§ 4.50 a.m.
§ Mr. Robert Mellish (Bermondsey)
I am sorry to keep the staff of this Palace up so late, but I think the House will agree when they have heard the debate that the subject is one which warrants myself and a number of my colleagues from London and Middlesex raising this problem which affects thousands of our constituents. I should also like to thank my hon. Friends who have been taking part in the debate on Southern Rhodesia for completing that debate and giving time for adequate discussion of this very important subject.
I am not going over the whole ground of housing problems in the London area. Others who will take part in this debate are more qualified than I am to do that. I tell the Minister straight away that many thousands of Londoners are suffering, and are about to start suffering, from the effects of the 1957 Rent Act. As a result of the Landlord and Tenant (Temporary Provisions) Act, which came in shortly after the Rent Act, throughout London many landlords came to an agreement with their tenants to sign three-year leases. In almost all those cases in London and Middlesex rents went up considerably and the landlords ensured that the tenants had to do a certain amount of repairs. That enabled the Minister to say, with a great deal of confidence, at the last General Election that the Labour Party's fears of mass evictions would not be realised, but I say to the Minister quite sincerely, from knowledge of my constituency and the neighbouring constituency of Southwark, for which I have authority to speak from the hon. Member who is abroad and would otherwise be taking part in this debate, the full effects of the 1957 Act are now being truly felt because those leases are now falling in and new leases are being offered to tenants.
The Minister may not know this—although he should know it. Since 1957 there has been a great change in property owners. Speculators, big boys and spivs, have moved in and this is becoming a racket. Instead of there being a property-owning democracy in which the Minister and I personally believe, unfortunately a lot of people 1565 have moved in with one object—to buy property, not to improve it and apply decent conditions for the tenants who live there, but merely to make profits. As a consequence, leases are being offered to tenants at rents which are scandalous. There can be no other word for it. This is acting as a snowball. I can give instances of sixty tenants in my constituency who had their rents raised to £3 5s. a week in 1957 and are now being asked to sign new leases and pay £4 15s. a week for very old property.
They are told that under the terms of the leases they not only have to do internal and external repairs, but the landlord will visit the property before the lease is signed and compel them to put it into what he considers a satisfactory state of repair. These are landlords who did not own the property until a year ago. I took legal views on many of these leases and was told that there was nothing the lawyers could do because the position was wide open.
One of the claims of the Minister was that when he applied the Act there would be a great movement of people into property and that those who could afford lower rents would find accommodation. I beg him to believe that that is absolute nonsense; in fact the opposite has happened. In my constituency, whereas in the case of a privately-owned flat with a rateable value of under £40 and therefore controlled, a family would move from a two-roomed flat to a three-roomed flat when the family grew up, now the moment a person moves from a flat on which the rateable value is under £40 it becomes decontrolled. The rents being demanded are fabulous, with the result that no movement is taking place into the flats. People cannot afford to pay the rents being asked, as a result of decontrol being introduced by the Act.
I want to refer to the position in Thurrock—I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) will not object—and to some articles which have been running in the Star, which I hope the Minister has read. The headline isA cruel way to treat Londoners.I will quote an instance of the way in which new landlords have moved in. The 1566 owners of these properties were respectable, decent people who recognised that the properties were not worth a large rent increase under the 1957 Act. They applied hardly any increase. But since then the speculators have moved in, and the ultimatum which tenants have received is quoted in this article asPay up next Monday or get out.In other words, they must pay a certain increased rent or get out.The full force of the Rent Act, 1957 has hit them",the article continues. Some of the properties are in a dilapidated condition and the new owners are asking for fantastic rents.
Perhaps I might quote what was said by an important person in Southwark, Monsignor Anthony Reynolds, who is a very respected priest in that area. He said,There are at least a thousand tenements in my parish like this. As soon as one is empty it is decontrolled and other people come in. Sometimes they pay £25 or even £50 for entry at the higher rent. In the worst buildings in this parish the rents run at £2 2s. for two small rooms, £3 3s. for three. There must be at least 50,000 tenements in London in the same boatThose are not my words but the words of a man who lives in that area. I do not know his political persuasion, except that, like most people in London, he is ashamed of what is going on today—and going on legally under the Minister's 1957 Act.
I hope that the Minister will give us an assurance that we have reached the limit of these rent increases and that he will have the courage to reintroduce rent control. The Minister said recently—I could quote his words and he can correct me if I am wrong—that the bad effects of the Rent Act concerned only Greater London. I remind him that 15 million people are living in Greater London. Many of my hon. Friends and I become fed up because London's problems are not mentioned more often in the House. We hear a lot about Scotland and elsewhere, but in Greater London there is a bigger population than in Scotland and Wales together.
The fact remains that these tenants are suffering hardship and we are asking that something should be done to help them. My colleagues will give other examples in the debate.
1567 In the final words of my short speech I will tell the Minister that my own local authority is very progressive. It is a Labour-controlled authority, it has a direct-labour scheme and its record of building and rebuilding is a credit to it and to London. I am proud of what my authority has done. But it is being badly hurt by the Government's economic policy. The authority is having to pay 7¼ per cent. and 7½ per cent. to borrow money. Even a small borough such as Bermondsey already owes £7 million in housing loans. In order to continue its efforts to help people to raise their standards of life, the local authority has had to go into the open market, at the Minister's insistence, to borrow money at those rates. This happens simply because the authority is trying to provide its people with decent living accommodation.
Why does not the Minister understand that we regard the provisions of housing as an essential for ordinary people? Local authorities ought to be encouraged in this work by the provision of low, fixed-rate interest loans which would enable them to do a good job, whether they are Labour or Conservative-controlled. We believe housing to be one of the greatest social needs of the day. We do not think that the Minister's approach to it is right. He has made legal a realm for speculators and for spivs. He ought to be thoroughly ashamed of himself.
§ 4.59 a.m.
§ Mr. Compton Carr (Barons Court)
I cannot miss the opportunity to say a few words in the debate because, although I am now a Londoner, I do not agree with most of the comments of the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) because—
§ Mr. Mellish
I have never written such an article. I do not know where the hon. Member got it from. I do not live in a council house. I am paying the Minister's 6¼ per cent. interest to buy my own house.
§ Mr. Carr
If I have made an error, I withdraw. I would not imply that the hon. Member had said that he had difficulty. It has, however, been implied, and it was implied in the hon. Member's words tonight, that it would be difficult to live in a council house on a Member of Parliament's pay. The hon. Member is implying—[Interruption.] He mentioned the difficulties of people living in houses in London, and he was—
§ Mr. Mellish
I must get this clear. I now know the article. I wrote an article explaining that I was buying my own house and that, in spite of the salary, which reputedly was high, I had to pay something like £4 10s. a week and I found it difficult to do so. I explained in the article that since I bought the house the interest charges had gone up no fewer than three times under the Government.
§ Mr. Carr
I am obliged, and I apologise to the hon. Member for having taken the implication that he was living in a council house. The point made by the hon. Member is exactly the point I am making. Today, too many people regard the percentage of their income which is paid for their home as being sacrosanct at a low level. The hon. Member mentioned a figure, and I know that we have to bear more expenses than people outside this House believe. Indeed, as a new Member, I find that there was little exaggeration in pant of the hon. Member's article, which, I well remember, at the time I found hard to believe; but I am learning the hard way. The building societies, who look at things from a practical viewpoint, place a man's ability to pay at about one-quarter of his gross income.
There are large numbers of people in this City who pay nothing like that amount and they continually regard the question of rising rents by councils as something which is against all their rights as citizens in London. Those are the people who, like another type of person whom I represent—the immigrant in London—are causing a great deal of trouble in London housing. The man who does not want to pay the full economic rent and the man who goes into London expecting to find accommodation at a low rent and who sometimes is 1569 willing to accept a low standard of housing to get into London are causing a gnat deal of the housing trouble in Landon. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) said "Bunkum."
§ Mr. Carr
I am obliged to the hon. Member. If those words can be applied to people who come into this City willing to pay the rents of which the hon. Member for Bermondsey was speaking and have low-grade accommodation—they are obviously not of the rich, because nobody who is of the rich will live in appalling conditions and pay those high rents—they are obviously adding to the problems. There are large numbers of people coming into this City and adding to the problem. One reason why thins problem is aggravated is that local authorities will not apply the statutory overcrowding byelaws.
§ Mr. Mellish
There are buildings in Southwark which are privately owned and where people have been living for years and years, just ordinary working-class people, but these are not council flats.
