HC Deb 07 November 1956 vol 560 cc136-244


Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [6th November]: That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:

Most Gracious Sovereign, We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.—[Mr. Vane.]

Question again proposed.

3.54 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

If, today, we return to the comparatively peaceable subjects of housing and local government, they are none the less subjects which deeply concern the people of this country and I am sadly disappointed to find that in the Gracious Speech the references to both those subjects are quite remarkably short. I quote from the Gracious Speech: My Government have been reviewing the finance of local government including the incidence of the rate burden between different classes of property. Their conclusions will, in due course, be announced to Parliament. So much for local government.

We now turn to housing, and this is what we find: Legislation will be laid before you to amend the laws dealing with rent control. Her Majesty's Government, with that expedition which does not always characterise them and with what I can only describe as a very astute use of the procedure of the House to limit discussion on this matter, have put upon the Order Paper notice of a Bill to amend certain Acts dealing with rent restrictions and control.

On my way into the Chamber I inquired whether the Bill was yet available. I was told that at that time it was not available, but, as I understand the procedure of the House, this very astute move—astute in the sense of defeating the interests of free discussion—is sufficient under the procedure of the House to prevent any reference today to the one contribution towards the housing problem which the Government hope to make in the current Session. I heartily congratulate them upon their astuteness, their clever use of the practice of the House, their reduction to the minimum of discussion of a problem which obviously affects people all over the country. In those circumstances I confine myself to one quotation, and one quotation only.

Hon. Members


Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Some of us are interested in what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) is trying to say to the House. Could you help us and enable us to hear what he is saying?

Mr. Speaker

I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) will be allowed a fair hearing in this House. I sometimes think that when hon. Members hold private conversations with each other they believe they are speaking in quite a low tone of voice, but the cumulative effect of a lot of hon. Members so speaking at the same time is very loud. I therefore ask hon. Members to refrain from private conversations as far as possible.

Mr. Mitchison

May I add to what I have said that it was we who asked you, Mr. Speaker, if there could be a discussion on housing, that is to say, on the reference to housing in the Gracious Speech? We then found on the Order Paper the project of the Bill to which I have just referred. May I repeat my congratulations to the Government on reducing discussion to a minimum? The quotation I want to make comes from: a broad and simple statement of our Conservative outlook and aims which was published some time ago, in 1949. It was called. "The Right Road to Britain"—[Interruption.] I am not quite certain whether right hon. and hon. Members opposite are approving or disapproving of "The Right Road to Britain "—[HON. MEMBERS: "For."] Oh, I see, "The Right Road for Britain." The quotation is: Rent control must continue until it can be shown that there is no housing shortage at any given rent level. I gather from the applause opposite that that remains the policy of right hon. and hon. Members. We shall see what the Bill is about. What I propose to discuss today is, is there at present a housing shortage "at any given rent level"? For that purpose, tied as I am by the astuteness of the Government, I shall refer to what has been done and not done in the field of council housing.

May I give one piece of advice to the right hon. Gentleman before I begin or that? His Ministry is at present called—I rather think it was rechristened by the Conservative Party—the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. The title seems to me to be capable of misleading people—something which, I feel sure, the party opposite would never wish to do. Perhaps it would be better if they described it, in its present activities, as the Ministry to Restrict Housing and to Bankrupt Local Government.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Now that the Prime Minister has come into the Chamber, I am sure that the whole House is anxious to hear what he has to say. May I be advised as to my proper course in the circumstances, for I should wish to continue after the Prime Minister has made his statement?

Mr. Speaker

I am obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I think that if he discontinues his speech now to suit the convenience of the House, the House will gladly afford him permission to continue his speech at a later stage.

4.1 p.m.

The Prime Minister (Sir Anthony Eden)

I am very grateful to you and to the House, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to intervene for a few moments again, as I undertook to try to do yesterday. I hoped to be in a position to give the House rather more information about the discussions which are to take place at the United Nations this evening, but the position is that we are at this moment in close and detailed discussion about the various forms of the United Nations Resolutions to come before the United Nations tonight.

We are in consultation with the Commonwealth Governments, the United States Government and the French Government. The Foreign Secretary is still pursuing those discussions at this very minute. I hope, therefore, that the House will grant us some indulgence if I am not in a position to make a detailed statement about that until the discussions are concluded. I am very sorry to have to say it, but I think the House will understand that at this stage it really would not be possible for me to go beyond that. I wish I could, but I think the House will understand that it is clearly impossible.

I ought to add something on the military side, which is that since the cease-fire took effect we have had reports that Port Said is under control and that our troops have taken up defensive positions. The greatest efforts are being made to clear the obstructions to the harbour as quickly as possible. As regards our offer to assist in clearing the Canal generally, while, again, I do not want to forestall what may be said at the United Nations, I think I should make it clear that we are now clearing the obstacles in the area which we control and that we should like to continue to clear obstacles in any other area and would gladly do so under the authority of the United Nations.

Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)

I am sure we all understand the position of the Prime Minister, but I should like to ask him whether he thinks he will be able to make a statement a little later this evening, or whether he thinks that the consultations will take rather longer. Will he clear up one point on which there does appear to some to be a great deal of confusion? Is it the case that the fighting has, in fact, stopped in Egypt? Have the Egyptian Government accepted the cease-fire? Will the Prime Minister, in any case, to avoid any possible misunderstanding, reaffirm once again that the Government have given instructions that there will be no further movement of our forces, and that they will not take any action at all unless they themselves are attacked, whether or not the Egyptians have accepted the cease-fire?

The Prime Minister

I will give the House the position as far as I know it. I admit that it is not very clear. We have had no official intimation about the cessation of the cease-fire. [HON. MEMBERS: "Cessation?"] I am not talking about ourselves. I mean the acceptance of the cease-fire by the Egyptian Government. We have had no official intimation. There have been reports of such a message, but it has not been confirmed to us yet. Meanwhile, there has been some shooting—I would not place too much emphasis on it—at Port Said during the day. Our position remains that the cease-fire stands unless our forces are attacked. Our forces have no intention of moving forward from their present positions.

Mr. Gaitskell

Can the Prime Minister confirm that that applies also to the French?

The Prime Minister

Surely. They have not the slightest intention of moving forward from their present positions. They have accepted, as we have, the armistice terms. I am absolutely sure that they will carry them out. One thing we must be clear about, so that there may be no misunderstanding, is that there must be certain movements in respect of administrative forces—not forwards—into Port Said; and to some extent, perhaps, security forces; but we are not going to attempt any kind of major reinforcement in order to enable anything further to be attempted later on.

Mr. R. R. Stokes (Ipswich)

May I ask the Minister of Defence whether he has any information to give us? Will he make a statement, for instance, on the extent and nature of our casualties so far as he knows them?

The Minister of Defence (Mr. Antony Head)

I have not yet got an accurate report on the casualties. I think it wisest and best to await a statement on that until I have a full return.

Mr. Stokes

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us when he expects to be able to do so? The French have already declared to a certain extent what their casualties have been. I am glad to say they have not been very heavy. Will he tell us, also, whether the Prime Minister's statement means that Port Said is now—I will not say surrendered—but evacuated by enemy forces, or whether there are still garrisons there holding out?

Mr. Head

There is every indication that casualties should be very light. The situation at Port Said appears to be one in which there is no organised fighting by military units, but there has been some scattered firing, some of which may, I think, be not by the Egyptian Army at all but by scattered francs-tireurs, or youths; but so far as I know there has been no organised fighting whatsoever in Port Said by Egyptian forces.

Mr. Stokes

Can the right hon. Gentleman give us any information about the numbers of Egyptian military forces who have been captured?

Mr. Head

No, Sir. I have no precise information about that at this stage.

Sir James Hutchison (Glasgow, Scotstoun)

Can my right hon. Friend say how far forward the forward positions are—that is, how far down the Canal either our troops or French troops have gone?

Mr. Head

There have been a number of reports regarding advance units of what I may term patrols southwards towards Kantara, but, again, the situation there is somewhat obscure; but these are small units, not large formations.

Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)

May I ask the Prime Minister another question, the gist of which I put to the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs earlier today, when I got no answer? I should like now to put it in this form. Is the meeting of the United Nations to deal only with the Egyptian situation? The right hon. Gentleman will know that there is a terribly explosive situation boiling up in Central Europe—in Hungary, I mean. Therefore, is any action to be taken by the United Nations, either at that meeting or immediately after the meeting to deal with Egypt, to do something positive about that situation?

The Prime Minister

I am sorry, but without the presence of the Foreign Secretary I am not able to say what the exact timetable of the United Nations Assembly is today. I know that the United Nations is dealing with both subjects. Whether they will deal with both subjects at the same meeting I cannot say.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

Can my right hon. Friend say whether there will be a suitable opportunity for the House to express its appreciation of the brilliance of the operations of Her Majesty's Armed Forces?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, I should hope so, because perhaps the most remarkable feature of the whole of this business has been that, so far as the operation at Port Said yesterday morning was concerned, the whole operation has been carried out by one parachute brigade without any kind of preliminary bombardment at all. Whatever political views one may have on the matter, that, as a military feat, must be unparalleled in history.

Mr. F. Keswick (Uxbridge)

May I ask the Prime Minister about the Resolution which is now being discussed at the United Nations? Many of us are hoping that, after this wretched business, there will emerge a United Nations police force of an enduring kind. Can he assure us that he is not insisting that there shall be an element of British forces in that United Nations force, and that he will accept the spirit of the United Nations Resolution which laid it down that the force should be composed of representatives of uncompromised nations?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that the hon. Member's description of the Resolution is right. I do not want to debate this, but I do not think that the Resolution talks about "uncompromised nations" at all. I think that one of the problems which the United Nations has to face is whether, if a force of this kind could be created, it should include; the major Powers, or should not include the major Powers but should consist of Powers other than the "Big Five." Those are very serious questions, and so far, as I made quite clear yesterday, our denominator in regard to all this business is whether or not an effective force can be created. I would not, therefore, like to say more than that in reply to the hon. Member.

Mr. Gaitskell

I deferred asking any further questions about the international police force, because I understood that the Prime Minister was to make a statement later. Could he confirm, for the convenience of the House, that he will be making the statement in, say, four or five hours?

The Prime Minister

I really think that that is hardly reasonable—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] If there is a position which would give us information which I felt would be of service to the House then, of course, I will do so, but we are trying to conduct, about this very international force, rather elaborate negotiations—because they do concern a large number of countries, with widely different views as to what shall be done. I think that there is more than one Resolution before the Assembly. Whether I shall be able to tell the House more about that later this afternoon I simply cannot say until I know what the outcome of the discussions is. The House heard, in the declaration which I made yesterday about the cease-fire, what our own policy is in respect of this international force which, let me repeat, we did ourselves propose in the first instance.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is the Prime Minister aware that we, on this side, have very definite views as to the attitude which ought to adopted on this matter by Her Majesty's Government? May I ask, further, whether he is aware of the views of the Indian Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I understood that there were some consultations taking place with the Commonwealth, which now appears to be a matter of indifference to hon. Members opposite.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the Indian Government have replied to the United Nations, laying down two conditions for joining this international force? The first is, submission of a detailed plan to be made with the agreement of the Egyptian Government; and the second, the withdrawal of foreign forces from Egyptian territory. With regard to that, would the Prime Minister say whether Her Majesty's Government agree with the views of the Indian Government?

The Prime Minister

The position of Her Majesty's Government is as I stated it yesterday. There is no question whatever in our mind of withdrawal by the United Kingdom and her allies, unless and until there is a United Nations force to take over from us.

Mr. I. J. Pitman (Bath)

Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister tell the House what are to be the relationships in the recruiting of that United Nations force which is to keep the peace there? We understand from the Press that officers are to have a direct relationship with the United Nations, and, presumably, are to forswear, at least temporarily, their allegiance to their national Government. Does that apply also to other ranks? If so, what is the view of Her Majesty's Government on this question of allegiance in relation to any such police force?

The Prime Minister

It is quite clear that if this force is to come into being, and to be of the size and influence which I think that the House would like to see it assume, it will raise all sorts of questions such as my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman) has just raised. I really do not think that I can deal with them here, at this Box, without notice. They are too complex. All I say is that they are just the kind of things we are discussing with other countries, and that we will do our best to forward the result which I laid down in the statement which I made to the House yesterday.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)

Could the Prime Minister confirm our understanding of yesterday that, whatever may be true of the long-term force and the participation in it of major Powers, Her Majesty's Government now accept the Resolution adopted by the United Nations Assembly that the force to go into the Palestine area should consist of contingents from nations which have not permanent seats on the Security Council?

The Prime Minister

I think that I have already explained that that is just one of the matters which are now under discussion and examination. There are two views. One is that the major Powers should be members. There are others who take the view, and it is perfectly arguable, that the major Powers should not be members, provided the force is sufficient. But I really cannot go further than I went yesterday.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

Has the Prime Minister any information about the rumours of further threats of aggression by Russia, both in the Middle East and in Central Europe?

The Prime Minister

I think, on reflection, that I would rather not say anything about that this afternoon. One has to bear in mind whether what one says is helpful or otherwise, and I think that I would rather say nothing at the moment.

Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)

Would my right hon. Friend consider an air component for the international police force? In these open desert areas very much better policing can be undertaken from the air than can be done by ground troops. Further, could he possibly publish in due course the amount of Russian arms which have been found to be in Egypt? From early reports, it appears that these are on many times the scale which had previously been thought by this House.

The Prime Minister

I answered, in another context, the very reasonable question which my hon. Friend put just now, and I think that I would rather hold to my answer. With regard to the first part of his question, I agree with him.

Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)

Reverting to the subject of casualties, while the Minister of Defence may not be able to tell us exactly how many there now are, can he assure us that next-of-kin of casualties have already been informed?

Mr. Head

I cannot give that precise assurance at the moment, because I do not know what casualties there have been in the last 24 hours, but, so far as I know, all the next-of-kin of the earlier casualties have been informed.

Mr. Richard Fort (Clitheroe)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many on this side think that question and answer in this House is no way to conduct the foreign policy of this country, and that it is our duty here to support, or not fail to support, the general policy of the Government and not to do anything to impede it?

Mr. Arthur Henderson (Rowley Regis and Tipton)

Can we have an assurance from the Prime Minister that, in the event of the General Assembly of the United Nations deciding that neither France nor Britain shall participate in the international police force, Her Majesty's Government will not insist upon retaining their forces in Egypt?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that I could possibly give an assurance like that.

Several Hon. Membersrose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that we ought to get on with the general debate now. Mr. Mitchison.

4.18 p.m.

Mr. Mitchison

The question which I was inviting the House to consider before the Prime Minister's statement was whether we could yet say that there was no housing shortage at any given rent level. I should not have thought that any right hon. or hon. Member had the least doubt about what the true answer was. Even that very cautious, non-committal document, the Report of the Ministry for 1955, after referring, in page 3, to "the severe general shortage of housing accommodation resulting from the war", says that … this problem is still acute in some areas.… I regard that as a quite magnificent understatement. A better way of putting it would be, "There are a few areas in which the problem is not quite as acute as it was at the end of the war." That is about as far as one can go.

Let us have a look at the size of the problem. Since the war about 2 million houses have been built—I am talking not about temporary accommodation but about houses—1,500,000 of them or thereabouts by local authorities and 500,000 by private builders. What remains? First, one can look at this matter from the point of view of what I will call the family shortage—that is to say, people, often young people, who are at present living in a house with some other family, and clearly ought to have and want to have a house of their own. They do not exactly constitute cases of overcrowding. They are simply cases of people who want houses, and on any census or population figures one can see roughly what sort of cases they were at the time and how many they were.

A very careful investigation from that point of view was made a short time age by P.E.P. but only on the results of the. 1951 census. The conclusion drawn was that at the time of the census there were' rather over 1 million of such cases, and there are about 750,000 now.

That, of course, is only part of the story and only one side of it. We then come to the question of the houses themselves. There are a million slum houses, scheduled slums, but that is not nearly the whole story. We do not nowadays regard a house as proper to live in—I will not use the technical phrase "fit for human habitation"—unless it has elementary conveniences like a water closet and bath.

The facts are that of the houses in this country at present, nearly half either have no fixed bath at all or it is shared with someone else, and nearly one-quarter either have no water closet or again it is shared. When I talk about sharing I mean, of course, shared with other families.

Then if we look at the matter in terms of age, the usual borrowing of local authorities for housing is over a period of 60 years, and 60 years is by and large a fair average life for a well-built house. I do not say there are not some that last longer. There are others in all conscience—some of them put up between the wars—which are not going to last 60 years or anything like it. But if we take 60 years, and add another five years to be on the safe side, we still get a figure of nearly 5 million houses over 65 years old. Even then the numbers are not constant. As we go on with housing—and we have been at it for eleven years now since the end of the war—the age of houses increases and there is a constant inflow of obsolescence into the housing accommodation of the country. These are not stationary figures.

I would say at once that those figures are not necessarily each to be added to the other. The last two in particular may well contain houses which are both defective in ordinary sanitary accommodation and also much too old, but it is undoubtedly the case that there still remains a need for 1 million houses apart from slum clearance and 1 million houses by way of slum clearance. That is a pretty formidable figure, and I repeat what I said just now, that our total performance under successive Governments since the war has amounted to about 2 million houses in all.

We are, therefore, very far indeed from having broken the back of the problem, even on the most elementary standards represented by the absence of ordinary conveniences to which I referred just now.

But I agree that the problem has taken on a particularly acute character in certain places, and by far the most obvious incidence of this is in the very large towns. London, taking for the moment Greater London, represents a very considerable part—roughly one-quarter—of the population of England and Wales. The L.C.C. area in the centre of it has quite a formidable housing list.

his housing list is divided into three parts and it amounts to 165,000 families and includes no fewer than 53,000 urgent cases. They have recently had to consider their position, and they have come to the conclusion that apart from slum clearance, which they do not expect to proceed with at any very high rate, all they can do towards meeting the claims of those 53,000 cases is to provide rather fewer than 1,000 dwellings a year. Considering that the property in the centre of London, the L.C.C. area, is certainly not going to improve as the years go on, it seems to me that on that state of affairs there is no hope whatever of the London housing problem being settled on ordinary lines.

need not quote at any great length, but I would like to refer to what these 53,000 cases are. I am reading from page 25 of a report of the Housing Committee of the L.C.C. dated 6th November. It says that these cases are families in most urgent need of housing who have been placed in category A as a result of a careful application of the points scheme. It goes on to say that these are people many of whom have waited for a long time on this urgent housing list. That is the position in London.

For the other large towns I take some figures that were given to us by the Minister the other day in connection with planning. They are figures relating to overspill, the surplus population, of these large towns. They simply represent, therefore, the people who cannot be housed otherwise than outside the area of the place in question. The figures that we were given were as follows: Manchester, rather more than 200,000, Liverpool, 150,000, Leeds and Sheffield, about 70,000 each.

As for Birmingham, another large conurbation or part of a conurbation, one of the Birmingham officers told a Midlands planning conference the other day that if everything went well and if outside local authorities co-operated he could manage to house 90,000 people under the overspill arrangements of the Town Development Act, but that there were left 123,000 people who could not be housed either inside Birmingham or under the overspill arrangements.

If those figures are not accepted as indicating a really severe housing situation in the large towns of our country and do not indicate also that there is little or no prospect of solving the problem on present lines, then I do not know what further evidence anyone could possibly require. These people who are in need are not choosey; they are not allowed to be choosey. They have to take what is available. There simply is no housing accommodation for them, and there is at present no prospect of it.

In face of all that, the Gracious Speech has nothing to suggest except something about rent control. We shall not make any more houses by means of rent control. Any contribution, if there can be any at all, which I doubt, can be only infinitesimal, except, of course, in raising financial questions between landlord and tenant, and those questions, as I said, I am in no position to discuss today.

Let us see what in fact is happening, what the Government have been doing and omitting to do, what contributions they have so far made to this acute housing problem. In 1954, in round figures, 300,000 houses were built. At present, that total number has fallen to 270,000. But what is remarkably significant is the break-up of the figures between council housing and private building. Since 1954, private builders have increased their contribution from 88,000 to 116,000 a year, while at the same time local authorities, which were building at the rate of about 200,000 a year in 1954, are now building this year at a rate which amounts to about 135,000 houses. That is, of course, the total number of council houses and new town houses, including any houses built in replacement of dwellings removed in slum clearance, about which I shall have a few words to say presently.

Towards the relief of ordinary people who need houses to live in, who have been waiting year after year, many of them living in houses now out of date and deficient in the most ordinary sanitary conveniences, private house building can make only a very limited contribution indeed. Such people cannot afford to buy these houses, most of which are built for sale. They have looked, and they still look, to the council housing lists as their best, if not their only, chance of getting a house. In view of the figures I have mentioned, what are those chances now? The Government can only suggest, by way of relief of this problem, something to do with rent control.

