from a mining area. We have miners on the waiting list of one of the local authorities in my area. That local authority informs me that the reduced housing subsidy and the increased Bank Rate will add 7s. ld. to a threebedroomed house and 6s. 3d. to a twobedroomed house.
§ Mr. Sandys
Did the hon. Gentleman's local authority say that it intended to increase the rents of new houses by that amount, or was that a theoretical calculation?
§ Mr. Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)
Will the Minister be content, therefore, if local authorities pass the whole of these additional burdens on to the rates, or is he not expecting them to extract some more rental from the tenants?
§ Mr. Sandys
We believe that local government should be local. As I have already explained, the reduced subsidy rates will not make their full impact for 18 months or more. By then, the slum clearance campaign should be well under way.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves this point, will he give us two very simple figures? Taking a typical council house, first at the date when the subsidies were last fixed—that was in the middle of 1954—and, secondly, now, will be give us the corresponding figures for those two dates, and the corresponding figure when the Bill comes into operation?
§ Mr. Sandys
I do not think I can do that amount of mental arithmetic. What I have worked out is something much more than that. I have gone into the figures of a very large number of local authorities in typical towns to see what the effect is likely to be, but not exactly on the basis which the hon. and learned Gentleman suggested, because I do not believe that is the way in which local authorities will operate.
I was saying that the new rates of subsidy would not make their full impact for eighteen months or more. By that time, the slum clearance campaign will be well under way. The Government's target, as we announced at the General Election, is to rehouse at lease 200,000 people a year from the slums. To achieve this, no fewer than 60,000 houses a year will have to be provided. To provide for overspill, about 13,000 houses a year are now being built in the new and expanding towns. The rate is increasing, and we shall do all that we can to get it up to at least 20,000 houses a year.
These 20,000 houses for overspill, added to the minimum of 60,000 houses for slum clearance, make a total of at least 80,000 houses which will attract subsidy at the present rate or higher. That is a point entirely overlooked in all these calculations that are being made. In England and Wales, local authorities, 804 including the new towns, are now building houses at the rate of about 160,000 a year. I do not know what the future rate of building will be. I am assuming for the purpose of this argument—and I am making this assumption because it is favourable to the arguments of hon. Members opposite in their calculations about rents, and they have been saying that the result of this Bill will be a great drop in house building—that local authorities will continue to build at the same rate as at present. [Interruption.] I am giving the benefit of the doubt to hon. Members opposite. Assuming that the rate of building does not increase—that is what I am saying—the House will see that at most 80,000 houses will suffer the cut in subsidy.
Hon. Members may say that it is another assumption. I assume that, when the slum clearance campaign gets under way, at least 60,000 houses a year will be built for slum clearance. They will attract the same subsidy, £22, as they do today. I am assuming that we will keep the rate of building in new towns and expanded towns for overspill purposes at 20,000 houses a year, and I think that that is a reasonable forecast. That makes a total of 80,000. The total now being built is 160,000 and if we take 80,000 from 160,000, we get 80,000. [Laughter.] I am glad that I have carried hon. Gentlemen with me in my arithmetic. It is a little confusing that the two figures should both be 80,000.
Assuming that the rate of 160,000 houses built by local authorities does increase, the House will see that, at the most, only 80,000 houses will suffer a cut in subsidy. I will do some more arithmetic. The reduction in the subsidy from £22 to £10 on this maximum of 80,000 houses will involve a loss in subsidy of about £1 million a year. The point I want to make is that. if this is spread over all the 2¼ million houses owned by local authorities, it could, without any increase in contributions from the rates, be offset by an annual increase in rent averaging no more than 2d. a week.
§ Mr. Sandys
I am not overlooking interest rates. I will come to that point now. I thought that it would be convenient for the House if I dealt with the two elements separately. I have dealt with the subsidy and now I come to interest rates, to which the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale referred.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Sandys
I cannot do arithmetic when there so many interruptions.
Since the present subsidy was fixed, more than a year ago—and that is really the operative date—interest rates have gone up from 3¼ per cent. to about 5 per cent. and that has added—and I think that this is one of the figures which the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) wanted—about £17 a year to the cost of a council house. The hon. and learned Member will be glad of that information. The rise in the interest rates during the past year has increased the cost of a council house by £17 a year.
At the present rate of building, these additional borrowing costs—and I am making the same calculation as I did for the loss of subsidy—if spread over all existing local authority houses, would involve, on the average, an annual rent increase of about 5d. a week. Fivepence plus 2d. makes 7d.
§ Mr. George Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)
If the total effect on local authorities is so small, how does the Minister square that with his claims to his own party that he is making slashing reductions in public costs?
§ Mr. Sandys
I do not recall having used that expression. I have not finished what I wanted to say about these calculations.
I wish to emphasise—because I have no doubt that if I do not do so, I shall be misrepresented—that these figures are, of course, overall averages. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Overall averages are a useful indication of the order of magnitude of the effect of these changes. These are overall averages which are arrived at simply by dividing the increased costs, that is to say, the combined costs of the loss of subsidy and the rise in interest rates, by the total number of existing council houses in England and Wales.
§ Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham) rose—
§ Mr. Sandys
I want to make myself clear. I will give way in a moment.
These figures are averages for the whole country; but let there be no misunderstanding on the point. I am not for one moment suggesting that nobody's rent will be increased by more than these amounts. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Of course I am not. I want to finish this argument, or there will be confusion. I will give way to the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones) in a moment. I have always given way to him, even when we were discussing steel, about which he used at times to get very heated.
All I am trying to say is that, if a local authority will spread the increased costs over all its houses, instead of putting them solely on the new ones, the rent increases involved will not be nearly as great as some people, particularly members of the party opposite have sought to suggest.
§ Mr. Jack Jones
The Minister has caused me to change the question I had intended to ask. Am I now authorised by the Minister to tell my constituents that if their rents are increased by more than 7d. it is because the Government's intentions are not being carried out?
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)
Before the Minister answers that question, supposing his arithmetic is correct and there is an increase of 7d. accounting for interest and the cut in subsidy, is that not simply on the first year's building, which means that on five successive years' building the increase would be five sevenpences, or about 3s. and that over ten years it would amount to about 6s.
§ Mr. Sandys
The hon. Member for Aston (Mr. J. Silverman) is quite right. I did say "annually" and for five years the increase would be 7d. a year and five sevenpences are 35 pence which is just under 3s.
The hon. Member for Rotherham has altogether mistaken what I said. I said that I wished to make it quite clear that I was not suggesting for one moment that nobody's rent would go up by more than the amounts I mentioned. The figures I was quoting were averages and 807 I explained to the House exactly the way in which I arrived at these figures, merely to indicate the order of the effect which these proposals, plus the rise in interest rates, would have.
§ Mr. William Warbey (Ashfield) rose—
§ Mr. Sandys
I am sorry, but I cannot give way. In the interests of other hon. Members it is desirable that the trend of the argument on these calculations should not be constantly interrupted.
I should like to make it clear again that the actual amount of rent increase will vary from district to district. Moreover, and this is a point of which I want hon. Members to take note, many local authorities may well take this opportunity to make rent increases which are already overdue but which are quite unconnected with the Bill or with the rise in interest rates.
§ Mr. Sandys
I am saying that it may well happen—and there are indications that it may happen—that local authorities who have felt for some time that their rents were on the low side will, when this new adjustment takes place in connection with the Bill, also make adjustments in respect of other matters which have been for a long time overdue. In many areas, rents are still surprisingly low and quite out of line with the current level of earnings. Average industrial earnings are now about £11 a week, yet three-bedroomed council houses in some cases are being let for as little as 9s. and 10s. a week.
§ Mr. Sandys
Rents of houses in a great number of areas—I am talking about other areas now—are related to the current value of those houses. The fact that they were built at a particular time and cost less is not relevant to the current market value of those houses.
§ Mr. Sandys
The hon. Member will get himself into deep water if he suggests that it is really right that, by the luck of the draw, a council house tenant who lives in a pre-war house should pay half 808 the rent paid by another council house tenant who is in comparable accommodation in post-war houses built at high cost. We must really think in terms of the accommodation provided and of the value given by these houses.
As I said, in many cases rents are still surprisingly low. Rents of 13s. and 14s. are very common indeed and the majority of council house rents are still well below 20s. I am pursuing the point that I want hon. Members who are fair-minded in this matter to examine very carefully the reasons for any rent increases which may take place in the next year or so. I hope that they will be fair-minded and examine carefully why rent increases are being made in their areas and that they will not attribute to the Bill, or to the raising of interest rates, increases in rents not necessitated by those facts.
§ Mr. Mitchison
I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman the question which I asked him before. I want him to have a second opportunity of answering it. He has taken an increase which is applicable, on his own figures, to 80,000 houses and he has spread it over 2¾ million and produced a result of 2d. and 5d. Can he now give the increase on 80,000 houses, or on a typical one of them?
§ Mr. Sandys
I gave the increase on 80,000 houses for loss of subsidy, which was £1 million. I have not the other figure, but if £1 million produces 2d., it will be 5/2 × £1 million. That will be the answer for the other figure which the hon. and learned Member wants.
I should like to say, in this connection, that a number of local authorities may well decide in the coming year or so that this is the right moment to introduce some system of differential rents. This can take various forms, but I have no doubt that the simplest and fairest is the one which is generally known as the rent rebate scheme. I believe that there is agreement on both sides of the House about the soundness of the principle of differential rents. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I really thought that we were agreed.
I assumed that, when the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), who is tipped for some position or other in the party opposite, said:I think that on grounds of equity there is much to be said for differential rents.809 The hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl), speaking at the National Housing and Town Planning Conference last month, is reported to have expressed the opinion that councils would have to face,… the social necessity of using the subsidy with discrimination.by which I assume he meant something of this kind. The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale in the Tribune last week said that a number of councils with Labour majorities have applied the principle of differential rents.
§ Mr. Warbey
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. May I ask you whether what the Minister is now saying is in order on Second Reading? I cannot find anything whatsover in the Bill about differential rents.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I thought that the Minister was making his case perfectly in order. I could not see anything wrong and, while I am addressing the House, I might say that this is not a Committee stage and we have had many interruptions.
§ Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)
The Minister seemed to imply that I was taking a view of this matter which was different from that of some of my hon. and right hon. Friends. Would the right hon. Gentleman mind saying where in the remarks which he quoted I suggested in any way that local authorities should have lower subsidies? Whilst the right hon. Gentleman is talking about that conference, would he also mind saying why he did not dare come to it and face the local authorities?
§ Mr. Sandys
The reason I was not there was that we were debating the Budget in this Chamber, or it may have been the day when I was making the statement about housing subsidies in the House. It was during that week. I was going to make a speech at that conference, but I was prevented by the business of the House. It is normal for hon. Members, and Ministers in particular, to put their service to the House before outside engagements.
§ Mr. Frederick Gough (Horsham)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. This is in the interests of back bench Members on both sides of the House. Is 810 it in order for right hon. and hon. Members opposite to trade on the good grace of my right hon. Friend and constantly interrupt the debate on the Second Reading of the Bill?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
That is not a point of order, but I hope that we shall have a Second Reading debate and not a Committee stage discussion.
§ Mr. Lindgren
While I accept the right hon. Gentleman's statement that the first duty of a Minister is to this House, if it was to the House, is it not equally true that he has a Parliamentary Secretary? Is it not rather cowardly to send a civil servant, who is not responsible for policy, to defend policy rather than to send one of the political heads?
§ Mr. Sandys
I really think we have gone a very long way from the subject of the debate.
In the Government's opinion, it must be left to each local authority to decide for itself how to apportion rents among its tenants. There are areas where a thorough-going rent rebate scheme would, frankly, not be worth while; for example in certain rural districts where the bulk of the council tenants are employed at the same kind of work and are earning roughly comparable wages. On the other hand, in the great majority of areas the incomes of council tenants vary very widely. Some tenants may well be able to afford the full unsubsidised rent or something very close to it.
At the other end of the scale there may be some who genuinely find difficulty in paying their rent even at the existing level and who might be seriously embarrassed if rents were raised appreciably. In justice to these poorer tenants, and also to justice to the ratepayers, it is most desirable that local authorities in such areas should adopt some method to ensure that the benefit of the subsidy is concentrated where it is needed most instead of being distributed indiscriminately.
As the House knows, differential rents schemes of various kinds have been successfully operated by local authorities with both Labour and Conservative majorities. I hope, therefore, though I am not entirely 811 optimistic, that this will not be made an issue of party controversy.
Here, I should like to say something about the provisions of Clause 8, which has an indirect bearing on the question. Under the existing law, local authorities are obliged automatically to pay a subsidy contribution out of the rates equal to one-third of the subsidy which they receive from the Exchequer. They have to make these payments regardless altogether of the state of their Housing Revenue Account. Whatever savings a council may make on its house building and on its management expenditure, ratepayers get no benefit. Any surplus that there may be has to be left in the housing revenue account and cannot be used to relieve the rates. This is bound to make local authorities less economical in their administration and to encourage them to subsidise the rents of their tenants more than is really necessary.
Accordingly, we propose, in Clause 8, to relieve local authorities of the statutory obligation to make contributions to the housing account from the rates except to the extent necessary to keep their accounts in balance. This will, I believe, give a valuable stimulus to the adoption of differential rents schemes and will generally provide local authorities with an additional incentive to economy.
For the reasons which I have given, I am satisfied that most local authorities should be well able to go on building the new houses they need with the revised rates of subsidy payable under the Bill. However, I recognise that there may be exceptional cases. I am determined, and the Government are determined, that no local authorities shall, through lack of finance, be genuinely prevented from building houses which are urgently needed in this area.
I have, therefore, provided in Clause 5 for an additional discretionary grant to deal with these exceptional cases, should they arise. The powers proposed are similar in principle to those of Section 7 of the Housing Act, 1946, but they are far more favourable than those provided by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. They are wider in scope and altogether more flexible. These additional grants can, where necessary, bring the subsidy up to a maximum of £30 per house.
A local authority may qualify for these grants if it can show that further council 812 houses are urgently needed in its area and that it cannot provide them without either imposing an unreasonable burden upon the rates or charging unreasonably high rents.
§ Mr. Bevan
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not leave that Clause where it is. He was entirely unfair in comparing the Clause with the Section in the 1946 Act, which was for an entirely different purpose and related to certain areas where rents were very low and building at the same costs would have meant that rents would have had to be high. What does the right hon. Gentleman mean by "unreasonable"? Will he define it? Such words have always been very difficult for Ministers to define. We should like to know what he means by these very vague words.
§ Mr. Sandys
I do not think it was an unfair comparison for the simple reason that the new Clause will give local authorities all that they had under the 1946 Act plus a good deal more. Therefore, I do not think it was unreasonable to say that the new arrangements were more favourable than those provided by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Sandys
I am sorry, but I am not going to be interrupted any more.
I think that the question of the definition of "unreasonable" can more profitably be pursued in Committee. It is always dangerous to make a statement about precise definitions; it tends to be taken afterwards as some elaboration or embroidery of what is in the law. The law must stand on its own. However, I would, without commitment, suggest that unreasonably high rates are rates which are significantly higher than those of comparable authorities, and that unreasonably high rents are rents which are significantly higher than those charged by comparable authorities having regard to the general level of earnings in the district. I do not wish to go beyond that at this stage. The words "unreasonable" and "reasonable" appear throughout our legislation, and there is nothing new in introducing a term of that kind.
§ Mr. Lewis rose—
§ Mr. Sandys
I am not going to be interrupted any further. I really must 813 leave some time for other hon. Members who wish to take part in the debate.
Whatever Government may be in power, their housing policy must be directed towards three main objectives: to provide a separate home for every family, to clear the slums, and to preserve our stock of existing houses. By our actions in the last four years we have enormously stepped up the rate of new house construction. Through this Bill we shall stimulate the resumption of slum clearance on a large scale. With the Housing Repairs and Rents Act last year we made a start on the task of saving the older houses.
§ Mr. Sandys
The review of the structure of rent control, which I announced the other day, is a further important step in that direction.
In short, we are tackling the housing problem on all fronts. We are pursuing a comprehensive and coherent policy. However, in the long run the success of any housing policy depends upon its having a sound financial basis. I commend the Bill to the House because I am confident that it will help to put our housing finances on a fairer and more realistic footing.
As we expected, the Socialists and the Communist Party—yes, I read the Daily Worker, too—are going all out to misrepresent our intentions in the hope of making some political capital for themselves. But I can assure them that the fear of some temporary unpopularity will in no way deter us from carrying through a policy which we know—and which also they know—is in the best and true interests of the country.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Mr. G. Lindgren (Wellingborough)
I beg to move, to leave out "now" and at the end of the Question to add "upon this day six months."
We have listened to a speech from the Minister which, if I may say so with respect, was not really up to his usual standard. It was a speech in which the peroration went a little flat. May I bring the House back to realities by dealing with the real intention behind the Bill? The Lord Privy Seal is present on the Front Bench opposite. The right hon. 814 Gentleman got the House into a mess last night over the Finance Bill.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Harry Crookshank) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Lindgren
Well, if the right hon. Gentleman did not, the Patronage Secretary did.
This Bill is a continuance of the Government's budgetary policy. What are the Government saying? They are saying, "We will put up the price of food, the cost of living. We will put up the price of household necessities. We will put up the rates and increase interest charges. We will put up rents, and then, because the worker has to pay more for his food and household necessities and rates and rent, he will have less in his pocket to spend on those other extras which make life worth living."
The Government are attacking the standard of living of the ordinary man and woman in this country, although the Minister has not the courage to say so. From him we get merely a lot of words. Those are the plain facts about the actions of the Government. We are not here, as the Minister has been inferring, to discuss a simple reduction of housing subsidies from £29 8s. to £10—£22 Is. from the Government and £7 7s. from the local authorities we are here discussing two other material factors which have a very serious effect on rents and which the Minister skated over.
The first is the increased interest charges and the second is the alteration in borrowing arrangements for local authorities which has the effect of forcing to go to the open market for money. That is bound to send up interest rates still higher, but it has been completely ignored by the Minister. The right on. Gentleman talks about other people misrepresenting him. If there is any misrepresentation about what is happening, it may be found in the glib talk of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite both in the country and in the House.
This Bill means that the Government are going out of the business of providing housing for the general needs of the people. The Minister half hinted, but did not actually admit in his speech, that it is a statutory obligation on local authorities to meet housing needs in their areas, whether those housing needs take the form of slum clearance schemes or the 815 provision of housing to meet general needs. One would have thought, after listening to the Minister, that he had relieved local authorities of their statutory obligation and that now there was only an obligation to clear the slums. But, apart from statutory obligations, is there not a human need and is not the human need and the statutory need still as great as ever it was?
