§ [THIRD DAY]
Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [30th October]:
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:—
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.—[Mr. Aitken.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ 3.5 p.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Sir Keith Joseph)
The Gracious Speech stresses the resolve of Her Majesty's Government to promote further improvement in the housing of the people. Despite all that has been done, we still have a large and continuing housing task in front of us, with very many difficulties to solve. The Government intend to increase the pace at which the work is tackled. We shall use new methods of organisation, we shall use, where suitable, new methods of construction, but I want to warn the House at once that there are no large windfall gains in housing to be made overnight or between one year and the next year.
What we are seeking to do is, over the next few years, to accelerate the progress of most of the elements of the housing programme and to keep the pace up until the housing of the entire nation is decent. We shall be setting in hand over the next few months really significant changes of approach and changes of speed which will enable us, from about 1964, to start overtaking much more rapidly the backlog of shortages, the backlog of slums and the backlog of obsolescence, while keeping pace with the continuing large rise in population.
The bulk of the nation today is batter housed than ever before, but that only makes the squalor and overcrowding 324 that remain the more intolerable. It is natural, faced with these evils, to be impatient and to urge the immediate and wholesale eradication of what is so intolerable, but we cannot do it all at once. As in so many other spheres, we need priorities.
I would suggest to the House that in housing we have two pairs of twin tasks in front of us. First, we have to demolish the slums and, as the second part of that first twin task, we have at the same time to build up our stock of houses until there are decent houses for all, with enough choice for the mobility of the people which is so essential to efficiency and happiness.
Than, we must recognise that this task of building up the stock is not just a question of catching up with the backlog that has been left from the war, and the recovery, and the increase of population and households. We need 100,000 extra dwellings each year just to cope with that year's increase of population and households. But, as each town completes that twin first task—abolishing its slums and catching up with its shortages—that town will be able to turn to the next pair of twin tasks that lie ahead; that is to say, to continue to build for rising population and to set in hand the renewal of that large stock of houses that axe obsolete—though not slums—and cannot be improved.
But, urgent as this task of renewal is, and large as the numbers of houses are that will have to be renewed, it really does not make sense to start pulling down houses on a large scale that are not slums until we have enough houses for all the households in the country to live in decently. Renewal will be the massive task of the late 'sixties and of the 'seventies, but we must not contemplate moving into that task on a large scale until our housing stock is larger and the known slums are down, demolished and done with.
Before turning to the main tasks which I wish to describe this afternoon, perhaps I may say a word about the relationship between my right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works and myself. My right hon. Friend gave me warning that owing to a long-arranged meeting at the Building Research Station he might not be able to come here in time this afternoon. He 325 and I are, of course, working, and will continue to work, closely together. Our fields are not conterminous, but we each have in our own field the same interest to get more building done by increased productivity. It is for me to influence, as far as I can, the vast buying power of the local authorities and the new town corporations. It is for me to influence the sort of houses they should build and the sort of methods they should use to get them built.
People sometimes underestimate the power for good of enlightened clients. Enlightened clients can accelerate the speed of development, of invention, of progress, and of adaptation, of those people from whom they expect to order goods, and I hope that my right hon. Friend and I—I see that my right hon. Friend has just arrived from his Building Research Station appointment—can together stimulate the building industry and its suppliers to much higher productivity by various methods. On the housing side my right hon. Friend deals mainly with the building industry and its suppliers, while I concern myself with a large group of its clients. Together I am sure we can do much to bring the faster progress we need.
I have not time today to cover all the subjects that interest hon. Members on the housing front, but, if I may, I will pick out three themes in particular to deal with: first, the local authority programme; secondly, some aspects, and only some aspects, of owner-occupation; and, thirdly, housing improvement. I do not pretend that there are not many other subjects that are vitally important, but I cannot deal with them all comprehensively now.
First, there is the local authority programme. The short fact is that the Government are urging all local authorities with housing needs, whether slums or shortages, to go faster. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has allocated extra resources for local authority housing. My Department has opened an office in Manchester to advise those towns and cities with the biggest problems, and, of course, we have found that the local authorities with housing needs are only too eager to go as fast as they can. But we all know the difficulties.
The building industry is fully employed, and traditional building crafts- 326 men will be kept busy for a very long time. Local authorities wanting to go faster, as so many do, will have somehow to get the necessary labour. That is why my right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works and I are suggesting that they should use a number of different methods to overcome that shortage of labour.
Local authorities should go in for long-term contracts so as to attract capable labour in the area for housing purposes. They should combine to place large orders for factory-made housing systems. The factory-made systems of building dwellings comprise a wide range of possibilities. On the one hand, some factory-made housing really only uses a rather larger number than usual of rather larger standardised components with which to build. On the other hand, at the other extreme, there are factory-made systems of housing which really transfer to the factory all the production that normally occurs, in all weathers, on the building site.
The more that is done in the factory, the larger the cost of the factory equipment and the longer the run has to be to make that cost economic. This will all mean greater standardisation of types of dwelling as well as of components, but there will still be flexibility and variety in layout, building blocks and finishes. Local authorities are quickly seeing the value of this sort of approach, and we are seeking to get economic orders and costs by urging them to group together.
I must, however, warn the House that the systems so far developed that offer the largest economies in the traditional building crafts are nearly all for flat building. They are for multi-storey building. They involve the use of cranes and heavy lifting equipment. We shall use as many of those systems as seem good here. A number of British firms are developing such systems, or are proposing to produce and build by them under licence. But this country will always want to have the bulk of its housing on a two- or three-storey basis. That is why we cannot go too far as, perhaps, some Continental countries—particularly in Eastern Europe—have gone in allowing the flat solution of the housing problem to be the only one. We need much quicker development of factory-built house systems as distinct 327 from factory-built flat systems, because, as I say, houses will always remain the bigger part even of our public authority building.
The other value of the factory house building system as opposed to the flat building system is that if it is designed correctly and suitably, it can be used by the smaller and even the small builder—the builder without heavy equipment—and can be used in small numbers, and the components can, if all goes well, be ordered through the normal stockists—
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
On the point of prefabrication, to get speed and economy this is obviously good, but has my right hon. Friend given thought to the real bottleneck, which lies in such things as plumbing, plastering, etc.? It is there where the bottleneck is. Is that bottleneck being thought of? Is there any idea for speeding up this part of house building?
§ Sir K. Joseph
Yes, but we have gone far further in development for flat systems, where the kitchen and lavatory tend to be near together and lend themselves to prefabrication, than in houses where the kitchen and bathroom generally tend to be on different floors. We need to make more progress on the house side than on the flat side, and, as my hon. Friend says, there is more scope for progress here.
We shall seek in every way we can to encourage this progress. My right hon. Friend and I will seek to accelerate the process by standardising the dimensions and other features of many components so that they can be used by a number of different systems in common.
But this industrialised building will not supersede traditional building for a long time. Traditional methods, helped, I hope, by much more standardisation of components, will continue to dominate the housing scene, though we hope that alongside will develop much greater use of industrialised building systems. There will be plenty of work for all in the constructional industry.
Again, I warn that there cannot be short-term results from the adoption of these systems. Multi-storey systems are only beginning to get established, and the light-weight systems of building houses are still in the development stage.
328 What really matters is the attitude of the local authorities. I find them most enthusiastic. It is their ability, with our help, to organise forward programmes which alone can make industrialised building systems economic so that they can serve our housing need. But if, together, we succeed, these systems certainly offer real possibilities of extra housing with little extra call on labour over the coming years.
I have committed the Government to the hope that by this and other means we shall double and treble over the next few years the rate of progress of slum clearance in some of the areas where the concentration of slums is most intense I have already, I hope, vindicated myself of any charge that I am presenting too optimistic a picture, for I have stressed that there can be no dramatic change from one year to the next.
I now give the House some of the figures which are available. Some of them are encouraging; some are not. In each case I am discussing only slum clearance and not the additional number of houses which in any town are devoted not to slum replacement. I am quoting in each case the average annual clearance rate for the years 1959–61 and the average annual aim of each town over the years 1963–67. I stress again that these figures represent the average annual rate.
I have six examples. Halifax has been clearing at the rate of 140 houses a year on average. It hopes to get up to 540 a year within the next two or three years and to stay there while the job remains to be done. Smethwick has in the past been clearing 50 houses a year and in the immediate future—in the next two or three years—hopes to clear 200 a year. Oldham, one of the blackest spots for slums in the United Kingdom, has been clearing houses at the rate of 300 a year. It hopes—and this is the local authority's own hope and programme—to get up to between 800 and 900 a year over the next two or three years and to stay at that rate, or higher if possible, until the job is done. Bootle has moved from clearing 70 houses a year to a hope of clearing 200 a year. Merthyr Tydfil will, it is hoped, go from 80 a year to 160 a year and Swansea from 75 to 160 a year. 329 Manchester was clearing at the rate of about 1,500 houses a year but expects to reach a rate of 4,000 a year over the next two years. That is not enough. We all recognise that, but it is a sign of what local authorities can do.
I now come to the least successful end of the scale. We all know the urgent needs of Liverpool and Birmingham. Both local authorities expect to double their rate of progress in the next two to three years, but that will leave them clearing houses at the rate of only about 3,000 a year, and that is not a figure which can satisfy them, us, or anyone else. They need to go faster, and they will. But the next job rests with us—the Government, in co-operation with the local authorities—to get them the land so that they can accelerate their pace still more. We have told the local authorities to assume, in making their programmes, that the land will be available, and I have never disguised the fact that this will be our largest problem.
§ Mrs. E. M. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)
Do the Government intend to do anything about controlling the price of land? If not, it will not be a bit of use looking for house building land suitable for ordinary people, those who wish to pay ordinary rents, because land prices have become outrageous as a result of the actions of this Government.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I have told the House what these local authorities plan to do and that they have been told that the Government regards it as the Government's duty to keep under continuous review the subsidy arrangements. I repeat that pledge. We shall keep the arrangements under review so that no city will be held up in its task of slum clearance or building for the present shortage because of financial reasons. Provided the city concerned arranges its finances fairly and sensibly between the rent-payer and the rate-payer, we on behalf of the tax-payer will play our part. I have given the House details of what local authorities expect to do and I have added the assurance that the subsidy arrangements will be reviewed as is necessary to enable them to carry out their programmes.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—330
§ Sir K. Joseph
I have a large amount of ground to cover. Let me explain that while this problem of land is vitally important for local authorities, it is equally important to the growth of building for sale to owner-occupiers. Owner-occupation is growing strongly, but I recognise—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. G. Lloyd) said in his admirable speech on Tuesday—that it is still out of the reach of many families who are making desperate efforts to strive for it. I am studying the extent of this gap. But the demand is still strong and might be stronger if the builders could step up their pace of building. They could I am sure, if they wished, and one of the things which would make them wish to build more would be an assurance that they would not as a whole be allowed to run out of land.
They—the builders of houses for sale—like the local authorities, must have land to do their job. We are now at the Ministry carrying out a thorough survey into the land needs of the next twenty years in the South-East, the North-West and the Midlands. Sometime next year we shall have the results of our researches.
Essential to the whole review of land needs and of the decisions which must follow is our distribution of industry policy. This, of course, is clearly recognised.
Armed with the results of this survey of land needs, we shall consult the planning authorities and look to them to make the necessary arrangements for land to be available to fit the needs shown and to conform to industrial, transport and agricultural considerations. But all this will take time. Thus it is our long-term or middle-term plan. But it will ensure that land is continuously available for local authorities and for the use of private builders.
In the meantime, there are the short-term needs. We cannot wait for these reviews next year, and for the results to flow from them. That is one of the jobs I have given to the Manchester office of my Department. It will be its task to report to me now if the accelerated programme of any town puts that town in any danger of being unable to keep its house building going through the lack of land. If and when that happens, 331 it will be for me to see that action is taken to provide the necessary land in time.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby) rose—
§ Sir K. Joseph
If a need is shown for further offices they will be opened, but we have staff at Manchester capable of covering those towns. I think it would be best to see how this system works.
On the land side we are also constantly encouraging planning authorities to see that land is released as it is needed to keep the house building going. There are places where physical or planning barriers limit the amount of land that can be released, but we shall see to it that, wherever practicable, where land is needed it is made available—if not always exactly where it is wanted, then somewhere in the nearest practicable place. Private builders can, therefore, go ahead and use their land in the confident knowledge that more will be continuously released—though I cannot possibly guarantee that each locality and each builder will get a share.
I must now say a word about the place in the United Kingdom where the housing pressure is at its greatest, in London. Here, perhaps, the need for more land is more intense than anywhere else. Here in London the need is, perhaps, more intense than anywhere else to speed up the rate of building—and so for the land we have to be used more quickly, which will mean enabling further land to be opened.
The survey of the South-East will enable us to plan for the 1960s and 1970s. But ahead of that I hope, by one means or another, to step up the rate of building for Londoners. I am pursuing with intensity a number of prospects of more land. I am urging local authorities to use the land they have as fast as they can, by industrialised building systems where appropriate, and I will 332 ensure that more land will be made available. I am also following up other ideas.
§ Sir K. Joseph
Hon. Members surely know about the expensive site subsidy which brings the taxpayer in heavily to the help of local authorities' building. I have undertaken that where local authorities show that the subsidy arrangements are not sufficient, those arrangements will be reviewed. That is a definite undertaking which I have given. I would say that in the discussions that I am having with local authorities they are taking that assurance and are entering into programmes such as I have described, which show that they rely on it.
Now I turn from new buildings, whether for slum clearance, for general needs, or for owner occupation, to another vital part of our housing effort. Behind the known slums stand 4 million old houses, half of them over 100 years old and most of them gravely obsolete. Some can be improved with modern facilities; some cannot be. On those which do not warrant the spending of public money for improvement—the unimprovable non-slums—I am at the moment preparing a set of policy proposals, so as to be able to deal with what are called twilight houses in the twilight areas of our towns and cities. They represent a task of renewal which can, I think, best be tackled by a partnership between private enterprise and local authorities. I hope to publish these policy proposals by mid-1963.
But probably about half of these 4 million old houses can be improved. We are making reasonable advances by our present voluntary methods, and I shall be putting out further publicity to try to increase the rate of progress by persuasion. But I must frankly confess that the Government are not satisfied with the progress in this whole field of improvement.
Perhaps now our methods, admirable though they were at the start, are too rigid. Perhaps we should allow grants to be made even if the entire range of modern facilities specified cannot be accommodated. We may have to be more flexible.
333 Then there is a much more difficult point. Perhaps we may have to contemplate putting some pressure on landlords and tenants who will not cooperate. It is not good sense to allow hundreds of thousands of solid houses to become more and more repugnant to those people who will have to occupy them.
Then there are the families who will still, however fast we go, have to be, for a number of years, occupants of houses which will be among the last to be cleared in the cities and towns with the greatest concentration of slums. However fast we go, these houses will have to remain in use for a number of years. The least that we can do for these families in their plight is to try to ease their lot by some palliative. I have in mind only some sort of minimal patching of the houses, if we can, and the use of prefabricated bath units either inside, or, where practicable, tacked on outside. There are questions of what it is feasible to do and of the amount that it is sensible to spend for a very limited period of time on houses that are shortly to be demolished.
I am studying this whole improvement grant field with these sorts of ideas in mind. I must remind the House that changes would need legislation, and I would want to consult local authorities first. But I thought that hon. Members would like to know the way my mind is working. I hope to come to conclusions on this whole range of problems within six months, and I Shall report the results then.
There is, of course, a great deal of ground that I have not attempted to cover. On one important subject raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House on Tuesday, namely leaseholds, I am pledged to report when the Government's study is completed. I shall, of course, do so.
I hope that the House will recognise the implications of what I have tried to say. We need more houses faster, and we need to get them by one means or another with very much the same building labour force as now. The local authorities are being urged to step up their pace; private enterprise housing, too, has a greater part to play. We are determined to break through the ring of difficulties imposed by a fully employed 334 building industry and by the land shortage where land is most needed.
Let me finish as I began. I am not promising a quick transformation. I see no easy solution; no rapid gains. The local authority programme is certainly going to rise. There will be some increased building next year and more the year after. But my job is to launch a programme which, over the next years and within the next decade, will overtake the shortages, eliminate the bulk of the slums, renew much of the unimprovable, improve most of the improvable, and yet keep pace with the needs of a rapidly rising population and rising standards. What I do promise therefore is steady, comprehensive and systematic progress so that the nation as a whole can, as soon as modern methods make it possible, take pride in the housing of all its people.
§ Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)
Can my right hon. Friend say if it is his intention to carry out a national land survey to see what land will be available for our future building requirements and whether it is sufficient without taking some part of the green belt?
§ Sir K. Joseph
My hon. Friend must recognise that the researches on the areas of the South-East, the North-West and the Midlands, where the conflict between different demands for good land is most severe, will give all the information we need for our immediate policy.
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
Like the Minister, I shall concentrate nearly all that I have to say on the subject of housing, although there are references in the Gracious Speech to the distinct but related subjects of health and welfare and the duties of local authorities, about which I shall hope to say a word.
I think that now that we have heard the Minister's major speech on this topic in a new Session we should be prepared to say that he brings to his job, at any rate in speech and gesture, a vigour which was lacking in the complacent approach of his predecessor and in some ways it is more welcome than the apparent, I hope only the apparent, cold-heartedness of him who held the Ministry before then.
But I think that we should also feel that if the speech to which we have 335 listened had been made when the Government had first taken power, if it had been made even at the beginning of this Parliament and not after it is three years old, we should have gone away saying that here at any rate was a promising beginning. But we are not supposed to be at the beginning now. The Government are supposed to be in the middle of solving this problem, and while we can congratulate the Minister on having discovered some things that need doing, the staggering thing is that, despite constant advice from many quarters, his predecessors—fellow members of the same Government—never realised these things earlier.
We are now being told that possibly we shall get results by 1964. There is not the least reason in the nature of the case why the undertakings that the Minister has given and every promise of progress should not have been made several years ago and the whole programme advanced that much.
The other doubt that we have is this. I think that we must all of us respect the Minister's approach to these problems, his personal qualities, his administrative gifts, but we are bound to ask whether the Government have the legislative powers to deal with the really hard nuts in this problem. They include the provision of land, rates of interest and the powers of private landlordism. If the Government have not the powers, are they going to ask Parliament to give them those powers, because without such powers no administrative gifts of the Minister will solve the problem?
Let us take what the right hon. Gentleman tells us about the slums. We were glad to hear that in the cities which he mentioned, and in other cities, the slum clearance rate is to be doubled or trebled. Would the right hon. Gentleman now care to look over the figures and slum clearance targets announced by those cities five years ago? What they now hope to do exceeds by a good deal what they are doing. But if does not exceed by anything like so much what they hoped to do when the alleged slum clearance drive started five or six years ago. On the basis of the survey in 1955 and the progress since, it was estimated that we have roughly 500,000 336 dwellings which we could call slums In reality it is about double that figure and in twenty years from now, by the mere efflux of time, another 3 million dwellings will have passed into the category of slums. That gives a need for 200,000 houses a year for the next twenty years, on average, to deal with the slum problem alone.
I think we ought to begin to realise the size of that problem. At present there is no precise definition of slums. My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) referred to this matter recently at the Labour Party Conference at Brighton. Our party's view is that we should say that any house which clearly cannot be brought up to the twelve-point standard now required for an improvement grant should be regarded as a slum and due for clearance. If it is impossible to clear it in the next five years we ought to do such patching-up repairs as will make life at least tolerable for those dwelling in these properties. If houses can, at reasonable expense, be brought up to the twelve-point standard it should be the job of the nation to see that they are brought up to that standard. If a private owner will not do it—I am speaking now of rented property—the public authority will have to take over from him both the property and the responsibility.
I was glad to hear what the Minister had to say about the programme for modernisation that he is considering; whether there ought to be power to bring pressure on landlords and tenants—the tenant perhaps has his contribution to make. We have been urging the need to bring pressure on landlords for this purpose year after year in Starding Committee debates on various pieces of housing legislation, in debates in this House and in Committee of Supply. I was glad to hear the Minister say that he is considering moderating the conditions on which an improvement grant may be made. I think that a reasonable proposition. I thought so when it was advanced about eighteen months ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun). I still have in my possession an anthology of letters from the Minister's predecessor explaining how and why it could not be done, and so I was glad to hear that there has been some movement in that matter. But why do the Government, in their 337 housing policy, always have to move eighteen months or two years behind the Opposition? They have, as have every Government, a wealth of expert advice and administrative skill available to them which is not available to the Opposition or to any private person. But the Government always lag behind in ideas.
To cope with the problem of providing 200.000 houses a year for twenty years—a gigantic problem—I believe that certain major changes of policy are necessary. Before dealing with them, may I suggest to the Minister that there are some administrative matters which he should look at. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater) has drawn my attention to a recent decision by the Ministry regarding a clearance scheme in Stoke-on-Trent, where the local authority wanted to clear about six acres of land in order to provide about sixty-six houses. Within a few weeks after the inspector's report on the scheme the Ministry was briskly telling the local authority that it could clear only two acres and build only thirty houses. The town clerk writes:My council feels that a heavy brake has already been put on them by the Government's monetary policy, but when, on top of this and in spite of the inspector's recommendation the scheme is reduced by half, they have a feeling of despondency and frustration.The extraordinary thing is that, whereas the decision to cut down could be taken within a few weeks of the inspector's report, this same authority has been waiting for twelve months for approval for a number of its slum clearance schemes. There are 2,000 houses in what no doubt the Secretary of State for Scotland would refer to as the "pipeline"; that is to say, they are waiting for Ministry approval. I suppose that we cannot blame the present Minister for all this. Bust if he wants local authorities to respond to him—and a lot of what he said in his speech will have no meaning at all unless he arouses an enthusiastic response from local authorities—he will have to improve the handling of these matters in his Ministry.
As I said, I propose to consider certain matters of major policy which are needed to deal with the slum clearance programme, because the announcement by the Minister that the rate is to be doubled and trebled for some of the areas tells us precious little. How many 338 areas and how many houses are concerned? If areas are selected which contain about 10 per cent. of slums and an announcement is made that the rate is to be doubled there, the total slum clearance rate over the whole nation has been increased by 10 per cent. and no more.
§ Sir K. Joseph
This was not evasive in any way. We hope to tackle the cities and towns which contain 70 per cent. of the known slums. I accept that there may be slums that are not yet known. But we hope to tackle other places a little later.
§ Mr. Stewart
I am glad to have a little more information on that point. As it stood, the statement could have meant anything or nothing. It is like the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman who is now at the Home Office, that in most of Britain there are no slums. That sounded very hopeful until one reflected, on the pure meaning of the words, that in most of Britain there are no houses either.
When we consider the major policies necessary for slum clearance we must also consider the building which will be necessary, not to clear slums, but to provide for new households. The Minister put that at about 100,000 a year for the next twenty years, but the figure may prove to be greater than that. Estimates of how many households there will be in 1970 or 1980 are based on guesswork. It may be highly intelligent guesswork. But there is bound to be some element of uncertainty and it may well be that we shall need 150,000 houses a year for that purpose; thus requiring a total of 350,000, against the present figure of 270,000 in England and Wales, to provide also for the growing number of households. The plight of the slum dweller is wretched enough. But I do not know how one can weigh that comparative wretchedness against the wretchedness of a family, or a group of families, which has to live year after year in a space not large enough for decent development. The usual pattern is that of a young man or woman, married, and still having to live with their parents-in-law in a house which is big enough only for one family.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway)—who, I 339 hope, may have the good fortune to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, and so be able to develop this point further—has told me that he has made a survey of the efforts of young married couples in his constituency who are endeavouring to get homes in their own towns. None has been successful in those efforts, and precious few have succeeded in getting homes even outside their own towns.
May I remind the House of the experiences of a young family to whom I referred in an earlier housing debate? As that debate took place at 5 o'clock in the morning, not many hon. Members will have already heard my reference. A young couple came to see me. The man was a highly-skilled worker earning really good wages. They had prudently postponed their marriage until they found private rented accommodation within their means. As a result they went into that accommodation after 1957, so they paid an uncontrolled rent and had no security of tenure. There they lived, prudently saving, hoping one day to buy their own home. When their first child was born the landlord decided that he did not want children in his property. It was an uncontrolled tenancy, so out they had to go. Where in London could they find something to meet their needs? They found a couple of rooms at £6 a week and there they live. Their savings are eaten up. They are living in two rooms at £6 a week because they cannot afford to buy a house, and they cannot afford to buy a house because they are living in rooms at £6 a week.
That instance exemplifies almost every defect of the Government's housing policy—the shockingly high rents which decontrol is permitting, the lack of proper accommodation, the failure to provide adequate help to young couples who want to buy their own houses. If this couple could once get over the initial hurdle of perhaps £300 or £400, the young man's income is such as to make him a good proposition for anyone who lends him the money on mortgage. But there they are stuck.
There are many who are not earning a wage like that, through no fault of their own. Not everyone can earn a 340 wage well above the average. Their position is the more wretched. I stress this point of the frequent ban by private landlordism of having children in their property. It is practised most vigorously in those parts where the housing shortage is most acute and where the bargaining power of the landlord is most serious.
I would remind hon. Members opposite that housing is supposed to be a private enterprise concern. It has been the policy of this Government to demunicipalise it as much as possible and to put as much of the responsibility for housing the people on to private enterprise as they can. This is how private enterprise all too often behaves. If any nationalised concern showed this disregard for human needs in rendering its service what would hon. Members opposite say about it?
