HC Deb 18 March 1957 vol 567 cc48-136

4.5 p.m.

Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)

First, I should like to express to my right hon. and hon. Friends my deep appreciation of the great honour which has been accorded me today of speaking from this Dispatch Box, and also for allowing this very important subject to be discussed. Most of my general remarks will concern all our great cities. The problem of housing is not confined to London, but also affects great cities such as Manchester and Leeds.

I want to put on record the fact that I very much hope that one, at least, of those of my hon. Friends who are interested in the County of Middlesex will catch Mr. Speaker's eye. I intend to refer to that part of London which the Minister of Housing and Local Government knows so well and which is covered by the London County Council area. It is a very important part of London to me. I hope that the Middlesex problem will also be raised in the course of the debate.

My first task is to indicate exactly the size of the problem which exists inside the L.C.C. area. I estimate that there are about half a million people in London who are asking for a better standard of housing than that which they have at present. Those 500,000 people are in very great distress. That figure is arrived at on the basis of the London County Council waiting list, containing 160,000 families, and the metropolitan boroughs waiting lists containing 95,000 families—a total of well over 200,000 families. It is true that there has been a duplication of lists, and that many people are on both lists, but I think that the Minister will concede that we can agree that at least 200,000 families inside London are crying out for a better standard of housing.

It is the magnitude of this problem that my hon. and right hon. Friends have decided that we should debate today. I know that I am speaking for all those Members who represent London constituencies when I say that not one day goes by without their receiving letters from their constituents, urging that something should be done in this matter.

Before I proceed to state what should be done, and what has been done, I want to deal with the human aspects of the matter. In the Star newspaper today there is a leading article upon the problem, and I want to quote a small part of it. It says: This can best be approached by seeing it in terms of human beings, of young people longing to marry and bring up families, of young couples living with in-laws instead of in separate homes, and of families cooped up in two rooms because they can find nothing better. I commend that article to the Minister because it deals with the human aspect of the matter. This is where those who are responsible for housing statistics go wrong. We have heard from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing that we should arrive at a time, this year, when there would be an equalling out of the difference between available accommodation and the number of families requiring it.

What do the Whitehall pundits or Greek professors mean by units of accommodation? What is a unit of accommodation? I should like to tell a story which shows the lack of accommodation and the human misery associated with it. It concerns a constituent of mine who was on a housing waiting list for about five years. Eventually, he was rehoused in a council flat. Very shortly afterwards I went by his flat and was invited in. It was a very ordinary council flat, and in the kitchen I noticed that tied round his water tap was a very large bunch of white ribbon.

I inquired why this should be so and he told me a story which I have often heard, and I expect that other hon. Members have heard it, too, but I wonder whether the Whitehall pundits have ever heard it. For the greater part of his life this man had lived in two rooms. First, he lived with his parents. The water tap was outside in the yard and one of his jobs was to fill a bucket with water five or six times a day and to empty away the dirty water. When he got married, this man lived in similar conditions; in two rooms with his wife, and, eventually, with his two children. He had the same job of filling buckets with water. This was the first time in his life that he had ever owned a tap of his own, so he had put some ribbon round it.

Two rooms represent a unit of accommodation and, of course, until 1939, that would have been accepted as a unit of accommodation and the occupants would have had no wish to change it. This man's parents did not want to change their type of accommodation. But today, modern young couples are demanding a different sort of accommodation and. therefore, when we talk of units of accommodation and about X divided by X cancelling itself out so that there is nothing left of the housing problem by the end of the year, let us remember that these units of accommodation are not what people want; and that today 500,000 people in London are crying out for a better standard of living and better housing.

That is the magnitude of the task which is facing us. I say to the Minister that I cannot accept the statistics which have been given. Until units of accommodation are, in fact, self-contained, they are not places in which people should be required to live. Let us also remember with pride that the standard of living of our people has increased enormously since 1945. There is now a different outlook and a finer approach of which we can all be proud.

I wish to deal with what I think that the Minister may say when he replies to the debate. It is difficult to anticipate what anyone may say, but I propose to try to do so. I think that the Minister will say, "This great Government of ours have introduced a vast slum clearance scheme". I do not deny that a scheme for slum clearance is needed. But the right hon. Gentleman was not the first to think of slum clearance. Many progressive local authorities had started such schemes. I have taken special care to make sure that the figure I propose to quote is correct, and I think that so far as the general waiting list is concerned schemes for slum clearance will deal with only 7 per cent. of the people on that list.

I expressed some surprise when I was given that figure, but we must realise that the vast majority of people on the general waiting list in London—and indeed, in Birmingham, Leeds and all the rest of our cities—are not those who live in slums. Such people know that they will be dealt with, anyway. The people on the waiting list are the young married couples who are living with their in-laws and who have to face difficulties of other kinds such as I have mentioned. Those are the people for whom there is no hope whatever, because the London County Council, which is the biggest property owner in the whole country, has announced that there is no hope for the vast majority of these people getting a house within the next three years at least.

They have been told that in category A, 53,000 families, many of them with vital medical priorities, have no hope of securing a house, with the exception of about 2,000, within a period of three years. That is why we have to regard this matter from the human aspect. So far as we can judge, within this London of ours there are 500,000 people with no hope at all. Much as we welcome the schemes of slum clearance, they are not an answer to the problem.

The second point which I anticipate that the Minister will make is that the Government have produced the Rent Bill and that that will make a considerable contribution. I do not wish to become involved in political arguments about the Rent Bill. Among my right hon. and hon. Friends there are experts in this matter who have already expressed the view of my party on the Rent Bill——

Mr. Speaker

Order. It would be out of order to discuss the Rent Bill today, first, because this is akin to a Supply day, when we cannot discuss legislation or matters involving legislation. Secondly, it would be out of order because the Rent Bill has now, I understand, passed through the Committee stage and will shortly come before the House for the Report and Third Reading stages. Therefore, any reference to it today would be anticipating that discussion. Although, of course, occasional references to the Bill would be in order, I hope that hon. Gentlemen will heed my warning and will not discuss the Rent Bill in detail.

Mr. Mellish

I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that the last thing I wish to do is to engage in a discussion on the Rent Bill, whether I am allowed to or not. But may I make this point, because it affects 500,000 people in London?

I anticipate that the Minister will refer briefly to the Rent Bill and will comment on the contribution which it will make to the problem. Therefore, I ask him to tell the House tonight, for the information of those 500,000 people, what is the estimated number of properties which will become available as a consequence of the provisions of that Bill? I think that 500,000 Londoners are entitled to know what properties are likely to come on the market.

I should like to help the Minister over this matter, because I think that the right hon. Gentleman will need some help. I will take the figure for my own constituency. The answer there is, "None", so that it will not take the right hon. Gentleman long to add up that. Those, I think, are two measures which the Minister will mention as having been taken by the Government to try to solve the problem. Let me give the House some details about the real effect of Government action. First. I will deal with the higher interest rates and the reduced subsidies which have formed part of the policy of this Government.

The Minister will know—indeed, he gave an Answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) the other day on the matter and it is from that Answer that I have been able to get the figures which I propose to submit—that the cost of a flat in a multi-storey block of flats in London today is approximately £3,000. The interest rate is 5½ per cent. and the money is borrowed by a local authority over the normal period of sixty years. I want it to go on record that the figure for the interest charges on that £3,000 for that period is £7,296.

What does this mean? Apart from the intolerable rate burden which is imposed, there is the aspect of the difference between an interest charge of 3½ per cent. as it used to be and 5½ per cent. as it is now. That difference is enough to wipe out completely the advantage of the subsidy given for slum clearance. On the one hand, therefore, we have had an Act of Parliament providing subsidies for slums and, on the other, the advantage to be derived from that is taken away by the increase in interest charges. I ask that the Minister will deal with that point. He knows only too well that the burden of loan charges which local authorities have now to bear is intolerable and cannot continue.

I wish to deal with another policy of the Government which has had a serious effect on the people of London. I refer to the higher repayment costs imposed on owner-occupiers. It was, of course, the Leader of the House who coined that wonderful phrase, "A property-owning democracy". It is a wonderful phrase, and we must concede that. I would tell my right hon. and hon. Friends that I agree that people should be encouraged to own their own property. By implication it is hon. Members opposite who are keen that people should buy their own homes and hon. Members on this side of the House who are said to be interested only in council tenants. If Her Majesty's present Government are interested in encouraging people to buy their own homes. they have an extraordinary way of showing their interest. Let me quote my own position.

I am a property-owning democrat; in fact, I am a potential Conservative voter—perhaps I should say that the potentiality is not very strong. Two years ago, because my family had increased, I decided that the time had come when I must buy my own house. My problem was then the same as that which faces many Londoners today; I had to find a 10 per cent. deposit. That is the very minimum, and amounted to £250. Counting legal fees and removal expenses, the average young married couple needs at least £300 to buy a home. Then the house owner needs about £3 10s. to £3 15s. a week for repayment to the building society.

I had a mortgage for twenty years two years ago. Owing to the increase in the charges to which I have referred I owe more on my house now than I did two years ago. Interest charges have gone up and, therefore, my repayments to the building society. The only way in which I could get out of that difficulty was to extend from twenty to twenty-five years the mortgage on my property. Therefore, every penny that I have paid on that house has gone down the drain." It has been completely wasted.

What I have said applies to thousands of other people who are doing the sort of thing that I am trying to do. This is what they get from a party that talks about a "property-owning democracy." I ask the Minister to remember that thousands of Londoners would be only too glad to buy their own homes. What can he offer them tonight? What are their prospects'? What hope is there, if they live in tenements, with in-laws, or in other deplorable conditions, of their being able to buy their own houses? At least, they are entitled to know.

What is London's problem? It is similar to the problems of many other cities, but it is aggravated because of the size of London. I know that Members representing places like Leeds and Birmingham will agree. The problem is lack of sites. Slum clearance brings new problems. I want to put on record for the benefit of Londoners the fact that the county development of the London County Council is now nearly at an end. There is no hope there. In a few years it will be finished. Therefore, we have to rely on two policies only that are left to us while this Government are in power, at any rate. They are the policies of expanded towns and new towns. Let me deal, first, with expanded towns.

There is, of course, the Act of Parliament of 1952 under which the Minister of Housing is given certain powers to assist in this matter. Will he tell the House just what the Government have done to assist county councils, with respect to expanded towns? Is it not a fact that, after a considerable amount of negotiation, most of which broke down, all that the London Council Council has been able to achieve is to hope to house 10,000 London families in the next six years? Was not the only reason that it got this agreement, not the action of the Government, but that the Council had to offer inducements out of its own finances for the town to expand?

We are entitled to ask the Government what they have done. What is to be their attitude to the vested interests that have stopped the expansion of some of these towns? The Minister knows about that. He is a good Londoner and he knows what obstruction has been put in the way of the County Council in trying to expand towns. The ironic twist is that a great number of towns are dying for want of expansion. Because of declining population their rateable values have become so low that they have to expand if they are to live.

Where is the Government's plan? We have the 1952 Act, but all we can produce in London without Government aid is an agreement covering 10,000 families. No county council can do this on its own; it must have Government backing and support. Are the Government determined upon a national policy to face this problem?

The second problem is that of new towns, and I ask the Minister deliberately a question upon it. We in London will certainly demand an answer. We have a right to ask it in the name of half a million people. Is it a fact that although the County Council has said that it is prepared to finance its own new town for London, the Government have not given an assurance that if the County Council cannot find that finance the Government will allow it to go to the Public Works Loan Board? It is a fact that the Government have not yet agreed?

Time is against the people who are on the housing waiting lists. Every minute, hour, day or week that they live in bad conditions makes the prospect more terrible for them. When we talk of new towns let us remember that they will take a long time to build. Let the Government give some hope. We are not even at the stage of talking about planning the new towns yet. We hope that the Minister believe in London's new town and will encourage the prospect.

I must put this fair point to the right hon. Gentleman. Surveyors have already produced information that within 100 miles of London there is plenty of scrub land available for new towns. The job can be done, but it needs planning, and a Government with imagination, determined to break the back of the housing problem. The Government have not yet measured up to it in any degree. We have a right to know the position.

I have always complained that those who speak from a Front Bench take too long. I therefore do not intend to take up much more time. I know that there are other hon. Members who want to get into the debate. I make my next point in no party spirit at all. I believe housing to be a great social need, just as important as the hospital service and other services. It must be treated on that basis. It is not merely party politics to say that private enterprise cannot solve the housing problem because it has not the resources, even if it had the good will. I cannot believe that the Minister's new Bill will make a notable contribution to a solution.

I live for the day when local authorities will have the opportunity to control the letting of rented property throughout London. Unless we get a measure of control the whole thing becomes chaos. London is a magnet. It is the greatest city in the world; it attracts not only our friends from Birmingham and other areas but people from the rest of the world. Therefore, our population problem must be controlled, or the problem will go on increasing. Some Government some day will have to face the fact that housing is a social need and that there must be a measure of control over it.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)

The hon. Member has just been saying that London is a magnet and that its population must be controlled, yet a little earlier he say saying that it should expand all over the countryside.

Mr. Mellish

If the noble Lord would follow my argument and take a little more interest he would understand. He does not know as much about housing as he knows about transport. If he concentrates he will find he gets on a lot better.

London has a vast housing problem which has to be solved, and I am trying to show how to solve it. We must avoid duplication of the problem by controlling the number of people who come to live in London. If we allow anybody to come in and take what rooms he likes we shall never reach a solution of the problem. I know that the noble Lord has no housing problem, but he would find it very difficult to get rooms in London. London attracts so many people that, without control, we cannot cope with the housing problem. I want to end——

Mr. Godfrey Lagden (Hornchurch)

I am trying to follow very carefully the arguments of the hon. Member and I agree with a lot of what he has said. Would he mind developing a little further the point that there should be control over all letting of property in London?

Mr. Mellish

I shall be only too pleased to do so.

I support the policies announced by my party. I believe that the day will come—it certainly will when we become the Government, and that is not far ahead—when local authorities will take over all private rented property. They will then be able to control the letting of that property; that is the only real solution to the problem. A considerable number of people come to London to find rooms, and they eventually become a burden on the London County Council and on the Metropolitan boroughs. If people were restricted from coming in because they would not get rooms I believe that it would help considerably to solve this problem. I think that I have developed that argument sufficiently even for the hon. Gentleman to understand.

I end on this note. I speak as a Londoner, as one who was born and bred in this great city. I am as proud of it as any other Londoner. Not only have I lived in the slums but I was born in them, so I have personal experience of living in those conditions. I have been to school with Londoners and, when the war came, I went into the Army with them. Since the war, I have had the honour and privilege of representing quite a number of them in the House of Commons.

I say to the right hon. Gentleman today in all sincerity, and with respect to the rest of those who live in the United Kingdom, that I do not believe that there are finer people, or people more worthy of a great Government, or more worthy of a great future, than the Londoners. I beg the Minister to say something to these half a million people that will give them hope and encouragement.

4.31 p.m.

Sir Hugh Linstead (Putney)

I want to express my appreciation, as a Londoner born and bred, as one Who was educated in London and who has lived all his life, so far, in it, of much of the speech to which we have just listened, to the temperate way in which the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) put his case and, if I may say so, for the fire in his belly.

Those of us who live in London know that there is a hard core of very deep human suffering in this city which, if it is to be cured, can only be done by people who have a crusading spirit. I felt that some of the warmth which the hon. Gentleman generated in his speech could be forgiven because it is that kind of spirit which is needed to tackle the hard core, at any rate, of London's housing problem.

I have some reason for thinking that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing, who has such a long association with London, has something of that same feeling in him, too.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

What is he doing about it?

Sir H. Linstead

That the hon. Gentleman will discover in due course.

Mr. Lipton

It is taking a long time.

Sir H. Linstead

This is a problem which has to be assessed in a great measure by some rather hard facts. Emotion and a sense of grievance are admirable, but to solve such a problem certain facts have to be faced. It is interesting that the London County Council, which, after all, is a Socialist body that has governed London now for twenty-five years or more, attempted to face the facts of the situation at the end of last year and set out its reasons for having virtually to close its housing list.

The reasons which the London County Council gave in assessing the situation amounted basically to the scarcity of land. With all respect to the hon. Member for Bermondsey, it said nothing about financial difficulties. The County Council said that the scarcity of land on which to build new homes, the demands for rehousing accommodation arising from slum clearance operations, and the programmes for new schools, parks, road improvements and other services of the Council had made it impossible to go on with any substantial scheme of building expansion.

That is the basic fact which must govern any approach to the solution of London's housing problem. The hon. Member for Bermondsey said that London was a magnet. That is true. It attracts business and industry and, because of its cultural amenities, large numbers of people. Incidentally, its traffic facilities, unfortunately, are not keeping step with the increased growth of population. It may be that we are faced with the situation which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, but I thought dismissed rather lightly, that London's housing problem can only be solved ultimately if we are prepared to limit its population.

