§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will feel it right and appropriate that we should take a Supply day to discuss this extremely important and most interesting Report. Having had the opportunity to read it, I can repeat with greater emphasis the agreement which I indicated with the expression of gratitude to the Committee by the Minister of Housing and Local Government when he made his statement 10 days ago.
I can do this with particular pleasure, for one reason. As the House knows—and I must formally declare an interest—I am concerned as a member of the board of a company having interests in property, and I am glad to reflect that the very able joint managing director of that company served throughout as a member of the Committee.
Those of us who have read the Report are immensely impressed with the care, skill and attention which the very distinguished team appointed two years ago by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) have given to the subject. We are also both impressed and grateful at the speed with which they have conducted so thorough and detailed a review.
We are also impressed by the admirable language of the Report, so different from the ghastly jargon of Whitehall to which, whatever be the Government, we in this House are accustomed in official documents. The classic example was, I think, the publication by the Ministry of Labour which stated in solemn terms that approximately half the married people in this country were women.
We can take the debate, as the House wishes, in one of two ways. We can take it as a party battle. There is in this subject, obviously, plenty of political ammunition. Hon. Members opposite can, as some of them have already done outside, point out that the abuses, which the Report most vividly reports and also puts in proportion, took place under Conservative Governments and Conservative Ministers of Housing and Local Government. If we take it this way, my right hon. And 53 hon. Friends would be equally entitled to bring forward the argument that these things happened under local housing authorities which are almost without exception controlled by the party opposite.
If we take it that way, we shall at the end of the day reach the situation which some of us remember being described, with that grin which many of us affectionately remember, by the late Lord Morrison of Lambeth as "A good time has been had by all". Those who were Members when Lord Morrison led the House will remember that he ended many stormy debates in that cheerful and agreeable way.
It would be a pity, if I may without presumption say so, that we should treat in that way this Supply day which we have put at the disposal of the House. For my part, I should like to take the Report and, faced by the facts disclosed in it, faced by the situation in London which it so clearly sets out, see what measure of agreement is possible as to specific measures to deal with the specific and real problem of London housing.
Before I do that, there are two things to be got out of the way. One of them is the Prime Minister. During the course of his speech at Huyton a few days ago, the right hon. Gentleman, whose speech was full of just that sort of prejudice against landlords as a class which the Report so impressively rebukes, said, in referring to the appointment of the Committee by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East, that it was doneas a result of a debate we forced on them, a debate on Rachmanism".The Rachman debate took place on 22nd July, 1963. It is true that the Committee was formally appointed in the following month of August. If, however, the Prime Minister had looked at the Report, which he thought he might use for political ammunition, and got as far as the first page he would have seen there an extract foreshadowing the appointment of the Committee from the White Paper which my right hon. Friend laid in February, 1963, four months before the Rachman debate.
I say that only because I want to make it clear that we have been quite consistent in our concern with this matter: 54 first, with the appointment of the Committee—and, I think the House will agree, an effective, expert and highly intelligent Committee; secondly, with the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East in the last debate on housing in the old Parliament in July, 1964; and, more recently, in our election manifesto, when we said:Additional safeguards for tenants will be provided if shown to be necessary by the inquiry into rented housing in London".The second point which I want to get out of the way is that the Report relates to Greater London, and to Greater London only. That point is made on the second page of the Report, and I will quote it:First, it is a report about Greater London, and not about any other part of the country. Accordingly, any attempt to draw inferences from it as to the situation outside the London area would be wholly unjustified, since conclusions drawn by such a method would be unsupported by any evidence.I understand that the Minister of Housing and Local Government, who is to follow me, regards this debate as a kind of overture to the Bill which he is to introduce in a short time, and which was mentioned in the Gracious Speech, in respect of rent control. We will discuss that Bill when we come to it and, no doubt, there will be plenty to discuss. I only say now that in the light of the words from the Report which I have just quoted, it would not be open to the Minister to find any justification for the imposition of rent control outside London on the basis of this Report. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I remind hon. Members opposite, who seem to doubt that, what the members of the Committee themselves say, thatany attempt to draw inferences from it as to the situation outside the London area would be wholly unjustified, since conclusions drawn by such a method would be unsupported by any evidence.That is clear enough.
