§ Mr. McInnes
I beg to move, in page 15, line 43, to leave out "ten" and to insert "fifteen".
The Bill amends existing Scottish housing legislation, including Section 114 (1) of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1950. That Section lays down certain conditions which have to be observed in respect of financial assistance by way of improvement grant. I do not propose to enumerate the conditions laid down in that Section. The main alteration is that Section 114 provides for a period of twenty years whereas the Bill reduces that period to ten years.
The conditions provide that a dwelling-houseshall not be used for purposes other than those of a private dwelling-houseand thatthe dwelling shall not be occupied except by the owner thereof or a tenant.Other conditions laid down relate to the rent and the proper maintenance of the dwelling-house. The important point is that these conditions have to be observed for twenty years, while the Bill seeks to reduce the period to ten years.
During the Committee stage we endeavoured to have the period put back to twenty years, but the Joint Under-Secretary of State met the arguments which we advanced by indicating what I will quote 1361 from the proceedings in Committee on 18th February. He said:One of the conditions of the standard grant is that after the work has been done a dwelling shall last for no less than fifteen years.In other words, after improvements have been given effect to, it is a condition that the dwelling shall last for a period of not less than fifteen years. The Joint Under-Secretary of State proceeded to argue hat it was illogical on our partto attach conditions to the grant which continue for twenty years."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th February, 1959: Vol. 600, c. 477.]In the Amendment we suggest that the period should be fifteen instead of ten years. We suggest fifteen years for the simple reason that not only do we now meet the arguments adduced by the Joint Under-Secretary, but we bring the matter into line in relation to the conditions of the standard grant itself. In other words, the standard grant is for a period of fifteen years and the conditions we seek to impose after approval has been given to the standard grant will also be fifteen years.
I assume that, as we have conceded the point to the Joint Under-Secretary of State, the Solicitor-General for Scotland will now be disposed to accept our Amendment. Or will he? After witnessing his performance during our proceedings today, I have come to the conclusion that he came here, not to give consideration to the merits of the Amendments we have proposed, but with a blank mind and a definite intention to turn them down without rhyme, reason or logic. On many Amendments this afternoon he has had absolutely no case. He is himself fully conscious of that. Now I am proposing one which meets the desire of his hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary and fulfils the requirements he thought necessary.
I should remind the Solicitor-General that public money is involved in this matter and where public money is involved we are justified in laying down certain conditions which have to be observed to put the matter on a proper and sensible basis. I move the Amendment in the very faint hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will now see his way to accept it.
§ The Solicitor-General for Scotland
I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes), but I do not think that that will be entirely unexpected. I do not think his deductions from what my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary said, as reported in column 477 of the OFFICIAL REPORT Of 18th February, are entirely accurate, because my hon. Friend also said:… we have suggested a period of ten years for exactly the same reasons as those which led to the use of ten years in the English legislation. We want as much improvement as we can get, and we think that ten years is the right period and that twenty years acts as a deterrent, since such a period is too long."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th February, 1959; Vol. 600, c. 477.]Then the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) brought in the question of fifteen years. It is clear that my right hon. Friend stated that he regarded ten years as the appropriate period. We do not like necessarily to follow England and we are not doing so, but it would be unfair if an applicant for a grant in Scotland were in a worse position than an applicant south of the Border.
Surely the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not intend at this late hour to attempt to induce us along the line that Scottish people will be worse off than English or vice versa. He knows that Scottish housing legislation has always been entirely different from that south of the Border, in respect of subsidies and indeed in respect of all aspects of housing legislation. There is no reason that we should slavishly follow England's bad example on this occasion.
§ The Solicitor-General for Scotland
I am not following England's example, good or bad. I appreciate that Scottish housing legislation has been very different from that in England. I appreciate that we do very much better out of subsidies than do people south of the Border. Why should we not do just as well out of this provision? Why should the applicant and the tenant in Scotland be in a worse position than the applicant and the tenant in England?
The period is a matter of judgment. We could argue until the cows come home about it. For obvious reasons we 1363 have to fix a certain period and the question is, how long? Ten years seems to us to be a fair period. As far as I know, it has worked in England, and I believe that it will help in Scotland if we stick to ten years and do not accept the compromise of fifteen years.
§ Mr. Willis
That was a very disappointing reply, although I am bound to say that it was a little better than the two previous replies from the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He forgets that in Scotland we also have a reputation for being careful with public money and for looking at the public money we spend much more carefully than is done in England. My experience on the Estimates Committees over the ten years is that we are far more careful administrators than are the English. I think that that is to our credit. I am not blaming anyone. It is a different national attitude.
§ Mr. Willis
I should be out of order if I began to deal with the reports of the various Estimates Committees. I am dealing with the Amendment and in doing so am pointing out that we have a reputation for handling public money with care.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
When my hon. Friend says that they are more careful than we are, does he include himself?
§ Mr. Willis
In these circumstances, yes. On the other hand, on Saturday I shall be supporting Norwich City.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) will recollect, when we originally discussed this issue we increased the period from ten years. That was done when it was introduced in 1949, as a result of a fairly long discussion in the Scottish Grand Committee. At that time, we thought that ten years was a very short life for a house. If we were spending large sums of public money upon it, we felt that we ought to have a longer period and that we ought to have some guarantee that the public money that was being spent would provide good accommodation for longer than ten years.
1364 8.45 p.m.
After all, these works are, by and large, fairly expensive works. They are large improvement works, not simply the putting in a kitchen sink or something of that character. The type of improvement that we visualised in Scotland, for instance, in Glasgow or Edinburgh, was the taking over of blocks of tenement property, wiping out a certain number of houses and the rebuilding of them in order to provide fewer houses. This is fairly expensive work, and we felt at that time—and the Conservative Party was also of the same opinion at that time—that if we were to do all this, we ought to have some guarantee that it would last for a reasonable period.
The suggestion was made and adopted at that time that the period should be twenty years. I am quite prepared to accept that at this time of day it might seem to be rather too long, but I am not altogether certain about that. After all, fifteen years is not a very long time in the life of a house, but, even if that were so, why the sudden drop to ten years?
§ Mr. Willis
The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that they do this in England, but that is no reason why we should do the same as is done in England. We want to legislate in accordance with our own conditions, not in accordance with conditions south of the Border. I should have thought that ten years was a very short period of time when we are embarking upon the fairly large expenditure of public money, and that we ought to look to a rather longer return for that money than ten years.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman did not provide us with any examples of how this provision for twenty years was holding up work in Scotland. It would have been far more effective if the right hon. and learned Gentleman could have said, "We have a large number of cases, from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen, where work is being held up because of this provision," but that is just not true. Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman any case in mind in which the work has been held up because the period has been too long? I will sit down in order that he may tell us.
§ The Solicitor-General for Scotland
I cannot give the hon. Member precise examples, because this is not my Departmental side. I can only say that twenty years has been a deterrent, and obviously it is. People are unwilling to embark on something which ties them up under rather stringent conditions for a period of twenty years.
§ Mr. Willis
The right hon and learned Gentleman may not have the information, but he has two Joint Under-Secretaries behind him who could come to the Box and give the information, instead of which he says, "I have no information; I have no cases to give the hon. Member, but I understand—"and so on. We can understand whatever we like, and I am rather inclined to think that he simply understands this because the English have done it. There has surely been no demand for it from Scotland, and I cannot say—I do not know about my hon. Friends—that I remember any local authority association asking for the period to be shortened. Has the County Councils Association asked, and what did it ask for? I do not know, but I certainly have received no representations. Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman received any representations?
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is most unhelpful at the Box. He rarely has any information to give us, and rarely answers arguments which we put forward. He expects us to accept what he puts forward as a sort of opinion. That is not good enough for a Minister, and I am quite sure that he would not treat the Court of Session in Edinburgh in that fashion. I am sure that he would not appear before judges in Edinburgh in the same slapdash manner that he adopts here. He could give us a much better answer than we have had up to now and which we do not accept.
§ intend to say anything more on this Amendment. I understand his difficulty resulting from the illness of his colleagues in the Scottish Office, but it would have been very simple for him to have found out the basic reasons for the Government not wishing to accept the Amendment. He has told us that it was thought that ten years was the appropriate period, but we have been given no reason for that.
§ At another time, he described the ten years as a fair period, but, again, no reasons were adduced for that statement. He told us that he did not want Scotland to be worse off than South of the Border. Who was it in Scotland that he did not want to be worse off?
§ Miss Herbison
We do not accept it. On a previous Amendment the right hon. and learned Gentleman asked me about sanitary defects, and so on. We feel that when public money is being given, the most careful safeguards should be put on it. It was only after very serious consideration during the passage of the 1950 Act that it was decided that the period should be twenty years. That was not inserted just by Government spokesmen saying that this or that was appropriate. It was well argued, and reasons were adduced for making it a period of twenty years.
The Joint Under-Secretary said that we were better off on subsidies in Scotland than was the case south of the Border. That is a strange claim to be made by any Scottish Minister, because we are very much worse off in that respect than we were in 1951. We have had no satisfaction at all on this Amendment, and we must put it to the vote.
