HC Deb 25 June 1959 vol 607 cc1471-530

7.11 p.m.

Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)

It is my privilege to initiate a debate on the problems of housing in London which, I think the Minister will agree, is a continuation of the debate that we had last week. Last Thursday, we discussed housing in Britain as a whole. Tonight we shall talk about the London housing problem, and in that sense it is a continuation of the earlier debate.

In concluding the debate last week the Minister said that the Opposition had no right to discuss housing matters in the House, or indeed to put down a Motion of censure, because of the Government's record on housing compared with that of the Labour Party when it was in power. When the Minister made this comparison he earned enormous cheers from his supporters. He was able to say with enthusiasm that since his party had been in power it had produced 50 per cent. more houses and flats than the Labour Party during its term of office.

I want to deal with that very point. The problem facing the Labour Government from 1945 to 1951 was not that of building houses and flats but of doing war damage repairs. No one knows better than the Minister that this was so, and when he tries to compare one record with another he ought to mention, as he has never done, the factors under which the Labour Party had to govern.

I want to make a constituency point to illustrate that. In 1939 there were 19.000 houses and dwellings in Bermondsey. At the end of the war there was hardly a flat that was not damaged. Almost every one of the 19,000 dwellings and flats was either destroyed or badly damaged. From 1945 to 1949 a courageous borough council, with a first-class direct labour force, spent its entire time—and the Minister knows this—putting back chimney pots, repairing roofs, repairing ceilings, putting back doors, repairing toilets, making it possible for people to return from the areas to which they had been evacuated. Not one flat was built during that time, but these facts must be considered when we compare figures. To say that the housing problem is now under control because this Government have been able to produce 50 per cent. more houses than we did when we were in power is not an answer to the human problems in London. If we argue the case, let us have the facts.

During the last eight years the Government have not been troubled with the problems with which we had to contend, such as a world shortage of materials and a shortage of labour, but the Government are producing only 50 per cent. more houses than the Labour Party did. The Minister received cheers last week for saying that the housing problem was broken and that it was impudence on our part to criticise the Government. As a Londoner I do not think that the Minister is doing enough, and I propose to show him why.

Local authorities in London are handicapped by the Government's policies. Not long ago the Minister decided that there would be no subsidy for housing for general needs. The subsidy was withdrawn, which meant that every local authority was faced with the problem that it could only get a subsidy if it built for slum clearance or for old people. What does that mean in terms of human beings in London? At the time when the Minister made that declaration there were 160,000 families on the L.C.C. housing list. In my own constituency, there were 1,500 families on the housing list. What happened to those lists? The Minister knows the answer. The L.C.C. virtually tore them up. It could not attempt to build flats for general needs without a subsidy.

The position today is that there are virtually thousands of families in our London constituencies—and surely Tory Members will not deny that this is the case—who have no hope of being housed now or in the near future. My own constituency has a progressive borough council. It has one of the finest directors of housing in the country and a first-class housing committee. It tried to tackle the task. It found that in the borough council housing estates over 10 per cent. of the houses are now occupied not merely by tenants of the borough council flats but by in-laws. They are not in slums but in borough council flats that have been built since 1951. Every Friday night I have a "surgery". Young couples, often with very young children, come to me and ask whether they can get a house. They have been told at the town hall that the waiting list has been abandoned. They cannot go on the L.C.C. list because there is not one.

What is the Minister doing about such people? What future have they got? How can they get a house for themselves? The Minister might say, "Let them buy one". I do not know whether the Minister believes that that is the answer to the problem and would like to see a property-owning democracy. I am all in favour of people owning their houses, but have the Government encouraged people to buy their own houses? Look at the prices and interest rates. Before one can attempt to buy a house one must have a great deal of personal savings. The repayment charges are exorbitant. One reason why we on this side of the House intensely support local government building is because transfers can be arranged. Since 1945 my local authority has been able to arrange over 4,000 transfers from one flat to another. It means that at least 4,000 families have received happiness through living in borough council accommodation. Can that be said for private enterprise? Did those transfers take place under private enterprise? When he introduced his Rent Act the Minister said that it would bring about just that thing. Will he say that it has done so, tonight? Will he tell us how much property in the London area has become available as a result of his Act? I can give him some facts.

In my constituency, for instance, a block of flats which is owned by private landlords is still controlled, having a rateable value of less than £40. Before the Rent Act came into force flat-dwellers transferred from one flat to another. They did not need the Minister's great genius to understand that it was sometimes advantageous to undertake these transfers. They cannot transfer now. A person living in a two-roomed flat may want to move to a three-roomed flat which has become available. Because of the Act, however, that three-roomed flat has become decontrolled, and when he applies for it he is asked for 35s. a week more than was paid by the previous tenant. But he is desperate and takes the flat. What happens to the two-roomed flat that he has left? Its rent is raised by 25s. a week.

That sort of thing has happened all over the block of flats. Everybody now knows what it will cost to move, and whereas transfers were carried on before the Rent Act was thought of they no longer take place in this block of flats, which houses about 300 families.

Now let us examine the problem of local government finance. This is a matter over which the Minister has complete control. He holds the key to that door. Each flat in a multi-storey block of flats now costs about £3,000 to build. The annual charge for servicing that flat, at 5½ per cent., for sixty years, which is the average rate, works out at £171 per annum. Over the period, therefore, the repayment on that £3,000, in interest alone, is £7,269. What a financial burden for any local authority!

My own local authority has had the courage to build flats in spite of the high interest charges, but it now owes over £5 million on housing, and nearly £250,000 has to be paid each year in respect of interest charges alone. What an encouragement to local authorities to build! What does the Minister do about it? What is his policy now'? All he says is, "Slum clearance only". In London a person is lucky if he lives in an area which is scheduled for slum clearance, but if he lives in a normal house which has no amenities—and that applies to most London houses—and is not scheduled as a slum, he has no hope. No rehousing is possible for him.

When the Rent Act was passed the Minister said that he would give landlords the opportunity to improve their properties. Whom is he kidding? There are one or two good landlords, but the vast majority apply the maximum of twice the gross rateable value allowed under the Act while opting out of doing any interior repairs. They never did any in the past, and they do not intend to do any now, or in the future, and they have legal protection. What hope is there of modernising or improving their properties by putting in bathrooms and everything else for the tenant? The Minister knows that the only people who can do it are the local authorities. Today, in London, we have the appalling situation where thousands of our people are living in shocking conditions and where even those who are living in good conditions are overcrowded, with no hope for tomorrow.

I do not wish to say anything against the coloured people, but when a house becomes vacant for any reason in my constituency the new rent charged is quite fabulous. Who is prepared to pay such a rent? Coloured people get together because they are exploited and have no alternative and take over the house. Within a matter of days twenty or thirty coloured people move into it. They are the only ones who, between them, can afford the rent.

But who has to deal with the social problem created? Not the Minister. Who has to live with it? Not the Minister. The local authority has to deal with it and we have to live with it—not private enterprise. Private enterprise landlords let the houses. They do not care what happens about the people in the rest of the street. The Minister knows this only too well, and for him to say, "We, this great Tory Government, built 300,000 houses, which is nearly twice as many again as your Labour Government did when they were in power," is outrageous. Who are the Tories to tell us about housing? I am telling the Minister, tonight, that thousands upon thousands of our families are having to bear a greater load.

Let us have some replies from the Minister. First, we want a restoration of the general needs subsidy. Why do not we get it? Why should the local authority which can build flats for general needs not get a subsidy? Why should it be punished? Secondly, we want a preferential rate of interest for local authorities. Why should not local authorities be allowed to build with interest charges at the bare minimum? We ask the Minister to take it from us that if private dwellings are to be renovated, improved and modernised, the job cannot be left to the whims of private enterprise.

I do not say that all private enterprise landlords are bad, but the fact is that the vast bulk of them have not the money to carry out this work, even if they want to do it. It is essential for local authorities to be able to take over the work and act as agents for the Minister. They are the only people who will be able to tackle the job on a national scale.

My final point is not concerned with party politics. It is a purely human argument. Housing is a social need. Have not we yet learned that? Today it is as essential as hospital treatment; indeed, good housing saves hospital treatment, at the end of the day. We must tackle this problem with a vast amount of imagination. When we have waiting lists of 160,000 families, and we know what the problem leaves behind it; when we are approached, as every London Member is approached—as the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins) is approached—again and again by young married couples begging for flats, what answer can we give them? No local authority has a list.

The message must go out from this House tonight that the Minister will not say, "We built more than you, and that is the end of the argument." We ask him to tell the House what he proposes to do for the sort of people my hon. Friends and I represent. We ask him to give us some hope, for the first time.

7.27 p.m.

Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)

Unfortunately, housing debates tend to be a string of constituency speeches. Mine will be no exception to the rule. I can only say that it is unlikely to be published in my local newspaper next week and that the points that I hope to make have general application. I represent a constituency which is as different from that of the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) as can be imagined. Mine is a new constituency, on the outskirts of London. The greater part of it was built in the years between the wars, although some has been built since the last war.

The Hendon Borough Council has built, and now administers, 4,000 council houses and flats, incidentally, the majority of those dwellings are let at their full economic rent. The Exchequer subsidy is wholly devoted to the relief of needy cases under a differential rent scheme and this year the total rate contribution for the borough as a whole is rather less than £7,000.

At present, almost 100 flats are under construction and another 100 are about to be built. A certain amount of redevelopment is due to take place within the borough and I am told that this will result in some surplus of dwellings, mainly flats, but that the extreme limit that can be expected in this way is not more than one hundred. In other words, the council will have 300 more dwellings. When those are built, no sites will be left in the borough. There is nowhere on which any further building of houses can take place.

To complete the picture, I should say that new towns have taken 390 families from within the borough and I am told that about 100 more families will probably be able to be transferred to new towns before the building of new towns ceases to be of assistance to us. In other words, in one way and another, we can look forward to a maximum of 400 new houses to take our surplus population. I do not use that word in any offensive sense. All hon. Members know what I mean.

We have on our waiting list—I inquired yesterday—2,602 families, of whom, I am told, about 2,000 are hard-core cases. That is to say, they are all married, they nearly all have children and they have all been living within the borough for five years. They are cases in which there is genuine overcrowding and they are almost entirely weekly wage earners.

That is the picture of the area. It means that at least 5,000 human beings, in an area quite unlike Bermondsey, have no prospect whatever of getting a house within the borough. They cannot go south into London, for obvious reasons. They cannot go east or west, because there are similar conditions elsewhere, and they cannot go to the north because of the Green Belt. The last argument that I wish to bring forward is that we should infringe on the Green Belt. I am certain that the Green Belt policy is right and I have defended it against those who have upbraided me somewhat strongly for doing so for reasons which I understand, but with which I disagree.

The present situation is, therefore, bad enough. It will grow worse and it will do so largely because of the action of the largest landlord within the borough. The London County Council owns 4,000 houses in Hendon. Those houses were built between the wars. The families of the young people who were moved into them twenty-five years or so ago have grown up and are now getting families of their own. They are perforce living with their in-laws, as the hon. Member for Bermondsey described.

It is, however, the deliberate policy of the London County Council to refuse all applications from the married sons and daughters of their tenants from those houses. The vacancies in those houses are in no case filled by people living in Hendon, but in every case by people sent out from the London County Council area. In other words, the L.C.C. is decanting its surplus population into Hendon, where our position is as bad as can be found anywhere. It is being done artificially and unnaturally and it is adding to the congestion in the houses, and, incidentally, to the congestion on the railways, from which all of us suffer from time to time, even if we have a decent house to go to.