What a sad lack of policy. What complete blindness to the needs of the country and to the needs of people whom, after all, hon. Gentlemen opposite must, as ordinary constituency Members, themselves see occasionally, and whom, as hon. Members know quite well, their councillors and the officers of their councils see day after day. In spite of this human problem and hardship continuing now for many years, all that the Government can suggest, and all that appears in the Gracious Speech, is something to do with rent control. What a miserable view of life they must have. What complacent blindness towards the existence and wishes and hopes of the majority of their fellow citizens. I find it shocking and disgusting that at this stage, with this great need before them, that is all the Government can say.

The Government tell us that they have initiated a slum clearance programme. Waving the flag of slum clearance before him, the right hon. Gentleman proceeds from platform to platform, and answers Question after Question in this House. When we examine what it really amounts to, we find that it is very small beer, quite remarkably small beer. What the right hon. Gentleman's scheme comes to is this. He has cut the general need housing subsidy, and, out of the kindness and humanity of his temperament, he has left the slum clearance subsidy untouched—a quite remarkable contribution to the housing problem. It seems very like the action of someone who, finding that a man does not hop very well when he has both feet, cuts off one of them and hopes he will hop better like that.

As one might expect, the results have not been very satisfactory. Before this magnificent Government move came, the local authorities, poor creatures, were asked what they proposed to do about it. They proposed to clear slums at the rate of 75,000 houses a year. The Government were a little more cautious. The right hon. Gentleman, on 17th November, 1955, said that they would get at least 60,000 in a year. We find that in col. 803 of the OFFICIAL REPORT for that date. That was, no doubt, the effect of the stimulus which his proposals had given to the local authorities.

What in fact has happened? There has been a little increase, but let us see what it comes to—twenty thousand houses demolished in 1954; twenty-five thousand houses demolished in 1955. If we take the figures for the present year, they are now proceeding at the rate of 33,500 demolitions in the year. The right hon. Gentleman looks a little puzzled; he will find the figures in the latest Housing Summary. This is the grand slum clearance programme, and the Government's contribution towards it. They have by now nearly got to half of what the local authorities proposed to do on their own. Such is the effect of the Government's magnificent effort.

That, of course, is not all. They have made another really magnificent contribution. Considering that, in the circumstances, this being the condition of the people whom they have to govern, something or other ought to be done, and that the Ministry concerned is the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and ought presumably to help both housing and local government, they have proceeded to cut the housing subsidies. [An HON. MEMBER: "They have abolished them."] Not yet. They began about a year ago. They made a reduction in the housing subsidy which amounted at that time to £12 1s. They now propose, though they have not done it yet, to make a further reduction of £10 and so eliminate the general need subsidy altogether.

Side by side with this, as part of the general policy of the Government, the rate of interest charged to local authorities has been rising steeply. Since the Government came into office, the rate has risen by 1¾ per cent. on long loans. I am taking the rate in November, 1951, and the rate today.

The right hon. Gentleman is quite good at arithmetic, except when he takes to spreading it on the averages, at which point it becomes a little peculiar. If he refrains from doing that for a moment and looks simply at plain figures, he will find, if he adds those figures together in relation to a £1,700 house, that, taking that house by itself, the actual addition made to the rent chargeable by the council by those three things—the first cut in the housing subsidy, the second proposed cut and the rise in the rate of interest—amounts almost exactly to a £1 a week addition.

The House will remember the phrase I originally quoted out of that blue book of the Conservative Party, "The Right Road for Britain": Rent control must continue until it can be shown that there is no housing shortage at any given rent level. The effect of what the Government are doing is to eliminate some rent levels altogether.

What ought they to have done? I am not here to conduct a general economic debate about dear money, the rates of interest, the economic position of the country, and so on. Let us assume that for some reason or another it was necessary, and is necessary, to have a dear money policy and put up the rate of interest. What, in those circumstances, is the duty of the Minister of Housing and Local Government? It is certainly not to add to the burden of local authorities and the hardship of people by choosing that moment to cut the housing subsidy. If the right hon. Gentleman says that it was not he but the Chancellor of the Exchequer and that it was an inextricable part of the economic policy of the Government, I would simply reply that in that case he had better resign, even if the rest of the Government do not do so. That is the position as regards what they have been doing.

There are, of course, other ways in which the Government might have tried to tackle this question. One of them is a very obvious one. Take the case of Birmingham, to which I have referred. After dealing with its surplus population so far as it can by overspill arrangements, Birmingham will still have a very large number—123,000 people, I think—who cannot be disposed of either in Birmingham or by overspill arrangements. The solution is so obvious that it hits one in the eye—and it applies not merely to Birmingham: it is exactly the same as that for which London is asking.

It is the duty of the Government and not of local authorities, however large. to initiate new towns and to deal with those new towns under the financial arrangements in the 1946 Act. Whatever else there is in the Gracious Speech, there is not a word about new towns, still less a word about amending the Act. Christmas is coming on—old Scrooge's season—and the right hon. Gentleman has been making himself uncommonly busy trying to persuade Birmingham, Manchester and London that anybody except the Government ought to pay for any new towns, and that it would be a nice arrangement, convenient to everybody, if they could be paid for out of the rates instead of out of public funds, for the time being.

I say "for the time being" because right hon. and hon. Members may forget that these new towns are paying their way. It is not a question of putting money into a social experiment in which it will undoubtedly be lost. It is a question of putting one's money into a social adventure which is succeeding admirably from the financial point of view as well as from ours. It is not perfect, but I will have a word to say about that presently.

Under Labour Governments, twelve new towns were started in England and Wales and two more in Scotland. I will not say anything to the Secretary of State for Scotland. I believe he is entitled to a particular and peculiar laurel wreath for having started one in Scotland, but not so the Minister of Housing and Local Government. It appears to be no part of his duties to do any more than to try to persuade somebody else to do what he ought long ago to have done himself.

I said that the new towns are not proceeding perfectly. Let me tell the House and the right hon. Gentleman, in simple language, what is the root of the trouble. The right hon. Gentleman and his Department and the development corporations are, in some cases—I do not say all of them—regarding the growth of the new town as a matter of somewhat enlarged development. They are not regarding it as what it ought to be—a housing community, a social community and a social adventure. The result is that in some, but not all, of these new towns feeling is beginning to run very high.

In an ordinary borough, a man who has complaints to make can do it in one of two ways. He can, and often does, if it is a small matter go to the offices of the council; so in the new town he can go to the officers of the development corporation. He has, however, a further remedy in that he can go to his councillor and, if his councillor fails to do what he requires, he may well express his feelings by voting against him in the next borough election. The development corporations are not elected bodies, and those who live in new towns do not have that second method of dealing with their grievances. It is the more necessary that those grievances should be dealt with at a very early stage and in as democratic a manner as is possible for a nominated body. It is not impossible—some development corporations are doing it. I am not certain that it would really help what ought to be done or help the progress of the adventure if I gave too many instances. If they are wanted, I will give them. Other development corporations are not doing it, and the result is accumulated grievances.

The matter has been made worse by two factors. The first may at first sight not seem to right hon. and hon. Members opposite one of great importance, but I regard it as a matter of principle and one of very considerable importance. The duty of developing a new town rests upon the development corporation, under the general supervision of the right hon. Gentleman.

What is happening in the centre of many of the new towns is that the whole centre is being let off, I understand, for quite a long term of years, to private companies—prosperous companies, no doubt—who as a matter of business then let it off to shopkeepers and the like. They get some part of the result in annual profit, and if the lease is of any length they will get some part of the general improvement of values in that new town.

That is not what the New Towns Act intended. The effect of providing a rake-off for large property companies is to increase the charges on the new town as a whole, which could have been met if the development corporation had done, and been allowed to do, its duty under the Act and accordingly make some accommodation—no doubt, not a large one in individual cases—for the rents charged in these new towns. It is wrong to take an Act of that kind and use it in that way. It is wrong to prostitute to this purpose the spirit and the ideas which led people to start those new towns and which still lead many people who are intimately concerned. It is not a place where property companies ought to be allowed, right in the middle of the town, to do the job of the development corporation and take their rake-off out of it.

I take one other point, and this is a most serious one. The right hon. Gentleman has been remarkably discreet about the future of new towns. Perhaps it is as well because, at the rate they are going at present, he may be in no position to deal with their future. Of course, if he were to say anything now, it might be awkward if he were to find himself later on this side of the House. In fact, when the Conservative Party was in opposition, it insisted that new towns ultimately should go, as the Act clearly intends, to local authorities. But the Act is an elastic one. It was a venture which had to be conceived and framed in that form. It is possible under the Act to hand over those new towns to people other than the local authorities, and my information is that that is exactly what the right hon. Gentleman intends to do, if he gets the chance.

I do not think that the party opposite dislikes the continual and perpetual existence of appointed bodies in local government as much as I do. I think that it is wrong to keep bodies like development corporations any longer than is necessary for the purpose of development. It would be wrong to deal with housing communities by handing them over to any other people than those whom they themselves elect.

I now wish to say a word or two about local authorities. It is said, in answer to what I said just now, that some local authorities are too small and may not be able to deal with this kind of position. My answer to that is: "Keep the principle and reform the local authorities, if that is your difficulty". Sure enough, a short time ago there appeared the first result of the right hon. Gentleman's long deliberations with local authority associations. This somewhat uninspiring document was called, "Areas and Status of Local Authorities in England and Wales". I opened it and read it, I am afraid with somewhat diminishing interest, until I reached paragraph 19, where I found a really startling statement: Leaving aside functions and finance, which can be considered separately, there are five main problems to be examined … It goes on to state them, and it says: functions and finance can be considered separately. We can therefore define the areas and the status of local authorities and make provision for their future without knowing what they are going to do or where they are going to get the money to do it, for functions and finance can be considered separately. That is a very curious way of dealing with the matter.

I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, or whoever is to reply, this question: does he regard dealing with local authority finance at present as an urgent matter, and, if so, when is anything going to be done about it? The passage in the Gracious Speech to which I have referred was completely obscure and appeared only to relate to a much smaller question, the incidence of the rate burden.

At the end of that document to which I have referred, which in effect restores something remarkably like the former Boundary Commission, proposes to stir up local authorities to do some minor things and has one or two other provisions in it, we are told that legislation will be needed to give effect to it. Such legislation, of course, is not mentioned in the Gracious Speech; or are we to presume that this is one of the small items, as it were, covered by the last sentence in the Gracious Speech: Other measures will be laid before you in due course "? I do not know.

I regard the right hon. Gentleman's dilatoriness in dealing with the finance of local authorities, which he has done so much to wreck by removing the housing subsidies at a time when the rate of interest was going sharply up, as something which needs a great deal more defence than he has ever advanced.

I have nearly finished. This is a subject which can be made quite uncommonly dull, and if I have succeeded in doing so, I apologise to the House. It is a difficult matter to put in a form which is at once practical and, I hope, a little forceful. I cannot leave it without putting two broad propositions to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite.

The first of these arises out of a very remarkable statement which was made by the right hon. Gentleman himself in answer to a question. Talking about housing subsidies, he said this: "… the relief "— that is the relief in housing subsidies and, of course, of reduced rents in consequence— should be given only to those who need it and only for so long as they do need it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th October, 1955; Vol. 545, c. 380.] Is that really the considered view of the Conservative Party? If it is, it introduces some very remarkable innovations into the conception of public responsibility for housing.

What was originally the housing of the working classes has become in recent years, by a decision of this House quite a time ago, housing in general and not just housing of the working classes. It was undertaken because housing before that—housing under private enterprise—was rotten, bad and insufficient. That was the reason why it was undertaken, and it was undertaken in order to provide better and more houses. Those conditions are still there. There is still rotten, bad and insufficient housing. There is still not enough housing; yet we are told that it is only to be doled out as a form of charity to those who need it, and only for as long as they do need it.

What is the result? A man gets a rather better job, and he is to be turned out of a council house because he does not need it any longer. It will not be a council house, for there will soon not be a housing subsidy in the ordinary way. But suppose he may have to get out of a slum and, encouraged by better conditions, he begins to make a little more money for himself. Does the Conservative Party turn him out? What do they do? It would be very interesting to know.

I come to my second point. We on this side of the House take an entirely different view about housing. We believe that this view has been developing not only in the Labour Party but throughout the country for very many years and that it is coming to a certain conclusion. The view which we take is that housing is not just a matter of building a house, of bargaining about the rent and of putting a man into the house so that the landlord may get the rent and the tenant may pay it. That is a wholly insufficient description, just as insufficient as it would be to regard other public services in this country as merely a matter of A3; s. d., merely a matter of profit for someone and payment by someone else.

We regard housing as one of these social services and that, I believe, was the view some time ago, has been increasingly the view, but is at the moment a view abhorrent to the benevolent opinions of Her Majesty's Government. I hope that that will be denied. It is a view utterly irreconcilable with the sentence which I have just quoted and which the right hon. Gentleman said on 27th October, 1955, as reported in col. 380 of HANSARD. The occasion was when I made some very rude remarks to him about the beginning of his abolition of the housing subsidy. That was his reply—deeply moved, no doubt, by what I had said to him.

Let us consider the consequences. If housing ought to be regarded as a social service, is there the faintest chance that private building can make anything but a very limited contribution to it? More than that, what is the position of the private landlord and his tenant? During these past few years, let us remember, we have had one attempt after another to get a simple thing done which is the ordinary duty of a landlord.

I am not saying that all landlords are bad; I know that there are questions of means and resources involved. But I say that private ownership in this country has failed to keep these houses in proper repair and that what was called "Operation Rescue" by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer and "a mouldy old turnip for the landlords" by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) has proved to be the latter rather than the former. It rescued nobody, it left a nasty taste in the mouth of landlords who tried to use it, and it has scarcely served any purpose at all. Now, I suppose, we are coming to the hidden menace of rent restriction control, which I must not discuss.

Mr. C. W. Gibson (Clapham)

Why not?

Mr. Mitchison

Because there is a Bill on the Order Paper about it.

That is the position. Private ownership failed to do the job. I go one stage further and say without hesitation that there is something morally wrong in the relationship between a private landlord and a tenant, not in that either of the parties to it are right or wrong but in the nature of the relationship. The landlord regards his house, as he is bound to regard it, as something out of which he gets a certain amount of money, and naturally in the course of that relationship, however benevolent he may be personally, the inducement to him the whole time is to get as much as possible. It will depend on his character, means and view of his own responsibilities whether he does more, but the inducement always remains that way.

From the point of view of the tenant a house is something much more than an ordinary thing which is hired out to him week by week. It is his home, it is a vital part of his life, it is a vital part of his life as a family man and an inhabitant of the township, wherever it may be, and as a citizen of this country. It is an essential part of his status in the community and of his life as an individual. I need hardly tell the House the effect upon people of having a house or not having one, having a good house or having a bad house. We must all know it ourselves.

Housing difficulties, the wrong house, not getting a house, get under the skin of ordinary people as nothing else ever does. They wreck their family lives if those factors continue, and wreck their usefulness as citizens. They cause ill health and many, many other results. To leave something of that importance as a matter of private property from which someone else, quite naturally, will get all that he properly can is fundamentally wrong. When we reach a position of that sort there is only one way out of it. That is to make the community itself, in some form or another, and in the form of one of the organs of our democratic government, responsible for doing the job which, by and large, private landlords have failed to do.

It is on that moral principle, just as much as on any history of the matter, that my party has decided that the time has come in which in all convenient cases the tenant shall be the tenant of the council and not of the private landlord. I am not here today to discuss the details of our proposals.

Mr. Kenneth Thompson (Liverpool, Walton)

Would the hon. and learned Gentleman tell us what he means by "in all convenient cases"? How does he define those cases?

Mr. Mitchison

I think that the hon. Member can probably afford to purchase a copy of "Homes for the Future," which he will find exceedingly interesting.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. J. Enoch Powell)

"Homes of the Future."

Mr. Mitchison

I do not think the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. K. Thompson) will wish me to take up the time of the House, upon which I have already trespassed considerably, by expounding to him at length what he can read for himself so clearly written out.

Mr. K. Thompson

That is not very helpful.

Mr. Mitchison

I have said what I want to say on the subject.

May I say in all humility to the House that I had hoped to talk about rent restriction. I can assure hon. Members that I had a magnificent speech prepared on that, and that what they have listened to today is a rather pale and truncated shadow of that effort. The Government can at any rate congratulate themselves on having caused the substitution of a not-so-good speech for the very good one which I hope to deliver when opposing their dealings with rent control.

My indictment of them is this: the housing shortage is still grave. I do not think that it can be settled at all on present lines, but that is no reason for doing what the Government have done—to put every possible obstacle in the path of local authorities who ought to try to settle it, and to make it much more difficult for the thousands, possibly millions, of people in this country who are suffering hardship through lack of houses to get that which will enable them to live their lives fully and comfortably.

5.10 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. J. Enoch Powell)

At any rate, we have a pleasure to come, and the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) has given the House, as it were, a trailer of the film which we shall be able to view at length and probably repeatedly during our future proceedings. I shall follow the hon. and learned Member in devoting most of my speech to housing. Therefore, perhaps I might deal first with the subsidiary matters to which he referred.

The hon. and learned Member quoted a sentence from the White Paper on Local Government and asked whether proposals on local government finance were regarded as a matter of urgency. I can reaffirm that it is the Government's intention that their broad proposals on this subject should be made known by the end of this year.

Mr. Gibson

On a point of order. May we take it that those who may be fortunate to take part in the debate after the Minister has finished and who raise questions with which he does not deal in his speech will not get a reply from the Government? If that is the case, I submit that the Minister, in courtesy to the House, might have waited until some of us had spoken.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

That is not a point of order. When Front Bench Members get up I call them, as the hon. Member knows.

Mr. Powell

I shall have my work cut out in answering the points made by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering.

Mr. Dennis Howell (Birmingham, All Saints)

That is not good enough.

Mr. Powell

And afterwards we shall see how the debate goes.

Mr. Howell


Mr. Powell

The hon. and learned Member for Kettering was mistaken in so reading the Gracious Speech as to indicate that the sole or even main matter of the Government's proposals on the finance of local government was the incidence of the rate burden. The word was, specifically, "including", and I assure the hon. and learned Member that these proposals are designed to cover the whole field of local government finance. As to the proposition in the White Paper that finance and functions can be considered separately, even if no change were to be made at all in local government finance and even no change at all in local government functions and their distribution, most people would still feel that there was a strong case for a review of the structure of local government.

Mr. James McInnes (Glasgow, Central)

I take it that the hon. Gentleman is referring only to the position in England and Wales. The situation in Scotland is the very opposite.

Mr. Powell

I might as well enter a caveat here, which I was going to make a little later on, and that is that as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be intervening later in the debate my remarks and, I emphasise all the figures and data that I use relate exclusively to England and Wales, as indeed does the White Paper to which I was referring.

As I was saying, especially as the Government have taken the view that what is needed in the reform of local government is not a revolutionary alteration in the system but a modernisation and overhaul of the structure, there was no reason why matters of finance and functions, though they will clearly bear upon the structure, should not be dealt with in separation.

As to legislation in pursuance of the White Paper on Areas and Status of Local Authorities in England and Wales, this White Paper, of course, has yet to be debated. I think that most hon. Members would agree that before the House comes to debate it, it would be well if the local authority associations, which I understand are taking the most painstaking steps to consult their members over this, had had a really generous allowance of time in which to formulate their own views.

I am sure that we would not want to debate these proposals in the House until we have had the advantage of the views of the local authority associations and others. Therefore, we first of all have to see what those will be and have the debate on the White Paper before the question of legislation arises, though I would point out that the Gracious Speech is not necessarily an exhaustive list of legislation likely to be introduced at any stage in the forthcoming Session.

As to housing, I shall again follow the example of the hon. and learned Member for Kettering in scrupulously observing the rules of order and, in particular, the rule on anticipation. The hon. and learned Member was perhaps unnecessarily generous in his congratulations to my right hon. Friend upon the astute move by which the rule of anticipation applies to today's debate, and he was certainly unfair in attributing it to a desire to reduce discussion to a minimum. As Erskine May points out, the purpose of the rule of anticipation is to ensure that the House shall debate matters in the widest framework and in the most effective form of procedure. Therefore, we are merely following the practice which the House has long laid down for itself to ensure that debate can be as useful and effective as possible.

The hon. and learned Member began with a reference to various statistical assessments of housing needs, and particularly by quoting the assessments which P.E.P. in its pamphlet, "How many houses?", had based on the results of the 1951 census. It would be useful, however, if I quoted to the House the conclusion of that pamphlet, which is as follows: It is, however, clear "— and this was over a year ago, I might say 300,000 houses ago— that the demand for more houses is beginning to be met. Local authority housing estates and blocks of modern flats are to be seen in all parts of the country. Private building is now well under way. The time is near "— This was October. 1955— when housing authorities must turn then-attention increasingly to the slums, and the decrepit, old and inadequate houses which are now ripe, and more than ripe, for demolition or conversion and repair. Therefore, the conclusion about the statistical examination based on the 1951 census, and the building statistics since, was that a balance between the general supply and demand, taking the country as a whole, was then in sight and it was time to switch the emphasis from a net increase of the total number of homes in the country to the replacement and improvement of existing homes.

Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)

The deduction is quite wrong.

Mr. Powell

In that case, the hon. and learned Member for Kettering should not have prayed in aid a document with the conclusions of which he disagrees.

Mr. Mitchison

The hon. Gentleman must allow me to defend myself against what he has just said. I did not pray in aid this document or its conclusions. I took from it an estimate of the number of people requiring houses on family grounds. That is all, but it is very difficult to find these estimates, as the hon. Gentleman knows.

Mr. Powell

I appreciate that, and I felt that I was justified in reminding the House of the conclusion at which that investigation had arrived. These general statistics, of course, slur over the fact that the balance between supply and demand for homes differs enormously in different parts of the country.

The hon. and learned Member for Kettering was, of course, quite right in referring, in this context, particularly to great cities many of which have not only slum clearance problems but have a very real overcrowding problem as well. He referred particularly to those in connection with the assistance which new towns were able to give to housing authorities that physically are unable to continue to build, as is the case with the County of London, within their own boundaries.

I would again remind the House, as I mentioned in our debate on 9th July, that the eight new towns which specifically serve the Greater London area have so far attained only one-third of their planned size. Indeed, that planned size is by no means inelastic, so that the existing now towns which serve London have a great deal of capacity that needs to be developed.

The hon. and learned Gentleman accused my right hon. Friend of going round like a Scrooge trying to persuade local authorities to build new towns for themselves when it was the job of the Government to do so. He mentioned Manchester. There is no need for my right hon. Friend to persuade Manchester, because that is just what it wants to do. As for Birmingham, I understand that the Birmingham City Council recently passed a resolution on this matter and has asked to meet my right hon. Friend for a discussion. That discussion is being arranged, and clearly it would be wrong for me to prejudge the results of it.

Finally as to London. I understand that London is contemplating building a new town for itself. So there again there is no question of my right hon. Friend foisting this notion upon a reluctant local authority.

Mr. Mitchison

Is the hon. Gentleman quite right? I have here the Press statement issued by the leader of the London County Council on the report, to which I referred, about London's housing difficulties. He stated that nothing short of another new town can make a worth-while impression on the vast need, and that the Government are apparently unwilling to be responsible for another new town. He then stated that the Council has power to do it and goes on: Only with the Government's backing can we raise such a sum on top of our present capital commitments, already running at some £24 million a year. Assurances on grants from the Government are also esssential. The hon. Gentleman would meet much of my difficulty if the could give those assurances now, and could tell me that the Government will give the backing which the leader of the London County Council wants.

Mr. Powell

I was going on to refer to that matter but I wanted to establish first that there was no question of my right hon. Friend forcing upon a reluctant authority this notion of a new town promoted by London. In fact the initiative comes from the local authority. In our previous debate the hon. Lady the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet) was very strong on this point. She said that the London County Council— … should be given the necessary financial and ministerial consents to enable it to proceed with the building of a new town in which Londoners might be housed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1956; Vol. 556. c. 94.] She added that if my right hon. Friend could find it in his heart to entrust to the London County Council an operation which a private body was apparently about to begin "— that was a reference to the proposed Allhallows new town— the London County Council should be able to do a very good job. So there is no question of my right hon. Friend, in the guise of a Scrooge, trying to force upon others a function which is that of the Government. These authorities are considering this method of doing it; and want to do it for themselves.

Mr. D. Howell

I hope the Minister is not drawing the conclusion from that statement, and from the resolution concerning Birmingham which he mentioned briefly, that Birmingham wants to be in the same position as London, because its financial structure is of an entirely different character.

Mr. Powell

I understand that, and in referring to Birmingham I mentioned the discussion which is to take place between the representatives of the city council and my right hon. Friend. So far the London County Council has made no approach to my right hon. Friend on the matters which the hon. and learned Gentleman quoted just now. So there again I cannot prejudge them until the approach has been made. However, let me establish that there is no question either of the London new towns having reached their full capacity and having served their purpose as regards the decongestion of London or of my right hon. Friend foisting this task upon reluctant authorities.

Mr. Mitchison

I must correct the hon. Gentleman. The contribution which the L.C.C. estimates that the new towns can make is of the order of a little over 1,000 a year out of a 53,000 urgent housing list. As regards his second point, the leader of the London County Council has said quite clearly, and with no great pleasure: The Government is apparently unwilling to be responsible for another new town. Why?

Major Sir Frank Markham (Buckingham)

Is it not obvious from those figures that the statement is wrong? Even the expanded towns, Bletchley and Swindon, take more than 1,000 a year, and we could take more with the co-operation of the L.C.C. and adjacent areas right away.

Mr. Powell

Of course every hon. Member in the House recognises that the new town idea can only be one of the methods whereby London can be enabled to build, or to have its citizens rehoused, outside the built-up area of Greater London.

Before I pass from the new towns, there was the point of the private development of the town centres which the hon. and learned Gentleman brought up again. I am sorry that he should have seen fit to attribute what I thought were intended to be disreputable motives to the new town corporations. If this kind of development, if the leasing of land for this kind of purpose, is contrary to the interest of the inhabitants of the new towns, as the hon. and learned Gentleman alleged, and if it is contrary to the purpose for which the corporations were set up, I should have thought it was a severe assault upon them to say that they were engaged in this kind of operation.

Mr. Mitchison

Misguided maybe, but not disreputable.

Mr. Powell

I see, they are merely misguided. As I said in our previous debate in July, the corporations in this respect are proceeding like prudent estate managers in spreading the risks—and there is a great variety of their practice as there is of their circumstances—in doing some of the development fully with their own capital and in allowing private enterprise to come in and do another part of it. That is the manner in which any prudent estate manager would go about the job, and I do not think we have any right to suppose that these new town corporations, with the local circumstances and with the local prospects clearly before them, are taking decisions in this matter which are other than the best that they can commercially and prudently take in the discharge of their duty.

Mr. Sparks

I have followed the new towns legislation from the beginning, and I understood that the main purpose of those towns was to accommodate people who were badly housed—we are talking now particularly of London and Greater London—and yet many people are going to the new towns who have no housing problem.

Mr. Powell

I am not sure that the remark of the hon. Gentleman is relevant to the matter of commercial development of the town centres, with which I was concerned.

The views of the hon. and learned Gentleman on the future of the new towns as they approach completion will be noted, but at present, as I said in July, my right hon. Friend is in discussion with the corporations on this question and is not yet in a position to make a statement of policy.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckingham (Sir F. Markham) referred to the contribution of town development. Perhaps I may mention that in the last five months, since we last looked at this matter, there has been considerable progress with town development schemes.

It is well known that Bletchley and Swindon are going ahead nicely. I understand that the London County Council is hoping to conclude four further agreements in the fairly near future, and that it is having continued discussions with a number of other authorities. Since last July, Birmingham, too, has concluded agreement with nine authorities in Staffordshire and one in Northamptonshire, and is in discussion with further authorities. So, although, in the nature of things, town development has been slow to get under way, steady progress is going on, as can be seen from these developments in the case of two exporting centres only since we last looked at this question in July.

Mr. Mitchison

Do these developments bear out the Minister's estimate of 20,000 houses or families a year for overspill?

Mr. Powell

I am not quite clear which context the hon. and learned Gentleman has in mind.

Mr. Mitchison

I will give the hon. Member the reference.

Mr. Powell

I am much obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman.

On the physical question of the production of houses, the broad fact is that the nation's total stock of houses is continuing to increase at a very high rate indeed. Hon. Members will have in front of them the housing return up to the third quarter of this year. This shows that the level of completions this year has been running very little below that of last year; that is with reference to all houses—I am coming to the hon. and learned Gentleman's point about the breakdown in a moment. Present indications show that, as the hon. and learned Member estimated, about 270,000 houses should be completed this year.

If we look at the houses under construction which is, as it were, the next stage of incubation, we find no serious falling away there, either in the local authority or the private sector.

Mr. Walter Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)

Is my hon. Friend giving figures for England and Wales only, or for the United Kingdom as a whole?

Mr. Powell

It may be that my right non. Friend entered the Chamber after I mentioned that all my statistics and all my remarks relate to England and Wales only.

Mr. Elliot

I wanted to make quite sure that the number of Scottish houses had to be added to the figure of 270,000; otherwise a misleading impression might be given.

Mr. Powell

I quite agree, but all the figures that I am using are England and Wales figures, and the Scottish figures have to be aggregated with them to produce the national total.

The hon. and learned Member argued that the change in the balance between houses built by local authorities and houses built by private enterprise over the last few years had been to the disadvantage of those in housing need. He said that private enterprise building made a very small contribution indeed to the relief of ordinary people. When private enterprise is building at the rate of between 120,000 and 130,000 houses a year, that, on the face of it, is a fantastic statement, because the possibility of that development going on steadily at that rate is evidence that the demand is being taken up by a great many very ordinary people.

Admitting that the people who will be purchasing these houses—and they are nearly all for purchase—are people with some stability and some financial prospects of meeting the mortgage charges, the fact remains that there is that virtually net addition to the total stock of houses. What we are concerned with is the balance between families and potential families and the number of homes for those families to inhabit, so that the addition made to the stock by private enterprise goes as directly as any other addition to meet housing need.

This brings me to the extraordinary point which the hon. and learned Gentleman made—he quoted words of my right hon. Friend—about subsidies being applied only to those who were in financial need of them. To listen to the hon. and learned Gentleman one would have thought that this was an extremely rarified, high Tory doctrine to which my right hon. Friend had given expression; but I happen to have in front of me the agenda and report of the Labour Party conference on housing which took place in January of this year, which I recommend to hon. Members opposite as well as to my hon. Friends, because it contains a most useful anthology of Labour Party views on the question of differential rents.

Because it is so convenient I shall not trouble the House with more than a few quotations. Going back to 1934 one finds the resolution: that housing subsidies can be put to best use and best benefit according to need, by the adoption of the differential principle. In 1950, the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), speaking at the Labour Party Conference, said: There is no justification for arguing that subsidies should be increased in respect of post-war housing rents. But there is a case—nobody has ever denied it—for adjusting the position to individual families and indivdual households. The fact is that both sides of the House recognise that housing subsidies are to be applied to meet real financial need, and that there is no justification for an overall flat subsidy, or the flat application of the available subsidy. We are really at one about this.

Mr. D. Howell

But there are no subsidies now.

Mr. Powell

As the hon. Member well knows, local authorities have a large amount of subsidy which they can apply in accordance with orthodox Labour Party doctrine.

I have looked at the rate of completion of houses and the rate of houses under construction. As the House is aware, my right hon. Friend invited local authorities to inform him of their intentions with regard to the submission of tenders during the current financial year. Not all the returns are yet available, and it is my right hon. Friend's intention not to publish the figures until they are available in full, which I think is clearly the sensible course. But I can say that from the vast majority of returns which are available it is clear that local authorities were envisaging the submission of not fewer tenders this year than were approved in the previous year, 1955–56. That is a very useful indication of the sort of view which local authorities themselves take of their prospects in the housing field and their prospects of letting the houses which they propose to build. In fairness, and in order to clarify the position, I would say that these are intentions; they cannot be taken as firm commitments of local authorities, and it would be very unfair to take them as such. But they are the best statements of their intentions which the local authorities could provide my right hon. Friend in August, which was the time of rendering these returns.

Mr. Mitchison

It was promised to publish those returns in the autumn. It is now November. May we have an assurance from the hon. Gentleman that, however incomplete they are, they will be published, as were the slum clearance ones, before we consider rent control? They bear very much upon that matter.

May I take this opportunity of giving the hon. Gentleman his right hon. Friend's reference to the rate of building in new towns and expanded old towns for overspill purposes, at 20,000 houses a year? It is in HANSARD of 17th November, 1955; col. 806.

Mr. Powell

That was the estimate of my right hon. Friend of the break-down of future local authority building, as between slum clearance, overspill and general housing needs, at a time when the change in the subsidy structure would have taken its full effect. I think that is the context in which that sentence comes.

Mr. Sparks

Regarding the number of houses completed and under construction by local authorities, will not the hon. Gentleman agree that 90 per cent., if not 100 per cent., of them carry with them, first, the full rate of subsidy, and secondly, the reduced rate; and that local authorities are rushing forward with their schemes to get the benefit of the subsidy because they know that the subsidy is going off altogether? That accounts for the figures which the hon. Gentleman has read out and, within a year or two, he will find they will drop considerably.

Mr. Powell

In the first place, a good many of those houses must undoubtedly be appropriated to purposes which carry, and will still carry, the higher rate of subsidy. In the second place, the local authorities knew perfectly well what were the intentions of the Government in regard to the general needs subsidy.

Although I agree that one cannot treat these figures as cast-iron undertakings, they do indicate that local authorities in the country were optimistic about their capacity to go ahead with building.

In completing this very brief survey of the rate at which our housing stock is increasing, I should mention the contribution made by conversion. One has no means of assessing the number of private conversions—it must be quite considerable—which take place without subsidy. The housing return shows that conversions with grant are going along at a steady rate. So we can place on record that the total stock of houses, of homes, which are available is continuing to increase at a very high rate indeed. The net rate, of course, and that is what matters in the balance of supply and demand, must take account of the number of houses demolished under slum clearance.

Now I come to the question of the slum clearance programme and the manner in which it is developing. When we were discussing the Housing Subsidies Bill, the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) was very pessimistic about the future of the slum clearance drive. I mention this because I am sure that no one would be more delighted than the hon. Member himself to find that he was deceived. On 15th February, 1956, he said: In both these fields of activity "— That was building for slum clearance and overspill— … activity will decrease and not increase." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1956; Vol. 548, c. 2384.] The hon. Gentleman said also: The number of slum dwellers who will be rehoused next year under this Bill "— He was referring to the Bill which is now the Housing Subsidies Act, 1956,— will be far fewer than the number rehoused under the Acts each year since 1945–46."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1956; Vol. 548, c. 2385–6.] I am glad to say—I am sure the hon. Member is equally glad—that these gloomy prophecies are being disproved.

As my right hon. Friend recently informed the House, the rate of demolition in the first six months of this year is 50 per cent. greater than in 1955. One gets the demolition figures rather later than the other figures, so that the latest figures available are those for the first two quarters of this year. During the first nine months of this year the submission of slum clearance orders has been going on at twice the rate for 1955. I can add a detail to those figures, because the figures of clearance and compulsory purchase orders submitted and confirmed during October are available, and they show that the rate is going up month by month. In October last, orders covering 4,200 houses were submitted and orders covering a rather larger number of houses were confirmed. That shows an increase upon the rate during the third quarter, so that month by month the number of houses in orders confirmed—which of course are the seed-beds of future slum clearance work—is going up.

Mr. Mitchison

Can the hon. Gentleman deny or confirm my conclusion, which is that the demolitions at present—they are the latest figures—are rather less than half the rate of what local authorities said they would do before the slum clearance campaign was introduced at all?

Mr. Powell

What the local authorities said they would do over a five-year period. The five-year period began only at the beginning of this year. After all, most hon. Members present in the Chamber have practical experience of the processes involved in slum clearance work and realise that the getting into gear of a slum clearance drive is a gradual matter.

Mr. Gibson

And a long one.

Mr. Powell

Yes, and a long one. In the case of the London County Council—

Mr. Gibson

And we started before the Government thought of it.

Mr. Powell

—in the first eight years it pulled down 160 houses, if I remember correctly.

Over the country as a whole the numbers involved are increasing month by month, so that before long a very large number of houses will be actually being demolished and the occupants rehoused; and the present rate of increase is consistent with the achieving by local authorities of the slum clearance programme for the first five years of 375,000 houses, which they set themselves in 1955. I would point out that they set themselves that programme at a time when both interest rates and, to a certain extent, costs of building were more favourable.

I should like to mention another aspect of slum clearance which I think deserves the attention of the House. Slum clearance is not, or rather it should not be, merely a question of the physical demolition of one house and the physical construction of another and the migration of a family from the one house to the other. It is a process which, while it wipes out features we want to see disappear, makes possible the redevelopment of our town centres which would not otherwise have been within our reach so soon. In other words, there is a planning as well as a housing aspect to slum clearance, and for many of our larger towns and cities it affords an opportunity for the planned redevelopment of their inner areas.

Local authorities, when they are planning their slum clearance campaigns, in particular when they are deciding on the methods which they will use in carrying them through, will have this possibility of redevelopment very much in mind. Where, in the future planning of the inner area, land is required for a public purpose; where, for example, it is intended that there should be a new ring-road or a public open space, or an area appropriated to educational purposes; where the local authority is itself to redevelop for housing, or where the pattern of ownership is so fragmented, so inconvenient, that satisfactory development is impossible without consolidation, local authorities doing slum clearance have at their disposal the acquisition procedure under Part III of the 1936 Act.

On the other hand, there is the alternative procedure of clearance orders which enables private owners and private enterprise to play a part in the work of redevelopment where the planned future uses and the pattern of ownership makes that possible.

Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)

The hon. Gentleman is aware that after a slum area has been cleared, say in the very heart of a town, and the local authority wishes to build on it certain amenities which may be absolutely necessary—even educational institutions—the Government, to put it mildly, are extremely slow in granting the necessary sanctions for the rebuilding of such areas? I hope the Government will be a little more liberal than they have been in that respect in cases of redevelopment.

Mr. Powell

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the present restrictions on credit are not being allowed to limit the rate at which slum clearance can proceed, and where it involves redevelopment or plays a part in facilitating redevelopment, slum clearance and the consequences of slum clearance go ahead as part of the slum clearance campaign.

It would be useful if I pointed out that where an authority engaged in slum clearance uses the clearance order procedure, that need not mean that the tenants are deprived of the advantages of any proposals to do patching work under the 1954 Act, for there is provision in that Act whereby houses can be leased for that purpose pending demolition under a clearance order. Therefore, within the scope of the machinery of slum clearance there is means not only for the redevelopment of inner areas but for both public enterprise and private enterprise to play their part.

The hon. and learned Gentleman said that my right hon. Friend's title of Minister of Housing and Local Government was, at any rate in respect of its first portion, a misnomer. If that be so, what should be said of Administrations of the past? The rate at which the nation's stock of housing is expanding is greater today than at any time under the previous Administration.

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

So it should be.

Mr. Powell

I agree with the hon. Member. So it should be, under a Tory Administration which is prepared to use private enterprise as well as public enterprise for its purposes.

Now a further phase has opened, which, as I have shown the House, is developing at the rate envisaged by the local authorities themselves, where we can use the approaching balance between the overall supply and demand in respect of houses as our opportunity to begin at an increasing rate replacing and improving existing houses. Looking back at the tremendous expansion in the total number of homes over the last five years and looking at the opportunities in housing for the future which are now opening, I suggest to the House that the title "Minister of Housing" has been well deserved indeed.

5.54 p.m.

Mr. W. E. Wheeldon (Birmingham, Small Heath)

My primary intention is to deal with local government reform, but I should first like to say a word about the subject which has already been discussed. I will not go into the figures, although I could give some interesting and, indeed, distressing figures relating to the City of Birmingham, but I would urge upon the right hon. Gentleman the fact that housing is a human problem and for hundreds of thousands of families it amounts to a daily, continuing drudgery. Hon. Members on both sides of the House know that that statement is correct. They will know, from their contacts with the electors, that almost every day people come to us and say, "What can you do to get accommodation for us?"

It is nonsense for the right hon. Gentleman to say that this is a matter only for slum clearance. It is not. It must be obvious to all hon. Members that we shall not deal with this human tragedy merely by talking in terms of slum clearance. From my own experience, I could give particulars of hundreds of families who have approached me in the last few months. These people have said that their families have been on the housing register for, not twelve months, not two years, not five years, but as much as ten years, and are living under deplorable conditions.

We ought to bear that constantly in mind when we talk about housing. Too often we throw statistics about and pick up White Papers and say that the position is improving. If the sufferings which these people have undergone for so many years, and which they will apparently continue to suffer for a long time, were fully realised, I am sure that all hon. Members would redouble their efforts to extend the housing programme beyond its present limits and do everything possible to ensure that such people were rehoused at the first opportunity. Instead of that, by the abolition of subsidies, by the increase in rates of interest, and by what the Government are proposing to do about rent restriction, a subject that we cannot discuss, we are making the problem very much worse instead of better.

Turning to local government reform, I believe that the White Paper which the Minister recently presented will be a disappointment to the majority of those engaged in local government. The Government have run away from one of the most urgent problems of the day. They have sheltered behind the natural differences of local government associations. I regret those differences. Nevertheless, I consider it to be the duty of any Government in such circumstances not to run away from the problem and say, "If you cannot settle the matter yourselves we shall do nothing," but to say, as the supreme council in the land," We will listen to both sides and to public opinion on the matter and then make a decision and submit the matter to the House." The Government have not done that. They do it in other matters, and I cannot see why they should not do it in connection with local government reform.