Mr. Mellish indicated assent.

Sir H. Linstead

That proposition has only to be stated in a country with traditions such as ours for us to realise what a problem it would raise.

Throughout London there are many people living who, because they are retired, need not live there. But are we to contemplate saying to people who have lived for many years in a London suburb that when the time comes to retire they must leave it to make room for the working population to come there? Or are we to say, as I think the hon. Gentleman was suggesting, that people who desire to move into London are not to do so?

Mr. G. Lindgren (Wellingborough)

Is it not a fact that over the last 12 months office accommodation within the county of London has been provided for well over a quarter of a million clerks? That in itself has added to London's problem. Employment as well as population must be taken away if the problem is to be solved.

Sir H. Linstead

I was about to come to the solution implicit in what the hon. Gentleman has just said, namely, that it is really only by the town planning control of industry, and also of business, that we could put a stop to the unhealthy growth of London and London's suburbs.

So far as I can see, the London County Council and the Ministry will have to be extremely tough from now on about any expansion of industry in this city. If they will do that, then, in ten or fifteen years' time, we shall reap the benefit of at least some limitation of influx into London.

Mr. Lipton

Including offices.

Sir H. Linstead

Offices and industry together.

One fact has puzzled me over the closing of the London County Council housing list. An explanation may be forthcoming in the course of this debate but, frankly, I cannot find one. About 165,000 applicants covering, it may well be, half a million people, were informed in October last year that they were to be taken off the London County Council housing list. When I was told by the London County Council that this was happening I expected to receive a mass of protests and appeals for help in finding accommodation or in getting back on the list. Yet during the last three or four months I have received only four protests.

Mr. C. W. Gibson (Clapham)

Very lucky.

Sir H. Linstead

It may be, and I was surprised. I do not know why I received only four protests from L.C.C. tenants, many of whom must have received that letter in a busy and growing suburb of London. Are the lists a reliable index of need?

It seems to me that hope for solving London's problem has to be placed not upon any one action but upon a number of actions, some of which will have to be taken by the county, some by the boroughs and some by my right hon. Friend. I gathered from the hon. Member for Bermondsey that he did not feel that slum clearance would provide an answer. I can only say that in my constituency and in the older parts of Wandsworth, which I know very well, slum clearance could provide an answer. Indeed, it cannot help doing so because there are a good many acres of land on which substantially more people could be housed, as a result of a proper slum clearance scheme, than are being housed there at the moment.

The hon. Member for Bermondsey knows that constituency and he knows that behind Garrett Lane and Merton Road there are big areas of land which are scheduled for slum clearance. I believe that with drive by the County Council it would be possible to multiply by ten the number of people housed on those sites.

Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)

Does the hon. Member appreciate that before people can be removed from slum property they have to be rehoused, and that the number of people who come out of the slum area is very much in excess of the number that can be rehoused in that area when it is rebuilt?

Sir H. Linstead

I know my own area well and one has to take these things on the ground. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that is not so in relation to the particular possibilities of the area I am talking about.

The second possibility is that to which the hon. Member for Bermondsey has referred, namely, new towns and expanding towns, and I should be very interested to hear what my right hon. Friend has to say about that. I think that the planned expansion of industry with living accommodation can provide some answer, but we have to remember that we are not dealing with pegs that can be picked up and put into new holes but with human beings who have their roots very often deep in the places where they were born and have lived. It is not easy to move Londoners out to Crawley or Basildon, as might be done in a more authoritarian country. I am glad that that is so.

I think that the hon. Member for Bermondsey underestimated grossly what may happen when the Rent Bill becomes law. I recognise that I can only refer to the Bill in passing; but I inquired at my town hall what they thought the effect would be and I was told, "1,300 houses in our borough are likely at once to be made available for housing which are not available now." That is a figure which I have permission to quote and it can be compared with the figure of nil which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bermondsey produced for his borough.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

I wonder whether the hon. Member also asked where the people in them were going?

Sir H. Linstead

These are either empty properties or grossly under-occupied properties, but if I am not to come into conflict with the Chair I cannot pursue that any further. It is, however, a figure which I can give with considerable confidence.

Finally, I want to say this. I have talked about the hard core of people who at present are putting up with appallingly bad living conditions. I do not want to produce individual cases, because they are so easy to produce and may not be typical. I went to see a family this morning which really touched almost the limits of pathos. I believe that in London we have one difficulty in dealing in a human way with that hard core which they have not in some other parts of the country. That is the double responsibility of the county council and of the borough council for housing.

We could do something to humanise the housing problem if it were possible for the county and the borough together to have a local office jointly for housing purposes, so that when a family went there they could he dealt with by a particular man at a particular desk in one office. They would not feel then, as they do in London so often, that they were being batted from the county to the borough and back again to the county. It may be late in the day, with local authority lists closing down, for something of that kind to be done but I believe that a certain amount of really unnecessary mental suffering results from there being two authorities to which people have to go, leading them to feel that they are only numbers and not persons in this great city.

I believe myself that the London housing problem is a serious one, but one that can be grossly exaggerated if one concentrates only on the hard core. I am not at all sure that the measure of the situation in London is not to be found in the fact that, as I have said, when 165,000 circulars were sent off to tell people that they were off the list only four reacted by way of protest to me; but those four represent a hard core of human wretchedness which still calls for a great deal of crusading enthusiasm and drive on the part of the boroughs, the county and my right hon. Friend and his officers.

4.46 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)

I should, first, like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) on the way in which he opened the debate. I am sure that I am expressing the wish of everyone in the House when I say that I hope that we shall hear him from the Front Bench on very many other occasions.

The hon. Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead) referred to the fact that he had had only four communications in connection with the London County Council announcement of its taking no further names on the rehousing list. I do not want to suggest that that was because his constituents felt that it was not very much use writing to the hon. Member, but, certainly, my experience has been very different indeed. I have had a great many cases, not only from the Peckham constituency, of which I am one of the three L.C.C. members, but also from the constituency of Hayes, where there are people who are or have been on the L.C.C. list.

When I have had examples of people who have been on the L.C.C. housing list sometimes for nine or ten years, living in grim and difficult conditions, I find it very embarrassing to explain to them what has happened in London and the difficulties of London. I am, therefore, very glad that the House is giving its attention this afternoon to a situation which is fraught with a great many difficulties and which has inevitably a great many human tragedies. The fact that there are so many without adequate housing accommodation in the area of Greater London is something which, I am sure, deeply concerns every hon. Member who takes housing at all seriously.

I am familiar with the problem in London from two contrasting areas. I know very intimately the Peckham division of Camberwell, which is a long-established residential district with a certain amount of slum property and a great deal of old property, now let out into flats in houses which were not originally intended to be sub-divided in this way. There is not much doubt that the condition of many of these houses is seriously deteriorating the whole time.

There is a great deal of overcrowding there. These houses are deteriorating partly because for many years the landlords, taken as a whole, have not done the repairs even when the rentals have been regularly paid—in fact, in Peckham it is very unusual for a landlord to do the repairs unless he gets a statutory notice—but also because many of the houses are ninety to a hundred years old, From the point of view of rent which these houses have earned, the tenants have paid for the capital cost of building the houses time and time again, sometimes, I have estimated, ten or twenty times over.

In the course of time that property will have to be pulled down and rebuilt, and I am certain that that is the only way in which we can deal with that sort of property. We therefore have a very large number of people living in most unsatisfactory accommodation in very old houses. Now that we have the census figures of 1951, we know in a great deal more detail the present defects of the old houses.

I always recall that when we were passing the census legislation through the House it was opposed by very many hon. Members opposite, possibly for this very reason. Certainly, without these detailed figures we could never present the picture of the defects of so much of our old housing in London and elsewhere which we can now. We must remember that, particularly in the inner London boroughs, we are dealing in the main with houses which are very old. Of the rented property throughout the country, there are 4½ million houses over sixty-five years of age and 2 million over a hundred years of age. A high proportion of the old property is in London.

I was surprised to find from the census figures that in London about a quarter of the houses have no separate piped water supply. which is an astonishing figure for 1957. We now know from the results of the census what proportion of the housing conditions in London are bad. I was surprised to find not only that more than a quarter of the houses have no separate piped water supply but that 16 per cent. of the houses within the County of London have no separate kitchen sink, no less than 34 per cent. of the houses in London have no separate water closet and that about 60 per cent. have no separate bathroom. That is in 1957, and it is a grave commentary upon what was allowed to be built in the past. Think of this in conditions of overcrowding today. That is one aspect of the London housing problem with which I have become familiar.

The astonishing point is that if we turn to my own constituency, Hayes and Harlington, which is an expanding constituency and a district in which two-thirds of the houses have been built since 1930, we find the same desperate shortage of accommodation and the same human problems. London has a housing list of 160,000 families, of whom 55,000 are considered to be in the urgent category; and, just as the position in the London area is hopeless, so it is in the new areas, for in Hayes and Harlington we have a list of 2,000 families wanting accommodation. That list is vetted very carefully and nobody is accepted on to it unless he has been resident for three years in the district and has also proved his housing need. These two qualifications are necessary for anyone to get on the list—need and residence; and that means that a large number of people needing accommodation are not on the list at all. I see some of them every time I hold a consultation. Even in a new district such as Hayes we therefore find the same housing shortage.

What message can the Minister give us today—because I hope that this is only the first of many debates on the subject? I feel that the human tragedy involved is so great that no Government must be allowed to rest until some policy has been laid down to deal with it instead of the drift which we have now.

In Hayes, I think that the council has done very well. Since 1945 it has built on practically all the land that is available. It has built nearly 2,000 flats and houses, it has land left for about another 700 flats or houses, and there will be about 900 flats or houses to be built by private enterprise. Within five years in Hayes, as far as one can see, the building programme will come to an end. But it certainly will not accommodate even all those who have passed through the sieve of residence and the sieve of housing need and are on the official list. As is the case with the great mass of those in London, it is quite clear that, apart from the few hundred houses which the London County Council can provide, in addition to those dealt with within its slum clearance programme, the position of those on the waiting list is hopeless unless new measures are introduced.

It seems that the only way to tackle the problem is by the expanded towns and the new towns, but there are untold difficulties in the way of that solution. Every time the London County Council has made a move—and there have been 50 or 60 attempts—there all sorts of objections are raised. I suppose that it is only natural that some people who live in a small town do not want it to be expanded. Nearly always public inquiries are held, sometimes taking a very long time, and often local people strongly object to their towns being expanded.

An even more serious objection, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey mentioned, is the cost. With rates of interest as high as they are, and with the difficulty of even borrowing public money to help in this work, local authorities outside London are not keen to have their towns expanded. They say, "We cannot expand at this price". There must, therefore, be a change in Government policy towards the financing of new towns, and I very much hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that he notes and appreciates this point, because unless there is some extension of new towns I fail to see how the housing problem of Greater London can be solved.

A great many of my hon. Friends wish to speak in this debate and I will be as brief as I can so that as many as possible of them may have the opportunity to do so, but I hope that the House will come back to this problem again and again and again. There are too many families living in absolutely appalling conditions in this twentieth century, and It is no good for us to go on drifting as we have been drifting in the last three or four years. Up to then, we could see everywhere new houses going up, and we felt that there was some hope that the problem would be tackled. Now local authority building is slowing down. When people come to see me now about housing I feel embarrassed in speaking to them about how they can ever hope to have a home of their own. This is an intolerable situation for any Member of Parliament, on whichever side of the House he sits.

I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us tonight that he means business in this matter and that, despite what may be the difficulties and the attitude of his colleagues, he will try to do something about it.

4.57 p.m.

Sir Patrick Spens (Kensington, South)

I should like to add a word of thanks to the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) for introducing this debate. I first got into the House in 1933 as the Member for one of the towns which is intended now to be expanded—Ashford in Kent—and I got in again for a London borough in 1950; and in the whole of that time, ten years before 1943 and all these years since, I cannot remember that we have ever had a debate in the House: on London housing.

The reason is, of course, as the hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) will appreciate, that London housing has always been the primary job of the London County Council. It was not until the London County Council felt bound—and it was necessary—to give its notice closing its housing lists in 1956 that a very great shock was delivered to everybody connected with the administration of London. It made everyone look into the whole situation and get down to it.

There are a number of common features which have arisen since the war and which apply to both London and all the other big towns in the country. They arise from over-full employment and inflation. There is not the slightest doubt that since the war far more young people have wished to marry early. Equally, there is no doubt that a large number of old people who used to live with their families now want to live separately and no longer want to be a burden on their families.

The high prosperity of a great many people in the years since the war has undoubtedly created a demand for a better class of living accommodation. Although the demand may have existed before the war, there was no possibility of its being satisfied. People who are prosperous rightly think that they should be housed better than they have been or their forebears were in the past. That is a most laudable and excellent thing. That feeling exists among people inside every town; but, in addition, in London in particular, which has been called a magnet, there is always the additional demand for accommodation by people from the provinces and, as we know full well in our Kensington area, from people overseas who come to this country and find themselves in a position to acquire accommodation in London.

The problem to be faced is an enormous one and it is worse at present because, undoubtedly, the basis of it is that available sites inside the London area are being rapidly used up and there are very few more sites available for additional houses. Some blame has been attributed to the fact that offices have been built. All I want to say is that so far as my part of London is concerned, and I am referring to the South Kensington area in particular, the building of some new offices has had the result of freeing a large number of residential premises which during the war had been occupied as offices. They have now come back into use as residential premises, and where new offices are being built to replace old offices scattered about London or those falling into disrepair, the building of those offices is a very good thing. It does not take away from potential living accommodation and it may, as in the case I have instanced, actually provide living accommodation which before was occupied as office premises.

None the less, there is a tendency nowadays to allow living accommodation to be allocated for office purposes. A substantial number of the large old residential houses in West London are today being used as offices. One has only to go anywhere from Hyde Park Corner westwards along Knightsbridge and Kensington High Street to see vast numbers of offices now situated in what used to b. entirely residential premises—old Victorian, uncomfortable, difficult, residential premises, but, none the less, residential premises. One of the points at which, I think, the Minister must look very carefully indeed is the conversion of any further residential premises whatsoever for office purposes. Powers already exist in this connection, and I think that they must now be applied very strictly.

How are we to tackle the main problem? People do not want to go to the new towns or the expanded towns unless their works goes with them. It is perfectly true that a certain number of retired persons and people of that sort are willing or can be persuaded to go to the new towns and can thus make room for people who want to live nearer their work in London. But the new towns and the expanded towns, however good they sound on paper, depend, in my view, on the securing of businesses to go to them and the provision of living accommodation for the people who want to go to them.

I do not know about London, but I do know of one new town in Yorkshire where there was no business accommodation. It was not so very far away from one of the great industrial centres and, to begin with, a large number of workers went there. But after they had tried commuting—I think that is the right word—for one rather unpleasant winter, a quite substantial number wanted to come back into the town and live near their work. Unless we get employment into the places to which we want the population to go, we shall not succeed however well planned are the new or expanded towns.

Mr. Kenneth Robinson (St. Pancras, North)

Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman appreciate that far from being unwilling to go as far as the new towns in order to get accommodation, Londoners are now prepared to go as far as Canada in order to get a house?

Sir P. Spens

And work. They will go anywhere where they can get a house and work. I have not the slightest doubt about that. All I am saying is that I do not believe that people working in Central London or in the industrial areas of London today with the present conditions of traffic will willingly go to live 30, 40, 50 or 60 miles outside London.

Mr. A. Evans

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman not aware that the number of people who have signified their willingness to go to the new towns is very considerable? There is no difficulty in getting people to go to them. The difficulty is to get enough places in the new towns to take the people who want to go to them.

Sir P. Spens

If the hon. Gentleman has facts and figures proving this, then, of course. I will not contradict him. All I know is that the evidence I have is to the effect that people will willingly go outside London if there is work for them to go to, but they will not willingly face the travelling backwards and forwards if it can be avoided.

That brings me back to what I believe are the two important things. I entirely agree with what one hon. Member said, that undoubtedly the town planning authorities ought to stop further businesses coming into London. I agree that we must have town planning for this purpose.

The next thing is the use to which available sites are to be put. People hate high buildings. I hate them myself, but I am absolutely certain that we must face up to fact that if we are to house the people who must be housed near their work in London we shall have to have horrible, high blocks of flats whether we like it or not. I personally dislike them intensely, and so do a lot of other people, but I am absolutely certain that with our limited sites in London we have got to build these high, obnoxious blocks of flats. From the inside, as living accommodation, such flats are on the whole extremely nice. It is only from the outside that they do not add to the amenities of London. But for the time being, owing to this absolute demand for living accommodation in London, I am bound to say that the building of these high flats is one of the things that has got to be allowed.