In common with most hon. Members, I make myself available to my constituents in order to discuss their problems. By far the greatest number of problems which are brought to me—and I am sure that most hon. Members would say the same—are connected with housing. There are married couples living with their families in rooms and in overcrowded conditions; there are families evicted from service tenancies who cannot obtain other accommodation. Those things are not the responsibility of a Member of Parliament and one tells such persons so. We write to the local authorities and are informed almost invariably that they are aware of these cases and are sympathetic, but that they have long housing lists and that the cases will be dealt with in turn—in, it may be, three, four or five years' time. The general housing need has nowhere been met in this country and will not be met for a very long time.
The housing of the ordinary working people is one of the best examples of the failure of private enterprise. The Minister has been making great play of slum clearance, but where do the slums come from? They are the result of Tory landlordism. Practically no houses have been built by private enterprise for the ordinary workers since the Public Health Act, 1875, and that is a fact, although the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) may smile.
§ Mr. Lindgren
I will give the facts. Some of us have been occupied with this housing question for years. Some of us came into local government because we were suffering from the evils of Tory landlordism and revolted against it. There are 7¼ million privately owned rented houses in this country and over 5¼ million of them were built prior to 816 the Public Health Act, 1875. That Act first gave to local authorities various rights connected with building byelaws and controls, and a small degree of control over the siting, construction and density of building.
From 1945 onwards, the Labour Government, having in mind their other commitments, including war damage repairs and the building of factories, schools and other necessary building, decided that 200,000 houses were the limit that the economy of the country and the capacity of the building industry could stand. For all that is said about the concern shown by the Tory Party for the people, actually the Tory Party is concerned only with power, and when the Tories obtain power they are concerned with what they can do for their friends. Knowing that, with all the other commitments, 200,000 houses were the limit of the capacity of the building industry and the economy of the country, what did the Tory Party do? They built 300,000 houses.
§ Mr. Lindgren
Do not interrupt too quickly, because hon. Members opposite are going to "catch a packet" in a moment.
§ Mr. Lindgren
The Tory Party now admit that the building of 300,000 houses meant that the general economy of the country would be upset. The Chancellor of the Exchequer now says so. In fact, much of the trouble with which we are dealing today, together with the problems which the Chancellor is having to handle, arise from the fact that the whole economy of the country was upset by the Tory Government when they set out to build 300,000 houses a year irrespective of the effect upon the rest of the economy.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)
Is the hon. Member recommending that the output of houses should forthwith be reduced to 200,000?
§ Mr. Lindgren
No, but the Government are doing it automatically. The vast majority of the 200,000 houses which we built per year were for rent. The Tory Party talk about 300,000 houses a year, 817 but we must remember that they have set the private enterprise and speculative builders free, and that a large number of those houses are going into private ownership.
The Minister says that we are spending too much upon housing subsidies. Why is that so? In 1951—a year for which my party will take the credit or the blame—building subsidies amounted to £63 million from the Government and £15 million from the local authorities, making a total of £78 million. That was because the amount of the subsidies per house was £16 10s. from the central Government and £5 10s. from local authorities. In 1954, those subsidies had risen to £84 million from the Government and £23 million from local authorities, making a total of £107 million. That increase was due to the increase in the Bank Rate from 3 per cent. under the Labour Government to 3¾ per cent. and then 4¼ per cent. under the Tory Government. The increased subsidies have gone, not towards the provision of more and better houses, but straight into the pockets of the financiers—who are quite good contributors to Tory Party funds.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
Into whose pockets went the added interest charges when the Labour Party increased the rate of interest in the early period of the first Labour Government?
§ Mr. Lindgren
If the hon. and gallant Member wants to know about those charges I will give him particulars. In June, 1946, the rate of interest was 2½ per cent. In 1948 it rose to 3 per cent.
§ Mr. Lindgren
Yes. But let us see what has happened since.
I recommend the hon. and gallant Member to go to the Ilford Borough Council and ask whether it prefers the Labour Government of 1945–51, with interest rates of 2½ per cent. and 3 per cent., or the Tory Government, with 3¼ per cent. in 1951; 4¼ per cent. in 1952; 4 per cent. in 1953; 3¾ per cent. in 1954; and 4 per cent., 4¼ per cent., 4½ per cent., and 5 per cent, in 1955.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
The Ilford Borough Council prefer the present Government, because they can now build their proportion of about 300,000 houses a year, compared with 200,000 when the hon. Member's party was in power.
§ Mr. Lindgren
I will leave that for the local Ilford paper to take up. The hon. and gallant Member can see what his constituents think about it.
§ Mr. Page
I have honestly been trying to follow the argument of the hon. Member in relation to increased expenditure. Is it not a fact that 150,000 council houses were built in 1951 and 220,000 were built in 1954? Does he really say that that increase of 70,000 council houses has nothing whatever to do with the increase in Government expenditure?
§ Mr. Lindgren
Of course it was Government expenditure—because, under the Labour Government, the subsidies per house were £16 10s. from the central Government and £5 10s. from local authorities. When the Tory Government came into power they put up the interest rates. For purely party political purposes they raised the subsidy in order to mitigate the effects of the increases in rents which they thought the rise in the interest rate was likely to cause. They raised it from £16 10s. and £5 10s. to £26 14s. and £8 18s., respectively, making a total of £35 12s. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot get away from the fact that the increased expenditure in subsidies is the direct result of the Government's policy of increasing the interest rate.
§ Mr. Lindgren
If we turn to the question of housing standards we find that the same thing is true. Under the Tory Governments of the inter-war years the standards of council house building were deplorably low. There was jerry-building, a low standard of room space and a low standard of fitments. The standard was so low that when the music hall comedians became tired of flogging the joke about their mothers-in-law they turned to the subject of the council house. They said that you could hear the woman next door change her mind, and that if you drove a nail through the wall you could hang a picture on either side. 819 Jerry-building went on not only in respect of council houses but also in respect of houses built for private ownership. That is what went on during the inter-war years. I am glad that hon. Members opposite have not challenged that fact.
§ Mr. Powell
The hon. Member may recall that in order to qualify for a subsidy under the Wheatley Act of the Labour Government, local authorities had to build to the Tudor Walters standard.
§ Mr. Lindgren
Under the Wheatley Act of 1924 we built the best council houses of all those built during the interwar years, and to the best subsidy standards. When the Tories came to power after the defeat of the minority Labour Government of 1923 and 1924 they reduced the Wheatley standards in 1927 and abolished them altogether under the 1933 Act.
I will state what the Tories did during the war. [An HON. MEMBER: "We were fighting."] They were not the only people who were fighting. During the inter-war years those of us who were in local government were—through local authority associations and our own individual local authorities— leading deputations to various Tory Ministers of Health and pleading with them to increase housing standards. The Tories admitted that that was so during the war. During a war they always get worried. Because of the low social standards they set up the Beveridge Committee, promising an improvement after the war, and in the field of planning we had the Scott, Barlow and Uthwatt Reports.
In regard to housing, the Coalition Government said, "We know that housing standards before the war were deplorably low," and they accordingly set up a special Committee under the chairmanship of the Earl of Dudley. He and the committee were given terms of reference to inquire into and recommend housing standards for after the war. To give the Earl credit, he and his committee produced a very good Report. It recommended what became known in housing circles as the "Dudley standards." The Coalition Government accepted the Dudley standards and the Minister wrote to local authorities and recommended that they should get ready for post-war housing on the Dudley standards.
820 We had a General Election in 1945, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) became Minister of Health. He was not very revolutionary. All that he did was to be trusting. He had taken the Tories at their word, a foolish thing to do.
§ Mr. Lindgren
My right hon. Friend said, "The Coalition Government have accepted the Dudley standards. Go ahead and build to those standards." To the eternal credit of my right hon. Friend and of the Labour Government of that day, it can be said that the best local authority houses built in this country were those put up between 1945 and 1951. They are a credit to the local authorities, to the builders, to the building-trade workers and to the tenants living in them.
What has happened since 1951? Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Government Benches talk about clearing away the slums that they themselves created 100 years ago. [Laughter.] It is true that they were not here then, but they are still living on the profits from them. [An HON. MEMBER: "Cheap."] It may be cheap, but it is true. Since 1951, those standards have been gradually and persistently reduced year by year, until we arrive at the day when the right hon. Gentleman as Minister of Housing and Local Government is forcing local authorities to build houses, not to the Dudley standards promised during the war, but on standards much lower. Houses are being built today by local authorities under the direction of this Government to standards lower than those to which we were building in 1938, and with a higher density than we had then. The Government are not only bringing about higher rents and lower housing standards for the people, but are increasing housing density.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
The hon. Gentleman is asserting all these things, which I think are untrue. Would he like to give instances of local authorities who are building below standards at the direction of the present Government?
§ Mr. Lindgren
I believe the hon. Gentleman sits for the Isle of Thanet. I am often there, because I have family connections—not very well off—in that area. I am prepared to go with him to 821 Margate or Ramsgate and to visit houses built from 1946 to 1950, and then houses built in 1953, 1954 and today, and to show him the difference in standards.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
The hon. Gentleman has issued a challenge, which I accept. I will arrange a date and publish it in those towns.
§ Mr. Lindgren
I shall be delighted. What I have said applies in any and every constituency. The right hon. Gentleman can come to my constituency, and we will return the visit to his.
§ Mr. Arthur Probert (Aberdare)
In 1946, when I came back from the Royal Air Force, my first job was as a housing assistant with my previous local authority. In 1946, I went into the field as a representative of the local authority in the construction of houses and estates. From 1946 to 1950 the standard of housing was a credit, especially of the direct-labour houses. From 1950 to 1954, when I came into the House, the standards deteriorated rapidly and were a great concern to architectural assistants and people like myself who were responsible for building.
§ Mr. Lindgren
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that first-hand evidence from his personal knowledge in support of what I was stating as a general fact.
§ Mr. Gibson
I support my hon. Friend by reminding him that when the "People's House" was first introduced The Times said, in an editorial, that they would be the slums of England in twenty years' time.
§ Mr. Lindgren
That is exactly what it said. I was not intending to quote from newspapers but to speak from my own personal knowledge and experience. The Press attacked me as an individual when I was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Local Government and Planning, for stating that the building industry was going the wrong way about tackling the job of house building. Instead of competitions to see who could build the best £1,000 house, I said it ought to inquire first what was needed in a house and build accordingly.
§ Mr. Walter Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
The hon. Gentleman's speech is very interesting indeed, but do I understand him to be attacking in this bitter 822 fashion the Labour Housing Minister who introduced the "People's House"?
§ Mr. Lindgren
The right hon. Gentleman is very clever in jumping in with an innuendo which has no basis in fact.
§ Mr. Elliot
It is not an innuendo but a direct assault. I am borne out by his hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert), who was so glad to come to his assistance, and who said that it was in 1950 and 1951 that the deterioration in housing began. That was under the Labour Government, and under the Labour Minister of Housing. That is not an innuendo.
§ Mr. Lindgren
The record will bear out what I said, which was that houses built from 1945 to 1951 were under the Labour Government, and that the deterioration had taken place since 1951. I offered to take the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet on a visit to houses in his constituency built in 1948 and 1949, and then to those that were built in 1953, when deterioration had begun in housing standards.
Contrary to what the Minister said, the Bill means the end of local authority building for general need. Even in the conditions that existed at the end of 1954, in spite of what the Minister has said about the earnings of people living in local authority houses, rents were reaching a stage at which many applicants on the waiting list could not afford them, as people associated with local authorities know full well. They had to turn down the houses offered to them, so some local authorities established two lists, one for people who could take new houses and the other for people who, because of economic circumstances, had to go into the older, pre-war houses.
The position is now much worse. The Minister has spoken of the subsidy being reduced from £22, but that is really not the figure. Up to 31st March this year the subsidy was £35 12s.; since 1st April it has been £29 8s., and it is now to be £10. The right hon. Gentleman plays with figures but the fact remains that the difference between £10 and £35 12s. is 823 £25 12s., and for all the talk about 2d. and 3d. a week, £25 means 10s. a week. That is plain arithmetic. The increased interest charges which local authorities have to bear mean another 8s. a week. Even at existing interest rates it will cost the tenant of the ordinary villa type house an extra 18s. a week; and if that tenant cannot pay it will have to be paid by someone else.
The Minister has had the audacity to assert that these people, living in prewar council houses of a low standard of construction—that is now admitted by hon. Members opposite—are to have placed on them the burden of the increased interest charges and reduction of subsidy on house construction now. Therefore, the tenant of the thirty-year-old house, which has a low standard of construction and of fitments, a low standard of siting and density, has to pay an increased rent to meet the interest charges and reduction in subsidy on the houses which the local authority will build in the future. Let the Minister play about with figures as he will, it means an additional 18s. a week on the average council house. As the tenants will not be able to pay, the local authorities will not be able to afford to build.
That is not only my opinion. The Minister has some responsibility for local authorities. He did not mention a word of what local authorities have said about this subject. I have here a letter which the Urban District Councils' Association sent to him on 11th November last. It is a condemnation of the Bill. On Thursday last, the executive of that Association passed a resolution which, while phrased much more mildly than, perhaps, I would have phrased it, does, in effect, mean exactly what I have said —that it is socially wrong and is the end of local authority building. It asks the Minister to change his policy. I have this letter because I am a vice-president of the Association, but the president, and many of the vice-presidents are Tories. Although we are discussing this Bill, I cannot see one of them in the Chamber. I wonder if it is an absence of convenience? I wonder what they will do at the end of this debate, because we have been asked by the Association to get the Minister to withdraw the Bill.
What are the Tories to do now? Has not the Minister some responsibility to 824 work in co-operation with the local authority associations? I have been associated with local government and with local authority associations for a very long time. I have seen many strongly-worded resolutions and letters, and criticisms of individual items in Clauses, but I have yet to see one so strongly worded and so forthright in its criticism as is this letter. When introducing the Bill, it would have been a little fairer had the right hon. Gentleman told the House that the local authorities were not in favour of it. It is the local authorities which have to do the job.
The Minister talked about the gentlemen in Whitehall. I do not like Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries or hon. Members making that reference. Those people are there to carry out the jobs which Governments of the day place upon them, and my experience is that they do it very well indeed.
§ Mr. Lindgren
The right hon. Gentleman used it. I do not suppose that there is now very much left that can be original—most things have been said before—but the right hon. Gentleman must take responsibility for using the phrase.
The House should be informed of what this change means to the people who have to do the work in this field and of their reactions to the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman knows—but he did not tell the House—that the almost-universal reaction of local authorities is against this Measure. I have no knowledge of, and can speak with no authority about the views of the Rural District Councils' Association, but I do know that while the Bill means the end of local authority building in urban areas, its effects in the rural areas will be catastrophic.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to new towns. I have always thought that the Tory Government did not like new towns and wished to do their best to destroy the whole idea. They have certainly brought no more new towns into existence since they assumed office. In view of a recent debate, I had hoped that the right hon. Gentleman was a little more kindly disposed to them than was his predecessor, but this Bill will kill new town development altogether. The right 825 hon. Gentleman laughs, but that is a fact. He has admitted that rents are high. That is an understatement.
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that in the new towns today very many of the tenants are paying a quarter of their basic wage rate in rent and rates, and are only able to keep their heads above water by working overtime and by their wives working also? Those are not good social conditions, and they are conditions which will not always be maintained. Nor am I sure that I wish to see excessive overtime being worked. It is not an ideal condition when a man not only has to work excessive overtime himself but finds that his wife has to go out to work also—but it is a condition which prevailed even at the end of 1954.
At first sight, this Bill seems rather fairer to the new towns—but is it? The Minister throughout has been talking about the conditions obtaining from April of this year, but at 31st March the subsidy in the new towns was £35 12s.; since 1st April it has been £29 8s., and now it is perhaps £32—£24, plus £8 extra in respect of persons from housing lists in London. It is true that the new towns are to get £2 12s. more than the April figure, but on the 31st March figure they will get £3 12s. less.
The figure is even more than that. Over the last twelve months, the rise in the interest rates to local authorities has meant that rents have increased by over 8s. a week. Though the Minister gives the new towns is. a week in the extra subsidy compared with April, the total is £3 12s. less than the 31st March figure,. and then comes the extra 8s. in rent due to interest rates, which means that these already excessive rents are to go up by 7s. a week, a figure which is crippling to ordinary tenants in the new towns.
§ Mr. J. Silverman
Will my hon. Friend deal with this point? The Minister has introduced, in Clause 9, a provision in which he asks the exporting local authorities to give back £4 of the subsidy. At any rate, the Bill provides that he may do so, and one does not know to what extent he will do it, but it means that the annual subsidy will be decreased by £2.
§ Mr. Lindgren
Yes, but I have been rather hard on the right hon. Gentleman once or twice, and I want to be fair to 826 him now. The figure of £2 is the result of discussions between the local authority associations and the exporting authorities, and there was a readjustment of the arrangement under which many of them used to pay the full amount of £8 for every person; now it is being cut to £4.
§ Mr. Lindgren
Yes, it will come down, but I was looking at what the new towns are likely to get, and that is the position.
Now, I turn to the expanding towns, where the position is even worse. I do not know if I can describe anything as worse than being killed, and I have already said that the new towns will be killed by this proposal. The Government pay lip-service to the dispersal of what the planners call overspill under the Town Development Act. This Bill, together with Government policy on interest rates and alterations of the arrangements for borrowing, means that the already difficult position in which an exporting authority is placed in coming to an agreement with a receiving authority will be made almost impossible.
In an expanding town, it is not only a question of securing land and building houses, making roads and providing street lighting. There is also the question of the expansion of other services in the area—the provision of additional water facilities, sewerage schemes, parks and open spaces, and all those things which the population will need if the town is to be expanded and receive people from some other area.
In the provision of these additional services, the local authority has to be well ahead of the receipt of the additional population. It means capital expenditure well before the local authority receives the benefit of any increased rateable value with which to meet some of the cost. The increased interest charges will fall not only on the houses but on all capital works which local authorities undertake, making expansion such a proposition that every local authority which has even considered the possibility of accepting overspill and coming within the Town Development Act will have second thoughts.
It will not only be the large towns, which are already reasonably large, that will be affected. I do not suppose it will make a great deal of difference to 827 Swindon, although that authority will be hit fairly hard, but the authorities of the smaller urban districts of 10,000, 15,000 or 20,000 people, which contemplate another 5,000 or 10,000 people from London, just cannot face having to carry the increased rate charges and the extra interest charges ahead of the increased rateable value.
Therefore, it seems to me that under the Bill we shall get little, if any, housing for the new towns, and little or no development in the new and expanding towns. The Minister says that he wants to concentrate on slum clearance, and that will mean that our cities will perhaps concentrate on slum clearance, while in the meantime other problems are being created.
I should like to deal with other parts of the Bill, but in fairness to other hon. Members who wish to speak, I will refrain from doing so. I conclude on this note, and I hope that the Minister will listen. Many of us on this side of the House are trade unionists. We still have some say in the policies which are adopted by our trade unions. In spite of the viciousness of the present Government in making attacks on the living standards of the people of this country, many of us have counselled inside the trade unions that there should be restraint in the making of wage claims. We have always said that no one really derives any advantage from the spiral which comes from wages chasing prices, and we have tried to get that policy adopted inside some of our trade unions.
