§ 3.45 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. F. V. Corfield)
This is the first opportunity that we have had to debate housing since the publication of my right hon. Friend's White Paper in May. It is an opportunity that we welcome.
Although I do not assume that the purpose for which the Opposition chose this subject was to be entirely laudatory, I hope that we shall start from the agreement that we all recognise that the home, in the broadest sense in which that word is used, still remains the anchor of a healthy society. But I would hope, also, that we would agree that the provision of decent housing is not the only factor involved, and that it will be accepted that in reviewing the past, the present and the future it is necessary to do so against a background of priorities covering a very much wider field.
872 As to what these priorities are, there are bound to be differences of view, but if we are to devote more of our resources to housing we must devote less to something else, and it is incumbent upon those who criticise to be as precise about where they would cut as about where they would increase.
I think that the Opposition will also be concerned with the record of the past as well as the policy for the future. I think that it is right, therefore, to remind the Committee of the very formidable success that has been achieved. Between 1st November, 1951, and 31st May of this year the number of permanent houses built in Great Britain has been over 3.4 million, which, together with approximately 1 million built under the Socialist Government, means that about 27 per cent. of our total housing stock has been built since the war. In addition, as the White Paper points out, about 670,000 houses have been improved with the aid of grant and, no doubt, many others without. But there remain formidable problems, and we certainly have no wish either to minimise them or to disguise them. The White Paper faces them squarely. But whatever criticism the Opposition may be impelled to level against the record of the past, I think that they will have a formidable task to show that they either would or could have built more houses.
The achievements of the last 12 years rest very largely on the fact that we were able by 1953 to exceed the target figure of 300,000 houses per annum, whereas the Opposition must remember that in 1951, during the General Election, and despite all the pressures that are general on those occasions to show their party at the best advantage, the best that they could forecast—and I am quoting the Prime Minister of the day in his broadcast of 20th October—was:We cannot at present go beyond 200,000".I suggest to right hon. and hon. Members opposite that they will need some ingenious arithmetical juggling to prove that they could have hoped to make up that deficit of the earlier years by improving substantially over the 300,000 in later years so as to reach the same overall totals.
On the other hand, when we face criticism, as I have no doubt we shall, 873 with regard to the distribution of houses between local authorities and private builders, we face here a genuine clash of opposing philosophies. I am not exactly sure where the party opposite stands on this matter today, but for our part we firmly believe that the function of subsidised local authority housing is to provide for those who, in the absence of subsidy, genuinely cannot afford to provide decent housing for themselves.
But whether a house is built for letting by a local authority or for owner-occupation by a private builder, it fulfils a housing need. It cannot seriously be contended that the need for a house becomes any less urgent because the prospective occupier cam afford to meet the cost. That is not, of course, to say that we do not recognise that much more remains to be done in the local authority field, especially in regard to slum clearance and in the areas where great pressures have forced market prices beyond the range of income groups which, in other parts of the country, can afford to compete.
As paragraph 43 of the White Paper makes plain, the public authorities' share of the housing programme has in recent years increased, is increasing and will continue to increase. But in looking to the future the factor that dominates the scene is the substantial rise in the rate of increase of our population and the rapid change in its pattern. With people marrying and starting families younger, living longer and, rightly, aspiring to higher standards, the number of households has increased between 1951 and 1961 by 12.1 per cent. against a population increase of 5.3 per cent.
So, as paragraph 10 of the White Paper points out, over the next 20 years 125,000 new houses a year will be needed merely to keep up with the growth of households. In addition, there remains a serious overall shortage of houses in certain areas, in particular London and the other conurbations, and a formidable problem of slum clearance.
It is against this background that we have set our sights at reaching a rate of house building of 350,000 houses per annum as rapidly as possible. I do not think that that figure has been seriously challenged, either by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite or by responsible commentators in the Press, or in the 874 professional journals, either as unrealistic on the one hand or over-modest on the other, but no doubt we shall see during the course of the debate.
This expansion of the total annual housing programme to at least 350,000, including a local authority programme of up to 150,000, produces a vast housing programme by any standard. 350,000 houses equals the number of dwellings in Birmingham and Solihull together as shown at the 1961 census, and at an assumed cost of £2,500 per dwelling, it constitutes an annual investment of £875 million. To achieve this we need greater output from the building industry if we are also to sustain the other large programmes of construction, on the one hand on schools, hospitals and roads and on the other on the factories and offices needed to provide employment for an expanding population.
With this aspect of the matter my right hon. Friend the Minister for Public Building and Works dealt comprehensively in our last Supply debate on 2nd May. But my Department also has an important contribution to make. Our aim is to get maximum efficiency from the clients' end of the operation by planning housing programmes on a scale sufficient to gain the benefits of factory production, and to this end we are urging the formation of groups of local authorities to operate on a larger basis than is possible for any single individual authority. Two such groups have already been formed. There is a Yorkshire development group comprising Sheffield, Leeds and Hull and a Midlands housing consortium consisting of ten neighbouring county boroughs. Other groups are beginning to emerge.
We are encouraging, too, the adoption of standard dimensions for ceiling heights, windows, and so on, and the standardisation of components, as well as the adoption of factory systems of building. At the same time, we are undertaking research into various lightweight systems of construction; houses based on these methods have already been built in Steven age and Sheffield, and there are further projects under way.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
The hon. Gentleman is arguing in favour of large groupings of local authorities for the building of houses. I do not think 875 that many of us on this side of the Committee would quarrel with that. However, that being the policy of the Government, can the hon. Gentleman explain why the Government are, at the same time, pushing forward a Bill which is designed to smash up the London County Council, which is already the biggest housing authority in the country?
§ Mr. Corfield
The hon. Gentleman knows quite well that the London boroughs will be very much larger than the existing metropolitan boroughs and that the Greater London Council will also have housing responsibilities on an even bigger scale than the London County Council.
We have further agreed to guarantee local authority building programmes for up to five years in areas where the worst problems are so that the councils can have the maximum advantage of continuity and long-term programmes.
Hitherto, total housing construction has been almost exclusively divisible into local authority houses and houses built by private enterprise for owner-occupation. The great gap has been in the provision of private enterprise houses to rent. No doubt there are a number of reasons for this—the cost and difficulties of management, the need or the desire to turnover capital and the relative attraction of building for sale in conditions of continued demand from prospective owner-occupiers; and this latter is something to be welcomed.
Indeed, it is a matter for satisfaction, though not for complacency, that we have now reached a stage where 6.8 million houses, or more than 40 per cent. of the total stock, are in owner-occupation. By American standards, where, I understand, the figure approaches 60 per cent., we have still some distance to go, but we have certainly made progress. We have very nearly doubled the proportion since the end of the war. But there will always, of course, be a demand for houses to rent by people who can well afford to pay an economic rent.
Whatever the other reasons for the reluctance of private enterprise to embark on any substantial contribution towards making good the deficiency in houses to let, the party opposite must bear a considerable part of the blame 876 for the major deterrent, which is its continued dedication to the reimposition of rent control. I do not deny for one moment that there are cases where landlords have exploited the housing shortage or demanded exorbitant rents and inflicted great hardship on tenants. This is an evil, but this sort of activity is not typical of landlords.
§ Mr, Corfield
I can assure the Committee that in my correspondence I have many cases brought to my attention, and by no means all of them by hon. Members on this side of the Committee, where rent control is shown to inflict severe hardship, i.e., severe hardship on owners, and particularly small owners. Over and over again I hear of people who have invested their savings in a house for their retirement and cannot now claim possession.
§ Mr. Corfield
There are others whose sole source of income is that from a house bought many years ago and which barely meets the cost of maintenance. I really can assure the Committee that hardship is not all one way. The evil from bad landlords, of which I have been speaking, is not a general evil. Recontrol must be looked at not only in the light of its efficacy as a remedy for this particular evil, but also in the light of the ramifications that it is likely to have over the housing situation as a whole.
Neither control nor decontrol as such increases the number of houses, but there is a good deal of evidence to the effect that control reduces, and is always likely to reduce, the supply of houses to rent. Before the Rent Act was passed it was becoming the almost invariable practice for landlords with vacant properties to sell rather than relet. [Hon. Members:"They are doing it now."] Hon. Members opposite say that they are doing it now. The most detailed surveys to hand show that this happens only at the most with one out of five properties. Four out of five are relet.
It is very easy for hon. Members opposite to talk generally and vaguely about a fair rent, but it is a very different matter to devise a formula for determining it that will encourage, rather than 877 discourage, the maintenance of existing private capital in housing, let alone attract more. This is surely what we have to do. It is, of course, with that end in view that the Government attach so much importance to the proposed new third arm in the organisation of housing—the housing association, the housing co-operative, and the Housing Corporation.
As the Committee will recall, Section 7 of the 1961 Act made available £25 million for cost rent housing schemes. The response has been encouraging, although inevitably an incentive such as this takes time before it is reflected in firm plans, let alone in houses on the ground. But I am happy to state that my latest information shows that 42 projects from 23 housing associations, involving 2,430 dwellings and loans amounting to nearly £9 million, have so far been approved.
The new Housing Corporation will have £100 million available, under the White Paper proposals, from which it will lend about one-third of the amount required by housing associations on loans for up to 40 years. It is expected that the building societies will lend the rest for a similar period. Of course, £100 million is a considerable sum, and it will go a lot further than helping to provide an initial £300 million worth of housing because, after a while, the money will recirculate and be available again for more investment in more housing associations. The Housing Corporation can, we believe, be a most important institution, not only helping the growth of the housing association movement but also contributing to the development of new systems and raising standards of design and materials.
We hope, too, that, together with the provisions of the Finance Bill, it can give a further impetus to the co-operative type of housing association in which the tenants and the members of the association are the same people. Under this type of scheme, the tenant secures many of the advantages of owner-occupation, except that should he wish to move the dwelling remains the property of the association, of which he ceases to be a member, and he is repaid the contribution he has made.
878 I want now to turn to the question of the provision of land and land prices.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
Whilst we are in no way opposed to housing associations, may we ask the hon. Gentleman to tell us what rate of interest the associations will have to pay on the loans? Will it be the market rate? If so, they will be no better off than anyone else.
§ Dr. Jeremy Bray (Middlesbrough, West)
On a point of order, Sir William. The Parliamentary Secretary has referred to a recent survey which indicates, he said, that one in five houses only is resold. If he is quoting from a document, should not that document be laid before the House?
§ The Chairman
I did not hear the Joint Parliamentary Secretary quote anything. I heard him give a figure, as I thought, in summary.
§ Mr. Mellish
Further to that point of order, Sir William. The Parliamentary Secretary made the point that he could give certain figures in consequence of a recent survey. My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West (Dr. Bray) is right to ask whether there is such a survey and to suggest that, if the hon. Member is to quote from it—as he has done—we should have it before us so that we can take it into account and check that what the hon. Gentleman is saying is correct.
§ Mr. Corfield
I was quoting from the Donnison Report, which has been published and is, as far as I know, in the Library. I will send the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) a copy if he has not got one. We recognise that hon. Members opposite have different views on rates of interest and about differential rates. No doubt all this will be raised during the debate, and my right hon. Friend will deal with it at the end. At the moment, I want to deal with the question of the provision of land and the price of urban land which, I understand, is the second main topic which the Opposition wish to discuss.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
The hon. Gentleman was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) whether these housing associations would have to borrow at the market rate. I heard the right hon. Gentleman the Minister say to the hon. Gentleman,"Say yes". Will the hon. Gentleman please tell my hon. Friend that?
§ Mr. Corfield
It will be the Treasury rate, but it is not expected that it will differ markedly from the market rate.
I do not wish to intrude into the time of the debate longer than necessary, but I want to deal with the land problem. The corollary of any housing programme is the provision of the necessary land and that, of course, remains a function of planning, which is briefly referred to in paragraphs 28 to 30 of the White Paper. But it is quite clear that an increasing population, demanding higher standards not only in housing but in schools, hospitals, factories, offices, open spaces and roads, and so on, must exert a very considerable pressure upon land.
So, too, does the vast increase in car ownership, which is estimated as likely to be doubled by 1970. Indeed, sub stantial acreages are already devoted to the motor car in one form or another, and more will clearly be required in future.
Basically, what determines where people want to live is their work, and exactly where they live depends on the communications with their place of work. In turn, the location of new industry depends in large measure upon the network of national communications, and new links in that network are, again, largely dictated by the need to link up existing or growing industrial and commercial centres. These are considerations which cut right across the boundaries of existing local planning authorities. It is necessary to look at these problems in the much wider context of the region, rather than of the local planning authority, and to ensure that regional plans themselves dovetail into a cohesive national plan. This is the purpose of our regional studies, which will provide the framework or skeleton on which local planning authorities will build and fill in the details for their respective areas.
880 I know that many hon. Members on both sides would wish to go further in the development of this regional planning concept by setting up formal regional planning authorities. There are various approaches. I am bound to say that nearly all of them do seem to me to present difficulties, although no doubt they also have advantages. I have no doubt that many will have their advocates this afternoon.
At this stage, I only wish to remind the Committee of two points which I regard as of overriding importance. The first is that planning at this level not only requires a very high degree and wide variety of skills, but also very close co-ordination between a number of Government Departments—not only my Ministry, but also the Board of Trade, the Ministries of Transport, and of Power, and of course the Treasury. Secondly—and I hope that the Committee will agree—a very considerable degree of local responsibility for local planning is essential and vital to the life of local government. Against these considerations, I submit that the system we have been following—of regional studies, carried out by the central Government and subsequently discussed with and implemented by local planning authorities—has a very real advantage.