I hope with other hon. Members that this will not be the first and only debate that we shall have on London housing. I am quite sure that it is a matter which has now become a problem, if I may say so with great respect, beyond the London County Council and the borough councils. It has really become a national problem, and I think that the House will have to direct its attention to it constantly in the future because it is involving us in potential troubles of a very serious nature of which not least are the complaints about those from overseas who seek accommodation in London. In these circumstances, I wish to end as I began by expressing my gratitude to the hon. Member for Bermondsey for raising the matter.

5.10 p.m.

Mr. George Isaacs (Southwark)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) has the privilege and pleasure of representing that part of London. I have the same privilege and pleasure of representing Southwark, but they are two completely different Londons, and his experience of his London is very much different from my experience of mine. Nevertheless, there are several points on which we can agree. I agree with his remarks about the growing demand for better accommodation amongst young people, a subject to which I shall return in a moment. He said that people do not want to go to the new towns. That has not been my experience——

Sir P. Spens

I must make myself clear about that. I only said that people do not want to go to the new towns unless they can find work there.

Mr. Isaacs

Many of the new towns are providing work, and many of our young people have applied to the local authorities there, and through the Ministry of Labour offices here. They are anxious to go to the new towns, but there is not enough opportunity for them all. They are willing to go.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman was perfectly right when he said that these people will go anywhere to get a house. They will. Many members of my own trade union work in London and travel to Brighton and the south coast each day because they are able to afford the fare; they can get a house there and leave the conditions in which they were housed before. He also referred to high buildings. High buildings are not so much trouble when there is a lift. The young woman of today would rather have a nice flat at the top of any of the high buildings, with a bathroom and toilet up there, than live on the second floor of an old house in London with neither convenience available.

The hon. Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead) struck the note on which our discussion should be based. Let us humanise the problem, and not think so much in terms of figures and statistics. Some hon. Members will remember Mr. Jack Jones, who at one time represented Silvertown. I remember him once saying "Figures can't lie". But he added "Liars can't figure." That remark has been so often repeated that it has become hackneyed.

We must humanise the problem. In the last three years I have interviewed over 2,000 of my constituents who have housing problems. Boiled down, what does it come to? There is the example of the man and wife with two children—babies, almost—living on a third floor. The mother has to have a pram for the children, but has nowhere else to keep it except in her own room. It is father's job every morning to carry that pram down three flights of stairs and leave it in the lobby—so that the person on the ground floor can kick up a row about the pram being in the way. Every day the mother has to take those children up and down the stairs. There are children of couples living on the third storey of one house in my constituency who cannot get out at all.

Let us assume that the children are older—schoolchildren. There is the family consisting of a man and his wife, two boys and two girls. There are only two rooms and there is a bed in each room. They have to have a bed in what might be called the living room. Where can those boys and girls bring their friends at night for a social evening? What is worse—what about the boys studying for scholarships? Where can they read? They have to take a bus ride to do their studying and reading in the local library. We are holding back their educational opportunities.

In addition, those children have no place in which to play their harmless games and indulge in their harmless amusements and recreations. They must go into the streets. We hear a lot about the "Teddy" boy. What about him? If he likes to dress in fancy clothes, why should he not? It does not mean that every one of them is a bad egg. A boy mixes with his pals, and it is largely as a result of such conditions as I have described that we get juvenile delinquency.

Mention has been made of a change of outlook. There has been a change of outlook, and I glory in it. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey I was born in a slum. Throughout my boyhood and adolescent years I lived in a slum, where many of the houses were three storeys high with a family of three or four children living on each floor. I remember sleeping for many years with two of my brothers in an underground basement room. In that house there was only one toilet. There was only one water tap and all our water had to be brought downstairs.

There was little room to store coal. The housewife ordered 14 lb. of coal, which was put in a cupboard by the fireplace. It is all very well to tell those people to buy coal in the summer when it is cheap, but they have not anywhere to store it. I remember my mother putting down a big tin bath in the living room and then bringing in the hot water for our bath. We all went in, and I often wonder if the last one in did not come out dirtier than he was before.

Those conditions were accepted then, but they are not accepted today. Couples tell us "The borough council have offered us alternative accomodation, but we have to share the toilet with another family." They think that that is horrible—and so do I. And why should they have to carry all their clean water upstairs and bring all the dirty water down? I know that in the old days in the northern part of Southwark they did not carry the dirty water down—they chucked it out of the window. It was easier.

What has happened? The L.C.C. have sent out 60,000 letters—I hear someone say 160.000. It is the fact that 3,000 people have been told "You have a chance". All the rest have been told "Abandon hope." So they come to me, and others, week after week, bringing these letters, asking us to read them to see if there is any grain of hope. Sometimes we find a grain of hope. Sometimes we are able to say "You are one of the lucky ones. You might get an offer in two years' time," but the rest have to be told that there is no hope of an offer at at all.

So we get despair and despondency. Surely, in this day and age, our womenfolk are entitled to a decent home, with a kitchen and with running water; a home in which they can show the same pride as they showed in their slum dwellings, with the clean windows, and the doorsteps and passages scrubbed. Let us ease a little of their burden. I have spoken of couples with two or three children living in two rooms. I can give instances of couples with five children in one room. That is the result of living with in-laws. Six or seven years ago mother said "Come in, we will make room until you find a place for yourselves." They are still waiting. Surely, after doing a decent day's work, a man is entitled to come home to a decent place, and that we ought to, and could, provide.

We also have to remember the children. They have a right to circumstances and conditions better than we ourselves enjoyed. I love to see my grandchildren living in better conditions than I had. When I tell my grandchildren of the circumstances in which we lived and played in those days they do not believe me. We have to adopt the line suggested by the hon. Member for Putney, and I hope that the Minister will cut out a lot of the facts and figures and let us have a bit of humanity. Let us bend our will as much as we can to provide homes that are decent. Many of us remember that famous phrase at the end of the First World War—"Homes fit for heroes to live in". I would turn that phrase, as was often done in those times, to read. "You have got to be heroes to live in some of the homes".

I am delighted that my hon. Friend who represents the neighbouring constituency of Bermondsey should have introduced this subject. It is not very often that I speak in the House nowadays. I have had my day. I am coming towards the end of my political life, but if I can do anything in the last two or three years which remain to me in public life to bring hope to those living in disgusting and filthy conditions and who are troubled by high rents and harsh landlords who will do nothing for their tenants, I will go out singing my swan-song on that note.

5.21 p.m.

Wing Commander Eric Bullus (Wembley, North)

I hope that the right hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Isaacs) will forgive me if I do not follow him in close detail. I agree with him that this is a problem which we must humanise, and I listened with interest to his recollections of early days. I think he would be the first to agree that we have progressed quite a lot since those days. I agree, also, that there is still much to be done and that we have got to do our best to progress even more.

I was interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that some of his trade union colleagues, to solve their own personal housing difficulties, have had to go to the coast, living at such places as Brighton, and travel to London daily. That gives point to the fact that there are many people living in London who have no real reason for residing there. Although this is a free country, and people who want to reside in London should be allowed to do so, I think that the Minister should make an appeal to some of those who have no real need to be in London to find accommodation elsewhere, probably on the coast, where the cost of living is certainly not so high as in London. That would help release the pressure in London.

I should like to join in the congratulations which have been given to the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). If I may say so, his was a thoughtful, reasonable and pleasant speech, and I hope that he will often speak from the Front Bench opposite. He certainly made some criticism of the Government, but I am sure that he, in his fairness, would recognise that the Tories, for the past six years, have made a notable contribution to the solution of the housing problem by building so many new houses. It is often forgotten that we have as a Government built many houses.

The hon. Gentleman made many other points which I am sure the Minister will answer. I want to join in the appeal that was made to the Minister to ease the restrictions and to give the utmost practical encouragement to those people who wish to buy their own houses. I am one of those who think that it is rather more difficult now to buy one's own house than it was a few years ago. We Tories have said, "Let us be a property-owning community", but I would be the first to say that it is not quite so easy today to buy a house as it was two or three years ago. I urge the Minister to do all in his power to encourage those who are prepared to undertake the purchase of their own houses.

London's housing has always posed a real problem and I supose that it always will do. We are told—and I think that probably a case can be made for this—that housing over the whole country is in balance. But that is over the whole country, and I have very grave doubts whether housing in London is in balance. I am not allowed to anticipate the effects of the Bill which is at present before Parliament, but although some under-occupied accommodation will be made available as a result of that legislation, a certain amount of upheaval will be added to the existing difficulties in London.

I am not in the centre of London. I represent one of the residential areas on the outskirts of London, although part of my division, the Kingsbury area, comes in the N.W.9 postal area. That is a desirable residential, built-up area. But there is no more building land. The council has done a good job of work there, and it is one of the few councils whose housing finances are in balance. But I recognise that although some under-occupied property is coming into the market, that probably more houses will come in for sale and certainly a few to let, there is going to be a certain amount of moving around.

I think most of those who represent London constituencies will find the same difficulty, but it will be more apparent in the desirable, residential built-up areas. I have advised those anxious tenants who have come to see me to get in touch at once with their landlords to try through personal contact to arrange longer leases for security of tenure. In spite of that, I recognise that there is bound to be some upheaval.

I should, therefore, like to make a suggestion to the Minister. I agree that this is a human problem, and although we in this House have our differences about the right approach to it we are surely all at one in trying to solve the problem. When many of those people who are likely to be displaced or to join the lists of those searching for housing have exhausted the possibilities at the local estate agency, they inevitably turn to the town hall. It is right that they should do so.

I wonder whether the Minister would circulate the town clerks of our boroughs and county boroughs and the clerks of our district councils to see whether, for a period of some months, they are prepared to act as a clearing house for those who require a change of accommodation. It would be well worth while for any council to set aside one, two or even three persons from its housing department for a limited time to deal with this especial problem of change-over.

I suggest that the town clerk of a borough or area should circulate all the estate agents in his own area and compile a central register of available property, whether houses for sale or to let or whether furnished or unfurnished rooms. We must have in each borough or district a central register of available property. It may be thought that there will not be much available property. We can differ in that opinion. I think that there will be a certain amount, and that it would be well worth encouraging local councils to have this central register in their own clearing house at the town hall..

I have spoken to my own town clerk in Wembley. Without committing his own borough council, he has expressed the personal opinion that it would be a good idea that a clerk or clerks should have details of all the available accommodation, supplied by the local estate agents, and that they should be kept periodically up to date, so that those seeking accommodation could go to the town hall where the clerk would show the available list and, if need be, telephone the estate agent concerned to make sure that the property was still vacant.

I merely throw out that suggestion in the belief that if it were developed it would be of real help to those who will be looking for accommodation in the next 12 months. In those areas where the council might not be prepared to do this, probably the citizens' advice bureaux would exhibit lists of available accommodation which could be submitted by local estate agents, and which would be kept up-to-date. We require a central clearing agency so that those people who naturally and inevitably turn to the town hall can see at once what is available. I make this small point in the hope that it will be a useful contribution to this very important debate.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

In my constituency, as in those of other hon. Members, this is by far the most urgent and pressing problem. I shall go to my constituency this Friday evening, but before I go, I know that of those people who will come to see me nine out of ten will describe the distressing and terrible conditions in which they are living. The tragedy is that there is now almost no hope which we can give them. I hope that the Minister realises that the situation in the central London boroughs is worse than at any time since the war. There is nothing that one can do as a Member of Parliament, except to advise these people to try to save £300 as the deposit for buying a house.

I want very briefly to make a few practical suggestions to the Minister. We all want to be practical on this subject. We all know what the problem is. First and foremost the Government should now toughly and energetically take steps to limit the expansion of employment in London. both office and industrial. The most helpful feature of the debate is that we seem to have all-party support for that proposal. If the growth of employment in London is not limited, nothing can solve the housing problem. There is nothing which the L.C.C. or any other local authority can do.

On the other hand, if it is limited, the problem is perfectly soluble. The Gov- ernment have powers, through the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, to limit both factory expansions and office employment in London. Those powers were used in the first few years after the war and it always seemed to me that the argument for limiting such expansion in London in those years, on the ground of solving the London housing problem, was every bit as important as reducing unemployment elsewhere.

If I had time, I could quote figures to show that in the last few years the Government have become lax about this matter. The figures of industrial approvals show that there are far too many approvals for expansion in London compared with the rest of the country. If the right hon. Gentleman is to do his job as Minister of Housing, I urge him to get together with the Board of Trade, which has powers, and to tighten up on this matter, something for which he will have the support of the whole House.

The other failure of the Government has been that they have not stopped firms from outside London taking over factories which have been vacated by firms which have left central London to go to the new towns. It has been obvious over the last ten years that if that happened, the new towns would merely expand employment in London, making the problem worse and not better. The solution is to contrive to have such factories taken over by local authorities, or, as I would prefer, by the Ministry of Works, at a fair valuation, to be used for Government storage, for which there is a very large demand. That could have been done for years past and I hope that the Minister will examine that suggestion. If it is not done and these old factories are taken over by firms from outside London, that will expand employment and increase London's housing problem.

I urge the Minister to join in taking active steps to see that the programmes for expanded towns, particularly the L.C.C.'s new towns, get going. The L.C.C. has proposals for a new town of its own. In some ways I wish that the L,C.C. could have been responsible for the London satellite towns from the start. The L.C.C. has a proposal which is not over-ambitious, but I gather that it depends on the support of the Government.

We all agree that the other main practical step is the use of expanded towns. We have all heard of the difficulties, but expanded towns are the only real hope of getting something going. The proposal seems to have become bogged down because the Government did not give sufficient financial help and because of trivial and small-minded local politics in some of the towns which it was proposed to expand. We need a new initiative from the Minister and I hope that he is prepared to be bold and energetic in seeing that we get more than the present three expanded towns in operation over the next few years.

5.36 p.m.

Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)

Nearly every speaker in the debate, including the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), has referred to the immense potential of the expanded towns towards solving London's enormous housing problem. It is a very great potential, but it has been disappointed since it was first mooted soon after the end of the Second World War. We do not want to go into too many recriminations about the past, but there are certain considerations which are worth bearing in mind for the future. The expanded towns have not contributed as much as was hoped towards a solution of this problem, very largely I believe because of psychological as well as financial reasons.

The first point I want to make is on the subject of industry. I do not agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) that there are many who are unwilling to go to the new towns and the expanded towns, but I agree that if people are going, they must have jobs and if the expanded towns are to offer jobs to the Londoners who want them, they must be sure of getting the industry to provide those jobs. It is questionable whether the Board of Trade, which has control of the industrial development certificates, and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government have worked together as closely as one would wish in this business of providing industry for Londoners who leave the Metropolis.

It is not simply a matter of coordinating the functions of the two Ministeries. The problem is that the two Ministries are pursuing different objectives and I hope that perhaps my right hon. Friend can say something about this matter. The Board of Trade does not take expanded towns as seriously as development areas. It never has. That may be understandable, but it does not assist the development of expanded towns and much of the elaborate work done in card indexing those who wish to leave London for their prospective employment and so on, which has been done in conjunction with the Ministry of Labour, has been wasted.

One example is that of Ashford which was refused an industrial development certificate for a Rolls Royce works. Ashford was given to understand that the Board of Trade did not want further development of this kind in south-east England. That may be a right and sound policy industrially, but it is not much encouragement to a town in south-east England which is expected to expand.

My second point is this. Our primary object is to reduce the pressure of population in London. Much more impetus would be given if towns contributing to a solution of the overspill problem saw signs that their efforts were making a material contribution to reducing London's pressure. Here I follow the point made by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North on the subject of physical control of what comes into London after the Londoners have left. I do not under-rate the difficulties of imposing physical controls, not only on business and commerce, but on the whole range of activities in which London acts with very great magnetism still. So long as London's magnetism is unrestrained, there will be a tendency for the population and business to fill in behind those who go to expanded towns.

The difficulties here are very great indeed, but I think more can be done than has been done so far. Expanded towns in particular want to see that what they are doing is effective. There is very little consolation in making a contribution and then finding that the population of London has remained where it was, or has even increased.

I come now to my third point. London presents the main problem, but the prospective expanded towns have their problems too. I hope that none of the London Members who have spoken in this debate believe that the difficulty of obtaining co-operation between the London County Council and the expanded towns is due entirely to selfishness on the part of the towns.

The fact is that from the London point of view there is no real limit to the speed or density of the exodus. Quite naturally, within a certain much bigger figure than is yet within sight, the London County Council would like to see Londoners leave, but for the smaller authorities who are expected to be the expanded towns there is a distinct limit to the speed with which they can assimilate the new population from London; otherwise, from many points of view—industrial, commercial and social—there is a danger of indigestion.