§ Mr. Carr
I do appreciate the hon. Member's argument about this. I do not want to extend this into a long speech, but the point is and must be realised that if there is a market for low grade accommodation at high rents it is because people are coming in from somewhere. It is no use a landlord going to his respectable tenants in a block in, say, Bermondsey, and where they have been living for years, and saying to them, "I will raise your rents by £4 or £5 a week," or whatever it may be. [HON. MEMBERS: "They do."] I know they do, but they cannot do it unless there is a market. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."]
§ Mr. Marsh rose—
§ Mr. Carr
I will not give way for a moment.
This point is fundamental, and it is obvious to the meanest intelligence outside this House, and it is the one basic factor in the whole argument about housing in London or any great city, that whether a man be a spiv or anyone 1570 else he cannot get his rent unless people are willing to pay it and willing to pay it even for low grade accommodation
§ Mr. Carr
I am obliged to the hon. Member, and if the hon. Member for Greenwich wishes to intervene after I have dealt with the point I will let him, because I should not like him to think I refused just now to give way to him for any personal reasons.
The point is this. If there is scarcity value it is continually exacerbated by movement. The hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) can bear me out from experience in part of his own constituency. In his constituency and in mine, and elsewhere, there are areas where young people with their families tend to move out into better areas, aid where there is a continual movement in of people from outside London, and these people sometimes—I say it without any disrespect—are willing to accept lower housing standards than even the people who have moved out.
§ Mr. Marsh
I do not know what connection the hon. Member has with London, but it must be peculiar Is he not aware that in practically any London borough people have to live in the district three years before they can even apply to be put on the housing list? It is not just a question of people coming from outside and walking into houses.
§ Mr. Carr
I am not talking about council houses. The hon. Member for Bermondsey has already directed my attention to the fact that we are not talking about council houses. There are large areas in London where people come in from outside who do not worry whether they will go on a council housing list. They are the people who very often contribute to this overcrowding, willy-nilly, because they want to come here for work or one reason or another. How do we stop that, someone asks? If we insist, especially in areas where overcrowding is endemic and there is continual movement, on applying the overcrowding byelaws, we could in that way start to nibble away at this problem.
§ Mr. A. Evans
I assure the hon. Member that his right hon. Friend the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary, time after time, have agreed in the House that the Statutes relating to overcrowding cannot be enforced by the local authorities.
§ Mr. Carr
They cannot be enforced on the local authorities, but it is up to the local authorities to enforce them. [HON. MEMBERS: "How?"] I cannot take it from any hon. Member that I know nothing about London housing. I know as much as many hon. Members. I know about housing in Deptford, in Bermondsey, in Southwark, Hoxton and my own constituency, as well as in other cities. To listen to hon. Members opposite one would gather that they had never considered anything without believing in the doctrinaire idea that no house was ever owned by anyone who was not a Tory and also a spiv. While the hon. Member for Bermondsey was speaking, hon. Members opposite kept shouting "Tory, Tory, Tory". They are tied to the doctrinaire idea that nothing that is bad is not Tory and nothing that is good is not Socialist, and Socialism means municipalisation and therefore it is the only solution to the problem. That is what is asked for by the hon. Member for Bermondsey.
§ Mr. Carr
I do not know whether that remark was addressed to me through you, Mr. Speaker. I accept that it was. If the hon. Member believes in a property-owning democracy he certainly gave no impression of doing so, except on the one occasion when he said it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] What people say and what people do are very often different things, especially in Socialism. The party to which the hon. Member for Bermondsey belongs does not believe in a property-owning democracy.
§ Mr. Carr
Hon. Members ask for telephone numbers. This is a housing debate. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not street offences."] I agree, it is not a debate on street offences. My point is that it is possible to charge those rents and get an economic return. That is not to say that those rents are being charged. [Laughter.] Considering the housing conditions in his area and the fact that every London hon. Member is concerned about housing, I wonder why the hon. Member for Greenwich finds this so amusing.
§ Mr. Carr
If the hon. Member regards the dignity of the House with as much respect as he regards my speech, then I can quite understand why he addresses the Chair with his hands in his pockets. [HON. MEMBERS: "But the hon. Member has his hand in his pocket."] The hon. Member for Greenwich had both hands in his pockets. It is quite clear—
§ Mr. Carr
We are all trying to say something which is of assistance in this debate except for hon. Members who insist on interrupting without standing up and who have no interest in London housing as far as I know.
1573 The point about London housing, which the hon. Gentleman refuses to admit, is that one cannot increase rents unless people are willing to pay. They do not have to pay them. If others in council houses who are being subsidised unnecessarily were forced to pay economic rents, with a rebate for need, we should solve much of the London housing problem. That is slowly being recognised by councils, including Socialist-controlled councils, all over London. Fulham Borough Council, although it is not moving fully towards economic rents, is moving to a rent rebate scheme.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
If the hon. Member says that the Fulham Borough Council is moving towards a rebate scheme, is he aware that my council has been operating one for some time but it has not yet solved its housing problem? If he suggests, as he has done, that with a rent rebate scheme tenants would leave council houses and go into the flats which they could afford on an economic basis and thus solve the housing problem, why is it not happening where rebate schemes are working?
§ Mr. Carr
That is my suggestion at any rate. I do not agree with the hon. Member.
I am sorry to have taken up so much time, but I feel that one cannot speak about London housing from any one single point of view. I regard the problem as one which is soluble only by the exercise of a great deal of ingenuity by all of us.
§ 5.19 a.m.
§ Mr. Michael Cliffe (Shoreditch and Finsbury)
The hon. Member for Barons Court (Mr. Compton Carr) brought in the usual old bogeyman of council tenants and rebate schemes, something which is now much more appreciated by the people as a deception very successfully practised by the Tory Party before the General Election. It was used primarily to cover up the mistakes made in Housing Acts from 1954 onwards.
I want to speak of the situation in my constituency. It is ridiculous for an hon. Member to suggest that people art paying rent for properties in 1574 London outside council property strictly in accordance with their incomes. They are, in fact, paying £3 and £4 a week for basement rooms in some of the most dilapidated places in London—places in which rich people would not dare to put their dogs. People go into such places because no others are available, as the Government have made it impossible for local authorities to continue to provide better accommodation. By removing subsidies and taking other action the Government have made it impossible for local authorities to do the work that needs to be done. I speak because I feel strongly about the terrible effect of all this on my constituency.
One of the local authorities I represent decided that it would purchase an area of land of about 1½ acres. The district valuer, in March, 1958, estimated its value at about £34,600, but, as a result of the 1959 Act, the new valuation in November, 1959, was £79,500. That increase, which came within 15 months, was a present to the owners of the property of about £45,000. These are the problems of housing in London.
There was another piece of land of about one-sixth of an acre fronting Old Street in Finsbury. A housing scheme was being developed and it was considered that this small area should not be left isolated but should be fitted into the scheme. The price was set at £18,000. As a result of certain complications and difficulties during the negotiations, the purchase was delayed until, in 1959, that piece of land was valued at £75,000.
This is the kind of situation arising as a result of the Government's legislation and the fact that local authorities are now having to compete with private enterprise in the purchase of land and to pay these fantastic prices. I do not want to quote instances outside my own constituency in view of the time, but as an example of the effect of the Rent Act of 1957 on rental agreements, properties in a close in the Borough of Finsbury where the rent was £3 10s. a week had sit increased by 30s. as a result of that Act, and that was a very good landlord who decided it should be on the basis of instalments over a period of twelve months. Certain assurances 1575 were given by people I know well connected with this property that the rent would not be increased any more. But tenants are now being called upon to sign new agreements as the present ones fall in in October, and they are being asked to pay another 30s.
Every week those who cannot afford to pay come to see me to inquire if I can use my influence with the local authority to provide them with cheaper accommodation. As much as £7 10s. and £8 is now being asked for two rooms and people are having to pay because there is no other accommodation. This situation has not been created unintentionally but deliberately by a Tory Government. No one will convince me that the Minister of Housing and Local Government did not know what the situation in London and in the country generally was. He knew he was making a present to the property owners.
So far as furnished accommodation is concerned, the sky is the limit. People who have a couple of rooms to spare put in a few sticks of furniture and charge anything between £4 and £6 a week. In addition, they lay down numerous conditions. They will not have dogs, cats, prams, or children.
Deputations have come to me about a block of old dwellings where the agent, living in the property, says rather sympathetically, "You have lived here for about ten years, it would be a good idea if we could give you some additional accommodation." And so there is a new tenancy agreement and an increase in the rent. The rents for basement rooms in the same block, which are dungeons and which are continually changing tenancy, keep going up and up. There are people paying £3 a week for two basement rooms in the centre of London, and if hon. Members do not believe me I am prepared to show them.
