HC Deb 02 February 1962 vol 652 cc1440-533

11.16 a.m.

Mr. John Mackie (Enfield, East)

I beg to move, That this House, realising that the present policy of Her Majesty's Government will not touch the fringe of the housing problem within the foreseeable future, and knowing that the problem can only be solved by giving it top physical and financial priority, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to review the whole housing situation in Great Britain with a view to giving this priority and so providing adequate modern housing for every family in the country within the next ten years. I should like to start by mentioning my luck in the Ballot. I have never before won a packet of sweets at a bazaar and I have been singularly unfortunate, Mr. Speaker, in not being able to catch your eye in past housing debates. It is refreshing that on this occasion you have got to catch my eye and I have not got to catch yours. I do not propose to make up for all those previous occasions by taking up too much time today, but I do wish to make as much of this lucky opportunity as I can.

I make no apology for choosing this subject of housing, especially as yesterday we had the figures for 1961 which show a reduction, albeit a small reduction, of 2,000 houses built compared with the previous year. This subject is so important that the other two hon. Members who have been lucky in the Ballot may not have much chance to speak today. However, if the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) wants to interest himself in something with social implications he will find plenty in what I have to say about housing.

There are many facets of housing policy in this country, but I want to cover only two or three main aspects so that I do not occupy too much time. I must first and foremost deal with the general picture and, being a Member of Parliament, I must say something about my own constituency and the problems in the Borough of Enfield.

My interest in housing has been of long-standing. I am a farmer. On farms, the tenant or occupier or owner has to provide practically all his workers with houses. For over thirty years I have done my best to provide decent housing for farm workers. I am directly responsible for housing between 50 and 60 farming families. In farming one comes into very close contact with one's workers. One sees how much it means to people to have good houses and the difference it makes to the wives as well as to the men. So it has always been brought home to me how essential it is that ordinary working folk should have a good home.

I should like to give two instances to the House. I remember, many years ago, providing a particularly good house for a man and wife who had a big family. They came to me with not a very good reputation for being house-proud. I remember that the woman looked as though she were almost a slut, but one could not blame her when one saw the kind of accommodation from which she came. The difference in that woman and her children after they had lived for a few years in a good house had to be seen to be believed.

Another case of which I had experience involved a young man who came to me for work and who, to use an expression which is common in the North-East, had "had to get married." Few young people can get a house straight away in these days, but I provided quite a nice house for this young couple, with a fitted kitchen and all the amenities. The young man is now a permanent and valued member of my staff. It was amazing to see the development of that young man and his wife after they got a right start with a new house.

I have taken an interest in housing questions all my life, and when I became a Member of Parliament for an industrial constituency in north London, I started to look into the housing problems there. I found myself up against a situation quite different from that which exists in the country. In the countryside, by and large, we have always plenty of houses, although the quality may not be good. But in Enfield, and in similar industrial constituencies, it is not the quality of the houses that matters but the numbers—although, of course, the quality counts for a lot as well. But there are never enough houses for the people to live in.

I meet my constituents every three weeks and I have kept notes of every interview which I have had over the past two and a half to three years. Nine out of ten of those interviews have been on questions relating to housing. I have in my hand a bunch of notes. It is quite a big bunch, and it is amazing how, out of the problems dealt with, the housing problem heads the list all the time.

I know that a great many people say that Members of Parliament should not interfere in housing, which is the job of the local authority, but I cannot leave it alone, and when I go through this bunch of notes and examine the different cases, I realise that they represent a record of human misery and nothing else. I consider the human aspect of this housing problem to be of great importance, and I should like to give three examples to the House from my experience. I have here a letter from an old lady who writes: I have two rooms upstairs in this house and have to go downstairs for water and out in the back garden for the toilet. I am 82 years of age, am active in myself, but cannot carry the water and slops every day. I have a home help on Mondays to help out and have had my name down for an old people's flat since 1953…Mr. James"— that is the housing manager— tells me that as I have two rooms I have to be satisfied. But it is so tiring for me at my age with the stairs and sanitation so I wondered if it were possible to get an old person's flat. I hope your kindness will help me please. I am in a house where the lady in the house cannot help me as she has rheumatism very badly herself. The old lady ends her letter by saying: Hope I have not bothered you, Sir, too much. Yours truthfully, Mrs. Rodaway. So far as the housing manager is concerned, this old lady is well housed. She has two rooms. But she is an old lady of 82. I think of my own mother, who is 80 years of age, and the comfort in which she lives, and then I think of this old lady of 82 who has no prospect of having any better accommodation.

My next example relates to a young couple, Mr. and Mrs. Bishop, who live in one room with the mother-in-law. Mrs. Bishop has two children and her husband is being treated by a psychiatrist. The family has been on the housing list for three years and the woman is just about at the end of her tether. But there is nothing that I can do. They have accommodation, and there it is.

My next example is even more pathetic. It concerns an old couple who had been living in a house since 1932. For perfectly legal reasons the house was bought and was developed into garages, and the old couple were given notice to quit. They did not vacate the premises and so the notice became an eviction order and they had to get out. I had to explain to this old couple that the council could do nothing for them until they were actually evicted. Hon. Members will know the "drill". People have to be evicted before the council can handle the situation. An old couple are usually separated and go to different homes. It was quite pathetic to see how this old man could not understand why he was being put out of that house after having lived there for so many years. That is the sort of thing a Member of Parliament has to put up with and there is nothing that he can do except what I am attempting today, which is to try to apply as much pressure as possible on the Government to persuade them to see that something is done to relieve situations of that kind.

When the House had a debate recently on the question of land, the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black), who is not present in the Chamber today—I told the hon. Member that I proposed to mention this point—said that high prices had brought on to the market land which would not otherwise have been there. One can appreciate the effect of that situation on the old couple to whom I have referred. It leads to human misery and we must have a housing programme which will ensure that old people are not treated in that way.

I wish now to deal with some problems which are common to other local authorities as well as the Borough of Enfield, and very worrying problems they are. I will give the particulars of the housing list for Enfield where there are 2,750 on the actual housing list and that figure is being added to at the rate of 40 a month. There are about 1,800 on the live list which, with an average of three and a half per family, makes a total of 6,300 souls. I should like to read an extract from the report of the housing manager: There is no doubt in my mind that at least 50 per cent. of the applicants referred to above are inadequately housed and in urgent need of accommodation, the problem being particularly acute in the case of aged persons. That is the position in Enfield regarding the people actually on the housing list. To that figure we have to add 105 families living in prefabricated houses. These premises have outlived their usefulness and I think it right that they should be pulled down. There are 45 families who will lose their homes because of a new road development. There are various properties which will have to come down, which means that another 20 or 30 families will be affected, and there are between 20 and 25 homeless families which have to be housed. This makes a grand total of nearly 2,000 families, or 7,000 souls, who are homeless and in urgent need of housing, in one borough with a population of 110,000; and I understand that the problem at Enfield is not as bad as in a lot of other places.

At the very best—I say this advisedly—the borough council, by means of some re-lets and a new housing programme, may probably—it is a very mild "probably"—deal with this figure during the next ten years by the provision of 300 housing units a year. But there are various difficulties to be overcome first, and in Enfield there is another housing problem. The medical officer has condemned nearly 500 houses, 489 to be exact, and other sources which I have consulted suggest that probably twice as many will be condemned in the next ten years. When one discusses with housing officers the problem of what kind of houses should be condemned, one finds that the term "slum" may be comparative. I discussed the matter with the borough surveyor, and was informed that a property which may be regarded as a slum in, say, Stepney or Paddington, would have been condemned years before in Enfield. But what might be called a slum in Enfield might be regarded as a good house in other parts of the country. It is sometimes rather difficult to decide in what state a house should be before it is due for demolition.

Nevertheless, I have seen houses in Enfield in which I would ask no one to live, and to compare them with houses which are worse is not the point. It is a simple fact that these houses are not fit for people to live in. They must be cleared, but the problem of rehousing the inhabitants while clearance is taking place causes a big headache to councils, and Enfold is no exception.

I should like to give some further particulars of Enfield's housing problems. I have spoken of the difficulties of getting land for housing and of the shortage of land in the borough. There are two sites with which the Borough Council is concerned at the moment. One is called the Nursery site, and the Minister knows about it. Borough councils are urged—I suppose rightly, in this democratic country—to do things by negotiation if they can, but, particularly in this period of rising land prices, when the tendency is to hold on to the land because the price keeps rising during the negotiations, I fear that negotiation has to go by the board.

The Enfield Borough Council started negotiating for this piece of land over five years ago. It is about six acres, and it was scheduled originally as an open space. A private developer came along and persuaded the owner to put in an application for development for housing and office building. The Borough Council immediately became interested and put in its application. The bargaining went on, and agreement was finally reached at a price of well over £10,000 an acre. Incidentally, the other day a price of £15,000 an acre for land had to be paid. This is twenty miles from the centre of London, on the edge of the green belt.

At £10,000 an acre the Borough Council had to decide to have a bigger density. Because the Middlesex County Council plan was for low density in that area and because at one time it had been scheduled as an open space, the application was refused. Fortunately, the Minister came into the picture and permission was given, but all this time went by and it was not until the middle of last year that the surveying of this area took place. Plans had to be prepared. Because tall flats are to be built there, a completely different set of contractors had to be engaged.

The work has not yet started and will not start until the middle of this year. We are awaiting permission from the Minister on various items. It will then take two and a half to three years to build the flats. This is a housing project to house 250 families. In other words, those 250 families will have had to wait for eight years for houses because of our system of purchasing land and because of the private ownership of land. The fact that 250 families have been kept out of houses for all that time shows the evils of the system.

The second case is also interesting, and the Minister has been told about this, too. It is a 15-acre site, at present completely built over with houses which are over a hundred years old and are due to be pulled down. There is no open space in the area at present; the 15 acres are completely covered with buildings. When the site is developed with tall fiats—the plans and a model have been prepared—there will be 1½ acres of open space. Many of my hon. Friends have been opposed to higher densities in Greater London, but this scheme shows that we can get the open space and at the same time house the same number of people in the area. It is an object lesson of what can be done in getting open space and still having tall buildings.

There were two private owners who had small pieces of land in the middle of the site, and they had to be bought out. The negotiations for the two pieces started in the middle of 1959 and have been going on ever since. In respect of one, the contract is to be settled in the middle of this year, in August, but, of course, everything else has to start from there. Negotiations in respect of the other site are not yet settled and could go on for a further six months. This is an area which will house just under 200 families, and they will have been kept waiting for three or four years because of our system of land purchase and so on.

This is a very serious problem for local authorities. I should like to quote from comments made by the Chief Engineer to London County Council, Mr. Rawlinson, at a conference which was also attended by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport. I should like to quote what Mr. Rawlinson said and the Parliamentary Secretary's reply. Mr. Rawlinson said that it was taking an average of five years to get land for urban development, and he continued, It may well be that in a democratic country like ours, any speeding up of the procedure for acquiring land and property is impossible on the grounds that it would cause undue hardship. It is, however, evident that if the Government are anxious and determined to put into operation quickly special and urgent improvements in urban areas then steps will have to be taken to expedite the present long drawn out procedure for acquiring property. He went on to give an example of what is done in Canada. In Canada, once it has been decided that the land is needed for development in the town, the owner is given exactly sixty days to get out. I do not think that anybody can say that Canada is not a democratic country. This is a reference to Winnipeg, and anyone may have this reference who wishes to read it and to see what is done in other democratic countries.

In his reply, the Parliamentary Secretary said, We are responsible to the electorate and therefore we have to act in a responsible manner. No one could disagree with that. I am not saying that something could not be done to speed up the statutory processes but I must make it clear, on behalf of the Minister and the Government as a whole, that unless and until there is a great demand from the public —I should like to repeat: a great demand from the public"— that these statutory processes should be shortened, and unless and until we are satisfied that this could legitimately be done, I am afraid that we have to work within the framework as it is today". I do not think that we should have to work within this framework. The matter is far too urgent. I am certain that if people knew the situation, and knew what I am about to reveal about housing in this city, they would think that the problem was so urgent that they would give the Government, of whatever political complexion, permission to go far more quickly than we are going today in getting essential land for building. Enfield's housing problem will not be solved in ten years. It will not be solved in twenty years at the rate at which we are going. There is no sense in making statements that the backlog of housing will be broken in ten years and that slum clearance is a matter of small areas. If we continue in the way in which we are going, it will take a very long time.

Hon. Members must have the same experience as I have in meeting constituents who are in wretched housing conditions or who have no house and in having to tell them that they have no hope for ten or fifteen years of getting a house—and that is what we have to do. It is a hellish position for a Member of Parliament to have to say that to old people or young couples. It is all very well to say, "Leave it to the local authorities". I consider it my duty as a Member of Parliament to interest myself in this problem and to do all that I can to help and to advise these people.

Let me turn to the general housing problem. I do not wish to bore the House with all the figures, for they have been given in various housing debates, but I would point out that the Minister's own figures show a need for roughly 350,000 dwellings a year. Those are his own figures, and I have the references here. If that is the case, why are we building fewer than 300,000 houses a year and why is that figure falling? Other experts have given a much higher figure than 350,000 houses a year; they have suggested that nearly 400,000 houses a year are needed before the problem is solved. If we are building at only 290,000 houses a year, in ten years' time we shall be over a million houses short. I feel that the position could be even worse, because houses are decaying much quicker than many people think.

All the calculations concerning houses in the past ten to twenty years have been wrong and have been far too low. The calculations given to the late Aneurin Bevan during the war were all wrong chiefly because people were better off and more anxious probably to get houses. But all the figures about housing requirements have been short. I repeat that to say that the backlog of the problem is solved simply will not wash. To use the official language which my housing manager in Enfield uses, it is said that 300 people in Enfield are inadequately housed. The example of Enfield is not the worst. There would be an outcry in this House if six people out of every 100 were unemployed. It is just as important that six people who are inadequately housed should be adequately housed.

Not only are people inadequately housed, but far too many of them are living in conditions of absolutely indescribable squalor. I have not the talent for easy description to convey to the House what I wish to convey, but about 15 months ago I was on a Committee considering the question of fowl pest. A lot of fowls were being slaughtered in the centre of London, from which a considerable amount of infection was spreading. The Committee of which I was a member had to go to see what could be done about it. I went to a street in Stepney called Lower Hessel Street where people were slaughtering poultry. The effluent from the slaughterhouse was running down the pavement. Dung from the poultry was lying on the pavements. Dirty cases were strewn all over the place. The slaughtering was taking place below the houses. I looked in some of the houses above the slaughterhouse and was shocked by what I saw.

A few months after this, I received a pamphlet from a church in Stepney. I have received several more since. I read those pamphlets and remembered what I had seen in Hessel Street. I must admit that when I read the first pamphlet I thought that it was slightly exaggerated. I did not know the Rev. Joseph Williamson who wrote it, but I had seen these dreadful conditions during my visit. I did not do anything about the matter at the time, but when I was fortunate in the Ballot for today's Motion I thought that it was duty to see whether the conditions were as he outlined.

It would be very difficult for me to tell everything, but I discovered that what the Rev. Joseph Williamson described was not only true but far worse. There was some bombing in the area and some houses were demolished. Many old houses have been closed up and not used for years. The garbage and filth in the closes in the area had to be seen to be believed. I do not know why it has not been cleared up. I insisted on going into some of the houses. I went into one house in which I was amazed to find about eight or nine people working for a tailoring firm in a room not much bigger than that Table. Damp was coming through the roof. The walls were peeling. I was told that the firm was due to move in a few weeks, not before time.

I went into another house in which two people were living. There was no roof on the house. They were living downstairs, and the only roof which these people had was the ceiling of the room above. I could not believe that human beings would live in such conditions.

I went into another house in which a tailor was living and working in a room again about the size of that Table. The tailor said that he was making clothes for an expensive West End tailoring firm. He showed me the labels which went on the clothes. Probably several hon. Members have jackets on their backs which were made under dreadful conditions like those. Probably I have myself, for all I know. I have not seen such bad living conditions. I went upstairs in this house. I could hardly get up the stairs. At the narrow end of the staircase I could not get my foot on the stair. I could only get my toe on the wide end. I admit that I have fairly large feet, but I think that it would be dangerous for anyone to walk up those stairs.

I climbed the stairs to the top of the house. One room, which I measured with my eye, was about 14 ft. square. There were three beds and a cot in it. A man and his wife were living there with their four children and two others whom they were looking after. The man was at work, but his wife was there. The big bed had been moved from the wall because water was running down on to it. In another room was a woman who had just come out of gaol for street offences. This room was about 6 ft. by 10 ft. She was living there by herself and she appealed to the gentleman who was showing me round to try to get her children back to her to live in these conditions.

Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)

My hon. Friend is dealing with overcrowding in the Metropolitan area. Is he aware that at various times during the last six years I have pressed this question of overcrowding on the Minister of Housing and Local Government and he has consistently refused to make a survey in order to get information from local authorities about the extent of overcrowding in the Metropolitan area?

Mr. Mackie

I thank my hon. Friend for that information. I was not proposing to apportion blame. I am more interested today in trying to pinpoint this horrible problem to see whether we can get something done about it.

I have tried to describe what I have seen, but quite honestly I feel rather like Tam o'Shanter as he looked in the windows of the haunted kirk of Alloway: Wi mair of horrible and awfu', Which even to name wad be unlawfu'. But it is in black and white in all these pamphlets which the Rev. Joseph Williamson, the vicar of the parish, has distributed for anyone to read. I assure hon. Members that there is not one word of exaggeration in those pamphlets. I do not know a great deal about the gentleman. I have met him only once, when I went to see him. He is what might be termed a very awkward priest indeed. But that is what priests should be—very awkward in circumstances like these.