§ Question put, That "ten" stand part of the Bill:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 194, Noes 155.1369
|Division No. 63.]||AYES||[8.55 p.m.|
|Aitken, W. T.||Batsford, Brian||Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)|
|Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Beamish, Col. Tufton||Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William||Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Brooman-White, R. C.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Bryan, P.|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Bingham, R. M.||Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.|
|Ashton, H.||Bishop, F. P.||Butcher, Sir Herbert|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||Black, Sir Cyril||Cary, Sir Robert|
|Baldwin, Sir Archer||Body, R. F.||Channon, H. P. G.|
|Balniel, Lord||Bowen, E. R. (Cardigan)||Chichester-Clark, R.|
|Barber, Anthony||Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Clarke, Brig, Terence (Portsmth, W.)|
|Barlow, Sir John||Braine, B. R.||Cole, Norman|
|Cooke, Robert||Hughes-Young, M. H. C.||Pitman, I. J.|
|Corfield, F. V.||Hurd, Sir Anthony||Pitt, Miss E. M.|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Hutchison, Michael Clark (E'b'gh, S.)||Pott, H. P.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark(E'b'gh, W.)||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Hylton-Foster. Rt. Hon. Sir Harry||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.|
|Crowder, Petre (Ruisllp—Northwood)||Iremonger, T. L.||Profumo, J. D.|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Ramsden, J. E.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Rawlinson, Peter|
|Deedes, W. F.||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Redmayne, M.|
|Digby, simon wingfield||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Remnant, Hon. P.|
|Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Kerr, Sir Hamilton||Ridsdale, J. E.|
|Doughty, C. J. A.||Kimball, M.||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Drayson, G. B.||Leather, E. H. c.||Robson, Brown, Sir William|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond)||Leavey, J A.||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Duncan, Sir James||Leburn, W. G.||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Elliott, R. W. (Ne'castle upon Tyne, N.)||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Errington, Sir Eric||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Russell, R. S.|
|Farey-Jones, F. W.||Lindsay, Hon, James (Devon, N.)||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.|
|Fell, A.||Lindsay, Martin (Solihull)||Scott-Miller, Comdr. R.|
|Finlay Graeme||Linstead, Sir H. N.||Sharples, R. C.|
|Fisher, Nigal||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.||Longden, Gilbert||Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)|
|Gammans, Lady||Loveys, Walter H.||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Garner-Evans, E. H.||Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby||Speir, R. M.|
|Gibson-Watt, D.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)|
|Glover, D.||Macdonald, Sir Peter||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Glyn, Col. Richard H.||McLaughlin, Mrs. P.||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Godber J. B||McLean, Nell (Inverness)||Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)|
|Goodhart, Philip||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||Storey, S.|
|Grant, Rt. Hon. W. (Woodside)||Maddan, Martin||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)||Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)||Teeling, W.|
|Green, A.||Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark)||Temple, John M.|
|Grimond, J.||Markham, Major Sir Frank||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Marshall, Douglas||Thompson, R. (Croydon, S.)|
|Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||Mathew, R.||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|Gurden, Harold||Maudling, Rt. Hon. R.||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Hall, John (Wycombe)||Mawby, R. L.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr, S. L. C.||Vosper, Rt. Hon. D. F.|
|Harris, Reader (Heston)||Medlicott, Sir Frank||Wade, D. W.|
|Harrison Col. J. H. (Eye)||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)||Nairn, D. L. S.||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)|
|Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Neave, Airey||Wall, Patrick|
|Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Nicholson, Sir Godfrey (Farnham)||Ward, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Worcester)|
|Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.||Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Henderson-Stewart, Sir James||Noble, Comdr. Rt. Hon. Allan||Webster, David|
|Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.||Noble, Michael (Argyll)||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)||Oakshott, H. D.||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Holland-Martin, C. J.||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Hornby, R. P.||Osborne, C,||Woollam, John Victor|
|Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Page, R. G.||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Horobin, Sir Ian||Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)|
|Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Peel, W. J.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)||Pike, Miss Mervyn||Mr. J. k. B. Hill and|
|Howard, John (Test)||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.||Mr. Whitelaw.|
|Abse, Leo||Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.)|
|Ainsley, J. W.||Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Hastings, S.|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Cronin, J. D.||Hayman, F. H.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Grossman, R. H. S.||Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis)|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Davies Stephen (Merthyr)||Herbison, Miss M.|
|Balfour, A.||Deer, G.||Hobson, C. R. (Keighley)|
|Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.)||Delargy, H. J,||Holman, P.|
|Benson, Sir George||Diamond, John||Hoy, J. H.|
|Blackburn, F.||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)|
|Blyton, W. R.||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Hunter, A. E.|
|Boardman, H.||Edwards, W. J. (Stepney||Hynd, H. (Accrington)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)||Janner, B.|
|Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S.W.)||Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Jeger, George (Goole)|
|Bowles, F. G.||Fernyhough, E.||Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St. Pncs, S.)|
|Boyd, T. C.||Finch, H. J. (Bedwellty)||Johnson, James (Rugby)|
|Brockway, A, F.||Fitch, A. E. (Wigan)||Jones, David (The Hartlepools)|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Fletcher, Eric||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Kenyon, C.|
|Burton, Miss F. E.||Gibson, C. W.||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, c.)||Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||King, Dr. H. M.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Grey, C. F.||Lee, Frederick (Newton)|
|Champion, A. J.||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Lindgren, G. S.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Griffiths, William (Exchange)||McAlister, Mrs. Mary|
|Cliffs, Michael||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Coine valley)||McCann, J.|
|Clunie, J.||Hamilton, W. W.||MacColl, J. E.|
|Collick, p. H. (Birkenhead)||Hannan, W.||Mclnnes, J.|
|McKay, John (Wallsend)||Popplewell, E.||Thornton, E.|
|McLeavy, Frank||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Timmons, J.|
|MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)||Pursey, Cmdr. H.||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Mahon, Simon||Randall, H. E.||Viant, S. P.|
|Mallalieu, J. P. w. (Huddersfd, E.)||Rankin, John||Warbey, W. N.|
|Mann, Mrs. Jean||Reynolds, G. W.||Watkins, T. E.|
|Mason, Roy||Rhodes, H.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Mayhew, C. P,||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Mikardo, Ian||Ross, William||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Mitchison, G. R.||Royle, C.||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Moody, A. S.||Short, E. W.||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Mort, D. L.||Skeffington, A. M.||Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.|
|Moss, R.||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Moyle, A.||Slater, J. (Sedgefield)||Willey, Frederick|
|Mulley, F. W.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. (Derby, S.)||Sorensen, R. W.||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Oram, A. E.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Padley, W. E.||Sparks, J. A.||Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)|
|Paget, R. T.||Spriggs, Leslie||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Palmer, A. M. F.||Steele, T,||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.||Woof, R. E.|
|Parker, J.||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|Paton, John||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Peart, T. F.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Pentland, N.||Taylor, John (West Lothian)||Mr. Pearson and Mr. Simmons.|
|Plummer, sir Leslie||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Bevins
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The House has made good progress with this Bill, which had its Second Reading on 15th December. Since then my right hon. Friend has accepted a number of improvements at the suggestion of hon. Members on both sides of the House, and for those suggestions my right hon. Friend is grateful.
Our debates, on the whole—in fact, almost without exception—have been useful and good humoured. If they have riot been exciting, at any rate they have been enlivened by many contributions from the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) who has shown considerable tenacity in her pursuit of non-discrimination by the building societies on grounds of sex; by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) whose fund of knowledge we now know extends to sanitary engineering or, as he prefers to call it, plumbing; and by the express speech of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) whose velocity must be as great a trial to the Official Reporters as are the speeches of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale). Finally, I ought to say that the speeches contributed by hon. Members who sit for Scottish constituencies have been neither prolix nor obscure. In saying that, I am perhaps making amends.
I think we all regret the absence from the debate this evening of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and of my hon. Friend the Joint 1370 Under-Secretary of State because they have both taken a very keen and close interest in this legislation.
It has long been the view of the Government, including my right hon. Friend, and of my party as a whole—and I believe of the party opposite as well—that home ownership ought to be encouraged. This Bill follows a number of steps which have been taken by post-war Governments with this end in view. Some years ago the licensing system which controls the building of private houses for sale was abolished. In 1952 the development charge was done away with—we think rightly so. On three separate occasions Stamp Duty on the conveyance of house property has been reduced, and the purchaser of a house valued at £3,500 or less is not now liable for Stamp Duty.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I was getting very concerned about the hon. Member's references to other Measures. I hope they are only passing references.
§ Mr. Bevins
I was just coming to the Bill. I was about to say that the House might like to know as part of the background of this Bill—
I shall be very brief about this and do not require instructions from the hon. Gentleman.
1371 Between 1952 and 1958 the value of local authority advances under the Housing Acts was doubled and the value of building society's advances raised by about 30 per cent. Moreover, since the end of the war nearly 900,000 private enterprise houses have been built for sale and of these over 700,000 have been built since 1951. We have now reached a position in which about 4 million people own their own homes. The Government are anxious to see these figures increased. This Bill is probably—
§ Mr. Bevins
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is so impatient; it is quite unnecessary.
This Bill is probably the greatest single Measure to help home ownership that has ever been introduced by a British Government, and it is, I think, a great tribute both to the motives and the industry of my right hon. Friend. [Laughter.] It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to laugh. I am trying to make a non-contentious speech. If hon. Members opposite want a contentious speech, I am quite prepared to engage them. All I am saying is that this Measure faces up squarely to the difficulty that at the present time it just is not possible for all the people in this country who are anxious to buy a house to obtain a mortgage because not enough money is available for that purpose.
We on this side of the House believe that once this Bill is law it ought to be possible for any creditworthy borrower to get an adequate mortgage, and my right hon. Friend believes that the Bill will help to promote a big expansion in home ownership. One condition which will govern Exchequer advances to building societies is that the house must have been built before 1919 and its value must not be more than £2,500 or, in London, £3,000.
One of the side effects of this scheme will be to free more of the building societies' own funds for advances on other houses, either more modern houses or more expensive ones. The Government's object in Parts II and III of the Bill is to simplify the existing scheme of grants in the hope and belief that this will lead to a big expansion in works of improvement, 1372 and I believe that that is the desire of hon. Members on both sides of the House.
The main change, of course, is the introduction of the new standard grant for specified standard amenities as a matter of right to the applicant. The Bill also goes on to simplify the grant arrangements for improvement work carried out by local authorities. We are not making parallel changes for local authorities in Scotland, for reasons which were very adequately explained on Second Reading by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
There is no doubt at all that, in the past, the conditions tied to grants have deterred many people from seeking grants. For that reason, my right hon. Friend has modified the conditions, reducing to ten years the period during which conditions must be observed and enabling the owner of an improved house to sell it after three years without giving rise to the liability to repay grant. It is the Government's hope that the system of standard grants will be extensively used not only by owner occupiers but also by the owners of tenanted properties. Indeed, the importance of this was very clearly underlined by my right hon. Friend in a speech he made earlier in our proceedings today.
I think I can fairly say that the objectives of the Bill have been, broadly speaking, welcomed by both sides of the House, and certainly by the public at large outside. If, as we believe, the Bill succeeds both in promoting home ownership and in improving the living conditions of many of our people, it will be a well worthwhile Measure.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Mitchison
It is not without amusement that I rise to reply on the Third Reading of the greatest single Measure to promote home ownership ever introduced by any British Government. My own colloquial name for the Bill has always been the "Building Societies and Baths Bill". There have been other Measures.
§ Mr. Mitchison
As my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) reminds me, there have been the Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts.
§ Mr. Mitchison
There have been various Housing Acts also which contained provisions to promote home ownership. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary for his kind and proper attribution to my party of the Measures it took in that direction, including, for instance, improvement grants legislation which it was the first to think of and put into law.
I sympathise with the Parliamentary Secretary. This, of course, is an electioneering Bill, and one has to say all one can about it. Blow the trumpet, and blow it loud—if it rings a bit hollow at times, that will all pass. Election fever has descended upon the hon. Gentleman, and there we are. We hear some extravagant phrases. I will reassure him at once. We do not propose to vote against the Bill. Everything is perfectly all right; he will get his Bill, and get it without any opposition. But I wonder what the results will be. That is really what interests me.
