§ 11.33 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
Following the important debate we have just had, I want to raise a subject which really is a heartache story for many thousands of our fellow citizens living in London—or trying to live in London. We gave notice we would raise this story tonight, and the story has for its heading, I suppose,"The Homeless Families of London." When we talk of those homeless families we ought to remember that, though they are not all Londoners, the vast majority of them are, of course, British—although this is a problem which, I know, is not confined to London, but which afflicts many of our great cities and towns throughout the land.
It is not the first time that we have raised the subject in the House. London Members will recall that we raised it last year. The situation was very grim then. We got from the former Minister of Housing and Local Government, the right hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Hill), a great number of platitudes. He said in effect that it was a problem which could be solved by the London County Council and that it ought to be far more energetic. If I remember his speech well enough, it was to the effect that at the end of the day the London County Council could solve it and it did not need much effort from the Government. I hope the new Minister of Housing and Local Government will not say that. He had better not. I assure him that if he does it will be regarded by those who read his words as an absolute insult to the intelligence of our people, particularly those who are homeless.
I put it to the right hon. Gentleman simply, shortly, fairly and honestly that if tonight we provided a home for every family in London which is homeless at this very moment, I guarantee that in six months' time the problem would be as big again. So let us clearly understand what we are talking about. We are talking about homeless families in this the greatest city in the world, and if we dealt with this problem tonight, there are thousands of others who would become homeless overnight. I will tell the right hon. Gentleman why later on, but 203 for the moment let us look at the problem as it is now.
There was a decrease in the number of homeless in London in December last, probably because some of the landlords had the Father Christmas spirit and waited until Christmas had passed before kicking people out. But in January the London County Council, the housing authority for London, was responsible for looking after 616 homeless families, which represented 2,860 people. At this very moment there are 868 families in London without a home. That represents 4,136 persons without a home in one city. I do not want to be too emotional about it, but it makes me almost want to be sick because the suffering which comes from such a situation has to be seen to be believed.
I understand that at the moment 10 additional families a week without a home are coming to the care of the London County Council. That represents 40 people per week. With that increase taking place, I ask the Minister to be a mathematician and work out how long it will be on the basis of what I have said about the recent past before the problem is again as large as it is now even if he solved it tonight.
Where do the people come from, and what sort of people are they? Is this merely something for London to deal with in its own capacity or does it call for the Government to do something on a wider, national basis? I hope to show that it is a Government responsibility, and I and my hon. Friends will regard it as an insult if the Minister attempts to convey the idea that this is purely a matter for the London County Council.
To analyse the figures, first of all, the vast majority of these people are British. To indicate the reasons why London is getting these large numbers, I will quote some of my hon. Friends who represent boroughs in Lancashire. One of my hon. Friends—I will not mention his name—(tells me that he has not had a housing case for three years. Indeed, he has some hundreds of empty houses, and his council's job is to fill them, but the people are no longer there. Because of the depression in the cotton industry, they have left Lancashire and come to London. That is great planning! One would have thought that there would 204 have been a desire on the part of the Government, and a tremendous effort by them, to keep the people where they want to be—in their home town. I cannot believe anyone wants to come to London and face some of the conditions here; but if there is a depression and they are out of work and suffering, they will come to London because they believe that, because of the policy of full employment, this is the only place where one can earn read money.
Tonight I had a meeting with some homeless families. The right hon. Gentleman's Parliamentary Private Secretary was there and can confirm what I say. They were a sample section. Some of their stories were repetitions of what I have already heard. I give one illustration. It was the case of a lady, born and bred in London, who married five or six years ago and went into furnished accommodation for £6 a week. She does not complain about that. But then she had the temerity to have children. I gather that most married women do. That was the end. There is no control over furnished accommodation and she was evicted. She has been nearly a year in a rest centre.
What sort of affluent society is it that allows that to happen? What sort of people are we in this House to let £6 a week be charged for one room—which is all this lady had? Can any Member opposite justify that? I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not sneer when we talk of control. There is a section of the community which exploits our people. These landlords would get £10 a week if they could get away with it. Yet nothing is done.
These people are victims of the Government's lack of national planning, which has resulted in unemployment in many parts of the North and Scotland, driving people to London to seek work.
Some time ago we had another debate on the homeless. We were told by the late Minister that we had not got the facts. I am glad the Prime Minister sacked him. The present Minister could not be worse than he was, or the present Home Secretary was when he was Minister of Housing and Local Government. They were both great characters. We ware told that there would be a special survey to find the facts. The results of that survey have 205 been issued. It was conducted not by the Labour Party or by the L.C.C., nor by the Conservative Party trying to defend itself. These were independent-minded people. They said:Rent increases since the Rent Act have been concentrated most heavily on the margin of property changing hands as new tenants move in. Rents for continuing tenancies have not risen as quickly as for new tenancies but the margin at which larger increases are being made is being extended as something like 20,000 dwellings in the county are ' de-controlled ' every year by the movement or death of their tenants. Low-income families with young children have diminishing chances of obtaining accommodation at a modest rent and they are largely excluded from consideration for house purchase loans.What is the right hon. Gentleman going to do about that situation not only in London but elsewhere? Does he defend a policy which means that when property becomes decontrolled the sky is the limit? How can he defend it today when there is such a shortage of accommodation? The survey said that because of the Rent Act and the fact that properties are becoming decon-trolled at the rate of 20,000 a year, rents are so exorbitant that people cannot consider them
The Government used to say that everything was being blamed on the Rent Act, but even if a person is not directly affected by it he finds that indirectly it is making property scarcer. One of the primary causes of our problem today is the Rent Act, which made a bad position worse and has meant that ordinary, humble families are unable to get rooms. The vast majority of people just want rooms—nothing more.
Now let us consider house purchase. This is what the survey team said:House prices have been rising very steeply —in the London region they rose by over a third between January, 1959 and December, 1961, and the increase within the county must have been at least as great. Those who can afford to buy a house in London are in a privileged position compared with tenants. They can make substantial capital gains as long as house prices continue to rise, and borrowers have the added encouragement of a tax allowance on interest repayments. High prices are excluding all but the most prosperous wage-earning families from house-purchase unless they have large savings or already own a house which can be sold to provide capital.To-day no man with a wife and two children, and earning less than £20 a week, can get a mortgage. Let the Minis- 206 ter refute that. If a man goes to a building society and says, "My wife and I have a joint income of £20 a week, will you let me have a mortgage?", the building society says that it is not interested in what his wife earns but only in what he earns as a basic wage. The party opposite is supposed to believe in a property-owning democracy. Do hon. Gentleman opposite really believe in it? What steps are they taking to enable those earning less than £20 a week to buy their homes?
I believe in a genuine property-owning democracy, and to this end I would encourage those who wanted to buy their homes to do so by giving them a 100 per cent. mortgage, to be repaid at a low, fixed rate of interest. They would then know exactly what their commitments were until the loans were repaid. Is it too much to ask the party opposite to look at this again? Is it not possible in this so-called affluent society to find money for this purpose? Hon. Gentlemen prate about this being a property-owning democracy, but they do nothing to help those who want to buy their own houses.
Let us consider what was said about the kind of people who are homeless. The report said:Taking the findings of the three surveys together the homeless, in recent years, have usually been married couples between 20 and 40 years of age, generally having two or three children under 16. About half the adults were born in London or the Home Counties, up to three-quarters in Britain, and most of the remainder were born in Eire."—The Government do not propose to ban the Irish coming into this country—The majority have always lived in London or have been here at least five years before becoming homeless. The husband's wages are below average for London, tending in 1961 to cluster between £10 and £14 a weekA man earning between £10 and £14 a week is out. He is despised. He has no hope of owning his own home. The majority of people in this wage bracket do semi-skilled or unskilled work. These are the people who are homeless. These are the people who have done no harm to anybody, or hurt anybody. Their crime is that they have the temerity to earn only £10 to £14 a week. These are the people who sweep the roads, clear the sewers, and perform other similar essential jobs. Britain could not do without these people but, because of 207 their low wages, they are precluded from getting mortgages to buy their own houses.
The survey also mentions private landlords, for whom I have nothing but contempt. It says:Private landlords have less and less incentive to provide housing for wage-earners with young children. Young families take up more room than childless couples or single persons; they cannot afford high rents but cause greater wear and tear on the property; and they may bring trouble and unwelcome publicity if they are evicted. If a wage-earner has a low insecure income—and many wage-earners' incomes are low and insecure by nature of their work—no security of tenure, and no relatives or friends able to house them or to 'speak for' them to the landlord—then he is liable to become homeless. Very many of the families coming to the welfare department are in this condition.Is the Minister going to tolerate that? Are private landlords going to be allowed to turn their backs on people for the crime they have committed merely of having children? What sort of a nation are we that, in 1962, we can stand for that? We bandy words about being an affluent society, when hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that the attitude of the majority of private landlords is, "If you have children you are not wanted." The survey proves that.
The owning of private property and its exploiting for profit should be dealt with by law. It is immoral that some people should be getting fat sums of money out of others in this sort of misery, and the time has come when the nation should say frankly and firmly that the right to own property for private rented purposes has gone for ever. Surely owning a house or living in a house is as much a social need as a hospital. Is it not right that a person should have a roof over his head?
It is not as though there is no empty property in London. I will give the Minister some figures which I think will be news to him. If the fact was that there was no empty accommodation in London into which people could move the Minister would have a stronger case, but that is not so. In Camberwell there are 251 empty properties; in Lambeth, 1,742; in Lewisham, 1,410; in Paddington, 1,950; in Wandsworth, 1,300; in Westminster, 904 and in 208 Woolwich, 712. These figures have been given by valuation officers. They are not imaginary. They refer to properties in London which are empty at this moment because, in many cases, the landlords are keeping them unoccupied in order to get vacant possession of the whole of the houses and so be able to sell them for inflated prices.
As we are talking, over 4,000 people are crying out for homes. If the Minister adds up the figures I have given he will see that the total is substantial. Can anyone wonder that we say that local authorities should have the power of acquisition, or that wherever local authorities can find that sort of property they have the right to say, "We are going to put a family in there." If landlords want to appeal, let the Minister set up an appeals tribunal for them; it would be unique for the landlords to have to appeal instead of the tenants.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Sir Keith Joseph)
Local authorities have power to apply for compulsory purchase orders in some circumstances.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Perhaps I ought to intervene now with a warning. The discussion of legislation is not in order in a debate on the Third Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill. We must not stray too far in that direction.
§ Mr. Mellish
I can assure you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that all I ask from the Government is a sensible approach to the housing problem.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
The hon. Member says that these houses are being kept empty by the private landlords for sale. To whom are they sold? Surely there are families coming into them. They may be paying a higher price for the houses, but they need homes.
§ Mr. Mellish
I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman had been listening to what I have been saying. Some people who earn £25 or £30 a week might be able to raise the mortgages to buy such houses. But where empty property exists it should be made available to those in 209 the greatest need. I ask the Government to tell us how the local authorities can acquire such premises for these people. I am not arguing that London is jammed up and that there are no empty properties. If there were a proper scheme of distribution and the local councils had control, such property could be made available to those in greatest need. That should be the test and not the amount of money which a man has in his pocket.
I understand that the Minister received a deputation of my colleagues and friends from County Hall who are responsible for dealing with this problem. I think that they are making magnificent efforts to overcome the difficulties. But what bewilders them is that each time they are successful in solving some part of the problem the position is made worse again because so many other families are found to be in need.
Surely it is monstrous that non-residential property like offices and factories should continue to be built when there is such a demand for housing accommodation. But one of the problems facing the councils is that if permission to build a block of offices is refused the compensation which has to be paid is fantastic. Therefore, because of the financial implications, councils are not inclined to refuse such permission. Certain funds and powers are needed, which it would not require new legislation to provide, to deal with the situation that when factory premises are vacated they must be used again as a factory. It should be possible to convert the premises into houses. We ask that office building should be subject to control by some kind of system analagous to the Industrial Development Certificate. What does the Minister intend to do to help councils to control the present spate of office building?
When do the Government propose to do something about the present interest rates? Do they still defend a situation in which people have to borrow money at an interest of 7 per cent.? What about the Rent Act? Does the Minister still maintain that the position of the Government is that no modification of the legislation is contemplated at any time? I remember the present Home Secretary, when he was Minister of Housing and Local Government, giving his idea of how the Rent Act would 210 work. He thought that those who could afford to pay more would transfer to the more expensive properties and those who could afford less would move into the less expensive properties and that there would be a general sorting out.
I come from Bermondsey, which is a working-class area of London. In a block of flats in my constituency there was a typical example of what went on. Some people moved into three-room flats and some into two, and so on, as their families grew up or increased. Then the 1957 Act was passed. There is no more movement, because if one family gives up a three-room flat in a block of privately-owned flats, instead of the flat being given to a family living into a two-room flat, there is an immediate fantastic increase in rent which debars the family living in the two-room flat from taking the three-room flat. Does the Minister believe that? I can give him examples. The effect of the Rent Act which the previous Minister expected has not materialised.
We ask that owners of London residential property which becomes decontrolled and who are about to sell or evict should be required to give first refusal to the council. Is there anything immoral about that. Local authorities, whether they are Tory ox Labour, are at least trying to do a genuine job. All local authorities are honest in their endeavours. The way in which housing lists are run is a credit to Britain. I have hardily ever heard of a case in which there has bean a charge of corruption. The whole test is of need. Private landlords are not concerned with need. Does the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) desire to question that?
§ Mr. Mellish
I am talking about corruption. One does not find any corruption in the administration of housing lists. If the hon. Gentleman knows of any, he should say so. We should clean that up. In London there are no such cases. Private landlords are naturally not concerned with need. They are concerned only with the amount of money available.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) is not here, because a perfect example of this has 211 occurred in his constituency. Ten houses were built by a builder—a good and genuine type. He built them fox private letting, but a speculator came along. He bought the ten houses for £5,000 each. He bought them in one fell swoop for £50,000. They were nice houses built by private enterprise. The speculator did not let them. He in turn sold them for £7,500 each. Can anybody honestly say that any homeless family has a chance with that sort of speculation going on? The speculator sold them and made £2,500 a house overnight. This was legal and proper, and he is a very good Tory. He its a very smart business man. We want that sort of thing stopped.
We ask for rent tribunals to be extended—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but if he is asking for legislation it is out of order.
§ Mr. Mellish
I am not asking for legislation. The Minister can tell us whether legislation is required. The Government must tell us what they intend to do. It does not need legislation to extend the use of rent tribunals, as I understand it. The Minister could do it by regulation, I believe. We ask for rent tribunals to be extended to unfurnished accommodation. Why should not they be, so that people could ask for their rents to be lowered? Why should not they be able to go to independent bodies and claim that their rents are unfair? The tribunal should have power to take into account the conditions in Which people live.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
Even supposing that that did not require legislation, which I should doubt, I remind the hon. Gentleman that over half those who become London's homeless come from furnished dwellings where there is a controlled rent.
§ Mr. Mellish
That is the whole point which the hon. Gentleman does not know about. There is no controlled rent for furnished accommodation. The sky is the limit. The only thing about furnished accommodation is that there is a certain security of tenure. People 212 can complain to a rent tribunal that their rent ought to be lower. The tribunal can say that the rent should be lower, but the length of time for which the people can stay there afterwards is limited by law. It is a deterrent in itself, because the people know that if they go to the tribunal and ask for their rent to be reduced they will lose their home anyway. Someone I know is paying £6 a week for furnished accommodation. She knows that she could get it reduced, but dare not got to the tribunal because she knows she would be kicked out anyway.
§ Mr. Graham Page
I want to get this point clear. The hon. Gentleman was asking the House to approve his suggestion that rent tribunals should be given power over unfurnished dwellings. My point is that rent tribunals as they are applied to furnished dwellings are not much protection to tenants at the moment if half those who become homeless come from furnished dwellings. I think the hon. Gentleman is wrong in saying that there is no control of rent. Even if the tenant did leave, there is still the order for that specific rent on those premises.
§ Mr. Mellish
The Minister can confirm or deny this later, but I think the hon. Member is wrong about the control situation. So far as unfurnished accommodation in London is concerned, a house rated at over £40 is automatically decontrolled. Even if a house is rated at only £20 and the existing tenant moves, it is automatically decontrolled. As to furnished accommodation, whatever rent the landlord asks for must be paid, and the only control that exists is that the tenant, if objecting to the rent, can go to a tribunal. The tribunal will then set what it regards as a fair rent, but it can only give a certain security of tenure—in most cases, I believe, three months. After three months the tenant has to go.
In fact, those living in furnished accommodation are deterred from asking for a lower rent because they know they will be kicked out if they do, and those who come under the decontrolled setup have no security of tenure. This Rent Act has done a marvellous job of work. It is in such a state of chaos that thousands of people are now homeless.
213 I put this to the Minister fairly and squarely. The test of any Government is the way it treats the people who are in the greatest need. There are always those who need help more than others. They are the people whom Governments are designed to help. That is what the social services are all about. That is why we are proud of our National Health Service. That is why the National Assistance Board exists, to help people in financial distress.
I know there is always the "spiv" and the type of person who will exploit. In London there is a proportion of such people. There are. no doubt, problem families with whom neither this nor any other Government can deal. But we are not talking about them. We are talking about the ordinary, decent people who, through no fault of their own, have no home of their own. It is impossible to be a London Member and not feel ashamed at some of the cases which come to one's notice. The most appalling case of all is that of the young married couple. Any youngsters who get married today are compelled to live with their in-laws. They cannot get places of their own. My own constituency is packed with them. One cannot blame the in-laws, particularly when children corns along and tempers get frayed. There are heart-rending stories.
The Government must get their priorities right and say, "Housing above all else is the prime social need. In this sense we will deal with the exploiter, the spiv and the speculator. The people will get decent standards of living. We will have a war-time basis of building." That does not need legislation. The Government must get something done for housing on a national scale. They must not throw back at us "We built more houses than you did". That was eleven or twelve years ago, in any case.
This is a human problem which can only be dealt with by Governments. County councils, with all respect to them, can only deal with the position at certain local levels, tinkering about with the problem as best they can. I pay tribute to them for what they have done, but the Government must move in with national funds and resources, 214 making sure the county councils are able to do this work.
I believe that a property-owning democracy is a great thing. I also believe that the right to have a tenancy in a council house is right, because, at the end of the day, those two things combined will give to our people the sort of Britain to which I at any rate want to belong.
§ 12.10 a.m.
§ Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich)
An interesting thing about this debate is that what is happening tonight has happened before. This is an issue on which I should have thought there would be no difference of opinion between the political parties. I suppose that all hon. Members here have their own houses, or at least live in reasonably comfortable accommodation. Yet whenever we have a debate on London housing it has been marked by the failure of London Conservative hon. Members to take part in the discussion. It is tragic that when we are dealing with an issue such as this not a solitary back bencher on the Government side gets up to speak about what is one of the most tragic personal problems we have today.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
I am sure the hon. Member does not wish to mislead the House or the wider public who may read what he is saying, which is, explicitly, that no supporter of the Government from a London constituency ever gets up to speak about London's housing problem. That is just not true. I have spoken on a number of occasions about this problem, as have others of my hon. Friends during the three years I have been in this House.
§ Mr. Marsh
Yes, the hon. Member has taken part in our debates on this matter, but it is an extraordinary thing that every debate which we have on London housing is marked by the lack of speeches from Conservative supporters. It is also a fact that I know of no other subject in which, when the second speaker is called—assuming the debate has been opened from this side of the House—not one Government hon. Member makes a move.
I do not want to press this point too far; I want only to make it at the beginning of my speech.
§ Brigadier Sir Otho Prior-Palmer (Worthing) rose—
§ Mr. Marsh
I do not know if the hon. and gallant Gentleman is threatening to leave the House, but if so he will leave with nothing but an expression of great appreciation from this side. To return to my point, in no other subject—[Interruption]. I do not know if the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing is sober or why he goes on making those noises. I wish he would not.
I was saying that in no other subject is there what appears to be such a lack of appreciation of just how tragic is this problem. I readily admit that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. G. Johnson Smith) does speak on this subject, but there is a much larger number of other hon. Members with London constituencies who sit on that side who do not. Tonight they are not even here, and if the hon. Gentleman speaks I do not think that there will be another hon. Member from London from that side of the House who will take part.
§ Mr. Graham Page
Before the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) develops this point ad nauseam, I would tell him that I came into the Chamber with notes for a speech. I wanted to hear the discussion develop after the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) had spoken. For the hon. Member for Greenwich to keep on this point is rather ridiculous.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
May I also point out, Mr. Speaker, that not one hon. Member of the Liberal Party has troubled to be here. I think that to be fair my hon. Friend should say that.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it be out of order to speak about Liverpool housing in this debate?
§ Mr. Speaker
No more out of order than to speak about London housing. At the moment, what concerns me is that we should get on.
§ Mr. Marsh
The main point I make is that the position in London is quite exceptional. It arises out of conditions and circumstances which are in many respects peculiar to London. The situation has reached a point where, unless there is some Government intervention on a big scale, the problem will be insoluble no matter how much good will there may be. There must be Governmental intervention and a special review of London's particular problems.
London's problem is typical of what happens if one is not prepared to apply to such a situation long-term planning in detail for one fact which emerges clearly from the report prepared on behalf of the London County Council is that, while the whole pattern of the County of London is changing, there is no clear plan or co-ordination to ensure that it changes in any particular way. One point made in the report is that far too much land is being taken up in London for purposes other than housing, for building offices, factories and roads and even for providing playing fields. All these things are, of course, essential, but we cannot allow land in an area like London to be used for these purposes without taking into account the amount of land which is needed for housing if we are to meet the housing problem which exists. There seems to be no overall plan whatever to cover the future development of London in this way.
One of the examples given in the report is that between 1951 and 1961 the residential population of London fell by 153,000, or about 15,000 people per year. In the same period the working population of London rose by an average of 20,000 people per year. The amount of accommodation available for people to live in London decreases while, at the same time, the pressure increases as a result of the even larger number of people coming into work in the centres of commerce and industry within the capital. All these factors have existed for many years.
§ Sir K. Joseph
The horn. Gentleman is approaching his subject very analytically, but he is confusing the issue. It is true that the resident population of London fell. It is true that the working population rose. But the number of dwellings in London rose also. The hon. Gentleman is not marrying the three together in his argument.
§ Mr. Graham Page
I do not like to argue with my right hon. Friend or, at this stage, with the hon. Member, but is not the net loss in dwellings, taking into account demolitions and so on, 1,000 per year?
§ Sir K. Joseph indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Marsh
I shall come to that point. I am sure that the Minister will accept that the number of homeless is increasing faster than the rate of building. There are several reasons for this, but one of the main reasons is the change in the use of London and its land. The number of dwellings built to house homeless families and the number built to deal with slum clearance and other issues is a major problem. In 1951, 11.4 per cent. of all the houses built were built for rehousing people from cleared areas and to deal with like problems, and 72.6 per cent. of all properties built were to house people off the housing list. Ten years later, however, the position had almost entirely reversed and in 1961, 72 per cent. of the properties built in London were to rehouse people displaced for some purpose or other and only 14.2 per cent. were to rehouse people on the housing lists.
That enormous switch round is a big factor, because what is never understood by constituents who come to one's advice bureau is that the increase in the number of houses being built is not having any appreciable effect on the number of people corning on to the housing list. It is this factor which makes Government intervention essential, because it is something that no local authority could conceivably cope with in this way.
218 We hear a great deal about the buying of houses. I am not so sure that I am particularly keen on encouraging owner occupation in an ideal society. It is a wasteful way and has a lot of disadvantages. However, in the present situation we can tell many of the people who come to our advice bureaux, no matter how serious the conditions in which they live, nothing other than that they should try to buy a house. Therefore, the question of house prices in London is an important factor.
It is frequently said that those people have motor cars and television sets and could save and buy a house. That is an understandable view by people who have difficulty in paying their mortgages. The days when owner occupation was reserved for the wealthy passed a long time ago. One can understand the feeling of people living in their own houses, who have difficulty in meeting their mortgage payments, if they tend to be a little intolerant at others who are waiting for or moving into council houses.