This is not a small area about which I am speaking. I motored and walked round it. There are acres of it. i saw no sign of anything being done in this area except small pieces of demolition work. However, there was no activity on the day that I was there. I was talking to someone who has a knowledge of London. He thought that Paddington had worse slums than the ones which I had seen. It was extraordinary that two politicians should be arguing about where were the worst slums. A borough surveyor told me that he could take me to other areas, not small areas, which were just as had. Many new houses have been built in the north-east part of Stepney, but there is a tremendous problem in other parts of the borough which must be tackled. If the Minister has not been there, I appeal to him to visit the area to see the conditions for himself. If he has been there, he should be black affronted that he is not down there now with a bulldozer pushing the lot into the Thames.

The Rev. Joseph Williamson wrote to the Prime Minister, and the reply which he received was to the effect that most of the problems which he mentioned were mainly local. This is not merely a local problem. It is a national problem and a national disgrace. The same problem exists in Glasgow, Edinburgh, and in all the big towns. I am sure that many of my colleagues today will pinpoint the problem in their own constituencies. It is a problem which affects us all. The physical and mental wellbeing of tens of thousands of people is being affected for the rest of their lives.

The little girl who I saw two days ago in this filthy room with no comforts whatsoever was clutching a dirty cat. The previous weekend I had been to Scotland to stay with my son and his wife and my little granddaughter. To realise the difference between the chance in life that my little granddaughter will get compared with that which these poor kids in Stepney, Paddington and elsewhere will get makes one's heart bleed.

Apart from the saving of human misery, I am certain that the saving in future on welfare services of all descriptions would be enormous. I am certain that our prisons, hospitals and mental homes are being filled largely because of the conditions that I have described. Although this applies particularly to the slum clearance areas, it applies equally to giving everybody adequate modern housing. Any welfare officer will tell one that nine-tenths of the cost of the welfare services is probably caused by bad housing. It is essential that this problem of slum clearance should be tackled like a military operation. It cannot be done adequately by the local authorities.

I make these suggestions to the Minister on how it should be done for places like Enfield, which has still some open space, and for places like Stepney where there are the 1,500 houses of which I have been speaking. The difficulty is to provide accommodation for these people until rebuilding takes place. I have suggested to some of my borough councillors that they should buy about 250 caravans and lay out decent caravan sites on land scheduled as open space—in the green belt area if necessary—for use during the next ten years. About 100 to 150 people every six months could be shifted from slum houses into these caravans. When the rebuilding has taken place, they could be moved back again to their own areas, because I know that many people like living in the enormous conurbations of Greater London.

I mentioned in a previous debate, when it was suggested that people must be saved from themselves, that that was a way of telling people what they had to do. I do not want to tell them what to do. If they want to live in London, our job is to see that they can get suitable houses. I think that the way to do that is to have a ten-year plan, to estimate how many caravans are needed, and get these people shifted to them for a time. For places like Stepney and Paddington where there are no open spaces, caravan sites could be provided if necessary in the green belt areas, and the same operation could be carried out. In my opinion, this can be done only if we convince ourselves that it is an essential operation and that we can no longer go on with this terrible sore of such slums.

I now come to the question of cost. Of course, the cost will be high, but it will be more costly for the welfare services for the future if we do not do this now. But, whatever the cost, this affluent society of ours has no right to have a housing situation such as I have described. We must be spending millions of pounds on petrol stations and new offices. I make no apology for returning to the question of new offices. Any day one can open The Times and see an advertisement for 500,000 sq. ft. of office space to let, enough floor space to provide 1,000 old people each with a flat of 500 sq. ft. I would ask the Minister to go down to Stepney and then travel up to the City of London. Nothing is being done to provide houses for the people at Stepney, but as one travels towards the City one sees glass palace after glass palace going up on every available site.

People are spending millions of pounds on inessential luxuries, on bingo and gambling, tobacco and drink, and on a lot of rubbish which is to be seen for sale in the shops. We are spending £1,600 million on armaments. I would give up Berlin tomorrow if I thought that the money saved would be spent on proper housing. We have no right to call ourselves a Christian nation unless we give this problem first priority.

Although I may have been somewhat controversial, I have tried to treat this matter as non-political. On this side of the House we will give the Government every assistance if we think that they are going to tackle the problem properly. The Minister is a doctor and he must understand these problems. I look forward to listening to what action he proposes to take, and I hope that it will be taken in the near future.

11.56 a.m.

Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie), both on his fortune in the Ballot and on his choice of subject. It is a matter in which not only I, but every hon. Member who is present today, am interested, because we all realise that our whole way of life is built around the family unit and that if we are to have a happy and contented country and to improve the health of our people, as was well brought out in the White Paper on hospitals, housing is the background. The provision of adequate housing contributes also to the solution of the problem of delinquency. When people have a nice home, they do not wish to spend all their time away from it.

I notice that on building in general, £2,565 million has been spent. Only £70 million of this was on commercial building. Some £240 million was on housing built by local authorities, and £390 million on private housing. It will, therefore, be seen that five times as much has been spent on housing as on offices. We are frequently presented with criticism and even Bills from hon. Members opposite concerning the improvement of office accommodation in which people work. Nevertheless, when we have spent five times as much on housing as on offices, it cannot be said that we have got our priorities wrong.

The Government can be well pleased, although I do not suggest that they should be satisfied—one never should be satisfied—with the progress that they have made. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister and his predecessors on the action they have taken. Nearly 4 million houses have been built since the war. That is a tremendous number. One family in five lives in a home built since the Conservatives came back to power in 1951. Had we continued at the pace set by hon. Members opposite, there would have been 1 million fewer houses. A million families—which represents the combined populations of Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds—would still be on a waiting list if hon. Members opposite had carried on with their policy.

Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)

Will the hon. Lady bear in mind the enormous number of houses and buildings that had to be repaired after war damage in the years when the Labour Government were in office?

Miss Vickers

I quite agree with the hon. Member and I shall mention that later when I shall make some suggestions about slum clearance. I happened to work on what was known as the London Repairs Committee at the Ministry of Works, when, even prior to the Labour Government coming into power—during the time of the "Caretaker" Government—there were special forces to undertake special rehabilitation work.

Mr. A. Evans

Politics apart, does the hon. Lady consider it fair to compare the rate of building immediately at the end of the war, when the whole of Europe was devastated, our economy was geared to war, we had no timber or bricks and the manpower was in the fighting forces, with the pace of building during, say, the last two or three years? Is it a fair comparison.

Miss Vickers

The hon. Member has made a fair point. I would not have considered it a fair comparison had it not been stated emphatically by hon. Members opposite that the Conservatives could not build 300,000 houses a year. Hon. Members opposite claimed that 200,000 was the maximum. This is why I regard the comparison as fair. One must consider also the building of private houses. Seven times as many are being built each year as ten years ago. This also is a great contribution to solving the housing problem.

The Motion mentions the important question of slum clearance. I know that the Government have given priority to this and have helped with various subsidies. I understand that over 300,000 houses so far have been dealt with at an average of about 70,000 a year.

The Motion does not refer to the great importance of housing for the elderly, although the hon. Member for Enfield, East touched upon this. Local authorities, who are now building 30 per cent. of their housing for the elderly, are doing a great service.

When speaking in November last year, my right hon. Friend estimated that we need about 6 million new homes in the next twenty years. This is partly because of the rising standards of the people, who, quite rightly, demand a higher standard of housing, the increase of about 2 million in our population and the fact that a great many people have some here from overseas. I refer not to immigrants, but to those who have come here to reside, such as the Hungarians, whom we have taken in as being in need of homes.

A great deal has been done, but my right hon. Friend recognises, I am certain, that we must do more. I suggest to him that he might consider a ten-year plan, rather on the lines of the hospital plan, which would afford a good basis on which to work. I am pleased to note—although it was mentioned in the 1922 Committee, it is apparently no secret, having appeared in all the papers—that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has talked about Conservative planning. I hope that we may now have Conservative planning for slum clearance. I should like to know from my right hon. Friend the Minister whether he has any tables relating to the age of houses. One has to plan on the age of houses, to know what can be done with existing houses and what number may have to come down because of their age.

My reason for suggesting a plan is that I have studied some of the cities which have big problems. Liverpool, I understand, has 88,000 slums and since 1957 has dealt with 5,000 of them. Bradford has 11,000 and has dealt with 3,500. Manchester, which has 68,000, has done about 8,000; Gateshead, with 4,000, has done about 1,300; and Hull, which has 14,000, has done about 1,700. It is beyond the resources and staff of most of the cities to continue at a much greater pace, especially because there is a shortage of architects.

I suggest, therefore, that we might have a further pooling of ideas between cities which do not have this great problem. Plymouth, for example, has only 262 slum houses. It has an able architect's department which could help with plans. One of he main delays is in getting out the plans, particularly because of the shortage of staff. I hope that we may see, not simply meetings of the Association of Municipal Corporations, but of the chairman of local authorities, with architects and others interested in housing whereby plans, which, for example, have been acceptable and have proved worth while in Plymouth, might be handed over for use by another city of similar size. This would be a great help and I understand that it would be possible to do it. If my right hon. Friend agrees, I should also like a survey to be undertaken to show what the problem will be in ten years' time and then to decide whether it is necessary to tackle the problem on a national basis.

The hon. Member for Enfield, East mentioned military action. After the war, when I was working for the Ministry of Works, we had what was called the London Repairs Committee and a mobile labour force was brought into London to do what was then known as first-aid repairs to houses. Although there were criticisms of the method, on the whole it was successful. If my right hon. Friend agrees to a survey, I wonder whether he would consider the possibility of organising a mobile labour force, either from areas where there is unemployment or, possibly, under the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill, whereby people could be brought to this country specially for the work and could live, as was done at the end of the war, in huts or camps. In this way, the work could be given top priority.

A great many big firms might be pleased to undertake work if they knew that it would be continuous. If they had a big job in Leeds and knew that they could then go on to, say, Birmingham, they would be able to keep their labour force. At present, the difficulty is that when a labour force is recruited in an area, the men have to be dismissed at the completion of the job. Then, it is necessary to obtain another labour force when the firm moves to another area. I suggest that the problem could be tackled with a mobile labour force.

My next point is that of housing for the elderly. We are in a peak period of housing for the elderly because we now have to house people who had small families. In earlier years, families had a great many children who could care for them. As a result of two world wars there are also a great many widows. For these reasons, we are at the peak period of housing for our elderly population.

I wonder whether a sufficiently full survey has been made of the houses which are under-occupied, in which one or two people live in a house which is far too big for them. I feel sure that a number of people could be persuaded to move if they knew that they could go to an "independent unit" of their own.

An experiment has been made, which, I think, has proved successful of individual bed-setting rooms. A kitchen is contained in the bed-sitting room but is enclosed by a cupboard so that it is completely shut off. The tenants share bathroom and toilet accommodation. At the beginning, when I saw this experiment in Germany, I was not much in favour of it. Experience of people living in these conditions shows, however, that they are happy, they are kept warm because central heating is provided and they can live a private life. What is more, they have their own favourite pieces of furniture and ornaments.

The cost of one of these flatlets is about £1,100, which necessitates a weekly subsidy of about £2. I suggest, however, that it is far better to do this than to put people in homes at a cost of about £7 a week. Furthermore, although in that accommodation they are independent and have their own furniture with them, in addition there is a warden and his wife to care for them. I think that my right hon. Friend will agree that this system of accommodating the elderly can be extended all over the country. I am certain that it could be very beneficial.

I feel that housing associations could do a great deal more than they are doing at the moment. There are in many cities rows of terraced houses some of which are individually owned by owners who are not sufficiently well off to be able to do repairs or to carry out conversions to make one house into more units. There are a great many of those houses which are basically sound, and much more could be done with them by taking two or three of them or a whole row of them and converting them into more dwellings. I hope that when my right hon. Friend replies to the debate he will say something about those housing associations which certainly in some towns could help, in view of the fact that the Government can make substantial grants towards conversion of houses.

I believe that we can now have standard improvement grants of about £155 and discretionary grants for a 12-point standard house up to the maximum of £400. I do not think that sufficient is known about these improvement grants and schemes or that local authorities are generous enough in allocating them. There has certainly been considerable difficulty from time to time, especially about the £400 grants, in getting grants passed through councils. I should like to know what my right hon. Friend feels about this, whether one should encourage private housing associations to take over houses and convert them, in order to help to solve the problem of the housing situation at the present time.

The final point which I would mention is one in which I personally take an interest, and it is the question of homeless families. I am not talking now about homeless families who are on waiting lists or who come into the big towns such as London. London, I think, has a special problem which, I understand, might be solved by taking over blitzed sites and putting prefabricated mobile houses on them at not too large cost, but that, of course, would not suit every area, and I am not particularly talking about that type of person. The person I have in mind is one who has been in a council house or in a privately-owned house and who has been evicted because he or she has not paid the rent.

It is essential under Part III of the National Assistance Act that some care should be taken anyhow of the women and children. Experiments have been tried of taking a house and putting a family into the house with the help of social workers who help the family to manage the paying of rent and the paying off of debts, so that the family can have a fresh start. This can work properly only if it works in conjunction with a local authority being willing to re- house the family as and when it considers the family can stand on their own feet.

I mention this particularly because it seems to me that so much of the housing nowadays is going to people who can well afford not to live in council houses. The original Acts were for what was then known as the working class. These homeless people, as they fall by the wayside, do not all get the help they should have, and we are creating a very big problem for ourselves in the future, just because they are not, perhaps, very intelligent in the way in which they manage their lives. Very often a family in this group is put into accommodation in which the husband and father is not allowed to go, and where the family have very little chance of ever pulling themselves up again.

I should like a survey to be made to see what are the income groups of the people living in council houses. One does not want people to be stopped from having them, but I should like the survey to see whether there are occupants of council houses who are capable of paying higher rents and who are standing in the way of people who really need those houses and therefore should have them.

Like the hon. Gentleman the Member for Enfield, East, I have a housing problem in my constituency in spite of the fact that there are few slums, and I find that a great many people are very nervous about owning houses themselves. They have not belonged to a family which has owned a house previously and they fear they would not be able to look after a house and would not be able to keep up their mortgage payments and so on, and that they would lose their houses. That thought worries them. It would help if we could persuade people to undertake acquiring houses in that way. I have done it a number of times. I think it is beneficial that people should have houses by owning them.

Mr. H. Hynd

At 7 per cent.?

Miss Vickers

No. Local authorities can give very good mortgages, and there are firms which do not take as much as 7 per cent. One finds many places where people buying their houses are paying weekly, in order finally to own their houses, sums which are less than the rents they would pay for some council houses.

Mr. William Warbey (Ashfield)

Is the hon. Lady aware that there are local authorities now charging 6¾ per cent. on loans for houses? Secondly, is she aware that, according to a recent survey made by building societies, only 10 per cent. of the people of this country can afford the in-going cost and the mortgage payments for a house of their own?

Miss Vickers

We do have people who buy their own houses at a high rate, but we must remember that it is not only building societies who are concerned and that quite a lot of private people give loans for houses. Solicitors arrange them. There are many different ways of doing it. One does not always have to go to a building society or a local authority, and I have found many cases in which people pay less rent a week to own a house than they would pay in rents for council houses. I could show the hon. Gentleman actual case details if he would like to see them.

The Government have made strides in housing the people of this country, and that can be shown on the figures I have given, and I think people are better housed now than they have ever been housed in their lives. We all know of hard cases, and I think that perhaps Members of Parliament take more interest in housing now than they did, because previously the housing problem was left mostly to local councillors responsible for the problem in their individual wards; but I feel that it has now become a national problem, and especially the slum clearance problem is a national problem, and I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend would make some comments on the points I have been raising.

12.18 p.m.

Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)

I have had the pleasure before of following the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers), and I know the great human interest she takes in welfare problems. I can agree with a great deal of her speech, but there are two points in it which I should like to take up.

She gave figures about office building. I do not think they reveal the whole picture, because office building is concentrated in the big cities, for instance in London, where the great housing shortage is, although, of course, it also exists in other centres. However, I do not think that to give the amount of money spent on office building reveals the real picture, because offices are built where the housing shortage is at its greatest, and the amount on housing is for the country as a whole.

The other point I would take up is about the people in council houses and in the higher income groups. If we were to move those people—and I do not think we should—we should not increase the number of houses. The real problem is the shortage of houses, and till we make up that leeway there will be queues for houses and there will be suffering, but to change the tenants of council houses would not increase the number of houses one iota.

Miss Vickers

My idea was that they should build their own houses, and that would increase the number available.

Mr. Hunter

I think that a number of people would build their own houses if they were of the age at which they could buy and if they had the money and could raise a mortgage. Apart from these points to which I have referred, I am sure that the House will agree that the hon. Lady made a most interesting and valuable speech.

The Motion deals with one of the greatest social problems facing the country. Before the war unemployment was always with us. I can remember it continuously from 1919 to 1939. We never had full employment in the twenty years between the First and Second World Wars. The housing problem has been with us, with its acute shortage, especially in London and the districts round the London area and in the great provincial cities, from 1945. It is true that the standard of housing has risen considerably, but the shortage is just as acute in the big cities in 1962 as it was in 1945.

All hon. Members who represent such areas receive heartbreaking letters from constituents who are trying to find accommodation. Constituents in need of accommodation also attend our advice bureaux, but there is little we can do to help these poor people excerpt to appeal in the House to the Government to frame vigorous housing policies to assist our fellow-citizens. There is great need to give housing top priority. All over London one can see huge block of offices, some still awaiting tenants. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Johnson Smith) knows that there are large blocks of new offices in his constituency which were not let for a considerable time after they were built. On the other hand, there is a large number of applicants for houses and flats which are not being built, and I appeal to the Government to give higher priority to housing than to office building.

