HC Deb 04 February 1960 vol 616 cc1318-48

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Whitelaw.]

8.1 p.m.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

Fortune is with me. I thought that I had half an hour for this debate, but I have two-and-a-half hours and I propose to take advantage of this fact.

The subject which I bring before the House is one which, in my judgment, is worthy of a major debate. It concerns the sale of council houses by local authorities. I have a story to tell which I feared I should have to compress into half an hour, but I can now go into it in some detail.

At the end of the last Session the House had before it a Bill which subsequently became the Town and Country Planning Act, 1959. I do not pose as an expert upon town and country planning or upon local government, but it was apparent to me that when that Bill became law it would alter the situation in which local authorities could dispose of houses under the authority of the Minister of Housing and Local Government. In 1952, the then Minister of Housing and Local Government published Circular No. 64/52 in which he gave general consent to the sale of houses, whereas, in the past, local authorities had been required to get specific authority.

Concerning the sale of pre-war houses, under Clause 8 (1, a) the Minister gave authority, in the case of a house completed on or before 8th May, 1945, for sale on twenty years' purchase of the net annual rent, exclusive of rates and water rates and ignoring any rebate or other similar adjustment. That circular had been in existence for some seven years, but it has not resulted in the sale of many council houses. In some parts of the country it has not worked well. For example, in the Borough of Stourbridge, in my constituency, the present mayor, a Conservative, had himself moved a resolution in 1957 rescinding the previous decision of the Stourbridge Council to sell council houses as he thought as representing a majority on the council that it was unwise to proceed.

In another part of my constituency, the County Borough of Dudley, it has not been found necessary to rescind the policy, but the authority has proceeded with caution and no great difficulty had arisen.

When the Town and Country Planning Act, 1959, was about to become law I endeavoured to put Questions on the Notice Paper asking the Minister what would happen to Circular 64/52 when the Town and Country Planning Bill became law. I was not absolutely certain because the Town and Country Planning Bill, if I may say so very gently, was not an easy document to understand.

I tried to understand and get such advice as was open to me, and I sought to put down a Question. I ran into difficulty. The Table refused to accept my Question until the Bill had become law on the ground that to ask a Minister what he intended to do until the Bill became an Act was hypothetical. I make no complaint that I had to wait until 21st July, 1959. I then asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs to what extent the conditions of Circular No. 64/52 relating to the sale of pre-war houses on which Exchequer subsidy is payable will continue to apply after the enactment of the Town and Country Planning Act; and whether he will make a statement. The Minister replied: I am considering this matter and intend to give guidance on it to local authorities in the near future."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st July, 1959; Vol. 609, c. 104.] That was on 21st July, and I was sure that the Town and Country Planning Act created a new situation and that Circular 64/52 would have to be withdrawn. I pressed the Minister and asked other Questions, to which I shall refer later, on other aspects of the same problem, but I did not get very far with them.

On 12th September I wrote a letter to the Minister saying: On the 21st July I asked you in a Written Question: to what extent the conditions of Circular No. 64/52, relating to the sale of pre-war houses on which Exchequer subsidy is payable would continue to apply after the enactment of the Town and Country Planning Act; and whether you would make a statement. You were kind enough to reply—'I am considering this matter and intend to give guidance on it to local authorities in the near future'. As six weeks have passed, I wonder if you will be good enough to tell me at your very early convenience when you will publish the new circular so that local authorities understand the position which arises now that the Town and Country Planning Act has become law. The Minister was kind enough to reply and to say that he hoped to give guidance in the not too distant future.

My first act when I came back to the House after the General Election was to ask the Minister on 3rd November: When he intends to give guidance to local authorities regarding the sale of pre-war council houses; and when he proposes to withdraw Circular 64 of 1952. The reply that I received was: I shall be issuing a new Circular shortly."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November, 1959; Vol. 612, c. 29.] I came back to the House, partly effective, before Christmas, and I felt that this matter was of such urgent importance that I wrote to Mr. Speaker asking for time on the Adjournment debate for the Christmas Recess. Unfortunately, more important matters came to Mr. Speaker's notice and I was not granted an Adjournment. As soon as I came back after the Christmas Recess I telephoned to the Minister of Housing and Local Government to inquire when the Circular was coming out, and I was told that it would be out shortly.

Last week I made further supplications to both the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Mr. Speaker for an Adjournment debate, and on Thursday I was told by Mr. Speaker's Secretary that I had been granted an Adjournment debate for today. On Friday morning, by one of those astonishing coincidences in British public administration at which I never cease to wonder, I received a letter from the Minister telling me that the circular would be issued very shortly. [Laughter.] It had been sent to the printers.

I can understand hon. Members being a little amused by this, but there is a serious side to it. In my constituency, the election was largely centred on the question of the sale of council houses. The Conservatives have a majority in Stourbridge, albeit a very narrow majority. They appointed a subcommittee, wholly composed of Conservatives, to consider this mater. I make no complaint about that. The chairman of it was the deputy-mayor, Councillor Guest. My friends who have seen the minutes tell me that proposals came before the Stourbridge Council that circulars should be issued at the time the Election was on, giving details about the sale of council houses, both pre-war and post-war, in Stourbridge, on the basis of the old circular 64/52.

I would ask the House to believe me when I say that I am not raising the subject from a party political point of view, because I do not care very much about party politics when it takes on this form of exploiting people's basic need for houses. I try to clear such things up in the interest of good government. In a democracy, in which we have our differences, we should define what our differences are in order that people may understand what they are all about. It was perfectly clear and had been established to the satisfaction of the House on 21st July—and it was clear to the Minister—that Circular No. 64/52 was dead.

I asked the Minister to withdraw it, and he declined to withdraw it. On 27th July, I asked him specifically whether he would withdraw it pending the production of a new circular. I put a Question on the Order Paper as follows: … whether, in view of the confusion which now exists amongst local authorities regarding the sale of houses on which Exchequer subsidy is payable, he will immediately withdraw Circular No. 64 of 1952 pending the issue of the further guidance which he has promised to give to local authorities in the near future. I submit to hon. Members in all quarters of the House that, in view of the Minister's answer on 21st July, this was a reasonable request. Did the Minister accede to it? No, he did not. His answer was: No. There has been no confusion among local authorities of which I am aware. But nothing could cause more confusion than to withdraw the present Circular without putting anything in its place."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th July, 1959; Vol. 610, c. 25.] That was left to the judgment of hon. Members.

