HC Deb 01 May 1958 vol 587 cc583-651

3.36 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

We last discussed this matter on 11th November last year. On that occasion, the Minister announced that he intended to reduce the scale of council house building to 100,000 houses a year by 1959–60. That he described as a very large house building programme. On the same day he issued to local authorities Circular 54/57 on this matter. I will not trouble the Committee with the whole of the circular. It is headed, "Restriction of Capital Investment", it refers, in paragraph 4, to some necessary curtailment of expenditure on the building of new houses and then, at the end of the paragraph, says: In its anti-inflationary policy the Government will proceed on the basis that total expenditure on the building of new houses by authorities will progressively slow dawn in such a manner that in the financial year 1959–60 it will not exceed 80 per cent. of the current level of expenditure. The paragraph then refers to various administrative arrangements for that purpose, after which paragraph 6 begins, cheerfully: Some authorities may not find it essential to continue building at all but most no doubt will feel it right to do so, if in varying degrees, on a reduced scale. It does, however, preserve, in substance, the necessity for what the Government continually call their slum clearance campaign.

At that time the rate of council house building was already falling. It had fallen from about 143,000 a year in the first half of 1957 to about 133,000 in the second half. The first two months of this year—which are the only months for which we yet have figures—show a further and a very sharp fall, to a rate of just over 100,000 a year. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman is, indeed, succeeding in reducing the number of houses built to 100,000 a year, and it looks at present as if it were going to be done sooner rather than later.

The question that I invite the Committee to consider today is whether a reduction on that scale and at that pace is right, consonant with the duties of the Government towards housing, and whether it enables local authorities to do their job of providing houses in the towns.

I agree that this problem, like many other housing problems has a different incidence in different parts of the country. I propose to take it quite generally for the moment. I will take the figure of 100,000 houses a year, or slightly more, and I will turn, first, to the slum clearance that is proceeding at the rate of 40,000 houses a year. The new towns are proceeding at about 11,000 a year and, so far as I can judge, the subsidised one-bedroom houses mostly for old people are proceeding at the rate of 23,000 a year. I think that those figures are roughly right. They leave only 26,000 houses a year for general needs all over the country.

Slum clearance is a bit of the Government's programme which has shown the most lamentable and disappointing result. In November, 1955, local authorities were required to furnish particulars of what they could do by way of slum clearance in the next five years. At that time, there were more than 800,000 slum houses in England and Wales. The local authorities expected to clear them off at the rate of 71,000 a year, or more than 350,000 in five years. The next stage was that, in that same month, the then Minister of Housing and Local Government, now the Minister of Defence, cut that figure down to 60,000 a year.

We come to performance. In 1955, there were about 25,000 houses cleared; in 1956, the figure was just under 35,000; and in 1957 about 40,000. It is obvious that at that rate it will take up to twenty years to clear the slum houses as they were towards the end of 1955. These houses increase in number year by year because other houses get much worse, and, finally, reach the appallingly low standard of a slum house, unfit to live in and unfit for repair at any reasonable cost.

Look at the matter in another way. If the estimate, or promise—it was held out as a promise to people living in slum houses—is to be made good during the next three years those slum houses will have to be pulled down, and other houses built in their places, at the rate of 75,000 a year. On the figures I have given it is obvious that nothing will be left over for general-need housing.

We had a long debate recently on new towns, so I will not deal with them at any length. The broad position is that all the development corporations are saying that they are being cramped, particularly by the high rates of interest which are part of Government policy. They are finding it impossible to get on with their job of building the new towns, and their housing programmes are falling back. We find that in all the corporation reports. It is obvious that the figure of 11,000 is not enough.

When the predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman, the present Minister of Defence, was talking on 17th November, 1955, the figure he had in mind for new towns and overspill together was about 20,000 a year. The overspill contribution is so small that I propose to neglect it for these purposes. One can see the reason. The Government have always professed an intention that overspill should be used to the full, but attempts to use it get little or no encouragement from the Government. Perhaps I might again take my own constituency. We were approaching an arrangement about overspill, but the Government came down upon it and the result is that nothing has been done. If the new towns are to fulfil the estimate, the very small figure of 26,000 or thereabouts, representing housing for general needs, will be further reduced. That is the present position.

What conclusion are we to draw from it? I ought to deal first with the one-bedroom houses. We are entirely in favour of making good this shortage—it was a shortage—but the figures are difficult to reach. No one would suggest that it is wrong that the work should be done, and I do not think that we have enough evidence yet to show that it is not proceeding reasonably speedily.

What conclusions are we now to draw about general-need housing? With the Government's promise or programme about slum clearance not proceeding at anything like the rate at which the local authorities expected to carry it out, we can only conclude that it will either not be carried out at all, or that it will take practically the whole allocation of houses.

What is the result of all this for the average municipal council? Figures are extraordinarily difficult to come by, but I make the present position to be something like this: the really large authorities, like the London County Council, and the really big towns, are continuing to a limited extent with general-need house building in addition to slum clearance, but it is not much and it is falling rapidly. In other areas—and, again, I come back to my own constituency and that part of the country, because what is happening there is similar to what is happening under other councils who have not the rate resources of the larger places—councils are finding themselves obliged to confine their building to slum clearance and a little bit of other subsidised building like the one-bedroom house.

This is the result of the right hon. Gentleman's policy. Perhaps it is what he intended, but if anybody considers it satisfactory, let him look for a moment at the large numbers of people who, on this showing, will not gel a council house for an indefinite period. Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends that when we were dealing with this matter of housing subsidies we pointed out to the Government the difficulty of giving an exclusive preference to slum clearance, because of the cases where housing difficulties were not related to the nature of the building. The most frequent of these is overcrowding, which is largely responsible for what little general-need housing is going on in the larger towns.

People in the smaller places, Kettering for example, will have to wait indefinitely, and they know it. Housing lists are still kept and people still renew their applications at intervals, but there are no houses. Meanwhile, in the towns, the stock of houses is gradually deteriorating, as it is bound to do. If there are changes in industry or movements of population, overcrowding may become worse. That deterioration is bound to go on in any country, but it goes on unprovided for here because of the Government's attitude to the matter.

I shall not go through the history of place after place. I have no doubt that some of my hon. Friends will do it. I take one set of examples only. On the last occasion when the right hon. Gentleman was the first Minister to be questioned on a Tuesday, my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Mr. Moody) asked him how many local authorities in County Durham had decided to abandon house building for the present; how many authorities have indicated they will concentrate on slum clearance; and what is the number who are slowing down their house building programme. The Minister replied: Of the 40 local authorities in County Durham. 35 have been in touch with me on the matters raised in Circular 54/57… I understand that four do not intend to place any houses in contract for the time being. The remainder intend that the houses they are placing in contract shall be used primarily for slum clearance and the housing of old people."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 1st April, 1958; Vol. 585 c. 1006.] That is to say, two forms of subsidised house building, and not for general need. That is just one county in England, but it must be within the knowledge of any hon. Member who sits for any constituency that County Durham has a serious general housing need, and so have the majority of other places.

Now I turn to one other side of this matter. It is, of course, perfectly true that in all these housing questions the limiting factor is bound to be the amount of building labour available. What are the facts about that? The present position is that about 5 per cent. of the building and contracting force are unemployed. There are employed at the moment 1,323,000 and 69,000 unemployed. Taking building alone, leaving out contracting, the figure is 49,000. That figure will probably bring it to the same sort of proportion as for the total of people employed in the whole trade, and both figures have risen sharply during the past year. A year ago the one figure was 9,000 less and the other 13,000 less.

It is entirely useless and pointless for the Government to say, "This cannot be done." When we come to the question whether this really is an effective anti-inflationary measure or simply another example of the Government's blindness to the needs of the people we must bear in mind that the result of this considerable and increasing unemployment is the waste of that national resource. To that extent there is a stagnation of production, and it is not the only example.

What else will the Government's answer be? There is the old answer that the private contractor can do it. Private house building has been staying roughly steady for the past three years. It has been a little below the total of council house building. It is not without significance that in the same two months, the first two months of this year, when council house building showed a sharp fall, so, too, did private housebuilding.

Lest anybody should suppose that I am neglecting the seasonal factor, he will find that it shows a sharp fall by relation to the same months in the preceding year. There is no doubt that the engine of restriction that the Government set under way is gathering speed, and having results which are more rapid and considerable, I believe, than even this Government intended when they issued that circular.

It is in these circumstances that we have to consider generally whether the right hon. Gentleman is doing his duty as the Minister of Housing. To put the matter at the very lowest, on the question of need, and the figures I have given, what is abundantly clear is that slums will not be cleared at the sort of rate everyone, including the local authorities, hoped for and expected in November, 1955. It is abundantly clear that the new towns are cramped and that the job of the development corporations cannot be done properly. It is not abundantly clear that anything is wrong with the one-bedroom building. That is the sole exception I make.

It is quite clear that the amount left over for general-needs housing is much, much too small, and, moreover, that the effect of it is that except in large areas, where there is a high rateable value and those kinds of somewhat exceptional cases, ordinary council house building for general need, to reiterate a phrase I have used before, is grinding to a standstill; only I am not certain that it is grinding. I am not certain that it has not reached a standstill in most places. Certainly, it is perilously near it.

I would ask the Committee to remember that it is not only a question of overcrowding, it is not only a question of cases in which there is tuberculosis in the household and in which there clearly ought to be new housing. We all know of such cases. It is not only a question of hardship. It is also a question of young people who are, in the ordinary course of things, getting married, wanting to start a family, and looking round for a house, and turning to the right hon. Gentleman and the Government for some help in the matter.

It is of scant use to tell them they should buy a house. They have not the money. They cannot even start the business of buying. They ought not to be asked, in the interests of a property-owning democracy, if that is what the party opposite wants, to put round their necks the millstone of a mortgage entered into over a long period at a high rate of interest. Those people are just not getting housed. These kinds of things, not immediately, for they take time——

Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)

Would my hon. and learned Friend agree that many people wanting loans cannot get them from the building societies? They will not lend the money.

Mr. Mitchison

That is one of the difficulties, I absolutely agree. The trouble about this matter is that there is so much in it, there are so many aspects of it, that it would take an inordinate time to try to deal with them all.

The broad picture is absolutely clear; people are not getting housed. The ones who can afford to buy houses for themselves are much better off. The ones who have to go to a building society or proceed under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts—whose provisions have largely been stopped—are in difficulties.

There remains the group of people for whom council housing surely ought to be particularly intended, the young people marrying, starting a family, with few resources of their own, who have always looked to council housing, within recent years, at any rate, for starting a home of their own. They are not getting it.

I repeat that these things work slowly. It is only in the beginning of 1958 that we feel the full effects of a step which started in November, 1955. If we let this go on and pay no attention to what is happening, then things will get worse and worse, and for that the Minister and the Conservative Party will be responsible. I suggest that this is the time that they should reconsider what they attempted to do in November, 1955, in the light of the results and of the general position in the country.

I shall not talk much about inflation and anti-inflation. I simply say that there is a crying and over-riding need for more houses to let, built by councils, and that that need is not being met, and it will not be met if the Government remain in power any longer. Moreover, if nothing is done now, the fruits of what the Government are doing and are not doing will carry on for a year or two, and even when the country has expressed its opinion on them at the polling booths the results will still continue and we shall have to carry the burden.

We are coming to council elections, and I want to say a word or two about the position of councils in this matter. Let us take County Durham, or Kettering, or any of these places. People will say to the council, "Why do you not build more council houses?". The council may be quite willing to build, but they require, and should have, some help, as they have always had help in the matter. The council will, once again, be used as the Government's stalking horse to cover the deficiencies of their own policies.

I want to mention one other matter, and that quite shortly. I do it because it is a pity that what seems to have been a mistake by the Minister has to some extent passed into circulation. I refer to the question of council house rents. In the debate on 11th November.

1957, the right hon. Gentleman said that it might surprise me to know that last year the average rent for a three-bedroom council house in a county borough was as low as 14s. 1d."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th November, 1957; Vol. 577, c. 641.] It did surprise me, and I did not know where the figure had come from. I think that I have now discovered the source. Shortly afterwards, there appeared the housing statistics of the Institute of Municipal Treasurers. If hon. Members turn to the Summing up for county boroughs on this exact point they will find some figures called "averages", and among them is the figure of 14s. 1d. But it is the average of the lowest ranges. It happens to be the average in Wigan, and that does not matter very much. The other figure is 31s. 1d. The figure of 14s. 1d. was a complete mistake. It did surprise me, but it no longer surprises me because I now know what is the truth of the matter.

When we take these figures, I earnestly hope that hon. Members opposite will not trot out the old story, "Council houses are wicked things because you ought never to subsidise housing, and, if you do subsidise, then some people will be subsidised who already have enough money". There is no way out of that, because housing in the hands of councils is not an instrument for making profit and is not just an instrument for relieving the needy and the distressed. It is an instrument for carrying out what we must recognise to be a social service. As I see it, the Government of the day take responsibility for it for that reason.

I say that in this social service there is at present an approaching breakdown over a very large field. I therefore invite the Committee to come to the conclusion that in this respect, unless we get an effective promise of immediate repentance, the right hon. Gentleman and his supporters have not done their job.

4.6 p.m.

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

I have listened, as I always do, with very great care and attention to what the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) has said, and I must say that the burden of his speech rather surprised me. He spoke almost as though the Government had set out deliberately and for its own sake to emasculate the housing problem of the country. I think that I can dissipate that impression in two very short sentences. Whereas in the first six postwar years 901,000 new houses were built in England and Wales, the following six years saw the building of nearly 1 million new houses. A Conservative Government who have built two houses for every one built at the time of the Labour Government certainly do not cut the housing programme for its own sake. In fact, the reduction in house building announced by my right hon. Friend in November makes a contribution to price stability and national solvency.