Let us look for a moment at the building societies. Of course, the building societies have their price. They will receive trustee status for their deposits. That is the quid pro quo. In return, they are to lend money on oldish houses. They are to receive Government funds, to a very considerable extent, for the purpose. There is no particular objection to all this, but how much difference will it make? The Government have been very coy about figures. We have not been told what the societies are doing already. We happen to know about the Halifax because the Halifax figures have been provided. The Halifax Building Society is already lending a little under a third, or a little over a quarter—whichever way one puts it—of its funds on this type of house. We know that other building societies are making considerable advances in that direction. There it is. There will, no doubt, be some addition, but how much one cannot say.
The next provision in the Bill is the one which is to assist the local authorities. This is the provision allowing them to make additional advances. But they are not to have public money under this Bill. There are no provisions for them about the rate of interest which is to be charged to them. They are to be left, for their 1374 money, to chase round in the jungle of mortgages and what not, which seems to be their main source for funds nowadays, to see what they can manage under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts and the Housing Acts.
I am not complaining unduly. I merely point out to the Government what an opportunity they have missed. All that they have done is to lend a lot of public money to building societies, and any contribution or help to local authorities is not very considerable. Indeed, we were told by the Minister on Second Reading that the Government had deliberately chosen the building societies as their instrument. I am not altogether surprised. My right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) once described the local authorities as the Government's whipping boy. They are not quite the right people for a Tory Government to choose in a desire to help the business of lending money to people who want to buy or improve their houses.
I now come to the next part of the Bill, the baths section. I must thank the right hon. Gentleman. He has given us a hand basin. He has overcome the almost insuperable difficulty of defining the kitchen sink and providing that the hot water supply should be connected to it as well as to the bath or shower. Those, of course, are considerable concessions. It is something that a Tory Government recognise the importance of clean hands. We say, "Thank you", and we are very grateful.
There are, however, some things in the Bill that are still a little odd. For the first time, local authorities are obliged to make improvement grants under certain very limited conditions. It may be impossible for the work to be carried out, but they still have to make the grant. It may be that overcrowding will result, but they still have to make the grant. It may be that there will be a breach of the law, but they still have to make the grant. The compulsory element has been introduced in the name of Tory freedom by the party opposite.
Improvement grants are of old standing and any single one of the things provided in the Bill could have been provided previously at the discretion of local authorities. But the whipping boy cannot be trusted to exercise his discretion properly, and therefore it is now made obligatory. 1375 No one objects. We know that there are some very backward councils, including most of those controlled by the Tories, and it will no doubt be a good thing that they should be obliged to make grants for these standard amenities. We are certainly very grateful for any Measure that will promote the modernisation of houses which are hopelessly out of date and quite inadequate as a result of the industrial revolution and the subsequent activities and deficiencies of private landlords.
For all that, we are very grateful, but we are bound to say that that is not the whole of the story. The right hon. Gentleman has met us in one other respect. He has at last provided in the Bill—and we thank him for it—that improvements cannot be carried out if the tenant does not want them. That is a step in advance. But there is one hitch in the machinery. A landlord could have applied for these grants at any time and I would say, perhaps having more respect for local authorities than the Government appear to have, that in most cases a landlord who so applied would have received the grant.
The landlord has never applied in the past, so that there are still many houses which lack standard amenities. Why did not the landlord apply? Was it because he was frightened of the local council? I do not think so. The main reason why he did not apply was because he had to pay half the cost.
The interesting question will be whether the Bill will prove to be the greatest single Measure to promote hand-basins which has ever been introduced by any Government. We shall have to see whether it works that way, or whether, as I suspect, the reluctance or inability of landlords to cough up the remaining half—and I trust that "cough up" is not too grossly unparliamentary—of the cost will continue to hinder the somewhat miraculous results which the Government are prone to expect to result from the Bill.
My own belief is that landlords are much as they were before. Some are good and some are bad, like the rest of us. Some are wealthy and some are poor, some are companies and some are individuals. The number of landlords who failed to make necessary improvements in the past because they did not 1376 feel like putting up half the cost, or because they were unable to do so, are likely to remain in much the same position, even though entitled to a grant from a local authority.
Having some confidence in local authorities, I do not believe that the Bill will make that amount of difference. In most cases the authorities would have provided the grants already and if they would not have provided the grants, the only reason would have been that they were very restricted in their finances by reason of a matter which is not in the Bill and which I must therefore not discuss, the credit squeeze in the broadest sense of the term.
It is up to the Government to tell us that the Bill will be a great success. What Government could resist the temptation? They put one or two other little things in the Bill. They have whittled down the provisions which were intended to ensure that owners of property do not get public money with which to improve their houses and then, having got that public money, dispose of the houses. It is completely wrong that after so short a period as three years, someone should be enabled to get a higher price for his property because the Government and local authorities between them have paid a substantial part of the cost of necessary improvements.
I cannot believe that that is right. I cannot think that the conditions which have brought about amendments to what was originally planned have anything to do with the housing situation or with the landlord-tenant position, or anything else but the tender regard which the Tory Party always has for the owners as distinct from the tenants of house property.
Summing up at the end of the day, the Bill may not amount to much, but I hope that the Government will tell us what they expect from it. This is said to be the greatest single Measure to promote home ownership, or hand-basins, which has ever been introduced by any British Government. Perhaps the Government will tell us what they expect to happen. How many houses will be provided with hand-basins, baths, hot water supplies and what not as a result of the Bill? Can we be given any figures, or have the Government simply done a little guessing? Is there any estimate 1377 which the Government have considered of the results likely to follow, financial results, for instance? Can they give any figures of the amount by which advances made by building societies on the type of properties we are considering will be increased?
Confidentially, I should like to make a small wager with the House. I do not think that we shall get those figures from the Government. I think that the odds against getting them are roughly 100 to 1. The Bill will make a small contribution and no doubt lead to further advances where advances should be made. It will undoubtedly lead to some improvement which will make the houses concerned better places to live in.
If we feel somewhat critical of the balance of advantage, if we feel that in relation to those improvements the landlord is getting far more out of it in the long run than the man who has to live in the house, and if we feel, too, that the continued existence of some of these houses is due largely to deficiencies of the Government's own housing policy, none the less we must welcome the Bill—but not too much; not exaggerating, and not playing this electoral trumpet, but supposing that, at the end of the day, it is a move in the right direction, although it is made with the right hon. Gentleman casting one eye over his shoulder at the agglomerated landlords of England and anxious that they, at any rate, shall get their whack out of the Bill.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Macmillan (Halifax)
I am sure that in welcoming the Bill as a whole we all congratulate the Minister on what he has done to help people to buy their own houses and to improve their homes up to the minimum standard. Perhaps it is as well that I should be out of order if I told my right hon. Friend that I thought that he could have improved his method of achieving the first of those objects. Alas, the house purchase part of the Bill is still the same. If it had weaknesses before, they are still there, despite the suggestions made by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I am sure that we all agree with my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary in his reference to the improvements made to the Bill during its previous stages, but again, alas, improvements were not made to the first part of the Bill.
1378 We still have the same percentage of free reserves which is too low. There is still the same objection to starting at 1½ per cent. The percentage is fixed and is in no way related to other factors. We still have a lower limit of £500,000 in respect of building societies involved. That sum is fixed without any regard to other factors, such as reserves and liquidity, and many smaller societies which have made a valuable contribution to the movement as a whole are still excluded.
The interest rates are still tied to the Association's recommended rate, and the Bill still excludes some building societies from taking part in the Government's scheme. I wish that I could say that we were still excluding only one building society, but since the Bill was introduced that figure has risen to three. The Leicester and Queen Anne Building Societies have reduced their rates of interest to 5½ per cent., thereby helping the people who want to borrow money to buy their homes, but at the same time they have excluded themselves from the Government's scheme.
I have not been altogether convinced by the Minister's arguments, except in one respect. I agree that it is right to tie the question of trustee status for deposits to the scheme for Government grants. As far as I can see, the ½ per cent. ratio which the building societies get is not enough to enable them to finance this work out of the grant itself, but the difference can be made up by the extra funds which will accrue to them through trustee status.
It is also possible that we have exaggerated the effect of what has been called putting some societies in a second division. It is the smaller societies which are affected, and to some extent the fact that they cannot have trustee status for their deposits is not so important, in that they rely very much upon local resources, and their local reputation will not be affected by not being given trustee status.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) has underestimated the effect that trustee status will have for building societies lending money on this type of house. A lot of Amendments have been proposed to Parts II and III of the Bill and many to Part I, and I must congratulate my hon. Friend 1379 the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir H. Butcher) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) on being the only hon. Members on either side of the House who have had Amendments accepted.
I sympathise with my right hon. Friend in his difficulty. The conditions for trustee status and the agreement which the Building Societies Association made to keep to the conditions to qualify for loan were worked out before the Bill was drafted, and this is a demonstration of the difficulty of introducing legislation which depends upon agreement with outside bodies. Obviously, such legislation cannot be altered during the Committee stage: there is no time to consult those bodies. However, the Minister has done the next best thing. He has made the position as flexible as possible, and the conditions can be altered without further legislation.
I welcome the Bill and congratulate my right hon. Friend on what he has done. I beg him to keep an eye on these matters and to keep the rate of interest, the size of the societies qualifying and the percentage of free reserves under constant review.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ Miss Elaine Burton (Coventry, South)
I am hoping that the Minister will be able to clear up two points for me before we give a Third Reading to the Bill. In Part I of the Bill, relating to "Loans for Purchase of Houses," it states:Where the Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies … is satisfied that a permanent building society fulfils such requirements as to its assets and liabilities, liquid funds, reserves, and other matters, as the Treasury may by regulations prescribe, he may designate the society for the purposes of this section …I wish to refer to the term "other matters" because, in reply to a Question from me on 24th February, the right hon. Gentleman made a statement which obviously comes under this heading. The right hon. Gentleman said:Representatives of the Building Societies Association have suggested—and I welcome this—that the agreement to be signed by building societies before they may receive Government money should provide that mortgages will be granted under the scheme without distinction of sex. All societies participating in the scheme will be required to sign the same agreement, whether or not they are members 1380 of the Building Societies Association."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th February, 1959; Vol. 600, c. 942.]Obviously that is an "other matter" as mentioned in this Bill.