I venture to say that no private landlord could be more impersonal or calculatingly ruthless than the Labour-controlled London County Council in that direction.

Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)

That is a strong statement. I understood the hon. Member to say that the London County Council does not put into vacant property in his borough the young people who live in the borough. It will, I think, be found that the rehousing policy of the L.C.C. is based upon giving to those who have the greatest need the first opportunity to be rehoused. Therefore, it seems to me that anybody rehoused by the L.C.C. in Hendon would have a greater claim to be rehoused than the other people whom the hon. Member has in mind.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I agree that that would appear to be logical and humane. but, unfortunately, it is not the policy of the L.C.C. Its policy is quite deliberately to refuse applications from young people in overcrowded conditions in Hendon and to give priority to those coming from the centre of London. That is what is happening and I say that it is entirely wrong.

If anyone thinks that the mere handing over of our houses to local authorities would do anything to solve the problem, he had better look at conditions in Hendon and he would think again. If Middlesex were a build its own new town, under the dispensation of the London County Council the effect would be to relieve only indirectly those coming from the L.C.C. area, because there would simply be a steady flow through of these people and no genuine relief in the Hendon area itself.

I want to make one constructive suggestion. Many people would move out of north-west London if they could get a house. They are prevented from doing so not by lack of money. Many of them come to see me and say that they can afford the necessary deposit, or to pay a good rent. They are prevented not by any lack of will to make an effort, but simply by the practical difficulties of the situation.

The practical difficulty is that they have to find both a new job and a new house in the same place. A professional man can sometimes do this, but these are not professional people. They are by definition working-class people. The man has a job five and a half days a week and not very long holidays. In addition, he generally has to do overtime if he is to live in this expensive part of the country. His wife has young children to look after. These people cannot, in the nature of things, go out and search for this extremely difficult combination. I have no doubt that there are places where it is much easier to get houses and jobs together than in the north-west London area.

I want to see something done which would enable these people to find what they want. For obvious reasons, the problem cannot be tackled by local authorities. Local authorities cannot find jobs. The problem has been tackled to some extent by the new towns, but the figures which I have mentioned this evening show to what a small extent it has been possible, and can be possible in the future, for the new town corporations to tackle it.

There is scope for some central Government machinery to be set up simply with a view to enabling these people to be put into touch with the kind of jobs-cum-facilities that may be available in different parts of the country. I have made inquiries and I do not think that any such machinery exists. Certainly, it is not known to those directly concerned, nor is it known in my local authority. I therefore suggest to my right hon. Friend the Minister that he consider this aspect. If he can do something to help in this way, it might go a long way to help these hard-core cases.

7.40 p.m.

Mr. Herbert Butler (Hackney, Central)

I do not propose to follow the ruminations of the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) but to deal with a specific housing situation which exists in London. I am sure that I speak for all my colleagues in saying that I regret that a matter of this importance has to be dealt with in so short a space of time. Because of the shortness of the time, I shall make my remarks as brief as possible.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs sought last Thursday to ride away with a story about the housing situation not being so bad as it was when the Conservative Party first came into power. We do not want the debate to range over that field, but I want to place on record my opinion that, whatever the housing difficulties may be in Hendon, South or in any other constituency, they must be placed at the door of private enterprise, which regarded housing as one of its own perquisites before municipalities came into this field rather than as a social necessity.

The problem in the London area was made very much worse by the war. The predecessor of the present Minister introduced the Requisitioned Houses and Housing (Amendment) Act in 1955, which placed upon local authorities the responsibility for about 30,000 houses. They contested the matter with the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor and pointed out the difficulties to which the Act would give rise. However, by March, 1960, unless something is done in the meantime to prevent it, thousands of families may be homeless as the result of that Act. It is to this aspect of the situation that I desire to call the attention of the Committee.

Many London areas, including my own, will be very badly affected by that Act. In my own area we took in more than 21,500 people during the war from all sorts of areas and rehoused them. They were largely homeless families. In addition, we put people into rest centres and billets. We had about 2,119 requisitioned properties, and about 4,100 families occupied them. By June, 1955, we had got that figure down to about 1,800 properties and 3,370 families.

This situation arose out of a national emergency for which the Government of the country should take responsibility. As it happens, it is the local authority which has had to rehouse the people and to bear the financial burden of dealing also with its own citizens who have lived there for many years. One of the defects of the Requisitioned Houses and Housing (Amendment) Act, 1955, is that local authorities have to give precedence to homeless families from other areas over families who may have lived in the borough for many years.

The Minister met representatives of the local authorities in March this year and discussed this matter. Some of us are worried about the proposals made by the Minister's officials, and we have to assume that they were speaking with the full authority of the Minister. We are worried about the stress that the Minister puts upon the necessity of placing people into houses and of making the houses proof against wind and weather. We have to patch up the houses to obviate the dire consequences which the Housing Ministry imposes upon local authorities by that Act of Parliament.

Local authorities in the majority of London boroughs have done their best to deal with the problem and to settle the occupants of requisitioned property into reasonably decent homes. In the past three years my own local authority has carried out all the proposals and exhortations contained in pages 61 and 62 of the Ministry's Report. We have got house owners to take about 845 families, under Section 4 of the Act. We have bought new properties and have put people into permanent properties. About 25 per cent. of our new lettings have been given to the people who were in requisitioned property.

The remainder, about 908 properties with 1,565 units of accommodation, consists of parts of premises over shops, parts of houses, two and three rooms in houses, and older houses which should never be owned by a local authority. It is therefore difficult for us to deal with the residue of this property because of the time factor of 1960. We now have compulsory purchase orders before the Minister. My council passed them last night. One order is for 491 houses. Other properties, not in the compulsory purchase group, are London County Council places. We have in hand for purchase or lease about 76 properties. Taking the most optimistic view of the situation, we shall be left with 280 properties by March, 1960. housing 383 families.

It is most important to note that the Minister of Housing and Local Government in the Conservative Party says in "Homes of the Future" that we on this side of the Committee propose to municipalise houses while he and the Government are forcing local authorities to acquire property now which they would never think of purchasing in the ordinary way, and at a time when, by reason of their own Rent Act, the price of property has doubled or trebled. My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) drew attention to what is happening in this respect.

In my own area, people who come there to live find that unscrupulous landlords and estate agents, because of the nature of their business, try to exact from prospective purchasers as much as they can take. They ask fantastic prices for short leases for houses that can take a number of families. It is difficult for the public health committee to deal with these cases. When we go into the market to purchase property to keep a roof over the heads of these victims of the war we are met with the figures of the estate agents, bumped up by the Minister's Rent Act. We are faced with the fact that conversions arising out of this situation will cost us approximately £2½ million.

The rate deficiency arising from the war is, on the Minister's calculation, £28,000 per annum. We shall have this over the next twenty years, on the basis of the Minister's own formula. Such is the rigidity of this formula and so unfair is it that my local authority will have a burden of about £56,000 every year for twenty years, or approximately an elevenpenny rate. These facts are known to the Minister. If he attempts to ride off on a general argument about housing, I must tell him that it does not apply in this case. We can all argue at the proper time on what we are going to do about future housing, but these people do not know what is to happen to them on 30th March. Are they to be prosecuted as trespassers? Are they to be turned out?

The Minister is forcing us to municipalise housing, but he is doing it in the wrong way. Discussions in the Metropolitan Standing Joint Committee indicate quite clearly what is in the mind of the Minister. If a property is in a bad condition he says, "Let the local authority take it over, patch it up, make it wind- and weather-proof, and put people in it." Is this to be the reward for people who suffered as a consequence of the war? He is forcing local authorities to buy when the Rent Act has sent prices sky-high.

Under Section 11 the Minister has the right to deal with local authorities desiring to purchase single houses. By the formula he applies he in part assists a local authority financially. Local authorities, which have considerable problems in this matter, find that one of their difficulties is that the formula is so rigid. When they seek a house which is reasonably sound and endeavour to get the formula applied to it as it applies to a house which remains requisitioned, there is considerable difficulty in getting the Department to allow the local authority to buy a house in place of the one which is requisitioned. I ask the Minister to reconsider the situation in regard to the formula.

I promised not to take up too much time because my colleagues have their own constituency problems to which they want to refer. In view of what is happening to house property in London and other towns, I ask the Minister if he really expects owners to accept Section 4 tenants when the sky is the limit with rents? Obviously, owners cannot be expected then to apply Section 4, but the Minister asks local authorities to do it and they are doing it.

I hope that in his reply the Minister will not say, as he said in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) in last Thursday's debate, that he cannot talk about legislation. We want to know what is to be the position by March, 1960, and if these licencees are trespassers. The local authorities acted as agents for the Government and, by the 1955 Act, the Government passed on responsibility to them. They were not willing agents in this matter; it was a case of force majeure. We want an alteration of the formula to prevent local authorities having to charge higher rates for what should be a national burden. We say this is unfair. Those who were able and willing to take in homeless people should not be saddled with the responsibility for twenty years, a responsibility which should be accepted by the national Exchequer.

In my borough, with a waiting list of 5,750 families, there are 2,000 in urgent category A. It is absolutely damnable that we should have to tell those families, who have waited for many years, that people who came in from other areas are to take precedence over them. The Minister really must do something to agree to an extension of the date from March, 1960, in order to give a breathing space in which we can deal with this residue of cases. I have endeavoured not to get involved in a political argument as to whether private enterprise or municipal housing is the better way. I believe local authorities are the best avenue through which to provide housing, but that is by the way. I want this problem, which has arisen as a consequence of the war, to be tackled by the Minister, because it is his responsibility, to ensure the health of the community, and I hope he will take this opportunity of doing so.

7.55 p.m.

Mr. Robert Jenkins (Dulwich)

Unlike so many hon. Members, I start my speech by saying that I want to follow the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. H. Butler) and to add that my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Housing and Local Government was not the Minister who brought in the derequisitioning Act of 1955. Therefore, he was not responsible for it.

During the debates on that Measure a number of us put down Amendments asking that the time limit to 1960 should be extended in respect of certain London boroughs which had received a tremendous amount of bombing. I shall not make a constituency speech except to say that my borough of Camberwell received more bombing, or, alternatively, it had more requisitioned property, than any other borough in the country. Therefore, I am well able to understand the views put before the Committee by the hon. Member for Hackney, Central. I want to add my weight to his argument.

At the time when the Bill was going through Committee upstairs, many of us, on both sides of the Committee, representing London boroughs urged the then Minister to make some alteration in its effect on different areas. I used the analogy of a place like Chertsey which had had no bomb dropped on it and places like Camberwell, Hackney, Islington and Bermondsey which had suffered not only from bombs but from rockets and V-1s. It was then predicted that if something were not done to make a difference between one part of the country and another so that the effect of the Act would not be universal throughout the country, a time would come when these difficulties would arise. I say to the present Minister that there remains less than a year before the Act comes into operation. In Camberwell, Hackney, and probably in Lambeth, there will be tremendous difficulty in dealing with this problem.

The hon. Member for Hackney, Central pointed out that it was impossible for boroughs to buy some of these properties. He spoke of difficulties with properties over shops, and there he was quite right. I am glad to know that under the Act it is possible for local authorities, with the consent of the Minister, to buy houses which licensees now occupy, provided no other arrangement can be come to with the landlord, but there is a hard core of hereditaments—I cannot call them houses or flats—which will never be dealt with.

The Minister has been very kindly and generous over the last eighteen months in the way in which he has accepted Amendments to housing Bills, particularly the Landlord and Tenant (Temporary Provisions) Bill. I want to draw his attention particularly to this hard core and, therefore, I lend support to the plea of the hon. Member for Hackney, Central in this respect. If we can draw the Minister's attention to this hard core, great service can be done to the local authorities and licensees who occupy such premises.