There are not only the young married couples, but families with children reaching adolescence, such as the child reaching an age at which he needs more room to do his homework at night, the child whose parents have high hopes of his academic and scholastic success. There are the young people who want occasionally to be able to invite their friends in, and because there is no room they spend more and more of 'their evenings out on the streets. All these are aspects of the housing problem. Where and how are these people, those in the slums and those who are overcrowded, to be rehoused?
Let us face a brutal fact that the Government never have faced so far. Something like two-thirds of our population cannot afford either to buy or to pay an economic rent for a new house today. It is no good telling them that if they cut down their luxuries they could do so. The figures of the cost of building a house and the figures of people's incomes are such that what I have said is substantially true. People might argue as to the exact proportion who could afford to buy, but the decisive majority cannot afford either to buy or to pay an economic rent for a new house.
That means that inevitably if we want to sweep away slums and provide people living in them with new homes, if we want to get into new homes the people in two families who are squashed into 341 a dwelling large enough for only one, there has got to be a considerable element of subsidy and that means council house building. I know the answer that is sometimes given to this assertion. We are told that not everybody who needs a house need have a new house, that we should leave it to private enterprise to build new houses for the more fortunate sections of the population, that the more fortunate sections will move out of their present older dwellings into the new houses and the people who cannot afford new houses will move into the older ones.
As the Minister must know, things do not work as neatly as that. In the places where it is necessary to carry out slum clearance schemes there is not a nice arrangement of so many older dwellings at very moderate rents into which the people now dwelling in the slums can move. To get many of them out it is necessary to provide new dwellings for them and we cannot do it today at a price which most of them can reasonably be expected to pay either to buy a house or to rent it. That means inevitably more council houses and, indeed, the Minister himself has admitted as much in his speech.
The Government come late to this battle. The Minister hopes to see some results from his policies by 1964. Why was not a decision taken at the beginning of this Parliament to reverse the disastrous cutting down in council house building? One of the first questions that I asked the right hon. Gentleman who is now Home Secretary when I took up duties in this field was about the amount of council house building. He said hopefully that it was going up. It had gone up that month compared with the preceding month. But, in fact, 1961 is down on the total for 1960. Now at last we are told that it is coming up again.
I was glad to hear the Minister say that he would review the arrangements for subsidy if it proved necessary to do so. I think he will agree that he will need legislation to do that. I have here the Housing Act, 1961. It lays down certain rates of subsidy and certain conditions which have to be fulfilled in order to get those rates of subsidy. Section 2 says:Power to abolish or reduce subsidiesThere it is. The Minister can abolish the subsidies under this Act or he can 342 reduce them. He cannot under this Act increase them. Why is that? It is because the Government obstinately refused Amendments to that effect pressed by my hon. Friends when the Measure was in Committee. If the Minister had accepted those Amendments he would be in a position to do what he calls reviewing the subsidy arrangements without consuming time and requiring further legislation.
Once again the Government have to be taught by experience and by the Opposition. If he is thinking of further financial help to local authorities—and he must if they are to do the job that is to be placed on them—one of the most important ways of helping them will be by some relief from the burden of interest rates. I personally would say—and I think I am right about this—that, fundamentally, to enable local authorities to build houses at a favourable rate of interest is a form of subsidy. I make no concealment about that. I urge it as one of the most straightforward and easy methods of assisting local authorities in this task.
We need certain additional arrangements on top to provide for the varying needs of different local authorities. The interest rates for local authorities are becoming fantastic. The cost of building the average council dwelling has more than doubled since the present Government came into office, and about 80 per cent. of that increase is due simply to higher interest rates. That is why I say we lacked in the Minister's speech the advocacy of policies as distinct from administrative postures that would deal with this problem.
The same it true still more of land. The Minister told us that he was going to make sure that land was available whenever local authorities needed it for this work. But available at what price? It is not much good making it available to them if, when they look at what they have got to pay for it, they know they could meet it only by charging rents which would make it impossible to help the people who most need help.
May I draw the Minister's attention to a recent remark by Mr. Kirby Laing, Chairman of the well-known firm of John Laing and Son, in a paper which he gave to a conference, which the Minister himself addressed, of the Town 343 and Country Planning Association. Mr. Laing remarked that although there was progress in the redevelopment of central areas of towns for commercial use, there had been little progress so far in the redevelopment of old residential areas surrounding the commercial centres. He suggested that, in part, this was the result of high site values, brought about by commercial development, which raised housing costs beyond the means of the people whom it was intended to help.
We have the example, which I have quoted before in the House, of the Borough of Islington trying to carry through a housing scheme and finding the land for it costing £100,000 an acre. What is the good of making the land available at that price? If one wants to build a moderate-sized house in some parts of south-east England one has to pay £2,000 for the land alone before anything can be put on it.
It is no answer to say that there is the expensive site subsidy, because I ask the Minister to realise the size of the job he is undertaking—300,000 to 350,000 houses a year for the next twenty years. That is bound to be accompanied by much modernisation of other property and redevelopment of city centres. The result of all this rebuilding will be the expenditure of a good deal of public money on the one hand and a very great increase of the value of private people's land on the other. Unless the Minister can find a way of ensuring that the private person whose land is enriched by public policy makes some contribution to the cost of that policy, he will carry out the process of slum clearance and rehousing at the cost of a gigantic, arbitrary and wholly unnecessary subsidy to landowners. It does not solve our problem to say, "Help out the local authorities by giving them an expensive site subsidy". The taxpayer cannot be asked to go on for ever paying what is, in effect, this quite unjustified subsidy to people whose land is enriched as a result of nothing which they have done which has in any way enriched their country.
If the Minister is worried about the financial aspects of subsidy, let me turn to one method whereby he may make progress in building without causing financial problems for himself or for the 344 Chancellor of the Exchequer, namely, by improving the productivity of the building industry. If I have stressed the question of subsidy so far it is not because I do not believe that the productivity of the industry cannot be improved. However, I accept what the Minister said, that it is no good looking for large windfall gains in this direction.
Early experience of prefabrication was that, although it was quicker, it tended to be dearer. But I do not think that we should make that a guide for our future attitude towards prefabrication.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I wish to pin that one straight away. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree with what I say. The relative wages in factory and on site have moved sharply since that time and I do not think we should remember previous experience of prefabrication.
§ Mr. Stewart
That was what I was saying, that our previous experience should not be a guide to the future. We must try to preserve very carefully a balanced view and not think that we have only to murmur the word "prefabrication" and houses will pour out. But we must not pour too much cold water on the possibilities.
It is not a question of trying to goad an unwilling industry into adopting new and progressive methods but of getting our administrative arrangements right in the methods of contracting and in the orders that are given, so that they are such as to make it possible for the industry to make use of modern methods of building. That is the real problem.
I believe that a great many of the staff of the Ministry are toiling away on problems connected with prefabrication. But, from the Minister's point of view, it is not so much a technical problem—that is the industry's job—as an administrative one. I hope that he will in time be able to tell us what progress has been made in getting together consortia of local authorities to give larger and long continuing orders. I hope that after we have the reports of the Emerson Committee and the Committee which the Minister of Public Building and Works recently announced, we shall hear something about the simplification of contract procedures. In time we may even hear something of the emergence of the national building code which the 345 House gave the Minister power to prepare in an Act passed some time ago. All these are things with which the Minister must be concerned.
I think that it is becoming agreed that the method commonly adopted in this country of putting contracts out to tender can be very wasteful of time. I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that one way round that difficulty is to increase the use by local authorities of direct labour. I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to a well-informed comment recently made by the chairman of the Sheffield Public Works Building Committee. He said:From 1957 to 1961, the Public Works Department, competing with private firms, obtained work in open competition to the value of £6 million, quoting prices that averaged 8 per cent. less than the lowest alternative tenders.I hope that in his survey the Minister will not overlook the possibilities of the development of direct labour both by local government and, I trust, by some kind of central authority.
The other thing which the Minister needs to do in the building industry is this. He has not yet said that he will do it, but, as the Opposition have been telling him to do it for the past two years, I hope that in time it will join the list of things in respect of which the Government followed our advice. I refer to office building. I do not think we need begin by talking of wide, sweeping, general powers, but the Minister must make it clear that if any local authority is seriously obstructed in the task which he says he wants it to perform because labour is being used for building projects which, however desirable in themselves, are not as pressing as the job which we are discussing, he will take whatever powers are necessary to ensure that it can get the necessary labour and resources. We may have to say in certain circumstances to those contemplating other kinds of building, "Wait until something more urgent is done." The Government should not be afraid to do that.
Another quite different aspect of the office building problem is this. The problem of building office blocks in central London is not only—indeed, it is not mainly—that they take building labour and resources which might be 346 used to build dwellings. That is not the real evil. The trouble is that they draw round the London region more and more people who work in those offices and seek accommodation in an area already desperately overcrowded.
I understood the Minister to say that the Government recognised that we must try to spread industry more evenly. Indeed, we must. Nearly half of the new jobs which have come into existence in the last ten years have gone into the south-eastern region, which has a quarter of the population. While that goes on, we shall continue to have threats of unemployment in some parts of the country and an unspeakable traffic and housing problem in the great conurbations, of which London is the most striking example.
We learn from the Minister that the Government recognise this problem. They have instruments to deal with it, although some of them could be perfected. They have the industrial development certificate device. It should not be beyond the wit of man to apply that to commerce as well as to industry. I know that it would be a little more difficult, but it cannot be said that it is impossible. The Government have the Town Development Act which enables great cities to settle some of their population in small country towns, perhaps even in villages. This Act does not work particularly well, partly because the financial arrangements are not very generous. They are not as generous as those of its Scottish counterpart. That is something that the Minister could put right.
The right hon. Gentleman could decide to do a bit more about new towns than either of his predecessors without taxing his powers too greatly. He and his right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works could endeavour to ensure that there is a little more correlation between one set of actions by the Government affecting the question of where industry and population should go and another set of actions.
Some time ago my hon. Friends who represent constituencies in and around Birmingham were pleased to hear the announcement of the proposed new town at Dawley, in Shropshire. But almost in the same week we heard that most of the rail services in the neighbourhood 347 of the proposed new town were to disappear. I will not weary the House by endeavouring to debate railway policy in the middle of a discussion on the Queen's Speech. I merely say that, whatever may be the pros and cons of the Government's railway policy—do not let us pretend that it is Dr. Beeching's policy; he should not be used as a lightning conductor for the Government—in commercial or even transport terms, the extraordinary thing is that the Government apparently have embarked on it without even asking what will be the effect on the distribution of employment and industry and, consequently, on the housing problem. I have said a good deal about housing, but it is a part, perhaps the most important part, of the fuller and more dignified life which we hope our citizens will be able to lead in the coming decades.
There are other aspects on which I will detain the House for only a few minutes. We are told that the health and welfare services of local authorities are to be expanded, and a comparison is made with the hospital services. But, unlike the hospital services, the health and welfare services depend very heavily on local authority finance. As the Minister knows, one feature of local authority finance since the block grant was introduced is that the path is a bit easier for the local authority which is not all that keen on expanding health and welfare services and is a bit harder for the local authority which is. The local authority gets the grant anyhow, whether it is a forward or laggard authority. At a time when the Government apparently want local authorities to go forward, a block grant scheme is not a very good instrument for doing so.
The Government have been begged by hon. Members opposite as well as by my hon. Friends to try to find an additional source of local authority finance apart from the rates. If the Government mean what they say in the Gracious Speech about the development of local authority health and welfare work, they will have to take that seriously. The Minister, perhaps understandably in view of the pressure of housing, said nothing about that, but it is part of his job. It was argued in a report to the Association of Municipal Corporations recently that, 348 compared with 1939, the rate burden is not proportionately so heavy. But the trouble is that the system of rates as a way of collecting public revenue has serious inequities as between one citizen and another. If the total amount which a local authority collects is only moderate those inequities do not matter so much. But if the Government ask local authorities to spend a great deal more those inequities will become more and more apparent. If these phrases in the Gracious Speech mean anything, they must be accompanied by a readjustment of the financial burden as between ratepayer and taxpayer.
I now turn to the remark in the Gracious Speech about the shortage of teachers, because it illustrates so well the Government's habit of not doing anything until some time after the Opposition and everyone else have told them to do it. Why is there a shortage of teachers? The answer is perfectly well known. If one man is more responsible than another for this situation it is the former Minister of Eduoation. Back in 1955 we on this side began to tell him to increase the size of the teacher training colleges. His answer, which is on record, was that it was quite unnecessary to do so because, if we did, by the time that more teachers came out of them the need for more teachers would have passed. That was the Government's judgment in 1956.
At last, in 1958, they woke up to the fact that there were not enough teachers, and, despite what they have been doing since, there are not enough now. It is the same story as the housing story. Late though it is, let the Government hurry up and realise that, in addition to the Minister's administrative sprightliness, we need a more resolute policy and greater determination to get on with more council building. That means that the Government will have to abandon their traditional attitude to subsidies and interest rates. The control not only of the use but of the price of land, the proper development of new towns, a coherent policy about the location of industry throughout the country—without those things no administrative gifts will solve this problem which lies so near to the hearts and lives of so many of our fellow citizens.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Dame Edith Pitt (Birmingham, Edgbaston )
I shall not try to follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) in all the details of his speech, but I should like to take up one or two points. I think that he was less than fair in not giving some recognition to the very considerable progress this Government have made in eleven years towards the provision of new homes for the people. The figure of more than 3 million new homes is deserving of some praise, although, of course, I agree with him that there is much more to be done, as, indeed, my right hon. Friend the Minister in opening this debate said, in words I took down, when he referred to "the large and increasing task in front of us and the very many difficulties which confront us in adding to the number of houses for which a heavy demand still persists."
Again, I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham in that I admit the importance of housing in social policy. I have always believed that it is the most important part of development in social welfare, because I think it is basic. Without adequate housing we cannot hope to obtain the maximum benefits from the millions of pounds we spend on all other social services. We cannot, for instance, obtain full benefit from our National Health Service if people are not living in good housing conditions. We cannot do for our old people all that we would wish to do in the provision of supporting services enabling them to stay on in their own homes, which is what they want to do, if we have not got the right kind of small and easily run accommodation in which to house them, and I do not believe we can obtain maximum value from what we spend on education if children have not got the security of good homes. That is why I attach importance to the housing programme and to the reference in the Gracious Speech to the promotion of further improvements in this field.
I want to refer to a particular aspect, and that is home ownership. I should like to thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for his recognition, in his vigorous speech today, of the fact that till we are able to replace it we must maintain much of our present housing 350 stock and we should endeavour to make it possible to improve that to the greatest extent, and I thank him also for his recognition of the fact that there is a growing demand for owner-occupation of houses.
I believe that there has been a revolution in recent years in our outlook towards owner-occupation. I felt that we had been so long protected in the past by rent restriction during the war years, and even in the period between the wars, because we had rent restriction in the First World War and there was protection of those who continued in occupation; not only that, but there was the vigorous concentration in the postwar years on municipal building only, and I felt there was some danger that we should lose our sense of proportion as to the proper allocation of our resources, which ought to be on the three basic essentials, shelter, food and warmth. I have seen a change in recent years towards the desire to have a home of one's own and to allocate a proper amount of one's income in providing that home.
This, I think, is confirmed by the report of an inquiry into the problems of young married people, an inquiry which was conducted in my own city of Birmingham and a report which was issued in September. To my surprise, my pleasant surprise, that report revealed that no less than 84 per cent. of the young married people interviewed were in favour of home ownership and that there were others who would have liked to own their own homes though they doubted their capacity to do so. So the hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham must not be surprised if I disagree with him to a very considerable extent in his statement that two-thirds of our people cannot afford to buy houses or pay economic rents. That is not true of Birmingham, and I cannot believe that what is found in that industrialised and densely populated city is not repeated in other parts of the country.
That report was not confined to one section of the community. Great care was taken to make it representative, and the people interviewed included industrial workers, white collar workers and professional workers. I think the figure of 84 per cent. who would like—and 351 were making real endeavours—to own their own homes is both startling and encouraging, and I think they are deserving of encouragement from the Government.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
In what terms was the question put? Was it put in the terms, "Would you like to own your own home?"to which the answer is obviously "Yes"?
§ Dame Edith Pitt
No. An advertisement was issued in the local newspapers asking young married couples who would like to discuss their problems to volunteer to do so, and many of them were most willing to do so. Furthermore, people were stopped in the streets and shops and asked if they would cooperate, and there were visits to their homes, and so the pattern developed. It was taken as broadly as possible. There was no indication of who was conducting the inquiry, and they were encouraged very freely to talk about all their problems, and the general pattern which emerged was that they wanted to acquire homes of their own and that that was what was most important.
§ Mr. Walter Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)
This is interesting, because in the days of the Labour Government 2¾per cent. on a capital sum of £2,500 for a house worked out at £1 10s., while under the present Government it is 6¾per cent. which works out at £3 10s. There are not many in industry who can afford such a cost. It is not an economic figure for them.
§ Dame Edith Pitt
Well, in fact many of these young people were paying in rent more than they would pay on a mortgage repayment, if once they could get a mortgage; and this was the keen desire of the young people interviewed—to buy their own homes. It was their overwhelming desire to own their own homes. Above all else they would like to own a house, and even those unable to contemplate house purchase did not consider they would be established till they had their own houses.
What a good thing this is. It is the young wives, especially, who so strongly desire to be mistresses of their own homes—a very natural desire. If hon. Members will look backwards in time 352 they may agree that it was their wives, perhaps, who first suggested to them that it would be a good thing to buy their own houses instead of continuing to pay rent. It is also the wives, I find, who know the figures involved, who know what the mortgage repayments will be in so many cases. They also are prepared after marriage to go to work for two or three years while the money is being saved to provide for furnishing and equipment and the deposit on the house. They insist on saving. They will not let their husbands spend the money, I think we ought to do all we can to encourage them.
Another point arising out of the comment I have just made about saving, and out of the report, is that very often the young people do not know how best to invest their savings before they undertake mortgages. They do not know how to make their money work and earn while in the process of saving, and, too, they are lacking in knowledge of the technicalities of buying a house—which are quite complicated. I would suggest that some means be found of giving advice on this and other points, and if it is not possible for a Government Department, I wonder if it might be possible for the Citizens Advice Bureaux to take this up—they.have a very wide umbrella, as I know. They would certainly need someone with specialist knowledge, but I think it would be invaluable for young people who are saving so earnestly to be given advice about both investing their savings and about the technicalities which one needs to know when contemplating the purchase of a house.
Very few of the young people wanted municipal houses. Again I should like to say to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham that it just is not true that the people of this country want to become a nation of municipal tenants.
The difficulties which very often arise in the first place are getting a deposit because of the smallness of the mortgage. Building societies will grant only 80 per cent. sometimes, and the young people have not sufficient cash for the deposit.
Another difficulty is for the lower-paid worker to obtain a mortgage. Very 353 often, those young men, who have spent years, perhaps, in apprenticeship or training of some kind, are still on the lower paid rungs of the ladder, but they have got qualifications, they have got progressive jobs, and I do feel that building societies might think about looking more generously on the younger, lower-paid workers and enabling them to obtain mortgages which will in turn enable them to buy houses. I cannot think the risk is very great. After all, there is the security of the house.
Nor will building societies take some of the older villas. They very often say that funds are not available. The funds they have go readily for mortgages on new houses and so they will not look at the older type of houses, yet most of our towns—certainly Birmingham has—have a pool of the older villas, the "solid" houses, as the Minister calls them, which are capable of improvement. Indeed, when they are acquired and owned, as one sees for oneself, the improvements effected really transform those properties, and I believe that that does a good deal towards saving the properties and so saving what is a national investment.
If it is possible for those with a limited amount of money to be able to acquire those older properties, and then, because they are their own, improve them, that is a saving of an asset, and this is where the 1959 Act helped so much, in making it possible for the building societies to devote funds to the purchase of the older type of houses. I support the plea made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. G. Lloyd) on Tuesday, that the Government should consider reinstating those facilities. Indeed, I would very strongly urge my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consider making these facilities available again as quickly as possible, because I think they will enable so many more people to acquire places of their own.
I ask that we should endeavour to help those who are prepared to help themselves, the people who have shown themselves to be self-reliant in their willingness to work and save in order to acquire something of their own. I do not underestimate—no one in this House does—? the importance of getting rid of our 354 appalling slums, and I fully support the drive to provide more houses and to raise housing standards. But in our emphasis on slum clearance and municipal building we must not ignore this very important section of the community who are prepared to help themselves.
Young people are so often criticised in their teen-age years, but we see the pattern emerging that when they marry and take on responsibility they in turn become much more responsible citizens, prepared to work and save. They are deserving of encouragement, and I urge that where it lies within the power of the Government that encouragement will be given.
These developments I have been speaking of are a reflection of our higher standard of living, and in Birmingham we depend for this to a very large extent on the motor industry. I do not mean only the manufacture of motor cars, but also the (thousand and one trades in which components are made. The strength of the case put yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield for a reduction or streamlining of Purchase Tax rates as they affect motor cars is widely recognised in the Midlands.
It is unthinkable that the motor industry can bear this burden of Purchase Tax if we are to enter the Common Market, as I hope we shall. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will recognise the basic soundness of this argument and I hope that if he is able to take action he will say so in good time, for Midlands industries are preparing for entry into the Common Market. They are re-equipping and adopting new techniques, and all this involves tremendous capital outlay. So if my right hon. Friend is prepared to take away some part of the burden let him say so in time so that our industries shall be as fully equipped and as competitive as possible.
All this relates to the level of national prosperity, and it applies also to individual prosperity. We should continue to provide opportunities which make prosperity available and continue to help those people, particularly young people, to enjoy the security and satisfaction of a home of their own. I want them to 355 be able to put a key in a door and feel, "This is mine. I have earned and paid for it. This is my own place".
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)
I have listened with very great interest to the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame Edith Pitt). It was my intention to discuss the same issue she has raised—the need of newly married young people for homes of their own. Last April, I urged the then Minister of Housing and Local Government that there should be a national inquiry into this subject. I did that after the experiences which I am sure that hon. Members on both sides have had—letters from newly married people and interviews in our political "surgeries" when they come to tell their stories. All hon. Members must have appreciated in recent months the difficulties of newly married people in obtaining their own homes.
I was, therefore, very disappointed when the Minister declined to undertake that kind of survey. But the issue had a good deal of Press attention and one of the national newspapers, which probably has a larger readership among young people than any other, decided that since the Government had declined to make this kind of survey it would make one itself. The newspaper to which I refer is the Sunday Pictorial,and I will read the conclusions of its survey because I shall be reporting later on a survey in the town of Slough, in my constituency, and the conclusions of the Sunday Pictorialsurvey are almost exactly the same as those obtained in Slough.
The Sunday Pictorialsurvey showed that out of every 100 couples married for under five years, 53 were living with their parents; in 10 cases the husband and wife were in different homes, sometimes miles apart; only 37 in every 100 cases had been able to obtain rented accommodation while six out of the 100 were living in caravans because they could not obtain accommodation. Only two in every 100 were managing to buy their own houses.
The survey also reported that 21 per cent. spoke of tension between them- 356 selves or their parents as a result of living with "in-laws", or in these crowded conditions, While 90 par cent. who had found 'rooms had had to move. Nearly half had lived in three or more places within five years, and most had had to leave because they were expecting a child, and children were not permitted in that accommodation, or because they were unable to pay the increased rents which followed the Rent Act.
Eleven per cent. were under notice to quit their accommodation at the time of writing, while 22 per cent. said that they had either been evicted or had been refused tenancies because they had children. Twelve per cent. said that they had not started a family because of their housing difficulties, while 37 per cent. said that applications for mortgages had been turned down because they could not raise the deposit or could not afford the instalments.
When the Government refused my request for an investigation into this problem I decided that in my own constituency town of Slough I would write to every newly married couple over a period of four months. I followed the marriage announcements in the local Press and wrote to all of them. Altogether, I wrote to 145 and I had 67 replies, which is a fairly high percentage for an inquiry of that kind.
These replies showed very similar circumstances to the survey carried out by the Sunday Pictorial.I admit at once that it is likely that those who did not reply were not in the same urgent difficulties as those who did. It would be natural that they would be the least likely to reply. But the replies which I did receive were startling and shocking. I report them without comment at this point.
Not a single one of the 67 newly married people in Slough had been able to get a home in that town. Twelve had been able to obtain homes outside Slough, in Datchet, Burnham, Maidenhead and Ascot. But not a single family had been able to obtain a home in the town in which they had been living and working. Secondly, 43 of the 67 were living with their "in-iaws"—two-thirds of them. Thirdly, 12 couples—half the remaining cases—were living in one or two rooms. Seven couples had one room each and five were in two rooms. Four of the 67 357 were living in caravans because they could not get other accommodation. In three cases, husband and wife were compelled to live in different homes.
If that survey in Slough is reflective of the conditions of young people who are getting married today, then there is a handicap against the new generation Which no one in this House who is thinking of the prospects for the future ought to be content to accept for a single moment.
I admit that there are particular difficulties in Slough. They are the difficulties of a prosperous town—the difficulty that we have 1,000 vacancies at our employment exchange and that workers pour into the town, where there is no accommodation for them. That is not only a problem of Slough, but of a large part of the South of England. It is also a problem of the Midlands, about which the hon. Lady was speaking, and it is a problem of other parts of the country. I recognise those problems.