I am not clear about the attitude of the Building Societies Association in this matter, and I find it very difficult to follow them. The House will remember that on 10th December the Building Societies Association stated:… the policy of most of its members is to treat a woman applicant for a loan in exactly the same way as a man if she is in regular employment and earning a sufficient income. In such cases there is no discrimination on grounds of sex and no male guarantor is normally required.On 15th December, in replying to a debate in this House, the Parliamentary Secretary said:It may well be … that notwithstanding instructions that are issued from the head offices of building societies the administrative action taken in the provinces may be at variance with it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th December, 1958; Vol. 597, c. 886.]With that I entirely accede. But on 13th February, following an inquiry which had been made by the Building Societies Association, in turn following detailed evidence which had been given by me in this House, the Association issued a statement. It was made known on the radio and in the Press. I have here the Evening Standard, which had a headline:How should women rank for home loans?Equally with men, say building societies.It goes on to say:Are women treated less favourably than men by building societies when they want a loan for home buying? The Building Societies Association answers this question today. 'In a normal case, a woman applicant for a loan is treated in exactly the same way as a man,' it declares. Recently doubts have been raised on this.I think the last statement was remarkably succinct.
I take the Evening News headline of the same day. It says:News … views … prices … dividendsThen it says, underneath:No reason to bar women borrowersIt goes on:'Any general allegation that the building societies discriminate against women borrowers should be viewed with a great deal of scepticism,' declares the Building Societies Association.1381 The last sentence I want to quote is this:This declaration",—by the Building Societies Association—will set at rest the doubts of many of my woman readers who have been feeling that they are getting a hard deal.I find that very difficult. The statement made by the Building Societies Association has a familiar ring. I am sure the Minister will agree that we are right back where we started before the first debate and to the statement that there was no discrimination at all.
I am raising the matter tonight because I am sure that the Minister finds it rather hard to believe I am not grateful for what has been done. It is not that, but I am rather sceptical. I cannot make -lead or tail of what the Building Societies Association really means. After publicity had been given to its statement on 13th February, many more letters began to come in to me. I am glad to know that a lot of them also went to the Building Societies Association. I am very polite if I say that the letters do not agree with the statement made by the Building Societies Association. They regarded that statement with a considerable amount of cynicism while I regarded it with complete disbelief.
I want to ask the House to take note of two of the letters which people have sent to me. They are particularly important, because both of them start with the phrase, "Although I am not a member of your political party". They were both written after the statement made by the Building Societies Association. The first one says, after saying that she is not a member of my political party—I must hide any possible identification for her—that she wanted a mortgage and an independent survey had found the property perfectly satisfactory. She was the director of a company and had been with the firm for twenty-five years of which she had been a director for fourteen years, getting a four-figure salary.
Does the Minister feel that any member of the Building Societies Association would deny that the qualifications of this woman conform to the statement put out by the Association several days previously, that she had to be credit-worthy and had to be in a sound job? This woman tells me that there are a great 1382 many men in her company earning considerably less than she, who were able to get any mortgages they wanted. She was told that she would have to get a male guarantor. I am glad to say that she has written to the Building Societies Association. I have not had a copy of the reply they sent to her, but I am sure that this is a very bona fide case.
The other woman who wrote to me after the announcement said that she was not a member of this political party. She was wanting to increase the size of a school for which a large property had become available. She tells me that through the mediation of a parent… we were brought into touch with a building society and fresh negotiations were started. These were again almost complete when the society, seeing my signature, realised that it was dealing with women, and immediately demanded that we submit the names of four guarantors of whom they would choose three. For fear of losing the property altogether, we agreed, under protest.Had the Building Society said that their business was to finance house purchase, not to extend activities of schools, I should have understood fully, but this was not the case. In fact the Society seemed not only willing but even eager to make the loan, as it was abundantly secured on our other properties. The only objection to the loan's going through in the normal way was that of our sex.These two cases are indicative of the many substantial complaints I have received. In view of the cases which have been raised and those which have been to the Minister, I think he will understand that I cannot accept the statement of the Building Societies Association. Hon. Members on both sides of this House know that there has been discrimination over many years and there has been this demand for male guarantors. That is accepted, and the best way of treating it is to say is that it is quite out-of-date.
The reason I am raising this tonight is that I think it quite obvious that something of this public displeasure has begun to seep through to the Building Societies Association. Obviously, if it had not, we should not have got anywhere because they say this discrimination has not happened. It seems remarkably odd to have decided to stop doing something which they say has never been started. We had the statement made by the Minister, which I have quoted. On page 2 of the Bill the Clause goes on to say:and where a society has been so designated and the designation has not been revoked"—1383 I ask the right hon. Gentleman what will happen if a society does not keep to this agreement which he mentioned to the House as reported in column 942 of the OFFICIAL REPORT? If a society signs this agreement which the Minister has referred to and then carries on as before, we are not going to be any better off. As the Minister told us that under this agreement there would be no sex discrimination, I want to know whether that means no sex discrimination according to the Minister's ideas or according to the ideas of the Building Societies Association. I flatter the Minister by saying that I hope there is a very wide difference between the two.
These are the only two points I want to raise with the right hon. Gentleman, because other hon. Members wish to speak in this debate. I ask him whether the phrase "without distinction of sex" as used by him means that male guarantors will not be demanded where woman applicants for loans meet the creditworthiness terms of the Building Societies Association. The second point is, what will happen to a society which signs the agreement the Minister has mentioned and does not keep it? Will it continue to be designated as a society receiving loans from the Government, or will that be withdrawn? As this is public money, I hope the Minister will clear up those two points before the Bill leaves this House.
§ 9.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Wade (Huddersfield, West)
I should like to make just a few observations before the Bill receives its Third Reading. I do not propose to discuss building societies tonight. I have spoken on the subject of building societies from time to time in this House and have already expressed my views on Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill.
I wish to refer for a few moments to 95 per cent. and 100 per cent. mortgages and the possible implications of lending up to 100 per cent. The Bill will facilitate the granting of mortgages by building societies up to 95 per cent. and by local authorities up to 100 per cent. This may help some home buyers to purchase houses who might otherwise have been prevented from doing so because of their inability to raise sufficient deposit.
1384 I am in agreement with the general principle of assisting home buyers in that way, because I have always advocated the extension of home ownership. I am all in favour of any Measure which will help to bring about a wider ownership of property and I have always regretted the obstacles which have been in the way of those who wish to buy their houses, for example the high interest rates in recent years.
While I want to make the path of the home buyer easier, however, I am anxious that those who set out to buy a house, particularly young people who are not very well off, should not be led into buying a house at an inflated price or taking on a burden of mortgage which is more than they can bear. If there were any great extension of 100 per cent. mortgages I think that it would have the effect of inflating prices. There would, at any rate, be that danger.
Much depends, of course, upon the valuation, and it would be helpful if before the Bill reaches the Statute Book the Minister made it clear to the public that a 95 per cent. or 100 per cent. mortgage does not necessarily mean the advance of that percentage of the price asked by the vendor or even of the price agreed before valuation between the vendor and the purchaser. It means 95 per cent. or 100 per cent. of the valuation. It is most important that that should be made clear, because whether this be the greatest single Measure ever put on the Statute Book or not, I am sure that the Minister does not want house purchasers to be led astray into thinking that whatever price is agreed, they will get 100 per cent. of it from a local authority or 95 per cent. of it from a building society.
It is very imporant that there should be a valuation before the contract is signed, and it is also important that the valuation should be made with care. There is no doubt that building society valuations are made and will be made with care, and those who go to a building society and postpone the signing of a contract until a valuation has been made will probably not fall into trouble.
I should like to raise one or two queries on that Part of the Bill which deals with local authorities. In the case of sales to a tenant, I am not sure whether it is the normal custom for a tenant who buys from the local authority to have a 1385 valuation. I think that it is a good idea in any case to have a valuation. I am, however, more concerned with those cases where the purchaser is not already a tenant of the local authority but is asking for a loan from the local authority. In that case there should he as much uniformity as possible in the valuations made prior to the granting of the loan.
One of my correspondents on this subject has written to me as follows:Having discussed the Bill with councillors and officials of various local authorities, I gather that many councils, because they personally disapprove of 100 per cent. mortgages, will give special orders to their valuers to 'value down' the property concerned, so that in effect the mortgage to be granted will be only 90 per cent. of the value, as at present.While I have my doubts about the advisability of lending up to 100 per cent., certainly on a large scale, it is desirable that there should be as much uniformity as possible throughout the country in valuing prior to sale where there is to be a substantial amount lent on mortgage. I should like to know whether the Minister has made any recommendations to the local authorities on the subject of valuations.
Finally, I think that both the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have somewhat overrated the value and importance of the Bill, but I hope that it will do some good. I think that it will be of help both to buyers of homes and to tenants whose houses are in need of improvement. I certainly support the Third Reading.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Mr. John M. Temple (City of Chester)
I am very pleased to follow the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) and I shall, in a moment or two, comment on one or two of the observations which he has made. Before I do that, I should like to congratulate the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) on the great persistence with which she has supported the cause of women. I would say that her case—that is, a fair deal for women in the purchase of homes—would have the general support of all sections of the House.
The main principle of the Bill is that more money will be made available for those persons wishing to purchase homes of their own, and the second principle is the encouragement to make improvements 1386 to these houses, and indeed to other houses as well. The underlying scheme is to encourage the purchase of older houses, and here I support the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West, who, I think, was perfectly right to draw the attention of people who intend to buy these older houses to the fact that they must beware of defects which may well be glossed over. The old adage of caveat emptor holds good. Buyers must beware and be guided, not particularly by the price which is asked for the house but by the value which that house holds in the market. That is the important factor—the value of the house.
When during the Committee stage I recommended a universal upper limit of £3,000, it was not because I wanted these houses to be inflated in value to £3,000, but only because I wanted to have uniformity for the whole country in that lending could be made up to £3,000, irrespective of the district in which the house was situated.
I believe that these older houses, if they are bought at the right price—and here I think the valuers of the building societies and the local authorities will have a considerable responsibility—will have money lent on them as recommended by the valuers to these societies. I hope that these valuers will take a realistic view of the valuation of these older properties, so that people will not be misled into paying inflated prices for them. If that is the case, I think that the Bill will perform a very useful purpose, as I believe there are a considerable number of these older properties which will be available at sensible prices.
May I now comment on the improvement grants? As we know, hitherto these grants have been used mainly by owner occupiers, but I hope very much that this scheme will bring about a vast extension of their use. I would draw attention to what my right hon. Friend the Minister said on 18th February during the Committee stage:The Government desire that the improvement grant system should operate much more extensively than hitherto for the benefit of rented houses."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th February, 1959; Vol. 600, c. 390.]This is the alteration which has been brought in with this Measure. These grants will be available in respect of rented houses on a very wide scale, and this is a tremendous challenge to the landlords.