A great many people would like to buy their own houses, but prices are high and mortgages are not always obtainable. Those seeking a mortgage must have incomes which satisfy either the building societies or the local authorities. Houses and flats which are built for letting by private companies are advertised in the daily and weekly Press, but the price cannot be met by people in the lower income groups who are the people who are mainly suffering from the housing shortage. Local authorities are the only housing authorities who can let to these people, but local authorities in London and Middlesex have long waiting lists and they are restricted by high land prices, high interest charges and the shortage of land. When so many people cannot buy houses and they depend on letting, surely the Government could give councils more assistance by framing suitable financial policies for housing.

We want a flexible housing policy. Houses are wanted for families and also smaller units for elderly people. I am pleased that we are now moving ahead in providing accommodation for the elderly. If elderly people who are living in council houses could be transferred to old people's dwellings or old people's flats or bungalows they could make room for people with families. The local authority in my constituency has a very good record. It has been building for families continuously since 1945. It has built old people's bungalows which visitors from abroad have been taken to see and admire. It has built and is building bed-sitters for old people and it has built to deal with slum clearance, but still the waiting list remains very long. In fact, as they build so the list seems to grow.

I do not think that the Government have a complete picture of this problem. I think that it will grow in the next five or ten years. People are now marrying at a much earlier age. The "bulge" is now going to the schools and in six or seven years' time young people, in a time of full employment and a higher standard of living, will be marrying much younger and will be coming on the housing lists. I appeal to the Minister to take a broad view of the picture. I agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Devonport that a house is the basis of family life. Are we to have the picture in years ahead of these young people getting married with no home in which to start their lives together? They have either to live in furnished accommodation which is often unsatisfactory or live with parents, and frequently in overcrowded conditions.

It is now 17 years since the end of the war and I am not satisfied with the Government's present progress. The queues in the big cities are just as long as ever, and the prospects of people buying a house at a reasonable figure are still just as remote. I am certain that all my hon. Friends are in favour of the owner-occupier. I am in favour of people buying their own homes. I encourage them to do so if they can afford it. If they cannot afford it, it is no good putting a millstone round their necks to cause them financial worry and distress.

We should also bear in mind that groups of people of about 50 or 52 years of age who, unless they can offer a very large deposit, have difficulty in obtaining a loan from a building society. We must consider cases like that of elderly people who cannot buy, and also those in the lower income groups, and there are many, who cannot afford to buy a house. Let us, therefore, go forward with a programme which will encourage those people who can afford to buy and who want to own their own place but let us remember that millions of our fellow citizens depend on letting and that the rents of houses built by private companies are too high for the majority of those in the lower income groups who want to rent and who therefore must depend upon the local authority. Cannot the Minister help local authorities to overcome the problems of land shortage, the price of land and interest rates? Assistance in these matters would help the people wanting to buy and the Local authority.

My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) said that this was a great social problem. I endorse his words. This is a problem about which we do not want to score party points and talk about how many houses were built in 1948 or 1949. The problem is how many are to be built in 1962. Can we not help those young people who will be getting married and will soon come on the housing lists? Can we house the old people properly? Can we give every citizen a proper house in which he can live a proper life? I appeal to the Minister to ensure that the Government do this job. The Government must have a housing policy, that ensures that this great social problem has top priority so that we can see signs that in time every family has a home of their own.

12.30 p.m.

Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)

The hon. Members for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) and Feltham (Mr. Hunter) have made extremely sensible and reasonable speeches, but they seem to have nothing new to offer to my right hon. Friend as suggestions for improving the housing situation except exclusively the building of new houses. On the other hand, I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers), who pinched most of the good points from my speech, had some very sensible things to say.

I want to touch on the work of housing associations, under-occupation of houses, and tenancy agreements for those who are in council houses and houses owned by housing associations.

The 1961 Housing Act provided that the Government could make advances to housing associations up to a total of £25 million. As the chairman of the management committee of a housing association in the East End of Landon, I wondered whether my right hon. Friend might be interested to hear of some of the difficulties and the ambitions that housing associations have.

These housing associations started about 100 years ago principally with the object of providing good accommodation at reasonable prices for those working in industries mainly in the big towns and cities. The finances of these associations came either from loans or from stock taken out with a very low rate of interest, if any at all. Right up to the turn of the century, and really up to the start of the First World War, these associations set the standards and brought forward the ideas which many municipal authorities have followed ever since. The voluntary committees and the staffs of housing managers should be given a pat on the back for the work which they do in the many housing associations in the country.

There are a few large housing associations, like the Peabody and Guinness Trusts, but there are many small ones which have a local interest and provide merely for the housing of people in a certain area. Between the wars there was not a great increase in the numbers of associations, but during the last 10 years there has been a move forward and a great many new associations have been formed, by Churches, the Quakers, and particularly efficiently by the W.V.S., the headquarters of which helps W.V.S. branches to start local housing associations.

The older housing associations will not, I think, embark on the very big new schemes in which the Minister is hoping associations will engage. They are occupied mainly in trying to modernise and improve their existing flats and houses, and, with the money which they may have over, to engage in fairly small schemes for the improvement of housing for certain types of people. The record of housing associations in providing accommodation for elderly people, especially in the last 10–15 years, has been outstanding.

My own association, as its next effort, is to try to provide some unfurnished accommodation for single women, a group not catered for by municipal authorities. These women live in uncomfortable bed-sitters. These are women who work in charitable organisations or as librarians or secretaries, and it is difficult for them to secure proper accommodation, and they need to be helped.

I would mention to the hon. Member for Enfield, East that it is not always easy to get people who are living in below-standard slum conditions to allow their houses to be improved. Three or four years ago we bought a group of four or five houses. We had an excellent architect to provide the plans for the modernisation and improvement of the houses, but in four years we have been able to persuade only one of the occupiers out of five to allow us to carry out a modernisation scheme for which they could easily pay the small amount extra that we are asking. It is particularly disappointing and really surprising that in houses where there are no bathrooms and no hot water systems and only outside lavatories four families out of five prefer to continue living in those conditions rather than pay 10–15s. a week extra for the improved conditions which we would provide and which they could easily afford.

If we are going to make use of the money to be provided by the Minister under the Act, I do not see it being done by the old associations. I visualise its being done by new ones formed on a cooperative basis, very often by people with a housing problem and other things in common. I suggest that there should be many more ex-Service housing associations and that those engaged in a certain type of work—transport workers and so on—could form their own associations. Companies, especially in expanding towns, should form associations through which they could provide accommodation for their workers. Successful housing associations have been started by immigrants for immigrants. There is no reason why any group of responsible people should not band together and form an association for themselves. There is no reason why, for instance, a large house in Belgrave Square should not be converted for the use of an association of de-castellated dukes.

We shall get such a surge forward only if there is far greater knowledge throughout the country of the work of housing associations and how they can be formed. I believe that later on this month my right hon. Friend is to open a big exhibition in connection with housing societies, and I hope that will receive the maximum publicity. I would ask my right hon. Friend to produce a simple leaflet—I do not think one exists at present—to advise people about how housing associations may be formed. The leaflet should be given the widest possible distribution. It should go first to local authorities, secondly to voluntary organisations such as ex-Service organisations, thirdly to Citizens Advice Bureaux, and fourthly to hon. Members. I believe that many hon. Members know very little about the housing association movement, but by their influence in their own constituencies they could encourage the growth of the movement and increase the number of people accommodated by housing associations.

I do not believe that local authorities in the main realise how helpful to them housing associations can be. These associations can be a bridge between municipal housing and the privately owned property. My experience has been—and I think that this is the general rule—that local authorities do not encourage housing associations to get on with their work. That is something where hon. Members could give encouragement to their borough councils. For example, my right hon. Friend might like to know that it took four years from the purchase time to arrange the occupation of a largish house in Hackney by 12 elderly women in accommodation just like that mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport—each with an unfurnished private room, with its own kitchen facilities but sharing bathrooms and lavatories.

It took four years to complete this project. The treatment we received from the Hackney and Bethnal Green councils was extremely encouraging and helpful, but that which we received from the L.C.C. was rather as though we were a group of undischarged bankrupts trying to build a block of luxury flats in the middle of Hyde Park. Every inch of the way was a struggle, and the grant we finally received from the L.C.C. for this very useful work was far lower than it should have been. No allowance was made for central heating or for the provision of fire escapes. I hope that my right hon. Friend will try to use his influence to encourage local authorities to give more help to associations which are trying to provide accommodation for elderly people.

I have two other subjects I wish to mention. The first has already been touched on—under-occupation of council houses. We can say "under-occupation of council houses," because one of the benefits which the Rent Act produced was that under-occupation became far less in privately-owned rented property.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)


Mr. Page

I am surprised to hear that. I would have thought that the argument for the Act was that many people were forced to live in larger accommodation than they needed and that this could be split up into smaller units or be used for people with larger families.

Mr. Lipton

The result of the Act in London was to persuade someone living in an under-occupied flat at a controlled rent to move into a smaller flat at a decontrolled rent.

Mr. Page

I am sorry. I should have said that this was the case in uncontrolled privately-owned property. I think that in uncontrolled property there is very little under-occupation.

Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)

Would not my hon. Friend agree that, even in controlled property, if a person was occupying much more accommodation than he needed, he would be in a position to sub-let it?

Mr. Page

I think that is perfectly true. Last year there was a report by the Housing Committee of the L.C.C. about occupation of units of accommodation provided by the L.C.C., which owns 200,000 houses or flats. I think that the Council itself was staggered to find that in this number were 17,000 families who had two or more rooms in excess of their requirements—not just one spare room but two or more. The report added that there were 23,000 families requiring more rooms. It seems staggering to me that the L.C.C. is not prepared to use any kind of compulsion to move families from under-occupied accommodation into smaller accommodation and thus make more rooms available for those who are desperately in need. A direct swop between under-occupied and over-occupied flats would produce a far more balanced figure.

Mr. Bruce Millan (Glasgow, Craigton)

Is there something so desperately wrong about people having a spare room? How many hon. Members opposite are there living in under-occupied houses? Surely all hon. Members like to live in under-occupied houses in the sense that they like to have a spare room. Why apply these very stringent tests to council house tenants?

Mr. Page

The hon. Gentleman did not hear me clearly. I said that 17,000 families had two or more rooms under-occupied. I particularly did not say one or more rooms. I think that a spare room, where the need of a spare room is really greater than the fact that other people have to go without accommodation, is really desirable.

Mr. A. Evans

In fairness, will the hon. Gentleman point out that the L.C.C. has consistently pursued the policy of encouraging people to go into smaller accommodation if their present accommodation is too large? That policy is being implemented all along the line. Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that to encourage people in that way is one thing, but for the L.C.C. or any other public authority to force a family out of a house in which it has been living for many years is quite a different matter?

Mr. Page

The hon. Gentleman has exactly mapped out the parting of the ways of his and my thinking. I think that it is tremendously important, and I shall go on to discuss it in a moment. When a person says, "How dare you move me from this house? I have a right to be here because I have been here for twenty-five years," my answer to that is, "You have no right to stay in this subsidised accommodation if others, without houses, and who have a greater need than you, are waiting for accommodation".

I do not think that the L.C.C. and a large number of other councils have been nearly stringent enough in the efforts they make to persuade people to move. These people should be told that they can have alternative accommodation and that it is hoped that they will move, but if they refuse to move after a reasonable time then they should be compelled to do so.

That naturally leads to another facet of this matter which also concerns housing association accommodation. When a person gets occupation of a council house at the present time, it seems to me that he feels, "This is mine—here I am for ever." Surely council housing and, to a certain extent, housing association accommodation should be used by those who need it most

Every new tenant of a council house and of housing association accommodation, where the housing association is providing for a need and not just providing houses in general, should be told when he first occupies the house that he has occupation of that house for five, seven or ten years, whatever time the council considers most suitable. If tenants were told that they could have a seven-year tenancy, at the end of six years they would be asked whether they wished to continue to occupy that accommodation. If they did, they would have to show that their need for it was greater than those waiting on the housing list. It is absurd—and I am sure that hon. Members opposite know this as well as many of my hon. Friends do—that many council houses should be occupied by a husband and wife who are both earning and whose family is earning and where there is a considerable income so that the family is well able to provide itself with private accommodation.

The hon. Member for Feltham said that someone earning £12 a week or less was unable to buy his own house. I agree. That is the kind of figure at which it is very difficult, especially for a man with a family, to try to start to buy a modern house; but when there are families with incomes of £20 or £30 a week, the family should accept its responsibilities to the community and look after itself. It would be a great social advantage for the family and for the country if it did. While the family was earning good money it would buy a house, and when the time came for retirement the house would be its own and it could remain there.

Mr. Mackie

Does not the hon. Member subscribe to the view which the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devon-port (Miss Vickers) and I and other hon. Members have put forward, which is that we are trying to provide homes and not just houses, and that unless there is some security it is not a home? We want something more than security based on a three, four, five, or seven-year retention.

Mr. Page

Of course we are trying to provide homes, but there are many hon. Members on bath sides of the House who lease their homes on period leases. Five, seven, or ten years is a perfectly adequate and reasonable time in which to build up the home atmosphere of a house. It is almost a common thing for better-off members of the population to move from a larger to a smaller house when their families have left home. That is something which is being encouraged, I do not see anything wrong with it.

When the councils and the housing associations gave these leases for a period, as a quid pro quo they should also give up their power to give notice to quit without reason. They should give far greater security to the occupier than he would otherwise have. Although the total needs of the nation for 'housing are very great, I am convinced that the accommodation we have can be better used than it is now.

12.55 p.m.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

Listening to some of the speeches from some hon. Members, I was almost led to believe that the housing shortage was a vicious rumour started by people with nowhere to live. Nevertheless, the fact is that there is a desperate housing shortage in certain parts of the country. I do not know what the conditions outside London are, but every London Member knows that the housing problem in London is endemic and shows no sign of being solved. During the 17 years I have been a Member of Parliament, not a week has gone by without letters or approaches to me from constituents who were in serious difficulty over housing problems.

We are still faced with this difficulty. Last night, apparently, the Conservative Party adopted the slogan, "Conservative planning works." Perhaps it is a little unreasonable to expect any sign that Conservative planning works within less than 24 hours of the adoption of the slogan. But it is in this that the reason for the housing difficulty is to be found. The economy of our country is such that a quarter of the population is attracted to London and the south-east corner of Britain. Most of the jobs are to be found in places like London where the housing situation is most difficult. Where there are houses to be obtained, in the North and North-West and on the North-East Coast, or in Scotland, there are 110 jobs. Where there are jobs, there are no houses.

That all stems from the Government's reluctance to tackle the basic problem of organising our industries and employment and co-ordinating the creation of jobs with the provision of homes. Until the Government face that problem, the situation in London and one or two other large towns will remain unsolved.

Mr. John Page

Does the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) therefore support the Government's Commonwealth Immigrants Bill, which attempts to control immigration into this country?

Mr. Lipton

I am glad that the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) asked that question, because it enables me to say that on the Second Reading of that Bill the Minister of Labour said: …I do not think that it would be right for us to sit back and allow Commonwealth citizens to come into this country in vastly increased numbers unless we are satisfied that reasonable living conditions are available for them."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 16th November, 1961; Vol. 649, c. 807.] My complaint about that Bill is that, irrespective of what else it does, it does not provide for reasonable living conditions for the immigrants already here, or the immigrants who will keep coming to the country after the Bill has been passed.

Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

If it were to be a condition of entry for a Commonwealth citizen, or anyone else, that he should have accommodation ready and empty for him, would not the hon. Member agree that that would put a complete stop to anybody coming?

Mr. Lipton

That may well be. But for the Guillotine which has been applied to the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill I might have had an opportunity of discussing an Amendment which I intended to move relating to this specific point. If the Guillotine operates, the hon. Member for Stroud will be denied the pleasure of listening to me developing an argument in regard to housing on the Commonwealth Immigration Bill, but that, of course, is outside my control.

The Government pretend that by opposing the Bill we are in favour of millions of people coming to this overcrowded island, which is utter nonsense. The crux of the difficulty now facing us in a large number of areas where immigrants settle stems directly from the housing problem. We in London, in particular, know only too well the difficulties that arise when we have a large influx of immigrants, not only from the West Indies, but from Ireland, Malta, Gibraltar, Cyprus and other parts of the Commonwealth, who are, in a sense, much more British subjects than people who come from Southern Ireland. We know of the difficulties, and we have done our best to create suitable social and economic conditions which will help these different peoples to live together in reasonable harmony.

This immigration so far represents about half a million people, or 1 per cent. of the total population of this country. With a reasonable amount of dispersal, there would be no problem at all. Nobody can tell me that the equivalent of 1 per cent. of our population coming from the West Indies or any other place will create a problem. The problem arises out of these half-million immigrants because 40 per cent. of them come to London, 30 per cent. go to Birmingham and the rest are scattered about in other places. It is the concentration in a few areas like London and Birmingham that creates the problem.

I am sorry to say that I have come to the conclusion that the Commonwealth Immigration Bill be quite ineffective in dealing with the problem which already exists. It will not affect the housing difficulties already prevailing, and, to the extent that more people will come from the Commonwealth into London and Birmingham, even when the Bill goes on the Statute Book, the situation may well become even more difficult. The Bill will do nothing to alleviate or improve the difficult conditions that already exist in the areas I have mentioned. It will not even prevent them from getting worse, because nothing will be done to ensure that those who will still be admitted, after the Bill becomes law, are prevented from going to the areas where there are jobs but no houses, which is what immigrants have been doing up to now.