Not only did I try to make it clear to the people of Stourbridge that they were being hopelessly confused if they were offered houses for sale under Circular 64/52 after the Minister had said that it would eventually be withdrawn, but by putting Questions on the Order Paper and by writing to the town clerk of Stourbridge I tried to establish what the consequences would be to the citizens of Stourbridge if this proposal went through. The proposal was to sell all the pre-war council houses, 2,331 of them, at the 1952 price plus £156.

The Minister was kind enough to tell me that if all the pre-war houses were sold then, in his own words, after making some allowance for variations which occur in the amount of subsidy paid for houses provided under the 1919 Housing Act", Approximately £335,000 would be lost to Stourbridge. The town clerk, on the advice of the borough treasurer, does not completely accept that figure. He wrote to me on 17th July to say that, taking into account the total loss of subsidy for houses under the 1919 scheme, the loss to Stourbidge of Exchequer subsidy would be £378,000. The House may take the Minister's figure of £335,000 with adjustments or the town clerk's figure of £378,000, and they may assume for the purposes of discussion that there will be a loss of £350,000.

The argument has been advanced time after time in Stourbridge, and indeed in the Midlands generally, that it does not make any difference that Stourbridge is to lose this Exchequer subsidy. The argument is that it is the public who will get the money back. No argument could be more dishonest or more fallacious than that, because those who will be assisted by the Exchequer being relieved of paying £378,000 are very different kinds of people, with very different kinds of income, from those who occupy prewar council houses which are being offered for sale at present.

This is not the only thing which will happen in Stourbridge as a result of this transaction. As in many places, the rents of pre-war dwellings have been placed in a housing pool, which has been relieved by the contribution from pre-war dwellings and the fact that Exchequer subsidy was payable on them to the extent of £16,000 a year. If I may quote the words of the town clerk in a letter to me on 16th July, This represents an average of 2s. 11d. per week on 2,204 post-war dwellings. If the scheme as proposed by Stourbridge, the conditions of which have been circulated to the occupant of every pre-war council house in Stourbridge, were implemented, the effect would be the loss of £350,000 of Exchequer Revenue, and the loss would fall, to an average of 2s. 11d. a week, on the 2,204 families who live in post-war council houses. I understand, indeed, that the proposal is to force this scheme through.

It is perfectly clear that there must be some explanation of the delay from 21st July until this week-end when the Minister was kind enough to tell me that the issue of a new circular was imminent. If it is to be produced very shortly, that must mean in the next week or two.

The Conservative majority on the Stourbridge Council is very narrow but, because of the working of our local government democracy, which means that those of my colleagues, the Labour members, who live in council houses, have not been allowed to vote on this issue, there is a permanent majority for this scheme. It is quite impossible, under the ordinary workings of majorities, for it to be defeated. Nevertheless, it is perfectly clear that there are at least a number of Conservatives who are opposed to the scheme. I have referred, for example, to the deputy-mayor, Councillor Guest. He was the chairman of the subcommittee. He resigned, and he publicly described the scheme to dispose of these houses, as announced, as frivolous.

I understand that there are one or two other members on the Conservative side of the council who, behind the scenes, are quite free in their adverse comment on the scheme. It seems to be the Conservative way, however, before the vote to be very free with your comments but never to come quite up to scratch when it is time to hold up your hand. Given the fact that a number of my Labour friends live in council houses and, although being allowed to speak in the debate are not allowed to vote in it, and given the political situation, which prevents those members of the Conservative Party from putting their public duty before their private political inclinations, we are landed with this scheme.

What astonished me, when the scheme came before the Stourbridge Council at the end of December, was to learn that it was being forced through on the basis of telephone conversations which had taken place between the deputy town clerk of Stourbridge and Mr. Hannigan, an official in the Ministry of Housing. I wrote rather sharply to the Minister pointing out, not that I regard myself as a very important person—because I do not—but that as a Member of Parliament I thought it a "bit hot", to say the least, that the information which he would not give to me was being passed, it was said, by one of his officials to a local government official. Because it is perfectly clear from the letter which the Minister wrote to me on 28th January that such conversations took place. It states: It is correct that there was a telephone conversation between one of my officers and the Deputy Town Clerk of Stourbridge, but the latter was not told what the terms of the new circular were to be and there never has been any question of giving the Council a special consent. That is as it may be, but it is the fact that certain Conservative members of the council, not publicly but behind the scenes, have said over and over again that they had private information of what the policy was to be. And the circular which they wanted to publish and which in fact they did publish in Stourbridge, is based on private information given to them. I do not say it was given by officials of the Ministry. It would be wrong to use the privilege of this House to impugn them. I think there was a channel of communication because the Minister so far forgot his public duty as to forget to bear in mind constantly that he was a Minister of the Crown and that his party political interests should come second to that consideration. In other words, to put it bluntly and in plain English, from about last July when the election was imminent, the Minister of Housing and Local Government, not to his credit, played politics with this policy and with the sale of council houses. That is my first assertion—

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Sir Keith Joseph)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is making a non sequitur here. He is seeking to suggest that Stourbridge had special information, which he is entitled to suggest. He is then linking this with some behaviour by my right hon. Friend in purely general terms, and I very much hope that if he is not going to withdraw that he will substantiate it. But I hope that he will withdraw it.

Mr. Wigg

I may be guilty of a non sequitur, and if so, that is an error of logic for which I pray to be forgiven. But let us go over it again. Six months have gone by—

Sir K. Joseph

I am not for a moment at this stage defending the delay. Delay is one thing, but a certain sinister motive crept into what up until then was an entertaining, interesting and valuable speech. I hope the hon. Gentleman will withdraw that sinister motive.

Mr. Wigg

It is the first time I have heard it is sinister to further the interests of the Conservative Party. This is what the hon. Gentleman is saying. I think there are limits. This is my view. It may be that t have a higher sense of public duty than the Minister. In view of what I think has happened, I hope that I have. I am not saying that there is anything sinister about it. I have other comments to make which may sound even more sinister.