We have also tried to impress upon the Government the necessity of stabilising prices if wages are to be held equally in check. Some of us, because we have taken this attitude in spite of the attitude of the Government, have been dubbed as Right wing. It has not been easy to hold the position, and what little ground we had under our feet before has now been taken right away by the right hon. Gentleman. For what happens in the industrial field now the responsibility is not on those of us in the trade union movement. It lies with the Government and with the right hon. Gentleman, who is the willing instrument of that Government. The responsibility will be his, and it will be no use for him to look to the trade unions to get him out of the mess.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Pannell (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
In rising to address the House for the first time, I ask for the indulgence which is usually extended on such occasions, and I will try to match that courtesy by the avoidance of anything controversial. That may be difficult in this instance, but I trust that I shall impose no undue strain on the generosity and forbearance of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen.
As one whose election reversed the representation of Kirkdale, I should first like to pay my tribute to my predecessor, who served the constituency in this House for ten years, and during that period worked assiduously on behalf of his constituents. Although at times he expressed views to which I could not subscribe, I am the first to recognise the honesty and sincerity of his motives.
In making my modest contribution to this debate, I will try to confine myself to facts and to relate those facts to the constituency which I represent. Kirkdale is not a municipal entity, but a section of Liverpool, controlled by the city council. It is for the most part a congested residential area, and it contains much property scheduled for slum clearance. The inhabitants of these clearance areas have had a raw deal up to now, as the fact that they are living in dwellings of sub-standard quality has not of itself qualified them for consideration under the city's housing programme. The houses for the most part have gone to others, whose claims on general grounds have been considered more pressing, and the claims of those living in slum areas have been postponed pending the formulation of a slum clearance scheme.
It is most gratifying that that problem is now being tackled, and half of Liverpool's building programme will in future be devoted to slum clearance. From that point of view, this Bill is to be distinctly welcomed, for not only are the subsidies maintained for houses built under slum clearance schemes, but they are substantially increased for multi-storeyed flats on cheaper sites, which must be a feature of Liverpool's future programme.
This Bill will not operate evenly over the whole country, and the House may find it of interest to know how it will affect Liverpool as perhaps indicative of its impact on other large municipalities of the same character. It has been 829 assumed in some quarters that the whole burden of the increased interest rates and the reduction in subsidy will fall on houses which are built in the future. I submit that that would be quite indefensible. The essence of the matter is that there should be a spread of the burden over all the houses owned by the municipality. I hope I am not entering the field of controversy if I support the figures given by my right hon. Friend. Indeed, I must go a little further and give figures even more favourable than those which he mentioned.
In Liverpool, the effect of the reduction of subsidy will be very slight if the spread is made. Liverpool Corporation owns 60,000 houses and has a building programme at the moment running at 3,000 houses a year. At least half of those 3,000 houses will continue to qualify for subsidy and only 1,500, at the most, will lose the subsidy. If that loss of subsidy is spread over the whole of Liverpool's housing pool, the average increase in rents will be l½d. per week in the first year and 7½d. at the end of five years.
The position is even better than that, for Liverpool. like all prudent corporations, has budgeted well in advance for its housing requirements, and for a long time to come, probably two years, the bulk of its housing will continue to receive subsidies at the old rate. The effect of the reduction of subsidy in Liverpool will therefore be slight indeed.
Interest rates form a relevant subject. It is not mentioned in the Bill, but as on previous occasions it has been the custom to increase the subsidies to reflect any rise in the interest rates, and as on this occasion the subsidy has been reduced, I think it is pertinent to mention the subject. It has been suggested—and I do not dispute the figure—that the increase in interest rates this year entails a rise in the cost of a house of £17 per annum. In Liverpool that would affect the whole building programme of 3,000 houses a year, but if the spread were made it would mean that the average increase in rent of Corporation houses in Liverpool would be 4d. a week in the first year and Is. 8d. a week at the end of five years.
It is therefore fair to say that the effect of the increased interest rates and the reduction in subsidy for Liverpool need not be more than 2s. 6d. per week per 830 house at the end of five years and only 6d. a week immediately. Even if all the subsidies were abolished except those for slum clearance, the average further increase in rents for the first year would be only 2d. per week and 10d. per week at the end of five years. The effect of the Bill on Liverpool will therefore be very slight, and if, as I think, it will encourage slum clearance it is to be welcomed.
There has been a request in some quarters to introduce differential rent schemes. I do not want to go into the merits or demerits of such a suggestion this evening, except to say that I can foresee certain difficulties in its application. I am more concerned with the removal of some of the differentials which at present exist.
Of Liverpool's 60,000 houses, over 40,000 were built between the wars. They are not substantially of a lower standard than those being built today. The majority of them are in mature estates conveniently placed near the centre of the city and the rents are about 14s. a week, including rates. I ask hon. Members to contrast that with the new houses being built on the raw estates on the outskirts of the city. These are being rented at 28s. a week after having attracted the full benefit of the subsidy. Not only have the tenants of these houses in the new estates to pay the higher rents, but in many cases they also have to incur considerable extra expenditure to get to and from their places of work. Surely, in the name of justice and common sense, there should be some equalisation of those rents, raising them for older houses and reducing them for new houses.
If that were done there would be no need for a means test except in the very limited number of cases of people who plead that they could not afford any increase at all. On the other hand, there would be an overdue. measure of relief for those people who in many cases today find it extremely difficult to pay the high rents charged for the new houses.
Although I said that the effect of the Bill and even of the higher interest rates will not be onerous in Liverpool, provided the burden is spread, I should not like the House to assume that the housing situation in Liverpool is good. From the recent Command Paper 9593, it will be seen that Liverpool has the largest 831 proportion of unfit houses of any city in the country. It is 43 per cent. of all permanent houses, compared with 33 per cent. in Manchester and 16 per cent. in Birmingham.
I express the hope that my right hon. Friend will use the full discretion given to him in the Bill and, in particular, under Clause 5, and will make every possible concession to Liverpool so that the city can continue its efforts to provide decent housing accommodation for its long-suffering inhabitants.
I am most grateful to the House for its indulgence.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Henderson (Rowley Regis and Tipton)
I am sure that it is the desire of the House that I should tender to the hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. N. Pannell) our heartiest congratulations on the speech he has just delivered. I understand that the hon. Member has had a distinguished career in West Africa. I am sure he will serve his constituents with the same zeal as that which he showed there. He also has a family connection with a respected Member who sits on this side of the House—respected but by no means silent—and I am sure that he will seek to attain the family standards as they have already been established.
The provisions of the Bill must, I think, be examined against the background of the general housing problem which confronts the nation today. In spite of the fact that before the war 1¼ million council houses were erected, and since the war 1½ million more houses have been erected, it would not be an exaggeration to say that at least one-tenth of our population, about five million of our fellow citizens, are living today in slum conditions and conditions of overcrowding, and that hundreds of our young married couples have not yet secured their own homes. That is the background against which we must look when we examine the Bill.
The Command Paper has made it clear that these conditions exist. I doubt whether any hon. Member—certainly none on this side of the House—would disagree with me when I say that what used to be called the submerged one-tenth has now become the one-tenth of the population living in housing conditions which are a disgrace to our British way 832 of life. These conditions lend the greatest urgency to, and make the greatest importance of, housing. The Command Paper indicates that there are 847,000 houses which have been, or should be, the subject of slum clearance orders. In the Borough of Tipton in my constituency 12 per cent. of the houses have been made subject to slum clearance orders.
As I said a moment or two ago, I doubt whether anyone would differ from me when I suggest that possibly two million or three million fellow citizens of ours are living in terrible conditions of overcrowding. During the Recess I made a personal investigation with the chairman of the Tipton housing committee into the housing conditions of the borough. To hon. Friends who know much more about housing than I do, I would say that I have been impelled to intervene in this debate because of some of the facts I discovered in that investigation. I am trying to establish the existence, the urgency, and the importance of the national housing situation today.
I am well aware that the Bill—somewhat like the curate's egg—is good in parts. In providing subsidies for slum clearance houses it meets with my warmest support, but other parts are not so good. In one street I found eight houses for which there were only two toilets, and the only water supply available was from two taps in an outside yard. Each of those houses was very damp. In another street there were five houses with no water supply. The hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Sir A. Hudson) may think this is amusing, but I think it is shocking, and I hope that we shall face this problem.
§ Mr. Lewis
My right hon. and learned Friend may remember that the Minister introduced a Bill in this House a short time ago and said that he would put right all these problems by giving landlords the right to increase rents and carry out repairs and decorations. Can my right hon. and learned Friend say how far private landlords have proceeded under that Bill?
§ Mr. Henderson
I am not in a position to say that, but I am in a position to tell the House what I saw in August and September, and that I am doing. The housewives of the five houses I have mentioned have to cross the road to backyards of houses on the opposite side of 833 the road in order to gain a water supply. Every time a young housewife wants to wash napkins or to boil water to make a cup of tea she has to go out—in all types of weather—to get water from those taps on the other side of the road. The sanitation is extremely primitive. Each of these five houses has one room upstairs and one downstairs. In one of the houses the husband, wife and four children slept in one room. The average room in a working-class house is not very large, and six people in one room is shocking. These are not isolated cases I am giving to the House. I can adduce details of other groups of houses in my constituency which are in a similar condition.
Overcrowding is equally disturbing. I find it difficult to understand why the Government are not prepared to subsidise the rehousing of families living in overcrowded conditions as they are prepared to subsidise in the case of families living in slum conditions. From the social point of view, from the point of view of health, happiness, comfort and—even more important—of morality, it is just as urgent and important to get rid of bad housing conditions whether they are due to overcrowding or to living in houses which are structurally unfit for habitation. I speak from personal observation in my constituency. In one house of three bedrooms, one bedroom was occupied by the father and mother, in another bedroom four sons aged 30, 28, 26 and 20 slept, and in the third there were a married daughter and three children. The son-in-law lives in a hostel.
In another case the house has one bedroom occupied by the father, the mother and five children and in a third case, a house with two bedrooms, one bedroom is occupied by the husband and wife and the other by two boys, aged 14 and 18, and two girls, aged 16 and 17. These conditions, which I am sure we agree are deplorable, only add point to the observations I have made—which I hope will receive consideration by the right hon. Gentleman—about the relationship between slum conditions and overcrowding conditions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) knows this is true because he knows the district. The picture I have presented is not surprising when it is realised that 12 per cent. of 834 the houses in Tipton are unfit and 8 per cent. are more than 100 years old. The trouble is that during the past-war period, from 1945 to 1954, it has been possible to deal only with unfit houses at an average rate of 30 per annum. The reason is that while 1,360 houses have been erected, the general needs of the housing community—because of the operation of the housing freeze—have compelled the local authority to concentrate on meeting the needs of those on the waiting list rather than the needs of those in slum and overcrowded conditions.
In the other borough in my constituency, Rowley Regis, 1,605 houses have been built since 1945, but the local authority is still meeting the needs of those who registered prior to 1945. The three problems are slum clearance, overcrowding conditions and the general waiting list. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has any information as to the total on various waiting lists throughout the country. If my constituency is any indication, with 3,800 on the two waiting lists, I imagine that the number for the country must run to well over 1 million.
That brings me to the Bill. Speaking for myself, I am satisfied with the provisions dealing with slum clearance. My criticism of the Bill is that it leaves the other two problems untouched. Indeed, it seems almost a retrograde step and one which places shackles upon the local authorities in dealing with the problems of overcrowding and with those on the waiting lists.
I was at a loss to understand the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman about the effect which the increases in the Bank Rate and the reduction in the subsidies are likely to have on the rents of houses built in the future within the terms of this Bill under slum clearance proposals. Figures have been supplied to me by my local authority from which it appears to me that after February, 1952, when the Bank Rate went up to 4¼ per cent., and the subsidy was £35 12s. there was an increase of ls. in the weekly rental. Following the reduction in the subsidy last April from £35 12s. to £29 8s., there was a further increase of 6s. 5d. from September, 1955, by which time, of course, the Bank Rate had gone up to 5 per cent. This makes since February, 1952, a cumulative increase of 7s. 5d.
§ Mr. Powell
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman mean that those increases have actually taken place?
§ Mr. Henderson
No, I am not saying that, unless the increase in commitments is dealt with by an increase of rent spread over existing tenancies. I have a third figure to give the House. In April, 1956, assuming that the interest rate remains at 5 per cent. and the subsidy goes down to £10, as I understand it will do in the next eighteen months, the increase in the weekly rent will be 7s. 6d., so that there will be a difference in the cumulative increase between February, 1952, for a house existing in that year, as against the house that may be erected in 1956 or 1957, of about 14s. 11d. a week. I do not know whether those figures would be accepted by the Minister?
§ Mr. Henderson
They may be on the low side, but it will be a serious problem for the local authorities.
§ Mr. Sandys
I want to be clear, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) has asked a question which deserves an answer. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has said that the rents will be that much more. Does he mean that, or does he mean that if the increased costs were all placed on the new houses, this would theoretically result in an increase of rent of that amount? Does he not know that the local authorities would not consider dealing with it in that way?
§ Mr. Henderson
Yes, it must be theoretical, because the houses which will receive the £10 subsidy have not yet been built. It can only be dealt with theoretically by the right hon. Gentleman, by myself, or by anyone else at the present moment.
I do not know what may be the experience of other hon. Members, but in the advice bureaux I have held during the past three years I found that nine out of ten of the constituents who came 836 to see me were concerned with housing troubles. In almost every case they held the local authority responsible for not being able to remove their frustration at the inability to meet their housing needs. Local authorities have therefore been a buffer between the Government—indeed, Parliament—on the one side and, on the other, the frustrated citizens of the community seeking and not receiving the houses they need in order to lead decent lives, excepting, of course, those who were lucky enough to be at the top of the waiting list.
While it is true that the right hon. Gentleman has now removed the system of allocation for slum clearance schemes, it cannot be repeated too often or made too clear that the responsibility for, say, my local authority's being able to build only 150 houses a year cannot be placed on them because they did not desire to build more, but because that was the quota which they were given by the Ministry working by means of a national pool. Now the allocation has been removed and they are free to build any number of houses. Again, however, I a m afraid this will be somewhat theoretical because of the increase in the Bank Rate and the reduction in the subsidy. So whilst I welcome the provisions of the Bill dealing with slums, I hope that on this side of the House we shall maintain our opposition to all the provisions centring around the reduction of subsidies for other types of houses.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Sir Austin Hudson (Lewisham, North)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) mentioned that his constituents blame the local council for their housing needs, but that is scarcely surprising, as Parliament has put the provision of houses and their allocation fairly and squarely on to local councils. Of course, I only know London and the blame, if blame there is, is always put either on the London County Council or on the borough council.
§ Sir A. Hudson
And on the Member of Parliament. I always explain to them that while I will use what influence and what persuasion I can on those two authorities, I have no means of making them alter their decisions.
§ Mr. Lewis
I think the hon. Gentleman misunderstood me. I was not suggesting that he needed to explain to us that he has no responsibility, but is it not a fact that nine out of ten of the people who are hard-pressed really believe that they have only to see their Member of Parliament in order to get a house, and that, if they cannot do so, say that the Member is at fault?
§ Sir A. Hudson
That happens to all of us. I also know that often their grievance is that somebody else not so badly off as themselves has got a house and that there is something unfair about it. I have never found any unfairness in my own borough council or in the London County Council.
Turning to the Bill, the right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned, also, the question of overcrowding, on which during the Committee stage we may be able to persuade the Minister to go a little further. In my own part of Lewisham I have noticed this peculiar thing, namely, that at the last Election the electorate had dropped although the number of houses in the constituency was greater. This seems to show that overcrowding in that part of London is being mitigated to some degree.
I thought that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) was a little hard in his comment on the building of houses either by the local authorities or, as he said, by the Government. Not all the houses built between the wars were of a very bad standard. In the constituency of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) there are enormous housing estates that were built between the wars, and I do not think he will agree that they are all of very bad construction. Nor are all the houses and flats which have been built since the war all too small.
I cannot agree that it was only at the time when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) was Minister that better type houses were built. We queried that statement, because most of us remember what is still called the "Dalton house," named after the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), who agreed, in order to get more houses built, that a lesser standard should be allowed. I do not agree that that 838 standard was such that houses built to it can be called rabbit hutches and such names as that, and I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman would agree either, as he was the instigator of the change.
§ Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)
Will not the hon. Gentleman agree that what my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) did was to circularise the local authorities to let them know about the existence of those different plans, and to suggest that, if they wished to do so, they could experiment with them?
§ Sir A. Hudson
I agree. I think the hon. Member was present when the hon. Member for Wellingborough was speaking, and he will remember that the hon. Member for Wellingborough blamed the Conservative Party for those houses as though they were unspeakable things with which his side would have nothing to do. I do not think they are bad houses, and both sides are responsible for them.
§ Mr. Mitchison
The hon. Gentleman will, I hope, agree that my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) was attributing the urge to adopt them not to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), but to the first Minister responsible for housing in the Tory Government.
§ Sir A. Hudson
If they were known as the "Dalton houses"—if I may use that expression here—they were under his aegis. I do not mind upholding these houses, because I do not think they were at all bad houses, and I think that we were able at that time to have more houses built by building houses of that sort. In my view, that was a good thing.
It has been pointed out, too, that the amount of subsidy now required has gone up not only because of the rates of interest but also because of the deliberate policy of the Government of building more houses, building 300,000 or more as against 200,000. That has put up the subsidies. I do not mind what arguments hon. Members opposite use. I remain quite sure that people were glad those extra 100,000 houses were built. When I say "houses" I mean houses and flats.
There is no magic in the Exchequer figure for subsidy. As has been pointed 839 out by previous speakers, it has varied very largely in recent years. It is now £22 1s.; it was £26 14s. in 1952; it was £16 10s. in 1946. I cannot help thinking that if the party opposite had got back into Government at the last General Election right hon. Gentlemen opposite would have been faced with this question of the housing subsidy. It could not remain for ever at the present figure.
What we have to consider is whether what my right hon. Friend is doing is the right thing to do, or whether it will slow down the rate of housing. If it were to put a stop altogether to housing, I think a great number of hon. Members on this side of the House, who will certainly support the Bill as it is, would have grave doubts about doing so. However, as I hope to show, I do not think it will do anything of the kind.
We want, if we can, to be fair to everybody and also to see that in altering these subsidies we do not go too fast; that is to say, that the £10 will not be done away with within, say, one year without our seeing exactly what the result is of the alterations in the different subsidy figures. The hon. Member for Wellingborough said that the urban district councils were against the Bill. Is not any local authority against having its Exchequer grant cut? That is human nature, and I cannot see how any local authority could say enthusiastically to a Minister, "Take away all the subsidy. The more subsidy you take away the better pleased we shall be."