I turn for a few moments to another subject. The most amazing thing which has happened in housing in London and the big cities is the comparative absence of defections under the Rent Act. That is one of the most amazing factors about the situation. I am talking without the book and without the actual figures, but I believe that south of the river in London the number of applications for evictions under the Rent Act is under 300. That is a most remarkable figure. That being so, I suggest that, consequent on the Rent Act and the subsequent Landlord and Tenant (Temporary Provisions) Act, the whole operation as set out and directed by my right hon. Friend has been a great success.

The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) was discussing the question of the shocking condition of these houses. I agree with him. As a Member of Parliament one has to fight for one's constituents. There are bad landlords, but it is quite amazing to me how many landlords have come to heel since the Landlord and Tenant (Temporary Provisions) Act came into operation. I want to point out to my right hon. Friend and other Members of the Committee that I personally, when the Rent Act was published and discussed in Committee and on the Floor of the House, had certain reservations in mind as to how it would work, despite the amending Act. From my own personal experience—and I think that it is the experience of hon. Members on both sides of the Committee—in my own constituency, which I go round very regularly, I have found in scores of streets rows of houses being decorated and repaired. Hundreds of houses which are under £40 a year rateable value are being decorated and repaired consequent on the Rent Act. It is surprising to learn how landlords are now taking advantage, because of their increased rent of twice the gross value, of improvement grants. Hundreds of houses in my constituency now have bathrooms which they never had before.

Mr. Mellish

I hope and pray that the local Press will print exactly what the hon. Member is saying.

Mr. Jenkins

All I can say is that that is my experience. I have discussed the matter with other hon. Members and they tell me that the same thing is happening. I could give the names of the roads, but I shall not. There are scores and hundreds of houses being decorated. That could not have happened but for the operation of the Rent Act. What is more, I have not yet found one single tenant who objects to paying twice the gross value. In the case of the old-age pensioner this is alway made up by the Assistance Board. Hon. Members opposite may object to the Assistance Board paying the extra rent and that may be fair comment, but so far as the tenants are concerned there is no objection, because they think it is fair. The best landlords and perhaps some of the not so good landlords are painting up their properties and putting them in order because they are preserving their assets.

As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth), we have the dreadful problem in every borough in the centre of London of 5,000 or 6,000 families on the waiting lists. I do not want to denigrate some of the applications on the waiting lists, but I think that if there were a proper and thorough analysis, those in local government, as I have been for thirty years, would say that they are perhaps not all valid ones.

There is a large number still waiting for accommodation. The result of the Rent Act has been what my right hon. Friend said that it would be. Many owner-occupiers throughout the whole of London whose families have grown up and who could have let part of their houses before the Rent Act came in to small families of one, two or three, were afraid to do so because if they took in a family which turned out to be unpleasant they could not get them out and they had to take the rent which the local authority laid down. Today they are able to apply for the improvement grant to turn part of their owner-occupied houses into flats, and thousands of new family units are being accommodated every month.

Mr. Walter Edwards (Stepney)

Where? Can the hon. Gentleman give the number of owner-occupiers in the London area?

Mr. Jenkins

I am afraid that I cannot. All I can say is that there is a very large number of owner-occupiers in my division, and it is happening there.

Mr. Edwards

How many?

Mr. Jenkins

I cannot say. I am afraid, Mr. Bowles, that I must take a moment or two longer than I intended to give information to the hon. Gentleman. Before the Rent Act came in, many thousands of elderly people came to me, knowing that I was extremely interested in getting housing accommodation for young married couples, and asked whether I could recommend a family to them because they had two or three rooms to let. They owned the property or had a long lease on it. I told them that I had plenty of applicants of the kind they required, but I warned them, as constituents of mine, that if they let rooms and the family was unsatisfactory because they left a bicycle in the hall or one of them came in drunk, or for any other reason, they would never be able to get them out.

Today, these people are letting their premises and are prepared to spend £200 or £300 on them. I am sorry that I have to make a constituency speech, but unless I do I shall be challenged to say where else I know this is happening. I know that it is happening in the Royal Borough of Kensington and in my own division, and I know that there is a large amount of alteration of large houses into flats. Even hon. Members of this House have been doing it themselves. Another interesting point about the effect of the Rent Act which is advantageous to people who are wanting a home is that all empty properties have become derequisitioned or derestricted. As a result of that there are very few empty properties in London.

There were a great many houses empty prior to the passing of the Rent Act. When I have been asked where they were, I have quoted Croydon. I have not told hon. Members who represent Croydon that I intended to mention it tonight. With a fair return, or perhaps a greater return, for their money from people who pay reasonable rents these houses are now being let.

I hope that the Minister will do something to publicise the existence of improvement grants. In one road which I visited in the morning of last Sunday week, to see an old couple in my constituency, I was told, "All the houses on the other side of the road have had bathrooms put in during the last twelve months. People wonder when that will be done on this side of the road." I have written to the landlord to see why he does not do the same thing, and I hope that, as a result of pressure by the hon. Member for Dulwich, he may be persuaded to make these improvements. That may particularly be the case since I have been challenged on it and since he will be able to read what I have said. Probably it will be done.

Mr. W. Edwards

Why not get the Minister to do it?

Mr. Jenkins

If my right hon. Friend wants more improvement schemes, why is there not more publicity about them? These schemes were first introduced in a minor way by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), when he was Minister of Health, and they did not go very well. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also introduced these schemes, and they have been added to since. For a family to have a bathroom, indoor lavatory and other amenities provided in the house is a wonderful thing. It does not make a new home but it makes the existing home agreeable to live in, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will pay maximum attention to seeing that publicity is given to these valuable schemes. It is a non-party matter. Let us be frank about it. The idea came from the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. It has been carried on since. It is a wonderful thing for people who all their lives have had to take their baths in the municipal baths to be provided with a bathroom in their own home as a result of money advanced by the local authority on behalf of the Government.

Mr. A. Evans

I agree that it is good to see modern amenities being provided, but the hon. Member must appreciate that when old houses are supplied with modern amenities it reduces the amount of housing accommodaion available.

Mr. Jenkins

I agree that introducing such amenities as a bathroom does not normally increase the accommodation.

Mr. Evans

It decreases it.

Mr. Jenkins

Nevertheless, it makes the accommodation far more pleasant for the people who live there. Perhaps I have confused one thing with another. What I was trying to suggest was not that there was more accommodation but that the existing accommodation was improved.

I urge my right hon. Friend to give serious atention to the point which I made about improvement grants. A number of my hon. Friends and I were opposed to the Rent Bill as originally presented and we welcomed the Landlord and Tenant (Temporary Provisions) Act because it had a mitigating effect upon possible bad consequences of the Rent Act. As a Member for a London constituency I am deeply concerned about housing, but I think that the Rent Act has been a roaring success, that the Minister was right to carry it through and that he was right to amend it in order to prevent hardship. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. There are infinitely more housing units available in the County of London today because of my right hon. Friend's action in introducing the Rent Act than there would have been if he had not introduced it.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)

I had always imagined that the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins) represented Dulwich, but it appears from his speech that he represents either Utopia or Paradise. He said that he was setting out to make a constituency speech. That was a necessary explanation, because the facts which he gave certainly do not represent the situation as far as I know it in any other part of London. I sometimes regret that the proportion of private landlords in my constituency who have a sense of their social responsibilities is not higher that, in fact, it is, but I now understand the reason, for apparently all good landlords are in the hon. Member's constituency. I wish that some of them could be persuaded to acquire properties in other parts of London and behave in the way in which he described.

I believe that the crux of this gigantic and terrible problem is that the general line of Government policy for a long time has been to make it increasingly difficult for local authorities to play their part. The Government have done that in the belief that private landlordism, encouraged by the Rent Act, would solve the problem. That has been fundamentally the argument upon which the Government have been acting and that is the argument which has been so tragically disproved.

We have refrained from taking up time this evening to describe cases with which we are all familiar, such as that of a family living in one room, or a family where husband and wife have to live separately, or a family which, throughout its married life, has had to live precariously in one furnished room, never knowing when it will be put out on the street. The fact that we have not laboured these cases does not mean that we are not all bitterly aware of them.

The point which I want to make is that on the evidence there is no ground for the assumption, on which the Government are proceeding, that private landlordism, encouraged by the Rent Act, will do so much to solve the problem that we can go on discouraging the local authorities from doing their job.

What are the respects in which private landlordism, in the main, falls down? I say "in the main" because everyone agrees that we can find a number of private landlords with a genuine sense of social responsibility who do the job properly. We must, however, judge the institution of private landlordism as a whole by the general and usual results which it produces. The results which it appears to be producing are shown by the fact that, despite the Rent Act, I can find in my constituency no sign that the number of properties available for rent which will meet the needs of the people who come to see me on Friday after Friday is increasing at all.

In particular, there seems to be no willingness on the part of private landlords to offer accommodation for rent where there are young children in the family. That is often where the con- sequences of the family being ill-housed and overcrowded are the most serious and the most long-lasting. There also seems to be very little willingness on the part of private landlordism to facilitate exchanges. I know quite a number of housing problems in which we could reach a solution fairly simply if only the private landlord would agree to accept in place of his present tenant someone from the council list.

I do not ask that he should accept anyone whom the council nominates. He should be given a reasonable opportunity of several refusals if the first tenants offered are not to his liking. During the passage of the Rent Act, if I remember correctly, the Government were urged to make the benefits of the Act available to a landlord only if he were co-operative in such respects as this. They would not agree. We have a string of unnecessarily unsolved problems in consequence.

There is a continued failure in general to accept the responsibilities of being a landlord. Owning a house is not the same thing as owning a pair of shoes. It carries social responsibilities with it.

Turning to the question of improvements, the Minister knows that the Borough of Fulham has done a good deal to publicise the powers which it possesses in this respect to encourage private landlords to obtain improvement grants and to carry out the work. The Minister himself visited the borough and admired the scheme in that connection. Nevertheless, there is still a tremendous number of properties where the landlord, who should obviously be taking advantage of that facility, shows not the smallest sign of doing so.

I have tried occasionally to remind private landlords of their responsibilities, and the not uncommon answer is that landlordism is not a philanthropic institution. Hon. Members will notice the word "institution". So many landlords nowadays are not persons, but companies. Sometimes, even though they are persons, a local authority cannot find out who they are. One often has the experience of a local authority trying to meet its responsibilities by acquiring properties by compulsory purchase and finding the delay in the process accentuated by difficulty in finding who the owner actually is.

I should like to make it part of the law that not merely the name of the agent, someone to whom the rent is to be paid, but the name of the legal owner should be on the rent book. That would be a useful addition to the law so that there would not be the slightest difficulty in a public authority finding the owner of a property, who could be called to account if he did not fulfil his responsibilities.

It is because of these failures on the part of private landlordism that local authorities are required to do far more than Tory philosophy wants them to do. It is now accepted on both sides of the Committee that it is the duty of a local housing authority to clear slums. It is, apparently, the one task to be done by local authorities for which the present Government show any enthusiasm. Slum clearance, in the strict legal sense of doing work which will now attract subsidy, is practically completed in my borough. Therefore, our task of doing work which will not impose a rather heavy burden on either ratepayers or tenants is ended.