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
Does not that infer that there is need for such an examination in the rest of the country as this one which has been done for London?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
If that is the inference, it would be interesting to know whether the Minister and his hon. Friends were prepared to conduct that examination before or after they introduced legislation on the subject.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East) rose—
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I am sorry, I have already given way.
I therefore propose to discuss this matter in the light of the warning given by the Report that it is legitimate and proper to base upon the Report arguments as to what should be done in London—indeed, that is the very object of this debate—but that any attempt to use it as an excuse for an extension of rent control throughout the country would be completely unjustified and has been found so to be by the members of the Committee.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Let me finish the sentence and I will, of course, give way to the hon. Member.
It would also be contrary to commonsense, because I do not know when the Minister obtained the Report, but the intention to introduce a general Bill was announced, as I have said, in the Gracious Speech.
§ Sir B. Janner
Is the right hon. Gentleman really suggesting that if facts which are contained in the Report can be proved to be similar to facts which prevail in other parts of the country, no one has a right to utilise the decisions, the results or the consequences which arise from those facts?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Member began that intervention with the hypothetical "if". All I am saying is that, in the words of the Committee, the state of affairs in London is an arguable basis for legislative change, which is what I shall talk about, but that it is quite clear, and made explicitly clear, both in the passage which I have quoted and in another passage towards the end of the Report, that the Report as it stands is confined to London and is relevant to measures taken in London and nowhere else.
The Report is a fascinating study. It is a study of the problems of an enormous city, richer, larger, more attractive to migrants than ever before; a city with a high birth rate, good work and high wages; a city with high prosperity, with the consequence that many of its citizens 56 can, and will, pay high for accommodation.
The Report gives little comfort—because I am dealing with it from a practical point of view—to the simplist doctrinaires at either extreme. It does not attribute, as I see it, this trouble either to those who say there has been too much control or to those who say there has been too little. It does not really help the doctrinaires who believe that the matter can be resolved solely by the working of the market, or the doctrinaires who believe that the matter can be solved solely by the operation of control. Indeed, as between the doctrinaires it recalls two lines of Canning:And finds, with keen discriminating sight, Black's not so black—nor white so very white.It finds that the principal of the main causes is shortage, and of course—the House will forgive me the platitude—it is the overall shortage which is the root and base of the trouble. Abuses, excessive rents, wrong practices all result from the overall shortage. And the shortage itself—and this is, I think, a great part of the interest of the Report—derives from many causes, most of them good, most of them things of which we should be pleased and proud. Indeed, the curious thing is that it does appear that London's housing problem, like coronary thrombosis, is a disease of prosperity.
The other causes listed are these: the rapid growth of employment in London, and the increase, therefore, of numbers of young and single people drawn in by the attraction of a high level of excellent employment; the division of the population more and more into smaller households, younger "marrieds", young people with good earnings able and willing to set up home on their own and not start life with the handicap of a built-in mother-in-law; more old people, to their credit, keeping on their own homes and managing to run them, to a great age in many cases; the effect of slum clearance, and the reduction of densities; increased pressure as a result of the increased capacity to pay which prosperity brings to large sections of the community; and the high standard of living to which in recent years more and more people have become accustomed.
All these are good things. They are in themselves good, and they contribute 57 very vividly to this problem. I quote again from the Report, from page 204:To these objective causes of stress there has been added a further subjective element, even harder to measure but nonetheless significant. The percentage increase in net income per head achieved in the United Kingdom during the decade after 1951 was probably as great as the percentage increase achieved between 1914 and 1951. People living or working in London secured a larger share of this increase than people elsewhere in the country.The practical problem which faces the House, faces the Government, faces, in particular, the right hon. Gentleman the Minister, is how to deal with the problems of these difficult cases without losing the good things which have in some measure, as I have been trying to suggest to the House, contributed to the problem with which we are all faced.