I want to turn now to the question or the price of land. Not only, of course, have we got all these demands for land, but they are demands which, by and large, are particularly concentrated in certain parts of the country and, in themselves, underline the need in those same areas to preserve land for green belts and open spaces.
In many areas there is still no shortage of building land, though in the areas of pressure in and around the conurbations, and in the Midlands and the South-East generally land prices are high; in many cases they are very high.
§ Mr. Corfield
That is the inevitable operation of a free market with a buoyant demand facing a position of static of even shrinking supply. As I understand it, this is the basic issue which divides the Committee.
A free market and competing pressures increase the cost of development and of 881 course that is particularly noticeable in developments of an obviously social character such as housing, education and hospitals. But that is not the whole story. There is the powerful magnetism of the great cities, which is responsible for the greatest pressure on land and, therefore, for the highest prices. It is a social-cum-economic phenomenon common to all the advanced countries in the world. Much as we may deplore its side effects, as a general proposition I cannot see that we contribute to the solution of this problem by cheapening land in the very areas where it is imperative to discourage rather than to encourage further concentration.
Whatever our pricing system, and whatever our planning system, if we are to preserve anything of our incomparable countryside I submit to the Committee that building land should always be regarded as a precious commodity, to be husbanded with the utmost care. A situation in which economic forces reinforce planning control in ensuring that the land is used to the maximum advantage is not entirely without its merits. Conceding that there are disadvantages in high prices of land for housing, schools and hospitals, it is not enough merely to advocate change.
It is also necessary for the Opposition to show that any alternative scheme, which may be the star to which they have hitched their wagon, is workable and has advantages which outweigh its disadvantages and that it will produce overall a more satisfactory system than the present one. In my submission, so far, the Opposition have failed to do this and we shall listen with interest to what is said by hon. Members opposite today.
As I understand their policy, it combines a proposal to secure land cheaply with a form of"betterment" whereby, to quote from" Signposts for the Sixties":the community obtain the benefit of the future rise in the value of land".The first stage in the operation, apparently, would be for a Land Commission to purchase land which it is proposed to develop, and presumably the selection of the land would remain with the planning system. The second stage would be the granting of a lease. Indeed, the 882 whole basis of these proposals appears to rest upon a leasehold system.
I think that hon. Members opposite will agree—I hope that they will—that leaseholds will have to be of a fairly long duration, particularly in respect of commercial and industrial land. In the first place, only a long lease will attract a developer. In the second place, industrial and commercial firms often have to build to their own requirements and must have security of tenure to make it worth their while. On occasions they must be prepared to expand or change with changing techniques.
Finally, they will have in mind that it may be necessary at some stage that the undertaking should be sold as a going concern, or combined with other undertakings in similar trades. It is, therefore, difficult to see how, certainly in the commercial or industrial sector, this system of leasehold can conceivably be maintained in an expanding economy, unless the leaseholds are long, readily transferable and probably extendable. In other words, there will have to be a free market in leaseholds. And leaseholds, especially long leaseholds, are subject to exactly the same market pressures as are freeholds.
Moreover, the terms of the lease, according to the pamphlet, are to ensure that the community obtains the benefit of the future rise in the value of the land. But the value of the land increases as soon as planning permission is granted, or, under the scheme envisaged by the Opposition, as soon as the purchase is made by the Land Commission. It increases to the current market level for the type of land and the type of development in question. If this increase, as presumably is the case, is to be included in that which is to enure to the community, there can be no difference in the price of land to the user compared with what it is under the present scheme.
Similar arguments apply to land used for private housing but here again, as I see it, there seem to be further complications. Private houses change hands very much more frequently than do commercial or industrial premises. Indeed, it is the essence of owner-occupation that there should be no restriction on resale. Few of us, when we buy our first or even our second house, can guarantee that it will 883 be either possible or desirable to stay put for the rest of our lives.
If, under the Opposition's scheme, the Land Commission is to help byleasing plots of land to small owner-occupiers an especially favourable termsthere will have either to be a restriction on resale, or any increase in value will accrue not to the community, but to the owner. The only difference will be that it will be a larger increase in value by the amount by which the sale by the Commission was less than the true value.
It should be borne in mind that the price on resale will be dictated by the general position of supply, and the general position will be set by the vast stock of existing houses which inevitably for many years ahead will vastly out-number those built under the scheme.
As I see it, the second problem which arises is that whatever the merits of the leasehold system it is simply not consistent with owner-occupation as we know it today. Nor, to all appearances, is it readily reconcilable with the pledge which, I understand, has been given by the Leader of the Opposition to introduce the compulsory enfranchisement of leaseholds. As I have already reminded the Committee, hitherto houses built since the war have been divided almost exclusively between local authority houses and houses built for owner-occupation.
There is no reason to suppose that there will be a rush of private developers into the renting market if these proposals are combined with a threat to reimpose rent control. There is also no reason to believe that the increase in owner-occupation has come to an end, or that it will not continue to increase to probably something in the neighbourhood of the proportion prevailing in the United States.
The owner-occupied sector is very large and I suggest to the Opposition that it does not make sense to rest a plan for land prices on a leasehold system and then tell us that the owner-occupier will be entitled to his freehold and, at the same time, benefit by lower prices, which, again we are told, can arise only under a leasehold system. Either the Opposition do not believe in owner-occupation, in the sense that the owner-occupier owns the freehold—in which 884 case it does not make very much sense to talk about the enfranchisement of leaseholds—or they do believe in owner-occupation in the current meaning, and are concerned, in their Land Commission and leasehold scheme, only with local authorities and those unlikely private developers in the letting market under a system of rent control.
I sincerely hope that hon. Members opposite will make their position clear during the debate.
The Opposition's proposals for undeveloped land, most of which will be agricultural, appear to be merely to acquire compulsorily at a price lower than the market value and to pocket the difference for the State. Is not what they are proposing really a system of taxation?
We have to look at these proposals in the light of the proposition that land once acquired will, as to its future value, enure to the benefit of the community. As I see it, terms which ensure that this happens can only mean one of two things, either a levy on resale or a periodic review of ground rents. If it is to be the former, I hope that we shall be told whether it is proposed that the whole of the profit element is to accrue to the community, whether allowance will be made for the fall in the value of money in the meantime, and whether account will betaken of the fact that the vendor may well have to rehouse himself in the sector of the market represented by existing houses as at today, which, of course, by definition, are out of this scheme and will be subject to the free play of the market. If, on the other hand, the proposal is for a periodic review of ground rents, we ought to be told how this differs in effect from the rating of site values, to which, so I have always understood, the party opposite is opposed.
If all that the Opposition are anxious about is that the increase in value should accrue to the State, they have merely to use the rating system, divorce the increase in value due to the buildings from that due to the land, and insist on a rate of 20s. in the £. That, I submit, is the effect of what they propose, and I hope that they will bear it in mind when they next accuse us of being insensitive to the rise in the rate burden.
I believe that over the past 12 years we have a fine record in housing. I 885 welcome wholeheartedly the Leader of the Opposition's wish, stated during the weekend, to fight the next election on that record. I am confident that the White Paper points the way to still further advances which are both substantial and realistic. I admit that they lack the spectacular. There are no rash promises by my right hon. Friend to cure the housing situation by the next election. I concede that in some areas and in some spheres land prices raise difficult problems, but I do not believe either that the disadvantages are all one way or that the ideas cherished by the Opposition can do other than create far more problems and far more anomalies than those which they set out to cure. As they say themselves in Signposts for the Sixties:Since John Stuart Mill made his proposalsfor the public ownership of building land,a series of partial attempts have been made to tackle the problem—all of them unsuccessful. It is now clear that public ownership of building land is the only way…The sole argument that this represents a way, let alone the only way, rests on the fact that, hitherto, the country has had the sense to reject it.
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
The Parliamentary Secretary, having elected to open the debate, has, as we expected, told us something about the contents of the Government's White Paper. In view of the fanfare with which the White Paper was greeted on publication, I rather thought that the Government would have decided to choose a day of their own. time on which to expound the White Paper, particularly as it means very little unless there is to be a good deal of legislation based upon it, and we are to some extent inhibited, on a Supply day, in discussing legislation. However, the Government were not keen enough on their own White Paper to give any of their own time for it, and we are glad enough that they should have some of ours.
It would have been a very promising White Paper if it had been presented to Parliament at the outset of a new Government's term of office instead of at the end of an old and exhausted Government's term of office. Here is a series of ideas. Here are things most of which 886 cannot be put into operation until legislation is passed. The operation of them cannot, in fact, begin in this Parliament. Here, then, we have rather more of an election manifesto than a serious statement of Government policy. This conclusion is reinforced when we note that the actual contents of the White Paper are in every case modified echoes of things which other people have been telling the Government for the past six or seven years.
A target—perhaps that is too definite a word—an estimate is given of how many houses ought to be built per year in the coming years. Our main comment about that estimate is that it is substantially more than we are building at present and, as we now learn from the Parliamentary Secretary, a big proportion is to be houses provided by local authorities. That is exactly what we have been telling the Government for a good many years, that the total of building was not sufficient and that their present policy of steadily cutting down the number of council houses was one which ought to be reversed. Now, in the last stage of this Government's life, we are told that, at last, it is to be reversed.
The second proposal is for the setting up of a Housing Corporation. The interesting feature of that proposal is this. The Government make proposals to help owner-occupation. They make proposals for more council houses. They make proposals for the repair of old houses. When they come to the provision of rented accommodation by any agency other than the public authorities, they say nothing whatever about the provision of rented accommodation by ordinary private enterprise working for profit. They have, at last, reached the conclusion, which we have been rubbing into them for some time, that it is no good nowadays relying upon private enterprise working for profit to provide rented accommodation at rents within the means of most of the population.
In essence, the Housing Corporation proposal is—I do not use the adjective in any unfriendly sense—a philanthropic solution. The idea is that there will be enough people found throughout the country to do the organising work in getting the houses built, managing them, and arranging for their letting, and doing this not for profit. I hope that 887 the Government will be able to find them, but I think that it will be quite a job.
The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Sir Keith Joseph): Of course, the hon. Gentleman will have seen the sentence referring to the fact that the Housing Corporation will have paid officials at the centre and paid officials also in the regions to help to organise the housing societies which are to be formed.
§ Mr. Stewart
I do not dispute that. It is interesting to see how much propping up from the public one needs to get even the semblance.
§ Mr. Stewart
Well, the Minister said that they would be paid for out of public funds. Even so, he must know that his policy depends on finding a considerable number of people prepared to work on these associations not for profit. I earnestly hope that they will be found. We know that there are many admirable people prepared to help, but it must, surely, be accepted that there is now an admission on both sides of the House that it is no good relying on private enterprise working for profit to provide rented accommodation. I shall show that some significant consequences flow from this.
The Government say something about the review of subsidies. We have been telling them for a long time that the provision from public funds, from the Exchequer, to local authorities to meet their housing responsibilities was not sufficient. Although there may be differences in our view of how the subsidies ought to be applied, it seems that, at the end of the White Paper, the Government themselves come to the conclusion that more subsidy help will be needed for local authorities. Once again, better late than never.
The fourth and last proposal mentioned is that steps should be taken to repair and modernise older houses. The essence of this proposal is to be met by increasing activity on the part of local authorities, backed up by compulsion, if necessary. It looks almost as though Ministers have been secretly attending meetings of a local Fabian Society. It 888 has registered with the light hon. Gentleman at last that the whole attempt by rent decontrol and improvement grants to get the main body of private landlords—I readily admit that there are admirable exceptions—to keep houses in decent repair and bring them up to date has failed, and we have to rely on the public authority.
In essence, we have a White Paper composed of modified versions of advice that other people have been giving to the Government, requiring legislation and not likely to be operated in the present Parliament. I would not go as fair as the Estates Gazette, which, after examining the Minister's White Paper and referring to the famous Hans Andersen tale,"The Emperor's New Clothes", concluded, choosing its words, I must say, very tactlessly:The Housing Emperor is standing there stark naked".
§ Mr. Stewart
The Estates Gazette went on to make certain suggestions as to what he was wearing, which, for reasons of decency, I shall not repeat to the Committee.
Without going as far as that, we must ask, first, how far this White Paper meets the needs of ordinary people today, and, secondly, how far is it framed to meet the needs of the very startling future that lies ahead of us—the future of 60 million people in this country by the early 1980s and, perhaps, 70 million at the and of the century.
When I come to examine that second question and its relevance to the needs of the future, it will be necessary for me as for the Parliamentary Secretary, to say something about the price and use of land. Let us look, first, at how far this White Paper and policy meets people's present needs. We can most of us gauge people's present needs by taking a cross-section of the letters that come to us from our constituents, day after day and week after week. First, there is the need of the very many families who want simply to escape from slums, from filth, or, if not as bad as that, from overcrowding and constant restriction of life.
One could still find a case—there was a case in a metropolitan juvenile court 889 very recently—of nine human beings occupying one room. There are the far more numerous cases of families who, some years ago, may have had just adequate room, but who now, with the growth in the size of the family or the mere increase in the age of the children, find that their whole pattern of life is intolerably cramped and see no way of getting out of it into more spacious or appropriate accommodation. What is the situation there?