In addition, a local authority can, and should, carry out what is really redevelopment work. For example, a local authority may be concerned with a mainly residential area in which here and there is situated a factory with light industry. The owners of the factory may be prepared to sell it and the local authority may want to redevelop the area and provide more residential accommodation. It will receive no subsidy for that kind of work, yet it will be doing something which not only solves its own housing problem, but makes London as a whole better developed and more civilised. There ought to be a subsidy for that kind of work.

Further, owing to the failure of private landlordism and the growing immobility of tenants, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) so well described as one result of the Rent Act, the local authority is, in effect, now looked to by practically everyone who is badly or inadequately housed as the body who should deal with his problem. It is no good hon. Members reciting to the people who come to see them the tenets of Tory philosophy and saying that, now that the Rent Act is passed, private landlordism will deal with the matter. These persons know perfectly well that private landlordism will not. They tend to regard local authorities as responsible for general need housing, for which the Minister will give no help and for which for a long time Government policy, both over subsidies and over interest rates, has made the task of local authorities increasingly more difficult.

I do not hope to persuade the Minister to change Tory philosophy in general on those topics, but the right hon. Gentleman might be able to do one thing. When a local authority submits a housing project for the approval of the Ministry, my information is that very often it genuinely has no means of knowing what sort of yardstick the Ministry uses in deciding whether the project at a given cost can be approved. The local authority has to go to all the trouble of preparing the project and putting it out to tender while genuinely not knowing, however much experience it has, whether the project will be approved. When the Ministry is considering what is the proper cost for a building project, it is sometimes inclined to urge on the local authority things which any experienced local director of housing knows are false economies in order to reduce the immediate cost without any regard to the subsequent burden of maintenance. I quote as examples whether tiling should be put in the kitchen and what quality paint should be used in the kitchen. I ask the Minister to look at the delay, uncertainty and false economy which sometimes emerge from Ministry policy.

In conclusion, I can fairly claim that my own borough has done its best to solve the problem of derequisition. In 1957, we had about 1,000 units of accommodation on requisition. By February of this year that figure has been—not exactly cut clown to 400, but we were safely able to say that we should be left with no more than 400 in March, 1960. The most recent information I have is that we expect to be left with no more than 200 units of accommodation in 1960. Those 200 units are units to which one can find no apparent solution. What will happen to those people? Solving all these problems is not only a question of money, buildings and finding accommodation. It uses up the time of the staff of local authorities.

What most of us object to is that the Government's general policy has been based on the assumption that private landlordism can do the job and that, therefore, the Government can cut down the help given to local authorities, but the result of a great deal of what the Government have been doing has been to pile more and more work and duties on to those very local authorities.

8.26 p.m.

Sir Hugh Linstead (Putney)

Inevitably in a debate of this kind we tend to look at things through the eyes of our own constituents. Probably it is well that that should be so, because the problems created by housing shortage in London—it must be so in other parts of the country—are extremely human problems which come home very close to most of us as Members of Parliament. I do what I expect other hon. Members do. I try to visit the home of each person who comes to me with a housing problem, because it is only by visiting them in their own homes that one can accurately assess their need and the strength of their story.

I doubt if we are doing full justice to the human nature of the problem with which we are faced if we try to extract the maximum of party capital out of the discussion of these problems in the House of Commons. No one can deny that there was an immense surge forward in building, particularly in house building, over the period 1951 to 1954. If any Government are attacked on their housing record, there is every reason why they should fall back on what was one of the most remarkable developments of housing in this country over that sort of period. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that basically we have still to solve the hard core of this problem in London. There is no question about that. I do not believe that we shall solve it by flinging party insults and little party points from one side of the Chamber to the other.

Part of our trouble is that London is still growing, and until we can find some way—if, indeed, it will ever be humanly possible—of stopping the growth of London, we shall perpetually find that the magnet of the capital will attract people from the rest of the country at a rate faster than that at which we can provide the necessary housing accommodation.

One obstacle to a good housing policy in London has not yet been mentioned, and although to overcome it is not easy, it has to be faced. I hope that it will be faced by the Royal Commission now considering London government. The obstacle is the fact that we have two tiers of housing authorities. The London County Council is a housing authority and so—with the exception, I think, of the City of Westminster—is every Metropolitan borough.

That is a thoroughly unsatisfactory situation. It leads, or has led, to competition for land. It leads to the local people feeling that those who come in under a London County Council scheme—possibly from much worse conditions than those into which they are moved—are, nevertheless, foreigners who are taking land that really belongs to the borough. It leads to two rent systems. Most of the boroughs have a rent rebate scheme by which they adjust the rent according to their assessment of the needs of the family. The London County Council refuses to have a rent rebate scheme. It is thoroughly unsatisfactory to have, within the same area, two public authority rent schemes running.

Worse than anything else, we get the individual family shuffled between the two local authorities and not really knowing whether it should put its pressure on the town hall or on County Hall. Until that problem is solved, until the responsibility is squarely put either on the county council or—as in my view it ought to be—on the borough, we shall have a second-best housing policy in the city. I hope that the Royal Commission will tackle that—

Mr. C. W. Gibson (Clapham)

It has nothing to do with the Royal Commission.

Sir H. Linstead

With great respect, it may not have anything to do with the Royal Commission, but the fact remains that the Commission has been receiving a considerable amount of evidence from the boroughs on those lines, and I hope that its Report will not ignore that aspect.

The situation that we have had to face in the last two or three years has been an easing up of private house building and a devotion of our resources to schools, factories, offices and hospitals. From the national point of view, that change of emphasis has probably been justified, but in my own part of the Metropolis and in those parts of it that I know I should have thought that the development of offices and factories had now reached the stage at which we were justified in again turning back our building resources w the hard core of our housing problem.

In assessing the cure for some of our difficulties, I would not underestimate the conversion of the old house. As the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. H. Butler) has said, one can represent conversion as patching up and making a house windproof and weatherproof, but that is not what is meant by really good conversions, and need not be the result of them. In Wandsworth and, I imagine, in others of the Metropolitan boroughs, there are good, sound Edwardian—and even Victorian—houses that are perfectly capable of being turned into good modern flats, and we should be stupid to pull down those houses in order to replace them with modern ones. I am sure that the emphasis put on the conversion of the sound old house is a simple and sensible way of still further helping the housing problem.

I do not take quite so serious a view as have some hon. Members of the Minister's derequisitioning policy. It is true that my right hon. Friend has had to fix a date and has had to appear to be putting the screw fairly tightly on local authorities. Had he not done so, I am sure that he would not have succeeded in getting them to take action. It may be that at the last he will have to make some modification, but I am sure that too early an indication that March, 1960, did not, in fact, mean March, 1960, would have resulted, in two or three boroughs that I know of, in the borough council sitting back and not making an attempt to reduce requisitioning to manageable figures. When we find that in Hackney the number of requisitioned properties is down to 350, in Fulham it is down to 200 and in Wandsworth, which had probably the largest of the requisition problems, the number is down from over 2,000 to about 700, it is clear that the policy of being tough with the local authorities has paid dividends.

What may happen between now and March is a matter which obviously needs to be watched. In my part of the world, at any rate, the major need at the moment is slum clearance. It may be that Fulham is fortunate and has completed its programme, but that is not the case in Wandsworth, and if there is a point at which Ministerial pressure from now onwards should be directed in my constituency, it is slum clearance. I am sure it has got to be regarded as a crusade. We have got to instil into the minds of local authorities that this is not a leisurely job to be dealt with as it suits them, at a certain pace, but that it is a substantial and final attack on the hard core of the housing problem, for in many parts of London there is still a slum clearance problem which local authorities have not always tackled with the vigour and enthusiasm which they should have shown.

In addition to whatever other methods my right hon. Friend may have in mind for building up a further and, I would hope, a last drive in dealing with this problem, I put the slum clearance problem at the very heart of the situation locally. Once that is broken, I believe that we shall find that, with the conversions which are following the Rent Act, we shall have met most of the needs in the area with which I am concerned.

8.37 p.m.

Mr. C. W. Gibson (Clapham)

The hon. Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead) said that we had reached the hard core of the problem. That would give most people the impression that we had reached the hard core and that it was a small one. In fact, the situation in London is very bad and it is getting worse, in spite of the tremendous efforts which have been made by the housing authorities in London to build since the end of the war.

Over 258,000 houses have been built in the Greater London area, but those figures do not give the Minister much satisfaction because whereas last week he was talking about private enterprise having built one for one, in London the proportion is 2½ municipal houses to every I built by private enterprise and that built for selling, as can be observed by those who go around and see these houses.

That does not solve the problem. It is difficult to get the exact figures, but we know that there are well over 150,000 people on the waiting list. In fact, I would say that there are 200,000, taking London as a whole. Certainly over 50,000 of them are urgent cases who cannot at present be rehoused from the general housing list because of the policy of the Government of stopping subsidies on general housing, and, as a result, practically killing the building of general houses in the London area.

The authorities are getting on with slum clearance and are doing fairly well with the number of houses they have closed and the number of families they have rehoused, though it must be remembered that when a slum house is pulled down there is not only one family to rehouse. Normally there are at least two, and sometimes three, families. So that the housing problem as such, when one is dealing with slums, is infinitely more difficult than it is when dealing with an area in which the houses are occupied by one family only.

Another significant factor seems to me to be this. I checked this on one occasion when I was chairman of a housing committee. A very small proportion of people who live in slum houses are on the council's waiting list. On checking one big scheme in the south of London, I found that only 5 per cent. of the tenants in an area which everyone agreed ought to be cleared were on the council's waiting list. The waiting lists, bad as they are, do not really reveal the whole problem. It is something very much more than a mere hard-core problem. What we need in London is authority to go ahead to build as quickly as we can, and financial assistance should be given to the councils to enable them to do so.

Although it is a little off what I wanted to say, I was amazed to find in the Ministry's Annual Report that the tender cost for a three-roomed house is more now than it was in 1951, in spite of the fact that the houses are 150 sq. ft. smaller. The cost per square foot has gone up by 7s. 11d. since 1951. This, also, has added very considerably to the difficulties of local authorities in London.

The local authorities have done very well in very difficult circumstances, but they are now finding—this is part of the problem spoken of by the hon. Member for Putney—that there is a shortage of sites. People are not content to live in the tightly packed conditions in which they used to live when I was a young boy. They want wide spaces and air. One cannot blame them for that. Indeed I think that we should encourage them in that desire. However, it does cause a problem for local authorities because they have to find more land.

On the general question of London housing, I suggest to the Minister that he ought to be very much more cooperative in giving authority for sites to be acquired outside the London area, not only by the London County Council but by some of the other local authorities, too. If he does not, they will never be able to solve their problem.

As things are now, I cannot see a glimpse of a solution to the housing problem of London within the next two generations. We must have financial assistance, encouragement and help from the Ministry in the acquisition of sites outside our own borough areas. It is not sufficient for the Minister to say that he has given the London County Council an opportunity of taking up a new town. That is quite true, but it takes an uncomfortably long time to acquire the site. Inevitably, all sorts of objections are raised, and it takes several years before such a project can be effective.

It would be far better and quicker if sites could be made available, as they were immediately after the war, for the authorities of London to build the many more houses which are needed and in order to reduce the 50,000-odd chronic cases on the waiting lists. There is chronic overcrowding. Chronic illness and chronic family troubles are created because people have to live with in-laws, and so forth, and there is all the time the chronic problem of bad housing conditions.

The hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Robert Jenkins) spoke about the landlord doing repairs and not taking full advantage of the Rent Act. I did not like to interrupt him because of the time, but I must tell the Committee that I am at the moment arguing with one of the largest property companies in this country which is still charging the tenant the full 2¼ times the gross rateable value for a flat in respect of which a certificate of disrepair is still in operation. I found it out only last week or I should have been after that landlord before. I shall be after his blood in a few days. That sort of thing is happening not in one case but in many cases all over London.