The Government knew full well what their responsibilities were as long ago as January, 1955. It is seven years since I took a deputation from the Lambeth Borough Council to the Colonial Office to draw attention to the difficulties that faced local authorities like that of Lambeth where there were these immigrants. We were very courteously received, and our suggestions were listened to. We suggested that there should be reception centres at the ports of disembarkation, and that there should be dispersal to places where the housing situation was not as difficult as it was in London. At the end, we had to issue a Press notice to the effect that we were very dissatisfied by reason of the Colonial Office being unable to offer any constructive suggestions to the deputation on the extremely acute overcrowding problem in Lambeth.

The attitude of my local authority was that it could not be too strongly stressed that the whole question of the entry of immigrants into this country and of their dispersal into areas where they could be absorbed, was one for solution at national level, and should not be left, as it is at present, and has been for the last seven years, to the inadequate resources of the few areas affected by concentration. Anyhow, we made these suggestions seven years ago, and not a bit of notice has been taken of them.

Mr. Charles Curran (Uxbridge)

I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument with interest. May I ask him to amplify a point which is not clear to me? He says that immigrants come to Lambeth, and that it ought to be the business of the Government to see that they are dispersed. Does this mean that he is in favour of the compulsory direction of labour? Supposing the immigrants do not go, does he propose to compel them to go to areas where there is more room for them than there is in Lambeth?

Mr. Lipton

Direction of labour would not be necessary if the Government so arranged our industrial and economic activities that jobs would be available all over the country, and not only in the south-eastern corner, which therefore attracts one-quarter of the total population of Britain. It is because, until last night, the Conservative Party did not believe in Conservative planning that we have had no planning in the past ten years, and there has been no organisation whatever of our industrial and economic activities. We have had under-employment in certain parts of the country and over-employment in others. It is by the provision of jobs and the encouragement of industry to depressed areas that this problem can best be tackled.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

Does the hon. Gentleman want to control industry? Does he not remember that we passed the Local Employment Act with the object of encouraging industry to go outside? Has he forgotten the efforts by both sides of the House in building new towns? Was that not an attempt to get people out of London?

Mr. Lipton

I am obliged to the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) for reminding me that 14 new towns were started by the Labour Government after the war. The party to which the hon. Member belongs is, I think, about to start one new town. We had better leave that one alone for the time being, because the record of the present Government is not particularly good.

Taking a broad view of the situation, the fact remains that two-thirds of the population cannot afford to pay an economic rent for a new house. Ninety per cent. of the population cannot afford to buy one out of income, and this disposes of all these attractive ideas of the property-owning democracy to which reference has been made.

There are 80,000 people on the London County Council waiting list. I do not think it can be denied that since the Rent Act the average wage will not buy an average home. I agree that more houses per head are available than before the war. The fact that 4 million houses have been built since the war has made a difference. There are plenty of empty houses on the books of estate agents. There is no housing problem which cannot be cured with £2,000 a year, or £500 or £1,000 for deposit for a house. This section of the community is amply provided for at the moment, and has been since the war.

The people about whom we are concerned are the 90 per cent. of the population who cannot afford to buy a home out of income. These are the people for whom the local authorities have to provide. These are the people in respect of whom even the present Administration tries to co-operate with local authorities in providing accommodation at rents which they can afford to pay.

Mr. Costain

I think that the hon. Gentleman ought to get his facts right. When he talks about 90 per cent. of the population, does not he mean households and not population?

Mr. Lipton

I am sorry; I accept that correction. I should have said 90 per cent. of householders.

Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)

It is still a staggering figure.

Mr. Lipton

The correction does not reduce the tragedy of the situation that I am trying to bring home to the House.

Consider an area like the one I represent. What has been the effect of the Rent Act which was supposed to bring new lettings on to the market and make it easier for people to find accommodation? This was the argument used when the Bill was being pushed through the House. What has been the effect of this Act in the inner London area? There has been more speculation in property; more vacancies; the sale with part vacant possession of decaying and derelict properties to people who are in such desperate need that they are willing to pay anything to get part vacant possession; and what sickens me most is that a particular kind of landlord and estate agent has been specialising in selling this kind of property to the poorest class of immigrants who would otherwise not be able to find anywhere to live.

These people are not entitled to go on to the local authority housing list. They must have somewhere to live, so they buy these decaying properties, often with just a few years to run on the lease. They get the houses comparatively cheaply, even though the price is extortionate in relation to the condition of the property. What sickens me is that landlords and property owners then complain about overcrowding, the evils of immigration, and that sort of thing. The people who complain are the pillars of the local Conservative Party. They do not mind making a little money out of these immigrants and doing a deal which will improve their bank balances.

The effects of the Rent Act are serious. Only this week it was reported to the Lambeth Borough Council that there had been an increasing flow of cases during the past six months of people who had been evicted from, or received notices to quilt, decontrolled premises. These people are not normally entitled to houses in Lambeth unless they have been on the waiting list for twelve months. Because of the Rent Act, the situation has become so difficult that the Lambeth Borough Council will have to waive the condition it previously imposed that every applicant for a house or flat in Lambeth must have been on the waiting list for at least twelve months.

Reverting for a moment to the distribution of employment, what we need is more immigration of employers into the less crowded areas of the country. This would meet some of the difficulties which I know hon. Gentleman opposite have in mind.

The Government should tackle the distribution of industry with much more urgency than they have so far shown. I know that they have played with the idea of doing so, but the Government must tackle this problem with much more urgency than they have shown so far. London is slowly being choked, and this is producing all kinds of repercussions. We are faced with transport problems, the difficulty of people getting to work, and the gradual spreading out of London with the result that people have further to travel to work. All these evils can be dealt with only if the distribution of industry is planned.

I was impressed by a paragraph I read in the Statist not long ago, which argued that it was wrong to allow new employment to flow into London, leaving unused resources of manpower and capital in the rest of the United Kingdom, as a result of which there is a scarcity of labour and housing shortages in certain areas, of which London is, of course, a particular example.

Housing cannot be regarded as a separate problem. It ties up with the distribution of employment, transport facilities, and other problems. I should like to feel that somewhere in this labyrinth of Government there is somebody—and it ought to be the job of the Minister of Housing and Local Government—thinking about these things and trying to persuade every Government Department concerned—because almost every other Department is concerned—to work out and co-ordinate a policy for dealing with this serious problem of combining homes and jobs in such a way as to afford the ordinary people of this country the opportunity of a decent and constructive life.

1.19 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

In considering the question of the distribution of industry, the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) should not overlook entirely the reason why industry wishes to crowd into various areas where there is already a lot of industry. It is not contrariness or a desire to anger my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, or even the hon. Gentleman; it is because the areas to which they wish to go present economic advantages to their businesses which they cannot overlook. I agree that we need a better distribution of industry, but it is difficult to see how far a policy of forcing industry to go to an area to which it did not wish to go could be implemented. Inducements obviously must be offered to make it possible, but there are areas to which no industry could go because of the lack of transport facilities and labour available, and so on. We must realise that there are practical limitations to the hon. Member's policy.

Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)

Does not my hon. Friend agree that, far from merely playing with the idea of inducing industry to go to areas of high unemployment, through the Local Employment Act the Government have done a good deal to induce industry to move to such areas?

Mr. Kershaw

I agree with what my hon. Friend says. Many parts of the North of England have reason to be grateful for what has recently been done for them. Unlike the hon. Member for Brixton, I do not represent an area which has very difficult housing conditions. The greatest difficulties undoubtedly arise in the cities, of which London is the best example, and within those cities the districts which have suffered most from bomb damage are the worst affected, and I agree that Brixton is one of those. The hon. Member sees the worst end of the business more than I do.

But one can judge the housing position over the country as a whole only by reference to the situation in one's own area, and, taking the average, I cannot agree that the building of nearly 300,000 houses a year, which has been taking place steadily year after year—and we have had the figures for the last calendar year only this morning—has not relieved the housing shortage in many areas. Indeed, it was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) that housing accommodation per head today is higher than it has ever been before.

I now turn to the situation existing in my area. Since the war the district councils in the Stroud constituency have constructed no less than 4,826 houses. It will not come as a surprise if I say that many houses in this area have been constructed with the help of housing associations. I say that this will not be a surprise because Stroud was the place where housing associations started, over 140 years ago. Over 500 houses have been completed by housing associations. At the same time, private enterprise has completed 5,600. The total completed—and there are many under construction, or planned—is over 11,000.

I calculate that that means that over 35,000 people in my constituency are today living in houses constructed since the war. That is about one-fifth of the local population. It seems to me that, by any standard, that cannot be judged as other than a remarkable contribution to the health and happiness of our country.

The construction of houses is going on. In my area there are some old houses, in the former industrial valleys of the cloth trade, which sadly need repairs. Those repairs have been going on very much faster since the legislation we passed two or three years ago, and many of them, although not accommodating many more people, are being brought far nearer the standard required by the House. New constructions have included increasing numbers of dwellings for old people. This is a form of housing upon which all the local authorities in my area are now concentrating. Reference has already been made to the importance of such building.

It is undoubtedly true, however, that the number of houses built to let, except those constructed by local authorities—and difficulties in connection with those have been mentioned—have not been as large as we would like to see. Generally speaking, private enterprise does not build many houses to let, although there are exceptions, including some in my area. The necessity to have some mobility of labour means that we must have more houses to let, and they must be built not only by local authorities but by private enterprise. This has not been the case hitherto, because housing is a long-term financial project.

I hope that I shall not destroy the harmony of our proceedings, but I cannot help saying that one of the reasons for this has been the project put forward by the party opposite for the municipalisation of houses. It is unreasonable to expect landlords to build houses to let with the threat hanging over them that if a Socialist Government should come to power again they may have those houses taken away. They therefore build houses to sell and not to let, and this is harmful to the mobility of labour. There are many people who, for one reason or another, do not want to buy a house—or at least, they do not want to be condemned to live in a certain house for the rest of their lives.

Mr. A. Evans

The hon. Member has told the House that private enterprise should turn its attention to the building of houses for rent. I fully agree with him. He has further told us that private enterprise does not do that because of the alleged policy of the Labour Party, and the fear that a future Labour Government would municipalise those houses. Surely he agrees that the main purpose of private house building is to yield a return to those who build the houses. That is the basic reason for the building of private enterprise houses. He must know that if private enterprise builders wanted a fair return on their capital investments they would have to charge exceptionally high rents. I am sure that he would also agree that private enterprise builders know that in the event of municipalisation—in this country, at any rate—fair compensation is always paid.

Mr. Kershaw

I am glad to have that last assurance from the hon. Member, but I am reminded that the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) was by no means of that opinion when he was advocating a policy of municipalisation for the Labour Party. I agree that municipalisation is rather a back number in these days. I hope that it stays there and in time disappears. If people can be confident that it will not come back into the programme of the party opposite, or, as I am sure will be the case, that the party opposite will never form a Government in the foreseeable future, I expect that private enterprise will be quite willing to take on the building of houses to let. It would be useful if it could be persuaded to do so.

It is also fair to say that another handicap to the building of houses to let has been the unfair incidence of the various town and country planning arrangements which this House has made over the years. This is a very difficult subject, and I will not pretend that my own party has found the correct solution—because a number of our Bills have had to be altered, repealed and modified, and I am not sure that we have it right even now. I am not denying that there is a necessity for town and country planning. Nobody would deny that it is necessary, for instance, in the Cotswolds, where the beautiful scenery could easily be spoiled by a rash of houses appearing all over the place. But the number of cases of individual injustice which have arisen in the past under town and country planning legislation have inhibited people from building houses to let.

Some landlords who operate in a very modest way have been compensated at the famous 1s. site value for back-to-back houses in Gloucester and elsewhere. There is a farm near the middle of Stroud, part of which was taken for a school. The remaining area is much less useful as a farm, and the farmer wanted to sell it for housing, but was told that it must remain an open space. This was in spite of the fact that the local authority had taken a major part of it for something other than an open space. The farmer has to keep a very small and almost useless field, whereas his neighbour, 300 or 400 yards away, has been able to sell an even more useless field for a large sum of money. What still sticks in the throats of many people is the fact that this House has made one authority—the county council—both judge and jury in the matter. The county council—the Minister in the last resort—decides what the use of the land shall be and then he assesses the compensation. It appears to the ordinary citizen who cannot appeal from these decisions that this arrangement works unfairly. There is no doubt that it must have inhibited the building of houses in many ways.

There is one further point that I should like to mention in connection with town and country planning, namely, the question of the taxation of land values. It would be more sensible in the future to tax not land values but planning values. If one has permission to build a house, one has a site which nowadays is very valuable, and rates ought to be adjusted far more than they have been on that account.

Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)

Is not that precisely the provision that the present Government have scrapped in their town and country planning legislation?

Mr. Kershaw

No. The hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension, but I think that I would be taking up too much time of the House and straying wide of the subject if I were to go into town and country planning in detail. But we must keep the matter under review and see how it works out. Nobody will deny that there are many people who feel that it has worked unfairly in their own cases. The achievements of the local authorities in my area and of private enterprise people have been remarkable, and if they had been matched by the achievements in every other part of the country I am sure that we would not be debating the question of housing in such anxiety as we are today.

1.32 p.m.

Mr. Bruce Millan (Glasgow, Craigton)

There is only one point on which I should like to follow the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) and that is the necessity for private enterprise to build houses to let. However desirable that may be, I think that we are deluding ourselves if we imagine that there will be any substantial improvement in the situation in the years to come. The fact is that private enterprise, whether we like it or not, is not interested in building houses to let, and if we are talking about houses to let we must inevitably be talking largely about local authority housing.

I do not want to follow the hon. Member in any of the other matters to which he referred, because I wish to talk about the Scottish housing situation. This is not just an English and Welsh debate; it is a United Kingdom debate and I wish to say something about Scotland. I notice that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is on the Front Bench. I know that he has come at considerable personal inconvenience, and perhaps I might start on a pleasant note by thanking him very much for being present this afternoon.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) said, this is an extremely human problem, and although I do not like using statistics, I intend to do so because I think it is very important to remember, as my hon. Friend said, that behind the statistics there is this very human problem. There is a good deal of human need and indeed of human desperation connected with housing.

First, let me give some facts about Scottish housing. For example, 50 per cent. of the houses in Scotland at the moment are more than fifty years old. No fewer than 50 per cent. of the houses in Scotland were built before 1913. Even worse, about one-third of the housing stock in Scotland was built before 1886. In other words, one in three of the population in Scotland—in fact, rather more than that because a lot of these houses are overcrowded—are living in houses more than 82 years old and some are considerably older than that. These houses by and large, with minor exceptions, are either slums or near slums, or in any case sub-standard compared with modern conditions.

When we compare these figures with what has been happening, and particularly with what happened in 1961, in the case of completions, I think that the figures that were published yesterday are extremely disturbing. For example, the total number of houses completed in Scotland last year was dawn to 27,200, which is the lowest figure for a considerable number of years, and is something like 1,300 less than the completions in 1960. But there is another feature about this figures which is worth pointing out, and that is that, expressed in terms of population, the number of housing completions in Scotland is now worse than the housing completions in England and Wales.

I am not going to give many statistics about the housing situation in Scotland as compared with England and Wales, because I think it is commonly accepted in all parts of the House that housing in Scotland is much worse in terms of overcrowding and sub-standard housing than England and Wales. If we took the period from 1945 to 1954 and compared Scottish housing completions with English and Welsh completions on a population basis we should find that whereas, to give an exact comparison, the number of completions in Scotland would have had to be 197,000 houses, actually in that period of nine years we built in Scotland 223,000 houses. In other words, up to that point we were doing substantially better, as indeed we ought to, in terms of housing completions in Scotland. But in 1959, 1960 and 1961 not only has the number of completions gone down each year but we have now reached the situation where we are doing considerably worse compared with what is happening in England and Wales.

If one compares the populations and the English completions with the Scottish completions in 1961, on a strict comparison in Scotland there should have been 30,100 houses completed last year. In fact, we completed only 27,200. In other words, there was a shortfall of about 3,000 houses. Con- sidering that we are starting off in Scotland from a considerably worse situation than the situation in England, and considering the dissatisfaction that there is about the English position, that comparison gives us some idea of the extremely serious situation that we have in Scotland at present.

Of course, the fall-off, the reduction in the numbers being completed, is exclusively in local authority houses or houses built by new town corporations and so on, because the number of houses built for private owners, which is still small in comparison with England, is going up. I may say in parenthesis that I have no complaint about that. I like to see the figure going up, but it does not alter the fact that in total the number of housing completions is going down.

The Government, when these figures are put to them or when they are chided about the present slow rate of progress in Scotland, say that local authorities are now finding it more difficult to get sites, that there is a good deal of central redevelopment going on, that there has to be an emphasis on slum clearance and all the rest of it. There is a certain amount of truth in that, but it is also worth looking at the actual demolitions and closures of unfit houses during the last few years.

The figures for 1961 are not completely available, but from 1956 onwards we find that the total number of houses demolished each year in Scotland has remained almost exactly stationary at something like 10,000-plus each year. As a matter of fact, the figure dropped in 1960 to under 10,000, and I shall be very surprised indeed, on the figures up to September, if the 1961 figures do not show a further considerable drop.

However difficult this problem may be for the local authorities, the fact is that when we compare the figures in total, the number of slum and unfit houses that are being demolished is not increasing. As a matter of fact, over the last two years there has been a slight decrease in that number. When we compare this figure of 10,000 unfit houses being demolished or closed with the 500,000 houses to which I have already referred which are more than eighty years old, we can see that the present slum clearance and redevelopment in Scotland by no means matches up with the situation. The important point to bear in mind is that the position is not improving. I could take other aspects of the Scottish housing situation and get the same sort of dismal picture.