There is no allegation that the Minister was guilty of personal dishonourable conduct. If I thought that I should have written to him and said so, because I am not mealy-mouthed about these things. I say that an explanation is required of why, from 21st July, we have still not had a circular. There is an explanation required of why information not given to me was communicated to an official of the Stourbridge Council. I went out of my way to exonerate any local government official or member of the Civil Service, because they cannot answer. The Minister can and is doing so through his Parliamentary Secretary.

What I am saying I can base only on the evidence available to me. It is freely said—I have in my hand a letter from a member of the Stourbridge Council who says that it has been said over and over again—that what has driven the Conservative group on that council into what, I think, is quite an absurd and illogical position is that members of the group have been saying that the Minister has communicated with them not through Departmental but through political channels, and this would make sense.

I was going to say how it made sense. I suppose that on the even of the election, from the Conservative point of view, nothing was more desirable to illustrate the workings of Conservative democracy than to say that anybody who wanted to buy council houses could do so at knock-down prices. Or if one could issue a circular, or could get candidates—who do not always perhaps understand the finer shades of political in-fighting—to go round the countryside and talk with conviction about disposing houses at give-away prices, even if the Minister never intended to do anything of the kind. The Minister is responsible for his actions and for the consequences. I think that is what happened. If the Parliamentary Secretary thinks that is sinister, as I say, I have more sinister things to say.

I have traced the history of the earlier proceedings up to the present time, and I have told the House that I wrote to the Minister after the council meeting at the end of December and expressed my disquiet and the Minister replied. The Minister has not only replied to me, I understand, as he said in his letter, he also sent a circular to the Stourbridge Council. Other authorities may or may not have been similarly favoured. But he told it the policy, and if hon. Members do not know what is that policy, I will tell them.

The letter is dated 28th January, and it told me for the first time that the circular was imminent and what the policy would be. Perhaps I had better read all the letter: It is correct that there was a telephone conversation between one of my officers and the Deputy Town Clerk of Stourbridge, but the latter was not told what the terms of the new circular were to be and there never has been any question of giving the Council a special consent. Until Circular 64/52 is withdrawn the general consent contained in it remains effective, though it would be open to me to require any local authority to get a specific consent if they were proposing something to which I took objection. The Deputy Town Clerk was reminded that his Council, if they were to go ahead, would be doing so under the existing general consent and was told that from what was known of their proposals there would be no objection to their doing so. I will see that you are sent a copy of the circular as soon as it is available. Perhaps I may ask the Parliamentary Secretary to thank the Minister personally for that very kind concession. This should be very soon indeed, but it may be helpful for you to know its main tenor now, for the policy is decided and I am simply waiting for the printer; I am sending similar information to Stourbridge Borough Council. In the case of post-war houses I do not propose to alter the basis that the sale price should not be less than the all-in cost of providing the house. For pre-war houses, the basis is to be changed so as to make the minimum permitted sale price twenty times the net annual rent charged for the house immediately prior to the sale ignoring any rebate. The Minister went on: I should emphasise, however, that the minimum price is meant to be the minimum, especially in the case of pre-war houses, and should not be regarded as a norm. The proper level of prices must always be a matter of judgment in the light of the circumstances of the particular local authority concerned, but I should point out that gross value for rating purposes will often be a better guide than the current rent and that a price of thirty-five to forty times the gross value would in general seem appropriate. When the Minister wrote to me on 24th September he said: I am concerned to give fresh guidance to local authorities as soon as possible, but this is an important and difficult question which requires careful consideration. I am trying to find a basis of disposal which will safeguard the housing finances of the local authority while giving a reasonable encouragement to home ownership, and is at the same time both simple to apply and adapted to the varying circumstances of different authorities. From your knowledge of the matter, I am sure you will appreciate that it is not easy to find an answer to satisfy all these desiderata. I shall, however, lose no time in publishing a circular when I have completed my examination of the problem. I say to the Parliamentary Secretary what I have said publicly. I accept that as a basis of policy. It is a perfectly fair policy. It would be mealy-mouthed and hypocritical to argue against it. I live in my own house, and why should I deny that privilege to anyone else? Any man has a right to live in his own house, and anything done to facilitate home ownership, particularly among young people, is a perfectly sound policy and has the support of both sides of the House.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that I support equally the other part of the proposition. The Minister says: I am trying to find a basis of disposal which will safeguard the housing finances of the local authority". We are here considering the interests of those who want houses but cannot afford to buy them. I support the Minister's statement. I said during the General Election, and repeat, that it has my wholehearted support.

Now let us look at the Minister's letter in the light of what he says there. First, he does not change the policy, so what was holding it up for six months? What was the difficult situation in September? The policy is just the same except for one point. I think it would be a great public service, not only to Stourbridge but to other parts of the country, if the Parliamentary Secretary will explain what is meant by: I shall emphasise, however, that the minimum price is meant to be a minimum, especially in the case of pre-war houses, and should not be regarded as a norm". Not the same words and not with the same force, but similar words were used in Circular 64/52, and in Stourbridge the minimum was regarded as being the norm. In the circular, which I hold in my hand, which was sent out in January of this year by the town clerk of Stourbridge under the authority of the Conservative majority, narrow though it is, there is an offer to sell non-parlour type houses of two bedrooms for £467; three-bedroomed houses from £492 to £609, four-bedroomed houses for £646 and five-bedroomed houses for £542 to £596. Parlour type three-bedroomed houses are offered for sale from £596 to £713 and four-bedroomed houses for £725. To be fair, the circular continues: These prices would be increased in appropriate cases where additional facilities now exist in the house, by the following amounts: (a) For back boiler hot water installations: £67 or £75. (b) For hot water geyser installations: £54 or £63. (c) For electricity installations (part or whole): £8 to £42 I ask the House to look at the Minister's new policy and see if it is to bear the same interpretation as the previous one, that is to say, if local authorities are to be free to regard the minimum as the minimum if they so wish. Let us see how it affects housing at Stourbridge and in the Midlands generally. If this is Conservative policy, let us see how it works. Stourbridge is a delightful Worcestershire town. It has some Black Country black spots which date back to the Industrial Revolution. That is not the fault of the people. That is one of the legacies of history. Houses have to be pulled down. Lye in Stourbridge has a development plan which has been a source of controversy and houses have to be acquired under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1959, which altered values. It destroyed the basic link on which sound legislation will be based—the link between betterment and compensation.