Two factors must be borne in mind from the viewpoint of the prospective expanded town. One is the number of new arrivals who can be taken as against the number of people already in the town, and the second is the speed with which the arrivals can be handled. Unfortunately, the difficulties of London and of the expanded towns do not coincide.

I am not in the least critical of the L.C.C., which has learnt a very great deal about the problems of expanded towns in recent years, but there is, I think, still a tendency for the London County Council to regard this question a little too much as only a London problem to which, naturally, the L.C.C. expects others to make a contribution in its solution. It is not enough so to view the problem.

This is a national problem in which the smaller authorities which are prepared to help are urgently in need of more guidance and advice. There is a great disparity in size between the London County Council, which is, I believe, the biggest administrative body of its kind in the world, and the staffs, experience and capacity of some of the smaller local authorities which are invited to cooperate. I beg London Members to hear that very much in mind.

It is always possible to say that the Government can, and should, contribute more financially towards solving the problem. I have also heard the view expressed that the expanded towns stand ultimately to gain and should be prepared to take a risk. That may well be true, but against the background of inflation and increased capital costs and the prospective effect on their ratepayers, it is not surprising that some of their city fathers have adopted a cautious attitude concerning prospective expansion. It is true that the Government have moved forward to meet them, but, unfortunately, costs have moved forward also.

There is less of a financial than a psychological problem here. I think that both the London County Council and my right hon. Friend the Minister need to understand a little more the psychology of the smaller authorities which are expected to contribute to London's great problem. For them, this is the first social experiment of its kind and a great deal of the territory ahead is quite unknown. There are many imponderables. There is also amazingly little practical experience from the viewpoint of some of the authorities which are to receive Londoners in large numbers.

It is now debatable whether we would not have done better to have had smaller schemes rather than to have expected success from a small number of larger schemes. In ten years we have made disappointingly little progress. If we are to improve that progress, we must be sympathetic not only towards London's problem, which we all share, but we must be sympathetic also towards those who are expected to contribute to its solution.

5.44 p.m.

Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)

I do not in any way want to detract from the problems of London itself, which have already been put before the House this afternoon, but I wish to refer to the special problems of the outer London area which is included in the County of Middlesex. The problems of overcrowding and the need for expansion outside its borders are comparable in Middlesex to those of London, but the solution cannot be the same because of the particular difficulties of the county council and borough council arrangements in Middlesex.

I should like briefly to mention some of these problems as they appear to Middlesex boroughs and urban districts. There is no land left in Middlesex upon which house building can continue for very many years to come. In my own constituency, which covers the Borough of Wood Green and part of the Borough of Tottenham, all the house-building land has been completely taken up. In Tottenham, the waiting list remains fairly constant at between 9,000 and 10,000 and 3,000 of those families are each living in one room.

In Middlesex, as in London, there is the problem of clearing the "prefabs" from open space and providing alternative accommodation for the families thus displaced. There is the problem of releasing requisitioned properties, either by purchasing them from the owners or by rehousing the families. In Tottenham, there are 750 families in requisitioned properties.

There is the problem of slum clearance, which has already been mentioned this afternoon as invariably leaving a surplus of population which has to be accommodated elsewhere. There may be isolated cases where it does not create a surplus of population, but, by and large, there is a surplus and accommodation must be found for these families.

The only way in which housing can be obtained for people on the housing waiting lists in Middlesex, as in London, is by looking outside its borders. Reference has already been made to the difficulties with regard to the new towns. I believe it is correct to say that just over 9,000 Middlesex families were rehoused in new and expanded towns up to June of last year. That may sound an impressive figure, but when related to particular areas it means only a few hundred from each borough and urban district in Middlesex.

My next point is extremely relevant, because the question of housing need is a question really of people on council house waiting lists. In the main, the families in the now towns do not come from council house waiting lists, at least so far as Middlesex is concerned. What tends to happen is that a worker goes out to a new town, obtains employment and thereupon obtains a house. He may not be in great housing need, and so that does not help the problem of the local authority. Of 728 families rehoused in new and expanded towns from Tottenham, only 148 were families nominated by the local authority; and that is a fairly average proportion over the whole county.

The particular difficulties of Middlesex arise in the town development schemes. It is difficult for the small local authorities to negotiate town development schemes with other authorities outside their borders. It is much easier for a county council to do it, but Middlesex County Council is not a housing authority. It has steadfastly refused to apply for housing powers. It has refused to set up a joint committee of itself and the local districts and, beyond that, it has even refused to make a survey of towns that are available for expansion for the benefit of the local authorities in its area.

To take one particular difficulty. As the Minister knows, there is a scheme at the moment whereby the L.C.C. and the Middlesex County Council are trying to negotiate an expansion scheme, but every time a point is raised the Middlesex representatives have to say, "We cannot speak for our authorities, but shall have to go back and inquire what they want and what they can do." That means that the whole question of town expansion for the Middlesex authorities is extremely difficult. What has happened has been that the local authorities have been forced back on their own resources to try to negotiate their own schemes with authorities in other counties.

Edmonton and Tottenham were fortunate in securing a housing scheme at Potters Bar, but I drew the attention of the Minister only last week to the fact that a scheme which Wood Green was negotiating at Letchworth had to be abandoned for the simple reason that in all these schemes the authorities which negotiate them privately are deprived of the housing subsidy, which means that if the schemes are proceeded with the rents are prohibitive for the people who are on a local authority housing waiting list.

I do not want to take up any more time, except in putting several points to the Minister for his consideration on behalf of Middlesex. Reference has been made to the need of the L.C.C. for a new town, and I entirely support that, but I hope that if I say that Middlesex also needs a new town that will not detract in any way from the case for meeting L.C.C. requirements. If Middlesex could have a new town allocated to it, the Minister would have to take the initiative in this respect, because Middlesex County Council cannot do it, not being a housing authority. It would enable the County Council, as the planning authority, to move some of the industry from Middlesex to the new town.

I would remind the Minister that Middlesex has more industry than even the L.C.C. area, and that this problem of moving industry is a very real one. It would also allow local authorities to have an allocation of houses in the new towns, and in that way the two groups of local authorities, the county and county districts, could combine in the new town to solve these two pressing problems of the removal of industry and the removal of families in housing need from Middlesex.

It is necessary for the whole scheme of tying up families with industry to be looked at again. I refer to the industrial selection scheme, and it is obvious that, as far as London and Middlesex are concerned, where factories move out, a large number of workers move with those factories, and they may not be in housing need. That, of course, is inevitable, but I am not convinced that it is not possible for other workers needed in the new and expanded towns to come in greater numbers from the housing waiting lists of local authorities through the labour exchanges if the whole system were tightened up. It has become very lax recently, as the Minister knows, and there is need for tightening it up.

I would also ask the Minister to look at the problem of houses vacated by families moving into the new and expanded towns. In Tottenham, over a period of six months, a check was kept on all families which moved to new towns, and in each case the landlord was approached to take a family from the housing waiting list to fill the vacancy thus created. Not one landlord would agree to do it. Out of 67 houses thus vacated, in every case a family moved in to fill the vacancy, as a result of a private arrangement.

I do not know what the answer is to that problem, but the Minister must look at it again and see whether there is some means of trying to persuade the landlords to take tenants from council waiting lists, because that is the way in which we shall ease this problem of linking industry and people moving from Middlesex to a new town with a reduction in housing waiting lists.

Finally, as far as Middlesex is concerned, when the Middlesex Development Plan is reviewed, if there is some demand by the Middlesex boroughs in the inner ring for a higher density in their areas, I hope the Minister will look sympathetically at this, because I am not satisfied that the densities that have been allocated for the whole of Middlesex are necessarily the right densities in view of the present situation in housing and the present needs of the county.

I am very glad to have had the opportunity of raising these questions, because I can assure the Minister that if he does not look at some of these problems and take some action the situation in Middlesex will become increasingly intolerable. Something must be done to co-ordinate and solve the difficulties of the work of the local councils and the work of the county, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, if the Middlesex County Council will not take that initiative, to take it himself and call a joint conference of the local councils and the County Council to see whether some sort of association can be set up to go into these problems more fully and find a solution to them.

5.55 p.m.

Sir Wavell Wakefield (St. Marylebone)

The London County Council Housing Committee's Report No. 2, of 17th October, 1956, begins with the words: Because of the scarcity of land on which to build new homes, and so on. That phrase indicates the main difficulty with which we are faced at present. The crux of the problem is this scarcity of land, together with the great need in London, particularly in Central London, for greater housing, as well as for offices and other places of work. It is therefore of the utmost importance that the land that is available should be wisely used, and unfortunately at the present time that does not always seem to be the case.

For example, in my constituency not long ago a single-storey school was built. Surely, that is an improper use of valuable land and building space, when a school of more than one storey could have been built on the same site, thereby economising in the use of valuable land in the centre of London. I think that perhaps the problem, and the reason why we are in such a difficulty now, is well stated by a constituent of mine who also represents St. Marylebone on the London County Council. The following extract from a letter written to me might be of interest to the House: The real niggers in the woodpile are the town planners, who have deliberately fixed density figures on the basis of reducing the prewar population of London of about 4 million to 3¼ million. They are deliberately preventing people being rehoused on the theory that the answer for London is for people to move out. In other words, they have deliberately planned for an overspill of about three-quarters of a million, and there is nowhere for it to overspill to. I suggest to the Minister that this question of density in various parts of London should be reviewed again. I feel certain that if it were reviewed it would be found that a number of these families—tragic cases with which we are all so familiar—could be rehoused without any great disadvantage to people living or working in London now. It would enable effect to be given to the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens), with which I so much agree, about people wanting to be able to live near where they work. It is no use putting up great offices in Central London, while people have to travel into London from a long way out. Surely, it is far better to restrict some of these large offices now being built in Central London, and increase the density for residents, which would ease the travelling and traffic problem, because people could live quite near their work or shopping centres and would perhaps be able to walk instead of causing congestion on the Underground and the buses. Therefore, I suggest that this is a matter which should be reviewed again.

For instance, at this very moment, my borough council is having a heated argument with the London County Council for the extension of its own Church Street housing scheme. The L.C.C. wants to cut down the number which the St. Marylebone Borough Council believes can perfectly well be accommodated. The L.C.C. want to have fewer people in this area than the borough council itself feels could be housed there. Surely there is something wrong there, when all of us in all parts of the House know how housing is so desperately needed.

Only recently a block of flats belonging to St. Marylebone Council, and in my constituency, has been built at the corner of Hamilton Terrace and Carlton Hill, and it is of only three storeys. It could perfectly well have been built with six storeys and so have provided more much needed housing, for some of London's families. St. Marylebone Housing Association, which finds accommodation for old folk, recently completed a small block of flats for old people in Greville Place, St. John's Wood. At first the Association was refused planning permission to build a block of more than two floors. On appeal, it managed to get permission for a third floor. That building could easily have been of four or five floors, and more old people could have been housed in it.

There must surely be something wrong somewhere when this sort of frustration is allowed when we are faced with this desperate housing situation. There must be something wrong when planning permission is refused for greater density in areas where people could easily and properly be housed at a greater density. I do ask my right hon. Friend to review the whole situation. In my constituency there are some old houses whose fabric is perfectly good but which are not being used at all. They are quite unsuitable for residence or for conversion into flats, and it would be uneconomic so to convert them, but they could very well be used for offices. There are substantial blocks of flats now being used as offices, but which are ideal flats. I suggest that examination of that problem be undertaken. It may make only a small contribution, but it would make some contribution towards solving this growing problem of housing in Central London.

London is a magnet which attracts people from everywhere. They come from Commonwealth and foreign countries. They stay perhaps only six months, but they take furnished flats in which to reside while they are here. That aggravates the housing problem. In considering the problem of housing in Central London, we should ensure that at least we use wisely the space which is available. If we do not, this problem will never gel better: it will get worse.

6.2 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Robinson (St. Pancras, North)

I welcome this debate because I have long thought that London's housing problem is a totally different problem from that of any other town or city in the United Kingdom. I think it is different in kind, because nowhere else are there so many people, both absolutely and proportionately, who need homes—and most of them need them urgently—and who have no hope whatever of getting those homes in the foreseeable future.

This has been, on the whole, a constructive debate, and so I shall not dwell unduly on the measures the Government have taken that have made this problem even worse than it need have been. I shall not go into the question of the Requisitioned Houses and Housing (Amendment) Act, the cuts in the housing subsidies, the abolition of the general needs subsidy, or the Rent Bill, because I think there are things which we can yet do, not to solve this problem, because I believe it is from the point of view of any complete or even satisfactory solution insoluble, but to reduce it. Suggestions to that end have been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House today.

There is one matter in particular with which I want to deal. It is, I am happy to say, one which was dealt with by the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield), with whom I find myself in agreement today. This is one of the rare occasions on which I follow him in a debate and agree with him. The densities in the Central London area are far too low. When I talk about Central London I am thinking of the area within a radius of five or six miles from Piccadilly Circus. The emphasis on low densities has been one of the great blunders of the town planners in the last twenty years or so.

Mr. Mellish

The last two hundred.

Mr. Robinson

It is conceivable that it has been going on for two hundred years.

Mr. Mellish

Planning began to get really bad in the 'eighties.

Mr. Robinson

There has been a fetish amongst town planners—at least for twenty years—that we must get the densities down. One of the results of the fetish is that the new towns have been somewhat ill-designed. Apart from everything else, it is psychologically necessary. I believe, for a town to have a certain amount of compactness and even congestion at the centre. Without that, I do not believe its inhabitants feel it is a town at all. Because of this enthusiasm for low densities the new towns are sprawling much too widely.

In London we have got to have high densities in the centre. I want to know why it is that the town planners have concentrated on reducing the density of the residential accommodation——

Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Norwich, South)

Because of the London County Council.

Mr. Robinson

—when there has been no similar attention paid to the density of office accommodation which, as more than one hon. Member has said, contributes more than anything else to traffic congestion in the centre of London. I agree entirely with the hon. Member for St. Marylebone that if we can increase the densities in the centre of London we can automatically reduce traffic congestion. That, surely, is one very good reason for doing it. Unfortunately, we have lost many chances, because most of the bombed spaces and available building sites in inner London area have been used, but if we raise the densities now at least we can rebuild the slum clearance areas in such a way that we do not automatically lose between 20 per cent. and 33 per cent, of the accommodation that was previously provided.

Mr. Rippon

Has the hon. Member or have any of his hon. Friends made any representations to the London County Council, which, of course, is the planning authority which has been responsible for fixing the low densities in London and has so enormously aggravated the problem?

Mr. Robinson

Representations have been made by my borough from time to time. However, I submit to the House that it is the duty of the Minister to give a lead in this matter, because he is responsible for housing in this country, and he has a reserved responsibility for housing the people of London—and, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) reminds me, he can modify development plans. So I make this appeal to him.

The corollary of higher densities is building high, and I believe that it is desirable in itself to build high in the inner London area. There has been great prejudice against high buildings, but I am happy to see that it appears to be evaporating at last. I was glad to see the other day a 17-storey block of flats in the Stepney area had been approved. And when we build higher let us see that this does not automatically involve placing our buildings in an ever larger area of lawn or open space.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, when winding up the debate, will give this question attention, and say that he accepts the view that the present densities in Central London are too low. As the debate is to run on a little later than originally proposed, I regret that I shall not be able to hear his speech, and I hope that he will acquit me of any discourtesy.

6.8 p.m.

Mr. A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)

The interesting thing about this debate is that so many suggestions have been made from both sides of the House. That goes to show that the problem is not one easy to solve.

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) that, fundamentally, this problem is insoluble. London is unique. It is the largest city in the world; it is the greatest trading centre in the world; it is a centre for travellers coming from all parts of the world; and it has in the affections of the people of this country a place which probably is equalled only by that which Paris occupies in the hearts of Frenchmen.

People do not readily like to move away from London. It offers amenities far greater than can be found anywhere else in the country and people have become accustomed to having these amenities near at hand. Millions of citizens of this great city have been prepared, day in and day out year in and year out, to suffer the trials and tribulations of the old London and North-Eastern Railway, and other monstrosities which have been part of their lives, to get them to and from work.

Another difficult problem to overcome is that of high building. Many people prefer to have a house and a piece of ground, no matter how small, where they can grow something in the course of the summer. Many people take pride in that achievement. If we built 16-storey or 17-storey buildings and adopted a mentality similar to that of people in the United States, that important part of the life of the people would disappear altogether. It is possible to drive round some of the worst slums in London and always find small plots of land cultivated by someone who is living in the most appalling conditions.

Mr. Gibson

Clear the slums.