In paragraph 11 of the White Paper, we are told that the slum clearance programme, which began eight years ago and which was supposed, in effect, to finish the job in ten years from when it began, is now to extend over another ten years, and even at the end of that time the problem will not be solved in the more obstinate districts. On the question of shortage, the White Paper, in paragraph 8, estimates the present immediate shortage of houses as between 500,000 and 1 million, yet in 1959, four years ago, the National Housing and Town Planning Council estimated the shortage then as 500,000.
The situation certainly has not got better by this measuring rod in the last four years. It is difficult to reconcile that with certain advertisements appearing in the Press at the moment, stating that already the housing shortage has been greatly relieved. The significance of these figures is this: there is room for argument, as to how far this figure of 350,000 is a realistic figure. It is difficult to give a precise answer, because it depends on how much potential improvement can be found through the use of new building methods, and that, I agree, is still an uncertain question.
In a few years, we may be able to take a more optimistic view, but it would be unwise to take it now. Whatever view is taken on that, there can be no doubt at all that 350,000 houses, even if it is the very best that we can hope to reach in the near future, will not be enough for a long time to come.
Building at that rate means that the demand for houses will be well in excess of the supply for a long time. Two things follow. First, in view of that desperate imbalance in demand and supply, the Government must look again at the question of rent control. If they 890 look back at their own speeches when the Rent Act was passed, they will see that it was passed on the assumption that before long supply and demand for housing would equate at a reasonable figure.
This estimate of 350,000, as against our real needs, shows that there is no prospect of that in the foreseeable future. The other thing that follows is that we must accept the proposition that a bigger proportion of the national effort has to be devoted to housing in the future than in the past. The Parliamentary Secretary posed the question: if you have more houses, what do you have less of? I think that the hon. Gentleman is sufficiently an economist to know what is the real answer to that question.
The hon. Gentleman could have put that question to the country at any time during the last 50 years. If anyone had said in 1900 that we ought to be devoting a greater proportion of our resources to housing and had been asked,"What does that mean we shall have less of?" the answer is surely, and in any growing economy must be, that we do not get more housing during the next 10 or 20 years literally by sacrificing the things that we have now. We sacrifice the things that might otherwise have been produced during the next ten or twenty years, and it is the essence of the problem that we cannot define precisely what they are because they are the result of new inventions and new discoveries.
If it will satisfy the Parliamentary Secretary I wild say this: if we did, as a nation, decide deliberately to have substantially more housing over the next 20 years than we are contemplating, it would mean that during those next 20 years that part of the rise in the standard of life which is reflected by luxuries rather than things like housing would not show so rosy a picture. We should at the end of those 20 years have more houses and fewer luxuries. What those luxuries are, neither I nor anyone else can say. But they would be the kind of things that would be produced in the next 20 years. [Hon. Members:"Oh."] If hon. Members opposite do not understand this they had better apply their minds to it, because this is essential to the whole problem.
891 One of the questions that the Government must ask themselves immediately is: can we see that as few resources as possible are devoted to any kind of building that has not the urgent social necessity that good housing has? There may not be all that to be made out of that, but it is the question that ought to be asked and is not asked in the White Paper.
Then we have to ask: for whom are these 350,000 houses to be built? The Parliamentary Secretary suggested that the argument between building by local authorities for rent and building by private enterprise for sale was an argument between the political ideologies of both sides. Whatever it may have been in the past, what it is now surely is an argument which must be deduced solidly from the facts of the situation, which are these.
The slum clearance programme is proceeding barely fast enough to keep pace with the creation of new slums by the passage of time. If we are serious over the clearance of slums, we must demolish more houses per year than we are demolishing at present. An increase in the rate of slum clearance—and the Minister has talked of doubling or trebling it—means that a greatly increased number of people with incomes well below average need to be rehoused. If we are greatly to increase the number of people with below average incomes who need to be rehoused, it follows inescapably that we must tilt the balance more towards the provision of council houses to let. In the end the Parliamentary Secretary accepted that when he gave a figure which meant an increase of nearly 50 per cent. in the number of council houses to let.
We should note what a reversal of policy that is. Between 1952 and 1962, the proportion which capital formation in housing bore to the gross national product remained the same at about 3½ per cent. In 1952, 2½per cent. was in respect of council houses. By 1962, that 2½per cent. had shrunk to only 1¼ per cent. It had been cut to half. That is the procedure which must be reversed. If it is to be reversed, we must provide greater financial assistance to the local authorities and take into account in calculating that financial assistance the burden of interest rates upon them.
892 The Minister has objected previously that if we do anything to enable local authorities to borrow money for housing at a favourable rate of interest we"distort the economy". I cannot accept that phrase. We are simply ensuring that more houses are built than otherwise would be the case and pursuing a deliberate use of Government policy to that end. That is one of the things for which Governments are there.
To build more we must also consider the problems in the building industry itself, which I will touch on only briefly or I shall detain the Committee for far too long. It seems to me that the Government have missed an opportunity in the Housing Corporation which they create. To my mind, the interesting part of the idea of a Housing Corporation is that of deliberate action by the central Government in housing. The Government restrict the Housing Corporation to the comparatively limited field of the pro-vision or help in the provision of houses to rent at rents ranging between £4 and £7 a week, or, as the Economist unkindly called it,a driblet of high-cost housing.That is, perhaps, an unnecessarily unkind phrase, although it may be necessary to remind the Minister that this is only a very small part of the problem.
If the Minister wanted to create a body of this kind, I should have thought that he could have given it powers to develop building research and to apply the results of research by building itself so as to be a pioneer in the application of new methods of building. He should not be content, as the Parliamentary Secretary said, with urging local authorities to come together in consortia to facilitate the giving of the right kind of orders to the building industry. One of the jobs of such a corporation might be the deliberate formation of such consortia of local authorities. I think that we need a more positive direction from the centre than either the White Paper or the Parliamentary Secretary suggested.
Another function which the Housing Corporation should have is that of itself granting loans on mortgage to would-be owner-occupiers. I think that we must accept that favourable rates of interest, which we propose, should apply not only to local councils building houses to let 893 but should be available also for mortgage loans to would-be owner-occupiers. The nation as a whole must accept that housing all along the line ought to be a subsidised service.
The odd thing is the way that the nation is being gradually pushed to that conclusion by the logic of the facts. The council house tenant is subsidised. The owner-occupier is partly helped through the Income Tax allowances on his mortgage. The owner of rented property is helped, to some extent, by improvement grants. The very poorest, paradoxically, are helped to pay their rent by the National Assistance Board. One group remains to which no help at all is given, namely, the uncontrolled tenants of private landlords.
We must give up being unwillingly pushed by the logic of the facts into recognising that housing should be a subsidised service all along the line. We should recognise that fact and deliberately decide the most economical methods of distributing that help through help to the finances of local authorities for them to build houses to let, for loans at cheap rates to owner-occupiers and for the provision of help for the modernisation of old houses. The sooner we give up pretending that in a perfect world housing would not be a subsidised service, and recognise the logic of the facts, the sooner we shall get the matter straight.
What I have just been saying arose from consideration of the needs of people who want to get out of slums and overcrowded dwellings. What about another kind of need, the need of people who have enough room but who are never certain how long they will be left in enjoyment of it? They may receive letters such as that which one of my hon. Friends gave me recently addressed to one of his constituents. It reads:We write to inform you that we have received instructions from our clients that it is desired the flat which you occupy is to be sold. We are instructed to give you the first offer to purchase same.The means of the person to whom this letter is addressed make that offer completely nugatory. She is an old lady. What this letter means to her is that all her security has gone. That kind of 894 thing is happening time and again. It is one of the effects of rent decontrol.
The Parliamentary Secretary argued the virtues of rent decontrol. He spoke about the hardships which people suffered.
§ Mr. Corfield indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Stewart
The hon. Gentleman did. He began to paint the most heartrending picture of people who suffered because there was some control left.
I want to ask this very serious question, and I hope that the Minister will answer it: what is the extent of the faith of the party opposite in decontrol? It has power under the Rent Act to decontrol any dwelling by order, whatever its rateable value. In the unlikely event of the Conservative Party winning the next election, would it use that power and decontrol any more houses? It will be agreed, I think, that the House of Commons and the country are entitled to know the answer to that question before the election takes plase.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
Is my hon. Friend aware that before the last election the late Aneurin Bevan asked the Government to give a pledge? They gave the pledge and when they returned to office they immediately broke it. We cannot trust the pledge of this Government.
§ Mr. Stewart
It was in the 1955 election that the Government gave a pledge not to introduce legislation about rents at all, which, as is well known, was deliberately broken. The facts about that are not in dispute. What I am asking now is: what sort of pledge are the Government prepared to give about not carrying rent decontrol any further?
One of the evils of rent control is the way in which it encourages certain people to regard a house solely as a source of income to its owner and nothing else. I have here a document called"The London Property Letter" which is circulated to businessmen. Under a subheading"Fulham—Boom area for Speculators" its states:The London Property Letter takes a close look at this fascinating…district…(e.g. Victorian house near Wandsworth Bridge Rd"—895 not one of the most fashionable areas in London—showing four-year record of appreciation from £1,800 to £6,500).The letter goes on:The London Property Letter answers the all-important question: what opportunities are in it for you?That is the kind of morality which rent decontrol and the general tenor of Conservative policy in so many directions over the last 12 years has produced.
We had it strikingly illustrated even in the sober columns of yesterday's Sunday Times, in the article on Peter Rachman. There was somebody who had found out how to combine inflaming race relations with the skilful use of existing legislation about rent control and decontrol in a way that showed neither compassion, decency nor any regard for the public welfare. The article was well entitledThe life and times of Peter Rachman",because these things did not happen simply through the villainy of one man but through a situation created by Government policy and the general tenor of Conservative propaganda. Land and housing should be wholesome commodities to give benefit to human beings. The Government's policy, like the hand of a diseased King Midas, at its touch can convert those things into gold and corruption.
Another thing that people need is that the home in which they live should be kept in decent repair, should be maintained properly and, if they are ambitious, should be brought up to date. The White Paper suggests that there shall be certain powers to bring in amenities and the like; the tenant can ask for them. I wonder whether the Government realise what the effect of rent decontrol is on tenants who think of asking for improvements. The Minister told us in answer to a question the other day that he was not aware that tenants were frightened of being turned out of their homes and, therefore, did not ask for improvements. It is astounding that the Minister should be so unaware of how so many of his fellow citizens live.
There is the question of those who need and want to become the owners of their own homes. This is linked with the provision of land and with the problems 896 of the future, to which I referred at the outset of my speech. If we are to deal with the 60 million people who will be here in 1982, we have to consider where the land is to be. That means that we must have a real policy for the dispersal of industry and for the creation of new towns.
We shall shortly welcome into the House of Commons the new hon. Member for Deptford. His arrival will be not only a commentary on the remarks of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary about the Government being judged on their record, but, in view of who the new Member for Deptford is, will be a reminder of the great work of his father, Lord Silkin, in creating 14 new towns during the difficult period after the war. Without that, it would have been totally impossible to deal with the housing problems of the great cities. Without further effort on that scale, we shall never solve the problems of our growing population.
Now, however, when land is made available, when it is announced that new houses are to be built here and there, the moment that decision is taken a great increase is planted down in value on the land. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that these fantastic increases in land values are not to be found everywhere. The trouble is that when the Government go around doing what they call making land available, the land profiteering follows them around.
Not long ago, the Government—and a very proper decision, I have no doubt, it was—decided to set up a paper and pulp mill near Lochaber, in Scotland. Fort William Town Council is now paying ten times as much for ground for house building as it was a year ago. That kind of thing has happened in the Lea Valley. It will happen everywhere the decision is made. That means that if we try seriously to solve this problem and make land available, we hang round the neck of the housing programme a totally unnecessary subsidy to landowners by the mere decision that the land should be used for building. A great bag of gold is handed to somebody who has done nothing for it.
The problem has become so serious that its existence is admitted in a leading article in The Times. The Times admits the seriousness of the problem, rebukes both sides of the House of Commons for 897 their attitude towards it and fails to inform us. what the right answer is. In substance, however, The Times urges us on this side to have second thoughts and urges the Government to have some thoughts at all. The Parliamentary Secretary has not followed that advice. He was happy to leave the situation as it was. In his view, anything that might be done would only make the situation worse.
In essence, what we are proposing is this. It is accepted that the development of the country gives these totally unearned gains to certain people. The problem is whether that increase in the value of land, or a reasonable part of it, can be get into the public purse so that some of it will be available for public purposes.
Our proposal is that when land comes to be built upon it shall pass into public ownership. The first objection is that that means confiscation. That is like saying that a farmer who makes provision to ensure that the birds do not rob newly-sown land is confiscating from the marauders something to which they are justly entitled. It is not so. We are simply saying that we will not have a situation when land which at present is worth a certain figure cannot be got to serve a public purpose without paying ten, twenty or, sometimes, thirty times its present price.
The argument of confiscation cannot stand. We are proposing that the land should be bought at a price somewhat above its present use value, but at nothing like the inflated values that now follow. That view is sensible and its morality is fully justified by the fact that it is a public decision that creates the increased value.