Of course, the only long-term remedy—it is a long-term one—is the construction of a great deal more accommodation, particularly to let, and one of the dangers with which we are faced, one danger which faces the right hon. Gentleman, is that it is only too easy to take short-term measures to deal with difficult individual cases which have the effect of making the long-term provision of more rented accommodation more difficult. The Report describes what has been done, although it does not take account of the substantial building, probably of about 20,000 a year, of houses built outside London for the purpose of accommodating Londoners; but it does, of course, make clear that more housing in London is required.
I put one or two suggestions, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will deal with them. I think that in the central areas he will have to go for higher densities by building higher. I appreciate that this means cost. He may have to look at the subsidies again. High building is expensive, but, in the centre of this enormous city, with this great pressure on accommodation, I think that densities will have to be looked at again.
§ Mr. Reginald Freeson (Willesden, East)
Bearing in mind that densities in the centre of London are at 200 per acre, what subsidy is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting to the Government?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
It depends on how high we go. We can, if we like, do some mathematical exercises about the 58 number of floors. All I am saying is that we shall have to build higher and that one of the purposes of building higher will he to enable us to increase densities, while providing decent accommodation, in the central area.
This is, if the hon. Gentleman will reflect, what is being done. My right hon. Friend gave great encouragement to that. One has only to go about Greater London—south-west, for instance, towards my own constituency—to see the very fine blocks of flats, far higher than we were accustomed to seeing a few years ago. All I am suggesting is that we shall have to go further with this.
The right hon. Gentleman must also use the useful inheritance which he had from my right hon. Friend in respect of land for building. The biggest and perhaps the best of this is the Woolwich Arsenal site. I think that the use of that was held up as a result of the intervention of the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy, but I understand that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Housing and Local Government has triumphed in that matter.
I hope that he will tell us he is going to get ahead with that. I believe that there is accommodation for about 50,000 people, possibly, on that site, so it is a very important contribution indeed. Then there are Croydon and Hendon airports, railway land, and the development taking place at Erith. All this will be of help and I think that the House would like to hear from the right hon. Gentleman what progress is being made in respect of it.
I then come to one of the major aspects of the Report, its proposal—although I am aware, as the Committee very fairly says, it was not asked to make specific proposals—for the introduction of greater security of tenure for tenants. There is always, in a time of shortage, of acute shortage, a case for control of this sort. That is why, during the course of two wars, a number of Governments of all political colours introduced and maintained varying measures of control operating both in respect of security of tenure and of the level of rents.
As the Committee brings out, it has a valuable effect in giving reassurance to tenants, but the House must face also 59 the fact that it has compensating disadvantages. It tends to freeze existing holdings; it increases, of course, the difficulty of new arrivals—immigrants, young couples, people coming in for the first time; unless it provides for rents to be fixed near the market level, it tends to dry up the supply of rented accommodation because landlords who come into possession prefer to sell to owner-occupiers rather than to relet; and, of course, it discourages other people from investing their money in the provision of accommodation to let.
§ Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington. North)
Does the right hon. Gentleman not yet realise this about security of tenure, that although, originally, the evils he sets out arise, once it has become universal then mobility will he restored to people, because they will be as secure in their next dwelling as they were in the last?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman, whose interest in this subject I recognise, can have been following what I was saying. What I was saying when I gave way to his intervention was that one of the compensating disadvantages—I am trying to deal with this as objectively and as fairly as I can—of control was that it did discourage landlords from maintaining property as let or from building property to let. I intend to enlarge on that point perhaps a little later, at some greater length, but I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have accepted as a fact, however disagreeable, that no course, whatever we do in this House, is free from disadvantages. It is an advantage of this House of Commons that we try to weigh the advantages, and the House will recall that I have said that in my view there are some disadvantages.
There is a further one, which is that, while control of this kind does protect those people who are in, it makes it more difficult for those who are trying to get in. It is a nicely balanced question. Indeed, it may well be the case that, just as in the case of some serious diseases doctors apply a remedy to save the life of the patient in the short-run, even though it may do damage in the long run, the Committee evidently felt that, faced with the present situation of shortage as it has developed—for the 60 reasons which the Committee gives and on which I have tried to give to the House—in the circumstances some additional security of tenure is required.
