§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
We make no apologies from this side of the Committee for initiating a debate once again on the problem of housing in London. It is a fact that in the last five years of this Tory Government's existence we have raised it many times before. We have had all-night sittings and we have argued at length on behalf of those in London whom we have the privilege to represent. To be fair to the Tory back benchers who represent London, they have joined in the debates and expressed their concern at the plight of many thousands of their own constituents.
The position today, as we are nearing the end of this Parliament, is that the housing situation in London is as bad now as it has ever been. On the number of homeless people alone I should like to give some figures. In the autumn of 1957, when this problem first reared its ugly head, we had 1,000 homeless people accommodated in London County Council hostels By November 1960, that figure had risen to 2,000 homeless fami- 1522 lies, in November 1961 to 3,000, in March 1962 to 3,400, in July 1963 to 4,300, and in the first week of July this year it had risen to an all-time record of homelessness in London of 6,012. This is a figure unheard of before in London, and it has created enormous problems which only those who live with them can understand properly.
I say at once that it is quite evident that the Rent Act of 1957 has some connection with the rise in homelessness. It was in the autumn of 1957 that we first heard of homeless families in London. I think that the Tories delude themselves, and only themselves, when they say that this is purely a coincidence. I have argued on behalf of my party that the causes of homelessness are obvious to everyone and are primarily due to the Rent Act which the Government brought in. My charge again tonight is that the effects of the 1957 Rent Act are still causing great distress and concern among many thousands of our people.
Any decent family today can as a result of the Rent Act be kicked out of their decontrolled home at four weeks' notice, even if they are good tenants. This is going on all the time. Decontrolled rents are quite beyond the means of most families. May I quote the speech of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition last year, which is as relevant today as it was then? He said that a survey had been made of 78 estate agents in London, and it was carried out not by the Labour Party but by the Family Service Units. They found that, with only two possible exceptions, none of those estate agents had accommodation for a family with children at a rent under £6 a week, and £8 to £10 a week was being asked for most of the accommodation available.
Since that survey rents have risen. It is an indisputable fact that if a family today is evicted from a home because of decontrol—creeping decontrol—whatever the reason for it, their chances of getting rented accommodation in London are negligible. I ask the Minister if that is not right to deny it, and perhaps he could give us some information which 1523 we could pass on to those who are looking for accommodation.
There is one other thing that I should like to say about the Rent Act, because as a Member of Parliament in London I have experienced much of this. We are aided and abetted in our arguments here by an impartial body, the Housing Centre General Committee which gave evidence to the Milner Holland Committee whose report has just been published. It said:There is a concensus of opinion among us that adequate rented accommodation would not be provided in London even if the market were entirely free from control.It was only in the last debate on this subject that we had a last minute death bed repentance by the Government, who said that they were not going to decontrol any further property in London by Act of Parliament. There was no mention of the creeping decontrol which is still with us under the 1957 Rent Act, or of what can be done to help our people who are evicted.
The Housing Centre General Committee, an impartial and very able body, summed up its conclusions to the Milner Holland Committee by saying that in their view theIncreases in the housing shortage in London are due to: Pressure of employment "——we have had a debate on the North-East concerning the crowds of people coming into London because of unemployment in the North—that is planning gone stark raving mad—Social and economic changes "—and, last and most important of all, theOperation of decontrol.Here we have a clear and independent verdict that the operation of rent decontrol, brought about by the Rent Act, is one of the major causes of the increase in the housing shortage in London.
My final word on rent control is this: we have been told again and again that this is a party political argument and that we are wedded to control for control's sake. I say to the Minister that he might take a lesson from New York of all places, the land of private enterprise where they believe that the little man counts on the ladder of opportunity; but, in fact, in New York rent 1524 control is strictly adhered to. They brought it in not many years ago and recently strengthened their laws to such an extent that the tenant is protected in a way which we on this side of the Committee have not asked for. Looking at the American system, it might well be that when the Labour Party get power at the next election we might consider some of the regulations which they are now operating.
§ Mr. John M. Temple (City of Chester)
The hon. Gentleman made reference to New York. In a debate not long ago I informed the House that the number of homeless in New York every night was far greater than the number of homeless in London.
§ Mr. Mellish
That is because it is a private enterprise country and, rather like our own Government, it does not believe in planning in any way on a State basis. I agree that London's housing position is not due only to the Rent Act. Of course there are other factors; but the Government have been in power now for 13 years. They take credit for every single house that has been built and they must take the blame for every single heartache they have caused.
Another cause of trouble has been the cut in council house building. The London County Council, for example, built 10,000 flats and houses inside and outside the county in 1953. In 1963, because of the disastrous effect of this Government's policies, particularly as regards land prices, the number was cut back to only 4,128. Will the right hon. Gentleman give us an answer about that this evening? Does he suggest that it is because of some inefficiency on the part of the London County Council, or does he accept what it says about land prices? Is it true or is it not true?
Here I must mention a rumour which is circulating among local authorities. It is important to have it on record. I heard it only a week ago at the annual conference of the Urban District Councils Association at Hastings. The story is that, under the 1961 Housing Act, there is introduced an element of uncertainty in housing subsidies and Section 2 gives the Minister power to discontinue or reduce new subsidies granted under the Act. Local authorities 1525 justifiably fear that, having undertaken large housing programmes and assumed heavy loan charge burdens, a future Tory Government, if that disaster should ever come, might discontinue or reduce Exchequer subsidies already granted. Will the Minister confirm or deny this? Will he tell us that local authorities need not be concerned about any reduction in subsidies which have already been granted? They are entitled to know.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
What is the good of asking for the Government's promise? They promised that they would not introduce the 1957 Rent Act, but they did. They said that they would not decontrol rents, but they have. They will give any promises, though they will not carry them out.
§ Mr. Mellish
With much of it, yes. However, I want to make my own speech. Will the Minister assure the local authorities concerned, some of them Conservative-controlled, that if they have entered into commitments their position will not be made even more difficult by a future cut in subsidies which they have already received, thus making them fall back on the local rates?
Now, rising land prices. This is a story which I hope the Minister will not even try to defend. Land bought by the London County Council in 1951 cost £8,800 an acre, which worked out at an average site cost per dwelling of £270. The figure today—this comes from information supplied by the London County Council—is £618,000 per acre, making a £1,550 per dwelling site. That is a fact. I am quoting from figures supplied to me by the London County Council itself. These are current prices which the authority is now paying.
§ Sir K. Joseph
The London County Council went on to explain in that document, which I have seen, that it had exhausted all the simple sites on which to build and it now had to build on small sites often involving demolished buildings with a commercial life ahead 1526 of them, introducing great complications and much extra cost.
§ Mr. Mellish
With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, the fact is that land which local authorities are now being asked to purchase has gone up in value in the past three years in a way which no Government can hope to justify. I take some other examples. Willesden Corporation has just paid £200,000 for land which only three years ago cost £121,000. In three years, this enormous profit, 60 to 70 per cent., was made by the original buyer. A 12-acre site has been bought by Enfield Corporation for £240,000, and three years ago the vendors bought it for only £7,500. I have the details of the site here if the Minister wants to question the facts which I am giving. That is the measure of the profit made by speculators in three years, the difference between £240,000 and £7,500.
I noticed some extraordinary articles published this week in The Times, that honourable, decent newspaper. These articles were written by Lord Broughshane, and I want to give this kind gentleman some publicity. He bitterly attacked the proposal for a land commission which the Labour Party has said it would implement if elected to Government in order to deal with rising land prices. What The Times did not mention—I mention it now for his Lordships' benefit—is that Lord Broughshane is active in the National Federation of Property Owners and he is the chairman of Greencoat Properties Limited. In 1962, the present Minister authorised a compulsory purchase order on 20 blocks of flats owned by this company on the ground of exorbitant rents and failure to repair. The noble Lord's articles attacking the Labour Party's policy give me great encouragement and make me believe that we must be right.
Land prices are one aspect of the problem. House prices are another. During the five year 1959–63, five years of Tory Government, the average price of new houses rose twice as fast as weekly wage rates. New house prices in Great Britain as a whole rose by 43 per cent. and in London they rose by 61 per cent. One could go on giving examples from figures published by the Co-operative Permanent Building Society showing that, although building costs have risen and wage rates have risen, 1527 nevertheless, pro rata, house prices have risen about 40 per cent. over and above the other costs. On 5th July, the Sunday Times carried a report of a survey, which, I gather, was supposed to be confidential, by one of Britain's biggest construction companies. It said that that company had forecast an increase of at least 10 per cent. in many 1964 new house prices in a matter of months.
Will the Minister tonight tell us in advance what the Government propose to tell the people of London about their actions to control prices and to control rents? The vast majority of our people on the waiting lists and the vast majority of those who are suffering from the effects of bad housing will certainly want to know.
The rising prices to which I have just referred also affect the price of secondhand houses, of course. A house is the one commodity which becomes dearer the older it gets. In the period 1959–63, the increase in the average price of second-hand houses was 63 per cent. in London. It is interesting to note that there are 1 million fewer private rented dwellings today that there were in 1956. Yet when the Central Office of Information carried out a survey and prepared a report on the housing situation in 1960 it found that 20 per cent. of those who were buying their own homes, who were becoming property-owning democrats, would have preferred rented accommodation.
The average young married couple and the average homeless family have no alternative but to go to the estate agent and pay the exorbitant prices now asked, if, of course, they can possibly find the initial deposit for a mortgage. All of us in London know that there is all the difference in the world, when someone asks for a 100 per cent. mortgage, between the value put on a house by the district valuer and the price asked by the estate agent. The difference between the two makes it impossible for many people to purchase their own homes. The Minister must clearly understand that we on this side want to encourage people to own their own homes; but how can they be expected to do so in present-day conditions for mortgages and interest charges?
1528 Every London Member hears about the housing situation every week. The position has got worse instead of better. I ask the Minister to state his party's policy clearly. The election will not be long delayed. Even the Prime Minister cannot defer it much longer. I promise him that I shall do what small bit I can in the position I occupy politically in London. I shall go to every part of London I possibly can to tell the story of housing as I know it from personal experience and as every Londoner knows it from practical experience. I shall ask for no more than the judgment of those who live in London as a fair test of what this Government have done in housing for those who live in the greatest metropolis in the world. I shall tell people what we as a party have to offer. I warn the right hon. Gentleman that we shall vote against him, we shall vote against his Department and we shall vote against his Government, believing sincerely that they have destroyed the human happiness of many thousands of people in our great city.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Compton Carr (Barons Court)
It is always a pleasure to take part in a debate after a speech by the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). Although he has not been able in the time available to him to put forward the whole picture, the facts which he has put forward have been unbiased. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, they were unbiased, but not complete. The figures which he gave were true within certain limits. I will not try to make party points about this matter.
§ Mr. Carr
I am not observing faces at the moment. I would rather observe what I have before me in order to say what I have to say as quickly as possible so that other hon. Members may speak.