I come now to what I regard as the most urgent problem for us in London, namely, the derequisitioning of properties. The latest figures that I can obtain show that on 30th April there were over 16,000 families still living in requisitioned properties. Some boroughs, of course, have an extremely difficult problem. For Wandsworth, for instance, to which the hon. Member for Putney referred, I happen to have the official figures supplied by the town clerk, so I hope they are right.

I am informed that up to the current date the Wandsworth Borough Council has 1,411 families living in what are called "requisitioned units", which may mean two or three in a house. The council considers that 1,120 of those units will have to be bought by compulsory purchase orders because the landlords in every case have refused to accept statutory tenancies. They have all been given the opportunity by letter from the council. The council has already secured compulsory purchase orders for 755 of the units.

Mr. G. W. Reynolds (Islington, North)


Mr. Gibson

That is municipalising property, but we are not arguing about that.

That still leaves 311 units or families in respect of which the council has not yet passed a compulsory order resolution. Anyone who knows the difficulty of carrying out compulsory order procedure, even with the blessing of the Minister—he has given his blessing in this case, though rather late in the day—knows that it will be a tremendous job to get all these through before March next year.

The council decided that it could not do it. Therefore, it sent a deputation to the Minister towards the end of last year. It saw not the Minister but the Parliamentary Secretary. It asked the hon. Gentleman to defer the date when final requisitioning had to stop. The answer that it got was a cold "No". Nothing was to be done and, as far as I know, nothing has been done. What some of us are afraid of is that when next March conies there will be hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of families who will be trespassers in the homes in which they live, who can be turned out, and who, if they are not turned out, will be a tremendous burden upon their borough council. It is an imposition which the Minister ought not to place on the borough councils.

In Wandsworth it is a case of buying the houses, many of which are really not fit to buy and, in the normal course of events, would not be bought because of their condition. To buy all these already requisitioned houses in Wandsworth and to complete the job before March next will cost the borough council £1¼ million. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. H. Butler) says that it will cost Hackney more than £2 million. There are 13 or 14 London boroughs which have fairly large numbers of requisitioned premises still to be taken over.

This is a problem to which the Minister ought to give immediate attention for the benefit of the London people. In general, I do not think that London has anything in respect of housing for which to thank the Tory Government or their Minister of Housing. The number of houses built in London has declined since the right hon. Gentleman became Minister, and opportunities of rehousing have become fewer. It is no use saying that this is not a political matter. It is inevitably a political matter. Anything which affects the life and happiness of ordinary people is a political matter.

We are entitled to complain that in the largest city in the world, in an area which embraces one-fifth of the population of the country—more than 10 million people—we still have hundreds of thousands of poor devils who cannot get the kind of house in which they would like to live because neither private enterprise nor, as the result of Government policy, the local authorities can build the houses. If the Minister wants to make himself sweet with the London authorities he should immediately do something to ease the situation which we shall all face in connection with the derequisitioning problem next March.

8.49 p.m.

Sir Wavell Wakefield (Marylebone)

The hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) said that the Government have not been successful in their housing programme in that the number of houses built recently in London has declined, and the opportunities for rehousing are fewer.

Earlier in the debate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. H. Lucas-Tooth) drew attention to the position in his constituency. He pointed out that when the present building was completed, there would be virtually no more sites available for building. Surely, that is the answer to the hon. Member for Clapham.

In my constituency, St. Marylebone, we are placed in the same situation as is my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South. There is virtually no more room left on which to build. People want to live in London. In my constituency a great many people, quite naturally, want to live there, because it is quite the best place in London in which anybody could want to live—

Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)

What about Hampstead?

Sir W. Wakefield

After all, we have got a very fine park in Marylebone. We have the Zoo, Lord's Cricket Ground, Madame Tussaud's for hon. Members opposite, perhaps, and, if we are not feeling very well, plenty of doctors in Harley Street and Wigmore Street.

The fact is that no more space is available for housing in Central London. It is also a fact that more space would have been available for housing in Marylebone, and, indeed, still could be, if the policy of the L.C.C. on density were altered. I should like my right hon. Friend the Minister to take up this matter with the L.C.C. In St. Marylebone, we have places where valuable reconstruction could have been carried out, but which has been prevented because of this density ruling. Certain buildings could have been built higher without in any way spoiling amenities, but providing extra places for people where they want to live and near to their work. The L.C.C. policy on density has stopped that.

I suggest that in certain cases, particularly in my own constituency, in which we have the great spaces of Regent's Park, Primrose Hill, and so on, this density ruling should be reviewed. An alteration would make a small contribution, and I am not suggesting for a moment that it will be anything but a small contribution. I am not in a position to speak about the constituencies of other hon. Members, but it may well be that this L.C.C. ruling is preventing private building and possibly municipal building from going as high as it could do. Therefore, I suggest that because of the limitation of space in central London, the Minister should take up this matter with the L.C.C., with a view to that body reconsidering the whole question of density.

The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) referred to the overcrowding caused by coloured people coming into this country; and this raises a very serious problem. Is it right that so many of these coloured people and others from overseas should plant themselves in London when our own people, for reasons of lack of space, have inadequate housing? I know that housing is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend, but the question of the restriction into this country, and into London in particular, of people from overseas is the responsibility of others of his colleagues in the Government.

While London's housing difficulty exists—and it has been admitted in speeches from both sides of the Committee that it will be extremely difficult to resolve it—this continued influx of people from overseas must be studied, for there is a very sound reason for limiting it while this housing shortage continues.

Mr. A. Evans

Would the hon. Gentleman apply his limitation to the entry of coloured physicians and professional people, some of whom, although few, live in his constituency?

Sir W. Wakefield

There are some such people, for instance, students. I was merely drawing attenton to the point raised by the hon. Member for Bermondsey, that overcrowding was caused by an influx of people from overseas. I am suggesting that that influx might with advantage be limited, since that limitation would help towards a solution of the overcrowding problem, which is rightly causing anxiety on both sides of the Committee.

The hon. Member for Bermondsey said that it was unfair that the Labour Government should be criticised for not having built as many houses as did their successors, the Conservative Party. He said that after the war there was much repair work to be done. That is quite true, but after two or three years of repairs there was ample opportunity for houses to be built faster than was, in fact, the case. They did not go up faster because of the Socialist policy of controls, restriction and prevention.

When, at Blackpool, the Conservative Party called for 300,000 houses a year, hon. Gentlemen opposite sneered and said that that was just a pure hoodwinking of the electorate and that such a production was impossible, since they had been able to build only 200,000 houses. But the Conservative policy of freeing the builders and removing controls and restrictions resulted in a great development in building. That could have been achieved during the last year or two of Socialist administration. The Conservative Government's policy resulted in a great expansion of building and all kinds of activity, great advance and great progress which had not been made under Socialistic control and restrictions. I leave that thought with hon. Members opposite.

8.58 p.m.

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

Brevity is a difficult duty for all of us tonight. I will only associate myself with many of the arguments which have been made by my hon. Friends. However, I do want to refer to the general need subsidy, which is the most important contribution which the Minister could make tonight. It is absurd to suggest that slum clearance goes on any more quickly because local authorities are simultaneously deprived of their general need subsidies.

Whether people are living in slum conditions is not always a question of whether the building in which they are housed is technically a slum. There are hundreds of families in my constituency living in houses which are not in bad condition but which were intended for single- family occupation. They will never be scheduled as slums, but in those houses people are living in slum conditions because there is a family to every room, the baby having to be bathed on the table where a grammar schoolboy is trying to do his homework and the family washing having to dry over the heads of the parents trying to eat their supper. Those are things which make slums of people's lives. That in the heart of this great city in this nuclear age we have families living their lives in such utterly primitive conditions is a disgrace.

The Minister is responsible not only for housing but also for planning. Many complaints that we have to make tonight arise from the failure of the Government to deal imaginatively with the planning problems of Central London. At the end of the war there was a tremendous opportunity for bold and exciting developments. That has happened to a certain extent and the County of London plan was, in many ways, a splendid vision of what could be made of our capital city.

There are one or two ways in which the plan needs to be revised. This is a quinquennial year when the plan is due for revision, and I hope that the Minister will permit me to say that in the context of the London housing problem it is his urgent duty to look at the ways in which the plan could be altered to deal with the problem.

Not only has this terrible housing problem been unsolved in Central London, but the whole character of the Metropolis is being distorted. There has been too much emphasis on office and institutional building, and far too few people will be able to live in the centre of our great city. At the weekend one can go for a walk in pants of my constituency and just meet a cat and a caretaker and the rest of the area is like a graveyard.

Between 1921 and 1951 there was a drop of 50 per cent. in the residential population of Holborn, but the working population increased by 127 per cent. What we are doing in Central London is sending people to live further and further away from where they have to work and making it possible for fewer and fewer people to live near their work. I estimate that over 1 million people pour into the central area from outside every day at tremendous cost in wear and tear and human health and happiness.

Since the war the Minister has agreed to 40 million sq. ft. of new office building in the central area. In addition, he has given permission for 6 million sq. ft. of building that was previously residential to be used for offices. It is not enough for the L.C.C. or the Minister to adopt the policy of gentle persuasion to get builders to go outside London with their office blocks. I ask the Minister to put a stop to any more office building in the central area.

To stop office building in Central London would create no hardship. All round the central area one sees signs "Offices to let". We are in danger of over-building in the central area and we are putting an impossible strain on the transport services. Also, at every point at which an office block is erected people are deprived of the possibility of building houses for residential purposes.

The Minister may say that he is encouraging a new policy of mixed development and encouraging firms to include a few flats in the office blocks. That is happening in one or two developments in my constituency. What kind of rents are being asked for these flats? This development may be socially desirable in some way which I do not understand. This kind of accommodation may provide pieds-à-terre for the directors of the company in the offices below, but it will make no contribution to the housing problems of the people of Central London.

Not only do we think that too many new offices are being built in the central area, but there is another relevant abuse which I should like the Minister to deal with. It concerns houses which continue to be used as offices and could contribute literally hundreds of homes for our people. Every weekend when I go round beautiful squares like Bedford Square and Bloomsbury Square, which should be the village greens of central London, I find them deserted. I always think what a tragedy it is that the houses all round are shut up owing to the fact that they are used as offices. It is no good telling me that these houses are not suitable for residential occupation, because I live in one. I can assure the Minister that they can be readily converted into flats in which people will enjoy living.

This situation has arisen because many of the office users were in possession before the present legislation was passed and user rights were established. If someone has once misused a house I cannot see why that house must be misused in perpetuity. The misuse attaches not only to the original occupier; when he moves out a board is placed outside reading. "House to let as offices," and somebody else moves in to carry on the office use. In Doughty Street, which used to be a very pleasant residential street—indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summer-skill) was born there—I recently counted 60 business plates. Streets like Great James Street and John Street, famous old Bloomsbury streets, should be used for their rightful purpose. People should be living in them.

I know that this would need legislation, but it would be very simple legislation, which we should not oppose. The Uthwatt Committee recommended that non-conforming users should be set a time limit. That recommendation has never been carried out. Some of the streets that I have mentioned may be in areas scheduled for continued office use, but in many cases houses are being misused in areas scheduled for residential use. It would be a great help to the central area if the Minister could compile a register of non-conforming users and bring back some of these houses into residential use.