Now let me give publicly the prices being paid by Stourbridge for houses which they must have in the public interest, many of which are to be bought only to be pulled down. The local inhabitants of Lye in Stourbridge will know the areas and will know what they are worth. Nos. 2 and 5, Summer Street, Lye, have been acquired recently for £940. No. 135, Cemetery Road has been acquired for £2,606. No. 54, Belmont Road has been acquired for £2,082. No. 39, Crabbe Street has been acquired for £828, No. 55, Hillbank for £1,000, 10/10A, Cross Walks Road for £260, 40, Cross Walks Road for £530, 48, Hillbank for £240, 14, Hillbank for £440, 44, Hillbank for £490, 60a, Hillbank for £825, 60b. Hillbank for £750 and 8, Pope Street for £115.

A total of £11,106 has been spent by Stourbridge in acquiring houses, some of them very old houses, for the purposes of a development scheme. Yet if this policy means what is says, or it means what the Conservatives take it to mean, we should be selling 2,300 houses at an entirely different figure. Those in High Park Avenue will be sold for £600, yet their estimated value on a conservative basis is £1,500 to £2,000.

The general view now, the circular having already gone out—if the minimum can be regarded as the norm by the local authority—is that the houses now being offered for sale are being disposed of at half their value, while the houses we are buying are being bought at twice their value.

There has already been a reference to something sinister. I come now to something else. It is not sinister, and I do not impugn the honour of the person concerned. This is something which happened in Dudley which I should like explained so that people in the Midlands and the Black Country may understand this circular and how town and country planning is working. The local authority of Dudley wanted to acquire a certain house, the property of Mr. H. L. Preedy, the President of the Dudley and Stourbridge Conservative Association. I am sure that the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Talbot) will know him. Mr. Preedy is to receive £10,000 for his house. "Ashleigh", Ednam Road, Dudley, is being disposed of, or it is with the Ministry for sanction, at £10,000.

I have taken the trouble to make inquiries from an authoritative source, and I am told that, before the passing of the 1959 Act, the compensation would not have been more than £6,000. I make no imputations against the honesty of Mr. Preedy. He has a perfect right to take advantage of an Act which enables him to obtain the full value of his house not as a dwelling, though it is a house in Dudley, but as a house if it were converted into offices. He is to receive £10,000 and, I presume, he will be leaving Dudley. I hope very much that he will go and live in Kidderminster, but I hope that he and the Conservative Association will remember sometimes that the purchase of his house in Dudley cost a 3d. rate.

In Dudley there is some very bad housing. There are people there struggling to live respectable and decent lives in appalling housing conditions. Yet every one of them will make a contribution of at least 1d. or 1½d. in the £ towards Mr. Preedy's £10,000.

My friends in Stourbridge have fought against this proposal and tried to educate the public. So far as I have any influence, I am always a democrat. I believe that if the people decide that they want to live under a Conservative Administration, national or local, they should be free to do so. I wish them the best of luck. I hope my fears will prove groundless. But my job is to educate them, if I may use that word without presumption, in the consequences of having a Conservative Administration. This is what my friends in Stourbridge are trying to do, too.

They have, of course, put forward alternative proposals. I should have thought that these proposals would commend themselves to the Minister. They suggest that if we have to buy property on the basis of what the district valuer says we should be able to sell it on the same basis. But I must not push that too far, I suppose, because it would require legislation. However, it certainly seems to be a perfectly fair, straight forward and honest view.

Of course, these things work out in the oddest way. The Minister has urged local authorities to have housing pools. In Dudley rents of pre-war houses have risen by 77 per cent. since 1952, while in Stourbridge they have gone up by only 10 per cent. That is why, with a Conservative council more concerned with a doctrinaire policy of getting rid of all council houses irrespective of the social consequences, we have such ludicrous proposals as the selling of public property worth £1,500 for £600. This accounts for the difference in price for a similar kind of house in Dudley and Stourbridge.

There is also the town planning point. What will happen in these places as the years go by if this policy catches on, if a house is bought here and another one there and if later a local authority wants to do something about a road or to build a new school or even to make a footpath? It seems to me that ultimately the whole basis of planning will be destroyed.

I am still fortunate enough to have time at my disposal, but I do not want to weary the House. It may be that I have aroused interest in other hon. Members who may like to make a contribution to this subject which has an importance far beyond Dudley and Stourbridge. When the new circular comes along, I hope that my hon. Friends with special responsibilities for housing will consider its implications over the whole country and will, if necessary, seek to raise a debate on the subject.

I want to consider another aspect. It was proposed in January this year by the Stourbridge Council to make a review of the housing repairs fund. It was falling into arrear. It was proposed to increase the charge by 1s. a week from 1st April. Then it was decided to put back the increase to 1st June. Here I should like to quote from the Express and Star of 15th December which contains a report of a Stourbridge Council meeting. The report reads: A rent review, which was planned in an effort to sort out rent anomalies, has been deferred for six months so it will not interfere with house sales. I should have thought that that is a categorical statement. The hon. Gentleman will draw his own conclusions, and equally I can draw mine, from the deferment of this proposal until 1st June. I suggest that this is an effort to keep down the rent in order to conform with the Minister's policy and to dispose of one of Stourbridge's main assets, its pre-war houses, of which there are 2,300, at the lowest possible price.

I disagree with this policy, but I hope that I have been fair in what I have said. In Stourbridge there is, at the latest date for which I can get figures, a waiting list of 1,000 people wanting houses. If all the pre-war houses, which are the cheapest, are disposed of, what will happen to the Minister's slum clearance policy? The rents of post-war houses are very high, and it is perfectly clear that there is a considerable number of people on that waiting list whose economic conditions are such that they must have a house at the lowest possible rent. If all the pre-war houses are sold, what is to happen to these people? Taking the Minister's policy in his letter to me of last September and accepting it and then trying to see how it works out in Stourbridge, it seems to me that nonsense is made of everything that the Minister has said or is trying to do.

We are now probably near the end of the story. The publication of the circular cannot be very much longer delayed. We know that, presumably, when it is published if the interpretation which is placed on it locally is the correct one and that Stourbridge Council is free to dispose of its houses at the lowest possible price, the citizens of Stourbridge will be faced with the economic consequences. I should be obliged if the Parliamentary Secretary would spell that out.