§ Mr. A. Evans
The hon. Gentleman will know that on this occasion the Minister met the representatives of the local authority associations and, in effect, told them what he proposed to do and that, although he knew they would not like it, they would have to accept it. When, previously, there have been reviews of the housing subsidies the Minister has managed to get some basis of agreement with the associations of the local authorities.
§ Sir A. Hudson
I am a little surprised that they agreed to the lower subsidies—unless there was some very good reason for it. What I meant was that it is not to me surprising if a local authority objects to having its Exchequer contribution cut.
840 The object of subsidies is twofold: first, to build a certain number of houses to be let at rents within the reach of the lower paid workers; and, secondly, to encourage the local authorities to build. In my view, the first of the objects, to build houses for the lower-paid workers, has become quite out of perspective. I should say that more than half the council houses are now occupied by people whose incomes are far beyond the incomes of those for whom the houses were originally built. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]
When that statement was made by my right hon. Friend he was asked for proof. In Lewisham, as I shall show later, the council has adopted differential rents. That was done at the beginning of the year, before either the London County Council election or the General Election. It was canvassed rather thoroughly in both senses of the word, and I know something of what the tenants think of differential rents, and I know something also about the occupiers of the houses. The trouble is not that they have suddenly become enormously rich. It is that they had young children when they first occupied their houses, and now the children have grown up and are workers themselves. Therefore, large incomes are coming into those homes, and those families are spending them, quite properly, as other people with larger incomes would do.
I am sure that some system of differential rents is right. The scheme in Lewisham is this. It is to pay an unsubsidised rent unless the tenant can prove that it cannot be afforded. That system has been negotiated with the tenants. I cannot say that they accept it. They would much rather go on in the old way. However, I think that, on the whole, it is reasonable.
When the system was first brought in there was a loud outcry from all the tenants of the council houses. There was a demonstration at the town hall and a march with banners round the town hall. Afterwards, in the local paper, a gentleman complained that he was entirely unable to get to his house, which was in the neighbourhood, because of the motor cars of the people who lived in the council houses and who were demonstrating that they were too poor 841 to pay proper rents. That man, obviously, was on the other side, but his letter does help to show that there are some who can pay the differential rent.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
Is a motor car proof that a man is wealthy? What sort of motor cars were they?
§ Mr. W. T. Williams (Barons Court)
Would not the hon. Member agree that this kind of argument, from the general to the particular, which is so frequently bandied across the Floor of the House, is not only a dangerous one but a very foolish one? The motor cars which he mentioned may have belonged to anyone. In any case, it is not really relevant to the major discussion. Nobody any longer believes that the greater majority of the working people, who are also the greater majority of tenants, are, in fact, bloated capitalists who ride about in Rolls-Royce cars. It is so silly.
§ Sir A. Hudson
I do not think it is silly. These houses were built for the poorer people. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, they were. The subsidy was given because they were not able to pay the rents. Some of these poorer people are still living in most unsuitable places. They cannot get houses because they are occupied by more wealthy people. The borough council knows now how many people have asked for a rebate and how many have not, and how many people have moved out of council houses on their own account because they realise that they are not now getting subsidised rents.
§ Mr. Williams
It seems to me that much of our argument is on emotive basis. The hon. Member is making an interesting speech. In saying that, I do not mean to be patronising, because I appreciate the point which he is making, but why does he spoil his speech, as so many hon. Members opposite do spoil their speeches, by quoting examples of this kind which, at best, are irrelevant and, at the worst, are impertinent?
§ Sir A. Hudson
I entirely disagree. I represent a borough which has adopted differential rents and I say, and have said for some time, that people should not take subsidised rents if they can afford to do without the subsidy. The council has adopted a differential rent system. It 842 has been proved that in these houses there are some people who do not really require the subsidy. I think that that shows that differential rents are probably the answer to the problem. I understand, too, that it has been possible to a certain extent, in Lewisham, to lower some people's rents because of the higher rents paid by the people who have not claimed the rebate.
I hope that, if the Minister intends to recommend this scheme to all local authorities, he will send to them some form of model clause. The Minister said that he had had a number of examples from different boroughs as to how they are doing this thing, and I believe that it would be of advantage to boroughs to know about them, so that they can then make up their minds whether they wish to do it themselves.
I was told by some of the tenants in these dwellings who came to see me on Friday that there are certain parts of the Lewisham scheme which they do not like. Incidentally, they do not like the scheme at all in so far as it puts up their rents. They told me—I do not know how true it is—that it made no difference in the rents whether there was a family or not, because the borough council took into account the gross income only. Of course, a family would receive the family allowances, but, at the same time, they would have many more expenses than the man and wife with no family. All these things ought to be taken into account.
On the whole, I do not think that I would go back on my opinion on differential rents. I do not think that it has had any bad effect in Lewisham. Perhaps I might say to my hon. Friends behind me that so far as electoral disadvantage in the L.C.C. elections and the General Election are concerned, it did not seem to me to make a great deal of difference to those who recommended it.
I want to say a word about encouraging building. I am certain that we have to concentrate on slum clearance. As my constituency is in London, I know little about the new towns and the overspill, both of which have been mentioned earlier in the debate. I cannot think that this will make a great deal of difference in London. When constituents come to me and say, "You must get me a house," I always have to give the reply that the vast part of the council housing programmes has been earmarked for those 843 cleared from the slums. In Lewisham, we have a big slum clearance scheme. The same thing is happening with the L.C.C. There will be no alteration in the subsidies. In fact, they are to be slightly increased for slum clearance and rehousing the slum tenants. I hope that it may speed this very necessary work by the local authorities. The people who come to see us are very often slum dwellers themselves, and they may get rehoused in this way.
§ Mr. Mitchison
May I correct the hon. Gentleman on one point? I do not think that the subsidy for slum clearance purposes is being put up. It is merely being maintained.
§ Sir A. Hudson
The hon. and learned Gentleman is perfectly right. I see on looking at the Explanatory and Financial Memoranda that it is exactly the same, £21 1s. It is being maintained. Lewisham is one of those places which was very badly bombed and, therefore, much more building than in some other places has to be done there. I hope that that will be borne in mind by the Minister when he is considering using Clause 5. The hope has been expressed to me that since we have adopted differential rents and, naturally, they have gone up fairly high, this Bill will not put them up again. We hope that it will not be necessary to do so.
My next point concerns pre-fabs. We have a vast number because of the bombing. Are they to count as unsatisfactory temporary housing accommodation? I think that they ought to. Their usefulness is coming to an end, and some of them are very little better than camps. If they are not to count, perhaps the matter could be discussed in Committee.
I have one other matter to put forward which is a small and local one. We have a case where the Minister is re-zoning an area for housing which had been designated in the Greater London plan for light industry. We all thought that it was a bad place for houses. It is between three railway lines and one is bound to have trains going past almost continuously. I hope that the Minister will consider regarding this as a special area for Government assistance under Clause 5 or Clause 6 of the Bill if he still feels that houses or flats should be built there.
844 Most of us hope that we shall obtain something from Clause 5, but I am not certain what was in the Minister's mind when the Clause was drafted. My fears are that we might be going too fast and might be unfair to someone, but I received yesterday a paper from the London County Council, copies of which have also been sent to other hon. Members, stating that, as far as the Council could work out, at least half the dwellings to be completed in the 1956–61 programme come under the existing subsidy. The Council felt that there would be no change at all.
The period 1956–61 is some way off and, therefore, it gives me some cause to hope that the Bill will not operate too quickly. The operation of the Bill will need to be looked at very carefully.
§ Sir A. Hudson
The housing subsidies must be examined sooner or later. If we can do that and take a large part of this expenditure off the shoulders of the Exchequer without cutting down the number of houses—and I think that that can be done—the Bill will have been well worth while.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mrs. Freda Corbet (Peckham)
I believe that the House is of the unanimous opinion that the provision of dwellings for our people is one of the greatest and finest of our social services. It ranks equally perhaps with education as one of the means whereby a worthier generation will be produced. We have heard tributes paid to the influence of good housing on happy family life, and we all know that a happy family life leads to better citizens. We should, therefore, be careful that we do nothing which might inhibit the reaching of this fine objective.
The Minister's words are intended to comfort and console us, but it is difficult for local authorities, facing their manifold problems, not to feel that they are being placed in a very difficult position indeed. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) have given examples of the kind of housing to be found all over the country. I can add to those examples. We who hold "surgeries" are constantly being 845 given examples. The people who used to break my heart before the war were those who asked whether I could help them to find a job. Today, they ask whether I can help them to obtain a house. Somehow or other they imagine that Members of Parliament can direct a local authority to produce a house for them. Their case is, indeed, grievous.
On the other hand, we are compensated when we see on our housing estates such homes provided for our people as we had never dreamed could be provided for them. It is a joy to see, in Camberwell, housing estates surrounded by trees and grass, and, living in them, people who have come from the northern end of the borough, from the desperate slums and the wretched, noisome conditions among the factories, where they enjoyed no rest. To see these people rehoused is delightful. We are eager that all our people shall be so housed, and we believe that it would be false economy to do anything that would prevent us so rehousing them.
The London County Council, of which I am a member, is greatly perturbed about the Bill. It is estimated already that, with the rising cost of interest rates and the increased cost of building, at the end of five years the Council will have been faced with nearly £1 million extra cost in the course of a year. When the new subsidies come into operation—and it is agreed that they will not affect the position for about eighteen months—there will be the additional burden of £12 in respect of each house provided for slum clearance, and £24 in respect of houses provided for general need.
The London County Council has a large pool of houses, many of them dating back to the beginning of the century. Some of them were built in the years between the wars. The rest have been built since. They vary in their standards and amenities according to the periods in which they were built. We have been inhibited from raising the rents of the pre-1914 dwellings, until the Housing Rent and Repairs Act allowed us to do so, but even so—and we have just completed a review of rents—we have felt it impossible to ask for very substantially increased rents for these pre-1914 dwellings.
846 The dwellings are deficient in every respect. Adjoining my own house there is a London County Council estate which appears to the eye exceedingly attractive, with its neat arrangement and the careful maintenance of the privet hedges, which are clipped regularly by the staff, but the houses give one a very different impression when one goes inside them. They are hardly bigger than dolls' houses. Although there are five rooms, each is so small, with the entrance directly into the sitting room, and are so built in the old, economical style that they are not fit for the upbringing of a family.
Let me assure hon. Members who have had the advantage of being brought up with plenty of space around them that it is a wearying thing for the housewife and mother, whose task, goodness knows, is difficult and exacting enough, to be cramped, with no room in which to move, always falling over things, and having to pull out every item of furniture in order to be able to clean the house. The cramped old houses of days gone by will not allow us to average out rents in the way the Minister has suggested. People will go to live in them because they are houses, and houses are in great demand.
But we have flats into which people cannot be persuaded to transfer, even though they are living in the most unhappy circumstances, because the flats are so inadequate, out of date, so miserable, so drab, without any of the "mod. cons., "as we know them, and which everybody today regards as essential. Strangely enough, I find that people want a bathroom almost more than anything else, except electricity, which they want for their television sets. I do not have a television set, because I do not have time for it, but I see no reason why people should not have television and even motor cars, if they desire to spend their money in that way. It does not mean that they are well off.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Sir A. Hudson) represents a constituency which is near mine, although it is a more salubrious neighbourhood. His constituents are better off for housing than mine. The Minister's contention that one can average out rents in the way he suggested is false. Local authorities will find it very difficult to do that. London County Council has an enormous 847 pool of housing and does find it possible to rehouse people according to their ability to pay rents. There is a graduated rent level which enables the London County Council to house people without having to worry that the rents are beyond their means. We are fairly well satisfied that we can continue to do that and it is far preferable to a differential rent system.
I had a lot of sympathy for differential rents, but it is essential that people who need a home should be able to have it, even though they cannot afford to pay for it. I do not think that the differential rent system is the best. One of these days a Minister might get to work to think of a way to provide subsidies for children who are rehoused. It has been done in other countries and it is one of the most essential things which we have to do. We must see that there is room for children to grow up.
The London County Council believes that there are all sorts of disadvantages in differential rents: the administrative difficulty; the dissatisfaction of people living side by side, with the constant accusations that so and so is not disclosing what he is really getting; and there is the difficulty which comes when the grown-up children, who have contributed toward the income that seems to be so enormous to some hon. Members, marry and leave the old folks in the house. A local authority which has been receiving the economic rent from such a family will be faced with having to receive a much smaller rent, because of the reduced circumstances of the old folk. I do not know whether the National Assistance Board will pay the economic rent, or whether the Government will say that the local authority will have to pay it. That is one danger.
Another is that we shall have in our council houses only those families who cannot afford to pay an economic rent. If people have to pay an economic rent, they will move out and buy their own houses and local authorities are in great danger of finding themselves left with only those tenants to whom rebates have to be granted. What will then happen to the balancing of the accounts? Local authorities must be very careful about that. Since the war our record of full employment has been good. We have juggled with all sorts of manipulations 848 which we felt would maintain full employment, but can anybody be absolutely sure that we will always have full employment? What will happen if we have a substantial measure of unemployment, if people have to pay the kind of rents that will have to be charged in this scheme? All those things constitute very great difficulties with differential rents.
The rent level of our new houses in the London County Council and Camberwell Borough Council areas is already high enough. I find that wives who did not go out to work before they moved to a council house, on moving to the dwelling with the higher rent, have found it necessary to go to work. Many of the high incomes about which we hear so much are the result of the joint incomes of the working husband and the working wife. Today, there are opportunities for employment for women that did not exist before the war.
On the other hand, I know of a London County Council estate where we put some shops; but we have not been able to let them, for the simple reason that instead of shopping in the central shopping area, which is delightful and beautifully planned—I should love to shop there—housewives have to go to work. Their way to work does not lead them past the shops, so they get their things elsewhere. It is too simple to think that the bulk of council tenants have those large incomes of which we hear so much.
It is true that the money going into the house may be a joint income of about f15 a week, but I ask hon. Members to remember what that means in terms of pre-war purchasing power. By those standards it is not much more than £5 a week and there are all sorts of other people who have no kind of opportunity to earn joint incomes,such as when there are small, young children and the women cannot go out to work.
I want to deal with one or two points in the Bill which are worrying the Camberwell Borough Council. One of the problems facing that Council has arisen because the Minister has said that it must derequisition its nearly 5,000 requisitioned houses. It was one of the most heavily bombed boroughs. I am always sending along the sanitary inspector to find out where the roof is leaking. I am sure that roofs are still leaking, because of the effect of war damage. The houses which were requisitioned are in 849 a shocking condition. We have to find accommodation for 1,600 families from the requisitioned houses and we hope that that is a matter in which the Minister will exercise his discretion. We should like to know whether the provisions of Clause 5 of the Bill will apply in that matter.
There are also a number of prefabricated bungalows. We had one in twenty of the requisitioned properties of the country and one in fourteen of all the prefabricated bungalows in the Metropolis, so we find ourselves in a difficult position. We hope that that fact also will be regarded sympathetically. In Camberwell, our housing list stands at 5,900 and new applications continue unabated. Last year, nearly 1,100 new applications were added, including 150 families without any home of their own.
The London County Council is concerned over a number of other points. An undertaking was given to clear the prefabricated bungalows from open spaces in five years, and some assistance will be needed in that direction, because when the undertaking was given it was thought that there would be the benefit of the present subsidy. There is also the problem of relief of statutory overcrowding. I suppose everyone knows that on practically all the county council and borough council estates there is a great deal of overcrowding, because when the children grow up and get married their parents allow them to continue to live at home. We hope that we shall soon be able to begin to deal with this problem of overcrowding, and that the Minister will not ignore what is a matter of urgency. We need some increase in subsidy and we hope that we shall get the slum clearance subsidy, the higher rate of subsidy, for these things.
There is also the matter of the "grey land," as it is called, which is needed in connection with slum clearance so that schemes may be rounded off, and there are cases where we must remove people from areas of land and rehouse them. We need the benefit of the subsidy for displacment from land purchased for various purposes under Part V of the 1936 Act. The same applies where we are rehabilitating some obsolescent areas.
Another point which is disturbing the County Council is the question of the overspill subsidy. We have estimated 850 that we must get people out of London in order to provide sufficient space for them and the kind of surroundings in which people can live in comfort. We have planned to get out of the County Council area about 300,000 people. There was a time when we could build outside the area, and we took a number of people out of London to Essex, Hertfordshire, and other places, and houses were built there. We were content for the houses to be built there if Londoners could live there, but we are no longer allowed to do that.
Our information is that the new towns that were attracted by the bait which the London County Council dangled before them are beginning to be shy. They have had a look at the subsidy. At first, they thought it was all right, but now they are worried, and we are worried, because we are trying to complete the schemes. The Minister has appointed Sir Humphrey Gale—and I congratulate him on that appointment—to co-ordinate the schemes and try to bring them to fruition. But I must warn the Minister—I am sure he has had correspondence on the subject—that small country towns are becoming very worried about whether they dare take on these schemes. They will be faced with difficulties because of two rent levels.
There will be the Londoners who will be paying a bigger rent for the same accommodation as the natives, or else the local people will have to pay an increased rate at the same level as the foreigners. I hope that the Minister will consider this difficulty and give us an assurance about it. We are beginning to make progress with this problem, and we must not look back because the advantages of an open layout, fresh air, industry on their doorsteps and the elimination of travelling are much to be preferred to life in the City. We must do nothing to hinder the progress of these schemes.
I wish to ask the Minister whether the overspill subsidy under Clause 3 (3, e) may be applied to development by an exporting authority on the lines of the expanded town development. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that we are only just now in a position to acquire about 95 acres some distance out of London where it is hoped that we 851 shall be able to have new town development with a provision for industry, and so on. I hope that the Minister will not tell us that the only way we can secure what we need is to get the rural district council concerned to co-operate with us along town planning lines. As I said, these councils are getting very shy. We hope that the Minister will be able to clarify the position and see that the county council receives the benefit of the overspill subsidy for this scheme.
I have detained the House far too long already, and I apologise for having done so, but I do not think that we can be too serious about this matter. The lives and happiness of so many people are at stake. I beg the Minister to do what he can, during the Committee stage, to meet the requirements of the local authorities who will have to administer the whole scheme.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
I hope that in what I say I may have the indulgence of the House. Hon. Members will agree that it is often said that eloquence hides a lack of sincerity. Therefore, if I am rather hesitant, I hope it will be realised why that is so. I also crave the indulgence of the House if I err by being contentious, because I received my political education both in Poplar and Devonport.
As citizens, people enjoy certain rights and privileges but, in return, they are expected to meet certain obligations and responsibilities. The contributive aspect of citizenship is often given less emphasis than the privileges which are obtained through the development of the social services. Few citizens do not desire to take their full share in paying their way according to their ability. On the question of housing, I want especially to emphasise Clause 5, which shows that the Minister is anxious to help people according to their ability.