Once the land is acquired, the job is to lease it. Sometimes, it would be leased on a purely commercial basis. The Parliamentary Secretary seemed to think that that must mean that if the land is leased to a commercial developer, not for housing, but for some other purpose, a certain bargain is struck with him and, after that, the unearned profits would go into his lap instead of the landowner's.
Why not have a rent revision clause in the lease? Why not make an arrangement such as is proposed between local authorities and developers of city centres 898 in a pamphlet called"Change and Challenge", published by the Conservative Political Centre? If the Parliamentary Secretary has doubts about the workability of this, I commend the pamphlet to him. I commend also some of the advice that the Ministry itself has given to local authorities about the arrangements which they can make for private developers of publicly-owned land in city centres.
This is not an insoluble problem. Sometimes, the land would be leased to a local authority and for a public social purpose—housing. In that case, I presume, a bargain would be made with the local authority which would simply bring back to the Land Commission substantially what it itself had had to pay to acquire the land. The gain would, as it were, be passed on through the Land Commission to the local authority.
Then there is the question of leasing land to private persons for the building of houses. We have said, incidentally—and both the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister in commenting on our proposals have neglected this—that where the proposed development is simply that of a man building a house for his own occupation, our proposals do not bite on that at all. So that bogey has no substance.
I turn to the question of a private developer getting a lease from the Land Commission on which to build houses for sale. In view of the fact that it was for housing one would not strike a severely commercial bargain, but, in return, one would be entitled to exercise control over the price at which the house would be sold so that the benefit of the transaction would pass on, as we all want it to, to the young couple who will buy the house.
Then there was the final bogey, that this means the end of owner-occupation as we know it. What is to happen to owner-occupation at the moment? The prices of houses have jumped up 30 per cent. during the last four years, faster than average earnings. As a constituent wrote to me recently,I am trying to save, but prices rise faster than I can save.I think that both the right hon. Gentleman, the Minister and his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary should be 899 capable of grasping the difference between a lease from our proposed Land Commission and leasehold ownership, as it is understood today, by the private landlord. The essence of a private leasehold is that there comes the time when the house passes into the ownership of the ground landlord. Under our proposals no such thing would happen. I made this quite clear speaking in the House on 20th July, 1961, when I pointed out that wherea house is built on land leased from the Land Commission, that house should remain the property of the owner and his heirs so long as…there is a house there…"—[Official Report, 20th July, 1961; Vol. 644, c. 1488.]Only when it is proposed to demolish the house to build something else in its place does the final right of ownership by the land commission operate. At no stage does the house itself revert to the ground landlord.
§ Sir Colin Thornton-Kemsley (North Angus and Mearns) rose—
§ Mr. Stewart
Hon. Members will have an opportunity to argue this in debate. I must draw to a close what I have to say. I am sorry I cannot give way.
§ Mr. Stewart
I want to save time, because other hon. Members want to make speeches, and I shall not be much longer.
It is open to hon. Members to pick detail holes in this. I invite them, therefore, to say, do they propose that the present land racket should go on completely unabated? That is the question to which they will have to apply themselves.
§ Mr. Hocking
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has set out in the last few minutes detailed arguments for setting up the Land Commission and he prefaced his remarks by saying that this was a body which the party opposite would set up merely to extract the development value, the increased value at the beginning of the development of the site. The hon. Gentleman will understand that it would be better to bring in a selective tax on the capital value or the increased capital value of the 900 land. It would do away with all this business of setting up the Land Commission.
§ Mr. Stewart
I think that the hon. Gentleman will have to read our proposals in more detail. He will then see, first, that the extraction of the development value is not the only object we have in view. Secondly, there are difficulties about a selective tax. Thirdly, if it is the policy of the party opposite to impose a selective tax as a way of dealing with the problem, we should be glad to hear hon. Members opposite develop the mechanism for that policy.
However, I believe that the situation now is this: first, that to solve the housing problem the nation has to accept a range of new ideas. It has to accept the idea that housing is and ought to be for nearly everybody in part a social service and not a purely private transaction; secondly, that that involves greater financial help to local housing authorities, and help in different ways; thirdly, that we shall not solve the housing problem without much more deliberate Government action to determine where industry and population shall be in the coming decades; and, fourthly, that despite the admittedly difficult mechanisms of any policy we shall not get an answer unless we can somehow solve the problem of the price and use of building land.
The weakness of the Government is that they are constantly being pushed, by the necessity of the facts, nearer and nearer to these ideas; but to operate a policy which requires new ideas will, I believe, require a Government who do not accept these ideas reluctantly and under the pressure of events, but who believe in them genuinely, and act upon them from the start.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Sir Herbert Butcher (Holland with Boston)
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart), in his last few remarks, dealt with proposals which have come from the party opposite. There is one point I would ask him to clear up at once, and I will give way immediately so that he may doso—if I may have his attention. The hon. Gentleman said that in the case of a house for private ownership the land would be in the occupation of the person 901 owning the house unless and until the house built on that land was demolished. Now, is not that absolutely the easiest way to perpetuate slums? Because not only does it mean the loss of the building but the lease of the land at one and the same moment, and surely the occupier will do everything he possibly can to make sure that the existing building never passes from him.
The arguments of the hon. Gentleman opposite, sincerely and ably put forward, quite clearly contain two points which I beg him to shed from his mind. The first is that rent control in itself is the way, and the second is that municipal building is more worthy to be assisted than other forms of housing development, I suppose that at this moment I should disclose, since we are dealing with housing, that I have some interest. I should disclose that I am a director of a building society and a director of a company which builds several hundred houses every year.
I would only say that the excellent Government White Paper is not, as the hon. Gentleman says it is, the last word of the Government on their policy for the last 12 years, but is a step by the Government an their steady movement forward to deal with housing. The Government have directed great attention to the question of housing under the leadership and inspiration of the Prime Minister himself, and when it comes to the record I accept the challenge, and I shall be prepared to fight any election on the Government's record.
The only comment I would make on it is that planning in all things is exceedingly difficult, so that Government planners can be caught out when forecasts gowrong—in terms of expected population, for instance. Indeed, so difficult is it to say what is to happen that while this White Paper, which came out only in May, says that funds are more plentiful for building societies, the fact remains that at the moment they are not as plentiful as they were at that time.
I cannot help feeling that one of the tragedies of this country is that normal housing for rent has been destroyed, but I think that we have to accept that it has happened, and that it largely happened in 1908, the time of the Land Act introduced by Mr.—as he then was—Lloyd George, and the imposition of 902 rent control in 1914, and its continuous application, have done more to prevent houses being available to rent—and furthermore the reintroduction and continuation of control by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. All these events have militated against the supply of proper housing accommodation.
Let us look at the present position, for if hon. Gentlemen opposite have any sense of equity they will wish to deal fairly with all classes of the community. What is the position? The stock of houses is about 16 million. About one-third are owned by municipalities, and in so far as the tenants do not pay a full and proper market rent to that extent they are subsidised either by the Exchequer or by rates. According to the figures given this afternoon by the Parliamentary Secretary, rather more than 40 per cent. of the houses are owner-occupied, so if we take municipal tenants who have no protection under the Rent Act, and owner-occupiers who have no protection under the Rent Act because they are not rent paying anyhow, we have more than 70 per cent. of the population to whom rent control is of no value whatsoever.
Thus the policy of the hon. Member for Fulham is to reimpose rent control and to continue rent control so that it may help a section of the community which is steadily declining in numbers. I am certain that this would be a retrograde step.
§ Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that the Minister of Health, when he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in 1956, claimed that the introduction of the Rent Act would make more houses available for renting, whereas the opposite has happened? What has the hon. Gentleman to say about that?
§ Sir H. Butcher
I believe that we are steadily moving towards that position. The number of what an earlier Socialist Government used to call"accommodation units", because they were much more accommodation-unit-minded than they were house-minded, is increasing. It is regrettable that at the moment they are coming along at the more expensive 903 side of the market, but, nevertheless, the building of flats for renting has started again.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
Would the hon. Gentleman complete his argument by telling us the number of privately rented properties still subject to control and the number being decontrolled every year?
§ Sir H. Butcher
Let us accept, if it is any advantage to the hon. Gentleman, that there are fewer houses under control this month than last, and that the number of houses under control is steadily running down. That emphasises the point I tried to make earlier, namely, that as worn out and slum houses subject to control are pulled down, and the people are rehoused elsewhere, or as, under the provisions of the Rent Act, other houses pass out of control, the number of houses in control is steadily diminishing. I accept that the Minister is most eager to see more houses available for renting, but I see the difficulties in this scheme.
Perhaps I might deal with the question of the Housing Corporation in which my right hon. Friend is interested. It is suggested that the new corporation shall be established on a basis of borrowing for 40 years, and that about £100 million should be provided by the Government and perhaps £200 million should come from the building societies. While I am sure that the building societies will do all that they can to aid and assist, it would not be equitable or right for them to lend at different rates to a housing association than to the ordinary owner-occupier.
We would have the position that the prudent lender of two-thirds of the money would receive, in return, the market rate, which at the moment is 6 per cent., while the other £100 million would come on Government terms at a somewhat lower rate of interest, probably 5 guineas or £5 10s. per £100, which is reversing the normal procedure, and I cannot help feeling that it is right that this housing association should rely for its finance on Government loan rather than on any other source of finance.
There are grave difficulties in this proposal. I mentioned a little while ago that building societies are not as well off 904 for funds as they once were, and as the price of individual houses increases the number of lenders that are required to finance one loan increases. The Government's policy is not quite clear to me. Four years ago the Government rightly made available to the building societies £100 million so that they could make advances on the older properties. That was an inestimable advantage, and nearly all the money was taken up. A large number of small, oldish houses, were acquired, in many cases by the sitting tenant, and I saw hundreds of these cases pass across my desk at fair and reasonable prices.
As soon as the man concerned became an owner, he made an enormous effort, frequently with the help of an improvement grant, towards repairing and modernising his house, and I say to my right hon. Friend that if it was right to make £100 million available in this extent only four years ago, it is slightly difficult to understand why it is possible for the building society movement at this time to be able to place at the disposal of this new housing corporation £200 million. I cannot help feeling that the building societies should concentrate on their main job, which in my view is the provision of homes for owner-occupation.
The hon. Member for Fulham quite rightly emphasised that the needs of different people changed during their lives. Some people would go so far as to say that they want one house when they marry, a larger house while their family is growing up, and then back to a small house as they get older.
§ Sir H. Butcher
The number of people buying houses is steadily increasing, and if the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. A. Lewis), who has been in the House for a long time, feels in any difficulty, and I can assist him in a personal capacity, I shall be very happy to gossip with him later.
§ Sir H. Butcher
I am indebted to the current issue of the Building Societies Gazettefor the figures which I am about to quote. There is great difficulty in making a loan for as long as 40 years. Perhaps I might contrast a Joan for 40 years with one for 20 years, because it is the former period which is proposed for the housing association. I am assuming that the loan is taken out at 5 per cent. An instalment which repays a loan in 20 years at 5 per cent. repays the same loan in 20 to 21 years at 5¼ per cent.; in 21 to 22 years at 5½ per cent.; in 22 to 23 years at 5¾ per cent.; and 23 to 24 years at 6 per cent. In other words,an increase in the rate of interest of ½ per cent. adds under two years to the life of the loan, and an increase of 1 per cent. adds about 3½ years.Next, let us consider a loan for 40 years, and in this connection I would like to inquire whether the Parliamentary Secretary is sure that the money lent to this housing association will be able to circulate. The instalment which repays a loan in 40 years at 5 per cent. repays the same loan in 45 to 46 years at 5¼ per cent.; in 53 to 54 years at 5½ per cent. and in 77 to 78 years at 5¾ per cent.; while at 6 per cent. the mortgage debt is increasing instead of being reduced. Because of these things, the money should be found by means of Government loan rather than in any other way.
I hope that this evening my right hon. Friend will feel able to announce that he has decided again to make money available for the purchase of old but sound houses, which can be brought into the housing stock, under the House Purchase and Housing Act, 1959.
It would be discourteous to the hon. Member for Fulham if I did not say a word about the high price of land. I regard it as one of the greatest evils of the day that the price of land is increasing as it is. It inflicts great hardship and the increment therein is apt to distract the builder from his proper job of building and into hoping that he will be able to secure a somewhat higher density consent and so make an increased profit.
But this must be regarded in two ways. If we are not to allow people to build in certain areas in and around the large cities of London, Manchester, Birmingham and elsewhere, so that we preserve land for schools and green belts and 906 parks and other amenities, with the scarce amount of land available in the market, prices must increase.
The hon. Member for Fulham made great play with an example of a house in Wandsworth Bridge Road whose value, he said, had increased from £1,800 to £6,500. It is very difficult to talk about prices of houses without having seen them. The price of £6,500 for a house situated in Wandsworth Bridge Road, which I know quite well, does not seem to be too bad at 5 per cent. per annum and may be the proper price. I could not say without knowing what the accommodation was. It is a matter of scarcity and in this respect the market largely controls the price which is paid.
If we are to examine the price of land, we must ask the Government to concentrate on the development of parts of the country which are now regarded as less favoured. While land is terribly expensive in London and around other great cities like Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow, there are cities and other areas where it is freely available at reasonable prices. Why do people not build their houses there? [An Hon. Member: There is no industry there."] Somebody says that there is no industry there. On the whole, the industrial equipment is already there. The factories are there and so are the workers and the social services, like schools and main services. One of the real reasons why it is difficult to persuade industry to go to some of these towns is that they have a worn-out and tired appearance.