I now turn to the requisitioning problem. The Holborn Borough Council, whose members who are nearly all good friends of the Minister, has tried very hard to deal with the requisitioning problem in a way which will not embarrass him, but even if it has 100 per cent. success in its endeavours it will be left with over 100 families in March. In St. Pancras, where our affections for the Minister are a little less faithful, over 250 families will be left in March. There is no prospect of our dealing with them.

It is no use the Minister saying that we must use the accommodation that we shall be building in order to house these people. In 1959 we hope to build 466 units of accommodation, but our decants amount to 453. Next year we shall complete 582 units, but our de-cams will be 587. On most of our schemes we are now showing a net loss, so that our waiting list becomes more and more an unreality and a nightmare to those who have to administer it and do the pitiful arithmetic—pitiful in terms of human misery—involved in calculating the points for this or that disability or disadvantage.

The Minister has said that legislation would be needed to extend the date. I want to make what is a rather bold prophecy for a back bencher. I suggest that such legislation would not be opposed by my hon. and right hon. Friends. It would be welcomed. It is something which the Metropolitan Standing Joint Committee has asked for, and I hope that on this aspect of the problem at least the Minister will have something sympathetic and helpful to say.

The Temporary Chairman (Sir James Duncan)

In fairness to the Minister, I should like to make clear that if he answers that question he will be out of order.

9.10 p.m.

Sir Harold Webbe (Cities of London and Westminster)

This debate has been an extremely interesting one, though we have been a little tempted to inject into it too much politics.

The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), for whom we all have a high regard and a great affection, posed the problem of London housing not as a matter of figures and statistics, but as a great human problem. That, indeed, is what it is and must be to all of us, on whichever side of the House we sit. We are all familiar with the kind of case that the hon. Member described—the desperate case of people who come out and say, "What can I do?" Our answer nearly always has to be, "We really do not know." [HON. MEMBERS: "We know."] There are some extremely able people in this Committee who know the answer to most problems.

The fact is that the problem of housing in a great city like London is virtually insoluble, certainly within a considerable time. My own constituency, Westminster, is one in which, by its nature, there never have been, there are not and there never will be as many houses as people want. There is constant pressure on every bit of housing accommodation that ever could be erected in Westminster, however it is planned and however the accommodation is designed.

The fact that the problem is so difficult is, however, certainly no excuse for wasting time in talking about what one party did or the other party did not do. We must face the facts and face them honestly. I do not think that we get any nearer a solution by following the extremely attractive and interesting line of thought of the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. L. Jeger). It is a beautiful ideal, but the people of London have not only to live in houses; they have also to eat and earn their living.

London is a place not for people to inhabit. Primarily, it is the centre of the nation's, and, indeed, of the world's, commercial activities. We must have office space. When the hon. Lady says that there is any amount of office space to let, I assure her that she is completely wrong.

Mrs. Jeger

Come out with me.

Mr. Michael Cliffe (Shoreditch and Finsbury)

May I point out that I have thrown away the whole of the speech that I proposed to make had I been called, because my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. L. Jeger) has covered practically all of it? It is wrong to suggest that there are no vacant offices in, for example, Finsbury, whose loss in rates last year due to vacant offices represented 5 per cent. of its total rate income.

Sir H. Webbe

The hon. Lady was speaking about Central London. To me, that means the City and the West End. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] From the point of view of commerce and commercial users, that is the centre of London. It is no use anyone pretending otherwise.

The simple fact is that when offices are being rebuilt, as they have had to be since the war, we cannot put back offices of the same type as those which were knocked down. We cannot expect office staffs to work packed as tightly as they were before the war. They, too, must have improved conditions if they are to be efficient. That means, inevitably, that we must give more sq. ft. per person in the offices and because of increased traffic we have to take more sq. ft. of road space. Therefore, inevitably we must build higher, and at the very earliest moment replace office space which has been lost.

I would say a few words about the Rent Act. When it was before the House I had serious misgivings about what might be its effect and about troubles that might occur immediately it became law. I remember the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) asking the Minister what he proposed to do about the 20,000 evictions which were expected, and two months later asking the Minister what he meant to do about the 2,000 evictions which were expected. As a matter of fact, the Rent Act has come into force with infinitely less disturbance and trouble than any of us expected.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne) rose

Sir H. Webbe

I am sorry that I cannot give way I have only another two minutes to speak.

The effect of the Rent Act in my division has been greatly to improve premises. The amending Act ended the controversy about the type of landlord with whom we are all familiar and who, I feared, might take advantage of the original Act. There is now greater ease in obtaining accommodation.

In one respect the Rent Act has not produced the result for which we all hoped, which was that it would lead to exchange between the under-occupied and the over-occupied property. I suggest to the Minister that at every town hall should be a list open to public inspection and in regard to which the local authority need take no action or responsibility. People who wished to move from bigger flats to smaller or from smaller flats to bigger would put a simple advertisement on the list. There might be considerably more exchange in that way than there is at present. I know of under-occupied property that people cannot get out of because they cannot find a suitable exchange.

On the whole, the Rent Act has led to a considerable easing of the housing situation, certainly in Westminster, and I believe still more in other places. We shall see that process continued in the future. I sympathise with the Minister. Solution of this problem is not merely a matter of money but is a question of sites. If that were not so, why has the production of houses by the London County Council dropped steadily year by year while the grant was still available to the council?

9.19 p.m.

Mr. Niall MacDermot (Lewisham, North)

I am very sensible of the honour that has been done to me in asking me to wind up this debate on behalf of the Opposition in this distinguished place. I feel this all the more when I know that there are many hon. Members behind me who represent London constituencies and who have had a lifetime of experience and of specialised knowledge in this field.

I think we all agree, having heard some of the speeches today, that hon. Members have contributed to an extremely valuable and useful debate. London Members need have no hesitation in pressing their claims, as they have done, for a debate on the London housing situation. Those of us who represent London constituencies, and who, of course, are mostly on this side of the Committee, are well aware of what a continuing and distressing problem the housing situation is for so many thousands of our constituents.

I do not propose to deal with the general problem at any length. Nearly all hon. Members have stated today that this is a debate in which primarily one makes constituency speeches. I make no apology for doing the same, even though I am winding up the debate from our side, because the Lewisham borough, I think, is a typical one. Some of its problems may be greater than those of other boroughs in London, but they are the same problems about which we have been hearing from hon. Members representing other boroughs in London.

I want to deal particularly at first with the question referred to by so many hon. Members, the problems created by the derequisitioning of houses. As hon. Members will know, we in Lewisham recently have been having what I think the Prime Minister would call our "little local difficulties". I should make it clear at the outset that anything I have to say about the requisitioning problem in Lewisham is not in any sense a party matter. Throughout all the arguments and representations which the council has made to the Minister at no stage has any part of the Labour council's action been criticised by the Tory opposition on the council. There has not been a word of criticism from start to finish.

The history of the matter is this. Lewisham is the second largest borough in London and has a population approaching ¼ million. We have 63,000 houses. By that I mean real houses, not units of housing accommodation. Like all London boroughs, we suffered greatly from war damage during the war, but unlike some boroughs, such as Bermondsey, we did not suffer a wholesale destruction. The result was that we became a receiving area for great numbers of bombed-out people from other parts of London. There was very extensive bomb damage and I think that only 300 houses in the whole of Lewisham did not suffer bomb damage of some kind or other during the war. The houses were patched up and requisitoned and used by people bombed out of their homes.

At the peak period we had 2,888 requisitioned houses housing 4,472 families. At the end of March this year, a number of those requisitioned houses had been released to their owners and there remained only 727 properties housing 994 families. That is the hard core, a very substantial hard core, in Lewisham. To reach that figure, the council made throughout very real efforts to reduce the numbers. It did that by persuading owners where it could to accept tenants as statutory tenants, by trying to persuade tenants to look elsewhere for other accommodation if they could find it, by rehousing tenants in the council owned properties and by purchasing requisitioned or, as they are called, substitution houses.

By September of last year it became obvious to the council that it could not see its way to a solution of this problem by the date named in the Act, that is to say, by the end of March next year. Lewisham is not alone in that respect. There are thirteen boroughs in London which estimated at the beginning of this year that there would remain in total in those boroughs more than 3,500 families which they could not manage to rehouse by the termination date. That is the scope of the problem. If they had wanted, they could have acted like Westminster City Council and, as it were, "smoked them out" with notices to quit. That is what Westminster City Council did some years ago and frightened tenants into looking elsewhere for accommodation.

Other councils feel that it is their responsibility to try to rehouse these people and not merely get them out of the building, as it were, by the time that the derequisitioning date comes. A deputation from the council was received by the Minister last October asking, above all, for more time. The Minister rejected this out of hand, saying, and alleging, that the council had itself contributed to the problem by its failure to make a reasonable contribution from its own resources, and also that it had unduly high standards for the purchase of requisitioned and substitution houses. I should like to look at both arguments.

First, I will deal with the council's own contributions from relettings. During the period in question, May, 1955, to October, 1958, the council was able in all to allot housing accommodation to 1,159 families. That is from re-lettings and new properties. This is the breakdown of the figures: families coming from sites for redevelopment, including slum clearance, 358, or 31 per cent. of the total. I do not think that the Minister ever suggested that we ought to have cut down that figure. Secondly, on special committee instructions—these are court orders, people evicted because of the right hon. Gentleman's Rent Act, closing order cases, urgent medical cases, cases of gross overcrowding—cases which I do not think the Minister would suggest that the council should ignore—198 families were rehoused, representing 17 per cent. of the total. From the ordinary waiting list, under the ordinary points scheme, 141 families, or 12 per cent. of the total, and from the requisitioned houses, 462 families, or 40 per cent. of the total. The largest group, 40 per cent. of the whole, was from requisitioned houses.

Does the Minister say that the council has not been making a reasonable contribution from its own resources? What does he suggest that it ought to have cut down? Which are the ones which ought to have been left out of that list? Is the council to ignore completely demands on its ordinary waiting list?

Lewisham Borough Council is one of the councils that has not closed its list to fresh applicants, and during this period over 3,300 fresh applications were received by the borough council. The total list is now over 8,700 and of these more than 5,000 qualify for points by what is called bedroom-deficiency. We all know what this is—gross overcrowding, children sleeping in the same room as their parents, children over 11 sleeping with children of the opposite sex, and there are over 500 of these alone on the list. These are cases on the ordinary housing list, not special priority cases. Every London Member is, of course, familiar with cases of this sort. That is the tragic situation in which we find ourselves. We have young married couples imploring us to help them to find a solution to their housing problem. This is the sort of case to which no solution is to be found at the moment and which does not even qualify for the special priority treatment of which I am speaking.

Let me tell the Committee of one case which was brought to me not long ago. It was the case of a husband and wife with four children, all boys, aged 7, 4, 2 and 6 months living in two basement rooms. There was a very small living room and all slept in one bedroom. The two eldest boys slept across the bottom of their parents' bed because there was no place for another bed. The premises were damp and rat infested. The boy of four had had pneumonia three times and had a collapsed lung. I took the case up with three authorities. The Lewisham Borough Council said that as the family had not been resident in Lewisham for two years there was no prospect of Lewisham being able to rehouse them. The London County Council county medical officer regretted that he was unable to recommend preferential treatment from the very small pool of houses which he had for medical cases because he had so many other worse cases. The borough from which the family came agreed that the facts were as I stated, that the family qualified very highly on the points scheme, but for the foreseeable future it could not say when it would be able to rehouse them, though it hoped to do so before long. It hopes to be able to rehouse them before long.

This is the kind of case on the ordinary housing list, and for such cases there is no subsidy. These are the cases which, apparently, the Minister considers that the council should push still further back in order to help to rehouse people who are in requisitioned houses which have been returned to their owners. We all know that the owners of these derequisitioned houses will be able to resell them on present market value at a considerable profit.