1387 I hope they will accept the challenge. They are being given—and hon. and right hon. Members opposite made considerable play with this—very generous terms. I endorse that, but if they are generous terms, they are to encourage extensive improvements in these properties, and it will be the tenants who will benefit from the improvements. The tenants will be the people who will be using the wash-basins to which the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) referred, the baths, the hot water systems, the flush lavatories and the rest. They will be used by the tenants. Therefore, I support wholeheartedly this widespread encouragement which is being given to all sections of the property-owning community to make full use of these grants.
I wonder if my right hon. Friend, either from his own Department or in conjunction with the local authorities and the building societies, could issue an explanatory booklet. The provisions of the Bill would be very much better appreciated were they set out in relatively simple terms, and a booklet would greatly help Members of Parliament to advise constituents and building society clients to make use of the Bill's provisions to the fullest possible extent.
This Measure will cost the taxpayers and ratepayers a considerable amount of money, but I am sure that it will be useful, and that the money spent will prove a worth-while investment in family happiness.
§ 9.57 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Evans
In moving the Third Reading, the Parliamentary Secretary made the very extravagant claim that this was the greatest single Measure to promote home ownership that any British Government had introduced. He was repeating, almost word for word, his right hon. Friend's claim when moving the Second Reading. On that occasion, however, the right hon. Gentleman left out the word "British", and thus seemed to claim that it was the greatest single Measure to promote home ownership that had ever been introduced by any Government. In that, of course, he was quite wrong. Since the end of the war the West German authorities have taken the obvious course of helping home ownership by reducing interest rates considerably.
1388 The first part of the Bill is designed to pump into the building societies the capital they need to meet requests for loans by purchasers. It undoubtedly fulfils a need. Because money from investors has not been flowing in building societies have been obliged to turn away many applications, especially those for loans on older houses.
In that respect, the Bill is good—it provides public money to assist the building societies—but its application is rather late. Had the Government made this money available three years ago, a considerable fillip would have been given to home ownership. Present signs are that funds are flowing into the building societies at an increasing rate, so that they have less need of State money.
I turn now to the rates of interest charged by the Government to the building societies and by the building societies to prospective house purchasers. I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Maurice Macmillan). He has evidently studied this part of the Bill with great care, and made a valuable contribution to our debate. I regret that the Minister cannot in some way implement the ideals of the hon. Member for Halifax.
At present only those approved societies Which will charge the rate recommended by the Building Societies Association will be able to avail themselves of the scheme. Any building society which with public spiritedness and initiative decides that it can charge its borrowers less than the rate recommended by the Building Societies Association will not be able to take advantage of the scheme. At present the recommended rate is 6 per cent. Building societies charging 6 per cent. will be able to take Government money at 5½ per cent., use the scheme and develop their businesses.
The effect will be that the Government scheme will encourage the higher interest rate and will not encourage the lower interest rate. In effect, the Government are saying to those societies who maintain their rates at 6 per cent., "Here is State money for you to lose". It is conversely saying to those societies which have reduced the rates to their borrowers, "This scheme is no use to you, because you will not be able to work it".
It is a serious matter that the community should encourage building societies to keep their rates high. That 1389 is what it will mean. Two of the largest building societies in the country, the Halifax and the Leicester societies, have reduced their rates to borrowers to 5½ per cent. Those societies are to be congratulated on their business acumen and concern for the borrower, who is heavily burdened by present rates of interest. The burden of interest is the main thing that hampers home ownership. We all know that at 6 per cent. a house costing £2,000 requires £4,000 in round figures. Two thousand pounds is the purchase price and £2,000 is the interest. The shocking thing about the scheme that the Government have worked out for building societies is that it will encourage the maintenance of high interest rates and will discourage the societies leading the way in the downward trend in interest rates in their public spirited policy.
That is a matter to which the Government have not paid adequate attention. It is extremely serious that the Treasury, through a scheme worked out with building societies, is fathering a policy which tends to keep up interest charges to borrowers. The borrower in every case is a man who had to work and strive to buy his own home and has to calculate his shillings and pounds in order to find his payment to the building society each month. When he realises that the scheme will encourage higher rates and discourage lower rates, he will perhaps think that this is not the greatest measure to promote home ownership that any Government has ever passed.
I should like to say a word or two on the second part of the Bill. I leave the Scottish part for those hon. Members who sit for Scottish constituencies. The second part of the Bill provides that Exchequer money shall go to those house owners who will agree to put certain standard amenities into their houses. It is an extremely generous scheme, as the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) mentioned. As much as £150 in public money will be handed to the owner of a house who undertakes to put in these standard amenities.
We approve of the purpose behind that part of the Bill, but all through the debates we have complained that the point of view of the community has not been properly considered by the Government. In the Bill there is a scheme to give very large money payments to landlords who improve their property, but insufficient attention has been paid to the 1390 local authority and community interests in this respect. The community point of view as to fitness and overcrowding has been brushed aside, and we have had no response from the Minister to our attempts to safeguard the community interest.
The local authorities have been dealt with rather harshly by the Minister in his improvement grant scheme. As a result of his lack of adequate consultation with the local authorities, as we have seen in our debates, the details of the improvement arrangements have not been properly worked out. The Minister would have done well to have given the same amount of care and attention to consultation with the local authorities as he gave to consultation with the building societies. He would then have gained the approval and thanks of the local authorities, and the Bill would have been much more workmanlike.
§ 10.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
I am very glad that the hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans) repeated the speech which I made in Committee on the question of interest, because I think the point is very important. I gather that, apart from that, his only objection to the Bill is that it ought to have been brought in earlier. Indeed, I have been looking for any real objection to the Bill from the Opposition during this debate and I have found none. The heavy sarcasm of the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) convinced me that he had no case whatever against the Bill.
Indeed, the whole of our debates on the Bill have spotlighted the difference in the way in which each side of the House looks on the relationship between a man and the bricks and mortar in which he lives. I would not quarrel with any hon. Member opposite who tells me that private landlordism is unsatisfactory in many cases, but where private landlordism is unsatisfactory I understand that hon. Members opposite wish to work towards their maxim that an Englishman's home is his council's, whereas we on this side of the House want to work towards home ownership and owner-occupation.
§ Mr. G. W. Reynolds (Islington, North)
The hon. Gentleman says that we on this side of the House do not believe in owner- 1391 occupation. We do believe in owner-occupation. I should like to know whether he will be prepared to support us in achieving real owner-occupation and not this twisted system of leases.
§ Mr. Page
How the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) can rise to his feet and say that his party believes in owner-occupation, with his party's record against home ownership during their term of office, I do not know. I have great admiration for the hon. Gentleman's courage in saying that.
I was saying that we want to move towards owner-occupation, and it is absolutely necessary to give some assistance in that movement. The Bill will give that assistance. In recent years it has become evidence that without substantial resources and unless one was prepared to buy a modern house it was difficult to become a home owner.
Had that position been allowed to go on we might have reduced the country into three categories of house owners only—council tenants, tenants of rented old property and owner-occupiers of modern houses. That might have been the position if we had not introduced this Bill and provided assistance for those who wish to be owner-occupiers of the older type of house. By using the building societies with their immense organisation and experience, Part I of the Bill will have the effect of spreading owner-occupation and Part II of improving old houses.
I certainly admired the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering when he talked about his party favouring home ownership. But really when the party opposite were in office they did nothing whatever to favour it; they discouraged it all the time. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, by the controls on private building. Even in 1951, only 22,000 houses were built for sale and now the annual figure is six times as many. Because of the availability of houses at the present time, this Bill was necessary in order to assist the purchase of houses.
§ Mr. Page
Eight years—and now annually there are six times as many houses available as when the Labour Government went out of office. This cannot be just brushed aside by the party opposite. There are these modern houses now available and newly-built houses for purchase. That means that there is a movement from the older houses. The purpose of Part I of the Bill is to enable those older houses to be improved and to enable purchasers to buy them.
Another good reason for the Bill, and a good purpose which will be served, was that the Rent Act removed the incentive to a tenant of higher-rated premises at an artificially low rent to remain in them at that rent. There have been movements of those tenants into houses of their own or the sitting tenants have purchased. There again the Bill will be of great assistance to them in purchasing their own houses.
One could mention a third reason and that is the drive by the Government for slum clearance. Many of those moving from slum clearance areas wish to buy their own houses and may not have the resources to put down the sort of deposit which was previously required. I see that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Islington, South-West is looking puzzled. I imagined that he would be looking puzzled. The Labour Government never thought of slum clearance and never even started it.
§ Mr. A. Evans
The hon. Member keeps saying that people in slum houses will be thinking of buying their own houses. There are a good number of slums in my constituency. I am worried and puzzled because of what the hon. Member is saying. More and more people in those slums are going on short time every week and more and more are becoming unemployed. Therefore, their chances of buying their own houses are diminishing.
§ Mr. Page
The hon. Member for Islington, South-West knows that I know his constituency fairly well, just as I know the constituency of his hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North. There are many people there moving from the 1393 very much older houses in the slum clearance areas who wish to buy their own properties. I could name many in my own constituency who are in exactly the same position, people who wish to buy as they are moving from slum clearance areas. Such people will be assisted by the Bill in being able to borrow up to 95 per cent., or up to 100 per cent. if borrowing from the local authority.
§ Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)
What is the hon. Gentleman's opinion of this? He and his hon. Friends are constantly reminding us that the Government, through the Minister of Housing and Local Government, are encouraging the clearance of slum dwellings. In my constituency of Bristol, South there has for many months been a campaign organised by a leading Tory alderman, supported by a Tory ex-councillor, through the creation of an organisation called, I think, the Tenants' Defence Organisation, opposing the local Labour-controlled council and designed to prevent it carrying through the instructions of the Minister. What is the hon. Gentleman's answer to that? He and his hon.Friends say one thing here, but they do another thing in the constituencies.
§ Mr. Page
The hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr Wilkins) has made a very good Adjournment debate speech by means of an intervention. He will not expect me to reply on detailed matters in his constituency. I have no information about those details. All I can say is that he need only look at the figures of slum clearance during the last few years to realise that this Government are carrying out a slum clearance drive which was never contemplated by the Labour Government during their term of office and never even suggested by them. The drive is going ahead now and it will go ahead. This Bill is an extremely good preparation for the continuation of that drive when the next Conservative Government are in office after the coming General Election. The Bill will be of great assistance to those who wish to buy their own houses when they are moved from these areas.
§ Mr. Page
In regard to Part II also there is a sharp contrast between the failure of the Labour Government and the success of the Conservative Government, 1394 I am sorry that the hon. and learned Gentleman for Kettering is not still here. During the course of our debates he has patted himself on the back for the 1949 Housing Act and has told us that his Government started the improvements grants. Started them? There were 10,000 in five yars. That is all.