As I say, I do not believe that the hon. Member for Bermondsey gave the complete facts. I do not propose to follow his remarks, because there is something else which I think it is just as important to bear in mind. The hon. Gentleman said that the Government have done this and that they have not done that. It is important to remember that the housing authorities are the local authorities. If 1529 prices are rising to very great heights, as no one can deny, why, among other things, are local authorities, on finding themselves with surplus land, selling it at market prices in the open market? This is something that the L.C.C. has not been able to turn its back on.
Why is a borough like Fulham, for example, part of which I represent—and I do not put this forward in a party spirit—purchasing small houses at market value and converting into two dwellings houses which when purchased were providing three dwellings? How is it possible for a council to do that piecemeal? I quote the Fulham Borough Council because it believes that as many houses as possible within its boundaries should be owned by the council. If it is capable of doing that, surely it is capable of doing more. It is capable of buying whole sites and of rebuilding on those sites.
I come to a point on which I take issue with my hon. Friends just as much as I do with hon. Members opposite, namely, densities. An article which I have here refers to a discussion with a Mr. McCue, who is a director of Taylor Woodrow, a big building organisation, as every one in the Committee is aware. His firm was responsible for the production of an extremely intelligent document called "The Fulham Report". It was prepared very quickly, and it was a very sound document—It was a study—a pure experiment—in how to develop the seedy bits of London.I do not go the whole way with this.Its value to me apart from the actual details of the way it laid out houses and roads and parks and shops was the way it re-examined old and accepted tenets about urban planning. For instance, it said: why do we assume that London should have only 136 people to the acre? Neither the London County Council nor Fulham Borough Council seem to have taken the trouble to consider the question again.The Fulham Borough Council turned it down largely on the basis that the figure of 250 people to the acre given in the report was grossly excessive.Nobody on the Councils has said why. Nobody seems to have sat down and realised that perhaps it might be possible to house more people to the acre and still give them breathing space and green grass. How? The Fulham plan is a total denial of the sort of piecemeal planning that London has been subjected to this century. It is planning on a vast scale It means planning for houses and 1530 immense blocks of flats for all ranges of society, and for shops and pubs and parks all mixed up together.I think that, with the exception of the reference to 136 people to the acre, that is sound sense. In Fulham and Hammersmith, part of each of which I have the honour to represent, the density figure is between 70 and 100.
As many hon. Members will realise, I have just been quoting from an article which appeared in the Daily Herald on 18th June, 1964.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
Would the hon. Gentleman make it clear whether he is talking about net or gross densities?
§ Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)
The hon. Gentleman is probably aware that that survey by the firm which he mentioned was undertaken at the request of the Minister.
§ Mr. Evans
The hon. Member is probably also aware that the report was considered by the L.C.C. and by its officers, who are very well informed about this sort of thing. After consideration, the L.C.C. decided that the scheme was not acceptable from the planning point of view and added the rider that if the Minister wished this kind of survey to be undertaken in future he should consult the L.C.C. before arriving at any decision.
§ Mr. Carr
Members of both those bodies were at the Press conference dealing with this matter. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will bear me out on that.
The only thing which really concerns me—and I may be extremely innocent about these things—is that there are people living in places like Fulham, 1531 Bermondsey, Deptford and Hammersmith whom we want to see housed in decent conditions rather than in the cramped and disgusting conditions in which they now find themselves.
I am in as much agreement with hon. Members opposite as I am with my hon. Friends on certain details of this matter. The main question with which we have to deal if we are to house London people in London is densities. We cannot say, "We have so many people. We must house them somewhere" and immediately introduce a completely false and arbitrarily reached density figure. The one thing which people sometimes forget is that in talking about increasing densities one is not asking for one extra person to be placed in a given area. All we are saying is that people living in crowded conditions in an area should be given the opportunity of living in decent conditions in that area. This is the point which we must overcome. Hon. Members will put forward other suggestions, but the question of densities is the one which we must break through before we will be able to do anything solid about solving the housing problem in London.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)
Hon. Members who take their parties into the Crypt Chapel point to the benches along the walls of the Chapel and say that those benches were provided for the elderly and the weak during the services that took place there and that this was the origin of the saying "The weakest go to the wall". If one wanted to find six words that sum up the housing situation in London, one could say that "The weakest go to the wall" is the London situation in a nutshell.
§ Mr. Compton Carr
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but I know that she is aware that the meaning of that phrase has been turned right round. "The weakest go to the wall" in that sense meant giving the weak and the old the opportunity of ease. Today, it means exactly the opposite. It is, therefore, not a fair analogy.
§ Mrs. Butler
The point is clear to all hon. Members and the Minister is nodding his agreement.
1532 It is a fact that families with children, elderly people, those who are poorly paid and people coming in from outside to London in desperate need of accommodation are the people suffering acute hardship. In the decontrolled properties, they are either having to pay enormous rent increases or get out. Landlords are increasingly by-passing the county court procedure. They are going to the High Court with eight-day notices and the flood of homeless families is rapidly increasing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) has spoken about the homeless position. He has not mentioned, as he could have done, the way that some of these families are being added to local authority waiting lists or put into accommodation on a temporary basis, in addition to the hostels. My hon. Friend has not mentioned how many of them are being driven into substandard accommodation when they are turned out of the properties which they occupy because that is all that they can find.
It is a shocking situation for many decontrolled tenants, particularly as the old landlords, many of whom were good landlords, are taken over by property companies, who buy up these properties with two intentions: first, to get the maximum amount of rent they can out of them, and secondly, to hold on to them in the hope that they will be able either to undertake profitable redevelopment or to sell to a development company at a ransom figure and recoup a very large sum in that way.
Even those in controlled properties are suffering acute hardship. We are all familiar with the way that landlords are harassing tenants in controlled properties, trying to get them out and offering sums of £100 or even more to elderly people who cannot possibly get a mortgage and suggesting that they buy a house. We all know how worried these elderly people are—and many of them are elderly—by this kind of mixed threat and abuse by the landlords.
I have a case in my constituency of an elderly spinster living on the top floor of a building. She is partially blind and lame. The landlord has taunted her with her lameness and has resorted to putting buckets of garbage on the stairs and on the landings in her 1533 path. One can imagine what it is like to be partially blind and lame and to limp about the house in those conditions.
§ Sir K. Joseph
The hon. Lady knows that I rise only to ask her to send me the address as soon as possible.
§ Mrs. Butler
I will do so with great pleasure. That is the kind of case with which we are all familiar.
Before one is too hard on the landlord, we must also bear in mind that many of the landlords who behave in this way have been tricked by unscrupulous agents into believing that the properties which they were buying were with vacant possession, or they were told, "There is an old lady on the top floor, but you need not worry about her. She will soon be gone." That sort of thing is being done on an increasing scale by the number of estate agents of a dubious character who are springing up.
Even buying a house is an appalling problem to people who think that this is the solution. They are not eligible, perhaps, to have their names on the housing list of a local authority or they may have waited a long time in desperation. They may be faced with eviction by the landlord, and they try to buy a house but find that the prices of property are soaring. A house built for £800 in my constituency was sold only the other day for £5,250. How can one expect working people to pay that kind of price for a house?
I had a letter only two days ago which, I hope, the House will allow me to read. It speaks for itself of the kind of problem which faces people in my constituency. The letter states:Perhaps you will remember me coming to see you two years ago when my landlord was trying to evict me. The position has now changed. My landlord died and as I had such a bad time with eight landlords, and fearing what would happen to me if my poor little cottage was purchased by the Rachmans of this country, I appealed to the … Council to take me over. Mr. Kidding, who is a truly wonderful person, told me they could not do that, but he could allow me a mortgage to purchase as a sitting tenant, which I have accepted and am most happy and thrilled. I am 60 years and a couple of months and find it difficult on £3 7s. 6d. disability pension and £1 15s. 6d. National Assistance. I appealed to the N.A. Board and they have granted me an extra 5s., making £2 0s. 6d. I have retained the book and told them I just can't manage. I saw my doctor last night and he told me I must have more nourishment 1534 and gave me a medical certificate to send along to the N.A.B. but the money they have granted me is supposed to include such things. By the time I pay 17s. coal each week as I owe some from last winter and 8s. milk…I owe £34 electric to date as my money won't go any further. The £3 7s. 6d. has to be put away for my mortgage rent. I don't want to possess anything, only to live in peace and safety. That is what 19 members of my family fought for all over the world in War II, six in War I. I do ask you to forgive me writing to you, but I just don't know who to write to. I would like to have a talk with the Tory gents who have never known what it is to eat porridge for dinner and no extras.That is a letter which I received a couple of days ago.
§ Sir K. Joseph rose—
§ Mrs. Butler
I will certainly let the Minister have the address. That is the case of a person who has been forced into buying a house to keep a roof over her head in this capital city in this year of grace.
I should like to make just one more point, because I know that other hon. Members are anxious to participate in the debate. The Minister has said several times in the House recently that one of the solutions to problems of tenants of this kind is for councils to make compulsory purchase orders. I draw his attention to the fact that in the case which I raised in the House on 28th November, in which the landlord had taken summary action against the tenants, the council made a compulsory purchase order on 3rd December but the Minister did not confirm the compulsory purchase order until 9th June this year, six months later. I do not consider that it was accidental that the confirmation was received just after I put down a Question.
In a similar case, which is even worse, concerning another house for which the council made a compulsory purchase order last September, the Minister still has not confirmed the order. I know that there are special circumstances. The Minister has written asking the council whether it still wishes to proceed, and the council has said that it does. One of the tenants in the house has had a nervous breakdown and another, who has recently had a baby, desperately wrote to the council from hospital saying, "What is going to happen? I cannot face coming back to the damp conditions in that house."
1535 If the Minister says that compulsory purchase orders are part of the answer to problems of this kind, he must speed up the machinery. It is ridiculous to expect tenants to live in fear and trembling during all this time, because councils cannot possibly rehouse them until they know the situation concerning the compulsory purchase orders.
As long as the drift to the South-East continues unchecked, we are faced with the situation that in the next 20 years we need 550,000 new dwellings for all purposes in London. The plan is for only 190,000 dwellings, however, so that on the calculation of the experts we are 350,000 short of what is needed.
If a million people are coming into the South-East, as they are, this is merely balancing the million which we are hoping to send out to new and expanded towns. So all the time councils are building houses, clearing areas and increasing densities more people are coming in. It is like the old lady trying to sweep away the sea; one keeps on sweeping and sweeping and clearing and clearing but the problem is never solved. This problem will not be solved unless the Government take effective action.
A great deal has been said about the densities and the need to increase them. I have just been checking the conurbation of London on a map and find that it is 30 miles across. If it is proposed to have enormous densities over the whole of the 30-mile area, I ask hon. Members to imagine what life will be like in the conurbation on that basis. We must increase densities where they are very low but the situation in London is quite different from that of many compact cities in other parts of the world. The enormous sprawl of London and a very much higher density would together produce a nightmare which none of us would bear to contemplate.