I hope very much that the hon. Gentleman will also spell out the meaning of the fourth paragraph of the Minister's letter, to which I have referred, concerning the meaning of a "norm". Clearly—this would be a rational explanation—it could be a minimum for the authority to apply to the least desirable kind of house, leaving the Minister's other standard of 35–40 times the gross value to be applied to the more desirable kind of house, or, if necessary, perhaps the houses which are known to be extremely desirable could be left for the district valuer's standard of value. Or it could mean that the varying local authorities, in the light of local conditions, could apply the minimum price as a norm and that it would be a norm only for those authorities which cared to do it. That seems jumbly, but that is how it seems to me.

The latter part of the Minister's policy, stating I shall point out that gross value for rating purposes will often be a better guide than the current rent and that a price of 35 to 40 times the gross value would in general seem appropriate commands my support, because it seems to me to be logical. If one takes the 1939 values as now being about double, if the Minister applies twenty times the annual rent where that is applicable and if the rents are now double in terms of 1939, 40 times the gross value would just about put it right.

If that were applied, it would have another desirable consequence. I think that Stourbridge, if allowed to do this, will be an exception. Most local authorities would tend to regard their handling of public property as a trust, even in the case of majorities of one's and two's. The fact that people cannot vote on the council is not an excuse for slick political action simply to get one's way. Members of local authorities, like those of us in this House, must be conscious that people come after them and they are not free to liquidate or dispose of assets in accordance with the political needs of the moment.

If local authorities like Stourbridge were to do this on a wide scale, what would happen to the credit of local authorities? Already, borough treasurers are finding themselves in difficulties. They find it difficult to raise money on long term and they have to get money expensively on short term. No business man in his senses would adopt a policy of buying dear and selling cheap. He would be bankrupt if he did. If this is allowed to be done for political purposes on a wide scale, local government finance, which the Minister mentioned in his letter of 12th September, will get a bit of a rough handling. That is why it seems difficult to believe that the interpretation placed upon it in Stourbridge is correct.

The Minister doubtless has seen the circulars sent out by Stourbridge. It has sent out circulars on pre-war housing inviting applications on the basis of the prices I have given. Already, however, the Minister's proposals make nonsense of that, for even if twenty times the net annual rent for a house immediately prior to sale is applied, the value should bear relation to the rent at the moment of selling. Even though there is evidence of the rents being deliberately kept down to further the policy, it is difficult to believe that all these 2,000 houses can be disposed of before June. By June, prices would have gone up and the terms of the circular would be out of date. Each case would have to be dealt with on its merits.

That leads to another point to which, I hope, the Minister will give attention, though not necessarily tonight. This will create a difficult administrative problem. What will be the cost in terms of administration if all the pre-war houses come up for sale and each one is decided on merit and repayments have to be collected weekly or monthly? The administrative costs will be very great.

Of course, in this proposal, too, is the suggestion that the council will ask the prospective purchaser to pay £1. Prewar houses at Stourbridge are not only to be given away at half their price, but the occupants of the houses can get them for £1 each. This is too much for the deputy-mayor of Stourbridge, Councillor Guest, who resigned the chairmanship of the Housing Committee, but who could not bring himself to overcome his party scruples to vote against it. I must not say hard words about that record it just as a fact.

What a door this leaves open. The property market has been rigged pretty substantially in London. Attempts are being made to rig it in the Midlands. Already feelers are being put out by companies which have very recently been formed to acquire properties for the purpose of development. But what about the more shady property company which comes along and encourages the people to acquire the houses? This sort of system of finance is almost an invitation to the shady gentlemen to come along and put up the money at quite onerous rates of interest for people to acquire houses. What a picking for them five years later. They help people to acquire houses at Stourbridge at half their value. Some of them are worth three times the amount. In five years they will belong not to the public, not to the citizens of Stourhridge, but to some shady finance company out for a quick penny. This is the take-over bid carried to what I think is the logical conclusion—certainly carried to a conclusion which I wholly deplore.

I have always had a high opinion of the Minister of Housing and Local Government, dating to days long before he became a Minister. He shared the friendship of the late Master of Balliol, Lord Lindsay, who had a great influence on my own life and who often used to speak in approving terms, not of the right hon. Gentleman's politics but of the right hon. Gentleman as a man. I carried those views with me. I found when I raised constituency matters with him when he was Financial Secretary that he was perfectly fair and always helpful. I am sure that in this matter he cannot be aware of what is going on.

We must be charitable. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will acquit me of any idea of being sinister. I do not operate that way. Anything I have to say I say openly, and I give notice of it if I am going to criticise anyone. I think highly of the right hon. Gentleman, but I think that, perhaps under the influence of a General Election, he forgot his high office and put his finger in the political scales. It would have been better not to have done so.

I am quite sure that the situation in Stourbridge is one with which he is not familiar, that it has arisen, not because of his weakness but from sheer local enthusiastic stupidity, and that he cannot be aware of what the consequences must be to all the people of Stourbridge if this policy is carried through. The opposition of my friends on the Stourbridge Council has, perhaps, exacerbated the natural enthusiastic stupidity of the people on the other side.

I have been fortunate in having had a fairly long time to speak on this matter tonight. I hope that in view of what I have said the Minister will do his best to clear up some of the doubts. If they are not cleared up, I earnestly appeal to my hon. Friends not to let the matter rest at this Adjournment debate, but to raise it again in wider, stricter and harsher terms than I can use on this occasion.

8.55 p.m.

Mr. John E. Talbot (Brierley Hill)

I think that I should begin by saying how pleased we are to see the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) back in his place after his serious illness. It is evident that he is fully recovered and is in good form. On a personal note, I should like to say to him that something was said during his election campaign which ought not to have been said. Many of his friends in the Midlands who disagree with him politically are sorry for that and hope that by now he will have forgotten it with his usual generosity.

It will be strange if I did not know a little about what the hon. Member has been talking about because to pass from one part of his two-borough constituency to the other he has to pass through mine, and we then experience seismic disturbance in the Black Country. It would be wrong if I were not to defend the lamb which has broken away from the fold, namely, the Borough of Stourbridge. I know many of the people to whom the hon. Member has referred and a good many others who have taken a leading part in this acute political controversy. In my opinion, the quality of administration in Stourbridge has vastly improved since there has been a change of political control of that town.