The whole position is scandalous. I blame not the speculators and the gamblers, but the people who have made these things possible—the Tory Government. In view of the high cost of land and the extra charges which local authorities have to pay with slum clearance, subsidies should be increased to enable local authorities to build council flats to be let at reasonable rents. We 1576 sometimes talk about council flats as though they were rent free, but there are people in my constituency who pay £3 10s. or £4 a week for a council flat. We also have to take into account the real value of those flats.
Are we to continue to allow rents to go up and up because the Government have created a free market and removed all restrictions from one of the scarcest commodities, leaving the consequences to be exploited? The situation has been prostituted to such a degree that thousands of people are making a small minority rich while nothing is being done to help the general public. I appeal to the Minister to increase slum clearance subsidies and to make cheaper money available to local authorities so that they can remove some of the restrictions under which they are now working.
§ 5.32 a.m.
§ Mr. Laurence Pavitt (Willesden, West)
I have sat here all night, but I have to fight for my people in Willesden and I am certain that in what I say I shall be speaking not only for my constituency, but for many of the black spots in the London area.
I had the good fortune to be able to raise some of these matters with the right hon. Gentleman in the last housing debate, and after that debate I was able to send the right hon. Gentleman the front page of our local newspaper, the Willesden Chronicle, upon which the Minister was kind enough to give me a number of comments. I remind him of the report which was published at that time of the conditions in my constituency. There were about 700 instances of families who had never been able to live together; there were 1,800 families who were overcrowded—and official overcrowding is almost like sardine packing; five hundred people were getting extra housing points because of blindness, paralysis, loss of limbs or having ailments such as severe chest or heart conditions and other serious illnesses; there were 2,000 families in desperate need, but with slender hopes of early rehousing, because rehousing for those living in slums and pre-fabs came first. I have made representations to the Minister and I think that he is aware of the terrible situation which prevails in my constituency.
1577 I ask him to treat this as a matter of extreme urgency and to take some action in view of the results accruing from the 1957 legislation, results which may be even more apparent in October when the three-year period runs out. I give the right hon. Gentleman credit for not really knowing the situation and, unlike the hon. Member for Barons Court (Mr. Compton Carr), I will try my best to explain the position to the right hon. Gentleman.
In my constituency, we are not faced with the problem of the luxury flat tenant having to make a three-year agreement. Most of the houses in my area have been controlled. They were under the £40 rateable value limit and, in consequence, they have become decontrolled only when someone has moved out, or something like that has occurred. However, as a result of that fact, most people dare not move and a number of urgent situations have arisen because people who should exchange houses have been unable to do so, because once a tenant has moved out, the house has been decontrolled. That is having a sorry effect on the home and family life of the people of my area.
I will give three very quick examples. First, Mrs. White, late of 308, Chapter Road. She is 68 years old. She was living downstairs. The landlord told her that there was a vacant flat upstairs and asked her whether she would like to move up there. She went upstairs. Within three months the house was sold and she was to be evicted. I took a soap box outside the house, and we then paraded up and down the street and managed to get a stay of execution for that old lady of 68. She had lived there for 27 years, but the fact that she moved upstairs meant that her flat was no longer controlled. The landlord said that he would have to consult his directors, but agreed to a stay of execution, and the borough council was able to do something about it. I looked up the company and found that it was registered after the Act. It was founded with a capital of only £100. There were only two directors. He held 99 of the shares and his wife held the other one. The Act has brought about this situation which makes it impossible for us to do anything for our people to prevent them being evicted.
1578 Incidentally, this bundle consists of correspondence on housing cases over the last three months. I am not alone in this. I think hon. Members on both sides of the House will bear me out. Almost every Friday night nine out of the ten cases referred to me concern cases with a housing problem. We can write to the housing managers concerned; we can write to the Minister, but we cannot give our people houses.
Case No. 2 is that of Mrs. Maton, of 48 Ravensworth Road. Her husband is in Pinewood Hospital suffering from heart trouble. She came to me and pleaded with me to help. She lives upstairs, but she said that she would be able to get her husband out of hospital if she could move downstairs where there would be no stairs for her husband to climb. He has little time to live and her plea is to be allowed to spend the last few months of her husband's life with him. I went to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, and in the end the local newspaper had a big splash story asking if anyone would be prepared to change accommodation with this lady, but no one was able to do so because if he did his rent would become decontrolled.
Case No. 3 is that of Mrs. Downes of 5 Churchmead Road. The situation there is similar, but in this case they did move. The husband was ill. The landlord was a good landlord and he was prepared to waive the 1957 Act, although he could not do it officially. They came downstairs so that her husband could enjoy a slightly longer life. They moved downstairs in April, 1959, and he died in July, 1959. In September the house was sold, and she is now subject to eviction.
Those are three cases. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House could give many more examples like those. The Minister claimed for his Act that it would give mobility; that it would make places free, and that it would establish a free market. In fact, the Act has done the opposite.
Let me quote another type of case which is typical of many. I will call the gentleman Mr. Lester. He came to see me. He has three rooms; two bedrooms, and one room that is the kitchen, living room, dining room combined. There are four members of the family, himself, his wife, a boy of 15 and a girl of 12. The 1579 husband and wife sleep in one room, the children in another, the third room is used for all other purposes. He has asked me what he should do. The children are growing up and he is faced with a difficult problem. I can do nothing. None of us can. It is this kind of case which I would like the Minister to consider when he gives us statistics of the housing situation and says that the situation in the country has improved.
The Minister is with us in this, that he is recognising that though the overall position might be improving, there are these spots where, in the same way as my right hon. Friend referred to action to deal with a bad employment situation, one has to take special action and pass special legislation to get something done. The time has come to do something like that for the housing problem. There ought to be a special local housing Bill which would enable us—
§ Mr. Pavitt
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker.
When the Minister considers the problem of overcrowding in houses, will he also consider the problem of overcrowding in gardens? In my constituency a garden consists of a piece of land about the size of the area from Mr. Speaker's Chair to the Gangway. In 55 per cent. of the cases in my constituency, such an area is shared by two families. It means that arrangements have to be made to divide the garden down the middle, and in the resulting areas children have to play, washing has to be hung up, and arrangements have to be made to go through other people's quarters. There is also the coal problem in winter.
These human problems arise because of the shortage of housing accommodation. I ask the Minister to do something urgently to assist all hon. Members representing London constituencies to deal with this terrific problem.
§ 5.40 a.m.
§ Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich)
I think that the hon. Member for Barons Court (Mr. Compton Carr) is entitled to an apology from me in that I laughed so much while he was speaking. This was a discourtesy which, on reflection, is regretted, but I really am horrified—because hon. Members opposite must 1580 have exactly the same housing problems as hon. Members on this side of the House—that an hon. Member representing a London constituency can be so completely out of touch with the situation which exists in the Metropolis as the hon. Gentleman proved himself to be.
The hon. Gentleman said that he believes that if housing could be provided by private companies at rents representing a quarter of the applicant's income, that would be a good thing to encourage. We would agree with him, and, speaking for myself, I am as keen as anyone else to see owner occupation. I do not care who builds the houses so long as they are there and people can get into them. But the average earnings today are £14 a week. A quarter of that is £3 10s., but there are just not vacant houses available for rent in the London area at that sort of figure.
§ Mr. Compton Carr
I did not imply that there ought to be houses available at that rent, but only that houses should be available. If people are buying houses, they can do so at £3 10s. a week.
§ Mr. Marsh
Obviously the hon. Gentleman and I see two different pictures and there is no point of agreement between us.
One of the big housing problems is that there are a lot of people who, for one reason or another, just cannot produce the £300 or £400 lump sum which it is necessary to put down in order to begin buying a property. Many hon. Members will agree that this is a complex social issue. The fact remains that a large proportion of the population cannot produce £300 or £400 with which to start buying a house. Therefore, rented accommodation has to be provided.
Unfortunately, that accommodation is not being provided by private enterprise, and, therefore, the local authorities have to do it. The need for local authority housing is a real one for a proportion of the population. The hon. Gentleman tried to suggest that, somehow or other, this has nothing to do with the Government and that extraneous features and factors are responsible. The real responsibility for the situation which exists in London lies squarely on the Minister. This is a Governmental issue and responsibility rests on the Government. 1581 With the greatest respect to the right hon. Gentleman, we have had a lot of discussion about Ministers in recent days, which are the good ones and which are the bad ones. I believe that probably the only other political appointment which was worse than that of the right hon. Gentleman was when the Roman Emperor Caligula made his horse a consul.