The solution is dispersal, reduction of employment in the London area, prevention of office development and a proper employment policy over the whole country. The Minister stands condemned—not only the right hon. Gentleman personally but a succession of Tory Ministers—for having allowed this situation to develop and to worsen steadily as it is doing every day.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Colin Turner (Woolwich, West)
I understood that in this debate the Labour Party was supposed to be attacking Her Majesty's Government over their housing record in London. So far we have had a speech from the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), in his usual excellent form, and a speech by the hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler), but we have heard not one constructive proposal. The one thing that dominates London at present is the desire for extra houses. Yet on this supposed censure Motion on the Government's policy in London, not one constructive proposal has been put forward from the other side of the Committee.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Turner
I will give way in a moment, but we are trying to allow as many London Members as possible to take part in the debate, and I am trying to put my argument forward as quickly as possible.
The great demand in London at the moment is for homes to house these people. The hon. Member for Bermondsey says that there is a growing number of homeless in London.
§ Mr. Mellish rose—
§ Mr. Turner
Who is largely responsible in the Greater London area for the position of the homeless people? It is the London County Council and very many of the boroughs which are controlled by the Labour Party.
§ Mr. Mellish rose—
§ Mr. Turner
I will give way to the hon. Member in a second. As long as we have the largest housing authority in Greater London, the London County Council, refusing to put first things first, refusing to have a rent rebate scheme which will enable—[Interruption.] It is no good hon. Gentlemen opposite getting annoyed about these hard and concrete facts. As long as the London County Council refuses to put into operation a rent rebate scheme which will force, by economic means, those who can pay for houses to get out and make way for the homeless, we shall never get anywhere.
§ Mr. A. Lewis
I could quote to the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Turner) all the London boroughs which are Tory-controlled and have rent rebate schemes where fewer council houses are being built for those in most urgent need than in 1945 and in 1950, five years after the war. I can give the hon. Gentleman these particulars as a result of Answers to my Questions to the Minister. For instance, in Wanstead and Woodford 50 houses a year are being built compared with 68 in 1945. Is that helping the situation?
§ Mr. Turner
I do not think that intervention has helped the situation at all. It has certainly not put forward one constructive thought. The only way to make the housing operation successful in the Greater London area is to ensure that the council housing is used for the purpose for which it was intended—to help those in most need—and that is not being done by the London County Council and many of the metropolitan boroughs, including the metropolitan borough of Woolwich, part of which I represent.
§ Mr. Mellish
The hon. Gentleman is asking for some immediate solutions. I did not take time to go into a whole range of them because I thought that the Labour Party's arguments about the control of land and removal of rent control were clear. I put it to the hon. Member that there are in London thousands of houses for sale but that they are not being taken up because of the price. Would he, as a good Conservative, say that something ought to be done by the Government to ensure that those houses do not remain empty?
§ Mr. Turner
The hon. Gentleman says that there are many private houses up for sale. Does he not know—has he not read recently in the Press—that the London County Council has in my constituency a very large number of flats unoccupied in one of its estates, and this matter has arisen because it has done nothing about them and cannot get anybody to go there? Is the hon. Member suggesting that if the Labour Party controls the price of land it will provide one solitary extra house in Greater London? Of course he is not. We have had no constructive proposals at all from the Opposition about this matter.
1538 When the Minister, in consultation with the War Office, was able to announce that much of our Royal Arsenal land in East Woolwich was to be made available in the long run for housing, was that met with enthusiasm by the London County Council or even the Woolwich Borough Council? Not at all. Yet hon. Members talk about these Socialist-controlled authorities which are so concerned about the homeless. But the London County Council has had in its power and ownership for years a very large acreage of Erith Marshes but has done nothing about housing on that land. It may be difficult building land, but we are facing a difficult housing situation.
§ Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)
The hon. Member is surely not suggesting that the delay over housing in this great: area is the fault either of the London County Council or of the Woolwich Borough Council, both of which are keen to build houses? It is the fault primarily of the War Office, which has not yet released the land.
§ Mr. Turner
The hon. Member is now saying that it is not the fault of the London County Council or the Woolwich Borough Council. In this case I am blaming the London County Council. It had this land on Erith Marshes and said that it was too difficult. But if one is faced with a desperate situation, one has to develop what land one can, and the London County Council has had this land for years.
Many local authorities in London and the London County Council are not making the best use of the housing that they have. No hon. Member opposite can deny that there is a very large number of local authority houses in the Greater London area among which there is under-occupation at present. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] We have facts and figures to show this. In the Borough of Woolwich there is a grave under-occupation of many of the council houses. No one can deny it. It is all very well the Opposition making all this cry, which they may, of course, rightly do, about being worried about the homeless in London, but when they control many of the London boroughs where many of the homeless are, and the London County Council, they should first put their own house in order and 1539 ensure that they have efficient managements.
Certainly, from my experience as a Member, they have not efficient management and are not making the best use of the houses they have available, for the reasons I have given. In addition, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Barons Court (Mr. Compton Carr) that councils are storing an excessive amount of land. What we want to do is to put all the land possible on to the market and let the local authorities get on with it.
No one will claim and be believed that it is because of shortage of land in the London area that the party opposite and its local authorities are not getting on with building. The problem, as everyone looking at it honestly admits, is to make proper use of the housing we have. One can do as my hon. Friend suggested—increase density and make fuller use of the present housing stock.
Even so, a very large number of people in London will have to be housed outside the present conurbation. As has been shown by the South-East Survey, many people will have to move into new towns. It is no good the Labour Party criticising the Government and not producing one iota of evidence of what it will So. If this is the sort of thing that hon. Members opposite will take with them into the General Election in the London area, they will run into very serious problems. Whatever the politics of a person may be, the one thing he wants is a roof over his head.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
I have seldom listened to a more ineffective speech than that made by the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Turner). Apparently its justification is his allegation that no constructive proposal has been made from this side, but perhaps he will remember that his Government have been in power for 13 years. He recognises that a great problem exists. The fact is that we are in a worse position than we were some years ago.
There has been a good deal of criticism of the Government's record in many respects in this Parliament, but perhaps the greatest blot on that record 1540 is their attitude to London housing. As a lawyer in the years from 1922 onwards, in the days of the old Rent Restriction Acts, I learnt a great deal of the practical side of this from the cases which came to me on the subject of rent control.
I remind the Committee that these Acts were passed not by a Labour Government but in the main by successive Tory Governments. Their cardinal point was the recognition that, when demand for housing exceeded supply, it was absolutely essential that there should be a form of rent control. That was recognised throughout as a justification for rent control, but then came 1957, with the Rent Act, and a measure of decontrol was introduced. The justification for that by the Government was that demand and supply had now equated and that the Government would be able to deal with the housing situation.
We know how utterly wrong that view was. I do not suppose that a single hon. Member opposite would suggest otherwise. Indeed, the Government were found to be wrong immediately the Act was passed. They themselves recognised that they were wrong because, as a result of unstinting pressure from this side of the Committee, they soon afterwards introduced the Landlord and Tenant (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1958, in an effort to put right some of the wrongs they had done. This Act provided that a tenant could go to the county court and for leases of three years. Above all, it provided that a landlord could not get possession without going to the county court in the first instance to get a court order.
What is the position today? That Act has gone. Let us recognise bluntly what the position is today. Houses with rateable value of more than £40 are decontrolled. Thousands of houses which were previously controlled have now been decontrolled because of new lettings. Let us not have all this nonsense about density and the rest of it. The fact is that the tenants of these houses are completely at the mercy of the landlords, who can let these rooms or houses at any rental they wish—£100 a week if they can get it. There is no dearth of applications. The landlords can always get an inflated rent. They 1541 can also get rid of tenants for any reason or no reason.
That is the stark, staring, naked position of London housing, and what a dreadful thing it is. Hon. Members hear about it from their constituents. We hear letters read in this House. But we all know the problems. Rents have been raised five or six times and more. To my knowledge, single rooms are being let at £5 a week and there is very great distress in hundreds and hundreds of cases. They do not all come to our notice, but we learn of many.
There are three classes of eviction. First, there are the evictions where tenancies are decontrolled. This is very common where it is the desire of the landlord to get a higher rent, and more and more are taking place. Secondly, there is the fully occupied property with decontrolled tenancies. Such houses are often bought with a view to getting vacant possession. This is obtained and they are then either sold for an inflated sum or let at higher rents. Thirdly—and I bring this particularly to the Minister's attention as I understand it is becoming more serious than ever—there is the case of the multi-occupied house.
Sometimes the tenants of such houses are afraid to go to their local public health department about nuisances that occur. My own borough council says that what happens in many cases is that when a tenant does go to the public health department and notice is served on the landlord under Section 19, out the tenant goes. The evil result of all this is that the prices of houses are so inflated that when a person wants to buy one any mortgage he can obtain will be insufficient. He has to take out a second charge and he can do so only if he pays a high rate of interest and borrows over a short period. The purchaser has to recoup himself and he does so by subletting. Consequently there is overcrowding and no proper amenities. A vicious spiral is created.
I know it is said by the Minister that in bad cases application may be made to the local authority for a compulsory purchase order and that the right hon. Gentleman will give his approval in proper circumstances. But one great safeguard has been taken away. As I mentioned before, in the old days when a landlord desired possession of a 1542 property he brought proceedings in the county court. Between the date of the summons being issued and the hearing of the case and an order for possession being made, the tenant could present the facts to the council and the council could inquire into them. If the council found there was a case to deal with, it could make a compulsory purchase order and submit it to the Minister. That safeguard no longer exists.
In a great many cases after the landlord has given four weeks' notice and the notice has expired, he is entitled to and does send in a certificated bailiff and the tenant is turned out. Then it is too late for the council to intervene. Recently the Stoke Newington Borough Council decided to make a compulsory purchase order in respect of a property, but the bailiff stepped in and possession was given and that was the end of any possibility of the council intervening. Speaking frankly, with a due sense of responsibility and with a practical knowledge of what has happened, I can say that I have not the slightest doubt—whatever the Minister may say—that the 1957 Rent Act was one of the worst Measures placed on the Statute Book. Its provisions have led to a great deal of the present day misery over housing.
If anything, the housing problem today is more acute than ever. I was looking recently at the figures for the Borough of Stoke Newington and for the Borough of Hackney. The London County Council lists, as we know, are very heavy, but leaving aside those lists, the Borough of Hackney housing list in November, 1963, contained 5,482 families. Of those 1,600 are urgent category cases. I am told that the number increases every day. In Stoke Newington, a small borough, 1,610 families are on the borough housing list and at least one-quarter of those cases are urgent. The list is being added to at the rate of 30 a month. The families which are housed first are those which need to be rehoused because of clearing orders, slum clearance and redevelopment. Then the families on the list are dealt with in order of urgency so far as the council can do this. That does not leave much room for the council to rehouse people where eviction orders have been made, and so a desperate position is created.