There is one other factor in the situation in Slough which should be mentioned if one is to judge fairly. We have large overflow L.C.C. housing estates, and the children on those estates are now growing to marriageable age. The L.C.C. does not take responsibility for providing houses for these young people, but leaves it to the locality.
I shall read to the House some of the letters I have received. I found it extraordinarily difficult to select those which I should bring to the attention of right hon. and hon. Members. The first letter which I wish to quote from a young couple says:We now are living with my wife's mother. …We are trying to save hard for the next three years to try and have a home of our own.At the moment, houses in this area range from £3,500 to £5,000, and I'm afraid that at the present time a house of our own is completely out of the question.Also, the prices of furnished and unfurnished rooms and flats in this area are terrible. The prices range from 8 guineas to 12 guineas per week. How can a couple get married and possibly pay that kind of rent? ֵ We have been accepted on the housing list. I have been informed that there is at least three years waiting for us on this list, but what else can we do?I draw particular attention to this next passage, because this is a human 358 problem which will appeal to all hon. Members:My wife is now 25 and myself 22, and we desire to have children. To have a child now, in the position that we are in, would be extremely unfair to the child.…It means very much to my wife to have a child, but, being as we only have the one bedroom at home, it is most certainly out of the question. What we intend to do is carry on living with mother-in-law…for a few years, and try very hard to save for a place of our own…that is our position, and I suppose that there are many young couples in the same boat as we are.The second of the replies says:We looked for a flat for two months without success. One person wanted seven guineas, which was beyond our means. Then I visited a lady and her son, who replied to our advertisement. They wanted £5 per week for what she called part furnished. It comprised a bathroom, kitchen (sink only), breakfast room and the bedroom, just room for the bed.When I asked where the furniture was she told me I was standing on it; four pieces of oilcloth. The place was badly in need of decoration. When I mentioned it, she said that she would allow me to decorate it and pay for the material, but she would have to choose colour and style of wallpaper. I am afraid I just laughed and said,'No, thank you'. We now live with my parents at a council house…The third letter said:My parents only rent the house and are not supposed to have lodgers or to sub-let. This is a worry to us. All of us are always afraid that we shall be turned out if the owners find out.I have found that quite frequently.
Another letter says:I am a Slough born boy and became married recently. My wife is expecting a baby soon and as far as we can tell we will not ever have a home of our own at all. It is not for the want of trying though. My wages are not high enough to take out a mortgage to buy a house or other accommodation…Another letter says:We have been perhaps a little more fortunate than some, in so much that we have one small room for which we are charged …£3 10s. per week and half the electricity bill which comes every three months.…But how can we complain? At least we are not living with in-laws, and for that we must be thankful. But this is 1962 and not 1862 and in this modern day and age it strikes me as diabolical that we cannot have children which we would like very much. And even if we could save a deposit for a place of our own, I do not earn £20 a week so I am unable to obtain a mortgage without a deposit of about £800 on a £2,850 house.359 Another letter says:We got married and for the first month we lived with my wife's parents at the above address. Then we put a deposit on the caravan we are living in now. We could not get on the Eton Rural Council list because we had not lived in the Britwell Estate for five years. We could not get on the Slough Council list because we live in a caravan. Then we got notice …to leave the caravan site. I tried to get on about 40 other caravan sites, but could not get on any of these sites unless I bought a new caravan off them. We are still on the …site, but we are living in agony unless they come and tow us on to the road. I have tried to get a flat in Slough but it is next to impossible, as they do not allow babies…Another letter says:I rented a furnished flat at the above address when I got married in May, 1960 paying £4 10s. per week rent. The flat is one sitting room, one bedroom, small kitchen and bathroom. We had a daughter in June, 1961, and another a week ago. Shortly before the latest one was born the landlady gave us notice to get out by 9th June. You can imagine the worry to my wife in her condition. We have been everywhere looking for accommodation. but it is just not there. So there it is. After paying her nearly £500 in two years which is over one-third of my total earnings, I have absolutely no security at all.The last letter which I wish to quote is from a couple who wrote to me not in reply to my questionnaire, but because they had heard of others writing to me. It says:We have been married three and halt years and have two daughters aged two years and nine months and one year and nine months. When our first baby was born, the rows started and they have gone on ever since and we have been under eviction so many times that we have lost count. We have tried to get other accommodation, but as we have two children we get turned down each time. We are at present living in one room with the children sleeping in the same room. We have the use of kitchen and bathroom. In the winter when it is raining we have to dry clothes and the children have to play also in the room. My wife's nerves are not very good and she just breaks down often. We cannot afford to buy our own home on my wages.I have read these letters because they show that we are dealing with a human problem. When the House has to discuss statistics and interest rates, we lose sight of the human problem which is at the root. First, I would say this. The adjustment of marriage in the early days is often difficult, and if we compel newly married people to live in these conditions all the chances are against the adjust- 360 ments being happily made. Tension inevitably arises and conflict between the married couple will arise. These tensions are greatly increased when the young married couple have to live with "in-laws". There is often no privacy even for conversation between the young couple. They get cross with each other and the marriage is in danger of being destroyed even in its early months.
Secondly, the crowded conditions with "in-laws" or in rented accommodation often means that a young married couple will refrain from having children because they want their children to have a better chance than they can possibly give them in those conditions. On other occasions they have to refrain because they will be kicked out into the street if they do have children. They are in the difficult situation that they cannot get a council house because they do not have children, and they dare not have children in their present conditions of overcrowding.
Thirdly, the letters show that it is practically impossible for a young married couple to get a mortgage to buy a house unless the man's wage reaches £20 a week. The hon. Lady the Member for Edgbaston spoke about home ownership, but these young people do not have the opportunity to buy a home.
I want to emphasise a point which the hon. Lady made. We spend a great deal on the social services, but unless there in an opportunity to live in a good home, these social services are wasted, not only in money but in human development. We emphasise the importance of apprenticeships to the younger generation and we are developing technical education, technical colleges and so on—in Slough we have some of the most beautiful schools in the country—and there are opportunities to go to university and colleges of further education. We are constantly emphasising the need for facilities for athletics and sport for young people and building community centres. But what is the value of all that help to our younger generation when at least half of those who get married cannot get a home? If they cannot get a home, all the other things become of less account.
What are the remedies? I recognise at once that this is part of the whole housing problem. It emphasises its urgency and importance. There are two 361 things which I especially urge for the newly weds. The first is that when local authorities are considering the allocation of houses, when they go on the principle that the houses should go first to those in need, I urge that the need of newly married people to have an opportunity for a happy married life, their desire for children, and so on, should be one of the considerations in the minds of local authorities in their housing allocations.
I do not quite understand the hon. Lady's emphasis on home ownership as though there was some difference between her party and mine. We believe in home ownership. We do not believe in private landlordism, which means that an individual owns the house in which someone else lives. We do not believe in it because it leads to exploitation. But we certainly believe in home ownership by those who live in the house.
I go on from there to make my second proposal. I suggest to the Minister that in looking at this problem which faces young married people he should consult local authorities, building societies, and representatives of youth organisations, and try to discover a means by which loans at low rates of interest can be made available to these young people. The rate of interest should be nothing like that which is normally charged by the building societies.
The adoption of such a policy would not mean insecurity for the building societies or the local authorities. There would be the security of the house in which the young couple lived. If such a policy were adopted, I believe that there would at last be an opportunity for many of these young married couples to get out of these stultifying conditions of living with in-laws or living in crowded conditions in one or two rooms.
I make no apology for raising this issue this afternoon. We are all looking to the new generation and to the future of this country, but the first essential for these young people when they get married is a home which gives a promise of happiness, of a family, and of human development.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Dr. Reginald Bennett (Gosport and Fareham)
I am sure that the House will have agreed with almost everything said by the hon. Member for Eton and 362 Slough (Mr. Brockway) about the gravity of the housing problem. The hon. Gentleman detailed a problem which I am sure many of us have met during our Parliamentary and other activities. It is a tremendous problem, but one which has come fully into view only relatively recently and my right hon. Friend is, therefore, all the more to be commended for having today put forward policies to tackle this most serious problem as quickly as it can be tackled.
The social distress of the present, and indeed long-lasting, shortage of houses is very serious, and I much appreciated the hon. Gentleman's reference to the fact that by being unable to house newly-married couples now we are storing up misery and social problems with which we shall have to deal later. How much better, therefore, to avert all this by getting to grips with the problem and proceeding with the policies which have been enunciated today?
I wish to discuss another subject, one which has not so far been mentioned, but which is fairly important. It is a problem which we have to face, and to which reference is made in the Gracious Speech. I refer to a small item to which no other hon. Member is likely to refer:A Bill will be introduced to provide for the conservation and development of water resources in England and Wales.My right hon. Friend and I have debated water in other contexts. On this occasion I have to tell the House that Members of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee have for some years been getting more and more concerned about the shortage of water supplies for domestic and industrial use. We have had meetings and been addressed by experts on the subject, and everything that we have heard has combined to make us very concerned indeed. The Sub-Committee on the Growing Demand for Water, under the chairmanship of Professor Proudman, has recently published its Report, and in a commendably short time a Bill has been brought in based on this Report.
The Report proposes that we reorganise our water authorities. This may seem a fearful lot of "red tape", and a nice bit of playing "general post" among civil servants and local authorities, but I am impressed by the Report and by the fact that action has been taken so speedily. I suspect many people 363 who have thought about the subject feel the same as I do. I would like to see not only major local water authorities, but a strong central authority brought into being. I am not an advocate of centralism for its own sake, but I put forward this example which I should like the House to consider as an argument for my proposal.
The Proudman Report says:…we are emphatic in recommending that a separate central authority, accountable to the Minister, should be set up to deal with water conservation…It gives a list of reasons for this, the sixth of which is:To consider, co-ordinate and sponsor programmes of capital investment relative to water conservation.This matter cannot be left to local water authorities, however much they are strengthened, for this reason.
I refer to paragraph 43 of the Report which poses the kind of problem which, I think, will be difficult to overcome. The Report says:…it would undoubtedly be necessary on occasion to provide for the movement of water between the areas of river authorities, The hydrological survey of the Essex rivers and the Stour has confirmed this to be an area where water resources have been developed almost to the limit and which will have to look to the importation of water from outside to meet future needs. We were also advised that although cost was the chief objection to transporting water over long distances, this might nevertheless be a lesser difficulty than finding additional sites for reservoirs in some areas.Through my interest in this subject I have stumbled across a kind of scheme which precisely illustrates this possibility. It is well known that the west of England is the rainy side, and the east the dry one. Every winter the Severn is in flood at regular and predictable intervals. Meanwhile, in Essex, water resources have been developed almost to the limit and we shall soon have to consider importing water.
I have come across a scheme devised by civil engineers of great repute. It is at the moment in the larval stage, but I am immensely impressed with it. It could, however, be undertaken only by an authority of national importance. No local authority, however big, could undertake it. The scheme provides for the flood waters of the Severn to be impounded in various local areas of which several are well known. The water in 364 these reservoirs would, at suitable times, be lifted by water pumps into the Cotswolds where, at a height of a few hundred feet, it would be piped or tunnelled under the Cotswolds into the Windrush which is conveniently close by.
From the Windrush the water would flow into the Thames, at the "Rose Revived", I think, and continue down river as part of the normal flow. This would not, of course, be done at flood time, but only during the summer when the Thames was able to take the extra water. The Thames would take the extra water as far as Staines, where the Metropolitan Water Board would come into the scheme. Not many people know that there is an 8 ft. tunnel under London to the eastward through which water could be taken from the Thames and pumped to the neighbourhood of Ching-ford. Here again, a lift of 200 ft. would be sufficient to pass the water over the watershed and down into the valley of the Blackwater River and on to the East Coast.
The biggest point in this scheme is the Blackwater Estuary, which fans out for miles in all directions. This can quite easily be dammed, so that the estuary is converted from tidal sea-water to a fresh-water lake of the sort which was made in Holland by the conversion of the Zuyder Zee into the Ijssel Meer. The advantages of this scheme are obvious, and I do not need to enlarge on them. However much the scheme costs, it would cost a very great deal less than scooping out a very large number of reservoirs, such as I believe may be contemplated at the moment in areas where there is already insufficient water to fill them. Here is a large estuary where the impounding of fresh water would be very inexpensive, and it would be no loss either to local amenities, so often an objection to any new scheme, or to the use of the river for navigation.
I therefore suggest that here is a scheme which certainly is an example of what seems to me to have a tremendous lot of advantages. Could this scheme conceivably be undertaken on anything less than a national scale? It could not be done by any of the many important water authorities, however important, in the various areas through which the scheme would run. I have this very vividly in mind as a reason for asking 365 my right hon. Friend to take a broad view, as he seems to have done about subjects which have been discussed hitherto, and press ahead with the implementation of this or some such scheme in order to help water services in this country. I hope that any Bill which is introduced will include the provision of a strong enough central authority for such a hope to be realised.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
I have been most interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett), but I hope he will forgive me if I do not follow him in the intricacies of the subject, on which I am not competent to speak, and because I should like to return to the subject previously discussed, that of housing.
The hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham said that this is a problem which has come fully into view only fairly recently. That is not my understanding of the situation at all. I think this problem has been with us for very many years, and I am quite amazed that only now the Government are beginning to outline some constructive steps towards a solution of this very urgent problem.
I think we have to understand what these problems are before we can arrive at a proper solution of them. The Minister says that we need 100,000 houses a year to cope with the increase in the number of households. It strikes me that this is a figure which he has rather pulled out of the air, and it is surely coincidental that it should be such a nice round number. We need a much more precise estimate of the formation of new households than that nice round figure. I do not think it as difficult as some hon. Members have made out, because the households which will be formed in the next 20 years will depend on children already born, and one can have a fairly good idea of the marriage rate, and thus of the rate of formation of households. That is the first question to which we ought to have a more precise answer.
The second one is what the actual shortage is today. I was very interested in the remarks of the hon Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) on the survey which he undertook in his constituency and in the letters which he 366 read. I think it was a most enterprising way of finding out what the situation was. I must confess that I get a great many letters on housing myself without soliciting them, and I am sure other hon. Members do. This underlines one very important thing which the Government ought to be doing on a wider scale than that which the hon. Member for Eton and Slough has described. They should be carrying out a survey into the housing needs of the whole nation, and not of just one area.
There are many questions to which we do not know the answers, but there was one thing which the hon. Gentleman was describing which is of great importance. This is the number of homes in multiple occupation, such as young married couples living with their "in-laws". We know of the number of people living in temporary accommodation which certainly ought to be replaced in the very near future. I refer to the prefabricated houses erected just after the war which were supposed to last for only ten years, but most of which have been up for fifteen years now. I have a good many in my own constituency, though not as many, perhaps, as some hon. Members in the London area.
The Minister ought to be able to tell us within what period it is calculated that these houses would be replaced. They are very unpleasant to live in, as I can assure the Minister, because I have been in them myself. They were not designed to last for this length of time and they are now totally unsuitable. The aluminum roof of the house collects water in damp weather and it comes down through the plaster-board ceiling, which is most unpleasant. I know one person who had to put a large basin on the bed each time the weather was bad in order to stop the water dripping on the bed as he lay asleep in it. This is something to which we should have an answer. How long will it be before these houses are replaced?
Again, how many people are involuntarily living in caravans at this stage? I accept the fact that many people seem to enjoy it, but I think that, as the hon. Member for Eton and Slough showed, there are lots of others who do it for the reason that they cannot get a council house and are unable to afford to buy a proper house. These questions ought to 367 be answered by a national survey of the type for which I am asking. I think that if we got a national survey we could get down to the job of deciding what the housing programme of the country should be.
The Minister talked about the survey which he is undertaking on the use of land in the South-East, the North-West and the Midlands, and this is very important. I am pleased to know that he has undertaken it, because this is very important in regard to the use of land in our big cities. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Government would see that more land was available where it was needed, and I should like to have this assurance—and his predecessor did give an assurance on this point—that it does not mean that the Government will scrap the policy of the green belt in order to build in those areas round the fringes of the great cities.
I should also like to know whether the Minister's policy is to continue the increase in the density of the areas in the fringes of these large cities which are not strictly within the green belt. At the moment, in my constituency, the population is increasing all the time. It was 62,000 at the 1951 Census and rose to 81,000 in the 1961 Census, and we are now told that it might rise beyond the 100,000 mark by 1970. If it is the Minister's policy to cram as many people into areas like Orpington as he possibly can, I do not think that would be the correct use of land. This problem should not be considered in isolation.
We have not got the amenities or the services which would enable us to support this rate of growth in the population. We have not got the train services, for a start. They are grossly inadequate for the traffic carried at the moment. We have not got the schools. With a population of 81,000, we have not yet got a boys' grammar school, although I know that one is coming soon. We have not got a swimming pool. I give these examples, and say that it is a wrong policy to increase these enormous and crowded populations in the fringe areas round London. The same thing probably applies to the other major cities.
This emphasises the problem, which hon. Members have discussed, of the location of employment and of popu- 368 lations. I have not heard the Minister say anything on the subject, which is vitally connected with that of housing. The hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) referred to it, and said that he would like to see a system analogous to that of industrial development certificates applied to office development. I heartily endorse that suggestion, and I also say that legislation should be introduced to amend the Third Schedule to the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, so that it is impossible continually to increase the size of offices in the London area.
There is also a positive step which can be taken, through the Board of Trade. It can be given directives, through the Government, in consultation with various other Ministries, to limit the maximum amount of new industrial and commercial floor space granted within each of the Board of Trade areas in any one year. In that way the Government could have a central control over the increase of population in any one area.
Positive measures must also be taken to encourage the growth of population and hence of employment, in areas outside the very popular centres of population. We have concentrations of population in the Midlands and the South-East, while we have depopulation in other parts of the country. If industry and population is to be encouraged to go back into the areas which it is leaving we must do much more to ensure that those areas are rescued from dereliction and possible stagnation through, for example, the closure of railways. We have been talking about the closure of railways and its effect on the population within a region. I mention this because it is all tied up with the question of housing. It is no good considering merely the number of houses we want; it is also vital to decide where they should be.
I want to say a few words about what we can do now. I am very glad that the Minister is thinking in the long-term on the subject of housing, but there are certain measures which could be taken immediately to alleviate the present very critical situation. In the newspapers recently we read that the number of homeless people in London is still increasing. That is a symptom of what has been happening.
369 There are several things that we could do at this very moment. They will require legislation, but they could be done. First, we could levy rates on vacant properties so as to encourage landlords to bring them back into occupation. I do not see any reason why a landlord should be allowed to leave his property empty, and to pay nothing to the local authority if he does so. I can assure the Minister that there are people who will do this for years and years, perhaps in the expectation that when it becomes convenient to sell these properties they will be able to make a fat capital profit on their disposal.
It is true that in the 1951 Census only about 1.2 per cent. of dwellings were vacant, but I cannot believe that that is a true figure—or, if it was the figure in 1951, I am convinced merely from my own observation that it has increased since then. We should take this measure in order to discourage landlords from leaving their properties vacant.
Secondly, while there is an overall shortage of houses we should give the tenant some protection, which he has not had from the 1957 Rent Act. The Act should have had the object of bringing more rented accommodation into existence. If that was its object, it has been a dismal failure. Whether or not that is so, there is something that we could do to mitigate the hardships which the Act has caused to tenants who are exploited by unscrupulous landlords.
I put forward two suggestions. First, during the period of shortage landlords should have to give six months' notice to tenants if they require them to vacate their properties. Secondly, there should be a statutory maximum rent, related to the rateable value of the property. In my view this would save local authorities a lot of trouble. It is true that if an unscrupulous landlord charges an extravagant rent the local authority has power to make a compulsory purchase order. But why should it? Would it not be much simpler to tell the landlord, "You shall not charge this rent "? This would relieve the local authority of what could be quite a heavy burden. In present circumstances a local authority may have to pay an uneconomic price for a house which it purchases com-pulsorily.
370 The Minister has talked about encouraging home ownership, and I want to end by saying a word on that subject. It is not only the interest rate part of mortgage repayments that we require to examine. Hon. Members seem to concentrate on that, but perhaps just as important is the repayment of capital. The Government ought to take measures to institute a scheme under which mortgages are granted over a longer period of time than at present. This ought not to be very difficult. In the United States of America the Federal Housing Administration has a scheme under which people can have mortgages over 35 years. That is the kind of thing that I would like to see here. This would mean a difference in the monthly repayments of the mortgage, and it could bring home ownership within the reach of people on lower incomes than those who can afford it at the moment.
I should also like to see the removal of Profits Tax from building societies. I am told that this will enable the rate of interest charged by building societies to be reduced by ¼ per cent., which would mean a difference of £100 on a twenty years' loan of £2,500. This does not sound all that important, but, again, it would bring home ownership within the reach of people with lower incomes than can afford it at the moment.
If the Minister will do some of the things that I have asked him to do this afternoon the solution of our housing problem can be greatly facilitated.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Matthews (Meriden)
I support the excellent speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame Edith Pitt) on the subject of home ownership. I also welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to the fact that the Government axe to establish a Consumer Council to represent and promote the interests of consumers. I hope that this principle will be applied to home ownership.
The biggest step that most young couples ever take in their lives—apart from their actual marriage—is the purchase of their own home. The bulk of their savings go in this one transaction. Their happiness, at any rate in the early years, depends upon the kind of house 371 that they are able to obtain for themselves. But at that early age—and probably much later on in life as well—they know nothing at all about house building itself. They know nothing about damp courses, cavity walls, the quality of timber, and all the other technical details. Local authorities inspect the property under the local byelaws, but they are concerned only with public health and safety. Similarly, building societies inspect the property for valuation purposes. But this is done after the house has been completed. I suggest that what is most needed is inspection at all stages of construction, by an independent body. Failure to do this while the house is being built results—as we know from past experience—in a certain amount of jerrybuilding, which, in turn, involves the purchaser of the house in considerable extra expense in making the home habitable.
I am sure that hon. Members have knowledge of cases of young couples who have innocently purchased houses and who, as soon as they have settled in, have suffered from draughts coming from all directions, condensation in the kitchen, and cracks in the brickwork. In addition, many modern houses which are built by private builders are ill-equipped to meet the growing demand for electricity. There are too many plugs chasing too few electrical points.
Whilst I admire the efforts of many builders who reduce the overall price of the houses which they have for sale, I submit that it is false economy to allow shoddy workmanship and bad design. It is not only disastrous to the purchaser of the house but also contrary to the national interest. When one takes into account the cost of land, legal expenses, mortgage interest and other items of expense other than the actual cost of the building itself, the difference in the overall cost between a reasonably good quality house and a poor quality house is really very small. When we add to this the unascertainable cost of ill health which results from damp and stuffy homes—modern homes, which should not be damp and stuffy—the saving in cost is just not worth while.
I think we would all agree that the best possible guarantee that a purchaser can have of protection against this kind 372 of thing is to employ an architect, that is, if he can afford to do so. For purchasers who cannot afford to employ an architect, the next best course, I suggest, for them to pursue is to seek the advice of the National Housebuilders' Registration Council and to obtain a certificate stating that the house is soundly built. As the House knows, this council gives independent assurances that a house is soundly built. The vital points of the house are checked every three weeks or so at successive stages of construction and the builder is bound to enter into a formal agreement to put right at his own expense within two years defects that are proved to be his responsibility. In addition, disputes—there are surprisingly few in number—are settled by arbitration.
I suggest that this is a most important form of consumer protection and I hope that when the new Consumers Council is established housing standards will be included within its scope. The National Housebuilders' Registration Council has shown very healthy signs of growth in recent years and it does not cost the taxpayer a penny. But this scheme covers, approximately, only one in five or six privately built houses. Admittedly, there will be other houses built under the supervision of an architect which, therefore, would not need the guarantee. But the fact remains that a large number of houses are still not covered by any protection of this kind. It is not a satisfactory situation that so many purchasers should be exposed to unscrupulous developers.
Buying a house is too important a matter for the purchaser to be left wholly dependent on the integrity of an individual builder. It is not fair to good builders and it is too easy for the bad ones. What is the answer to this problem? Certainly, I would say, it is not the compulsory registration of all builders and certainly there is not the need for compulsory examination by local authority inspectors. I believe that compulsion will never effectively control the slick builder who cheats. Any attempt to establish a national minimum standard would be not only difficult and costly to enforce but would also result in the fact that very soon, if housing standards are to develop as rapidly as they have done in the last few years, 373 the minimum standards would be out of date.
The better method is to rely on competition and the good sense of purchasers, to encourage the best builders to improve standards and to go on doing so, and to encourage purchasers to help themselves with the aid of such bodies as the National Housebuilders' Registration Council or a good lawyer. My right hon. Friend can no doubt force the pace of building improvement by tightening up the building regulations and by ensuring that housing is covered by the Consumer Council. But can he not persuade the planning authorities to bring greater pressure to bear on bad builders when they seek planning permission under the Town and Country Planning Act and cannot he be seen to be doing so?
In my constituency there is a feeling that nothing is being done to bring pressure to bear on recalcitrant builders. Cannot my right hon. Friend also persuade local authorities and building societies when lending money for the purpose of house building to encourage purchasers to be more prudent and to help themselves by employing either a qualified architect, if they can afford to do so, or else a lawyer to advise on the integrity of the vendor, or, better still, in my view, to insist on the house being properly certificated by the National Housebuilders' Registration Council?