§ Mr. Page
This was in 1949. The war had been finished for three or four years. During the five years after the 1949 Housing Act, only 10,000 improvement grants were made. I admit that two of those years were under a Conservative Government. We did not have time to amend the Act. Undoubtedly, it was faulty in its provisions to encourage improvement grants, because when it was altered in 1954 by the Act of that year, there was a relaxation of the conditions, and there were then twenty times as many granted. Forty thousand grants a year are now being made. I forecast that, under this Bill, we shall have five times as many again.
What is needed is about 200,000 grants a year, and I believe that that number can he achieved under the terms of the Bill. There will be an automatic application by purchasers of older houses which have not the standard amenities. Automatically, as they purchase a house, they will apply to the local authority for grant. This is the connection between Part I of the Bill and Part II.
§ Mr. Page
I am not confusing them at all. The standard grant is now, as it were, added to the improvement grant. This is not an excessive burden on local authorities, as has been suggested by hon. Members opposite. The grants are now costing approximately £7 million a year. If there were five times as many grants, that would mean a cost of £35 million. of which the Exchequer pays three-quarters and local authorities only one quarter. In addition, many local authorities will receive an increase in rate deficiency grant as a result.
I believe that the Bill will succeed in giving the family man what he wants—the ability to buy his own home and, if he proposes to buy an older type of house, to improve it and make it a decent home for himself and his family.
§ 10.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Reynolds
We must congratulate the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) on intervening in the debate, especially as the Whips on the Government Front Bench were doing their best to cut down contributions from the other side. I only hope that we shall have one or two more contributions from hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member at least attempted to liven up the debate. I do not say that I agree with all that he said, but it was at least lively and interesting, which is more than can be said for some of the other contributions which we have had from hon. Members opposite.
Despite what the hon. Member said, I look back only a few years to 1951, the days when one could borrow money from the local authority at 3¼ per cent. to buy a house and when building societies were lending at 4¼ per cent. and 4¼ per cent. and when on the Tube one saw notices which read, "Why pay rent? Why not buy your own house?" Building societies at that time were willing to lend money and a very large number of people became owner-occupiers, a large number of them being sitting tenants who took advantage of facilities which were available through the building societies and local authorities to become owner-occupiers.
I hope that one day we shall return to the situation in which one can obtain money for house purchase at the reasonable rates of interest which were operating prior to the General Election of 1951. The biggest help that can be given to anyone who wants to become an owner-occupier, which is more important than a 90 per cent., 95 per cent., or even a 100 per cent. mortgage, is a reasonable rate of interest. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the Bill which attempts to bring down the rate of interest to a more reasonable level.
On Part I, I am rather doubtful—and I will explain why—whether building societies will make a great deal of use of the facility of Government money which is offered to them under the Bill, Paragraph 2 of the outline of the scheme agreed with the Building Societies Association reads:The Treasury will prescribe conditions with which Building Societies must comply as a pre-requisite of approval by the Chief 1396 Registrar of Friendly Societies for the conferment of Trustee Status on their deposits".As I see it, there is nothing to stop a building society which can comply with the regulations laid down by the Treasury applying for trustee status. Let us be honest about it. That is all building societies want, and that is what they are after in this piece of legislation. There does not appear to be any obligation on them, once they have obtained trustee status, to take part in the scheme for using Government money to give 95 per cent. mortgages.
The paragraph continues:Societies so approved will be eligible to participate in the scheme.It does not say that societies so approved will or must participate. They will be eligible if they want to participate. I am of the view that several societies will not want to participate. There is not a great deal of profit in this for them. A ½ per cent. difference in interest will cover their administrative charges with a little bit left over, and I doubt whether it will be worth their while carrying out the scheme.
I have a vague idea that the Minister probably feels the same, because there is provision for only £100 million, which represents about 75,000 houses. He might say that when that sum is used up further legislation could be introduced to provide another sum, but if he had thought that a great deal of money would be involved there was no reason why he should not have so provided in the first place. In his heart of hearts he probably believes that not much use will be made of these provisions. Once the building societies have achieved trustee status they will have a vast new area from which to borrow money and they will be satisfied with the money which they will then be able to obtain and which they will be able to lend on what they consider reasonable properties.
They will also be in direct competition with local authorities who, over the last few years, have largely depended on money obtained on mortgage from trustee savings banks, pension funds, and similar sources for their own building operations and for their operations under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Acts and the Housing Act, 1949. Those sources have provided money for their capital requirements, but the building societies 1397 will now be competing with them for that money. I believe that once the building societies have that money not many of them will want to rush in to volunteer to assist the Minister in this great march forward which the Parliamentary Secretary described to us.
I described the Bill earlier as being a bribe to building societies by providing them with trustee status in return for their operating a scheme. However, on a more careful reading of the second paragraph of the agreed scheme, which I have just quoted, I have revised that opinion, since the building societies are to be given trustee status without an obligation to assist the Government with the scheme. Once they have trustee status money, they will have got what they want from this legislation and will not be very interested in its other aspects.
In dealing with Part II of the Bill, I want again to refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Crosby. I was extremely interested to hear him say that only 10,000 improvement grants were made between 1949 and 1951 and that the figure had risen to between 30,000 and 40,000 a year since that date under the provisions of the Housing Repairs and Rents Act, 1954, the "Operation Rescue" about which we heard so much but which was admittedly a flop because the Rent Act had to be brought in in 1957 because of the failure of the 1954 Act. The 1954 Act seems to have been a flop, because in addition to improvement grants there are now to be standard grants to put right the mistake made in 1954.
§ Mr. Reynolds
But even the hon. Member was far from satisfied with the figures of the 1949–54 period. One has to make a comparison with the claims put forward at the time for "Operation Rescue." It was said that it would abolish slums, improve property, and everything else. The hon. Member cannot have it both ways. If the position between 1949–54 was an absolute failure, something twenty times as much a failure could not be a success.
1398 The hon. Gentleman went on to give a very relevant figure, about which I should like more information. He said that he expected and hoped that there would be about 200,000 improvement grants a year. I presume that he was speaking about the total number of grants, standard grants as well as the ordinary grants. That is an interesting figure. If there are 200,000 grants a year, over a period of five years there will be one million grants of one kind or another. If we assume that 30,000 to 40,000 are grants under the ordinary improvement grant procedure and that 170,000 to 160,000 are improvements under the standard grants which we are now approving, and assuming that the average improvement grant will cost £150 of public money—and it will probably be higher than that—then tonight we are discussing handing over during the next five years a total of £150 million of public money, three-quarters of it taxpayers' money and one-quarter of it ratepayers' money. In other words, that is £150 million of public money which is to be used as a subsidy to the owners of property, tenant-occupied and owner-occupied houses.
§ Mr. Reynolds
Yes—E35 million a year. If my arithmetic is correct, £35 million multiplied by 5 gives more than £150 million, which I am taking for the five-year period. I think that I am being fairly conservative in saying it will be £150 million in five years. It will probably be rather more than that. This subsidy of £150 million of public money is being paid in respect of privately-owned property. I have no objection to subsidising the occupation of residential property. On the other hand, we must realise that if we are to pour as much public money as this into subsidising what the Minister hopes will be privately-owned tenanted property it strengthens the case for looking again at the ownership of that property. If we are to put public money into it why should we not get some public benefit from it?
1399 This strengthens the case for municipalisation, which will be the best way of dealing with the problem. We have only had this 200,000 figure mentioned by the hon. Member for Crosby. I wonder how many dwellings would rank for one of these standard improvement grants. If the Minister feels that my figure is incorrect I should be pleased if he would correct me now, or later. I would assume that about 6 million dwellings would be eligible for a standard improvement grant; in other words there are about 6 million dwellings which lack most of the amenities which are listed here and which can be provided by way of the standard amenity grant.
There are probably 7 million families entirely without, or having to share a bath, and a further 2 million entirely without, or sharing, a water closet. It would not therefore surprise me if 6 million were entirely without, or sharing, most of the amenities mentioned in the Bill, which can be provided by means of the standard improvement grant. Hon. Members opposite seem to disagree. If they have another figure to put forward I should be glad to hear it.
§ Mr. Reynolds
I am prepared to take that figure of 4½ million. If the Minister will confirm that figure I shall be prepared to accept it. Let us assume that it is 4½ million. How many of those 4½ million does the Minister hope will be given these modern facilities as a result of the Bill? I believe that the occupiers of these 4½ million houses have a right to the minimum amenities listed in the Bill, and it is up to the Minister to tell us how many he hopes will be provided with them. The Bill has been described as a magnificent effort tonight. On the day the Bill was considered in Committee the Manchester Guardian referred to it as the last chance of the landlords. It said that if the landlords did not take this opportunity the case for municipalisation would be proved. There is a great deal to be said for that remark.
The Minister thinks the Bill will be a success, but can he give us any idea of the number of grants there would have to be in five or ten years in order to prove that the Measure was a success? I do not think it will be physically possible 1400 to make these improvements in all of these houses? But does he hope that landlords may take advantage of the provisions of the Bill to the extent of half—say, 2¼ million houses? Perhaps he thinks the figure will be 1 million. The Minister does not want to commit himself. Does he think that 250,000 will be improved? That would be about one-fifteenth of the total number of dwellings without these amenities. If he thinks that not even that number will be provided with improvements, Part II of the Bill will be a complete and utter flop.
I think that it will be. I do not think that many private landlords will be prepared to put their own private money into improving their properties. There might be an increase in the number of owner-occupiers who will take advantage of these facilities, but the Manchester Guardian was right when it suggested that this would be the last chance for the private landlords. I do not think that they will take that chance and then the case for municipal ownership of privately-owned rented dwellings will be proved conclusively.
§ 10.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)
I was rather surprised to hear the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) say that if landlords did not take advantage of Part II of the Bill the case for the municipalisation of houses would then be proved. I have been under the impression for the last two years that the party opposite were determined to bring about the municipalisation of houses whether the need, justification or benefit of it were proved or not.
§ Mr. Reynolds
The hon. Gentleman is not being quite fair. I said that the Manchester Guardian had stated that if landlords did not take advantage of Part II of the Bill that would disclose that they were not interested in improving their properties. I think that has been proved already.
§ Mr. Cole
Earlier the hon. Gentleman said he thought that the case for municipalisation might well have been proved. However, whether that be so or not, the hon. Gentleman made another remark about how much use the building societies would make of the facilities provided in Part I for lending 1401 on and improving pre-1919 properties. I should like to offer one point for the hon. Gentleman's consideration. If he is right—and I must categorically deny that he is—why have building societies, without this financial assistance from the Government, been lending to a certain extent on this type of property up to now? Some of them have lent not inconsiderable sums. If they have been prepared to do that up to now, why are they not going to do it when funds are made available to them in addition to their own funds and funds which they get from trustee status? Why should they not do it now when additional funds are available?