The new town development corporations, which ought to be making a major contribution to Scottish housing, completed less in 1961 than in 1960. As a matter of fact, the figure was the lowest since 1957. In 1961 between 1,200 and 1,300 houses were completed in Scotland by the corporations. I know that progress is likely to increase when Cumbernauld gets into its stride in two or three years' time and the situation may be happier then. But the fact remains that there has been absolutely no progress, in fact there has been a diminution, in completions in the new towns since 1957, which is a disturbing factor.

I get rather tired of the Secretary of State for Scotland saying, when facts like these are put to him, that Scottish Members of Parliament are always going about decrying the achievements of their own country and painting a black picture of industrial depression and intolerable housing conditions and so on, and that no one in industry will want to come to Scotland to find that kind of situation. I have never consciously decried the qualities of Scotland, or conditions there. Nor have I tried to make them appear more serious than they are, either industrially or in any other way. But it is no use for the Secretary of State to tell us that, and it is no good the right hon. Gentleman trying to tell it to, say, a Glasgow family that has been on the housing list perhaps since 1930. There are cases of people living in rooms and kitchens who have been on the Corporation housing list in Glasgow for over thirty years. That is a well-known fact, and it is no use saying to such people, "You must be patient. You must not be despondent and complain about these things, because it gives the English and the American industrialists and the rest of them a wrong picture of Scotland which will discourage them from coming to Scotland to set up industries".

It is not only the present situation which is so depressing. Looking to the future, the situation is almost as depressing. It is no use looking only at the new housing schemes in Scotland since 1945. There are a considerable number of them and no one would dispute that. Some are attractive and some are comparatively unattractive. But there are a large number of them, and a large number of people are now living in decent housing conditions, in houses built since 1945. I welcome that absolutely and without qualification. But it is no use looking at the completions since 1945 and saying, as again the Secretary of State is apt to say, that the stock of houses built since 1945 represents one in four of the total stock of housing in Scotland at present.

That is all right. But the fact is that it is seventeen years since the end of the war, and, even if the stock of houses required was exactly the same, to build a quarter of that stock in seventeen years means that the whole stock will be replaced over a period of about seventy years. Frankly, that is not a tremendously impressive achievement and, as I hope to demonstrate, it certainly does not match the needs of Scotland at the present time.

The hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) said that we ought to have from the Government something like a 10-year plan for housing. I agree about that absolutely. So far as I know, there has never been any statement from the Scottish Office about the long-term needs for housing in Scotland. I wish, tentatively, to put my own view about what the long-term needs in Scotland are likely to be on the information which we have now.

One of the things which many people forget is that the population is increasing all the time. The population in Scotland is not increasing as rapidly as it is in England and Wales, because in Scotland we have what might be termed a serious migration problem. We are not bothered by immigrants, but about the number of young people who have to go out of Scotland to seek opportunities. However, despite that, there is a steady rise in the population, and I gather from the Toothill Report that the Registrar-General estimates that over the next ten years there will be an increase in the population of about 18,000 people annually. They will have to be provided for.

The main question is the number of household units which have to be provided for. We have no up-to-date figures for Scotland, so far as I know, but I have been looking at the preliminary census figures for England and Wales and I imagine that what applies in England and Wales will apply also in Scotland. I find that, on the preliminary census figures, between 1951 and 1961 the population went up by 5.3 per cent., but in the same ten years the number of household units went up by 12.1 per cent.—rather more than twice the rate of the increase in the population.

If we get the same sort of situation applying in Scotland—incidentally this situation is not something which has happened just between 1951 and 1961; it has existed at least since 1931 in England and Wales—with the actual household units increase being rather more than double the population increase, the figure of 18,000 people a year, about whom I have spoken, and who would need perhaps 7,000 houses a year, will be doubled. Taking the increase in the population and the increase in household units together, I estimate that probably about 15,000 houses a year will be required in Scotland over the next ten years and perhaps more than that.

About 15,000 houses a year will be required simply to keep pace with the increase in the population and the number of household units. If to that we add even the modest figure of 10,000 for houses being demolished—that is an under-estimate, it is a derisory figure in view of the housing position in Scotland—these factors together bring the figure up to 25,000 a year. As a matter of fact, if we double the demolition rate—that is certainly required in Scotland, and one hopes that it will happen—it will bring the figure up to 35,000 houses a year, and this would not deal with the overcrowding and other housing problems. Yet the actual completions last year amounted to only 27,000.

I should like the Government to make a long-term forecast of the kind which I have put briefly and tentatively this afternoon. I should like to know how many houses in Scotland the Government estimate to be necessary even to keep pace with the increase in the population and the demolitions and to get rid of overcrowding and so on within the next ten years. It is no use the Government saying that the number of houses we need in Scotland is roughly the number which we are building at the present time. That is, ultimately and basically, what the Government answer amounts to.

My point is that the number of houses we are building is too low and that unless we have a substantial increase in the total number—however it is divided between local authority, private enterprise, new towns and so on—the Scottish housing problem will last for a considerable number of years to come. This is the basic fact which hon. Members opposite will not get into their heads. It is all very well to talk about under-occupation and to juggle with people by taking them from one house and putting them in another, or to talk about the rent problem of local authorities. I am not saying that these issues are completely irrelevant. Obviously they are not. Rates are certainly a relevant issue. But the idea that if we get the local authorities to adopt a differential rent policy, and to deal with under-occupation and so on, we shall solve the housing problem either of Scotland or of the United Kingdom for that matter is flying in the face of all the basic facts.

The Government are bound to be open to a charge of being complacent in the face of all these facts. I do not put all the blame on the Government. I think that there is a good deal of complacency in the community. The housing situation in Scotland has been with the people for so long that a great many accept it as part of the facts of life, particularly if they are not involved. If they live in comfortable houses, they tend to accept slums as a fact of life.

There have been many unfortunate tendencies in Scottish housing in the past. There has been a great tendency to small houses, and a reluctance by many people to pay a reasonable rent, even when they could afford to do so, because they looked on any rent as an imposition. Local authorities have not always been as enthusiastic or as full of initiative as they ought to be. Private enterprise has been sadly lacking in the provision of housing in Scotland and it has not matched the opportunities which have been available over the last five or six years, although it is doing slightly better now. There are all sorts of responsibilities, but the basic responsibility must remain with the Government. I do not think that the Government can discharge this responsibility simply by blaming other people and by talking about local authority rents as if they were the main issue in the situation. From their point of view this may be a rather good political line, but it is flying in the face of physical facts.

Quite apart from this general complacency, the effects of Government policy, such as they have been, have all militated against an increase in the supply of houses. I refer to high interest rates, which affect both local authorities and the person who wants to buy through a building society; to reductions in subsidies; and to the Government's complete failure to get private enterprise into Scotland and to get private enterprise to improve properties there on a scale which meets the needs and the potentialities of the situation. I refer to the inadequacy of the Government's legislation and to the ridiculous little Bill which is going through the House at the moment and which is quite irrelevant to the situation. On all those counts the Government are open to the charge of complacency and of not giving the lead which is required in Scotland if the housing situation is to be solved within our lifetime.

The brutal fact which the people of Scotland ought to know is that at the present rate of progress there is no hope of solving Scotland's housing problem within the next generation. No more damaging statement can be made about a civilisation in 1962 than this—that it cannot provide decent accommodation in which its ordinary citizens can live.

1.53 p.m.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

May I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) on drawing his place in the Ballot and on selecting this Motion, which is a Motion which I should have picked had I had his good fortune. I was pleased that he showed us the human problem, because no one can discuss the housing situation without being conscious of the human problem involved. All hon. Members know that. He talked as a very satisfactory landlord—as I am sure he is—and he expressed the satisfaction which a good landlord has from good relations with his tenants. In the course of his remarks he dealt fully with that side of the situation, and I will not develop it further.

It is right and proper that I should declare my interest and say that I am a builder and a property developer and that the company with which I am connected has developed properties in most continents. We have built offices and factories and almost everything else which it is possible to build. But I hope that the House accepts that I am not prejudiced towards any type of construction. If there is any prejudice, it is towards housing, because that is a side of the business in which I personally have had the most direct interest. I want to deal with the position more from the practical point of view of builders than have some hon. Members.

I sense in the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) what in the building industry we call the smell of sawdust; from her remarks it was obvious that she had close connections with the practical side of the building industry, although I did not know until she mentioned it that she was at the Ministry of Works at the end of the war.

She said that the mobile squad which the Ministry of Works used at that time did excellent work. I have some knowledge of its work because at that time my brother was director of it at the Ministry of Works, although I had no close contact with it myself. That squad did a very good job, but when we consider the building industry there is a great tendency to fail to appreciate how vast it is and how great are its ramifications. Too often it has been said that there is an overload in the building industry because there is an overload in one place. It is too easy to say that because there is a shortage of carpenters which is holding up work on a site, there is a complete bottleneck in that side of the industry.

I suggest that those hon. Members who talk about restricting office building in order to increase house building should think of the cardinal facts. There is as much difference between building an office and building a house as there is between building a ship and building a rowing boat. Different trades are involved. We are tempted to say, "Let us overcome our housing problem by shutting down all office building", but if we did that we should put a number of tradesmen out of work who could not be employed in the ordinary way in house building. I refer to asphalters, stone-masons, office partition manufacturers and lift manufacturers, for example. I accept that some of these people could be employed in building flats, but I warn against a sudden cutting out of one type of building. Immediately after the war we concentrated on the housing side of building and let our office development lag behind, a point which is not fully appreciated when figures are compared for the different periods.

I am pleased that there has been no political flavour about the debate and I do not want to introduce it. We accept, of course, that the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) has a terrier effect on the debate—and I wish he were here to listen to what I am saying about him. I interrupted him when he was commenting that the Local Employment Act had had some effect on the distribution of industry and he said, when I referred to new towns, that the new town legislation was a Socialist measure. He does not appreciate that we think that even some of the things which the Socialists did were good and we carry on doing them. That is part of our principle: we take the best from any side.

Let me give some facts and figures about office building. The most difficult place for building is the London area, where there is perhaps the greatest shortage of houses. Pre-war office accommodation in London amounted to 84 million sq. ft. Unfortunately, 29.8 million sq. ft. were damaged by the war or demolished after the war because of war damage. The offices in old buildings amount to 54.2 million sq. ft.; 16 million sq. ft. of offices have been built in new buildings since the war; and planning permission has been given to build 5.3 million sq. ft. of offices within the City. Seventy-five per cent. of our offices are in old buildings.

In talking about office building, we are not talking about shooting lodges. We are talking about an essential part of our industrial life. No one builds an office because he wishes to do so but because it is good for business and for the economy of the country. I support those who say that more offices should be built outside London. I should like to see a number of offices built in my own constituency. I hope that the possibility of our going into the Common Market and of a Channel tunnel being built will be a great attraction to office building.

The hon. Member for Enfield, East referred to housing as being a military operation. I think that it is important enough a subject to be a military operation. He proposed that caravans should be used temporarily to bridge the gap between people moving out of houses and new houses being built. It is a good suggestion, although it is not a novel one. Contractors have done it in all parts of the world. My own company has even chartered a ship in which to accommodate people temporarily. In one of my foolish moments, I considered whether it would not be a good idea to have a ship in the London Docks for this purpose because all the necessary services are there. The use of caravans for housing people creates a very serious sewage and water problem.

A good deal has been said, not so much in this debate, but in the Press, about prefabricated houses. We have had a good deal of experience of prefabricated houses. I wonder what one means by it. The most prefabricated of prefabricated houses is a tent. The next is possibly a caravan. So one can go on up the scale. I think that the use of plastics in prefabrication would help a great deal. That is why I welcome the Government's Bill which proposes to alter the building regulations. I hope that my right hon. Friend will bear in mind the possibility of the development of plastics. One only had to go to the recent Boat Show at Olympia and see the developments in prefabricating plastic hulls for boats to realise the great possibilities in using plastics to speed up house building. But first the regulations must allow that.

Three problems face the building industry in trying to meet the human demand for houses. I have dealt with the first, building capacity. I have emphasised the cramped and unbalanced nature of it. The next problem is that of land. On 18th July, 1960, we had a debate on the use and price of land in which I gave my views to the House. It would be pompous to say that my words were heeded by the Minister, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that some of the things which I suggested concerning development have happened. In that debate, I made a special plea to every hon. Member. I said: I think that every Member could make a real contribution. We all know our constituencies very well. I suggest that each hon. Member should go to his own council and discuss with it the amount of land that is available and compare it with what the building programme has been over the last two years."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th July, 1960; Vol. 627, c. 108.] The former Minister of Housing and Local Government said that he was only too anxious to take up any case which hon. Members presented to him. It would be interesting to know how many hon. Members did that. I should be most interested to know how many councils are holding land which could be used for development.

The hon. Member for Enfield, East referred to what Mr. Rawlinson had to say about the acquisition of land. He made no mention of the amount of land which the London County Council has available at this moment and on which it could start building operations, or even use it for caravans.

Mr. A. Evans

The hon. Member has just said that the L.C.C. is holding land and is not using it. If he has any facts to show that that is the case, it would be as well if he gave them to the House. However, he will realise from his own practical experience that before a site is ready for development a whole range of negotiations has to take place. He must know that the acquiring authority has to deal with literally hundreds and sometimes tens of hundreds of parties before that land is available to the authority and ready for development.

Mr. Costain

The hon. Gentleman has appreciated only part of what I said. I said that the L.C.C. had a number of sites which were available, and I went on to say that it could even put caravans on them. If any authority is in a position to co-ordinate and develop sites, surely it is the L.C.C.

I now turn to the question of the finance which is available for the development of sites. A number of hon. Members have said that housing development should be in the hands of local authorities. I do not accept that. The housing position is such that a drive is needed from all sections of the community, including private enterprise and local authorities. Private enterprise can produce houses for purchase. It has proved that. It used to pay to produce houses to rent. Before the war my own company built a number of flats for renting. But along came 1939 and control. The controls were such that no private enterprise concern has yet got its confidence back. The Sword of Damocles has been hanging over landlords since 1914. There has been some sort of control ever since then. Because of that, no concern dare put more than a limited amount of its resources into providing houses to rent. That is the problem.

Mr. J. Silverman

The hon. Gentleman is no doubt aware that since the 1954 Act all new houses have not been subjected to rent control. Can he tell us how many houses to let have been built by private enterprise since 1954?

Mr. Costain

I have not the figures with me, but I am sure that they are not very great.

Every manifesto which the party opposite puts out says, "We are going to get something out of the landlords." It is wonderful political stuff. It is possible to get more votes from the tenants than from the landlords. The party opposite creates all sorts of fears about what will happen to the landlord when it is in office. My company would be delighted to build 3,000 flats to let if hon. Members opposite will get up and say, "We the Socialist Party, if we get back in the next fifty to sixty years"—it may do—" will not introduce any controls." That would give the greatest possible lift to private enterprise.

In recent years much more insurance company money has been going into property development. This is a sign that insurance companies are getting their confidence back. If hon. Members opposite want to get a housing drive going, let them give private enterprise one bit of encouragement to build houses to rent and they will get them.

Mr. Mackie

Will the hon. Gentleman agree with his hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) that five years is plenty of time in which to be sure of getting a house to rent? The hon. Gentleman is not satisfied with sixty years.

Mr. Costain

I said that the Socialist Party might get back into office within the next sixty years, or it might be less, if it wanted to be optimistic. I do not want to get into the realms of Scotland, except to say that one of the main reasons why Scottish housing is not going forward and private enterprise has not got going in Scotland is that rents there are often only 8s. or 9s. a week. The hon. Member for Brixton—I am sorry that he is not now present—was talking about the control of small houses and not big houses.

The only person who really is not subsidised in some form or another is the private occupier of a house owned by an ordinary old-fashioned landlord. The council houses are subsidised by the rest of the people. The argument put up, which was not fully developed, was: why should these houses be under-occupied? The argument is not that they should not be under-occupied if the occupiers are willing to pay, but that they should not be under-occupied at the expense of someone else who has not a house. If hon. Members opposite want to get on with housing, why should not a simple guarantee be given, "We won't do it again." My own company has built houses to rent in Rhodesia, Canada and Australia. It would much rather build them here, but there we have a guarantee of continuity.

2.13 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)

I am not sure that my understanding of Tory housing policy has been made very much clearer by the contribution of the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), although I acknowledge the great technical experience of the hon. Member about the construction of houses.

I think that the short answer to his point about the kind of declaration that hon. Members should make on this side of the House on future private building for rent is this. It has now been demonstrated, surely beyond any doubt, for more than a century that one cannot house people at reasonable rents by means of private enterprise. That is the evidence which has been put before the country time and again—and long before there was rent control. Sometimes it would appear that hon. Members opposite think that all the trouble about the rents of private housing started from the days of rent control.

The fact is that most people in this country before 1914 lived in small, mean, unpleasant houses, 4 million of them built and some of them still occupied before there we-re any public health regulations. In 1884—I have quoted this before and I will do it again to help the hon. Member appreciate the position—the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Class, referring to the dwellings occupied by the great mass of ordinary people, said that the old houses were rotten from neglect by private landlords and the new houses were rotten from the beginning. We should be utterly irresponsible if we held out any promise to the people of this country that an unfettered return to private enterprise building could give them decent houses at reasonable rents.

Mr. Costain

The hon. Gentleman is jumping to conclusions. I say that every sector of the community must make its contribution. He has gone back to 1884. A great deal has happened in house building and in community thinking and a great deal has happened in the Welfare State since those days. I do not deny that there was a lot to be done at that time on housing. I do not deny that a great number of houses are getting into neglect because the landlords of controlled houses cannot meet the cost of repairing them properly, and that many of them ought to be demolished.