To continue the story, in October, 1958, the Lewisham Borough Council warned the Minister that it did not see how it could make any further allocation from its own resources for this purpose. In fact, since then it has done better than it thought it would. Up to 31st May fast, it has managed to rehouse thirty-two more families from requisitioned houses within its own resources. Only nine families have been rehoused under the ordinary points scheme.

I turn to the Minister's other solution—that of purchase. We on this side of the House are all delighted to see the Minister's eleventh-hour conversion to the conception of public ownership and municipal ownership of housing as a means of helping to solve London's housing problem. In answer to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) the other day the Minister said that up to 31st March last he had approved loan sanction for no fewer that 2,255 purchases of requisitioned or substitution houses in London. We know from the pressure which he is bringing to bear on local authorities that that number will be considerably increased by 31st March next year. We only hope that the Tory propaganda Press will not be slow to point out the effect of the Minister's adoption of our policies of municipalisation in helping to solve London's housing problem.

The Minister's complaint against the Lewisham Borough Council, and I have no doubt that it is made against others, is that our standards are too high in the kind of house which the council is ready to purchase. Our complaint against the Minister is that he has been trying to compel the council to buy sub-standard housing and has been bringing improper pressure to bear to achieve that object by a wrong use of the grant formula under Section 11 of the 1955 Act.

Let me explain the point briefly. Under Section 11 the Minister has power to grant for a period of twenty years up to 75 per cent. of the estimated annual deficit on any property which is purchased. The Minister has laid down a grant formula by which, by complicated calculation, is worked out a notional income and notional expenditure on the property, often bearing little relation to what will be the facts. The Minister originally laid it down that no grant at all was to be payable if the total deficit were over £100 per annum.

In Lewisham we have a very high percentage of nineteenth century properties which are very large properties and which would not qualify for purchase under that limitation. The Lewisham Borough Council decided not to be bullied in this matter and made it clear to the Minister that, irrespective of the grant formula, it would go ahead and buy the kind of house which it felt was the right kind to buy for the solution of its problem. It made it clear that it would not be halted by the Minister's formula. Under pressure, the Minister eventually increased the total limit to £150 instead of £100, of which 75 per cent. is payable where the property falls within the Minister's grant formula. If, under this formula, the deficit is estimated to be more than £150, it is not merely that the Minister is not prepared to increase the maximum. The council receives nothing at all. This is the kind of way in which we consider that the Minister is wrongly applying the powers given to him under Section 11.

Following this meeting with the Minister, the council reviewed the cases in which it had rejected houses and decided not to purchase them. The council still considered that many of the houses were not suitable or right for it to buy. It sent fifteen examples to the Minister of the kind of properties, with reports on them, and asked the Minister whether he seriously was suggesting that the council ought to buy houses of that kind. The kind of defects in them were defects of structural movement, bulging brickwork, sloping floors, derelict basements, sagging roofs, rising and penetrating damp, wet and dry rot, woodworm, lack of sanitary amenities and defective drains. Otherwise they were all right! The reply from the Ministry did not answer the question. It said: it is for the Council … to decide whether any particular property in their area is suitable. Then came a choice comment: But the prime object now must be to give families security of tenure. Those words might make a suitable epitaph for the present Minister of Housing. The letter went on to point out that the houses did not seem to be so bad that they could be said under the Housing Acts to be unfit for human habitation and, in those circumstances, provided that they complied with the grant formula, the Minister would be prepared to approve them for grants.

We consider that that is not the right way in which to approach the problem. Certainly local authorities have responsibilities for trying to take into their control bad housing and, by repairing and reconditioning it, place it at the disposal of people who have these great housing needs. Another difficulty which the Minister has put in the way of local authorities is that the amounts available to them for repairing properties of the kind I have been describing are calculated by formulae which are less generous to local authorities than the 2 (1, b) claims payable to owners when their houses are returned to them on release from requisition.

To conclude on this problem, I ask the Minister, first, to give further consideration to the question of the date of the end of March. In view of what has been said by so many hon. Members on both sides of the Committee today, I ask the Minister to think again about that. Secondly, the Minister should give more time to local authorities for repairs. At present, they have to embark on their repairs within twelve months of that date to qualify for a grant. Thirdly, I ask the Minister to think again about temporary bungalows on open spaces. When we have problems of the kind described today, it is a little illogical to be in such haste to take down these temporary bungalows when we are bending every nerve to try to patch up houses in far worse condition.

In the last remaining minute, I turn to one other aspect which has been mentioned today, namely, the Rent Act. I am afraid that I have not time, as I would have liked, to comment upon the effects of the Rent Act as we London Members know it in its operation. I want to ask the Minister one question. He has been asked it several times and he has not answered it yet. Everyone in London wants to know the answer in its application to London. In the event of the Conservative Party being returned to power again, what is their policy about future measures of decontrol? We know what their policy is, because it was stated by the Minister of Defence, when he was Minister of Housing, at the Llandudno Party Conference in 1956—"Our Conservative aim is the total abolition of rent control."

During the Rent Act debate the Minister of Housing said that they would never decontrol properties except of a certain standard, and in areas where there was no longer a housing shortage. He thought that there was not a housing shortage in properties of a rateable value of £40. He was found wrong and, in spite of his obstinacy, he had to give way over the 1948 Act.

We know the amount of suffering caused by these decontrol provisions. What the House wants to know—and, much more, what the population of London wants to know—is whether the Minister is prepared to give an undertaking that, certainly for the next five years, he will not contemplate any decontrol provisions being extended in London. Unless he is so prepared, the House will know, and the country will know, that the Conservative Party is determined to continue its policy of inflicting hardship in order to benefit landlords and property companies.

9.41 p.m.

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

I know that both sides of the Committee have appreciated the force and sincerity with which the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. MacDermot) and his hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) have spoken. The hon. Member for Bermondsey opened the debate with a hard-hitting speech. I make no complaint of that, for what good would any of us be on either side of the Committee if we did not speak forcefully when we believe what we say?

The hon. Member for Bermondsey seemed for a moment to have supposed that in my speech a week ago I had questioned the right of the Opposition to raise the subject of housing. Not for one moment would I question that. What I questioned was their right, in view of their own housing record, to criticise what we had done. For my part, I welcome this debate on London housing, because I share with other hon. Members the view that the London housing shortage is a serious one, and one that we should debate here. It was the Opposition, not the Government, that asked that the debate should be confined to half a day.

We listened, later in the debate, to an admirable speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead) —

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

I have taken no part in the debate, but the Minister's remark might be open to misconstruction. The position is that the Opposition, by convention, have a certain amount of time. Had we an indefinite amount of time, or were the Government willing to give it, we should be very willing to debate London's housing, or other housing, for much longer.

Mr. Brooke

I have not very much time myself, and I should like to proceed with what I have to say.

My hon. Friend the Member for Putney said that we had still to solve the hard core of the housing problem in London. I wholly agree with him. The slum clearance problem here is small in comparison with that which exists in the great provincial cities. In fact, the survey that was carried out in 1954 and 1955, at the request of my right hon. Friend the present Prime Minister, showed only 44,000 houses in the whole of Greater London estimated to be unfit for human habitation. Of those, no fewer than 17,000 have already, in this comparatively short time, been cleared or demolished. My own view is that the local authorities' estimate of 20,000 unfit houses in the County of London was an underestimate. I believe that when those have been cleared there will be more to tackle.

There has been, however, a sort of undercurrent of suggestion from the Opposition that we are concentrating too much on slum clearance and that it would be better to build for general needs and let the slums continue. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That was the implication of many of the arguments used. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] What I would point out is that if we were to build for general needs on the available sites within London we should be destroying the elbow room needed for slum clearance.

As all hon. Members must know, very seldom in London can one carry out a slum clearance scheme and rehouse all the people on the site itself. If all the sites are to be built on for general needs we shall bring slum clearance to a stop. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Putney that we need a slum clearance crusade in London and elsewhere until we have finished the job.

Let me turn to the question of requisitioned houses. Your predecessor, Sir Gordon, ruled that I could not answer the questions put to me as to what was to happen after 31st March, 1960, because, as the Committee knows, that final date is in an Act of Parliament and on a Supply Day we cannot discuss amendments of the law. What I want to put on record is that the Metropolitan borough councils themselves estimate that by that date 13 out of every 14 requisitioned houses which they took over in 1955 will have been dealt with. Indeed, their estimate, when they came to see me a little time ago, was that there would be only 2,000 properties, comprising about 3,500 dwellings, which would not by then have been dealt with.

I suggested—and I am sure I was right—that by one final effort in the remaining months it ought to be possible to finish the job. If there are any local authorities in the London area which have not finished this job of dealing with their requisitioned properties it will be because those particular borough councils did not start it early enough and did not take it seriously enough.

For my part, I believe that Parliament should claim credit for seeking to bring, fifteen years after the end of the war, the requisitioning of properties to an end. I do not conceive that there is any solution to this serious problem simply by extending the date. We must tackle derequisitioning and settle it once for all.

The main housing problem in London, as I conceive it—and I have been a London Member for a good many years—is overcrowding. Here we are up against the grave difficulty of enforcing the measures that are on the Statute Book against overcrowding. The reason is, of course, that if there is not enough room for everybody, and one tries to eliminate overcrowding in one house, one may only be creating it in another. It is significant that since the end of the war Governments have been aware of practically no pressure from the local authorities in London that there should be a fresh drive against overcrowding, or that all the provisions against overcrowding should be enforced. Indeed, I know that some local authorities are aware of the very real danger of stimulating overcrowding, when it became known that if there were serious overcrowding in a particular house that might give the occupants of that house, as it were, artificial priority to get a council flat.

These things are very difficult, and I think my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) illustrated most acutely how hard it would be to enforce the overcrowding provisions. As he pointed out—and one finds it not only in his constituency—there is overcrowding in houses owned by the London County Council; and there again, it seems that there is no apparent solution, because the London County Council will not take responsibility for decrowding the houses and, as he said, borough councils like his own find it almost impossible to do so.

I do not wish to speak at length on the question of coloured immigrants. This is not the occasion to do so, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) realises that questions such as he raised go far beyond my responsibilities. I feel certain that the whole Committee will appreciate the inherent difficulties of dealing with this matter of overcrowding in houses occupied by coloured people. If one were to give coloured people a special priority on the housing list, nothing would be more likely to stir up racial feeling.

Personally, I give great credit, to, so far as I know, all the London local authorities for making no differentiation according to colour in discharging their housing responsibilities. Certainly, wherever slum clearance is going on, white and coloured people are rehoused on terms of absolute equality. We must all give very serious thought to how we can tackle, as soon as we can, the problem of overcrowding in London, because it is this, I believe, which is at the root of the housing problem.

Several hon. Members opposite, including the hon. Member for Bermondsey, argued as though local authorities in London were handicapped primarily by financial difficulties. I agree much more strongly with my hon. Friend the Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Sir H. Webbe) that this is not a question of money, but a question of sites. The general need subsidy has been abolished, but there remain the subsidy for slum clearance, the subsidy for rehousing old people, the subsidy in respect of expensive sites, and the subsidy in respect of high flats. If the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) cares to send me any particulars of cases where he thinks my Department has forced false economies on a local authority, I shall be very glad to look into them.

No hon. Member, I think, has recalled the fact that, in the Housing Act, there is a discretionary subsidy which any local authority can claim if it finds itself unable to discharge its statutory housing duties except at the cost of putting up the rents excessively or putting up the rates excessively. I am not aware that any application from any London local authority has been received for that discretionary subsidy. It is being paid to about 40 authorities outside London.