I am aware that the urgent need for a home and the fact that in most cases the badly built houses are slightly cheaper is a strong temptation to young couples particularly to run the risk of buying an uncertificated house. The law cannot protect a fool from the consequences of his actions, but it can provide the means of redress when a builder changes his legal entity in order to avoid the liability for the defects in the houses he has built or when he deliberately misleads purchasers into thinking that the houses are properly guaranteed.
I know of a company in my constituency that runs two building businesses. One builds the better houses which are guaranteed and the other, with an almost identical name, builds inferior houses which are not guaranteed. It is easy for the purchaser to be confused by the similarity of the 374 name into thinking that he is getting a guaranteed house. Protection could also be given against the builder who tries to impose a form of contract which will not stand up in a court of law. I think that every hon. Member knows of examples of such cases.
A standard form of contract, such as the Royal Institute of British Architects applies, would not, I think, be possible in cases of this kind, but I would suggest to my right hon. Friend that some kind of standard clauses might be devised and that we might build up a standard code of practice in these kinds of transactions. It might also be possible to encourage insurance companies to provide cheap insurance policies in order to indemnify the purchaser when a claim for defects arises against a bankrupt builder or when a company goes into liquidation in order to avoid contingent liability for defects. I am aware that few insurance companies have the necessary actuarial background on which to base the premium for such a policy, but no doubt this could be dealt with by-some kind of temporary financial guarantee in the early stages.
I believe that the House can do much in little ways to improve the situation, but not by the compulsory registration of builders or by compulsory inspection. I consider it better that inspectors should have no official powers. Local authorities, too, can help by tightening up the byelaws relating to health and safety and by persuading would-be borrowers to avail themselves of the valuable assistance given by the National Housebuilders' Registration Council. I am convinced that our best policy is to allow the progressive firms to give a lead in these matters and to leave it to competition to keep up the pressure for constantly improving standards.
In conclusion, I hope that the House will not feel that I am insensitive to the needs of those who cannot afford to buy their own homes. I agree with so much of what the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) said about the pathetic plight in which so many of these people find themselves. But surely it is to the advantage of everyone that the standard of housing should be improved-It is to the advantage of everyone, too, that more young people should be 375 enabled to buy their own homes so as to leave room on the waiting lists for those who cannot afford to do so.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)
It is a very great temptation to follow the hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Matthews) in many of the points that he has raised and plunge straight into an outline of a number of suggestions which I, too, would like to make to the Minister of Housing and Local Government.
The last point that the hon. Member made before he wound up about rates of interest, guarantees, actuarial responsibility, and so on, is one which could be got over quite easily. I, also, have wondered whether local authorities, if they were enabled to do so, would find that it is to their interest that certain people should get loans to buy houses of their own—perhaps those who would be eligible for the waiting list—and that the loans should be guaranteed in block form. In the days of the depression, when £25 down was the payment on the new, cheap houses, this was achieved by a block guarantee over a number of houses.
There is a secret which is kept un-revealed by the people who run finance companies, and so on, a very dark secret. The secret—and I shall reveal it—is that the working class is essentially honest. People who want houses and the necessities for them intend to pay for them. The "accidents"—shall we call them?—that happen to finance and hire-purchase companies usually occur when someone is involved in a business deal which comes unstuck, or a bankruptcy, or something which, like a motor car, is a diminishing asset, not a substantial and continuing asset like a house. The records of the hire-purchase companies show that even in the worst days of depression they never lost more than 5 per cent. in bad debts. That is the secret behind the growth in post-war years of the hire-purchase companies.
Of course, they do not want to tell anyone this. They say that they face a fearful risk and that they have got to have guarantees and get relatives to sign forms and all kinds of things, but the vast number of people are honest. If the risk is spread over a large number, there is no need for these conditions, 376 which exclude many of the deserving cases which the hon. Member had in mind.
I must not be tempted, however, to go into these points, because the Minister of Housing and Local Government is not to wind up the debate. I am not sure that he would answer my points if he did so. He did not do so last time. It is extremely gratifying, however, to find that all the work we did in Committee upstairs on the last Housing Bill has not been entirely wasted. Many of the Amendments which were so resolutely rejected by the Government at the time seem to have found their way into the Minister's present view. What has attracted me to take part in this debate is the presence of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who, I assume, will wind up the debate.
This gives me great joy, because it seems a little step forward towards what I had hoped would be achieved finally. It is that in this House we should have major debates on the political coordination of the social services. They would be initiated and replied to by the senior Ministers of the Crown in charge of such co-ordination.
I welcome the Chief Secretary largely on personal grounds, because I think that he is not unsympathetic to the idea and that his previous Ministerial experience will cause him to lean towards it. What I should like to see is a White Paper and a social survey introduced by the Government once a year, followed by a general debate, in which we could discuss the co-ordination between one problem and another, followed by the Departmental Estimates on the same lines as we have a White Paper followed by a Bill. I have made this point before and I hope that the presence of the Chief Secretary will set a precedent which can be followed. What we want is political co-ordination and an assessment by the Government of how we are doing relatively on the different fronts of the social welfare services.
We have gone a long way towards getting co-ordination at administrative levels between Departments and social welfare workers, but we have not yet got to the stage when we could have a clear lead from the Government, in which they say, "In our opinion, as between 377 one front and another, we ought to retreat a little here only to advance elsewhere." Judging only by his tide, I should regard the right hon. Gentleman's appearance here with some suspicion, but I am sure that he will take the line that his job here is to advise the House and his colleagues on the best way to invest in the social services.
I hope that we shall regard the social services as an investment in the only thing which the country has left to live on since the end of the war—the brains and hands of the people in it. I hope that he is not here as a cheeseparing economist, an agent of the Treasury to cut things down as much as possible. If his previous experience in welfare Departments has led him to the point where he will take this constructive line in guiding investment in the most important thing in which we could invest, I hope that he will reply not only to this debate but to many others like it.
If it were in order to discuss all the social services at once, it would not be difficult to make a most ragged and incomprehensible speech, however helpful some of the individual points might be. I shall try to co-ordinate my remarks and to suggest one approach looking at the problem from the investment angle. Which sections of our population are we failing to use to the full at the present time, and which sections are we treating with rank injustice as between one section and another? I think that that gives us a guide. If we had to find the keynote to what ought to be the Government policy as between one Department and another, I should plead, above all, for much more flexibility.
I have suggested that we ought to look at which categories of the population we are failing to use to the Ml and which categories we are treating unjustly. I have no doubt that at the head of the list in both cases would be the old people. I think that we have made a gross error, an error for which I and my party bear a substantial amount of responsibility because after 1945 we were thinking of retirement as some of us thought of it in 1935—as a way of getting people off the labour market. Of course, we were not long in learning that that is not the problem and that it would be a mistake to think in that way, but, after all, hon. Members oppo- 378 site have had a long time in which to put it right. Of course, we know by now that the earnings rule ought to be completely abolished.
This leads me to another point. It is historically unfortunate that we in the Labour Party have had to fight for old-age pensioners all this century, because we tend to have too modest an approach, too much of the begging bowl and too much of the suggestion that if we can get a little it will help. If only the Tory Party, at the very beginning, instead of talking about such things as in that famous speech about "undermining the moral fibre of the Empire", had accepted the idea and applied their principles, we would have had a very different picture.
In the sections of society from which most hon. Members opposite come there is no question of reducing one's standard of living by a quarter, a half, or three-quarters when one stops work. Someone in that social sphere might for status reasons have to move from the castle to the dower house, but certainly no more than that. Such a person has no fear that he will not be able to pay the grocer, or that he will have to cut out what had been normal items in his diet.
Both sides of the House must at last accept the idea that older people continue their right to a good share of the equity of the community, in good years and in bad years. That is the proper attitude to retirement. Above all, we need a policy of phased retirement. This is where co-ordination comes in. There should be more flexibility of retirement. In the trade union and Labour Party approach, we tend to think of the miner and steel worker who very often, if he has had some illness or disability, regards with fear and anxiety the last half dozen years when he may have to stay at work. The expectation of life of retired stockbrokers from Lloyd's is no better. They have a compulsory retirement age of 60. Their expectation of life is only three more years.
Older people are now beginning to think that after they have got the prime necessities of life the best thing they can buy for themselves is leisure and peace of mind. If they are not going to get to the very top of the tree, it may be a very comfortable thing to be able to move sideways a little longer before the birthday on which they retire. This is 379 an immense subject which covers the work of several Departments. Even in a debate devoted to social services, we cannot leave out of consideration the question of how a career as a whole should be planned, and whether it should be planned in one channel only.
There are many ways in which old people at present could be given an opportunity of filling gaps, filling vacancies in many occupations, perhaps in some of the welfare services, where age and experience may help as much as a diploma. It would be very useful if it were almost national policy to encourage the fullest and most continuous employment. In other words, we should not only abolish the earnings rule but should actually encourage the Ministry of Labour to consider what types of job could better be done by older people.
I need not develop my point about the unjust treatment of old people, because it is generally accepted that the pensions system is not adequate. Both sides have ambitions to alter it. It will take far too long for the present generation of old people to benefit from it. But nobody knows how the improvement can be brought about, except by an immediate increase in cash payments. The Minister should give us an indication of long-term policy on this point. We should realise that we are not using the skills of old people as much as we could. In that way we are depriving them of constructive work and happiness which they might enjoy as a part of staged or phased retirement.
The problem arising from the fact that a whole section of the community feels that it is not wanted will be as important in the next ten years as the problem of unemployment was to younger people when I was in my early twenties. The difference was that we, the younger people, then had time. However, it did not matter from what section of the community we came. We were told that we were not wanted. Obviously, a society which could not use us was no use to us. We took thick books from libraries and read them over lunch. We set to work to thrash out alternative societies. We studied every system and every political doctrine under the sun.
380 By the time people get well on in the old-age pension bracket it is too late for them to initiate dynamic leadership of that kind. They can make only a negative approach. I therefore hope that those who are approaching pensionable age will begin to agitate for easier steps towards retirement on a full share of the equity of the community they have helped to build up.
Second to old people in the category of people who we are not using to the best advantage are the teen-agers of university calibre for whom we cannot find an opening at present. I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about this problem, because education cannot be left out of a debate of this kind. What device can be found to offer perhaps even a postponed university education? The fact that so many people who are worth a university career will not be able to have one in the next few years may discourage their immediate successors from taking the best opportunities they have at secondary schools. I should like to think that the maximum number of students would get qualifications at secondary schools Which would enable them to take advantage of a university education, even if they had to postpone it for a few years, if it were possible for them to come back in.
It is not necessarily a bad thing that people should postpone their university careers. There is some experience of this. It is open to debate, but there are many people about now who had to postpone their university careers because they were in uniform at the time when they would normally have been undergraduates. Most of them would agree that, when they got round to their university education, they derived as much benefit from it as they would have derived at the age of 18.
If this is so, let us accept it as a possibility, because this offers the opportunity of some honest hard money-earning work in between. This is one of the many things we have to examine. For a long time we on this side of the House very properly fought to make it unnecessary for little children to be employed out of school hours. This was quite understandable. People who are underfed and overtired will not derive full advantage from education. Nonetheless, 381 we cannot kee-p on postponing the age when people reach wage-earning employment by extending further and further the number of years at a university. A break between the stages of education might not be a bad thing. I hope that the Minister will say something about this.
Next in my list of the sections of the community which axe being unjustly treated would certainly be young married couples, about whom my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) spoke. I will not attempt to add to the examples he gave in his very moving speech. I am sure that he was absolutely right. The problem is not limited to Slough. I have found in my constituency that the greatest bitterness about the housing situation comes from the people who have no points or opportunity of getting on a housing list. The Chief Secretary should study this problem.
I turn now to a politically very dangerous subject, family allowances. Family allowances are no more than a device which was very properly worked for at a time whan many people were refraining from having children because of the unemployment situation. It seemed appropriate then before it became implemented. I do not think that starting from scratch it could be sold in its present form today. Our difficulty, speaking to a Tory Treasury Minister, is that, if we on this side say anything to the effect that family allowances are perhaps not as important as they once were, he will take the earliest opportunity of saying, "We can do away with them now because the Labour Party say so." This is not what I want.
If there is a case for family allowances, the most deserving case is the first child. He is the one who is left out at present. Family allowances start only with the later children, but that is not the time of the greatest need. The time of the greatest need is 'the arrival of the first child. It comes at a time when things are most difficult, when the parents have not got a home, when the wife has just stopped working. There is only one income coming in. The parents have not got the consumer durables or the household equipment they desire. They have not got a place to put them. They have not got the washing machine. They have not got the equipment they want 382 for the baby. This is their most difficult time. At this time they should be having at least double the family allowances for the first child, even if the family allowances have to be tailed off a little later to equal it out.
If there were the right kind of Minister there, he would not necessarily say, "We have £X million for family allowances and if it is only for the first child we cannot give it for the others". What I hope the Chief Secretary will do during his tenure of office—here I come to my theme of flexibility—is to try to break through some of the old machinery which keeps Estimates so narrowly channelled between one Department and another.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
Was not the idea of family allowances as envisaged by Lord Beveridge in his Report quite unrelated to the relief of need in respect of having children? It was tied, as I understood it, to the whole principle of unemployment insurance.
§ Mr. Parkin
It was accepted as part of the social welfare scheme, but the idea was introduced initially by a very remarkable and persistent old lady who used to sit here, Where I am standing, with a large shopping bag. She used to stand up and fight for this idea year in and year out. She won. I refer to Eleanor Rathbone. It was a device thought up quite apart from anything else that might have been proposed at the end of the war. Lord Beveridge had not begun to write his Report when Eleanor Rathbone was first fighting for this and when, naturally, she won the support of the trade union movement. The idea of family allowances was being talked about before the war. However, I have no doubt that other hon. Members are better equipped with dates than I am. I took this example for what it is worth. I am sure that the Chief Secretary has taken my point.
I was about to ask the Minister to introduce during his tenure of office a little more flexibility in dealing with the Estimates, because as the years have passed the idea has grown in many Departments that something or other must wait for legislation and that the Minister must wait his turn before he can put through even a minor Bill in any Session. This idea has persisted. 383 It is almost as if a Minister gets a ration of Bills, with only so many Bills to do his tidying-up processes. My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) showed a shocking example of the need for what I urge. He pointed out that in last year's Bill the Minister did not take power to make a certain increase. It is not good enough that he resisted us in Committee but now says in the House of Commons, "I assure the House, and local authorities are accepting my assurance, that we will keep this under constant review". That assurance does not mean a thing.
Some things are kept under constant review. When the last Factories Act went through the House we managed to get the situation altered. At that time the present Leader of the House was in charge of the Bill in Committee. We managed to get a switch from the principle that the Factories Acts were amended only every five or ten years to the principle that they are now being constantly amended by Regulation as the Minister is able to get from expert committees advice on the latest and best safety measures. That may be a small thing but at least it leads the way to virement. That should be much more readily available to the Departments if, during the course of the year, the Government feel that some kind of switch of emphasis from one branch of the social services to another is desirable.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer took powers to alter Purchase Tax up or down during the year without having to bring in a new Budget or special legislation. I do not know how far we can trust the Tories to do it, but I am sure that in our policy that is how it would have to be done. That kind of flexibility in Estimates, in employment for old people and in our education system might be developed by the Minister as a theme.
If I were now to launch into the subject of old people's housing I should take up too much time but there, again, we want more flexibility and more Departments to be concerned with the chain of events. Is it not stupid, as well as tragic, that young people without homes should be denied them in Slough and Paddington where they are expected 384 to work, while their elderly parents are hanging on to the only thing they have in the way of a roof, which is a controlled tenancy?
It should be possible for old people to move freely. I was very surprised that the platform at the recent Conservative Conference rejected a proposal from the floor once more to enable people to purchase pre-1919 houses. I should have thought that a much better way of getting flexibility of movement than the sort of scolding speeches that Ministers make.
I respect the Minister of Housing and Local Government, but he annoys me when he gets doctrinaire. He may have been badly reported, but he was said to have spoken about people who ought to fend for themselves and get out of council houses. How can they do that when there is no other room? He nodded agreement this afternoon when my hon. Friend said that he was now accepting that local authorities had to fulfil this rÔle, but he should take this gently, and realise that the right way is to encourage people who would like, if possible, to move elsewhere.
An estate agent told me the other day that young couples are saying to him, "We are living in a council house, but we want a place of our own." When he produces plans of a housing development, they say, "No, we do not want to be on an estate; we want to be in something original." There may not be millions of such people, but 10,000 of them would help if they could be encouraged to have that do-it-yourself feeling about a house. Some people would rather live in a caravan or boat, but what is hated is a system which forces people to live where they do not want to live. Let them live in old cottages and rehabilitate them and convert them. As I say, I am astonished that the Government should refuse a request to revert to what seemed to be a very successful policy.
Once more we have to say that, much as we would like the Conservative Government to tackle these points, they are not workable, or cannot be implemented, unless we get control of the places that are vacated. At the moment, we have no guarantee that legitimate working-class accommodation in the 385 towns will be replaced by private enterprise by the same kind of accommodation to let. The almost certainty is that it will not be.
More and more each year it becomes clear that this is not a question of small profiteers, but applies also to the greatest and most honourable trustees. The trustees of the Duke of Cornwall's estate no longer house the workers on the South Bank for whom the accommodation was built. Those houses are more and more becoming the pieds a terre of the person who is prepared to pay the higher rent. But it is the trustee's duty to improve the property and get the best return. The Tories must find a remedy there before they can get the real benefit from the small improvements they are offering today.
In addition, they have to find the remedy to a system by which unnecessary money is paid to the landowner and the moneylender. The more one does to improve the amenities of the neighbourhood the more one must pay to those who make no constructive contribution to the general improvement. I hope that a device may yet be found from the Conservative side to reacquire the ancient Crown prerogative of the use of land. Otherwise, all these debates will be wasted, because the amount paid in this way to the landowner and moneylender quite outweighs all the improvements made by screwing the toilet together in a factory instead of having it put in by a plumber, all the increased speed of production and all the administrative improvements.
All that is as nothing compared with the enormous burden of rent and interest rates which prevents the proper development and release of the people's full ability and genius with which to serve the nation.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
I have listened to the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) with great interest. I hope that he will not think me discourteous if I do not take up all his points, but I should like to develop his remark about old people's ability to move elsewhere if they could. I think that he referred more particularly to incomes, but I want to deal with their housing problem. Before coming 386 to that, however, I should like to speak for a moment about the growth of population in the South-East and the Midlands, a point to which my right hon. Friend referred, as did other hon. Members.
As a member for a constituency on the edge of London, and partly in it, I am only too well aware of the commuter problem, traffic on the roads, housing, and other problems, but the matter is not quite straightforward. We must ask ourselves whether it would be better for the nation as a whole, for the South-East or for the Midlands and similar areas to continue to develop. Throughout much of our history certainly the development of London as a great commercial, industrial, social and shopping centre has had a profound effect on our prosperity, and to its advantage.
Housing the older people is important now and will undoubtedly become much more important in the future, and it is right that it should be considered in this debate. It is a special problem, and although attention has been given to it in recent years much more remains to be done. We are very inclined to say that we build 250,000 or 300,000 houses a year, but those houses must be of the type needed and the people must be in the type of houses they need. That is a major problem, and I think that it is inclined to be neglected. If we can give the elderly the type of accommodation they need, not only will they be helped but the housing problem of the younger people will also be helped when under-occupied houses are released.
Considerable numbers of one-bedroom houses have been built recently for the elderly, and although that is a great help much more needs to be done. As people become aged, they need more attention, and if they are scattered it is very much more difficult to give them that attention. Further, whereas an elderly married couple, living in a small house and perhaps visited by their grown-up children or by friends may be tolerably happy, many men and women are completely alone. They are hardly capable of looking after themselves, and their position is difficult, if not desperate.
Loneliness is one of the great unsolved problems of the elderly, and many old people may be living by themselves in 387 houses that belong to them but are frequently too big for them. They would be only too glad to get out if they had somewhere else to go. Those are often the sort of houses that young married couples with children would be only too glad to have. I have come across many such cases in my own constituency, as, I am sure, have many other hon. Members. These people are not destitute—they may not even be poor. A lot of them have a moderate income—£400, £500 or £600 a year with, perhaps, a small amount of capital—but because of increasing age they want a different sort of accommodation for which they can and are quite willing to pay. Much can be done to meet that need.
I described briefly in this House a few months ago how about eleven years ago a small group of people in my constituency formed a small voluntary committee and, by their efforts, raised money, acquired a site and built a home for elderly people of small or moderate income. The home was opened about five years ago and thirty-six people are housed there in warm, comfortable surroundings with everything catered for. But those volunteers were not satisfied with that. They did the same again, and only a fortnight ago my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government opened another home at Banstead for forty people. It already had twenty people living there on the day of the opening ceremony, and it was a great thing to have in the same room those who had inspired the idea, those who had built the place and those who were using it.
It has been a great effort on the part of this voluntary committee, and today there are two of these homes in my constituency within a few hundred yards of each other. They will soon have a total of seventy-six residents. The cost to the inmates has quite recently gone up and is now £6 a week. For that they get everything provided, except their personal laundry. The only subsidy given by the authorities is £5 per person per year. Here they live in comfortable, friendly surroundings, free from loneliness and well looked after. A fair estimate of the number of houses released for younger people as a result of these schemes is twenty-five and this, of 388 course, is a valuable contribution in only one small area. The great thing is that both of these projects were inspired and carried out by voluntary effort.
When a few people show a little energy and initiative it is astonishing what they can achieve. Equally impressive is the helpful response given by the rest of the community. The people responsible for these ventures did not look to the Government for assistance. They did the job themselves, and what can be done in Banstead undoubtedly can be done elsewhere in Britain. I think that the Minister was impressed by what he saw.
§ Sir K. Joseph indicated assent
§ Captain Elliot
I hope that he will consider ways by which ventures of this kind can be publicised and duplicated elsewhere. There is a lot that the Minister can do in this respect which a private hon. Member cannot, although I propose to take the matter up myself. There is no doubt that the necessary voluntary effort is there waiting. It may be dormant but it is there, ready to be released to make a real contribution to our housing problem.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)
I did not intend to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) in the observations he made but I was impressed with the remarks in the latter part of his speech. Frankly, while his proposition about voluntary bodies building the sort of places he described might be all right in smaller areas under certain conditions, I hope he did not put that proposal forward as a possible solution to the nation's massive housing problem. I can assure him that it just would not work in a more general way, particularly regarding the requirements of our larger cities.
About an hour and a half ago I was champing at the bit to gallop into this debate so that I could follow the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett). I never thought that an occasion would arise in the House when I could join forces with an hon. Member opposite. However, on this occasion I have the strongest possible support for one proposal made by that hon. Member. I was pleased to hear him depart 389 from the main theme of the debate to call attention to the urgent needs of water conservation to ensure a general supply of water throughout the country.
The hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham advocated, strangely enough, the only possible remedy to our problems if we are to have a highly efficient and well-organised water supply system. He pointed out that such a system could be accomplished only if the undertakings involved were nationalised. I can assure him that he will find a ready response from my hon. Friends should he advocate such a step in future, for I believe that we would probably put this subject in the forefront of any future ideas we may have for nationalisation or the public ownership of public services. I want that on the record so that the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham will be assured of ready support from my hon. Friends on this subject.
While the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is in his place, and before he disappears for a little refreshment, I wish to put something to him in quite a simple and humane way. This morning I found it necessary—and I have spoken to my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) about this—to write to?the chairman of the National Assistance Board. If that gentleman shows any sympathy for my letter he will probably be in touch with the Chief Secretary before he can offer assistance.
I refer to the problem which exists for old-age pensioners resulting directly from an Act of Parliament which received the blessing of virtually all hon. Members not long ago. It seemed that the Clean Air Act was innocent enough when it left this House. No one imagined that it would cause any hardship. Most hon. Members wholeheartedly supported the Measure because we considered it vitally necessary for the health of our people.
In my constituency the local authority has designated its first smokeless zone. It is a vast constituency and almost the entire housing accommodation in it is composed of local authority houses. As a result of the Act a number of elderly folk, who have bad to install special appliances which will burn smokeless fuels, are now faced with fuel bills vastly greater than 'those they used to meet. They are now required to buy fuel suit- 390 able for their smokeless grates varying in price from 12s. 6d. to 15s. per cwt.—yet officials of the National Assistance Board, who, I understand, appreciate this problem, can do nothing because they are bound by certain regulations.
Today I suggested to the chairman of the National Assistance Board that he might look sympathetically at the plight of these people to see if it is within his power to recommend or make changes in the regulations governing the fuel allowance paid to old people in the winter. I hope that if the Board's chairman makes representations to the Chief Secretary the matter will receive sympathetic consideration so that these old folk are able to meet the additional cost of smokeless fuel. I am not making a constituency request because, as the number of smokeless zones increase, the same problem will occur throughout the country.
Before dealing with the subject of housing generally, I must admit that I have always been inclined to be a little rude to the Tory Party when discussing their Gracious Speeches. I had the privilege of speaking at a meeting in my native city on Monday of last week, on the eve of the presentation of the Gracious Speech now under discussion. At that meeting I pointed out that, having heard eleven Gracious Speeches since this Government gained power, I had come to the conclusion that each time one had been presented it had been an ill-used occasion.