The Government must know that the so-called agreement between the local authority associations is very largely artificial. The associations were almost in despair. Having heard the words of the Minister at a recent conference, they said to themselves, "Very well, we will go ahead on this basis and try to get as much as we can." They have been frustrated for a long time and they have clutched at a straw. It is a matter of regret that we have now been forced into this position.

The White Paper asserts that local government has not broken down. I am not sure what the Minister had in mind when he used those words. Of course, local authorities have not called in the brokers, or shut down council offices and dismissed staffs. Nevertheless, local government today is in bad heart. It is not operating as effectively as it should. It is neither adequately nor properly financed, and in many areas, especially smaller areas, citizens are not receiving the services to which they are entitled.

The structure itself—the White Paper, of course, is confined to structure—is so ill-adapted to modern conditions that services eminently suitable for local government administration have been transferred either to major authorities, or to the central Government. On the one hand, we have minor authorities which are quite incapable of functioning as they should. They are not using even those permissive powers which they can take and, in twentieth century terms, are simply not doing their job.

On the other hand, there are many instances where large local authorities; are not effective instruments of democracy as they should be. In some of the counties, for example, only a very small percentage of seats are contested at elections. The reason is obviously that there is one section of the community which, because of the travelling, the expense and the time involved, simply cannot undertake to contest seats in widespread counties. I do not have the figures with me, but I think that I am correct in saying that at the last election in some of the counties the number of seats contested was as low as 10 per cent. of the total.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that in circumstances of that kind we will not have an effective functioning of democracy. We do not want local authorities made up of people drawn from one particular group of the community. Unless there is a mixture, we will not have democratic functioning of local government. Unfortunately, even in 1956, it still remains true that in some counties local government and administration is still dominated to a very large degree by the parson, the squire and the rich man.

There is an equally strong case in respect of some of the larger county boroughs. I can speak with even more assurance on this topic, because for many years I was a member of the largest county borough. My experience convinces me that the time has come when something must be done about the very large local authorities. On balance, I prefer the large authority to a small one, for reasons into which I need not go at the moment.

Nevertheless, I realise that the size of such an authority is, in itself, a danger. For some county boroughs the difficulty of finding people who can give the necessary time to council duties is great. A few minutes ago I noticed in an evening paper that one of the aldermen of Essex County Council was labouring this point about his own county authority, deploring the fact that members of that authority found it almost impossible to give the necessary time to council duties.

If we cannot get candidates drawn from the community on a fairly even basis, we will have councils composed of people lacking community experience. They have the financial ability to carry on their duties, but that is not good enough for the community. In large county boroughs of that kind, there is an almost inevitable tendency for the authority to get into the hands of its officials, which is a very bad thing for local authority administration. My experience is that that tendency is developing at a regrettable rate. That is another aspect of local government reform which should be very seriously considered.

Those facts show conclusively that local government in its present form is incapable of meeting modern needs. That view is shared by virtually every writer on local government in recent years. It is also shared by a very large number of those who have actively participated in local government and by the official organisation of local government employees. The Local Government Boundary Commission, in its Report in 1947, referred to the failure of the local government system to keep pace with the changing pattern of modern industrial needs.

Finally, there is the Association of Municipal Corporations, one of the most important associations concerned with local government affairs. In its Report for 1954, prepared after very long and detailed consideration, the Association said: No mere adjustment of existing functions and boundaries is adequate to meet the changes brought about by these far-reaching developments in the social, political, technical and economic aspects of the life of the nation. That is a fair and certainly an adequate expression of opinion by people primarily concerned with local government.

Despite all those things, in his White Paper the Minister says that he has looked back over the years since 1888; things have changed, but there is no need for radical adjustment of the local government system. In those sixty years practically every institution in the land has had to adapt itself to the revolutionary changes which have taken place. However, the Minister says "No". He puts his telescope to his blind eye and says that he can see no need for changes.

Instead, he makes a few adjustments which will do very little to improve the position.

He is separating—and he gives his reasons—structure from functions and boundaries. That sort of separation is absolutely fatal to a sound solution of the present difficulties. Obviously, finance, boundaries and functions go together and cannot be separated. The Local Government Boundary Commission endorsed that view. It said: Our experience amply confirms … that it is nonsense to talk about functions and boundaries separately. The common-sense thing to do is, first, to decide exactly what services and functions ought to be placed within the administration and control of local authorities. Having done that, one can then decide properly what areas are most appropriate to enable those functions to be effectively and democratically carried out. Thirdly, having settled those two questions, one can say by what method we should finance those services and functions.

The Minister has said "No". In the Gracious Speech we have a reference to the financing of local government, but there is no general reference to local government reform. I am sorry that the Government have once more put off what I consider to be an important and urgent reform. I do not know whether the Minister intends to reply to the debate. I hope that he does and that he can give some encouragement to us. I hope that he will say that, despite the White Paper, he is prepared to keep an open mind on this subject and, if he is persuaded by the House, to go very much further than appears to be his present intention.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

I do not rise to make a speech, but I should like to clear up a point made by the hon. Member for Small Heath (Mr. Wheeldon), who has great experience of local government administration. There is no intention at all on the part of the Government to shelve, or postpone, this question of local government organisation. What is happening is that we have had long discussions under my chairmanship with the local authority associations. Thereafter, the Government considered very carefully what proposals they should put forward. Those are set out in broad terms—deliberately in broad terms—in the White Paper.

Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)

They are so broad that they cannot be seen.

Mr. Sandys

I will not take up the hon. Gentleman on that. The next step, we felt, was to give a period of time during which the local authority associations and the separate local authorities could consider their position and make their views known.

For my part, I would not object to having an early discussion of the whole matter, but I think that there is a great advantage in postponing the time when the House should take up a view and a position in this matter. I have had representations from virtually all the local authority associations saying that they hoped very much that they would be given an opportunity to study these proposals and to express their views upon them.

It takes time for these bodies to consult the many local authorities. They hope that they will have the opportunity to express their views before the House is asked to reach any conclusions on these matters. I think that, in questions which affect local authorities and the many people involved in local government throughout the country, this House would wish to allow a certain time for these people to express their views before trying to arrive at conclusions about what should be done. That is what is happening at the moment.

Mr. Wheeldon

If a little further delay would produce something like an ideal solution I should be the first to agree with the right hon. Gentleman, but he knows very well that this question of local government boundaries has been under discussion not for twelve months but for years. Further, the local authority associations themselves had made up their minds long ago.

My final point is that there is nothing in the Gracious Speech about local government reform. It is clear from the White Paper that it is the view of the Minister that, once he gets what he calls the "views of the local authorities," he can proceed with this business piecemeal. If he wishes to deny it, well and good, but, as I understand him, he intends to deal with the functions of local government. My contention is that that i,5 a fatal way of proceeding. We must deal with the three matters together—structure, functions and finance. If we do not do that, it seems to me that we shall be committed for a long time to come to the hotchpotch, inefficient, undemocratic system that is operating in many local authority areas today.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. Robert Crouch (Dorset, North)

I should like to offer my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) on the way in which he proposed the Motion for an humble Address to Her Majesty. I have listened to quite a number of similar speeches in the past, but I do not think that anyone has spoken so well, or made the speech so nicely and with the correct amount of light and shade. It was a first-class performance.

I have been most interested in the debate today, and especially in some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Small Heath (Mr. Wheeldon), who spoke about large authorities. In my constituency there are eight local authorities, a whole lot of small ones. I was most interested to hear of the difficulties which large areas experienced in persuading people to serve on the local authorities. It may surprise him to hear that even the small authorities have similar difficulties. The hon. Gentleman said that people did not take an interest in local government. A similar state of affairs prevails in the smaller local authority areas. As there are eight local authorities in my constituency, I can claim some; knowledge of the difficulties of persuading people to serve in local government.

The hon. Gentleman also spoke of the difficulties of obtaining new houses. There are still housing difficulties in North Dorset, but I am proud of the fact that just over two years ago, when the figures were published, the Sturminster Newton Rural District Council had the honour of having built per head of the population more council houses than any other local authority in the land. This year, a local authority at the other end of my constituency, Wimborne, occupied the same position with regard to the erection of private enterprise houses. Constituents of the hon. Gentleman, especially those who may have retired and who have housing difficulties, might be interested to know that in North Dorset conditions are not quite as hard as they are in the large cities.

I welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to local government finance and rating. I know that the incidence of the new rating assessments has fallen very heavily on some of my constituents. This is a subject which has caused great concern and I shall look forward to the presentation of the proposed new legislation.

The level of rents is a very old and difficult question. There are many properties in my constituency which are let at very much below a reasonable rent because of the operation of the Rent Restrictions Acts. Can anyone suggest that 1s. 11d. a week is a proper rent to pay for a house with three or four bedrooms, when perhaps £25 a week is going into the house in the form of wages?

Mr. D. Jones

Not farm labourers?

Mr. Crouch

No, they are not farm labourers. They are people who were fortunate enough to take over the houses before 1914. I can think of several examples of houses which are rented from very noble people who are not very well off now.

Mr. McInnes

What does the landlord do with the rent?

Mr. Crouch

Goodness knows what he does. The house is a burden upon him. It is not one house I was speaking of. I know of several instances. If the hon. Gentleman likes to come with me I can take him to some of these places They are kept in first-class repair.

I hope that every encouragement will be given to the maintenance of the present progress in our agricultural industry, to which reference is made in the Gracious Speech. The progress has been "very great during the last five years. When we compare its present position with that which we found when we came into office five years ago the difference is astounding. All foods are now un-rationed and we have increased agricultural production to such an extent that beef production is well ahead of what it was before the war. There has been a fall in the price of beef because of supplies that come in from overseas.

It is interesting to note that we can now export beef. During the past year beef exports have increased about sixty times and I hope that the increase will continue. The meat that we export is wanted in places like Holland, Belgium and Western Germany. Owing to the greater use of tractors on the Continent there is a diminution in the number of horses. Continental people like big, heavy meat, and they take from us what has been a drug on our market, the heavy cows and steers. This trade increases week by week, and will continue to increase.

We should, however, go also to the other end of the scale and try to produce more baby meat, something killed before it is 20 months' old. Let us have younger beef. We shall then find that our beef producers have a ready market.

Now let me turn to the increase in milk production. During July, August and September, milk production increased by no less than 9 million gallons per month over last year. Milk is increasing to such an extent that the Milk Marketing Board has given notice to the producers that it fears that by next March they will be receiving 3d. or 4d. per gallon less than in March of last year. That is very serious, and it will affect the small farmer. All of us must see what we can do, individually and collectively, to see that better use is made of the additional milk.

As a producer, the last thing I want to see is a cutting down of the production of any commodity. Every effort should be made to put manufacturing milk into the highest grade, like that which is used for soups and other highly nutritious manufactures. The next grade is cheese. We have to turn our attention to the production of local cheeses that are in good demand and that people like. I know, Mr. Speaker, that you come from the County of Gloucester. During February or March of last year the Milk Marketing Board's factory at Sturminster Newton started to make Double Gloucester cheese. It started with a small amount, but it is now making nearly 20 tons a day. Nearly the whole of the milk going to the factory has been turned into Double Gloucester. The producers are starting to make it in another of their factories. This is a local cheese, and is very palatable. I spoke to the Chairman of the House of Commons Kitchen Committee about this cheese when we came back in September, and I am pleased to say that we can now have it in our Dining Room in the House. I recommend those who have not tried Double Gloucester cheese to do so at the earliest opportunity. They will be helping home production. I can assure them that it has taste about it and is far better value than many cheeses that we import.

Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)

May we have samples?

Mr. Crouch

The samples are in the Dining Room, waiting for all hon. Gentlemen.

The production of eggs increased by 8 per cent. from April to September this year and I understand that the increase continues. We have more than filled the gap in a number of these agricultural commodities. I have mentioned the export of beef; Double Gloucester cheese will soon be exported.

There is one commodity of which we cannot produce too much because we have always been importing it, and that is cereal. We shall have to turn more attention to the production of cereals. As the result of the work of scientists, the yields of all our cereals have increased beyond recognition. The yield of malting barley is about twice now what it was before the war, owing to the introduction of a new variety proctor which was discovered and grown at the National Institute of Agricultural Production.

We shall have to make very much greater use of fertilisers if we wish to get a proper return from the land. I was very much impressed with what I saw of the use of fertilisers when I spent a holiday in Scotland with my family. I was invited to see a bog at Birkhall, close to Douglas Water. The bog is owned by Dr. Smith. I understand that it had about 4 ft. 6 ins. of peat upon it. By the application of 2 tons of lime and 2 tons of basic slag and, later, by the use of 100 lb. per acre of seed sweepings, there was an excellent take of grass. That on which 6 cwt. of nitro-chalk had been applied has been turned into one of the finest pastures hon. Members could wish to see. It is dry and firm.

Dr. Smith believes that there are two methods of getting water off land. One is by pipe and the other is by vegetation, either grass or trees. He says that pipes are useless in peat, because the peat moves and breaks the pipes.

This work will go on. Other landowners may wish to emulate the example of Dr. Smith. If they do, we can bring back many thousands of acres of peat into cultivation and they will certainly produce more food that is; so badly needed. Agriculture can make a great contribution to the prosperity of the country. We have difficulties with our export markets, but if we get a prosperous agriculture we can call upon industry for still larger quantities of farm machinery. I feel very strongly about this, because I believe that we cannot afford to waste an acre of ground. We cannot in any circumstances allow our agricultural production to fall.

Before I sit down I should like to turn to another matter mentioned in the Gracious Speech, one which has concerned this House a great deal over the last nine days. The problem we have had to face in the Middle East is nor. a problem of a few years' standing. If one went back into history one would find that it started at the time when Moses took the Children of Israel out of Egypt. I do not believe that they have ever been really at peace since then.

I feel that had we not taken the steps we have taken soon this outbreak would have grown into a very large fire. I believe that we and our French allies were the only people who could step in. I should like to congratulate the Prime Minister on his most masterly handling of the situation. I believe we have seen the start of a new era; we have seen that the United Nations is now to have a proper police force.

I believe that we have witnessed a mobilisation of the largest force the world will ever see again. From what I have been able to gather, there have been about 500,000 men mobilised by the Jews, the Egyptians, the British and the French. I think that as a result of the speed of our action and the pressure brought on the belligerents by the dividing armies the world will now realise that masses of men will not be allowed to get together and arm themselves and shoot not only each other, but many civilians as well. The action we have taken will have a very great effect upon the peace of the world in future. I am very sorry, as, of course, the whole House is, about the situation which now exists in Hungary. I should like an appeal to be made by the United Nations and by the British and French allies to the Russians to call a cease-fire in the same way as we have called one in Egypt, because those people are being murdered and wounded at present. I hope that there will be a very great effort to get the Russians to stop their onslaught against Hungary.

I am sorry that the Leader of the Opposition is not in his place. I sent him a letter on Monday telling him that if I caught your eye, Sir, I would be referring to the right hon. Gentleman in this speech. Yesterday, the right hon. Gentleman said that a number of speeches which had been made recently would perhaps better have been left unsaid. I could not agree with him more. I believe that in less than a year from now, when a large number of hon. and right hon. Members opposite look back on what they have said during this period, they will hang their heads in shame. When the Election comes they will find that many of those speeches will recoil round their necks and strangle them.

We have seen demonstrations like those before. The same people jump up and say that Britain is always wrong and the foreigner always right—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Yes they do; they say it every time Each time they are pleading for the spineless section of the community, not for the people who are ready to stand up and face the issues. We have seen extraordinary scenes recently. In August, the right hon. Gentleman supported the Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—but he has done many somersaults since then. This I wish to say to him, and I had hoped that he would be present. He will never lead his party victorious from the polls.

Then there was the right hon. Gentleman's broadcast, last Sunday night—

Mr. D. Jones

It was very well done.

Mr. Crouch

After that broadcast had finished, within two minutes I had a continuous series of telephone calls asking me what could be done to prevent a repetition. I could not use in this House the expressions which were used on the telephone—

Mr. Jones

By farmers?

Mr. Crouch

Not only farmers; by other people as well.

The right hon. Gentleman made great play about our intervention in Egypt. This country relies on oil supplies. Reference has been made to that matter by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power, who said that agriculture would not be restricted. It has been said by an hon. Member opposite that a drop of 1 per cent. in oil supplies would mean unemployment. If we had our oil supply lines cut off we could have 5 million unemployed in this country. Could we get the United Nations to pay for that? Of course not. We would have to shoulder the cost ourselves. I think that for many years the right hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Gaitskell) will regret the speeches he has made.

The world has recognised that my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) was the great designer of victory in the Second World War. History will record that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is the man who has prevented a third world war.

Mr. Rankin

He nearly caused it.

Mr. Crouch

He did not nearly cause it. We believe in our cause and we also believe in, and are behind, our Prime Minister.

6.36 p.m.

Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, All Saints)

I am glad to have the opportunity of following the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Crouch). We are supposed to be having a debate on local government, but we were delighted to hear the speech of the hon. Member and his references to agriculture because we know that the farmers in his constituency have said that they have no confidence in him, or in the Minister of Agriculture.

Mr. Crouch

No, they have never said that they have no confidence in me. They may have said rude things about the Government, but they are not against me.

Mr. Howell

They are men of great understanding. I am quite sure that if they stopped short at condemning the hon. Member that was on personal grounds alone and not on grounds of policy. I know very little about agriculture, so the hon. Member will excuse me not following him on those lines. I should like to say a word or two about the Middle East situation—as I had intended—because, when the hon. Member reads it, I think he will find that his speech was completely incomprehensible.

The truth about last week has been that the Prime Minister and the Conservative Government have led this country almost to the brink of war. They have done that without even consulting members of the Commonwealth. What a position we are in when the Prime Minister of this country, far from agreeing with the Commonwealth, does not even consult or inform members of the Commonwealth on a matter like this. No wonder there is grave perturbation in the Commonwealth about the attitude that we have adopted.

Last week, before this business started, shipping was going through the Suez Canal, there was no disturbance of our oil supplies, but—whatever the hon. Member may say—the result of a week's activity by Her Majesty's Government has been to reduce our oil supplies, to stop any shipping going through the Canal, to cause great disturbance within the Commonwealth, great perturbation among the members of the Atlantic Alliance, the condemnation of this country by world opinion and completely to split this country as it has not been split for many generations.

If that is something of which the hon. Member is proud to stand behind the Prime Minister, he is welcome to his isolated state. He knows as well as we do that his party, which, yesterday, put on a brave show over the volte face, will be facing the day of reckoning. We shall be happy to put the speeches of the Leader of the Opposition to the test of public opinion as soon as the present Administration allows us to do so. We shall be very happy to put this to the test, and I hope that the hon. Member for Dorset, North will persuade his right hon. Friends to go to the country at the earliest possible moment.

This is a debate about local government, and perhaps it is right that after discussing the dropping of bombs on Egypt we should discuss the dropping of financial bombs on local authorities. The Government have been dropping those financial bombs for much longer. Local government is getting into a very parlous state, and we must consider the general effect which the interest rates are having upon local authorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath (Mr. Wheeldon) talked about the need for local government reorganisation, but no one knows more than I do, although I am sure that all of us in this House know it, the grave need there is for reorganisation of local government finance. I myself think that it is the most urgent problem.

Those of us who are serving, or who have served, on local authorities have only to think for a few minutes of the multifarious tasks which confront any local authority to realise the great importance of reasonable interest rates. Many and various tasks they are, including health services, with health centres to be built; maternity and child welfare services; the provisions of schools, especially technical schools; the provision of houses; the provision of community centres and of places for leisure and recreation; the building of roads; the laying of sewers and mains; the provision of essential water services.

These are all things without which the country could not continue, without which industry could not continue, and they are all provided by local authorities. Interest charges are becoming increasingly a burden upon local authorities and, therefore, upon the people, and they have gone up and up since the present Government came to power.

It is perfectly true that there is a place for owner-occupiers in our community. I would agree with the Parliamentary Secretary about that. None of us denies it. I was pleased to see the statement, to which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) referred, giving the policy of this party on that matter so clearly.

Millions of people who became owner-occupiers, who undertook the obligation of repaying mortgages, the only way in which they could buy their houses, have now been completely deceived by the financial policy of the Government. Many people in Birmingham, and millions in the country generally, who calculated their income and their expenditure in order to ascertain their ability to repay their mortgages, found, almost before they could get into their houses, that interest rates went up. They were told by various housing associations that they had to pay 8s. or 9s. or 10s. a week more on their mortgages in consequence, or, alternatively, that they would have to pay for five, six or even ten years longer than they thought they would have to do in the first place.

I know of a man who bought a house when the Government came into office in 1951. I have told this story before and I repeat it here. As a result of the financial policy of the Government, this man, after five years' occupation of his house, now owes more money on it than he did on the day he went into it.