The position in London is tragic, not merely because it exists but because the Government have done nothing whatever to alleviate the appalling situation. There has been talk about differential rent schemes for local authorities. The days when local authority houses were available at low rents passed many years ago. In Greenwich today we have three-bedroom council houses being let at £3 15s. a week.
There are many people in the country—employed in local government and the National Health Service—whose basic wage in the London area is under £8 10s. a week, and even £3 15s. a week is a sum that many cannot afford to pay. Many hon. Members have had the experience when dealing with house applicants of having to ask how much they can afford to pay, even before finding out whether a house is available for them.
I propose to make my concluding remarks very rapidly because I know that several other hon. Members wish to speak in this debate. As far as Greenwich is concerned, we have 1,881 applicants on the waiting list. Last year we did not house a single family from that list of 1,881 people. Why was that? In the past five years, or from 1955 to 1958, we managed to house 345 people off the waiting list. In 1959 we housed 20 and last year we housed none at all. This is directly the responsibility of the right hon. Gentleman, or at least of the Government, because in Greenwich we have been faced with the problem of the derequisitioning, between June, 1955, and 1960, of no less than 673 family units. The overwhelming majority of the derequisitioned property, particularly in the Blackheath area, is immediately converted into flats which are let at six and seven guineas a week.
One could argue the virtues of private ownership and perhaps put up a good and moral case for it. But a situation 1582 where the homes are not wanted by the owners to live in and are usually taken by syndicates and companies and turned into flats to be let at exorbitant rents when there are over 1,881 people without decent accommodation is blantantly immoral.
If we consider the problem of slum clearance there are another 150 families to house and our new building programme for the next five years is 578. On the housing list we have 273 families whose situation is recognised by all as of extreme urgency. It is recognised by medical officers of health and doctors in the borough that there are families in Greenwich with no houses where the health of the wife is being completely wrecked. We are informed by psychiatrists from London mental hospitals of women who are about to become complete mental wrecks unless accommodation can be provided, and we have 273 urgent cases.
I say with great sorrow that there is no possibility of housing the great majority of the people on our list in the foreseeable future. There is no hope that we can offer them, that is the dreadful thing about it. It is not that we cannot house the people, but when people come with stories of their appalling situation we cannot even offer them hope. This is the result of Government responsibility and it cannot be dodged.
A woman came to see me recently who had two small children and the family live in one room. Her husband is suffering from disseminated sclerosis and is completely incapable of working. Those two small children are strapped in a cot all day long while the mother is out at work because the father cannot take charge of them. They go out for a walk once a week on the mother's day off on Sunday. She said to me, "Surely, Mr. Marsh, if anybody has a right to accommodation, I have?" I told her, "Of course you have a right to accommodation. Your health is being ruined and the health of your husband and children. It is an appalling position, but we cannot house anyone at all because we have no accommodation at all." For the 578 houses we hope to build there will be no Exchequer subsidy payment at all.
1583 We ask that the Government recognise that, for a whole variety of reasons, the situation in London is more tragic than anywhere else in the country. It is not a question of moving to another Dart, because London has become so large that it is almost a financial impossibility to bear the burden of moving out of the London area but still to work there.
We are not attacking the private owner-occupier. In 1951 the interest rate on a mortgage of £2,000 was £10 15s. a month. In 1959 that had risen to 5; per cent. or £12 15s. Today it is 6 per cent. or £13 1s. 8d. The ordinary little owner-occupier is paying £2 6s. 8d. a month extra purely as a result of Government financial policy. In Greenwich alone, the increase in the Bank Rate brought an increase of £11,600 in expenditure of public money, which could have been used to house some of the people, and out of which the council will receive nothing at all.
The Government must accept full responsibility for their financial policy. They must accept responsibility for housing conditions in the London area. In the London area housing has virtually come to a full-stop. For many there is no hope and no possibility of accommodation. Any Government which can sit by and watch 11 million of its people in the greatest capital in the world in these circumstances, has no right to expect even the support of its own side.
§ 5.50 a.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)
I will occupy the time of the House for only a short time, but, as a London Member, I want to support most strongly the plea put forward by my colleagues about the serious new housing situation which is developing in London as a result of Government action.
I want to draw the attention of the Minister to this. Until two or three years ago there was a certain amount of restraint exercised by London landlords in dealing with their tenants. That restraint was due to two things; legislation which prevented them raising rents beyond what was permitted by Act of Parliament, and secondly, a climate of opinion which made it wrong and disreputable for landlords to exploit their tenants, at any rate beyond a certain 1584 degree. That inhibited landlords, even where they had rooms which were de-restricted, from raising the rents to an unconscionable extent. Now we see a great change brought about by Government action. Restraint has been relaxed and landlords are utterly unscrupulous and heartless in their dealings with their tenants. They put up rents to an extent which is absolutely intolerable and would shock every hon. Member of this House.
My purpose in rising in this debate is to give two examples from my constituency of what is happening. In a block of several streets close to Waterloo Station, the old landlord has sold out to a new company. I am prepared to give the Minister full particulars. This company is taking every opportunity when the rooms it owns become derestricted, to exploit its tenants mercilessly. It does not care what happens to them. It tries to extract the last possible penny from their pockets and take the maximum advantage of the present grave housing shortage, fearful maybe that that shortage may not last very long.
One tenant I know rented two rooms in 1958 on a two years lease at £2 10s. a week. That was not unreasonable. But the landlord insisted that an enormous amount of reconstruction of those rooms should be carried out by the tenant, who had to spend £220 putting in a bathroom, a W.C., decorations, doing removals, installing gas, heating and fittings. I have seen the receipts for this work. On top of that there was £70 key money. The tenancy expires in December this year and the landlord now offers to renew it, raising the £2 10s. to £4 10s. The tenant not only paid the rent butt put the landlord's property into a good state.
On the same estate a family has been living for twenty-five years. The lady who was the tenant died and her daughter and son-in-law, who had lived there for fourteen years, wanted to continue to dive there because their relatives and friends are there. It was not a continuing tenancy because the lady who died was the continuing tenant. Therefore, the place became derestricted. Up to now the rent has been £112 a year. A now offer has been made to the daughter and son-in-law, who have lived there for fourteen years. The landlord, a private company 1585 in fact, says he will renew the tenancy for one year if the rent is increased from £112 to £260 a year and the tenants spend £200 on putting the property into a better condition.
This sort of thing is starting, and it will grow. It is an intolerable situation. My colleagues and I want Parliament to know about this. We want the Minister to know about it, because he must accept a large measure of responsibility for the changing situation in London, in which this kind of thing is happening. It did not happen before, but we are certain that it is now doing so on a rapidly increasing scale.
I cannot ask the Government to introduce legislation because that would be out of order, but I ask the Minister to bear in mind his responsibility for this situation. I am sure that he did not want this sort of thing to happen, although we warned him that it would. I ask him at least to examine the evidence of the examples which my hon. Friends and I have quoted to see for himself whether this is happening on a big scale. He could ask the property companies, as a matter of decency, to tell him what they are doing. If he finds that they are doing as we have suggested, and if he cannot introduce legislation, let him at least come to the House and publicly condemn this action and say that it is contrary to public interest and that the Government object to it. That may at least have some effect in mitigating this terrible and growing evil which is bearing so harshly on the working people of London.
§ 5.57 a.m.
§ Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)
When the House was debating the Rent Act three years ago hon. Members opposite told us that we were doing a disservice in suggesting that British landlords would behave badly if certain conditions in the Bill, which we were opposing, were passed by the House. We pointed out to the Minister that the original Act restricting rent increases, in 1915, was passed because British landlords were behaving badly, and we thought that they would behave badly again if they were encouraged by the Minister to do so. We asked him to introduce certain controls into the Bill, but he rejected that request.
1586 I do not believe that the Minister is aware of the seriousness of the situation in London. If he were, he would not turn such a hard face to the case which we have put to him not only this morning but over the last two or three years. My hon. Friends have gone into some detail about the housing situation in their constituencies. I will say no more about that than to point out that, after all the efforts which have been made by the Deptford Borough Council in the building of homes, in the last four years we have been able to reduce the housing waiting list by twenty families. The reason that we have not done more lies in the right hon. Gentleman's legislation dealing with derequisitioning. Everything we have built has had to be made available to people who were living in requisitioned property, some of them in much better property than many people on the waiting list. Nevertheless, I am informed that by 31st March next year, which is the terminal date, Deptford Borough Council will not be able to derequisition all its requisitioned property. The ball will be passed to the right hon. Gentleman and he will have to decide what must be done. That is all I propose to say this morning on the details.