The Queen's Speeches, I have always understood, are supposed to be the Government's shop window—the occasions when they put into the window for all the people of the country to see their legislative proposals for the ensuing twelve months. I have always surmised that one of the first intentions of the Queen's Speech was to make the country knowledgeable of at least the major legislation which the Government were proposing to bring forward. When we look through the Queen's Speeches over the years and the present one we find that invariably their intentions are cloaked in the vaguest possible language. Where they have legislative proposals they generally concern what we would regard as minor legislation.
For example, in the Queen's Speech last year there was no mention whatever 391 of the Common Market. I should have thought that this was something that the people of this country ought to have been forewarned about at the time when the Government were telling them what was to happen during the next Session of Parliament. I feel—it may sound a bit rude—that I was fully justified in telling the people who were listening to me on Monday that the Queen's Speech was a lot of platitudinous bilge.
The Queen's Speech last year stated:My Ministers will continue to direct their policies towards maintaining the stability of sterling. They will seek to strengthen the balance of payments by the measures already announced, including especially the vigorous promotion of exports."—[Interruption.]It has not happened. This is one of the reasons that we are galloping headlong into the Common Market because the Government had to find another outlet. The Speech went on to say:They will seek to keep public expenditure within limits justified by the national resources. My Government will introduce a Bill to give effect to the proposals already submitted to you for the reorganisation of the undertakings under the control of the British Transport Commission."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st October, 1961; Vol. 648, c. 5–6.]In the case of the Transport Commission they were going to recognise that something must be done and they were prepared to set forward ready to do it, just as they said that they were introducing a Bill to allow private industrial undertakings to lay pipelines. The point that I make is that they could use the railway tracks for the purpose of taking these pipelines and allow the railways to have the income that might result from the use of those lines. These are two positive instances when they were going to do something against public enterprise.
Here we are again with the Queen's Speech this year:My Ministers will continue to promote efficient and sound expansion of the national economy…I suppose that the assumption is to be that they are in fact doing, or have been doing, so. I do not know why we are in such an awful mess if they have really been trying to do something to promote the efficiency of the national economy. The Speech goes on to say:… with a high and stable level of employment.392 There is never the term "full employment". That has been studiously avoided ever since the Government came to power in 1951. What is the level at which we are to stabilise unemployment? It is now over 500,000; more than double what it was last year. Is this where stabilisation is to be assured? I think that the people are entitled to know what is the figure of unemployment at which it should become stabilised. The Speech goes on to say:In co-operation with other Governments they will give constant attention to means of sustaining a rising level of world trade.This is platitudinous rubbish. There is never anything definite. The Government are absolute masters at camouflage.
It further states:My Government are resolved to maintain a stable, efficient and prosperous agricultural industry.I suppose that they will remember this when' carrying on negotiations in Brussels for entering into the Common Market. It states:The fishing industry will continue to receive help and support.Then we come to the paragrapns on housing which we are debating today:My Government will promote further improvements in the social conditions and in the housing, health, welfare of My People."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th October, 1962; Vol. 666, c. 6.]In so far as it relates to housing and the health and welfare services, the Government have not got to do very much to make some sort of improvement in services which they have very seriously undermined during the last two or three years, especially the Health Service. There is plenty of scope for them to make improvements in these services.
One of the first observations by the Minister of Housing and Local Government in opening the debate this afternoon was that the question of land was the largest problem. The thought that went through my mind at the time was that unless the Government were going to do something about this greatest of all questions, land—how to get it and use it—then everything else that he said this afternoon would be merely pie in the sky. It is admitted that land is scarce and at prohibitive prices, yet not a word was said by the Minister on the vital question of the control of land or of any proposals to control the land 393 speculators or the prices that were being charged for the use of land.
I have always liked to hear the Chief Secretary of the Treasury at the Dispatch Box, and we remember some of his more famous speeches between 1945 and 1950. I recall one which perhaps I had better not introduce into this debate, but he will probably sense what I have in mind. I wondered why it was that the Parliamentary Secretary was not going to reply to the debate. I have sat on many Committees upstairs debating housing matters with him and I remember an occasion in particular when he strongly defended the principle that the value of land had to find its own level in the land market. We have watched this process deteriorate, at least so far as ordinary folk are concerned who need land for building houses. There has been a terrific rocketing in the price of land throughout the country, especially in the larger cities where outrageous prices have to be paid in order to get land on which to build. So I say to the Minister that whatever he has been telling us this afternoon is of no avail unless he is prepared to say what sort of action he proposes to take to ensure that land is available for house building at a reasonable price.
The only thing which the Minister promised us was a review of the subsidies. Apart from certain instances, the subsidies are almost non-existent. I mean on new building over the last two or three years. Except for the particular case of slum clearance, where there is a provision, and except in the case of rather more expensive sites where I know provision is made, by and large housing subsidies to local authorities have been abolishied.
§ Sir K. Joseph
There are now housing subsidies of £24 for all houses built by local authorities whether for old people, to meet general needs or for slum clearance.
§ Mr. Wilkins
I beg the Minister's pardon. Somewhere I must have missed something. I remember the fuss that we kicked up in the House when subsidies were abolished two or three years ago. I do not know when this subsidy was provided again, and I shall be interested to get a reply from the Chief Secretary later in the debate.
394 The Minister has promised that he will review the subsidies. I believe the time is coming when the right hon. Gentleman will have to give serious consideration to the cost of house building. My own local authority is being compelled to build more and more flats, and we all know that when housing needs are met by building flats the cost is increased compared with the cost of building houses on an ordinary housing estate. Apart from anything else the foundation costs are higher and the land costs more. I hope that this is not a sort of half-promise on the part of the Minister, but that his statement reveals an intention by the Government to encourage local authorities to increase the scope and to speed up their house-building programmes, because there will be more Government assistance by way of subsidy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) reminded us of the observation of the present Home Secretary when he was Minister of Housing and Local Government that in vast areas of this country there are no slums. I remember the occasion when the right hon. Gentleman said that and I remember also that we jeered at his words. But when one thinks about what he said one is bound to admit that he was perfectly right. There are vast areas in this country where there are no slums, in fact there are very few houses at all. There are vast estates like Halstead in Essex and Chelwood Gate or Tisbury, Wilts, and I do not suppose that they are surrounded by much slum property. But there are slums in the industrial areas like Birmingham. Manchester, Bristol and London. The Minister himself reminded us that there are still 4 million houses in the country which are over 100 years old. That contradicts the inference of his predecessor that there are vast areas where there are no slums, because if these 4 million houses are not already slums, the time must be fast approaching when they will be slums.
Particular references have been made to the difficulties experienced by young people in finding mortgage repayments. So many different situations arise in this connection that it is almost impossible to emphasise a particular aspect of the matter. I had brought to my notice the other day the difficulties of a young 395 couple who had been married for two years and who had entered into an arrangement to buy the house in which they were living. It was not an expensive house, comparatively speaking. The total cost was £1,850. The building society from which they obtained a mortgage made all the necessary inquiries. An inquiry was made of the young man's employers, a newspaper firm which had a millionaire at its head. The firm informed the building society, "Oh, yes, this young man has a permanent job. He is fixed up." Two months ago the young man was given a month's pay and dismissed from his job. Not because of any misdemeanour or because of anything he had done wrong. He was just pushed out, and I shall never forget the anxiety of that young couple who have a baby four months old. Similar incidents could be quoted throughout the length and breadth of the country.
I think that the Minister could do something to help to provide security for such young couples. There are a number of ways in which he could help them. For example, mortgages could be made available to them through local authorities so that they could be assured that in times of distress they would not be treated by the local authority as harshly as they might be treated by building society officials responsible to shareholders who look for dividends from the money which they have invested in the building societies.
There is another way in which the Minister could help people who want to become home owners. I agree that if it is financially possible for young people to own their own homes they should be encouraged to do so. But it is the case that there is a racket in the property business, however much we may want to disguise it, and it is a pretty shocking racket. We may be critical of builders and the building industry. But I think that the trouble does not lie with the man who builds the houses. Certain safeguards can be taken and no one would wish to defend jerry-building. I am not so sure about the National Housebuilders' Registration Council, as is the hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Matthews). It has a value in that it is the only organisation which seeks to protect prospective purchasers. Our criticism of the council is that it is an organi- 396 sation created by the industry and we consider that it would inspire more confidence if it had representatives other than those appointed by the industry. But that is a minor criticism.
I know of a small estate on the borders of Bristol where a very good builder has erected houses at what I consider reasonable prices and he has sold well-planned and well-built properties. They were sold by him for between £1,850 and £2,100 each, according to the position of the house. Some of those houses had not been built for more than two years. Circumstances have led to some of the people leaving those houses and going elsewhere. Efforts have been made by advertising these houses to get £1,000 more for them than the builder charged when he built them.
This is a really shocking business. I suppose we would be highly critical of the builder if we thought that he was making an excessive profit on a house at the time When he built it, but we shut our eyes to the racketeering which, I am sorry to say, is probably being exploited or at any rate encouraged by estate agents, who usually try to step in the moment someone wants to sell a property. I know it happens because it happened to my own son. An estate agent will say, "I will get £200 or £300 more for the place than you will if you try to sell it yourself". It is these people who are driving prices up and making it entirely impossible or almost entirely impossible for young people to get hold of properties.
I hope that the Minister may have a look at this. I believe that it is a really serious problem, this resale business. I remember that when I bought my own house a long time ago—longer ago than I want to tell the House—there was a covenant under which I could not sell it for five years unless I had the sanction of the local authority. I did not grumble about that. I thought it a pretty fair bargain. At that time houses were being built with Government aid and the Government were securing themselves through the medium of the local authority, and they said, "If you want to dispose of this property any time within the next five years you can do it only with the consent of the local authority".I imagine they would have 397 recovered their £100, which was the subsidy. I think that this was justified. I think that if public money is being spent to provide amenities for people or even a basic necessity like a home, there should be a safeguard in the interests of the general taxpayers and of the ratepayers who have to find the money. I hope that the Minister will have a look at this when he is preparing his proposals to stimulate an increase of house building in this country.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
I must confess that there were one or two moments during the last thirty minutes when I could not help reflecting that the criticism of the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) of the Gracious Speech, that it was "platitudinous bilge", was a case of Satan rebuking sin. However, I am not suggesting that that would be a fair comment on many of the substantial points which he made. I hope that he will forgive me if I do not follow him very closely, because I want to make reference, within the wide ambit of social policy covered by this debate, to perhaps the most platitudinous of the paragraphs of the Gracious Speech, namely, the last one:Other measures will be laid before you.I want to express the hope that these other Measures may include one for the compensation of victims of crimes of violence against the person.
This was mentioned in the Conservative Party's 1959 election manifesto and I myself have mentioned it in every election address since 1955. I should now like to submit to the House some suggestions for the form which such a a Measure might take. I want to acknowledge, in the first place, my indebtedness to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth), my noble Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) and my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies), because they were members of a committee, of which I was also a member, which considered this question, and the conclusions of which have recently been published, although I must say that anything I suggest today is entirely on my own responsibility.
The basic situation which we are facing here is the classic one of the old 398 lady who is coshed in her sweet shop and maimed for life, and her victim is caught and tried and sentenced and sent for a term of penal treatment, while the old lady gets no compensation whatsoever.
We should ask ourselves what we should do about this. It is a question bristling with difficulties. It gives rise to certain specific, detailed considerations and to a number of questions which I think the House should ask itself, and my purpose is to suggest just what those questions should be and to indicate the sort of answers which I hope may commend themselves to my right hon. Friends in considering legislation.
I think that the first question is: why should we compensate the victims of violent crime at all? Quite frankly, the hard-headed answer is that there is no reason whatsoever why we should compensate them, because the Government and the State do not guarantee that people shall not be injured by violent crime, and it is a perfectly tenable argument that everyone should insure himself against personal injury. On the other hand, the fact is that most people do not insure themselves against personal injury. That goes for nearly all the people we are thinking of. Although we may have no obligation to them, we cannot help feeling compassion for them. We already pay entirely out of general taxation for the comfort and help of the destitute, very largely for the sick, and to some degree for the retired. I submit to the House that we should surely have no less consideration for the victims of violence than we do for the destitute.
How much would compensation cost? I think that this is perhaps one part of my remarks which I may specifically address to my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who has been listening so patiently to the whole debate. I think the answer depends on what sort of scheme is adopted. I would put it as a round figure of £1 million a year, and, to put that into the perspective of the national income, it would be what a couple of cigarettes a year would be to a man earning £10 a week.
What sort of compensation scheme should we have? It is either to be a scheme which would be an extension of the Industrial Injuries Insurance Scheme 399 or it is to be something else. I personally am against an extension of the Industrial Injuries Insurance Scheme, for this reason, that then a large number of people who might want to claim compensation—for example, infants, many young people, many married women, people unemployed, and retired people—would not get any compensation under the scheme unless we were to breach the insurance principle, and there are serious objections to that. Therefore, I should prefer a scheme whereby the victim could claim common law damages from the civil courts.
One then has to ask oneself: from whom is the victim to claim? Because the criminal may not be caught; or he may be a man of straw; or he may be in prison and even if prison wages were to be substantially increased the first claim on his wages would be the maintenance of the dependants of the prisoner who might themselves be or might become a charge upon public funds. Therefore, my submission is that the State must step in and pay the damages with the taxpayers' money, and that the damages should be assessed on a common law basis.
What would this imply? Damages assessed on a common law basis take account of the claimant's earning capacity, his loss of earnings, including his future earnings, and pain, suffering and the loss of the amenities of life. Is it fair, however, that the man with high earning capacity should get more compensation than the man or woman or child with no earning capacity, or a very low one?
I feel that if one were to apply public funds to a scheme of this sort, it would be considered fundamentally objectionable that the rich man—the high earner—should be regarded as deserving more compensation for his injuries than the poor man, for people would feel that they had both suffered the same. We should, therefore, put a ceiling to the earning capacity which a victim claiming under this scheme should be deemed to have.
I put forward as a basis for consideration the suggestion that the ceiling might be three times the average industrial earnings, or something like that. That does not mean that a man of high earn- 400 ing capacity would not have a claim on the scheme, but that he would have a claim only up to the limit laid down in the scheme, being presumed, beyond that limit, to have insured himself. But in his case it would be only fair also to say that his insurance premiums would, therefore, have tax benefit in the way that other insurance premiums do, because one would be bringing the question of compensation of this kind into the ambit of a State scheme, and to some extent excluding him from it.
How should the compensation be claimed? A big factor here is that very large numbers of claims would be for trifling sums and would not really justify the paraphernalia and time involved in an action in the High Court. It might well be worth considering, in deciding what the scheme should be, that claims up to £50 should be made in the first instance to a specified official agent of the Government who should, if he believes the victim's story, be able to pay over the counter up to £50. Then, anyone who was aggrieved by this and did not feel that the assessment had been high enough would, of course, have the right to appeal to the High Court, and to some extent I think that it would be fair to say that where an appeal was dismissed the costs should be, to a greater or lesser extent, paid for from the compensation originally awarded.
There is the further question as to what would happen when the criminal was not caught. Obviously, one could not let the payment of compensation wait upon catching the criminal. Therefore, we would have to take the risk of fraud. But I think that the number of people liable to beat themselves about the head for the doubtful pleasure of claiming such compensation as might be assessed is sufficiently small for that to be a risk which the House might justifiably take.
There is the further difficulty as to what happens when the criminal gets off on a technicality—on the basis that the procedure and standards of evidence required in the criminal courts are different from those required in the civil courts in a damages claim. What happens when the judge, for instance, suppresses the desire to say, "You are not guilty but do not do it again"? What happens about the man who has been quite obviously injured, but whose assailant has technically not committed a crime?
401 I do not think that that objection is valid, because that factor should not prevent the victim pressing an action in the civil court. But in any case the two processes should be kept separate. The criminal action should not be the same action as that in which the claim for damages is maintained.
One of the most difficult questions when it comes to legislation, and one which must be answered, is, what are the crimes we are talking about? One can clear the ground to some extent by saying that this has nothing to do with crimes against property. I think that this scheme must be limited to crimes of violence against the person. I had thought that we should be able, somehow or other, to tie this up with the idea of assault, but lawyers assure me—and I have been convinced—that this is not technically possible.
I conclude, therefore, that the only thing we could do would be to make an arbitrary list of crimes as the Schedule to the Bill and then argue it all out in the House, and that, with a certain amount of give and take over various offences, such as endangering life at sea and rape, where there might be some doubt as to their inclusion in the Schedule, we should be able to make a reasonably satisfactory list.
But the final and most interesting question is whether the criminal himself should pay compensation to his victim. The idea has a superficial appeal, but I am sure that it simply would not work in practice. I think that we must recognise that individual settlements of wrongs on a man-to-man basis cannot be reconciled with the sophisticated organisation of society with a penal system and a system of justice. We should say, therefore, that we have, as a community, taken over from the victim his right against the criminal and from the criminal his indebtedness to his victim. In other words, we should pay and leave ourselves, quite separately, to face the fundamental, baffling and fascinating question as to how the criminal himself should pay, for what purpose he should pay and whom he should pay.
I was rather interested the other day, in going to Wandsworth Prison and discussing this problem, at their invitation, with a number of recidivists—the sort of people to whom this legislation would 402 have particular reference—to find that their universal desire was that they should pay compensation to their own victims. These were hardened criminals, but men who had undergone a very remarkable experience in the new experimental system of rehabilitation carried out in H and K wings of the prison. Many were serving terms for crimes of violence. Their view was that they should personally pay.
I am inclined to dismiss that, but I mention it because I do not think that we can properly consider this question without at least seeing it also in the perspective of the treatment of criminals, of the object of the penal system and of the intention of society in imprisoning people and in trying to work out debts as between criminal and society.
However that may be, I think that our object should be to enable the victim to be paid by us the debt which we make it more difficult for the criminal to pay, or which he may be unable to pay, himself. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will try to do this and that it will be one of those other measures referred to in the Gracious Speech to which we may look forward. I am sure that it can be done. I believe that it is something which has never been done by any nation so far, and Her Majesty's Government could, therefore, consider that this might well be yet another pioneering effort in social legislation on the part of this country.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. John Mackie (Enfield, East)
The hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) will forgive me if I do not follow him in the very complicated issue which he raised by way of the most platitudinous sentence in the Gracious Speech. I congratulate him, however, on bringing the subject forward. It is a favourite hobbyhorse of his and he has ridden it well today. I wish him success.
But I make no apology for taking as my subject the one which has been fairly well gone into today—that of housing—because it is so important. I am sorry that the Minister of Housing and Local Government is not here at the moment. When he started his speech I took a careful note of several words he used. They included "urgent", "immediate", "at once", "intensive" and "by one means or another". I was impressed, like 403 my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart), by the vigour and intensity of the Minister's speech, and it looked to me for a moment as if the right hon. Gentleman was indeed going to do something with more vigour and more intensity than we have seen in his predecessors on the same subject.
However, I was to be disappointed, for later in his speech he said that of course the Government have to watch their priorities. It seemed to me that he was giving himself a let-out so as not to go ahead with the urgency he began by emphasising. There is no higher priority today than housing. My hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brock way) read to the House some very poignant letters. I can produce hundreds even more poignant than those, and not only from young people but from old people and others desperate for houses.
I have said before how frustrating it is for an hon. Member anxious to help his constituents to know and to have to tell them how many years it will be before they can be adequately housed. I therefore emphasise strongly to the Government how important this subject is and how they must do something about it.
Not only must this be done for the satisfaction and the dignity of the people in need of houses, but also, I am convinced, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin), because a tremendous amount of delinquency, which is increasing, arises from inadequate housing and slums. I cannot emphasise that too much.
The Minister mentioned standards of housing. I was disappointed when he suggested that there was a case for doing something to improve accommodation by a small expenditure—for instance, a wash basin or the erection of a lavatory or bathroom outside. I believe that that would be a retrograde step, however. It would bring many properties within the definition of being reasonably habitable and would furnish an excuse for keeping them going. It would be an excuse for the landlord not to give up his property in order to have it demolished and the land redeveloped. Great care should be taken before permission is given to allow these types of houses to carry on.
404 I have an example on my farm in Scotland. Just after the war I got permission to build a new house on my farm on condition that I demolished an old one. Just before I was to demolish the old house a young man asked me if he could put his old mother into it for a short period until she got somewhere else to go. I agreed. That was in 1946. The old lady left the house about a year ago. I looked at it and decided to pull it down, as I had promised the authorities all those years ago. I cannot understand how such a house was lived in.
Then I went to look at some houses in Enfield about which I had had complaints, and I found shocking conditions. I kicked up a row with the council about it and I was told that those houses were scheduled to be knocked down. I suddenly realised that the house which I was knocking down in Scotland was half as good again as those in Enfield. A few months later I went to Stepney and there saw some shocking conditions. I had never seen people living in such shocking conditions, but I suddenly realised that the houses in Enfield which I wanted knocked down would have been palaces in Stepney. So one can see the measure of difficulty in deciding what should be knocked down, and I give those three examples which have come to my notice.
I now come to the problem of land, with which my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol. South (Mr. Wilkins) dealt so well. I make no bones about it when I say that what we all agree to have been the Minister's vigorous speech about a housing drive will already have the land speculators rubbing their hands. There is no question but that the pressure for land will increase because of the Minister's speech and this debate, and up will go the price. As everybody knows, the price is already ridiculous.
I do not understand why the Minister does not see that he has to do something. My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham made several points which amused the House when he showed how a year or two or three after we had put forward ideas on various things the Conservative Government took them up and put them into action. I am convinced that they will have to do something about the use 405 and price and control of land before long, but the longer they delay, the more difficult it will be, and, if there is any price-fixing, the ultimate price will be a ransom.
The Minister's argument that he subsidises councils who have to pay exorbitant prices for building land is no answer to this difficulty about the price of land. Does he think that because the Government pay a subsidy to ameliorate the high price of land to people desperately needing houses that that makes profiteering any more moral? What an extraordinary situation it is, for whoever pays for it the land is bought by the nation. I hope that we shall hear something more about this matter, because with their present view the Government cannot get by this difficulty about getting land.
An hon. Member asked the Minister about the pressure likely to be applied to the green belt. We all know the theory of the green belt, and we all know that in many cases it has been arbitrarily fixed and that there may be cases for breaking it. In two cases in my constituency, I am sorry to say, the Minister has allowed private pressure for private building—for a private school in one case and for private housing in another—to break the green belt. There may be a case for straightening boundaries and so on here and there, but it should be done not by private people, but by the county or borough council who should be able to say what should be done with the land. That pressure on the green belt will increase, and the more the Minister allows the greater the pressure will be. Because he has allowed two cases in my constituency, a third will come before his inspectors at a public inquiry next week. If he gives way to this pressure, we shall have larger and larger conurbations spreading around our big towns.
I should like to refer to the method of getting land. There is an instruction to local authorities to make private bargains with landowners and not to use compulsory purchase if that is possible. But for how long must they bargain? I have given the Minister two instances in which Enfield Borough Council bargained for seven years and five years. In the five-year case, the council eventually applied for a compulsory purchase 406 order and the Minister then took nine months to make his decision. That sort of thing infuriates and frustrates a local council when it has a housing list of the length which Enfield has, with 3,000 families waiting for homes from a population of just over 100,000. That was an action taken by the Minister's predecessor, and I hope that the present Minister will see that that does not happen again.
If the Minister studies the report of a conference of planning officers from all over the world held in London a couple of years ago, he will find a speech by the L.C.C.'s chief planning officer in which he said that if any Government wanted progress with housing or road building or public works in general, there would have to be some other system of getting land so that there would be fewer delays. He said that on average the L.C.C. took three years to get land for public use. I hope that the Government will note that ridiculous situation. I was in Canada this summer when that speech was quoted and I asked the Canadians what they did. I was told that their corresponding period was about six weeks. If a Canadian council decides that a piece of land is required for the public good, the land is not confiscated but taken over. There can then be a delay of as much as ten years while its price is decided, but no public works are held up by bargaining delays. The Government ought to take a look at how the Canadians do it. Land cannot be put to its fullest use if there has to be this continual bargaining for one piece here and one piece there.
The Minister spoke as though most of the housing will be done in individual units. As most people know, I am a farmer, and I believe that the amount of land required if there are individual units will be fantastic. Private housing in populated thickly areas like my own constituency and other outer boroughs of London is too much in bungalows and small maisonettes, and that is ridiculous. There is a tremendous case for setting architects to developing good modern terraced houses. There is nothing nicer than a good terrace, and, after all, we preserve the good terraces of 150 years ago. New terraced houses ought to have a lane along the back leading into garages so that cars can be parked there and not left lining the streets, as at present.
407 There are already plenty of terraced houses, but although they often have plenty of garden space, it is impossible to get cars into that space because there is no access lane.
The Minister did not mention any number of houses. At present, 280,000 a year are built. By how much does he propose to improve on that figure? My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham mentioned the figure of 350,000 houses a year as the number required. Does the Minister agree with that figure, or does he accept that put forward by many sociologists who have been studying rising population needs in a modern society and who say that the figure is more likely to be 400,000? Which figure does he accept? If he is to pursue a vigorous housing policy, the figure is bound to be somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000 houses a year.