That is the situation in what is supposed to be a property-owning democracy. What a sham that looks in the light of the circumstances. The Parliamentary Secretary referred to the people who took on these obligations knowing that their incomes were secure. Even that is not true today. In Birmingham I see around me, in the owner-occupier community in which I live, notices going up on house after house, "This house for sale." Why? Because the credit squeeze and the policy of the Government have made industrial conditions in Birmingham very uncertain indeed, especially the motor industry. People who thought, two or three years ago, that they were safe and could start to buy and live in their own houses are now finding that they have not the same amount of money coming into the family as they had before and that, therefore, they cannot afford the ever-increasing outgoings which owner-occupiers have to make.

As one who believes that there is a place in our society for balanced housing, with local government housing on the one hand and with owner-occupied houses on the other, I say that this Government has been most hard on the owner-occupiers, and I believe that the phrase "property-owning democracy" means very little at all in these days. I believe that the owner-occupiers will soon find the Government out. That is something else we should like to put to the test at the polls at the earliest possible opportunity.

General housing and slum clearance problems also face local authorities. We in Birmingham, at any rate, cannot come under the strictures of the hon. Gentleman. We are doing our share in slum clearance, if not more than Coventry or any other city. It is so because of the pattern of the development area and of the clearance which has been going on ever since 1946.

We have taken over between 20,000 and 30,000 slum houses since 1946, yet we find, despite all that, that we shall not really make any appreciable impression on the problem within our city for the next twenty to thirty years, even at the speed at which we are progressing now. Unhappily, every time we demolish five slum houses we can rebuild only three houses in their place, because of the shortage of land. In addition, we have 60,000 people on our housing registers, people who have no house of any sort at the moment.

In Birmingham we face an impossible position, and we are not receiving any assistance from the Ministry. It is true, as the Parliamentary Secretary was good enough to say, that the city has passed a resolution asking the Ministry to receive a deputation. I am happy to hear that it is going, and I can only hope that when they do meet the Minister my Birmingham Corporation colleagues will speak as forcefully to him as they do to us, and that they will express as forcefully to him as they do to us what they think of his policy in this matter.

We in Birmingham have been dealing with overspill for some years now, and the problem has now reached an absolutely critical stage. There is no land available to us at all in the city, and we have no agreement worth talking about with neighbouring local authorities, except Staffordshire County Council. I suppose that one has to speak with a due sense of responsibility and say nothing which would upset them still more, but as far as I can see our neighbouring counties, Warwickshire and Worcestershire, are showing no signs whatsoever of coming to the assistance of Birmingham, despite the fact that they and many of their local authorities enjoy their present circumstances because of Birmingham, because Birmingham is so important industrially to them.

For instance, there are Sutton Coldfield and Solihull, where there is land on which houses could be built, and the people of those towns earn their livings in Birmingham. Sutton Coldfield and Solihull are in existence because of the industrial importance of Birmingham, yet they are making no contribution to help Birmingham, and have flatly said, both of them, that they refuse to help Birmingham in solving its housing problem.

I believe that to be a very anti-social policy. It is not one which the Minister would support, I think, and I hope that the Minister will use his influence to try to get those county authorities to play the game by the City of Birmingham, and thus also, of course, to play the game by the nation.

The real solution of this problem is a new town, but we cannot have one because the Minister is not in favour of it unless we pay for it ourselves. Having in mind Birmingham's finances, it is impossible to put the burden of building the new town upon its ratepayers. I hope very much that the Minister will think again about this, especially when the deputation sees him, and will realise that, to get out of this mess, we must have the new town at the earliest opportunity. Birmingham will make as great a financial contribution as can reasonably be expected, but the initiative, and the weight of financial help must come from the Ministry. That is a reasonable proposition, and one which I hope the Minister will support.

It is out of order, I believe, to talk about a Bill which is to be brought before the House very soon, but I think that we must mention the phrase in the Gracious Speech which says: Legislation will be laid before you to amend the laws dealing with rent control. I do not want to refer to that in detail, but I do say that the present time, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer is running up and down the country making speeches about the need for wage restraint, and the need to keep the economic ship on an even keel, is psychologically the worst time of all to introduce a Bill to remove rent control. Just think of the effect this will have throughout the country when people are told, as I forecast that they will be told, that they may have to pay anything up to 7s. 6d. more in rent. That is almost £20 a year increase. It is a fantastic amount of money to ask people to pay at the time when we are supposed to be on an economic plateau.

I am sorry, too, that the Gracous Speech shows no sign of tackling the problem of the right of succession. I forecast, again, that the proposals of the Bill with which we are to deal shortly will show that, far from maintaining security of tenure, we shall be removing it. We shall find that when an existing tenant, a parent, dies, the child who has lived there since birth will have its right of succession taken away.

What effect will that have? Again, thousands of people who have been living in such houses will be thrown into the arms of local authorities, who are already in an impossible position. This right of succession is extremely important. A person has probably lived in his home for ten, twenty or thirty years. It is wrong that when the parent-tenant dies, that person should be put on the street; and that Her Majesty's Government should encourage such a policy at this time is reprehensible. When we are dealing with the Bill I hope the Minister will consider that point, so that such people as those shall continue to enjoy even the scanty protection which the Rent Acts give at present.

Again, the Gracious Speech says: My Government have been reviewing the finance of local government including the incidence of the rate burden between different classes of property. Their conclusions will, in due course, be announced to Parliament. There is nothing in that, nor was there anything in the speech from the Dispatch Box this afternoon, to say that Her Majesty's Government are to deal with the problem of derating. All of us who are interested in local authorities will agree that industrial derating still remains one of the curses of our age. There is absolutely no reason at all why industry should be excused 75 per cent. of the rates that all the rest of us have to pay. Why should industry, which needs more of the local government services than dot" any other section of the community, be so excused? It is something that I cannot understand.

Because of the recent changes in the rating system it is impossible now to put forward accurate figures, but I do not think that the Minister would disagree with the suggestion that industry is now paying local government at least £40 million a year less than it ought to pay. That is a very heavy figure. In Birmingham alone, even before the rating system was changed, industry was paying £1,200,000 less than it ought to have been paying.

Industry has been prospering more than most. If it paid its fair share, and that money went to the relief of rates—and I am aware that in all cases it would not, because there are many local government projects which cannot go on because they cannot be financed at present—I think that it would be possible to get a 10 per cent. reduction in the rate levy in cities like Birmingham. That is a considerable amount, especially having in mind the difficulties of owner-occupiers that I have mentioned.

Lest anyone should say that the levying of full rates on industry would have any material effect upon the selling cost of articles, I may say that an industrial survey made of the Lancashire area by the University of Manchester—admittedly, in 1932–33, but I think the proportions will be well understood—snowed the difference it made to the selling price of an item is between .17 per cent. and 1.36 per cent. of the cost. Even if the result of fully rating industry increased the selling cost of an article by 1.36 per cent., the resulting benefit to the community as a whole would make it well worth while, though we know that in most cases, especially in the case of heavy products and capital products, the increased cost would be likely to be below .25 per cent.

I hope, therefore that Her Majesty's Government will appreciate today what some of us have been saying, that local government finance is in growing difficulties; that wherever one goes—and this does not apply only to Labour-controlled authorities, but to all authorities; and especially the A.M.C. and the County Councils' Association—one hears expressions of dismay at the approaching impossibility of conducting local authority services under the Government's present financial policy; and that there is growing discontent amongst owner-occupiers at the terrific levy made upon them. That is a levy which, I agree, they have the right to think ought not to be placed upon them, in view of the Conservative Party's propaganda, at the last two or three Elections.

I hope that it will be seen how important it is to have Government action to deal with new towns, the overcrowding of houses and so on; how important it is to deal with this question of the derating of industry. That has been a very sore point for very many years now, and a matter on which I should not have thought that there was any need to defer action, because almost everyone agrees, and, certainly, the local authority associations agree, that it is a matter of paramount importance and that the justice of their claim is completely beyond argument.

6.59 p.m.

Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)

If the Secretary of State for Scotland has been listening very carefully to the debate, I hope he will have noted that the main trend of the arguments and requests from this side has been to stress the importance of houses for general needs. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), in an admirable speech today, made that point quite clear, and he emphasised that slum clearance alone is not sufficient to meet the overwhelming needs of the mass of the people. Coming as he does from Scotland, the Secretary of State knows that that statement is even more true north of the Border. The point has been made repeatedly by my hon. Friends; it was certainly supported by the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) last November when the Secretary of State made his original statement on the question of subsidies and housing generally.

My hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath (Mr. Wheeldon), speaking earlier, said that some of the residents in his area had applied for houses not five months ago, nor five years ago, but ten years ago. He made that statement in order to stress the length of the period that some people had to wait for homes. But we can go further than that north of the Border, and particularly in Glasgow. The right hon. Gentleman knows that there are people who have been waiting for twenty and twenty-five years. The thing has become a laughing matter. Their families have grown up and are themselves now applicants for houses. From what we can see in the Gracious Speech, the Government are making no serious attempt to deal with the housing problem.

Let us consider for a moment the extent of the problem. It was made clear in the Westwood Report of 1943 that Scotland needed half a million homes at that time and, although 256,000 have been provided since then, there is still a great need; indeed, it is reckoned that there is still a need of 400,000 houses.

We on these benches believe that the private investment of capital in houses to let will never cope with this backlog. Yet the Government continue in their pathetic belief that this will overtake the problem. The Royal Commission in 1917 stated that housing must become a social service. I should like to know from the right hon. Gentleman whether the Government accept that housing should be a social service. The Government's actions seem to belie it because, by cutting subsidies and increasing interest rates, it appears to us that they are trying to price local authorities and individuals out of the housing queues altogether. We shall regard it as an attack on the policy of housing being a social service if the Government proceed with some of the legislation which they have in view.

Mention is made in the Gracious Speech of a Measure to amend the Rent Restrictions Acts. We on these benches say that if that is done it will confirm the belief of my hon. Friends and of the people in Scotland that this is the final part of a jigsaw puzzle which, in its cumulative effect, constitutes an attack on the living standards of the people.

First we had the Housing (Repairs and Rents) (Scotland) Act, 1954. The purpose of that Measure was to increase by 40 per cent. the amount of rent accruing to factors and landlords on condition that they did certain repairs. That Act was designed to help the friends of hon. Members opposite. But the effect will be that the rents having been increased by 40 per cent., that will be used as a new basis from which further increases can stem as a result of tampering with the Rent Restrictions Acts. Even when that Measure was passing through its Committee stage the prospective beneficiaries protested that the 40 per cent. increase was not enough. Yet if these same people had carried out their responsibilities in the past there would have been no necessity for the Act which was designed to transfer the cost of repairs to the tenants themselves.

Increasing interest charges have been a continuing trouble to local authorities. Since this Government took office in 1951 there have been ten changes in the rates of interest charged by the Public Works Loan Board, and this has been a real problem to housing committees. Interest rates are of even greater significance to them than is the question of subsidies. There are two methods being used by the Government to curtail local authorities' housing programmes. First, they are raising interest rates, and secondly, they are decreasing the rates of subsidy. That is projected in the Gracious Speech itself.

All this talk about a slum clearance campaign is only a sham, a smokescreen, to cover up the real attack which is being waged on housing for general need. The problem of interest charges is dominating the discussions of local authorities, not only in Scotland but throughout the whole country. They cannot plan ahead with any degree of certainty. The Government are setting an impossible task to earnest men and women who give much of their time serving on these committees trying to render some assistance to their fellow men.

Let me give an example of what increased interest charges mean. In 1951, on a four-apartment house which cost £1,700, with capital repayment plus interest at 3½ per cent. as it then was, the total cost was £3,676. In 1956, taking that same house at £1,700, with the capital repayment plus interest at 5½ per cent., the total cost is £5,800. The increased interest rate alone means that the weekly rent goes up from 12s. 8d. a week in 1951 to £1 6s. 5d. in 1956—double the amount. These are the real problems which the Government must face. They must recognise that they are setting the local authorities an impossible task. Some of us believe they are deliberately making these difficulties, because if the local authorities can work only within their means, then, of course, the result is that the number of houses which they build decreases and people are priced out of the queue.

Just recently, we in Scotland had another Measure which had for its purpose the shifting of the burden of payment of rents and rates from the owners to the tenants. This was the Valuation and Rating (Scotland) Bill, which embodied the proposals of the Sorn Committee. That Bill, which is now an Act, had for its purpose the transferring to the tenant of that portion of the rates which the owner previously paid. The real significance of the change is this, that with increased rates in the future the tenant will have to bear the whole of the burden; and that, of course, was the purpose of the Act.

As another phase of the master plan, we are told in the Gracious Speech that legislation will be laid before the House to amend the laws dealing with rent control. I understand the difficulties which we all have in developing arguments on this matter, and I will merely make this comment in passing. We protest that the Secretary of State has agreed that such an Act will incorporate that aspect of our rent and rating affairs in Scotland. There should have been a separate Measure, as there has been in the past. We protest most emphatically at the Government's decision not to introduce a separate Bill for Scotland, where housing conditions and overcrowding are very much worse than they are in England and Wales.

We are now to have other proposals on subsidies. The Secretary of State has not as yet introduced the Bill, and we make an appeal to him to recognise, before he does so, that our situation in Scotland is different. The point has been put to him, and in the Report presented by the Working Party on Housing Subsidies in Scotland, this fact was pressed: While the individual figures submitted by the local authorities varied very widely, the broad picture is clear and we conclude that in Scotland as a whole the need for houses for families without homes of their own and to relieve overcrowding is greater than the need for houses to replace unfit houses. It is the implication of that paragraph that most of my colleagues on these benches would stress, and we plead that the Secretary of State for Scotland should think again and again before he makes a final decision on subsidies.

I conclude by giving a few figures to bear out the case I have been trying to make. The most evil feature of housing in Scotland is overcrowding. The overall problem is three to four times worse than that in England and Wales, but in overcrowding it is twenty times worse. We have something like 1,400,000 houses. Approximately half of those are 75 years and more old, yet two-fifths of our population lives in them. Three hundred thousand of our houses have no independent water closets or sanitary conveniences. Such a situation is hardly credible in these modern days. Yet the Government are trying to find ways and means of cutting expenditure on housing.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

By raising the rents.

Mr. Hannan

Thirteen per cent. of our houses in Scotland consist of one apartment, one room in which all members of the family live, eat, sleep, in which the mother cooks, darns and looks after the family. Yet the right hon. Gentleman has agreed to proposals to reduce housing subsidies to the meanest and poorest section of the community. He must think again. He cannot allow it to proceed.

Forty per cent. of our houses consist of only two apartments. The right hon. Gentleman and some of his colleagues on the back benches have been in these places—a butt and a ben, they are called, with the common water closet on the stairhead. In Glasgow, the proportion is even higher; 62 per cent. of the population there live in one and two apartments. In Dundee, the figure is 71 per cent. In the past five years, the Government have been changing the proportion of three-apartment houses to four- and five-apartment houses. Let me explain what I mean. In the period from 1945 to 1950, 11 per cent. of all houses which were built were of three apartments, while 89 per cent. were of four and five apartments. Since this Government came into office, that proportion has altered to 57.5 per cent. of three apartments, which is an increase, while the proportion of those of four and five apartments has gone down from 89 per cent. to 42.5 per cent. This is perpetuating the very thing from which Scotland suffers. Yet the right hon. Gentleman proposes to cut housing subsidies.

The number of completed houses in Scotland is going down. In 1953, 39,500 were completed. In 1954, the figure was 38,600. In 1955, 33,600 were completed, 6,000 less than in 1953. The number of completions this year will be even smaller, so far as I can see. Can the right hon. Gentleman deny that in the first quarter there were 6,698 completed, in the second quarter 8,284, and in the third quarter 7,400, making a total of 22,000, and leaving, if they are even to complete as many as were completed last year, something like 11,000 to be completed in the last quarter? Yet the Secretary of State proposes to cut the housing subsidies.

It is no answer for the Secretary of State to say that what he proposes is justified because the need has been contracting and that some authorities have either stopped building or have reduced it. That is just not true. The need for housing in Scotland is just as great as ever. I do plead with the right hon. Gentleman that he must go back to the Government and state in the most emphatic terms that there is this difference in housing conditions in Scotland. He must demand that a greater proportion of our resources be placed at the disposal of the local authorities.

7.19 p.m.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

. One of the many defects in the Gracious Speech is that it does not contain any plan to deal with the outstanding problems of Scotland. A number of problems have been indicated by previous speakers, but not one of them is dealt with adequately in the Speech. The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Mary-hill (Mr. Hannan) was documented and detailed and dealt closely with the housing problem in Scotland.

The Gracious Speech delivered on the Prorogation of Parliament consisted of two closely printed pages containing 108 lines, but less than four of those lines—about a one-twenty-seventh part of the whole Speech—referred to Scotland. The Gracious Speech delivered on the opening of Parliament consisted of two closely printed pages containing 91 lines, but only two of those lines—about one-forty-fifth of the whole Speech—dealt expressly with Scotland.

Neither of those Gracious Speeches contains any comprehensive plan for Scotland. They are, in fact, a measure of Scotland's neglect by Tories and apportionment of favouritism in this House. It would indeed be a great thing for Scotland, and, indeed, for Britain, if there arose once again a Secretary of State for Scotland who could, and would, put into the Gracious Speech some coordinated plan for Scotland. It has never happened since Labour left office.

Such a noble Secretary of State would see with a wise, comprehending and far-seeing eye, first, the details of Scotland's problems; secondly, Scotland as a coordinated unit, and thirdly, this distinguished Island of Britain as a co-ordinated whole in which people of North and South would have equality of opportunity in markets, freight charges and otherwise. That has never been done during the generations when Liberal and Tory Governments were in power. They have failed to solve the problems. They have failed to repopulate the Highlands, they have failed to cure the congestion of Southern Scotland and it is they who have preserved many of the inequalities from which Scotland is suffering today.

Today, the people of Kent, Sussex and Berkshire have better and cheaper access to markets and amenities than the people of Caithness, Sutherland and Lewis. That is why Scotland gets such ungracious treatment in each Gracious Speech, as one succeeds another. Whatever the Act of Union has done, it has not given equality of treatment between the north and south of this island, which should be treated as one unit, particularly in these troublous days.

Scottish people, indeed, will be greatly shocked at the inadequate attention given to Scotland in these two Gracious Speeches. They show that Scotland is neglected by the United Kingdom Government in breach of the Act of Union. Scottish problems are as great, numerous and various as are the people of Scotland themselves. Those problems relate to fields, factories and workshops. They are found on farms, in towns and villages and on the seas. They include the fishing industry, manned by men who, for north and south alike, provide nutritious and succulent food in time of peace and who fight and win Britain's battles in time of war.

They affect also those able Scotsmen who are spread throughout the world governing Britain's Colonies and consolidating her Commonwealth. It would be a great thing indeed if those skilful administrators were enabled to concentrate on drafting a Gracious Speech on Scotland's problems and to collaborate with those patriots who stayed at home in Scotland doing their part for the good of Scotland. That would indeed be a Gracious Speech, more detailed, comprehensive and constructive than this Speech, which is quite unworthy of its patriotic task.

This Gracious Speech shows how little attention the Government in London give to Scottish problems. All that it says about Scotland is expressed in these ambiguous words: Legislation will be introduced to revise Scottish housing subsidies and to facilitate the relief of congested local authority areas in Scotland. This, the only reference to Scotland, is a threat to penalise house building at high interest rates, to harass workers during a credit squeeze and to embarrass local authorities generally. It is a challenge which the people of Scotland will take up and contest.

This Gracious Speech has not even the imaginative, picturesque and colourful qualities of a Tory manifesto, which makes golden and gaudy promises never to be performed. This Gracious Speech does not even promise to solve Scotland's problems. It does not know what they are.

What are these major problems? Why and how do they arise? I cannot hope to deal with or to list all of them in such a speech as this. They relate to problems like the uneven spread of the population, the drift of population to the south of Scotland and to England, the undue concentration of industry in the south of Scotland, and arid depopulation of northern Scotland, the invidious system of transport and of freight charges, the paucity of light industries in the north, and the omission to make the most of our fishing fleets.

These omissions from the Gracious Speech are the negation—if not the negation, certainly the incompletion—of good government. These failures are contrary to modern doctrines enshrined in such Statutes as the Distribution of Industry Act, 1945, and the New Towns Act, 1946, passed by a Labour Government. These failures are prejudicial to the social, economic and educational well-being of the Scottish people. They are also strategically unsound and outmoded because the congestion would facilitate the destruction of all our national resources by a few atomic bombs.