Mr. Mitchison

We are not dealing today with private house building. The Government do not build private houses, When the Conservative Government say that they have built 300,000 houses in a year, they are talking complete nonsense.

Mr. Bevins

This is very tiresome. I had not wished to delay the Committee unduly, but if the hon. and learned Gentleman wants the figures of local authority building during the two six-year periods, he is welcome to them. Between 1946 and 1951 the total number of houses built by public authorities—local authorities, new town corporations, and so on—in England and Wales was 727,000. The figure during the last six years was almost 1,100,000. The position is very similar, whether one talks about building by local authorities or house building as a whole.

Mr. C. W. Key (Poplar)

Will the hon. Member now give the figures of the number of men in the building industry employed in war damage repairs in the years immediately after the war, compared with those in recent years?

Mr. Bevins


Mr. Mitchison

Why not?

Mr. Bevins

Because we are not debating war damage repairs. We are debating house building. The Committee knows perfectly well that the output of the labour force of the building industry during the last six years has been very considerably higher than it was between 1946 and 1951.

Mr. Key

I want the hon. Member to face this problem. The problem with which we are dealing is that of building houses, and the building of houses depends upon the number of men available for it. If more than one out of every two in the building industry are engaged in war damage repairs, then the men are not available to build new houses. That explains the figures for the years of the Labour Government and the years of the Conservative Government.

Mr. Bevins

This is a most extraordinary argument. The argument is that although fewer than 1 million houses were built during the first six-post-war years and although 1¾ million were built in the subsequent six years, that difference between almost 1 million and 1¾ million is entirely due to the use of the building labour force on bomb damage repairs. What a ridiculous argument.

Mr. G. Lindgren (Wellingborough)

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that 2½ million houses were reconstructed for habitation in those six years?

Mr. Bevins

I am quite prepared to admit that there was a good deal of war damage to be done immediately after the war but, with great respect, that does not explain the enormous increase in house building during the last six years.

Sir Henry Studholme (Tavistock)

Is it not a fact that the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) said, when we claimed that we could build 300,000 houses a year, that we could build only 200,000? Does not the whole of the Opposition's argument fall to the ground?

Mr. Bevins

I am very reluctant to use quotations of that sort against the Labour Party, especially in 1958, but what my hon. Friend said is perfectly true.

The hon. and learned Member for Kettering referred to the coming borough elections. It is true that neither the imminence nor the results of elections of any kind go unnoticed in the House. The borough elections are due to take place a week today, and I am sure that the hon. and learned Member's speech had nothing to do with those coming events.

The hon. and learned Member made one or two comments about the rents charged for local authority houses, and it is fair to say that in the past he and his hon. Friends have been highly critical, first, of the Government's action in abolishing the general-need subsidies, to which he referred in passing today, and, secondly, the present high rates of interest which are charged to local authorities. It is true that we are now concentrating housing subsidies on those dwellings which we think are most needed—that is, houses for those who come from the slums and dwellings for elderly people. It is also true that the present Public Works Loan Board rate is the high one of 6¼ per cent.

The hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis)—I am sorry that he is not in his place this afternoon—seems to have an insatiable thirst for information about the total cost over an inordinate period of a three bedroom house, on the assumption that the money is raised for sixty years at the current rate of interest. The figure of about £6,000 seems to him to be the quintessence of Tory wickedness

As both sides of the Committee know, very few local authorities indeed need to adjust their rents to correspond with interest rates. The large local authorities maintain their consolidated loan funds or mortgage pools and they work so that the effective rate of interest is always a good deal less than the market rate of interest. Very often it does not exceed 4 or 4½ per cent. Even those local authorities which do not operate those methods have the opportunity of achieving the same result by the pooling of rents.

The hon. and learned Member referred to a figure quoted in a debate by my right hon. Friend and I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will desire to say a word or two on that later. At this point, however, I should like to say that even today, and allowing for the fact that many local authorities have raised their council house rents since the abolition of the general-need subsidy, the average rent of a three-bedroom house owned by county boroughs in England and Wales is only about 17s. It is true that in urban and rural districts the figure is rather higher, but even so, compared with present-day wages, these rents are certainly not out of the way.

Mr. Lindgren

The average person includes rates with rent, and when rates are added the figure is much higher. The Parliamentary Secretary is quoting an exclusive rent and not an inclusive figure with rates.

Mr. Bevins

I am obliged to the hon. Member.

The hon. and learned Member for Kettering also stressed, quite rightly, the difficulties of the new towns corporations, who, because of the absence of a pool of pre-war houses, cannot pool rents to the same advantage as local authorities can do. That, however, is precisely why, in 1956, the subsidies for overspill building were not only maintained, but were increased. Moreover, the advances which are now made by the Exchequer to the corporations bear interest at a rate of 5¾ per cent. as against the normal 6¼ per cent.

It is true, as both sides of the Committee know, that the rents of the houses of the new towns corporations are higher than those of local authorities, but even so, there is still no dearth of demand for that type of house. It is also true that there are difficulties concerning overspill. The receiving authorities throughout the country are, naturally, rather reluctant to pool rents at the expense of their older tenants. Dear money, therefore, tends to discourage the receiving local authorities. I want, however, to make it clear that preparations for the provision of overspill are going ahead in many areas. It is certainly the hope of my right hon. Friend that when interest rates fall, many of these schemes will come to fruition.

After all that has been said, not only in this debate, but in our earlier debates, when criticisms are levelled so harshly at my right hon. Friend one is entitled to ask what the party opposite would do in the matter of subsidies and interest rates. Only yesterday, I was looking at the recent policy statement issued by Transport House, price 6d. It asks: How will the next Labour Government tackle these problems? That is, the problems that the hon. and learned Member was discussing this afternoon. The answer to the question is that the local councils have led the country's housing drive. A Labour Government will give them every possible help, including loans at reasonable rates of interest and subsidies where needed for the building of new houses. What does "subsidies where needed" mean? Does it mean that the party opposite, if it was in power today, would restore the general-need subsidy, or does it not mean that? If not, what does it mean? What does the party opposite mean by "loans at reasonable rates of interest"? What is a reasonable rate of interest?

It is no use the party opposite deluding itself that it will ever again go back to a permanent Bank Rate of 2½ per cent. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) told us not so long ago that if he were Chancellor of the Exchequer he would not hesitate to use monetary controls in a crisis and, if necessary, to use them ruthlessly. The party opposite cannot, therefore, rule out 5 per cent. or even 6 per cent. under the direction of the right hon. Member for Huyton.

Mr. Mitchison

The hon. Gentleman has asked a number of questions which, perhaps, do not relate very closely to what we are discussing today. I recognise that to be the last line of defence always put up by the party opposite. I have heard such questions before. Had the hon. Gentleman listened to debates in the House, he would have heard me say at least twice exactly what appears in that pamphlet. It is perfectly plain. We shall see that local authorities get their money at a reasonable rate of interest. We do not regard the present rate as reasonable. If the hon. Gentleman wants to call that a hidden subsidy, he can certainly do so; he has done it before.

I have been saying today that I think the removal of the general-need subsidy has done a great deal of damage and that subsidies for housing were always recognised to be necessary and, in my view, still are necessary. The hon. Gentleman cannot expect the Opposition to tell him in advance, without knowledge of the extent of the economic mess in which the present Government may have involved us by then, the amount of the subsidy, or what is a reasonable rate of interest. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would do better to keep to the subject of the debate.

Mr. Bevins

After that intervention, I am even less clear than when I read the booklet whether the party opposite intends to reinstate the general-need subsidy. The one thing about which I am clear is that the hon. and learned Member is marching shoulder to shoulder with the right hon. Member for Huyton. They both desire that local authorities should enjoy differential and preferential rates of interest.

The hon. and learned Gentleman must, however, follow the logic of his own argument; he has not yet done so. The right hon. Member for Huyton did follow its logic, because when he wrote in the Manchester Guardian that the party opposite would not scruple to use monetary devices to help the economy he said that he would provide a differential and lower rate of interest to the whole of local government services, to essential industry and to colonial development.

If the party opposite is serious in an assertion of that nature, it must face the fact that those things together—all local government, all essential industry, including the nationalised industries, and colonial development—add up to about 75 per cent. of the total capital investment of the country. If the party opposite is to give a lower rate of interest for all those things, it is virtually saying that it does not propose to use monetary devices to save the economy at all. The hon. and learned Gentleman cannot escape from the logic of that argument.

Now, I turn to the size of the local authority programme, of which the hon. and learned Gentleman mainly spoke. Over the years, investment in housing as a whole in England and Wales accounts for about one-fifth of the total capital investment programme. When, therefore, towards the end of last year, the Government decided—I think, rightly—to retard capital investment in the interests of a sound currency, it was inevitable that housing should take some reduction. In the debate on the Address, my right hon. Friend said that the number of houses to be completed by local authorities and new towns corporations in England and Wales would need to be slowed down to a figure of about 100,000 in the financial year 1959–60. He also made it clear that this would affect the number of houses started during the current year.

Last year, local authorities and housing associations started 121,000 new houses and put out to tender 113,000 houses. This year, we expect to complete between 115,000 and 120,000 local authority houses. This year, local authorities will put out to tender about 100,000 houses.

Mr. Mitchison

Does that include new towns?

Mr. Bevins


I want to emphasise that the need to restrain investment in housing has not involved any immediate check on the slum clearance programme, although it may well be that that programme will level out at about its present rate over the next year or so. Last year, as, I think, the hon. and learned Gentleman said, 45,000 houses were demolished, but this year the number will be greater. It may be as high as 60,000 or 65,000. If, as we hope, this figure is reached, we shall be moving about 200,000 people from the slums this year.

What mostly interested me in the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman was that although he deplored the reduction in the local authority housing programme——

Mr. Mitchison

I think that by a slip of the tongue, the Parliamentary Secretary said that 45,000 slum houses had been demolished last year. The right figure is just over 35,000.

Mr. Bevins

I gave the figure that 45,000 were demolished last year and I am advised that that is correct.

I was most interested in what the hon. and learned Gentleman had to say—and, indeed, what he did not have to say—about the reduction in the local authority housing programme and how it should be tackled. I certainly did not understand the hon. and learned Gentleman to say that housing as a whole should be completely immune from capital investment cuts and I doubt whether that is his view.

If that is the case, what is the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument? Is it that this cut in housing should fall predominantly on private house building and only to a smaller extent on local authority housing? That is what I, and, I am sure, my hon. Friends, do not understand. Once we accept the assumption that, in the interests of a sound currency and in the interests of fighting inflation, housing has to make a contribution to the problem, from which sector of the housing programme is the reduction to come? It was on that score that the hon. and learned Gentleman had nothing at all to say. If he wants to say it now, I will gladly give way.

Mr. Mitchison

The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right. I did not tackle the matter from that point of view. What I said was that we must have more council house building, particularly for general need, than we are getting at present. I believe that to be true. I do not believe that it is necessary, in the interests of anti-inflation, or inflation or reflation or any other interest, to cut down council house building in the way in which it is being cut down at present. Whether or not the credit squeeze works on private house building is an interesting matter, but it is not what we are discussing on these Estimates.

Mr. Bevins

That is a most unilluminating answer, if I may say so. We do not even know now whether the hon. and learned Member believes that the Government are right to interfere at all with the general housing programme. All we know—this is what I infer from what the hon. and learned Member has just said—is that if he had his way the programmes of local authorities would not be reduced, certainly not as they affect building for general need.

Mr. Mitchison

They would be increased.

Mr. Bevins

If the hon. and learned Member would increase the programmes of local authorities, I do not understand for a moment what sort of a contribution he would be making to the contest against inflation in any way. I put it to him very seriously that if he is asking this afternoon that local authorities' programmes should be maintained at last year's figure, the logic is that something should be done to cut down on private enterprise building for sale. If one does not accept that proposition one is saying that housing must make no contribution to the battle against inflation.

The hon. and learned Member also had something to say this afternoon about the difficulties of young married people and others in the purchase of their homes. I see from the booklet from which I quoted earlier that the party opposite says: will Labour help people to buy their own houses? The answer is: Yes—and this was actually done by the Labour Government from 1945 to 1951 when rates of interest on mortgages from local councils were kept down to 3¼ per cent. and building society rates averaged about 4½ per cent. A newcomer to politics might be forgiven for thinking that the party opposite was really enthusiastic about house purchase. Indeed, the Labour Party now officially advocates, as a party, that 100 per cent. mortgages should be advanced to house purchasers without making it clear from where the money is to come.

Experience is a very good guide in these matters. The record shows that the party opposite was just a little indifferent to these people between 1945 and 1951. In the whole of that period private house construction in England and Wales averaged only 28,000 a year. In the last six years it has averaged nearly 90,000 a year. I think that the Committee needs to be reminded of these things occasionally. Between 1946 and 1951 the Labour Government worked on the curious principle—it certainly seems curious in retrospect—that local authorities should be allowed to licence only one private house for every four council houses, that is to say, one-fifth of the allocation that they were so generously providing.

Throughout those years local authorities operated the dreary and delaying system of building licences for a man who wanted to buy a house for his family. It is all very well for the party opposite today to talk about 100 per cent. mortgages and low rates of interest for house purchase, but those things are not much use if the party which forms the Government will not allow one to build a house if one wants to do so for a family.