Mr. Skeffington

That is another red herring. I think that the hon. Gentleman might consider some of the evidence. He has obviously not read the Report of the Royal Commission. I merely quoted it because it shows the long history of bad social development due to private ownership. The Ridley Committee said that, although there was a 40 per cent. increase granted on rents after 1918, 25 per cent. of it was to go for extra profit and 15 per cent. towards repairs, the evidence before the Ridley Committee showed that nearly all the landlords regarded the total amount as extra profit and the houses were not repaired. We on this side of the House say that, because of a number of factors, some of which I have just outlined, housing, generally speaking, must have a very considerable element of social service in it if we are to house our people well at reasonable rents. There is no alternative. The experience of generations would, I should have thought, have proved that view.

I would say only this one other thing about the hon. Member's speech. No one objects to office building or the need for it. But there are three points concerning it. The first is Where the offices have to be sited. The second is what priority they should take in the demands of the community for other kinds of building, and the third is the question of compensation under town and country planning. The repeal of sections of the 1947 Act by the 1959 Act have so twisted a good deal of social development by making high compensation payable that town and country planning has become a negative and not a positive action. It has twisted a good deal of our development, and the community is finding that it cannot have the kind of development which we all want because it cannot face the compensation that it will have to pay when there are planning refusals in a number of instances. That is the difference between us. The hon. Gentleman would support the greatest freedom possible for office building. We think that it must fit in with the general plan.

I join with other hon. Members in thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) for giving us the opportunity to debate housing again. I can only hope that this debate will produce a little more action and effort on behalf of the homeless and those badly housed than previous debates have done. It has been frustrating and heartbreaking to give details about housing to previous Ministers, whom I am sure have done their best, but who, tested by the hard facts of particular circumstances have done nothing for so many of the people for whom we have spoken.

There is one instance which I want to bring before the House presently. I hope that the position may get better and not worse, but I am rather pessimistic about it. I think that in part the hopelessness of many hundreds of thousands of people today springs from the fatally optimistic and entirely inaccurate forecast of housing needs made by the present Minister of Health when he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.

He said in a speech on 7th November, 1956, that within a year supply and demand in housing would be roughly in balance. He repeated the assertion later and I challenged him about it. I cannot understand how one who was a Minister right in the centre, where all the information was available, could ever give support to such a statement, let alone back it, as the right hon. Gentleman did in his speech. He must have known, as we all knew, the results of the 1951 census, which showed that there were 6 million families with no bathroom, 3 million with no separate toilet, 2 million with no separate kitchen and 1 million with not even a stove of their own.

Four million houses in England and Wales are over 80 years old. Indeed, more than 2 million were built before 1851. As I said in reply to the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe, 4 million of the old houses which are still being lived in were built before the time of the Public Health Act, 1875. I happen to live in one myself. I know what the conditions are like and what has to be done to try to put these houses in order and to make them habitable. There were at least 800,000 houses which were either slums or near slums which should be so classified. Even when the Minister of Health made his forecast in 1956, he must have known the population trends. It was said that by 1956, the number of live births would be more than 650,000 a year. They had reached that level by 1955 and are now at 782,000 a year. By the end of the century, they will probably reach something like 900,000. The number of households must therefore grow. Today, it is 14½ million. By 1971, in less than ten years, it is likely to be over 16 million and by 1981, 18 million. Therefore, it is incomprehensible that any Minister, junior or otherwise, could come to the House with that kind of conclusion.

If I were a Minister, I should hesitate to give any estimate of that sort. Every kind of forecast of that nature has nearly always proved wrong. The Willink Commission, for example, said that we could reduce the number of doctors by 10 per cent. Now, there is a great shortage and the position has to be restored. We have seen also the complete mis-estimate of the number of schoolteachers. And so it goes on. To a considerable extent, the failure of any concept of a social policy towards housing springs from the quite false estimate for the future made by the Minister of Health. The tragedy has been made worse by the belief, which, today's debate clearly shows, is held by many hon. Members opposite, that these things will somehow come out right in the end if they are left to the play of the market and that the profit motive will in the end secure all the houses that people want.

Thus, step by step, the Government have been dismantling some of the elements of a social policy for housing. Their idea has been to leave the builder free to get on with the job and to get the local authorities out of building. At the same time, they have raised interest rates and reduced the general housing subsidy. As a result, we now have the position that after repayment over sixty years at 6 per cent. interest, a £1,400 council house costs more than £6,000. This is a gross incubus for the community to bear. The money paid by way of higher interest goes into the pockets, not of the local authorities, but of somebody in the City of London. Why we should put up with that kind of thing, I do not know. The rate is twice what it was under a Labour Government, when it was fixed at 3 per cent.

Every 1 per cent. increase means 6s. 6d. per week additional cost on a house which costs £1,700 to construct. The reduction of the general needs subsidy on a council house of that value accounts for another 8s. Therefore, by these two measures alone, the cost of that type of council house is increased by 30s. per week. At the same time, there is no extra revenue to the local authority, but a good deal of extra revenue goes to the City of London. To pay over £6,000 for something which costs only about £1,500 is a crazy way to get anything and the sooner we get rid of it, the better.

On top of that, the Town and Country Planning Act, 1959, comes into the cost calculation at every point. It represents a gift to the landowner, who has done nothing whatever for the community. He merely happens to have the good fortune to own the land which the community must have. We all have innumerable examples. Near my own constituency, in Middlesex, two acres of land which before the passing of the Town and Country Planning Act would have cost £1,500 today cost £36,000. Land wanted by the London County Council at Woolwich, which before the Act cost £2,000, now has a price of £10,000. In Lewisham, a piece of land has risen in price from £20,000 to £133,000. In Maidstone, two acres of land for which there is planning permission for 21 houses now costs £21,000, which means that more than £1,000 per house is needed to cover the land cost alone. In this case, the intermediary, who is not himself doing the building, acquired the land for about half that sum. A collection of people must pay him £10,000 because he stepped in between the original seller and the developer, with the result that the occupiers of the houses must pay £1,000 each.

This is a crazy system. There is no justification for it. If somebody was performing a service, one might say that he was being overpaid. This, however, is sheer exploitation, legalised robbery, and the sooner we get rid of it, the better. At Yeading, in my constituency, 25 acres of land was bought for use as open space in 1955 at a cost of £35,000, about £1,450 per acre, which for virgin land was a lot of money. Today, the cost would be £500,000 or £8,000 per acre for 61 acres. This exploitation requires a good deal of justification. I hope that when he replies the Minister will be able to say something about it and what he intends to do.

Even the Daily Telegraph, that docile supporter of the Government, was moved in June this year to say that the Right so far has maintained a touching but meaningless faith in the efficacy of the free market in urban renewal … property development companies have already changed the faces of many of our towns and cities without any approval from the citizens. That is because we now have so much of the negative form of town and country control.

It must not be thought, because I have given figures showing how the Government have quite unnecessarily increased the cost of local authority building, that they are very much on the side of the owner-occupier, although they always claim to be. In many parts of the country, there has been an attempt to set the owner-occupier against the council house tenant. This has happened in my constituency, where there has been a deliberate attempt to suggest that the council-house tenant is pampered at the expense of the rest of the community. That is class war with a vengeance which, I hope, the House of Commons will repudiate.

The fact is that most council house tenants today pay approximately the economic cost of the construction of their dwellings, and they are paying it for something which they will never own, because it will go to the community to help its general housing pool when future rehousing is necessary. In the first place, therefore, not only is the picture a false one, but both the owner-occupier and the council-house tenant are both victims and beneficiaries of the Government.

Consider the subsidies to council-house tenants, totalling about £90 million a year for 4 million houses. At the same time, Income Tax relief on the mortgages of owner-occupiers, amounts to about £70 million a year for over 3 million houses. There is not much to choose between the two categories. So both are recipients of some kind of relief, and I am very glad they are and I am not opposing it, but the idea that they are two entirely opposing sets of occupiers is wrong, for they are all in need of houses and it is only that their needs are being met in different ways.

On top of that, the owner-occupier today is paying for mortgage something like 10s. a week more than he did a few years ago because of the increase in interest rates.

What is the result of all these changes in Conservative housing policy over the last five years? We were told that as a result of the 1957 Act we should be flooded with houses. I can remember the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government going to the Dispatch Box and reading out examples—Which nearly all related to Chelsea—of rents which would not have interested my constituents very much, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) said in the debate we had on capital investment, if we take the figures for 1960 of houses built by local authorities, and if we take away, from the total of 103,000 houses, houses Which were built in replacement of slums, and take away those which were for replacement of houses destroyed for such purposes as building new roads, and if we take away the houses which were replacements for old people, then we see that there were actually 1,000 houses net built in one year to rent.

That was the total in 1960. I agree, of course, that 60,000 who were in slums would have been rehoused, and a very good thing too, but if we look at all the people on housing lists who are not in slums we see that their chance of getting a house through a council is now extremely remote.

"Ah, but", it may be said, "What about the contribution of private enterprise?" The answer given today by the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe was frank. He said that private enterprise was making very little contribution—no doubt because of better returns elsewhere; but in 1960 the total number of houses built for letting by private enterprise was 2,000, so there is a total of 3,000, which is an absolutely shameful figure, and it is about time something was done about it and that we said so. That is the record of the Government's social policy for those on waiting lists and in general housing need.

Of course, the stock answer used to be, "Why should we provide houses for a large number of people who can build their own?" We know that a very large number cannot build their own. Two years ago Mr. Thwaites, the staff architect of Wates, said that a man with less than £800 a year had been priced out of buying a house in the London area. The President of the Building Societies Association said at the end of last year that a man would need to be earning £1,000 a year or more to be rehoused anywhere within the London area. The Building Societies Gazette points out: A short time ago Mr. and Mrs. Londoner could buy themselves a house in the outer suburbs for £2,500. Today a shoddy brick box, with small rooms and probably an even smaller garden, costs them nearly £4,000. And most of the higher price is due to the cost of land. The fact is that hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady opposite really have no conception of the general housing requirements of most of the people. According to official information there are nearly 11 million wage-earners in this country getting less than £10 a week. They would not be accepted for a mortgage by anybody, a local authority or a building society. There are, indeed, some 8 million people getting less than £8 a week.

So the conclusion of all this is that there are a large number of people who are not actually living in slums but who are overcrowded and who have nowhere to move their families and whose incomes are so small that their only hope of getting a home is through a local authority, and who are not in a position to get one. Judged by that, the Government's housing policy is a total failure and is not providing for that category of person at all.

Mr. John Page

Those 11 million people with those lower incomes are not necessarily householders or breadwinners. They include old people earning money after retirement possibly, and young people who have not got to earning age and who are unmarried. I may be wrong about this, but this is an important qualification.

Mr. Skeffington

That may be so, but many of these are younger people on housing lists who are not earning £1,000 a year and who, says the President of the Building Societies Association, require that income to buy a house, certainly in the London area.

In my own constituency there are more than 2,000 people on the housing list. Although we have bought a certain amount of land and have a certain amount of land in hand, we cannot hope to build more than about 900 houses. What is to happen to all the others on that housing list? It may be that some may gradually move into the higher income groups, but I doubt it. There is no hope for half of them.

I believe we have reached a situation which is a good deal more grim for many people than is yet realised by hon. Members of this House. Just think that in these days of the affluent society, after ten years of Conservatism, two bishops have to lead a protest march of homeless people through London to arouse the conscience of the public in the matter. That, I think, is the severest condemnation of the Government's housing policy, and I can only hope that in consequence of my hon. Friend's Motion something will be done to relieve the misery of many thousands of people.

2.36 p.m.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Dr. Charles Hill)

Hon. Members have already said that the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) was fortunate in securing his place in the Ballot, and I think it will be generally agreed by those hon. Members who have been present today that it was fortunate for us, too, that he should have initiated such a thoughtful debate of great interest to every Member of this House. It may perhaps be convenient to deal with the constituency points which he mentioned before I pass to the general issues which he and other hon. Members have raised.

He mentioned two sites, the Royal Nursery site and the Green Street Nursery site. They are now ready to go ahead, and we have accepted Enfield's programme for 1962 and 1963 in relation to those nursery sites, for 254 dwellings on the Royal Nursery site and 221 on the Green Street Nursery site.

The hon. Member referred to the Part III Order. An inquiry was held on 30th January. The hon. Member will not expect me to say anything further on that now.

As to Enfield's general position, clearly Enfield has a substantial housing problem. Enfield has built some 3,000 houses since the war. There were some 318 unfit houses in 1955, and it is now proposed to deal with another 486. As the hon. Member points out, of the temporary bungalows only some 114 are still to clear, but it may be some assurance to him to know that for 1962 the council asked that it might build 635 dwellings in the year and we accepted forthwith 500 of those and will discuss the remaining 135 if Enfield Council finds itself ready to go ahead.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Craig-ton (Mr. Millan) is no longer with us. I was going to suggest to him that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will no doubt take note of what he said. I shall be speaking about England and Wales today.

In the debate on 6th November a good deal of the ground was covered, and I noticed—and I have to repeat now what was said then, though listening to the hon. Member far Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) it hardly seemed possible—that in fact 4 million houses and flats have been built since the war. Despite the formidable difficulties which remain—and I want to come to the main problems raised in this debate—do not let us ignore the fact, for it is a fact, that if we stand on the corner of a street we can say of the people who pass by that one in four is living in a post-war house or flat. The progress of 300,000 houses or so a year is in general being sustained, although, as the hon. Member quite rightly pointed out, there was a modest falling off last year. The figure was 296,042 compared with 297,818 in 1960, but it was appreciably up on the figures for 1958 and 1959.

I should like to set out in summary some of the facts which we need to take into account as we approach the individual problems. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington referred to the Census returns, as did the hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton, and they are important in a number of respects. The 1961 Census showed that in total throughout the whole of England and Wales there are 14.6 million dwellings for 14.7 million households, but those are dwellings and households as defined for census purposes. Many major problems are concealed in those figures, but they show a marked advance on the corresponding figures for 1951.

The gap which we inherited has been closing, though not closing nearly as fast as we should like, but, as one or two hon. Members have said, this is by no means a static problem. The hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) said, "Still it grows", and if one thing emerges from the debate I hope it is the fact that for a number of reasons the problem still grows. The hon. Member for Craigton brought out the point, and I hope that it will be seen by everyone who discusses the subject, that an element in our problem is not only the rise in total population, but the fact that for a number of reasons, the lower age of marriage and the like, there is the rise in the proportion of families and households per million of the population. Obviously, there is also the backlog, and the slum houses, perhaps half a million, and there is the task that remains in finishing their clearance.

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington referred to the 4 million houses which are 80 years old and more, and he referred to his own, the old vicarage of Meopham, which comes into the same category and is a reminder that being 80 years old is not of itself a condemnation.

Mr. Skeffington

But it costs a lot of money to repair.

Dr. Hill

I am sure it does.

We have a rising population, a rising proportion of households, a shifting of population and a rise in the proper expectation of old people for separate dwellings. On 6th November both sides of the House indulged in estimates in the course of the debate, though I agree absolutely with the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington how dangerous a business it is to estimate for 20 years or even 10 years ahead what will happen in the size of families, the average age of marriage, and so on. The estimates of population made in 1950 and 1951, which were taken into account in the drawing up of development plans which would be achieved in 1970, have, broadly speaking, been reached now. Although there are varying estimates of between 5 million and 8 million houses for the next 20 years, I think that hon. Members will agree that at this moment there is no point in arguing about which is the right figure. What we can be certain of is that there will be developments in the population and its structure which no one can safely estimate now.

Taking the practical problems one by one, I should like to pass first to the one on which the hon. Member for Enfield laid the greatest emphasis, namely, slum clearance. In 1955 about 850,000 houses were thought to be unfit, but no one assumes that that is a static figure, because more and more houses are going into that total. Since then 350,000 houses have been demolished or closed. But for all the problem that remains, do not let us forget the achievement. Last year 62,000 slum houses were demolished and rather more than 200,000 persons were rehoused. Nevertheless, it is true that the remainder, on the 1955 figure, is about half-a-million.

If they were evenly distributed over the country, it could be calculated in round terms that at that rate the problem would be solved in 1971. But half the slums of the country are concentrated in 50 local authority areas. Birmingham, Manchester, and Liverpool, despite the very considerable efforts that those cities have made, have between them one-third of the total slums in England and Wales. I aim not only to maintain the present rate of slum clearance over the country as a whole, but, as soon as circumstances permit, to start a special drive on the worst slums in the big cities and towns, particularly those in the North and in the Midlands. Those who see this problem only in the South and from the South often have no idea of the extent of the slum problem in some of our older cities, particularly in the North.

It will need to be a long and sustained drive, but it must be undertaken—not only to get rid of the squalor that still afflicts so many houses and towns, but also to reverse the drift of employment and men to the crowded South-East. We need to turn our minds more and more, in terms of the renewal of the centres of these old cities as well as the clearance of slums, to reversing or at least staying that trend.

A good deal has been said, not unnaturally, about the problem of Greater London. There is a specially difficult housing problem in Greater London. At first sight, the figures are rather puzzling. Since the end of the war, about 400,000 houses have been built in Greater London, and in the same area the population has fallen by half-a-million. At first sight it seems surprising that there should be any problem there. The fact is that the shortage was so great at the beginning of that time that, despite those two figures, we still have a considerable problem.

London suffers the troubles which are associated with its being a magnet that attracts people—though the interesting thing is that the net population flow now is into the South-East generally, into the periphery of London, and not into Greater London itself. And a very real part of London's problem is the shortage of available land.

I told the House in our last debate of sizeable parcels of land which were coming in. I mentioned Kidbrooke. I am most surprised to find how much land may also become available from the British Transport Commission. I referred to this in the most vague and general terms before, but now I should like to give the House a little more detail, for this has a great bearing on the London problem of land availability.