If the Government accept this recommendation and treat it as being justified by the London situation, I think that the attitude of most thinking people to their so doing will depend on what steps they take to counter the ill-effects to which I have referred. There are certain steps which, if taken, could at any rate mitigate the difficulties which the imposition of control can cause.
One is the expansion of the level at which rents are fixed. We cannot have security of tenure without rent control. Should rents be fixed near the market level or a long way below? The willingness of landlords to continue to provide accommodation will be affected very much by the level at which the Minister fixes rents. Many people will, I think, judge whether this is being used to deal with an emergency, or as part of a wider political concept, by where the limit is put. The Report says clearly that there is no shortage of accommodation in London above the level of rents of £400 or £500 a year
. There is the question, to which the Report devotes a great deal of space, whether to compensate or counterbalance the bad effect on the provision of accommodation resulting from control, compensating fiscal or other financial adjustments, such as are made in other countries, should be made. I appreciate that we have not the Bill before us today, so I cannot ask the right hon. Gentleman to answer this afternoon, but if he comes forward with proposals for reimposing a further measure of control in London to give security of tenure—which I grant that the Committee favours—we shall want to know whether he is taking the steps that I have mentioned, and others, which could mitigate in a considerable measure the difficulties which such proposals otherwise would cause.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)
I should like to elucidate what the right hon. Gentleman means when he refers, as he has done twice, to the market level of rents and suggests that the level should be as close as possible to the market level—I think that I have understood him 61 correctly so far. Does he mean by the market level that level of rent introduced by acute housing scarcity?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I mean the level—this is a matter which, as the hon. and learned Gentleman will know, is difficult of definition—I have in mind the level which gives a fair return to the landlord for the money invested in the property, without involving any element of exploitation of scarcity. That is the best definition I can give "off the cuff". It is, in fact, a sensible commercial rent excluding the additional amount resulting from scarcity.
There is another proposal involving legislation, and that is the suggestion of the introduction into our criminal law of a provision in the law of the City of New York. One would not suspect that city of undue Left-wing deviationism, and the suggestion is interesting. I should have thought that the abuses outlined in the Report must in most cases be breaches of our existing law. I find it difficult to see why the kind of action attributed to this minority of landlords could not be brought before the courts under the existing law. If the law is inadequate to prevent this kind of thing, I do not think that many of us would wish to quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman if he brings forward coherent proposals for strengthening the criminal law in this respect.
We would like to hear the advice that he had from the Law Officers whether the suggestion by the Committee of the adoption of the New York provision would make our criminal law more efficient. No one wishes to create crimes for the sake of doing so. Equally, no one justifies, or would wish to see continued, the type of practices referred to in the Report. The practical question—it is perhaps, above all, a question for lawyers—is whether it is practicable and reasonable to strengthen our criminal law on those lines. I should like to hear what the right hon. Gentleman has to say about that.
The Report is most emphatic about the need to solve this problem by the combined efforts of all three agencies in this field, the local authorities, the housing associations and the private landlords—all three. Great emphasis is put on that and I wish to remind the right hon. 62 Gentleman that the Report is quite emphatic, in a passage with which I have no doubt he is familiar, on page 223, in expressing the view that it is impossible to solve this problem for many years without the help of the private landlord.
I was very sorry, in those circumstances, to note that the right hon. Gentleman—no doubt in the heady by-election atmosphere of Great Dunmow—apparently rejected the idea, so far as building was concerned, that the private developer should play his part. If the right hon. Gentleman takes that line, he is flying straight in the face of the Report which, and not only in the passage to which I have invited his attention—I shall not quote it unless he wishes, it is rather long—is absolutely emphatic that this problem will be solved only by the use of all three agencies.
Chapter 3 of the Report points out the financial handicap which our present system of taxation imposes on some of these agencies. Local authorities are reasonably well placed with their subsidies. A person who buys for owner-occupation is reasonably well placed, with his tax concession. The housing association, unless it happens to be a charity, and the private developer who builds to rent come out—as the Report brings out clearly—very badly from the fiscal point of view. Most of us would welcome the fact that an owner-occupier gets a fiscal stimulus. Most of us regard owner-occupation as so socially valuable as to be worth a great deal of support and help, but it is clear, on the figures given in Chapter 3, that those who build to rent either have to charge a higher rent than most of the people for whom they build can afford, or not get a fair return on their money because of the incidence of tax on them, an incidence which is quite different from that falling on the owner-occupier, on the one hand, or the local authority, on the other.