Figures issued recently by the Cooperative Permanent Building Society give the conclusion that the average price of an existing house in London was £3,500 and of a new house, £3,700. These figures surprised me. The National Institute's Economic Review, No. 18, of November, 1961, analysed the difficulties of purchasing houses. A £2,250 house costs £256 a year to buy or £192 to rent. The lower income limit required to buy it would be £1,024, and only 12 per cent. of the population are in that income level. Therefore, if only 12 per cent. of the population can afford a £2,250 house and the average price of London properties is between £3,500 and £3,700, it is impossible for the overwhelming majority of Londoners even to consider purchasing a house of their own.
The big factor which emerges from the people in short-stay accommodation in London generally is that they are no longer problem families. They are not the people who are thrown out of houses because they ruin the furniture or are generally difficult to house. What emerges is that they are in short-stay accommodation usually on grounds of income. In 1961, 56 per cent., or over half, of the people in short-stay accommodation were earning less than £11 a 219 week gross. The number in short stay accommodation earning £12 a week was 74 per cent. Not one of those people could even consider purchasing a property.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) said, the question of rents is equally serious. The L.C.C. conducted a survey of rents and found that in 28 per cent. of all furnished properties rents of between £200 and £299 a year were being charged. It is often overlooked that anyone who is forced into rented accommodation at that sort of rent, because he is paying a rent of £4 to £6 a week is incapable of ever getting out because he is incapable of saving enough to make a deposit on a house.
We are faced with a tragic situation. The Minister and all hon. Members appreciate the difficulties. These are not people who buy big motor cars and spend all their money on drink. That is an old chestnut which, unfortunately, many still believe. These people are earning low incomes. It is frequently forgotten that over 38 per cent. of all the people in the country earn less than £13 a week. They are not capable of buying their own houses and getting out of their present situation.
We now have a new Minister. It is no secret that the last one was not very popular on this side of the House—not the last Minister but the one before him. The last one looked as if he might have all sorts of new ideas but he then vanished from us. We hope that the new Minister will look at the situation in London—with the realisation that this kind of thing cannot go on any longer.
We do not want a speech at the end of the debate telling us how many houses have been built by the Conservative Party as opposed to the Labour Party. [Laughter.] I frankly do not give a damn how many houses the Labour Party built. I am faced with the problem, as is every London hon. Member, of literally hundreds of people at this moment breaking their hearts because their kids are in children's homes, the husbands in furnished rooms and the wives wondering whether they will ever live a normal married life. They have done nothing other than live in London. The husbands do a normal decent job and have 220 committed no crime, but they live in a situation which would be a disgrace to any under-developed area in the world.
This is in the biggest metropolis in the world. It is shameful. I have a case which underlines this tragedy. A young man of 29 years of age with one small child came to see me recently. Five years ago he became ill with rheumatic fever and he has never properly recovered. He lives in very poor accommodation which is extremely damp and with water trickling down the walls. He has been advised that he has no prospect of recovery from the illness until he can get into decent warm dry accommodation. I wrote to the housing authority as follows:The above named has recently been to sec me with an exceptional housing problem and in view of its nature I wonder if you and the Committee would be prepared to give it special consideration with a view to taking it out of turn? He is 29 years old and five years ago was taken ill with rheumatic fever. He has never made a real recovery and has been unemployed for the whole of that period. His present accommodation is extremely damp and it is clearly stated by his medical advisers that he has no chance of a real recovery unless he can obtain dry accommodation. He has a 6 year old daughter, and is naturally becoming extremely depressed at the prospect of spending his future as an unemployable cripple.We all get these cases, but I can think of nothing more damning of the present situation than the fact that I had to tell him, after a lot of people had been troubled about his case, that there was nothing in 1962 that anyone can do for him, that there was no prospect of any accommodation in the foreseeable future. Of course, if the local authority had acceded to my request and allowed him to jump the queue it would have only have pushed someone else on to the list: it would have achieved nothing at all.
There are hundreds of these cases, and the number is growing every week. I hope the Minister will be able to assure us that the Government recognise the urgency of this matter and are prepared to take urgent measures for dealing with it.
§ 12.31 a.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
In the early part of his speech the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) raised a point which I hoped he was going to develop further. He said to my right 221 hon. Friend that if all the homeless in London were housed at once the same problem would be back with us in six months' time.
I have read with some care the report on the London homeless, and I have tried to discover from that—and I may have missed the point—how many dwellings would have to be provided each year to solve the problem of the London homeless. Let us see what is the magnitude of the problem stated as the number of homeless to be housed per year. We find the figures for the homeless at any one time. Last October there were 600-odd homeless families in the care of the London County Council. They are now over 800. But that is only the figure at a specific time. Some of them get houses quite quickly because they may be on housing lists already; some of them do not get houses for 12 months or 15 months. Let us suppose that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bermondsey was exaggerating a little bit and that there are some 800 families who need houses every 12 months.
In 1956, I think, London County Council set aside some 400 dwellings from its general list—if I may put it that way—and it then reduced the homeless very considerably. I think some of the Part III accommodation at that time was closed down because the allocation of dwellings from the normal list of the county council was providing sufficient homes for the homeless. That was when some 400 homes a year were being allocated specifically to the homeless. Over the past few years the county council has allocated only 50 from its general list. One can scarcely be surprised, in those circumstances, that the homeless numbers have risen, because, obviously, the housing of them has not gone on as quickly as before. I gather that the figure has now been raised from 50 to 75, but surely that is a very small figure to set against the 800 homeless families in the care of the county council at the moment.
§ Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)
I hope the hon. Member is not making the suggestion that London County Council is deliberately reducing the number of houses it allocates to the homeless. I am sure he realises that, with the emphasis on slum 222 clearance, more and more houses built by the county council have to go to those people who come out of the slums.
§ Mr. Page
I was about to develop that point. I do not say the London County Council is wrong in this. I am just saying that these are the figures, and one can scarcely be surprised that if only that number of houses is allocated from the general list to the homeless the number in Part III accommodation has risen. It may well be that the county council cannot provide more from its general list because, as the hon. Gentleman said, all its housing resources have been devoted to rehousing those displaced by sum clearance. The whole trend of rehousing has changed since 1955.
§ Mr. Frank Tomney (Hammersmith, North)
Even that is not the point. This is the point which the hon. Member is missing. He mentioned the peak year of 1956. In 1957—this is the operative year—we had the Rent Act, as a result of which people were evicted and became homeless. The year to take is not 1956. The London County Council is concerned with 1957 onwards. Surely the hon. Member will agree that any commodity which is in short supply, especially houses in capital cities like London, must of necessity be regulated. There has to be fair distribution. The point that the hon. Member has missed, and which my hon. Friend has missed, is that after 1957 when the Rent Act applied evictions took place, and the county council loss grew and it found that it could get subsidies only in respect of slum clearance. That is where the Government's plan fell down, and that is what they have to change.
§ Mr. Page
The hon. Member is not quite right with his figures. Homeless numbers did not increase in 1957. They did not increase until early 1960. In fact, they were still dropping between 1957 and 1959 in London. The increase did not result directly from the Rent Act. Whether it occurred indirectly after the three-year tenancies is another matter, but it did not result directly from the Rent Act.
When the hon. Member for Bermondsey suggested a return to some form of control, the point I was trying to make was that the control put on furnished 223 dwellings had not prevented people in furnished dwellings from becoming homeless and that to apply rent tribunals to unfurnished dwellings, as I understood he was suggesting, did not seem to me to be a solution to the problem at all.
What I am trying to find out is the number of homes which would have to be provided by the county council to meet this homeless problem, and when one has found out that number, how they are to be supplied. At the moment there is a net loss of dwellings in the county of about 1,000 a year. Over the period from 1955 to 1960 the net loss, as stated in the report, was 6,000 dwellings. Therefore, each year we are losing within the county about 1,000 dwellings. If we were not losing them, I imagine there would be no London homeless.
§ Sir K. Joseph
This part of my hon. Friend's argument is not based on fact. There has been on average a net gain of dwellings within the county, after allowing far slum clearance and demolition, of 12,000 a year between 1951 and 1961.
§ Mrs. Freda Corbet (Peckham)
That is not correct. It has been corrected. I have the figures for 1961. The total new housing amounts to 10,025 and demolitions 7,600, leaving a net gain of 2,400.
§ Sir Hugh Linstead (Putney)
If I may continue the interruption, paragraph 162 of the London County Council's report begins:The Council's operations during the period 1955–60 resulted in a net loss of 6,000 homes within the county.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order, order. May I make it quite plain that I deprecate, for sensible reasons I hope, interventions upon interventions.
§ Mr. Page
I am obliged, Mr. Speaker.
I take the correction. I understand that the figure does not take account of what the boroughs have done. That still leaves the problem of where to find the 224 houses to house the homeless. I do not think that an increase in Part III accommodation, which the county council has applied for the past few months, will solve it. It is only increasing the problem to house the homeless in such accommodation and not provide them with houses.
I was very impressed with the figures, given by the hon. Member for Bermondsey, of vacant property. He did not develop that argument to say whether it is the type of property which could be adapted or converted into homes for this type of person. I understand that the county council is now purchasing 350 houses a year in order to house the homeless.
If there are so many vacant properties, it may be that an increased number of purchases by the county council would be advisable. I believe I am right in saying that none of these purchases up to now have necessitated compulsory acquisition. I do not think there is need for the hon. Member to be quite so aggressive about this. If the county council desires to purchase houses for this purpose, it looks as if it does not have very much difficulty in doing so.
§ Mr. G. A. Pargiter (Southall)
The position has, of course, altered with regard to compulsory purchase. Whereas at one time the L.C.C. was able to purchase a house at what was considered a fair price, compulsory purchase now means that the full market price must be paid. Thus, even if it buys by compulsory purchase, it is liable to be no better off.
§ Mr. Page
I am glad to think that the market value is paid for these houses, otherwise the county council would have to use compulsory acquisition in order to get them. Now it gets them by private treaty. But I am not sure that the type of property which falls vacant is suitable for providing homes for the homeless. At any rate, it is a short-term policy to buy houses of that sort for such a purpose. It is not satisfactory as a long-term policy.
An alternative policy is, of course, temporary housing, which is very satisfactory. For instance, there are the temporary wooden houses we have on exhibition on the other side of the river and for which, I understand, there are 225 many sites available in the county. I believe the county council is only asking for about 200 a year of these. As a short-term policy I think that here lies the real solution. The county council should put 2,000 or 3,000 of them on bombed sites at once, where the services are ready to join up, and use them as a short-term measure for two or three years.
The long-term answer is, of course, comprehensive development, not development as it has been up to now, in blocks of flats isolated from shops and commercial property. There are many areas in London and fairly close in Which could be developed by the local authorities in cooperation with private enterprise if real comprehensive development plans ware laid down.
I want to deviate a little from London because the hon. Member for Bermondsey referred to the northern towns and complained that the population was moving from the north to the south and that there ought to be greater planning to keep the population in the north. Of course there ought to be. If we could only provide the industries round the northern towns, we would keep the population there.
I do not want the industries to be put there to attract the population back to the type of house in which people are living in many central Lancashire towns. Let us apply comprehensive development there too. Let us attract the industries to go there and at the same time do the building on a big and imaginative scale—not just a block of flats here and a block of flats there, but take in all the building resources to do the job. Let us take in not only local authority, not only private industry, but Exchequer resources as well, in the same way as we have in the new towns.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will not treat this debate just as one on London. We cannot treat it as that, because although a small proportion of London's homeless have lived here for over ten years, the figures show that the majority of them have not lived in London for that length of time but have come from other parts of the country. If industry attracts them back to the towns from whence they came, we may partially cure the homeless problem in London, but we shall only do so both 226 by putting the industries in the north and also by having imaginative plans for rebuilding those northern towns.
§ 12.47 a.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) seemed to be talking sense when he said that if only we could get more industry into northern towns we might stem this drift of population and ease the problem at both ends. But this did not seem to link up with what he said earlier when he tried to work out some finite figure of extra dwellings which he thought the London local authorities should build and thus solve the whole problem. The problem in London will not be solved while Government policy remains what it is and allows this drift of population to the south-east to continue, because in these circumstances there is no finite figure. If, in three years, the London County Council built 20,000 houses and then ceased building, the problem would undoubtedly re-appear before many months, or a few years, had gone by.
I hope that the Minister is honestly trying to understand this problem and means to do something to solve it, because we have had rather a lot of party speeches in reply to these debates, which rally have not carried things any further. I am glad that the Minister is listening to the debate, unlike the Leader of the Liberal Party who is apparently not interested in housing in London.
I start by tackling this problem from the human angle and quoting one letter which I received from a constituent of mine after this debate began. This constituent is a husband and father who is living with his parents in one room in Battersea, and his wife and three children are living with her father and mother in Aylesbury. These letters are not always very grammatical or literate. He says:This situation is causing our marriage to break up. We have got three children and another baby expected in September. My mother has not got the room to put them up so I have not got nowhere for them. Please could you help? I am writing to you, Sir, in desperation in order to save my marriage and to have my wife and children with me as I have been living apart like that is now for over 18 months.It is not very pleasant in these circumstances for us to tell such a man that 227 there is nothing we can do. This is only one case out of the appalling number which come to our notice every week in interviews and in letters of the kind from which I have just quoted.
What can we say to a constituent in this situation, who is earning £11 or £12 a week and who has not been long enough on the council housing list to have any chance of being rehoused because his council is dealing with slum clearance in the case of most of its new houses? It is absolutely out of the question for him to find any rented property. If one asks him to go to house agents or to read the advertisements he will laugh. The first thing that most landlords would say to him would be, "Three children, and another expected? It is absolutely out of the question". We sometimes read that local authorities do not allow people to keep cats and dogs in their flats, but the situation now is that private landlords do not allow people to keep children.
Am I to advise such a person—as I always try to do if there is the ghost of a chance—to go to the council or to a building society and try to borrow money to buy a house? I have some figures in my possession from the London County Council. Without going into them in detail, they show that for a house worth £3,000 and valued at £2,600 it would be necessary to find £6 a week, and that if it is valued at £3,000 the amount required is about £7 a week. We know that that is completely out of the question for the type of person to whom I am referring.
Are we to ask such an individual to try to get a house in a new town—as I have done on numerous occasions in the last ten or fifteen years? The requirement in this case is that he must get a job there first, and the problem is so difficult as to be almost insuperable. Therefore, I ask the Minister what we are supposed to do in these extremely depressing cases. The fault of such an unfortunate man is that he is earning only £11 or £12 a week. My hon. Friend for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) said, "Thank heaven we have people to sweep the roads and do these unskilled jobs", but I know of two cases where the unfortunate people concerned are 228 postmen—servants of the Government, whose income is determined by the Government under the pay pause. Under the Government's own incomes policy and housing policy it is impossible for such people with families to live in the capital city.
Has the Minister ever considered the Government's incomes policy, which determines the incomes of people like postmen and policemen, in relation to their rents policy? That is where we start, because it is where we are compelled to start when listening to our constituents. Does the Minister feel that he understands the causes of the situation that we have got into?
Here I link up with the hon. Member for Crosby. Putting it fairly crudely, it comes to this: what is happening, first, is that the population not just of the County of London or even of Greater London, but London and the south-east of England, is now increasing faster than the housing resources available, and faster than the housing resources can be made available if the general Government policy on industry and housing remains as it is. Why is the population increasing in this corner of the country? The answer is quite simple: it is increasing because the volume of employment there is increasing. The volume of employment, geographically speaking, determines the population. I do not think that the Minister would deny that.
Why is the volume of employment increasing at this rate in south-east England and the Greater London area? The answer to that is that the area is getting such a big share of the new commercial as opposed to industrial employment. I do not believe that there is any serious doubt that that is happening. We have no real control, from the geographical point of view in particular, over the development of office employment. So long as that is true, I say to the Minister and his hon. Friend that all the consequences will follow no matter how many temporary homes or houses are provided by the L.C.C. and other London councils. Incidentally, this problem is the same as the problem caused by the depopulation of Scotland and the migration of people from the north-east of England which we discussed in a recent 229 debate. The fact that people leave those areas gives rise to the housing shortage in London. Does the Minister doubt the fundamental truth of that diagnosis?
There has bean some confusion over the matter because the south-east of England is broken up into smaller and greater areas in connection with the problem It is true that the population of the County of London is falling. But the County of London is only one part of what I would call the area of travelling distance, and that is the economically significant area. It is the population within the area of 45 or 50 miles from the centre of London, within travelling distance, which is increasing, and the number of people who are seeking homes in central London and failing to find them, or in L.C.C. London, is determined by the number of jobs in the whole of the larger area. That is the explanation of what would seem to be the paradox, that there are fewer people in the County of London whereas the demand for houses is ever increasing. Therefore I think it follows inevitably that until we control the increase in the volume of employment in the larger area, we cannot solve this problem.
Looking at the problem superficially, a lot of people consider that the real trouble is that there is not enough land for the local authorities. They mean that unless we give up planning and abandon the green belt schemes and all the rest of it, it is not profitable to house the increasing population. We play a sort of game with the density rules and we try to say that the density shall not be more than so much in a certain area. That determines whether more than a certain number of rooms shall be allowed in an area. We are not determining the number of the population. A certain number of rooms are built and more people come because there is more employment. The number of people per room increases, overcrowding becomes worse and rents increase.
Some figures were given in the debate on the distribution of industry on 26th June. Whichever of those figures is quoted it confirms the general diagnosis. One of the most remarkable is that in Central London alone, an area even smaller than the County of London, the number has been increasing by 15,000 a year over the last 10 years. In the London and South-East Region 80 per 230 cent. of the new employment being created is not controlled by industrial development certificates at all which means that there is no effective control from the point of view of employment or the distribution of industry.
Another figure which shows what is happening is that in the ten years up 1958 planning permission was given for new office accommodation to provide employment for 300,000 people. The number of jobs in the County of London increased by 200,000 in the ten years between 1951 and 1961.
From 1951 to 1961 there was an increase in what is for this purpose called the conurbation—that is roughly the Greater London area, the inhabited area —of 176,000, whereas there was an increase in the three regions outside the conurbation of 363,000, which means a net increase in the larger area of about 200,000 during those years. That shows conclusively what has been happening.
That being the basic situation, it seems clear that the Rent Act was an incredible piece of folly and has made the situation infinitely worse. If we were living in a country where the pressure of population on housing and the volume of employment were even over the whole country, there might have been some case for a rent act and for the Minister's famous argument that it will all sort itself out. As the rent Act and the decontrol were applied to the extremely congested area into which people were trying to push, a dreadful shortage and soaring land values and rents were inevitably brought about
As is confirmed by all the figures given on creeping decontrol, the Rent Act has enabled the emigration from Liverpool and Scotland, and so on, into London to be speeded up. As long as the vast majority of rented accommodation was controlled and people had security of tenure, it was not at all easy for these houses to be obtained by somebody who wanted to leave Scotland or Liverpool. If people are evicted and houses with vacant possession are thrown on the market, anybody who can raise the money can press into London and push out the evicted people, who are then thrown on to the L.C.C. as homeless families demanding accommodation which does not exist. This is what has been happening.
231 In these circumstances it was an error to farce decontrol on London. If this is so, there is no argument about why homelessness has occurred over the past few years. It is probably true that the Landlord and Tenant Act, with the three years respite, somewhat postponed the full crescendo of it until after the Rent Act was passed. Now we are beginning to reap the harvest.
If this is so, I put it to the Minister that one of the main causes of this tragic situation is the uncontrolled office building which has been going on which is the main source of all the additional employment. The Coalition Government and the Labour Government at the end of the war made a mistake in not including offices as well as factories in the industrial development certificate procedure. I think that we all made a mistake then. We ought to be capable of amending our mistakes now rather than arguing about who is to blame for originally making them. There ware two mistakes. There are two difficulties to be overcome.
First, we cannot expect a local authority which now has the planning power to refuse permission to build an office in Central London in order to help to cure unemployment in Liverpool. That is not the job of the L.C.C. or the Middlesex County Council. Only a national authority can do that. It is therefore wrong in principle that we should try to control office building through the medium of local authorities, which simply have not the responsibility.
Secondly, as has already been said tonight, I do not think the Minister will deny that the compensation that the London County Council would have to pay under existing legislation—I know that we are not allowed to suggest a change of legislation—if it was reality going to embark on a policy of clamping down on new office building in London would be hopelessly and wildly beyond its present resources. The present position, I understand, is this, and I hope the Minister is a greater expert on this subject toy now than most of us: if planning permission is refused to redevelop office property on a site where there has been office property already and there is no change of use, unless one is prepared to allow the developer 232 not merely to redevelop but to add 10 per cent. of the cubic capacity, which may mean 50 per cent. more employment, compensation has to be paid at full market value.
If the Board of Trade refuses the Ford Motor Co. at Dagenham an I.D.C. to build a factory of 2 million square feet, nobody asks for compensation; nothing has to be paid and its costs the Government nothing. If the L.C.C. has to refuse permission to Mr. Clore or Mr. Cotton to redevelop office property, provided it is a site where there was office property before, millions may have to be paid. There is no reason why one system should apply in the case of factory building and quite another system in the case of office building.
The result of all this is that while the Board of Trade is, at any rate, doing something to restrain factory building with the idea of preventing congestion in London, all that it is doing is being entirely overwhelmed by the increased office building over which we have no control whatever.
§ Mr. Graham Page
Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that we now have greater office capacity in London than we had before the war, or have we not reached that point yet?
§ Mr. Jay
Speaking from memory, I think the total has increased from 80 million square feet to something like 120 million square feet, comparing 1961 with 1938. Even if that were not true— and I am sure it is true—it is obvious that now we ought to call a halt and institute some system of control.
I make these practical suggestions to the Minister, for if he will not do something about it we shall continue to get these oases. First, he must somehow bring office building into either the industrial development certificate system or something similar to it. The Government have produced an argument of principle against this idea. The argument is that whereas a factory is always built for a specific purpose and for a specific person, an office is put up speculatively for any number of people. The answer to the Minister is that that is not altogether true, and even if it were true it is totally irrelevant It is not true, because factories are also built as 233 advance factories, and not merely by the Government either. Nobody has suggested that a factory cannot be controlled by the I.D.C. system.
Even if it were true, it is just as possible to refuse permission or a licence for a block of offices when it is not known who is going to occupy them as it is when one does know who is going to occupy them. One merely says that it is not considered that another block of offices of that size should be built on Millbank or wherever it is. There is no substance in that argument of the Government's.
Somehow we have got to take this burden of compensation off the local authorities and put it on to the national Exchequer, for there is nowhere else where it can go. I would draw the Minister's attention to one sentence on page 41 of the Report on London Homelessness which we are discussing tonight. The authors of this Report state,The central Government should, therefore, be pressed to tax property owners and developers profiting from planning restrictions and the acute housing shortage which operates in their favour. The proceeds of the tax should be contributed to the cost of local authority housing in London.That is one way of raising compensation necessary for this purpose, but if the Minister does not do these more drastic things, then surely the Government should amend the provision by which an extra 10 per cent. of the cubic capacity is allowed to the office developers and, if they do not get it, they are allowed compensation even although the accommodation was not there before.
The Minister has told us that he was seriously thinking about this, but we have heard nothing since this subject was last raised in the House. One precise and concrete question I would ask is what is being done and has the Minister any intention of taking any action at all. If he finds this all too difficult and complicated, and if it involves legislation, there is an easy way out, an easy way of holding the situation until the legislative problem can be sorted out, and that is to apply building licences not only to the congested areas but to the whole of the country. Might he not do that if he really wishes to take this problem seriously?
234 The next thing is to apply the controls which we already have; the I.D.Cs to the factory building, and at least the planning machinery to restrict office and commercial development where, in fact, there was housing or some other form of residential property before. When we have got control, then of course it will be possible to make an impact on the problem by really stepping up the building of council houses, because when there is some form of control the obvious remedy is a real campaign for building council houses on a scale adequate to meat the needs.
I would make an amendment in so far as the new towns are concerned. It is comparatively seldom that we ever get any really bad housing cases into one of these towns outside London. We should relax the absolute rule which operates at present that somebody has to get a job before he can get a house. The unfortunate individual cannot get a house until he has a job to go to, but he cannot get a job until he has a house in which to live, and there is no way out of the vicious circle. If we allocated some of the accommodation in the new towns for those on the London housing lists and helped the people concerned to get jobs, we should make a greater impact on this problem. How many of the people getting houses in the London area new towns were badly housed before, and how many have come from central London? I suggest that it is not a great number.