Mr. Cooper

It does not lie in the mouth of the hon. Member to talk about slum clearance. The present Government have promoted schemes of slum clearance which have been consistently opposed by the hon. Member.

Mr. Gibson

I am sorry that the hon. Member has said that. He knows, and he has been told more than once, that the London County Council started slum clearance programmes four years before the present Government came into office.

Hon. Members


Mr. Cooper

I will certainly not withdraw. We have heard today that the Government should not be placing an emphasis on slum clearance, but I believe that Her Majesty's Government are quite right to deal with slum clearance at present. I do not believe that the figure of only 7 per cent. of the waiting list being slum dwellers, quoted by the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), is accurate. It may be accurate in certain areas, but over the country as a whole it is wrong.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison

On this side of the House we have never opposed any slum clearance scheme, but we have wanted a great deal more done about housing.

Mr. Cooper

If the hon. Member for Bermondsey will travel round the country, and not only in London where the problem is rather specific, he will find cases such as that of Ilford, for instance, where, thank God, we have not many slums but what slums we have consist not of old tenement buildings but small 2-storey houses. When those houses are taken down, the council will build flats of six, perhaps eight, or ten storeys. The amount of new accommodation made available, therefore, will be considerably greater than the accommodation replaced. but I concede that in some areas where the slum property is tenement property its replacement by flats might not make much of a housing contribution other than providing good accommodation for people who are at present badly housed.

Mr. Mellish

The point that I was trying to make, probably not too clearly, was that probably 93 per cent. of the waiting list about which we have been talking this afternoon will not be affected by slum clearance. It is as simple as that.

Mr. Cooper

I now want to make a criticism of London County Council. I do not think that it has tackled the problem of housing in London with all the care and energy that it should have done. The majority of the bad housing areas are under the control of Socialist councils. It is astonishing that the worst areas in London are all under the control of Socialist councils and have been so for many years. We on this side of the House are entitled to ask the Socialists what they have been doing all these years, including the six years when they were in office.

Mr. Maurice Orbach (Willesden, East)

Pulling down the rubbish which the hon. Member's pals built.

Mr. Cooper

During those six years the Socialists built only 200,000 houses every year. We have built more in four years than they succeeded in building in six and we are still building at the rate of 300,000 a year. Therefore, it ill behoves hon. Members oposite to say that we are not dealing with this problem at all. We are dealing with it at a level at least 50 per cent. higher than hon. Members opposite proved themselves capable of doing when they were in office.

We should build more houses, but this is where the Government and the country are face to face with an implacable position. First, notwithstanding the difficulties in Coventry and in the motor car industry generally, which appear to be clearing slowly, we still have full employment. That has a very important bearing on what we are discussing today.

Mr. Lipton

London housing?

Mr. Cooper

Yes, London housing. We are asking industry to increase production and exports. We are demanding from the Government an enormous programme of new roads and enormous financial resources for the development of coal mines, atomic energy and other things. The fact is that we have no more resources in the country at present to provide for very much more than we are doing now.

Hon. Members have to face the fact that if they want an additional 100,000 houses a year, the labour and raw materials must be provided for that purpose. If we are to provide the labour and raw materials, from whom are we to take them? Which of the other demands that we are making are we to cut down to provide them? When the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) was Financial Secretary to the Treasury, he used to make this same sort of speech to the House of Commons when we on this side of the House were the Opposition and we were demanding more and more of the Government of the day.

We are living in an economy which is very greatly strained. Unless we are able either to work harder or provide more machines to secure greater output, our economy will continue to be strained. I believe that at present a building figure of 300,000 a year is about as much as our industry can sustain.

Mr. Jay

But did the hon. Member not hear me say that if the Government would limit industrial building in London that would ease the housing problem and make a double contribution to solving it?

Mr. Cooper

I think that the right hon. Member is in error in that. We want more industrial building, though not necessarily in London, but we have only a certain number of operatives and the people who work on building sites are not necessarily resident in London. The right hon. Gentleman is well aware that skilled and unskilled labourers are picked up by coaches from the outer suburbs of London every day and brought into the centre to work upon new projects.

Whenever a new office is to be built hon. Members opposite sneer. Surely they realise that office accommodation is an essential part of our commercial life.

Mr. Gibson

Not before houses.

Mr. Cooper

If proper offices, with their amenities, were not provided hon. Members opposite would be the first to grumble about the conditions in which workpeople are asked to live throughout the day.

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

Is the hon. Member saying that these office buildings must be situated in the centre of London? That is the point that my hon. Friend was making. He was saying that by concentrating all this extra office accommodation—greatly in excess of the pre-war level—in the centre of London the rush hour problem was greatly exacerbated.

Mr. Cooper

Of course there is a great increase in office accommodation in central London, for a number of very good reasons. First, the population has increased and, secondly, the working population, which is the important factor, is considerably greater than it was before the war. It is essential to have more industrial accommodation for our people to work in.

Mrs. Jeger

Why in the middle of London?

Mr. Cooper

When I began my speech I tried to emphasise that London is a unique city. in a unique position. It is the greatest trading city in the world.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

Why not build the offices in Ilford?

Mr. Cooper

The hon. Member cannot have it all his own way. We have used all the land we have for house building. We have no more left. We cannot have any more offices in Ilford. Notwithstanding that, we have endeavoured to strike a balance between our industrial and residential life.

This problem cannot be solved overnight. How many people do we want to move out of London—500,000 or 1 million? The population of London is 10 million. To ease the problem and bring it to within anything like measurable proportions we should have to move between 500,000 and 1 million people. Do hon. Members realise what is involved in such a movement? It represents the movement of ten cities, each with a population of 100,000.

How long will it take us to build accommodation for those people—and where do we build it? How much agricultural land—which we need for food—is to be taken up by the movement of great masses of people from London? What accommodation would be provided for factories and transport, and how much extra would it cost to produce the goods which we need for our export market?

This problem can be solved only within the limits of our available resources. I beg right hon. and hon. Members opposite not to rush round the country arguing that the municipalisation of housing will cure all the nation's housing problems. They know quite well that it will not make available a single extra room, but will mean that what is available will cost very much more.

6.24 p.m.

Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)

I have listened to every speech made in this debate, and I cannot help feeling that there has been an unreal atmosphere about our discussion. We had an example of that in the speech just made by the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Cooper).

I want to talk about the immediate housing problem of London. When I say "immediate," I mean the problem which troubles London people today, and from which tenants are suffering. I was particularly anxious to take part in this discussion because the housing problem has taken a very acute form in the Borough of Stoke Newington, which is part of the constituency that I have the honour to represent. Goodness knows, the other part—Hackney—suffers badly enough, and no doubt my hon. Friend who represents Hackney, Central (Mr. H. Butler) will deal with the position of Hackney.

I want to give details of what is happening in Stoke Newington, not because it is a local problem but because, I suggest, the grievances there are illustrative of the immensity of the immediate problem. Stoke Newington is a small borough. It has often been referred to as the model borough. Its council is very keen to increase its citizens' cultural activities, by providing libraries and encouraging the arts, and it is especially keen to solve its housing problem. Despite all its efforts over the years, however, it now has a housing waiting list of more than 3,000 families, and about 750 families still occupy requisitioned property.

As other hon. Members have said, one of the great difficulties in London is obtaining sites, on which to build, and Stoke Newington, being a small borough, suffers especially for this reason because practically all the sites have been used up. One of the first points I desire to make is that when a borough promotes a housing scheme and endeavours to take land by means of a compulsory purchase order there is often a very long wait before the Ministry approves or disapproves the order. As a rule, the waiting period is between five and ten months, but sometimes there is an even greater delay.

Reference has been made to the problem of slum clearance, and I know that the Government have made a great fuss about what they intend to do in this direction. A difficulty that the council finds in this matter is that the definition of what is slum property is drawn within too narrow limits, with the result that much property which the ordinary layman would describe as slum property cannot be brought within the definition for the purpose of slum clearance.

Having made those two short points I now come to the real difficulty. At present, the Borough of Stoke Newington has in hand housing schemes involving the building of about 500 flats. To raise the necessary finance it has to go into the market, and it has to meet increased rates of interest. I want to point out what that means in practice. The increase from 3¾ per cent to 5¾ per cent. interest has meant an increase of 18s. per week in the rent of a three-bedroom flat.

Each ½ per cent. increase over 3½ per cent. interest has meant an additional 4s. 6d. a week on the rent of the flat. The reduction and abolition of subsidies has meant an additional increase of 27s. 4d. per week in the rent. Thus, a flat which could be let at 30s. 8d. per week, based on the 1955 estimate, now has to bear an additional rent of 45s. 4d. per week, so that its rent is £3 16s. a week.

Mr. Robert Jenkins (Dulwich)

The hon. and learned Member has been good enough to give the House figures about the rent increase after subsidies have been withdrawn. Did he include the withdrawal of the borough subsidy, or the withdrawal of both the borough subsidy and the Exchequer subsidy? My point is that the House could be misled about the increase of rent that he mentioned, if the Exchequer subsidy and the borough subsidy were included.

Mr. Weitzman

I am saying that from a practical point of view, allowing first, for the increase in the rate of interest and, secondly, for the reduction or abolition of subsidies, in the case of a three-bedroom flat let at 30s. 8d. per week, on 1955 estimates the rent is now £3 16s. per week.

Mr. Jenkins

But I must ask——

Mr. Weitzman

I am sorry. That is the information I gave to the House as given to me for three-bedroom flats. In addition, there is because of the rise in the cost of——

Mr. Lewis

Is it not a fact that the tenant who has to pay the extra 18s. per week is not so much concerned whether that is directly due to the Government's action or indirectly, but that he still has to pay that 18s.?

Mr. Weitzman

My hon. Friend is wrong. The tenant does not have to pay 18s. a week. The difference is far more than that. It is the difference between £3 16s. and £1 10s. 8d., so that it is considerably more than 18s.

There is the rise in the cost of materials and wages. Whereas, until 1953, £8 was the figure estimated per year for maintenance and repair, including decorations, for each flat, now the estimate is £20 per year for a flat for repairs and maintenance, not including decoration.

The council has a duty to continue its building programme as energetically as possible. Indeed, it must do so in view of the large number on the waiting list for houses. Inevitably, year after year, thousands must wait to be rehoused. Again, there are those in requisitioned property, and that problem must be tackled. I give this as an example of what has happened. The Borough Council of Stoke Newington was faced with the problem of making ends meet in every sense of the term—I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Ilford. South is smiling. This is a practical example of the terrible state of affairs which a Conservative Government have brought about.

To make ends meet in any sense of the term, to proceed with their work, rents had to be increased. The only practical way in which the council could tackle the problem was to spread the burden of that increase among the general body of ratepayers and to revise the rents paid by the occupiers of flats. This meant increases on a large scale ranging from 4s. per week to as much as £1 per week in the case of a three-bedroom flat. The council could adopt no other course.

What did that mean to the tenants? Many of them had a hard enough time eking out their existence. Some are widows and others old-age pensioners. They have been faced with a rise in the cost of living, and only recently there has been the added burden of an increase in the cost of school meals and of milk and of insurance contributions. Those three items alone may well mean an additional 4s. to 5s. a week on the family budget of families where there are several children.

Now they have to face a considerable increase in rents. It means that they go without holidays and without other things. It is not surprising that in my constituency the tenants rose in protest. They blamed the council. But what could the council do? It endeavoured to alleviate matters by applying rebates. But it had to meet the bill and carry on with the work. The real culprits are the Government. There is no question about that, and I depreciate anyone allowing any hon. Member opposite to get away with the statement that a Tory Government have contributed anything to the solution of the housing problem. They have brought a great deal of misery and hardship on thousands of people, so I say again, and emphatically, that the real culprits are the Government.

To add to the difficulties—I mention it only in passing, because I must not discuss it in detail—we get the pernicious provisions of the Rent Bill, which will result in more hardship and suffering to the tenants. I have quoted the case of Stoke Newington and what is happening there because it is illustrative of what is happening elsewhere. It is a damning indictment of Government policy. The Stoke Newington Council has protested repeatedly and on a number of occasions I have endeavoured to voice that protest on behalf of my constituents. Through its town clerk the council has written to the Prime Minister and has asked the Minister of Housing to receive a deputation.

This iniquitous policy, under which it is possible to get money only at increased interest rates, this policy of the reduction and abolition of subsidies, this failure to deal properly with the problem of requisitioned properties, has brought about a situation which, I suggest, cries out for relief and remedy. I ask the Government to provide it. It is true that we have to discuss the problem of London and what we must do in the future, but what are we proposing to do now to solve that problem?

I ask the Government to realise the seriousness of the present state of affairs, which has resulted from their shortsighted and ruinous policy. However late it is, I implore the Minister to see that the Government examine their policy and attempt to do something to alleviate the situation.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Herbert Butler.

Mr. Lewis

Are there no speakers from the other side of the House?

6.36 p.m.

Mr. Herbert Butler (Hackney, Central)

I wish to deal with a specific housing matter, but before doing so may I say that I have been particularly interested in the alibis which hon. Gentlemen opposite have been serving up for the delectation of their constituents?

It is amazing to hear the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens) suggesting that residential property is being used as offices. I remember that we requested Lord Kilmuir, who was then Secretary of State for the Home Department, to retain in operation Regulation 68CA, but hon. Gentlemen opposite said that they did not want control. The hon. and gallant Member for Wembley, North (Wing Commander Bullus) said the Government have done a lot of building throughout the country. The Government do not build. It is the local authorities which build to let while private enterprise builds for sale. Therefore, the local authorities build the houses, which are required for letting.

I am not particularly enamoured either of increasing densities or shifting the people of London out of London. I am concerned with laying the responsibility for the lack of housing accommodation in London at the door of the Minister. I am convinced that what I am saying can be verified by anyone who is interested in the problem. On 6th November, 1956, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) raised the question of requisitioned houses and I also took part in the debate. We drew attention to the fact that the Minister had given an undertaking that local authorities would be empowered to purchase. The then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), said: The three factors which have been mentioned in this debate and which I would agree are the acid factors in the assessment of the deficit, of which the Exchequer bears 75 per cent., are, first, the rent which it is assumed that the local authority could obtain: secondly, the cost of maintenance and management; thirdly, the assessment of the life of the dwelling …. The hon. Gentleman went on: I would emphasise that that does not imply that a local authority must charge that rent …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 6th November, 1956; Vol. 560, c. 98–9.] The hon. Gentleman went on to explain how it is that local authorities can acquire houses. We asked the Parliamentary Secretary—he has now gone to another post—what was to happen to local authorities after the purchase of these properties to house the people. I indicated that the Ministry had taken a considerable time to deal with the matter. I would now like to recount briefly to the House the situation, to show what the Ministry does.

Circular 39/55, dated 31st August, 1955, states in paragraph 14, under the heading, "Leases and Purchases": A further circular on leasing and purchasing of properties will be issued in due course. It is about 18 months since that circular was issued and 21 months since the Act was passed, but the promised circular has not yet been received.

Let me refer to what the then Parliamentary Secretary said about the allocation of the deficit which falls on local authorities because of the purchase of these houses. My own borough council——

The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Mr. Henry Brooke)

I can clear up this point at once. The draft circular was discussed with the relevant local government bodies on Tuesday of last week and I hope to issue the further circular almost at once.

Mr. Butler

I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I was aware of that fact, but the country should know about it.

The other day I asked the right hon. Gentleman to tell the House what he had said to the local authorities about housing. He replied that the discussion had been secret. He cannot get away without acknowledging, nor can his Parliamentary Secretary, that they have been stopping the local authorities from providing houses for the people. In our case, the borough council has to house 2,270 licensees within the time limit of the Act. I will give two cases in illustration. I will take account of what the Parliamentary Secretary said. In one case, at 68, Fountaine Road, according to figures given by the Ministry, the Government will bear £65 of the annual loss and the borough council £114. The percentages there are 36 and 64, and not 75 and 25, as might have been expected.

In another case, the Government bear £43 of the annual loss and the borough council £88, giving percentages of 32.8 and 67.2 respectively. By the Act, Parliament fixed an arbitrary date by which all tenants of requisitioned property had to get out, having no regard for the people who had to go. Parliament gave the landlords five years' rental as a sweetener, provided that there was a lease of twenty-eight years or more. This shows that everything that the Government have done has been to retard housing for the people of London.

It is nonsense of the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Cooper) to say that we should shift people out of London. Because there were too many sheep in the field he suggested moving them. We want the people to be well and truly housed. We are not proposing to shift people about like pieces on a draughts-board. We want to call the attention of the country to the fact that in every sphere in which the Government have had a chance of retarding the housing of the people they have done so. London has expressed itself politically on the matter on many occasions, because the people of London know where the responsibility lies. We shall expose it time and time again.