Why and how do these astonishing neglects and failures arise? They arise because tired and uncomprehending Ministers are unable to cope with the modern exigencies of Scotland. They have the minds of people who live in a bygone age in an atmosphere of old-fashioned Highlands and feudal castles, of untouchable deer forests, of vast private estates and unearned incomes. They fail to realise that we live in a different democratic age, that we live in an atomic age, that hydro-electric, atomic and nuclear power can operate industries in the Highlands and that good roads and rapid transport can bring population, amenities and commodities to those Highlands which, for generations, have been so depopulated. They fail to realise that new towns can be built and populations be healthily dispersed to the satisfaction of the Scottish people, and to the disadvantage of foreign bomb-throwers when they seek aggression—and that may not be so far off in these troublous times.

It is a tragedy that this age, which is so advanced in physical science, should produce a Gracious Speech so lacking in political fertility, so destitute of moral fibre, and so destitute of spiritual vision. It is clearly not Scotland or the Scottish people who are lacking. It is the present British Government, whose conception of their political duty is indicated by this inept, unimaginative and feeble Gracious Speech.

Scotland has great advantages in its country and its people which, because of these and other anomalies, are not fully exploited or developed as they could be, and should be, for the common good of all the people. It is almost a platitude, but not, perhaps, to people in England, to say that such advantages include a country not only of great natural beauty, but of enormous potentialities in its physical attributes. Add to all these the modern powers recently developed in Scotland—developed during the Labour Government in Scotland—the vast hydroelectric schemes, the gigantic Dounreay reactor station and the proposed nuclear power station in Ayrshire. With all these modern resources, natural and scientific, no British Government ever had opportunities one-half as great as the opportunities which the present Government possess, but which they fail to use or to implement in the way in which they should be used.

It is not the people of Scotland who are lacking—neither the people nor the country. I have spoken about the country. Let me now say a few words about the people of Scotland. I hope that the House will forgive me if I quote a recognised authority. I do so in order to make the position clear and to stress the contrast between potentialities and actualities in Scotland today. It was the great Buckle who said of the Scots that their … eminent and enterprising thinkers whose genius lighted up every department of knowledge and whose minds, fresh and vigorous as the morning, opened for themselves a new career and secured for themselves a high place in the annals of European intellect. These are the people of today, as well as of yester-year, who played a great part in building up the British Empire, who provided governors, diplomats and Ministers—even Prime Ministers—soldiers, sailors and airmen, administrators of every kind, men and women distinguished in learning, literature and art. Yet today it is sad to realise that one-half of Scotland is depopulated, that there is great unemployment, the housing problem is atrocious, the emigration rate is high, immigrants are comparatively few and transport rates are invidious and unfair.

Why are these problems still unsolved? It is not for the want of able men and women. Scottish universities and scientific laboratories contain many distinguished men and women of science whose fame is world-wide. In Aberdeen University alone we have wise and informed men whose authoritative and constructive books have dealt with these and other industrial and social problems. I need mention only Professors Hamilton and Mackinnon. Yet, ignoring all this wealth of material available to them, the Government can find nothing more useful to put into the Gracious Speech than the two ambiguous lines which I ventured to quote about Scotland.

To realise that many Scottish problems remain unsolved, one has only to look at the latest Report on Industry and Employment in Scotland, reports of banks, reports of chambers of commerce and statistical bodies, to mention only a few. This great race of people have developed and administered other countries, but look at their own by contrast. Look at the defects to which I have just referred, and to which my hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill referred and concerning which he gave detailed statistics, facts and figures.

May I refer to some startling facts about the bad population distribution in Scotland, the unfair freight rates and the inadequate way in which the fishing and shipbuilding industries are dealt with. As to population, if the present population were evenly distributed over the whole of Scotland there would be over 171 people to the square mile, but, as things are, by far the largest number is concentrated in the south and occupies less than half of the country where the density is very high.

On the other hand, the rest of the country, north, has a population of less than one person to the square mile, with vast uninhabited spaces which could be used. In this anomalous state of affairs, thousands of Scottish people are trekking to the south instead of to the north. The population is concentrated in the south of Scotland. The north of Scotland is depopulated, and yet these people from the congested areas of the south of Scotland go not north to repopulate it but South to make still greater the congestion of the South of England. I suggest that any Government worthy of its name would be able to envisage this problem, and evolve a plan for Scotland, to induce the trend of population north instead of south. One way of doing that would be by developing light industries in the north.

I said in an earlier speech in this House, and I still think that it is true, that one ton of coal would cost just as much to send by rail as one ton of precision instruments—watches, for instance. If that doctrine were applied to this population problem, it would enable light: industries to be founded in the north of Scotland. With a proper transport system for the purpose of carrying the commodities to and fro that problem could be dealt with in a constructive way.

Here are some further facts which flow from this bad distribution of population. That bad distribution involves also bad distribution of markets and large consuming centres which are concentrated in the south. It also involves invidious freight charges for transport, because this island which is treated as a unit in war is not treated as a unit in peace.

Aberdeen, Wick, Thurso, Inverness and Stornoway, in sending their goods to the large consuming centres and markets, have to pay more in freight than their rivals and competitors in the south. The people of the north are treated in these matters in war as friends and fellow countrymen, but in peace they are treated as strangers and aliens. In fact, they are priced out of business by high freights. They are good enough to fight Britain's wars, good enough to administer Britain's Colonies and big business, but they are not treated as equals for transport or population purposes. I submit that these are very grave omissions from the two Gracious Speeches, and I hope that some imaginative and able Secretary of State will arise who will deal adequately with these problems and formulate a proper and constructive plan for the good of Scotland.

7.39 p.m.

Mr. James McInnes (Glasgow, Central)

I think that it is most unusual in this House for three Scotsmen to speak one after the other.

I listened to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), who opened the debate with a devastating attack upon the Government's housing policy and all its attendant problems, and the endeavour of the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to paint a rosy picture of those problems.

When I listened to the facts and figures which were being bandied across the Table, and to other remarks about the housing problem in England and Wales, I could quite well appreciate the Government's complacency, especially when I compared the problem in England and Wales to that north of the Border. We in Scotland regard housing as the most serious and the most pressing social problem confronting us today.

In Scotland, we suffer from a legacy of the late nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century—a legacy created by the inability of private enterprise to provide homes for our people and the failure to maintain those homes which they built in a good state of repair. Scotland's housing problem has existed for almost a hundred years, and when one delves back into history to appreciate the position it appears that the problem is becoming infinitely worse each succeeding year.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mary-hill (Mr. Hannan) gave the House some exceedingly important statistics about Scotland's housing problem, and although I do not want to weary the House I hope that it will bear with me if I give some further statistical data in order to bring out precisely the gravity and the urgency of the problem which confronts us in our country. We have about 1½ million houses in Scotland. Of that number, over 300,000, or 21 per cent., are over 100 years old and up to 130 and 140 years old. We have another 300,000 houses which are from 80 to 100 years old. We therefore have 600,000 houses out of 1½ million which are from 80 to 140 years old.

Over 16 per cent. of the people of Scotland are living more than two persons to a room. The average in England and Wales, I understand, is 2 per cent. Our overcrowding problem is, therefore, far in excess of anything which exists in the whole of England and Wales, as my hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill indicated.

I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) and others, but I must confess that none of the figures which they quoted comes in any way near the serious problem of overcrowding which exists in Scotland.

I regret the absence from the Gracious Speech of anything of a constructive nature designed to remedy the condition of affairs which exists in our country. This is the position in Glasgow, perhaps the worst housed city in Great Britain. Despite the fact that Glasgow Corporation has built more municipal houses than any other corporation in Great Britain—it has built, in fact, more than 100,000 municipal houses—48 per cent. of Glasgow's population lives in one and two-apartment houses. The Gracious Speech contains absolutely nothing which will help to remedy that state of affairs.

At present, we have 48 per cent. of our population in one and two-apartment houses. The percentage in the City of Birmingham is 2 per cent., in Manchester it is 2 per cent. and in Liverpool it is 34 per cent., compared with 48 per cent. in the City of Glasgow. Glasgow, a city which has built 100,000 municipal houses, has a housing waiting list today of 112,000 people. As my hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill said, some of these people have been waiting on the Corporation's housing list for twenty and twenty-five years. Nowhere else in the United Kingdom will hon. Members find conditions like those in Glasgow.

I find that no less than 76 per cent. of Glasgow's population occupies one-, two-and three-apartment houses. In Birmingham, the figure is 14 per cent.; in Liverpool, 12 per cent.; and in Manchester, 10 per cent. I am reliably informed that this very day in the City of Glasgow over 1,200 families are living more than six people to a single room.

Conditions of that kind ought not be tolerated in this, the twentieth century, and I regret the absence from the Gracious Speech of anything of a concrete nature to deal with them. Equally, there was nothing in the Government's policy, to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred, which would deal with the problem. The Parliamentary Secretary said, "We are breaking all records". Let us see how they are breaking the records in Scotland. He takes great credit for the achievement which followed a General Election when the Tory Party pledged their whole reputation on their capacity and ability to build 300,000 houses a year.—[An HON. MEMBER: "We succeeded."]—I know that the Tories succeeded and I paid tribute to the Tory Government for having succeeded, despite the fact that the number was achieved because they built smaller houses and houses with fewer apartments. I will quote some Scottish figures to prove that.

Let me take the present position in Scotland. I think the figures which I have quoted so far are the sign-posts, as it were, of the need for drastic and vigorous action. I regard the small house as the curse of Scotland. In the twenty-one years between the two wars successive Tory Governments failed to recognise that the small house was the curse of Scotland.

Of the houses built in Scotland between the two wars, 74 per cent. had three apartments or fewer. In the post-war years, under a Labour Government, the policy was altered. The Labour Government built 11 per cent. of houses with three apartments and 89 per cent. with four, five or six apartments. In those years Scotland was getting the accommodation which her problem warranted. Since the return of the Conservative Government in 1951, we have reverted to the policy of building houses of one, two or three apartments. Sixty per cent. of the houses built by the Tory Government are one, two or three apartments.

The Parliamentary Secretary said that the Conservative Government had achieved their objective. They have achieved it on the basis of building smaller houses. I have made an analysis of the houses built in Scotland. In respect of 30,000 houses built in one year by the Conservative Government, there are 11,000 fewer apartments compared with the houses built by the Labour Government. It is a simple matter to build houses if it is done by building smaller houses and reducing ceiling heights and other things to provide an economy house rather than a house which will provide a decent standard of life for our people.

Why should we have houses mainly of three apartments in Scotland? What has been the result? In certain parts of Scotland the municipal houses which were built in the inter-war years are now grossly overcrowded. I hope that the Government will stop building small houses in Scotland and will give us houses similar in size to those provided south of the Border.

I want now to deal with the Government's achievements in building house" in Scotland. There has been a tendency in England and Wales to maintain the figure in the region of 280,000–300,000 per annum, but what has been the tendency in Scotland? The Parliamentary Secretary would have been most uncomfortable had he been defending the Scottish housing records, because, in 1953, 40,000 houses were provided; in 1954, 38,000; in 1955, 33,000; and in 1956 the figure will fall below 30,000.

I hope that the Secretary of State will pay attention to what I am saying and will attempt to answer the charge which I am about to level against the Government. There has been a reduction in house building in Scotland of 10,000 houses, or 25 per cent., comparing 1956 with 1953. I wonder what English and Welsh hon. Members would have said had there been a 25 per cent. reduction in their house building programme. Yet the house building figure in Scotland, which has the worst housing conditions in the United Kingdom, is going down and down.

What is the Government's answer to it? I shall probably be told that a large number of small local authorities have completed their programme. I have been given that line so often that I have investigated it. I find that between 25 and 30 local authorities have completed, or are about to complete, their programmes and that the total number of houses built by them is less than 3,000 or 4,000. We get places like Kilcreggan, with 10 houses built since 1945 and its housing programme completed. That is how the Government attempt to delude us over the fall-off in the rate of provision of houses in Scotland.

Housing, health and unemployment are inter-related subjects. Housing affects the health of the people, and it even affects the question of unemployment, strange as it may seem, Scotland has the highest slum rate in Great Britain, the highest tuberculosis rate and the highest unemployment rate. The death rate from tuberculosis is 39 per 100,000 population in Glasgow; in Liverpool it is 29; and in Manchester 27. The Scottish unemployment rate is twice that of the United Kingdom. The housing shortage is obviously an obstacle to both industrial development and the wider distribution of factories and employment.

It was in the light of those facts that, as I listened to the Gracious Speech, I learned with profound regret that the only action which the Government are proposing to take to deal with the tragic problem of housing in Scotland is to reduce housing subsidies. The Tory Party is running true to form. Right from 1919, when housing, previously regarded as a commercial enterprise, was first looked upon as a social service like education, health and other services, up to 1935 and now up to 1956, Tory Government after Tory Government have been running true to form over housing subsidies. The first housing subsidy, given in 1919, was abolished by a Tory Government in 1921 because the Treasury could not afford the money. In 1923, Baldwin was obliged to reintroduce the subsidy, but in 1928 the Baldwin subsidies were slashed and even in that year an attempt was made to clash the Wheatley Act subsidies. In 1933 a Tory Government abolished the Wheatley subsidies and in 1935 abolished subsidies for relief of over-crowding—a record of year after year of Toryism; and now we have it again in 1956. The tragic consequence of this abolition of subsidies in each period that there has been a Tory Government has been that in Scotland imediately subsidies were slashed or abolished there was a considerable reduction in the number of municipal houses being built. That is inevitable and that is what will result from the Government's present policy.

I want now to deal with another aspect of the problem which confronts Scotland, that of Glasgow's overspill. I wonder what the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government would say about a situation of this kind. In Glasgow, we have an overspill problem of 300,000. London has an overspill problem of approximately 450,000. London already has eight new towns in which to deal with that problem. In Glasgow, physically unable, as we are, to build within our own area, we have had one new town designated, the town of Cumbernauld, a town presumably designed to take a population of about 40,000.

That still leaves Glasgow with an overspill problem of 260,000. The Gracious Speech says: Legislation will be introduced … to facilitate the relief of congested local authority areas in Scotland. Where are the congested local authority areas? Glasgow is the only one, the only city or town with an overspill problem. How does the right hon. Gentleman propose to tackle it? He proposes to introduce national legislation to deal with the problem of one city. Presumably the legislation to which the Gracious Speech refers is the introduction of a Town Development Act for Scotland. What will be the arrangements under that Act? My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering explained some of the arrangements under the English Act of 1954.

However, in Scotland we do not have importing authorities as large as those south of the Border. How many places in Scotland will be able to take more than 3,000 or 4,000 of Glasgow's population? If they all take 3,000 or 4,000 of Glasgow's overspill, the overspill will be spread over 80 or 90 different towns. Where will we get the employment for those people? Already, we cannot get sufficient employment in many existing towns—because, as I have said, our unemployment problem, like our housing problem, is far in excess of anything in England. Yet the right hon. Gentleman sits with a smile on his face as if he knew nothing about it.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. James Stuart)

Is the hon. Member referring to me? I did not know that I was smiling.

Mr. McInnes

Yes, Sir. I want the right hon. Gentleman to reply to my question about the Town Development Act and the whole problem of Glasgow's overspill. What are the cogent reasons which compelled him to decide that there would be no more new towns in Scotland when London can get eight and is applying for more to deal with an overspill almost identical with that of Glasgow? I have made that plea to the Secretary of State before and I repeat it.

I very much regret the absence of anything concrete in the Gracious Speech to enable the Government to tackle the problems confronting Scotland. I hope that on this occasion the Government will take the advice proffered in order that our people, in common with people south of the Border, may have decent homes and other amenities to which they are entitled.

8.6 p.m.

Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)

On this side of the House, we have been seeking to impress on the Government the urgency and appalling nature of Scotland's housing problem. We want also to appeal to the packed masses of Tory Members who are listening to the debate to realise that Scotland's problem is fundamentally different from that of England. It is far more intense. It reaches a depth, particularly in Glasgow, which is not reached in any other part of the world which I have seen.

I was in Hong Kong in the middle of September. With some Chinese friends I visited some of the Chinese houses on the waterfront at Kowloon. I saw one house where twelve or thirteen people were living. The Chinese tend to live in a sort of family community. The house had three apartments and was a terrible place. There is no argument about that. It was dark and the sleeping spaces completely lacked the ordinary comforts we associate with a bed. Strangest of all, above my head there was a sort of cage in which one or two of the family were able to sleep.

When I tried to impress on those people that I did not need to come to Hong Kong or Kowloon to see housing conditions of that sort but that they were comparable with some of the homes I know in my division, they found it difficult to believe. The Joint Under-Secretary of State knows that there are scores and scores of comparable houses in my division, some of them even worse.

Three years ago on Christmas Day I was summoned to a home in Blackburn Street. Eleven people were living there, a widow with ten children. Her husband, a docker, had been killed at his work. They were living in the top flat, a single apartment. There was a boy of 19, an apprentice on Clydeside, a girl of 17, a typist in a city office, and so on, down to a little fellow of two years of age. The gas had to be kept alight because it was almost impossible to see the way about even at two o'clock in the afternoon. There was only one bed, and I reckoned that if three slept at the top and three at the bottom that was six accounted for, and once that number was disposed of the rest of the family would find a place: to lie down in the remaining part of the house. That was an example of the state of affairs in my division three years ago. At the door were four pails for the ordinary conveniences and facilities of civilised life. I did not need to go to Kowloon merely to see conditions which, though indescribable, I find at home.

This summer before I left for China and the Far East I visited certain parts of Govan division. On the first Sunday in August I went to Hoey Street and stood in houses where there were no ceilings at all except for paper, with brown paper backing, which made a sort of makeshift. In one close to Hoey Street 70 people had to use one lavatory. Of course, I know that something can be done about that, but such a feeling of despair has been created in many parts of Glasgow because of the inaction of the Government that folk simply sit and complain among themselves instead of going to their Member of Parliament.

What I have described is the direct outcome of the inaction and inefficiency of Tory Governments, including this one.

Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)

What about the Labour Governments during their period of office in the last ten years?

Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)

This is not the result of ten years. It is the result of generations.

Mr. Rankin

The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Baldwin) is vainly trying to fill the immense gap caused by the absence of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Nevertheless, we welcome his attendance.

In order to place responsibility, I want to refer to the Report of the Department of Health for Scotland for 1955 which shows the amount of money spent since subsidies were introduced in 1919. An appendix details the subsidies voted by every Government since 1919 up to 1955 and the amount of money expended. The total subsidies paid by the Government to try to overcome, or at least to ease, the conditions which I have been describing, in those thirty-six years was over £104 million. Before the war the money spent amounted to £75¾ million. That works out at an average of £3¾ million per year spent on trying to improve housing conditions which, in my view, are worse than anyone could see in any other part of Europe.

The amount expended in post-war years was £29 million, an average of £3¼ million a year. Therefore, the official figures supplied by the Department of Health show that we have been spending £½ million per year less on housing since the war than we spent before the war. That is a most alarming state of affairs because the problem has become much worse though the total spent by the Government to meet it has become less,

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

Less than half the cost of a battleship.

Mr. Rankin

Yes. A further examination of the figures shows that the amount paid out by Labour Governments in subsidy between 1919 and 1955 was £57 million in ten years. During that time there were three Labour Governments which held office for a total period of ten years, and an average of £5,700,000 a year was spent. The amount paid out by Tory Governments in their twenty years of office was £47½ million, which gives an average of £2,400,000 per year. Therefore, Labour Governments spent nearly two and a half times as much in subsidies to combat this fearful problem—

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. J. Nixon Browne)

Is the hon. Gentleman including the war years in the period of office of the Tory Government?

Mr. Rankin

I have cut out these six years. The difference every year on the average amount spent by the two parties when in office is £3,300,000. If we take houses at the prevailing cost which local authorities have to pay, one calculates that if the Tories had sought to match the Labour's Government's figures we could have built 79,200 houses of the three-apartment type in addition to those which already exist, or 65,800 five-apartment houses. If that had been done we should have gone a long way towards wiping out the 113,000 slum houses in Scotland. The Government cannot escape from the condemnation, implied in these figures, that they have not sought to tackle the problem seriously. If the Government had tried to keep up the subsidy paid by the Labour Government the housing problem would not now be nearly so serious.

The Government tell us that they are to try and facilitate the relief of congested local authority areas in Scotland. I would like to probe that statement. What exactly does it mean?

We have been hoping for a long while to hear from the Government something about the Town Development Bill. Whether that intention is contained in the words which I have just quoted from the Gracious Speech, I do not know. Is there a double purpose in that phrase? Is it the Government's intention to tie up the reduction in the subsidy with the Town Development Bill? We will generally welcome a Bill that will relieve the congestion existing in our large cities, but we shall not accept the lowering of subsidies. If we are to build more houses in town development areas or new towns, there should be increased and not smaller subsidies for that type of house.

How urgently do the Government regard this problem? There are 300,000 people in Glasgow who have to be taken out of the city somehow and somewhere. By the year after next Glasgow will have no space in which to house anyone at all. We have a year in which to operate, and 300,000 people to deal with in that period, or as quickly thereafter as is possible.