Mr. Mitchison

Since it was he who introduced the subject of the anti-inflationary drive, would not the hon. Gentleman agree that building licences would be a much more effective and better method of combating inflation than cutting down the building of necessary houses by councils?

Mr. Bevins

I am sorry that I cannot oblige the hon. and learned Member with an affirmative answer to that question. I had a little experience of the operation of building licensing three or four years ago, when I held a minor post in the Ministry of Works. If anything was required to convince me of the folly of building licensing that was it.

Mr. Lindgren

The hon. Gentleman is trying to make good party capital, but will he not agree that during a whole period of housing, whatever period he likes to take, the ratio of houses rented to those owner-occupied has always been about 10 to 3?

Mr. Bevins

Over a long period of time, the hon. Member is probably right. I think it equally fair to state that now—and certainly over the last few years—there has been a great advance in private enterprise house building, largely to make up for the arrears incurred between 1946 and 1951.

The hon. and learned Member for Kettering and his hon. Friends quite clearly resent these reductions in local authority building programmes. We realise as clearly as they do that many family, human and domestic problems are involved in the whole range of the housing programme. An understanding of these problems is not the monopoly of any one political party. As hon. Members on both sides of the Committee know, political parties are sometimes driven into courses of action which they dislike in order to avoid more unpalatable consequences. I hope I may be forgiven by right hon. and hon. Members opposite if, very gingerly, I remind them of what happened when their Governments were faced with economic difficulties in 1947 and 1949.

They not only jammed the brakes on very hard against the building of private houses, but they planned to reduce council house building. At the time of the economic crisis, late in 1947, they applied a 20 per cent. housing cut, which revealed itself in a very sharp fall in housing completions in 1949. Immediately following the devaluation of the £, in 1949, they announced a cut in the housing programme of £35 million, partly in the private sector and partly in the public sector. I do not think that it is any use either party in this Committee pretending that any responsible Government, faced with economic difficulties, can allow the housing programme as a whole to move along as it has been doing without any interruption or modification.

I wish to say a word or two about the future. My right hon. Friend will continue to urge local authorities to concentrate their efforts primarily on slum clearance. We shall also continue to do all we can to expand the building of dwellings for elderly people. For some time past we have been asking local authorities to build more dwellings of this sort. The average percentage of old people's dwellings in the whole postwar period has been about 9 per cent. It has now risen to approximately 23 per cent.

Even so, we are still not satisfied. We feel that local authorities in general should be doing a great deal more to provide for the special needs of the elderly. That is partly because—as hon. Members know—we have an ageing population, and partly because of the scope which now exists for local authorities—and indeed for others—to make better use of existing accommodation, provided that we have the required number of one-bedroom dwellings available.

My right hon. Friend has been giving most careful thought to this matter. Although a measure of restraint on housing investment is still necessary to combat inflation, he is, nevertheless, anxious to encourage new building for old people as much as he possibly can. In the circular and booklet about flatlets for elderly people which he is addressing to local authorities today, we have asked authorities to tell us what they propose to do. In those cases where the authority is faced with a special problem which calls for urgent attention my right hon. Friend is prepared to look again as sympathetically as he can at their present building programme and consider whether more provision can be made for the benefit of elderly people. In this way we hope to be able to do something to give immediate help where there is unusual and pressing need. I believe that action by my right hon. Friend will commend itself to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the Committee.

In addition, my right hon. Friend has urged local authorities, by circular and otherwise, to do all they can, both by purchase and by transfers, to help in the process of getting property more fully occupied. As the Committee knows, it is more important than ever, when we have restrictions on capital expenditure, to make the best use of existing accommodation.

Mr. Mitchison

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that very interesting subject, may I ask whether he has any figures on under-occupation more recent than those of the 1951 Census?

Mr. Bevins

I do not think that my right hon. Friend is in possession of any later figures, but I am sure that it is within the knowledge of hon. Members on both sides of the Committee that there is very considerable under-occupation at present—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] It will make a very real contribution if we have the co-operation of local authorities——

Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)

And of private enterprise.

Mr. Bevins

—and other interested agencies, in making a contribution to this problem.

I apologise for speaking at such length on this subject. The hon. and learned Member for Kettering may feel that a few of the points I have made may have had a slight political flavour, but after all, he is never excessively inhibited in that respect. Knowing him as I do, I know he will forgive me for that.

4.42 p.m.

Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)

The matter under discussion this afternoon is a very great human and social problem. I am amazed that the Parliamentary Secretary, who represents a constituency in a large industrial town, should be so satisfied. I wish to deal with the subject as a human problem and not to follow the Parliamentary Secretary into a mass of figures. I should not care what Minister of Housing was in control, Labour, Conservative or Liberal, he could not be satisfied with the spectacle of hundreds of thousands of people being unable to get a decent home.

I expect that hon. Members opposite hold advice bureau meetings. I hold one in my constituency. We deal with all kinds of problems, but the greatest human problem is that of people who come to see us when they are searching for a home.

Mr. Robert Jenkins (Dulwich)

indicated assent.

Mr. Hunter

I am glad to see the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins) nod in agreement, because he takes a great deal of interest in this matter.

People come to me and ask, "Can you help us, Mr. Hunter?" A Member of Parliament can only bring such matters to this House. He has no jurisdiction over local authorities, which have their points and allocation schemes. I believe that they endeavour to work those schemes fairly. Obviously, when there is a limited number of houses to be shared, they cannot please everybody. So I plead for these people today.

Some of the people who come to us sometimes break down in tears. What can the Parliamentary Secretary say to a person who has no residential qualification? Again, there are those who say that the list is closed and they can only go on to the suspended list, there already being a list of nearly 2,000. What is his reply to those people who seek our aid? Nobody could be satisfied with the housing situation in the country as it affects those who are unable to afford to buy a house, and whose only hope of a house is to rent it.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite have always averred that they stand for the man who wants to be an owner-occupier. The Minister should remember that it is deeds that count, not words. Young people come to my advice bureau and say, "We have been to five or six building societies and they say that our salary is too small". I gather that anyone seeking a loan on mortgage must earn in a week what his outgoings will be in a month, including repayment of loan, rates, water rate, and so forth. This requires, roughly, a weekly wage of at least £14 to £15. One can, therefore, appreciate the difficulty of young people who want to buy their own homes, with the interest rates on housing loans under this Government adding to their difficulties.

We on this side of the Committee have always supported anyone who wanted to become an owner-occupier. Often, a man will say to me, "I am married. My wife has a fairly good job, but the building societies will not accept us. They say that they can only take into account my income. They say that my wife may have a child, and that her income may go". There are, therefore, very many people without residential qualifications, who are on a housing list but with very little hope of being housed by a council. The problem remains as great today as it was in 1945. I should say that the housing problem of most wage earners is as great in 1958 as it was in 1945. It is wrong of the Parliamentary Secretary to be so complacent about it.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), whose figures were more or less confirmed by the Parliamentary Secretary, said that there would be about 100,000 houses built by councils this year for letting. We must bear in mind that it is only the councils which build for rent. Private enterprise is building, but for sale, not for rent. Flats and maisonettes are being built today for sale. A man without any capital, who does not earn a salary sufficient to buy his own home, is bound to depend on the local authority. We can easily see how difficult the problem is.

We have from my hon. and learned Friend the figure of only 100,000 houses built for renting in 1958. My hon. and learned Friend told us that, of those, roughly 40,000 would be for slum clearance. New towns would account for 11,000 and about 23,000 would be left for general need. I should imagine that the Parliamentary Secretary's own town, Liverpool, could almost take that 23,000. Yet that is the number we are to have throughout the country. Those on the housing lists of local authorities have, therefore, very faint hopes indeed while this Government are in power.

In my constituency, there are two local authorities, the Feltham Urban District Council and part of the Borough of Heston and Isleworth. We have nearly 2,000 on the waiting list in Feltham. I believe that Heston and Isleworth has a waiting list of about 4,000. That is the extent of the problem in that part of Middlesex. In Feltham alone, in 1954 and 1955, even during the period of power of the present Government, we were having 240 houses per year, although no doubt the plans were made during the period of the Labour Government and we were making some strides towards solving this great social problem.

Last year, the Feltham local authority had 40 new houses, as against 240 in 1954 and 1955. The only others available—very few indeed—come from people who move. As for Heston and Isleworth, as I said, there is a list of about 4,000. In South-West Middlesex, we have a big industrial area, with large engineering companies on the Great South-West Road, at Hounslow. We have London Airport. Hon. Members should readily be able to appreciate the pressure on housing accommodation there.

I make the plea to the right hon. Gentleman today that he should carefully examine the numbers on the lists. Will he ask all local authorities in Middlesex to submit their housing lists? Some local authorities have two lists, an active list and a suspended list. I ask the Minister to gather information about Middlesex. In my view, the only permanent solution for Middlesex is a new town, and I hope very much that the right hon. Gentleman will go forward with that.

I welcome the statement today about old people's flats. That is good news, which all hon. Gentlemen will welcome. We pleaded for it during the debate on social services for old people. The Parliamentary Secretary was right in saying that there is an ageing population. We should go on building old people's flats. If local authorities can transfer old people, who may be in two or three-bedroom council houses, into old people's flats, that may make way for younger families.

This is a great social problem. After all, a home is a base for life. It is all very well for the Parliamentary Secretary to talk about inflation, but when people plead with us, must we say, "I am sorry, but you cannot have a new house because we are fighting inflation"? Does that make an appeal to people in that plight? Anyone who has had the problem of walking the streets of London or Middlesex looking for somewhere to live, or going again and again to a local authority for help, will know the extent of the problem. The Minister should take a census in Middlesex and ascertain what the situation really is, and let the local authorities go ahead with building all the accommodation they can to help solve this great human problem.

4.53 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

The hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) has made a very sincere contribution to this debate. All right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have again and again had examples brought to their notice of tragedy in the lives of people looking for a home and of the extent of the human and social problem produced by the lack of accommodation. People come to me and ask for my advice. There is little help one can give, for Members of Parliament cannot interfere with the allocation of houses by local authorities. I feel very angry when I see people really in need and I know of the number of council house tenants, well-to-do, well-off people, who do not need the council houses in which they are living. I will return to that narrow point later, if I may.

I wish now to refer to some of the figures given by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) who, though not here at the moment, has a very adequate substitute in the person of the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren). The hon. and learned Gentleman gave a mass of figures, but they really all boil down to the simple point that the annual rate at which local authority houses have been built over the past two years is almost exactly the same as the annual rate at which they were built during the last three years of the Socialist Government. One has only to look at the figures in the housing returns to see that that is so. It cannot be said that war damage repairs then were so urgent and so heavy that all the building labour was being taken on that work during the whole of the last three years of the Socialist Government.

The average over the last three years of the Socialist Government was 140,000 council houses built per year. For 1955 and 1956, the average was about 138,000 or 139,000. Talk about the present Government making terrible cuts in council house building is nonsense. This Government has been building the same number as the Socialist Government built during the last three years of their term of office.

Mr. Lindgren

The hon. Gentleman will agree, I hope, that the 1939–45 war was devastating to the country's resources. One would assume that, by 1958, we were a little better off, or ought to be, than we were in 1948.

Mr. Page

I am speaking of the years 1949, 1950 and 1951.

Mr. Lindgren

Are we no better off after six years of Toryism?

Mr. Page

In 1948, the Socialist Government managed to build 170,000 houses. In the following year, the number was cut by 30,000. If they could build 170,000 in 1948, why could they not do it in 1949, 1950 and 1951? Does that not defeat the argument about building labour not being available because of war damage repairs?

I wish to draw attention to one other little error in what the hon. and learned Gentleman said. He said, rather vaguely, that private building at present was running at about the same rate over the past two or three years. In fact, it has been increasing quite substantially: 110,000 in 1955; 119,000 in 1956; 122,000 in 1957. Not as much as local authority building, but steadily increasing and taking up, as it were, a slight reduction in local authority house building.

The hon. and learned Member for Kettering practically invited Members on this side of the Committee to trot out the argument, which, apparently, he thought we should use, that council housing is wicked and evil. I think that those were his words, or something like that. The figures certainly do not show a belief on the part of the party on this side that there is anything wrong in local authorities providing housing accommodation. The figures represent the same sort of level of building of that type of house as there was under the Socialist Government.

The Motion is to increase the Vote, a Vote which includes about £65 million for subsidies for the year. It is right that the Committee should see how that money is being used, so that it may consider whether the Vote should be increased. The Committee ought to consider how the subsidies are being spent and used by the local authorities. The Minister ought to look carefully into the way local authorities are utilising those moneys. Are they really using the subsidies for the purpose of housing people such as those to whom the hon. Member for Feltham referred, people who have a real human problem in finding a home? I am sure that hon. Members know perfectly well that there are many cases in which the subsidies are used to house people who do not need a subsidy at all.

Mr. Lindgren

Will the hon. Gentleman give us a few cases from his own constituency?

Mr. Page

I will give the hon. Gentleman a number of cases from all over the country if he will be patient. But let me develop my argument before I give those examples.

The local authority is under an obligation to provide for the housing needs of its area. There are many people in council houses who have no need for that type of accommodation, because they have the means and the opportunity to provide accommodation for themselves. I want to make a rather deliberate and premeditated attack upon those well-to-do tenants who are spongeing on the public by living on a subsidy. I also want to make an attack on the local authorities who are permitting them to do so. I think that the taxpayer should be relieved of making any contribution towards the rent of tenants who can afford to pay an economic rent, or to buy their own house. I am sure that hon. Members will be perfectly well aware of the resentment that is felt against this type of council tenant. They must have found this in their correspondence, as, indeed, I have.