I also welcome the new drive in slum clearance areas. In recent years it has been possible to eliminate the evils of poverty and want, and to make a great inroad into the problem of disease, but far too many people are still living in unbelievable squalor. That is a matter of great shame to us. There are, however, many good houses in these slum clearance areas. Often they are privately owned, 852 and I hope that the individuals living in them will be given some consideration when the areas are taken over for clearance. They will only add to our housing lists, and if they were given better compensation they could find their own homes or rent them, whichever they preferred.
I also want to draw attention to Clause 3 (3, b) in connection with prefabricated houses. We have a great many of these in Plymouth—especially the American type—which are already getting into disrepair. The main problem arises from the fact that many of these houses are placed among terraces of houses, upon former bombed sites. Although they are not slums, they will necessarily have to be pulled down in accordance with reconstruction schemes, and we want to know how the subsidy provisions will be applied in those cases.
I would draw special attention to the circumstances which exist in Plymouth. This town lost many houses during the blitz, and the reconstruction of the city —and the way in which it has been built up since the war merits congratulation—has displaced another 350 families. There are still 400 families in requisitioned houses. A special difficulty in the case of Plymouth is caused by the extension scheme for Devonport Dockyard, which has displaced another 234 families. Plymouth is a very low-earning area, and although employment is at the highest point it has reached for a very long time, over 1,500 employable people are unemployed. In addition, 1,000 are on National Assistance, out of a population of about 218,000.
Plymouth City Council is a Socialist council which, since 1949, has exercised a differential rents scheme. We know the incomes of the tenants. It may be of interest to hon. Members to know that 86½ per cent. of the tenants have an income of between £6 and £9, and only 2½ per cent. have an income of more than £12 10s.
§ Miss Vickers
This is in respect of a total of 49,000 houses. Since the war, in that area we have been able to build 853 under 1,000 private houses. That is because the income group is so low, and has very little capital. Despite that, a differential rents scheme has been operating. It is not a scheme which I very much like, because it means that individuals have to fill in a paper; they have to declare their incomes; they have to state what their son earns, whether they have a lodger, or work overtime, or receive a bonus, in which case they have to pay more.
I prefer the rent rebate scheme which has already been mentioned, because we all dislike any form of means test. In the case of rent rebate schemes, people have to fill in forms, in which they are simply asked if they can afford to pay a certain rent. If they say "Yes," no questions are asked, and if they say they cannot manage it, they receive a rebate. This is a much fairer way of proceeding, and it is also much more helpful in regard to production, because people will not work overtime if the extra money, instead of helping their families and the country, simply goes to pay the increased rent.
It would be very convenient to tenants if they had in their rent books a division between rent and rates. Anybody who has a private house has to pay rent and rates to the borough council, and on the top of his bill is shown the various ways in which his money is spent. Far too many people do not realise that they receive their lighting, police protection and part of the education of their children in return for paying rent. If this information were given they would receive a better picture of their position as citizens.
I hope that Plymouth will receive special consideration. Many hon. Members have worried the Minister for such consideration under Clause 51 (1, a and b). The main reason I am making my plea is that practically all the people in Plymouth who require houses are Government employees. One quarter of the population in Plymouth work in the dockyard or victualling yard. The Admiralty has a great deal of land, about which we naturally do not complain, because the majority of incomes of the town are derived from employment in the dockyard. Quite recently, however, the Admiralty has handed back 17½ acres. That land could have been developed much sooner and become eligible for the subsidies which are now going to cease. Instead of that, we have had to go outside 854 the town and build on much more difficult and hilly land. We have had to do extensive work on the foundations, and this has delayed progress. We have not built nearly as many houses as we should have done otherwise.
Plymouth has no Exchequer equalisation grant. It has been worked out that under the scheme rents in general will have to be increased by an average of ls. a week, rising by that amount yearly. That means 5s. a week extra by the end of five years in the case of a rent of £1 —an increase of 25 per cent. I gather that that will be the normal increase, but in Plymouth, where the construction of the foundations is very difficult owing to the contours of the land, the increase works out at about 33⅓ per cent.
The dockyard extension scheme has meant that many more families have been added to the waiting list. Many more people are coming on to our housing list than we have had previously. They are coming at a period when the subsidy will be lowered or when there will be no subsidy at all.
I hope that it will be possible for the Minister to decide that a case has been stated for Plymouth, and that there is urgent need for more housing accommodation there. It can be provided only by the local authority. Therefore, I ask for particular consideration for Plymouth in the Housing Subsidies Bill. Our citizens, despite their very low earnings, have tried to pull their weight. They have taken great burdens on themselves which should be shared by some of the more wealthy districts.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
It is always a pleasure to congratulate a maiden speaker. It is a particular pleasure to do so in this case, and I take the opportunity of congratulating and complimenting the hon. Lady the Member for Devonport (Miss Vickers) on her splendid effort this afternoon.
Perhaps I might pay her two compliments. First, in answer to an interjection, she replied that she was "telling the Minister." I can assure her that it is really something for a maiden speaker to tell a Minister anything. Secondly, if somebody had to be chosen on that side of the House to replace the very fine Member for the hon. Lady's constituency 855 who used to sit on this side of the House, it is the hon. Lady, in whom I am sure we have a very fine representative for the constituency. Having regard not only to the matter of the speech but to the able way in which she delivered it, I can assure her that the House will be very glad to hear her again on many future occasions. May I add that my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) wishes to apologise to the hon. Lady for daring to interrupt her maiden speech.
I start my speech by referring to the statement made by the Minister on 27th October, 1955, in the House when he pointed out that the basic value of he Exchequer housing subsidy was about £22 per house. That figure was fixed a year ago. The Minister commented upon the fact that rates of interest had risen appreciably. If he had followed the previous practice of adjusting the amount of the subsidy, it would have been raised to more than £30.
The right hon. Gentleman then, astonishingly, proceeded to say:The Government do not consider that such an increase is either necessary or desirable."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th October, 1955; Vol. 545, c, 379.]I should have thought that the rise in the rates of interest would have led the Minister to the opposite conclusion. It did so formerly, as was recognised by the adjustment of the subsidy rate to meet the difference. This is rather an important point.
It seems elementary that if an increase in interest rates places a heavy burden on any local authority it is absurd to attempt to meet it by making the burden still heavier. My constituency includes the Metropolitan Borough of Stoke Newington and part of the Metropolitan Borough of Hackney. Both were heavily affected by war damage. Both have pursued energetically since the end of the war the policy of erecting new housing accommodation. Both have tried to assist in solving their housing problems by the use of requisitioned property. Both will suffer very considerably when the provisions of the Requisitioned Houses (Amendment) Act of this year are applied.
In the case of Hackney, the figures show an entirely different picture to the sort of figures which the Minister gave us 856 today. The figures were supplied to me and can be verified as given by the local authority. The estimated increased loan charges in respect of housing in Hackney, based on the current year's programme, amount to £15,650 in a full year, or to £939,000—nearly £1 million—over the whole loan period. Putting it in another way, for a typical dwelling estimated to cost £2,500, on a 60-year basis, the additional cost for loan charges between February, 1955, and after 6th September this year, is estimated to be 10s. 5d. per week.
In addition to that, as a direct result of the monetary restrictions of the Government, in respect of certain permanent loans from the Midland Bank, amounting to nearly £250,000 advanced between 1928 and 1936, the bank has given notice to call in those loans, thus causing inconvenience and embarrassment in the borough. It is no wonder, in view of those facts, that some time before the Minister made his statement on 27th October, Hackney Borough Council took the lead in calling upon the Chancellor to institute a policy of cheaper money being made available for borrowing by local authorities, and on the Minister of Housing to promote legislation to increase housing subsidies.
The borough was clearly justified in putting forward those representations. The reply of the Government is to do the exact opposite in this Bill. Indeed, not only does the Minister announce this much-reduced subsidy of £10 but he has told us that it is only for a year or so. He proposes to abolish the subsidy on future houses altogether. The interruptions made during his speech did not make clear what was going to happen if and when the Minister took that action, but he has taken power to do so in Clause 2 of the Bill, and to do it by Statutory Instrument.
A local authority anxious to proceed with its housing plans is left in grave doubt. The Minister may suddenly decide in twelve months or eighteen months to abolish subsidies altogether. He should give us at the earliest moment a definite assurance how and when he intends to use these powers and he ought not to take the use of these powers, as he does, under Statutory Instrument as provided by Clause 2, but by a Bill, so that the matter could be fully debated in the House.
857 How can a local authority with a heavy waiting list, ready and anxious—as it should be—to cater for the tenant in need of accommodation, be expected to carry out its task, hard enough as it is, with the position made almost impossible by the provisions of this Bill? From the figures I have got, with which I will not weary the House in detail, in addition to the increased charge of 10s 5d. a week on a typical council flat since last Februgy; in addition to the decrease in the Exchequer contribution at 1st April this year in respect of such a flat of 2s. 10d. per week, I am told that the decrease now proposed by this Bill involves an average increase of 10s. per week. If that is correct it means that, apart from the increased cost of building, the cost of a typical flat will be increased this year by 23s. 3d. a week. In addition, there is the financial embarrassment caused to a council such as the Hackney Borough Council by the bank giving notice to call in very heavy loans.
This Bill is bad enough, but some of its provisions are so glaringly unjust that even the Minister should hesitate before trying to inflict them on the country. By Clause 1 I understand that the reduced subsidy applies to any tender or estimate accepted after 3rd November last. Presumably, therefore, any housing scheme in respect of which local inquiries have been held, and a compulsory purchase order has been approved by the Minister but a tender has not yet been accepted, will qualify only for the reduced subsidy.
There are many such cases in my constituency, involving the expenditure of many thousands of pounds. The Minister, no doubt, has particulars of them. The injustice of the Clause is that the local authority has made all its plans on the basis of being given the old subsidy at the higher rate. It is already committed to the acquisition of the sites. In some cases it has actually expended money in acquiring the land or part of the land. By confirming the compulsory purchase order the Minister has approved the scheme. But that local authority is now to be given only the reduced subsidy.
The result is that the local authority will suffer great difficulties in its financial plans, all of which were made on the basis of receipt of the old, higher subsidy. The Minister may say to the authority, "Well, drop the scheme," but the local 858 authority would not have acted unless the scheme were necessary, nor would the Minister have approved it unless he was so satisfied. Borough councils have actually incurred obligations upon a representation to them that they would get a certain amount of subsidy. The Minister should, in justice, extend the powers contained in Clause 1 to cover that sort of case.
I turn to Clause 3. In Stoke Newington—and presumably in other local authority areas—schemes for blocks of flats involving three-storey development have been embarked upon. I am told that the density on their schemes demands this. Why should a three-storey block of flats rank for the lower subsidy of £10 while a four-storey block of flats attracts a subsidy of £20? A similar query arises with regard to the subsidy under Clause 6. Where is the logic which draws this immense difference between a three-storey and a four-storey block of flats?
The position under Clause 5 is also troubling the two local authorities in my constituency. As we know, the Minister has a discretionary power to increase the subsidy where two conditions exist. The first is where there is urgent need for housing accommodation which can be provided only by the local authority; the second is where, unless the Minister exercises his discretion, the provision of housing accommodation will mean an "unreasonably heavy rate burden" or charging "unreasonably high rent."
During an interruption in his speech the Minister was asked what was meant by the word "unreasonable." The Minister tried to define it, but I should like a definition of the definition that he gave because, quite frankly, it is very difficult to understand what it does mean. It is all very well saying that our Acts of Parliament very often contain the words "reasonable" or "unreasonable." They certainly do, and on many occasions the result has been very considerable and unnecessary litigation. I should like a clear ruling as to the meaning of the word.
In both Hackney and Stoke Newington there are terrible difficulties attending post-war housing, accentuated by the fact that a great proportion of those now living in requisitioned property were bombed out during the war. Perhaps I may be permitted to give a clear example 859 of what that means. Stoke Newington is a very small borough. In all, it contains approximately 12,000 families. About one-fifth of the total population, or possibly more, is on the waiting list. The difficulties that will arise from the application of the provisions of the Requisitioned Houses and Housing (Amendment) Act of this year cannot yet be appreciated. Obviously, in these boroughs there is urgent need of the type referred to in Clause 5 (1) of this Bill. In fairness, it also looks as though Clause 5 (2) should apply. I should like an assurance from the Minister that these two boroughs would qualify under Clause 5. Further, will that prove to be an empty power inserted into a Bill, or does the Minister seriously intend, in realistic fashion, to use that provision to assist where a case is made out?
My next concern is with Clause 11. Dwellings are deemed to be provided for the purpose of slum clearance and development in certain cases only, thereby attracting the high subsidy, but there are many properties, not technically declared slum areas, which, though for some reason it has not been possible to declare as slum clearance areas, come very close to them. Those are cases in which the local authorities should, and should be encouraged to, pull the properties down. If I instance what is called the Milton Scheme in Stoke Newington, the Minister will have details of an appropriate case.
I ask him to look again at the definition in Clause 11, and to consider widening it so as to encourage such work which, technically, is not work in connection with a slum clearance area. In the case of properties which do come within that definition, the Minister will recognise that there are, in the property that is pulled down, a number of persons, say a hundred persons, accommodated. It is possible to accommodate only a smaller number, say eighty, on the new site, but those not rehoused on the site, twenty in this case, must be housed somewhere. It is only fair that the subsidy at the higher rate should be paid in respect of all those who have been rehoused as the result of the demolition of the slum property. Does the Bill cover that? I ask the Minister to look again to ensure that this point is covered, as it should be.
860 I have mentioned these as matters which, in my respectful submission, are of importance. I hope they will be looked into, but, better still, I hope that the House will reject the Bill. It is a bad Bill, an unjust one, and one which will place tremendous burdens upon local authorities doing work of immense importance, and, indeed, I suggest that it will render their task almost impossible of performance.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Gough (Horsham)
I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) will forgive me if I do not follow him too closely, except that I should like to associate myself with his opening remarks and add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Miss Vickers) on such an excellent maiden speech.
Like the hon. and learned Gentleman, I want to get hold of the parish pump and talk about the new town in my constituency—the new town of Crawley. I am very sorry that the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) is not in his place at the moment, although he was kind enough to tell me that he had been called out for a few minutes, because I would have disputed with him his rather lugubrious view of the future of the new towns. The hon. Gentleman's pessimism is not shared by the Crawley Develop ment Corporation; not at all. I have been discussing matters with them just lately, and certainly, from the chairman of the Corporation downwards, all concerned view the future quite hopefully.
However, there are one or two points which have arisen recently to which I would refer. My right hon. Friend the Minister knows that recently we have been having a certain amount of rent trouble in Crawley. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Sir A. Hudson), we have had our marchers, banners, and so on. This is mainly due —and I give this as the background to the point that I want to put to my right hon. Friend—to the fact that the chairman of the Crawley Development Corporation announced last March that there would undoubtedly have to be some increases in rent fairly soon.
Of course, quite a number of mathematicians got to work, as, I rather suspect, did some hon. Members on the 861 other side of the House, and made out that they were quite satisfied, having satisfied both themselves and everybody else, months before the event took place, that rents would be going up by 8s. or 9s. a week. It came as rather a shock to some of these people to find, when the rent increases were made, that they amounted to 2s. 3d. per week in the vast majority of cases, and, in the case of a small number of houses, 3s. 3d. Many of my constituents have accepted the increase, although, naturally, nobody accepts an increase very happily, but what does worry them—and it is the concern of everybody in the new town—is the future.
They want to know that that is not the thin end of the wedge, just the beginning of further rent increases. I have obtained an assurance from the Development Corporation that, subject to the subsidy mentioned in the Bill being what I think it is, and subject, of course, I say frankly, to interest rates not rising further, they can see for the next three years, or for an even longer period of years, the stabilisation of rents on the present basis.
I read in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill that the Measure introduces new Exchequer subsidies for dwellings provided by local authorities for the special purposes referred to in Clause 3 (3) or provided by development corporations of new towns. It looks, on the face of it, as if it is a simple increase of £2. If I might put it this way, the subsidy in the past has been £22, and then there was the local authority increment, which, I think, amounted to £7 8s., making £29 8s. in all.
I want to ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary whether he can confirm that I am right in saying that the subsidy will now be £24, and that the local authority increment will remain at £7 8s., and not be reduced. That is a point on which I know there is a great deal of doubt.
§ Mr. Gough
The hon. Member is saying "No." I would underline the point in this way. We have listened to many hon. Members who represent London constituencies, some of whose former constituents are now mine. I have also noticed that the Minister, in a Written Answer. on 15th November, to the hon. 862 Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly) has stated that in Crawley 4,476 houses and flats have been built, of which 3,980 have been let to Londoners, so that, more or less, we are really Cockneys in Sussex, since 89 per cent. of the people have come from London.
We are in this position. We have gone nearly two-thirds of the way towards completing our plans, but the new people who are coming to us may upset these plans, and I feel that it is, therefore, extremely necessary for us to know whether we are really to have an increase in the subsidy, as appears to be the case under the Bill, or whether, in fact, there is to be a reduction elsewhere which will take away the effect of that £2 increase.
My heart has been going slowly down into my boots as one hon. Member after another has been making a special plea to my right hon. Friend for a nice bit of plunder out of Clause 5. I wish to make this plea, which may be a point for the Committee stage, on this Clause, which states that the application must be made to my right hon. Friend by a local authority. I would think, particularly in view of some of the matters to which I have referred, that there could very easily he conditions such as are set out in that Clause which would apply to a new town. Is a new town to be deprived of that sort of help and assistance because it is managed, not by a local authority, but by a corporation?
Finally, may I say again that I think the hon. Member for Wellingborough was misinformed about Crawley. I think that the future of the new town is still very rosy, and that the hon. Gentleman was wrong in his forecast. I am sure he will not mind me saying so, because those of us on this side of the House who represent new towns are very proud of them and are doing everything we can to help them forward.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Mr. C. W. Key (Poplar)
I want to try to put before the House the effect which the Bill will have on the housing problem of the area which I represent. Before I come to that, however, I must say what the problem of that area really is.
During the war, Poplar suffered heavily, perhaps more heavily than any other comparable area in the country, from the 863 total destruction of houses by war operations. Nearly 9,000 of the houses in the area were either totally destroyed or irreparably damaged—roughly two out of every five houses in the area. So far, the number we have been able to rebuild is just over 2,000, but a very large number of houses still have to be replaced. In addition, we have other very heavy problems to tackle. For instance, at present, there are 1,168 families living in 843 requisitioned houses. This requisitioning was a national war-time measure to help such badly damaged areas to provide cover for their people, and, as such, it was, quite rightly, nationally financed.
Despite what was said to the people of that devastated area by quite a number of leading statesmen who visited them during the war for the purpose of maintaining public morale, despite the fact that they made the people there feel that the Government would help them in the post-war difficulties, the responsibility for requisitioned property is now to be handed to local authorities, who are expected to bring requisitioning to an end by 1960. In the meantime, heavy expenditure in this matter is falling on the local rates. As from 1st April next year the amount falling upon the Poplar rate will be about £9,000 a year, the equivalent of a 4d. rate. That alone is a gross injustice. I can see no just reason why the ratepayers in a very heavily damaged area should be called upon to meet what was a national disaster and what should have been met by the nation as a whole.