6.46 p.m.

Mrs. Freda Corbet (Peckham)

I would not have intervened in the debate but for some of the statements that have been made by supporters of the Government. It might be possible to tell the House some of the facts, although I have no figures with me. I have only what is in my own mind.

Density of population is a fixed matter in London, where the London County Council has tried to plan so that London can develop on lines similar to other cities. We envisage a city with green spaces and with the inhabitants properly housed, not either crowded or overcrowded. We visualise the taking out of all industrial premises, which have become mixed up with London's residential accommodation. A plan on these lines has been prepared and approved.

There are four densities in London. In the centre, there is a density of 200, beyond which people will not be allowed to build. In the inner ring the density is 136. Beyond that there is a density of 100, and of 70. As we get away from the centre the density is decreased. Some borough councils, hard pressed for housing sites, are, naturally, anxious to build a greater density. The London County Council is very keen and very concerned to try to help them to keep a balance. It says, "What is the good of drawing up a plan for London and departing from it every time?", but there are occasions when the L.C.C. says, "Very well. Build in this position at a higher density, but when you develop close by do it at a lower density, and then we shall have the average density that will accord with the plan." That has been done on a number of occasions to meet pressing housing problems.

I can remember very well the kind of municipal housing that was taken over in my locality by my party when it came to power in 1936. I could take hon. Members to see a long string of places with densities that should never have been permitted. The people are living on top of one another. There is no open feeling, no privacy. They are overcrowded at a density about as high as most of the slums that we cleared. If density is over 200, it verges on slum conditions. We cannot build the London we want if we are to go back to the old conditions. It will not be a place fit for people to live in.

Some people speak of the possibility of building high and in that way getting more people into London. It is not so, because when we build high we overshadow neighbouring buildings. That means that we must build further away to avoid over-shadowing. One of the great advantages and blessings of municipal housing is that adequate air and sunlight are insisted upon. We cannot get them if we build as they do in New York. Hon. Members will have heard of the "canyons", for which New York is famous.

If we build up to seventeen or nineteen storeys in London, as we shall be doing presently, it will be for the purpose of making more room on the ground. We shall have light and air in all the dwellings up to standard and on the ground we shall have green spaces. We shall open up our city and, as part of an overall plan, there will be a certain number of houses even within the centre of London.

Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)

I see the point that my hon. Friend is making, but I want her to consider this one, also. My hon. Friend knows only too well my own area, Deptford, where there is a density of 40 families to the acre. How would she replace it with a density of 37 families to the acre, since we have no alternative accommodation for those people? Will there not be a limit of slum clearance if the density figure is too low for the availability of sites?

Mrs. Corbet

I have been trying to explain that this is the kind of problem with which London is faced and that it does not apply only to one borough. If the London County Council gives way in one case, how can it be expected not to allow the same thing to go on all over London? As I have said, the Council is flexible. It seeks in every possible way both to keep to the plan and to try to help the boroughs. If it gives way in one case, however, it creates a precedent. I can assure my hon. Friend that I have precisely the same conditions in my borough and yet there is a proposition for a 140-acre open space, which we welcome.

I hope that I have been able to explain the problem of density and the fact that even if it were altered it would be but a drop in the ocean. It is important that people should not be crowded on to small areas of land as they have been in the past. It is important to Londoners that we should be able to visualise a London of grace and dignity and beauty. I therefore ask my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen opposite not to press this unduly. I can assure them that the London County Council has the interest of the boroughs at heart.

Much is said about office building in London. The London County Council is the town planning authority. It started by laying down a standard for the proportion of office space in any given area. Nobody knew how many applications would be submitted for office buildings. Nobody knew how many of such applications would be proceeded with. The fact is that a great many of those applications were proceeded with, and everybody has been very much aware, for the past year or two, that a great deal of office building is going on which we are anxious to discourage. Therefore, it may interest the House to know that the London County Council is taking action to reduce the proportion of office space which can be built in any given area.

The Minister's predecessor was most anxious about this problem, and there have been many consultations between the Ministry and the authority about it. It must be realised, however, that the sites on which it is proposed to raise office buildings are extremely expensive. They are sites on which probably nothing but office building could pay its way. The L.C.C. Town Planning Committee has tried hard to encourage schemes composed partly of offices and partly of housing. I can assure the House that, generally speaking, such schemes cannot provide for anything but rather expensive luxury flats.

The Town Planning Committee realises however, that there are people who need to live in such dwellings and that these contribute towards the solution of the problem of London's housing. Therefore, such schemes are encouraged and welcomed. One of the most important plans now being proceeded with is the City of London Plan for a large part of its area, on which it intends to build housing accommodation as well as business accommodation, with the agreement of the L.C.C.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Ilford, South forgot something when he boasted about his Government's record, but it is something which members of local authorities never forget, namely, that it takes a long time to create a machine which will build houses. In 1945, my Government started from zero. There was bomb damage everywhere which had to be dealt with, there were no architects, no builders, and sites had to be acquired. It took the best part of two or three years to get the machine going. After six years my Government went out and the Government of the hon. Gentleman was in power. If I say that his Government reaped the advantage of the work done by my Government in those first six years, I do not think that I am exaggerating.

Mr. Cooper

Of course it takes some to build a machine, but would the hon. Lady remember that in the General Election in which we were returned to power the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), as part of the Labour Party's Election campaign, said that if returned to power the Labour Party would continue to build at a rate of 200,000 houses a year, whereas we said we would build at the rate of 300,000, and we did it.

Mr. Percy Shurmer (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

At the expense of what?

Mrs. Corbet

The answer to the interjection of the hon. Member for Ilford, South is that his Government were able to build at that rate not because of anything they had ever done but because of all the preparations made, and the foundations laid by my Government. My Government could have arranged for building at that rate, too, but it will be remembered that there was a balanced programme to which they were devoted, and which they were determined to carry out, and which his Government did not carry out.

Mr. Shurmer

More houses to rent and less to purchase.

Mrs. Corbet

Hon. Members have referred to the number of people we wanted to get out of London. That may be so in the case of Greater London but, as far as I can remember—I may not be accurate, so I would not like to be quoted—the London County Council now has a problem of about a quarter of a million people. I say to people, "Go out of London." People went out of London before the war by hundreds of thousands. They went out why? Because they could buy a little house on the fringes of London, or because the L.C.C. was building estates outside the London area. All the inner boroughs lost their populations by thousands.

What happened to my own constituency? Why did I have to be what I call redistributed? Because the people in my borough had gone outside London into and beyond Lewisham, into Kent, into Surrey, into Essex, into Bucks. People do not all want to stay in London. Many a man comes to me and says that he will go anywhere as long as he can get a house. That is a magic word to a Londoner. In London, we cannot provide many houses although we are trying to build some, as I have said. The Londoner is used to his little house and bit of garden. The magic of the promise of a house outside London is a great lure to a Londoner and a great help to anyone who is trying to decentralise London.

I hope that when the Minister really gets down to it—and he should be a good friend to the London County Council—he will continue to press for the necessary guarantee which the L.C.C. requires to raise the money for the new town which London needs. This new town will make a sizeable contribution to the solution of the problem. A town of 60,000 people will make a great deal of difference to those people who have to put up with miserable conditions. We, as Members of Parliament, will be most happy to see that guarantee given and I hope that the Minister will hurry up the Treasury about it.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) talked about factories. This, again, is a problem which has been discussed by the Ministry, the Board of Trade and the L.C.C. Often when a firm moves out of a factory other people come in and carry on the same industry as before, or some other industry. That is the problem. Those factories are saleable propositions and the people who vacate them want to get their full money's worth. They can either get it from a buyer who will use the factory or from a buyer who will not use it. A buyer who will not really be able to use the factory is, of course, the local authority. It is not often that the local authority can use a factory for its own purposes. It cannot use it to house old people and it cannot use it for day nurseries or for residential schools.

In any case, these factories have valuable business rights that bring in money. So if the local authority wants to prevent their continued use it must, of course, pay for those rights. The problem which London has to deal with is that of nonconforming industry and, so far as my memory goes, to eliminate it would cost about £300 million. That is a lot of money. It is more than the London County Council can raise in a year in rates. What it has done is to allocate each year £500,000 for this purpose, and it receives a 50 per cent. grant from the Government. We think that the grant should be 75 per cent. and that the job is so important that the Government should help more than they do. We ask the Government, therefore, to look at this matter again and to realise, as I am sure they do, that so long as we continue to have factories in London which provide opportunities of employment so we shall continue to attract people into London which, of course, makes nonsense of our great endeavours to take people out of London.

7.4 p.m.

Mr. Godfrey Lagden (Hornchurch)

In case anyone should wonder why I am speaking this evening, I should like to say that I feel that I have at least three rights to speak in this deate. One is that I was born in London—in Putney—the second is that I have worked nearly all my life in London to earn my living, and the third is that I represent the Division of Hornchurch which, if not a part of London, is certainly a part of Greater London. It joins on to the East End of London, and I claim that the people of the East End of London are second to none in this country.

The people who come to see me nearly every week are people who have their roots in the East End of London. They are not particularly anxious to be sent into new towns, miles away from their relatives and all their interests. All they ask is the right to live in a house somewhere near where they were born.

Since the war, a tremendous number of people have never had a house of their own, and have in fact almost given up hopes of ever having one. Their children are growing up in conditions that are not at all good for the country. This is not a matter of trying to make political points, because it can pay neither side nor any political party to have long periods during which people are growing up in the sort of conditions which tend, except where there is exceptional character, to make them anti-social.

In my constituency we have what is known as a hostel, in which can live people who are not the responsibility of any housing authority whatsoever. They find themselves in what appears to be a series of Army hutments, divided inside by hessian. There they live, and the longer they live there the more disgruntled they become, not only with particular parties but with the whole way of life. Because only hessian divides the bedrooms from the living rooms, the children go out in the evening. They get into trouble. Very often they are sent to schools, where they are kept at the taxpayers' expense.

The father goes out and leaves the woman behind. Families break up, and more and more expense is laid on the taxpayer. All that can be cured only by adequate housing. The people are entitled to expect any Government of whatever colour really to lend themselves to seeing that the necessary houses become an accomplished fact.

In my area there are 87,000 electors, and I say that it is the duty of every one of those 87,000 electors to make sure that they have a Government who really intend to see that housing is paramount in their programme. There is little or no doubt that the local council itself has done its part. Since the war it has built 2,930 houses, and those houses are not of an inferior type. They are very good indeed. The private builder in the area has also played his part. When it is remembered that the population of that urban district has grown from about 25,000 to 115,000 people, it will be appreciated that it is not very easy to point the finger at any one who has not played his part there.

The position is, however, that around us, in London itself—in areas such as Barking, Dagenham and Ilford—the population is hungry for houses. In those areas, the people have been earning good wages over a long period, and have been earning them for no other reason than that they have been working hard. The one thing they have not been able to have, and the one thing which every woman wants above all, is a house. The woman goes on hoping and hoping that she will be able to get a house in which to bring up her family.

I have one suggestion, with which I hope my right hon. Friend will deal. My area is on the outskirts of the East End—and I believe that this must apply to other areas on the outskirts of London. There are there quite a number of spaces which cannot be built on because they are part of the Green Belt—but they have really ceased to be part of the Green Belt as they were visualised when the Green Belt was made.

I think that it would pay a handsome dividend if a small team consisting, say. of representatives of the district valuer, the local council, and the private building industries in the area, were jointly to look at those areas and then allow some of them to be built on. I am not suggesting a great encroachment into the Green Belt—that would be wrong; London must have its lungs. Nevertheless, there are many spaces on which could be built a number of houses—odd bits of land where possibilities should be investigated.

I join with speakers on both sides in saying that we must provide houses for the house-hungry Londoner; the sort of man who comes and, in his own dialect, says, "What about it, guy?" We are very proud of our Londoners. In this House we hear those from Scotland and Wales who are never very shy about telling us what the people in those countries deserve. What the Londoner deserves is a decent house to live in, and I hope that he gets it as speedily as possible.

7.13 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

From both sides we have had agreement on one point—that the London housing problem is very serious indeed. With the exception of a very odd wave of southern optimism from Putney—perhaps connected in some way with.the Boat Race—everyone has been agreed on that. I differ from the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kensington, South (Sir P. Spens), who thought that the reason for this debate was that the London County Council had recently had to close its housing list.

The reason is more serious than that. The position in London has been getting not better but worse, and it is getting worse in spite of the very creditable record of building, both by the London County Council and by the Metropolitan Boroughs in London—and, to a considerable extent, out of London. The stage has now been reached when the London County Council cannot house the inhabitants inside London, and it is perfectly true to say that one outstanding and all-important factor is that of space within the boundaries.

One can argue one way and another about what is the right density. One can consider, as another alternative, whether one ought not to put people out of London. If one does so, it is found that all these suggestions have their difficulties, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet), who stated that high building is now actually being practised there, up to 19 storeys, by the London County Council, which was charged by hon. Members opposite with being rather averse from anything of the sort.

That form of building, however, is expensive; and it is the middle-high building which, I believe, is the most expensive. As the hon. Lady also rightly observed, it must be accompanied by an increasing amount of open space round about the very high flats, whatever their form. All that adds to the expense of the matter. Money is a very serious side of the London problem. When one considers moving people out of London one comes to money questions again.

I feel bound to say to the right hon. Gentleman that I am not a bit satisfied with the way in which he and his predecessors in office in this Government have faced the London problem. I do not believe that they have grasped the seriousness of it, or that they have grasped the extent of the expenditure necessary to make any serious contribution towards it. There is a good deal more to it than just the building expenditure. Again, I do not believe that they have grasped the essential connection between the choice—the job or the house; or, to put it in other words, industry and offices on one side and houses on the other.

I will say what I have to say in the form of a charge against the right hon. Gentleman, but I say at once that I think that the London housing problem is about the most difficult thing that any Minister holding his office has to face. It is different in kind, but there are similar problems—and very serious ones—in connection, for instance, with what is commonly called Manchester, which is really a mass of population at least as large as London's, in what the planners sometimes call a conurbation, running out from Manchester to Rochdale, in one direction and to Warrington in another. One can think of other places, too.

The London probem is not fundamentally a slum clearance one. Under Section I of the 1954 Act, 21,000 houses altogether are scheduled, and the local authorities concerned expected to be able to deal with practically all of them within five years. It is, however, a problem of bad housing and of bad layout. One of my complaints against the Government is that this so-called slum clearance campaign, which means cutting off other subsidies in the hope that that will encourage slum clearance, hits an area like London particularly hard, because London, by and large, can cope with its slums.

What it cannot cope with are the old, insufficiently-equipped houses, overcrowding and things of that sort of a social content equal to the slum house problem, but from which subsidies have been cut away. What, above all, it cannot cope with are the particular difficulties of a great capital, because it is those difficulties that involve the heavy expenditure to which I have referred. When we come down to heavy expenditure, whoever is to bear it, the effect of putting up the borrowing rate by 2 per cent. becomes colossal. Therefore, what is serious enough all over the country is, in relation to London, quite desperately serious.

I will not go into the particular local questions of density, height of buildings, and so on, but let us look at the question of industry. As I see it, it is not only a matter of preventing new industry coming into London but also, in some way or another, of pushing industry out of London, by inducement or otherwise—and, if necessary, otherwise. There is also a question that is a combination of those two: what do we do when the industry goes out and someone else inside London—or outside—wants to occupy a site which really ought not to be used for industry and which is described, I believe, as non-conforming? Whatever we call it, the position is clear enough.

I have no hesitation in saying that the problem has to be faced, and must be faced from the point of view both of the Ministry of Housing and of the Board of Trade. A good deal of it involves no conflict at all with the Development Areas, so far as I can see, but it does involve a very considerable interference with the free choice of industry itself, because there will be cases when we shall have to say to people, "You may like coming to London, but you cannot come" or to someone else, "You may like to expand your factory into London, but you are not to do it." That latter is done already, but the first is not done.

Then, again, we may have to consider, if this is a matter for the planning authority, whether the amount of control given to the planning authority is sufficient, because we do not necessarily get a change of user inside a factory when one unit goes out and another unit comes in. That is another matter which ought to be considered.

Clearly, if one can, in fact, move one's industry and offices—and industry, I believe, is much the easier of the two to move out—one will be able to move them quite easily out of London. But the new towns are making only a small contribution at present. Let us get that perfectly clear. The figure in the last L.C.C. report was 1,000 people out of L.C.C. London. Probably the Middlesex figure is rather larger. I understand that the total figure under the industrial selection scheme is about 2,000 altogether. Even the town development figure is quite small, being in the neighbourhood of 1,000 or 2,000.