The imposition of further controls would obviously accentuate that, and so, if I may refer to a gloomy subject, would the raising—on which we have already voted—of the standard rate of Income Tax from 7s. 9d. to 8s. 3d. early next month. It is interesting to note that the calculations which the Committee makes are based only on the 7s. 9d. rate and obviously the situation would be more difficult with a rate of 8s. 3d.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the enormous difference between what one might call an economic rent that the private landlord charges on this hypothetical new property, which costs£3,750 to build, and the qualifications on the housing associations and local authorities as he has described would appear in Chapter 3 of the Report, really arises entirely from the difference in tax between the local authorities and private landlords? If not, would not any help given to them on taxation lower the limit beyond which private landlords could make a contribution, but not so far as to bring into their network those people on low incomes, and who have large families, and whose need is greatest?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The Report makes clear, in a passage which I will find shortly for the hon. Gentleman, that it is, in fact, taxation which makes it difficult for the private developer to let at rents which people with lower means can pay.
The passage—I commend it to the hon. Gentleman—is on page 34:The disadvantage of this tax situation is not only that the tax element immediately makes the rents higher than the poorest families can afford, but the yearly tax increase means that the rents must continually rise.I believe that the hon. Gentleman is, no doubt inadvertently, wrong in putting housing associations on the other, or more favoured, side of the fence. In fact, housing associations, other than those which are in strict law charities, suffer the same tax burden as the private developer. There is a very powerful passage in the Report pointing out that this is completely anomalous. I shall come to that in a moment.
Housing associations are divided between those which are, in law, charities—they are comparatively limited in numbers—and those which are not. As the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) has raised the matter, I should say that the Report is perfectly clear and emphatic on the point:We find it difficult to see any rational explanation for this division in the housing association effort, or how charitable status is relevant to the effort which is needed by public and voluntary agencies to meet the need for family houses and flats in London. Nor can we see any convincing reason for the relief from taxation granted to one 64 association and withheld from another when each is providing comparable dwellings at comparable rents. The matter is more perplexing when co-ownership associations, which are likely to be building for those with higher incomes, are given the same favourable treatment for tax purposes as are charitable associations.I hope that that makes the position clear.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I really must get on.
The trouble derives from the out-of-date Inland Revenue view that a house lasts for ever and that there is no need to allow depreciation for tax purposes. As a consequence, when either a housing association or a private developer borrows money—as it does—to build a house, the money which it draws from its rents to repay that capital secures no relief whatever from tax. My right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) did a very great service to certain areas a couple of years ago by introducing in them a system of free depreciation, a system under which investment could be written off at the discretion of the taxpayer.
I doubt whether, except perhaps in some of what the report calls "the special areas", it would be necessary to go so far as this in London. On the other hand, some recognition by the Revenue that houses do deteriorate, and that the developer is entitled to write them off, could have a beneficial effect on the provision of houses to let in London by the majority of housing associations and by private developers.
This is traditionally the rutting season for Chancellors of the Exchequer. I hope that the Minister of Housing will be prepared to make representations to his right hon. Friend to see whether something can be done. The Report is very emphatic on this point and devotes a great deal of attention to it. In my view it is a very powerful case for an improvement in the tax treatment of those who build to let.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
Does not that argument apply equally the other way? If the house is depreciating, should not the landlord think of reducing the rent, which he never does, instead of increasing it, as he does?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Of course he does. The hon. Member is helping my argument, and the Committee's argument. The Committee makes the point that where a landlord raises further capital to make improvements on the house, he is forced to raise the rent substantially to pay for those improvements, because when he repays the money which he has raised for this purpose, it is subjected to the full rigours of tax—7s. 9d. at the moment and subsequently to be 8s. 3d. The hon. Gentleman is making my point.