Mr. Lindgren

None at all.

Mr. Page

After the war, and from 1945 to 1951, while the Socialist Party was in office, it was probably quite right to provide housing accommodation regardless of the means of the tenant. What I would call the lamentable failure of that Government to ensure that sufficient housing was provided at that time made it necessary not to consider the means when allocating houses. But in the last five years the situation has changed. There are many empty houses at figures which the well-to-do council tenants could easily afford to pay in rent or to buy.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)

Where are they?

Mr. Page

Perhaps I might give the hon. Gentleman a list which has come to my notice as a result of putting this proposition forward in the country, which received a certain amount of publicity in the national Press and brought me a large amount of correspondence. I have taken the trouble to check one or two of these cases.

Why, for example, should we subsidise a company director in Theydon Bois, Essex, who has not only a motor car, but an aeroplane? He is paying a rent of 46s. a week. Why should we subsidise the landlord at Weymouth who owns three large houses, but is living in a council house himself? Why should we subsidise the £40 a week tenant at Silkmere, Stafford?

Mr. Arthur Moyle (Oldbury and Halesowen)

What was the date of the building of that council house?

Mr. Page

I cannot say.

Mr. Moyle

That is important.

Mr. Page

I entirely agree that it is important, because I cannot say when the house was built. The subsidy might be anything between 2s. and 16s. or 17s. a week.

Mr. Mahon

It may be the economic rent of the house.

Mr. Page

It may well be, but surely it is not for the local authority to provide accommodation for that type of person in houses which are being subsidised, and to say that it is the economic rent of the house and that there is no subsidy on it is a fallacy. A subsidy is still being paid in respect of that house, and, therefore, it is enabling the local authority to house people who do not deserve to be housed.

The hon. Member for Wellingborough asked me to give some examples, and I will give others in addition to those that I have mentioned. There is, for example, the £50 a week tenant at Swansea, the £50 a week tenant at St. Albans, the £65 a week tenant in Carmarthenshire, who is paying a rent of £1 a week, and the £160 a week tenant at Heyland, Yorks—he admitted that himself in the county court—who is paying 30s. a week. Then there is the married couple, both with substantial earnings, a car and a television set, living in an old people's bungalow in Norfolk. There is the man who earns £15, his wife £10, a daughter £8 and a son £12, making a total of £45 a week, who have just bought a new car for £400, a television set for £100, living at Cheltenham in a council house.

Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)

The information is of use to us, but of the authorities that the hon. Gentleman has so far read out all but two are Conservative-controlled and, therefore, responsible for the sort of thing about which he is talking.

Mr. Page

I am not concerned whether it is a Conservative council or a Socialist council. I am pleading that the Minister should look into this matter and hold an inquiry, as his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is doing in Scotland.

Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)

Is the hon. Gentleman laying down a new principle on behalf of his party, that council houses must in future be regarded as almshouses reserved for the deserving poor, and that if a family's income goes up they can be expected to be thrown out?

Mr. Page

I think that if the income of the family goes up, then they should be thrown out.

Hon. Members


Mr. Parkin

I hope that we have that on the record.

Mr. Page

Does the hon. Gentleman wish that people earning £30 a week should live in a council house when there are people on the waiting list who need it because their income is low? The hon. Member for Feltham said that this was a human problem, and so it is. I see no reason why those who have substantial incomes should continue to enjoy a subsidy by living in a council house. I exclude the 17 councillors of Coventry and very many more in Manchester, because I do not know their incomes, but I do not exclude those hon. Members of this House who enjoy council houses on an income of £33 10s. a week.

Mr. Parkin

I will try not to raise the temperature of the debate. I know that the hon. Gentleman has deliberately embarked on a controversial statement; but will he confirm that in addition to the step taken by his party over the Rent Act, which has for the first time in living memory removed security of tenure from tenants, he is now adding a proposal to remove security of tenure from council house tenants, because that will complete the policy and will be something which has not been known in this country since before the First World War.

Mr. Page

I do not shirk that issue at all. I was expecting someone to accuse me of advocating more evictions. I say it for the very reason that we must provide for those who may be in difficulty under the Rent Act. I believe that if councils would clear out their wealthy tenants there would be accommodation for the few hardship cases which may result from the Rent Act. I see no reason why the council tenants should be insulated from decontrol. Council houses have never been subject to control. The reason why they have not been made subject to control is so that the local authority should provide for the housing needs of its citizens and it should adapt its housing accommodation to those needs. This is the time for adaptation. This is the time to get rid of those who do not need that housing and to provide for those who really do.

Mr. W. G. Cove (Aberavon)

There ought to be a means test.

Mr. Page

I am willing to face the need for a means test. These wealthy people are taking the benefit of subsidies, the taxpayers' money and the ratepayers' money and are keeping poor people out of those houses. I do not think that a differential rent scheme is sufficient.

Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)

So that we might know the full extent to which the hon. Gentleman would operate this policy, would he apply it to the new town houses as well as council houses?

Mr. Page

No. I think that different considerations apply to the new towns. In the development of the new town it may well be necessary to provide for those with higher incomes. The problem in the case of a new town is exactly the same as that which obtained generally during the first five or six years after the war. Means should be disregarded in building up those towns.

Mr. Mahon

As a member of a big family I can be certain on this point.

A family's income may increase or just as naturally decrease; but at what level does the hon. Gentleman want to evict the family?

Mr. Page

If there is more than £30 a week coming into the house——

Mrs. Harriet Slater (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

Irrespective of the family income?

Mr. Page

—of a family of a husband and wife and two teenage children, that family does not deserve a council house. One would have to take into account the responsibilities of the family, the number of children, and the number earning, and so on.

I do not wish to delay the Committee by going into this matter in detail. It is obviously something which can be worked out. All that I wanted to stress today was that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has instituted an inquiry into housing conditions in Glasgow. I think that such an inquiry is just as necessary in many towns in England. I would like to see an inquiry into the level of rents and the number of council houses let to tenants with an income of over, say, £30 a week in England. It is a thing which should not be delayed. It is a matter which is urgent and which is becoming a public scandal.

5.13 p.m.

Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)

I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) in all he said about council house tenants, because we are all familiar with the technique of taking one or two examples and trying to discredit the position of council house tenants. In my view, that is what he has done this afternoon.

Mr. Page

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady so early, but I am sure she does not believe that I am discrediting all council house tenants. In fact, I endeavoured to say that I believe in local authority housing and my intention was that it should be provided for those in real need.

Mrs. Slater

That is a red herring.

Mrs. Butler

Shall I say that he has endeavoured to belittle the case for council houses by drawing attention to a few examples of tenants whom he thinks should not occupy council houses? Everybody knows it is possible at particular times to find people living in houses who collectively as a family enjoy what could be regarded as a high income.

As has been said, some of these families to which the hon. Gentleman drew attention, and to which other hon. Members opposite have from time to time drawn attention, are very often families who have been through an excessively difficult time when the children were small. For a very brief period when the children begin to earn and remain at home, they do enjoy a higher incomes and can then replace some of the things they have had to go without. But, in a short time some of these children marry and leave home and the elderly couple are left on their own resources once again and are very often dependent on the old-age pension.

It would be completely wrong to turn out such a family from a council house during the period when the children are earning. There is nowhere for them to go, because it is probable that if such a family were turned out the parents would be too old to be able to get a mortgage if they wanted to buy a house, and the children would not be able to get a mortgage to buy a house. We must be realistic in these matters. The situation which the hon. Gentleman has tried to paint is a completely false picture of the desperate position of people who need a a council house at the present time but cannot get one because of Government policy, and of those who are living in council houses and are having to pay increasingly high rents again because of Government policy.

I have been shocked at the complacency of hon. Gentlemen opposite about the housing problem. Reference has already been made to it this afternoon. It is a shocking attitude of complacency, which anyone who serves on a local authority or who has been meeting his constituents knows bears no true relation to the facts. Those of us who are in touch with our constituents must be aware of the desperate need of many families to obtain housing accommodation. Reference has already been made to the young married couple with two or three children, living in one or two rooms, who want a council house. Then there are the families who have been waiting for years and years to get a council house but have been unable to acquire one, and who cannot buy a house because, for one reason or another, they have not been able to put down the deposit. We all have these cases, some of them tragic. This is the real problem, to which have been added many others.

If we examine why the Government are so complacent about the position we find the answer to be a simple one. They know that in the main, when people are dissatisfied about housing, they will criticise their local authority. Yet the Government take credit for building houses, they say "we" have built so many houses, when it is the local authorities who build the houses. When they restrict housing policy, they know they can shelter behind the local authorities when criticism is forthcoming from members of the public.

I have in my hand a pamphlet issued by the party opposite which claims that they themselves are clearing the slums. But "they" are not clearing the slums, it is the local authorities who are doing so. The pamphlet has a heading "Home Again" and talks about the Conservatives having "pressed on with derequisitioning of private property". The pamphlet states that in October, 1951, there were 85,000 requisitioned dwellings and that in October, 1957, there were 44,000 requisitioned dwellings. They are claiming the credit for having reduced the number of requisitioned dwellings by one half. But "they" have not done it. It is the local authorities who have derequisitioned the dwellings and have often found alternative accommodation for the families living in them. That is the attitude of the Government towards all these problems—slum clearance, derequisitioning of requisitioned properties, clearing prefabs from open spaces. Yet those are the problems with which local authorities have had to deal, and which have put pressure upon them, and have made it more and more difficult for them to accommodate families from their housing waiting lists.

In my constituency, there are two local authorities. One is Wood Green, which has a housing waiting list of round about 1,500. The other is Tottenham, which has a housing waiting list of 9,000. Three thousand of the families on the latter list each live in one room. Tottenham is also engaged on a slum clearance programme, but every area of slum clearance which is undertaken means that a great many more houses have to be provided than have been pulled down. Tottenham also has to derequisition houses. All these mounting pressures on local authorities make it more and more difficult for them to take families off their housing waiting lists, and in fact they are not able to do so because they are fully occupied with the other problems of slum clearance, derequisitioning, and so on.

Having got that off my chest, Sir Charles, and having assured the Minister that this is a real problem, may I point out to the Committee that it is completely untrue to say, as is said in this pamphlet— In the country as a whole, overall supply and demand will very soon balance". I notice they are now saying "will very soon balance", but I believe an earlier statement by a predecessor of the present Minister of Housing was that overall supply and demand would have balanced by the end of last year. Now they are being a little more cautious. We know there is no sign of that taking place because, in addition to all these other pressures, there are the pressures coming from the operation of the Rent Act. This is the priority which conscientious local authorities—in the main they are Labour local authorities—are having to face now on housing.

I want to put a specific point to the Minister in connection with areas like my own, of which there must be many in different parts of the country. Where local authorities are purchasing houses from which tenants are likely to be evicted under the Rent Act, the right hon. Gentleman could materially assist the solution of this problem by giving a higher subsidy for the building of flats for elderly people. I understand that a circular is being sent to local authorities about the building of such flats, but it is not much use sending circulars to local authorities, exhorting them to build more flats, unless something positive is done about it. In the Borough of Wood Green we have 179 elderly people on our special housing waiting list and on our Rent Act list we have 76 people over 60 years of age who are likely to be evicted. We do not know the number of elderly sub-tenants who may be evicted.

If the council purchased some of the houses in which elderly people are now living as tenants of private landlords, we could move those elderly people into elderly persons' flats, if these were available, and put families from the waiting list into the purchased houses. However, the present subsidy for old people is not big enough to encourage local authorities to do this and to enable them to build old people's flats or bungalows at an economic rent which the old people can afford. And there is a limit to the increasing amount of rate subsidy which local authorities can continue to incur in all these different directions.

I appeal to the Minister that if he wants local authorities to build accommodation for elderly people—and this is by far and away the easiest and the most effective way of making better use of existing accommodation, which the right hon. Gentleman has said he wants to do—to see whether he cannot increase the subsidy. The small sum, by comparison, which he would spend in this way would release a great deal of other accommodation that could be used for larger families on the housing waiting list. At the moment the housing problem involves juggling one form of accommodation against another because there is so little new accommodation. So I appeal to the Minister to consider my suggestion, which has the advantage of enabling elderly people to stay in their present localities. They cannot go to new towns and other places far from their present homes with any feeling of security or happiness. They want to remain in their own areas.

In Wood Green we were thinking of building a small block of one-bedroom and bed-sitting-room flats for elderly people. It was a very small block, accommodating only eight flats, and the cost of building it was estimated at £14,350. Working that out very roughly, it would mean that, apart from rates, the elderly people would have to pay at least £2 a week in rent. Since some of these were to be bed-sitting-room flats, it would mean that a single person or a widow would pay at least £2 a week net rent for this type of accommodation, which is beyond their consideration, and a subsidy would help materially. The £10 subsidy on these small flats merely covers decorations, repairs, administrative expenses, and so on, and would not reduce the amount of rent to any appreciable extent.

I endorse what my hon. Friend said earlier, in urging the Minister to consider the question of a new town for boroughs in Middlesex which are desperately overcrowded. The right hon. Gentleman knows that those local authorities have been applying themselves to this problem, and he will have had representations on this point. Although there are difficulties about acquiring a site, that is not so much the problem nor is it one of getting the authorities to co-operate on this matter. The difficulty is financial. The Minister has indicated that he will not finance any new towns under the New Towns Act. Again I appeal to him, if he wants to help in this way, to see whether he can give greater financial assistance to this project than he has indicated so far. Otherwise the scheme cannot go forward because of the financial difficulties for the local authorities concerned.