Let us, therefore, be quite clear that we cannot solve the problem of clearing away any unnecessary industrial or office space in London by sending people outside. Both these instruments are needed—a proper control of housing, industry and offices in London on the one hand, and, on the other, full use of new towns and town development.

I should have thought that there came a point when a Minister of Housing and Local Government would take a hand in dealing with this business of industry, and would seek to see whether the L.C.C. had got all it wanted in the way of power, what was the position of the Board of Trade in the matter, whether the Minister ought to take other powers to limit industry coming into London, whether he needed other powers to deal with cases where industry had moved out of London, and so forth—powers maybe for himself and powers for the London County Council. I find remarkably little trace of either the right hon. Gentleman who now occupies that office or of his predecessor having realised the magnitude of that part of the problem.

When I come to the question of new towns and town development, I have a far worse story to relate. I believe that there are 12 new towns in England and Wales; eight of them are situated round London and were intended for the relief of the London housing problem. They were in aid of the "great wen," as Cobbett used to call it. I wish they had been put further away. When we consider them we find some very remarkable results. I notice in the Crawley report, for instance, that out of the industrial population of Crawley, about half travel every day from London. That is not much use. If that is the position, we had better get the industry and the people with it further away; but such as it is, on the figures that I have just given, it is making a small contribution.

The Government ought, however, to build additional new towns. There is a demand for them in Kent, where a private new town was projected and, as it happens, was turned down on the ground that the land was required for agriculture by the Kent County Council. But the demand was there or there would not have been a private attempt.

Again, the London County Council is proposing to build a new town of its own. The L.C.C. ought not to have to make that proposal. That is the business of the Government of the day, not only as a matter of the New Towns Act but as a matter, also, of what the intention of that Act was—to deal with the housing problem as a national problem.

What is happening about this? Argument is going on about how much of the sewerage is to be borne by the Government and how much is to be borne by the other people. There is a fuss of that sort. On the fundamental question of where the capital is to be obtained, the Government are shilly-shallying. They have been refusing to assure the London County Council that it can get the capital.

Mrs. Corbet

I would not like the Minister to misunderstand the attitude of the London County Council. I think that the sewerage arrangements are fixed up. The only outstanding problem is the question of the money. I would not like there to be any misapprehension about the sewerage matter. That is quite all right.

Mr. Mitchison

May I tell my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham that I am not the London County Council. What I am discussing is what the Minister ought to do.

The right hon. Gentleman ought to do what the New Towns Act tells him, build these new towns himself. He will never settle the London or the national housing problem until he does something about it. If he has got to get the local authority to step right outside its boundaries—because there is a lot of London outside the L.C.C. boundaries—and start building new towns on the outskirts because there is no other way of doing it, that is a very strong case against him in his opposition. He ought to have done it. If he is to force the authority to do it because the authority has a conscience and has to do something in the matter, the least he should do is to assure the authority that it will get the capital on reasonable terms, if necessary from the Public Works Loan Board.

I repeat with emphasis that nobody ought to force the L.C.C. into doing this. Nobody ought to be haggling with Manchester, as the Minister has been doing, as to whether the Government or Manchester are to build a new town or whether it is to be built at all. Something has got to be done about this problem, and it has got to be done nationally.

This is called the London housing problem. There is, as I indicated earlier, a Manchester conurbation—to use a word that I rather dislike—housing problem. There is a similar housing problem—if we look at it in that way—in many other parts of the country in all these big built-up industrial areas. They all contain one common factor, the need for close correlation between industry or offices and housing. That is common to them all.

The second factor that is common to them all is that we cannot do this on the cheap. Generations have tried it and it has never worked. They have one other thing in common. They are really all inseparable, even the London housing problem. It is really a national housing problem for a rather overcrowded industrial island with a need to keep a certain amount of land, and good land, for agriculture. If we think of it too much as an individual housing problem, even of the capital city, we find that we are unable to solve it, that half the industrial population of Crawley goes there in the morning and works there, and returns to London in the evening.

Similar things happen the other way round in the other new towns. This is because we have not looked far enough afield and have not tackled it as a national question. Therefore, what has to be done about new towns—and, curiously enough, is being done a little more with town development—is to go further afield without hesitation where it is required, indeed, to get out of range of the commutor.

I agree that town development has its uses. The Tory Government put through a Bill to deal with that. We thought of it and should have introduced it had we been in office. However, its contribution is necessarily small and it raises the question of a little tiddly-wink for little tiddly-winkers, which is always a very difficult one. It raises psychological problems of a kind different from those of the new towns. They are problems of assimilation into a new community, while, broadly speaking, a new town is the creation of a community.

While I agree that we should do everything we can with town development, I still believe that it is no excuse whatever for failing to make new towns. I do not believe that the Government have given much active help to town development, but perhaps mine is an unfortunate instance, because Kettering was getting along nicely until the Government came down on it. The Government will say that they never forbid anything on which all parties are agreed. They come in at an earlier stage when there is an "indication." There is not much encouragement for new towns and there is very little consideration of the problems of London as a whole.

The right hon. Gentleman will have to exercise a little more imagination in his office and will have to consider whether the tools to his hand at present are sufficient for the size of the job he has to do with them. He will have to consider again whether criticism of this or that borough council or county council takes one any further, whether there is not something a good deal larger to be done, something which requires more fresh thinking on the lines I have tried to indicate tonight.

7.33 p.m.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Mr. Henry Brooke)

Although I know that the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) will not expect me to accept all 'that he said, I join with the rest of the House in paying tribute to the excellence of his Parliamentary performance. He hit hard, which is what everybody speaking from the Opposition Front Bench should do, and we were very glad to see him there. I take no exception at all to the manner in which he started the debate.

I am delighted that after all these years we should be spending some time discussing London housing. The hon. Member for Bermondsey and subsequent speakers begged that we should keep the right balance between humanity and statistics in this subject. I cannot go so far as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southwark (Mr. Isaacs), who suggested that figures do not matter. Indeed, I have one or two quarrels with the statistics of the hon. Member for Bermondsey, but he certainly showed his humanity, as did many other speakers. I hope that I shall be able to convince the House that I am not wholly inhuman in my approach to what the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) has rightly described as one of the toughest problems which can face any Minister, the problem of London's housing.

I was a member of the Central Housing Advisory Committee from 1944 to 1954, so that I acquired a very good knowledge of these matters, which I improved by service opposite the hon. Lady the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet) on the London County Council for ten years. This may be the first London housing debate in this Chamber within living memory, but, as the hon. Lady is well aware, it is by no means the first housing debate in which I have taken part.

The hon. and learned Member for Kettering said that I have not sufficiently grasped the magnitude of the London housing problem. Mr. Speaker, believe me, I have. Indeed, I thought he under estimated it when he suggested that after the local authorities had dealt with 20,000 slum houses, the London slum problem would be solved. I do not take that view for one moment. I am sure that if at the end of five years the 20,000 houses have been cleared, there will be another 20,000 unfit houses to which the local authorities should address themselves.

I represent a London constituency and I never take a walk through London streets, just as I did the other Saturday, without thinking of the people who live in the houses, as well as of the bricks and mortar on the outside. I confess that I have always hoped that I might one day be charged with wider responsibility for London housing matters. Now I am so charged, I find it both inspiring and awe inspiring. All I wish to do, regardless of party politics, is to try to make my contribution towards the better housing of the people of London and, indeed, of the whole country.

I shall not ask the House to look at London's housing through rose-coloured spectacles. I have not come here today to seek to make debating points. I want both sides of the House to try to seek practical solutions. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southwark said, there have been vast improvements since his childhood. There has been a reduction of the appalling overcrowding which used to exist in some boroughs of London, especially the riverside boroughs. Nowadays we are all familiar with the higher standards which the new council flats, with their modern amenities, are helping to create.

I want for a few moments to run over the post-war history of housing progress in London. I want to say to hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House who have spoken on behalf of Greater London constituencies that I do not for a moment forget or pigeon-hole their needs. I am well aware that Middlesex and other home counties have serious housing problems which need to be tackled. If I have London in the forefront of my mind, it is because it is most familiar to me. Certainly in thinking over the debate, I will not forget the greater London problems.

After the war, London local authorities were faced with the opportunity of rebuilding inside London on the many bombed sites which had been created by Hitler's bombs and on other land which became available for redevelopment. The London County Council, the Metropoliton borough councils and the housing authorities of Greater London went ahead on those lines. The London County Council acquired a number of out-county sites, as they are called in the technical jargon, and has nearly completed their development.

Then there were the eight new towns which were started outside London under the New Towns Act, 1946. When the hon. and Learned Member for Kettering says that they ought to have been started further from London, he should remember that it was not this Government which decided where they should be started. I fully realise his special interest in the new town of Corby. I hope within the coming months to visit Corby and all the other eleven new towns in England and Wales which are going forward.

The situation that the London County Council and the Metropolitan boroughs today have reached is that the in-county sites are one after another being redeveloped and completed. More and more the Metropolitan boroughs and the London County Council, so far as the County of London is concerned, are having to concentrate on slum clearance work. One is seeing a shift in that direction and it is right that that shift should take place.

The out-county development by the L.C.C. in the near vicinity of London is now nearing its end and the L.C.C., as I see it, is being caught by this. The shortage of sites is the principal reason why the London Council Council's output of houses and flats is going down. Hon. Members, on both sides, have adduced a number of reasons for London's housing difficulties. I suggest that fundamental to them all is shortage of sites. That is the real crux of the debate.

The shortage of sites has led the London County Council to make an approach to me about the possibility of developing a London County Council new town. It will be appreciated that the new town development, or any development of new town character, will be outside the Green Belt. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Lagden) made reference to building within the Green Belt. This is one of the difficult questions.

We are all, in theory at least, intent on establishing and maintaining the policy of a Green Belt around the great cities so that the endless sprawl which one has seen hitherto will not in effect be endless but everybody will be able to reach green fields. At the same time, that exacerbates the overspill problem, because new building then has, so to speak, to leapfrog over the Green Belt and go outside. That creates the twin problems of finding places to which industry is likely to go and also of finding sites which will not involve the sterilising of first-rate agricultural land.

Is it possible—this is the obvious question to ask—in any way to reduce or limit the number of people who need to seek homes outside the London area, outside the Green Belt, in what are now country districts or in the neighbourhood of small towns? My hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) raised the question of whether the densities laid down in the County of London Plan were too low. The hon. Lady the Member for Peckham pointed out that these had been inserted in the County of London Plan by the Socialist-controlled London County Council and that they had been approved by my predecessor. The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) said that in his view they were far too low.

I was surprised that the hon. Member went as far as that. I can understand some argument as to whether the figures of 200 persons per acre in the very centre, 136 in the rest of the inner part of London and 70 persons per acre for the rest of the county were exactly right. I could not accept the argument of the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North that any of those figures were far too low. I do not suggest that any of them are sacred figures; I hope that the London County Council would not go as far as that. The suitability or otherwise of those figures was thrashed out in all the discussion and the inquiry on the development plan.

What I am bound to say to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone is that any changes that one were to make at this stage in those density figures would have only a marginal effect on the total population of London. If one could now clear large areas of South-East London which are developed to a relatively low density and rebuild them to a much higher density, that would add substantially to the population of London; but those houses in South-East London are by no means worn out and when we have so much slum clearance to do, nobody would seriously suggest that in order to achieve higher density we should start clearing houses which still have many years of useful life.

Mr. Mitchison

The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned slum clearance once or twice. I do not want to be misunderstood about this. Of course, London's slums are a serious matter, but they are not nearly such a serious part of the problem in London as they are in other places. There are 21,000 at present in the whole of London. There are over 80,000 in Liverpool, which is a much smaller place, and about the same number in Manchester.

Mr. Brooke

The hon. and learned Member has mentioned Liverpool and Manchester and I would add the Black Country.

Mr. Mitchison

Yes, certainly.

Mr. Brooke

I said that I was not seeking to look at the London problem through rose-coloured spectacles. I am not arguing that London has no slum clearance problem or has a slum clearance problem comparable with that of those other areas which I have mentioned. Nevertheless, I am sure that we shall not have disposed of the slum problem in London when we have cleared 20,000 houses.

What I am seeking to do at the moment is to try to get into clearer focus this overspill problem, which, together with the lack of sites, is at the heart of our difficulties. My predecessor, who is now Minister of Defence, said in course of debate in the House on 9th July last that over the next fifteen years the excess population for which provision must be made has been reckoned to he rather over 400,000."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1956; Vol. 556, c. 51.] That is a very frightening figure. I do not suggest that we can exactly quantify it in any case, but the House should know that new forecasts of the future population of London have now been made by the Registrar-General which indicate that the amount of surplus population, if I may use that inhuman term, is not nearly so large as the 400,000 mentioned previously in this House. The Registrar-General's now forecasts have, I know, been communicated to the London County Council, which is, no doubt, reassessing the position in that light.

A number of hon. Members have asked how the Town Development Act was working. The London County Council has been able to make arrangements with Swindon and Bletchley and development in each of those places is going ahead well. At the same time, I should be the first to agree that the practical use of the Town Development Act has so far proved to be considerably less than either the Conservative Government or the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), who claims to have first thought of the plan, would have wished.

There is, of course, a need for a combined solution of about three different problems if town development is to go forward. First of all, it is necessary to find a town which wishes an increase of population and has suitable land on its boundaries. Secondly, there must be good prospects of industry going to that place. I listened to what my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) said about the possible lack of co-ordination with the Board of Trade. Whatever may have been the case in the past, I can assure my hon. Friend that there is no such lack of co-ordination now, and when it is firmly decided that town development is going to take place in a certain area, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is as helpful as he could be in bringing that land to the attention of industry.

Mr. Mitchison

Surely something more than that is needed? These small towns require to know that industry is going to go there if they agree to take the population, and no one seems to be in a position to give them that assurance—neither the right hon. Gentleman nor the exporting authority, at any rate.

Mr. Brooke

As far as I am aware, the direction of industry is not a policy adopted even by the Labour Party, and it is, in fact, impossible to order any business firm to go to any particular place and make a profit. I thought this was by now commonly accepted. It is the proper function of the Board of Trade to draw the attention of industrialists who are seeking new sites for factories to suitable areas where they can go, and, as it would appear, go for their own benefit. But nobody can compel them to go there.

What I was going to mention as the third necessary factor is that there must be an administrative machine which is capable of taking on the job, and, without any disrespect to some of the smaller local authorities which have sought to take part in town development, a number of them have, I know, realised that the tasks involved would be of vastly greater magnitude than in the first instance they had supposed. Under town development, it is the receiving authority that builds the houses, and there are comparatively few local authorities which have practical experience of building on that scale, except the big county boroughs or the London County Council, which have already undertaken it.

I want to pay tribute, as I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the House do, to the work of Sir Humfrey Gale, who was invited by my predecessor to do all that he could to further town development both by going to see for himself and by discussing with local authorities that might be concerned the possibilities and the snags. I hope that town development schemes will continue to go forward. In reply to the hon. Member for Islington. South-West (Mr. A. Evans) on 4th February, I indicated that the schemes at Haverhill, Letchworth, Thetford and Huntingdon had all reached an advanced stage of negotiation, and that there are other places where the negotiations are going forward but are not yet so advanced.

As the hon. and learned Member for Kettering said, there are eight new towns situated around London and designed to serve London. In these new towns taken together, building is going forward and will continue to go forward at the rate of about 10,000 houses a year, but they are still collectively far short of their targets. They have a total population at present of about 230,000 people and their total target population is 430,000 people, so that there is a good deal of building still in prospect in the London new towns as a whole.

I want specially to mention that, in answer to the hon. and learned Member for Kettering, who appeared to me to be criticising the Government for not having started to establish other new towns. The fact is that the existing new towns are going very well, and that there is a great deal of expansion still ahead of them. It seemed wisest to put Government money into these and make them as great a success as we possibly could.

Mr. A. Evans

I am glad to know that the new towns are going well, and certainly they are doing very well, but may I ask the right hon. Gentleman this question? Does not he know that in 1955 the total number of families taken from the County of London, where the right hon. Gentleman himself admitted the problem is most acute, was only 730?

Mr. Brooke

I find some difficulty in accepting that figure, but if the hon. Member will give me his evidence for it 1 will certainly examine it further.

We have been looking at the Home Counties. Let us now look back into London, from which the people are over-spilling, as the saying is, and where, in fact, many of them would prefer to stay, if only they had the opportunity of the kind of home which they want.

Mr. Mellish

Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of the new towns, may I ask him one question? I have asked him already whether, in fact, the arrangements between the London County Council and his own Department are based on the question whether or not the Ministry will allow the L.C.C. to go to the Public Works Loan Board. Can he answer that question—"Yes" or "No"?