The total which may be available immediately in the London area, either on solid ground or by rafting over railway installations—subject, of course, to operational requirements—is about 850 acres; and there is prospect of several hundred more acres becoming available later. It seems likely that a substantial part of this acreage would, if developed, be suitable for housing. Discussion of the potential for commercial and housing development of these sites is going on between the British Transport Commission and the London County Council, and there will be consultation with other planning authorities. I thought the House would be interested in that information as representing, in addition to the 100 acres at Kidbrooke, a contribution of great importance towards the solution of London's problems.

The House will not need me to remind it, in relation to London, of the very considerable contribution of the new towns, of the overspill schemes, and so on. I should like to go in general terms to other problems in a moment, but I want first to say something about the problem of office development in London.

My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), in a most welcome and sturdy speech, dealt with this from one angle, and I want to say a word or two about it from another angle, the planning angle, rather than the angle of the use of resources which could be, as some argue, transferred from one form of construction to another.

The basic problem of office building in London is a planning one. If I may remind the House what it is, under the Third Schedule of the 1947 Act—I make no complaint of it; it was in relation to a different position—anyone owning an office building in London and desiring to rebuild it cannot be denied a 10 per cent. increase in accommodation without compensation. But the 10 per cent. is in cubic space. Had it been in floor space, it would have been what it says—10 per cent. As it is cubic space, it means in practice that where an old office is rebuilt there is on average a 40 per cent. increase in floor space—and so an increase in employment and traffic in Central London. That, basically, is the problem—a planning problem. Some 15,000 persons are, as it were, being added to London's office working population by virtue of these changes.

I do not want to go further into this now. Frankly, I find it a most difficult problem. There is, on the one hand, the need for good offices in this great Metropolis. There is the desire for the replacement of slum offices. At the same time, there is this general problem of employment, traffic and the rest. I confess that for the life of me I cannot see why many more firms do not take their offices and their office staffs right away from London and its suburbs. I should have thought that many found during the war that, provided that there was a central core where needed, it was in the interests of everybody, in terms of human wear and tear and the rest, that many of the larger office organisations should be well away from London.

I want to say a word on the subject of houses to let. I am not going to pretend that there has been any appreciable building to let by private enterprise. We all know the facts. There is no point in deceiving ourselves. Even if I were in a belligerent political mood, which I am not, I could not possibly improve upon what my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe said about the part played by the fear of a return of either municipalisation or control in restricting builders who might otherwise build to let.

The situation can be stated perfectly simply. The demand for houses for sale is so strong that builders themselves can sell the houses they build as and when they are finished. Since 1957 the output of private houses has risen from 133,000 to 170,000, and the demand still remains strong. It is interesting that in the thirties it was only when the market for sale showed signs of exhaustion that private builders turned over to building to let in any numbers. I hope that we shall see a return to building to let. As to the fear to which my hon. Friend referred, I hope that the Labour Party may give a little thought to relieving it, not by promising not to get elected but by facing the fact that one cannot expect building to let when again and again the threat is being made that when that building is done, with the return of the party opposite, if and when that occurs, there will be a return to control again.

The hon. Member for Feltham, in a speech which I very much enjoyed, referred to housing for old people. We can, I think, take some satisfaction from the fact that over a quarter of local authority building is at present being devoted to the kind of accommodation that old people most need—small dwellings. There was a time—we can all recognise this—when old people's needs tended to be overlooked in public housing programmes. That has been corrected, and we intend that it should stay that way.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton said, "Do not let us see rents as a major element in this business." I am inclined to agree with him. But there are some local authorities which complain of lack of resources, high interest rates and the like, which by any reasonable standards are not doing enough in the application of a realistic rent policy. I feel that it ought to be mentioned. It is not a question of putting up rents regardless, or even, indeed, of always arriving at a so-called economic rent from which to start. It is simply that before complaining of the cost of money a local authority ought to consider whether its rents are reasonable in the circumstances.

Let us look at one or two illustrations so that we may see the position as it is. I take some figures gathered in March last. Out of 83 county boroughs, 51 were charging less than 25s. a week for a three-bedroomed post-war house and 29 between 25s. and 35s. To come to examples, for a three-bedroomed postwar house Manchester was charging in March, 1961, an average of 15s. 9d. a week, Wakefield 17s. 9d., and Wolverhampton 18s. 7d. We have no Dunbartonshire figures of 2s. 10d. In rural districts, largely because there is no prewar pool of houses which can be drawn upon for subsidy, the average rent for council houses of all sizes is about 21s. 3d. a week.

These figures should be seen against the full cost of a newly built three-bedroomed house, which is about 60s. a week excluding rates. Of course, not everybody concerned can manage rent of this kind, but the needs can be met in appropriate cases by rent rebate schemes. What can be wrong with the principle of distributing a subsidy according to need? Councils of both political complexions have done this in one way or another. I am sure that it is a sensible approach, which both sides of politics could share, that the subsidy which is available in one way or another could be distributed according to need.

I agree that where a local authority has available much property of different sizes and of different kinds the need for a rent rebate scheme may be less, just as it may not be the appropriate way where the people of the area are pretty well at the same income level.

Mr. Warbey

The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of the economic rent of a three-bedroomed house, at current interest rates, being 60s. a week. Can he say what the economic rent of such a house would be if local authorities were able to borrow money for housing at 21 per cent. as they could under the Labour Government?

Dr. Hill

Not without notice. Arithmetic was never my strong point, and even if it were I would need a little time to work the sum out. I shall not indulge in comparisons between now and the period of the Labour Government, as I might find myself quoting the Labour Government's public admission that they could not build more than 200,000 houses a year and their subsequent allegation that the Conservative Government could never achieve that figure. I am trying to be especially good today, and I hope that the hon. Member for Ashfield, who is my old opponent at Luton, will not drag me into controversy reminiscent of the fights we had at Luton in 1950 and 1951.

The introduction of rent rebate schemes requiring those who can afford it to pay a full reasonable rent might well remind some of the better paid that they are able to look elsewhere for a house and so make room for those who really need subsidising. It is the financial aspect of this rather than the housing accommodation aspect mentioned by the hon. Member for Feltham, to which I am referring.

Mr. Hunter

I put the point that this would not increase the pool of houses available.

Dr. Hill

It would not, of course, improve the pool of houses of itself, but if an occupant of a council house can afford, and is so persuaded, to make his own provision, at least that means a council house made available for one of the very many needy families we all meet in our constituencies. I put it no higher than that.

Very little has been said about it, but I should like to say something about the congestion in the building industry. It is a very real problem. It is one thing to devise an annual programme, either by a local authority or by a Government Department. It is quite another thing to secure that that programme is achieved. What is happening? We must face the fact that the progress of local authority house building has been seriously affected in the last two years by the overload of the building industry and particularly by the shortage of skilled craftsmen.

In 1959, the figure of dwellings completed for every 100 under construction at the beginning of the year was 97. In 1960 the number had fallen to 84. In 1961 it was only 79, and at the end of 1961 there were 122,500 houses under construction by local authorities and new towns, compared with 118,000 a year earlier. There were 133,000 houses under construction by private builders, compared with 122,000 at the end of 1960. In the third quarter of last year, it took on average, 11.9 months to complete a house, compared with 10.2 months for the third quarter of 1959.

I know that this is another and larger subject which we cannot go into now, but this slowing down of construction has brought with it a rapid increase in building costs. The average tender price of a local authority three-bedroomed house rose from £1,527 in the third quarter of 1959 to £1,825 in the third quarter of 1961, an increase of almost 20 per cent. Under such conditions it is important not only to watch the number of new houses put to tender, but also to aim at speeding up completion. That is what we are doing this year. I am glad to say that there are some signs that progress in building is beginning to improve, particularly as a result of the measures instituted by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the middle of last year. I hope that that improvement will continue, for it is a very important factor in the housing achievement of next year.

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington referred to the price of land. I want to say a word on the aspect which is of particular importance to me, that of bringing more and more land into development. After all, it is a truism that the supply of land is a limited quantity and that by planning we restrict the amount of land available. We have continually to face the problem, first of bringing more and more land into development and, secondly, of a much better use both of virgin land coming into development and of land already developed.

How can we go about it? By frequent and realistic appraisal, local planning authorities can and should bring forward more land, where that is consistent with good planning. They must be alive to the need to keep ahead of building and not to let building get ahead of the plans. If there are any particular instances where insufficient land has been allocated, I shall be glad to hear of them and, where appropriate, to take them up with the authority.

There must also be better use of the land which is brought into development. The eight-to-the-acre bungalow devours land at an alarming rate, and local authorities, builders and developers among them should see to it that as many people as is reasonable are housed on each acre. More and more we have to turn our attention to the redevelopment of the older areas with low densities. It is no good expecting an unlimited supply of virgin land in green belt areas, for sooner or later it will come to an end. We have to make better use of the older and undeveloped land, and that means higher densities, where that is appropriate.

The House may well ask what one can do to press these considerations. I am constantly urging planning authorities to see that when they are revising their plans they base them on a realistic assessment of the need for land. In particular, we have had and are having specific discussions, informal discussions, with the planning authorities of the home counties on the availability of land in the next few years. On the appeals that come before me—and they come in their thousands—I will do my utmost to see that land is put to the best advantage. I hope soon to put out a special bulletin on the subject of densities to local authorities in order to stimulate interest in that subject.

A number of hon. Members have referred to the need for information about under-occupation, the character of the houses we have, and so on. There is a real need under certain headings for more information, finding out the facts—how people live in their homes and so on. It is true both of detailed and of general housing policy that there is a need for more facts. One does not want to collect information needlessly, but one must get the facts about the use being made of the houses we have if we are to apply the right sort of housing policy in future.

One example—my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport raised it and it has been put by other hon. Members—is whether there is material under-occupation of local authority houses. We should know all the facts before we begin to argue about whether there is an appreciable mass of housing which could be made available. Are people to any significant extent wastefully occupying an excessive amount of subsidised accommodation, thus keeping out other people in greater need? I am a great believer in getting at the facts, whether they are comforting or not, and in housing the problems are varied, complex and increasingly localised.

We need more information. We need to know more about the houses, their type, age, size and condition, and to know more about the families living in them, their size, make-up and the sort of accommodation they want, as well as to know more about such matters as under-occupation, overcrowding and multi-occupation. I am having factual studies made of a number of these matters, and when the facts are available we shall be able to get the full effect from our efforts to meet some of the more urgent problems.

Mr. Lipton

When the right hon. Gentleman is considering these factual investigations, will he also consider the possibility of providing information about those local authorities whose housing needs, we have been told from time to time from that Box, have already been substantially met? We are still in the dark on this point.

Dr. Hill

It will not come out (f the particular studies I have just described, but I will look at the point which the hon. Member raises.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page), as did my hon. Friend the Member far Devon-port, raised the question of housing associations. Both my hon. Friends will be aware of the £25 million made available under the Housing Act to stimulate the provision of houses built to let al economic rents. May I add that, in order to begin this development of existing housing associations, and, where appropriate, the formation of new ones, the National Federation of Housing Associations is being strengthened. An explanatory leaflet of the kind my hon. Friend sought will be issued and a circular sent to local authorities expressing the hope that local authorities will continue to give their help to housing associations.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) and other hon. Members spoke of the need for planning ahead in terms of housing. I have a great deal of sympathy with that view, although I do not want to say more about that at the moment. When my hon. Friend went on to compare the need of planning for slum clearance with the need for planning hospital building, there is rather a difference there, in that hospitals are a national responsibility, with the Minister making the plans, while the primary responsibility for housing and slum clearance rests with the local authority. But I want to see the development of these consortium arrangements between local authorities, and we have seen the early signs in Yorkshire, enabling local authorities to put their housing jobs to larger and well organised building firms.

I am not going into a textual criticism of the Motion before the House. I calculate that the ten year reference would mean an increase, on present performance, of some 230,000 houses a year. I merely inform the House that, on my calculations, that means a cost of £500 million, to put it in terms of pounds, shillings and pence, but, in terms of effort, men and materials it means two-thirds of all our building resources other than that which goes to houses and to factories. As matters stand, it would mean giving up most of what we spend on schools, hospitals and roads. I mention this to make the point that what can be spared for housing must depend basically on our general productive effort. I am fully alive to housing getting its proper share of our national resources.

There is little with which I differ in what the hon. Gentleman said about human considerations. There is no dispute in this debate about our general aims. We all want to get to the point where the nation has enough houses, and good houses too. We know the main needs—overhaul the backlog of shortage; finish the clearance of slums; relieve big city congestion; cater for the problem of distribution of employment; look after the old; provide steady replacement of obsolescent houses; cater for increases in population; and cater also for the increase in the number of households. We know, too, that the country's financial and building resources have to be used for a lot of other purposes also, if the nation is to prosper and survive, and deal with its housing problem at all. And we know that the country's resources of land, too, must be used carefully and effectively.

We are determined in our economic policies to see that the available resources are increased. This is the only practical approach, and an approach which has already provided new houses pretty steadily in recent years at the rate of 300,000 a year. We are continuing our policy, and I hope that that achievement will be raised. It is the kind of policy that brings success. It is the kind of policy that builds houses.

I yield to no one in my belief of the importance of the rôle of good housing in human happiness and in human health. Within the surprisingly wide range of functions of the Department over which I preside, I regard housing as my prime responsibility, for it comes nearer to the lives of ordinary people than anything else I do. The House needs no reminding—nor do I—that we must do what we can within the capacity of our total resources, and with due regard to what else we must do.

Mr. Mackie

The right hon. Gentleman has not answered the important point I raised about the speeding up of the machinery to take over land. Also, will he give us some indication of what he meant when he referred to "when circumstances permit"?

Dr. Hill

When, at the beginning of my remarks, I referred to circumstances permitting, I was referring to the economic situation to which I drew attention in the latter part of my speech. On the hon. Gentleman's first point, I agree that negotiations must not go on interminably. There must come a time when an authority, if it has decided that land is what it needs, and no other land is suitable, must decide that compulsory purchase powers will be used. I do not pretend that it is a short procedure but, bearing in mind the long period which the hon. Gentleman described, the time from the first act of the council in passing a resolution to entering on the land and going through all the democratic procedures need normally be no longer than a year. I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman for the prolonged negotiations which he described, but I remind him that that method is available in appropriate circumstances where interminable discussion seems to lead to no prospect of agreement.

3.19 p.m.

Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)

My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) is to be congratulated on being more fortunate than many of us have been in coming out of the raffle at the top. He is to be congratulated also on choosing an extremely important subject at this critical moment. He is to be congratulated, too, on having had some kind of Highland second sight in knowing that the Housing Return would come out within a few days of his giving notice to raise this subject. I was not looking forward to a debate based on rehashing the statistics with which we have been living since October.

To those of us who know him well, my hon. Friend has an irresistible charm. What surprised me was that that charm got across to the Minister. It is clear that the right hon. Gentleman found my hon. Friend quite irresistible; the old lion has been billing like a dove for the last three-quarters of an hour. I would not want to do anything to stir up the smouldering embers of party venom which still exist.

The right hon. Gentleman said that he believed in looking at the facts, and he wanted to judge the question from the point of view of those facts. I therefore want to put to him some of the facts as I see them. I do not want to make any party points; I do this simply because, for many years, hon. Members on this side of the House and people outside it have been beating their heads against a brick wall. They have found it quite impossible to make any impression on the Ministry or to get it to give serious consideration to any of their constructive ideas or any points they wanted to make. We do not ask the right hon. Gentleman to have a complete change of heart and become just a mellow and benign father-figure; we merely say that, on this difficult question, he should consider the facts of the situation objectively and dispassionately, as befits a scientist.

I would not have wanted to start by quoting some of the figures which have just been given to us in the housing return were it not for the fact that the right hon. Gentleman started—as did the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devon-port (Miss Vickers)—by expressing a feeling of satisfaction about the housing achievements of the Government. It is therefore important to remind the House of the exact position at the moment. Last year we finished fewer houses than the year before. We finished 20,000 fewer houses than in 1955, 1954 or 1953. That is the situation in terms of the total number of houses built. The number of local authority houses completed last year was lower than the year before and than in any year since 1947. It is therefore a little puzzling to see why the hon. Member for Devonport should congratulate the Government upon the progress that has been made. What, precisely, is that progress?

We have not yet caught up with the position which existed seven or eight years ago. That is one of the points that exercise our minds at the moment. The Government seem to be losing their sense of time. The fact that one person in four now lives in a house built since the war sounds very impressive, but the war has been over for a long time now, and if we go on building at the present rate it will mean a turnover rate of about sixty-four years. That does not give any cause for complacency; nor of course does it take account of the fact that many houses are very much older than that.

An article in the Financial Times gave some figures about the future. I cannot judge whether or not it is right, but it said that there was reason to believe that in this year—1962—there would be an increase in the total completions of houses, but that the evidence, looking at the figures of houses under construction, was that the 1963 figure would be down again. Even if that is considered to be merely a possibility—and I do not know whether it is or not—it is an extremely alarming one.

The hon. Member for Devonport said "Let us compare the present figures with what was done just after the war. We are not doing badly in comparison. We are finishing more houses than were finished in 1950." Our total gross capital invested today is much greater than it was just after the war, but the alarming fact is that the proportion of that gross capital which is going into housing is falling and not rising.

I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not get angry with me, because I am only putting the facts as I see them. So far as I can see, the problem that we want answered by the Government is: Are they satisfied with the existing rate of house output as an allocation of our national income, or are they dis satisfied with it and do they want to see it increased? That is a point to which the country is entitled to have an answer. Are the Government saying, "In the light of the existing situation"—as the right hon. Gentleman said, in the light of the other calls on investment—"we think we are going about even now"? If that is the position, the Government ought to tell us. If that is so, we know where we are. That, as I understand it, is the point of this Motion when my hon. Friend asked for a plan over ten years.