An even greater injustice will be done to them when this Bill comes into operation, for the authority has to provide alternative accommodation for the people who have to be rehoused from these requisitioned premises—and as I have said there are 1,168 families in 843 houses. The first thing which has to be done is to provide new accommodation for 325 families so as to bring the number in the requisitioned houses down to one family per house. I say that on the supposition that in each case the landlord will be prepared to accept the licensee as a statutory tenant but, in fact, there is little hope that that will be the case. So far, the owners of only 20 houses have said that they will be prepared to consider this suggestion. What landlords want is vacant possession, so that they can take 864 advantage of the dearth of accommodation and sell at the highest prices they can get.
I am, therefore, making a very modest estimate if I say that the number of houses which will be needed to deal with this one problem alone will be 800 between now and 1960. All this has to be done on a very reduced housing subsidy for the next year or two and no subsidy thereafter. Another demand arises directly from the war. In my constituency 550 families are now living in emergency hutments and temporary bungalows. It is obvious that they must be dealt with in the next four or five years; they cannot be left where they are and new accommodation must be provided for them. The sum total of all this represents a very big problem indeed, but I want it to be noticed that as yet I have made no mention of the slum clearance problem. There are 1,330 families in slum houses and, in addition, there are a good number of families in houses so old that although they cannot technically be called slums they ought to be removed and replaced by houses of a modern character. Also, of course, they are overcrowded.
I ask hon. Members how it can be held to be fair that an impossibly heavy burden upon an already heavily rated area should be imposed by the withdrawal of the national help which the subsidy was intended to provide. Practically all I have said—leaving out slum clearance—has to be done on the minimum subsidy of this Bill. I know I shall be told that the Minister will have power to increase the subsidy for some of the work if he so wishes, but to those of us with experience in local government that promise is not enough. This is not a matter which should be left to the will or the whim or the bias of any Minister. It is the duty of the House to ensure that the local authority has powers which are adequate for the job and finances which will make it possible for it to do the job without charging abnormal rents or undue rate burdens. If the House does not do this it will have failed in its duty to the electorate and betrayed the trust laid in it.
Before coming to the financial effects of the Bill upon the Poplar Council, I want to say a few words about what has taken place within the last two or three months. First, there was the introduction 865 of the subsidy changes discussed in the House on 21st October, 1954, when we were discussing the Housing (Review of Contributions) Order, 1954. The effect of that Order was to reduce the subsidy from £26 10s. to £22 ls. In the opening speech which the Minister made on that occasion, he said—and I quote from HANSARD:Since June, 1953, a major change has taken place in one of the main factors of the subsidy calculation, namely, in the rate of interest payable on loans from the Public Works Loan Board. This has gone down from 4¼ per cent. to 3¾ per cent. If all the other factors in the subsidy calculation had remained unchanged since 1952, this reduction of ½ per cent. in the interest rate would have made it possible to reduce the Exchequer subsidy from £26 10s. to £21 18s."—[OFFCICIAL REPORT, 21st October, 1954; Vol. 531, c. 1388.]That would have meant a reduction of £4 12s. In fact, the reduction was £4 9s. to £22 1s.
Since the right hon. Gentleman made that statement the interest charged on the Public Works Loan Board loans has risen from 3¾ per cent. to 5 per cent., a rise 2½ times greater than the fall with which he was then dealing. If he said that the fall would have warranted a reduction in the subsidy of £4 12s., surely the rise would have warranted an increase in the subsidy of 2½ times £4 12s. In other words, the subsidy should have gone up by £11 10s.
What the Minister has done, therefore —and I want the House to appreciate this—is to wipe the subsidy out altogether and to add £1 10s. to the cost to the local authority of each house. By leaving out of consideration that rise in the interest rates and including in the Bill a figure of £10 as subsidy, the Minister has attempted to deceive the electorate about what is happening in housing.
Faced with these changes in the subsidy and with the alteration in the Public Works Loan Board's loans, the local authority had to consider what was to be the effect of the change upon either rents or rates and what it should do about it. The housing committee of my council has very carefully considered this question and made a special report to the council. A definite decision was made on how the problem was to be dealt with as from Monday of this week. The first thing it had to consider was what 866 problem arose. On a typical property in Poplar the changes in operation—they came into operation on 1st April—would mean a loss of 13s. a week.
Where is that loss to fall? The council came to the conclusion that it could not justly be put on to the rates because, at present, the amount of housing costs falling on the rates is £36,380, a housing rate of Is. 4½d. in the £, the highest in the London area. It came to the conclusion that it would have to put it on the rents and said that as from Monday last the rent of every council dwelling in Poplar —pre-war and post-war—is to go up by 9d. per room in every flat and Is. per room in every house. That is the only way the council felt it possible to meet the increased cost.
What about the future? The programme for the next financial year, 1956–57, entails the erection of 106 houses and 283 flats. On the old basis the subsidy on that programme would have amounted to £16,542, plus the London County Council contribution of £2,757, or a total contribution to the expenses of Poplar of £19,299. Under the new scheme in this Bill the subsidy will amount to approximately £7,946 and, since the requirement for a statutory rate contribution is now to be abolished, it remains to be seen whether London County Council will continue to make a contribution or not. If the L.C.C. decides to continue in the same proportion the amount it will give Poplar will be £1,324. In other words, the subsidy on this programme will amount to £9,270 as against £19,299.
§ Mr. Key
Less than half; a reduction of just over £10,000. I pointed out before that the £10,000 annual increase brought about by the changes which came into operation on 1st April could only be met, the council felt, by a rise of 9d. per room per flat and ls. per room per house. So next year's programme is to mean that rise over again and the provision of each succeeding 300 or 400 tenements in the area will mean a similar rise each time over the whole of the council's tenements in the area.
At present, the amount falling on the rates is £36,380 a year, but there will be very nearly £4,000 falling on the rates even when we have made these alterations 867 in rents because, in the calculation I have made, I have not taken into account all the increase under the Public Works Loan Board. Every 300 or 400 houses we build will increase the rent of people in council houses as well as increasing the rates of the people in this heavily rated area. If that is to be done each year it will be seen that the burden to be placed on the people of that area will be absolutely unbearable.
What is the Minister really doing? He is taking steps to drive the local authority out of house building altogether and to leave the tenants in their present dismal state, dependent on the rents charged them by private owners when the Minister takes his next step of removing rent restrictions altogether. That is the lesson the electors have to learn from this Bill. If the House did its duty to the needy public outside it would reject the Bill. If it does not do so it will compel the tenants—and probably ratepayers as well —to do what we had to do in our area after the First World War when we were left to carry national charges on local rates—take direct action themselves. If that direct action is taken, the Minister and his colleagues in this Government will be the only people really responsible.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Sir Jocelyn Lucas (Portsmouth, South)
I have listened to the right hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Key) with a great deal of sympathy, not for what he said, but because he spoke of the war damage in Poplar—and I spent many nights in his constituency during the blitz as a fireman. I know the Isle of Dogs and Surrey Docks quite well. I should like to pay tribute to the courage of the inhabitants of Poplar whom I knew so well during the war.
I also represent a bombed city, and the problem on which I wish to speak tonight is apparently not mentioned in this Bill, which I regard as a great defect. During the war Portsmouth was a badly blitzed city, and at the end of the war there were 11,000 people on the waiting list. As opportunity offered, a number of thrifty people, including many Service and other pensioners, invested their life savings in small old-fashioned houses of which Portsmouth was full, and bought those houses with the aid of building societies which presumably considered the property 868 to be worth the money they lent. Most of those people spent further money on those houses if they had it—often all the money they had—in making their purchases snug and shipshape, and of course old sailors are handy at doing things like that.
Whole areas are to be demolished, and the good must go with the bad, but compensation for good and bad is identical and compensation is for site value only. It is true that a well-kept house may get a special grant of about £25 or so more than a dirty tumble-down building of similar type, worth nothing except for the land it is on, but that is almost an insult. I saw two houses in the same street recently. One was a small, dirty, ill-kept house, with a so-called garden just a mass of weeds. Nearby was a charming little home spotlessly clean, nicely furnished, weatherproof and better than the average old-fashioned country cottage. The garden was charming and well cared for, a mass of flowers. This house, of course, was owner-occupied, and had been bought by an old couple with their savings. They had obviously spent money on improving it and had hoped to live and die in it, being intensely proud and fond of their home. Now they will lose their property and be left with a mortgage of several hundred pounds to repay to the building society.
§ Mrs. Slater
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that there is a great racket going on at present, nothing more nor less, in all parts of the country by landlords who know that property is scheduled for slum clearance and are selling it to people similar to those about whom he is speaking?
§ Sir J. Lucas
I am not talking about a racket. This was a case of people who tried to help themselves after the war and bought on mortgage—[An HON. MEMBER: "Excessive."] No, not excessive—£700 or £800 or £900 as the purchase price.
We say that we believe in a property-owning democracy but it is surely wrong that such people, with houses with years of service left in them, bought at varying periods and by people who preferred to help themselves rather than to rely on public subsidies, should be robbed of their life savings in this way, the more so as they generally bought their houses through a building society, or on their valuation.
869 I assure the hon. Lady that I am not backing the speculators or the slum landlords. If the speculators lose their money, it is their own funeral. I am talking about the chap who tries to help himself. I beg the Minister to give the councils reasonable latitude in the price payable in such cases and also in the definition of what slum property is. A decent house, slightly old-fashioned, should not be condemned in the same way as one that is practically derelict.
As I have said, I am not concerned with the speculator but solely with the property owner. To its credit, Portsmouth Council has protested vigorously to the Minister, as have all the local Members. May I add that, although it has been formed only in the last couple of months, a new society called the Portsmouth Owner Occupiers' Association, already has a membership of 7,000. I checked the figures with the Portsmouth Evening News this morning. This shows the strength of feeling that exists there, and the anxiety and indignation at what is regarded locally as a form of legalised robbery.
It appears that not only the house owners but also the building societies must lose their money, since many of these people cannot possibly afford to repay the mortgage. They can continue to pay something off it, but in many cases they can never repay all of it. Therefore, I beg the Minister to do what he can to solve this urgent problem as soon as possible, either in this Bill but, if not, in some other way. Except for that point, I have much pleasure in supporting this excellent Bill.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Mr. S. P. Viant (Willesden, West)
It is a long time since the House discussed a more serious problem than the one which it is discussing today. I hope that sufficient has been said in the debate so far to convince the Minister of the error in the figures which he submitted to the House this afternoon in regard to increases of rent that are likely to take place as a result of the Bill. In the light of this debate those figures are fantastic, and I hope that the Minister will speedily reconsider the necessity to revise his views as to the financial effect of this Bill.
870 It is always well to be armed with a brief by an authority which is administering an Act. Therefore I asked my borough treasurer to supply me with a few facts. In one portion of the Borough of Willesden we have a slum clearance and redevelopment scheme. Already we have erected an eight-storey block of flats in which there are 64 flats. It is the intention of the council to continue this development but I ask the Minister if, in the light of the facts that I shall read to him, he considers it possible for the local council to continue with it.
The 64 flats were completed at a total cost of £190,435. The annual loan charges for 60 years, with interest at 4¼ per cent., amount to £8,799, but at 5 per cent. they would have been £10,040, an increase of £1,241 a year or over £19 per flat per annum. Now I quote:The subsidy on this cleared site, which costs nearly £19,000 per acre, is expected to be £4,944 a year calculated at £77 5s. per flat. If this scheme had not been started before the 3rd November, 1955, it appears that a general needs subsidy only would have become payable; this subsidy at the rate of £41 10s. per flat, plus the subsidy for building on an expensive site, would attract a total subsidy of £3,514. Although this scheme is part of the major scheme of redevelopment in the congested South Kilburn area it does not appear to come within the definition in the Bill which would enable the Council to claim the higher rate of subsidy proposed for slum clearance or redevelopment schemes under Part III of the Housing Act, 1936.Here I direct the attention of the Minister to the fact that both the local authority and myself have communicated with him in the hope that he will state in the course of this debate the position in regard to subsidies for redevelopment areas. It is not precisely clear in the Bill, and it is a point which I hope will be made clear by the Government spokesman who replies to the debate.
The letter continues:The net rents required to cover the annual cost of this scheme after deducting subsidies and the statutory rate fund contributions were £1 1s., £1 8s. 7d. and £1 Its. 7d. for the one, two and three bedroom flats respectively. Even with the then existing subsidies the Council decided that these rents were too high to demand from the tenants in this area.It is an exceedingly poor area. The letter states:Under the proposed arrangements, with an increase in loan charges of £1,241 and a reduction of Exchequer subsidy of £1,430—an additional burden of £2,671 which would arise on a similar scheme in future "—871 and it is the future to which the council is looking, as are my hon. Friends on these benches—the rents would be increased to £11s. 3d., £2 4s. 3d., and £2 9s. a week respectively even if the Council decided to contribute the equivalent of the former rate fund contribution of £27 10s. per dwelling.
§ Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)
I wonder if my hon. Friend can associate those increases with the 9d. a week we heard about from the Minister, who calculated on a different basis?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
I think that the hon. Member should be allowed to make his own speech.
§ Mr. Viant
I am hoping that the Government spokesman who replies to the debate will be able to show how the Minister relates the sums he has mentioned to the facts I am giving, which have been given to me by the borough treasurer, who is a responsible officer.
I come to another instance:The second case exemplifies the changed position regarding flats in three storey blocks which previously attracted subsidies for flats on expensive sites, but would for future schemes attract only the general needs subsidy for ordinary dwellings with no expensive site subsidy. I refer to 26 flats completed early this year … at a total cost of £50,250. In this case the loan charges were estimated at £2,216 but at 5 per cent. would be £2,649—an increase of £433. The cost of the site worked out at nearly £4,000 per acre. so that enhanced subsidies totalling £1,227 were attracted, as compared with the minimum subsidy of £10 per flat, or a total of £260 which would be payable under the Housing Subsidies Bill, a reduction of £1,017.Of course, I quite understand I am imposing upon the Minister a big arithmetical problem:Under this Bill no addition is made for the high cost of the site unless it is more than £4,000 per acre. The additional burden falling on the tenants and the rate fund on a similar scheme in the future would therefore be £1,450 a year. The net rents required to meet the annual cost of these flats after deducting both Exchequer and rate fund subsidies were 16s. 2d., 18s. 10d. and £1 1s. 6d. for one two and three bedroom flats respectively. If no rate fund subsidy were paid into the Housing Revenue Account the rents required after deducting the Exchequer subsidy only would be £1 1s. 11d., £1 5s. 7d. and £1 9s. 3d. respectively. Under the proposed arrangements the net rents required to meet the cost of such a scheme, after deducting the proposed Exchequer subsidies, would be £2 1s. 7d., £2 8s. 6d. and £2 15s. 5d. respectively—almost double.
§ Mr. Sandys
May I try to clarify the position, as I have tried to do in the case of earlier speeches? May I take it that the figures which the hon. Gentleman is giving are theoretical figures, and not the rents which he himself thinks that the Willesden Borough Council will in fact charge?
§ Mr. Viant
I am explaining what the effect of the Bill will be, provided the council continues to build. That is the point which I am making.
We have 10,000 people on our register needing accommodation. We have a number of bombed sites on which there were one or two houses. The people naturally agitate for the council to build on these bombed sites. The council has sent to the right hon. Gentleman estimates of the cost of erecting houses on these sites. The erection of a single house or a pair of houses is exceedingly costly. The right hon. Gentleman has turned those estimates down, and he will not allow the council to continue. He says that the cost is too high. Without the subsidy, the cost will make it utterly impossible for the council to proceed, but the 10,000 people on the register will continue to agitate for the council to build on these bombed sites. What is the right hon. Gentleman going to do about that?
§ Mr. Viant
So far the debate has hinged upon the subject of increased rentals. I want to touch upon other aspects of the Bill. The building of council houses is undoubtedly going steadily down and will ultimately stop. Whether it is the desire of the Government that that should take place or not is best known to the right hon. Gentleman. What will be the effect?
We shall have quite a large number of building trade operatives unemployed. That is inevitable. The right hon. Gentleman says, "But there are the new towns and slum clearance." Has he given any consideration to the delay which will take place in slum clearance? Where are the local authorities to house the people while they are clearing the land in order to erect the new houses where the slums formerly stood? Has the right hon. 873 Gentleman considered that? That aspect of the problem is left to the local authorities to deal with. The Minister hands the baby over to someone else to nurse. That is typical of the Tory Party.
We appealed at the end of the First World War to the building trade operatives to accept dilutees to boost the labour force. The Labour Government, after the last war, were successful in persuading the building trade operatives to increase their numbers. The Tory Party is already going back on the promises that it made to the operatives. The new towns will not absorb the displaced building labour, and a long time will elapse before slum clearance will absorb them.
The Federation of Building Trade Operatives recently made a survey of the amount of commercial and industrial building now in hand and estimated to take place in the near future. The survey shows a slowing down of commercial and industrial building. Therefore, it will be impossible to absorb the building trade labour that we have at our disposal. This is the beginning of unemployment. There is here involved not only the question of rents and of accommodation for the displaced and those who are in need of houses, but the Bill proposes, not immediately, but gradually, slowly and surely, to pave the way for the return of the problem of unemployment.
I am sorry that we on this side of the House are unable to muster sufficient numbers in the Lobby to defeat the Bill. If I were the Minister, I should be very sorry to have to commend the Bill to the House. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman cannot appreciate the problem that he is creating for the local authorities, the houseless and the building trade operatives.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
I want to say three things about this Bill. First, I should like to have clarification on what type of house qualifies for the £24 subsidy, I should explain the difficulty in which my own local authority finds itself. The Ilford Borough Council, together with other local authorities in the Conference of South-West Essex Authorities, has acquired four parcels of land in other parts of Essex, ranging from 24 acres to 50 acres, on which it is intended 874 to build 1,048 houses. My own local authority's share of the houses is to be 235. It is hoped to begin building in 1956.
The question arises of how much subsidy the houses will attract. To explain the difficulty in which the Ilford Borough Council finds itself, I would draw the attention of the Minister to Clause 3 (3). The subsection lays down the conditions which a house must satisfy to qualify for the £24 subsidy. Paragraph (c) states that it qualifies if the dwelling is,provided by a local authority in the course of a scheme of town development as defined by the Town Development Act, 1952, carried out with the approval of the Minister in the area of that authority …The difficulty here is that the scheme is not within the area of the authority, but it is being carried out under the Town Development Act.
It may be argued, when the council claims the £24 subsidy, that it is acting under the Act only as a matter of procedural convenience, because it is only one of a number of local authorities who are joining together to build outside their own areas. That may mean that the houses will not qualify under Clause 3 (3, c), and therefore we have to turn to paragraph (e), which refers to building under the New Towns Act, 1946.