There is another small point, a purely local one, and it concerns prefabs on open spaces. The Borough of Wood Green has appealed to the Minister many times to be allowed to retain these prefabs beyond the date at which they should be pulled down. The next batch of those prefabricated houses is due to come down in 1960.

Bearing in mind that these "prefabs" are in good condition and are likely to remain so for many years, I ask the Minister to reconsider his decision, especially as he is asking local authorities to provide accommodation for elderly people. Elderly people who will be evicted under the Rent Act at the end of the expiration of the provisions of the Landlord and Tenant (Temporary Provisions) Bill will have nowhere to go, will be unable to buy houses, and will not be able to rent accommodation because of their age. Such people could go into "prefabs" and probably be able to stay for the rest of their lives. I hope that the Minister will reconsider his decision, because this state of affairs probably applies to other parts of the country. It seems wrong at this time, with this pressure on housing accommodation to pull down perfectly good "prefabs" which, it is rumoured, are sold privately and reoccupied by private occupiers elsewhere.

The Minister will materially assist in a solution of the problem of accommodating old people if he will look again at the question of conversions of private property and relax still further the standard, on which the Ministry still insist, when old houses are converted for use by elderly people, or other council tenants. The cost of conversion today is sometimes almost that of building completely new premises. If old houses are bought and converted according to the standards laid down by the Ministry, the cost is almost as high as pulling down the house and building a completely new one. That seems to be a ridiculous situation and a colossal waste of money, because if the old buildings have any value at all, they need only minimum conversion to last for their limited lives.

With those one or two constructive suggestions, I hope that the Minister will feel that there is something that he can do. I urge him, with all the sincerity and energy that I can command, that he must do something. It is not enough to continue to say that over the past years the Government have built so many houses. That is not only not true, because the Government do not build houses, but it does not meet the needs of the present situation. All over the country there are families needing council houses for one reason or another, or needing properties which councils have bought and converted for their use. Those people look to local authorities for assistance, and it is the Minister's responsibility to help local authorities to meet that need and not to handicap them, as he is doing at present.

5.34 p.m.

Mr. Harold Gurden (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

It was not my intention to attack the hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler), but she has rendered herself vulnerable in attempting to destroy the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) on the need to provide council houses for those who cannot afford to buy houses for themselves. The hon. Lady effectively proved that there was a need to provide council houses for those who could not afford to buy private houses, but she did not destroy the arguments of my hon. Friend that those earning £2,000 to £5,000 or more a year should not be allowed to live in a subsidised house when housing is still somewhat scarce. My hon. Friend recommended that the Minister should do something about that.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

This is not a matter which needs any Parliamentary power, or which is in the Minister's power. Councils are housing authorities. Their contracts are weekly tenancies and they can change them by a week's notice at any time. If councils have let subsidised houses to wealthy friends instead of to needy citizens, they have the power to put that right at once.

Mr. Gurden

I am extremely glad of the support of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). However, he has destroyed the point made by one of his hon. Friends, that there was some protection for council tenants. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne has now shown that there is no protection.

I come from one of those local authorities, the City of Birmingham local authority, which do not ask tenants who are earning large salaries to leave council houses. Birmingham still has a large waiting list.

Mr. Mahon

Does not the hon. Member's local housing committee find out the wages or salaries of those families which go to council houses when they first apply for a tenancy?

Mr. Gurden

Unfortunately, they do not look into that matter. The Opposition have been very critical of the suggestion that there should be a means test, but, in fact, the Socialist-controlled council in Birmingham does institute a means test to some extent.

Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, All Saints)rose——

Mr. Gurden

I think that that amount of interruption is more than I ought to allow. If hon. Members will read the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow, they will see that my support for the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby is quite clear. The case for the Opposition is that the Government have failed to provide sufficient houses. The Opposition are rather touchy—perhaps I would be if I were in their position—about the figures which show what happened when they were in power.

Mr. Mitchison

The hon. Member is talking about the case for the Opposition. I should have thought that it was quite simple. The point is that the Government are preventing the councils from building as many houses as are required. The Government do not build houses. They are provided by the councils.

Mr. Gurden

If those figures show that the Government are not allowing sufficient houses to be built, I can only say that between 1945 and 1950 there was even more Government interference, on that argument.

It is obvious to those of us who know Birmingham that the problem of clearing the slums is being tackled to a major extent for the first time in history. [HON. MEMBERS: "By the Socialists."] I appreciate the efforts of the Socialists who have closely followed the policy of the Conservatives on the council. The Socialists agreed with and supported the Conservatives in their plans for clearing the slums. The Government have given support and encouragement to this policy and now the Socialists in Birmingham have done very well indeed, and I wish them good luck in their efforts. However, let us establish the fact that for the first time in history, and under this Government, a major effort is being made and the slums are disappearing very fast.

Mr. Mahon


Mr. Gurden

They are from the City of Birmingham.

Mr. Sparks

I am sure that the hon. Member is aware that the problem of slum clearance is nation-wide and not confined only to Birmingham. Is he not aware that in England, Wales and Scotland, there are just under I million scheduled slum houses which, at the rate of slum clearance over the past three years, will take twenty-five years to clear?

Mr. Gurden

I do not deny that it will take a long time, but at least the best progress that I have ever seen is now being made in Birmingham, and other parts of the country are also doing extremely well in comparison with the past. I put it to the Opposition Front Bench that we can judge these things only on past records, and that is why I am comparing the last five or six years with 1945–51.

The waiting lists for houses, particularly in Birmingham, are obviously swollen by prosperity in industry and by high wages which attract people to the cities. That has always been the case. Another cause of the difficulties in the overcrowded cities is the influx of coloured people. I know that they are entitled to come here, and that most of them are British people. Nevertheless, they seriously aggravate the situation. It may well be that they are not in the majority on the waiting lists and that an examination of the housing waiting lists will show that only a small proportion of the applicants are coloured and Irish people. [An HON. MEMBER: "Local people."] It may well be that the majority on the Birmingham housing list of 50,000 or 60,000 are Birmingham people. Nevertheless, the overall housing position is aggravated by this constant influx of coloured and Irish people.

It was a Socialist leader on the Birmingham City Council who said to me that Birmingham was always in trouble because it was always solving the unemployment problems of the coloured races and of Southern Ireland. That is perfectly true.

Mr. Mahon

The hon. Member is talking nonsense.

Mr. Gurden

It is not nonsense to say that the housing situation in the Midlands has been aggravated by an influx of coloured people. That is not a political issue. I have no more objection to coloured people as such than has the hon. Member.

During the past thirty years, the City of Birmingham has tackled this problem of the shortage of houses on six or seven occasions. All that time, there has been a waiting list of approximately 50,000 people, and I can remember that twenty-five or thirty years ago, the council decided to attack the problem in a big way and build a very large housing estate, which was to solve the problem of the shortage of houses for all time.

The council built houses for people on the waiting list, and when the estate was completed there was still a waiting list of 50,000 people. Therefore, the council started again and did the same thing, but at the end of that period there was still a waiting list of approximately 50,000 people. There has been another example more recently of more or less the same thing. Since the war, the council has built a vast number of houses, and still we have the same vast waiting list.

I believe that, with the present prosperity of the Midlands and its industries, which always seem to be busy, this process will go on, unless we can find some other means of taking industry, or some part of it, to other areas, or alternatively, building very much higher buildings, which is something to which the council is now giving a great deal of attention. In the past there has been a great sprawl, which is not attractive.

I turn now to the case for the would-be owner-occupier. So much has been said, and always is said, for the council house tenant and his needs, but it should be remembered that the owner-occupier has to provide his own capital with which to find the deposit on his house, probably because, in some cases, with his level of income, he does not want to live in a subsidised house, or because he does not want to wait five or six years to obtain a council house. Let us give some thought to the position of the owner-occupier, and remember that he is sometimes subsidising people very much better off than himself. That was clearly proved by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby.

It would be a great contribution to housing if we could in some way or other again provide houses for sale with a low deposit. I remember the time when one could get a house for a deposit of £10 or £20—[An HON. MEMBER: "But what a housel People are living in them today, and I can show the hon. Gentleman many such houses in which anybody might be proud to live.

Today, I do not think that providing houses is as inflationary as some people think. To encourage the would-be owner-occupier, it is most important that lower deposits should be possible to enable people to buy houses, and I believe that a £100 deposit is sufficient for these people to have to find. In the long run, I believe that that is more deflationary than inflationary, and that it provides a means of saving, and perhaps the best means we can suggest.

The people of Birmingham are extremely concerned with the fact that the council has yet to tackle this problem of subsidising people so much better off, or is not tackling it with sufficient vigour. The Conservative Party, which is in the minority on the council, has a very sound plan for dealing with this problem of subsidising people in council houses who are much better off than others. Let us bear in mind the fact that very often it is the old-age pensioners who are haying to pay some of this subsidy to families earning perhaps £50 or £60 per week.

Mr. D. Howell

The hon. Gentleman must get his facts straight. Why was it that the Conservative Party, of which he was a member, when it was in control of the council as recently as a few years ago, and after a lengthy period in control, did none of these things which the hon. Gentleman is now advocating, and which, in fact, he himself did not advocate when a member of the council? Is it not a fact that the Labour Party, when it obtained control of the council, introduced a rent rebate scheme which has worked very successfully since? Why did he and his friends do nothing, whereas we did produce an equitable system which is working well?

Mr. Gurden

Let me admit at once that there is a considerable amount in what the hon. Member for All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) has said. I do not deny that my party did not carry through what it intended to do to extend this scheme and let a bit of sense into Birmingham's housing situation. I myself made a protest at the time, and that part of the hon. Gentleman's case against me is not true.

I would emphasise that the people of Birmingham, and, I have no doubt, of other cities, too, are very tired of subsidising those who are better off, and if anything that I say can support what my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby said I say it with great pleasure.

5.50 p.m.

Mrs. Harriet Slater (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

I am quite sure that the Minister must be very pleased with his hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), who has very cleverly diverted the substance of the debate by the red herring of the people living in council houses who happen to have large incomes. The hon. Gentleman mentioned, in particular, a company director. I suppose that a company director votes for the hon. Gentleman's party, and apparently has not got the conscience that one would expect of him.

Mr. Page

I do not see why any company director should vote for the party on this side of the Committee. There are company directors on the other side.

Mrs. Slater

It is fairly logical to assume that, in general, company directors would be more likely to vote for the hon. Gentlemans' party than for the Socialist Party.

One of the arguments which the hon. Member for Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden) put forward was on the question of the old-age pensioner subsidising people in council houses. I have no children, but I never grumbled when I had not got a decent income about subsidising children's education, and I do not see that that argument holds water. We live in a community, and the community must take responsibility for the whole of its people. This argument about old-age pensioners subsidising somebody else or another public service is by no means one which should divert us from the problem we are discussing today.

When the hon. Member for Selly Oak reads his speech tomorrow, I think he will feel very sorry that he brought into this debate the question of the housing of coloured people. After all, these people are humans as well as ourselves, and we have a moral responsibility for the whole of our people. I suppose that they contribute towards the wealth and prosperity of industry in Birmingham, just as do other people.

Mr. Mahon

Would my hon. Friend also agree that the Irish regiments and the coloured regiments in the last war helped this country to a great victory?

Mr. Lindgren

The war is over now, so hon. Members opposite do not worry.

Mrs. Slater

We can forget, as the Parliamentary Secretary did, the difficulties immediately following the war concerning house building by the Labour Government.

I want to mention a point about slum clearance. I am very pleased to note that Birmingham is getting on with its slum clearance programme. It has needed to be tackled for many years, because nothing was done about it pre-war. It is only now, when the social conscience has been aroused about it, that we are beginning to tackle the problem of the clearance of slums built up by private enterprise over the years.

In my own city, Stoke-on-Trent, which is not such a wealthy one as Birmingham, we hope this year to build between 250 and 300 houses for slum clearance to meet a problem of about 10,000 to 12,000 slum houses. That programme has been restricted by the Government's policy. There are several other factors which operate in relation to a local authority slum clearance programme. In the first place, there is the difficult position with the subsidy and the high interest rates which the local authorities have to pay on the slum clearance houses which they build. In many areas, too, there is a shortage of sanitary inspectors, so the inspection of slum clearance houses is restricted.

I am sure that other local authorities have had the same experience as we have had in Stoke-on-Trent, of submitting schemes to the Ministry and finding it taking a very long time to give a decision. I can give an example in the division of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith), where the council got on with the building of houses, presumably to rehouse people from a slum clearance scheme which we had submitted to the Ministry. The houses were going up, but confirmation of the scheme had not been received, and, consequently we had to use these houses, which should have rehoused people from a slum clearance area, for other people on the general waiting list. We are now trying to find an area in which we can build houses to relieve those people living in a slum clearance area, now that the scheme has been confirmed by the Ministry.

My other point about slum clearance is that in many of the houses in slum clearance areas there live not one but two families, which means that the local authority, if it is to do the job properly, has to rehouse two families instead of one, but receives a subsidy in respect of only one house. What are we to do in circumstances like that? Are we to say to these people, "You must go on living as you have done for many years" or, "Your children must live in lodgings," leaving the old people holding on to the slum clearance house for an even longer period? This question of the rehousing of two families adds to the problem of slum clearance.

We should also remember another factor. While the slum clearance programme is being restricted—and there is no doubt that it is being restricted—we shall never be able to get on with the job of slum clearance in an imaginative way, the only way we ought to be doing it in 1958, and make it possible for people who have lived in dark, damp houses without pantries, or taps and bathrooms, and sharing lavatory accommodation, to spend at least some of their time living in houses which have running water, bathrooms and modern amenities.