As to the question of housing, we want to bring the debate back to the simplest possible level by saying that in the light of the law as it now exists the Borough of Stourbridge has not done anything whatever which is either contrary to law or unbusinesslike in the execution of that law. There is, as we all know, a wide gulf between the Socialist and Conservative parties on the question whether council houses should be sold or not. That is a principle which I do not doubt will be debated on many occasions, but Stourbridge having decided to offer for sale its council houses, surely the question of what is paid under quite different schemes or what is being paid in the loyal half of my hon. Friend's constituency on a private deal to an individual is utterly irrelevant to the question before the House. I am bound to say with sorrow, and perhaps out of turn as a new Member, that it is extremely undesirable to publicise in Parliament private sales of property from which no public point of interest can be adduced, merely because it seems to have the effect of attacking a political opponent.

In the matter of the disposal of council houses, the advice in the circular from the Ministry which is now about to be withdrawn and amended is perfectly sound. The advice in the further circular of which we have had some little notice in the debate tonight is also sound. Let us reflect for a moment that many of these pre-war council houses have now enjoyed a life of forty years and the 60-year loans by which they were erected are substantially repaid. Therefore, it may be, and often is, an economic advantage to a council in the position of the Stourbridge Council to liquidate property of that age which is bound to require ever-increasing repairs in order to get cash into borough funds from which the erection of newer houses can be financed.

I do not know the figures in this case, but I have had seven years' experience as chairman of a finance committee not far away and it was considered a perfectly sound principle of finance that one sold an ageing asset in order to obtain cash to purchase an improved asset. From an economic point of view that policy on the part of Stourbridge Conservatives is perfectly sound.

It is rather nice to have the attention of the entire world focused in this Mother of Parliaments on an obscure corner of the Midlands. Those who take upon themselves to do that owe a duty to this place to see that what they say is balanced and fair, just to a community of 40,000 people, a corporate borough, that is not here to reply for itself.

In conclusion, may I say how gravely the hon. Gentleman's speech, for all its charm and force, will be regarded in the constituency which he seeks to serve?

9.1 p.m.

Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)

I cannot regard Stourbridge and the neighbourhood as an obscure corner of the Midlands. No part of the United Kingdom which has been represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) could possibly be obscure. Although my hon. Friend has raised what is, to begin with, a constituency matter, it has much wider implications and for that reason I venture to take up the time of the House for a few minutes

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Talbot) also said that what Stourbridge had done was in no way illegal and not unbusinesslike. It was not suggested by my hon Friend this was illegal. Indeed, if I understood him aright, a great part of the substance of his complaint was that this kind of thing can be done under the present law and under its administration by the Ministry. It is completely misconceived criticism of my hon. Friend's speech to say that what Stourbidge was proposing to do was not illegal.

The hon. Gentleman also said that it was not unbusinesslike. That depends on the definition of "business". We have seen a number of instances recently of what is commonly called business. It consists in shifting wealth from one pocket to another, with no gain in the total wealth of the community. In certain circles that kind of thing is considered to be the essence of a businesslike transaction. If that is what one means by businesslike, it can certainly be said that what was proposed to be done in Stourbridge was very businesslike indeed, but what is in issue is whether that kind of business is good business for the community generally.

It seems to me that the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary has a fair amount to answer here and I only want to underline two points that seem to me of general significance. One is that apparently under the circular which is just about to be superseded, and, equally, under the one that is to be introduced, it will be possible to sell council property at what would appear to be surprisingly low prices. I do not understand the sentence at the end of the letter of 28th January, which states that the minimum is meant to be a minimum and should not be regarded as a norm. We shall want to know, when the circular is before us, what is to prevent a local authority from turning the minimum into a norm, which appears to be exactly what Stourbridge is doing.

If council houses can be sold at prices that are obviously below their full value, it is a matter of considerable public interest. We all want to encourage owner-occupation of houses, but to encourage it legitimately is one thing. To suggest to certain people that they can become owner-occupiers on terms and conditions, which means that they are heavily subsidised at the expense of their fellow citizens, who either cannot or, for legitimate reasons, do not wish to buy their own houses but to remain as council tenants, is very different thing and an undesirable state of affairs. Yet it appears from what my hon. Friend has said that this is happening in Stourbridge and it is the responsibility of the Ministry to do something about it.

The other point of general importance is the one made by my hon. Friend that members of the Stourbridge Council were aware of the nature of the new policy which the Minister is about to introduce at a time when it had not been disclosed to the House and had not been disclosed to my hon. Friend despite his repeated inquiries. If that has happened through any channel—political, official or otherwise—the Minister is responsible for it happening, because it is his business to ensure that this kind of thing does not happen.

The Parliamentary Secretary may remember that some months ago this Ministry was under criticism because material and facilities, information and addresses that were in its possession had been made available to a political organisation for political purposes. It was what was known as the "sticky labels" case, and it was fashionable in the party opposite, and in the Press which supports it, to suggest that we were making a great deal of fuss about nothing. In fact, what we were making a fuss about was the handing over of information which ought not to have been handed over to a partisan organisation for political purposes.

To regard that as a slight matter is a derogation from the standard of political behaviour that one thought we had established in this country in this century, but which might have been more appropriate in the eighteenth century. It may be said that that was only a little thing and that this prior information getting to the Stourbridge Council was only another kind of little thing. How often is this kind of thing to happen? That seems to me to be one of the questions which face the Parliamentary Secretary tonight.

9.6 p.m.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

I can lay only a very small claim to any interest in this desirable and in no way obscure area of the West Midlands through having had connections with Smethwick some years ago.

The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), at the beginning of his speech, was making implications of rigging, and so on, by various recently established finance companies. Companies must be allowed to come and go, and one cannot make implications about a company because it is newly established. It is a pity to attack a new business institution merely on the grounds of novelty.

Mr. Wigg

The hon. Gentleman misunderstands me. It is not because they come, but because they go.