The Earl of Dalkeith (Edinburgh. North)
Perhaps the new town of Livingstone in West Lothian is an example of how we can bring about the provision of houses with the provision of new jobs. Perhaps this is an example of what could be done all over the British Isles.
§ Mr. Jay
That may well be so, and the noble Lord will know more about that than I do; but I do not believe that we are at present using effectively the new towns around London as a contribution to the solution of London's housing problem. That is the depressing experience which I have in trying to get some of my constituents into the new towns.
While the emergency continues, we must encourage London local authori- 235 ties to buy up existing private properties, buying the empty houses which undoubtedly exist in various parts of London. I do not believe that this in itself can go a very long way to meet the problem or get over the gap, but it would do something.
The Government will have to do something to ease house purchase terms. It is quite fantastic to have rates of interest at 6 or 7 per cent. in force when purchase is the only possible means of escape for a great number of people who cannot find houses in any other way. If the Minister is not prepared to do this, he is really abandoning any pretence that he is aiming at any sort of property-owning democracy because, with present interest rates, people earning ordinary wages cannot buy houses at their present market values in London.
If the Minister wants to solve the problem and he wants to be practical, he should abandon the present plan for destroying the London County Council and farming out housing powers to a number of smaller London local authorities. This does not require legislation. It is the Minister's policy which requires legislation. I suggest that there should be no legislation on this matter. Even if the Minister institutes larger control schemes, we cannot achieve anything like success in dealing with the problem unless there is a really powerful London housing authority which can build houses right outside the green belt, which is the only place where there is any land left, and move into those houses people who come from the worst overcrowded areas of Central London. The only approach we have to such an authority at the moment is the London County Council. If we place housing powers wholly or mainly in the hands of smaller authorities, we shall lose some of the chance of success which we have already.
§ Mr. A. Evans
My right hon. Friend says that the London housing authorities should build right outside the green belt. Will he not agree with the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) in this matter, that housing and work must go together? Surely, to suggest that London housing authorities should build outside the green belt, without 236 provision of work and industry in those areas, goes against his own argument.
§ Mr. Jay
I take that point, of course, but I am thinking of the expanding towns which, as my hon. Friend knows, the London County Council is now building outside the green belt, together with work in the area—I accept that, of course—and I am pointing out that, if we give this up and ask Wandsworth, Battersea, Woolwich or Hampstead to solve their housing problems on their own, there will be no chance of achieving any success. These authorities have not the resources or the land, and they will not be able to do it.
Whatever the Minister may think of the details of this subject or of the suggestions which I have made, he must accept that, unless he acts as drastically and comprehensively as I have shown, he will never solve the problem. If he is not prepared to act in that way, he is not really taking the present situation seriously.
§ 1.19 a.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith(Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
I agree in large measure with the diagnosis of the problem propounded by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), and I agree with some of the suggestions he advanced, but I must take him up on one or two points. He said—and I know that this was his opinion long before this Report came out about London's homeless—that there has been a tremendous increase in employment in London and the Home Counties. I take the view, as does the right hon. Gentleman, that this is not an unmixed blessing for the economy as a whole.
The right hon. Gentleman thought that the Rent Act had exacerbated the problem of London's homeless by attracting to London people who in normal circumstances would not have been able to come here because, but for the Rent Act, they would have been living in controlled tenancies from which they refused to budge. This is the curious dilemma which we are in. If it was right and proper, as I think it was, that London should develop as a commercial centre and add to the prosperity of the nation, if it was right that London should develop as a port and add to the prosperity of the nation through coping 237 with increased export orders, and if it was right that the modern industries of the second industrial revolution, which centred in and around London in the 'thirties, should expand to improve our economic prosperity, as is the case with plastics and electronics, for example, would it not have been thoroughly reprehensible if people had not moved from the North, Scotland, the West and elsewhere to these industries which wanted the labour, and got it, and were able to sell their goods in increased abundance abroad? The prosperity of the country would have suffered had these people not moved to an area which was expanding because it was an area in which the new industries had settled.
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
I accept the point. The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that many of the industries to which I have referred have moved and expanded in Wales and elsewhere. All I am saying is that in the 'thirties it was thought right and proper that the south-eastern area should also take part in the new Industrial Revolution and should contribute to our progress. Efforts to induce industry to move elsewhere have met, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, with a fair measure of success in many areas.
The communications of London and the fact that London is a port has con-tributed to the expansion of the Home Counties area. Although this is desirable, I accept that the trend has gone too far. Therefore, like the right hon. Gentleman, I have come to the conclusion that this is not an unmixed blessing. The operative word, however, is "blessing". One must accept that this has resulted in a considerable addition to the economic prosperity of the country.
In terms of housing, it poses special problems of the kind which we are discussing tonight, on which I should like 238 to make some positive suggestions. It poses the problem, which all nations facing the second Industrial Revolution must cope with, of how to combine stability with progress. It would be possible to plan the country out of existence. The alternative is complete laissez-faire. I do not know of any country which is attempting to allow new industries to grow and to increase the prosperity of those areas, which does not in the course of that development have to face a number of new social problems or find that existing social problems and housing are exacerbated in the course of the change from one industry to another.
§ Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)
If the hon. Member is correct in saying that there has been great extension in the South-East and that it has been important for our export trade and our economy, does it not follow that any Government should simultaneously provide houses for the workers coming into the expanding areas? Is not that the difficulty of London? Is is not the difficulty of Slough?
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
I accept what the hon. Member says. That is why I admit fully that this is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the nation has gained through the economic prosperity of the London and Home Counties area by this expansion. On the other hand, I can see that we have lost from the sociological point of view and it has added to and exacerbated the problem of housing in this part of England.
§ Mr. Marsh
I am trying to follow the argument of the hon. Member. There appears to be a suggestion that the mere fact that there is an over-concentration of industry in London of itself makes some contribution to the national economy. I cannot understand why if industry were better planned and distributed it would not make the same, if not a better, contribution in that there would not be a short supply of labour.
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
If I followed the point of view of the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) to its logical conclusion, it would mean that industries must go where, from a housing point of view, it would contribute to the happiness of the nation. It would make some 239 contribution in that way, but I am suggesting that there will be good reasons from the economic and industrial point of view for saying that where particular industries should be in the national interest may not always be best from the housing point of view. One has to try to get this matter in balance. There is a limit to which one can go in inducing or forcing industry to keep to certain areas where there happens to be no housing problem. That is one of the criteria we have to take into account.
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
I agree that there is an over-concentration of employment in the London and Home Counties area, and it is not an unmixed blessing.
The right hon. Member fox Battersea, North made reference to offices. As he knows, my constituency contains a great many offices. I accept his view that in this respect there has been an over-concentration of offices in the central London area, but he suggested that the system of I.D.Cs. might apply to offices. I am not sure that I would go along with him in that. That would seem to shut out of the London area somewhat arbitrarily those firms which it might be in the national interest to have in the central part of London. If we have to have some sort of control and at the same allow some individual freedom, more fiscal measures might be employed to better effect.
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
If a factory is to be over 5,000 square feet it is better that it should go elsewhere, but if it were arbitrarily decided that such-and-such an office block should not go up we might prevent a firm having offices in London when it would be desirable from a national point of view for that to happen. I am suggesting that if we are to have some system of control and to encourage decentralisation from London without denying completely some individual freedom of choice, a system of tax such as is employed by the French Government with a zoning system with the higher the tax the nearer to the 240 centre of the city might be the best way of accomplishing the sort of thing which the right hon. Member and I have in mind.
My remarks really fall into two parts. May I just make a short comment on what I regard as the short-run problem of London's homeless families? I think the report commissioned by the L.C.C. makes it quite clear that this is something not caused by the Rent Act, as some people last year suggested it was, and that the fundamental causes in the long term are derived from the economic growth of London and the Home Counties area. It pointed out—and I would agree—that a supply of privately rented accommodation is declining and the reason fox that—I think fairly given —is local authorities' own redevelopment schemes and slum clearance activities. In addition I would add—and I think the Report also makes mention of the fact—that the proportion of low-wage earners in London is declining and in certain areas, which hitherto have provided a stock of low-rented accommodation for the low-wage earners, it is disappearing from the market as the higher paid professional and clerical workers tend to rediscover and move into parts of London which were considered not particularly fashionable, and also because of their jobs. All this, I would have thought, accounts basically for the difficulties which face many of the families who find themselves homeless.
I would have thought the proportion of people who are homeless in London, some 800 families, is not so great that in the short term the L.C.C. could not deal with it without any form of subvention from the Government. My surprise is that the L.C.C. woke up so late to this problem. After all, I remember when, not so many years ago, the Rent Act was passed, we were solemnly assured by the members of the county council that there would be some 3,000 homeless families. Here the council some years after the passing of the Act is falling down on the job with nowhere near 3,000 homeless families. It seems to me that the council have the resources, and it certainly had the powers, to buy up or negotiate acquisition of vacant property. I am glad to note that this is what the council has been doing in recent months. My criticism of its policy is that it has done this too slowly.
241 It is interesting to note, too, that though there is a shortage of building sites in. London there is a sufficient number of the small sites on which to put mobile homes. Here again I think the county council has been dilatory—in providing mobile homes on those sites. It has made a start, and this is encouraging news, but none of these things had to be left to the Government to deal with. I should have thought the L.C.C. perfectly capable of dealing with them.
In the long term I would accept straight away that the Government themselves have most tremendous responsibility, first, in steering the increase in jobs in London and the Home Counties to the North and West, and secondly, in encouraging the development of the twilight areas of London. This is the tackling of the job from both ends, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred: inducement to industry to move to the North, inducements for offices particularly to move out of London: and, at the same time, making proper use of the land which is available for redevelopment in London.
I feel that this can be done by partnership between local authorities and private industry. Local authorities can buy land by compulsory purchase order, but they rarely command the necessary skills for large-scale development and can rarely risk the capital expenditure involved because they have to balance their accounts on an annual basis, and when a local authority wants to develop land, there is often a lean period between purchase of the land and its redevelopment. On the other hand, when we look at some of the large private agencies we appreciate that there is no shortage of skill there, and there is certainly no shortage of money. But they lack compulsory purchase powers. Surely this leads one to believe that there could be a happy marriage between these two organisations.
There is also a third organisation which I do not think we have sufficiently explored, though a beginning has been made. I refer to the housing association movement. Housing associations can apply for compulsory purchase orders, they qualify for subsidies in the same way as local authorities do, and they can 242 borrow from private groups as well as from local authorities.
In this connection, it is interesting to note that the Minister's predecessor has put his name to a most inspiring document entitled "Town centres: an approach to renewal", and has suggested to local authorities that they should seek out private developers and attempt to work out with them comprehensive schemes for redevelopment along these lines. It is suggested that the local authority should define an area as one for comprehensive redevelopment and encourage co-operation by private developers, and the private developers should buy such land as they are able to by agreement, and where they run into difficulties they should enlist the aid of the local authority for the purpose of compulsory purchase. Having obtained the area in this way, the private company, it is suggested by the bulletin, could transfer the freehold of the land to the local authority, which would grant a long lease in return.
This seems to mark a very important step forward in the thinking of the Ministry of Housing. These ideas have been foreshadowed by the Civic Trust and many of my hon. Friends. I hope that when my right hon Friend replies he will give us an assurance that his mind is working along these lines and that the thoughts contained in the Ministry bulletin have his wholehearted support.
I would suggest something which goes a little further than the bulletin. There are depressed and rather shabby areas in some northern towns which the local authority cannot develop and where private enterprise is not attracted. One wonders to what extent one might consider the setting up of a kind of development corporation on a more regional basis.
I have two points to raise in passing. In regard to comprehensive development schemes for twilight areas of London, I hope that schemes which are put forward to the Ministry will take into account that the densities are remarkably low. I know that much can be said about local authorities asking County Hall and the Ministry to agree to much higher densities in the London area, but it seems to me that in some areas the 243 densities are extremely low. In London some 35,000 acres are devoted to housing and the average density is 85 persons per acre. What a difference an extra two per acre would make in accommodating households! Obviously, one could not expect an extra two per acre over the whole area, but there are certain parts of Lewisham which have 50 people per acre, which gives the impression of thinking still in village terms.
The question of interest rates has been raised. I accept that on occasion they need to be high and flexible if we are to run an international currency like the £ sterling. But I note that, when it comes to encouraging people to export, it has not been beyond the wit of the Government, through the Export Credits Guarantee Department and the recent scheme with the banks and insurance companies, to help firms to obtain low cost fixed interest loans for exporting.
Why should there not be a similar scheme for big projects of redevelopment, particularly in the North? This might act as an inducement to the quick redevelopment of such areas and this in turn would be likely to encourage industry to go there. It may be that such projects need the pump priming which low interest loans could give.
§ 1.40 a.m.
§ Mr. G. A. Pargiter (Southall)
The tendency tonight is to think largely in terms of the County of London whereas this problem of the homeless family goes far beyond its boundaries. I have been interested to hear the academic approach of Members opposite. It is an approach we often hear from them towards these human problems.
They talk of such things as housing associations, but that is not much good to a homeless family, which has not the chance to join such an association, nor indeed has the roots which would encourage it to do so. This shows how far divorced Members opposite are from this problem.
The suggestion is also that this commercial movement to London should be allowed to go on, but one thing we have not heard is about how, when there is new housing development to go with it, we have also to develop new services such as schools and sewerage. Yet these 244 things exist already in towns in the North which are being denuded because the Government have no national outlook or plan.
We see areas with perfectly good services being denuded while we have to develop new services in other areas. There is no sense in it. It is carrying the doctrine of free enterprise to a completely illogical and silly conclusion. It is time we considered what we are doing with our existing resources.
The idea has been put forward by Members opposite that local authorities could encourage private developers by helping them out with compulsory purchase orders. The alternative we favour is rather more proper. It is that a local authority should acquire the whole of the area concerned and put re-development out to competitive tender so that it might get some of its money back for the public purse.
That is the proper way to do it, and that is the proper form of development if it is proposed to use private industry to carry it out. There must be no question of the local authorities being used to acquire, by compulsory purchase if necessary, property which is then to be developed by a private developer. Very often a local authority gets no return for the difficult work which it is required to do. Any development which takes place should be for the benefit of the community as a whole. If a private developer contributes to the development he should be paid for his work, but he should not get all the sweets. I hope that we shall not hear too much about the idea of partnership agreements which merely require local authorities to help private developers over their difficulties in acquiring areas for development.
§ Mr. G. Johnson Smith
I assume that the hon. Gentleman was commenting on a suggestion that I made. I should like to disabuse his mind of the fact that that was my suggestion. If he reads my speech in HANSARD he will see that I suggested that the freehold should pass to the local authority concerned.
§ Mr. Pargiter
I thought that the hon. Gentleman was extolling the idea that where necessary local authorities should come to the rescue of private developers, by compulsory purchase if necessary. That is what the hon. Gentleman said, 245 but I accept that he did not mean that, and perhaps he will come across to the ideas that I have propounded.
In connection with the problem of homeless families in the Greater London area, I have taken the trouble to extract some figures for Middlesex where the difference is not one of degree, but one of total quantity, comparable in many respects with that of London's problem. It has been a source of great concern to my county council for many years. We have not the advantages of London. We are not a housing authority, and therefore once we get these homeless families we have great difficulty in moving them on, and in this respect we are probably one of the most hard pressed county councils in the country.
The problem of homeless families is largely a housing problem, because few of them are welfare cases. The majority are genuine homeless families and are really the concern of the housing authorities. In Middlesex these are the borough and district councils, and they cannot deal with the problem they come to us as the welfare authority for help. But we cannot help, and in fact have to ask them to take some families off our hands, and so the position gets steadily worse.
I am wondering what will happen when Middlesex is abolished and the various properties that we have for homeless families are transferred to the various boroughs. From a list that I have, I see that families are housed in Ilseworth, Ruislip, Finchley, Ealing, Edgware and Wembley, and that there are hostels for women and children only in Isleworth, Dartmouth Road, and Harlesden. In addition we have a few other properties which are being used, but they do not account for very much. How will these be sorted out amongst the various new boroughs which will have to deal with this problem of the homeless? Every local authority, if it does its job properly, could use all this accommodation and a lot more, and I wonder how far there will be any question of sharing betwen one authority and another. That shows that it is not just a question of saying that these properties go into the new boroughs where they are situated. Not only in this respect but in many others that will create many problems.
246 The human aspect of the matter is brought home to me very frequently in my constituency. At my "surgeries", although I gat a few pension and other cases, the vast majority concern housing. I have to tell people that there is nothing I can do. I write to the council and get a stereotyped reply, saying that it has a housing list of so many people, and even though the person concerned may be on the priority list the council can give no promise when it can rehouse the family concerned.
Only a day or two ago a woman came to see me in a very worried state. Her family is homeless, through no fault of its own. The two young children have had to be taken into the care of the county council. We have no places in Middlesex, and have had to put them into a home in Deal, in Kent. The woman is worried because her children are growing away from her. The baby is reaching the stage of not knowing the mother, and the older one is becoming disinterested in the parents. Although, individually, hon. Members opposite may be affected by this type of case they are not worried collectively, in spite of their claim to be upholders of family life. Their Rent Act has done a sight more to destroy it than any other Act passed in this century or the last. We might as well be clear about the way in which this situation has developed.
In Middlesex at present the numbers of these homeless families are constantly rising. In our hostels we now have a total of 134 families, consisting of 93 men, 134 women and 426 children. The problem of children constantly arises, and it always will, because these are essentially young families with children, who get turned out of furnished accommodation and cannot find any alternative. The numbers are continuing to increase. We have 160 families, some of whom we have got into so-called voluntary homes and other such places, under an arrangement where we pay for the cost of these families. No less than 502 children are involved.
There are various schemes in which the county council tries to co-operate with the district councils in finding accommodation. We have been to the county district councils and, after a great deal of pressure and pleading, we have 247 succeeded in persuading the majority to agree to take one homeless family each, in each year, from Middlesex. There are 26 districts, so that with a little luck we might get 26 families a year housed out of the total that we are getting constantly applying to us. It is not a large contribution that we are able to make in this way.
It is interesting to note the number of people being turned out of their houses without court orders. Taking six-monthly periods, in the last half of 1960 the number evicted by court order for arrears of rent was 26; in the same period in 1961 the figure was 25, and for the first half of 1962 it was 22. The number is not increasing. The next largest number relate to cases where the landlords required possession of furnished or unfurnished accommodation. In the first period there were 17 cases, in the second 27 and in the third 14. There is not a vast increase in cases where court orders are involved.
But when we turn to cases of arrears of rent where court orders are not involved we find there has been a rise from 14 to 30. That rise may be accounted for partly by the fact that there has been some stagnation of the economy and depression in the last period. In the cases where the landlords required possession of furnished or unfurnished accommodation, the numbers were 133 in the first period. 162 in the second, and 156 in the third. This means that the total number we have had over the three periods of six months are 411, 523 and 557 respectively. In other words, there is a progressive increase. This is what is creating the big problem, and one cannot see an end to it.
How have we been able to deal with this? Taking the last six months ending on 30th June of this year, we admitted 53 to welfare establishments; 7 to voluntary homes; 54 children only admitted to voluntary homes; 2 to mother and baby homes: 6 to other local authority hostels. This makes a total of 68 family units and 54 children admitted to voluntary homes when no other accommodation could be found. Of those not chargeable to the welfare committee. 17 went to voluntary homes; 5 to mother and baby homes and only 248 13 refused the accommodation offered. Heaven knows, it is pretty poor accommodation that is offered, but only 13 refused it. In only six months the county council was unable to find accommodation for 213 families. In six months 143 children were taken into care by the children's officer. In these cases the parents had been told that they would have to fend for themselves because nothing could be done for them. If they had to sleep rough, that was too bad, but the authority saw that there was a roof over the heads of the children. There were 241 cases where no further action was required. They were people who had come along to see what was the position and gone away again and heaven knows what has become of them. So in that period there were 577 family units dealt with and 197 children taken into care separately.
I have an additional note relating to children and the alarming growth in the total of those taken into care. For the six months ending 30th June, 132 children where received into care and for the corresponding period in 1961 the total was 81. The children's officer reported that the number of children taken into care owing to homelessness was putting a big strain on other sections of the services offered by the county council. The breaking up of families is one of the most serious aspects of the problem. Troubles and difficulties arise where there are two families in one house. Nothing will cause trouble more quickly than two women having to use the same gas stove and kitchen sink. Perhaps a married daughter had been allowed to live with her parents because of lack of accommodation and this often results in friction and strain. Sometimes the children are split up, one with one family and one with another. There are not isolated cases. There are vast numbers of them. There seems to be no solution. Unless the Government can indicate some new approach, I do not know what the answer is.
We were told that the 1957 Act would bring about a turnover of properties. The turnover has happened in this way. What were called the middle class families are moving downwards in accommodation because of the higher rents 249 being charged. Others, who might formerly have been able to afford a house, are moving a little lower still into rooms. Others are moving into hostels provided by local authorities. It is a process of change, but is a constantly deteriorating process due to the operation of the Rent Act and the high rents being charged for all kinds of accommodation. From the middle class downwards, everyone is feeling the squeeze.
A family came to me the other day. The children are in a home. The husband and wife are working like blazes to save money. They cannot afford the deposit on a house, because the husband's income would not qualify him for a mortgage. They are doing their best to find the money to be able to afford one of these extortionate places where £200 or £300 is required for so-called fixtures and fittings. It is not that they think that this is the proper solution. This is the only way they can see of getting the family together again. These people deserve a better fate than that which is being meted out to them.
Almost everywhere in the Greater London Area if the local authority were to enforce its statutory duties with regard to overcrowding there would be riots in every borough in London. The local authorities dare not enforce the law at present.
§ Sir K. Joseph indicated assent.
§ Mr. Pargiter
The Minister admits it. What are the Government going to do about it? They have some responsibility to see that the laws they make are obeyed, even by local authorities. If local authorities defaulted on the question of their loan charges the Government would step in vary quickly. Why not step in now to do something about overcrowding?
In my constituency this is aggravated by the fact there is a 9 per cent. or 10 per cent. coloured population, due to the influx of coloured workers because of the nature of the work provided in the area. God knows what the overcrowding position is there. Nobody is able to ascertain it. I have complaints about overcrowding. I have asked the local authority to investigate them. The local authority says, "As far as we can see, the house may not be overcrowded." The council just does not know. In an ordinary house the number of beds can 250 be counted. In these places the number of beds cannot be counted, because some of the occupants sleep on the floor and roll their blankets up. It is difficult to find out how many people are living in these places. Local authorities are powerless in these cases to deal with the overcrowding.
This creates racial problems, with a coloured family and a white family living next door to each other. The interruptions and the differences in social standards are creating a very grave difficulty in constituencies like mine where these people are living cheek by jowl.
The problem could be solved if the Government would take steps to provide houses for coloured workers who have been invited to come here. In many cases they have been encouraged to come by employers who have needed their labour. The social problem which is being created should be faced squarely by the Government. It is more than the local authorities can be expected to deal with.
These are the problems as I see them. What of the solutions? If we can begin to depopulate the Greater London area, it may be helpful. The last families to go are the people who are in the worst position at present. They are the sort of people who are in the welfare establishments because they have not got the same freedom of movement. First, they are very often without furniture and without means. In the majority of cases they are unskilled. It is no good recommending them to go to new towns because the new towns will not take them unless they have a skill. The chances are that the new towns will not promise them houses; they have got to reside in the area six months or more. Therefore, they have to keep two homes going for six months, which is an impossibility.
The suggestion has been made that we can do with a greater density. But the Ministry proposals are for greater density where the density is already great. I do not find any urge to increase the density in places like Hendon and Harrow and the outer areas of Middlesex where densities are very low. One does not find any desire to increase the density in "Millionaires' Row" in Hampstead. In any case, one would be told that the cost of the property is 251 such that there would be no point in increasing the density there.
If there is to be an increase of density, let us have it all round, in places where there are houses with very few occupants and where we could well afford to have an increased density. I should like to see a Minister who has enough courage to authorise local authorities to requisition part of some of these large houses and to put one or two families in. It might bring home to these areas the problem with which we have to deal. If the burden were spread, there would be a smaller burden for us all to bear.