If that is the case, in view of what the Minister said about a fully-employed building industry, how is he to get that target unless he is prepared to give housing priority? I do not think that any of the generalities about prefabrication and new methods will produce anything like the amount of difference required. This will have to be considered a major operation. It will not do simply to say that we must accept that the building industry is fully employed when it is building offices and petrol stations and so on. We will have to take control of the building industry, and I make no bones about it. The Minister will have to have discussions with the trade unions to see whether the industry can be diluted by unskilled workers. All that sort of thing will have to be done if housing is to be regarded as a major operation.
Clearing big areas brings tremendous problems, and the Minister spoke of 400 and 500 dwellings in some towns and 1,000, 2,000 and 3,000 in others which would be cleared in a very short time and rebuilt. How is he to do that if he does not have some system of shifting those people into temporary houses or caravans? He spoke of shifting whole blocks of people out of areas of slum clearance for six or eight months while an area was rebuilt, but some system will have to be evolved if there are not to be fantastic delays.
408 The Minister used an expression which I disliked when he spoke of systematic progress. That sounds a little complacent, for he mentioned systematic progress over a period of twenty years and mentioned 1964 as the year when we would be getting a start. He later referred to a decade. I am about to leave the House to meet some of my constituents, and I am prepared to bet that among them will be two or three old people and two or three young couples looking for houses. Am I to tell old people aged between 70 and 80, or even more, that they will get a house in the next twenty years? They will not be very enthusiastic about systematic progress. Young people who have to wait four or five years will find that their marriage is on the rocks by that time. I do not know how many broken marriages I have come across purely and simply because of lack of housing.
Systematic progress is not what is wanted. What is required is a fantastic housing programme on a military basis. Let us take control of the building industry and provide the finances and the labour and everything else, and we cannot do that without control of the land. I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough said—that this is a human problem which has been neglected for far too long and which is worth the highest priority the Government can give it. I appeal to the Government to give it that priority.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
I join wholeheartedly with the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) in stressing that this is an important subject and in criticising the figures and the timing of the programme put before us. It seems to me that the figures ought to be much higher and the time much shorter. However, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on a most vigourous and refreshing speech which put before us a positive policy.
The hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) is not the only hon. Member who can complain that some of his clothes have been stolen by the Minister in the speech we heard today. There was much which has been pressed on that Ministry in the past from both sides of the House in my right hon. Friend's 409 speech today. Nevertheless, I feel that my right hon. Friend's sights were too low and too long. Both he and the hon. Member for Fulham talked about twenty-year targets. As the hon. Member for Enfield, East said, twenty years to those on housing waiting lists at the moment is nonsense. They are thinking in terms of a couple of years ahead. If they could be promised a house in five years, that would be something, but to look beyond that seems quite unreal.
When talking about twenty-year targets, we have gone wrong on the figures before. We have gone wrong on estimates of population increases. We have gone entirely wrong on the estimates of new households. I do not think that we can set a housing target as far ahead as ten, fifteen, or twenty years. It is now, and in the next five years, that the increase is required, and a massive campaign is needed to produce the number required.
My right hon. Friend gave some impressive figures about doubling and trebling slum clearance. He referred to either Manchester or Liverpool, at present clearing about 1,000 houses a year, and intending to clear about 4,000 a year in future. These figures sound impressive until one sets them against the total number to be cleared in those towns. In Liverpool alone 80,000 houses are to be cleared. What are 2,000 or 3,000 a year against that figure?
What is needed is not a twenty-year programme, but a five-year one for 2½ million houses—about 1½ million replacements and 1 million additional houses in five years. The division should be about equal between slum clearance and rehabilitation, on the one hand, and new houses to provide for the new households coming forward on the other. This works out at 500,000 houses a year for a concentrated effort over five years. When we have completed that programme, we can think about what the next programme should be, but it is in these coming years that the real effort must be made.
This sort of programme would not have been impossible ten years ago. The hon. Member for Fulham complained about us not setting a higher target three or four years ago. I do not think 410 that it would have been possible to reach the figure I am talking about even three or four years ago; but now with the advance in industrialised construction of houses, we can reach it. With radical reforms in plastering, plumbing, roofing and the various normal jobs of building, we can now produce that number per year.
So far as the job is to be left to the local authorities to do, we must give them more practical help. My right hon. Friend told the House that there is a regional office of his Ministry at Manchester. I had hoped that offices of that sort might be set up in all the big towns to help local authorities with the ordinary administrative work of slum clearance and rebuilding. I was probably wrong in assuming what this regional office was going to do, but I had hoped that it, and his Ministry's other regional offices, would provide the professional help needed to get the local authorities moving on their slum clearance and rebuilding schemes. Local authorities have not the architects, engineers, surveyors, quantity surveyors, and lawyers, to carry out a real development programme.
I take an example in my constituency. I am not making this a constituency speech. This is an example which has national application. A small urban district has hundreds of houses to clear. It has just had a Ministry inquiry on its clearance area. It already has acres and acres cleared without any buildings on them. It has not been able to get on with the building because it has not the staff to undertake it. The inspector at the inquiry asked the local authority representative, "Where do you intend to house these people when you have demolished their houses?". He replied, "We have 87 houses as a start".
I am told that since the inquiry these 87 houses have been allocated by the local authority to the very people about whom the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) was talking. They have been allocated to newly-married couples who were moved from council houses where they were living with their "in-laws". This local authority, to keep up with its ordinary housing list, has had to use all its capacity. How will it tackle the clearance programme on its hands and the rehousing of those in that clearance area?
411 I think that this is an admirable opportunity for a pilot scheme to show how this sort of clearance and rebuilding could be carried out. It should be done, not by the local authority, but by a special corporation set up for the purpose, in the same way as we set up development corporations to build new towns. After all, local authorities are the general practitioners of local government. They are not intended to be the specialists in local government, and it is beyond the capacity of most of them, even the biggest, to carry out development of the size that is required now in rehousing. This should, therefore, be done by development corporations.
I observed a rather contradictory argument in the speech of the hon. Member for Fulham. He was pleading for more and more council houses, and, at the same time, saying that we must not burden the ratepayer any more. Surely this is one of the ways in which we could relieve the ratepayer to some extent and put the job in the hands of the type of corporation which has proved so successful with the new towns.
I pass for a moment from the houses which have to be cleared and the families who have to be rehoused to the houses which must remain, those which are fit enough to remain standing but which require considerable improvement and strengthening. Undoubtedly, there must be some revision of the grants and the conditions on which they are made. The difficulties of getting a local authority to make an improvement grant, or a standard amenity grant, are enormous for the ordinary person. It is all right for the professional landlord, but so many of the landlords are not professionals. They own only a few houses, and it As beyond them to cope with the problems of getting the improvement grant.
Cannot we help by providing prefabricated units? Surely for some of the older houses it is possible to dump a prefabricated bathroom and lavatory unit, or even a kitchen unit, in the backyard? There is a lot of space in the backyards of some of the old terraced houses, but because of the present conditions about improvement grants and the standard amenity grants it is impossible to do that sort of thing.
I believe that there has also been put to my right hon. Friend's Ministry a 412 scheme for adding a storey to terraced houses. Many of the older type terraced houses are very firmly and strongly built, and a scheme has been fairly far developed for adding an extra storey to the top of terraced houses. Has this received consideration in my right hon. Friend's Department?
Figures have been quoted from time to time to show that the landlords of those houses which require improvement have not been so quick at taking up the grants as owner-occupiers. That, I would say, is not always the fault of the landlord; he is not always to blame in these cases. In many cases, there is a lack of funds on the part of the landlord to meet the other half of the cost, or the local authority has required a very high standard of decoration before it would make any grant at all, or, again, the tenants have not wanted to give up the space in order that the improvement could be carried out, such as a spare bedroom being turned into a bathroom. Tenants are not always willing for the improvement to be done.
I should have thought that if there was to be some compulsion about this, and I would go some way with that idea, it might be coupled with loans from the local authority to assist those landlords who are unable to find the other half of the cost of the improvements. Speaking of loans, perhaps my right hon. Friend could tell the House whether there is any intention of reviving the assistance which was previously given under the Housing and House Purchase Act, 1961, for the purchase of older houses—the pre-1919 houses. My right hon. Friend will recollect that there was a slight defeat of the Government at the recent party conference on this matter, and that there are many people on both sides of the House who would like to see that loan system revived.
Finally, may I mention the location of industry in connection with housing? Industrial development certificates, when they are granted, must surely be accompanied by further housing facilities in that area. There are many cases where industry has been permitted to go to an area by means of industrial development certificates without any real consideration of the housing of the employees when they get there, or of the housing of the different income groups of employees. It is no good granting an I.D.C. and thinking only perhaps of the housing of that 413 lower income group workers. We have got to get the executives there also, and they want their houses in the suburban area where they can have gardens and so on. I feel that in some cases—in fact, I know, because I have several examples—industrial development certificates have been granted without any regard to the housing facilities in the area.
The solution of this will mean that, quite possibly, areas of green belt will have to be released to cope with the increased housing required from the placing of industry in that area. My right hon. Friend the Minister mentioned something about the release of land, and I hope that means that there will be some change in the policy Which has been noticeable in many cases—a town area has desired to develop and to take in some of the fringe of the green belt, but, when the county authority has objected to this, my right hon. Friend and his Ministry have supported the county as against the town Which desired to develop. I hope that the development of housing in a town in which industry is being placed will not be prevented in that way.
I was extremely glad to hear my right hon. Friend's remarks about the possibilities of increasing industrialised construction of houses and thus obtaining from the housebuilding industry increased production for the same resources as are there at present. I am sure that with that help we could, over the next five years, work up to a target of half a million houses a year, by means of extensive use of industrialised construction. I believe that if houses were constructed by these means, and if we were to concentrate on the worst slum areas of the large cities, particularly in the North and the Midlands, and on the fringes of those cities, and if the work were carried out by new means, namely, by development corporations, and, where it is left to the local authorities, carried out by them with far more practical Ministerial help, we could avoid the tragedies in housing which are occurring at present.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
My main concern is with the subject matter of paragraphs 4, 7 and 9 of the Gracious Speech, and the purpose of my contribution is to relate the needs of areas of 414 unemployment to the possible expansion of the Health Service, to wider facilities for old people, and to our educational system.
Before becoming involved in what is a rather unorthodox line of thought, I should declare certain assumptions. The first is that unemployment is bad for the human soul, however favourable the level of dole money may be. A period of eight weeks of unemployment or over not only leads to physical deterioration but also to mental deterioration, and just in the same way as the State thinks it worth while to take measures, financial and otherwise, to prevent outbreaks of smallpox, so in the same way the State could prevent outbreaks of joblessness.
Secondly, I assume that the labour cost of paying the men and women who do socially useful work is not significantly more than it is for the dole, though I must admit that the capital cost would be heavy. Thirdly, in the 'sixties, the Government, necessarily, by virtue of the fact that only the Government can provide the widespread, various and prompt payments necessary, are the catalyst of economic action in our society.
Fourthly, in the 'sixties, human beings should not be subjected against their will to leave their homes, relatives and friends and go away in search of work, and the teen-agers, as of right, are entitled to work in or near their own home towns, pupils should not have their schooling interrupted and work should be brought Where it is needed promptly and in good time. Fifthly, one assumes that it is utterly incorrect to insinuate that if people from the North-East, the Scots and the Northern Irish want jobs, they must add to the road congestion, the housing congestion and the school congestion in the south-east quadrant of England.
In the interests of coherence, I offer a detailed comment in one sector of the economy as to how such a notion would work out by the imaginative use of plant and modern equipment, which are now under-employed. In the case of the north-east of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the mainspring of the economy is and will remain shipbuilding. If the shipyards on Tyneside and Clyde-side are in a good shape, there is joy 415 among the steel men of Consett and Middlesbrough, Bathgate and Armadale, Motherwell and Wishaw, and the effect will run through the whole economy to the little sweetie shop at the corner.
Those from the South may well say, "We understand your need for ships on the order books, but how on earth do ships connect with the needs of our Health Service?" My present suggestion is that the Government should look at the possibility of constructing four special 15,000-ton ships to take those suffering from chest diseases, such as chronic bronchitis, to the Mediterranean and to the southern waters of the Atlantic for periods of four or five weeks.
I know what sort of reaction such a suggestion could cause, but I sometimes think that in our society it is a pity that we cannot reduce misery to terms of scientific measurement. If we could do so, I wonder what volume of misery could be adduced in this city of London, if measured in terms of the effect of chronic bronchitis. I seem to remember that in my childhood it was possible to send convoys of ships to North Africa on missions of war, and for a fragment of the cost of such convoys this country would welcome an open declaration of war on chest diseases, such as chronic bronchitis.
It is not claimed that voyages to Malta or to Casablancan waters are cures for such diseases, but it is claimed that they would do much to alleviate pain and suffering, and to make worth while the lives of many who are in this chronic condition. It is argued that the opportunity should be given, regardless of the depth of the pocket.
Again, I ask the House to turn a sympathetic ear to the pleas of those who are suffering from pneumoconiosis, silicosis and emphysema contracted in mine, pottery and factory, because such a misfortune cannot be attributed to their own negligence; it arises simply from the fact that they are doing a job which society has asked them to do. It is society that asks people to dig coal; people do not dig it for fun. If they contract pneumoconiosis, for instance, they are lucky if they receive full sickness benefit and a 20 per cent. disability allowance. If they are unlucky, in their interviews with medical boards, they merely receive 416 sickness benefit, in return for having surrendered their most valuable possession—their good health.
According to his wife, a constituent of mine worked for twenty-five years down the mine without losing a day. He contracted pneumoconiosis. His lungs become like a leathery sponge. Now he can walk perhaps from where I am standing to where the Ministers are sitting, and there he must stop and take a rest. Are we, like the Levite in the Bible, to pass on the other side of the road and to say to that man, "You have a 20 per cent. disability allowance; you are therefore in a fortunate position. You have received all that society can offer"? This is not sufficient. It is rather like offering "conscience" money. By the standards of the past it would possibly be regarded as tolerable, but by the standards of the sixties it would seem to be intolerable.
When a man has given up his most valuable possession through working in industry for the benefit of us all, is it ridiculous to suggest that society should give him a five-weeks' cruise so that he can go to the southern sun once a year? Is it ridiculous to suggest that what was good enough in 1952 is not good enough in 1962? We are now in an era of the Revolution of Rising Expectations.
There are two objections to my suggestion. The first is a rather trivial one, namely, the question of deciding who is to go to Madeira, Teneriffe or the waters off Senegal? If such a scheme were to come into operation there would have to be a quota system among regional hospital boards, at any rate during the period of the pilot scheme.
The second objection is far less trivial. Could we afford it? Certainly the capital cost of such ships would be high, but, after all, steel mills would be working at a greater capacity and money would be paid back in tax. I reflect, rather sadly, that my last conversation on its effect on the steel industry was with my late hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones), whose passing I am sure we all regret. I remember his pointing out that in his area, as in central Scotland, the steel industry, the production of castings and all sorts of engine manufactures was geared to the question whether ship 417 building was or was not in a healthy state.
There would be fewer unemployed boiler makers and less dole money would have to be paid out. If this seems rather a strange argument to some people from the South, they should remember that I represent an area where, on 15th October, the unemployment rate was 7 per cent. This in itself is perhaps an excuse for unorthodox ideas.
Again, it may be argued that I ought to know that the running cost of ships is high. But running costs consist in part of port dues. After all that the Government have said in the Gracious Speech about the need for helping underdeveloped countries, are we to say that sterling spent in Malta ox in West Africa is money wasted?
Another objection is the cost of crew wages. If this scheme were to be carried out in conjunction with a company such as P. & O., it would mean paying fairly high wages to Asian crews. But are we going to argue that money that finds its way, in sterling form, back to India, with all her development problems, is sterling wasted? There is a real connection here between our own welfare services and the way in which we can help under-developed countries, because this suggestion is a form of trade with under-developed countries, rather than aid given to them, which some people advocate.
It may be argued that such schemes would be a burden on the Exchequer, to the extent of increasing tax to the point of making us uncompetitive, and that the cost of health ships might well be unrealistic. The fact is that these health ships would come from underutilised resources and they would be a hidden form of aid to under-developed countries, which in turn would wish to buy British goods. If the Government really intend to raise the level of world trade, as the Gracious Speech suggests, this is the sort of scheme that should be discussed in detail.
I offer no apology for digressing and asking why government exists. This may be an academic and philosophical digression; nevertheless, I ask, what is the object of government? Certainly, it is to provide law and order, and certainly it is to defend people against aggression. 418 But, on a higher plane, is it not the object of government to help people to have a fuller life, and to create conditions in which man can realise his full potential? It is only by State initiative that the framework for this sort of scheme, on the basis of need, can be created.
Unashamedly, I appeal to the old Benthamite calculus of happiness: some people certainly will be hurt by a tax that may be higher than it otherwise would have been, but others will be happier because of the extra work created. Others will be happier because their country can develop faster with the sterling that they have earned, and still others because they will have some joy brought to what are often very miserable existences. This calculus works out as a plus quantity. I think it fair to raise the question of the quality of our society. What sort of questions do we want to ask? I do not want so much to ask how powerful we are in relation to other countries or exactly how favourable is our balance of trade. I would wish to ask questions about how a society looked after its chronic sick, because that in the nineteen-sixties is a relevant yardstick.
On rather less firm ground, I would also suggest that the Government should make investigations into the possibilities of laying down two pensioners' ships. It may be thought, are you really going to take old people through the Bay of Biscay? Certainly, if they want to go. I have had some experience of this, having been at sea for thirteen months—taking mostly pupils, but also on each voyage 130 adults. It was evident that many of those, who could afford to, in their seventies and eighties, came for the benefit of their health. I should wish to see such possibilities extended to those who rightly or wrongly cannot afford it.
Specially designed ships, perhaps with lifts and rails on deck, diet kitchens and all sorts of things which might be necessary for an idealistic ship, would be very expensive, but it was those who are in their sixties and eighties who by toil and by risking their lives saved freedom for my generation and laid the foundations of any prosperity that those in their twenties and thirties may have today. I unashamedly regard this as relevant to the social contact between old and young now that for the first time in human existence one can afford to do such things 419 and we should investigate the possibilities.
I think it is not only a duty of government to create work; it is also a duty of government to create worth-while work. The initiative which could be given to designers and marine architects in constructing special ships for old people would be work which would give satisfaction of a high degree of quality. On a less high plane, it is also important because our shipping industry could sell special pensioners' ships to the Americans.
It may well be argued that pensioners want other things more. I am certain to be told,"Get your priorities right." That, however, presupposes a rise in the purchasing power of pensioners and that shipyard workers can be employed in other jobs and make things which pensioners want more, but we cannot turn shipwrights and boilermakers into builders of special pensioners' houses overnight. It is a question of taking advantage of the under-utilised plant and resources that we have at present, this in turn having less effect on the raising of taxation and eventually on balance of payments difficulties than otherwise it would have. Pensioners' ships are not an alternative to other things but they can be regarded as an addition.
There are certain side-advantages. Much has been said in this House in the last five hours about the desirability of taking young couples away from their in-laws and the dissatisfaction which is created by their living together. Many doctors with whom I have discussed this would agree that to take old people away for four or five weeks break might create a much more healthy relationship—[Laughter.]—I realise that there are frivolous implications—between the young people who would then have homes and the aged who may be a burden to them if constantly on top of them.
I am bound to repeat that what was good enough for the fifties will not be adequate for the seventies. Nowadays our problem is not lack of resources but a problem of over-production. Again it is the calculus of happiness that we must look at. There may be more tax 420 than otherwise there would have been, but on balance against this one would see more old people content with something to look forward to and more work in parts of the world such as those which have sent me to Parliament.
In putting forward the potential relationship between shipbuilding and education, the grounds for argument are much more precise as the pilot scheme which has already been carried out by the British-India Steam Navigation Company's "Dunera" and "Devonia" has shown, and from 13 months on board, as deputy-director of studies, I assert that many education authorities have granted leave of absence in term-time for teachers and pupils to go on a thirteen-day educational voyage; secondly, that members of education committees and chief education officers who have themselves travelled on board have been satisfied-plus with the academic and social value of the experience for pupils; thirdly, that teachers in retrospect have frequently referred to the added zest for work among pupils who have been on such a course. There is the added zest of those in junior secondary schools, secondary modern, in particular. But the rector of a high school in Glasgow took his pupils to Greece on the ground that he wanted them to tackle their dry-as-dust classics with more enthusiasm than previously. Ten months later he told me that they had lived up to his expectations. One can be in certain educational difficulties regarding classics, but if we are to ask people to do Greek in this day and age we can give them the opportunity of going to Delphi, Knossos and Athens.
Fourthly, there is the assertion by parents in large numbers that those who run the British-India Steam Navigation Company have added to the social ease and confidence of their children. In the short space of days—this refers particularly to those in secondary modern and junior secondary schools—children learn in classrooms on a ship, with a day or two days at sea between visits, to keep a written record up-to-date in the way which is rarely achieved in practice on a Continental school journey.
For many pupils, especially secondary modern and junior secondary school children, a ship's school voyage arouses 421 their curiosity and gives them an urge to travel on their own at a later date. I do not think anyone can over-estimate the value of arousing a youngster's curiosity about the world around him, particularly if it means a greater appreciation of his surroundings to which he returns. Can a person who has never been away from a certain kind of environment appreciate the things about that environment?
There is another assertion, that a ship in port acts as a base which is important to many twelve-and fourteen-year-olds who somehow gain confidence by having a "home" away from home. A teacher bringing his or her pupils to the bridge, engine room, the navigation classes, the purser's department and so on can help towards a greater appreciation of the practical value of mathematics, algebra and trigonometry. That is because they can see a man doing a man's job in an adult world, using mathematics. Let no hon. Member decry the value of appreciation of mathematics. Once it is seen by a youngster that mathematics is something not just imposed upon him by a teacher, perhaps for ulterior motives, but something useful in the world, that is a significant step forward.
The final of these assertions is that spending a time with school friends on a potentially hostile element such as the ocean is of educational good in itself and there is a certain benefit derived from the camaraderie which comes of going together.
I must declare the following unsatisfactory features of the ship school experiment. First, because going depends on the depth of the father's pocket to the extent of £36 for a 13-day voyage, many of those who in the opinion of their headmasters would derive the greatest benefit are unable to participate. Secondly, classes are disrupted, and for those pupils who are left behind the fortnight is often wasted. There is the third serious disadvantage that teachers who accompany their pupils may leave other perhaps exam-burdened classes behind to the detriment of those pupils.
There is the fourth disadvantage that a 13-day voyage may be ideal for 12 to 14-year-old pupils but it involves too short a stay in port for 15 to 18-year-olds to reap the maximum benefit and, in par- 422 ticular, to establish more than fleeting relationships with their foreign contemporaries who act as hosts.
Fifthly, if it is assumed that meeting the people of a country is more important than viewing famous monuments, two days constitutes a minimum visit, and conversely a series of two-day visits would prolong the voyage and raise costs beyond the £36, putting it entirely out of the range of most pupils at present.
There is another snag. Former troopships such as the "Devonia" and the "Dunera" serve well enough for a pilot scheme, but immeasurably more could be achieved on a specially designed school, simply because it would be much more efficient. Only a troopship lends itself to conversion to a ship school. The life span of the "Dunera" and the "Devonia" may be limited through the normal metal fatigue of the hull to a few years, and no company could afford to build a ship school from scratch and charge fees which would be acceptable to pupils while covering capital costs.
The present suggestion is that the Government immediately commission marine architects to draw up plans for a possible 15,000-ton ship school and that with the maximum urgency no less than six such vessels are laid down in British yards. Such a programme would have a large number of salutory ramifications. It would help to get our own shipbuilding industry on the move, particularly in the form of export orders. For those who smile and say, "But this Member must be utterly unrealistic", it is a bit of a sobering thought that rumour now has it that the Germans in Hamburg are thinking of laying down a specially constructed ship because they have seen the possibilities of this experiment on "Dunera's" visits to Hamburg. It would be a sad, sad business if this experiment, which was initiated in Britain, was taken advantage of by the Germans and they reaped a considerable commercial market.
Secondly, such a programme would create ships and phase them in such a way that they would take the place of those which will come to the end of their life in the course of a few years from normal conditions. Semi-free voyages could be given on a quota system to education authorities.
423 There are far-reaching ramifications. The first concerns trade with underdeveloped countries. If it was considered possible to send parties of 600 to 700 pupils to ports such as Malta or those on the West Coast of Africa or possibly further afield, this in turn would bring a good deal of spending power to those countries. I may be asked, "What on earth would they do if they went to Sierra Leone, or Gambia, or Ghana, or Nigeria?" There is a very great deal that they could do because, although to Members of Parliament it may not be very exciting to visit a cocoa plant or visit gold dredging, to people whose curiosity is at its zenith it is immensely worth while to do so. But it would cost money and the organised educational bus tours would run to thousands and even tens of thousands of pounds. Port fees would be very heavy. The spending money of the pupils on shopping might amount to £4 or £5 a head.
Is this money which is wasted? Here we are scratching our heads Session after Session as to the gap which is developing between the under-developed countries and the rich countries of Western Europe. Every politician on every platform is paying pious tributes to how we are to help those countries of the world which are not so well off as we are. This is a practical way in which we can help. Admittedly it would be expensive in terms of £s. d., but it is not going to be so expensive in terms of real costs.