I want to bring to the right hon. Gentleman's attention and that of the House one of the effects of this decontrol of property for which the Minister is responsible. We all followed with interest the interjection in the debate by the hon. Member for Barons Court (Mr. Compton Carr). I think that I lost a great experience when he left Deptford, where he had been Tory candidate, and went to the warmer and more salubrious political climes of Barons Court. I am sure we should shave had an interesting election with him giving such lucid and intelligent speeches to the electors of Deptford. I do not think it would have made much difference to the result.
There is in my constituency an area which is now becoming known as the "Caribbean quarter". It is the area, which the hon. Member knows, of Childeric Road, Bawtry Road, Ludwick Road and Ruddigore Road. These are small substandard houses which were on offer to the sitting tenants three years ago at about £595. The landlords never asked for £600. It was always the bargain price of £595. Today, those houses 1587 are being sold for between £2,250 and £2,750.
How does this happen? This property was known as the New Cross Estate when, before the Rent Act, it was owned by a reputable property firm. As I propose to discuss some disreputable property firms, I do not want to do any harm to that reputable firm so I will not mention its name. On 18th May, 1956, this property changed hands. A memorandum and articles of association were drawn up by a firm called Gamkemp Investments, Ltd., which had a capital of £100—one of my hon. Friends has referred to these £100 companies—and two subscribers, a lady who described herself as a company director and a gentleman bearing the same name and describing himself as a barrister.
On 9th January, 1958,—we are now coming into the calm and pleasant period of the Rent Act for landlords—it was registered as a limited company with offices at 77, South Audley Street. One cannot find it at 77, South Audley Street. This is one of the weaknesses that goes on of disguised property companies that cannot be traced. We have had experience of property companies behaving disgracefully with borough councils looking for people on whom to serve sanitary notices and of fictitious owners working from accommodation addresses in Dublin. We have had all this. We remember Mr. Brady. The same thing is happening with this company.
It is true that there is a firm of accountants at 77, South Audley Street who say that they know the firm of Gamkemp but that they do not propose to disclose their clients' address. The company filed particulars on 18th June, 1958, and returned an allotment of two £1 shares to a man called Robert Corkill, of 23, Vicarage Road, Croydon, also known as Frank Gibbs—here we get the endless business of people trading under different names—and a man called Ronald Watson, both described as directors.
This was the £100 company owning this property of the New Cross Estate. On 27th February, 1959, by resolution, the capital of Gamkemp Investments Ltd. was increased to £25,000 by the creation of 24,900 £1 shares, each ranking pari passu with the first £100. All these addi- 1588 tional shares were issued to one Harold Taylor, of Regency House, Putney Park Lane, Roehampton, the same address as Mr. Corkill, or Mr. Gibbs.
Here comes an association with a building society called the Alliance Perpetual Building Society, in Baker Street, which appears only in the telephone directory but in no reputable book of reference and is not to be mistaken for the Alliance Building Society, which is a perfectly respectable and flourishing company. On 30th March, 1959, there were registered at the Land Registry in the name of Gemkamp all the details of the property mortgaged or charged which I have described as the New Cross Estate.
Having done all this, Mr. Taylor goes to work. First, he appoints agents called Lewis and Tucker, of 9, Hanover Square.
§ Sir L. Plummer
They have an address, or, at least, a telephone number, in Bermondsey. Their first job was to circularise or cause to be circularised tenants in this property asking them to move. They are protected tenants, all of them; therefore, they do not go. A few days later they get a cheque. Here is the cheque printed as an ordinary cheque on imitation cheque paper, and the heading is:This is an imitation cheque, but the real thing can be yours by vacating the house in which you are living—Hurry, before it is too late!It is dated: "Not later than March 31st, 1959." It is drawn on the "Landlords Bank Limited. West End Branch".Pay Bearer Two Hundred and Fifty Pounds.With Charming wit it is signed: "Ann Owner." "New Cross Estate Tenants Only.This is an inducement to the tenant to got out on the promise contained in the circular that he will then get a real cheque which he can cash for £250. What happens? The right hon. Gentleman may not understand this, but £250 is a lot of money to my constituents; £250 is six months' wages; £250 is a lot of money to people who have only their weekly wages packet to live on, with nothing in reserve. This is a great temptation to them, and some of them accept it.
1589 Immediately they go, part of the property is left empty, because they have been living in the top or bottom flat, perhaps their flat is thus decontrolled. In comes who? West Indians, West African immigrants, who by necessity have been forced to pay these sorts of prices I have mentioned, £2,250 and £2,750—including the £250 for this chque—through building societies, or money lenders who charge as much as 25 per cent. or 30 per cent. interest. These immigrants who come to this country are quite unversed in our ways, and know nothing of the law of this country. and they put down a deposit, come to this property, and find they have got to let to their fellow immigrants. Their sole interest becomes exploiting their fellow immigrants. Some of them are not dike that. Some of them are perfectly decent people. They find the co-our prejudice against them all over the place, so they take the sort of action I have described.
What happens? Overcrowding. In one small flat in Deptford on the New Cross Elate, purchased in the conditions I have mentioned, there are living in three rooms 10 adults and two children, in shocking conditions. They are subject to overcrowding notices from the Borough Council. There is rack renting.
There are squabbles between coloured immigrants and neighbouring white people. There are fights; there is racial bitterness. We are in serious danger of having another Notting Hill situation unless something is done about this immediately.
How does this arise? We warned the right hon. Gentleman three years ago that if le decontrolled what was already controlled property by virtue of one tenant giving way to another tenant, this sort of thing would arise. What has he done? He would not listen to what we had to say. He wanted to create the euphoria that everything about housing in London was absolutely splendid. He always refused to listen to what we had to say about housing conditions in London. He has ignored the complaints and pleas London Members have put to him. Now we have a situation like this, where what is approaching fraud as nearly as possible is practised on these tenants and purchasers.
1590 For inducements are being held out to the coloured immigrants. They are told, "If you buy this property for between £2,000 and £2,500 it is true that immediately we can give you only the top part of the house"—which was got by the £250 cheque trick—" but it will not be long before the people downstairs move out. "This is only an inducement. There is no legal basis for it, but when the immigrant family find that the white people downstairs are not going out they make their lives a misery because they feel that those people are to blame. They do not understand that they have been tricked by these crooks. Then we have this boiling up of racialism in an area which had previously been peaceful.
I am not blaming the immigrants. I blame the right hon. Gentleman the Minister. He would not listen when we told him and argued over and over again that this attempt to decontrol what was already controlled property would lead to misery. He would not believe us when we told him that. Now I say that his policy is leading to racialism, and if there is another Notting Hill in Deptford I say that the right hon. Gentleman will be the man responsible.
§ 6.12 a.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Robinson (St. Pancras, North)
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Housing and Local Government should be beginning to be aware by now that there is a serious housing situation in London. Perhaps the best thing that we can do in the debate is to quote from the experiences of our own constituencies. I can say with complete honesty from experience of the eleven years that I have represented St. Pancras, North, that the housing conditions of our constituents are no better today than they were when I was first elected. Like other hon. Members I find that at the weekly surgeries, where we make ourselves available to give advice to our constituents, the same problems come up just as acutely as ever.
The Borough of St. Pancras has not done badly in housing in the post-war period. It has completed 3,784 dwellings. There are 757 under construction, all, I hasten to add, planned by the Labour council which was ousted by the Tories last year. In addition the council has been acquiring property on a considerable scale. It has acquired about 1591 2,500 existing houses but, despite this, there are 6,000 families on the waiting list, and that after a considerable pruning of the list. The actual figure is 6,359. Five years ago, in 1955, it was 5,351. The waiting list situation therefore has got considerably worse in the last five years.
There are still 171 applicants on that list who have been waiting fifteen years, since 1945, and very nearly half the people on the list have been waiting for more than ten years. The borough council has been assessing the position. A report was presented about a month ago making it abundantly clear that no family could expect to be housed on the present building programme, or on any programme that could be foreseen, who had gone on to the council waiting list after 1950. Therefore, all those 4,000 people who have been on the list since 1950 are told that they have absolutely no chance of being housed by the council.
Like all London boroughs the council is in difficulties. Vacant sites have been cleared a long time ago. They have gone. There are now slum clearance areas only and possibly the redevelopment of temporary house sites, but in a slum clearance scheme in the inner London area, one usually finishes up, because of the density regulations, with less accommodation than one started with. In parenthesis, I believe that the time is overdue for a drastic reconstruction of the densities in the inner London area.
Two few dwellings have been built in central London and far too many offices, and for this I blame the right hon. Gentleman and his predecessors and the Government generally for the encouragement that they have given to office building in the inner London area and the encouragement which they have given to speculative building of every kind.