I have spoken up particularly on behalf of Middlesex. We have the problem but we have not the powers of a housing authority to deal with it. We can only plead with the local housing authorities to take the people off our hands—
§ Commander J. S. Kerans (The Hartlepools)
May I ask the hon. Member a question about this problem of immigrants? Would he not agree that they have been exploited by their own people and that this is one of the problems which we are facing in the London area? I live in the London area, and it is a very difficult problem.
§ Mr. Pargiter
I am not sure that I understood the question entirely. Exploitation is an aspect of the problem, but exploitation is a general question. We have exploitation by the big property-owning landlords—an example which is followed by people lower down the scale. I am not saying that exploitation does not take place.
We have been talking about the problem of absence of control over furnished or unfurnished accommodation which is decontrolled, and while in many cases the landlords are glad to provide accommodation to couples, as soon as they get children the landlords say "Out you go." It is a form of exploitation, quite apart from rent. It is an exploitation and a punishment because a couple have the temerity to have children. I am not arguing that the question of exploitation is applicable to any particular class. I would say that it is pretty general.
The answer is that if we have a Government who believe in the law of supply and demand and who accept as a 252 general basic principle in their philosophy that the law of supply and demand must work, they believe that the principle of exploitation must work as well. The Government must realise that the law of supply and demand cannot work in relation to housing. I am sorry that I made that additional point in response to the intervention from the benches opposite, but certainly this is a problem which we have in mind. If I have not developed it fully, it is not because I was not aware of it. It was because the matter had already been dealt with by other speakers.
I hope that, apart from considering legislation, the Minister will have some concrete proposals to make for the Greater London area. I hope, too, that he will not consider the matter merely in terms of numbers, for every one of these cases represents a separate, individual and tragic problem which is the responsibility of the nation as a whole. The nation works through the Government, and it is the Government to whom we look for taking the lead.
§ 2.10 a.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
Earlier in this debate the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) taunted us on this side because, he said, those of us who spoke were not representatives of London divisions, but I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and other hon. Members who do not represent London divisions may well have connections with London. I represent a Cornish constituency and have lived in the West Country, but for the last thirty years my name has appeared in the Law List as a solicitor with a London address and for the last twenty years I have had a London address which entitles me to a London local government vote.
My reason for speaking tonight is that my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) raised a point which was linked to something said by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) about comprehensive development. The right hon. Gentleman was very apprehensive as to what would be the effect of office development on the provision of housing in London, and mentioned property developers. One of the biggest owners of ground in London which is not fully developed is British Railways. British Railways own a very 253 large area which has not been properly developed because the law was that the railways could own land and sell it if that was the desire but that this land could not be developed except for what were known as railway purposes. So, even in the case of the most valuable sites—some of them of grass, right in the middle of London—nothing was done. I can remember about eleven acres behind Earl's Court which had not been used for years because it was thought that the railways might need it some day.
There are large areas not being used, although in recent legislation we have given British Railways—or the Railways Board as it will be called in the future— power to develop that land and let it out for what might be called non-railway purposes; but the development, I am told, is taking place very slowly. That is because the only way to deal with it would be by comprehensive development, in which there would have to be a considerable amount of office accommodation in order that it could be a paying proposition. Because there is opposition in some quarters to more office building the whole scheme is hanging fire. Comprehensive schemes intended to include flats as well as office accommodation are not being proceeded with, and this is having an adverse effect on one effort to provide housing accommodation for London. Some of these sites, if comprehensively developed, would be very helpful.
It is not the drift into other areas, to which the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) referred, making people pay exorbitant prices for small houses intended to be workers' houses, and developing them for other living accommodation.
§ Mr. Mellish
With respect, I did not say that. I said that when property became available the owners held on to it instead of letting it to ordinary people who were on the waiting list or in need in order that they could gain vacant possession. Once a man has vacant possession of a house he can get a very lucrative figure for it, as the hon. Member will agree. Today, a £2,000 house will sell for, perhaps, £4,000 or £5,000, with vacant possession. I did not say that there was a change of use.
§ Mr. Wilson
There are areas south of the river where quite a lot of money is being spent on houses which, after they have been done up—and very nicely done up, some of them—are sold for three, four or five times their previous price. The developer is entitled to do that. He has spent money on the houses, and they are very nice places.
§ Mr. Mellish
But will not the hon. Gentleman agree that, in times of scarcity like this, even though the developers do all that work, there comes a point when they ought to take into account people's needs, not the amount of money they have in their pockets? Does he suggest that the private property owner has no responsibility in the matter at all?
§ Mr. Wilson
The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood my point. I am saying that there is a shortage because of the development of London. There is a shortage not only in what used to be the workers' areas, but there is a shortage in other areas, too. If the railway lands of which I have been speaking were developed comprehensively with flats and offices, there would not be the overspill from the north of the river to the south —that is what I am particularly thinking of—which does, perhaps, mean that there is less accommodation there than on the other Slide. I am very glad to live on the south side of the river, but it is the fact that there is quite a lot of development going on such as I have described. At the same time, there is spare land which has been wasted all around our big railway stations, and this land could and should be developed. I hope that the Minister will look into this and ensure that any impediments to its speedy and proper development are overcome.
§ 2.18 a.m.
§ Mrs. Freda Corbet (Peckham)
I am very grateful for what has been said tonight by various speakers, and I particularly commend to the Minister the views expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay). My right hon. Friend devoted his attention principally to the long-term situation. I hope that the Minister will not rush into giving an answer tonight. I would much rather wait a little so that we have an answer which is not just "No". I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will take very seriously the 255 problem which exists not only in London but, as we have heard, in Middlesex to a growing extent. He will know also from the Report of the London County Council's Committee of Inquiry that Birmingham, too, has a problem which is probably commensurate with London's.
The facts support the thesis of the Committee of Inquiry that homelessness is one of the things which prosperity— the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras. South (Mr. G. Johnson Smith) was quite right to call it a mixed blessing—brings in its train. Similar problems are to be found in flourishing cities in other parts of the world. A measure of homelessness seems to accompany growing prosperity. It is for this House to try to determine that this miserable, grievous state of affairs shall not persist.
What we sometimes forget is that the actual numbers of homeless are what is showing on the top of an iceberg, which is about one-tenth. Given any great encouragement, the potential homeless would easily be nine times as great. London Members of Parliament, like Members from other places, know that hovering on the brink of homelessness are many thousands of people, the kind of people described by my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter), families living in restricted accommodation with their parents, for example, both in private and, to a large extent, in council property. That is one of the things that any administration has to take into account. A housing authority cannot give to all and sundry the impression that all one has to do is to render oneself homeless to get a dwelling which one has not been able to have before.
From the Minister's meeting with the London County Council on Friday, we gathered that he agrees that the possibility of queue jumping must be reduced to the minimum. It was agreed that what had to be done was to increase the supply of available housing so that it should be possible to meet the demand. The Minister was anxious to ascertain whether the London County Council was building to capacity. The council has undertaken to have an inquiry with the Ministry's officials so that the Minis- 256 ter may be satisfied that that is the case. The L.C.C. for its part will be glad to receive from the Minister any help whatever in speeding up its programme.
The House will be delighted to know that the London County Council is on the way to introducing the Danish standardised type of dwelling, which, I gather, can be erected at an amazing rate. I do not know what that rate is, but one has a picture of dwellings being put up rather as easily as skittles which have been knocked over are stood up again. The council is doing as much as it can and it will be pleased to have as much support from the Minister as possible.
What, perhaps, the Minister does not appreciate is that although the London County Council is a wealthy body and is prepared to spend, not lavishly, but generously, upon its services, its services are many and wide. On town planning alone, to remove, say, factories and workshops situated among residential properties, while the council spends £½ million a year for this purpose, it could very well spend at least £10 million to meet the needs. It has to cut its coat according to its cloth. Wealthy as it is, it is not possible for any authority to spend regardless of any particular problem which confronts it.
The Minister was extremely interested in the council's purchase of vacant properties, especially to rehouse homeless families. Hon. Members have mentioned that tonight. I think he was rather incredulous when our officials assured him that the number we were purchasing at the moment with a selling price of £3,500 was as many as it would be possible to purchase. The House will appreciate that if the selling price was raised to £4,500 there would be a good many houses available, but then we come up against the problem of whether we should purchase for families which have been rendered homeless the type of property for which one pays £4,500 and realise that thousands on the waiting list living in congested conditions for many years have to watch that being done? That is a problem which any body such as the county council is up against.
I will tell the Minister what has happened in regard to purchase of property 257 in my borough of Camberwell. London County Council does not by any means take the whole of this problem on to its own shoulders. Although the twenty-eight metropolitan boroughs do not actually provide welfare accommodation for homeless families, they do a yeoman task in preventing families from becoming homeless. The Minister knows of the compulsory purchase orders which borough councils have asked permission to impose. Camberwell has been extremely busy buying empty property to prevent people being evicted. In the most salubrious part of Camberwell, Dulwich College Estates has vast territories. I am told that it will not sell its properties.
I hope that the Minister will take note of this. I think that he should try to get the co-operation of bodies such as the Dulwich College Estates, which is something like the railway authority in wanting to develop what it has in order to make it pay and get greater income for its work. One understands that. Nevertheless, there is a happy medium. There should be some co-operation between bodies of that kind and councils in trying to deal with these problems. Dulwich College Estates is busy developing and building houses of the £15,000 type. They will not be houses which any working people can buy, nor which I imagine middle class people. I hope the Minister will see Camberwell Council on this matter, which it has been pressing for a long time.
§ Mrs. Corbet
My hon. Friend gives interesting information and, talking of that kind of thing, I think London Hospital was responsible for something similar, tenants being evicted in order that the hospital could develop, and an appeal to the regional board produced no results. I saw a letter in the Evening Standard about it a short time ago, but I have not got the cutting with me.
Camberwell had the problem of threatened evictions in one road and the council bought eight houses from which people were being evicted and it made 258 them available. The council not only lost money but lost four housing units. Now in the same road three more notices to quit are being served. This is what it costs Camberwell—£2,500 to buy a house, plus £2,000 to convert it. It puts tenants in at a rent of two-thirds the gross value, and adding the improvement grant the annual loss per year on each family is from £90 to £120. Plus, of course, the housing loss.
Camberwell Council tells me it may have to discontinue this operation, which is very helpful in preventing homeless-ness and which lessens the burden on the county council, unless it gets something in the nature of the Section 11 grant which was given in respect of derequisitioned houses, and that was 75 per cent. of the loss. The Minister will be aware that the A.M.C. is to see him on this very point of the increase in the improvement grant.
Here is another problem. The borough council is known to be willing to acquire these houses and the owners of really bad property are now threatening their tenants with eviction because they know they can sell the property at the district valuer's price, which is vacant possession price; but those houses are tenanted. This is the problem we have all got to face, when it is known that county councils and borough councils will buy any property. I beg the Minister to realise that there are difficulties in this matter.
Incidentally, Camberwell housing list is 4,400—in Camberwell alone; and that is only one of the 28 Metropolitan boroughs. There are 8,000 Council properties in the area now. I am very glad to know that the Minister does accept the serious nature of this problem and that he does realise that there are about 60,000 applicants in extreme need on the London County Council's waiting list, and that the number when the county council can rehouse from that list in about three years, after all provision has been made for slum clearance, school building, road widening, and open spaces, is about 5,000. All London Members of the House are only too well aware of this.
What I feel is that even if we treble the present output, if we do not set some limit to the magnetism of London the housing problem will go on increasing. 259 I recognise the argument of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South about the prosperity of London, and none of us would have been without that prosperity, but the time has come to realise that the housing problem, with the prosperity, is like the road problem: the more we widen the roads to take the oars, the more oars there are. We must stop the magnetism of the prosperity of London. We must try to devise some methods. I do not know what the methods are. It is for the Ministry to determine them. But some must be devised, if the problem is not to go on increasing. I am sorry to inform the House that homeless families are increasing by 10 every week in London. Where we snail be at the end of the year one is not sure.
§ Mr. A. Evans
My horn. Friend has given us the alarming news that the number of homeless families in London is increasing by 10 a week. Does it mean 10 additional homeless families coming to the London County Council each week or that the number of homeless families being dealt with by the welfare department is increasing by 10 a week?
§ Mrs. Corbet
It is the latter. After some have been rehoused, the balance is increased by 10 every week. That is a great grief to the council. Many of its members are women, and they are concerned deeply with this problem, for they appreciate the sufferings of the women and families. We had hoped that we should no longer have to segregate men from their wives and children, but the council has had to return to that practice. We now have about 180 families which are segregated. We are also having to reopen some of the old welfare accommodation which we had hoped would never be needed again.
All the symptoms at the moment, particularly the figures given by my hon. Friend the Member for Southall, point to the fact that the problem is increasing. There are many causes, and one of them was the Rent Act, 1957, accompanied by what is termed creeping decontrol, with statutory tenancies beginning in 1914 coming to an end. These things have come about at the same time.
We are very grateful for the committee of inquiry, which has been able to tell 260 us more definitely what most of us suspected. We hoped it would not be so. We desperately wished that it need not be so. But our worst fears have been confirmed, and I am sure that the House and the Minister are determined to do their utmost to deal with the problem.
§ 2.38 a.m.
§ Mr. Compton Carr (Barons Court)
The hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) said that over here we were getting a little high level about this very personal and human problem. I am afraid that I am not able to reach such high levels. I am not an expert on housing, but I see as much of it as any other London Member at the ordinary personal individual level.
One of the things my constituents ask me at the moment is why a home is knocked down in order to make possible not only office construction but also the building of light industrial premises. A notice in one of the more prominent roads in my constituency states that it has been zoned for light industrial premises by the London County Council, and a number of my constituents are asking me why homes were knocked down in order to round that space off.
Other hon. Members have raised what I think is a very interesting point. I am not technically qualified to comment on it, but it seems to me to be one part of the London scene that we have not really looked at.
§ Mr. Mellish
The hon. Member asks why this happens in London. He is a member of the L.C.C. He should ask the question at that level and get the answer.
§ Mr. Compton Carr
I was not asking why it was happening. I said that my constituents had been asking.
§ Mr. Compton Carr
I do. The answer is because the L.C.C. is not quite so settled in its mind as to what to do about housing as it makes out.
§ Mrs. Corbet
The hon. Gentleman knows that there is a development plan for London which has been approved by the Minister, and that that plan zones London for such purposes as light 261 industry, residences, commercial property and so on. Once an area has been zoned for light industry, then light industry has the right to go there. If it is, after all, denied the chance, the County Council must pay compensation.
§ Mr. Compton Carr
That is what I say makes certain that the L.C.C. was too short-sighted about its housing problem.
Another point which ties in with the question of zoning for light industry is the fact that these premises are very often single storeyed or two- or three-storeyed, even in Central London. As the underground trains come into the open in my constituency, one can see the single-storey factories taking up a great deal of space. People there are beginning to ask why residential property should not be built over these premises, insulated from them perhaps by office accommodation in between.
They are beginning to ask—quite rightly—whether we can really afford to have single storey or two storey buildings in the centre of London. This is pertinent to the debate because, after all, once upon a time people talked in terms of incorporating schools into living accommodation, and the L.C.C. does that with some nursery schools. Where we get permission to incorporate a nursery school into a new building, we do so.
The hon. Lady may say, as I do, that we do not have enough nursery schools, but as we have incorporated some already into buildings in this way, I do not see why we should not be able to do the same by incorporating single storey school buildings into new blocks.
There may be very good reasons against it, but nevertheless the quasi-homeless—those on the verge of home-lessness—raise this point strongly. As I say, I am not a technical man, but I echo their feelings as to why we allow not only railway land to be unbuilt on but also single storey buildings to remain which could very well be built upon.
These are minor points and I hope that the House will forgive me for merely interrupting the debate, but to my people they are very pertinent.
§ 2.45 a.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
I think I am right in saying that no hon. Member from outer parts of London, except my hon. Friend the Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter), has so far taken part in this debate. But this is not only a London problem. As has been said, it affects most of the great industrial cities and, of course, it certainly affects areas such as mine in the eastern part of London.
Having listened to this debate and to many similar ones, I suggest that it is time that the Government got down to the job of saying that something is to be done, because this problem has been with us for many years. These debates take place regularly every year, and on each occasion hon. Members on both sides give the Minister facts, figures and information, all of which he knows only too well, and then Chare are the usual excuses and explanations of why nothing is done.
If—and God forbid that this should be so—we were at war and the Government wanted something done, they would get it done. Even now, if for military purposes the Government want something done it is done. The necessary money is provided, and the job is carried out. I suggest that the problem that we are discussing ought to be dealt with as a military operation.
There axe thousands of homeless families in this country, and there are thousands of others who are inadequately housed. Many of these people have been waiting 10, 15 and 20 years to be rehoused. In my constituency young couples aged 21 or 22 come to see me about their problems. Many of them have been waiting for two or three years to be housed, and they tell me that their parents had to wait ten or twelve years to be rehoused. I suggest that if this problem were dealt with as a military operation it would soon be solved. The trouble is that the Government do not realise the urgency of it.
I recently saw the new Chelsea barracks. This project was announced only a few months ago, but now there are these magnificent barracks for the troops, and good luck to them. Again, when I was in the B.A.O.R. recently I saw some beautiful houses and flats being built for the troops and their 263 families. Good luck to them too. I do not begrudge them this accommodation. All I say is that if the Government made up their minds to tackle this problem as a military operation it would soon be solved.
We all know that the Treasury has not helped in dealing with this problem. In fact, the Government have deliberately aggravated it over the years by their financial policies. They have made it very difficult for local authorities to borrow money at reasonable rates of interest to build council houses. They have made it well nigh impossible for private individuals to borrow money from building societies. They can do it only if they earn a large income or are able to put down a huge deposit. These homeless people are mainly very poor. Hence, they neither have the large deposits which are necessary in the case of building society mortgages, nor can they afford the large repayments. Because of the Government's policy of high interest rates, reflected by the building societies, they cannot afford to purchase houses. Equally, if they try to borrow from local authorities at 100 per cent. or even 90 per cent. they find that local authorities are in the same position, because they have to borrow on the market, or through the Public Works Loan Board, in which case the rates are much too high for these homeless people to pay.
It is about time that the Government told local authorities and the ordinary house purchasers that they will grant 100 per cent. mortgages at low rates of interest. The Minister looks at me as I say that, but I see no reason why the Government cannot come forward—
§ Sir K. Joseph
I was not frowning about that, but at the thought that the problem behind this is the absolute shortage of dwellings. It is the competition for them, and not the money, that matters.
§ Mr. Lewis
The Government could easily finance 100 per cent. mortgages, at low rates of interest. The Minister has referred to the problem of finding accommodation. There is a simple answer. We should stop building these superfluous blocks of offices and let the builders get on with the job of building homes. Let the builders cease building garages every 264 100 yards along the road and put up houses. Let them stop building big supermarkets next door to each other and get on with building houses. Let them stop building bingo shops and betting shops. Then there would be plenty of building workers, materials and money available to get on with the really important job.
§ Mr. Paul Williams (SunderLand, South)
Bingo shops and betting shops are usually conversions. Is the hon. Member suggesting that housewives should have to make do with a less good service than she can get from supermarkets? Is he suggesting that we should not have better office accommodation? I have always understood that hon. Members opposite were in favour of better offices.
§ Mr. Lewis
I am in favour of good shops—even betting shops. But it is far better for people to have roofs over their heads, and for a husband to sleep with his wife and have his children at home than to have betting shops. A man can have his betting shops after he has his house, and is living with his wife and children. If there is building material and money to spare, then by all means let housewives have supermarkets, even if they are built next door to each other. But I object to the fact that all these other buildings should be erected while dozens of my constituents are homeless.
I know of many cases where the husband is living in one workhouse and the wife in another, and the children are away in a home. Only last Thursday I went to see one of these poor women, who was literally crying her eyes out and threatening to do anything because she was faced with the threat of eviction from the rest centre, where she had been for a long time, in order that the accommodation could be given to someone else. By all means let us have good offices and all the other good things. But first we must see that families who need housing accommodation can get it. I think that the Treasury should provide the money. Buildings material and labour are available and by means of building controls we should prevent the money and materials being wasted on less essential building. That would also help to solve the problem of inflation which concerns the Chancellor and the Treasury. Many of 265 my constituents have told me that on their wage of £12 or £14 a week they cannot afford a mortgage and they cannot afford to pay £5 or £6 a week for furnished rooms. But they would sacrifice that amount on weekly payments if they were able to buy the property because they had been able to get a 100 per cent. mortgage. I do not see why the Treasury should not do something on those lines.
I have never been able to understand why so much sympathy is extended to the private landlord. The 1957 Rent Act is one of the major causes of the problems which confront so many people who are homeless. But when that Measure was being debated in this House there ware crocodile tsars from hon. Members opposite at the plight of the poor landlords who had to struggle to make ends meet because they did not receive sufficient rent. There are houses in my constituency which are 100, 150 or 200 years old which cost perhaps £50 or £60 to build. They are in poor condition and not a ha'penny has been spent on repairs. But they change hands at £2,000 or £3,000. The landlords get their money back hundreds of times over. I know of no other article which is worth twenty or thirty times more when it is a hundred years old. If the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) buys a car, it will not be worth double the price next year. But if he invested his money in property he would get more than his money back. The older the property the more money is made.
These poor landlords of whom we have heard have not got much to grumble at. If they cannot afford to make the places habitable, if they do not think they should carry out repairs and decorations, let the council take them over. I speak for myself. This may not be Labour Party policy. I say in my constituency and I say tonight that I do not see any objection to taking them over lock, stock and barrel and ensuring that the people are properly used and the houses repaired and decorated.
There are plenty of houses in my constituency which are being left vacant because the landlords hope to sell them. There are many houses the tenants of 266 which are not given the chance of staying on as the houses become decontrolled. One dear widowed lady told me that she has been in her house twenty-five years. She has not once been in arrears with her rent, although about fifteen years ago she lost her husband. She has brought up a young family. The house has become decontrolled and she has now been told to get out because the landlord wants to sell the house. There is no question of any agreement. That lady will be put on the homeless list. She will be one of the homeless, because my council says, "We have not got accommodation to rehouse you". She will go into a rest centre because this landlord who has made a fortune out of this poor hard working woman but has never done any repairs or decorations—she has done them—wants to get rid of her to make a big profit, because of the Rent Act. This Government have given him the chance to do it.
It is about time that the Government really got down to the job of housing not only the homeless but those who are liable to become homeless. The first thing is not new legislation but the repeal of the Rent Act. We should do something to insist—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)
Order. The hon. Gentleman must not embark on legislation.
§ Mr. Lewis
I apologise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I will not go further on that line. Let the Government, therefore, without any new legislation use the powers they already have to stop some of this wasteful pulling down of property. The hon. Member for Barons Court (Mr. Compton Carr) mentioned an L.C.C. site. I do not know the site. I invite him to go to Edgware Road. After I have spoken and stayed for a reasonable time, I will take him and return to the House later in the morning for the rest of the debate. I will show him acres of beautiful Georgian and Victorian houses at the back of Edgware Road and Paddington which are being pulled down. They are beautful residences. There is nothing wrong with them. They are being pulled down for office property development. The property developers there find that offices will be more profitable than houses and flats for workers. They will not erect 267 houses and offices for workers. They erect office accommodation and luxury flats.
§ Mr. Compton Carr
This bears out what I said. This has been zoned for office and commercial use but it should have been zoned by the L.C.C. originally for residential use. This is why these developers can do this.
§ Mr. Lewis
The hon. Member talked about zoning for light industrial work. Here the existing properties are being pulled down for redevelopment. These are good properties. If these private property developers are really interested, they should get on with the job of building houses and flats for the workers.
I know a property developer—he is not exactly a friend, but I know him fairly intimately—who for some years has been trying to build on three sites accommodation to be let at artisans' rents, for which planning permission has been granted. When he tried to get the finance the bank said "No, the Treasury says there is a squeeze on. You cannot have the money." When he went to the building society he was told "No, the squeeze is on. You cannot have the money," When I approached the Minister's predecessor he said "I cannot interfere This is a matter for the banks or the building societies." The banks and the building societies said, "We cannot do anything because we have had instructions from the Treasury that this is an undertaking for which money should not be used because there is a squeeze on." When we explained all this to the Treasury and said that this was a good scheme which had been approved by the local authority concerned, that the houses were to be let at rents which the artisan class could afford, the Treasury said "You must take that up with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government." The Ministry of Housing and Local Government said "That is nothing to do with us. You must take it up with the banks." This is a case of the dog chasing its tail.