I do not think it matters whether it is ten or twenty years. We want approximately 325,000 houses or more a year—-certainly not less—but we are not building at that rate or anything like it. We are building at a rate of under 300,000 houses for England and Wales. Therefore, we are entitled to know whether the Government intend to go along at about this rate and allow the margin between those two figures to get greater and greater, or whether they intend to ensure that there is a real spurt forward.

What my hon. Friend is asking is that there shall be a plan known to the local authorities, on the basis of which they can conduct their operations and can recruit their staff and building labour. These figures which have just come to us show that there is no change at all in the amount of building labour being employed on new construction, or indeed on maintenance and repairs to old houses. In spite of our growing economy, growing output and growing working population, about which we are always being told, the total number of men engaged on new construction, or repairs and maintenance is not increasing. Therefore, we are today faced with a stagnant housing economy, a situation which must be changed.

The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who used to occupy the Minister's office, put this point admirably when he dealt with the need for planning expenditure. He was talking, as one might well imagine, about defence, because defence is sacrosanct. It is not a subject that one can play the fool with. That must be treated first. In the debate on the control of public expenditure on 24th January he was answering the critics on his own side of the House and saying that one cannot just stop and start. This is what he said: Here, perhaps more than anywhere else, long-term programming is crucial. It is the same with almost all civil public investment. To stop an investment project which has already been started is nearly always wasteful. That was why my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor, in his economy measures last July, was very careful not to call a halt to work that was in progress."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th January, 1962; Vol. 652, c. 228.] That was said by the master stopper and starter, the man who has done more than any other Minister to make local authorities stop and start. It applies particularly to housing. It is impossible for a local housing committee to plan its programme when it does not know from one year to the next how much building it is going to be allowed to do.

The right hon. Gentleman who made that speech made the same point on which the present Minister has touched in Circular 37/61. In paragraph 12 it states: An increasing number of authorities have found difficulty in placing contracts. This situation will worsen if authorities as a whole seek to maintain their building effort at the present rate; the only result would be that it would become still more difficult for them to carry out their programmes economically and efficiently. It is therefore in their own interests that the total number of houses to be put into contract by local authorities during 1962, over and above those already in the pipe-line—should be reduced below recent levels". In other words, here is the desperate situation in which we are. Not only is local authority housing going down to a level below 1947, but our control over the economy is so feeble that when local authorities try to get a move on, and push up their output, they receive a circular saying that they will get into a mess and that they must cut down. That is called long-term planning.

I put this to the right hon. Gentleman as the fundamental problem which he has to tackle. We must see that local authorities know from one year to another how much they are to be allowed to build in their programme so that they can get the labour, the draftsmen and the quantity surveyors, and order the materials in advance. Another thing which they will need to know, and which has been discussed today, is how many sites to reserve. It is ludicrous to criticise local authorities, as hon. Members opposite have been doing, because they are sitting on so many sites. The wretched local authorities do not know from one month to another how many sites they will require. They are not their own masters. It is only when the right hon. Gentleman wants to get out of a responsibility that the local authorities become responsible. When they want to increase their programmes they get into trouble.

I hope that the right bon. Gentleman will think about what sort and size of programme he can offer the local authorities. In reply to the comment of the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page), regarding the problem of tenants of council houses, he said he was worried more about the financial implications than accommodation implications. If the right hon. Gentleman means that the problem is more to get people to pay reasonable rents for the property they occupy than to get them out I should not quarrel with him. But the right hon. Gentleman, I think, will find, if he looks at the returns of municipal treasurers, that a great many local authorities operate schemes to see that rents are adjusted and therefore I do not think that "bogy" is as serious as he imagines. I hope that the Minister agrees that if we are to make any appreciable impression on the situation we shall not do so by "mucking about" with tenancies, or making reductions in under-occupation or by persuading a certain number of people to move. I take the view that if a person wants a rented house, and prefers a local authority as his landlord instead of a private landlord—I heartily sympathise with that preference—he has a right to have one.

I am not discussing financial adjustments at the moment, though they may be desirable, or what subsidy should be given. That is a complicated problem. I am saying that I am strongly against the argument that before a person can stay on a council estate, he should have to prove need. That is a monstrous argument. It goes back to the pre-war days when council estates were a kind of reserve for slum tenants, the place where they were kept, and decent people did not go near them. We have got rid of that kind of snobbish outlook and it would be an appalling thing to return to it.

It is a curious thing that one's blood is curdled by the appalling stories about what dreadful landlords are local authorities, and how harsh, arbitrary and dictatorial they are; and yet, apparently, it is necessary to evict people from council estates almost at the point of a bayonet, and this because they are happy to live on council estates with a good council as the landlord. It is therefore, highly desirable that they should be able to do so.

I wish to come now to the particular problems raised by the shocking figures of local authority completions of houses which are so deplorably low.

I ask the right hon. Gentleman to think about this problem. Does he believe that an appreciably larger section of the community can become owner-occupiers than are already becoming so? Does he believe that they can afford to do it or can get help from building societies or insurance companies in order to do it? If the major amount of new housing is to be built privately for owner-occupation, there is this dilemma: either we leave an enormous number of people who cannot buy these houses or we reduce the cost of building, and if we reduce the cost of building we must reduce the quality, too. Either we have to bring the cost of the house down to within the means of the average wage earner, at the expense of quality, or we must maintain quality and either subsidise houses or provide them for renting, because simple arithmetic shows that if one pays rent over sixty years the amount paid each week is less than if one is buying through a building society and paying back a loan over twenty years

We are entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman about this document Homes for Today and Tomorrow—the Report of the Central Housing Advisory Committee on the quality of houses. Do the Government intend to raise the standard of houses in conformity with that Report or are we to see a depression of standards because of the urgent need to give a roof to people who are homeless? I am not suggesting that the right hon. Gentleman can give a considered answer to my question at this stage, but I ask him to give his own answer to it and not the answer which he is taught.

We have suffered from two theories which have been produced by Ministers, neither of which will stand a moment's examination. One is the belief in the infallibility of the price mechanism. The theory is that if rents are raised and people are evicted from houses in London, they do not go to Newington Lodge but buy a house in Bognor and there is thus a redistribution of the homeless population of London into areas where houses are available. That is not too extravagant an interpretation of what the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor used to tell us in defending the Rent Act.

The second theory is that of filtering upwards. In other words, if we build a great many new and very expensive houses, then rich people will move up from their present, fairly new houses into them, those from below will move into the fairly new houses, as it were, and down and down the scale we shall go until eventually Newington Lodge is emptied. If that were true, why bother to build any houses except for rich people? Why bother to build houses for rent by local authorities at all? If we were to have this smooth and frictionless movement upwards, it would be necessary to build only houses for the rich. The truth is that we are dealing with human beings, human families and human homes, with all the problems, difficulties and tensions of human life.

Dr. Hill

Without going into the other points which the hon. Gentleman raised, it may help him to know, that I propose to send that Report Homes for Today and Tomorrow, with a circular commending it, to local authorities.

Mr. McColl

Will the right hon. Gentleman also commend it to private builders?

Dr. Hill


Mr. MacColl

That is the crying need. Local authorities are public servants, subject to the sanctions of public criticism and with Oppositions to put them in their place, and they will probably take this Report seriously and will try to work out how to build such a house at a price which will enable it to be let to people who want to rent it. That is their problem. The point which I put to the right hon. Gentleman is that only a small proportion of the new supply of houses will be affected. The vast bulk of new houses is privately owned and built. The problem is how we are to maintain the standards of those houses in the teeth of the urgent need of people of moderate incomes who are forced to buy if they possibly can.

As I say, we should not take too seriously this talk about filtering upwards because it is not possible to do it. All sorts of frictions are involved. There are the frictions which result from one's job. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East told us in a moving personal way that Scotland builds bonny babies. Why then do Scottish people come south and to London to have babies? The answer is that their jobs bring them down here. The question of where they live is not a matter of their own choice. That is governed by their job, transport, communications, schools, and so on, things which are decided by the Government and by business—by the planners.

It is, therefore, essential that if we are to solve the problem of overcrowding in London and in other big towns we must solve the problem of getting industrial development in areas away from the big conurbations. We must do that very quickly. If the right hon. Gentleman considers what has been happening with regard to overspill since the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations was Minister of Housing and Local Government, he will realise that there has been little development of planned overspill provision of houses.

Those are the main points about which I ask the right hon. Gentleman to think. I believe that the future of new house building lies mainly in rented accommodation if we are to tackle the pressing problems of people with average earnings, because the gap between the cost of houses and earnings is getting wider.

The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) asked whether we on this side were prepared to give a pledge that we should never interfere in rent control and municipalisation. The answer is "No". Is the Minister prepared to give a pledge that, come what may, he will never introduce any kind of rent control? Is he prepared to say that in the event of a war there will be no return to rent control? Is he prepared to give a pledge about when control, such as it is, will be abolished? Again, the answer is "No". No Government with social responsibility could give a pledge that it would leave tenants in the unfettered, unprotected and uncontrolled authority of their landlords. This is not a commercial relationship of buying and selling or renting and leasing. It is a human relationship of one person's home being owned by another. That is the essential character of the relationship which makes it inevitable that, in the event of an industrial crisis or a war, the most reactionary Government would have to introduce some kind of control.

While that is possible, I agree with the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe that no competent builder, which the hon. Gentleman is, or developer would go into the market of building private houses for rent. He would not touch it with a bargepole. The conclusion that I draw from that is that only public authorities will do this and that the only body which can be relied on to provide houses to rent for people of moderate incomes is the public authorities, local authorities, development corporations, and so on. That is why we regard with so much alarm this downward trend in local authority house completions and the implications which it has for the quality of the housing and for the provision of houses for people with average earnings.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider some of these problems carefully. I commend to him for bedside reading the proceedings of the Standing Committee on the Housing Bill in 1961. He will find some very valuable suggestions made by my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) and others, together with a few occasional halting words of my own. He will find many suggestions which were put forward in an endeavour to tackle the problem of flats, the problem of the cost of land and the problem of subsidies which all need considering and on which we found ourselves beating our heads against a brick wall week after week in Committee. If the Minister will change his outlook and will consider the facts, we have some hope for the future.

3.45 p.m.

Mr. Jasper More (Ludlow)

Although the House has had many debates on housing in the last few years, I am sure that we are all grateful to the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) for giving us this opportunity today. I understood him, if I heard aright, to declare his interest as an owner of agricultural houses—I think that he said some 50 or 60—

Mr. Mackie

Not necessarily the owner.

Mr. More

—and I should like to declare my interest as an owner of agricultural houses, but not of urban houses. The hon. Gentleman, although not an owner, I think declared that he was concerned with the maintenance of some 50 or 60 houses for farming employees. He must, therefore, have some knowledge of what is involved in the maintenance of houses for employees. I would only say that we should not lose sight of the fact that, particularly in country areas, a substantial contribution has been made by private owners for improvement and maintenance of houses for employees or because they wish to keep their property in good repair, very often without any prospect whatsoever of financial recoupment of the money that has been spent.

One of the sad things about every housing debate is that one has to stress the obvious. I suppose that the first and most obvious thing that we learned from the speech of the hon. Member is that we still do not have enough houses. I make no apology for stressing one or two obvious things arising from the speech of the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl), who asked us on this side of the House, "Would we undertake never to reimpose controls?" I would answer that by saying that surely there are controls and controls. I ask hon. Members opposite, looking back over the history of this country since 1914, whether they would wish to reimpose controls of the type which have operated since those days. I would say, and I think that many of us honestly would say, that looking back over the history of those years there have been in our housing policy many features which can only be described as scandalous in connection with rent control. Hitler before the war had a motto that it was no use telling a small lie; that if one told a lie at all it had to be a big lie. Some of us may think that some of the rental policies under which this country has laboured since 1914 have been on the principle that it is no use having a small scandal and that we must have a big scandal. I will list some of those scandals.

It has been a big scandal that for over 40 years housing should have been forcibly subsidised by owners, irrespective of whether those owners are millionaires or impoverished people; secondly, it is a big scandal that owners should have been prevented by law from recovering possession, even from wealthy tenants, when they needed houses for their own occupation; and, thirdly, it is a big scandal that even today thousands of council houses should be rented by tenants Who could well afford economic rents.

Sir Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)

Before the hon. Member finishes his list of scandals, would he refer to the greatest scandal of all, that when a certain sum of money was obtained by the landlords for the purpose of carrying out repairs they put it in their pockets at a time when they could have spent that money quite well on the repair of their houses—thus imposing hardship on the tenants? That is the greatest scandal of the lot.

Mr. More

I am willing that the hon. Gentleman should add to my lists, but my own list is so long that I do not want myself to add to it.

The fourth scandal is that even now those who are rehoused from slum clearance schemes should be faced with the necessity of paying far higher rents than existing council tenants in the same areas. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense! In which areas?"] I represent Ludlow.

The fifth scandal is that farmers who provide houses for their employees should be restricted to a rent of 6s., or a slightly larger figure, per week when other employees who do not have tied cottages have to rent houses at rates which the councils have to charge.

The hon. Member for Widnes described the present state of our housing economy as stagnant. After listening to the words of encouragement that we had from the Minister, I can only regard that as a classic misdescription.

The prospects for all our people, whether tenants or owners, would surely be enormously improved in the next few years if we could be guided by the principles so forcibly laid down by my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain). Surely it would ultimately be for the benefit of all tenants if all controls could be removed. Surely it would ultimately be for the benefit of all tenants if rebates and subsidies could be related not to houses but to the circumstances of the tenants. Surely it would be for the benefit of all tenants if rents could be related, if not to actual market value, at any rate to the cost involved in maintaining and repairing their houses. If there is still a shortage of houses—as there will be—and if there are disputes about rental figures, surely instead of the aritrary controls which have been enforced by law over the last forty years, the fair method would be to have a rental tribunal to adjudicate rents by reference to those realistic factors.

Sixth—I am glad to say that in this respect my right hon. Friend has given us encouragement—we should pursue the policy of encouraging councils to sell to those who can afford to buy. As my right hon. Friend said, every house vacated in that way provides a house for someone who needs one.

Seventh, we should obviously encourage private building by loans.

In the last six years we have had two Acts which give great hope and encouragement for the future—the Rent Act, 1957, and last year's Housing Act. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] The 1961 Act has not only encouraged house building in general and better standards but it has done something for us in the poorer areas, one of which I represent.

Sir B. Janner

Is the hon. Gentleman really saying that the argument used when the Rent Act was introduced—that there were sufficient houses available to enable an economic rental to be obtained, and consequently it was not necessary to protect the people any longer—prevails now?

Mr. More

I was not in the House in 1957, and I was certainly not aware of that argument being used outside it.

I represent a rural area, and we have greatly benefited from the differential which has been introduced since 1961. I want to say a word about the special problems of rural areas because we have listened today to a debate concerned almost exclusively with our great towns.

Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)

I thought the hon. Member was going to develop an argument about the 1957 Act and the help it provided for people in his constituency. I was rather intrigued about that. I want to know how it did them such a favour.

Mr. More

I was not going to develop that argument, because, as I said, I had not heard it outside the House.

The argument I was developing was that in our rural areas we have certain special problems and I am anxious that they should not be lost sight of.

Sir Richard Glyn (Dorset, North)

But my hon. Friend would be able to point out that the 1957 Act gave all tenants security of tenure in terms of one month!

Mr. More

The slums in our rural areas are of two kinds. We have isolated cottages, and we have slums in our small towns. I want to say something about the siting of any new housing which is built. We have heard a lot in this debate about the need to export population from our great centres like London. I should like my right hon. Friend to take note of the fact, when he gets to our more sparsely populated areas, that that process has got to be put into reverse. Instead of exporting people from the centres we have got to bring them into the centres. Nothing is more saddening to one who goes around rural areas as I often do than to find that a lot of the admirable effort which has been put into house building since the war has been misdirected. It is not fair to blame our councils for this, because they could not have foreseen the situation which has now arisen, but it is a fact that all over our rural areas now we find excellent new council houses in places where they ought not to be, where people do not have work, where they do not have shops, where they do not have schools, perhaps where they have to travel either by bus or bicycle for everything they need in life. It is absolutely essential that within our rural areas we should realise that we have got to focus on the small centres which do exist.

There is one other thing that I want to say on the subject of land. We in our rural areas are very conscious of the needs of our great cities. My constituency is within the periphery of Birmingham. We have heard a lot about the need Birmingham has for expansion, and about the possibility of a new town. I want to say two things to my right hon. Friend. In his search for new towns would he please try to preserve our good agricultural land? In this country we have thousands of acres which have been devastated in the industrial area and which night be admirably improved by redevelopment for new towns. It was a tragedy that large areas of agricultural land were built on for new houses while already derelict areas so much in need of improvement were neglected.

Mr. Lipton

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. More


Hon. Members

Why not?

Mr. More

Because I want to say a word to my right hon. Friend about the specific case of Dawley. We were told about a year ago that investigations were being made. I want to make an appeal to my right hon. Friend for speed. We do not know whether there is to be a new town at Dawley. Until we know that we do not know whether any form of building can proceed; the Minister of Agriculture does not know whether farms can be improved. There is a kind of sterilisation over the whole of that area. I do not even know whether or not it is a constituency question, because we do not even know what are the boundaries of the area under investigation. However, this is a matter which affects the whole of the area, and so I ask my right hon. Friend to try to expedite a decision, and I ask him to try to expedite it in the favourable sense, because I am certain that this could be a prototype of the sort of area which should be selected for a new town.

It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.