HC Deb 11 March 1965 vol 708 cc632-6

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

91. Mr. MOLLOY

To ask the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he will now make a statement on the report of the Milner Holland Committee.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Richard Crossman)

With permission, I will now answer Question No. 91.

As the House is already aware, the Report of the Milner Holland Committee has been published today and copies are available in the Vote Office.

The Report sets out the results of a thorough-going investigation of the housing situation in Greater London, with particular reference to rented housing and to the relations between private landlords and tenants. Even on a preliminary reading it is clear that the Report is a document of great social importance. By setting a penetrating and deeply moving account against the background of an analysis of a mass of statistical and other material, the Committee has made a major contribution to the better understanding of the effects of the housing shortage in the Metropolis.

The forthcoming Rent Bill will contain the Government's proposals for legislation on part of the field covered by the Committee. The suggestions in the Report on other aspects of housing will be studied by the Government in consultation with the local authorities concerned. Proposals for further action, by legislation or otherwise, will be brought forward as soon as practicable.

I am glad to take this opportunity of expressing the Government's thanks to the Committee for the care, and also for the speed, with which it has prepared and presented its Report.

Mr. Molloy

Can my right hon. Friend say how soon the House will be provided with an opportunity to debate this all-important Report?

Mr. Crossman

That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we fully share the gratitude which he has expressed to the members of this Committee, which was appointed by my right hon. friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), and which, as the right hon. Gentleman said, has done a very important job of work, as is apparent from even a superficial reading of the very massive Report the Committee has produced? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we shall wish very carefully to study this Report, that we shall certainly do so, and that in due course we shall welcome the chance to discuss it?

Mr. Crossman

Yes, Sir. I think that we are all aware that this Committee was set up by my predecessor and that it has done its job with strict impartiality. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, too, that everyone should study this Report and, with equal profit, learn from their mistakes and for the future as well.

Mr. Hattersley

Would my right hon. Friend consider setting up other inquiries with similar terms of reference to investigate similar problems in large provincial cities and towns?

Mr. Crossman

The most urgent thing, as my hon. Friend will realise when he reads the Report, is not to set up any more inquiries, but to try to put straight the disastrous things which are revealed in the Report.

Mr. Lubbock

Does the Minister realise that it is not only legislation on rent control which will be necessary as a result of the Report? Does he recall that in the Report the Committee says that the pressure on population and employment in Greater London is caused by the general pattern of economic development? Will the Minister therefore have urgent consultations with his right hon. Friends in the Government to sec that stimulation of employment and population in other regions is brought about as soon as possible?

Mr. Crossman

It would be a good thing to postpone discussion of the Report to a later date. The first thing to do is to study what is really a most remarkable document, which is full not only of brilliant analysis, but also of stimulating and very challenging ideas, challenging, I think, to prejudices on both sides of the House.

Mr. Lipton

Does not this astounding Report prove beyond any shadow of doubt that in London, at any rate, the system of private landlordism is quite incapable of providing a solution to this problem which will meet the needs of those people who can only afford to rent?

Mr. Crossman

What one concludes from the Report is one thing, and in fairness to Sir Milner Holland and his colleagues it should be said that what they themselves have said about private landlordism does not completely coincide with my hon. Friend's views. What they provide is essential documentation to a really first-rate discussion of the problem. What is valuable is that for the first time we have the facts at our disposal from which we can draw practical conclusions.

Mr. Dudley Smith

Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the conclusions of the Report are that the problem is far more complex than was realised on both sides of the House when this inquiry was initiated? Would the right hon. Gentleman further agree that this is a problem peculiar to London? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Furthermore, is he aware that in the final conclusions the Report states that housing has for too long been the sport of political prejudice? Will he give the House an assurance, which I am sure would be welcomed on both sides, that his approach to the legislation which obviously is necessary will be statesmanlike?

Mr. Crossman

I do not think that the hon. Member will find, when he has studied the Report, that it confirms by any means all the prejudices which he holds on housing. I think that he will find that it will shock him a great deal. When we reflect on what has been happening over the country over the last 10 or 12 years, and the gigantic efforts in housing, the appalling situation is that the amount of rented housing in London was steadily shrinking during that period, and it is for hon. Gentlemen to decide who were to blame and who were responsible for that situation. I emphasise that this is something which we must discuss and decide after studying the facts in the Report.