If a man who requires to develop private property comes along with a scheme like that, surely it is not too much for the Minister to suggest to the banks or the building societies that this is the sort of scheme which he would, subject to the usual safeguards, welcome 268 and like to see put into operation. If there are private developers willing to build blocks of houses for the artisan class at economic rents which they can afford to pay—
§ Mr. Lewis
The firm has one of the finest names to be found in the House. This man is not related to me, but if the right hon. Gentleman looks it up in his records he will find it there.
The Minister ought to get down to the job. I am in no way castigating the present Minister because we all know from his activities in his previous position that he is very humane and understanding and he is a go-ahead Minister. All we ask is that he will, with his deep and intimate knowledge of the building industry, see that the various ideas, schemes and suggestions put forward by hon. Members are considered, not from the point of view of whether the Government would like to have them put into operation but judged on the basis of helping to solve the housing problem.
Probably I should not say this, but I believe that if the Government really got down to dealing with the housing situation they would not have any election problems. There would be no need for "Mac the Knife" to be active or for any of the things that have happened recently. If the Government got down to the task of solving the housing problem they would be very popular, and deservedly so, among the electorate at large and they would find that electoral benefits would accrue to them.
Therefore, I ask the Minister to see that every help and assistance is given to the local authorities by persuading the Treasury to give special financial grants at low rates of interest and that people who want to borrow can borrow, a 100 per cent. preferably, but certainly 90 per cent., at low rates. Then he should try to control this wasteful expenditure of manpower and building material on building which, if not entirely non-essential, is definitely less essential. That is the thing about which people are getting really annoyed. If the Minister can do this, then I know that my constituents will say that, at last, in one respect the Government have done a good job.
269 Yet the Government have been in office for eleven years and, unfortunately, we have to say that this thing has been made far worse in my constituency than it was eleven years ago.
§ 3.10 a.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)
I do not want to detain the House at this hour, but I would venture to say that no problem is insoluble whether it be housing or anything else. That is my view, and I agree with hon. Members who have said so tonight. But I disagree with the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. G. Lewis) in his remarks about zoning in the Edgware Road. Areas are zoned by the L.C.C., and if it is found that too much has been zoned for light industrial development, or for shops or offices, then, under present legislation one has to wait five years before that zoning can be altered. However much one may wish to see this area used for housing, a great deal of compensation would be involved.
Perhaps the appraisal was originally made without cognizance being taken of the acute shortage of housing accommodation which would arise in the following years.
§ Mr. Jay
Without trying to apportion the blame, we get into this extraordinary situation that in some areas offices are being built where there were houses before. In other areas where there were no houses before compensation has to be paid to prevent offices being built. So we get more offices and fewer houses.
§ Dr. Glyn
If one wants to carry that to an even greater extent, look at the Mayfair area where many of the office licences have been extended to 1973. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this does tend to reduce the amount of residential accommodation in the centre of London and in the outer areas.
Although a most tragic problem, the homeless represent only part of a much larger problem. They are just that fringe of people who are helpless and homeless, but there are many people living in equally hopeless conditions. Any hon. Member sitting for a London constituency will agree that probably 70 per cent. of the cases which come to us are concerned with housing.
§ Dr. Glyn
One can write to the local authority, but there is just not the accommodation to give. There is the problem of the split families, whether homeless or not, and many others who have children and who cannot get accommodation and who have to live with half of the family staying with parents or in-laws or elsewhere. These things cause great upheavals in family life.
I submit that the problem is simply one of a shortage of accommodation. I disagree with hon. Members opposite about the Rent Act. I shall not go into all the pros and cons about it, but I suggest that we must look at the overall picture. There is not a great deal of accommodation which, as a result of the Rent Act, is not occupied. Perhaps the rents are higher, but the accommodation is occupied. Looking at the overall picture, one finds that the Rent Act may have increased the rents but it has not in fact reduced the amount of accommodation available, with the one exception of property which is held by landlords sometimes so that they may get vacant possession and sell.
§ Mr. Michael Cliffe (Shoreditch and Finsbury)
If the hon. Gentleman argues that the Rent Act has had no serious effect, how does he explain the fact that about 40 per cent. of the homeless in London are in their present plight as a result of the working of the Rent Act?
§ Dr. Glyn
The hon. Gentleman has not got the point I was making. If there is a given amount of accommodation in the Metropolis, then, whether the rents go up or not, if that accommodation is occupied one cannot say that the amount of accommodation has been reduced. The only exception I made was in my reference to certain landlords who, for obvious reasons, wish not to let part of a house in the hope of getting full 271 possession so that they may sell with vacant possession. However, the extent of this is quite small and it does not appreciably affect the overall housing picture.
Hon. Members have spoken about local authorities not taking action about overcrowding. We all sympathise with local authorities in this matter. They know very well that, if they take too much cognisance of overcrowding, they will themselves be placed in an awkward position because they will not be able to find places for the people they turn out. They are to some extent powerless to do very much about overcrowding.
There are many things which must be done to increase the amount of housing accommodation. For one thing, one authority should be responsible for housing. In my own area, as I have said many times, most of the vacant land and large sites have been absorbed by the London County Council, leaving very little for the local borough council to use in solving its own problems. Sixteen and a half acres were recently taken, with the result that the borough council finds itself in further difficulty in acquiring suitable land for housing its own people and reducing the size of its waiting list.
I have never suggested that increasing densities will be the panacea to cure all our housing ills, but I ask my right hon. Friend to give close attention to this question. There are many areas of London where, if the densities were increased—transport facilities are there and the sites are suitable—many more people could be accommodated. We must, I suggest, depart from the conventional idea that within three, five or even ten miles of the centre of London we can still have nice little houses with gardens, very pleasant though they are, and afford to use all that amount of space when Londoners so urgently need more land for homes.
We have been reminded tonight about the railway land which could be developed. I raised this matter myself two years ago. Near my constituency there are large sites which could be used with advantage. Now that diesel traction is used on many of our main lines, the 272 problem of smoke is greatly reduced, and quite a lot of railway land could well be used. Even the lines themselves could be built over and used for either office or residential accommodation. I hope that my right hon. Friend will take very seriously the suggestions which have been made and consider the overall question of how much land is available in the centre of London which is not at present being used for housing or anything else.
I should like to put to my right hon. Friend a point which has given rise to considerable anxiety. I refer to local authorities' powers of compulsory purchase. In many cases, I have found that landlords have been careful not to demand excessive rents from tenants. When property has become decontrolled, they have not said "I want £X". They have said that they do not wish to relet the property. Then, they either sell it or wait a considerable time and let it at a much higher rent. That, I understand, is the method by which they can evade compulsory acquisition by the local authority. I am not sure about this and I should like my right hon. Friend to indicate how these cases stand.
Earlier, the question of mortgages was mentioned. I have only two points to make. One of the great difficulties con-cerning mortgages is that local authorities do not always value the property at market value. They value it at the price which they think it should fetch, which is very different from what a purchaser has to pay. This raises difficulties concerning the amount which the local authority is able to advance on the property, which may be only 70 per cent. of the purchase price, thus causing difficulties for the purchaser to acquire the property. Local authorities lag behind in assessing the market value of properties. A reappraisal in this direction should be considered. On other occasions I have mentioned the possibility of the purchase of flats.
I do not expect my right hon. Friend to give an overall answer now to the many problems which have been put to him, but is it not possible for the Government to consider the whole London picture and the availability of land and to formulate a much longer-term policy. We must cater not for three or five years, 273 but for much longer than that. We must view the picture in perspective and look at the areas which are hopelessly underdeveloped. In my constituency, there are areas in which the houses are old and there is an enormous expanse of large gardens in the centre. By redevelopment, if we were allowed to increase the density, which the London County Council will not allow, we could solve a great deal of the shortage in the Metropolis.
We have to look at the problem, not from a local authority point of view. We cannot hide behind the mask of the responsibility being either the local council or the London County Council. It is a problem which is too great for any local authority to tackle. It is something in which, whether they like it or not, the Government must help. I do not like to see local authorities powers interefered with—I like them to have their own powers; but this problem is of such great magnitude and strikes at the heart of so many people in the great cities that the Government must, on this occasion, lead by saying, "We realise that there is a shortage and we will do everything possible to solve it."
I know that when my right hon. Friend replies, he will explain that one of the greatest difficulties is the shortage of building labour. If, however, a reappraisal of the importance of the various sections of the industry were undertaken, we might decide to have more emphasis on living accommodation as against other forms of building. If my night hon. Friend would examine the areas of London where there is under-development and let us have an overall plan, whether or mot that would mean overriding the local authorities, it would in the long run be for the benefit of London and its citizens.
§ 3.25 a.m.
§ Mr. Percy Holman (Bethnal Green)
I am delighted that we are getting a certain amount of support in the discussion of London's housing problems from hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member for Barons Court (Mr. Compton Carr), however, who said that he could not understand why a certain area was scheduled for light industry where at present there was a certain amount of dwelling-houses and suggested that the 274 L.C.C. had not made up its mind on the matter, made such an ignorant statement as a member of London County Council that it was appalling. The hon. Member did not understand that in the nineteenth century it mixed up industrial premises and private dwelling-houses higgledy-piggledy all over London. This is part of the need to separate industry from dwelling-houses.
The hon. Member should realise the position in which some of us found ourselves during and soon after the war. Industry was often working day and night with the factory windows only a few feet from bedroom windows. People could get no sleep and were driven hysterical by the noise. They were appalled by the stench and sometimes the smoke which came from some industries in London. We want to separate the industrial from the residential—not merely put offices between, but separate them by sensible planning.
It was an absurd position that insufficient attention was able to be given to the real problems of homelessness in London. It has been termed semi-home-lessness and, naturally, the inquiry dealt only with those families who as a last resort held back on the welfare services of London County Council. But there are many other literally homeless families dealt with by voluntary organisations and many others equally homeless when the husband and wife have to live with their respective parents. That equally is homelessness. There are those who literally have no roof over their heads. These amount to thousands in the County of London. In many cases they are included in the waiting lists of 30,000 or more families, deferred because slum clearance and other special requirements are eating up not only the new premises, but using up the oldest and sub-standard properties which London County Council and the boroughs have in their possession.
This problem is very large and involves long-term policies. I am surprised that there has been a conspiracy of silence about one of the biggest problems with which London is faced in rehousing. That is the land problem. The other day I was asked about an acre of land in Islington. My friend asked, "Why don't the L.C.C. or the borough council build on that land?" I asked what was its price and I was 275 told that it was £100,000. I said that probably with the density which is permitted there would be about £2,250 per flat before a single brick was laid. Until recently there has been no subsidy for normal housing needs; it has been limited to slum clearance and building for the aged. We cannot get anything near the economic rent on such a basis as that, even after allowing full subsidy.
It is no good, with land values as they are, to think that we can house anyone with less than the breadwinner's income of £20 a week inside the County of London. That day is passing. The lower paid workers are steadily being thrust out of London, or they have to accept a lower and lower standard of living. Immigrants coming in are paying £3 and £4 a week for a room even in the slums. They are used to a lower standard of life than our people, a lower standard even than roughish Irish labourers would tolerate for their families. They are becoming the lower paid workers of London, and are taking these jobs.
The land problem of London is such that one-third of an acre of railway property in Poplar is worth £100,000, according to an independent valuer. That is the sort of problem we are up against. It is not only a London problem. It is found over the whole of the South-East of England.
§ Mr. Graham Page
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves London, may I ask him, if land is such a problem, why is the London County Council using five acres of 90½ acres at Roehampton for an approved school which will accommodate only 80 girls instead of using it for housing?
§ Mr. Holman
I am not dealing with that individual problem, but I mentioned it previously and said I thought it seemed rather more than necessary; but for an approved school one does need some playing space.
The reason, I believe, why land values in London and the south-east of England are so high is fundamentally this, that insufficient land has been scheduled for building purposes. The Alliance Building Society of Brighton, in a recent very interesting pamphlet, stated that the amount of land scheduled 276 for building in the South-East Region represented between 12 and 18 months of building. That is playing directly into the hands of the speculator.
Land is passing from one to another speculator and land values are mounting precipitately. On the Kent coast, only two hours distance from London, 15 acres with an old house on them sold for £65,000 two and a half years ago; 18 months later it changed hands for £75,000. The old house was pulled down and now flats are being put up. That means an enhanced rate. Just outside the borders of London, in Middlesex, my son bought a plot of land seven years ago for £600. In the same road six months ago another plot, not in quite such a good position, with not quite so big a road frontage, fetched £1,500—two and a half times the value in a period of six years.
I understand that the Minister's predecessor recently circularised local authorities in the London and Greater London area, asking them if they could schedule more land for building purposes. I do not know if the Minister has yet had any results. A common experience is that on one side of a road the agricultural land is worth £200 or £250 an acre, and on the other side of the road, a few yards away, the land has become worth thirty or forty times as much because it is scheduled for building purposes.
Most of the people in the south-east of England will pay during their lives, as will their children, many pounds a year more for their properties because of the inadequate amount of land scheduled for building purposes. There cannot be vetry much more than 10 per cent. of the land in south-east England scheduled not built on today. There is hardly any land left for building. No wonder land values are soaring until they represent in many cases between a third and a half of the value of the property. Small houses round London fetch £6,000 or £7,000 when only a few years ago— no question of control or the Rent Act enters into this—they were less than half that. No wonder the report states that the values of London houses went up by 33⅓ per cent. between 1st January, 1959, and 31st December, 1960. I guarantee that more than half the increase was due to the increased value 277 of the land on which the houses stood. It could not have been the building costs which had gone up in that period.
If the Minister would say that in due course the large amount of sub-standard housing that exists in London would have to be modernised by the owners, and that there would be a time limit— the alternative being disposal of it to the local authority—the value of the property would collapse probably to not very much more than the value of the land because of the heavy expense of madernising such property. The only reason why I am a strong advocate of local authorities taking over housing which has 10 to 20 years of life is that it would secure for the rented section of property in the London area a greater proportion of properties than would otherwise be the case. I know that such property is a nuisance to local authorities and that they feel they can do only a little modernising, but by good management they will make such property more habitable and tolerable for the people.
I hope that the Minister will take note of the statement of his predecessor to me on 12th July that a decision about the request by Bethnal Green Council in respect of a compulsory purchase order would be made within a few days. In my opinion "a few days" is less than a fortnight. While I accept that we must allow a few days more when we have a change of Minister, I hope that the decision will be made soon. As the rents asked in the decontrolled flats, which are very sub-standard—without bathrooms or adequate hot water arrangements—are 5-f times the gross value, 1 hope that the local authority—
§ Sir K. Joseph
The hon. Member will be prejudicing his case if he enters into something which is really sub judice.
§ Mr. Holman
I will not proceed with it. I was merely asking when the compulsory purchase order would be out. I was using it as an illustration as a way of helping local authorities to obtain a larger proportion of the remaining and reducing rented property of London so that the lower-paid workers—in that category today I put any breadwinner earning less than £20 per week—in central London may still live within a reasonable distance of where they work.
278 The Central London markets cannot be supplied with labour at the times they require from the out-county estates of Kent, Surrey, or Essex. The workers could not gat there early enough in the morning. The same applies to many other jobs in Central London. The office cleaners, for instance, have to start work very early in the morning.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give serious attention to the need for more land to be made available for housing in the south-east of England and the Greater London area, for that in itself would reduce land values. Any reduction on the perimeter of London would have its reaction in the centre in reduced values, and that is an essential feature in trying to help hold the cost of property down to a figure that the workers can afford.
This applies equally to the white-collar workers, who are paying up to one-third and even more of their salaries in buying their homes. That was probably one of the biggest causes of the Government's sensational defeat at Orpington.
Again, the number of rented properties in London is diminishing, it is estimated, by 10,000 a year. They are being sold to owner-occupiers. Many people have bought old cottages for fancy figures and then have redecorated and modernised them. That applies to old working class houses in Chelsea, Fulham, parts of Highbury and elsewhere.
This reduction is serious. Added to it is the fact that private developers, when they pull down old property, have no obligation to rehouse those displaced, and from the land occupied by the law-rent property there emerge luxury flats. This means that the lowest paid wage earners are probably reducing in numbers bit by bit every year. But the accommodation available to them is diminishing even faster. That means that today there is no such thing as a price which would be arrived at between a willing buyer and a willing seller. The rent value of such property is a scarcity value which arises at least in part from the inadequate consciousness of successive Governments as to the number of people in the south-east of England. That population growth has been underestimated from the end of the last war.
279 We may assume that the population of Britain will rise by 10 million in the next 20 years, which is not an unfair assumption. We may also assume that, even with all the efforts to get commerce and industry and non-essential clerical work out of London to other parts of the country—and the Government could give a good lead in that direction—probably 2 million of that 10 million will be found in the south of England, and therefore I hope that the policy of the Minister will be to take a long view and to look twenty years ahead on the assumption that there will be an increase of 2 million in the population in the south-east of England, and to act accordingly.
§ 3.45 a.m.
§ Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)
I think that those who have sat throughout this debate will recognise a feature which is perhaps unusual when debates take place during the night. I am referring to the fact that from the moment when my horn. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) opened this discussion the debate has been deadly serious. There has been none of that frivolity, none of that obstruction, none of that playing with the situation which has so often marked debates during the night.
This discussion was started with a speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey who, in the most extraordinary way, supplemented great human feeling with great knowledge of the subject It reminded me very much of the speeches one heard years ago from George Buchanan on the subject of unemployment. When unemployment was the greatest social evil in our midst, he spoke with similar human compassion, yet with an extraordinary knowledge of every detail of the administration of assistance and regulations. The great value of the speech of my hon. Friend was that it combined human feeling with that detailed knowledge which is so useful to the House.
Most of the debate has been concentrated on homelessness in London, but I think that whatever part of the country we represent in this House we must recognise that the problem of homelessness is more acute in London than anywhere else. This problem exists in those areas of the country where there is 280 pressure of labour, not so much in the social welfare activities conducted by the London County Council, but in other spheres. My experience in my constituency is that the shortage of housing is the worst social evil that there is in our land at the moment, causing more un-happiness, more ill health, more mental distress, causing more than anything else the breaking up of families, and causing the commission of crimes, especially among the younger generation.
I want to emphasise one result of the housing shortage. Some weeks ago I asked the Minister of Housing if he would instigate an inquiry about the number of newly-wedded couples who, on their marriage, were able to obtain homes. He did not think that such an inquiry was worth making. Since then, however, a newspaper with a very wide circulation has made such an inquiry, and its results must be shocking to any hon. Member who, looking to the next generation, sees that it must be built upon the young people of today as they get married. In case a newspaper investigation may not be accepted, I have made a detailed inquiry in my constituency. For some weeks I have written to every newly-married couple whose marriage has been announced in the local newspaper, inquiring what their prospects for a home was when they were married. I want to make that investigation more thorough even than it has been so far, and I propose to revert to the matter in the new Session.
Tonight I can say that in Slough it is practically impossible for any young people who get married to obtain a home of their own. They must either live with their in-laws, as has been described in earlier speeches, or live in one-roomed lodgings, in such crowded conditions that the beginning of their married life can have little opportunity.
It has been said during the debate that the concentration of industry in London and the south of England has been a great advantage to our economy, has meant that light industries—such as electronics and plastics—have developed, and has been of particular help in our export trade. That can be said truly of the industry in Slough, but if that is recognised it must surely be the duty of the Government, representing a country whose economy has advanced in that kind of way, to see that the 281 workers who pour into these areas are housed. The problem in Slough, which has been described as the most prosperous town in this country, is that of extending factories and vacancies in the employment exchange, with all its opportunities of work, but with no homes in which the workers can live.
If this country is to take pride in the development of its economy and industry, the least it can do is to see that the workers employed in that way have an opportunity of accommodation and homes.
So often in these debates the reply from the Government refers to the fact that the number of houses built has increased, and pride is taken in that fact. In Slough one can see new houses. But they are not for the workers of Slough The largest private speculative builder in Slough has said that 90 per cent. of the people who have bought the houses have neither worked nor lived in Slough before. They lived in London where they work and now they are commuting from Slough. The problem of the people of Slough has hardly been affected.
I do not see on the opposite benches the hon. Member about whose speech I wished to comment. He said that the increased rents charged under the Rent Act had not meant a decrease in the accommodation occupied. It has not. But it has meant that the accommodation has not gone to the people who need it most. It has not gone to families with children or to those who are ill and sick. Hon. Members on this side of the House have urged that housing ought to be regarded as a social service and that houses should be provided first for those who need them most. That should be as much a social service as the National Health Service. We have discussions on housing year after year, but I refuse' to believe that the problem is beyond the capacity of human being to solve. Food, clothing and housing are the first essentials of human life. If they cannot be provided we are not putting first things first.
In this amazing scientific age. when we are baying the moon and when we see in our homes television programmes which come to us by way of the great spaces, to say that we are unable to solve the problem of providing human 282 beings with roofs over their heads is a kind of defeatism which I refuse to accept. I would forgive much of a Minister and a Government which solved the housing problem. It would be the greatest contribution to human development, fulfilment, happiness and health that any Government could give. It is the greatest social task now before Parliament and I beg the House to apply its constructive capacity so that this problem may be solved in our time.
§ 4.0 a.m.
§ Mr. G. H. R. Rogers (Kensington, North)
At this time of the morning one gets the feeling that everything has been said, especially as this is by no means the first debate we have had on this subject in the last year or two. As we have only another six or seven hours before the debate finishes, I do not propose to be very long. I become rather depressed when I listen to the solutions of some hon. Members. As far as I can gather, some hon. Members would be quite happy to see the whole of the South of England covered wish buildings from end to end. They would be quite happy if all the land in Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire and Kent—the Garden of England —were covered with factories and buildings, as though that in itself would solve the problem. At the geometric rate of progression of the population, by the time we have another fifty or sixty years over our heads—presumably we must have some regard for posterity—we should find that there would be nowhere left in the South of England where people could see green grass or get a breath of fresh air, and the whole of the Midlands and the North of England and Scotland would be denuded of population because everybody had moved into the South-east.
This is a stupid way of looking at this problem. We all know that the solution to this problem of housing is not difficult in theory. We all know the way to solve it. The fact is that the Government refuse to face up to the solution, as they have done with so many of the problems facing the country.
I, like other hon. Members, have great hopes of this Minister. I used to sit and listen to the right hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke) and I always had the feeling that, whatever one said 283 to him about our housing problems, he was completely unmoved. I felt that he was insensitive, unimaginative and incapable of grasping the sufferings of ordinary people. My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr. Brockway) referred to George Buchanan and employment. I well remember Neil Maclean, a wild Clydesider, saying in this broad Scottish accent from the Opposition back benches in about 1923 when the House was debating unemployment, "Some hon Members opposite have never done a day's work in their life". That was a constant taunt from these benches. I cannot help feeling that if Cabinet Ministers had at some time in their lives lived in slums and been chivvied by landlords, as so many of the people have been, they would have a much greater understanding of the housing problems of the working people. The fact is that so many of them—this is a psychological truth—were born with a silver spoon in their mouths and have had comfortable housing conditions all their lives and, through no fault of their own, cannot understand the intensity of the housing misery that so many people suffer. This is something which must be faced.
I have always felt that previous Ministers were insensitive. I know from personal experience of this Minister that he is far from insensitive. He has an imaginative understanding of many problems. I hope that he will, as hon. Members suggest, go down to posterity as the Minister who solved the housing problem. I have sat on the Front Bench, as a Whip, for so many years muzzling myself and listening to what other Members have had to say. One of the things which disgusts me about hon. Members opposite is that they never have the guts to stand on their own record. Whenever this question of housing is raised they say that the six years immediately after the war are equivalent to the years which are passing now. They always pretend that it is fair to compare the Tory Government's record fifteen years after the war and the Labour Government's record five years after the war. They deliberately ignore the bombing and the fact that 800,000 houses had to be repaired, that men were taken out of the brickfields 284 and put into the Forces. They ignore the cessation of the manufacture of light castings for housing and the fact that all the necessary industries had to be set up again. They say "We did so much better than you". This they know is perfectly dishonest.