1543 Both these boroughs have built many blocks of flats. We know the difficulties under which borough councils have carried out building programmes for the last two years because of Government policy. In my own borough property is of the private type of an average age of 80 years. These houses were originally erected for single family occupation, but they lend themselves to multiple occupation as they comprise three or four storeys. Sub-letting has been going on for many years. Clearly there 11 a lack of amenities. In some cases eight families may live in an eight-roomed house. In many cases there is no bathroom available and they share the use of one toilet. If space is taken for the provision of additional toilets, the house becomes overcrowded and one or more of the families has to be dispossessed, thus adding to the housing problem.
What answer has the Minister for the problem created by this dreadful state of affairs? It is all very well asking what the Labour Party would do. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West will find that there is plenty of literature available to inform him of what the Labour party proposes to do. If he does not know, and speaks in complete ignorance of its proposals, he has no right to criticise the Labour Party. My criticism is of a Government who have been in power for 12 or 13 years and who have recognised that a special problem exists in London. The Minister has said again and again that it is a special problem. He nodded agreement when my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) gave instances of terrible distress. He asked for information as though he proposed to do something about it. There is a special problem in London, but it is no answer to agree that this problem exists and say that therefore nothing can be done. If it is a special problem, it requires special attention.
The condition of housing in London is a disgrace to the capital city. It was the duty of the Government years ago to recognise the problem and to take effective action. Instead, they added to the evil, and added to it very considerably, by the iniquitous Rent Act with all its consequences. Our only hope 1544 of a solution to this problem is the return of a Labour Government with a constructive policy as soon as possible.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)
I shall be brief in my remarks because many hon. Members want to speak on this subject. Many of the points made by the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzmann) are covered by the terms of a Bill which became an Act today, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister will deal with them.
This is a question which touches every London hon. Member. It transcends politics and is a matter of human feeling. None of us needs to describe conditions in London because no London hon. Member who does not know them should be a Member of Parliament. I am sorry to say that I have not heard a great deal in the way of constructive ideas of how to cure the problem. Hon. Members opposite may not share my view, but I believe the whole crux of the situation in London can be stated in one word, shortage. There is an acute shortage. The way in which some landlords behave is only possible because there is a shortage and they can afford to exploit certain situations. The only permanent cure is to be found in building more houses.
The second thing we should do is to make sure that the existing resources of housing are properly used. My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Turner) made a good point in that connection. We must ensure that no local authority allows under-occupation. It is quite wrong that a block of flats in public ownership should not be used to the full. Of course there are difficulties in moving people about and there are time lags, but all local authorities ought to make it their business where humanly possible to ensure that none of their accommodation is under-occupied.
§ Dr. Glyn
An hon. Member opposite has spoken about landlords. It is my sad experience that in the last few years a number of extremely good landlords have been replaced by very "spiv" landlords. 1545 The hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North spoke about the use of bailiffs. This is something which is happening in London and something which we have to look into. The whole point is that bailiffs may enter into possession only provided there is no breach of the peace. I always advise constituents not to allow the bailiffs in, in which case a court order is absolutely necessary. This is something which is causing trouble, but people do not realise that forcible entry is a breach of the peace.
§ Dr. Glyn
By shutting the door.
In one respect I do not share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West about the London County Council and various other local authorities. It is the paramount duty of the Government to ensure that if local authorities do not provide sufficient accommodation they shall be forced to do so. I do not think we can hide behind the local authorities. This is such a problem that the Government, unfortunately, have to force them to carry out a policy which they believe to be right.
I wish to make some constructive points about the price of houses. Mention has been made of district valuation. If there is a market value it is the value which the district valuer should attach to the house.
District valuers, I feel, are slightly behindhand in that sometimes they do not go quite to the full market value. The hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North spoke of a case in which a person had to get a second mortgage. District valuers ought to take the advice of local agents in assessing the value of houses to help people to get an adequate mortgage so that they do not need a second mortgage.
I do not share my right hon. Friend's views in that I believe that we ought not to be spending a great deal of money on saving long rows of terraced houses in twilight areas. This is a waste of money. I believe that we should face the fact that we have to pull down these areas and rebuild them. Improving these houses may make them last for a few years, but I believe that this policy is going against 1546 our own principles in that it is not making the best use of land.
I believe in home ownership, and I also believe that: there is room not only for home ownership but for people to own their own flat in a council block. It helps to produce the finance needed for redevelopment. This is a point to which my right hon. Friend should direct attention.
I know that many hon. Members wish to speak, and I will conclude my remarks. I want to make three or four constructive suggestions for London housing, because we have an entirely different situation in the Inner London ring from that which exist; outside it. We cannot move people out of it when their jobs depend on living in the inner ring. For example, if they are working in the House of Commons or on essential services here, they cannot be shifted. In that area there is a shortage of accommodation.
What shall we do? First, we must make absolutely certain that our densities are altered. They must be altered, having two factors only in mind. The first is that there is adequate drainage and adequate main sewers, and the second is that there is sufficient transport or that sufficient transport can be made available to move people in the centre of London.
These are the basic factors on which increased densities must depend. This is very valuable land in the centre of London, and we must make the maximum possible use of it. Further, we must be absolutely certain that new methods or "building are used to the utmost. We cannot afford old-fashioned ideas. I do not think that we ought to allow local authorities to play about and to use land for three or four storey buildings or even five storey buildings within a reasonable radius of London. We should say, "You must use the land fully or you will not get a subsidy. It must be used properly".
Finally, I mention a point which I have been plugging ever since I have been in the House—the use of railway sites. We must use them to the maximum. My right hon. Friend must put pressure on everybody to make sure not only that these sites are released earlier but that adequate use is made of them.
1547 We all know the misery and we all know the appalling conditions. It is our job—hon. Members on both sides of the House—to find solutions to the misery which exists. I do not believe that we can find them unless we provide more accommodation in the centre of London. We cannot do this unless we use every single scrap of available land, build up high and allow people at the same time to have adequate playing space and garages. I am sure that this is the answer to the London problem. I hope and believe that it could be cured in five years, and I hope that hon. Members share my view.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. John Mackie (Enfield, East)
I should like to take up a point made by the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Turner), in which he was supported by the hon. Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn). It concerns the under-occupation of houses and the need of local authorities to make full use of houses by shifting people about. I had a Communist businessman from Hungary staying with me recently. I live in a big old farmhouse with five bedrooms. We started discussing housing in his country, and he used an expression which interested me; he said that I had "very low room-use efficiency". Is this what hon. Members opposite want to do? Do they want to go into people's homes and to make this investigation? I stress the word "homes" and not "houses", because we on this side of the House want to provide people with homes, not just houses from which they can be moved about. A soon as a woman becomes a widow, must we immediately shift her from her neighbours into a flat?
It is all very well to talk about moving people and getting the full use of houses, but we want to provide people with homes in which they can stay, if they wish, all their lives. I am not suggesting that we do not want to encourage people to move if they wish to do so, but I could not follow a policy of forcing people out of the homes in which they have lived all their lives.
I do not deny that there is something to be said on the other side. We all hear stories about Jaguars standing outside council houses, but these people have got 1548 on the world. They still have neighbours, and they do not want to move. To suggest that they should be made to move is a most obnoxious suggestion with which we should have nothing to do.
I have been a Member of Parliament nearly five years. I have held a "surgery" every month during that time. I have always hoped that the trail of miserable people who cannot get homes will lessen. I am sorry to say that it is still the same—in fact, it is worse. The odd thing is that it is the very young and the very old.
The Minister has produced statistics showing that the situation is better. Today there are more houses in Enfield. Enfield has a tremendous record of achievement over the last two years. The Minister must remember, however, that we had a very bad record after the 1959 election when there was a stop policy, when there were high interest rates and when land prices were rising steeply. Because of all that the council was stultified in its housing programme. The average over the five years is not good enough by any means. The statistics show one thing, but the human problem I encounter every month is still there and it worries me considerably, as I know it worries many hon. Members opposite.
I disagree with some of my hon. Friends on the question of density. As most hon. Members know, I am a farmer. The use of land for all purposes—for housing, for producing food, and so on—is critical. We must go upwards. I do not suggest that we should strangle London, but density must increase. The only solution is higher buildings. My hon. Friends still have memories of the old Glasgow tenements of five and six storeys, with nothing but stairs. That is not the sort of density I have in mind. I am thinking of modern flats with lifts and with surrounding open space. High flats with surrounding open space can be beautiful, if properly organised. It would solve much of the commuter problem if people stayed where they worked.
I propose to send the Minister, if I can get all the particulars before the House rises, details of the buying and selling of old houses already scheduled for compulsory purchase. One street in Enfield has changed hands three 1549 times in the last three months, although there is a compulsory purchase order on it. I asked the town clerk what the advantage was. He said that, as far as he could see, there could not possibly be any advantage. I believe that there is a racket somewhere. The other day a man told me that he had been offered £100 to get out of his house. I advised him not to move out because, if he did, the council would not rehouse him. Such things are going on. There is a racket somewhere which I cannot spot. It is the Minister's duty to inquire into this.
1 come to the effect of high land prices on the size and quality of houses. I know an area which cost a private developer a little over £23,000 an acre. He built 16 houses to the acre, costing £1,500 per house for the land alone. I have seen the houses. They are well designed, but they have been built cheaply. One enters into a small cloakroom, through a living room. There is no passage-way to the staircase. There are two bedrooms and a bathroom, and a kitchen at the back, It is the bare minimum, but it costs about £3,800.
Considering the price, I asked about the possibility of having a more conventional house, and the developer said, "Over the years the price of land has gone up so much that we are forced into this position". That is true, and the quality and size of houses is being very much reduced because of the fantastically high prices of land. I have always believed that two living rooms are necessary in a house, in view of the necessity to have television and so on, and the need for privacy in a family.
I said a few years ago that I thought that it was a mistake to pull down old terraced houses merely because they were old and terraced. If the Minister's figures are correct, I do not think that we have any option but to retain these houses and do something with them. I recently looked at some terraced houses in my constituency which had been done up and somewhat modernised by one or two owners in a street. They had made an extraordinarily good job, particularly at the rear of these Victorian terraced houses. I am sure that, as a result of that work, they will last at least another 20 years.
Unfortunately, if this work is done by only one or two people in a 1550 street the rest of the houses in the street continue to decline, eventually become slums, the whole street looks tatty and people who are willing to do some work to their homes do not bother to move there. The only solution to this problem is for councils to take these houses over and organise things so that they are cheaper for people to buy.
The regulations governing the use of materials for repairing houses might be changed because for short-term repairs it may not be necessary to use the first-class materials laid down in the regulations and yet do a good job. I saw some houses the other day which had been repaired with the use of materials which would not come within the regulations. Although good wood had been used, asbestos sheeting had been employed for the roofs and the ceilings had had plaster board placed on them, although that had not been plastered. The whole job had been done efficiently, standard windows had been fitted and the houses had a first-class appearance. Despite this, no council would have given a grant for those repairs done with those materials.