Mr. Wells

The hon. Gentleman did say that it was a new company, which seems to me to be an unfortunate turn of phrase. Again, he used the phrase "illegal and unbusinesslike" about these goings on. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Talbot) said, it is neither illegal nor unbusinesslike. My hon. Friend made the point extremely well that it is desirable to sell a wasting asset and reinvest the money in an up-to-date asset, and that surely is the policy of every wise finance committee of a local authority.

There is, however, one broader matter which I should like to bring to the attention of my hon. Friend on this matter of the sale of council houses. Some councils have verbally offered houses for sale to their tenants and have then had second thoughts about it. I go a long way with the hon. Member for Dudley in thinking that a council should either sell houses or not sell houses, but once they have decided to sell and make an offer to the tenants, even if it is only a verbal one, I think that the council should maintain its word. I therefore ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to draw the attention of his right hon. Friend to this situation in which some councils apparently change their minds half-way.

9.8 p.m.

Mr. Robert Edwards (Bilston)

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has performed a very useful service to local government and to democratic institutions in this country by raising this matter in the way he has done. He made a very careful speech and no doubt he could have hit the headlines with some of the material in his possession, but his speech was modest and logical. At no stage did he suggest that the action of the Stourbridge Council was illegal, although it has been suggested in the two speeches from the other side of the House that my hon. Friend implied that these sales were illegal.

My hon. Friend spent a good deal of his time in explaining the difficulties that we get into when we legalise matters of this nature, and this legality can become a grave disservice to the community. Hon. Members opposite have stressed the idea that it is good business for a council to sell what they have referred to repeatedly as declining assets. It is news to me, and I am sure that it will be news to many local authorities, that houses only forty years old are declining assets.

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

The property-owners do not think so.

Mr. Edwards

No, they do not. They think that houses 100 years old are now very good assets. Some of the houses which my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley mentioned were sold for double the sums for which 40-year-old houses are being sold and are very much older than those houses. Details were given of the payment of £11,000 for one small area bought by a local council for slum clearance purposes.

Mr. J. Wells

It was said earlier today by a number of hon. Members opposite, when we debated requisitioned houses, that houses about forty years old were definitely wasting assets and were deteriorating. Hon. Members opposite spoke of older houses being a liability. How can the hon. Member now say that a 40-year-old house is in its prime?

Mr. Edwards

I will proceed to explain, if the hon. Member will listen, the point at issue.

Parliament grants local authorities subsidies for building houses for slum clearance purposes. A council with a waiting list of 1,000 persons—and in my constituency there are urban areas with far more than 1,000 people waiting for houses—has to house many people who cannot pay the kind of rent which we have to charge for new houses—because of the cost of labour, the increased cost of building materials, interest charges, and so on.

However, young couples get tenancies of municipal houses by exchanges. The lower-priced older houses, forty and fifty years old, are exchanged by older families, whose incomes have risen over the years, for new houses occupied by younger people, who go to the older house where they can pay a lower rent. If that possibility of interchange of tenancy is wiped out, serious new problems will be created for local authorities and for young people who just cannot pay high rents and whose only hope of getting a council house is to take over an older house by that exchange system.

That was the point being made. That is why emphasis has been laid on the importance of giving this matter further consideration. It was suggested by the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Talbot) that my hon. Friend was doing an unparliamentary thing by daring to say that the chairman of the local Conservative Party had sold to a local council for £10,000 a house that was more than forty years old. Public money was paid for that old house, public money to the tune of £10,000.

Why should these things be discussed in secret? It is not a disservice to bring these things into the light of day. It is a great public service to the good people in the Black Country to let them know how much they have to pay for declining assets for one purpose and how little they get for declining assets for another purpose. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will consider in detail the points that have been put forward by my hon. Friend. They are basic points which are of great importance to our whole system of local government.

9.17 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Sir Keith Joseph)

I have a relatively short House of Commons memory, but it goes back long enough to remember the occasion when the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) entertained the House with a graphic speech in the vocabulary of Damon Runyon. It was a memorable speech both for content and delivery, but this is the first time that I have heard a long and scintillating speech in the vocabulary of Aesop because, with all respect to the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), it seemed to me that he gave us a moral tale hung tenuously on a very slender thread of definite fact and on an entertaining and slightly off-beat series of generalisations based, first, on a local and then on a national phantasy. I will take each part of what he said in detail.

First, I am on weak ground because the new circular has taken a long time to prepare. That is not an offence. It is a complex matter and a lot of time and thought has to be given to it. It is slightly disconcerting to be reminded of the timetable which reaches back to the Question in July, the letter in September, the confrontation of these two formidable opposites, my right hon. Friend considering a new circular and the hon. Member for Dudley finding out what is to be in it, or trying to do so, the confrontation being interrupted by two serious interventions, one in which I rejoice, the election, the other of which pains me, the illness of the hon. Gentleman, the confrontation taken up by Questions in November and still the hon. Member preoccupied over the Christmas Recess by the problem of the circular only to find that when we return here, and still in February that the circular is to emerge shortly. I assure the hon. Member that it will emerge very shortly.

In answer to the legitimate complaints of the hon. Gentleman I can only say that it has taken a long time. We are not ashamed of it, but we apologise for the delay. We are sorry for the delay, but there has been a good deal of work to do in my right hon Friend's Department and we have been faced with a complex but relatively small matter which has needed a great deal of thought.

Mr. Wigg

What happened before the Bill became an Act? The Minister knew that when it became law Circular 64/52 would lapse, but he never told the House that in the course of the proceedings on the Bill. The Parliamentary Secretary cannot ride away with it like that. It is six months since the Bill became an Act, but there was a long period before that in which this circular could have been issued. He knew that the policy was to be changed.

Sir K. Joseph

The hon. Member forgets that legislation leads to many consequential and desirable alterations, and that not everything can be done at once. The intervention of the election caused an understandable delay in policy-making, which accounted for a few months of this delay.

I now come to the "Stourbridge Initiative", if I may so call the next chapter in this story. I reject wholeheartedly any suggestion of special information either to Stourbridge, through the Ministry, or on a party net. Besides, it is quite unnecessary to explain what happened by invoking such suggestions. The fact is that Stourbridge evidently contemplated the sale of houses at about the same time that my right hon. Friend was contemplating a revised circular. Stourbridge certainly consulted my right hon. Friend's Department, and was told—as the hon. Member was informed in a letter from my right hon. Friend—that Circular 64/52 was still alive and that the council was, therefore, legally free to do anything that the circular permitted it to do in this matter.