There are people who are homeless today, who cannot remember when there was a Labour Government in office because hon. Members opposite have been in office for more than a decade. People of 25 years of age and even older, who are homeless and married with children, cannot remember when there was a Labour Government. All these charges of the failure of the Labour Government in the years following the war would cut no ice at all with that generation. This is one of the reasons why hon. Members opposite are finding themselves at the bottom of the poll, with the Liberals second, because they will not face up to reality.
We hear denials that the Rent Act has anything to do with this problem. Every constituent who has suffered from the housing problem as a result of the operation of the Rent Act knows what caused it. But hon. Members opposite say that the Rent Act has nothing to do with it and they lose votes by the score.
I can give two instances of suffering in my own constituency which were the direct result of the Rent Act. My constituency has suffered from the exploiting landlord almost more than any other. We have had Hungarian refugees, Poles, people from the Commonwealth, all exploiting the housing situation and inflicting sufferings upon the people who were born in this island. Some of the stories do not bear telling. Recently 100 families were given notice by one landlord to quit—all at once. The effect upon these people was disastrous. Many of them will become homeless because they cannot find anywhere to go.
The excuse of the landlord was that he wanted to improve the property— a false excuse, in my view, because he could easily have emptied one house and improved it, having found other accommodation for the occupants, and then moved the people from the next house into the house which they had improved. But clearly he has other ulterior motives, with the result that 100 families are going to suffer and they are 285 extremely worried indeed. This is wholesale eviction.
There is an old lady, an old-age pensioner who does a cleaning job. Her total income is £6 5s. a week. She has been paying £4 15s. a week for her little accommodation and she has been living on what is left of the £6 5s. That has not been a very comfortable living. This is not the affluent society for her. The landlord now says that she can stay in her rooms if she will pay £6 a week out of the £6 5s. So the poor thing has got to go, and she is 72 years of age. She gets up in the mornings and goes to work cleaning the offices. The poor old thing has no relative and is broken hearted.
§ Mr. A. Lewis
Is my hon. Friend not aware that if she goes to the National Assistance Board she will be given a grant, and the ratepayers and taxpayers will be directly subsidising the landlord, as is the case with hundreds of thousands of these sharp landlords?
§ Mr. Rogers
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. The eviction of these hundred families could not have taken place but for the operation of the Rent Act. The power given to these unscrupulous landlords flows directly from the Rent Act. Does the Government believe that landlords ought to have this power to put all these families on the streets in such great numbers with the simple result that the problem is placed a! the door of the L.C.C.; because a great many of them will have to be found accommodation by the L.C.C. if they are to be found accommodation at all.
Another device by landlords is, as I have found out, the letting of premises and the charging of a premium. The tenant is allowed to stay for a few months and is then given notice to quit. The flat is then let to somebody else, another premium is demanded and paid, and there is a constant stream of tenants because both landlord and agent by this means get a premium over and over again. I know of one flat which has had seven tenants in the last eighteen months by this process. I assure the Minister that this is quite a widespread 286 practice in west London among unscrupulous landlords.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I do not know my powers in this, but I should have thought that the tenants ought to have known their legal rights better than to have fallen into this trap. I do hope that the hon. Gentleman will send me details of these cases.
§ Mr. Rogers
Yes, but it is so often a case of making a choice between exercising one's legal rights and having a home; people pay just to get the flat.
It was the same story with the rent tribunals. They fixed the rent all right for the furnished rooms, but landlords then charged twice as much as that laid down by the tribunal, putting the proper figure into the rent book. Of course the tenant said nothing although he knew he was committing a breach of the tribunal's ruling simply because he had to have accommodation.
The housing shortage is so bad that people are prepared to overlook all these abuses of the law. This could not have happened before the operation of the Rent Act. Then, people were protected and, therefore, it is no use hon. Members denying that that Act is not responsible for so much of the misery affecting our people today. I do not believe that the solution of the problem is a difficult one, but the Government has got to face up to the fact that London is already too large and that a stop has got to be put to the process.
The south-east is over-populated. Steps ought seriously to be taken at last to divert industry to other parts of the country so that our island can be fairly populated from one end to the other and not have a great mass of people pushed into the south-eastern corner. Apart from anything else, I should have thought that that was bad from a strategic point of view because one or two hydrogen bombs would wipe out half the population of England.
§ Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)
I do not disagree with anything which the hon. Gentleman has said so far, but he surely does not suggest that we should build houses according to strategic considerations. Can we reorganise the whole of our country's building work according to the strategic situation?
§ Mr. Rogers
I thought that strategic considerations were always in the mind of the Government in considering, for instance, the way that armaments factories are located in different parts of the country. They have some regard to strategic considerations in these matters. The dispersal of the Civil Service to different areas was influenced to some extent by reference to what might happen in the event of war. I consider that this is a feasible solution, if the Government could make up their mind to spread industry throughout the country and spread the population, too.
If they feel that they cannot do that, perhaps they will consider the drastic step of changing the capital. Why not shift Parliament to Buxton or somewhere else? Let the Civil Service go with it. In that way, we might remove some of the magnetism which London has and divert it to Buxton, the centre of England, and create a new centre of gravity in our island. Something drastic must be done if the problem we face today is not to be with us for years to come.
§ 4.16 a.m.
§ Mr. Michael Cliffe (Shoreditch and Finsbury)
Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that homelessness is the most tragic social problem with which we have to deal. This is not to say that I regard other social problems as unimportant, but I do not believe that there can be anything worse for a man and his family than to be left homeless, with no sort of shelter at all.
The most frequent and the most depressing problem which one encounters in one's constituency is the housing problem. All hon. Members who do their constituency work know that this is so. People are given notice to quit, and they have just a few weeks, or sometimes only a few days, before they are turned out and left homeless. In an endeavour to help families in this plight, I have instituted a system of correspondence. First, I write to the landlord, appealing to him to reconsider his decision. Very often, the letter I send is not even acknowledged. I write to the London County Council and to the local authority. If the man happens to be an ex-Service man, I write 288 to the welfare section of the British Legion. I do all this in the hope that, one way or another, someone will be able to come to the rescue.
Very often, at the end of it all—I say this to hon. Members opposite who sometimes criticise the London County Council and the way it conducts its social services—all that is offered is accommodation in an L.C.C. institution, but the kind of accommodation offered in the institution often means that the family must be broken up. In a desperate effort to avoid this, the family appeal to members of their own family and to friends in the hope that one of them will be able to help. Even if help is forthcoming in that way, the family may still have to be broken up. There are very few people today who have sufficient accommodation to be able to take in a whole family of three or four people. So that they have still to be split up, with the result that it is sometimes months before they can be given assistance and we reach the point that the provision of accommodation is the only possible solution to reunite the family and to bring them back again to live together happily. It is difficult to assess the effect upon parents of these experiences by young people, but there can be no doubt in anybody's mind that there must be a profound and serious effect on the children, and one which they will remember for the whole of their life.
I know that there is no easy and ready-made solution. I understand the size of the problem because I happen to represent a Central London constituency. I am, however, bound to say that the Government's economic policy and their lack of industrial planning have considerably aggravated the position. There is serious unemployment and underemployment in Scotland and we know what is happening in north and north-East England, not to mention Wales. People who are declared redundant realise that there is little prospect of alternative employment in those areas and they come to London and other large industrial towns to find employment.
I am not attaching blame to those people for doing that. They are doing what I and many hundreds of thousands did 20 or 30 years ago, and for precisely 289 the same reasons. They come here seeking a living, and a good many of these immigrants remain here, I am convinced, only because work is more available. If the work was more widely spread and properly planned, I have no doubt that many of our housing problems would be solved.
Only a few months ago, the former Minister of Housing, the right hon. Member for Luton (Dr. Hill), stated in a debate that the solution rested with the London County Council because it had the necessary powers to deal with the homeless. It was fairly obvious to London Members that the right hon. Gentleman either did not know or understand the size of the problem, or he was deliberately trying to deceive the House. If either is true, I regret that the Prime Minister did not sack him then instead of waiting until a fortnight ago.
On the last occasion when the matter of London's homeless was debated on the Floor of the House, he spoke of the large number of families affected and said that London County Council had to do something about it. Two or three hon. Members opposite have said tonight that London County Council has only just awakened to the fact that there are so many homeless families, in spite of all the efforts 'the council has made. It wrote to all the local authorities in the area asking if there were vacant properties which could be obtained by compulsory purchase or otherwise to find accommodation for these families. Despite all its endeavours, over the last few months there has been an increase in the number of families who have to be accommodated toy the county council.
In 1959 there were 400 homeless families. In 1962 there are 800, representing over 2,000 people in 1959 and nearly 9,000 now. This, however, is not a true reflection of the position in London. Most local authorities are working under housing standards laid down by the 1936 Housing Act by which they are permitted to allow three persons to live in two rooms. In most London boroughs we would find literally hundreds, if not thousands, of families where four, five and more live in two rooms. If the councils complied with the standards laid down by the Act, the number of 290 homeless would be added to by 8,000 or 9,000.
A short time ago we were discussing the possibility of putting on to the Statute Book some legislation to deal with the question of overcrowding. I am not absolutely certain, but I think it is already an offence for a local authority to allow overcrowding. I may be wrong and, if so, I should like to be corrected.
§ Sir K. Joseph
Local authorities by the 1961 Act have been given the power to put a limit to overcrowding and to force landlords to put in more amenities if premises are overcrowded.
§ Mr. Cliffe
I thank the Minister for that reply. That provision does not help to solve the present housing problem.
A great deal has been said tonight about the real causes of the problem and a number of suggestions have been made to remedy it. It must be admitted by all fair-minded people that the Rent Act has aggravated the position considerably and added to the numbers of homeless people in London. Here are figures produced quite recently—for this debate, in fact. Families admitted by London County Council to short-stay accommodation were due to five main causes. One was landlords requiring accommodation, and that accounted for 22.5 per cant. That accounted for only 4 per cent. before the Rent Act, 1957. Another was houses sold over the heads of the tenants because rateable values were more than £40. Another was overcrowding, which accounted for 13 per cent. Domestic friction accounted for 10 per cant., and rent arrears for 6 per cent. There is a total of 41.5 per cent. of families evicted as a result of the Rent Act, and that category is growing every year.
It is estimated that there are approximately 20,000 tenants decontrolled and adding to the number every year in London. Most of these new victims are young couples unable to find accommodation. A young married couple start married life by living with in-laws for a few months, but after a time they all grate on one another's nerves and the young couple go round London desperately seeking accommodation, and take two rooms in a very old block and pay an exhorbitant rent. They try to make them habitable In my own constituency is Hamilton Buildings, but I shall not 291 say very much about that because I know there is a C.P.O. on the block. I am not going to say more about it. I got into trouble the other day for the same thing. But I can say this about another block of flats, Victoria Dwellings, which have been sold and bought and sold no fewer than five or six times over the last two years. Before 1958, and the latter part of—
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present.
§ House counted, and, 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. Cliffe
It is nice to know that there are so many hon. Members present. I am sure they are grateful to us for giving them the opportunity to get together and understand one another.
The Victoria Dwellings are a block of flats 100 years old. Long before the Rent Act came into operation the highest rent was 17s. 9d. per week. At present the rents are £5-£6 per week. When hon. Members opposite say that the Rent Act has not had a serious effect on the housing position and has not created problems unknown previously, certainly among the lower income groups, they are completely blind to the facts or are ignoring their existence.
Many of the families, which are in the main in the lower income groups, have to depend on both the man and the wife being able to go to work. If a wife becomes pregnant, the family is in trouble. It means that they cannot pay the rent and must seek other accommodation. But most landlords are now in the racket, and the level of rents is very much the same wherever one looks for privately-owned property in central London. So they go to the local authority for help, and very often, because of the heavy commitments that local authorities have, they have to depend on the London County Council welfare department to come to their rescue.
The London County Council helps as many as it can. In some cases it can give no more help than taking care of the children, and then the parents have to seek lodgings elsewhere. In fact, the possibility of people being offered accommodation by a local authority in central London is almost non-existent. Hon. Members opposite have spoken 292 about the land available in London, including railway sidings. If what they suggest is part of the solution to the problem, why are they telling us? Why do they not tell the Government, who could easily get on with it? But it is ridiculous to suggest that some of the railway sidings could be used for housing purposes, though they could be used for other purposes.
As to the price of land, recently the London County Council tried to reach agreement about an area in my constituency which is zoned for housing and is now required by the Ministry of Education for an extension to the Northampton Polytechnic. This area is roughly two acres. Immediately opposite St. John's Polytechnic stands Southwood Court, a block containing 210 flats completed in 1955. The land on which these flats stand was bought by Finsbury Council in 1953 for £80,000 an acre. One can stand with one foot on that land and one foot on the land now bought for the Ministry of Education—for £710,000.
I do not believe that anyone could say that it was not robbery to suggest that land in an area like that is worth so much. But the Government have taken the lid off, and the sky is the limit. They have released a very scarce commodity and people are fighting for it.
I hope that the facts and figures we have given tonight will be regarded by the right hon. Gentleman as a serious submission and not as exaggeration. These problems are as we have described them. I hope a solution will be found. I do not believe it will be found merely by something done in London. The Government must plan, however distasteful they find it, in such a way as to get more industry to areas where it will do a wealth of good for the people already there and also attract people from the London area who would be quite prepared to go if the work were available elsewhere.
§ 4.43 a.m.
§ Mr. Austen Albu (Edmonton)
It is a long time since I took part in a debate on housing, and I do not intend to make a very long speech. One of the difficulties of this problem is that we are dealing with a minority. It is very large in terms of suffering of a 293 large number of people, but in terms of electoral pressure it cannot be quite so great, certainly not in all areas of the country. But that does not make the suffering any the less. It is our duty to deal with the problem even if for some of us it is only a problem of minorities.
It has been said that this is not just a problem of the County of London, nor even of the Greater London area, but of every large industrial area where the employment rate is high. I represent a constituency on the edge of the London area. One might think that with its record Edmonton would not have a serious problem, and I do not claim that the problem there or in the boroughs in Middlesex is as serious as in some of the central areas. The closer one gets to the kernel, as it were, the higher the density. From the housing point of view the Greater London area is one area, and the pressures brought into London by the lack of industrial or commercial planning affect the areas round the outskirts just as much as they affect the centre of London.
Some areas in Middlesex are almost as built up as the centre of London. The result is that a borough like Edmonton cannot do very much in the way of putting up new buildings. Almost its entire programme is devoted to slum clearance, and it is inhibited from doing the little that it could do by the high cost of land and the high interest rates.
Hon. Members have pointed out that the mere numbers who appear to be homeless because they have to be dealt with by welfare authorities, ox because they come to see their Members, represent, as I Chink my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet) put it, that part of an iceberg which is visible. A substantial number of people know that it is hopeless to try to get out of the conditions in which they are living. Those who have had to deal with cases of eviction, or of young married couples with nowhere to live, or of people living under appalling conditions of mental stress because of the intolerable behaviour of landlords or landladies, especially towards young couples who have children, know the total amount of misery which is caused by the present housing situation. Even though it repre- 294 sents only a minority of persons, it is probably as great a problem as any with which Parliament has had to deal.
What we often come across are difficulties which have arisen among the young and the very old. The young, because of their naturally low incomes, and the old, for obvious reasons, have no possible way of finding accommodation if they lose that in which they are now living. The idea that they can save to buy a house is ludicrous. They have to pay out such a large percentage of their earnings on their present accommodation that it is impossible for them to save. There is also the fact that the lower the value of a house, the more grossly over-priced it is, and therefore no building society will give anything like a substantial mortgage on it. The result is that to get such a house a person has to put down a deposit that is grossly inflated by the difference between the price at which the building society values the house, and the price that is being asked for it.
There is only one solution to this problem of the appalling prices being asked for houses to buy or rent, and that is to create a situation in which there are more houses than tenants or would-be purchasers, in a particular region. At present there may be more houses than persons wanting houses in some areas, while in others there may be infinitely more potential tenants or would-be purchasers than there are houses available. This situation must be dealt with. As soon as the number of houses exceeds the number of those wanting houses the whole bottom wild fall out of the price racket. Every effort should be made, not only by industrial planing but by a more intensive building programme, to reach this position in each region.
I do not know whether it is enough to build new towns. At one time these were thought to be relieving the pressure on London, but this process has now ceased. It is essential to get the last ounce out of council house building, and also, to assist those trying to buy their own houses, to bring down the interest rates for housing loans or for local authority loans, certainly to a special rate suitable to the urgency of the problem.
This is a subject about which Members who are not themselves involved 295 feel very deeply, because although it is brought to their notice so often they are able to do so little about it. I know of no more unhappy experience than to sit in my interview room and listen to a case which appears on the surface to be absolutely genuine—and which is genuine nine times out of ten—of a person, not necessarily clever or skilled, but a decent, ordinary man or woman, working in the vicinity, doing a very necessary job—like the postmen to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) referred— knowing perfectly well that I cannot even promise him anything.
In such cases I have to say, "I will do what I can, but I can promise you nothing; in fact, I do not think that you will get anything," and then take the matter up with my local authority or some other body, or wonder whether the Citizens' Advice Bureau might know of a house or a flat, or a couple of rooms. But of course it does not. The chances are that the person for whom I am inquiring has already been through that and another half dozen channels before approaching me.
The numbers may not appear to be very great, but as soon as we start to house some of these people more come pouring in. There can be no doubt but that creeping decontrol is the real cause of all this. As soon as houses become empty people come in from outside the borough—outside London itself, even—and buy the houses at prices which the local people cannot afford.
§ Mr. P. Williams
The hon. Member has referred to the need to do something further to help those who wish to buy houses. We all understand this problem. He has also referred, at the other end of the scale, to the need to provide houses through local authorities. Would he consider the argument far opening up a new section of the market by finding some way of allowing a private developer—with all the hesitations that he and his hon. Friends have on this matter—to provide houses and flats to let? If we can find some way of developing a new section of the market we may be able to go some way towards meeting the needs of those people on the housing lists.
§ Mr. A. Lewis
I am obliged to my hon. Friend, who is my Member of Parliament for giving way to me. I have told the Minister that I know of a builder who wants to provide housing property to rent, but the Ministry have turned him down.
§ Mr. Albu
That is a subject which I do not want to pursue now as I know the Minister is anxious to reply to the debate and I am anxious to conclude my speech. I should be willing to investigate any means, but so far I cannot see any means of getting houses built for them people in the lower income groups which includes 30 per cent. or 40 per cent. of the population.
§ 4.56 a.m.
§ Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)
I expect that when this debate is over the Minister will go away and put his head in his hands and think back over the many debates which we have bad on the same subject and come to conclusion that there is really only one answer to the problem, which is to provide more accommodation. But I think that it is immensely valuable that that there should be an occasion such as this when hon. Members may discuss a narrow aspect of the housing problem with complete freedom, so that the House is able to appreciate the coordination between the different Departments which is necessary in order to create a proper picture of the problem to be tackled.
I am sure that we have to persuade a number of people in the country that the problem of homelessness in this day and generation is something relatively new. It is no longer a question of finding accommodation for the indigent poor who otherwise would go to the workhouse. It is no longer something which depends on material resources alone. It is a new kind of poverty which bears no relation to the circumstances of a previous generation or the situation in country districts where the decline in the standard of living may be due to the failure of the crops or the departure of industry which has produced the state of collapse.
297 What happens in this highly tense over-organised sort of society in which we live? There is a great instability in the sense that the physicist or the chemist would use the word. Suddenly and unexpectedly there is a collapse of a family. It is a collapse which would still occur were there no waiting lists for accommodation. Suddenly and unexpectedly people find themselves in difficulties through the failure of communications ox the co-ordination of the welfare services, and so on.
I remember the first case of homeless-ness which came to my notice. An old gentleman of 85 brought me a copy of one of the housing Acts which he had purchased and he referred to what was a common Section, which he construed as saying that if the local authority failed the Minister must intervene to look after him. He thought that it meant that the Minister could provide him with a home. It was an interesting case. I followed it up and tried to trace how co-ordination of welfare services failed. The Ministry of Health told me with some indignation that the first time the case was brought to its attention was when the old gentleman was found crying in the gutter. Of course he was crying in the gutter. He had just been evicted from his dwelling by bailiffs. It was all because of some failure to pay rent which he thought was being done through a banker's order. He was getting old. It was not a question of poverty. The stage had been reached when had been thrown out of his flat before anyone was able to offer him any assistance. The only assistance offered afterwards was that he was immediately certified as being of unsound mind. So would I be and so would the Minister be if we found ourselves suddenly in those circumstances. He had enough sense when he had finished his period of depression to climb out over the wall of the hospital and sleep rough for a fortnight and come back into circulation.
The Minister knows that I could give innumerable other examples of families who appear to have a good earning capacity suddenly being faced with such a calamity, which may arise merely from the closing of the dwelling in which they live, something to do with the local authority or the owner, something un- 298 connected with their personal circumstances.
This is an aspect which may need to be studied more and more carefully, this phenomenon of the apparent stability of life in an affluent society where there is no stability at all, where the ice is much thinner than one would think. It is important that the Minister should make it clear to the country tonight that he sympathises with that aspect of the problem.
In the week when two bishops have written to The Times asking very seriously for special consideration to be given to this very special problem the one local paper in my constituency of Paddington bears this headline, "Keep Out Homeless Families". One reason for my calling the Minister's attention to that is that it is a very powerful argument indeed against the Government's proposals for the alteration of London government. The paper contains these phrases:Hoteliers in Norfolk Square fight L.C.C. scheme. Hoteliers in Norfolk Square, Paddington, are fighting an L.C.C. plan to take over eight houses in the Square for sixty-three homeless families. They claim that the move will lower the tone of the neighbourhood and hit their thriving tourist trade. Paddington Chamber of Commerce are backing the hotel owners in their fight … The houses, which are empty at present, will accommodate about 320 people.The article says later that one of the hotel keepers—I will not give him any publicity by quoting his name, because he is a pompous ass—who runs a tourist business from a hotel in the Square, told our reporter that he would have to move elsewhere if the L.C.C. refused to change their plans.The sooner the better would be my comment.'I cater for schoolchildren, and headmasters will not allow their pupils to come here if they discover that this is a centre for down and outs and homeless people'. he said.He also had the effrontery to claim that the Governors of St. Mary's Hospital were worried at the effect that this would have upon the nurses' homes nearby.
This is a new low. I never heard a story in which the good Samaritan was given his 2d. back on the ground that it would lower the tone of the neighbourhood. This is based upon a complete misconception of the nature of the 299 problem. I give these people this publicity only because I would like the House to revive an idea which I put to the Minister's predecessor. Who do these sleazy little hotel keepers in their decaying squares, occupying what they have the pretentiousness to call hotels in old converted Victorian dwellings, think they are? It would be a very good thing indeed for London if the Minister could promote and encourage the building of three or four large new modern 300 to 500 bedroom hotels. If that were done, he would release whole streets of these mean little places, which exist economically only because their proprietors are either part-time brothel keepers or part-time tax cheats. These are the sort of people for whom the attraction of hotel keeping is that they do not have to record the whole of their takings. It would not be an economic proposition otherwise.
All round the great mainline railway stations there are among the reasonable and decent hotels a certain proportion of houses which pretend to be hotels, which are grossly under-occupied in the course of the year, and the building of some new modern hotels would release a great deal of property for redevelopment and reconversion to housing. That is one of the many things that the Minister of Housing might bear in mind. When he has done all the arithmetic, he will come to the same conclusion that whichever way one does the sum, the answer always works out the same. Whatever (plan one follows, there will not be enough accommodation on present reckoning for the demand for dwelling space in London.
Let us take existing accommodation. The Minister has got to start again. There is a sick body which the doctors have failed to cure. The fever recurs and the sickness gets worse. The medical and scientific approach would be to start again and make every conceivable test. Take nothing for granted. Throw back every single regulation and every plan that is in existence and try to get better use out of the existing houses.
For instance, are we sure that it is now right to try to enforce plumbing regulations which were devised a generation ago and for which there may be many cheaper and better alterna- 300 tives? Is it right to insist on the rule that as long as a building is left alone nobody will compel one to improve on it, but that if one wants to make an attachment to the pipe outside a house to form a fresh outlet from the bathroom or the toilet, the lot must be stripped down and replaced with L.C.C. standard steel piping from basement to room? This is a disincentive. There are in existence plastic and fibre pipes which are used in some parts of the country. We spend too much time trying to enforce the standards of a generation ago not only in housing but in so many aspects of our social work.