There is again the question of international relationships. It may be said that any Member of Parliament who thinks that international troubles are going to be in a sense settled by visits of children from one country to children of another country is extremely naive, that perhaps he is looking at the world through rose-coloured spectacles. On the other hand, I have recently had experience of a two-day visit of 700 Scottish youngsters to Leningrad. It was agreed by the adults who came with us that the effect of those youngsters in the port of Leningrad probably did a great deal more good than the speeches of many politicians, because although they did not like Leningrad—they one and all said that they would rather live in Scotland or England—nevertheless they 424 left with the feeling that they did not at least want to drop bombs on the Russians who had been so courteous and friendly in receiving them. I am also certain that the Russian youngsters had the feeling that they would not want to destroy the people who had been their guests during those two days.
It may be said that this is only a drop in the bucket and that it does not mean very much, but it is a drop in the right bucket, and that is what matters. In the light of the possibilities, both of visits to countries with which we are possibly on unhappy terms and to countries which have different customs and are of a different race to ourselves, although I do not say that all can be made well by having ships that take large numbers of our people or of our young people, I do say that at least the scheme is worth the most serious examination. That is as much as usefully can be said.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has left us with a tang of the sea in our nostrils. I have seldom heard a speech in this House which has made an improbable, difficult and expensive scheme seem likely, and easy to obtain. I have great sympathy with any Minister who has him pleading some cause, because the hon. Member's powers of persuasion would be almost overwhelming.
Although this debate has been devoted mainly to housing, I want to deal with that part of the Gracious Speech which deals with one aspect of industrial relations. Before doing so, however, I must say how much I welcomed the enthusiasm of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government for a new approach to the system of improvement grants for old buildings, and for new ideas for making better use of them. I am quite certain that the quickest answer to our housing problem will come from making better use of our existing buildings, especially the older ones and those tending to become obsolescent.
The Gracious Speech states:My Government propose to introduce a Bill which will require employers to give their employees written statements about terms of 425 employment and will prescribe minimum periods of notice.Various statements have been made since last July by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Labour about legislation on these lines. At the Llandudno Conference, the Prime Minister said that it was proposed to introduce legislation providing for written contracts of service and minimum notice related to length of service.
My right hon. Friend went on:We hope this will prove a foundation for a voluntary move forward in pension, sickness and other schemes to improve security and status.To say that whether or not we go into the Common Market the country will face difficult times is only slightly less of a cliché than to say that we are now entering the second industrial revolution, but both of those statements are true. We are in for a major period of industrial change, and in times of industrial change there will be a great increase in the sense of insecurity in those working in industry. That is why I most strongly welcome the proposed Bill, the draft of which we hope to see soon, because I am sure that it will lessen the sense of insecurity and, in the attractive phrase of the hon. Member for West Lothian, will increase the calculus of happiness of those who work in industry.
I have always felt that this House could give a much greater lead in industrial relations to the whole country if only the efforts of hon. Members on both sides could be concentrated on measures to improve them. Though the parties are strategically divided on the place of public ownership of industry as opposed to private ownership and co-ownership as opposed to co-partnership, I believe that tactically we have a great deal of common ground as to the ways in which industrial relations could be improved in the day-to-day working of our industrial life. I therefore hope that when the Bill is presented it will be so phrased that all parties will be able to support it. The hon. Member for South-wark (Mr. Gunter) made a very strong oecumenical argument at the Labour Party Conference; perhaps he will be able to continue that kind of urge for co-operation between the different parties when the Bill is before us.
This Measure could be the firm base on which there could be a lot of building 426 in other spheres of our industrial life, such as industrial training and retraining—about which the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) has spoken so often—industrial safety and health, sickness schemes and better communications in industry. It could provide a new measure of security and status for industry.
From the hints we have been given, it seems that the Measure will concern itself mainly with the written contract of service for employees and the minimum notice which should be given to any employee on redundancy, depending on his service with the employer. Looking, first, at the written contract aspect, I hope that it will be possible for such a contract to be applicable to every employee.
A lot has been written suggesting that contracts of service can be applied in companies but not in small shops and with single employers, but it is important that every employee, right down to the dentist's secretary, should be covered by a written contract of service, and that this should be a clear obligation on employers. Secondly, and this is where the lawyers in the House will have to exercise a great deal of restraint, the contract must be simple and easily understood by the layman.
It is part of the lawyers' restrictive practices that they should phrase their documents in such a way that they have to be translated by other lawyers. In this instance the House must persuade them to exercise restraint and help to find ways whereby the contract can be simple. I have examined several contracts of service which have been used or proposed in different firms and industries. Some of them are six-page documents which it would be unwise for anyone to sign without legal advice. Others are quite simple, with just a simple statement of the terms.
Possibly the best type of contract is the simple, one-sheet document tying the terms of the contract to a booklet clearly expressing the aims and employment policy of the company concerned, explaining exactly what the employer promises to do for the employee and what obligations the employee owes to the employer. An argument often used is that it is unnecessary to legislate for these contracts because many of the 427 better companies already operate contracts of service for their workers. The object of the Government's Bill should be to see that the unenlightened employers and those who have not given much thought to this problem take note of the provisions in the contract of service. When the Bill is being framed it should make it necessary for the contract to be signed by both the employee personally and by a member of the employing company, because in that it will be a much more significant document to both sides.
The subject of redundancy and extended notice has been frequently discussed since it was first included in the Conservative Industrial Charter of 1947. Recently in the House was a small Measure called the Redundant Workers (Severance Pay) Bill. It was introduced by the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond) in May last year. It is people like that hon. Member who, I hope, will find it possible to support the Government's Bill, even though it might not go as far as they would like at once. Surely a few steps in the right direction are better than no steps at all.
In his Bill, the hon. Member for Gloucester suggested that on being declared redundant every worker should receive a week's pay for every year he had spent with the company. This sounds attractive to many companies including, I believe, Vauxhalls, which has such a scheme in existence. But the great snag about the hon. Member for Gloucester's Bill is that it would be impossible to legislate for it to be applied to all companies and all employers immediately.
It is suggested that the cost of running such a scheme would be only a fraction of 1 per cent. of the wage bill. Although I have seen no actuarial discussion of this—and while that small figure may be right—the difficulty with a major scheme such as that, which necessitates the handing out of cash benefits immediately, is the beginning of the scheme. With such a scheme, though the current funding would not be expensive, it would take many years to build up a sufficient fund capable of giving the redundancy cover which is suggested to all existing members of the company, many of whom may have been with the firm for many years.
§ Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)
I think that the hon. Member is missing the point. The kind of scheme which the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond) and others envisage pays for itself as it goes along.
§ Mr. Page
The hon. Member is right. It does pay for itself as it goes along but it does not pay for itself when it starts. It is rather like running a motor car. One pays a small amount for petrol, oil and tyres, but one must buy the car to start with. The original funding of such a scheme would cost a great deal if it is to be put into effect straight away. Perhaps he did not offer a golden handshake but a kind of silver handshake. What I think it is important for us to do, and to do quickly, is to give security to all employees from the day that the Act comes into force. There is virtually nothing beyond the means of any employer to prevent him from giving extended notice to his employees before redundancy is declared.
The main snag in any of these schemes would be when an individual employer or firm went bankrupt, and I wonder whether, at the time of the drafting of the Bill, it will be possible for the Government, through the National Insurance schemes, to take over the responsibility of giving extended notice on the lines that the Bill envisages to all those who may be thrown out of work because of the bankruptcy of a firm or of an employer.
I believe that this legislation should be welcomed on all sides of industry. To the employees it must give very greatly increased security and status, and it should lead to far better communications within the firm itself. I also believe that it should be welcomed both by the trade unions and by the employers, because surely it will give what is most needed in the settling of industrial disputes, or the stopping of industrial disputes happening, and that is an incentive to an employee to accept unreservedly the agreements made on his behalf by the unions with the employers.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles A. Howell (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
It seems to have become the practice of recent years to apologise to the previous speaker if one does not follow him. I intend to follow some of the points made by the hon. Member for 429 Harrow, West (Mr. John Page), but first I intend to do tonight what I did in my maiden speech, which I made during the debate on a previous Gracious Speech, and that is refer to hospitals.
May I say, in passing, that in this Gracious Speech the script writer was on the opposite side, on the Treasury Bench, and he put words into the Gracious Speech to show what is to be the work of the House. Quite frankly, I think that in his case there ought to be another murder like the one we had in July. This script writer is doomed to be executed at any time, because this really is a shocking document both grammatically and in what it itends to imply, and the only thing on which I congratulate the Government is that they have not gone back to something before 1939.
Of three of the Bills mentioned, one is fifteen years old, one eleven years old and another thirteen years old. Even the one that has already been put before the House, of which I obtained a copy this morning, had its first report eleven years ago. Some of the items in the Gracious Speech have appeared before the House on previous occasions, but they seem to have got lost between here and another place, or somewhere else. I am beginning to wonder whether these proposals will ever get on to the Statute Book in the form of legislation.
My main intention is to deal with that part of the Gracious Speech relating to…the health and welfare of My People.The Gracious Speech, in the next paragraph, states:Plans will be laid before you for the development in England and Wales over the next decade"—that sounds good—of the health and welfare services of the local authorities"—this is what I wish to emphasise—in parallel with the development of the hospitals.Today, we have had a galaxy of Ministers, but it has not included the Minister who is in charge of hospitals. I appreciate that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health is present, but if the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue he will appreciate why I have mentioned his right hon. Friend the Minister.
430 I was delighted to see in the Press a picture of the right hon. Gentleman arriving back in this country from Spain, where he has been on holiday. I have been to Spain twice this year. Since 1945, 48 large hospitals have been built in Spain and they are fully operational. There are four more in process of being built and they will be fully operational within two years. So that within two years Spain, which is a poor country, will have built 52 wonderfully equipped, large, modern buildings which are delightful from an architectural point of view, and all this will have been done since 1945 How does that compare with what has been done in this country? So far as I know, only one large hospital has been built here since 1945 although it must be admitted that there have been extensions to existing hospitals. But very few people know where that one new hospital is located and very few hon. Members know. Therefore, how can I believe that this statement is sincere, that over the next decade we are to have health and welfare services in parallel with the development of hospitals?
Every hospital management committee in Britain is worried because of an order from chairmen of regional boards that the committees must not even recruit hospital nurses, although we are desperately short of nurses, if that can be avoided. Hospital management committees and regional boards are in danger of over-spending. I know that that is true; I have seen it in print. During the last few days I attended a management committee meeting at which it was stated that all the regional hospital board chairmen have seen the Minister. Our hospital is already heavily overspent and one of the reasons—it is something for which the Government must take some of the blame—is the sudden high cost of potatoes. When the annual expenditure of hospitals is available for analysis next year, we shall find that almost every hospital has overspent on the cost of provisions, and that will be due to the profiteering over potatoes.
Hospitals have been asked not to recruit nurses if they can avoid it, to keep down costs. They have to keep within their estimates and the Minister is aware that the estimates have been 431 exceeded. I guarantee that almost every hospital management committee in Britain has over-spent during the third quarter of the financial year, on the average of the amount of expenditure for which provision is made. They are, therefore, being asked to be extremely careful during the last quarter and not even to recruit staff unless it is absolutely necessary to do so. That is a shocking thing to happen in a country such as ours, where there is an affluent society. I hope, not that the Minister had to attend a hospital while he was in Spain, but that he had a chance to see what a poor country was able to do.
It is seven years since I used my maiden speech as a medium to plead for the hospital nurses regarding their pay. I said that they were grossly overworked and grossly underpaid. It has taken about six years, not of my efforts, but of other people's, to bring this up. I should have thought the whole of the people of Britain were interested in nurses' pay. They are all interested in how they will be nursed if they are taken to hospital. We still have wards which are closed for lack of nurses and beds which are not able to be used for the same reason. I would have thought that the Gracious Speech, instead of saying,Other measures will be laid before you.",would have indicated some really interesting Measures bearing upon this.
I do not know whether the workers' charter of which the hon. Member for Harrow, West was speaking will be for nurses also. Or will nurses have to rely on other unions to fight their battles for them? I agree that pensioners and superannuitants should have their pensions tied to the cost of living, but, at the same time, I think that such people as civil servants, nurses, other hospital workers, who are unable to strike, as industrial workers can, for their due and proper rights, should also be tied to some yardstick for the increase of their pay. Whether this should be done through a Civil Service organisation or some other I do not know and I do not mind, but it should be done.
It makes my blood boil when I think of What the Minister said in announcing to the House his doubling of the prescription charge to 2s. per item. We were 432 given to understand that the 2s. per item was to pay for the hospitals. I hope that somebody will tell me how much of the fund accumulated through all those 2s. has gone into the hospitals, because it certainly was not added to the budgets of regional hospital boards. Although the Government Front Bench did not seem to believe me, and they certainly did not believe the newspapers, we know the financial difficulties in the hospital services today. Yet there must be some millions of pounds being spent through the 2s. per item which we were supposed to be paying for the hospitals. If this is how we are to get money spent I cannot have much faith in the rest of the welfare arrangements mentioned in the Gracious Speech.
The hon. Member for Harrow, West did not think that the workers' charter, this new provision for workers, to require employers to give written statements about terms of employment and to prescribe minimum periods of notice, was wanted for more than a minority of employers. He said that the others already do all these things. Frankly, I cannot see the T.U.C. or any unions becoming hysterical over this proposal. I honestly cannot. I do not know much about any industry other than the transport industry, but every transport worker knows his conditions. If he does not, he ought to, and if he does not he can ask his trade union secretary. On the railways these conditions are known as conditions of service, and they are negotiated, at least for the operating grades, by the three large trade unions. In the carriage works, and so on, others are involved.
So who are these people who do not know their conditions of service? After all, it is common knowledge that most people are entitled to a week's notice. In hospitals, some people are on a month's notice either way. So who are these people who have not this at the moment? To me, this seems like a bubble, which looks pretty with the sunshine on it; but prick it, and there is nothing in it.
§ Mr. John Page
I think that I am right in saying that only 3 million employees in the country out of 24 million are covered by any kind of redundancy schemes or extended notice, so that 433 would leave 21 million people who would benefit by this suggested legislation.
§ Mr. Howell
I will not argue about the figures, but I do not know anyone covered by a trade union which is not capable of negotiating a redundancy agreement. I myself have negotiated such an agreement. In the main, it is the reverse of a promotion agreement. One climbs a ladder for promotion, but descends it in redundancy.
§ Mr. John Page
I think that transport and the railways for a long time have had these terms of engagements, which have been well known. But that is not the case, I believe, in the majority of engineering and other firms, and certainly not in shops and other places.
§ Mr. Howell
I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman is wrong. In the engineering industry there are even more rigid redundancy arrangements. The hon. Gentleman seemed to think that this proposal was wonderful. I do not know where he got his information. In writing the Gracious Speech for Her Majesty to deliver, the Government were very vague about it. Nothing in it commits them.
The Government can bring in a Bill recommending employers to do this. The Government have never shown any aptitude for directing employers. They have steadfastly refused to do it. Nevertheless, this is something which we already have, although the Government repealed an Act which gave us this negotiating right.
Why should they resurrect a workers' charter which they have bandied about in their conferences and pigeon-holes for about fifteen years? It reminds me of the First Secretary of State's talk some years ago about port and over-ripe pheasant. It looks as though the Conservative industrial charter has had to mature somewhere. I can see nothing coming from it Which will do any good.
I do not see how any hon. Member opposite can get any satisfaction from the Gracious Speech. Some of it is so old that it smells of mothballs, while other parts are vague. The Government say that they are in favour of the Federation of Malaysia. I have been to Brunei, Sarawak and Borneo, and I want to pay tribute to the people who have gone there. There are not so many from this country, however, compared with the 434 numbers from Canada, Australia and New Zealand under the Colombo Plan.
If the Government intend to extend this scheme, why do they not say so? Why do they not say that they wish to do more under the British Council or to put more money into the Colombo Plan? But all they say in the Gracious Speech is:My Ministers will encourage men and women from this country to offer their services for work in developing countries overseas, whether in the service of the other Governments concerned, as specialist advisers, or under schemes of voluntary recruitment.This country may have provided some money, but we have not provided the specialists on the scale that we should have done in comparison with the numbers supplied by other members of the Commonwealth. If the Government intend to accelerate this process, then that is all to the good.
Obviously, the people going out there should be young and, preferably, bachelors, for there is not the accommodation for wives in the backwoods. Teachers whom I interviewed, however, among others, told me that they are not worried about conditions in which they live out there, but are concerned about conditions when they return to this country. They fear that whilst out there they might be missing promotion in the education service. There is no certainty that, having gone out under the voluntary schemes, they will be taken back into the schools they left.
Do the Government intend to rectify this position? Will they bring in a charter for the volunteers who do such wonderful work among people who, by any standards, are ill-educated? Many of these people do not start school until the age of 11, and one sees boys and girls of ages ranging from 16 to 11 sitting in the same classroom, where the first difficulty, to be mastered before they can learn anything at all, is to learn English.
It is admirable to encourage our people to go out to these countries, but how is it to be done? Money is not the encouragement for them. They go out for a good reason. I do not think that they would want to go out to Malaya or to Borneo for a financial reason. It is nonsense to think of their service in that way. They are dedicated and feel that they want to do something worth while 435 If that is so, then we in Parliament owe a debt to them to see that they are looked after when they come back and that they do not lose promotion rights and can get back into their line of employment. I hope that the Government have some proposals in mind here, although they say nothing about it in the Gracious Speech.
The last sentence of the Gracious Speech says thatOther measures will be laid before you.This has to last us for twelve months. One Bill was tabled yesterday and another today. So now we have two of the three major items. One thing has been omitted. Last year, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) said, we had a reference to the British Transport Commission. We know what is happening to the Commission—certain branch railway lines are being closed down. I should have thought that this year's Speech would have contained some reference to what the Government are to do to provide roads on which all this traffic is to run.
Just before we rose for the Recess, I asked a Question about the Ml. A great deal of publicity has been given to this motorway since the Minister of Transport announced that £1½ million was to be spent on 13 miles of it. He avoided telling us what was to be done to the other 60 miles, but anyone who uses the Ml knows that miles and miles of it are blocked because of repairs. Last week the B.B.C. reported that there was a five-mile queue on this wonderful motorway. It is remarkable that after two-and-a-half years repairs are so major that they are creating five-mile queues. Is there any wonder that the Government do not mention it in the Gracious Speech? Perhaps it is to be one of the "other measures".
It is not only what is in the Gracious Speech but what has been omitted that has to be noted. A Gracious Speech is the bones on which a decent body may be built. I am forced to the conclusion that if this Speech has any bones it is a skeleton in the cupboard and that the three items which have been drawn from the files must be the skeleton which the Government have been trying to hide but which force of circumstances, which 436 will evidently reveal themselves later, have forced them to bring out. It is a skeleton which seems to be covered with nothing but mothballs.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
On Tuesday, I happened to see a newspaper headline, "Mac off to a flying start", and I thought that the Prime Minister must have gone to Washington after all. But that appeared to be one newspaper's appraisal of the Gracious Speech. How gullible can some people be?
I largely share the scornful comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Charles A. Howell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) about the traditional form of the Gracious Speech. I suppose that many of us at different times have thought what Speech, with humble duty, we would advise Her Majesty to make more appropriate to the occasion. My own version on this occasion after the first three or four paragraphs would be, "My Government are staggering to their self-appointed doom, and since they have not far to go, I propose to leave them to it". That would be more appropriate than the Gracious Speech which we are now considering.
Nevertheless, we have it all here in traditional form and phrase, and the group of topics which we have been discussing today has been health, housing and welfare. In the Speech that is all wrapped up in two lines:My Government will promote further improvements in the social conditions and in the housing, health and welfare of My People.Quite naturally, the bulk of the debate has been about housing, because that is one of the most pressing and urgent social problems of the day, and the people can never be happy until that problem is much nearer solution than it now unfortunately is.
The new Minister of Housing and Local Government blew into this debate like a gust of wind, fresh and vigorous, like the keen air from the Yorkshire moors. I like the right hon. Gentleman. I like vitality, verve, passion, aggression. All those qualities are a good beginning when one is tackling a difficult job. But I am not sure that it is to his good that he became the idol of the Conservative Party Conference. Great hope are being built 437 on the Minister of Housing and Local Government by his party, but one Minister does not make a Government. The right hon. Gentleman admitted this afternoon that he will not be able to match his words with deeds for a while, and he has started dangerously late in the day. Can he save the Government on this problem alone? Has he the tools for the job? I doubt if he has even now.
I am reminded by my hon. Friends that the bulge which played such havoc with our educational system is marching on relentlessly and will make havoc of the housing problem unless their demands are foreseen. They may not be as patient as the young people of today. There will be more of them. Their voice will be louder and perhaps their attitude towards this problem more aggressive. The Minister will not solve this problem unless he can break through the land famine with as much vigour as he hopes to break through the processes of production and ereotion. He will have to attack the landowners who are holding the nation to ransom. He will have to storm the Bastille of private ownership and private property and private profit which, if my judgment is anything to go by, will be the last thing that the Government will relinquish if they can possibly avoid it. The right hon. Gentleman said that we can expect a report on leaseholds very shortly, but new leaseholds are being created every day, with their potential for future extortion, and this, too, is an urgent aspect of this matter.
There are at the moment some land rackets which are almost unbelievable. I read the other day that some golf clubs are solving the problem of rebuilding their clubhouses and giving themselves better premises by making what is almost a fictitious application for planning permission to develop, hoping, if not knowing, that it will be refused and then claiming compensation for the denial of development rights. They then draw large sums of public money in compensation for a development they applied for but did not want because they want the money to turn it to the advantage of the members of the club. Is this true? If it is, it is a scandal and should be brought to an end.
There is another little racket going on all over the country. A local authority 438 serves a notice on the landlord of an old cottage to make it fit. He demurs on the ground that the cost of making it fit would be disproportionate to the value of the house. The local authority thereupon issues a closure notice, or even a demolition notice, and then has the responsibility of rehousing the protected tenant. When the house is empty, the owner asks for a stay of execution of the closure or the demolition order because he hopes to sell it at a nice big price for conversion. Is this true? We see it happening all over the country at the moment.
I think that the Government will have to apply their minds to these things. People cannot believe in the integrity of the Government's intentions so long as they see the path of rehousing the nation strewn with these rackets and profit-making devices which have no justification. This is robbery of the nation's purse because of its housing problems.
I was very interested when the right hon. Gentleman mentioned Halifax first on his list of illustrations of the increased rate at which the clearance of slum dwellings would be carried out. I happen to be next door to Halifax, but not inside the county borough. In constituencies like mine—and this applies to the West Riding and Lancashire—we have a higher proportion of old dwellings in relation to the total housing in the community than some of the county boroughs and cities. I have six local authorities all trying to grapple with this problem with inadequate resources of technical skill, finance and land, and their problem, about which they have and which I am sure the House will want to know, is how to cope with their difficulties.
I leave housing because it has been discussed at considerable length this afternoon and there are other matters under this group heading to which I wish to refer. My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) deliberately widened the scope of the debate in a most romantic and fascinating way. What he said is not as unrealistic as one might think. It simply has not been thought about in that way before.
There were two references to the conservation of water supplies. Perhaps I 439 might be forgiven for mentioning that my constituency is exposed to the depredations of the water seekers. Everybody comes there to catch water and take it away—Halifax, Batley, Morley and Wakefield. They all come along to catch water in these little ravines in the Pen-nines, and whether or not they are beauty spots they want to block them up and pipe the water away. Yet I have houses within 300 yards of these reservoirs without pipe water. This illustrates the contrast between the demands of a large city and the neglect of the amenities of smaller areas.
Of the seven items mentioned in this group in the Gracious Speech, there are only two that contain any new initiative. Five of them are death-bed repentances for past mortal sins of omission. Certainly, several of them are laden with cobwebs. Thirty-five years ago, I was lobbying in the Central Lobby outside, long before I ever dreamed of becoming a Member of this House, urging Members to support a Private Member's Bill—the Offices Regulation Bill—and here it is in the Queen's Speech in 1962, and then people say that coming to Parliament is unrewarding. Of course, my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) got a Bill on the Statute Book enabling the Government to make regulations, which they decided not to do, and they are now to make an honest Bill, so to speak, of my hon. Friend's Private Member's Bill of two years ago.
Then, there is to be a Bill to increase the pensions of retired members of the public service and their dependents. We have that Bill, but that is merely a biennial fit of conscience and not a new initiative. It is just something that had to be done. Then, we have the protection of the consumers and a Weights and Measures Bill. I seem to remember that a Weights and Measures Bill had been in and out and then dropped, and no doubt we shall hear a lot about the chequered history of that Bill when we come to the Second Reading. We also hear about a written statement of the conditions of employment prescribing minimum periods of notice, but all this was in the Conservative Party's "Industrial Charter" in 1947. If the minimum period of notice is to be one week for every year of delay in implementing the 440 1947 "Industrial Charter", every worker in the land will get eleven weeks' notice. That is how old it is.
An hon. Gentleman who spoke a few moments ago dealt with this problem of human relations. There is a lot of nonsense talked about industrial relations and human relations as if this was some special kind of science. Fundamentally, it is how people treat other people; that is what it is all about. If people only learned how to treat other people, we should solve the problem of industrial relations, and incidentally the problem of marriage and half a dozen other human associations as well. Therefore, really, the Gracious Speech, in trotting out these things which have been in pigeon-holes for years, scarcely calls for any fulsome praise from this side of the House.