The slum clearance problem has built up over many years. Today, many houses are slums not only because of the physical defects which were built into them, but because no repairs have been done to them for years. They have gradually deteriorated until they have become unfit for human habitation. Unless we are very careful, the same thing will continue through the operation of the Rent Act. What is happening now is that people send in their first form and then, because they are afraid, or because of the trouble involved in doing it, they fail to send in their second form. Consequently, the landlords go on collecting the increased rent and do no repairs. It is humbug to maintain that the Rent Act will ensure the repair of houses.

My next point was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) this afternoon. It is the question of old people. In the city in which I live a company director has provided large sums of money to enable us to build some very fine old people's houses. We shall have about 60 eventually. The corporation has found the land, and the wealthy person to whom I have referred has made a gift of most of the money required. But that by no means meets the needs of the many old people who are living in old houses, or even council houses.

I believe that it was the Parliamentary Secretary who talked about local authorities carrying out transfers, and rehousing old people in smaller houses in order to free three-bedroom houses for larger families. I must remind the Minister that when we were discussing the Housing Repairs and Rents Bill and the Rent Bill, hon. Members on this side put down Amendments seeking to compel landlords to do something about transfers, and in each case the Tory Party voted against them. It is no good the Tories saying that we should do it in the case of local authorities if they are not prepared to see it done by private enterprise as well.

If old people are to be moved from a three-bedroom house into a smaller house, that smaller house must be in existence, and the only way in which we can ensure its existence is by the Ministry making it much more attractive and possible by way of increased subsidies, for local authorities to build more of these houses for old people.

My next point concerns our general building programme. One of my hon. Friends has pointed out that in the years immediately after the war we faced a very difficult problem. We had to contend with bomb damage, a shortage of houses, a lack of schools, hospitals and factory buildings, all of which we needed if we were to re-establish our industries. The Labour Government faced all those problems and, at the same time, did a very good job in their house building programme. If the Parliamentary Secretary or any other hon. Member opposite wants to tell the story, let him tell it in the true light of the facts and not hide the difficulties which presented themselves.

In Stoke-on-Trent we have a general housing waiting list of between 8,000 and 10,000 people. It is a live waiting list. Periodically we ask the people on the list to let us know whether they are still interested in obtaining a council house. We were one of the county boroughs who had a very good housing programme. We built 2,500 houses a year, and this year we shall build between 250 or 300 for slum clearance, and none for general letting. I do not want the Minister to say, "You could do all this if you had a differential rent scheme", or the hon. Member for Crosby to say, "You could do this if you turned out the folks with a good income who are living in council houses." The number of those people whom we could turn out would be so small as to contribute nothing to the programme.

Mr. Page

The hon. Lady admits that there are some.

Mrs. Slater

I do not admit that there are any in my city, but I am saying that the hon. Member's argument is a very feeble one. It is an attempt to divert attention—by the use of a red herring, which will receive Press publicity—from the real problem which exists in every local authority.

Mr. Lindgren

A blue herring.

Mrs. Slater

It does not matter what colour it is; it is a herring drawn across our path.

In each local authority a problem arises because many people who have got married have had to live with their parents, and now have children, which entitle them to a large number of points on the waiting list. But when they go to their councillor, or Member of Parliament, they have to be told, "We have a Tory Government, and we cannot possibly supply you with a house because of Tory policy." It is Tory policy which has stopped the subsidies on general housebuilding, and has put up the interest rates, thus making it impossible for local authorities to build large numbers of houses for the general letting programme.

This means that we are condemning old people, who have reared one family, to have another family growing up on their hearth. We are also condemning young people to live in a house which is not their own, and condemning the children to suffer all kinds of disabilities. On Saturday, a family came to see me. The girl of the family has passed her 11-plus examination. She is living in a house with four adults. It is a two-bedroom house, and she cannot possibly be expected to do her homework and study properly in those circumstances. The child is penalised because she lives in overcrowded and unhealthy conditions and because she has no room to play and be free to grow up as we like children to grow up. She will also be penalised when she gets an opportunity to go to a grammar school, because she will not have the same facilities for studying as the other grammar school boys and girls have.

There is another factor that must be considered. Many people who are suffering from ill-health are compelled to live in overcrowded conditions. My local authority has a rule that if the local medical officer of health certifies a person as suffering from tuberculosis, or a disease which warrants his rehousing, we do our best to rehouse him. But I live in an area where pneumoconiosis and chest trouble is very extensive. If such people, who are hardly able to get their breath, have to live and sleep in a bedroom with three or four other people, we are condemning those others to sleep and live in unhealthy conditions.

Because of the restrictions placed upon it the local authority cannot tell our pneumoconiosis patients that they stand a chance of getting a house; they must have tuberculosis before they can get a house.

Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

My hon. Friend may note that these advanced cases of pneumoconiosis nearly always have an infective basis of tuberculosis, and overcrowding spreads tuberculosis.

Mrs. Slater

That is so. Any Government which claim to have a social conscience ought to be concerned with the question of ill people being condemned to live in bad conditions.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) mentioned the question of the building industry. In Stoke-on-Trent, owing to the restrictions on local authority house building, a very real problem has grown up because of the number of building workers who are unable to obtain employment. In reply to a Question by one of my hon. Friends last week the Minister said that there were not very many building workers who were unemployed, but if the history of the last few years is examined it is clear that many building workers have been forced to go into other trades, for which they have not been trained and in which they have not the same skill.

In Stoke, we persuaded the large brick-making firms—who were not very friendly to the Socialists at the time—to modernise their brick factories so that we could obtain an adequate supply of bricks. At present, one of the largest of those firms is having to slow down its work because it is continually stacking up the bricks which we persuaded it to manufacture. We have a good training scheme for building workers at our technical college. Are we to say that we now have no work for these follows and cannot go on with that scheme? What are we to do for those people whom we have made unemployed because of the housing policy of the Government?

It is about time that the Government realised that the claims which have been made today, both by the Parliamentary Secretary and the other hon. Members opposite who have spoken, do not hold water, and that thousands of families who are now demanding the same chance of decent housing conditions as the better-off people have always had are realising that they can no longer depend upon a Tory Government for salvation.

6.13 p.m.

Mr. G. Lindgren (Wellingborough)

The Tory Party has never been interested in or concerned about the housing position of our people. That fact has never been more evidenced than this afternoon. This is the first time during the debate that there have been as many as three hon. Members sitting on the opposite benches. One of those—the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Maddan)—has only recently entered the Chamber.

Mr. Gurden

I counted five hon. Members on this side of the Committee some time ago.

Mr. Lindgren

That may be so, but the hon. Member's facts are so wrong.

Mr. Gurden

They were present.

Mr. Lindgren

They were not obvious to me. When the hon. Member for Hitchin came in, there was a hurried consultation between the Whip and the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) to see whether they could get anybody to step into the breach if my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater) sat down early.

Mr. Page

The hon. Member did not hear what I was saying to my right hon. Friend. It was not that at all.

Mr. Lindgren

It is fairly obvious that the interest of the Tory Party in housing is evidenced by the number of hon. Members on the benches opposite today.

It is equally true that we now have a new phase of Tory Party policy. Hon. Members opposite do not now seek to try to justify what they are doing, or stand by their own policy. What they now do —sometimes on instructions from the Conservative Central Office—is to take up the Labour Party policy and attack that or, as they have done this afternoon, make completely unsupported statements about wealthy persons living in council houses. It is obviously the Tory Party line to refer to people with £5,000 a year income living in council houses. I notice that, despite all the cases he mentioned, the hon. Member for Crosby had not the courage to mention one in Crosby. I say quite frankly that I just do not believe that those cases exist.

Mr. Page

I gather that the hon. Gentleman is informing me that I told the Committee a pack of lies.

Mr. Lindgren

I did not say that.

Mr. Page

If such cases exist, does the hon. Gentleman support a state of affairs in which such people live in council houses?

Mr. Lindgren

I do not believe that there is anybody earning £5,000 a year who is living in a council house. We have had this before. Two or three years ago the Daily Express had a photograph and an article about council house tenants in Welwyn Garden City having Rolls-Bentleys. The photograph showed a Rolls-Bentley outside a council house in Guessens Road, Welwyn Garden City, but when inquiries were made it was found that the man living there was chauffeur to somebody in I.C.I. There has been reference to a company director at Theydon Bois owning an aeroplane. When I was at the Ministry of Civil Aviation there were only two private owners of aircraft in the country.

Mr. Page

That is rather a long time ago.

Mr. Lindgren

There are no private owners of aircraft in this country. Even the small private aircraft are owned by clubs or by business organisations, and are charges against the business organisations, and the hon. Gentleman knows it.

This afternoon we have had quite a robust speech from the Parliamentary Secretary. Far be it from me to complain when any hon. Member opposite gets a little rough, because it is not unknown for me to indulge in rough exchanges from time to time. What has not been admitted by either the Parliamentary Secretary or his two hon. Friends who have spoken is that it is only because private enterprise failed that local authorities ever came into house building.

Mr. Gurden

indicated dissent.

Mr. Lindgren

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. I understand from my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. D. Howell) that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak was once a member of the Birmingham City Council. If that is so, I should have thought he would have known that there was no housing legislation prior to the 1914–18 war. It was only because following that war it was unprofitable for speculative builders and landowners to build houses for people at rents they could afford that local authorities came into it at all.

Local government in this country has only two functions. One is to provide for a need where private enterprise fails to do so; the other is to guard consumers against fraud, where private enterprise does provide for a need. Those are the only two functions of local government in this country, and local government came into housing to meet a need which private enterprise failed to meet. That has been proved by the Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon. What is he saying? He says. "We are going to local authorities to get them to provide houses for old people as quickly as they can." Why does he not go to private enterprise to provide houses for old people? He does not do so because he knows that private enterprise could not provide them at a profit. That is the reason why the Government are trying to slow down local authority housing, because local authority building has improved the living standards of our people.

What a scandalous record this Government have got. I hope that I shall get some interjections as I proceed, provided they do not take me beyond the time at which I wish to conclude to enable the Minister to reply to the debate. The scandalous record of this Government is that they have reduced the quality and quantity of housing and, at the same time, have increased its cost.

Mr. Page

May I interject there, since the hon. Gentleman has invited us to do so? How does he calculate that the Government have reduced the quantity of houses?

Mr. Lindgren

Because there are now fewer houses being built for the general need than at any previous time.

Mr. Page

That does not reduce the quantity in the country. It certainly could not reduce the quantity if 300,000 houses a year are being built instead of 200,000.

Mr. Lindgren

But there are not 300,000 houses a year being built. Even if they are, those that are being built by private enterprise are not meeting the housing needs of our people.

Mr. Page

Nor were the 200,000 houses a year under the Labour Government.

Mr. Lindgren

They were making a contribution towards it. Let us look at what the Government have done. They have reduced the subsidy rates applying to local authority houses, and increased interest rates so that all council houses, even those built in 1922 and 1923 under the Chamberlain Act, have had their rents increased, as a result of the Government's attitude, from 10s. to £1 a week. What a grand achievement of this Government, to have saddled the tenants of houses built in 1922 and 1923 with an extra £1 a week rent!

That has happened because local authorities, in attempting to maintain some standard of progress in providing housing, have had to spread the cost—again at the recommendation of the Government—over all their existing housing pool. For a period we have been able to maintain the rate of local authority building because those living in houses built twenty and thirty years ago have had to pay part of the rent of some of those occupying houses recently built.

It is not always admitted by hon. Members opposite, but 1 per cent. interest costs 6s. a week on the rent, and at the present time no local authority can build a house without having first to face 39s. a week interest charges, apart from loan repayment costs on materials, land and everything else. Because local authorities can no longer pass those extra charges on to existing tenants, they have had to cease their general-need building programme.

Neither of the two hon. Members opposite who have spoken has admitted that the general demand still exists. My hon. Friend the Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) recounted an experience which is common to those on this side, and if hon. Members opposite were truthful they would admit it was common to them if they hold "surgeries" in their constituencies. At all my "surgeries" the greatest number of cases I have to handle are concerned with persons requiring housing. The Government are doing nothing whatever about it. In my district local authorities are no longer giving further contracts for housing because of the extra cost now involved, and I have newspaper cuttings to prove that if it is challenged.

The Government have not only increased housing costs, but lowered standards. Before the war the council house was a joke. When music-hall and wireless comedians got tired of joking about mothers-in-law they generally went on to the council house joke, and make remarks which it would be unparliamentary for me to repeat here. Because of this, during the war, when the Tories were frightened, they promised that after the war everything would be better, and, recognising that pre-war housing standards, even local authority housing standards, were not what they ought to have been, they set up a committee to inquire into post-war housing standards and to make recommendations.

No doubt because of his great knowledge of working-class conditions, the Tories appointed the Earl of Dudley as chairman of a committee. He and his committee did a first-class job, and the Dudley Report and its recommendations became popularly known as the "Dudley Housing Standards". The war-time Coalition Government accepted the Dudley Report, and the Labour Government of 1945–51, to their everlasting credit, implemented that Report. The houses which were built under that Government are a credit to the building trades workers, building contractors, local authorities and the Labour Government.