What do the Government propose about it? Do they regard the Town Development Bill as providing a solution? It may be an aid, but it will not absorb a worthy fraction of that 300,000. Is the Joint Under-Secretary of State going to squeeze some of those people into the one new town that is handy to Glasgow? Is he going to pressurise Glasgow and East Kilbride, the one to send and the other to take more people into the new town? It is said that the Government are pressing East Kilbride to take 10,000 people into the new town. Of course, when people are looking for houses and local authorities are desperate to find places for their people to live in. they are inclined to jump at any solution, particularly if it is an easy one.

I hope that the Government will pause and think about this matter a little more carefully. New towns were meant to be towns in themselves and to have a definite character. They were to be new units, with homes, industries, schools, cinemas and other things necessary for civilised living. They were not to create new transport problems. East Kilbride was designed with a definite peak population. It was to take about 40,000 people for whom there would be sufficient jobs and adequate facilities in every respect. If more people are to be squeezed into the town, however desirable it may be to find them homes, more people than jobs are there for them, that will destroy completely the idea of the new town. It ought not to be done.

At a time when we are condemning the piled-up conditions in which people live in Glasgow, it is wrong to take them and put them into piled-up conditions, however new, in East Kilbride. Those of us who have seen East Kilbride know that it has gone in for the terrace and semi-detached types of house, and that there is not a flat in it. If we pour more people in than East Kilbride is designed to take, we must build the ghastly kind of tenements from which we are taking them away in Glasgow. That is wrong.

The Government are beginning to destroy a new idea which would have been one of the most fruitful experiences that ever came to Scotland. Instead of seeking to extend it, they are trying to destroy it As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes) has said, the Town Development Bill will not in any way deal adequately with Glasgow's enormous overspill population. We have to think not only of Cumbernauld but of providing at least another two new towns for Glasgow. They would help Scotland generally, but they would cost the Government money. I agree that their record in providing such money over the twenty years when they were in power is not a very good one.

I ask the Joint Under-Secretary to pause before he adopts what would be a wrong policy in regard to new towns, and to think again before deciding that the congestion in Glasgow can be relieved by a Town Development Bill. When he thinks along those lines he will realise that there is only one solution for the evil housing conditions of Glasgow, only one way of dealing with its overspill, and that is not by destroying new towns but by seeking to create more of them. If we are to deal with the problem in any adequate fashion, it is absolutely essential to have at least two new towns to meet the needs of Glasgow. I hope that before the debate ends we shall have an assurance from the Secretary of State or from the Joint Under-Secretary that the Government will cope with the congestion in great areas like Glasgow by providing us with more new towns.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)

I hesitate to take part in a debate dealing with Scotland, but I hope that hon. Members opposite will excuse me if I make a small contribution to it. Glasgow is not the only city which has slums. Some can be found without going many miles from where we are now.

I was interested in the historical survey of the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin) about what happened in the twenty years before the war in which, apparently, there were twenty years of Tory Government.

Mr. Rankin

The hon. Member should pay close attention to what I say. I was dealing with the period from 1919, when subsidies began, to the period which finished last December, 1955.

Mr. Baldwin

If I misheard the hon. Member I shall be interested to see HANSARD tomorrow. He said something about twenty years of Tory rule since the First World War. My recollection is that, in that time, for only three or four years was a Tory Government in office. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] In that period there was a Coalition Government and two, if not three, years of Socialist Government. If the hon. Member had given a little history of the last eleven years it would have been more to the point.

I should like him to have reminded the House of how many houses were built in Glasgow from 1945 to 1951. I hope that the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn), when he speaks, will give the figures of houses built by a Conservative Government in the years since his Government were in office. I cannot think that Scotland did not get its fair share of the houses we built—about 300 million. [HON. MEMBERS: "Three hundred million? "] Three million houses, which the Socialist Party said was impossible.

Mr. Mitchison

The right figure is 2 million since the end of the war.

Mr. Baldwin

Yes, and I think that of that number the Conservative Party built the majority.

Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

The hon. Member is making comparisons between 1945 and after 1951. Is he aware that in 1945 the building trade was reduced to less than half its pre-war strength, and that it was not built up for some years to its prewar strength? Is he aware that we were living on Lend-Lease, that it was impossible to import goods to the extent necessary, that brickworks were only gradually reopened, and that it was impossible to get all the materials needed? Is he comparing that with a period in which there were plenty of materials?

Mr. Baldwin

It is all very well to make excuses, but the hon. Member for Govan should have given a proper assessment of what has been done by the Socialist Party since 1945 and by this Government since 1951.

The reason slums exist today is that no Government, until this Government did it, tackled the problem of the Rent Restrictions Acts. That meant that it was impossible for owners to keep houses in repair, with the result that they became slums. This Government have been plucky enough to deal with that problem. Although we propose to do away with the subsidy on much house building, we are retaining it for rebuilding houses to replace slums and we have made a special effort on slum clearance. We are giving a special grant for those houses which will not be paid for the houses which have to be pulled down.

The hon. Member who told this very sorrowful tale should have been fairer to the Conservative Party by pointing out what the Conservatives have done about housing.

8.35 p.m.

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

I add my protest to those already made at the way in which the Government are handling the legislation affecting rent control in Scotland. Most of us deeply deplore the fact that the legislation affecting Scotland is to be tagged on to the English legislation. Speeches have been made in the House already today pointing out the vast differences that there are between the situation in Scotland and the situation in England, and all the arguments indicate that the problem in Scotland ought to be handled differently from the manner in which it is handled in England. We ought, therefore, to have separate legislation for Scotland, so that Scottish Members can give it their usual very full consideration.

It is a great example of the vigilance of Scottish Members that we have been able to convert this debate into a Scottish housing debate. It shows how assiduous we are in our Parliamentary duties. I am glad we have been able to do this.

I do not want to add to the large number of figures given by my hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes). My hon. Friend pointed out how the Government had by 1953 pushed up the output of houses to 39,000 in Scotland. It is interesting to notice that the increase in the housing output in Scotland went on while the Government continued to operate Labour policies and that since the Government have commenced to operate Tory policies, or, at least, since Tory policies have come more fully into operation, that output has steadily declined.

What are the facts? The Government have increased housing output. Of course they have, because they decreased the size of the houses, eliminated a large number of the amenities, and curbed school and factory building. Thus they increased the number of houses being built. That is what the Government did. They did nothing else very wonderful.

The Government having exhausted Labour policies, there has been a disastrous fall from 40,000 to what this year will be 30,000 or fewer. That was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central. What alarms me even more than that is that the number of houses on which construction has begun continues to fall. That is even more alarming. The number of houses on which construction has begun has fallen from 40,000 in 1953 to 34,000 in 1955, and the number will be lower this year. It was only up to 21,000 at the end of the third quarter. It will not reach 34,000 this year.

The Parliamentary Secretary shakes his head, but it will be a record quarter if it does. Judging from the figures provided by the Government, the number of new houses is falling, and the number on which construction has begun also tends to fall; there are fewer houses under construction today than there were at the end of 1955. That is a very serious situation. Not only has the number of new houses fallen very rapidly, but it continues to fall. What is happening? The Government are switching housing from local authorities to private builders.

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

For sale.

Mr. Willis

For sale. We discussed this in the Scottish Grand Committee.

We are beginning now to reap the fruits of Government policy. Now the Government can no longer live on the fruits of Labour Party policy, the fruit of their policy is revealed, first, as a decreasing supply of houses, and, secondly, an intolerable burden of debt for the local authorities for generations to come and increasing difficulties for those people who are trying to buy their own houses privately.

We have heard something about interest charges today, I try to avoid detailed figures, but I seem to remember that when buying a house today it costs twice as much for interest as it costs for the labour and materials. Is there anything more preposterous than that—that twice as much should be paid to the moneylenders as is paid for the material and labour? Do the Government really think that that is justifiable? Furthermore, whether they are in or out of these houses, citizens for generations to come will be shouldering that burden of debt. As my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) murmurs, it really is economics for madmen.

The same applies to people who are trying to buy their own houses. The interesting thing about the figures provided by the Minister, in his quarterly statement, is that there is practically no increase in the number of houses being built privately. Why? The answer is that the Government are making houses too dear for people to buy. And what is the position of those who bought their own houses three or four years ago?

I have a letter from a major in Singapore—I do not think that he is a supporter of mine. The burden of his letter is that he bought a house two or three years ago, when the rate of interest was about 4½ per cent.—I forget the exact figure. He now finds himself paying 6½ per cent. In other words, he budgeted to pay 4½ per cent. and now has to find another 2 per cent. He rightly points out that when one buys a gramophone, a radio or a television set on hire purchase, the same rate of interest applies for the whole period of the purchase. Only when buying a house does one find oneself suddenly having to pay almost twice as much.

In Scottish Grand Committee I gave some figures but, of course, my estimate then was very modest. The fact is that people are paying more than 10s. a week more than they had to pay when they first entered into the commitment to buy the house. That is why the hon. Gentleman's figures for privately-built houses are not increasing. Scotsmen are very shrewd people. They do not fancy entering into a commitment at 6½ per cent. when in two or three years' time, the rate may be down to 5 per cent., 4½ per cent. or 4 per cent.

Mr. Bence

May I interrupt my hon. Friend to tell him that two people from Milngavie, in my constituency, visited me? They had bought a house when they were aged 35, and had budgeted just like my hon. Friend's correspondent, the major. They cannot pay any more. Indeed, I understood that the building society cannot force them to pay any more. The result is that, although they had hoped that at the then prevailing rate of interest they would have bought the house by the time they retired at 65, at the present rate of interest they find that the house will not be theirs until they are 102.

Mr. Willis

That is just one example, but there have been other examples; letters in the Press giving instances equally fantastic as that quoted by my hon. Friend.

Mr. D. Jones

The economics of Marks and Spencer.

Mr. Willis

Yes, these are the economics of Marks and Spencer. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are not doing something new. They are simply trying to go back to the old days—there is nothing wonderful about that—and, in the process, the people are having to suffer.

I do not want to say a great deal more about housing, but I was interested in the fact that, according to the figures quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin), the annual amount spent in housing subsidies by the Government, divided over the years, is just a little more than the total amount which has been spent on the "Britannia" up to the present. That seems to me to be another ridiculous situation in which we find ourselves, that we spend about £2,500,000 on the "Britannia," according to a reply given to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), and yet we spend very little more on housing subsidies per annum in Scotland.

An hon. Friend of mine says that we spend less, but I am giving the information which was provided in this House. Surely there is something wrong with a society which thinks that the housing of the people living in deplorable and shocking conditions is only as important as providing a Royal yacht to career around the world. Is there not something wrong with our mentality when we accept that sort of thing?

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

May I also point out that in addition to costing £2,500,000, this Royal yacht is now costing £6,000 a month to run?

Mr. Willis

I am content to leave the matter there. Surely there is something radically wrong with our sense of values when we are content to put up with that sort of thing. The quicker we decide not to put up with it the happier I shall be.

Before I conclude I wish to refer to one other matter. I am very concerned at the fact that there is no mention in the Gracious Speech of any intention to assist the lot of the pensioners. It is two years since we did anything for them, and since then prices have continued to rise. Almost a year ago the present Minister of Pensions and National Insurance said in the House that the spending power of the pensioner was equivalent to what it had been in 1946, when the pension was first increased. In other words, the pensioner was able to buy last year what he was able to buy in 1946.

Are we to understand that the policy of the Government is that the pensioner must never be any better off than he was in 1946, a year after the war ended when there were acute shortages of everything? What about the increased productivity of the nation since then? Are pensioners not to share in that increased productivity? The Government must tackle some of these questions in an enlightened manner.

But that is not the whole of the story. Since that last increase was given—since, in fact, the Minister himself claimed that the purchasing power was roughly what it was in 1946—the price of bread has gone up considerably; so has the price of milk and coal, and prescriptions and rents are also increasing. The cost of everything that the old-age pensioner needs most is going up.

There is not a word in the Gracious Speech to say that anything will be done to alleviate the position of the pensioners. That is a scandalous omission at a time when everyone can see, particularly in the City of London, the enormons sums of money that are being spent in the form of expenses by business people who can afford to pay as much for a dinner as a pensioner gets to keep himself for a week. It is a shocking state of affairs if we cannot do something to offset these serious increases in the cost of living of the old-age pensioners. It is a scandalous state of affairs for which the Government ought to be ashamed. I hope that we on these benches will press for something to be done for the old-age pensioners during this Session.

8.50 p.m.

Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)

I have been waiting to have an opportunity of discussing this matter of pensions which has been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis). In most of the questions we ask during the course of the years when endeavouring to examine the matter of pensions, more often than not we talk about the cost of living. What did we do in 1945 and 1946 when we introduced the new social legislation on pensions? Did we then relate the pensions we then created to a cost of living basis, or did we not really relate those pensions to the general standard of life in the country? I believe we did the latter, and I think we must, in fairness to the old people, continue to relate their pensions to that broad idea.

In 1938 to 1945, we were paying a 10s. pension. In 1945, when we started to discuss the new proposals for old-age pensions, the cost of living had gone up about 50 per cent. When we dealt with the pension itself we raised it from 10s. to 26s. a week, a rise of 160 per cent. Thus, in reality, when we laid down the standard in 1945 and 1946, we had regard more to a balance with the general standard of life in the country than to cost-of-living figures.

Some people do not like figures, but figures are necessary sometimes definitely to prove a proposition. In the few remarks I am to make, I wish to indicate the rise in various standards which has taken place since 1945 and 1946 compared with the increase in pensions. Taking the figures for gross trading profits, after tax, as shown in the Blue Book for companies and public corporations, the figure for 1946 was £840 million, and for 1955 the figure was £2,250 million, a rise of 168 per cent. in tax-free trading profits. Undistributed profits, tax-free, were £571 million in 1946 and £1,655 million in 1955, a rise of 190 per cent. Turning to dividends, and taking the figures for dividends and interest, after tax, in 1946 they were £344 million and in 1955 they were £654 million, a rise of 90 per cent. for dividends and interest. If we combine the undistributed profits clear of tax and the dividends together, the rise is 152 per cent. These are collective group figures.

Taking the wages of men and youths individually, wages in 1946 were 101s. and in 1955 they were 187s., representing a rise of 85 per cent., compared with rises of the order of 190 and 168 per cent. in other sections. In 1946, the average yearly wage of men was £314. After deduction of tax, it was £287. In 1955, it had risen to £580 or, after tax, £527. Deducting tax and insurance contributions, therefore, the rise for men was only 84 per cent.

The question then is, what was the rise in the pensions? It is a well-known fact that the rise for pensioners was not a matter of 84 per cent., 100 per cent. or 150 per cent., but only 55 per cent. My comparisons are with the wages and profits for 1955. When we get the actual figures for 1956, we will find from the financial returns that the rise in wages and profits combined will be much higher than the figures I have given.

That indicates quite clearly the point I want to emphasise concerning the relative standard of the old-age pensioner. We are speaking of millions of elderly and retired people who today are living largely in poverty. Many of them—at present they number a million, I think—have to turn to the National Assistance Board for help. There can be no doubt whatever that, in justice and for reasons of sentiment, when the relative standard of life improves the position of the aged pensioner ought also to improve.

Let us consider the percentage rises in National Assistance. When dealing with National Assistance, we are dealing with that section of the community which is so poor that it is impossible for them to live on their pension, if they have one, and they have to apply for assistance and submit to a means test. We have talked about means tests many many times, but there is not much hesitation in applying a means test to the ordinary workers, and that is what happens today. It will continue happening until there is a change in the pensions position. Millions of our poor people have to go through a means test to get a subsistence rate on which they can exist. During the comparable period, the National Assistance rate has risen 67 per cent., which is far higher than the 55 per cent. increase in pensions, and public servants' pensions have increased 70 per cent.

If we consider the position of public servants, who have their pensions and undergo no means test, we find that there has not been any great agitation in this House with regard to public servants, teachers, civil servants, and so on, but they get a greater increase, which we all agree. We find that in 1945 public servants' pensions had risen, not by 55 per cent. but by 70 per cent. That was without making any contribution towards it. They had a rise in 1947, again in 1952 and again this year. They received that payment without any agitation at all. A great many of those in that section could live quite easily without any increase in pension. The advocacy put forward in their case was not a question particularly of the cost of living. Being people engaged in public service, they expected a pension at a given time, and that that pension would give them a standard of comfort.

Mr. W. R. Williams (Manchester, Openshaw)

Surely my hon. Friend is not suggesting that all these things are wrong.

Mr. McKay


Mr. Williams

I would like my hon. Friend to make that clear, because, so far as the civil servants are concerned, they all believe—and I agree with them—that those payments were very much in arrears and should have been paid much earlier.

Mr. McKay

I am not putting that forward as an argument. I am quite in harmony and agreement with what has been done for them. I am arguing that we have a duty towards the great number of people in our country who have had to agitate continuously to get something better even than the assistance rate.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)

I am in complete sympathy with my hon. Friend's main argument. Will he accept my assurance that none of these pensions has been granted except as a result of very bitter fighting by teachers and other government employees?

Mr. McKay

It is all a question of the amount of pressure put on the Government. But what is the position with regard to the ordinary pensioner at the moment? Most of the rises in the ordinary pensions have been paid through contributions from the pockets of the wage earners. Instead of paying 2s. 10d., they are now paying 6s. 9d. to help towards those pensions. Most of this has come not from the Exchequer, but from the wage packets of the ordinary workers.

We find today, under the special regulations which now exist, that it is quite common for a single man who is boarding and paying a given amount to get from public assistance 52s. or more. He gets a pocket money allowance in addition to his board. If it is a good National Assistance Board he gets pocket money of about 8s. or more.

If we raised the pensions by 30 per cent. today it would double the amount compared with 1945. Of course, it would cost a lot of money. In addition to the 30 per cent. for ordinary pensions, more would have to be paid to sick people in other sections of National Insurance.

Even if we doubled the pensions, the standard of life of the pensioner would not be as high as it was in 1946 compared with the standard of life of the remainder of the country. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East that it is shameful that in these circumstances not a line or a word appears in the Gracious Speech to suggest that the five million of the poor of this country are to be given a rise not merely to meet the cost of living but to lift them to the same standard as that to which they were lifted, in relation to the rest of the community, in 1946. To do that would involve a 30 per cent-increase in the payments made to them. To the extent that we did that we should simply be doing justice to that section of the community.

What is the financial position? What is our ability to make these payments? At present we are creating an annual balance of about £40 million over and above the expenses of the National Insurance Fund. This money is being placed in some fund which has never been used to create more benefits for the people. Some people say, "This is merely a paper sum and the money is not there". But the Government Department which deals with this great financial problem repeatedly tells us in its report that the National Insurance Fund has been increasing year by year by millions of pounds and that, in addition, there is another fund, called the reserve, which is also increasing year by year.

The Department has told us that in the course of this National Insurance business it has accumulated these so-called assets. I do not know whether the money has been used to help to repay the National Debt or invested, but I regard it as a credit standing in favour of the National Insurance Fund. It is a credit of £381 million. In addition, there is £1,068 million in the reserve fund, making a total of £1,449 million. That is an accumulated asset to the fund, and I presume that it was created simply to meet some unexpected calamity. All this money is being saved in case of emergency. It seems a farce to do this.

In addition, special pension schemes are organised by companies throughout the country. I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer for information on how much it is costing the Exchequer in not charging Income Tax on the contributions to private company pension schemes. The answer was that it was costing £15 million in the case of the ordinary employees because their contributions to these private pension schemes were not taxed.

What is important is that, apart from the £15 million, £80 million is lost to the Revenue in providing special pensions for, not the ordinary workers, but directors and so forth. Is it not ridiculous that such things should be allowed when we are not even giving retired workers a subsistence rate? We are not even giving our pensioners the National Assistance rate.

The spirit which existed in 1946 was very different from the spirit today. We want a return of the 1946 spirit. We ought to say that what we did in 1946, when we raised the standard of living of ordinary pensioners who had retired from work, we can do now. If what we give to our ordinary pensioners is less than the rise in the cost of living while the general standard of life in the country has increased, no one can say that we are doing justice to those poor people. We may be in the same position in the near future, and, therefore, it is necessary for us to do what we can to help them,

The Exchequer contribution to the fund has not been increased proportionately to the needs of the fund. The total benefits paid to most sections of beneficiaries have continually increased, and yet the Exchequer contribution, instead of rising, has been reduced to nearly 50 per cent. The Exchequer contribution used to be £145 million, but in recent years it has been reduced to about £72 million. In that respect, we have broken one of the main planks of the insurance scheme. By reducing the Exchequer contribution, the Government have weakened the position of the fund, and the result has been an unnecessary increase in the amount of the contributions by workers.