The Government have also made the inevitably difficult situation in London far worse than it need have been by a series of deliberate acts of policy. My hon. Friends have recounted them—the derequisitioning, the rise in interest rates, the removal of subsidies, the total failure to plan and, particularly serious in the London area, the way the Government have allowed the value of land to rise and rise.
1592 Several of my hon. Friends have reminded the Minister of what was said from this side of the House when the Rent Act was introduced. I remember interrupting the right hon. Gentleman, I think when he moved the Second Reading of the Bill, and telling him that in London there could be only one possible outcome to any measure of decontrol at that time, and that was acute hardship for Londoners. He was arguing the merits of decontrol on the assumption that housing supply and demand were roughly in balance. We told him that, however near the truth that might be in other parts of the country, it was an absolute distortion of the position in London where no one then could foresee—and no one can now—the time when housing supply and demand would be in balance. So the Rent Act has led to the hardships in London that we forecast, and, as several of my hon. Friends have said, it is leading to a new series of hardships now that the three-year leases are beginning to come to an end.
We have other troubles in St. Pancras too. The hon. Member for Barons Court (Mr. Compton Carr) told us of the virtues of differential rent schemes. We have just had one for St. Pancras which has led to very serious trouble indeed. I do not like differential rent schemes anyhow, but this happens to be one of the most vicious that has ever been introduced in any local authority area. Rents have been more than doubled. They have gone up by £2 10s. a week, in some cases for quite a small flat, and this has given rise to a most astonishing series of demonstrations—marches, mass meetings and so on. It has resulted in the town hall having to be guarded. I put a Question to the Home Secretary, and he told me that the town hall had had to be guarded by the police on 28 occasions during the last 12 months and that as many as 173 police were used on one occasion. It has led to the banning of the public from meetings of the council. Inevitably, some tenants feel so passionately about this that they are now facing eviction.
I know that this is not directly the concern of the Minister, but I mention it because one or two kites have been flown recently to the effect that the 1593 Minister is thinking of some action which might require, or at any rate very strongly persuade, councils which have not got them to adopt these schemes.
I hope that these are not inspired rumours, and that the Minister does not intend to go back on one aspect of Tory policy about which we heard so much when the block grant system was being discussed—that the Government do not interfere with the discretion of local authorities to run their own affairs. If there is any idea of trying to force down the throats of reluctant local authorities differential schemes of this kind, then I suggest that the sort of troubles we have been having in St. Pancras will be very much more widespread.
The Government's housing record is a bad one, but it is worst of all in London. I am surprised that a Minister who has had experience of London, who represents a London constituency and who has led a political party across the river at County Hall, should have been so insensitive to the needs of Londoners and incapable of meeting their needs.
§ 6.21 a.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Henry Brooke)
I have listened to every word of this debate for the last hour-and-a-half. I was tempted to interrupt sometimes, because exaggerated statements were made. Nevertheless, I am glad that the He use has debated London housing again before rising for the Recess, for there is a serious housing situation in London.
We do not make it better by seeking to lay all the blame for it in any one quarter. It is a problem which can be solved only by widespread co-operation. I, in the time that I have been Minister, anti before then, have never on any occasion sought to minimise the difficulties of the housing situation in London, which are greater than in any other city in Britain, except for Glasgow.
London acts as a magnet. It is a place into which people seek to flock, not only from the West Indies. There is movement in and out of the time, and it is inevitably a place of high costs because the amount of land available is limited. Whatever we do, however 1594 we plan, whatever densities we fix, London is a built-up area and, therefore, an area in which land prices are liable to be high and rents will always tend to be high. There is no getting away from that.
One cannot escape natural facts by talking about price control or rent control. We cannot create supply where there is shortage of land. It is one of the essential facts with which all of us who have anything to do with London housing have to cope.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North) rose—
§ Mr. Brooke
I am only at the beginning of my speech. It has been suggested that I am ignorant about the position in London. I served on the housing committees of local authorities for years after the war, when the situation was considerably worse than it is today. That was the time when many houses had been demolished by the enemy, while many others had been damaged and were not fit for use, and when the population of London was considerably higher.
The population of the County of London has been falling by more than 20,000 a year for a number of years, and the number of houses and flats which have been built is far higher than the number pulled down. The inevitable consequence is that the situation now is considerably better than it was. Nevertheless, there is still much to be done.
Frankly, I have been waiting in this debate for helpful suggestions, but in vain. The kind of suggestion that we have received is that the Government should make housing loans available at cut interest rates. But we all know the effect of the policy of artificially low interest rates in the late 1940s. That was one of the main causes of inflation in this country.
§ Mr. H. Butler
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The Minister is complaining that no proposals have been put before him. I should like to ask 1595 whether it is within your memory that an hon. Member on this side of the House was reminded that he must not talk about legislation. Is the Minister aware of that?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)
I am not sure what fact I am being asked if I was aware of, but we cannot talk about legislation on this Bill.
§ Mr. Butler
I am asking for the Minister to be reminded that the fact that we do not make, and have not made, proposals is because we are prohibited from doing so by the rules of the House.
§ Mr. Brooke
There were two proposals made by the Opposition. One would not have required legislation, and that is that subsidised interest rates should have been made available. The policy of artificially low rates was one of the main causes of inflation under the Socialist Government. It sent prices soaring and made the task of the housing authorities more difficult.
§ Mr. A. Lewis
May I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker? You have for a few moments been out of the Chamber, so you will not be aware that eight of my hon. Friends have been rising to take part in the debate. The Minister was called, of course, quite rightly, by Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to reply. The whisper has gone around that the Patronage Secretary intends to move the closure. May I ask you whether or not hon. Members who have sat here all night to take part in this important debate, knowing they will not be able to raise this matter for another three months, will have the opportunity of speaking about the position in their own constituences, if only for a few moments?
§ Mr. Brooke
I was saying that of the two suggestions that have been made, one would have either an inflationary effect or worse, and the other, although I do not see how it could be carried out without legislation, was that somehow rent control should be reimposed. I will not speak about legislation, but I will say that the long period of rent restriction and rent control is one of the major causes of the housing difficulties of London today, because large 1596 numbers of people have been anchored to their houses and flats through the fact that they were able to continue living there at very low rents. Large numbers of houses and flats have deteriorated over the years, because not enough has been spent on them owing to the low incomes they were bringing in. Rent control has wrought for the worse the whole housing situation.
I cannot believe that it would be helpful to the present problem to bring back under rent control the houses and flats which are now out of it. Certainly I have nothing of that kind in mind. To reimpose rent control encourages owners to sell rather than to re-let. One of the complaints made in this debate is that there is too little property to let. I can certainly tell the House that had there been no Rent Act, or were rent control now to be reimposed on flats out of control, there would be still fewer to let. If we are ever to regain a balance between supply and demand in rented property, we have to get rid of rent control rather than bring it back.
§ Mr. Weitzman
On a point of order. I understood that it was your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, that legislation could not be referred to in this debate. The Minister has just been referring to a reimposition of rent control, which must necessitate legislation. Is that in order?
§ Mr. Speaker
The Minister said that he was not going to refer to legislation, but he did answer a suggestion which was put by an hon. Member. Strictly, I should have stopped the hon. Member making that suggestion, but I confess that attention has flagged from time to time during the night.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
Do we understand from what the right hon. Gentleman has just said that he intends to proceed with a further measure of decontrol?
§ Mr. Brooke
The right hon. Gentleman should understand nothing of the kind. The Government's policy was set out in their election manifesto.
I recognise that there is genuine hardship in some cases—I do not deny that for a moment—but there is no solution by way of reimposing rent control, whether that is done by legislation or otherwise.
§ Mr. Brooke
I am giving the lines on which I think we should go forward. We have to re-examine the whole of the London area to see whether we can find any additional land for housing purposes. We have to review all our planning arrangements. I was going to say that we must review our densities and I may go that far, but, as hon. Members know, the London County Council review of the County of London Development Plan is now before me with certain proposals about densities, and I must no: make up my mind on these matters unit the public inquiry has been held. I will certainly give very careful attention to whatever is said at that inquiry about the density question.
The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) said that one of the causes of the trouble was that the Government had been far too lax in allowing office building. I do not want to make party points this morning, but I remind the hon. Member that it was my predecessor who intervened when he had before him a draft of the County of London plan in 1955. He amended that plan so as to leave less space for commercial and office building and more space for housing, which was quite right. Since then, a far tougher policy has been maintained by him, by me, and by the pluming authority, and the figures show that far fewer office permissions have been given in recent years than were given in the years before 1955.