I do not see that Ilford Borough Council can be satisfied that it will qualify under either of these subsections, and I should be most grateful if the Minister could give us an assurance that my constituents' fears are groundless. If those houses do not attract a higher subsidy, it is possible that this isolated community will have to be charged by the local authority rents which will be most unattractive in view of the fact that people who live in the community will have to travel long distances to their work. It would be of great assistance if my right hon. Friend would address his mind to this problem, and if the Parliamentary Secretary could give us a reply when he winds up the debate tonight.
§ Mr. Lindgren
When I was speaking this afternoon, the hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader Cooper) interjected to say that Ilford Borough Council wholeheartedly supported the Government in this matter. Can we be clear about which hon. Member for Ilford is speaking correctly?
§ Mr. Iremonger
I was not in the Chamber and I should not like to comment on something which I had not heard; but as my colleague and I have discussed this matter and as I am merely asking for clarification about one particular point about one particular aspect of Ilford Borough Council's housing policy, I imagine that it would be perfectly possible to reconcile what my hon. Friend and I have said.
§ Mr. Iremonger
My hon. Friend has greatly heartened me.
I should have thought that in a matter of dialectics the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) would do well to hide his head in shame. He gave a wonderful exposition of what dire wrongs the Conservative Party had done to the country with its housing policy, but I could not help reflecting that it was strange that the Labour Party had refrained from mentioning our housing policy on its electoral platforms. I should have thought that our sins would have deserved greater recognition before.
I should like to say a word about the whole question of differential rates. Ilford Borough Council is just starting to operate a rent rebate scheme. It would be most helpful that it should come from the House that on both sides we are agreed—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Hon. Members are saying "No." I have no doubt that some of them may still wish to say "No" when they have heard what I have to say. I was about to say it would be most helpful if both sides would agree in principle that the idea of differential rents is both morally right and socially healthy.
§ Mr. Iremonger
For those hon. Members opposite who care to take the guidance of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan)—I am sorry that he is not in his place; I should say in either of his places—I might point to certain words of wisdom which were uttered by him on 4th July, 1949. He said:No hardship is suffered at all by virtue of the fact that the local authorities have decided to raise rents.876 I mention that merely to put the next sentence in its context. He went on:As these people are living in subsidised houses, it is reasonable that they should pay a slight increase in rent rather than the other people should pay an increase in rates in order to keep those rents down."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th July, 1949; Vol. 466, c. 1822.]
§ Mr. Iremonger
Hon. Gentlemen opposite are perfectly entitled to say that this is a different proposition.
If they find that they are unable to accompany me intellectually on that particular proposition, let me submit to them a proposition to which they will be proud to adhere and to which, in fact, they have rather unnecessarily claimed an exclusive adherence. It is the proposition that the good things of life and the fruits of toil should be taken from each according to his ability and given to each according to his needs. If one accepts that, it is rather difficult to make a case against what I am advancing, that the principle of differential rents, in whatever way we wish to operate it, is, as I said, morally right and socially healthy.
I say with sincerity to hon. Gentlemen opposite that whatever differences we may have, I do not think that—as some hon. Gentlemen have seemed to me to do—they should incite resistance among council house tenants to the differential rent schemes which my right hon. Friend has rightly said are bound to be the result of the fulfilment of his policy. I think differential rent schemes are right, and it would be a great help if hon. Members opposite recognised, as we do, that we owe a great debt to Socialist-controlled councils and local authorities who have pioneered in this field, and who are successfully operating differential rent schemes and rent rebate schemes.
It would be in the public interest that we should recognise, whatever the difficulties may be—and these matters can only be sorted out in the light of experience in each area, according to its particular peculiarities—that we accept the idea of differential rents in principle. I hope that I am right—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I believe that that will be acceptable, but if I am wrong I submit that it is a great pity.
877 The third thing I wish to say concerns the wider financial implications of this Bill. The carrying out of the policies initiated in the Bill will shift the emphasis of house building on to the clearance of slums and the rehousing elsewhere of the occupants of slum properties—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] That is a fascinating question, but it is not the one to which I am addressing myself at the moment. The criticism which I wish to make, and I think it a serious criticism which must be made about this Bill, is that it entirely ignores a major grievance which will be aggravated by the fulfilment of the policy advocated in this Measure. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is it?"] I am delighted to see that hon. Members are so interested to hear what I am going to say. I like to be prompted by the question, "What?", and they will be rewarded with an answer.
I have doubts about whether the Bill is the right place to do what I have in mind. I would say to my right hon. Friend that, in bringing in this Bill he is absolutely right, that I have confidence in his fairness and in his humanity—and on whichever side of the House he may sit, no hon. Member can have any doubt about the courage of my right hon. Friend—but I say to him also that it will be with the greatest reluctance that I shall be able to support him, unless I can be assured that he will seek to remedy the grave injustice arising out of the present system of compensation for property compulsorily acquired.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater) interrupted my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Sir J. Lucas) when he was making what I thought was a helpful and eloquent plea on behalf of the people I have in mind. She challenged him with the suggestion that he was defending a type of individual which neither she nor I wish to defend. I fully sympathise with her reservation upon this subject, but I am sure that she and I could agree that we could weed out all the undesirable types whom we did not want to protect and succeed in finding a residue of people who, in common humanity, have had an extremely raw deal and are doing to get an even rawer deal as the fruits of this Bill are enjoyed.
Some of my hon. Friends and I have aired this view in the public Press, and I 878 have been overwhelmed with letters from all parts of the country giving me concrete examples of grievances which cannot be laughed off as being the negligible grievances of rapacious landlords. If it comes to the, attention of any hon. Member that I have dealt with a letter from one of his constituents without referring to him, a moment's thought will explain the reason why. Many of these people write their addresses in such a way that they do not indicate their constituencies and, with the best will in the world, the necessary research is more than I can undertake.
I propose to deal with these letters, and some hon. Members will find that I have been communicating with their constituents over their heads. I do not want to do that, but I cannot avoid it. I always tell them, however, that if they have any individual grievance they must take it up with their Member of Parliament.
I know that the solution to the problem of these people is very difficult. It raises immensely complicated questions of almost metaphysical complexity, but I will hand my right hon. Friend this pile of letters and ask him to make an effort to find a formula to solve the really pathetic problems which these letters raise. Will my right hon. Friend please recognise that this matter is urgent? It is urgent from my point of view because, as I have already said to him, I am reaching the end of the time when I can tell constituents who come to me with troubles of this kind, "Yes, I know you have been robbed. I know that if anybody else did it they would go to prison, but this is the Government, and I cannot do anything to help you." I cannot continue to say that for very much longer, and the Minister will have to provide a more satisfactory alternative.
§ Mr. Iremonger
The phrase that properly describes what is happening is "legalised robbery." There is no other word for it. I do not want to blame hon. Members opposite, but they cannot stand in a white sheet; they are in it up to the neck. I should have thought that they would have been more anxious to support me than to deride my efforts to remedy injustices which, I can assure 879 them, have operated upon many of their constituents.
This is also a matter of urgency because many of Her Majesty's subjects are in dire distress of mind in this connection. I ask my right hon. Friend to treat it as a matter of the highest priority, and to give us an assurance that he will do something to ensure that many worthy and humble people will be prevented from coming to an end in violence and despair, which I believe will otherwise be their fate.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Miss Jennie Lee (Cannock)
At this late hour, when so many Members are anxious to speak, I shall try to resist two temptations. One is to follow the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) along many of the tortuous paths he has taken, and the other is to quote at length from the brief which has been supplied to me by the local authorities in my constituency. I shall make some reference to the brief, but, I hope, not a lengthy one.
The hon. Member for Ilford, North, talked about differential rents. We shall not follow that subject, because it is not relevant to the debate. Then he talked about having a community in which each individual is looked after according to his or her needs and each gives according to his or her abilities. I would be only too happy if he were to reapply that principle Is there not something contemptible, however, about sorting out working people, particularly at one of the most vulnerable points of their whole lives, when they are trying to find a decent home for themselves and their families, and then preaching those pious sermons? The hon. Gentleman is either blind, or has no concern with wider issues, when he expresses sentiments like that.
Earlier in the debate hon. Members were saying, "Go round the housing estates and you will find that you cannot get near the houses for the motor cars that are lined up." Would hon. Gentlemen like to go round all the factories that are advantaged by derating and see how many of them have social and economic assets, and then say to them, "They do not need to be helped by derating"? Would they like to go to the farmers and say, "We shall no 880 longer give subsidies to these people"? When Government supporters think of ways of economising, they pick not on the richest and strongest members of the community, but on the weakest and poorest.
§ Mr. C. J. M. Alport (Colchester)
Is the hon. Lady advocating the derating of agricultural and industrial property?
§ Miss Lee
There is a great deal of rethinking about derating to be done both by industry and agriculture, but I am not dealing with that matter, unless it is to say that if hon. Members want to get down to the business of remedying social and economic injustices let them get down to it, but not use pious phrases like "to each according to his needs" in that limited and squalid way.
What does the Minister think he is doing or saving by the Bill? What will be the national advantage of it? Perhaps his advisers have told him that he can save the country so many millions of pounds. What figure of saving does the Bill attract: £47 million, £40 million? What figure would hon. Gentlemen opposite suggest? When they put on one side of the balance sheet how much they think they will save by their cuts in the subsidies, have they thought of the other side of the balance sheet? Have they thought how much they will lose?
One thing is clear in this debate; not one hon. Member has said that he spoke with the backing of his local authority. [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes."] I apologise if there were one or two exceptions. The local authorities, whether Labour or Tory controlled, are, in overwhelming majority, strenuously opposed to this Bill. Why are they opposed to it? Because it is an attack on the standards of housing of the working class. It is not a slum clearance Bill, but a Bill to make slums. We make slums when weput rents at such a height that people have to double up.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant) that one of the results of the Bill will be a measure of unemployment which would discipline the working people to make sure that it is easier for hon. Gentlemen opposite to carry out reductions in standards of living. Do hon. Members opposite think that all action will be on the Government side, that it will all be very tidy, that they can save a few million 881 pounds for the Chancellor and that there will be no retaliation from the people who find that their standard of living is being reduced?
I said that I would refrain from quoting from my local authorities at any great length, but the Minister has made it quite clear that he will cut the subsidy on houses for miners already in the expanding mining areas. What am I to advise my miner constituents to do—start playing musical chairs? Am I to advise the miners living in my area to go elsewhere for a time and then come back as immigrants and, perhaps, then get a grant?
I do not care whether they are miners, bus conductors or engineers—we need them all to make a community. But is it seriously expected that the working people will take a cut in their standard of living—on top of those already contained in the emergency Budget—and that there will be no retaliation? A local authority in the mining area of my constituency tells me that if these cuts take place it will mean an increased rent of between 5s. and 6s. a week on the normal three-bedroomed house. I will not quibble about the odd pence. We have all made our different calculations, but the one calculation which has been common on all sides of the House is that rents will go up.
What are our people to do? Are they to look round the country as it is at present and see the fantastic profits made in many industries, and the great American petroleum interests holding us by the nose so that we have to follow their high prices and fantastic profits, and say, "There is one law for the rich and another for the poor"? If the Government imagine that that will be the result of such a Bill as this they are making the mistake of their lives.
I take my own area as typical—not unique. If, in that expanding mining area, the men and women have removed from them the hope of getting a good home and a fair place in the queue they will retaliate. Do the Government propose to say to an area where there is an overspill problem—in Wednesfield, for instance—"You are not a new town, but an old-established community. We therefore expect you to help provide homes for the people from the constituency of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West 882 (Mr. Powell) on such terms that you will have to raise the general level of rents?"
The Government are simply causing conflict where conflict need not exist. On a good neighbour basis one community helps another, but Wednesfield—which I use only as an illustration, though the problem is countrywide—is not likely to help solve Wolverhampton's housing problem at the expense of its own. The Minister shakes his head. I hope that I misunderstood his interpretation of the Bill but, as I read it, it gives no hope at all to an area such as mine. If I am wrong I wish he would contradict me. He seems to expect the great mass of our working people to follow one kind of life, to behave in one kind of way, while the minority of the privileged behave in another. I tell the Minister that it will not happen in that way.
I have in my hand a letter from a miner who left the mining industry, maybe quite wrongly, in his anger at the fact that a miner coming into the district from elsewhere obtained a house when he himself had been waiting for ten years. He says that he is "browned off," and that he is not going to put up with the combined hardships of his job and the squalor of his home any longer. We on this side of the House stand for both the man who is coming into the district and the man who lives there already, both of whom should be able to obtain a house.
We have never pretended that we could house everybody at once. We have always said that there must be priorities and allocations, and that out of the country's total available labour and material resources in any one year, we must budget for industry, exports, schools, hospitals, homes and all the rest, but we want fair, honest budgeting and genuine allocations. The Minister is not giving us that, nor is the Government. What the Government are saying is "We do not care," although hundreds of thousands of people who are earning their daily bread the hard way have to adopt the motto quoted by one of my hon. Friends on another occasion—"Abandon hope all ye who enter here."
People have been very good in waiting for a home, and I do not think that my own experience is unique. They knew perfectly well that immediately after the war we had to start building up our labour force and all the various elements 883 that go into house building. They did not expect everything to be done in one year, but they do expect that the further away we get from the holocaust of war a greater proportion of the job will have been done, and they also expect that there will at least be fair priorities.
I warn the Government that they have failed on this basic problem, and I would also warn them that working people can count and reason as well as anyone else. If the Government think that they will save money by this Bill, may I ask them how much they expect to save? How many days of strikes will it mean in the mining, engineering and other industries, on the railways or anywhere else, when men lose their tempers because what is proposed is being done in the name of economy?
I wish I could get the Minister to say that there will be very considerable concessions made during the Committee stage on this Bill. The fact that a Government can bring in a Bill like this, are so blind to the larger social arithmetic, and so concerned with small arithmetic, indicates that there is nothing that can be done except to expose them, to get rid of them as soon as possible, and get back to proper priorities.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Brigadier Terence Clarke (Portsmouth, West)
I am very happy to be able to follow the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee). I enjoyed hearing her say that working-class people can reason for themselves, because I think that that is quite correct. I think, also, that if they look back over the last four years, during which they have had a Conservative Government, they will agree that they are very happy with the housing situation as it has developed, because over the previous years, when the hon. Lady was perhaps more associated with the housing problem, it was not a howling success.
In the 1950 Election, I defeated the Parliamentary Private Secretary the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) on this very problem in Portsmouth, because at that time we got no houses at all. The housing situation in Portsmouth has improved very well since we have not had his assistance. However, I will not pursue that point.
§ Brigadier Clarke
If the right hon. Gentleman is happy with what he did for housing in Portsmouth, I hope that the people there will be able to read his words tomorrow, because they are anything but satisfied with his so-called success. I think they look forward to the day when he may reach the top position of the Labour Party, because then they will never vote for a Labour Government again.
Like the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock, I represent a working-class constituency.
§ Brigadier Clarke
That is a matter of opinion.
They are working-class people. There are a large number of Service pensioners and 25,000 people working in the dockyards on very low wages, of which I do not approve. I regularly fight for them in their efforts to get better wages. Like the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Miss Vickers), they are the people who need houses most. They are extremely badly paid and very poor. There is a problem in these two cities. I am not a landlord; I do not own a house or any other piece of property. In any case, I am not a farmer or a farmer's wife. I can hardly visualise a picture of the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock sitting on a stool pulling at a cow and getting a drop of milk. I somehow feel that the hon. Lady and her right hon. Friend are more the rapacious landlords than I am likely to be. I will not pursue the matter any further; it does not seem to have drawn any milk.
§ Brigadier Clarke
No doubt the hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) will be able to speak on Monday. The hon. Gentleman interrupted when my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport was making her excellent speech. I hope he agrees that she is a great improvement on what we had from Plymouth before. 885 No doubt the former hon. Member for Devonport does very well in the editorial office of the Farmer's Weekly.
§ Brigadier Clarke
I do not know whether the best manners come from Ebbw Vale or Cannock, but if I have overstepped the bounds a little by putting the hon. Lady on a stool, milking a cow, I apologise and withdraw.
The Minister has done a very good job in bringing forward the Bill and I shall support it in every way except one—the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger), to which I will come in a minute. A great many people in my constituency require houses and are unable to get them because we had six years of Socialism. There are also a large number living in houses in my constituency who can well afford to pay a proper, adequate and economic rent. I see no reason that old-age pensioners and others should pay high rates to keep people who can well afford to pay their own rents. This Bill will see that everybody gets a square deal and that, I know, is in the mind of the Minister in bringing it forward. We shall not have poor people subsidising people who are better off, but who live in council houses.
Perhaps I may make a suggestion to the Minister. It is not a new one, and because it is not new it is not a bad one, either. It has been on tap for a long time and it may well be considered in the future. If I were in the unfortunate position of being Minister of Housing and Local Government—
§ Brigadier Clarke
I have no wish to be in that office. I seem to remember that the hon. Gentleman went to school without any shoes.
§ Mr. Lindgren
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is making all sorts of statements this evening. Not only can he not read but apparently he cannot distinguish 886 one hon. Member from another. I do not know who he mistakes me for.
§ Brigadier Clarke
I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. I understand that he did have shoes. I hope he had rabbit's fur round them, too.
I ask the Minister to consider giving a subsidy of £100 or more to young couples under the age of 30 to allow them to put down a deposit to purchase a house. I believe they would be better citizens if they were members of the property-owning democracy in which we of this party believe. Many of them have not enough money to put down the capital. It is far cheaper to give them £100 to allow them to buy a house than to subsidise a house for forty or more years and go on paying maintenance on that house during a long period.
These people would be very good British citizens if they were given a reasonable sum with which to start married life. It is not a fantastic idea and we might well consider it. It was done by many after the First World War and we should encourage young people in that way. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has put rather a drag on young married people who are trying to purchase furniture and other things. I am quite fair and open-minded on this and hope to attack my right hon. Friend on it later. I have abstained on many points in the Finance Bill and hope to go on doing so.
I have no quarrel with the Minister of Housing and Local Government. I think he is doing well. I hope that he will stick to his guns and think of giving a subsidy to young married couples who wish to buy their own houses. Various safeguards could be provided and, if the practice were abused, it would be possible to legislate against such abuse.
I wish to raise the question of people who have been turned out of so-called unfit houses.
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, All Saints)
Before the hon. and gallant Member leaves the point about subsidy for young married people—in which matter I might almost declare an interest—would he not agree that £100 would be completely inadequate in this year in order to become a member of the property-owning democracy, apart from 887 the question of buying furniture and so on? One hundred pounds would not be sufficient as a deposit towards buying a house these days.
§ Brigadier Clarke
Many of my constituents have not the same high ideas as the hon. Member. They would be perfectly happy with £100 to start as a deposit in becoming property owners. There is nothing wrong in principle in becoming a property owner. Many right hon. Members of the Opposition Front Bench have a farm, or a house. I like to see them looking prosperous and owning a nice farm.