What has happened since? The present Government have debased housing standards, and houses are now being built at a lower standard than those being built by local government in 1937–38. There is a lower standard of floor space, ceiling height, construction, fitments, siting and density. People are now charged twice the rent for a commodity only half as good. Of course, the Government are not concerned about housing standards. The more the Government can debase them the better they like it. Between the wars local government fought to get the opportunity to build houses 10 to the acre, and we finally achieved that in the 1936 Housing Act. From 1936 to 1939 local government housing was at 10 to 12 to the acre. What has been happening under the Government since 1951? They have been building houses which are almost rabbit hutches again, 16 and 17 to the acre.

Mr. Page

We have, of course, heard this story many times before. The hon. Gentleman has probably heard the answer to it, but may I repeat it? Was it not his right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) who advocated what the hon. Gentleman is now terming "rabbit hutches", and sent the plans out to local authorities before the present Government took office?

Mr. Lindgren

No, he did not. It is true that during the time my right hon. Friend was Minister there was a revision of suggested plans by the Minister if local authorities liked to adopt it; but there was no forcing of local authorities, as under this Government, to debase standards, even to the extent of reducing ceiling heights.

Do the hon. Gentleman and his friends live in houses with bedrooms only 7 feet high? Of course they do not. The Government are forcing building at 17 to the acre on the argument that local authority housing is eating up agricultural land. It is hon. Gentlemen opposite, who live in houses one, two and three to the acre, not council house tenants at 10 to the acre, who are eating up agricultural land. It is the hon. Member for Crosby and his friends, with a nice bit of parkland round their houses, who are eating up agricultural land.

Mr. Page

May I invite the hon. Gentleman to visit my nice bit of parkland in Highgate, two yards by two yards in area?

Mr. Lindgren

The hon. Gentleman lives in Highgate when the House is sitting and goes out into the country at weekends when the House is not sitting.

Mr. Page

I do not live out in the country.

Mr. Lindgren

The present situation is that the interest charges make rents dear, lack of subsidies makes rents dear, construction standards are low, and housing density is higher than it has been since the inter-war years.

Mr. Gurden

May I remind the hon. Gentleman that his colleagues from the Birmingham City Council would not agree at all that present housing standards are lower? They say they are building houses of a better standard than the Tories built.

Mr. Lindgren

I am not going to start arguments about the City of Birmingham. Generally speaking, the standards of house-construction are lower. Even now, I doubt very much whether the Birmingham City Council is building new houses to the Dudley standard. If it is, good luck to it. I commend it very much indeed.

Much has been said, especially by the hon. Member for Crosby, about the need for people to own their own houses, but nine out of ten people cannot do so, unless they are like the hon. Member for Crosby and the rest of the Government supporters. There is not a bricklayer, carpenter or plasterer in the country, although they build houses for other people, who could ever have one of their own because they could not undertake an obligation to pay for it during a minimum of twenty years.

A prospective house purchaser ought to be able to guarantee to the building society or local authority that his circumstances are not likely to change for the worse during that period. Only a few persons are in a position to give it, such as local government officers, schoolteachers, bank clerks and the like. Perhaps even under a Tory Government, persons to whom the hon. Member for Crosby referred whose family income may be as much as £30 per week——

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

May I point out to my hon. Friend that many schoolteachers have had to reject offers of promotion because they could not face the problem of disposing of their houses, which they had been attempting to buy, and getting another in the place to which they were to be moved?

Mr. Lindgren

I quite agree with my right hon. Friend. That is another reason. It applies to my colleagues in the railway service. We undertook to accept transfer anywhere when we entered the railway service, but we could not buy a house unless we were prepared to sell it again quickly at a loss and move somewhere else. Nine out of ten people who matter, and who produce the nation's wealth, just cannot undertake the obligation of buying a house because they cannot give the guarantee. Good luck to those who can, who have a secure job and can meet their commitments for twenty years. The Government have made it more difficult even for them than any other Government ever did.

A tragic case was brought to my notice the other day of a man who bought a house in London in 1946, when the rate of interest was 3¼ per cent. He had to borrow £2,500 on the house. The interest has now gone up to 6 per cent. and he could not pay the extra 35s. per week. I took his case up with the building society, which was reasonable and was prepared to meet his need. To meet the extra interest charge, he has to pay the mortgage and the arrears which have accrued over the past twelve months for an extra fifteen years. He will be 75 years of age before he has finished paying for this mortgage, because instead of a mortgage for twenty years he now has a mortgage for thirty-five years.

That is what the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have done in the matter of house purchase. Can any Government supporter say that it is prudent for a young man to saddle himself for twenty or thirty years with a mortgage at 6½ per cent., even if he could get it at that rate? The right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends talk about house ownership, but the facts are there. Building societies may be right in so doing, but they just will not lend money upon pre-1914 property in any quantity which permits its purchase.

One of the most serious results of the policy of the Government is the extent to which unemployment is rising within the building industry. The industry always suffered from intermittent unemployment every year, and there was a tendency for workers to drift away and be dispersed into other industries. Government supporters who talk about the housing programme do not admit that one of the first things we did in 1945 was to reamalgamate the building trade. We got together the labourers and builders, and we got the brickworks and cement factories going. We had to build up the labour force within the industry. Employers and trade unions were cooperative in the development of apprenticeship schemes and the acceptance of dilutee training, against a guarantee of continuity of work.

The Government now face unemployment in the building industry. Building trade work is going out. What sensible father or mother will encourage a boy to become a bricklayer, carpenter or plumber, instead of going into an industry in which there is continuity of employment? We shall not have the kind of building industry in future which we ought to have. There are other industrial rumblings. A big contributory factor in the present industrial unrest lies at the feet of, or on the heads of, the righ hon. Gentleman and his predecessors in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. That is true in particular of the present Minister. Increasing rent by £1 a week, whether for accommodation under a private landlord or in a council house, means that the tenant must get increased wages or suffer a reduced standard of living.

It cannot be very pleasant for the present Minister of Housing and Local Government to know that he is the most hated man in politics today. He cannot enjoy that. He smiles, but it is a very poor smile. He has been the willing tool of a discredited Government. It is about time that he resigned and got his colleagues to resign, so that we can have a Government on those benches concerned about the health, welfare and well-being of the people and not, as are the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends, with profits for the financier, the landlord and the jerry-builder.

6.39 p.m.

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

The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren), who has spoken so charmingly about me, made two interventions in this debate of equal value. The first was when he sought to counter an argument in the brilliant and effective speech of the Parliamentary Secretary by alleging that it was unfair to talk in terms of net rents. He said that one could give a proper impression only if one used figures on gross rents.

Even on this point the Labour Party appears to be divided. I will quote to him what his right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) said in July, 1949, because it is of some interest. The right hon. Gentleman said: I am talking about a net rent; I suggest … it is always better to talk about net rents than gross rents, because putting in the rate amount always falsifies the figures".[OFFICIAL REPORT. 4th July, 1949; Vol. 466, c. 1821.] On that occasion, the hon. Member for Wellingborough was one hundred per cent, wrong.

He surpassed his own record in his closing speech, his second intervention, when, a few minutes ago, he told us that nine people out of ten could not afford to own their own houses. Had he made any serious study of the housing situation, he would know that three people out of every ten in this country already do own their own houses.

Mr. Lindgren

The right hon. Gentleman really must not do this. I made an interjection in the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary. I agree that the figure is three out of ten, but I was talking about people on the housing-need list. The general situation is that there are 14 million houses, 4 million are owner-occupied and 10 million are rented. It is four to ten.

Mr. Brooke

It is not possible for me to know what goes on secretly in the hon. Gentleman's own mind. The fact is that on this occasion he was 200 per cent. wrong.

This debate was presumably asked for to damage the position of the Government, but it has revealed that the Government have hardly any case to answer. One week hence the borough council elections will take place. If the debate was asked for by the Opposition as a preliminary shot in that battle, it has unquestionably misfired. The whole Labour Party in the country ought to know how slender has been the attendance at the debate, proving beyond doubt that there is no fire behind the smokescreen that has been put up by the Opposition.

The difficulty facing the Opposition is that they always have around their necks the millstone of 1945–51. That lamentable record of theirs is hard to get away from. As I said the other day, Socialism always means suffering, and in those days, with a vengeance, it did. What hon. Gentlemen opposite have been saying today is, "Give us another chance and we will do better next time". It is worth looking at the practical suggestions which they have put forward during the debate.

They have sought to explain to the House and to the country that the reason for their relative failure on that last occasion, in comparison with what the Conservative Government have accomplished, is that they were too busy on war-damage repairs. At the end of their six-year term of office, their leader told the public that they could not build more than 200,000 houses a year. Within two years, we were building at the rate of 300,000 houses a year. The policy which animates our housing programme at the moment is that housing must play its part in the battle against inflation, because to counter inflation is the primary domestic duty of any responsible Government at the present time. We are succeeding in doing that.

We are keeping building prices stable. They have been stable for a considerable period. The Committee may like to know of the success in this field of the policy of the fixed-price tender system which was initiated by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works last year. Local authorities, encouraged by my Department, are now getting more than 50 per cent. of all their housing contracts placed on the basis of the fixed-price tender. I have no doubt whatever that that is economical from the ratepayers' point of view and that it is to the interest of the public and of the building industry.

The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) questioned one or two of the figures which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary or I had used on various occasions. He wanted to know what I meant by a figure of 14s. 1d. as the average rent of a three-bedroomed house in county boroughs. He thought he detected the source of it in a booklet he had with him. I am sorry he had to do those researches. Had he asked me I would gladly have let him know where the figure came from—not from his booklet, even though the amount of 14s. 1d. may appear in it. The figure I quoted of 14s. 1d. was based on information collected by my Department, and it was information as at 31st March, 1956. That was why, when I was speaking in the debate last November, I said that that was the position "last year".

Mr. Mitchison

This is, of course, the municipal treasurers who come from county boroughs. It is important to get it right. They give two extremes. They give them for a year later than the right hon. Gentleman's figure. One is 14s. 1d., the other 31s. 1d. May we take it there was a rise from 14s. 1d. to somewhere halfway between these two figures in one year?

Mr. Brooke

One must not take that. The right hon. and learned Gentleman must have forgotten the arithmetic he knew at school. One does not obtain the average simply by adding together the extremes and dividing them.

Mr. Mitchison

I said "somewhere between."

Mr. Brooke

The figure of 14s. 1d. was a true average in March, 1956. The figure is certainly somewhat higher than that today. It is higher than that partly because a number of local authorities have, quite rightly, been revising and reviewing the rents of older property.

I am trying to find out what the Opposition's policy today is, because if they attack the Government they must surely have some policy of their own. I find it ambiguous on the subject of subsidies. The hon. and learned Gentleman gave no clear answer to the Parliamentary Secretary, who inquired and pressed him whether a Labour Government would bring the general needs subsidy back. On this occasion he was ambiguous.

Mr. Mitchison

May I clear the ambiguity, then, if that is what the right hon. Gentleman wants? We shall certainly subsidise housing where necessary. There is no doubt about it. A general needs subsidy is given only where necessary. What I said to the hon. Gentleman, which I will repeat for the right hon. Gentleman, is that it depends on the mess which this Government make of the economic position of the country how much we shall be able to afford to do, While I am at it, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to answer the charge which has been made against him of stopping councils from building houses for slum clearance or to meet general need?

Mr. Brooke

The hon. and learned Gentleman's statement re-emphasises what I was saying about the difficulty of ascertaining unambiguously what the Labour Party's policy is. He says now he would subsidise where there was need. On 21st November, 1956, he said: We think there ought to be subsidised housing, not only for those who stand in sore need of it, but for the citizens of this country as a whole."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November, 1956; Vol. 560, c. 1794.] It would seem we are to have subsidies for everybody——

Mr. Mitchison

The right hon. Gentleman asked me a question about the general need subsidy. I answered him.

Mr. Brooke

It appears that since November, 1956, the hon. and learned Gentleman has been listening to Government spokesmen. The hon. and learned Gentleman is improving his own housing policy. I think that that will be a very good thing for the country, because his sole other suggestion in the debate today was that we should bring back building licences. I do not think that that will arouse enthusiasm in any breast, and if that is all that a future Labour Government can do, it certainly will go very little distance to present the people of this country with satisfaction.

The hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler), who always speaks with sincerity on these matters, especially about old people's houses—I always take account of what she says—sought to charge the Government with complacency. Never shall I be complacent about the housing situation. I have seen too much of it. To me the housing shortage has been the heaviest domestic curse on the people of this country since the war, just as unemployment was the heaviest curse in the 'twenties and 'thirties, and I am very proud to have been entrusted for a time with responsibility for this Government's housing policy, which is the most successful in the country's history.

I know the housing problem, too, just as the hon. Lady does in her constituency. I have known it throughout London, and particularly in my own constituency. Over a large part of the country, as I hope she will grant, the housing shortage has been vastly eased in the past six years, but I am well aware of the continuing difficulties of the big cities, difficulties with which we must ceaselessly contend. One of the problems is lack of sites. There are others. As long as I am Housing Minister, I can assure the hon. Lady housing policy will be pursued with vigour so that those who are suffering from overcrowding or lack of proper and healthy accommodation may be helped.

I was in Birmingham the other day where I saw some shocking slums such as I trusted had been swept off the face of this land. I am glad to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden) that slum clearance in Birmingham is going well. The only slum clearance drives in this country have been under Conservative Governments. There was the first, begun in 1934, which was cut short by the war in 1939. The other was initiated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he was in my place three or four years ago.

The hon. and learned Member for Kettering—I quote his words—said, "The Government's slum clearance has shown the most lamentable and disappointing results." He supported this interesting statement by giving the Committee an incorrect figure. He told the Committee that he challenged the Parliamentary Secretary, who had said that just on 45,000 unfit houses were demolished last year. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that was wrong; that it was 35,000. Unfortunately for him he was confusing 1956 with 1957. As my hon. Friend said, the figure last year was just on 45,000.