I now come to the substance of the question, namely, the Stourbridge proposals. We are told that Stourbridge proposed to sell all its houses. I find this suggestion a little disingenuous. If some buyers are interested in any market operation, there are many other buyers who are not, but who have to be informed of the operation. The fact that the Stourbridge Corporation thought fit to circulate all its tenants does not mean that it expected, contemplated or was prepared, for 100 per cent. of the tenants to buy. I do not know what proportion of council tenants take up the offer to buy council houses, but I would wager that it is a small proportion, and this proportion was almost certainly known to the officers and members of Stourbridge Corporation.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Dudley has sometimes received catalogues from people who wanted him to buy articles, but did not expect him to buy, merely counting on a small proportion of all the people to whom they sent catalogues wishing to buy the articles offered.

Mr. Wigg

Disingenuous no; ingenuous, yes. I believed that the Conservative members of the council meant what they said.

Sir K. Joseph

I do not think that the hon. Member and I are too far apart in this matter. They meant what they said. I agree. They wanted to sell some council houses, but they never expected that all the council houses would be bought.

I now come to the next chapter, which I regard as by far the most important, namely, the price for sale of council houses. Here I come to that part of Aesop's tale where the moral lies. What has been said by the hon. Member for Dudley, my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Talbot) and the two hon. Members opposite who intervened, can be most valuable in reflecting the facts of housing life to any part of the public, or any local authorities who do not appreciate them, but I must assert that the view of my party is that whatever we may think, local authorities have power, within a certain defined sphere in housing—within the power set out in Circular 64/52—to act on their own judgment, subject only to the views of their electors, which is a powerful sanction.

In my opinion, however, sales of prewar houses can easily be conducted both on too large a scale and at too cheap a price for the health either of the tenants of the local authority or the ratepayers. I repeat, however, that the general consent given by my right hon. Friend in Circular 64/52 gives local authorities power to take action above a certain minimum.

This brings me to the definition of "minimum", not the norm, which my right hon. Friend emphasised. If rents are held disproportionately low and the sale price is based upon so many years' purchase of those rents, the house could be sold at an unreasonably low price, thus injuring other tenants and the ratepayers, and reducing the assets that belong to the public in that area through the local authority.

It is a relevant comment which my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Talbot) has made, that a council can legitimately take into account the maintenance expenses of old houses. This is most important, and one assumes that councils do take this into account. But also, when considering the sale of any of their assets, they should not conduct it entirely on x years' purchase of rent basis, without checking that the rent reflects current values in some way such as my right hon. Friend has suggested—against gross values which are to some extent a yardstick of current value.

I was asked by the hon. Member for Dudley to spell out what the consequences will be if they do not do this, and I should like to take the opportunity to do so. If councils were to dispose too cheaply or in too large quantities of all their relatively cheaply built pre-war houses, they would achieve a very great disservice to the general population whom they serve, because it is these cheaply built pre-war houses which can, without hardship to any individual tenant, particularly if the rebate scheme is effective in the area, be offered at a price which more than serves the capital locked up in those houses, and, therefore, help to reduce the rents that have to be paid for the more expensively built post-war houses.

That is the reason why local authorities must be careful to take current values when considering the sale of council houses. If they were to sell either too cheaply or in too large quantities this could be a very serious drain on the ratepayers, who would have to find the difference which, up to then, had been found by charging higher rents than needed to serve the capital in these more cheaply built houses.

I find the comparison by the hon. Member for Dudley between the increase of rent which has taken place in Dudley and that which has taken place in Stourbridge since the war very instructive. I must remind myself, before I am reminded, that there are different circumstances in each area. I am not commenting in detail on those areas, but the fact that two local authorities so close to each other have raised their rents by such different margins over the same period at least puts one on inquiry. Of course, one does not know from what level of rent the comparison began.

I hope that I have taken the main point of the debate by trying to explain what my right hon. Friend means when he stresses the importance of the yardstick which he lays down in the circular as being a minimum and not a norm. I hope that I have explained clearly the penalties which a local authority might impose on its tenants and ratepayers if it sold too many houses at too cheap a price.

I come to something about which I cannot be quite so much in agreement with the hon. Gentleman. The next chapter is headed, "Comparison between the buying and selling prices of houses."

I maintain that there is nothing whatever incompatible between, on the one hand, buying a property at market value as laid down by the Town and Country Planning Act, 1959, and, on the other hand, selling a property at below market value to a sitting tenant with a five-year condition against resale or the right of pre-emption of the local authority. It is normal practice in the well-conducted management of property to offer a sitting tenant the property which he occupies at a lower price than that at which a stranger would buy it.

That is all that this local authority is doing. Whether it is offering the property at too big a margin below market price is a matter on which I am not called to comment here, because, provided the authority keeps above the minimum, for the rest it is its own affair, with the sanction of the local electorate behind it, if it gets it wrong. I would emphasise that the bogies which the hon. Member has waved in front of us about the higher value on purchase and the low value on sale ignores the fact that the sale was to a sitting tenant.

I should also like to dispose of his comment, in passing, that the sale of council houses could be serious from the planning point of view. I accept that it is more inconvenient, when we want to widen a road, if the houses fronting that road are owned by a large number of different people rather than by one landlord, but I am glad to say that that is what we are finding in ever-increasing areas of the country where houses are in the multiple occupation of owner-occupiers. This is no worse a difficulty than in that case and must be accepted if the objective of owner-occupation to a substantial extent is to be achieved.

There is a serious element in the matter which the hon. Member has raised, but he is going too far in treating the sale of all council houses as a serious possibility in any area of the country. When he turns to the national scale and talks about financial disaster facing the taxpayer because of these sales, he is indulging in hyperbole.

It is not for me to judge the conduct of the Stourbridge Council. These are matters for its own discretion, subject to its conforming to my right hon. Friend's circulars. The current circular, still alive, is No. 64 of 1952, although I very much hope that the circular which has been so eagerly sought and fought for by the hon. Member for Dudley will soon be in front of us all.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned at twenty-eight minutes to Ten o'clock.