I want to pass to one item of these seven which, in only two lines, covers an enormous field of health, happiness and welfare. I refer to the two lines:The position of war pensioners and those who are receiving national insurance benefits will be kept under close review.I do not see the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance here, though I see his Joint Parliamentary Secretary. I know, of course, that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secertary to the Treasury has only just relinquished the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, and I do not doubt his competence to deal with any matter that I raise in this field, but I wanted an opportunity of saying a few words to the new Minister.
§ Mr. Houghton
I want him to take a measure of his responsibilities and also a measure of his opportunities.
The Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance is not just another Government Department. The Minister is closer to the poverty and hardship of our people than any other Member of the Government, and that is why it is imperative that any Minister of Pensions and National Insurance should be dedicated to radical social reforms. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will convey this to him. He should be moved by love of his task, otherwise he will be a failure.
441 Another thing I suggest is that he should always have his resignation written out, ready to slap on the table—[Interruption.]They usually do not have their own resignations written out; somebody else has them written out. But I am serious when I say that the moment he is thwarted by the Chief Secretary or anybody else at the Treasury in his plan for social change and improvement, he should slap down his resignation and make an issue of it.
Let us look at the main sections of the community covered by two short lines in the Gracious Speech. There are the retirement pensioners; there are 1½ million men and 1½million women pensioned on their own insurance; there are 1 million wives on their husbands' insurance, and 1⅓million widows—and one-fifth of all of those are on National Assistance.
Let us consider widows as a separate category in the community. They create one of our big problems. First, 68,000 widows from the First World War are still on the books of the Ministry—forty-three years after. They have lived forty years of bereavement and loneliness. Do people who are happily married, with their families, walking about in Britain today, really appreciate the appalling price which has been paid by these widows for the patriotism of their husbands forty years ago?
There are 69,000 war widows from the Second World War. That was not so long ago, and they are younger. The average age of the widows from the First World War is about 74, and the average age of those from the Second World War is obviously much lower. But to many who will not remarry the long years lie ahead.
There are 570,000 widows and widowed mothers, including 90,000 of the 10s. widows, and 1,300,000 widows who are drawing retirement pensions, as I mentioned a moment ago. That means that there are over 2 million widows altogether on the books of the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance. Then there are 84,000 separated wives, and 26,000 mothers of illegitimate children, apart from 3,000, 4,000, 5,000 or even 6,000 divorced wives with legitimate children.
Then we have the war disabled. Hon. Members on both sides of the House 442 have been reading lately the moderately-worded appeal of the British Limbless Ex-Service Men's Association. There are 700,000 war pensioners. What would they look like, marching down Whitehall? There are still 92,000 from the First World War receiving disability pensions of 40 per cent. or more. These are very impressive figures relating to people who are in need, if not of our care then of our consideration and concern.
I turn to National Assistance. No less than 57 per cent. of all National Assistance payments go to retirement pensioners. Seventy-one per cent. of all National Assistance payments go to supplement National Insurance benefit and, as I said, one-fifth of all retirement pensioners are in receipt of National Insurance. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South complained that the extra cost of smokeless fuels was going to bear hardly on a lot of poor people, and he told us that he had written to the Chairman of the National Assistance Board to see whether it was possible to bring them any relief.
For all the good work the National Assistance Board is doing, one comes up against all sorts of unexpected and incredible restrictions on its activities. A woman goes to the Board and says, "My television set is broken; it will cost £10 to have it repaired." The National Assistance Board says, "Oh, we don't repair appliances; you'll have to manage without it." A woman goes to the Board and says that her washing machine has gone wrong, but the Board says, "We don't repair washing machines. If a woman of 75 can't do her own washing, we will give her laundry allowance"—as much in the year as would repair her washing machine.
The old people of tomorrow will have washing machines and television sets. What are we going to do about this problem? Shall we say that they are not part of the standard of life we can provide and that we will not go beyond it? Are we to say, "We will send your laundry out but we will not repair a machine for you to do it at home"? For heaven's sake let us get a little more realistic approach. The Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance has responsibility for more than 6 million 443 people on National Insurance and National Assistance benefits.
I come to what the Government propose in the Gracious Speech. They say:The position of war pensioners and those who are receiving national insurance benefits will be kept under close review.We must examine the meaning of words. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South asked what words mean when they are uttered in the Gracious Speech. In the phrase "under close review", does "close" mean urgent, active, careful? How close? Close to what? To the heart? Or is this an exercise with a microscope? Why "kept under …review"? That suggests a stationary position, "kept". Let us hear what it means.
National Insurance benefits should not be "kept under close review"; they should be improved. That is what we wanted to hear, but we did not. Already the increases of April, 1961, have fallen behind the rise in the Retail Price Index and the wages index—more than 5 per cent. behind both of them. That would justify an increase of 5s. for the married couple right now, but they will not get it right now. Even if the Minister said tonight that they would get it right now, they would not get it for several months.
Here we are faced with a very big social and economic problem, the whole question of principle of the fixing of pensions of all kinds should be reviewed as part of the method of working of an incomes policy. Pensioners always get left behind. They have no employer to threaten, no arbitration tribunal to go to and no appeal, except to Parliament. There are resolutions, motions, memorials, letters and the whole dreary process of trying to get Parliament to act. When improvement is decided upon, it is ad hocand gives no confidence for the future. It is just transitional. How is the pensioner to be assured of his place in society if those who are nearer to the nation's wealth or have stronger arms are to scoop the pool?
There is the question of the speed of the change when it is decided to make the change. The whole complicated apparatus of administration, making and issuing new order books and the rest, delays improvements for weeks after 444 the decision has been taken while workers outside are demanding retrospective effect to be given to wage increases. The Gracious Speech should have said: "National Insurance benefits will be increased at once. War pensions and industrial injuries benefits will be improved at once, National Assistance scales will be reviewed again next year since they had an increase as recently as September this year. The earnings rule will be abolished for widowed mothers and relaxed for everyone else in accordance with the instructions of the Conservative Party Conference. Restitution will be made to the thousands of 10s. widows who have been robbed by Ministerial handbag snatchers for the past ten years".
All this would have been in the Gracious Speech had Her Majesty been advised by my right hon. and hon. Friends, and there would have been a great deal more of fundamental importance to the whole structure of our social security scheme. We simply must find a better way of adjusting pensions to need than the existing National Assistance arrangements. We must explore this fascinating prospect of having a means test to pay and a means test to receive, through the instrument of a universal declaration of income. That might help considerably. I have mentioned before the curious quirk in our make-up that we do not mind a means test to pay our taxes but we object to a means test to receive social benefits. If we could make the means test the standard basis of taxing some and supplementing the income of others, we might have found the answer to this serious difficulty.
I am sure that we shall be able to find a scheme by which some will give up part of their income, while others will have their income made up to a reasonable minimum. If code numbers to pay, why not code numbers to receive, with the same principles applying to both—that is to say, income would be the test in these cases? I do not think that this idea is too revolutionary. I think that it is practical. It would be more acceptable and it would enable us to solve the problem of need by having a more flexible system of pensions. The long-term solution to many of these problems is a more realistic and adequate system of graduated pensions. 445 The present graduated scheme, as the Chief Secretary well knows, is a thinly veiled piece of financial duplicity.
I come to the end of my comments on the Gracious Speech. We are asked to note that—My Government will promote further improvements in the social conditions and in the housing, health and welfare of My People.As my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian said, the duty of government is to promote the happiness and well-being of the people. It is the Government's duty to take positive steps to stimulate public demand for the social change which will make for greater happiness and a greater sense of security. At the present time everyone who watches commercial television is induced to believe that the things which make for a happy life are detergents, beer, various brands of lung cancer, sweets and washing machines. Social improvement depends upon the concern for the welfare of others by the rest of the people, toy all of us, even at some personal sacrifice.
Political parties and Governments have their part to play in fostering this spirit. There is too much of poverty, hardship and unhappiness hidden from public view today. We do not see it sprawling on the streets any more, but it is behind the faded curtains. It is the duty of the Government to do more than respond to pressures for social improvement. They should create them. That I regard as the primary duty of this Government in their remaining months of office, to do what they can vigorously and positively to promote the health, housing and welfare of the people.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ The Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster-General (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
We have had an extremely wide debate on this day of the debate on the Address in reply to the most Gracious Speech. I suppose one could sum up this subject matter as being that which Disraeli described as "the condition of the people".
I fully share the view expressed by the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) that it is an extremely good thing to debate these social service problems together. My experience, which, I think, is shared by other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), is that we tend to debate 446 social service questions in watertight compartments, with the enthusiasts or the zealots or the experts in one or other talking about them with great knowledge and intensity but very often at least appearing to ignore the fact that they have to be fitted into the general pattern of our social provision and thereby avoiding the fact that somebody, in this case the Government of the day, must face, in the social service sphere as elsewhere, the crucial question of priorities. They avoid the fact that it is and always will be impossible to advance at the same speed over the whole field.
This is why I particularly welcome today's debate for the chance it has given us of raising so many of these subjects. It has only the slight disadvantage that it is virtually impossible to reply to all the points raised on every social service in such time as I have, but I will do my best.
I should like to begin, because I think that this sets properly the background to today's debate, by pointing out that we are debating these matters against the background of an enormous social advance over the last ten years. The points which have been raised and fiercely, sometimes passionately, discussed must be fitted into proportion. They are the peripheral points of the greatest expansion in social service provision that this country has ever seen in its history.
I will remind the House very quickly of the figures. Taking the statistics of expenditure, one takes first that which is somewhat austerely described under the heading, "Grants to Persons". This includes those National Insurance and National Assistance benefits to which the hon. Member for Sowerby has just referred. It includes family allowances and non-contributory old-age pensions, that group of our social services. The expenditure on them has risen from a little over £652 million ten years ago to £1,601 million. We have seen the provision for education rise in the same decade, 1951–61, from £414 million a year to £1,061 million. We have seen the health and welfare services go from £506 million to £945 million.
What is impressive, and what I think the House will regard as particularly satisfactory, is that these figures have not only risen in themselves, but, in the 447 light of changing prices perhaps more realistically, they have risen also as percentages of our gross national product despite the increase that that gross national product has shown.
Grants to persons were 49 per cent. of G.N.P. when we took over in 1951; the latest figure is 6.5 per cent. Education then took 31 per cent. of the G.N.P.; the latest figure is 4.4 per cent. Health and welfare, formerly 38 per cent., is now up to 4.1 per cent. Overall, taking the expenditure of this whole group of social services, it has gone up over the same decade from £1,6432 million to £3,704 million—substantially more than double—and, as a proportion of G.N.P., is now 15.4 per cent. against 12.3 per cent.
That is the background, and I will add only one other figure. The social services as a proportion of public expenditure were 36.8 per cent. when we took over and, in 1961, the latest figure, they totalled 43.6 per cent. That is the picture of a great expansion in social service provision all along the line, and that, of course, is equally the reason why it has not yet been possible in particular directions, some of which have been discussed today, to go as far as some hon. Members on both sides would want to go but where we will in due course go.
But I would remind hon. Members opposite, in particular that it was Aneurin Bevan who said that the language of Socialism is the language of priorities. It is the essence of any intelligent social services administration that one has to decide the priorities for advance, and that really carries with it the consequence that in other directions one does not advance, at that time, as quickly as one would like.
It is the duty and responsibility of Government, and one that we fully accept, to judge as between one social service and another, and to try to allot what I am glad to say has so far been an ever-increasing volume of expenditure in the directions which, on an honest appraisal of the situation, seem to be the best directions, for social reasons, in which to spend the money.
There has been a great advance in education. I have mentioned some figures and, if I may, I should for a 448 moment like to mention the material side. There has been the fact that in this decade 5,500 schools have been completed, with 2,600,000 new school places. There has been the fact that the number of full-time students in further-education institutes has doubled. There has been the fact that the number of children remaining at the ordinary schools after the age of 15 has trebled. There has been the fact that the number of university full-time students has gone from 84,000 in 1951 to 111,000 last year and, as the House knows, it is our intention to take that figure forward to 150,000 in a few years' time and, beyond that, to 170,000.
I do not say that in any attempt to burke or dodge any kind of criticism, but I am sure that the House and the country will feel that it is not right or fair to discuss our current problems and the matters which we shall have to decide over the next few years without having as the background to our discussion the massive improvements it has been possible to effect over the last ten years.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Charles A. Howell) referred to hospitals. Expenditure on hospital buildings in 1951 was £13 million; last year it was £35 million. In the current year it is certainly running at over £40 million. As the House knows, in January, 1962, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health laid a White Paper containing the hospital plans for England and Wales and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland laid another containing plans for Scotland. They showed plans for hospital buildings implying the expenditure of nearly £600 million in the decade beginning 1961–62 and, indeed, involving over that period the starting of new work to the extent of £800 million.
The hon. Member raised the question of the very important health and welfare services of the local authorities. The House may be interested in the extent to which capital expenditure on those services has risen—from £3.19 million in 1951–52 to £16.03 million in 1960–61, and currently about £20 million. Therefore, whatever else this Government can be charged with, it cannot be charged with not having made a great improvement, at massive cost, in our social service provisions.
449 The hon. Member for Sowerby, I thought thoroughly enjoyed himself and, if I may say so, so did the House, as it always does with him. He was even able to have a happy minute or two on his favourite topic of landlords, but I thought that he added force to his own question of how gullible one can be when he pointed out the wickedness, as he thought, of landlords applying for permission to develop and then being compensated for not being allowed to do so, without recalling that the compensation is paid under a Section of his own Government's Town and Country Planning Act, 1947.
I was sorry to hear, in reference to water, that his constituency is being, as I understand it, liquidated. I can only hope that no convulsion on the Front Bench opposite would have the same effect on the hon. Member, as we should most certainly miss him. The hon. Gentleman will at least acquit me of any unwillingness to debate these matters with him when I say that I must pass fairly quickly over the comments he made on National Insurance. To find myself replying on these matters to the hon. Gentleman is, I feel, rather like someone entering a cinema and saying, "This is where I came in".
I was glad that the hon. Gentleman stressed the importance of that office. I can assure him that my right hon. Friend fully appreciates the great responsibility which goes with it. I am bound to say that I found it an absolutely fascinating office. I agreed with much of what the hon. Gentleman said about the importance of treating widows correctly in our social service system. It will always be agreeable to me to be able to reflect that during my tenure of that office there occurred the biggest proportionate increase by a long chalk in the provision for widows with children, technically described as "widowed mothers".
I well remember how the figures show that in real terms—and not merely in cash terms—the provision made for a widowed mother with three children is nearly £3, or 70 per cent., above what it was when the Conservative Government came into office in 1951. I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman about our treatment of the war disabled, though I think that the hon. Gentleman somewhat exaggerated their current numbers. 450 I have said at this Box on many occasions—and hon. Members opposite have said the same frequently—that we desire to give them priority and preference in our social service system and I am perfectly certain that my right hon. Friend will continue to do that.
The hon. Gentleman then questioned the words…kept under close reviewand had some good semantic fun with them. He knows perfectly well that those words have a real and serious meaning. They mean that the Government in the future, as in the past, will watch closely the value, absolute and relative, of these benefits and will not, when, in their judgment, it seems right, hesitate to take action. I believe that the country will take those words for the sincere statement of view that they are when it is recalled that those are the words which have been used throughout the years of Conservative Governments—years in which the real value of these benefits has been successfully and successively raised.
The hon. Member then excelled himself when talking about the "ten-bob" widow. I wrote down some of his words. "Robbed by Ministerial handbag robbers for the last ten years" is what I believe he said.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I am obliged. But why did the hon. Gentleman say "for the last ten years"? No provision was made for these ladies in the National Insurance Act, 1946—which was sixteen years ago—and the hon. Member's somewhat selective chronology in describing this alleged crime had, I thought, a Freudian content. The hon. Member knows that he is on a bad point.
He knows that the 10s. widow of today is the woman who, because of her reserved right under the old scheme, draws a 10s. pension in personal circumstances in which a widow under the new scheme draws nothing at all. Thus it was a bad point for the hon. Member to dwell upon and I recall that his predecessor, in leading for the party opposite—and I am speaking of our distinguished former colleague, Hilary Marquand—said it was not a sound case.
§ Mr. Houghton
The Minister knows that this 10s. was a residual benefit. We are complaining, as we have been for a long time, that its value has been left where it was at the beginning. During the past ten years, when Conservative Governments had the opportunity of restoring some of the value of that residual benefit, they did not do so. That is what we are complaining about. As for the rest, the Minister must take the current policy of those of us who are currently responsible and not "other people" in this respect.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
—unless one has seen the latest edition of the evening paper. As to the question of restoring its value, the hon. Member knows well that its value was seriously eroded between 1946 and 1951 when the party opposite introduced their own National Insurance legislation and, quite rightly in my view, made no change in this provision.
I turn to the speech of the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart). I thought that my right hon. Friend made a forceful, imaginative and rather stirring speech, and I think that the House thought so, too. The hon. Member for Fulham acknowledged that with his customary grace, but I thought that he was a little less than gracious when he went on to say that he would have approved of the speech so much more if it had been made at the beginning of the Government—
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
At the end of the beginning, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), no doubt, would have put it, and not after the Government had been in power for eleven years.
I was struck by that observation, but I thought that it showed a surprising lack of perspicacity, because it is, of course, the strength of the Government that after a very considerable period in office they have (his tremendous fund of new ideas and new, imaginative proposals. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"] Hon.
452 Gentlemen opposite ran out of them in six years. The hon. Gentleman also ignored the fact that earlier housing policy is the foundation from which my right hon. Friend will advance. His implication that we have done nothing about housing until my right hon. Friend appeared, although flattering to my right hon. Friend, is not a compliment which, with his clear mind and knowledge of the facts, he would wish to accept.
It is a fact that my right hon. Friend's forward advance and great attack on the slums has been preceded and made possible by the fact that over the last ten years we have on average built about 300,000 houses a year. Hon. Members opposite really cannot decry that achievement, because it was their own considered view, when they were responsible, that that figure, which we have averaged for ten years, was not possible.
The then Leader of the Labour Party, Lord Attlee, said in a broadcast at the 1951 General Election that it was not possible, and the late Mr. Aneurin Bevan, whose bitterest opponents would not say was a man who allowed himself to be daunted by difficulties, said that if the Conservatives adopted a policy of setting the builders free it was not 300,000 houses they would get—they would not get 200,000 or even 100,000.
It was due to the dynamic energy of the first Minister of Housing and Local Government in the present Administration, my right hon. Friend the present Prime Minister, that what our Socialist predecessors said was impossible was very speedily attained and maintained over this very long period. Indeed, I have the precise figures, with the precision of Whitehall, that from 1st November, 1951, to 30th September, 1962, 3,228,092 houses had been built, of which—and this is material to several points that have been made in the debate—not much under 2 million were council houses.
When hon. Members got very excited, as some did, about the relativity between council houses and private building, it is a relevant fact that we have very nearly succeeded, in council houses alone, in averaging the figure of constructions which they suggested was the most that could be done over the whole field.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Gentleman is an old enough Member of the House to know what is a wrong statement and what is not.
I was intrigued by the statement of the hon. Member for Fulham, in his criticism of the 1951 Housing Act, that we did not take powers to increase the subsidy without legislation, and I hope that, on reflection, he will feel how unsuitable such a provision would be from a parliamentary point of view. If it is necessary to increase subsidies—and I express no opinion on that—the proper thing is to come to Parliament and ask for powers. It would be very wrong to impose an additional burden of this kind on the people without seeking parliamentary authority for doing so—
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The regulator is not a question of public expenditure. The hon. Gentleman knows the difference between taxation and additional public expenditure. He has been long enough a Member of the House to appreciate that.
§ Mr. Stewart
The right hon. Gentleman must be aware that the Housing Act contained a totally novel principle of the retrospective abolition of subsidies. If it is proposed to do something like that which is very damaging to the financial expectations of local authorities, and the Government propose to justify it, they ought to be prepared to entertain new ideas and to increase the subsidy as well by the Act. The right hon. Gentleman must not allow himself to be bound by the fact that we have not done it before. He must be receptive to new ideas.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Gentleman must not confuse dissimilar things. A Measure was put forward which has certain effects, quite a different thing from taking power to increase subsidies without parliamentary authority. I think that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman will feel that here he is on a false point.
I am sure that the House was delighted to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame Edith Pitt) speaking once again on social 454 services. I, perhaps more than any other hon. Member, have good reason to know the great experience, judgment and knowledge of my hon. Friend on matters of social service. She rightly stressed the importance of owner-occupancy. I should like to remind the House of the provision parssed in the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act of 1958 under which advances for house purchase up to 90 per cent. could be made by local authorities. It has been carried by enterprising local authorities to a considerable distance but it is a matter for local authorities to administer.
An important fact, which I think has been to some extent omitted from this debate, is that about 40 per cent. of houses today are owner-occupied. This is a very important number compared with the 24 per cent. of local authority houses and the 34 per cent. rented from private owners.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett) dealt with water, and, as chairman of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, his views obviously command serious attention. At one time I thought that my hon. Friend was proposing to divert the River Severn into the River Thames and consequently to expose me to the same fate as the hon. Member for Sowerby by submerging the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames.
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) asked for a survey of housing needs. I am not sure that we need a survey in the strict sense, but my right hon. Friend feels that our statistical information is not quite as it should be and is investigating better methods of obtaining better statistics. Equally, the hon. Gentleman will not feel that we ought to hold up action on housing while further statistics are collected. Action must be taken on the two matters simultaneously.
I have referred to the general views of the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) and I will not enter into his argument on the earnings rule, save to say that in my own carefully considered view the £100 million that it would cost could hardly be worse used than, as it would be, to increase the incomes of the younger pensioners only, and only that section of the younger pensioners who have appreciable earnings.
455 My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Matthews) gave us some very interesting ideas about the consumer councils, for which we are grateful, and I am also grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) for his reference to voluntary efforts on behalf of the housing of old people. I believe that inestimable good is done by this provision both for the old people and, in respect of the houses which they vacate for others. Were there time, I should be tempted to enter into competition with my hon. and gallant Friend, because in my own constituency the Maiden and Coombe Old People's Welfare Association has a better record even than that of Carshalton.
The hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) raised the question of smokeless zones and the effect on National Assistance payments to old people living within them. While I was Minister of Pensions and National Insurance that point was raised with me and I had discussions with the chairman of the National Assistance Board. My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary confirms for me that the position is as I then learned that it was.
I can summarise it like this. After a considerable inquiry by the Board it arrived at the conclusion that modern smokeless stoves properly handled do not, for the same amount of heat, involve any greater cost than the old-fashioned type of grate. The Board, therefore, in general, does not adjust the Assistance scales in the case of smokeless zones, but it accepts, particularly for old people, that when new apparatus is installed there is inevitably a transitional period when it may not work well. Many of us do not work well machinery to which we are not accustomed, and the older one is the greater is that trend. In circumstances where that happens the Board feels able, without troubling the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, to make an extra payment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) referred to the matter in which, I know, he is enormously interested, of compensation for the victims of violent crime. His own very fair exposition of the difficulties of the matter does I think, in some mea- 456 sure explain why it is not possible for me tonight to do more than say, as my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State said in the summer, that the matter is being gone into.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) gave us some most interesting ideas which my right hon. Friend has asked me to say he would very much like to study when he has read them in HANSARD, but he does feel, as I do, that the figure of 500,000 houses for an annual target ignores the real difficulties that a figure of that level would involve.
We were all interested in the maritime experiences of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). The difficulty of the sort of thing he was proposing is not, of course, that it would not be a good thing, but the question whether, where so large an amount of money is involved, it could not be more effectively and usefully and widely used in some other way. That is the perennial problem, as I am sure the hon. Member understands, of social service adminisstration. I was rather startled, in my previous capacity, at the suggestion that so severely disabled a person as the one he described suffering from pneumoconiosis, that ghastly disease, could only be on a 20 per cent. assessment. I should have thought that a matter he might well wish to draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend.
The background of all this is not only, as I say, that this is a decade of achievement in the social services. It is also a decade of the most massive general advance in the standards of life of the great mass of our people that we have ever seen. It is indeed an odd byproduct of that, that some of these social service matters are felt the more fiercely and intensely—not because the social provision is not better than it was, but because the whole standard of life has moved up so immeasurably over the population as a whole that the relativities, the relative difficulties, are felt the more harshly.
It is one of the curious consequences of the enormous advance which we have seen over this decade, which has seen us move to a position in which three out of four households now have a vacuum cleaner, two out of five have a washing 457 machine, one out of three a refrigerator; in which there are 12 million television licences; and 8.6 million telephones against 5.4 million ten years ago; a period in which personal incomes have risen from £11,900 million to £22,600 million, against a change in the cost of living of not more than about 50 per cent.; indicating, therefore, that we are well on the way to the target which my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State gave of doubling our standard of life in twenty-five years.
There has been, too, this remarkable shift in income from the lower into the middle brackets. If I have time I will give one figure, and it is this. In 1949, 2.8 million people were in the £500 a year to £2,000 a year bracket; in 1961, the figure was £13½ million. That is, perhaps, the most conspiouous of all the social changes and the one which most of all shows that this advance has been one of solid progress.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.