I must say, in passing, that there are some local authorities which could make a contribution to the solution of the housing problems of London if they would further revise their rent policies. There are still many older flats in which there are living, at comparatively low rents, people who could well afford to pay more. In a case like that, if the local authority refuses to look again at its rent policy, it is inflicting cruelty on the people on its own housing list.

Planning questions have been raised. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. L. Jeger), described the County of London plan as a splendid vision. The plan, when it was approved by my predecessor in 1956, was amended by him in the directions which various hon. Members opposite have pleaded for today. The Socialist-controlled London County Council sought to allocate a larger amount of land in London for industrial and commercial purposes than my right hon. Friend, who is now the Minister of Defence, was prepared to approve. Also, he wrote into the London plan further protection against the alienation of residential property to other uses. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South, asked me to put a stop to any further office development.

These questions are really questions, in the first instance, for the London County Council. The 1947 Act, which her party put on the Statute Book, placed on the planning authority the duty of making recommendations to the Minister and putting up its proposals. It would be quite wrong for me to bring pressure to bear on the London County Council either about the way in which it should seek to amend the plan next time, or about any changes in densities it should recommend. These are matters which must come up from the planning authority to me. Then, I, having ordered a public inquiry if need be, must reach my decisions in the light of all the facts. If the London County Council, when the time comes—it will be next year—recommends density changes, then I certainly will carefully consider them on their merits.

Hardly any hon. Member tonight, curiously enough, has mentioned the question of new towns. In fact, the eight new towns round London are providing very considerable relief for London's housing needs. Because we have a New Towns Bill before the House, some people imagine that the new towns' building is almost at an end. That is not so. There are about 35,000 more flats and houses remaining to be built during the development of the eight new towns round London alone.

The Town Development Act is also making its contribution. In firm schemes agreed under the Town Development Act there are 23,000 houses to be built for Londoners. If one includes other schemes which are not so firm, but are foreseeable, the figure rises to 35,000.

I have told the London County Council that I am willing, in principle, that it should build a new town if a site can be found, but the truth is that, as we have already found eight sites for new towns, it is not easy to find more. One cannot put a new town anywhere. New towns will fail unless industry goes out to them. Great help could be given to the easing of the London housing problem if other London industrialists would look into the experience of those industrialists who have moved out to new towns or expanded towns.

Almost without exception, they are delighted with the effects of their move. If other industries would also go out, that would greatly relieve the housing problem. I will take note of the suggestion by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South about seeking means of helping Londoners to find a job and a house in a new area.

I have tried in a short time—I did not want to cut into the debate—to put the main facts of the problem on record. The total provision for Londoners is being made at present at the rate of about 35,000 new houses and flats a year. It has been above 40,000 in only three years since the war—1953, 1954 and

1955. After that, the shortage of sites began to take effect. There are at the moment 41,000 houses under construction for the benefit of Londoners.

I have compared the numbers of houses built for Londoners inside and outside London. In 1951–1958, as compared with 1945–1951, the number has risen by about 60 per cent. That does not look like the Government failing in their duty. Between 1957 and 1958 the population of the County of London fell by just on 30,000, and between 1951 and 1958 the population of Greater London fell by 126,000. In that period the net increase of houses in London and Greater London was 204,000, so that the Government are doing their job.

Mr. Mellish

As the vast bulk of Londoners on housing waiting lists get no satisfaction from the right hon. Gentleman's speech, 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 172, Noes 218.

Division No. 149.] AYES [9.59 p.m.
Ainsley, J. W. Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Kenyon, C.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Fitch, A. E. (Wigan) Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Forman, J. C. King, Dr. H. M.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Lawson, G. M.
Awbery, S. S. George, Lady Megan Lloyd (Car'then) Ledger, R. J.
Bacon, Miss Alice Gibson, C. W. Lee, Frederick (Newton)
Baird, J. Gooch, E. G. Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)
Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S. E.) Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C. Lewis, Arthur
Benson, Sir George Greenwood, Anthony Lipton, Marcus
Beswick, Frank Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) McAlister, Mrs. Mary
Blackburn, F. Hale, Leslie MacColl, J. E.
Blenkinsop, A. Hamilton, W. W. MacDermot, Niall
Blyton, W. R. Hannan, W. McInnes, J.
Boardman, H. Hastings, S. McKay, John (Wallsend)
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Hayman, F. H. Mallalieu E. L. (Brigg)
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S. W.) Healey, Denis Mayhew, C. P.
Boyd, T. C. Herbison, Miss M. Mellish, R. J.
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Hilton, A. V. Mendelson, J. J.
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Hobson, C. R. (Keighley) Messer, Sir F.
Burton, Miss F. E. Holman, P. Mikardo, Ian
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Holmes, Horace Mitchison, G. R.
Callaghan, L. J. Houghton, Douglas Moody, A. S.
Chapman, W. D. Hoy, J. H. Morrison, Rt. Hn. Herbert (Lewis'm, S.)
Cliffe, Michael Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Moyle, A.
Clunie, J. Hunter, A. E. Mulley, F. W.
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Hynd, H. (Accrington) Neal, Harold (Bolsover)
Crossman, R. H. S. Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)
Cullen, Mrs. A. Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon P. (Derby, S.)
Davies, Harold (Leek) Irving, Sydney (Dartford) O'Brien, Sir Thomas
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Oram, A. E.
Deer, G. Janner, B. Orbach, M.
de Freitas, Geoffrey Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T. Owen, W. J.
Delargy, H. J. Jeger, George (Goole) Padley, W. E.
Diamond, John Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St. Pncs, S.) Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)
Dodds, N. N. Jenkins, Roy (Stechford) Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)
Donnelly, D. L. Johnson, James (Rugby) Palmer, A. M. F.
Dugdale, Rt. Hn John (W. Brmwch) Johnston, Douglas (Paisley) Pargiter, G. A.
Ede, Rt. Hon J. C. Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech (Wakefield) Parker, J.
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Jones, Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Parkin, B. T.
Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Paton, John
Peart, T. F. Silverman, Sydney (Nelson) Tomney, F.
Pentland, N. Skeffington, A. M. Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Plummer, Sir Leslie Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.) Viant, S. P.
Popplewell, E. Slater, J. (Sedgefield) Warbey, W. N.
Price, J. T. (Westhoughton) Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.) Weitzman, D.
Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.) Snow, J. W. Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Probert, A. R. Sorensen, R. W. White, Mrs. Eirene (E, Flint)
Proctor, W. T. Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank White, Henry (Derbyshire, N. E.)
Purser, Cmdr. H. Steele, T. Willey, Frederick
Randall, H. E. Stewart, Michael (Fulham) Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Ab'tillery)
Rankin, John Storehouse, John Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)
Redhead, E. C. Stones, W. (Consett) Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)
Reid, William Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.) Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)
Reynolds, G. W. Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E. Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.) Sylvester, G. O. Woof, R. E.
Ross, William Thomas, George (Cardiff) Yates, V. (Ladywood)
Short, E. W. Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)
Silverman, Julius (Aston) Thornton, E. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Mr. Pearson and Mr. Simmons.
Agnew, Sir Peter du Cann, E. D. L. Leather, E. H. C.
Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.) Elliott, R. W. (Ne'castle upon Tyne, N.) Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.) Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T.
Arbuthnot, John Errington, Sir Eric Lindsay, Martin (Sollhull)
Armstrong, C. W. Farey-Jones, F. W. Linstead, Sir H. N.
Ashton, Sir Hubert Fell, A. Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)
Astor, Hon. J. J. Finlay, Graeme Longden, Gilbert
Atkins, H. E. Fisher, Nigel Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick)
Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M. Foster, John Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh
Baldwin, Sir Archer Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone) McAdden, S. J.
Barber, Anthony Freeth, Denzil McLaughlin, Mrs. P.
Barlow, Sir John Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D. Maclay, Rt. Hon. John
Barter, John Gammans, Lady Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)
Batsford, Brian Garner-Evans, E. H. Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)
Baxter, Sir Beverley Gibson-Watt, D. Maddan, Martin
Beamish, Col. Tufton Glover, D. Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark)
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Glyn, Col. Richard H. Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.
Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) Godber, J. B. Markham, Major Sir Frank
Bennett, F. M. (Torquay) Goodhart, Philip Marlowe, A. A. H.
Bidgood, J. C. Graham, Sir Fergus Marples, Rt. Hon. A. E.
Biggs-Davison, J. A. Grant, Rt. Hon. W. (Woodside) Mathew, R.
Bingham, R. M. Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich) Mawby, R. L.
Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Green, A. Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.
Bishop, F. P. Grimond, J. Medlicott, Sir Frank
Black, Sir Cyril Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans) Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.
Body, R. F. Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G. Morrison, John (Salisbury)
Bonham Carter, Mark Gurden, Harold Nabarro, G. D. N.
Bossom, Sir Alfred Hall, John (Wycombe) Nairn, D. L. S.
Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan) Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.) Neave, Airey
Boyle, Sir Edward Harris, Reader (Heston) Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'tti, E. & Chr'ch)
Braine, B. R. Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon) Noble, Comdr. Rt. Hon. Sir Allan
Brewis, John Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Oakshott, Sir Hendrie
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H. Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd) O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Orr-Ewing, C. Ian (Hendon, N.)
Brooman-White, R. C. Harvie-Watt, Sir George Osborne, C.
Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton) Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Page, R. G.
Bullus, Wing Commander E. E. Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G. Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)
Burden, F. F. A. Henderson-Stewart, Sir James Partridge, E.
Butcher, Sir Herbert Hesketh, R. F. Peel, W. J.
Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden) Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W. Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth
Campbell, Sir David Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton) Pike, Miss Mervyn
Carr, Robert Hill, John (S. Norfolk) Pott, H. P.
Channon, H. P. G. Hobson, John (Warwick & Leam'gt'n) Powell, J. Enoch
Chichester-Clarke, R. Hope, Lord John Price, David (Eastleigh)
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.) Hornby, R. P. Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)
Cole, Norman Horobin, Sir Ian Profumo, J. D.
Conant, Maj. Sir Roger Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence Ramsden, J. E.
Cooke, Robert Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire) Rawlinson, Peter
Cooper-Key, E. M. Howard, John (Test) Redmayne, M.
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J. Rees-Davies, W. R.
Corfield, F. V. Hughes-Young, M. H. C. Ridsdale, J. E.
Courtney, Cdr. Anthony Hurd, Sir Anthony Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Hutchison, Michael Clark (E'b'gh, S.) Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Crosthwaite-Eyre. Col. O. E. Iremonger, T. L. Sharples, R. C.
Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)
Cunningham, Knox Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Currie, G. B. H. Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)
Dance, J. C. C. Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Spearman, Sir Alexander
D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Speir, R. M.
Deedes, W. F. Keegan, D. Spence, H. R. (Aberdeen, W.)
Dodds-Parker, A. D. Kerr, Sir Hamilton Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA. Kershaw, J. A. Stevens, Geoffrey
Doughty, C. J. A. Kirk, P. M. Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)
Drayson, G. B. Lagden, G. W. Storey, S.
Studholme, Sir Henry Tilney, John (Wavertree) Whitelaw, W. S. I.
Summers Sir Spencer Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H. Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington) Vane, W. M. F. Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne) Vaughan-Morgan, J. K. Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Teeling, W. Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.) Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Temple, John M. Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone) Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury) Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Derek
Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway) Ward, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Worcester) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Thompson, R. (Croydon, S.) Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth) Mr. Legh and Mr. Bryan.
Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.) Webbe, Sir H.

Original Question again proposed

It being after Ten o'clock, THE CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.