Mr. Mitchison

What is it this year?

Mr. Brooke

I think the hon. and learned Gentleman had better wait and see what we do, because it will be greatly above 45,000 this year. I have no doubt whatever of that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) raised the point of well-to-do people living in council houses. He will, I am sure, be aware that the selection of tenants is a matter for the local authorities and for local authorities exclusively. No Minister has any power to direct a local authority as to what tenant it should chose or what tenant it should evict. I must say that I think that the action of a local authority would be quite understandable if it intimated to tenants who could obviously afford to make their own arrangements that by staying on in a council house they were keeping a deserving applicant out of a council house.

It is one of the unfortunate consequences of Socialist pre-1951 policy. It was the Labour Government's refusal to allow enough private building that drove into council houses people who had a genuine housing need but who could have afforded to have solved their problems themselves if they had been able to get a licence to build. Those people moved into council houses then, and they have settled down there at a subsidised rent, and that is a direct consequence of Socialism.

The most fruitful method of approach to this problem is by local authorities adopting the system of differential rents. For a local authority to refuse to adopt any kind of differential system is to favour the wealthier people amongst its tenants and injure the poorer people.

The hon. and learned Gentleman sought to accuse me of not answering questions, but I have in fact already refuted a considerable number of the so-called facts and figures which were adduced in support of the arguments and criticisms from the other side of the Committee.

I have made perfectly clear a counter-inflationary measure, and until inflation is effectively checked and defeated it is necessary to slow down somewhat the council house building programme, but we have so planned it that that programme will be continuing at a very substantial level. We are planning for 100,000 council houses and flats this year, and there is no question whatever that the total output of houses this year and next will be higher than it ever was under a Socialist Government.

My special concern, the Government's special concern, is to make sure that the country is doing enough to meet the needs of the old people. In the years immediately after the war, it was felt, and naturally felt, that we must build primarily family houses. There were so many married couples with children who urgently needed housing accommodation. Over a large part of the country—not all—that need has now been met——

Hon. Members


Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)


Mr. Brooke

—and the Government are encouraging local authorities, with, I trust, the support of both sides of the Committee, to give increasing attention now to building one-roomed bungalows and flatlets for the benefit of the old people. We want a shift in favour of the one-bedroomed dwelling, and that is why we are glad we have already worked it up to 23 per cent. of all local authority building.

The hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green quoted, I think, £1,300 as the cost of providing for old people. It is in order to further this campaign and to help local authorities and people of good will everywhere that the Government have today published this booklet called "Flatlets for Old People". There are copies in the Vote Office, and I hope hon. Members on both sides will collect these booklets and will study them. I think they will find the contents fascinatingly interesting, and the hon. Lady will see on page 12 that the type of designs which are recommended here for old people's flatlets work out at a cost, exclusive of site works but inclusive of central heating and hot water system, not of £1,300 but of between £830 and £930.

This booklet suggests ways of constructing purpose-built flatlets for old people at more reasonable prices than almost any organisation, public or private, has yet secured. I hope that hon. Members will bring it to the notice of people in their constituencies. I have intimated to housing authorities throughout the country that in due course I shall be asking what they are doing about building for old people, about conversions for old people and about meeting the needs of old people. The Government believe that slum clearance and building and conversions for old people should be in the forefront of our national housing efforts. If the Opposition want to censure us for that, they are welcome. They will condemn themselves.

Mr. Mitchison

I beg to move, That Item Class V, Vote 1 (Ministry of Housing and Local Government), be reduced by £5.

Question put:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 222, Noes 279.

Division No. 104.] AYES [7.0 p.m.
Albu, A. H. Herbison, Miss M. Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Hewitson, Capt. M. Pargiter, G. A.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Hobson, C. R. (Keighley) Parker, J.
Awbery, S. S. Holman, P. Parkin, B. T.
Bacon, Miss Alice Houghton, Douglas Paton, John
Baird, J. Howell, Charles (Perry Barr) Peart, T. F.
Balfour, A. Howell, Denis (All Saints) Pentland, N.
Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J. Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Prentice, R. E.
Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.) Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)
Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S.E.) Hunter, A. E. Price, philips (Gloucestershire, W.)
Benson, Sir George Hynd, H. (Accrington) Probert, A. R.
Beswick, Frank Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Proctor, W. T.
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Pursey, Cmdr. H.
Blackburn, F. Irving, Sydney (Dartford) Rankin, John
Boardman, H. Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Redhead, E. C.
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Janner, B. Reeves, J.
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.) Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T. Reid, William
Boyd, T. C. Jeger, George (Goole) Rhodes, H.
Brockway, A. F. Jeger, Mrs.Lena(Holbn & St.Pncs.S.) Robens, Rt. Hon. A.
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Jenkins, Roy (Stechford) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper) Johnson, James (Rugby) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Burke, W. A. Johnston, Douglas (Paisley) Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Burton, Miss F. E. Jones, David (The Hartlepools) Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Jones, Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Ross, William
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.
Callaghan, L. J. Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Short, E. W.
Carmichael, J. Jones, T. W. (Merioneth) Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Kenyon, C. Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)
Champion, A. J. Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)
Chapman, W. D. King, Dr. H. M. Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)
Chetwynd, G. R. Lawson, G. M. Snow, J. W.
Clunie, J. Ledger, R. J. Sorensen, R. W.
Coldrick, W. Lee, Frederick (Newton) Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead) Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Sparks, J. A.
Collins, V.J.(Shoreditch & Finsbury) Lever, Harold (Cheetham) Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Lewis, Arthur Stonehouse, John
Cove, W. G. Lindgren, G. S. Stones, W. (Consett)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Lipton, Marcus Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. Logan, D. G. Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)
Darling, George (Hillsborougn) McAlister, Mrs. Mary Stross,Dr.Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent,C.)
Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) MacColl, J. E. Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.
Davies, Stephen (Merthyr) McGhee, H. G. Swingler, S. T.
Deer, G. McGovern, J. Sylvester, G. O.
de Freitas, Geoffrey McInnes, J. Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Delargy, H. J. McKay, John (Wallsend) Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Diamond, John McLeavy, Frank Thomas, George (Cardiff)
Donnelly, D. L. MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles) Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)
Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch) MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)
Dye, S. Mahon, Simon Thornton, E.
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Timmons, J.
Edelman, M. Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfd, E.) Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Mann, Mrs. Jean Usborne, H. C.
Edwards W. J. (Stepney) Mason, Roy Viant, S. P.
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Mayhew, C. P. Weitzman, D.
Evans, Edward (Lowestoft) Mellish, R. J. Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Fernyhough, E. Messer, Sir F. West, D. G.
Fletcher, Eric Mikardo, Ian Wheeldon, W. E.
Forman, J. C. Mitchison, G. R. White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Moody, A. S. Wigg, George
Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N. Morrison,Rt.Hn.Herbert(Lewis'm,S.) Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.
Gibson, C W. Mort, D. L. Willey, Frederick
Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C. Moss, R. Williams, David (Neath)
Greenwood, Anthony Moyle, A. Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Ab'til[...]ery)
Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R. Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon) Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
Grey, C. F. Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. (Derby, S.) Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) O'Brien, Sir Thomas Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)
Griffiths, William (Exchange) Oliver, G. H. Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Oram, A. E. Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Hamilton, W. W. Orbach, M. Woof, R. E.
Hannan, W. Oswald, T. Yates, V. (Ladywood)
Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.) Owen, W. J. Younger, Rt. Hon. K.
Hastings, S. Padley, W. E. Zilliacus, K.
Hayman, F. H. Paget, R. T.
Healey, Denis Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis) Palmer, A. M. F. Mr. Popplewell and Mr. Pearson.
Agnew, Sir Peter Gibson-Watt, D Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)
Aitken, W. T. Glover, D. Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick)
Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.) Glyn, Col. Richard H. Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh
Alport, C. J. M. Godber, J. B. McAdden, S. J.
Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton) Goodhart, Philip Macdonald, Sir Peter
Arbuthnot, John Gough, C. F. H. Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry
Astor, Hon. J. J. Gower, H. R. McKibbin, Alan
Atkins, H. E. Graham, Sir Fergus Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)
Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M. Grant, W. (Woodside) McLaughlin, Mrs. P.
Baldwin, A. E. Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich) Maclay, Rt. Hon. John
Balniel, Lord Green, A. Maclean, Sir Fitzroy (Lancaster)
Barlow, Sir John Gresham Cooke, R. McLean, Neil (Inverness)
Barter, John Grimond, J. MacLeod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)
Beamish, Col. Tufton Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans) MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty)
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury) Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)
Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G. Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Gurden, Harold Maddan, Martin
Bidgood, J. C. Hall, John (Wycombe) Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.
Biggs-Davison, J. A. Hare, Rt. Hon. J. H. Marlowe, A. A. H.
Bingham, R. M. Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.) Marples, Rt. Hon. A. E.
Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Harris, Reader (Heston) Marshall, Douglas
Bishop, F. P. Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon) Mathew, R.
Black, C. W. Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Mawby, R. L.
Body, R. F. Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd) Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.
Boothby, Sir Robert Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.) Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.
Bossom, Sir Alfred Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh
Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan) Harvie-Watt, Sir George Moore, Sir Thomas
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A. Head, Rt. Hon. A. H. Morrison, John (Salisbury)
Boyle, Sir Edward Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles
Braine, B. R. Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. C. Nabarro, G. D. N.
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H. Henderson-Stewart, Sir James Nairn, D. L. S.
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Hesketh, R. F. Neave, Airey
Brooman-White, R. C. Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W. Nicholls, Harmar
Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton) Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton) Nicholson, Sir Godfrey (Farnham)
Bullus, Wing Commander E. E. Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)
Burden, F. F. A. Hirst, Geoffrey Noble, Comdr. Rt. Hon. Allan
Butcher, Sir Herbert Holland-Martin, C. J. Nugent, G. R. H.
Butler, Rt. Hn.R.A.(Saffron Walden) Holt, A. F. O'Neill,Hn.Phelim (Co. Antrim, J.)
Campbell, Sir David Hope, Lord John Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. D.
Carr, Robert Hornby, R. P. Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Channon, Sir Henry Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)
Chichester-Clark, R. Horobin, Sir Ian Osborne, C.
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.) Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire) Page, R. G.
Cooke, Robert Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives) Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)
Cooper, A. E. Howard, John (Test) Partridge, E.
Cooper-Key, E. M. Hulbert, Sir Norman Peel, W. J.
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Hurd, A. R. Peyton, J. W. W.
Corfield, Capt. F. V. Hutchison, Michael Clark(E'b'gh, S.) Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark(E'b'gh, W.) Pike, Miss Mervyn
Crosthwaite-Eyre,Col. O. E. Hyde, Montgomery Pilkington, Capt. R. A.
Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry Pitman, I. J.
Crowder, petre (Ruislip—Northwood) Iremonger, T. L. Pitt, Miss E. M.
Currie, G. B. H. Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Powell, J. Enoch
Dance, J. C. G. Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)
Davidson, Viscountess Jennings, Sir Roland (Hallam) Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.
D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Ramsden, J. E.
Deedes, W. F. Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Rawlinson, Peter
Digby, Simon Wingfield Johnson, Howard (Kemptown) Redmayne, M.
Dodds-Parker, A. D. Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey(Hall Green) Remnant, Hon. P.
Doughty, C. J. A. Joseph, Sir Keith Renton, D. L. M.
Drayson, G. B. Joynson-Hicks, Hon. Sir Lancelot Ridsdale, J. E.
du Cann, E. D. L. Kaberry, D. Rippon, A. G. F.
Dun[...]an, Sir James Kerby, Capt. H. B. Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)
Duthie, W. S. Kerr, Sir Hamilton Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)
Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West) Kershaw, J. A. Robson Brown, Sir William
Elliott,R.W.(Ne'castleuponTyne,N.) Kimball, M. Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)
Errington, Sir Eric Lagden, G. W. Roper, Sir Harold
Erroll, F. J. Lancaster, Col. C. G. Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Farey-Jones, F. W. Langford-Holt, J. A. Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.
Finlay, Graeme Leather, E. H. C. Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.
Fisher, Nigel Leburn, W. G. Sharples, R. C.
Fletcher-Cooke, C. Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Shepherd, William
Fort, R. Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Foster, John Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T. Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)
Fraser, Hon. John (Stone) Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.) Spearman, Sir Alexander
Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale) Lindsay, Martin (Solihull) Speir, R. M.
Freeth, Denzil Linstead, Sir H. N. Spence, H. R. (Aberdeen, W.)
Galbraith, Hon. T. C. D. Llewellyn, D. T. Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard
Gammans, Lady Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Stevens, Geoffrey
Garner-Evans, E. H. Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral) Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)
George, J. C. (Pollok) Longden, Gilbert
Low, nt. Hon. Sir Toby
Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.) Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)
Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.) Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold
Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray) Tilney, John (Wavertree) Webbe, Sir H.
Studholme, Sir Henry Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H. Whitelaw, W. S. I.
Summers, Sir Spencer Tweedsmuir, Lady Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne) Vane, W. M. F. Wills, G. (Bridgwater)
Taylor, William (Bradford, N.) Vaughan-Morgan, J. K. Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Teeling, W. Vickers, Miss Joan Wood, Hon. R.
Temple, John M. Wade, D. W. Woollam, John Victor
Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury) Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.) Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Thompson, Kenneth (Walton) Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'Iebone)
Thompson, R. (Croydon, S.) Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Derek TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P. Wall, Patrick Mr. Oakshott and Mr. Bryan.
Original Question again proposed.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.