In my own way I am a sort of amateur architect. I am interested in this subject and have given some advice and plans to several people on how they can use various materials, although the council would not and these arrangements satisfactory for the purposes of grant. I hope that the Minister will look into this question, remembering that his target is 400,000 houses in two or three years' time. The other day he said that he had read the report of the Town Planning Association, which is sponsored by many people who are not necessarily supporters of the Labour Party. The figures of that organisation suggests that the Minister's aims are completely inadequate; that we need half a million houses, and it also suggests that his figures for slum clearance are grossly exaggerated.
Several hon. Members wish to speak and I will detain the House no longer. We all know the problem and only the provision of more houses will solve it.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Willesden, East)
We have just heard a considerate speech from the hon. Member for Enfield, East 1551 (Mr. Mackie), although my impression is that we have not treated this matter across a broad enough canvas. I fear that it has been treated against the background of the General Election.
We must remember that we are discussing a serious matter, for it concerns the break-up of homes and the troubles and difficulties which arise from bad housing. I wonder if hon. Members have borne in mind the possible difficulties that some old-age pensioners may have to face—a pensioner who happens to be the landlord of a house and has four tenants who are earning £40 a week. That pensioner may be drawing rents of £1 a week from each tenant.
When discussing this problem we must remember that difficulties can arise on both sides. I am sure that an appreciation of this is not a new thing to hon. Members, although I hope that they will remember that Rent Acts have been running since 1915 and are still with us and that probably the one to have drawn the most fire is the 1957 Act. At no time have the Labour Party endeavoured to revise the rent restriction legislation, although I think that on one occasion Aneurin Bevan said that he would do so.
The shortage of accommodation is brought about by a number of causes—people marrying earlier, the greater prosperity of the nation and so on. There is only one real solution, and that is more accommodation as rapidly as possible. We are building houses at a rate of 350,000 per year, and it is interesting to observe that according to the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) the party opposite has not accepted a higher target. Therefore, at the end of all this, it would not build a single additional house—
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
Building the houses and setting the target are different things. I quite agree that we have not stated a higher target than have the Government. I do not consider that there is much use in flaunting these figures, but I would remind the hon. Gentleman in regard to the need for a target of that kind that the statement was made from this side well before it was announced by the Government. That was admitted by 1552 the Minister in a similar debate to this one 12 months ago.
§ Mr. Skeet
Let us agree to differ on that, and let me not just argue the point where the credit goes—I think, of course, that it is on the Government side, but I am trying to treat this matter seriously. The Opposition have accepted the target of 400,000 houses a year, so not a single additional house would be built. But it is accepted that the only way to bring down house prices is to build more houses.
In an interesting speech, the hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) indicated that my right hon. Friend's Department was not able to deal with the numbers of compulsory purchase orders within six or nine months. That may be a Departmental problem—I do not know—but the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) has put forward ideas to establish a land commission to buy properties at well below market value. Many people would resist selling their land to such a commission. If we have not the land we cannot build on it, with the result that the hon. Gentleman would resort to the wholesale issue of compulsory purchase orders. The trouble today may be delays of six months, or something like that, but the delays would be even longer then. There would be a shortage of available land, and our difficulties would be rendered even worse.
Hon. Members opposite say that we have high rates of interest and a high cost of land—but we have been able to produce record numbers of houses. I do not say that I am satisfied with the position. I should not like anyone to have to live in the conditions in some parts of my division, and I have been foremost amongst hon. Members, I think, in trying to improve them. I should like to see more houses built every year, but there are limitations all the way along the line.
I agree with the hon. Member for Woolwich, East that there is under-occupation of council houses, and I also agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), who mentioned a property in Willesden which was purchased for £200,000 in order to build a block of flats 15 storeys high. What is wrong with increasing 1553 density and having a block of between 25 and 30 storeys? It is done in many countries with a great deal of success. Why can we have height for special industrial buildings, yet be intimidated by size for flats?
Hon. Members opposite are in some difficulty in taunting us about building, because if we look at the Swedish example we find that the Swedes, who have had rent control, or a species of it, for some years, have not been able to deal with their own housing shortages. Hon. Members opposite say that this instrument of the land commission would provide all the solutions in the future, but can they tell me of one country that has solved this difficulty? France, West Germany, Italy. Australia, the United States—none has been able to find a single solution to the price of land. The thing to do is to build as fast as we can and to take full advantage of the fact that people can get land at present and are prepared to build on it. Complicated machinery might upset this.
One matter that has not yet been mentioned greatly concerns me. The Milner Holland Committee is looking at the problem of London housing. I know that we all intend to approach this matter most seriously, and I hope that when the Committee reports, Her Majesty's Government will be prepared quite fearlessly to put before the House at the first opportunity whatever legislation is necessary to implement it—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too late."] It may be too late for hon. Members opposite; it will be early enough for us. If I know the character of my right hon. Friend he will be the very man to implement anything necessary as a result of this inquiry. It is right to investigate and find out the extent of the difficulty and then introduce legislation.
We have taken certain steps so far in this Parliament. We have done something about the reorganisation of London Government, and the Greater London Council has quite substantial overspill powers. My area has been joined with Wembley and this has made a valuable contribution towards the solution of the land question there. Two major Acts passed in 1961 and 1964 give my right hon. Friend all the powers that he needs against unscrupulous landlords, but here is a diffi- 1554 culty. There is a growing number of people—and we do not know the scale—who find that rents are becoming too great a proportion of their income. Many of these people have been in their accommodation for perhaps 30 years and landlords are now saying that they must go or pay higher rents. I have great reservations on this question. If my right hon. Friend finds that this condition is extensive he must be prepared to consider some sort of limited rent control to deal with such exceptional cases and to ensure that those people are safeguarded.
§ Mr. Skeet
I am not putting forward Socialist ideas at all. I am saying that we on this side are quite prepared to face facts and that the right thing to do is to examine the situation and find out the extent of the problem. I agree with the Government that to have complete restoration of rent control would be quite wrong because the whole stock of rented accommodation coming forward would dry up. As has been indicated already, the stock of rent-controlled property has declined by 1 million since 1956. If there were unrestricted rent control, property coming forward would be all sold for owner-occupation, but in these cases I have mentioned I can see injustice being done. If the number of cases is at all great it is right that the Government should act. It will be limited rent control to deal with the exceptional cases and this could be implemented through the county court or some other means.
Let us get our facts straight and let us tell the nation that the landlord cannot charge any rent he wants. He has to charge the market rent, otherwise he cannot find a tenant. If the rent demanded happens to be exorbitant there is machinery put forward by this Government which will enable the local authority, by submission to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, to apply compulsory purchase. This will deal with a number of these cases, and I am glad to find that this machinery has been now fortified by the 1964 Act.
Hon. Members, therefore, should not say that there is no protection. I feel that in many instances the difficulty is that tenants do not know their rights. They should be told that they can always 1555 see their Members of Parliament or go to the citizens' advice bureaux and can be given advice on the legal position so that they will be in a position to know precisely what to do when the time comes.
§ Mr. G. W. Reynolds (Islington, North)
A large number of constituents come to see me after having taken the tenancy of two or three rooms since November, 1956, and I am forced to explain that the legal position is that they are entitled to four weeks' notice. Can the hon. Gentleman tell me what else I can say to them? Have they any stronger legal protection than that?
§ Mr. Skeet
I should be taking up too much of the time of hon. Members, but briefly if a person has been in the accommodation for a long time and it appears that the landlord is not prepared to grant him a new lease on reasonable terms he can go to the local authority and the authority can obtain a compulsory purchase order.
§ Mr. Skeet
No, I have not finished The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that a number of these matters have been taken to my right hon. Friend and that he has confirmed the orders. I agree that in certain cases they have not reached my right hon. Friend, but that is because the fact of lodging them in the first instance has had the effect of bringing the rents down.
§ Mr. A. Evans
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Minister does not allow 1556 all applications for compulsory purchase? In addition, is the hon. Member aware that some of the most difficult and exorbitant cases of furnished accommodation and overcrowded houses are beyond the scope of the compulsory purchase order procedure?
§ Mr. Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that some local authorities have been reluctant to refer some of these cases of exorbitant rent to the Minister with a view to obtaining a compulsory purchase order, because they have been afraid that the Minister would not make an order? The result has been to encourage landlords to extend the imposition of extortionate rents.
§ Mr. Skeet
That intervention may be useful, but I can only speak from experience in my locality. I have recommended to my local authority that action should be taken and it has, in fact, recommended a number of cases to my right hon. Friend—not that I agree that a sufficient number of cases have been so recommended; but by the mere submission of a case it is possible to drive down rents to a negotiable figure.
This is an important subject for all hon. Members, not only in the London area but throughout the country as a whole. Something will have to be done about it, but let us get the facts right. Let us not call for general action. Let us first see what this report says and then let us be prepared to legislate in the terms of the report. This, I submit, is the sensible line of approach.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Herbert Butler (Hackney, Central)
I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) wants to wind up for the Opposition in a few minutes' time, and I shall therefore keep my remarks short.
I am amazed that every hon. Member opposite has had some apology for the present situation. Not one has denied that the situation is bad. Those of us who were concerned with opposing the 1557 1957 Act will remember that the proposition that was put before us was that the demand for housing equated the supply. That was said by the Ministry. Hon. Members opposite now have to find some excuse to give to their constituents when they appear before them at the election as to why many of them have not been housed. The hon. Member for Barons Court (Mr. Compton Carr) said that we should pack them into smaller boxes and pack them higher in the air.
§ Mr. Butler
The hon. Gentleman says that they are there. If he believes that people in London are prepared to be put into these match boxes that he visualises, I suggest that he is underestimating the intelligence of his own electorate.
The hon. Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn) claims credit for the Government for having built so many houses. The only houses that the Government have built are prisons. It is the local authorities who build the houses. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Turner) has suddenly found out that it is the local authorities who build houses.
The position of the Government is that they can either assist or retard local authorities, and for 13 years this Government have retarded progressive local authorities. But what is the apology that the hon. Member for Woolwich, West has to find? Every local authority in London—and I know something about it—has consistently maintained an analysis of its register in an attempt to fit people's requirements into the accommodation available. If the hon. Member thinks that the Government will get an alibi by shifting homeless families about like pieces on a draughtboard, then, again, they under-estimate the intelligence of the electors. People are entitled to reasonable and decent conditions.
What is the argument of the hon. Member for Clapham? We have, he said, to recognise the fact that houses will 1558 fetch market values. What has sent up the price of houses? The Minister, by instituting the 1957 Rent Act and decontrol, has said to the landlords, who subscribe to the Tory Party funds—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—the sky is the limit for rent. If one can get high rents from property the value of that property increases. That is a simple conclusion. The hon. Member for Willesden, East is always very widespread in his observations.