Is the Minister sure that the damp-proof regulations bear any relationship to what a do-it-yourself enthusiast could do with modern techniques which have been tried out? There are better things. There are polythene sheetings and all sorts of other devices. What about fire prevention regulations? Nylon has been invented. Do we need to have a gigantic criss-cross of staircases outside the back of these buildings? There are many improvements which would be cheaper and would make it possible to insist on a reasonable fire precaution code. There is the anomaly that if one does nothing to the house nobody will compel one to improve protection against fire, but once a person starts to make improvements to the house he walks into trouble and into these regulations.
Is it possible that there are one or two gigantic errors from well-intentioned sources? These evils do not all come from evil men. The blunderings in the growth of our society have come from the best intentions. The Minister knows the case—I have made it so many times—that the greatest barrier to improvement of what we conveniently call working class accommodation, the greatest force eroding into legitimate working-class accommodation today, is not the spiv or the speculator. It is the great trusts—the Church Commissioners, the Duke of Cornwall's Estate, the Armstrong-Jones' Greycoat or Greencoat people who have been in the Lobby tonight—and all those who, being directors of great corporations, set out on a plan which they believe is to improve but which is, in reality, a plan for a change of user.
301 I ask the Minister to go through the card index in his office, starting with "A"; "A" for Abercrombie. Let him set himself up as an anti-Abercrombie critic and let him ask if we were wrong in accepting Abercrombie. Was it a misconceived plan from the word "go"? Once a slum factory or a railway arch is designated for light industrial use, one cannot prevent it from being used for that, which means that we are preserving the opportunities for substandard industries which add to the layer of fat consisting of the semi-skilled and unskilled workers whom we cannot afford to house in London on their present unskilled work when we have such a demand for them in the essential services of the city. We must have accommodation for those who run the essential services, and we need them near to the centre of London.
At the same time, grandma should be able to live in the green belt area and have the young children go out to visit her instead of her daughter being ashamed to bring anybody home to see mum in her sub-standard accommodation at the centre. The party opposite knows that it should have got more velocity, and more turnover and movement into housing so that the older generation should be able, if it so wishes, to move near the pleasant green belts, making room for the young workers to live nearer the centre instead of paying high rents and commuting back and forth to work each day.
We have somehow got this thing all mixed up. We are all inclined to preach of the sanctity of the home, and security of tenure, but the Minister's party embarked on a process of destruction of that security by allowing de-control of rents. Yet are we not expecting this security of the home to achieve too many things at once? Do we not expect this home to provide everything, forgetting that if there was a reasonable chance of people finding a home, they would purchase, or re-purchase, and not stay in one place, would not under-occupy, and so on?
We need a turnover of accommodation. Is this, and all the other things which I have mentioned, the things at which the Government is hammering away? Are these the things which the Minister is going to adumbrate before he announces his own new programme? 302 Are any of these things going to be announced in the next Session of Parliament? The Minister has got to find a break-through with one or two new ideas and break right away from some of those obstructive obsessions and out-of-date opinions before he begins his work.
I hope that he will tackle the problem which I have put to him before, the problem of providing an opportunity for skilled apprenticeships in small units of industry. Are we to be strangled by Abercrombie? Why not have little workshops in our towns? Electricity has been invented. It is possible to take the power to the machine. We do not have to take industry to a place apart where it can have its power. Let us get rid of the notion that work is ugly, dirty and unhealthy. This is an old romantic reaction against the Industrial Revolution which should have departed a long time ago. There is no reason why young children should not have an opportunity of seeing old men at work, and respect them for it. But they have no such opportunity now.
These are all sociological points which one can raise only in a debate of this kind, and even at this hour of the morning. I know that others of my hon. Friends wish to speak before the Minister replies, but this is the only opportunity we have to take a broad view as well as the narrow view. We take the narrow point about homelessness. We find that we cannot touch that problem without considering also the education system, the welfare services in general, the problems of co-ordination and planning. We look at the mistakes which, probably, we have all made in planning.
I have the deeds of my house here. They are very interesting, but I have no time now to read them. I should have liked to read to the Minister a list of the things one is not allowed to do in my house. I must not boil horses. I must not make tallow candles. I must not even keep a bagnio in my house, a thing which some of the hoteliers in Norfolk Square could do as recently as ten years ago.
One can have compulsive planning only if one owns the land. It may be that it is in the womb of destiny for the Conservative Party to find a device for 303 reviving the Queen's Prerogative, because it has never been admitted yet that the land has passed out of the ownership of the Monarch in law. The freeholder of land is now so beset by rules, restrictions, planning permissions and so on that it is no longer sense to pretend that the independent freeholder is free. He could be free to use the land for the purpose for which he was originally granted it and then have to come back for further permission if there was to be a change of user. One might be able to do a trick of nationalisation there without compensation and without legislation. Only if that is tackled shall we ever gat to the nub of the problem of development.
§ 5.18 a.m.
§ Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)
The Minister will not be able to say that this debate was devoid of ideas. He has just had some from my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin), and he has had many more from hon. Members on both sides of the House during our discussions. I am sure that he will consider them very carefully as he journeys away from the House during the Recess. My hope is that these ideas will stimulate the Minister to take action. It is not ideas we want now so much as vigorous action from a vigorous Minister. The right hon. Gentleman knows most of the facts and most of the things which might be done. What he must do now is stir up his courage and tackle the problem of the homeless.
We have debated this matter now for six hours. It is right that Parliament should devote time, even during the night, to the plight of about 800 families. Because those people are without homes. Parliament is concerned, and Parliament must tell the Minister what it expects him to do. My reaction to the problem is not to try to examine the matter in detail, not to find ways and means of doing this or that, but to say, with the Bishop of Southwark and the Bishop of London whose words I read in yesterday's Times, that this is a scandal which must be ended.
We tend to spend too much time in discussing knowledgeably all the details of urban redevelopment, housing, how we can modernise the centres of our 304 cities and how to adjust ourselves to modern living. We spend far too much time discussing the long-term considerations and the theory of good living. In the matter of homelessness, we fail to take enough practical action.
This is not a big problem. It concerns 800 homeless families. Is that beyond the wit of the Minister and his advisers? Is it beyond the capacity of the local authorities and their specialists and beyond the capacity of Parliament to tackle the small problem of finding homes for 800 families? Once the will was there—that is the missing factor— I should have thought it a problem which could be solved without too much delay and without too great difficulty.
These people are not the ne'er-do-wells, the people prone to poverty, the hopeless people whom we cannot help. They are largely decent families and Londoners. Young married couples, I understand, with children are the prevailing sample to be found among the homeless in London today. It is a failure of all of us that this should occur. The Minister goes round making speeches to town planners, his chief advisers address local authorities and send circulars, aldermen and councillors can debate these matters, for six hours tonight Parliament discusses them, but after all the discussion and effort devoted by considerable numbers of well-informed and able persons, in this year of 1960 800 London families lack a home in which to live and bring up their children.
It is a failure for all of us, a failure of all those who claim to be experts in housing and urban living. It indicates the failure of their efforts that 800 families should be without homes. It is a reproof to all of us and I hope that the worthy Bishops who addressed themselves to the editor of The Times will receive a response from the Minister. They conclude their letter by saying:We believe that a strong lead from the Government to remove the present scandal would meet with wide support.I hope that in that spirit, the time for discussion and theorising is past and the time for vigorous action through the local authorities is now with us, so that we can remove this blot of having good, decent London families without a home in which to bring up their children.
305 My hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North was quite right when he said that the problem of homelessness in London was something new. It did not exist before the war. Nothing of the kind happened. As the war ended, we had a sizeable problem of homelessness due to destruction, the return of evacuees and men returning from war service. In 1945 and following years, we had a considerable problem of homelessness. We know that at that time the Government were forced to act and rest centres had to be established, financed entirely from the Exchequer.
That phase of homelessness was the obvious aftermath of the war. We got over it and by 1953 the Government were able to decide to close the rest centres. The problem of homelessness was, as we then believed, solved. In the last three or four years this problem has come back to us. We thought that with our housing progress we had got on top of and solved the problem. We were told by the authors of the Rent Act that the problem was as good as solved. The present Minister of Health made a famous statement that supply was nearly equal to demand. Looking back, we can see how false those notions were and how his intellectual pride carried him into the greatest error which caused great misery to many people. Suddenly, during the last three years the problem has recurred and we have increasing numbers of homeless in London. They are without shelter, no place to live, homeless.
It is as well to ask ourselves why after the country had solved the problem in the immediate aftermath of war and following considerable housing progress, this problem should now recur. My examination of the matter leads me to the conclusion that there are two reasons. First there is the Rent Act. I shall not labour the point, but I believe that the Rent Act has caused an upsurge in the number of people without homes. The other reason is the Government's change of policy from the effort to build considerable numbers of council houses and to switch the efforts of local authorities in the direction of slum clearance. That change of Government policy, coupled with the operation of the 306 Rent Act, has brought the recurrence of homelessness in London.
The Minister ought to consider whether the policy of driving ahead with slum clearance in London is not causing for him considerable problems, one of which is homelessness. I take the view that until we have a larger number of houses in London we cannot drive ahead with slum clearance. The position is difficult in other parts of the country, but in London we have not a sufficient supply of rentable accommodation at reasonable rents to enable us to drive ahead with slum clearance. I state that as my view and I shall not argue it because time is short, but I hope that the Minister will consider whether we ought to drive ahead with slum clearance in London while we have not that rentable property, for that would reduce the amount of accommodation.
London has a special problem because of its position and its attraction. Let the Minister remember that if this great city is to tick over and its menial tasks are to be done, we must provide in the central area rentable accommodation at reasonable rents for the workers who have to do the menial tasks which London demands.
§ 5.30 a.m.
§ Mr. G. W. Reynolds (Islington, North)
Time is flying on, but I think those of us who have been taking part and waiting to take part in the debate have been fortunate in one thing—that we have not had to give way even for a minute of our time to any representative of the Liberal Party, because not one of them has been here the whole time, and now my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. A. Lewis) is the only Member on the Liberal bench and taking up a considerable part of it.
There were a number of points which I wanted to make, but, as has been said, time is short now, and so I shall take the opportunity in the last few moments to make just one or two isolated points, which I should like the Minister to consider, during the Recess, perhaps, if he is not able to give a reply to me about them now.
I draw his attention to the fact that we have had earlier debates on this subject, and, no doubt, he has been going 307 through them. There was one on 26th July, 1960, and another on 6th November, 1961. Looking back on the debate on 6th November, 1961, one sees that the then Minister informed us of quite a number of things which he was looking at and having investigations made into at that time. He referred, for example, to the concept of regional planning and said his Department was then making an investigation into the problem in the south-east of the country, the Midlands, Tyneside and south-east Lancashire. That is now some eight months ago, and I think the time has come when the Minister should be able to give us some idea of the results of those studies or to say how far the Department has proceeded with them.
We were also told in that debate that it was the Government's policy to bring forward more land for development both inside and outside urban areas. I wonder if we can be given any information about this, how the policy is proceeding, how much more land has been brought forward for development for residential purposes, presumably by negotiation and adjustment of existing development plans of the boroughs and counties.
Reference was made in that debate by the then Minister, and has been made by other Members in this debate, to the question of the utilisation of British Transport Commission land. There is a great amount of railway land which a number of Metropolitan boroughs and other urban authorities have in their areas, and this is obviously a matter in which some general agreement has to be entered into by the Minister on behalf of all the local authorities with the British Transport Commission. I think it would be unwise if not impossible for each individual local authority to try to come to some separate arrangement with the Commission in regard to the different bits of railway land within each local authority's boundaries. I hope the Minister will be able to give us some indication of the general arrangement he may be able to come to with the Commission so that individual local authorities can apply that general agreement to railway land in co-operation with the Commission in their own areas.
308 The then Minister also informed us that his Department's policy on overspill was being reassessed. I wonder whether we can be informed how far this reassessment has got, what the present position is, how much longer we must wait for the various studies to proceed which were announced last November.
The problem in my constituency I have mentioned before, but I take this opportunity to refer to one particular matter which affects the Borough of Islington. There is at the present moment the last available piece of land which it is possible to develop for housing purposes in the borough, a site of some 30 acres known as the Caledonian Market, which contains large slaughterhouses and is owned by the City of London Corporation. We have discussed it in some detail on an earlier occasion, and I understand the latest proposal is that we shall be receiving in due course legislation by the City Corporation to enable it in certain circumstances to carry on the use of the land for slaughterhouse purposes till 1967 when that land will become available for development for educational and housing purposes. I should like the Minister during the Recess to make some sort of arrangement whereby that land will become available for housing considerably before 1967. He knows as well as we all know that the position in London is urgent, and here are 30 acres of which at least half, if I remember rightly, is to be made available for housing for Islington and the City Corporation and the London County Council. I sincerely hope the Minister will be able to go into the matter with all interested bodies and make sure the land becomes available long before 1967, though I realise how fatal to schemes of this nature is the proposed creation of new local authorities and that this may suffer to a certain extent, along with other schemes because of reorganisation.
If it is not possible to commit whatever the new top-tier structure in London local government is to be, my view is that facilities should be provided for Islington Borough Council to purchase and develop such part of the site as will be available for residential purposes. We must not allow the local government reorganisation to slow down any housing operation which can be carried out. I 309 hope that the Minister will look at the problem.
I now refer to some of the difficulties which local authorities are facing at present The main difficulty for the majority of local authorities is that, even if they have land, they have to face the very high interest rates deliberately brought about by Government policy. The Government have forced local authorities away from the Public Works Loan Board to borrow money on the open market at whatever rate of interest they can obtain. That is Government policy which I have attacked in the past and would do again tonight but for the fact that time is short.
But rumours have been building up over the last two years and are coming to a head again to the effect that local authorities, having been forced on to the free market, will now have restrictions imposed on them as to the way in which they can utilise it. I hope the Minister will deny that that is to happen, but for a long time there have been rumours, and they are becoming intensified, that restrictions are to be placed on the amount of short-term money which individual local authorities will be allowed to hold
In certain circumstances it is advantageous for a local authority not to enter into long-tern borrowing for housing purposes—by "long-term" I mean anything from 365 days to 10, 15, 20 or 30 years—but to borrow money for 7 days, 28 days, or up to 364 days. Some local authorities have substantial amounts of money borrowed in this way. But I think they are involved in certain risks. These are risks which the Minister must trust the local authority itself to assess and take. When local authorities are forced on to the market, they must be allowed completely free use of it and trusted to make proper use of it. It would be completely improper if, having bean forced on to the free market, they were to have some of the freedom taken away because of the activities of a very small minority of local authorities in abusing short-term borrowing facilities might be causing the Minister or the Government a certain amount of worry. I hope we may have an assurance from the Minister that he has no intention at present of restricting access to the market by local authorities which wish to to obtain the capital which they must have for housing development.
310 It has been stated that the London County Council, in common with a large number of other authorities, is purchasing empty property, and also property which is occupied, in an attempt to solve some aspects of the housing problem by providing additional units of accommodation. I would emphasise that this is an exceedingly expensive job for a local authority to embark upon in large measure. If a local authority purchases a house, improves it and then lets it at a rent 2⅓ times the gross value as laid down in the Rent Act, 1957, it is almost certain that it will have a deficit on the rates of between £50 and £90 a year in covering the outgoings on the house.
The same applies to new building. Multi-storeyed flats built on land which the local authority has had to purchase —it may have had old houses, factories, workshops or other property on it—and redeveloped as part of a redevelopment scheme—most London local authorities are having to do this rather than develop straightforward new building on virgin land—will inevitably cost it about £5,000 for each flat. The Minister looks a little surprised, but that is what it is at present costing Acton Borough Council, of which I am a member, for every flat in a redevelopment scheme. There is a terrific amount of multi-storeyed building nowadays as part of redevelopment schemes.
Here again charging rents at 2⅓ times the gross value means that the ratepayers have to find about £90 a year— in some cases even more—in order to balance the account of every flat provided by the local authority, and this builds up considerable deficits.
§ Mr. Reynolds
I am making allowance for every subsidy we can squeeze out of the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry. The local authorities try to get all they can, as he doubtless knows.
These deficits make considerable gaps in the balance of the housing revenue accounts of local authorities which carry on building at the present high interest rates.
One of the difficulties facing a local authority is how to finance the building of houses and flats. It is usually at least 311 two years from the purchase of the site before the first penny is drawn in rent for the property built on it. Very often the period is considerably longer. A local authority which is building about 200 flats a year is having to pay out at least £10,000 to £12,000 a year by way of debt charge on land and buildings under construction. The right hon. Gentleman shrugs his shoulders, but this forms a deficit on the housing revenue account. Then Conservative members of local authorities try to make out that this is in fact a subsidy to existing council house tenants. It is nothing of the sort.
It is the sort of charge which a development company would capitalise. But a local authority cannot do that. The Minister should look at this aspect to see whether a charge of this nature — an unremunerative debt charge—can be placed to the planning or other account so that it does not give a false picture of tenants receiving large subsidies. Perhaps, in major redevelopment schemes, the local authorities could capitalise this type of expenditure rather than carry it as a deficit.
The management of housing lists and the choosing of future tenants also is charged to the housing revenue account, and this can reach to several thousands of pounds a year. It has nothing to do with existing tenants, but the money has to be spent in keeping the list up to date. Yet some Conservative members of local authorities try to make out that this, too, is of benefit to existing tenants in their general attacks on subsidies.
We are told that the solution may be found in laying down higher densities for the Greater London area. This may indeed provide part of the solution, but I am convinced, as are the rest of my hon. Friends, that London's problems cannot be solved within the area itself but only by overspill to areas considerably away from it.
I hear a rumour that some of the existing new towns round London are shortly to be told that their planned population is to be increased by at least 50 per cent. I hope that rumour is unfounded. It would be a terrible mistake suddenly to extend by 50 per cent. a new town like Harlow, planned for a certain population with a town centre designed to cope with a population that size. It 312 might be possible to extend the planned population up to 10 or 15 per cent. but it would ruin the concept of such towns if such a large figure as 50 per cent. were laid down. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman can deny this rumour.
I agree with the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. G. Johnson Smith) that there should be regional development corporations. It is a great shame that the experienced and skilled people employed by the development corporations are being dispersed. If these teams could be kept together and the country divided into regions, with regional development corporations responsible for building new towns, or new cities, within those regions, while at the same time being responsible for the expansion of existing towns under town expansion schemes, and also being able to do other building work for local authorities in their areas, this would go a long way towards solving some of the problems with which we are faced.
I commend again the suggestion put forward by the Bow Group about eighteen months ago, that the Government should embark on building one or two new cities, as distinct from new towns. I hope that such cities will be at least 100 miles from London because one mistake that we made was in building the new towns too close to London. When the Conservative Party took office and wanted to build 300,000 houses a year, it got the new town development corporations to build houses in advance of industrial needs, and in the end a large number of people returned to London to work because there were no jobs in the new towns. We now have the position that the children of many of the families who moved out to the new towns have to travel to and from London because there is not a wide diversity of jobs in the new towns. I hope, therefore, that if the Government decide to build new cities they will site them at least 100 miles from London, either in the West Country, or in East Anglia.
I end by stressing the hope that if we are able to put these new cities 100 miles from London Dr. Beeching will not by then have withdrawn the railway facilities which these new cities will require if they are to cope with some of the problems facing the Greater London area.
§ 5.46 a.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
It is now more than six hours since this debate was begun with the powerful and moving speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). My hon. Friend drew our attention at the outset to the size of the problem. In January of this year 2,800 homeless people were in the care of the London County Council. By July this figure had risen to over 4,000.
But more serious than those figures is the realisation which comes to us as we read the London County Council's special report on the matter, and, as has been emphasised in this debate, that, short of important changes of policy this problem will continue, and will continue to grow, because what emerges both from the L.C.C. report and from the arguments that we have heard in this debate is that London's problem of homeless families is a symptom of something seriously wrong with our national policy, and that many of the measures which might be taken to deal with the existing homeless will get us nowhere because the basic causes of the problem will continue to exist.
In an attempt to study those causes, I think that we might begin by looking at this special report. It lists, to begin with, certain immediate and superficial causes. It can be said that this family was rendered homeless because the landlord wanted the accommodation in which it was living. This is simple enough to understand. The landlord thought that he could put it to more profitable use, and the decontrol provisions of the Rent Act enable him to turn out the tenants. It can be said that that family was rendered homeless as a result of domestic friction, which usually means that the parents in law could no longer put up with an intolerably overcrowded home. Or it can be said that a third family has been rendered homeless because it was falling into arrears with the rent, a cause which is becoming more common as rents rise.
But although we can go through one homeless family after another, listing each cause why it became homeless, we then have to remember that these causes have always operated more or less in great cities, and perhaps particularly in the capital city. The real question that 314 we have to ask today is: when all these families are rendered homeless for this, that or any other reason, why is it that so many continue to be quite incapable of finding anywhere else to go? That is the problem that we have to solve, and I believe that the answer lies basically in two causes.
The first is the pressure of employment into south-east England, and the result of that on the demand for accommodation in London, and the second is the Rent Act. They operate together, and it is of vital importance that we should see how the process works. The actual population of the County of London has been diminishing, but we must observe—and this point was admirably made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay)—what has been happening to the demand for accommodation in London. The pressure of employment into south-east England has always been pushing up that demand. If we draw a circle with a 40-mile radius round Charing Cross, within it there has come to birth half the total amount of new employment that has been brought into existence in this country in the last ten years. That means that a great many people have been drawn to this area.
Many of those people will be wealthier than the previous inhabitants of the County of London; many of them—the better-off employees of firms coming to the South-East—will want to live in the County of London, possibly near the centre, with all the amenities of the capital. With their incomes they become a potential demand for accommodation in that county.
While rent control remained there was some barrier against this movement, but once it became the rule that when a tenancy became vacant the landlord could let it for whatever he could get the doors were opened to this potential influx of wealthier tenants. It is true that if we had maintained rent control in London some at least of the excess drive of employment into south-east England would have been halted. However, that has not happened, and we now have an almost insatiable demand, backed up by considerable incomes, for accommodation in the county. Owing to the Rent Act the people who have the 315 money to exercise that demand can increasingly get what they want—with 20,000 tenancies passing out of control every year.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Clapham (Dr. Glyn) is not here, because he was doubtful whether the Rent Act was responsible. I hope that if he had been here he would have been following my argument. It will be noticed that the effect of the Rent Act has been to make it easier for fairly well-off people to get accommodation in the county, and perhaps live in rather more accommodation than previously, but it has been made progressively more difficult for people with below-average incomes to get themselves a decent home there. That is inescapable.
It is also interesting to notice that when the Rent Act was being pushed through the House we were assured that it would be a positive benefit and would help to solve or at least to alleviate the housing problem in London. We have been debating this subject for over six hours, and nobody has ventured to put that argument forward. The most that has been argued for the Rent Act is that it has not made the problem worse. Nobody has ventured to suggest that it has done anything that has been claimed for it, and the claim that it has not made the problem worse cannot be sustained.
This comes out through the special report of the London County Council which indicates the shrinking amount of accommodation available for rent, particularly in the London area, for people who have less than the average income and who have been so improvident as to have both a less than average income and a number of children. But we have to have people of that kind. It may be very tiresome for the people who framed the Rent Act and who think of the housing problem in terms of supply and demand. It is tiresome to find that the less well paid working classes, which include some important workers—some of the hospital staff, postmen and dustmen—have families and cannot be put into boxes at night but require houses to live in.
We are faced with that fact. What is the answer? It is I believe that if we have in the capital city what is called 316 an affluent society and a number of wealthy people trying to live in it, the housing problem cannot be left to solve itself in terms of supply and demand, otherwise the position for the less well paid worker will become intolerable. The man who empties my dustbin in Kensington cannot be expected to follow the advice of the last Minister of Housing but one and move out into some area where the rent will not be so high. He and a great many other workers must live nearby which means that we have to help them in some way over the rent, either by the provision of more municipal dwellings or an effective system of rent control.