Mr. Brooke

The position is that my right hon. Friend the present Home Secretary told the House on 26th October, 1955, that he was not suggesting that any local authority or class of authority should be denied the right of access to the Public Works Loan Board, but that he had asked the Board before it granted any advances in future to put all applicants on inquiry as to their ability to raise finance on their own credit, either on the stock market or in the mortgage market.

Mr. Mellish

With very great respect, this is so important that I want to press the Minister further. We all feel that London's new towns would make such a good contribution, and I am assured that in fact in the negotiations with the Minister's Department, the whole question of negotiations is waiting on this one point. Surely we are entitled to know whether there is any likelihood of the L.C.C. being given the assurance for which it has asked?

Mr. Brooke

I can assure the hon. Member that the matter is not just balanced on this particular razor edge. The L.C.C., and I have their letter here, has sought my approval in general terms for going forward with a new town. The Council said in the letter that the application was not supported by detailed arguments, but that any information which the Minister required would promptly be made available. In fact, the mutual examination of a number of matters is now going forward. As far as I am aware, the L.C.C. is satisfied that we should be following up a number of questions which need to be thrashed out—and I think that what the hon. Member has referred to is one of them on which the L.C.C. has not previously been satisfied. But I want to assure him that it is not likely that the whole question—"Yes" or "No"—will simply turn on the sole consideration that he has now mentioned.

Mr. Mellish

I really must press the Minister, because we must have an answer to this. Can he say whether the arrangement, the details of which are now being worked out, and about which the L.C.C. is asking for an assurance, is that it may build a new town out of its own finances? Can we have an assurance that the Government, believing in the principle of a new town for London, will allow the L.C.C. to go to the Public Works Loan Board and borrow the money?

Mr. Brooke

The London County Council and any other local authority is at liberty to go to the Public Works Loan Board if it has made sincere efforts to try to raise money elsewhere and has not been able to do so. I think that what may be in the mind of the hon. Member is that there might be an impossible situation if the London County Council were able to raise only part of the money and, as it were, got stuck with its new town half way. I quite agree that that would be an unreasonable situation, and I should have great sympathy with the London County Council were it in such a situation. But what I cannot do is to depart so far from Government policy as to say here and now that the London County Council, regardless of what efforts it may have made in another direction, can be sure of a loan of any amount it requires from the Public Works Loan Board.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

The answer is "No."

Mr. Brooke

I refer again to the speech of the hon. Member for Bermondsey. He appeared to want some kind of prohibition on people coming into London. I feel quite sure that on reflection he will agree that anything of that character is quite impossible. One cannot in that manner control all movement of human beings. As my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead) said, we are dealing with people and not with pegs, but we can exert great control over the inward movement of industry.

Mr. Mellish

We may as well get the facts straight. The right hon. Gentleman is talking about the prohibition of people coming into London. That is not what I suggested. However, will the right hon. Gentleman agree that we shall eventually have to have some measure of control of what accommodation is available to be rented? If so, we shall then have that measure of control to help to solve this constant problem of overcrowding in London.

Mr. Brooke

I could not agree that it would be wise if we gave local authorities the monopoly of all rented accommodation in London and said that anybody who wanted to move into London had either to buy a house or to put his name on a council waiting list, without any other means of getting accommodation.

However, the crucial issue is that of the movement of industry. I want to assure the House that both the planning authority and I as Minister, on appeal, are stern with these applications for what I may call industrial immigration into London. I know that it is the general policy of the London County Council as planning authority—and I think that the hon. Lady the Member for Peckham will confirm this—not to grant applications for industrial development within the County of London by firms which have no previous connection with London. I believe that is also the policy of the Home Counties as planning authorities in the built-up area of London. The London County Council has adopted the policy, I know, of buying industrial premises which were vacated, in order to prevent them being seized by new industry: and there is an Exchequer grant of 50 per cent. of any loss the County sustains. It is interesting to note that a survey which the County Council carried out showed that between 1947 and 1954 industrial employment in the County of London fell by 40,000 people.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington. South (Sir P. Spens) asked whether we were equally stern in refusing planning permission for the conversion of residential property to office use. I can assure him of that. The London County Council Development Plan—I am certain the Middlesex Development Plan also—contains statements of policy on both industrial immigration and the conversion of residential accommodation to office use. My predecessor, the present Minister of Defence, strengthened what those two plans said when he was approving them. I could not quite understand the argument of the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren), who interrupted early in our debate to speak deprecatingly of the office growth which was being allowed to take place in London. The Minister of Defence, when he occupied my position, insisted on rezoning for residential use 380 acres in the County of London which had been zoned for industrial or commercial purposes in the plans submitted to him by the London County Council. I think that on that ground I can prove that the Government are well aware of the danger of excessive office development in London and the disadvantage which will follow if that goes forward at the expense of residential use.

Mr. Mitchison

Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to stay that he does exercise the same severity about offices starting in London or moving up to London as he does about industrial development?

Mr. Brooke

In my experience one does not often have the case of the office user wishing to come into London from outside. The normal planning case one gets in London is that of an application for property which up to now or at any rate within recent years has been used for residential purposes to be converted to office user. That, in general, I am sure is undesirable, Most of us can think of particular types of houses in London which may have been suitable in spacious Victorian days for residential use but in which people would not now wish to live, because they would not wish for rooms of that height and size today. In the case of such a house office user can hardly be resisted, but in general I can promise the hon. and learned Member that we watch closely applications for conversions of that kind, and I do not think that there is any difference of opinion on that issue between myself as Minister and the London County Council as the planning authority.

Mr. H. Butler

The right hon. Gentleman used the term "conversion" of the user of residential premises. I am sure he is aware that without any structural alteration many of these houses are put to commercial purposes. Can we have from him an assurance that the Ministry, when appeals come up, will regard the effect on people who have not reasonable accommodation to occupy?

Mr. Brooke

I used the word "conversion" in the general sense. I had in mind also the mere change of user which may not require any physical reconstruction. The policy in both cases is exactly the same. I am sure that the hon. Member, as a practical man, will appreciate that there are rooms of a certain size in London which cannot any longer be used reasonably for residential purposes.

Mrs. Butler

The right hon. Gentleman said that he and the planning authorities will look with disfavour on applications to convert residences to office use, but he has no power, as I understand it, to prevent residential premises from being demolished and offices and shops expanded. That is happening on quite a large scale.

Mr. Brooke

There is, of course, planning control of any new development. Anybody who wishes to demolish and rebuild will certainly have to get planning permission for his new building, and if that building is in an area which is zoned as residential in the County Plan the presumption is he will not get permission.

If we are looking over, as I have sought to do, the possibilities of improving the situation within the built-up area, so that the need for over-spill is lessened, we must not overlook the extent of under-occupation within the built-up area. The hon. Member for Bermondsey said that he had knowledge that in his borough the number of dwellings that would be made available by reason of the Rent Bill would be nil.

Mr. Mellish

That is not right. I said that the number of empty houses in Bermondsey which, under the Rent Bill, I estimated would become available for renting would be none.

Mr. Brooke

I am sorry if I have misquoted the hon. Member, but I have no desire whatever to anticipate the Rent Bill, on which no doubt we shall be having to spend some hours in the near future.

Mr. Ede


Mr. Brooke

As a passing reference to the Rent Bill has been permitted by Mr. Speaker, perhaps I might say that in the Borough of Bermondsey alone the 1951 census showed 1,350 households having the use of accommodation at the rate of more than two rooms per person. The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) has taken part in the debate, and it might be interesting to recall that the corresponding figure in Battersea was 5,000. Perhaps the hon. Member for Peckham would care to know that in Camberwell the figure in 1951 was nearly 7,500. One of the purposes which we hope the Rent Bill will fulfil is, of course, the remedying of that under-occupation.

Mr. Mitchison

Is that why the right hon. Gentleman removed the housing subsidy on building to remedy overcrowding, and refused an Amendment from this side of the House to keep it in that case?

Mr. Brooke

No, I am explaining that under-occupation is something which follows from the Rent Restriction Acts and that somebody must do something about it.

Mr. Mellish

This is very important. The right hon. Gentleman will keep talking about units of accommodation. Does not he agree that there is no such thing as a unit of accommodation unless it is self-contained?

Mr. Brooke

I have not used the phrase "unit of accommodation". I hate these phrases. We can call them rentings or what we like. I prefer to talk about these needs in human terms.

There is throughout London and Greater London a very large number of houses at present occupied by a small number of people. If they were available for conversion they would have many more families than are in them now.

Mr. Shurmer rose——

Mr. Brooke

I will give way even to Birmingham.

Mr. Shurmer

The question ranges round London, but we do not want a wrong impression to go out throughout the country on this matter of under-occupation. Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that where at present the landlords of thousands of these houses which are under-occupied will not agree to an exchange through the housing authority, the landlords should put the people out into the street? Where are they to go?

Mr. Brooke

I will not anticipate a future debate. I will debate that matter with the hon. Member next week. He has been very bold to intervene in a London debate.

Mr. Shurmer

I will tell the right hon. Gentleman something about Birmingham next week.

Mr. Brooke

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wembley, North (Wing Commander Bullus) asked whether I would appeal to people now living in London to move outside London. 1 doubt whether it is for me to make that appeal, but those who are not kept to London by reason of work and their connections will find that the cost of living and the level of rents are much lower outside London than they are within it.

I took special note of my hon. and gallant Friend's suggestion that there might be some kind of exchange mart, run either by local councils or by citizens advice bureaux. I was chairman of a sub-committee of the Central Housing Advisory Committee which produced a report, which I hope was valuable, on transfers and exchanges. We found that one of the principal barriers to exchanges was the existence of the Rent Restriction Acts. It may be that when the Rent Bill relaxes the present restrictions there will be greater opportunity for exchanges. We shall see.

Mr. Mitchison

When the right hon. Gentleman considers that, will he also consider the proposal made on a 1954 Measure to facilitate exchanges? It came from our side of the House and was turned down by his predecessor, the present Prime Minister.

Mr. Brooke

Yes, I remember that. I think I spoke against that Amendment at the time. I believe that some kind of compulsory powers were suggested. I am sure that we can do something of this kind only by voluntary action. I entirely agree that every encouragement should be given to voluntary exchanges.

Finally, I want to join issue with those who have alleged that the housing position is getting worse. It is far from well, but it is unquestionably better than it was five years ago. I tremble to think what would have happened in London and how we should have coped with our problems if the Government who said that they could not build more than 200,000 houses a year had not fallen in 1951. For the last five years we have been building throughout the country at a substantially higher rate, which has greatly eased the London housing problem. I trust that in my speech I have shown that I am both humane and practical in my approach to it.

Mr. Lipton

Can the right hon. Gentleman clear up one point? We have been told by the Government that by the end of 1957 the supply of houses and the need for houses will more or less balance. We know that that is too ridiculous to apply to London, but can the right hon. Gentleman say whether, in the light of his information, it might or might not apply to London by the end of 1958? If not by then, by when?

Mr. Brooke

I will not make a forecast of that character. As far as I am aware, the House was told that, speaking nationally, there would be a balance, but surely the hon. Member is as well aware as I am that the situation varies in different parts of the country. I had hoped that one matter on which both sides of the House were in agreement this evening was that the London housing problem was a particularly hard nut.

8.19 p.m.

Mr. Maurice Orbach (Willesden, East)

During the last 20 minutes or so I have felt like a Sassenach at a Scottish debate, because nothing has been said by the Minister—and he apologised for it—about those people outside the administrative County of London and about the difficulties of housing them. The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned that within the administrative County of London the Registrar-General and all the pundits who work on statistics calculate that there will be fewer people in the county in a number of years' time. But the right hon. Gentleman surely must be aware that the number of people living in the perimeter of the administrative county is increasing year by year.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, as with every other hon. Member, that this problem is not easy of solution. I remember speaking about it in my constituency years ago and saying that a number of factors had to be considered if we were to deal with it. We had to have land, finance, materials and labour. Over and above all that, there must he a desire to build houses and to put people into decent accommodation, to give them an opportunity to breathe the fresh air and to live in reasonable comfort.

Some of those necessities are available today. We have the materials, and we have the labour, but too much of that is being used for building the excrescences of commerce and industry. What is not being made available by the Government is finance, and what is lacking in London and on the perimeter of the administrative County of London is land.

I want to talk about my own constituency, which the hon. and gallant Member for Wembley, North (Wing Commander Bullus) knows well enough because we are in juxtaposition. We are not in London, yet we overlook Hampstead, Paddington and Hammersmith. We cannot get on to the London County Council list, neither can we get on to our own county council list, because the Middlesex County Council is not a housing authority. It would never accept the responsibility. The people in my borough have only one authority upon which to depend, namely, the borough council, and 9,000 families are on its list today without any possibility of a single one being housed.

That situation arises from the fact that we were fortunate enough not to be within the "north-west passage" and we have not got enough bombed sites in our area. The whole district has been built up for the past twenty-five years. It was created a hundred and fifty years ago by the burgesses of London, who wanted to live outside the plague area of St. Pancras. A new crowd came into it fifty years ago, and twenty-five years ago, when I was a candidate in the constituency, I remember pleading with the local jerrybuilders not to cover the whole area as they were doing.

The area is a wilderness of houses. As I have explained to the House, within my constituency there is only one public house, and there is not a cinema. There are no amenities, apart from the parks, which have been provided by the borough council. If it rains over the weekend I have a mail on Monday like nobody's business. The people cannot go out into their garden to dig, so they complain against the weather by writing to their Member of Parliament, telling him what they think of the Government.

Yet, on looking up the statistics—sand statistics are sometimes interesting—I find that my constituency's population Changes to the extent of 10 per cent. every year, that is to say, 10 per cent. move out and another 10 per cent. move in. I wondered what sort of people these were, and what sort of accommodation they occupied, and I found that, in the main, they occupy furnished rooms. A great number come from Southern Ireland, and others from the Caribbean—and I welcome them both. Those from the Caribbean take the accommodation which is given up by the other Southern Irish, who have found it too disgusting or too expensive to live in any longer.

Another section of people included in the incoming 10 per cent. are those who purchase houses for £100 or more above the price which the previous owner paid for the property. I have here a letter written by an estate agent to one of my constituents, pleading with him to buy a house, which had been purchased at an auction. This house cost £300 to build at the beginning of the century. It is a very desirable property. It is one of those properties in which there is an underemployment of accommodation—owing to the fact that the top floor cannot be used because the rain comes pelting through the holes in the roof. It is one of the desirable properties occasionally put up for sale in my constituency.

It was sold by auction for £570. Two days later my constituent, who is living in the property and paying rent for it, received a letter offering him the property for £870, or £300 more than was paid at the auction. The letter states that the offer is being made in view of the Rent Bill now before Parliament, which has had its Second Reading, and it states that the rent will go up immediately the Bill is passed because the rateable value of the property is over £40.

Something must be done about this problem. Nothing has been said about its gravity in Willesden, or in the constituency of the hon. Member opposite—Wembley. We have had some talk of density. I wish we could persuade not only the London County Council but the Middlesex County Council to be a little more flexible. I do not go as far as my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson). I was a member of the London Town Planning Committee which agreed to the present plan, and, although I think that it is reasonably satisfactory, it should be less rigid. Plans outside the administrative county should also be more flexible.

If we went as far as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North, however, we should arrive at the density of a cemetery, with much more than 300 or 400 people to the acre, as time went on. I would remind my hon. Friend that if we go on building too high in the centre of towns we shall create conditions of congestion as bad as those which exist in New York. I should not like to continue to live in New York, as I did for four years, having each day to suffer the discomfort of travelling for three or four miles from the place where I lived to the office where I worked.

The only answer that I can see to this problem lies in the development of new towns. That development means more than simply building houses. I agree with everyone who has said that we must have some sort of direction of industry—not the kind that we have in Hemel Hempstead, the new town that Willesden has adopted, in respect of which advertisements already appear in the Press appealing to industrialists to go there because there they can find cheap and ready labour. The Minister must try to create a measure of direction of industry in order to make it economically possible for people to live in these new towns. Much more than that; he must make them liveable-in from the point of view of each house being a home.

I have been to see some of them, and I agree with some of the criticisms made that they sprawl too much. Every community should have a centre in which the people can congregate. At the same time, we must see that the rents, which have been rising continually as a result of the financial policies of the Government, do not continue to rise. People will not live in Hemel Hempstead if they have to pay rents of £200, £250 or £300 a year. When they move out there they give up all their previous friends; they give up their shops, and have to go through the difficulty of making new friends and sending their children to new schools—and at the cost of contributing, by way of rent to their landlords, more of their wage packets than they should.

I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to speak to his right hon. Friend about going ahead with the new town policy, and trying to do something to help us in Willesden and the other boroughs in Middlesex so that we may get rid of a problem which at present appears to be insoluble.