§ Mr. Butler
I do not mind him being widespread in his observations if he wants to talk about the electorate of East Willesden, and if he wants to travel to Canada let him do so. His electors in Willesden, I am sure, are very critical of the housing conditions in that area, so he finds an alibi in a committee which the Minister has set up under Sir Milner Holland. He does not even know what that Committee will say, but he hopes that his right hon. Friend will implement what it does say. That is his attitude, and of all the sheer nonsense—
§ Mr. Skeet rose—
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Ronald Russell)
If the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. H. Butler) does not give way the hon. Member for Willesden, East must not persist.
§ Mr. Butler
What sheer nonsense we have heard from the four hon. Members opposite who have had the temerity to intervene.
§ Mr. Butler
I have been here throughout all the debate.
I have one thing to say germane to this debate. There is one thing which local authorities who are trying to do a job are up against. For many years we have debated in this House what is called the Builders' Council, and we have in the building industry today another example of this great private enterprise of which hon. Members opposite are so proud. There is so much conniving in the building industry today that it is practically impossible to get competitive prices or tendering. Local authorities are being held by the throat by builders who 1559 have a monopoly, who are talking to each other about prices, and price rigging in this country is one of the biggest contributory factors in the high cost of getting decent houses.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
As always on this subject, we have had a spirited debate. My hon. Friends have painted a grim picture of London housing, and we have heard with pleasure the swansongs of the four hon. Members opposite who intervened.
To refer first to homelessness in London, the most graphic if not the largest aspect of the whole London housing problem, my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) gave us some grim figures showing how homelessness has grown and a clear indication of the causal connection between this aspect of the London problem and the operation of the Rent Act. It is interesting to note that none of the hon. Members opposite disputed that connection and that the hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Skeet) is evidently a partial convert to the need for rent control.
§ Mr. Stewart
It would be interesting to learn what the hon. Gentleman would regard as an exceptional case. The astounding feature of so many rents in London is that, in any normal or reasonable world, one would say that almost all of them are exceptional and outrageous.
The problem of homelessness arises because, with rents and house prices as they are in London, once for any reason, through any misfortune or turn of events, someone is pushed out of his home, he is thrown off the ladder and goodness knows, if he is a person of normal income, where he will find accommodation either to rent or to buy. This should be remembered by the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Turner) when he advocates turning council tenants out on the ground, as he thinks, that they can afford to go into the private market.
I dare say that there are council tenants who would be ready to go if they could get accommodation at something like a reasonable figure and with 1560 security of tenure. What they cannot do and ought not to be asked to do is to thrust themselves out into a situation where they will have to pay prices which will take from between one-third and one-half of their income and, perhaps, where they will never have more than four weeks' security of tenure. If we had some measure of rent control, we might find more people willing to go into the private rather than the municipal market for houses.
But where can people find accommodation to rent? My hon. Friend gave figures from the Housing Centre of the Friends Service Unit. If one takes the advice of a former Minister of Housing and looks in the Evening Standard's "Homefinder", one is lucky to find anything at less than 5 gns. a week, and that not of a size or nature suitable for a family to live in.
§ Mr. Stewart
Or are people to buy? My hon. Friend told us that between 1959 and 1963 houses prices had risen by 43 per cent. Wage rates were up by 20 per cent. How could the Minister say, as he did in the House last Tuesday, that. people can afford to buy houses or rent houses, despite the rise in prices".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July, 1964; Vol. 698, c. 1007.]It just is not so, and the first stage in understanding London's housing problem is to grasp that it is not so.
I take up the point raised by one hon. Member opposite who asked what measures we proposed. I take, first, the measure of restoring in some degree rent control, because that is a measure for dealing with the situation, although, admittedly, only an immediate and "ambulance" measure. Other measures must follow later. Right hon. and hon. Members opposite must begin to change their minds on this matter. It is not only we who are saying these things now. Even the Property Council has produced a pamphlet in which it says that the good tenant who has been there some time is entitled to security of tenure. One cannot give security of tenure without fixing some figure of maximum legal rent. It is a matter of common fairness to the good tenant that he should have more than four weeks' 1561 security of tenure or even the leases that some are able to get today.
It is true that the greater evils of decontrol can sometimes be remedied by compulsory purchase. The hon. Member for Barons Court (Mr. Compton Carr) referred to the purchase of properties by the Fulham Council. There are hundreds of families in the borough of Fulham who owe the fact that they still have a roof over their heads to the readiness of the Fulham Council to use or indicate that it might use compulsory purchase orders. It has to do that in face of the continued opposition from the few Conservative members on the council.
The Minister should notice, too, that what we called "Rachmanism" in the debate of over a year ago continues—the bullying out of the controlled tenant. The Rent Act is the direct cause of and motive for that, because once a landlord gets the controlled tenant out the place is worth so much more. Hon. Members opposite have sometimes argued that this could be cured by decontrolling everything. None of them has advocated that tonight, and the Government have closed that door. They admit that they will not by order under the Rent Act extend decontrol. They must accept, therefore, that that measure of control remains. But, while we have this creeping decontrol, combined with that we have the motive for Rachmanism; and it goes on.
I have an instance of it near my constituency. The property changes hands every six months from one shady company to another. Each new purchaser tries to bully the tenant out. His valour has resisted it. He is decontrolled because he is tenant of the whole house. There are many sub-tenants. He was visited recently by an aggressive group of people who said that they would buy the house and occupy the whole of it. He pointed out that some of the sub-tenants were controlled. "Oh", said they, "we know how to deal with controlled tenants". This goes on in the capital in borough after borough. One step, therefore, is the restoration of a measure of rent control. The Government would not go as far as we would on that, but they must 1562 realise that there is a need to go some distance.
A much more fundamental measure is this. We must control the continued growth of employment in London, otherwise there is no possibility of solving the problem. This is far more important than talking about increasing densities. Hon. Members opposite should remember that the densities to which the L.C.C. now works are those which were approved by the present Government in 1958.
I do not say that in no circumstances whatever should there be a higher figure of density. But to talk of 250 people to the acre, as the hon. Member for Barons Court did, in a place as far from the centre of London as is his constituency and mine, is not a sensible way of solving the housing problem. The high block of flats has its place, but there are limitations to the kind of families one can properly put well up in the high blocks. It is not a good pattern of living for families with young children. That is why it is no use talking of increasing densities as a way of solving the problem. Referring to the Taylor Woodrow plan for Fulham as a better way of using the resources which it would consume, if the same resources were used extending the accommodation in the new towns or expanded towns some way from London that would be a much better way of dealing with London's housing problem.
Meanwhile, as an immediate measure, the Government should consider doing this. They should say to people who have planning permissions to provide yet more office accommodation in London, "You cannot use them yet. They will be phased out." Many of these permissions were granted at a time when building licensing was still in progress. The removal of building licensing caused those permissions to leap forward. The Government will have to consider some kind of phasing of office permissions in London.
I turn to the problem of providing more houses. May I take up the point about which I intervened earlier? It has been suggested that the Government put forward a target and we, to use the Minister's phrase in our last debate, lamely accepted it. Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that he made that 1563 allegation a year ago. I corrected him then. I said:… the Minister has stated that never once in the House have I mentioned a target. That is totally untrue, and the right hon. Gentleman ought to withdraw it.The Minister replied:I do withdraw it…I apologise to him."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd July, 1963; Vol. 681, c. 1091.]I hope, therefore, that the Minister will not repeat that allegation tonight. Some of us who have worked in Committee with him know how accommodating and placatory he is when he does not have the last word and how rash his statements sometimes are when he does have the last word.
It is not only more houses in general: it is more houses of a kind that can meet the needs of people of moderate or small incomes that are needed. That means particularly more local authority houses. There was a suggesion that local authorities with Labour majorities in London were to blame. Let us, therefore, look, with the help of my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. A. Lewis), at a group of Tory-controlled authorities—Ilford, Hornchurch, Wanstead and Woodford and Chigwell. In six years when the Labour Government were in power, those authorities were building council houses at an average of 872 per year for each of those six years. For the last twelve years, the average has been only 428 per year, or half the former figure. I leave it to the Prime Minister, when he visits the area, to explain to the inhabitants whether that is the fault of the local authorities or of the Government.
If we are to get more houses at reasonable rents, it is not only a question of building but of being reasonable with the local authorities financially. What will the Minister do about subsidies? My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey mentioned the anxiety of local authorities that the Minister would use his power to cut subsidies already granted. On Tuesday of this week, the Minister was asked whether that was what he would do. His reply was a curious one. He said:There is absolutely no evidence of any intention in my mind of that at the moment."—[OFFICIAL RFPORT, 14th July, 1964; Vol. 698, c. 1010.]1564 It would have been more satisfactory had the Minister said, "I have no such intention." How can there be evidence of what is in the Minister's mind? As a medieval sage said, only the devil knows the heart of man. I hope, however, that the Minister will reassure local authorities about this tonight.
Another thing which the Government can do is not to be too dilatory in administrative decisions. Considerable mention has been made of the land at the Arsenal and at Erith. If the Government Departments concerned will clear up the problem of whether it is to be used for a generating station, the London County Council will be in a better position to know whether it can build houses on the land.
We must by all means encourage the development of industrialised systems of building, not that they will be our only method for a long time. It is, however, important to encourage their growth. What are the Government doing about this? Let us take the case of Waltham Abbey, a local authority on the boundaries of Greater London which bought land shrewdly, as the Minister has advised local authorities to do, although, alas, not cheaply. The local authority planned for three years ahead a project of industrial building, as the Ministry of Public Building and Works advises local authorities to do. It was a modest project by a small authority for 550 dwellings to be built in three years and to start on 1st February next.
What did the Minister tell the local authority? He said, "Do not start as early as 1st February next and do not take three years about it. Take five." "What," then said the local authority, "about the interest charges on the idle land?" "That", said the Ministry, "is your affair, but if you like, you can sell some of the land to private developers". There is nobody to tell the private developers that they need not start as soon as they please.
That brings me to my final point about land. It appears to be the view of the hon. Member for Willesden, East, and it is the present view of the Minister, although it is not the view which he held some months ago before he was called into line, that it is quite impossible to do anything about inflated land prices. Some hon. Members opposite, 1565 although I do not see them here tonight, try to suggest that there is a remedy within their co-ordinates of thinking to deal with this problem. The hon. Member for Willesden, East and the Minister do not take this view. They say that nothing can be done. What does that mean? It means, as we have been shown, that the L.C.C.'s cost of land for dwellings has multiplied five times in ten years. Yet the Secretary of State for Industry, Trade and Regional Development tells us solemnly that our purpose today must be to counter inflation by keeping costs and prices down.