I wonder whether the Minister realises this situation and the effect of the combination of a great demand for housing in London and controlled rents on human relationships between landlord and tenant. Over and over again we find a situation where the landlord of the property lives in one part of the house and a controlled tenant in another. In the eyes of the landlord the tenant is an obstacle between him and the unearned capital gain which he could gain by letting the tenancy for four or five times the present controlled rent. That sometimes result in ceaseless cajoling of the tenant to get out. It has been suggested that the county council should treat the homeless as a housing and not as a welfare problem and that they should allocate them houses on the ordinary housing list. I wonder whether it is realised that landlords are offering tenants £50 and £100 to allow themselves to be evicted because of the advantage of a vacant property to the landlord. Once it was known that eviction would lead to a council house the number of evictions would treble overnight. So the problem cannot be handled in that fashion. Sometimes it is not only cajoling. Sometimes there is persistent persecution of the tenant by the landlord. I will not pursue that line of argument further. We are not supposed to advocate legislation and there is only one thing which I could advise the right hon. Gentleman to do with the Rent Act. There is, however, one thing which he could do which would not require legislation. We are to have a National Incomes Commission and workers who make salary or wage claims can be summoned before that Commission. Cannot 317 we have people with other forms of income brought before it? Will it be possible for the question whether landlords are getting too much of the national cake to be considered by the Commission? If not, it will be a precious piece of humbug.
There is, therefore, the immediate Rent Act irritation and the basic evil of the uncontrolled pressure of employment on the south-east of England. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. G. Johnson Smith), whose absence we all so regret at this moment, said that he felt that it was part of the national prosperity that there should have been this flow of employment to south-east England. Better that we should have a boom in employment than the dead weight of unemployment of the 1930s, but it ought not to pass human wit for us to be capable of ensuring that our industries and employment expand with rather more balance without creating quite so many social difficulties on the way.
There is the problem. What can be said about remedies for it? I want to dismiss a couple of quack remedies which it has been fashionable to advance in the correspondence columns of some newspapers but which I am glad have not been advanced in the debate tonight. One quack remedy advanced was to say, "If only the London County Council would turn out of its council dwellings some of the affluent tenants with their cars, jewellery and silver teapots, there would be plenty of room for the people who really need that accommodation". I am glad that nobody has advanced that argument tonight. Indeed, it is a thoroughly unsubstantial argument and a dangerous one, because it diverts our attention from possible serious remedies to the problem.
It is a false and quack remedy, for this reason. How well off must a council tenant be in these days before one can fairly say to him, "You are well enough off to look after yourself for housing. Out you go"? May I tell the House a little of my personal experience? When I was a boy we were not well off. We lived in a council house. When I became a breadwinner and we were a little better off, we were able to move elsewhere. We did so for a very natural reason. We wanted somewhere a little 318 larger and with a larger garden and we could afford it. But this was in the early 1930s, with the prices for houses and rent levels existing then. Neither we nor anyone placed as we were could do that today.
What sort of income must a man have for him to be told, "You can buy your own house"? A young couple came to see me as recently as last Friday. Between them they had an income of £20 a week, but £6 was earned by the wife. The man's basic wage was £12, but he generally reckoned with overtime he brought in £14. The building societies that he had tried looked at his basic wage and would not accept him for a mortgage. If one goes running round the council flats for people to whom it can be fairly said, "Out you go into this jungle of uncontrolled rents and rising house prices. Fend for yourselves", one will not find enough to make it worth the bother of looking. Let us hope that we shall hear no more of that quack remedy.
The other quack remedy was to suggest that there is a great deal of under-occupancy in L.C.C. flats and that, if only all the people who have too much room were moved out into smaller flats, the problem could be solved. There are 200,000 families in L.C.C. dwellings. Seventeen thousand of them—8½ per cent.—are reckoned to have more rooms than they need, to be in a state of over-occupation. That is not a very large proportion, Remembering that as many as 8,000 transfers are made every year, it is clear that this problem is not being neglected. One cannot say to a family, "One of your grown-up children married last year and therefore you have a spare room. You are under-occupying the premises. We have found at the other end of London a place which will just fit you for size, so out you go". One cannot treat human beings in that manner. One has to consider not only whether there is a smaller place, but whether it is in a neighbourhood that makes it reasonable to ask these people to go. If it is, and if one asks them sensibly, they will probably go anyhow. I am glad also that we have heard nothing of that quack remedy.
What can be done? There are some measures which the London County Council has already diligently been 319 taking. It has seen to it by way of immediate ambulance measures that there is literally sufficient accommodation to cope with this alarming rising tide of homeless. It has got to work on the mobile housing programme. It has got to work on the acquisition of various empty properties. It has taken some of its older housing property which it had intended to modernise and used it instead for the accommodation of the homeless. These are all reasonable measures to take to deal with the immediate situation. But they are not, for the reasons I suggested earlier, a real answer to the problem as a whole, because the answer to that lies outside the sole power of a local authority.
In that I must take issue with what was said by the last Minister of Housing. Writing to the Secretary of the London Labour Party on 21st May this year, he said:I share the concern of your members"—that is the members of the London Labour Party—about this urgent and human problem of London's homeless families, and from the very outset I have made it plain that immediate steps should be taken to help them. These steps are all within the power, responsibility and capacity of the London County Council.When I drew attention to that in the House the other day the right hon. Gentleman was doubtful whether his predecessor had in fact expressed that view. Well, there it is, and it is a wholly false view.
§ Mr. Stewart
Where are the snows of yesteryear? Why is this view that the London County Council can solve the whole thing by its own efforts a false view? Let us take one of the steps which are clearly necessary, and that is large-scale acquisition of property. The L.C.C. Special Report suggests that the L.C.C. might get busy and set to work acquiring all the property which it knows it will have to acquire for redevelopment purposes in the next twenty years. Frankly, that is an impossibly ambitious programme. In the first place, one does not know as far ahead as twenty years. One does know about as far ahead as 1972—ten years ahead. It could be said 320 that the London County Council should set to work to acquire now the property that it knows it will need to acquire by 1972. But I think it must be admitted— and the L.C.C. Special Report admits— that that could not be done by a local authority without some form of special financial help from the Government. Are the Government prepared in any way to help finance action of that kind?
The Report suggested a particular source of finance for the help of the local authority, a tax on developers and property owners who have benefited either from planning restrictions or the housing shortage. That would be a bit difficult to administer but, one way or another, if this programme of advance acquisition of property on any considerable scale is to be carried through, there has got to be special help from the Government to the local authority.
Further, for the acquisition of property even on a modest scale, I am sure we must have the speeding up of the procedure for acquisition. We have been told by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessors that if local authorities see their citizens in danger of eviction by avaricious landlords they can set in motion the machinery of purchase, and if necessary compulsory purchase. Let him look at the answer which had to be given a few days ago to my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) about the length of time that some of these proposals for compulsory purchase have been under consideration. I do not blame the Minister because, quite simply, the procedure is not fast enough to deal with this problem, but, farther than that and without asking for legislation, I cannot go. I leave the thought with the Minister.
One other point on the question of acquisition is that if it is really the Government's view that there is a danger of homelessness and eviction, will he make it quite clear to Conservative groups on metropolitan borough councils that acquisition is the answer? The Conservative group on my own borough council at Fulham tried to win the last election with a programme against compulsory purchase and, not surprisingly, emerged from that election with fewer seats.
If this problem is ever to be finally solved, then more houses will have to be built in the 321 County of London and elsewhere. I agree that it is a difficult matter to decide how far one can deal with this by building more in the County of London itself, and I accept that there axe parts of the County of London where, without damage, we could accept higher densities. Yet, if we do that and no more and leave pressure of employment in south-eastern England to increase, then in five years' time we shall have to increase them again. So, I am rather chary of seeking the remedy too much along those lines.
Sooner or later, the population of Greater London will have to be got away to new towns. Building more is not merely a question of building more in London. That is only part of the whole problem of the need for building more throughout the country. Over and over again, we on this side of the House have explained what are the necessities if that result is to be achieved, and now the Minister's own hon. Friends are beginning to tell him the same thing. We on this side have told the Government often enough that they have got to take housing seriously, and if they do take it seriously they will have to give a preferential rate of interest to local authorities for their housing purposes. Now, we discover that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South has discovered it as well. If things go on like this, I can foresee us being told in a years' time that a thoughtful group of Young Conservatives invented the idea in the first place.
To sum up. It means a new policy in interest rates, some control of land prices, and a vigorous policy of encouraging new towns and new cities. I come back to the point at which I started, to say that right at the bottom of everything lies the lack of plan for the distribution of industry and commerce, and that this tragic problem of the London homeless is only one symptom of faults in a society which has been able to produce a greater total of wealth but which has not yet grasped how to organise that wealth for social benefit and for happiness.
§ 6.15 a.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Sir Keith Joseph)
We have had a sober debate on an extremely 322 serious subject. Although I cannot possibly deal with all the questions and suggestions which have been put from both sides of the House, I shall study them all. I pay tribute to the sincere speeches which have been made. We have had thoughtful speeches from my hon. Friends the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. G. Johnson Smith) and the Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn), as well as useful interventions from others of my hon. Friends.
The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) started off with a forceful speech. Although I cannot pick out all The speeches made from the benches opposite, I wish particularly to say how much I relished and learned from the very sincere speech of the hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans) and the anxious and responsible speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet). I intend the hon. Lady a compliment when I use those adjectives, because I know that she boars a considerable responsibility in this matter through the work on the other side of the river.
I was glad to hear the constructive speech of the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu). From the hon. Member for Paddinigton, North (Mr. Parkin) we had a speech composed in part of dreams which I share with him but also of a good deal of mud-slinging, which I do not share. I have heard all the speeches except that of the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) to whom I apologise. I am grateful to hon. Members for their individual forbearance which has enabled me, I hope, to catch the aeroplane to visit the slums of the North-East, which I am pledged to do today and tomorrow.
As I cannot deal with all the subjects which have been raised, I hope the House will excuse me if I deal with the main theme of the debate as it has presented itself in hon. Members' speeches. We must accept, as the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) has said, that in all capital cities there is the fiercest competition for space. I believe that, subject to one big condition, the market is the right mechanism for dealing with the situation where there is more demand than supply. But there is 323 a big condition, that there shall be proper provision for those people who cannot, however they organise their affairs, afford the rate of the market.
I must flatly say at the beginning of this winding-up speech, so as to condition all that I say hereafter, that there is just not sufficient of such provision, that is, low cost housing, in the County of London at present. Nothing I say is meant in any way to qualify Chat fact. Nevertheless, I want to make abundantly plain to hon. Members on both sides of the House that this is not a problem which may be solved by humanity alone, nor by humanity plus energy. I stand out as sturdily as I can for the humanity and the integrity of my night hon. Friend who is now the Home Secretary, under whom I was proud to serve for two years at the Ministry where I now am.
Where there is an absolute shortage of dwellings, in the short term some people can be helped only at the expense of others. As the hon. Lady the Member for Peckham knows only too well, if we are not careful we shall only help one lot of people in trouble at the expense of creating quite another lot of people in trouble. I am speaking only of the short term here, of course. In the middle and long team, much can be done to put an end to this miserable and wretched procession of people, as the hon. Lady put it, falling off the edge into real homelessness.
The hon. Member for Paddington, North asked me to accept, as I frankly do, that relatively prosperous though the majority of our people are and relatively extremely well housed though the majority of our people are, there is a minority suffering intensely through housing need. I do not for a moment wish to disguise this. What makes the whole situation so tragic is the contrast between the better-than-ever-before welfare and conditions of most of our fellow citizens and the plight in which this minority finds itself.
I come now to what has been the most important theme of the debate. It has emerged from several speeches, but it was most clearly brought out by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) in what, if I may say so, I thought was a most interesting and 324 valuable speech. I shall study it carefully. It was backed up by several of my hon. Friends and by hon. Members opposite. The right hon. Gentleman asked, in brief, whether the demand for housing space in London is so aggravated by the increasing employment in London that the London County Council and the other authorities, like Sisyphus, can never get the stone to the top of the hill.
This is a study that I am urgently pursuing. As the hon. Lady the Member for Peckham knows, I have asked the London County Council to give me as much further information as possible on the inter-relation of employment and housing need. Obviously, we realise the inter-relation between traffic congestion and employment in London, but what is the connection between employment and housing need? I am grateful to the hon. Lady for saying, as is true, that I need time to study the problem and the evidence that she and her colleagues will send me.
On the answer to the theme introduced by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North depends whether the problem is within the grasp of the L.C.C. and the other Metropolitan authorities. I accept that if it is proved that there is this inter-relation, the task is far larger than the L.C.C. and the other authorities can manage, and comes within the scope of the Government themselves. Subject to that, however, in the short term and, indeed, in the middle term the job is primarily for the London County Council. I add, of course, that it will be my job to help the council wherever I can, wherever it is necessary and wherever I can act without prejudice to general housing progress.
None of us needs to emphasise that London is a major magnet, and whenever there is a magnet, however many counter-magnets are set up, we have to expect the greatest pressure. It is true that people pour in to work in increasing numbers from all over the country, although at a far lesser rate than they would pour in were it not for the planning policies of the Government. Yet —and this is the paradox—in the last ten years, thanks to the London County Council and the national plan within which the council is working, the 325 housing condition of Londoners as a whole has improved strikingly.
Fifteen thousand people more than have come to London have left the County of London each year, many of them voluntarily, seeking their homes outside, many of them going to out-county estates of the London County Council until they were filled up and many of them going more than ever to expanded and new towns. So that the resident population of London has fallen in net terms by 150,000 over the last ten years after allowing for all the people who have come in.
§ Sir K. Joseph
Yes; I am obliged. The remaining population, however, has formed almost as many households as were here ten years ago. As we all know, owing to greater average prosperity, for every 100 people there are more households today than there were five or ten years ago. So that in terms of households, we have vary nearly as many as ten years ago—it is 1 per cent. less—although in terms of population, we have 150,000 people fewer.
Yet each year 12,000 new houses have been built in the County of London after allowing for all demolitions and clearances due to slum clearance, road widening, school programmes or any other reason. In addition to those 12,000 new houses, the London County Council has disposed on average of about 4,000 re-lets each year. So each year there have been 15,000 fewer people residing in the County of London and—in a sense— 16,000 more homes. And yet we all know that the position is grossly unsatisfactory.
To sum up this part of what I want to say, the gap between dwellings and households, which should be at least 2 per cent. in favour of dwellings so as to allow for movement, was a minus of 300,000 ten years ago and is now a minus of 165,000. That is the measure of the task that still lies ahead, although it is also a measure of what the London County Council, within the Government plan, has already achieved. I pay 326 tribute to the London County Council and all concerned for their achievement.
The pressure is still enormous, but why is it that when the population has been falling and the number of homes has been rising and the numbers of homeless have not hitherto made the headlines, now they are rising in numbers and reaching into the consciousness of the whole population as well as to this House? The fact is that there was and there must have been very much more crowding and very much less space per family before the Rent Act simply because there were more people in fewer homes, but—this has been implied by several speakers although they have not said it in so many words— the overcrowded population was frozen into its position and it may be more tolerable to be frozen into small space than to be unfrozen with more space.
Many hon. Members have proved what we all know, and have stated what is in the Report, that the Rent Act is part of the present situation, but the fact is that the block decontrol and creeping decontrol mean that there has been more mobility. That increase of mobility has made more space for very large numbers of families who are very much better off because of it, but the very velocity of circulation of people seeking new and better homes has affected those least able to compete in this increasingly prosperous society. That is what the Report says and what we all know, and no one would deny it. There are more dwellings, fewer residents, but more competition for the space. The very prosperity of London makes it hard for the least well off to compete successfully.
I was sorry that the hon. Member for Paddington, North did not produce a comment he made so effectively a couple of debates ago when he spoke of mechanising those manual jobs so that those who do them, the least well-off at present, can command higher pay which would help them to compete in those conditions.
I suggest that it would be no solution to the problem today to go back to a freeze. That would simply punish another lot of people. We cannot freeze the population of a great city and expect it to grow increasingly prosperous.
327 So I come to what, in my view and the view of the Government, can be done. I have said that I accept for the Government the task of studying the implications of increasing employment on housing. That is not the problem of the L.C.C. except to prove the implications. Subject to that, in the short term the first recourse must be to the L.C.C. Of course, the numbers of homeless are larger than they have been in the past, but not in relation to the L.C.C. I accept that the L.C.C. has the highest standards for all it does. I accept entirely its sincere efforts to cope with the problem and that the homeless are the peak of the "iceberg" and many more may be hovering on the edge of homelessness. The Government must help if suitable cause is shown and if no prejudice to major projects is involved. If employment is at the root of the trouble, that is a matter beyond the L.C.C, but I know that the L.C.C. would not wish to avoid the responsibility it has as a large, powerful and famous housing and welfare authority.
I come to the question of what should be done. First, more new housing. We all know that most of the new housing goes to re-house slum occupants and on re-housing in relation to major social purposes such as the building of schools and roads. I must confess that I came to the Department sharing the view of the hon. Member for Islington, South-West that perhaps we ought to consider pausing in the slum clearance, but when we read Farther Williamson's papers and realise that it is Cable Street that we would be pausing at, how could any Government or anybody wish to pause? It is a fact that as so many of the houses pulled down as slums contain more than one family so the L.C.C. has to build more than one house to demolish one house. But at the moment there is no restraint by the Government on the L.C.C. None at all Let nobody think there is.
What are the normal restraints?—[An HON. MEMBER:"Interest rates."]—I am coming to interest rates. First and most notorious of London's problems—land. Of course this has threatened as a major problem, but at the moment there is no immediate problem whatsoever and the L.C.C. can go flat out—much flatter out 328 than it is going now—for two or three years without running out of land. I would be delighted if the Council embarrassed the Government by running out sooner of the land in its possession.
Then, as my hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) said and the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) stressed, there are the resources of railway land. Much of this land—do not let us conceal it from ourselves—is going to be expensive and difficult to use, often involving major engineering works before it can be used; but much of it is available and I hope it will be used. Then there is land at Kidbrooke available for the L.C.C.; and the possibilities in some areas of higher densities, though I would not count too much on that in the immediate future.
§ Sir K. Joseph
This is under discussion at the moment. It is a very large project, and it is under discussion with the L.C.C, but the L.C.C is not short of land for its immediate needs. I think the hon. Lady will confirm that. The railway land will be available for the L.C.C. before the Council needs it
§ Sir K. Joseph
Ready by the time the hon. Lady's Council needs it.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Islington, North asked me about the regional studies referred to by my predecessor and the calculation of overspill. These are fairly major studies. They are going on well, and I hope to be in a position to say something more about them towards the end of this year or very early next year. I do not want to be over-optimistic, because they are far-ranging studies.
While dealing with land, there are the town expansion and development schemes which the L.C.C. has embarked upon successfully.
The next limitation which restrains the L.C.C. from going faster is the limitation of staff, where technical and professional staff are very difficult to come 329 by, simply because the whole building industry is at full stretch throughout the country. Here, if there is anything the Department can do to help we shall do it.
§ Mr. Mellish
Then why not abandon the proposal for the reorganisation of local government? Because that is why people are not being attracted to local authority service.
§ Sir K. Joseph
Three comments on that. I am sure that there is no sort of demoralisation of staff because of this. The whole object of reorganisation —and even our most severe critics must accept that this is our purpose—is to make the services to the Londoner able to be more efficient.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—Thirdly, if there is anything we cam do to help with staff we shall certainly do it.
§ Sir K. Joseph
Perhaps the biggest restraint of all is sheer lack of building labour to do as much work as I think the L.C.C. would wish, and here, as the hon. Lady and the House know, it is the hope of the Government that in many different parts of the building industry there will be a combination of better organisation both of means as well as builders, standardisation and industrialisation, and, above all, a will to put up the productivity per man per year of those who work on building sites. This is something we shall gradually come to see as the pace of improvement increases.
I come to the intervention by the right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North, who was particularly interested in the costs of new building. Of course, these are vitality serious factors. But the rent-paying capacity of the average citizen has risen; and also, even if there is, on individual buildings, be they flats or bought-in dwellings, a shortfall of revenue, the burden on the local authority is infinitely less than the cost of putting children to care—less in terms of money quite apart from in terms of human happiness.
So the first major theme of what can be done is the provision of more houses. I know that the L.C.C. shares this view. I hope that through all its great efforts at the moment, by organisation, industrialisation, standardisation, using the 330 sites which exist and forcing us to find more when they run out, it will manage to step up its rate of production.
The L.C.C. has bought 350 empty houses. The hon. Member for Bermondsey said that there are a large number of houses—he spoke of several thousands—in different parts of the county which are wholly or partly empty. I accept that in some cases there may be difficulties in buying empty houses, but we would hope that the L.C.C. would try to buy some of them. If it finds great difficulties in certain cases, it knows that it is open to it, where suitable, to invite us to confirm a compulsory purchase order.
The hon. Lady the Member for Peck-ham explained very cogently that if the L.C.C. buys good houses for the homeless those on the waiting list will bitterly resent the homeless getting such good treatment. In general, the L.C.C. in housing matters is often a model for other authorities, but it may be that in this one field it has something to learn from others. I will not be so invidious as to pick out other authorities; they are listed in the back of the survey giving the number of homeless in major cities. However, the fact is that despite similar problems in many other major cities, the number of homeless is much less. This could be caused by any one of a number of factors or a combination of them. But I believe that some authorities—I hope that the L.C.C. will follow up this suggestion—may have a better method of buying in houses which are not very good in order to take the first shock of any homelessness that there is. I leave that idea with the L.C.C.
As for the cost of buying houses, I believe sincerely that the L.C.C.—which, after all, received £4 million of subsidy from the taxpayer last year; I know that it has many things to do with its money but it had a housing revenue totalling £22 million last year—could afford to buy a few hundred more. But I have invited the members of the L.C.C. to submit a proposal to me if they really feel that they cannot afford to buy more.
The hon. Member for Fulham disposed quickly of under-occupation of L.C.C. dwellings. I grant all the difficulties, which he recognised, and I grant that there is no sudden panacea here. 331 I merely suggest that a combination of rent policy and the building of some more smaller dwellings as in-fillings on the L.C.C.'s estates may bring a slight alleviation and have some slight effect over a time.
It would be wrong of me to suggest that the L.C.C. could put more re-lets— it puts 75 a year now—at the disposal of the homeless. It is a difficult and invidious job for it to judge how to dispose of its vacant dwellings. I know that it has this in mind. But I am anxious to stress to the Council, as my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby suggested, that it would not be improper for them to go in for a larger temporary programme to meet this emergency. I think I can rely upon it considering this. So much for comments on what can be done at the moment.
It would be wrong of me not to say a word on a common target of the debate—the landlord. Of course some landlords exploit their position. No one denies it. There are certain protections in certain circumstances which are available to tenants in this position. I am not pretending that they are all-embracing. But the fact is that the landlords, or their predecessors, were those who saved the money with which to build or buy the houses that are serving society very well today. If they had not done that job, there would be fewer houses today for our expanded population. Wars and controls inseparable from wars have distorted all the incentives that normally lead a landlord to maintain his property. But no one serves the public purpose who abuses the whole race of landlords simply because some of them exploit their position.
I come now to sum up what I think has been the lesson of the debate. When all has been said and done, when we have done all we can to make better use of existing stocks of dwellings, the only hope for London and for Londoners is for two things—a continued drop in the resident population and a continued and much faster increase in dwellings, mainly low cost, either within the county or without, for Londoners.
I would like to think that more home ownership would help in the short-term here, but there is no disguising the fact that people who are homeless or on the 332 edge of homelessness have not nearly the prudent level of income which would would make it possible, even if they were helped by easier mortgages, to buy a house and maintain it. Indeed, in the absolute shortage of dwellings no one would be helped if more purchasers were put into the market. It would simply drive up the prices of existing stocks.
Nor do I see, I must tell my hon. Friends, any immediate hope in London —the long term is another matter—of any joint efforts by private enterprise and local authorities, although I hope that more and more private enterprise will enter upon low cost housing.
Finally, one cannot maintain the prosperity of a great city, in which the large majority of people live more comfortably than ever before, by freezing the pattern of life in it. People will seek prosperity. It is necessary, at the same time, to provide for those who cannot survive in these circumstances in decent conditions. That is why we undoubtedly need more low-cost housing in London and for Londoners. My job is to try to help the L.C.C. and other local authority housing providers to achieve just that.