§ Mr. Brooke
Certain areas are zoned for office and commercial use and others are zoned for residential purposes, as the right hon. Gentleman knows.
What more can be done? One thing which can be done and which would be helpful would be for all London local authorities to review their council rent systems. I shall not lend myself to any exaggerated statements, but the fact is that in London as a whole there are many people living in council houses 1598 and flats who could afford to go out and buy their own houses, if they were not tempted to remain where they are by the low rent which the council concerned is charging. The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) said that Greenwich charged £3 and upwards a week for its flats, but he was speaking of new flats and it is the older flats which must be considered in this connection.
Every council tenant who could go out and buy his own house but who remains in a council flat keeps on the waiting list somebody who could be taken off that waiting list and be put into a council flat. Therefore, if local authorities do not review their rent systems; if they do not adopt a differential rent plan, or some other plan of that kind, they must not take it amiss if they are criticised for worsening the housing position in their areas and making the waiting list longer than it need be.
§ Mr. Marsh
One of the big problems is that when this is discussed people usually talk in terms of the total income going into the house. The difficulty in purchasing a house is that a building society will not accept the aggregate income, but will accept only the income of the one person guaranteeing the repayment of the mortgage. Is there some way out of that?
§ Mr. Brooke
There is a good deal of competition between building societies. I think that the hon. Gentleman, or one of 'his hon. Friends, said that one could not get started towards buying a house unless one put down £400 or £500. One of the changes we made in the House Purchase and Housing Act was to enact that in future a local authority could lend up to 100 per cent. of the value of the house. It should not be impossible for people to obtain 100 per cent. mortgage advances. Indeed, I know that they are doing so. The suggestion that anybody in London has to find £500 cash before he can start thinking about purchasing a house is very wide of the mark. Fortunately the House Purchase and Housing Act provisions have been taken up, and some local authorities—not all—are making 100 per cent. advances. Certainly on a considerable scale people have been taking advantage of that to purchase older houses—people who before that Act was 1599 passed would have been most unlikely to get an advance from a building society.
§ Mr. Brooke
I know that it is, but I was criticising the suggestion that £500 cash was needed before anybody in London could think in terms of buying a house. I am defending the Government against the most unfair charges that have been made against them; against insinuations that we have been callous towards London's housing situation, and against allegations that our housing policy has been a failure.
I do not find the electors taking that view. Conservative gains in the London constituencies at the last General Election were significant. If one were to believe the Opposition, one would think that the whole of London was wishing to live under Socialist rule, yet at municipal by-election after by-election in London the Conservatives have gained ground.
I therefore submit to the Opposition that, instead of seeking to make party capital—not very successfully—out of the London housing situation, it would be far better for us all to examine the possible practical remedies. I have suggested some of them. I have frankly agreed that oases of hardship are occurring now. I think that there are some swindlers in the market, and if information is given to me I am ready to have an examination made of those people who may be sailing too close to the wind. I should like to deal with them.
There are bad landlords, and there are bad tenants. That is something from which no Minister of Housing and Local Government, nor anybody who has been chairman of a local housing committee, can escape. There are landlords who certainly ought not to be entrusted with property. There are tenants who take no care whatever of the property in which they live.
§ Mr. Strauss
The right hon. Gentleman said that he would be happy to examine cases submitted to him. We are grateful to him for that. What we would like to know is what he will do about 1600 it if he finds that these bad landlords are extracting the last penny from their tenants in an unconscionable way, though perfectly legally under the Act?
§ Mr. Brooke
I was asked whether I would examine cases and I said that I would. I would recommend in every case where it is alleged that a landlord has taken over property and is seeking to demand extortionate rents that those tenants should get together to make sure that they have some well-qualified professional man negotiating on their behalf with the landlord, because the one thing that the landlord cannot afford is to have the whole property left on his hands empty, which he will have. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Indeed, I know quite a lot of property which is empty in London at the moment because the landlords are asking rents for it which are above the market value.
My final word is this, as it was in the land debate the other day. It is no good imagining that one can monkey about with market forces and keep down artificially the price of land or the rents of houses. Sooner or later all of them have got to find their market level. They must find it. I do not deny for a moment that the market level of land and rents in London is liable to be high. That being so, what we must do is to follow up the other lines which I have mentioned, and I should like to see everybody co-operating to that end.
§ 6.42 a.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
Mention was made a little earlier by one of my hon. Friends of the possibility, which we hope will not become an actuality, that the Patronage Secretary might at some stage in the debate feel inclined to move the Closure. I would draw his attention, if I may, in the most friendly manner, and I would also respectfully submit it to you, Mr. Speaker, that there are still a number of my hon. Friends who have been here all night and who have the most intimate and most poignant acquaintance with the housing problem in London, but who have not yet had an opportunity of putting their constituents' problems before the House.
I think it can also be said that none of my hon. Friends who have spoken in the debate so far could be charged in any way with having wasted the 1601 time of the House. The speeches have all been brief, concise and to the point. I trust that that fact will not be lost on the Patronage Secretary. If it should be lost on him, we shall then put our trust in the exercise of your discretion, Mr. Speaker.
§ Mr. A. Lewis
Before my hon. Friend leaves that point, would he also take the opportunity of emphasising the fact that for the next three months we shill not have the opportunity of raising this question in the House at all, and it is during that period that we shall have great difficulty in our constituencies? That is one reason why we feel that we ought to be able to raise the matter now, after my hon. Friend has spoken.
§ Mr. Stewart
What my hon. Friend says is very true. Everything that one says about not curtailing a debate has added force when it comes so soon before a long period of recess.
I should like to begin, as so many of my hon. Friends have, by referring to one or two instances of the operation of the Rent Act. The particular feature of the instances which I propose to quote is the fact that these are not instances where the tenant has been required to pay an exorbitant rent; they are instances where he has not been given the opportunity, on any consideration whatsoever, of staying in what has been his home for decades.
Take, for example the case of a man of 70 who, despite his age, has a record of honourable service in the Armed Forces in both world wars. He had been living in his home, until recently, for thirty years or more. He was not asked to pay a higher rent or offered a three-year agreement. He was told, "Get out. Once you are out I shall be able to sell this house much more profitably with vacant possession than I could if you were a tenant." Or take the case of in elderly couple occupying only half a house in a property which, by virtue of its size alone, would not have been decontrolled. They are the main tenants of the house and the rest of it is sub-let. They are, therefore, subject to the provisions of decontrol. They have been living in the property for twenty-five years. Now they are living in one furnished room with the rents which furnished accommodation attracts in London, that is all they can afford.
1602 In the case of a woman, a widow, whose husband was killed at Dunkirk, again there was no opportunity afforded to offer a higher rent. No agreement was offered to the woman. She was told to get out so that the property could be turned into furnished rooms—no addition there to the supply of unfurnished accommodation to let, for which there is a crying need in London.
In each of these cases the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1958, can delay the operation of the law, but it cannot hold it up for ever, as these tenants and many others like them in London have found. That Act runs out next year and here, without going beyond the rules of order, we might invite the Minister to consider whether it is desirable that the provisions of that Act should expire in 1961.
Where are these people? The examples which I have quoted are isolated examples of the quiet wretchedness caused in so many homes throughout London by the Rent Act. Where are they to go? An hon. Member opposite suggested that if they could pay a rent of £3 10s. a week, private enterprise would find accommodation for them, but it will not, and how many people could afford that kind of rent?
We were told that it is a quarter of the average industrial wage. It does not require much consideration to realise that a large number of these people do not receive the average wage. Many people who want to rent sufficient accommodation to live in decently receive a wage which is below the average. They comprise a considerable part of the demand and it is no use at all telling them to pay rents of £3 10s. a week. Even were they able to do so, they would be lucky if more than a small proportion of them found a private landlord willing to rent them accommodation at that rent which would be sufficient for their needs.
The plain truth is, and the Minister must know it, that private enterprise, unaided, is totally unable to cope with the housing needs of the people in London and that if we are to get anywhere, there must be more council building. The Minister pleaded for what he called "widespread co-operation." Presumably, the right hon. Gentleman meant between himself, the local authorities, landlords, tenants and hon. Members on this side of the House.
1603 What was his own contribution to that widespread co-operation? It was that we should look for additional land and possibly review densities. I grant him that there is something to be said for that, but he must know very well that that cannot add in great measure to the supply of housing accommodation in London. It can make some difference, but the Metropolis, as he said, is a magnet. Although the population in the country is decreasing, we have a steady flow of people into London year after year and the drift of people out, some to the new towns, some to L.C.C. out-county estates, and so on, is partially offset by continual movement in of new people. The measure he proposed, although it is of some value, is not adequate to cape with the problem as a whole.