Whether it is an agreeable fact or not, it is a fact that in any industry about 5 per cent. of key people are responsible for the organisation and progress of the business. Without them the business would not go ahead, no matter what it is. On the whole, these people are the young executives who are in such great demand, as anybody who takes the trouble to look at the advertisement columns of the Sunday newspapers will see. They are the young technicians and the men moving forward to the use of computers, and others of the new implements of management in the new age.
If we could attract these young people to the North-East and Scotland, we would have done a great deal. Many 907 firms are eager to move into such districts because they recognise the advantages of a fine labour force, easier communications, less traffic congestion and so on. The difficulty is that these young executives, and their wives, are not convinced that the areas concerned will provide the kind of life and the kind of social environment which they wish to have.
It is a great pity that so much of the subsidies of all kinds is spent in London and the South. I may be a heretic, but I believe that if we were to cut the subsidy from Covent Garden and give it to an opera house towards the North, that would be an earnest of our eagerness to ensure that the backward cities got a new look. By concentrating on the amenities of the cities of the North, we should give them a new birth. The attraction of the new suburbs is their brightness and their layout, with their new concept of a social centre and a civic centre for shopping. Instead of moaning and groaning about the high cost of land in the South and the belief that these problems can be cured by some form of rent control, there should be a solid movement by all of us, inspired by the Government, to make the cities of the North more and more attractive.
There are one or two other ways in which the cost of land could be cut down, even now. I am always shocked by the cost of buying and selling land. Any hon. Member can buy a motor car for £1,000 or £2,000 now and have it in his possession, having borrowed the maximum, by this time tomorrow afternoon, and he can do so with the utmost ease. But if he were to buy £200 worth of land on which he wanted to build a garage or a house or anything else, he would have weeks and weeks of delay. I fail to see why, in 1963, it is not possible to have a new and improved system of land conveyancing. All these delays add to the cost by means of interest payments at a time when the land, obviously, cannot be used by the vendor and, equally, cannot be planned or used by the purchaser.
While on the subject of delay, may I say that I am sure that my right hon. Friend would help the position if he had a look through his own Ministry and did some speeding up of the deter- 908 mination of planning decisions. Delays of as much as three or four months in reaching planning decisions are now accepted and I fail to see why, with the resources of the Government and the many professional people available, these matters cannot be cleared up with a great deal more speed.
My right hon. Friend is making an important contribution to housing by his progressive approach to it. The White Paper, which I have criticised slightly, represents a great forward move in every way. The hon. Member for Fulham spoke of housing as a social service, but I believe that it is an entirely personal matter for the man, his wife and his family. Some people are content to rub along in very poor housing conditions, provided that they are able to spend a large amount of time in the hobbies and activities of their choice. Others are prepared to economise on everything else, provided that their home is comfortable and situate where they want, a place to which they return day after day. It is impossible to generalise. Housing is a personal need as well as a social service.
It would be completely wrong and it would be complete nonsense to accept the position, advocated by hon. Members opposite, in which almost everybody was subsidising almost everybody else in one way or another. As one who was once in the laundry trade, this is the best example I know of taking in one another's washing.
The right way to deal with these matters is to allow housing to be dealt with on an economic basis. Instead of subsidising the houses and the land, we should allow the natural forces of supply and demand to find their level—[Interruption.] I thought that hon. Gentlemen opposite would not like that—but, instead of subsidising the land or the houses, we should make sure, by means of assistance and subsidies to our less fortunate citizens, that we place at their disposal sufficient income to enable them to have their place and their opportunity of having proper accommodation in our midst.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Colne Valley)
In addressing the House for the first time I know that I can rely on the indulgence of hon. Members. They are re- 909 nowned for the kindness and tolerance that they show to new Members. My task is made easier, moreover, because I am succeeding as Member for the Colne Valley the late William Glenvil Hall, who was a distinguished and much loved Member of this House.
Not the least of the many gifts which Britain has conferred on the modern world is the device of Parliamentary government, so merely to have the opportunity of speaking in this Mother of Parliaments is a great privilege. I feel that the least I can do is to observe all the conventions which fit the occasion. Above all, I shall try to be non-contentious, although this will be far from easy, not merely because I hold decided views on the subject under discussion, but because the tradition of the constituency I represent is far from pacific. Its tall smoking chimneys are monuments to the industrial development of the woollen, worsted and textile industries which succeeded the hand-loom weaving era and the engineering and coal mining which followed. It was the scene of the protests of those much-maligned men, the Luddites, as well as of the struggles of the Chartists.
The men of the Colne Valley, however, have not been give only to protest. They have displayed an extraordinary capacity for social inventiveness. I draw the attention of the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir H. Butcher) to the fact that the building society movement, the friendly society movement and the co-operative society, as well as the trade union and working men's club movements and even the Labour Party—all of which are now part of the very texture of our lives—were either created or profoundly shaped in this part of the country. Indeed, the history of the Labour movement has flowed down through the Colne Valley. It has had a romantic as well as a turbulent past. It has for long been the cockpit of British Socialism. Even the waters of the River Colne have run a bright red, although I must confess that that has been due less to local radicalism than to the dyes used in the mills which line its banks.
But in a never-to-be-forgotten by-election in July, 1907, just 56 years ago, the Colne Valley elected Victor Grayson, 910 the first man to be returned to this House on a straight Socialist ticket. There was something in that remarkable man, so far as I can judge, which mirrored the aspirations of the submerged half of the nation. More than anything else, I think, he appealed to the feeling in the hearts of his listeners for a new world of fellowship, and they responded. The values which he upheld are still practised in my constituency today. The men and women there still express them through their trade unions, through their brass bands and their clubs as well as through their churches. The result is that they have a strong sense of community consciousness and neighbourliness. Even the urban districts which make up most of the constituency have retained their village and rural characteristics.
Living is decent and healthy in the Colne Valley and stands for much of what is desirable in our society. I am concerned that it should not be threatened or undermined by lack of decent social amenities. If the worst evils of early industrialism are no longer evident in its crippled people—thank heaven—they are still evident in its crippled industrial areas. Up there, in the Colne Valley, the social problems of our society are to be found in their most acute form—in obsolescence, urban renewal and the shortage of small houses, especially for the old, an unsatisfactory households-dwellings ratio, education, traffic problems, loss of population and the difficulty of attracting specialists. On this, a passage in the speech of the hon. Member for Holland with Boston found a ready echo from me, for there is great difficulty in attracting specialists to the area.
There is a tendency, again, as the hon. Member implied, to believe that the housing problem is most acute in areas within easy reach of Birmingham, or London, and places where there has been rapid industrial development. But in terms of absolute need, obsolete housing, cramped houses, poor amenities, difficult approaches and even scarcity of building land due to physical features, these old industrial areas, especially in the Pennine valleys, are the worst off. In the Colne Valley old couples as well as young couples have to contend with the obstacles of dear money and dear land; and there is a disproportionate number 911 of old couples. The upsurge in land costs has not been so spectacular as in more fashionable areas. But the percentage increase in the land cost factor in the price of local dwellings has been disgraceful, nevertheless.
There is evidence that the problem of soaring land values is widespread, and there is certainly widespread resentment at the market in land. Assuming that land is a fit commodity for the free play of market forces—and that is a questionable assumption—trade unionists, or I shall be surprised, will want to know why this freedom is granted to capital, while moves are afoot to control their rewards through the N.I.C. Not that I should want to simplify that problem.
Land taxation and the rating of site values both fall short of what is needed. But despite the snags in the device of a Land Commission, society will become more, rather than less, sensitive to the problem of what is called betterment. For the moral objection to the private absorption of land values created by the whole community is not confined to Socialists, by any means. Land costs are not the only obstacle of course. There is the problem of modernisation of the existing stock. Too many houses in the Colne Valley were built during the nineteenth century. But how is the tenant of a decontrolled property to compel his landlord to improve the house and then protect himself against retaliation by the landlord? And what of the twilight houses—to use the Minister's own words—those houses which are not slums and yet are not eligible for improvement grants?
I am very much impressed by the vigour and determination which the Minister is bringing to his task these days. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) will not think that I am straining the conventions of maiden-speaking too far when I say that. But in view of the deterioration of old property, as well as the increased demand due to rising public expectation of good housing, I wonder if the Minister will look again at his target figure for new construction. Will he agree that it is too modest by Continental standards?
Then there is the persistently high rate of interest. That is another great 912 obstacle to new construction. How long is the Minister going to allow his colleagues at the Treasury to penalise this important form of social investment? Will he not explore the possibilities of a manipulated low rate of interest for public housing?
Once again, I emphasise that the problems of housing and urban land values are not necessarily confined to or even most acute at the growing points of the social economy. Colne Valley's neighbours, such as Oldham, Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Wakefield and Barnsley, all have tremendous problems. Their importance for the Colne Valley lies in the manner in which they shape its employment prospects, and generally determine the tempo of its economic activities.
Does not this point to the need for effective regional planning? Is there not a case for a more determined approach than is envisaged in the White Paper? Do we not need to recognise that the size of the housing problem is too large for many existing authorities to handle? I would, therefore, ask the Minister to accord a measure of priority to the Yorkshire region, part of the cradle of our industrial society. Will not the Minister recognise that the West Riding is unfairly burdened with a legacy of early industrialism, Slums and obsolescence, the decay of the inner areas of the towns and cities, scarcity of suitable building land and the drift of population to the South, are just some of these problems. Will he not therefore recognise this situation?
I make these appeals to the right hon. Gentleman because I know that he understands these problems as well as I do. Will he not recognise that when the current rate of construction in Yorkshire is related to the condition, size and location of houses, as well as to the volume of need, much more needs to be done? For the economic growth prospects in Yorkshire are poor, and if the present trend continues the region will undoubtedly be designated a development district by the end of this decade. How far is this due to inadequate social amenities?
Finally, if much of the West Riding has been judged to be a special review area for local government reform, will the Minister not also judge it to be a special review area for urban renewal for some of the same reasons?
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Mr. John M. Temple (City of Chester)
I am sure that I speak on behalf of the whole House when I say that it is a privilege for me to congratulate the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Duffy) on a notable maiden speech. I should particularly like to echo the tribute which he paid to his predecessor, the late Mr. Glenvil Hall, who was very much honoured on both sides of the House. We congratulate the hon. Member on coming to the House in the place of such a distinguished Member of Parliament.
As a son of Lancashire, it is a privilege for me to congratulate an hon. Member for Colne Valley. My grandfather was brought up in Colne Valley—but I am sorry to have to inform the hon. Member that he was never a member of the Labour Party! I do congratulate the hon. Member on his great knowledge of that part of the country, the home of the Industrial Revolution. The hon. Member has truly portrayed many of the characteristics which went with the era of the Industrial Revolution, and mentioned many of the scars of which will have to be wiped out in the comparatively near future.
The hon. Member was quite right to draw attention to the potential of his constituency. I am sure that the potential is as great as it was when Lancashire was the cradle of our Industrial Revolution a century ago. We were all delighted by the way in which the hon. Member spoke, and I personally congratulate him on his splendid fluency. We all look forward to hearing from him on many other occasions.
We have heard today two extremely thoughtful speeches from the opening speakers and, as I wish to make a constructive speech, I will, in the course of my observations, deal with many of the points which were made both by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart). I agree with the Parliamentary Secretary who, in his opening remarks, stated that housing was the bedrock of our society and of our family life. I am quite sure that he was right. I read with great interest the leading article in The Times of 4th July,"After Affluence". It was a pungent and penetrating article, and it must have made us all think. After affluence. I believe, 914 something else should come. I am convinced that our society today has been paying too much regard to what I would call the inessentials of life. I notice particularly that in that leading article The Times said that education should be a crusade. May I remind the editor of The Times that over many years the Conservative Party have made slum clearance one of their great crusades, and I think that the Conservative Party can take a considerable amount of credit for the success of that slum clearance crusade.
As I said, I believe that in our society today too much attention has been paid to the inessentials of life. Since the last war most of our people achieved a position in which they have two weeks' holiday with pay. They have achieved the status symbol of a television set. Almost one family in three has a motor car. Many families are looking forward to the time when they can have a family holiday abroad. I do not say that this is universal, but a great deal has been achieved and, significantly at the same time, there has been a reluctance to pay for what I call the fundamentals of life; food and shelter.
There has, I believe, been a reluctance to pay the full price for food. We have lived in a society for the last few years in which food has been available at a specially favourable price because of the subsidies paid out by the Government. Until the Rent Act, accommodation was available at a rental below the true market rental. There are many people living in homes which are subsidised by taxpayers and ratepayers and who could well afford to pay the full market cost of their accommodation. I hope that rent rebate and differential rent schemes will become much more universal. I believe that only those persons who are in need should be able to draw, through housing subsidies, upon the resources of their fellow ratepayers and their fellow taxpayers.
I echo the statement of my hon. Friend the Member for Holland with Boston (Sir H. Butcher), who congratulated my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on being the prime mover in the Conservative Party's housing drive. That is true. I pay a further tribute to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on being always in the van of great social reformers.