Now I wish to speak about the problem of the unfit house. I have a constituent with nine children who has been dispossessed of a house on the purchase of which he spent every penny he had. Quite recently during the régime of the Labour Government a large sum of money was spent on that house for war damage—more than £300. Now all that is wasted, the house has been taken away, and my constituent is left with a large mortgage to pay. All he gets its site value. That is not fair; it is not British justice. I am sure that the Minister will do something for these people who are being dispossessed and robbed of their property by a stroke of the pen, with no consideration or human thought given to the suffering involved. There will be more Pilgrims. I do not want to see a Conservative Government getting into trouble if people shoot themselves—and people will shoot themselves if they are dispossessed without reasonable compensation The hon. Lady the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater) interrupted my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth (Sir J. Lucas) and suggested that he was trying to help the rapacious landlord. Well, a landlord is entitled to justice as much as anybody else, but neither my hon. Friend nor I were speaking for landlords but only for working class men living in a working class area. We want to see that they are given justice. If the hon. Lady does not agree with that, perhaps she will go to Portsmouth, West, tell them so there, and see what response she gets. About 7,000 workpeople there are to be dispossessed of their houses. Is that what the hon. Lady would like? No, she was just being 888 facetious, because she did not understand the problem. I ask the Minister to tell us what he intends to do about unfit houses.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)
May I follow the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) in one point only? He mentioned the question of additional compensation for slum owners. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman wishes to differentiate and introduce a means test as between different types of owners, then there is something to be said for the principle of giving higher compensation to the owner-occupier. I am sure that that is a principle which will never be accepted by the party opposite, because they have always used the orphan and widow who owns stocks or shares as an argument for exacting a higher rate of compensation for all stockholders—
§ Sir J. Lucas
When I spoke I said that I did not care about the slum owners and that I was speaking entirely for the owner-occupiers, not for the speculators.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman adopts that attitude, but I am sure he will find that his party will not adopt it in making a differentiation between one type of owner and another. As I say, if the party opposite is prepared to accept the principle of a means test in respect of compensation, it will find a good deal of support on this side of the House.
I want to deal with the problem of a large local authority. In some respects it is worse than that of other local authorities, but it is typical of the housing problem of other large authorities. Birmingham has 62,000 applicants on its ordinary housing register and it is estimated that of those at least 44,000 families are in acute housing need. That is a serious housing problem. Some of these people might be covered by slum clearance because they live in overcrowded circumstances. In many cases they have been on the housing register for ten years or more, and the Minister is saying that houses built for these people shall receive no subsidy whatever. That is a terrific blow to the people of Birmingham and the local authority, and other local authorities like it.
889 It is no good the Government saying they will concentrate on slum clearance even if that is the real objective of the Bill. I do not believe it is the real objective of the Bill. I should be more convinced of the Minister's sincerity about slum clearance if the Government had not introduced the increased rate of interest which will make the houses and flats to be built for slum clearance much more—indeed, prohibitively—expensive, so that many of the people to be cleared from the slums will not be able to pay the rents for them. Therefore, I say that the Bill is of no assistance whatever to slum clearance, and the suggestion that it is intended to accelerate slum clearance is a subterfuge. The Bill will slow down, if not stop, local authority building, and I say that that is what it is intended to do.
It is intended to do something else also. The Minister let the cat out of the bag when he was making his speech. He said that these rents are inter-related with the rents of private houses. So the Bill is to be used as a lever by which to increase the rents of about 7 million tenants of private houses and will be used as a lever for the abolition of rent control, with all the heartbreak that it will produce. I suggest that those are the motives behind the Bill and that the Bill has nothing whatever to do with slum clearance.
I return to the position of Birmingham, and of other housing authorities in a like situation. Birmingham, for instance, has to go outside the city to provide housing estates for its people. Now, under the Bill, they will not rank for subsidy. There will be no subsidy whatever. The only way in which a subsidy can be obtained for the applicants on the Birmingham housing register to be rehoused elsewhere is for Birmingham to go cap in hand to the surounding local authorities to try to persuade them to come to an arrangement to rehouse Birmingham's tenants.
§ Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)
If they happen to come to the next borough of West Bromwich they will find that there are 7,000 people on the housing list there and that there is no possibility of West Bromwich receiving them.
§ Mr. Silverman
Obviously, there are many areas to which they cannot go. Birmingham's problem is worse than that of West Bromwich, but there are places, doubtless, which are not anxious to take Birmingham tenants, and because of the increased burdens which the increased interest rates impose they will be still less anxious to take Birmingham's tenants, whom they may not wish to receive anyhow. To take them would be to bear an even greater financial burden because of the rates of interest imposed by the present Government.
The hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West mentioned the subsidising of municipal tenants. We are told that we ought to have differential rent schemes and all sorts of things to see that the wealthy municipal tenants are not subsidised. In the old days we used to hear from the Tory Party about the coal in the bath. They have stopped alleging that municipal tenants keep coal in the bath, which was alleged to prove that the municipal tenants were unfit for municipal houses. Now the Tories tell us the municipal tenants have Rolls-Royce cars outside their doors. Any argument is good enough to show that fewer municipal houses should be built.
Who is being subsidised? Let us be clear about this. When this Government came into power the rate of interest was 3 per cent. At present, the rate of interest is 5 per cent. The increased charge imposed by that additional 2 per cent. amounts to a sum which is almost precisely the same as the national and local housing subsidy put together. If we wiped out the 2 per cent. it would be possible to build the houses and, without any subsidy at all, to let them for the same rent as they are being let at the present time. So, who is being subsidised? It is not the municipal tenant. Who is being subsidised? It is the moneylender who is being subsidised. If the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West, who spoke—
§ Mr. Silverman
—and has gone out, objects to the widow and the poor tenant of any municipal house not having to pay because of these subsidies, let him understand, at least, who is getting the subsidy. It is not the municipal tenants but the moneylenders whom the Tory 891 Party backs in the same way it backs the landlords of the private houses.
When hon. Gentlemen opposite talk about these wealthy people who live in municipal houses, and when we deal with the local subsidy, let this be borne in mind. The tenant is buying the house for the local authority. He is not in the position of a man who is buying his own house. He is helping to pay off the loan charges on the house, and at present, if he pays £1,800 for the house, that is an average rent of about £30 a year over sixty years, it goes towards the buying of the house for the corporation. It is quite true that the house will not be worth £1,800. It is not going to be a very considerable asset at the end of sixty years, but in another ten on twenty years some of this house will be coming into its possession.
Again, it has to be borne in mind that our local authorities are running their housing services. Part of that is a function normally carried out by the estate agent for the tenants. A part of it is a social service and the cost of that social service is being borne, apart from the question of the subsidy that is being paid, not by the general ratepayer, but out of the housing fund and is chargeable to the housing fund. That is another point to be borne in mind when we are considering exactly what it is that the municipal tenant has to pay.
This Bill is a blow to municipal building. It is a blow at the poorer section of the population, and the vast majority of people who are being rehoused at the present time find difficulty in affording the present rent let alone the increased rent. This bad Bill distributes the burdens of the nation harshly and unfairly, and is deliberately intended to sabotage municipal house building. It is intended as a boon to the moneylenders and landlords, and, as such, I and my colleagues will certainly oppose it. I hope that even at this late stage the Bill may be withdrawn.
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. W. F. Deedes)
I am sorry if I have curtailed the remarks of the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. J. Silverman). I know that it is sometimes felt, and more often said, in debates of this kind that the 892 share of available time taken by the Front Benches is too much. I have certainly felt that myself. Nevertheless, I feel that it will meet the wishes of the House if I attempt at this juncture to deal with some of the main points which have arisen on the first day of the two days of our debate.
I must certainly begin by acknowledging the two maiden speeches which we have heard today, one by my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkdale (Mr. N. Pannell) and the other by my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Miss Vickers). Quite apart from the merits of their speeches, I think that we can all commend their courage in choosing such a day and such a debate to make a maiden speech. I think that a good many of us would not have selected this particular occasion on which to speak. Clearly they both have a taste for the fray. Some of us knew that in the case of the hon. Lady. We hope that we shall hear from them again.
The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren), throughout his speech, displayed a mood of the blackest pessimism. I hope that his forthcoming journey, on which I wish him bon voyage, will act as something of a restorative. I feel that he did not apply his considerable knowledge of these matters to the Bill or to the speech which my right hon. Friend had just concluded. He made some sweeping assertions, three of which were that the Bill would kill the provision of general need houses, kill the new towns and kill the expanding towns. I must take issue with him on two of those assertions, which are quite contradictory.
The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He forecast big increases in rent, and he also said that the Bill will mean the end of local authority building for general needs. If the second assertion is true, then the first must be wrong, because if the general needs building ends, no new burden will be imposed on local authorities. All houses in existence are, of course, on the old rates of subsidy. My hon. Friend assumed a figure of 80,000 for general needs, but, if it is less, the burden decreases.
We have had, not only from the hon. Member for Wellingborough, but also from many other speakers, a variety of estimates of the financial consequences of the Bill. Figures were given by the right 893 hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson), by the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman), who also referred to flats, and by the right hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Key).
I will say something at this juncture about the gap between the figures given by my right hon. Friend earlier this afternoon and the figures which have been given by other speakers. I do not think that the gap can be altogether satisfactorily explained by mere hyperbole. If we omit the proportion of slums and overspill which was foreshadowed by my right hon. Friend—that is, approximately, 80,000 out of 160,000—and if we also omit the pool of houses on higher subsidy, which nearly all local authorities possess—I am not saying anything about rent rebates in connection with this—then I agree that there is no reason to doubt the estimates of theoretical increases, and I must stress that they were theoretical increases, which were given by right hon. and hon. Members opposite, although I have no doubt that they were given in perfectly good faith. But those factors which were omitted do apply and are most relevant to the argument.
§ Mr. Deedes
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, theory, like truth, is many sided. I am dealing with my side of it.
Where there is no adequate pool, as my right hon. Friend went to some pains to explain, there are other provisions in the Bill. There have been a good many practical suggestions from both sides of the House, with many of which I shall not attempt to deal because, frankly, they are more suitable for consideration at a later stage of the Bill. However, I will mention one to which reference was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham. North (Sir A. Hudson).
My hon. Friend thought that if we were going to have rent rebate schemes, something in the nature of a model clause might be advisable for the guidance of 894 local authorities. I would only say that anyone who has any knowledge of the schemes in existence will recognise the difficulty of providing local authorities with a central or even a skeleton scheme, because, in considering their requirements, no two local authorities will be dealing with identical economic circumstances.
It is not a question of shirking a disagreeable task or of leaving the local authorities to do the difficult work. Even if we produced some central scheme or model clause, it would have to be implemented locally, and by far the hardest task of all is presenting and introducing the idea to the tenants, and that would have to be left to the local authorities.
I do not think that the question of rents can be exhaustively discussed without some reference to current earnings. The hon. Lady the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet), who I am sorry is not in her place because I have a reply to make to her speech, told us that the London County Council was perturbed by the terms of the Bill. I should like to say that, of all the arguments and calculations which I have seen on the subject, or rather all the matters relating to what we have had under discussion—although not specifically in the Bill—among the most impressive were those of the London County Council, recorded on 21st October in the Manchester Guardian. That was as the result of a Press conference called by the chairman of the Housing Committee to discuss the increase in rents which I think most hon. Members are aware the L.C.C. have found it necessary to put on nearly all of their 175,000 dwellings.
I have been looking at the report of the remarks made by Mr. Fiske, the committee chairman, I think I am right in saying, of the biggest housing authority in the world. Therefore, these remarks bear looking at. I quote from the Manchester Guardian:
He pointed out that since the last increase in L.C.C. rents average earnings had risen by over 30s. The council, he said, did not think the proposed increases in rent would absorb a disproportionate part of the additional earnings. ‖He was asked if further reduction in Government subsidies would lead to further rent increases. Mr. Fiske said he was giving a strictly personal reply "—895 I stress that—in suggesting that it would probably not do so because the amount of new building formed such a small proportion of the council's overall housing resources.That is the point which bears out at least one purpose of the Bill presented by my right hon. Friend.
In connection with that conference the London County Councl issued a table. I dislike making too much out of any statistics to prove a case, because there are always statistics on the other side, but these statistics, I think, are not unfair. According to them, in 1939 net rent took 14.7 per cent. and gross rent 20.5 per cent. of earnings. In 1946 those figures were respectively 9.2 and 13.1, and in 1955 the figures were 7.3 and 10.8. There are only two points on that which I should like to stress.
§ Mr. Deedes
I think that I quoted clearly from the Manchester Guardian. Those figures were issued by the London County Council in connection with its conference on the subject of its rent increases.
§ Mr. Deedes
I assume that it has taken a total relating to the London area which, after all, is the area mainly concerning its tenants. I do not pretend for a moment that the figures go outside the range of the Metropolitan area.
§ Mr. A. Evans
The hon. Member will know that the figures of average earnings quoted in the L.C.C. minutes are figures extracted from the Ministry of Labour Gazette. They are the average earnings for the whole of the country. I would cidd that those average earnings will bear a certain further measure of increased rent. That further measure of increased rent will go on on 1st January. The increased earnings can only bear a certain 896 addition of increased rent. They have already done that, but the Minister seeks to apply a further addition.
§ Mr. Deedes
I am grateful to the hon. Member for putt'ng a wider interpretation on the figures than I gave and for giving me the source. The figure given shows that in respect of both gross and net rent the percentage is half what it was in 1939. I am not saying that it was the right level in 1939. It is today half, but also, and perhaps even more important, the percentage of earnings taken up by rent, net or gross, is appreciably lower than it was in 1946, when the Socialist Government established a system of subsidies which, with variations, has prevailed ever since.
§ Mr. Deedes
I think it is fair to quote the London County Council figures which show the relationship of today's figures with those in 1939 and in 1946.
§ Mr. Mitchison
May I point out that, for the purpose of housing subsidies, the notional figure has always been 10 per cent. of earnings? There is not the least doubt about that. What the Government are doing now is to increase it to a figure well above that.
§ Mr. Deedes
I do not want to associate myself with any particular figure, but those figures which were given by the London County Council are not irrelevant to the discussions which we are having on the relationship between rents.
I want to move on to what has been said by the hon. Lady the Member for Peckham and by many other hon. Members—those in London and in reception areas—about the new towns and expanding towns. The hon. Lady thought that this Bill was a setback for expanding towns and for overspill. We think, on the contrary, that it will prove a stimulus. She said that some of the small country towns were getting extremely worried. I represent one of those towns, and I have followed this question of overspill for many years and I have a clear idea of where I think this Bill is going to help.
There should be no misunderstanding: the Government are convinced of the need of vast overspill schemes, and that is why a special rate of subsidy has been given. The alternative is the continued sprawl 897 of the cities, the erosion of the Green Belt and a multiplication of all the evils that we associate with unrestricted urbanisation.
A variety of schemes are afoot for relief of congestion, and many hon. Members are interested in them. I think it will be helpful if, so far as I can, I mention two or three of the principal categories and explain what the subsidy might be in each case. I must ask the House to forgive me for going rather rapidly through a technical matter.
First, let me take the example of a straight-forward scheme of which Salford and Worsley, within the knowledge of some hon. Members present, is an example, where a country district has agreed to house 15,000 from a county borough. There will be no substantial movement of industry, and, therefore, it is possible for Salford to nominate virtually 100 per cent. of the migrating tenants from their housing list. That is the first example. It is an example of overspill which means that £24 will be payable under this Act for each new house at Worsley. Salford, I believe, has already agreed to pay contributions in addition.
The second example, which may be much more familiar to hon. Members, is the example of London and Bletchley, under the Town Development Act. Bletchley is an expanding town. This is an arrangement whereby the exporting authority pledged a contribution in respect of every tenant nominated from the housing list, but because industry has moved as well as population, many of the tenants, as key workers, have gone at the request of their firms and not because of housing need.
Certainly hon. Members in the London area will be aware that this has led to arguments about the circumstances of individual tenants. We are satisfied that the situation at the moment is not very clear and urgently requires clarification. Henceforth Bletchley will qualify for £24 Exchequer subsidy per house. The Exchequer will pay an additional £8 for 10 years in respect of every tenant leaving London for Bletchley, and we shall reclaim the 50 per cent. or £4, whichever is less, from London. That is a fair average representing the nominated tenants leaving London for Bletchley.
§ Mr. Sparks
When the hon. Gentleman refers to nominated tenants, does he mean that the local authority has the 898 right to nominate individuals from its housing list?
§ Mr. Deedes
That is the current system. Under the fresh system, the figure will be 50 per cent. on average.
The third category is where the L.C.C. and other authorities have acquired, under the Town Development Act, outlying land beyond the Green Belt and proposes to build for itself housing for overspill population. On this point I was asked specific questions. For example, London County Council is acquiring land at Edenbridge; Waltham-stow and other local authorities have acquired land, in some cases by means of compulsory purchase orders, in Basildon urban district, Brentwood urban district and Canvey Island. Were these schemes—rather hybrid creatures at the moment—to become genuine town development schemes they could qualify for a higher subsidy under the Bill. It is not for me to say whether such arrangements would be possible between the authorities concerned, but to qualify for the higher subsidy an agreement under the Town Development Act would be necessary.
Such an agreement would have to provide for the reception area authorities to own the houses. Moreover, assuming that industry moves as well as population—and therefore not all tenants could be nominated from housing lists—an additional contribution of £8 would be payable from the Exchequer, of which £4 would be recovered by the Minister from the appropriate exporting authority. I apologise for the fact that this point is extremely difficult to follow, but it involves a number of local authorities and the interests of a number of hon. Members.
§ Mr. Deedes
I hope that what I have said may be of assistance to hon. Members before they speak on Monday. They will at least be able to read what I have said in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
§ Mr. Elwyn Jones
Would the hon. Gentleman consider not rushing these matters like this? There is no need to complete them in a few minutes. Could not we have the privilege of considering what he has said over the week-end? The Parliamentary Secretary can open the debate on Monday.
§ Mr. Deedes
I have endeavoured to give the hon. and learned Member as much information in a short time as I could. I am sorry if I failed to make it as clear to him as he would wish.
As my right hon. Friend said, our housing is entering the latest phase of a continuous policy. In this phase our main task will be slum clearance and the decentralisation of our worst-congested cities. Both are very large social undertakings, and we regard both as urgent. As the Bill makes plain, we propose to have them at the forefront to give them priority, but they remain part of our housing policy, and that policy cannot be isolated from the nation's general economic background. In other words, in the present climate we cannot expect to give fresh impetus to a big sector of the housing field and ignore the disquieting growth of cost to the Exchequer.
We believe that to ignore this burden —treble what it was before the Second World War and double what it was only five years ago—might in the long run imperil the whole programme, and we are not embarking upon slum clearance with that shadow over our shoulders. We have to inject a little realism into our housing finances. We are now basing our proposals on our still expensive but not extravagant Exchequer aid, and we think that this is the only way in which we shall see this thing through.
Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Legh.] Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.