§ Miss Herbison
The Minister gave the answer to that during the Second Reading debate on the Bill. He mentioned the Halifax Permanent Building Society and one or two other societies which were willing to lend on these older houses, but it was because others were unable to do so that the Government decided to do something about it.
§ Mr. Cole
That does not alter what the hon. Gentleman said. He said that he did not think that the societies would take it up. My right hon. Friend said during the Second Reading debate that, to a large extent, the building societies did not have the funds. Most hon. Members know of one society, if not more, which has had the funds and lent on this type of property.
I think we shall find that societies will he glad to make use of these funds, to the extent of £100 million, for the purpose of lending on these older houses. These older pre-1919 houses—I live in a house very much older than that—are part of our stock of houses in the country. We are a limited country in size and have a limited number of units of accommodation—I think that is the term used today—and it is not easily possible, whichever party is in power, to find all the land we want on which to build houses and flats and also to keep our agriculture going. Therefore, we must jealously guard those houses which we have today.
I believe that this quite clear and very fine effort to encourage building societies to lend money on pre-1919 houses is going to he of great help. We in this country cannot afford, if it could be 1402 afforded anywhere, to cast aside our large stock of pre-1919 houses and only concentrate on those built subsequently. We must keep in mind those people who may have been living in such houses since they were built or later and find themselves with a "frozen asset", as it were. They cannot sell the house because would-be purchasers cannot raise a mortgage to buy, and so the owners have to remain in houses which may not now be adequate for their needs, or else let them he sold at some lesser figure. In many ways, which will demonstrate themselves over the years, my right hon. Friend has made a great contribution by means of this Bill to the creation of a property-owning democracy, something in which hon. Members on this side of the House passionately believe.
During the Committee stage discussions I referred to the inclusion of societies for trustee status and the size of the assets necessary for them to qualify. I wish to refer again to that subject and to recall that when a group of Amendments were being discussed during the Committee stage my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said, in reply to remarks from my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black), thatas the conditions will be laid down by regulation"—that is conditions from the Treasury—it will be possible to make amendments from time to time when we see how the Act works out.These are the conditions for trustee status referred to in Clause 1 of the Bill. The Economic Secretary also said:One of the conditions which could be amended if it became obviously right to do so would be the size qualification."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 4th February, 1959; Vol. 599, c. 454–5.]I wish to remind my right hon. Friend of that and to express the hope that he will be able to keep this matter continually under review. It is something which has caused concern to many of the smaller societies.
In Clause I of the Bill it states:Where the Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies … is satisfied that a permanent building society fulfils such requirements as to its assets and liabilities, liquid funds, reserves, and other matters, as the Treasury may by regulations prescribe …1403 In other words, the size qualification is only one of the various criteria for consideration for trustee status. I am anxious about this matter. We may well find from experience that many societies are justified in every way for acquiring trustee status although they may not at present have assets amounting to £500,000.
My right hon. Friend has had to endure a certain amount of good humoured derision from the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). But I do not think that my right hon. Friend has any cause to be ashamed of a Measure which will enable many people to be provided with a kitchen sink and a supply of hot water. I consider it a cause for adulation that, with all his other responsibilities, my right hon. Friend has found time to put that into effect.
§ Mr. Reynolds
We were told during earlier discussions on this Bill that it was impossible to insist on a hot water supply being provided for the kitchen sink because the kitchen sink could not be defined legally, and the provision is in the Bill only because of pressure from hon. Members on this side of the House.
§ Mr. Cole
The hon. Gentleman does me too much credit. I was not referring to that matter but to the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Kettering who referred to putting the kitchen sink into a Statute.
The amenities which will be provided by this Bill will mean a lot to human welfare and to the happiness of the people who will benefit from them. I thank my right hon. Friend for his efforts and I wish the Bill a speedy passage in another place.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
We are all grateful to the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) for the efforts she has made to safeguard the position of women under the provisions of this Bill. Women everywhere will be grateful to her for the work she has done.
I want also to put on record how much I appreciate the stand which has been taken by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government in the statement he has made of his own views in relation to the position of women. 1404 He has stated quite categorically that he believes in equality for women under the Bill. Women will be very grateful for that statement. The only difficulty which has arisen is that it does not appear to have been possible to include in the Bill the necessary safeguards in words so that in future there shall be no misunderstanding about the intentions regarding participation of women in these matters.
I want to put on record two ideas of my own about how, if there are difficulties with building societies, we might be able to protect the interests of women. If I remember correctly, my right hon. Friend said at one point that the Building Societies Association had signed an agreement on this matter. It should be possible to have on the record in HANSARD the names of those societies. If in future any woman is unfairly treated by a building society it should be possible for any hon. Member—on either side of the House—to introduce a Bill under the Ten Minute Rule eliminating such a society from a grant made by my right hon. Friend. It would be quite a good thing to have that on the record so that building societies, which I am sure will read this debate with very great interest and care, will be aware of the view of the Government and my right hon. Friend and that in future they can look for trouble if they do not implement the provisions the Minister quite honourably and honestly expects them to carry out.
I am not quite so tolerant as my right hon. Friend. I do not always believe that everyone will behave perfectly in this rather imperfect world. I prefer to have safeguards inserted in the Bill. It seems that we could look for a safeguard in this direction. I only trust that we shall not have to resort to such methods to ensure that women are treated equally with men under the provisions of the Bill.
The other day my right hon. Friend announced that he was going to write to local authorities giving them a directive or guidance—I am not certain which—that there should be no sex discrimination. In future there might be a time when we could ask whether there has been any discrimination on the part of local authorities. In relation to the treatment of women by local authorities—
§ Dame Irene Ward
With very great respect, Mr. Speaker, you were not in the Chair when the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South made a speech covering the position of women under the Bill. It seems a little unfortunate that I, too, am not allowed to comment on it.
§ Mr. Speaker
I did not hear the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton), but I am hearing the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward). That is all that concerns me. I think that the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth has made the point quite well. She must not discuss matters of administration, which have nothing to do with the Bill on Third Reading.
§ Dame Irene Ward
I can only say that I consider it a little unfortunate. I heard the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South make a full statement of the position of women under the Bill. I thought that it was very odd, because there is no safeguard in the Bill for women. I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for having drawn my attention to the matter.
I hope that I shall not have to ask my right hon. Friend to take disciplinary action against local authorities for not carrying out the undertaking which has been required by my right hon. Friend. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has given certain undertakings and has made his own position clear, because it is only fair that women should participate as well as men in the provisions of the Bill, which the Government have introduced with a view to assisting home ownership in this country.
§ 10.52 p.m.
§ Miss Herbison
My hon. Friends and I regret the illness of the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Joint Under-Secretary of State and we hope that they will very soon be fully recovered. I am sure that the Minister will convey that message.
The Parliamentary Secretary claimed that this was the greatest single Measure to promote home ownership, and both the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) and the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) claimed that it was a great Bill which encouraged home ownership. Which houses does the Bill help people to buy? They must be at least forty 1406 years old—pre-1919. When these houses are bought they will be bought from their present owners. How many more people in Britain will become home owners, then, as a result of the Bill? I hope that after the great claims which he made on Second Reading, and what I regard as the extravagant claim made by the Parliamentary Secretary, the Minister will be able to tell us how many more people he expects to become home owners as a result of the Bill.
The hon. Member for Crosby said that he could find no objection which my hon. Friends had to the Bill. Our greatest objection to it is that it will do very little to improve the houses in Britain. The hon. Member for Crosby tried to compare what had been done under a Labour Government from 1945 to 1951 with what had been done under a Conservative Government from 1951 to 1958. I am sorry that he is not in his place to hear my comments. I remind him of a fact which he has perhaps forgotten—that there was a war from 1939 to 1945 in which we suffered a great deal of bomb damage.
Even if we forget all that, the true comparison is not what happened between 1945 and 1951 and what happened between 1951 and 1958, but what happened between 1945 and 1951 in Britain and what happened in any other country in Western Europe. Looking at that comparison, one finds that in housing we did better than any country in Western Europe that our building resources were employed to the full during that period; and indeed, we were top of the league in house and factory building and keeping down the cost of living. The hon. Member for Crosby would have something to crow about if he could say that his Government, during those years, had remained at the top of the league rather than dropped our country to the miserable position of almost bottom of the league in almost all these fields.
§ Mr. Temple
The hon. Lady has been giving some interesting figures about Europe. Could she give us the improvement in house-building in Europe between 1951 and 1953? She will recollect that there was a considerable improvement at that time in England. Was the same improvement maintained in Europe during those two years?
§ Miss Herbison
I am not considering two years. This Government have been in power from 1951 and this is 1959. One has to compare the whole of their record with our record, and one finds that their record is not a great deal to crow about.
§ Miss Herbison
We are waiting until the next election, when I imagine the hon. Lady will find that the electors have changed considerably since that time.
I am glad that throughout this Bill my hon. Friend, the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Elaine Burton) has fought for equality for women. She said that she would have liked safeguards in the Bill. An opportunity was given on the Committee stage for these to be put in, but I am sorry that the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth voted against those safeguards going in. I hope that when the Minister replies he will be able to give my hon. Friend the guarantees for which she asked in her excellent speech.
I want to turn to Parts II and III of the Bill. I wonder whether the Minister, the Secretary of State for Scotland, or the Solicitor-General, really feel that Parts II and III will lead to a great improvement in housing in the United Kingdom? This Government have tried by various measures to get landlords to improve our existing pool of houses. Almost bribe after bribe has been offered to the landlords, and to date these bribes have failed. Do the Government feel that this further generous bribe will lead to the improvement that we all feel is desperately needed for our houses?
The Government have decided that local authorities must give grants, with certain safeguards. We tried to move Amendments today, but we discovered that this Bill insists on local authorities giving grants to owners of houses which may have sanitary defects and that, by using the grant, may bring about overcrowding. It even allows for grants for owners' houses which are something less than fit for human habitation. The Government talk about freedom. They have made great play about the freedom which Conservatism brings, but where the local authorities are concerned the Government seem to think that Whitehall knows best.
1408 In Clause 12 in Part II of the Bill, a Clause affecting England and Wales, there is the provision that the local authority shall decide what the rent should be if an improvement grant is given to the owner of the house the rent of which is decontrolled. We welcome that provision. We think it is an important provision, if public money, whether from the ratepayer or from the taxpayer, is to go to a landlord to improve the house, that the landlord should not, when the house is decontrolled, be able to ask an exorbitant rent from the tenant.