915 Since 1951 the Conservative Party have a creditable record in housing, but my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Housing is right to say that today we face a changing situation. The hon. Member for Fulham said that Members on both sides of the House had for some time been saying many of the things in the White Paper. I think that that is quite true. If one had attended church regularly, Sunday after Sunday, and listened to the banns of marriage being read out, and if one had asked the local parson what was the average age of death and of marriage among the congregation, he would have said that the average age of marriage was much younger than in the past and that people were living longer. It did not come as a surprise to me, and it did not require statisticians and computers to detect the fact, that we should need an increasing housing target. In fact, two or three years ago I suggested a housing target of 400,000 houses a year, although I recognise that over the last few years it has been difficult to allocate our resources between all the various sectors of demand. At this stage it is certainly welcome to the whole House that my right hon. Friend has lifted his sights at least to 350,000 houses a year.
I cannot comment on all the facets of the Government's White Paper, but it makes it clear, from the 1961 census figures, that there is roughly an equation today, taking the country as a whole, between the number of households and the number of houses. But I submit that that is a very misleading figure. Indeed, the White Paper recognises that there is a supra-demand for between half-a-million or a million houses today. The White Paper goes on to say that the shortages are mainly in Greater London, Birmingham, Clydeside, and, I would say, elsewhere too. There is no doubt that throughout a great deal of the country there is a demand for houses which is not at present being met by the building programme.
It is difficult to quantify this demand, and that has been one of our difficulties over the last few years. There has been a relative lack of reliable statistics. We have had the housing lists of the local authorities, but they have not got down to the true position in their areas. That is why my right hon. Friend the Minister 916 is calling for far better statistics. I ask him, when he gets these better statistics, to go further and to collate them on a regional basis.
Earlier today I read an extraordinarily interesting article in the Annual Productivity Review of the Financial Times which accompanied today's issue of this paper. This article was written by Mr. D. E. Woodbine Parish, past-president of the Building Trades Employers Federation.
The hon. Member for Fulham posed a question. He asked whether the target of 350,000 houses a year can be achieved. I shall seek to show the House that I believe that this target can be achieved. I believe that it can be achieved on two main premises—first, that the Government are now giving positive aid to the furthering of new building techniques, and, secondly, that the building industry is putting its house in order and breaking fresh ground.
The article is entitled,"Building puts its house in order". From this article we know that not only the National Federation of Building Trades Employers but also the professional bodies, the trade unions and the employees themselves are all prepared to work for a great increase in output by the building industry. They have had splendid encouragement from the Minister of Public Building and Works. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his leadership and enterprise. He has set up a Directorate of Research and Development. A great deal of good can stem from this Directorate. The National Federation of Building Trades Employers has set up an Advisory Council for the Construction Industries. The Royal Institute of British Architects and the Institute of Builders have joined together and undertaken critical surveys of their own spheres of interest.
Again, the trade unions and the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research are looking into employees' skills and are streamlining the craft unions. I pay particular tribute to the enlightened attitude of the trade unions in the building sphere. They are showing what co-operation can do and how demarcation difficulties can be broken down. In that spirit we can achieve increased production. I am confident that, with this new spirit developing, 917 with this new partnership between the Government and all the various arms of the building industry, a target of 350,000 houses per annum—nay, more than 350,000—can be achieved.
One of the central points of this debate has been the difficulty over the provision of land. This will be a continuing difficulty. Very significantly, there have been two references in successive White Papers, more or less in exactly the same terms, to the way in which building land should be provided. Paragraph 62 of Cmnd. 1952,"London—Employment: Housing: Land" says this:Local planning authorities will have to consider how all these demands are to be met.Paragraph 28 of Command 2050,"Housing", says this:This is in the first place the responsibility of local planning authorities…The Government are placing this responsibility squarely—I do not say quite fairly, but certainly squarely—on the shoulders of local planning authorities. The provision of more building land is definitely a very hot potato. I am not absolutely certain that local planning authorities, organised as they are today, are quite in a position to deal with the problem. Significantly, county councils are not housing authorities; yet it is county councils which have the planning powers over the bulk of the land which will need to be developed.
I want to pay tribute to all the aldermen and councillors who sit on local planning authorities. Theirs is not an easy task. I also pay tribute to the officials in the planning world. They have to adjudicate between the conflicting claims of the various interests in their area. I believe that we may have to look a little beyond local planning authorities to carry out this difficult rô1e of the provision of building land for the larger commitments.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has set up various regional studies within his Department. In their way they are a good thing, but I do not think they go far enough. I do not think that there is the continuity in a regional study which could be achieved by regional planning. In many instances at present these regional studies are having the effect of freezing the present situation. Local 918 planning authorities say,"We must wait until we hear the findings of the regional study". Therefore, momentarily the studies are having the effect of sterilising the position.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the fact that his Department seems to be coming round to the way of thinking of many of us who have been thinking about these problems for some time. We have had mention of the"City region". This is the first time that the"City region" has been acknowledged in a White Paper, although my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary was a joint author with myself of Change and Challenge, a C.P.C. document to which the hon. Member for Fulham referred. This document advocated a type of regional planning which was to be set to work between local planning authorities and national planning. We have I believe a powerful ally in the form of my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who I hope will press forward with any concepts of regional planning which hon. Members put before him.
In the last few years the Town and Country Planning Association has carried out a series of regional studies of the four main city regions of England—London and the South-East, the Midlands, the North-East and the North-West. I had the honour to take the chair at the north-west regional conference of the Town and Country Planning Association in Southport. I was greatly struck by the tremendous amount of co-operation which there was between the various local planning authorities of Lancashire and Cheshire and related parts of the North-West. I formed the view that, once all the various authorities could be got together, either in one conference or in one standing conference, there was a much better chance of getting an understanding, first that a regional problem existed, and secondly that the regional problem was there to be solved in the interests of all the citizens of that particular region.
I do not say that these ad hoc conferences are the whole answer. Of course they are not. Nor do I think that my right hon. Friend's regional studies are the whole answer. However, there has been a recent development which I believe is a partial answer. Last night I was talking to my right hon. Friend the 919 Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent), who is the chairman of the London Regional Planning Conference. This conference has no statutory status whatsoever. It was started as recently as December of last year. It has two technical panels—one consisting of planning officers, and the other an administrative panel consisting of clerks of planning authorities. I understand that the conference has developed an extremely satisfactory atmosphere of co-operation. I believe that something similar to this conference should be considered for our other major city regions. Perhaps it is too much to expect my right hon. Friend to accept too great a degree of regional planning at present. In a debate in the House six months ago I spoke about all the details of regional planning, I will not go over that ground again. It would be wise to make a start with regional co-operation between local planning authorities, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will find it is in his heart to encourage a similar approach to that which is being made through the London Regional Planning Conference for other city regions.
There are difficulties facing local planning authorities at present. Their areas have never been delimited to take cognisance of geographical features, they are purely fortuitous, having been handed down from the past. Even with the reorganisation of local government which is going on at present, the new units of local government will not be large enough to take cognisance of problems over a wide area. I remind my right hon. Friend that only a few days ago he was arguing with me and putting forward the case in Standing Committee F for rather larger authorities to look after our water resources. If we could have regional planning authorities, which would take a wider view and would incorporate within them members interested in many of the facets of our industrial and administrative life—in the same way as my right hon. Friend is proposing for river authorities, which will have a much broader base than the existing river boards—then they could take cognisance of all the developing features that go with land use and the planning of highways, transport and other public services. If we were able equally to get the members of local 920 planning authorities into a standing regional conference they would have a better appreciation of the regional difficulties. One can imagine how such people, when drawn together, would have a joint determination to find living space for their fellow citizens. This surely is the heart of the problem we face today.
Turning to a related topic, I am pleased with the progress that is being made with further new towns, but I remind my right hon. Friend that in other countries much larger new towns are being considered. I appreciate that my right hon. Friend has difficulty in finding a suitable spot to designate for a new town. I think that he would be wise to contemplate trying to designate one with a population of, say, 150,000 people. A new town with a population of this size could encompass within its boundaries a much wider range of larger industries. At present new towns frequently depend on one dominant industry or on a number of relatively small and secondary industries.
If a new town were designated with a population of 150,000 it would be an ideal administrative unit of local government and would be a bold experiment which, I am sure, my right hon. Friend would like to try. I encourage him to try this experiment because I cannot visualise that he would find much more difficulty in designating a town of this size compared with designating a town similar to the present new ones, which have populations of about 70,000.
As a small ancillary in our housing drive it is worth considering the potential of mobile homes, particularly for retired people. I have deliberately called these beautiful dwellings"mobile homes" because, like many hon. Members, I have seen them at recent caravan exhibitions. I have visited caravan sites in many parts of the country and have spoken to retired people living happily in these types of home. As an ancillary to our housing problem these mobile homes could be valuable because for every mobile home occupied another house would be freed to a family which needs to live closer to the heart of a city.
May I sum up? I have always regarded housing as the bedrock of our society. I realise that people who can afford should pay a realistic rent. Rising living 921 standards of the population mean that more land must be provided for house building. Although regional planning will not itself produce more land, it may well suggest the right places where land may be found. The new techniques which are being encouraged by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works will be valuable and I welcome the contribution which the building industry is making towards these new techniques. I regard the new target of 350,000 houses a year as a minimum. I hope that this target will be swiftly achieved; then we must press on to higher targets.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)
I promise the hon. Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) that I will refer to the rôle of the Prime Minister in the development of Britain's housing policy in the last few years. It is a sad thing on an occasion such as this—a short debate, which will be interrupted—that one cannot fully enjoy the courtesy and pleasure of commenting fully on the sort of speech the hon. Member for the City of Chester has just made. I should dearly love to throw away my notes and follow the enthusiasm of the hon. Member along several of the vistas he opened up—new building techniques, with which I am in agreement, his attitude to housing for old people, which needs further discussion, and many of the other points he raised—but I must not be tempted along those avenues because I have a sadder kind of speech to make.
It is nearly a year since, at 4 o'clock one morning, I made a long and, I thought, substantial speech—there was ample time at that hour of the day in which to elaborate one's arguments—about our homeless people. That speech was then dismissed by the Minister of Housing and Local Government virtually in a sentence, for the right hon. Gentleman said that my speech had consisted of dreams which he shared and mud slinging, which he did not share.
We can rightly get excited about new techniques and policies. I did not and do not ask for dreams. I set out in detail the sort of improvements which I thought might be made. I asked the Minister to consider the byelaws in relation to modern techniques and said 922 that, once he had adjusted them or had got a new set, he should see that they were enforced. I asked for all sorts of practical things to be done. I do not regard them as dreams, although the Minister does.
Even during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) I noticed a curious distinction on the benches opposite; a distinction between the laughter from the back benches at precisely the same moments when the Minister was nodding his agreement with the remarks of my hon. Friend. The Minister has been well in advance of his party and I share his enthusiasm. We know that there is an immense amount of experience, a good number of practical proposals and new suggestions available, particularly in the line in which I am interested; the conversion and renewal of old properties.
The trouble is that we get to the point when the little things, which added together could make so much, are frustrated because something else happens and because that something else is regarded by the Minister as being doctrinaire when we point it out from this side. The trouble is caused by the intervention of two characters in the community who do no practical work. We must arrive at a scheme whereby there is a reward for new inventions, enthusiasm, developers and architects. The trouble is that at present it goes to those two characters—the landowner and the money lender.
If the Minister will not listen to the protests of people who cannot in any way be called doctrinaire, to whom will he listen? I refer to the owners of the chain stores, who are beginning to squawk. They have seen how much they have fallen into the trap of the building policy of the Government in the last few years. They have seen how, tempted by the idea that if they take new properties and lease them over a period of years, so selling their old ones and realising the capital to be used in their businesses, they are having to pay 10 times the previous rent. The whole situation is now out of the hands of the developer and in the hands of the investment company.
Government policy has meant that all the ingenuity and artistic approach, the 923 good and forward-looking new developments, are meaning nothing. It has meant that all the improvements in distribution are coming to nil. With the self-service stores and the rest there is 4d. off no longer. It is 4d. on. One can have 4d. off on only a few catch-lines, while the coppers must come out of the pockets of the public to pay the high rents. This Government have done more damage to the small shopkeeper than any other single factor in the last hundred years. They have almost driven him into extinction because there is no longer room for the small craftsman.
The tally-man, Johnny-come-fortnight, can sell cheaper now than the small shop keeper. Madame Janette—and all the rest of the single-proprietor shops—where a woman of good taste could pick good clothes for her customers, with a nice turnover amongst the typists at lunch time, instead of having her little six-foot-wide shop has been"conned" into taking a new shop in the new parade, where she has to make £20 a week for the rent before she starts to show a profit. There is no room now for the repairing watchmaker, or the chap who takes the trouble to repair children's toys and give good advice about what to buy. There is no time for the service that should be available—it is eliminated from our society. We can do nothing about it, because the second stage has been reached, and we are in the hands of the moneylenders.
Turning to what has happened on the dwellings side of the picture, I shall be more critical. The right hon. Gentleman knows that I have shared his enthusiasms. We have had many discussions on practical proposals. He has given me help, and I hope that I have sometimes been able to help him. I acknowledge all that, and he knows that there is nothing personal in what I have to say. Nevertheless, I have to accuse him of failing to see what has been going on.