Finally, let us take that example from Enfield of land bought for £7,500 and sold for £240,000—one purchase, one sale and three years' waiting, and £230,000 profit. If a postman had the nine lives of a cat he could scarce in all those life-times hope to earn that sum. Under the standard of values of the present Government, why work, why serve one's country in the Post Office or the police, why help one's fellow citizens by building houses or driving buses? Instead, wait, speculate, buy and sell, and search out every activity which enriches oneself without adding to the wealth of the community. The London housing problem, with the distress which it causes so many, with the misery which it inflicts on some and with the general atmosphere of squalor and avarice which surrounds it, is one example of the standards of values which the present Government have promulgated.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Sir Keith Joseph)
I shall not for a moment seek to deny the very severe shortage of houses that there still is for Londoners. My hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn) and all the other hon. Members who have mentioned the word "shortage" have been right to stress this as the cardinal problem.
I shall start by explaining the progress that the Government have made in meeting the problem. I have to go back to 1951, not for political reasons, but because that happens to have been the penultimate census year. In 1951 there was a gap between households and 1566 dwellings for Londoners of 480,000; that is to say, there were 480,000 more households in Greater London than there were dwellings. Since that date the population has fallen by more than 200,000, and during the same period—that is, from 1951 to mid-1963, the date of my last figures—there has been a net increase in the stock of dwellings inside Greater London of just over 330,000.
One would have imagined that the combination of a fall in the population, plus a very substantial rise in the number of new separate dwellings, would very nearly have eliminated even the huge shortage which existed in 1951. But, as hon. Members who follow these problems know—I was interested that no hon. Member opposite mentioned this—what has happened during the last 13 years is that over that time, and particularly at an accelerated pace in the last few years, people have tended to marry younger, and people have tended—these are mercies—to live longer. And the increased prosperity, due in some part to the very increase in jobs, which is part of the problem—I shall be coming to that—has increased the capacity of people to seek and to pay for a separate dwelling if they can find one—I admit—reasonably priced.
So, despite the fact that in the last 13 years there has been this very large fall of population in London; despite the fact that there has been this huge increase in dwellings; we find that the number of separate households demanding dwellings has not fallen but, because of these good causes, has risen. In fact, in the 1961 census we find that there is revealed a growth of households for a smaller population in Greater London. Although the population has fallen by 200,000 people, the number of households has grown in the period by 60,000. The result of these three things—falling population, rising number of households and a great increase in the number of dwellings—is that the shortage of 480,000 dwellings which we inherited in 1951 had by 1963 been slashed only to a shortage of about 200,000, still a very large figure.
I must state at once that the figures of 480,000 in 1951 and 200,000 in 1963 both overstate the shortage. But they are an index of progress in that time. 1567 Both figures overstate the shortage because, in both, the households include single people living in bed-sitting rooms who probably do not want, in most cases, separate dwellings of their own. But the figures for both years are calculated as drawn from the census on the same basis, so they are comparable.
This severe shortage of houses which still exists in London tends to be concentrated only in parts of the Metropolis. I am not mitigating or seeking to deny the effects of the shortage but, as a corollary of the fact that the shortage is concentrated in some parts of London, it is true that most of London is better housed than ever before. I will give some figures.
Judging by the kind of households and shared accommodation, the progress over the last generation is interesting. I am talking here about the County of London figures. In 1931, 63 per cent. of the households in the County of London shared dwellings. In 1951 this figure had fallen to 48 per cent. and in 1961 to 30 per cent. That is still a very large proportion but it represents a very decisive fall over the years.
In terms of room capacity, in 1931 there was one person per room. In 1951 this was .83 of a person per room—less overcrowding—and in 1961 it had fallen again to .77.
One can put this another way—the availability of a fixed bath. In 1951, 70 per cent. of households had the use of fixed baths. In 1961, this proportion had risen to 80 per cent. Between 1951 and 1961, a total of 250,000 extra households had the use of a fixed bath for the first time. All these figures show two things—both how far we have progressed and how far we still have to go. Any objective observer would accept both.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Mackie) has looked at Victorian terraces in his constituency. I am sure that, as he said, we have no option. We have to use new houses, first for slum clearance and then for building for stock to eliminate the shortage, before we can remake houses which can be made decent. The new Housing Act—now three and a half hours old—will greatly increase the capacity of local authorities to get improvements done—if necessary, 1568 where persuasion fails, with the element of compulsion.
We need better houses and the new Act will help a great deal. Above all—and I agree here with my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Skeet)—we need more houses for London. The dominant problem there is shortage. The dominant problem for many towns in the North is slums. Regrettably, there are slums in London—probably about 40,000, all due for clearance within the next few years. But the dominant problem here is shortage and certainly jobs, as the hon Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) says, are part of the problem.
As I have said before, there are too many offices in Central London. The hon. Member suggests that we should phase out the planning approvals. The Government have adopted the course of trying to persuade those employers outside the London area who want to come to London that economic sense should guide them outside London, where costs are lower and recruiting easier. The Location of Offices Bureau, now a year old, tells me, on the basis of present experience, that it hopes that enough people will be moving out voluntarily by 1966 to offset the current rate of growth. The first months of experience of the Bureau give it that hope.
The solution, of course, is greater dispersal of jobs and more houses for Londoners. I will deal in a moment with the subject of more houses, but while we are tackling this dual solution we must also deal with the results of shortage where they cause misery, overcrowding, pressure on tenants and high rents, often representing bad value for money.
These are not the results of the Rent Act. They are the result of shortage—the shortage that flows from the prosperity, from the younger marriages, from the greater expectation of life, operating in a capital city which is almost entirely built up and which is surrounded, as we all want it to be, by a green belt.
These are the causes of the pressures on tenants of which we know and which we all deplore. But we must deal with these evils in such a way as not, by the very action we take, to increase shortage and defer a solution.
1569 Rent control is the Opposition solution as the hon. Member for Fulham said—I think for the first time this evening—on an ambulance basis as the first stage. I think that the hon. Member will agree—I am putting this as moderately and objectively as I can—that rent control is a two-edged weapon.
There is a strong likelihood, if rent control were re-established, that owners would tend to sell property when it was vacated voluntarily, or when the tenant died, rather than to relet it. There is a strong likelihood that people would be tempted to cling on to bargain accommodation when otherwise they might be able and willing to move outside. There is a strong likelihood, therefore, that if rent control were restored the "haves" would benefit at the expense of the "have-nots". Certainly rent control tends to lead to the decay of property. Certainly rent control is as fertile a ground as shortage itself for abuses, for rackets and for dodges. Rachman throve long before the Rent Act. He built up his empire before the Rent Act, and while rent control was comprehensive over London property.
Add rent control to shortage and it will do more mischief even than shortage alone. There is reason, therefore, to believe that rent control would actually delay the solution and the elimination of shortage, and that, while shortage continues, would make life more, and not less, difficult for those seeking houses.
The Government are anxious to know the full extent of the pressures on Londoners and for this purpose they set up a powerful Committee last year under Sir Milner Holland. I hope that this Committee will report by about the end of this year. I should like to repeat the pledge, which I have already given on behalf of the Government, that the Government will be prepared to take any action which is shown by the Milner Holland Committee's Report to be necessary to end any abuse or exploitation of the housing shortage. Meanwhile, the 1961 Act passed when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was Minister of Housing and Local Government and the 1964 Housing Act provide ample weapons for local authorities against bad landlords of multi-occupied property.
1570 I should like to turn to the question—
§ Sir K. Joseph
I am afraid not. I have so little time and I have so much to deal with.
It is true that the number of families—I am now dealing with the homeless—cared for by the London County Council in temporary housing accommodation has risen during 1964 from about 1,000 to 1,200. The number in care at any one time does not, of course, depend only on the number of families newly coming into care. It reflects also the length of time during which families stay in temporary accommodation before they find new homes. The new factor in the situation this year—and by far and away the most important reason for the increase in the numbers—is that the length of stay in temporary accommodation has increased.
It is for the London County Council, as the statutory welfare and housing authority, to decide on the best use of the accommodation available to them, and to decide what should be acquired or made available for providing temporary homes for homeless families who ask for help.
The increase in accommodation available has led to an increase in the number of families in temporary homes, but this provides no evidence at all that the situation is worsening materially and still less that it is getting out of hand. The number of families newly coming into care is rather higher than a year ago but is not showing any great tendency to increase. What the figures mean is that the London County Council—and I repeat that it is for the Council to decide—has thought it right to make it possible for families to spend rather longer than formerly in temporary housing. I am confident, from the recent contacts which my Department has had with the Council, that it would not disagree with this analysis of the present situation.
Now I understand that with the development of its plans to increase the accommodation for temporary homes and the consequent increase in the average length of stay, the Council's officers would expect the numbers of families 1571 accommodated to increase further even though there were no increase in the number of families seeking their help each week.
I come to the key issue, which is the issue of new houses. I agree with the hon. Member for Fulham that, above all, rented dwellings for wage earners of average and below average earnings are needed. At the moment in Greater London 21 per cent. of the stock of housing is for rented dwellings, which is slightly below that for the rest of the country. Much of the new land we shall obtain will be for local authorities, with some for housing societies.
I have been asked about subsidies. The answer is that at the moment a subsidy review is going on. This has been fully announced. The fact-finding stage in that review is nearly complete. Local authority associations and my Department will be able later this year to consider the implications of these facts. The Government are not nearly ready yet for policy conclusions. Many months' work are yet needed, on the facts we have only just completed collecting, before any policy can be arrived at.
I am glad to be able to tell the House that the pace of building houses for Londoners is increasing. There were at the end of 1963 55,000 houses under construction for Londoners, plus another 10,000 private enterprise houses being built outside for Londoners.
§ Sir K. Joseph
Over half for rent Comparable figures for May this year show an increase to 61,000 plus 10,000, so there is a growth from 65,000 to 71,000 in the five-month period. I hope that this rate will go on rising, but the problem is that of land. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barons Court (Mr. Compton Carr) pointed out, density is also a factor but no panacea.
outside London the Government propose to provide more land by the land release and planned expansions explained in the South-East Study, which contains proposals for the development of 30 new towns and expanded towns, and the other proposals for further land release. There is also the smaller but significant proposals for housing in the Lea Valley by housing authorities.
1572 The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) suggested that the L.C.C. housing programme had been cut. Far to the contrary, I wish that the L.C.C. would increase it. In the year 1953 the L.C.C. had the out-county estates which it could develop. The problem now is one of shortage of land.
Announcements have already been made about land being made available for development at Kidbrooke, Croydon and Hendon. But I have good news tonight about a further site.
My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Turner), who made such an excellent speech, and the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) will be interested in what I am about to say. The Government have considered the report of the official committee set up under the second Permanent Under-Secretary for the Army to consider the future of the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, following the closure of the Royal Ordnance factory.
Over 500 acres have already been offered to the L.C.C. and it has now been decided to offer them nearly another 500 acres. This includes the site at Tripcock Point on which, it had been suggested, land should be reserved for a future power station but which the Government have decided should be offered instead to the L.C.C.
The Minister of Defence for the Army will be getting in touch with the L.C.C. about the offer. The Government propose to retain only small parts of the Arsenal for existing activities. Into these areas will be introduced other Government activities. These will provide employment for the Woolwich area and make it possible to relieve other sites, among them the Red Barracks at Woolwich, and make these available for housing and also help to accommodate the establishments now at Kidbrooke.