We tried in Committee and on Report to get a similar provision for Scotland. We do not know what were the reasons why our Amendments at both stages were not called. I say to the Solicitor-General for Scotland that I hope he will tell the Secretary of State that, although we have not been able to express what we feel on this matter, we do welcome the provision in Clause 12, that we think it is a very great safeguard to the tenant of a decontrolled house, and that, knowing the landlords in Scotland, we feel that it is of just as great importance, perhaps of greater importance, that we should have that provision in Part III of the Bill, too. We ask that the Secretary of State, when the Bill goes to another place, will make certain that such a provision is put into Part III.
On Second Reading I said that we would not vote against the Bill. Anything which helps even in the slightest to improve our housing we on this side welcome. We have tried to improve this Bill. Very few of our Amendments have been accepted. All through, whenever the Government have rejected our Amendments, they have done so because of their tenderness for the landlords. The Amendments which we proposed were Amendments to improve the position of the tenants, and time after time those Amendments have been rejected.
What one of my hon. Friends said I also want to say, that we have an alternative policy. We believe in owner-occupation. Our 1949 Act was the very first in the history of this country to help those who did own a little house to get the improvements for it. When we were the Government interest rates were much lower for those who wanted to own their own houses. We have said very clearly in our policy statement that we 1409 shall revert to special rates of interest for home ownership.
I say finally to the Minister that this Bill may do a little, but it seems to us on this side of the House that it will not overcome the many evils which still exist in our housing in Britain. The Manchester Guardian was absolutely right. If the measures proposed in this Bill fail, the only alternative is the alternative proposed by the Labour Party. From all our previous experience we are convinced that the measures that are proposed in the Bill will fail. To the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth, I would say that I am certain that before it has had much chance to operate there will be a Labour Government ready to bring in a Bill that will ensure for our people in Scotland, England and Wales really good conditions to provide the kind of home that is so important for Family life.
§ 11.7 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Brooke
I am obliged to the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) for the kind words she said about the illness of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. I can assure her that it is through no fault of mine that two English Ministers are speaking on the Third Reading of this Bill. Had it not been that both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary were prevented by illness from being here, I can assure the House there would have been at least one Front Bench speech from a Scottish Minister.
Three months have passed since the Bill was debated on Second Reading and I am certainly not going to delay for more than a few minutes its progress to another place, because, whatever the Opposition may say, I have no doubt that the provisions in the Bill are being waited for eagerly by tens of thousands of people. That applies to each of the three Parts of the Bill.
Before the House gives the Bill a Third Reading I should like to reply to points that have been raised in debate, have sat through this two-hour debate and have endeavoured to follow it. I was not quite sure whether I followed the argument of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) who, in a series of diminishing figures, reminded me of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.
1410 On another point, I realise that I have got to be very careful, with ladies in front of me and ladies behind me, not to put a foot wrong in the matter of sex discrimination.
I was grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) for his suggestion that the Government might publish an explanatory booklet. Nothing of that kind could be done until the Bill becomes law, but I think that practice has been followed by Governments of different political colours in the past because it is to the common interest of all of us when new facilities have been enacted that we should take steps to make them as widely known as possible. Without doubt, I shall be sending a circular to local authorities when the Bill becomes law, drawing their attention to its provisions, and no doubt making certain suggestions for their guidance so far as they may need it.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield. West (Mr. Wade) spoke of the danger of people buying at inflated prices. He asked whether I would take cognizance of the stories he had heard that local authorities would give orders to valuers to value down properties where there was a question of making a 100 per cent. advance. I must point out that there is no obligation on any local authority under this Bill to make a 100 per cent. advance, so there is no need for a local authority to be as subtle as that. All it need say is that it is not going to make an advance of more than X per cent. of the valuation. I have never made any secret of the fact that I do not expect there will be a great many cases in which local authorities will make 100 per cent. advances.
It certainly seemed to the Government—and I am glad that it has generally commended itself to the House—that local authorities should have that power, because there was no reason in logic why they should continue to be restricted to 90 per cent. when building societies were free, by law, to go to 100 per cent., and were certainly willing to go to 95 per cent.
The hon. Gentleman was fearful lest people should be induced to buy houses at inflated prices by the offer of 95 per cent. from a building society. He may like to be reminded of the terms of the 1411 agreement which was reached with the Building Societies Association, as set out in the White Paper published in cannection with the Bill. That stated that the advance, if the borrower so wishes, is to be 95 per cent. of the purchase price or valuation, whichever is the less, which means that the building societies themselves are well aware of the risks that might be run if we took the purchase price without imposing any check on it. Indeed, I think I am right in saying that a building society is under a statutory obligation to have a valuation made before making any advance.
My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mr. Maurice Macmillan) spoke, quite rightly, of the value which building societies set on the grant of trustee status, and asked me to keep all the detail of these provisions under review. That assurance I can certainly give him. The House itself is safeguarded, because my hon. Friend will recollect that in Clause 2 (4) a limit of £100 million is set to the advances that can be made to the building societies under the Bill. That sum will be guaranteed, and when it is exhausted it will be necessary for the Government, if it is desired that the scheme should be carried on, to come back to Parliament and submit to further debate in this House.
I come now to the two hon. Ladies who have taken such a keen interest in the matter of sex discrimination. The hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) referred to the phrase "other matters," which appears at the foot of page 1 of the Bill. The Bill there deals primarily with the conditions for trustee status. At some moments, the hon. Lady seemed to regard me as being virtually responsible for the Building Societies Association. I am no more responsible to the House for the Association than she is for, let us say, the Coventry City Council. Indeed, she may be more responsible for that Council's doings than I am for the Association's. As I informed the House, the Association has itself suggested that the agreement which building societies wishing to enter into the scheme will have to sign should include an undertaking that they will make loans without distinction of sex.
Both hon. Members have asked how this provision would operate and be enforced. 1412 I can answer quite simply. Each society will be required to sign an agreement and, as at present proposed, such agreement will be terminable at three months' notice by either the Minister or the society concerned. In England, the Minister will be myself, and, in Scotland, he will be the Secretary of State. If, therefore, in the opinion of the responsible Minister, a society were to break the agreement, whether by discriminating against women or in any other way, the Minister would give notice to terminate the agreement for the future. I hope that that is a complete answer to that point.
In passing, I should say that if an agreement is terminated, that does not mean that existing mortgagors under the scheme in connection with the agreement would be sacrificed. Their position would be safeguarded by the continuance of the agreement in respect of the existing mortgages.
§ Miss Burton
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that assurance. Can he make it clear whether he included in those terms of sex discrimination this aggravating nuisance of the male guarantor, which is what irritates the women?
§ Mr. Brooke
I think that that is so. I do not think that I can use any fresh words on the spur of the moment. I have already told the House that there will be a provision that the society will make loans without distinction of sex. That means that while every society must naturally consider the credit worthiness of every borrower, whether man or woman, in no case can there be any question of some discriminating provision, whether the seeking of a male guarantor or anything else, simply because the applicant is a woman.
§ Mr. Brooke
That is the point at issue. Naturally, there may be certain applicants, whether men or women, who, because of their position, have not the same credit worthiness of normal applicants, and in such cases it is perfectly natural that the society should seek some further guarantee that the obligations will be met.
The hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North, seeking at that moment to minimise the importance of the Bill and 1413 its value to would-be house purchasers, said that it would assist only those purchasers of houses which were forty years old or more. That is not the case, as has been repeatedly explained by the Government. The building societies participating in the scheme are accepting obligations not only in respect of houses built before 1919, but in respect of houses built between the wars, that, so far as their funds allow, they will make advances on similar terms up to 95 per cent.
There is no doubt whatever that the provisions of the Bill will directly or indirectly loosen the facilities for the purchase of almost every type of house. Of course, it will be the people who wish to buy houses below certain limits of value and more than forty years old who will be sure henceforth that, if they are credit worthy and the house is sound, they will be able to get an advance, whereas for a number of years it has been the experience of many people seeking loans from building societies and being thoroughly credit worthy that they have met with a refusal, a most maddening refusal to them, but a refusal which the building society has had to give simply and solely because it did not have the funds to meet all the demands made upon it.
§ Miss Herbison
I asked whether the right hon. Gentleman could tell us how many extra people will become house owners as a result of the Bill. Has the right hon. Gentleman any idea?
§ Mr. Brooke
Any figure would simply be a guess and no sounder than the answer which the hon. Lady might make if I were to ask her how many Labour Members were likely to lose their seats at the next election.
§ Miss Herbison
That is as I suspected. Since the right hon. Gentleman has no information and cannot make even a guess, why does he make all his wonderful claims for the Bill?
§ Mr. Brooke
I could make any number of guesses, but when I am speaking on the Third Reading I do not think it is for me to indicate any figure unless I am sure that I can stand by it. So much depends on the conditions in the country, and whether we have a Government who creates conditions of confidence. There is no doubt whatever from indications 1414 which have reached me and many other hon. Members by now that there are many people who, as I said before, are waiting for the Bill to reach the Statute Book, because they realise its attractions and the new opportunities it will give them.
But no one can prophesy and say exactly what number that will be, and that is exactly the same with standard grants and improvement grants. I have no doubt that when the Labour Government put the 1949 Act on the Statute Book and first made provision for improvement grants, high hopes were held in the minds of the sponsors. Those hopes were frustrated and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) said, in five years fewer than 10,000 improvement and conversion grants were made. The scheme failed because it was too restrictive, and I have borne that fact in mind when the Opposition have asked the Government to accept Amendments which would have imposed new restrictions in addition to the other conditions for the making of these grants.
In 1954 we introduced new legislation. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was responsible at that time. At once the number of improvement and conversion grants leapt up, and then levelled out at about 35,000 a year. This was far better than the 1949–54 figure, but it was still not good enough, and the Government feel confident, because of all these things, that the new provisions of the Bill will lead to a rapid expansion of that number of 35,000.
§ Mr. Mitchison
Was not the 1954 Act the one which my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) called a mouldy old turnip for the landlords? Is this a better turnip?
§ Mr. Brooke
If the hon. and learned Gentleman seeks to argue that the 1949 Act was as successful as the 1954 Act in getting houses improved he will argue almost anything. What I am quite prepared to say is that this Measure will have a greater effect than either of those Measures in further stimulating the improvement of houses for the benefit not only of their landlords but their tenants. Whether it will do enough and go far enough, who can say, at this stage? It was the experience between 1945 and 1951 that all the housing efforts of the 1415 present Opposition failed. Since 1951 a successful housing policy has been continuously unfolded by the Government. We have now reached a point, with house building and slum clearance, at which we can take a further stride forward towards both house improvement and home ownership. Both of those desires are eagerly held by many of our fellow citizens in England, Scotland and Wales, and it is to satisfy those desires that we ask the House to give the Bill a Third Reading.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.