I have to refer to the specific and definite promises made to me and to some of my hon. Friends by the right hon. Gentleman, by the Minister of Housing at the time, who is now the Home Secretary, and by the Home Secretary at that time, that the most careful investigations would be made into the Rachman empire to try to get 924 at the root of what was then the curse of west London, with all the threat to social stability and democracy it implied.
I want to know how far those investigations went, and how far the truth was known, because the Minister is caught on this fork: either the investigations were made and he knew the results, or they were not made. Either the follow-up was there, or it was not there. If it was there, and if everything was in order and legal, why did not the Minister ask the House for legislation to deal with the evils? If everything was not legal—
§ Sir K. Joseph
The hon. Member will help me and the whole Committee if he relates his strictures, if they are to be strictures, to the law as altered by the multi-occupation Sections of the Housing Act, 1961.
§ Mr. Parkin
It would have helped if, for instance, the Paddington Borough Council had agreed at the time of passing that Act to get more staff to deal with the situation. It is all very well to pass an Act, but we then find that Tory councillors are not even interested enough to undertake even to consider getting more staff to implement an Act passed by their own Government. However, I must not allow the right hon. Gentleman to lead me into a discussion of the implementation of that Act, attractive though that would be, but he has a long way to go yet before seeing that Measure in full operation.
I want to go back to the beginning. I have just reminded the Minister of the main troubles then; the fact that no repairs could be insisted upon because houses were passing so quickly from one ownership to another; the fact that I, at least, could not find the source of finance that gave the large mortgages to those to whom houses were sold; that nothing was done to bring to book those playing the trick we now hear was done as a joke—taking the roof off a house, and leaving it to the Paddington Borough Council to put on tarpaulins.
Does the right hon. Gentleman know that when a group of the mayors and town clerks of west London boroughs came to this House to discuss what should be done about the racial tensions of the time, the Mayor of Paddington 925 of the time, who was rather inarticulate, left it to the Town Clerk, Mr. Bentley, to make the point that to take over houses as they were was municipalisation by the back door, and that there was no power for the authorities to take over the houses because it was not possible to make the case that they were required for our own housing programme.
I will leave that—but the right hon. Gentleman will remember the imprudent Mr. Carter who lent his name to that bogus estate agency in Westbourne Grove, under the cover of which many of these things took place.
The hon. Member for the City of Chester has spoken of the rô1e of the Prime Minister, so let us go back to 1955, when freehold property, formerly part of the Paddington Estate, was put on auction in Paddington"By order of the Church Commissioners of England." In 1955 there was much talk of a property-owning democracy and the present Prime Minister had just been Minister of Housing. I went to that auction in Porchester Hall, and listened to it for a few minutes. A few days later, in that same hall, I said,"This was a thieves' kitchen of financiers gambling with the homes of the people of Paddington." Great exception was taken to those remarks, but in view of what happened I can state them again.
The Church Commissioners are very often restricted by the fact that it is their duty to get the highest possible value out of the trust vested in them, and I do not complain about that. I have often said that one of their difficulties is that they have two loyalties. That applies to other trusts, too. They have no right to sell at less than the best price.
The lot I saw sold in the Porchester Hall was situated in Hereford Road, Paddington. Bearing in mind the enthusiasm for a property-owning democracy, one might have thought that a lot of people would on that occasion have had the chance to buy their homes. That was not the case. Those houses were lotted, four at a time. But, first of all, the whole road was put up for auction at once. That road went at £95,000–60 dwellings: just about £1,500 a house. I should have thought that the Church Commissioners were entitled to get a 926 little more than that, even at that time. I thought that there was a little fiddling going on.
What happened after that? Half of those houses were on monthly and weekly tenancies, and some on expiring leases, and at that time the return on them all was £10,979 15s. 1d. The investor did not do too badly. He was getting rather more than 11 per cent. on his purchase price, and need not have done anything more. Had those houses been bought individually, it would have meant £1,500 for a house with five floors—£300 a floor; £600, basic, for a two-floor dwelling. That would have helped a property-owning democracy. With all his recent enthusiasm, the Minister must remember that housing associations had been invented long before then. It would have been possible to negotiate, after preliminary publicity, and at the same time, get a little more money.
A year or two after that, one of the houses in Hereford Road, by then owned by Mr. Rachman, was let—and I take this just as an example of all that he was associated with—at a fantastic rent, all perfectly legal, to an experienced coloured man. He knew how to let the house as seven separate dwellings to seven separate girls at £3 10s. 0d. per dwelling per day, payable daily at noon. That is £10,000 a year from one house—enough to pay the interest on the price paid for the whole road.
The right hon. Gentleman will at least allow that, apart from the way in which the dwellings were taken from legitimate working-class people, that was a factor in pushing up the price. If he did not know, he could have asked a policeman. Methods of inquiry were open then. All these things were known and observed, but it was not thought right to bring in remedial measures for cases like that at the time of the Street Offences Act.
Let us go a little further with Mr. Rachman's activities. We could not find at the time how these large mortgages were obtained. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that I reported to him trying to buy a house. The price was going up £500 or £1,000 every day and 100 per cent. mortgages were being offered. We could never get anyone to agree on a valuation for any house that we wanted to buy. If we had bought 927 it we should have been still obliged to let it at an economic rent on this inflated price. I skip over the rest. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that I, because I could not get enough done, and he, because he could not get enough done, and, above all, those in a better position to get enough done, must share the responsibility
§ Sir K. Joseph
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I am shirking nothing. I was hoping that he was going to tell us to what extent he thinks the 1961 Act, which was passed to deal with the Rachman type of problem, has been effective. I should be grateful if the hon. Member would tell us what he knows.
§ Mr. Parkin
I was coming to that. We shall come in the end to the same conclusion as in the case of Madame Janette. We shall find at the end of the day that everything has been tied up and is respectable and the moneylender has taken the place of the speculator and a new levy has inevitably to be paid through inflation. The right hon. Gentleman should hesitate before he interrupts me, because he knows perfectly well that that Act did nothing and could not do anything to stop this kind of inflated prices.
§ Sir K. Joseph indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Parkin
Perhaps when the right hon. Gentleman has heard me out he will think better of it. I have pointed out what the Prime Minister and the Church Commissioners might have done at an earlier stage, but things have got completely out of hand since then.
I do not want to recapitulate, though I am tempted for the sake of the record, the details of those evil days, but the Minister knows that we share the responsibility for the racial riots of Notting Hill when night after night there was nothing less than civil war in that area, and fighting between members of the St. Stephen's Tenants' Association which, curiously enough, was formed to fight the coloured man only to find that he was not their enemy—
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir H. Legge-Bourke)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but law and order hardly comes within the responsibility of the Minister of Housing and Local Government.
§ Mr. Parkin
You live in a happier world than I do, Sir Harry. You have the sort of problems of law and order which do not involve taking the roof off people's houses, but I accept your Ruling.
Not only did we have outbreaks of colour prejudice and the Notting Hill riots, but who knows what effect reports of these all over the world have had in strengthening the hand of those in the United States who want to oppose the final emancipation of 20 million negroes there? After that we had outbreaks of anti-Semitism in North Paddington, something which we thought should have been buried with the ashes of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. The synagogue in Paddington was smeared and all this anti-Semitism had to be lived through again. These are the things where responsibilities are very much wider.
Those who first of all appealed to the local authorities, to Members of Parliament and to Ministers, gave up in the end. They decided—and this is important in relation to democracy—that nothing could be done by democratic methods. Bit by bit they relied more and more upon force and less upon argument in defending themselves. Most of them eventually joined C.N.D. and the Committee of 100 and they have been in and out of prison ever since.
If, Sir Harry, you had not been talking to someone else, you would have given me one more warning to sit down, because you would not have seen the connection between the Committee of 100 and the housing situation in Paddington. Neither would I if I had not seen in the local paper, under the enormous headline"Ban the Bomb Group must Quit; Committee of 100 Chief is among Tenants", a spokesman for the landlord, Mr. Stephen Anderton Halsall, alleging dreadful things, such as people going to the flats and pressing the wrong doorbell.
Mr. Halsall is a very respectable man who rides to hounds somewhere near Great Missenden. He was fortunate enough to get control of the Eagle Building Society some years ago. The society, I am sure, is perfectly legal. The Registrar of Friendly Societies took a long hard look at it some time ago and decided on the whole that it should not advertise to the general public for money. But that was not trouble at all. There 929 were other sources. Mr. Rachman used to put deposits in the society in exchange for an undertaking that no questions would be asked about a valuation or a survey, and they never were asked. This is where the £2,000 and £3,000 valuations went up to £6,000, plus 10 per cent., known as a"procurement fee" which one pays if unfortunately the society is short of funds but a special exception can be made in one's case and one brings the 10 per cent. along in used pound notes.
The ins and outs of the Eagle Building Society are fantastic. I will tell the Minister one story if only for a laugh to break the tension. A lavatory was mortgaged for £2,500 by mistake, because the scheme was to mortgage all the flats separately. The surveyor was drunk and he went out into the back yard and came to the conclusion—
§ The Temporary Chairman
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member again, but it would be very helpful to the Committee and to the Chair if he could relate his remarks to the responsibilities of the Minister of Housing and Local Government.
§ Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)
Further to that point. As I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) is dealing with the contribution made by building societies for the provision of houses to let, and in view of the fact that the Parliamentary Secretary spent a long time in talking about the machinery to provide houses to let by co-operation between the Government and building societies, is it not in order for my hon. Friend to suggest that in certain circumstances the machinery may not work?
§ The Temporary Chairman
I certainly agree that if the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) suggests what the Minister should do that probably would be perfectly in order. I am concerned that the hon. Member appears to be dealing with matters which I think are beyond the responsibilities of the Minister.
§ Mr. Parkin
I am sorry, Sir Harry, but I was asked by the Minister himself to tell him something about the sequelaeof the Rachman affair in relation to the 1961 Act, and I was following an hon. 930 Member who, a couple of speeches ago, was talking about building societies. I should have thought that this was highly relevant to the Government's policy. I should have thought that it was relevant to show how it has added to the inflation in property values. I should have thought that the Minister, if he has not found it out, would have been very glad to hear it. The right hon. Gentleman gave assurances that investigations were being made.
This is no time to discuss legislation and no time for name-dropping and scandal-mongering, but I am bound to bring out this case because here we have the choice—either the operations were perfectly legitimate and so will carry on, or legislation should be introduced to make them impossible. This building society is not short of funds. I am sorry that I have to amplify this matter. Mr. Rachman did not have to take the whole £6,000. It was enough if he took the money which he paid for the house. The rest is paid back as a deposit to the building society and is available for later use.
All sorts of interesting things were done. Mr. Rachman took £30,000 in cash on No. 1, Bryanston Mews which was mortgaged by Copeland Investments to the Eagle Building Society four months before Mr. Rachman disappeared. I say"disappeared" advisedly, because we now come to the point of examining the situation today. The right hon. Gentleman will perhaps know that Mr. Rachman's estate was sworn at £8,000 by an Inland Revenue affidavit. Does the right hon. Gentleman really think anybody would believe that, if investigations had ever been made? Should there not have been the most careful chase-up of every property that had been through his hands in the last four or five years? Good heavens, if I gave the house in which I live to my wife as a birthday present, and lived for four and three-quarter years, the sharks would be after her. I would not have got through the inter vivos. It is impossible, and because it is, everybody laughs and says,"They are a dopey lot in the Government. Why do they not go after the real crooks?"
That leads to the suggestion that Rachman is not dead. All Fleet Street is full of the idea that Rachman is not dead. The editor of the Daily Telegraph 931 obviously does not believe he is dead. Otherwise he would not have printed that"dead pan" article about Rachman's estate the other day. It would be easy to switch bodies since he was"dead on arrival" at Edgware General Hospital. With an overworked houseman in charge they can only feel the body to see whether it is warm or cold. It does not require many interested witnesses—a cremation and a Stateless man, and that is that. It would be a very good idea to have a substitution, and very useful—just 10 days before all hell broke loose.
Well, that is somebody else's story. It is not mine. There is no real evidence. But a lot of other people are alive. Mr. Nash is still alive—a very interesting character. A lot of property has gone through his hands. He is something to do with Copeland Investments. The New Court Hotel went through his hands. Rachman had it at one time. Billy Hill has got it now, and it is run by somebody called Peter Nolan, a very experienced person. Halsall has got the Ambassador Hotel at Paddington. I could quote endless names and addresses. But it is not really worth it. Carters have disappeared. Peter Davies is still very much alive, a cheeky young man who found property dealing much more rewarding than being a credit draper, who appeared on television and spoke about his great ambition to put coach lamps outside every one of these houses, which he called improvements. He has a very respectable-looking chain of companies. The Brush and Palette Club in Paddington is still in existence, as we have recently been reminded. I do not know who now owns the head lease of that. Mr. Rachman owned about 20 basement clubs which he leased out. The operators only paid him rent. That was one of the tricks. Rachman bought the property and sold it again, leasing the basement back to himself.
If one goes up the stairs instead of down, anyone who visits the Brush and Palette Club can get a long list of properties off the door. In the Kenya Coffee Bar opposite there is a modern Lloyds—history will recognise it—like the original Lloyds Coffee Bar, a sort of clearing house for people who have got into a bit of difficulty and perhaps are having some trouble with the public health man. One 932 sells a property for three months with the guarantee that it will be sold back. That is how the ownership is switched. Until one gets good will from the borough council one will not get very far under the 1961 Act or any other Act. One gets to the stage when the property is in the hands of the moneylender once more. Everything is sewn up and respectable, and the levy has to be paid by those who come in.