This Government decision means that the L.C.C. can have at its disposal an area of about 1,000 acres on the Arsenal establishment. This, with the 500 acres at Erith Marshes on which the L.CC. is already planning housing development, presents an unparalleled opportunity for housing Londoners within Greater London itself. The proposed creation of this vast new community, for at least 50,000 people, virtually in the heart of 1573 London will have subsidiary implications of some magnitude, notably in communications. The planning of such improvements to the transport system as may be needed for this development is, of course, primarily a matter for the L.C.C. and their successors. But they will no doubt keep in close touch on this, as on all other major London transport matters, with my right hon. Friend's Department.
§ Mr. Mayhew
Is the Minister aware that this decision will be extremely welcome but that it was first asked for three years ago in the House by me and that the Government have sat on it for three years? Will he say what decision has been taken about the 23 acres of the Royal Dockyards which are totally underused at present on the river frontage? Has that also been released after constant pressure from this side of the House?
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
In view of this very generous allocation of land to the L.C.C, will my right hon. Friend agree that the great majority of the land at Hendon aerodrome should now be released to meet the needs of Hendonians and the Hendon Borough Council?
§ Mr. A. Lewis
On a point of order Hon. Members have been here all evening waiting to get into the debate. The Minister will not give way to hon. Members who have been waiting in the Chamber but he has given way to the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing).
§ Sir K. Joseph
My hon. Friend's point will be carefully considered.
I want to turn to some other parts of the speech by the hon. Member for Fulham and to some things which he did not mention. The Labour Party have always rested their housing proposals firmly on a double basis—that there must be a land commission to provide cheaper land and that there must be lower interest rates. It is interesting that this evening the hon. Member for Fulham did not refer to what has been regarded up to now as the panacea of lower interest rates. I wonder what has happened.
§ Mr. M. Stewart rose—
§ Sir K. Joseph
I will give way in a moment. I have in front of me an advertisement from the Northern Echo, Darlington, on 17th February, 1964, by the Labour Party, stating firmly,We shall reduce interest rates".I have here the Stock Exchange Gazette of 16th May, 1964, in which the hon. Member for Fulham, writing an article says:…it will be necessary to fix a specially favourable rate both for council borrowing for council house building, and for mortgage loans".I have also in my hand a letter, or a copy of a letter, signed by the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson), dated 7th April, 1964, saying precisely the opposite. It says:… we are not, as your questions assume, proposing to introduce through the public sector some special or discriminatory form of subsidised loans for house purchase.I ask the hon. Member for Fulham to tell the House whether the public should believe the advertisement, and the impression given by the advertisement, of a significant and substantial reduction in interest rates for housing and his own article in the Stock Exchange Gazette, or whether they should believe the letter written three months ago by the Leader of the Opposition to the Chairman of the Council of the Building Societies' Association. I will gladly give way to him if he will explain.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
The situation is this: it is our policy that there should be lower interest rates for municipal housing. That is the first point. In so far as that can be achieved by generally low interest rates, well and good. If one could not get them sufficiently low by that alone, one would have to have a specially favourable rate for local authority building. That is what I said. That is what the advertisement said. That is confirmed by what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am coming now to house purchase. With regard to loans for house purchase, the point made both by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and by myself in the article to which the right hon. Gentleman referred is that when one gives help to local authorities so that they can give some help to intending owner-occupiers, one should 1575 not do so in a way which discriminates against the building societies. That was the point. One would therefore have to provide, either by arrangements in taxation or by other means, something which would make sure that the help given for house purchase through local authorities was balanced by similar help given through the building societies. [Interruption.] I am answering a question the Minister required me to answer.
The interesting point is this. There was no need for the Minister to ask the question at all, for this reason. If hon. Members had read all of both the documents from which the Minister quoted, they would know that that is so. I made it plain that what was needed was not only special help for local authorities for house purchase, but that that must be balanced by help through the building societies. The Minister quoted the first part of what I said but not the second. The Minister then quoted my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition as
§ explaining that we should not discriminate against the building societies. That does not preclude the giving of help as I proposed through both channels. [Interruption.] So far, I have taken half the time the Minister took on this point. The Minister is doing exactly what I prophesied he would do. A year ago, when we debated London housing, the Minister made a totally false statement about something which I had said that he had to withdraw and apologise for, and he ought to do the same now.
§ Mr. M. Stewart
I beg to move, That item Class VI. Vote 1, (Ministry of Housing and Local Government), be reduced by £5.
§ Question put:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 129, Noes 191.1577
|Division No. 136.]||AYES||[9.59 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Hannan, William||Mulley, Frederick|
|Ainsley, William||Hart, Mrs. Judith||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)|
|Albu, Austen||Hayman, F. H.||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Rwly Regis)||O'Malley, B. K.|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Herbison, Miss Margaret||Padley, W. E.|
|Bence, Cyril||Holman, Percy||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)|
|Benn, Anthony Wedgwood||Holt, Arthur||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Bennett, J. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Howie, W.||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Peart, Frederick|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. W. (Leics, S. W.)||Hunter, A. E.||Pentland, Norman|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Prentice, R. E.|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Hynd, John (Attercliffe)||Probert, Arthur|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Janner, Sir Barnett||Redhead, E. C.|
|Carmichael, Neil||Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas||Reid, William|
|Collick, Percy||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Crosland, Anthony||Jones, Elwyn (West Ham, S.)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||King, Dr. Horace||Rodgers, W. T. (Stockton)|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Lawson, George||Rogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N.)|
|Dalyell, Tam||Ledger, Ron||Ross, William|
|Deer, George||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Short, Edward|
|Delargy, Hugh||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Silkin, John|
|Dempsey, James||Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Diamond, John||Lipton, Marcus||Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)|
|Dodds, Norman||Loughlin, Charles||Small, William|
|Duffy, A. E. P. (Colne Valley)||Lubbock, Eric||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||MacColl, James||Steele, Thomas|
|Evans, Albert||Mclnnes, James||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Fernyhough, E.||Mackenzie, Gregor||Stonehouse, John|
|Fitch, Alan||Mackie, John (Enfield, East)||Stones, William|
|Fletcher, Eric||MacPherson, Malcolm||Taverne, D.|
|Foley, Maurice||Mason, Roy||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Forman, J. C.||Mayhew, Christopher||Thompson, Dr. Alan (Dunfermline)|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Mellish, R. J.||Thorpe, Jeremy|
|Grey, Charles||Mendelson, J. J,||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Millan, Bruce||Warbey, William|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Milne, Edward||Weitzman, David|
|Griffiths, W. (Exchange)||Mitchison, G. R.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Moody, A. S.||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Hamilton, William (West Fife)||Moyle, Arthur||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Willey, Frederick||Woof, Robert||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Williams, W. T. (Warrington)||Wyatt, Woodrow||Mr. Charles A. Howell and|
|Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)||Mr. McCann.|
|Allan, Robert (Paddington, S.)||Gresham Cooke, R.||Osborn, John (Hallam)|
|Alfason, James||Grosvenor, Lord Robert||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Ashton, Sir Hubert||Gurden, Harold||Page, John (Harrow, West)|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Panned, Norman (Kirkdale)|
|Awdry, Daniel (Chippenham)||Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)||Partridge, E.|
|Barter, John||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)||Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)|
|Batsford, Brian||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Peel, John|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Bidgood, John C.||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)||Pitt, Dame Edith|
|Biffen, John||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Pounder, Rafton|
|Bingham, R. M.||Henderson, Sir John (Cathcart)||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Hirst, Geoffrey.||Prior, J. M. L.|
|Bishop, Sir Patrick||Hocking, Philip N.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir Otho|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Holland, Philip||Proudfoot, Wilfred|
|Bourne-Arton, A.||Hollingworth, John||Pym, Francis|
|Box, Donald||Howard, John (Southampton, Test)||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin|
|Braine, Bernard||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John||Ridley, Hon. Nicholas|
|Brewis, John||Hughes-Young, Michael||Rippon, Rt. Hon. Geoffrey|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt. -Col. Sir Walter||Hulbert, Sir Norman||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)|
|Brown, Alan (Tottenham)||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Roots, William|
|Buck, Antony||Iremonger, T. L.||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Carr, Compton (Barons Court)||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Sharples, Richard|
|Carr, Rt. Hon. Robert (Mitcham)||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Shepherd, William|
|Chataway, Christopher||Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green)||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)|
|Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Joseph, Rt. Hon. Sir Keith||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Cleaver, Leonard||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Speir, Rupert|
|Cole, Norman||Kerans, Cdr. J. S.||Stainton, Keith|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Kershaw, Anthony||Stanley, Hon. Richard|
|Cordeaux, Lt. -Col. J. K.||Kimball, Marcus||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Corfield, F. V.||Kirk, Peter||Stodart, J. A.|
|Coulson, Michael||Lagden, Godfrey||Storey, Sir Samuel|
|Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)||Lambton, Viscount||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Crawley, Aidan||Leather, Sir Edwin||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Critchley, Julian||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Tapsell, Peter|
|Cunningham, Sir Knox||Lews, Kenneth (Rutland)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Curran, Charles||Lindsay, Sir Martin||Taylor, Frank (M'ch'st'r, Moss Side)|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Linstead, Sir Hugh||Taylor, Sir William (Bradford, N.)|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Teeling, Sir William|
|Dance, James||Longden, Gilbert||Temple, John M.|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Loveys, Walter H.||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|Doughty, Charles||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn||Thomas, Sir Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Douglas-Home, Rt. Hon. Sir Alec||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Thompson, Sir Kenneth (Walton)|
|du Cann, Edward||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Duncan, Sir James||MacArthur, Ian||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|Elliott, R. W. (Newc'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)||McLaren, Martin||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Emery, Peter||McMaster, Stanley R.||Touche, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon|
|Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Maddan, Martin||Turner, Colin|
|Errington, Sir Eric||Maginnis, John E.||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Farr, John||Maitland, Sir John||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Fisher, Nigel||Markham, Major Sir Frank||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Marples, Rt. Hon. Ernest||Walder, David|
|Forrest, George||Marshall, Sir Douglas||Walker, Peter|
|Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||Marten, Neil||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Freeth, Denzil||Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.||Mawby, Ray||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Gardner, Edward||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Wise, A. R.|
|Gibson-Watt, David||Mills, Stratton||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Giles, Rear-Admiral Morgan||Miscampbell, Norman||Woodhouse, Hon. Christopher|
|Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)||More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Worsley, Marcus|
|Glyn, Sir Richard (Dorset, N.)||Morgan, William||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Goodhart, Philip||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)|
|Goodhew, Victor||Mott-Radcylffe, Sir Charles||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Grant-Ferris, R.||Noble, Rt. Hon. Michael||Mr. J. E. B. Hill and Mr. H. Rees.|
|Green, Alan||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Hendon, North)|
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Sir Stephen McAdden (Southend, East) rose—
§ It being after Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.1578
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.