The Government and future Governments ought not to harp on the cost of living in relation to our aged pensioners when the standard of life of the community has, in comparison, risen so much. We should apply those principles established in 1946 to maintain the standards of pensioners while taking into account the cost of living and, as time passes, hope for the opportunity to do better.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. Alan McKibbin (Belfast, East)

I notice that although the Gracious Speech mentions that legislation is proposed to enable increases in pay and allowances with retrospective effect to be given to members of the police, fire and probation services, there is no mention of increases for war-disabled men and war widows. The fact that so many of us may be attending Remembrance services next Sunday for the men and women who died for us and the country makes this a particularly appropriate time to call attention to that fact.

It seems incredible that there should be such a lack of interest shown by the people of this country in the British Legion's claim for a basic rate of 90s. a week for the totally disabled man. This same lack of interest was shown at both the Conservative Conference at Llandudno and the Labour Conference at Blackpool.

I have often heard it said that the British Legion is overstating its case and that the 100 per cent. disabled man, by the application of special allowances, can receive much more than the present basic rate of 67s. 6d. a week. That is true, but it applies to only slightly more than 6 per cent. of the total number of 621,000 war pensioners. Is it realised by hon. Members and by the public that 93½ per cent., 585,000, are not regarded by the Ministry as eligible for any supplementary allowance and receive only a basic pension of 67s. 6d. a week?

As an example of how this works, a man on a 30 per cent. pension gets only 20s. 3d. a week, although he may have a disability which inconveniences him very much, for example, a duodenal ulcer. Is the British Legion asking too much? I do not think so. A short time ago there was a report in one of our leading Sunday newspapers about an eight-year-old girl who had lost an eye in a car crash for which her father was legally held to be two-thirds to blame. She was awarded £3,750. That means an income of between £3 and £4 a week for life, but a soldier who lost an eye in the service of his country gets only 27s. a week.

The same newspaper also referred to a case where, not long ago, a man was awarded £16,000 for being crippled in an accident. That gives him an income of nearly £16 a week, but a totally disabled soldier, disabled in the service of his country, gets only 67s. 6d. a week.

The Ministry appears to be considering that in a few more years the problem will be solved by the disappearance of the pensioners. It is a sad and sombre fact that these pensioners are now dying at the rate of 20,000 a year. In answer to a Question I put recently I was told that no fewer than 164,000 pensioners had died between 1st January, 1935, and 31st March, 1956. That is one way of solving the problem, but it is not a way which will appeal to the great British public.

We are reasonable people, with reasonable minds, and I am sure that these figures must startle all of us. I will say no more except to express the hope that when the Government have got out of their present difficulties they will give priority to this matter and give these men to whom we owe so much a basic pension of at least 90s. a week.

9.20 p.m.

Mr. L. M. Lever (Manchester, Ardwick)

I am sure that all of us are happy that we can discuss our problems at home without being clouded by some of the great problems that have exercised our minds and given us cause for anxiety in the last week.

I welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to the statement about the pay and allowances of members of the police, fire and probation services being given retrospective effect. That is long overdue.

I wish principally to draw atention, however, to a matter which has been, so to speak, within the precincts of the House since 1951. I refer to the plea of the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen's Association on behalf of the aged limbless veterans of the 1914–18 War. In 1951, we set up an all-party committee to consider the very serious position of this section of the community, whose average age now is 64, and who are today suffering a grievous burden, discomfort and loss of amenity due to the artificial limbs which they are wearing.

There are about 23,000 surviving limbless pensioners of the 1914–18 war and about 2,500 of them are pensioned at 100 per cent. plus, in most cases, one or more of the supplementary allowances for unemployability, constant attendance, and comforts. The remaining 20,500 are pensioned at the rates of 50 per cent., 60 per cent., 70 per cent., 80 per cent. and 90 per cent. in accordance with the "Tables of Assessments for Specific Injuries" relating to the length of the amputated stump which remains.

In the vast majority the assessments today are the same as they were in 1919, the exceptions being those of men with left arm amputations, the assessments for which were increased in 1947 to bring them into line with right arm assessments and men who sustained additional disabilities accepted by the Minister as arising from amputations and the wearing of artificial limbs.

Our plea on behalf of this section of the community is not a party plea. This matter has been dealt with by an all-party committee since 1951. I have had the privilege of being honorary secretary of that committee. During the past five years we have met Minister of Pensions after Minister of Pensions, sometimes in conjunction with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, so that something might be done to improve the position of these aged limbless ex-Service men.

From time to time we have been told that the Ministry was taking specimen cases to see what the effect of wearing artificial limbs was on this section of the community. Now, of course, we have had a report which indicates that there is loss of amenity but we find that the Ministry of Pensions is still adamant in its refusal to deal with a matter which should have been dealt with years ago. We have been told this by Minister of Pensions after Minister of Pensions. It seems that, no sooner have we got to a climax with one Minister and are about to settle the issue, than unhappily the Government of the day changes the Minister of Pensions and the new Minister says, "I must have time to go into the matter; I am new at the job." We have been put off from time to time during the past five years.

We were told by the last Minister of Pensions that if we had sufficient medical evidence, if the B.L.E.S.M.A. and the all-party committee got sufficient evidence, we should be able to satisfy the justifiable claims of these aged limbless ex-Service men, claims which are long overdue.

We visited the President of the Royal College of Surgeons, the President of the Royal College of Physicians, the President of the Royal College of Surgeons (Scotland) and the President of the British Orthopaedic Association, and other eminent medical authorities. They all supported the justifiable claims of the aged limbless ex-Service men of the 1914–18 war. Is there any source of information or authority of a medical character on this side of the planet to which we can go to support our claims other than those to whom we have been, so assiduously, on behalf of this section of the community?

I make a special plea to the Government. For the last five years this section of the community has been waiting patiently for something. The men are getting older; they are dying off. Is it not time that their special needs received attention, especially now that we have submitted this medical evidence to the Ministry of Pensions and to the Treasury? This matter will not brook delay. We ought not to have it on our consciences that we neglected those who served their King and country in those days and who are now falling by the way.

I want also to add a word on behalf of old-age pensioners and spinster pensioners. They are suffering tremendous hardship. I do not want to elaborate upon the position of the old-age pensioner, because the matter speaks for itself. I see many old people who are suffering dire hardship and poverty because of the fall in the value of money and the increasing cost of the necessities of life. The pensionable age of aged spinsters should be reduced from 60 to 58, so that they may have an optional retirement possibility. This section of the community may not be numerous, but they were deprived of the men of the 1914–18 period whom they might otherwise have married. Many of them would have done so. They have been working all these years supporting other members of their families. This is a field to which—although mention of it is omitted from the Gracious Speech—the Government might give very earnest attention, in addition to the other matters about which I have spoken.

9.29 p.m.

Mr. Cyril Hence (Dunbartonshire, East)

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ardwick (Mr. L. M. Lever) in his plea for the aged limbless ex-Service men and the old-age pensioners. In my constituency I come into contact with men and women who do social work among crippled children, limbless ex-Service men and old-age pensioners, and they tell me that the condition of these people is deteriorating very seriously. The rising prices of fuel, milk and bread and the increases in rent that many of them have had to pay under the 1954 Act have had a serious effect. I hope that the Government will do something this Session to alleviate the position of the old-age pensioners.

In the five minutes I have been allowed I want to speak about the general housing position of the country. We have legislation for increasing rents or decreasing subsidies and keep thinking of the problem in terms of money, but all that legislation has not a great deal of bearing on how many houses have been built or have not been built. It is not only a problem in Britain but exists in all the industrial communities of the world. Wherever one goes one comes up against a deteriorating housing position in the industrial world.

I was very well acquainted with a building contractor in the West of England. He built houses in Bristol, Newport and Cardiff at the turn of the century. They were six-roomed houses, and I know some of them. There was no bathroom, they were gas-lit and had a lavatory inside and one outside. The cost of those houses was £125 apiece. The eldest son of the contractor was a motor engineer in Coventry, working for a famous engineering firm there. That firm built a motor car—I have forgotten the horse-power—costing £800 to build. It was marketed and sold to a few people who in those days were regarded as maniacs. The car cost £800 but these six-room terraced houses, which were good houses and well looked after, cost £125 apiece. In 1936 one of the sons of that building contractor was able to build five-apartment, semi-detached houses for £675 apiece. I was working then for a subsidiary of the British Motor Corporation and we were building Austin Sevens at £50 apiece.

That is the story which has gone on throughout industrial civilisation. Technology has put before the people of the world processed goods of all sorts, in metal, food and textiles, but we cannot apply that technology to the production of houses; it just cannot be done. Housing is no longer an investment proposition; it is not a commercial job. I challenge any building contractor in Europe or the United States to provide houses that can be offered to those who want them on the same desirable terms as motor cars, refrigerators, typewriters, vacuum cleaners or suits of clothes. Housing is now outside the commercial field.

I am an engineer, and we in that profession appreciate and understand this problem. If we were to attract labour to the building industry to such a degree as to put housing before the people as a commercial proposition, to satisfy their needs and satisfy a changing and increasing desire for a better commodity, as in the case of motor cars or anything else, wages in the building industry would have to be doubled. The skilled man in processing industries can earn 10s. an hour, but a man cannot be put on to a building site to earn the same money because he is not dealing with horse-power or technology. No Government will ever solve this problem or achieve what Governments say they want to achieve—a home for every family in the country—so long as the approach to the problem is based upon financial techniques underlying which are commercial principles. That just cannot be done.

We could not do it with water or with refuse collection. I am absolutely certain that if I had to buy fresh, pure water by the gallon it would be cheaper to buy whisky. The same argument applies to refuse collection. It applies also to education. I could not possibly buy the education I had with the income I have. It would be absurd. I could not do it. I could not get a private tutor to do it. The argument applies, as I have shown, to housing.

So I urge the Government to get to grips with the problem of housing the people and not to worry about the possibility that if they do get to grips with it and start building houses as a social service they may destroy the investment value of properties already standing. That would be just too bad. When an engineer designs a new machine, or puts a new product on the market, he is not much concerned that he may be destroying the investment value of some obsolete article, or of some other already existing product.

I am sorry the time for the debate has been so short, for I should have liked to have been able to deal with the matter more fully. I wanted to speak about the problems of the owner-occupier. In this world there is practically only one thing it is possible for a human being to own by which he can exercise his personality and feel a sense of independence, and that is a house. A man can have shares in industry. What do they mean? They do not mean anything. Only in a house with a bit of land around it can a man feel he really has something of his own and a place of his own where he can function.

It would be a grand thing if there were a policy by which every person could own his own house. I was brought up to believe in owning one's own house. I was taught never to have a landlord. In Wales, we were taught to loathe landlords. That is why there are so many owner-occupiers in Wales.

It is a crying shame that the party opposite should have started in 1951—or even before—to talk about a property-owning democracy, and have created an urge amongst people to own their own homes, only since then to have adopted a financial policy and a Bank Rate which mean that so many will not be able to own their own homes. That is one of the worst indictments of the present Government.

9.37 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. James Stuart)

I think the hon. Member for Ardwick (Mr. L. M. Lever) will forgive me if I do not follow him, because the subject he spoke of is dealt with by another Department. I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence), and I agree with much that he said. However, he said that in Wales there was a large number of private owners of houses because they were taught to dislike landlords so much. If the hon. Member pursues the logic of his argument to Scotland, then landlords there must be much more popular, because there are not so many in private hands.

We have had an interesting and useful debate. The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) will probably not expect me to follow him at length in what he said because he was adequately answered, I think, by the Parliamentary Secretary sitting beside me. The debate has concentrated on housing in England and in Scotland, and on the Government's policy for housing. I agreed, of course, with the hon. and learned Member when he stressed the importance, as did many hon. Members from Scotland as well as from England, of family life and of getting—I am not quoting him exactly—the right sort of house in which to live. I could not agree with him more. Indeed, the Government could not agree with him more. That is what the present Government wish to achieve.

In reply to some of the criticisms which have been made I would say that the present Government can be proud of their record over the past five years in the matter of new housing. Indeed, I think it must be obvious that if the rate of building had not been stepped up and if we had not achived the figure for Great Britain of 300,000 and more, the situation today would be worse than it is. That must be obvious. Indeed, not only did we achieve more than the 300,000 houses, but in 1954 we reached the record figure, for Great Britain, of 347,605.

As it happens, our best year in Scotland was the previous one, 1953, when we had 39,548 completions, and in 1954 we were down by only about 900 on that figure. According to all indications and information at my disposal, in the present year the Great Britain figure of completions should be in the neighbourhood of 300,000, and for Scotland it should be approximately 33,000. Therefore, we are running at about the figure which we undertook, not only before the last Election, if I may say so, but before the one before that; that is to say, in 1951. Of course, it took a little time to step up to these figures, but nevertheless they were achieved.

Although I will answer as many as possible of the questions that have been put to me, I should like to say, in passing, that I did realise that the hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) had given a good deal of thought to this problem of local government reform, and he was answered by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. In Scotland we are not in the same position in this respect, and perhaps the House will forgive me if I do not pursue the matter further, because not only did the Parliamentary Secretary deal with it but my right hon. Friend the Minister intervened for a minute or two.

Mr. Mitchison

It must have been an anticipatory answer.

Mr. Stuart

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) referred to the number of houses under construction. At 31st October, 1956, as compared with 1955, the total figure in Scotland is exactly 506 lower, which does not show any catastrophic drop, I would suggest. There are always some fluctuations, but I will deal in more detail with the general position in a minute or two.

The hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) asked a number of questions. I know that he has naturally a great interest in this subject and knowledge of it. He referred to the Glasgow waiting list. I have, of course, never attempted to deny this, and our endeavour is to see that this matter is dealt with as rapidly and as well as possible. As he knows well, and as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes)—who, I think, was housing convener for the Glasgow Corporation not long ago—also knows, it is the most serious problem with which we have to deal.

The hon. Member for Maryhill referred to the fact that private building in Scotland will never meet the demand. I frankly admit that it has never been so successful or effective as it has been in England. It has increased a bit, and I hope that it will increase—but before I turn to the general question of the Government's policy on housing, I should, perhaps, just answer another point made by the hon. Member for Maryhill with regard to the adverse effect on costs of the rate of interest charged. It is true that the interest charged does affect costs, but the general suggestion was—I do not suggest that the hon. Member made it today, but rather implied it—that local authorities should be enabled to borrow at lower rates of interest to help them with this problem. As a matter of fact, there can be no doubt that that means what some people would call giving a concealed subsidy; but I would not even call it concealed. I should call it a very ill-concealed subsidy to the local authorities. I think that the best way to deal with subsidies for housing is to do so in the open and on general lines.

The hon. Members for Maryhill and Glasgow, Central referred also to the question of the size and type of house being built and the fact that we are building fewer of the bigger sized houses. I think that is so. I am not hiding anything. The truth of the matter is that in the early years after the war we concentrated upon these bigger houses for young people with families—that is to say, four and five apartment houses. Then later the need for them was not so great as for smaller houses. What I really wish to explain is that local authorities themselves are in a position to deal with this question and to decide what their local needs are. They are in a position to build the type of house which their needs demand. Indeed, that subject is dealt with in Circular No. 91 which was issued to local authorities in 1953 by the Department of Health for Scotland.

I agree with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central that this is a most serious and pressing problem. The Government are and always have been most anxious to see the Glasgow overcrowding situation rectified and assisted as far as possible. We will push ahead in all fields—it is our policy to do so—connected with the subjects of overcrowding, slum clearance and overspill.

I will deal in a minute with the question of East Kilbride referred to by the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin). As Scottish Members know, the work at East Kilbride is progressing, and the new town of Cumbernauld is proceeding as rapidly as possible.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Central and others referred to the rate of building in Scotland, and it was suggested that there was a tendency for this rate to decline. I have given the figures quite fairly and frankly, and I am satisfied that in the areas where housing is needed the housing rate is being maintained. The local authorities in those areas are rightly and properly most anxious to ensure that the needs of the people living in their areas are met, and they are doing their best to get on with the job.

However, some local authorities have slowed down their building; they are still building, but at a slower rate because they have to some extent overcome their problems. Some have stopped altogether, but some of these have started up again. I could quote places where this has occurred—one place, for example, is in my own constituency—though I do not say that in all of these places large figures can be quoted. Taking it overall, there has been a slowing down in a number of areas for the reasons which I have given before.

With regard to the general question of the Government's policy on housing subsidies, I made a statement in the House on 31st July, following a review of housing subsidies in Scotland. The necessary Bill to give effect to the Government's proposals will be brought before Parliament during the present Session and there will then be full opportunity for debate.

Reference has been made to representations received from local authorities against the proposed revision of subsidies. Underlying these I think there is some misunderstanding as to the Government's proposals. Very briefly, the Government's policy is that, while no one should be asked to pay more rent than he can afford for a local authority house, subsidies should not be paid to those who are not in need of them. I stated this on 31st July. I have been asked what subsidy will be available in Scotland for houses built for general needs as distinct from those provided for special purposes. The position remains exactly as I stated it at the end of July, that the new subsidy rate of £24 will be payable for houses built for approved needs.

Mr. McInnes

There is a very vital point here. The right hon. Gentleman a moment ago mentioned general needs; but the Bill does not provide for general needs; it is approved needs. What we want to know is what the Government mean by "approved needs". We understand general needs, and all local authorities understand that term. What do the Government mean by "approved need"? Does it mean a need that the Secretary of State alone approves?

Mr. Stuart

If I may continue, I shall perhaps be able to deal with that. The intention is to approve proposals for those purposes where a local authority has to provide houses required in order to rehouse persons living in unfit or overcrowded houses, to house those who are sharing houses and who, quite naturally, require homes of their own, or those who need houses on grounds of ill health or disability. But I shall also be prepared to consider for the £24 subsidy any other category of genuine housing need where the local authority is of the opinion that it should be approved for subsidy purposes.

Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)

That means, does it not, that there is no subsidy for general needs, and the Secretary of State has taken unto himself the responsibility of deciding what are the approved needs of every local authority in Scotland?

Mr. Stuart

I never tried to deny the fact that this is a change, yes; and I am dealing with what we call approved needs.

On the question of town development, which is of great importance, the Queen's Speech foreshadows legislation to assist in dealing with the problem of overspill population from congested urban areas. I think it will be accepted on all sides of the House that this problem is particularly urgent, especially in the Glasgow area. I stated to the hon. Member for Maryhill I think it was, on 30th October that I was to initiate discussions with the local authorities very shortly. I will just add to that that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State has already had discussions with the Clyde Valley Planning Advisory Committee, which is representative of the 18 Clydeside authorities, including Glasgow. He has received from that Committee its suggestions as to what should be included in the Scottish Town Development Bill. These suggestions are being examined.

It will be necessary to hold further discussions with the local authority associations, and that will be done as soon as we are in a position to do so. In view of the discussions which have to follow, I cannot at this stage anticipate what detailed proposals will be included in the Bill, but I can say that we are fully aware of the urgency of this matter, and, indeed, we have been trying to press on with it for some time.

The hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes), whom I now see in his place, complained that the Gracious Speech made little reference to Scotland and its needs. I must remind him that we in Scotland are really interested and concerned with most of the Speech, because, of course, it is a Speech dealing with Great Britain, if not the United Kingdom. I do not suppose that the hon. and learned Member would expect us to write in at the end of each sentence of the Gracious Speech "N.B.—This sentence does or does not apply to Scotland." After all, this is a United Kingdom Parliament. I would take this opportunity of congratulating the hon. and learned Member on his wonderful vocabulary and the list of adjectives with which he manages to embellish his contributions to our debates. I am afraid that my vocabulary does not contain enough adjectives to compete. I would not know where to begin or to end. The hon. and learned Member moved from shore to shore and covered a very wide field, but this debate has been concerned in the main with problems of housing and local government.

In reply to the hon. Member for Govan the target population of East Kilbride has always been 50,000 and there are no proposals for altering this figure to any significant extent. The actual population is now approaching the 20,000 mark and is increasing at the rate of 3,000–4,000 a year.

With regard to the letting of houses at East Kilbride to tenants from Glasgow, I do not think that the new town authorities can be expected to assign houses to individual tenants whom Glasgow might nominate irrespective of the kinds of skill and experience needed by the industries established at East Kilbride. If, however, Glasgow is prepared to pay, say, annually £14 for ten years for each house let, I think that this would certainly entitle Glasgow to influence the selection of tenants by reference to their housing needs. What one would like to see is an arrangement under which the housing needs of Glasgow families are taken into account, together with employment considerations, in selecting Glasgow tenants for these houses.

Since the housing in East Kilbride of any tenant from Glasgow's waiting list, or any tenant who vacates a Glasgow Corporation house, is a direct contribution to Glasgow's housing problem, it would seem that there is a great deal of scope for balancing housing needs with available employment. While no actual agreement has been reached between them, I will do all I can to encourage this method, and I intend to pursue the matter with the parties concerned.

The House is perhaps not quite as full as it has been in recent days, and I must thank hon. Members for giving me such a courteous hearing. I hope I have managed to answer some of their questions.

Debate adjourned—[Mr. E. Wakefield.]

Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.