Nobody, not a Labour Government not a housing association, not an owner-occupier who is honest can cope with that kind of inflation of values. The right hon. Gentleman knows and I know that it can be done, that there is really nothing in the way of a decent landlord carrying out the repairs and improvement. All the devices are there. There are a few more speeding-ups to be done and a few revisions of rules, but even as of now, even as at the date of auction to which I referred, there was a good return on the investment. It could still be made possible. But we see how this corruption takes place. It goes from one to another. One sells a house to a man at an enormous price. He is given a 100 per cent. mortgage at 7 per cent. and he is tempted by the thought of what he could make by letting the basement or the upper three floors. Then he is committed to the moneylender. Then he in turn has to be an exploiter.
There has to be a two-pronged attack on this problem. On the one hand, we want all the drive we can get for the details and the devices, the new kinds of buildings, the conversions, plumbing, etc., but at the end of the day we are defeated if we do not make the other attack on this unproductive section of society, the landowner and the moneylender, who will make all one's work useless and laughable. That is the tragedy which some of us share on both sides of the Committee. Find a solution to that. There is very little joy in trying to be a constructive back bench critic. One gets abuse. One cannot do right, and sometimes one is conscious of the fact that every fresh point that one makes is at the expense of a colleague who can probably make a better speech.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has made a most vigorous speech. The 933 trouble is that when I answer it in three hours' time some Members who have heard the speech may not hear the reply. It is my impression—I should say this now—that the 1961 Act powers, which were passed specifically by the Government because of the conditions to which the hon. Gentleman refers, are, in the hands of a strong-minded local authority, adequate to deal with this situation. I am grateful for the opportunity to say this now.
§ Mr. Parkin
It is obvious that I must not make another speech now in reply to that intervention. My colleagues can deal with it. All I can say is that we are not altogether agreed. There is a lot still to be done.
I was concluding by saying that it is an unrewarding life being a constructive critic on the back benches. When one is making practical suggestions, one is told that they are dreams, and if one tries to analyse the reasons why they cannot be carried out, one is told that one is mud slinging. There must come a time in the life of every little tick-bird like me, however devoted and assiduous, when he has to go and whisper in the ear of the rhinoceros."Symbiosis, and peaceful co-existence, are all very well, but I have got a bellyache. There are more ticks in the folds of your neck than I can digest. I cannot help any more. You are not even washing yourself now. Deep down there is very nearly every nasty disease in the book in your system. You cannot survive that way. You have got to get at the root of this problem. You cannot survive in your present condition. You are going to drop down in your tracks one day and I may be underneath. I'm off."
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Williams (Sunderland, South)
I think that the Committee and the hon. Member for Paddington, North, (Mr. Parkin) will forgive me if I do not follow the hon. Gentleman into the details of property speculation in Paddington, for that is not a place or a theme on which I am well versed. I intervene in a housing debate with great trepidation. I feel almost as nervous in taking part in this debate as the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Duffy) must have been in addressing the Chamber for the first time, for in ten years this is the 934 first occasion when I have intervened on a housing matter.
In spite of what was said by the hon. Member for Paddington, North, I think that one of the greatest bedevilling factors in the housing situation today is the attitude of the Labour Party in its anti-landlordism. I understand completely the hesitation which the hon. Member for Paddington, North will have in accepting that line or argument, but I believe that the Opposition's instinctive criticism of the landlord and the rôle of landlord in our society has done a great deal to make the provision of reasonable housing in the post-war years more difficult.
§ Mr. Parkin
I shall try to be brief. Will the hon. Gentleman make a distinction in his mind between the landlord as manager with a constructive rôle to play and the land owner who very often has nothing to do with the management of the property but who merely attracts to himself the increased value put into the land by the brains and activity of others?
§ Mr. Williams
I accept the distinction which the hon. Gentleman draws, but I still assert that the general attitude of hon. and right hon. Members opposite is epitomised by a remark made by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M.Stewart) who, in a not altogether congratulatory way, referred to"some admirable exceptions". It is this sort of attitude which makes prejudice enter in where reason would be a better guide.
This is the attitude of members of the Labour Party also when they talk of developers. So often, instead of speaking of the developer, who has a genuine and honourable rôle in our society, they talk of the speculator. But who in business is not a speculator in one way or another? Even a motor manufacturer is a speculator unless he is making a custom-built Rolls-Royce. Everyone in the British Motor Corporation and all the major motor manufacturing companies is a speculator in the sense that he does not know his customer at the moment the motor car is being made, In the same way, the speculator, or, as I prefer to call him, the developer, in the property world has an essential rôle to play in meeting and providing for a need in advance of the exact demand.
I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Minister that, in talking about housing 935 in this country, we tend very often to talk in far too limited a sense. The hon. Member for Fulham spoke of the population figures over the next few years. I suggest to my right hon. Friend and the Government that they should look rather more closely at population trends and not consider Britain as a tight little island of 50 million, 60 million, 70 million or 80 million people, whichever period is taken for the forecast, and should remember that there is the possibility of exporting population just as there is the possibility of exporting goods. We should not as a nation look at our problem just in terms of what happens within our shores but, rather, look at the prospects of exporting population as well.
Several hon. Members have said that the basis of a sound society is sound housing. This, of course, is true. It is true also that certain parts of the country are now receiving an almost adequate supply of housing. This, however, is not so in the North-East and in the older industrial parts of the country. The old industrial towns are those where the slums are concentrated and where the greatest effort is needed. I am delighted that, in the White Paper and in the Government's policy, there seems to be a realisation of this, but I am still not convinced that the Government have sufficiently appreciated the needs of the North-East in general.
I am thinking here not just in terms of housing but in terms of the whole range of Government economic policy. If the problems of the North-East are to be solved, it will not be done merely by inducing new industry to come in and provide employment. It will be done by providing that revived and revivified attitude and atmosphere which comes from better housing, better schools, better hospitals and better roads. This is why, at this point in my speech, I appeal to the Minister and the Government to give pole position and prime place not just to the industrial regions in general but to the North-East in particular.
The town of Sunderland may well be a typical example of how old industrial towns rot at their centre and need to be recreated with a new spirit, a new outlook and a new plan. The first problem is shortage of space. Borough boun- 936 daries are constricting. Boroughs need to acquire land, to gain planning permission, and, in due course, to expand. But this all takes time. I echo the remark of one of my hon. Friends who said earlier that if the work of the Ministry in these matters could be speeded up, consistent with proper safeguards for the just rights of the contenders or the opponents of expansion, the provision of the housing which people need would be greatly assisted.
In Sunderland there are about 12,000 people on the housing list. At the present rate of progress, it will be eight, nine or teal years before the list is cleared, by which time, of course, there will be new entrants. This is not good enough. One welcomes, of course, the target of 350,000 houses mentioned in the programme, but I suggest to my right hon. Friend that more needs to be done outside the two usual elements of the housing programme, that is, the provision of houses for sale and the provision of housing through local authorities. I make five specific recommendations to him.
First, much more should be done to persuade, if not to force, local authorities to charge economic rents, with, of course, rebate schemes to take account of genuine need. Second, as a consequence of that, more needs to be done to encourage private property developers to provide accommodation in flats or houses for rent. Several hon. Members opposite have said that the present policy will lead to the housing corporation and housing societies fulfilling this rôle and not free enterprise. If this is so, I regret that facet of the policy, for it seems to me that it will merely be changing one form of municipalisation for another major landlord. In a free society, we ought to offer people a series of options, a series of choices, and I am not convinced that we shall get it out of this particular policy development in Cmnd. 2050. Indeed, if we could do what I suggest, we should shift much of the financial burden from the State where it rests now on to private finance, and I should have thought that this, under a Conservative Government, would be regarded as well worth while.
Having said that, I support the proposal in the White Paper for the housing corporation and housing societies, although I am not yet convinced that they will work sufficiently closely with 937 building societies in what they have to do. As my fourth point, I suggest that the building societies themselves take far too conservative a line in regard to the provision of housing. I should like to see a much more positive line of thought and approach coming from the building societies to the provision of new houses and much more stimulus from them to the building trade to modernise itself.
My final point is to urge the development of industrialised housing, mechanised housing, modular housing—call it what one will. As the Minister has said on several occasions, we cannot, with the present building labour force, possibly meet the targets for housing which the nation needs and deserves. It is likely that there will continue to be shortages or at least bottlenecks in the supply of the skilled labour needed. Inevitably, we are bound to change the balance in house production from the traditional methods to the newer, non-traditional and industrialised methods. This is why I regret the attitude of conservatism of some local authorities and the conservatism of some building trade operatives whosee in this trend a danger to the traditional pattern of work and employment. Nothing could be further from the truth. I believe that every building trade operative of skill will find employment, but this alone will not provide the housing that the nation needs. Therefore, we have to find some way of getting these new forms of housing started.
I suspect that one of the major difficulties of any new form of housing is to get the first order of sufficient size to make the prices competitive with the traditional methods. Therefore, I am wondering if my right hon. Friend the Minister cannot use this new Housing Corporation to lay down a few test runs, or provoke a few test runs from all the different companies concerned in producing industrialised housing.
If there could be a choice of perhaps the fifty best, or even the ten best, with two hundred houses from each, this would go some way to getting the costs on a competitive basis and seeing what the houses are like actually on the site. If this money is to be used for housing in any case, it should be used for introducing a new non-traditional form of house building, thereby bringing down the cost at the same time as providing 938 these extra houses. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that this is the sort of tiling his Ministry might well be now looking at, so that the figure of 350,000, while at the moment a target, can in due course become a pleasant comment on the past when we go to 400,000 houses a year.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
The Parliamentary Secretary said that he anticipated some criticism from this side of the Committee. I can assure him that he will not be disappointed. So far we have had criticism, and I want to make a further criticism of the administrative side of his Department.
We have a saying in Lancashire, and I am a Lancashire man bred and born,"Speak your mind, yet be kind; give good advice and yet be nice." I shall speak my mind and I shall give some good advice, and I hope that the Minister will take it in the right spirit. I have a very serious complaint to make about the administrative side of the Department. In December, 1960—almost two and a half years ago—there was submitted to the Department what is known as the Maker field town map. On that map there were thirty sites marked by agreement with the local authorities concerned, with the Lancashire County Council, and all concerned with the progress of the reclamation of land. The map was a fulfilment to a very large degree of the pamphlet which the Minister had just issued, life from dead land. That map was a fulfilment of it because it marked 30 sites which had already been agreed upon. That was in December, 1960. Since then, a number of complaints have been made, first by the Lancashire County Council and, secondly, by the local authorities who were concerned with the drawing up and submission of the map.
We are now in July, 1963, and the Ministry has not made up its mind what it is going to do. Therefore, the local authorities are left in a state of bewilderment and embarrassment and they cannot proceed with the building of houses because there is no land upon which to build. I beg of the Minister to tighten up his administrative side and to see whether he can speed up schemes of this character when they are submitted. This did not need legislation. All that was required was an urgent examination 939 to agree finally on the reclamation of land.
Of course, when land is being reclaimed for any purpose connected with local authorities there are always objections, but those objections have to be overcome or a compulsory purchase order made. In Ince, which I have the honour to represent, there was only one objection. Out of fifteen sites in the township, there was only one objector, and when he was informed that the land was required for the housing of people, he withdrew his objection. The Minister had an opportunity to give consent to the Ince Urban District Council to proceed with the reclamation of that land. Nothing has been done. Interviews have taken place, letters have been written, questions have been asked, and we are still in the same position on 8th July, 1963, as we were in December, 1960. My plea on that score is: will the Minister please speed up the finalising of this town map and tell the county council and the local authorities concerned what he intends doing?
I emphasise what the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir H. Butcher) said in his speech. He said that the Minister ought to make the industrial areas more attractive for new industries. We shall have to do that whether the request comes from that side of the Committee or from this side. We shall never get industrialists to come into the industrial areas such as we have in the north-west, the north-east and the south-west, unless we make the environments more congenial than they are. As the Parliamentary Secretary proceeded with his speech, I anticipated that he would give some hope to those local authorities who are suffering as a result of the legacy which was left by the old industrial system. I shall not make any condemnation of the past industrialists. We have it. We have to deal with it, and the sooner we start to do so, the better it will be.
I give some figures of the position that we have in south-west Lancashire, which has been giving deep mined coal to this nation, essential to the wheels of production of other commodities, since 1546. Any man who has any imagination at all can visualise what that means to a district which has been extracting minerals at the rate it has 940 of what is left behind—not only damage from mining subsidence, but large tip heaps rearing their ugly heads, destroying the soul of the people, making it difficult for them to enjoy life as they should. In the township of Ince in Maker field, the constituency which I have the honour to represent and in which I was born, there are 162 acres covered by pit heaps. There are 615 acres suffering from mining subsidence and 104 acres of derelict land caused by many other factors, a total in that urban district of 881 acres. Forty per cent. of the acreage of that town ship is derelict land.
I was anticipating, and I am still anticipating, that the Minister—
§ It being Seven o'clock, The Chairman left the Chair, further Proceeding standing postponed until after the consideration of Private Business set down by direction of The Chairman of Ways and Means under Standing Order No. 7 (Time for Taking Private Business).
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker resumed the Chair.