The other measure was his dear old remedy—if only all local authorities would adopt rent rebate schemes that would solve the housing problem. Let us look at that. I think he will find that, if he does what my hon. Friends did some months ago—if he inquires in detail of all the main Metropolitan boroughs—the main obstacle most of them will say is in their way in solving the housing problem is not finance, serious as that is, but lack of place's to build. I do not say that they underestimate the seriousness of their financial difficulties, but I do not think he will find that there are many authorities in London of whom it could be truthfully said, "If only this authority would get itself in a bit more revenue, by raising council rents, it could afford to build more." The problem is, where is it to build?
As for the suggestion that if they raised council rents they would cause a number of tenants, instead of staying in council flats, to move out and buy their own houses and as a result there would be that many more vacancies, has the Minister considered what sort of solution that is quantitively to the problem? The Parliamentary Secretary made a shot at it in a debate we had some months ago. He suggested, with no sort of evidence—because there 'has never been an inquiry on this—that perhaps it might make a 1 per cent, contribution. The Minister's share in the widespread co-operation for which he called is two 1604 measures, one of almost insignificant magnitude and the other only a very moderate contribution. If he really means what he says about widespread co-operation, he ought to be prepared to try to accept some part of the many suggestions which have been made to him, not only in this debate, but in earlier housing debates.
What are some of them? I shall try to tread carefully so as to keep on the right side of the rules of order. There are, first, the measures connected with the Rent Act. If the Minister has persuaded himself that we are making an unnecessary fuss about the Rent Act, let him study a little paragraph which appeared in last night's Star:Who feels the soaring rent pinch now in central London? Doctors.Some think of moving out altogether. Others ask for a special London rent allowance to help them meet staggering increases.If doctors are disturbed, how much more disturbed poorer paid tenants must be.This is not just a Socialist crotchet that rents are a real trial to people in London. It is being felt now by all classes. Is not the Minister prepared at least to say, a little more categorically than he has said, that even if people are not swindling, even if they are keeping within the law, it is none the less wrong, anti-social and contrary to the general tenor of Government policy for them simply to regard a house as an instrument to increase their own income?
Will the Minister say that a landlord ought to remember that the house which to him is a source of income is a home to somebody else? Has he no word of condemnation for the many instances which have been quoted in the debate? Most, but not all, of them were not swindles but were things which the Minister has legalised by passing the Rent Act. Is he prepared to admit at least that he let loose a rather larger wild beast when he passed that Act than he bargained for? Is he prepared to say that he will at least consider the continued currency of the Landlord and Tenant (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1958? Is he prepared to indicate that if landlords will not listen to remonstrances he may have to take other measures?
If he is not prepared to consider a more favourable interest rate for local authorities, will he help them at the other 1605 end by the restoration, at least in part, of the subsidy for general need? I demonstrated earlier that there is a desperate shortage of housing in London, that private enterprise has not met it and that we shall not solve the problem unless there is more council building. What is happening to council building? May I remind the Minister that in England and Wales in the first quarter of 1959 the number of council houses started was 28,000, 'whereas in the first quarter of this year it was 20,600, which was a drop of 25 per cent. That is not an accident. It is a serious shrinkage.
The Minister must know that we cannot solve this problem without council building. Some of his hon. Friends like to believe that we can, but he must know that that belief certainly has no application in London. But what is his policy about it? He should remember the letter which 'was sent to Kirkby-in-Ashfield Urban District Council and which was quoted in the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Warbey) on 31st May. That letter, from the right hon. Gentleman's Department to a local authority, said,Consideration has recently been given to the housing programme for 1960 and it has now been decided that this should be roughly the same as in 1959."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st May, 1960; Vol. 624, c. 1147]Is that declaration still the Minister's policy—that there is to be no increase in 19150 compared with 1959? In fact, up to date there has been a 25 per cent. decrease. Is not the Minister prepared to say that he does not regard that as desirable and that he realises that the contribution made by council housing to the solution of the problem ought at least not to be reduced and ought in fact to be increased? If he means what he says about widespread co-operation to solve the problem, he ought at least to be pre-pared to go that far.
I do not wish to take further time, because others of my hon. Friends want to speak. I ask the Minister, however, to realise what he is doing. He is acquiescing, apparently, very calmly in
§ the many well-authenticated stories of misery and unhappiness caused by the Rent Act. He does not seem to be seized of the gravity of the London housing problem, at least if we are to judge by his steady refusal to make any substantial contribution towards solving that problem.
§ The Minister is doing another thing. The result of his Rent Act and his general attitude to housing policy has been to introduce into human relations, particularly in London and the great cities, a growing element of bestiality and nastiness, an increasing belief by people who own property that if they own lilt they can use it solely as an instrument to get an income and that ownership confers no obligations whatever. To adapt the words that Shylock used, "You will answer. The slaves are ours, the house is mine. I will use it to fill my own pocket, without any regard more than the law can absolutely compel out of me for any obligation I might have to the man or woman or family who is living in it."
§ If the Minister says that he will investigate cases of swindle and spivery, let him remember also that it is the atmosphere that his Act has created that has encouraged people to pursue the kind of activities so vigorously described by my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer). The real cleavage of opinion on the whole housing problem between the two sides of the House is that to us on this side, fundamentally a house is something for use; its purpose is to provide a home for a family. To the other side, a house is primarily a piece of property the purpose of which is to get income for its owner.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Martin Redmayne)
rose in his place, and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question put, That the Question be now put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 124, Noes 19.1607
|Division No. 149.]||AYES||[7.3 a.m.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Berkeley, Humphry||Braine, Bernard|
|Aitken, W. T.||Bidgood, John C.||Brewis, John|
|Allason, James||Biggs-Davison, John||Brooke, Rt. Hon, Henry|
|Arbuthnot. John||Bingham, R. M.||Brooman-White, R.|
|Ashton, Sir Hubert||Bossom, Clive||Bullard, Denys|
|Balniel, Lord||Bourne-Arton, A.||Campbell, Cordon (Moray & Nairn)|
|Barter, John||Boyle, Sir Edward||Carr, Compton (Barons Court)|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)|
|Chataway, Christopher||Hughes-Young, Michael||Peel, John|
|Chichester-Clark, Ft,||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Percival, Ian|
|Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Iremonger, T. L.||Pitman, I. J.|
|Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Pott, Percivall|
|Cooke, Robert||Jackson, John||Proudfoot, Wilfred|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||James, David||Ramsden, James|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Kerans, Cdr. J. S.||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin|
|Corfield, F. V.||Kershaw, Anthony||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Coulson, J. M,||Kirk, Peter||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)|
|Courtney, Cdr. Anthony||Langford-Holt, J.||Roots, William|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Dance, James||Lilley, F. J. P.||Sharples, Richard|
|Duncan, Sir James||Litchfield, Capt. John||Shaw, M.|
|Elliott, R. W.||Longbottom, Charles||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Emery, Peter||Loveys, Walter H.||Smith, Dudley (Br'mf'rd & Chiswick)|
|Fair, John||Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby||Smithers, Peter|
|Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||McLaren, Martin||Storey, Sir Samuel|
|Gardner, Edward||McMaster, Stanley R.||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Gibson-Watt, David||Maddan, Martin||Tapsell, Peter|
|Glover, Sir Douglas||Maginnis, John E.||Thompson, Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Glyn, Sir Richard (Dorset, N.)||Marten, Neil||Turner, Colin|
|Goodhart, Philip||Mathew, Robert (Honiton)||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Goodhew, Victor||Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Gower, Raymond||Mawby, Ray||Wall, Patrick|
|Green, Alan||Mills, Stratton||Watts, James|
|Gresham Cooke, R.||Montgomery, Fergus||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)||Morgan, William||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Neave, Airey||wise, A. R.|
|Hendry, Forbes||Noble, Michael||Woodhouse, C. M.|
|Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Hocking, Philip N.||Osborn, John (Hallam)||Worsley, Marcus|
|Holland, Philip||Page, John (Harrow, West)||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Hopkins, Alan||Page, Graham|
|Hornby, R. P-||Panned, Norman (Kirkdale)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Mr. Bryant and Mr. Whitelaw.|
|Brown, Alan (Tottenham)||Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Mellish, R. J.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Cliffe, Michael||Oram, A. E.||Stonehouse, John|
|Edwards, Walter (Stepney)||Pavitt, Laurence||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Vauxhall)|
|Evans, Albert||Plummer, Sir Leslie|
|Hart, Mrs. Judith||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas||Ross, William||Mr. Marsh and Mr. Reynolds.|
|Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.|
§ Question put accordingly and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.