1 would ask the House to recall a matter to which the Committee devoted a great deal of attention. Those hon. Members who have praised the Committee's Report—I was one—cannot ignore the very powerful case which it makes on this point. Indeed, in Chapter 12, where we are told about foreign practice, the Committee carries the matter even further. It points out that the greatest success in dealing with housing has been in those European cities which have used the private sector to the full. It points out that in those cities a quite different practice to ours has been followed. The private sector has been used very fully. It has been subject to a considerable measure of control—which hon. Gentlemen opposite will no doubt approve—but, in compensation for that, has received subsidies, so that it has been possible to obtain a fair return on the money invested in housing.
It is not good enough to dismiss this kind of thing in the light of the evidence. which the Committee went to great trouble to obtain, about what was done in foreign cities. The fact remains that the high measure of security of tenure—for example, in Sweden, which has been Socialist for many years—is balanced, so far as the private developer is concerned. by the grant of subsidies. It is interesting to see that, in Sweden, great emphasis is put on the desirability of having four "centres of initiative" as the Committee calls them, for the provision of houses to let—local authorities, co-operatives, the State and private developers. Great importance is attached to having all four in operation.
Therefore, though no one who has served in the Treasury breathes the word "subsidy" without a certain shudder, it may well be that if further restrictions are thought right to be imposed on landlords 66 in London, and if the House accepts the Committee's view that it is only by keeping the private sector in operation that the problem will be solved, the least expensive course in the end may well be to consider some help in that way. [Laughter.]
It is all very well for hon. Gentlemen opposite to laugh. What I am recalling to them is the practice of a number of our European friends, by no means all of them under Right-wing Governments. I think that, with respect, the right hon. Gentleman has only to appreciate that if we accept the Committee's reasoning, we are forced to something of this sort. The Committee says clearly and in terms that the problem will not be solved without the aid of the private sector.
If it is felt necessary, because of the shortage, to impose restrictions which are, of themselves and taken by themselves, discouraging to the private sector in providing accommodation to let, are we not forced into considering, first of all, a tax system which works against the very people whom we want to encourage and, if that be insufficient, some measure of subsidy? One cannot dismiss the practice of a great many advanced European countries which have adopted just this practice.
I do not ask the right hon. Gentleman to do more today than to indicate—as I hope he will—that he sees that the private sector has a rôle to play not only in repairing and modernising, but in building houses. I hope that he will make it clear that his Great Dunmow speech does not involve a flat rejection of the Committee's recommendation in this respect. On the contrary, I hope that he will show that the private sector has a cause for confidence, that good landlords who play fair by their tenants will receive fair treatment from the Government. The main trouble in the provision of rented accommodation in this country has been the feeling that if one invests one's money in the provision of rented accommodation one is likely to be somewhat roughly treated, at any rate when right hon. Gentlemen opposite come into power.
Those of us who want to see this matter settled want to see it settled by the use, as the Committee suggests, of all the three instruments. We sincerely want to see allayed this feeling of disquiet 67 in the minds of those who could invest in the provision of rented accommodation. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not want to lose any possible instrument in the task in which he is engaged. He is in a very good position now, by showing some understanding of this aspect, to restore confidence in those who can provide this large stock of rented housing. It lies in his hands. He is in a very good position to do it if he is prepared to abandon the old attitude of his party under which all landlords are pariahs and it does not matter how one treats them, and come to the attitude which the Committee so objectively and fairly put forward, that landlords have their part, and an important part, to play.
§ Mr. Albert Evans (Islington, South-West)
Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that the adoption of any proposals such as he has outlined would involve control of rent levels charged by private landlords?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Of course. The whole system on the Continent which I have been trying to describe involves that, because there is a balance between the imposition of controls on rent and assistance to those providing the accommodation. They are the two sides of the equation. I am sorry if I did not succeed in making that clear.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I cannot give way again; I must go on.
It lies with the right hon. Gentleman to restore some confidence in this part of the sector. The right hon. Gentleman knows, and the Report makes clear, that the great majority of landlords are perfectly honourable and honest people and that they dislike as much as any hon. Member the malpractices of a minority. Indeed, whatever the right hon. Gentleman does to deal with the malpractices, he will make it much more effective if he carries with him, as he could, the good will of all decent landlords, who are just as anxious as he is, perhaps more anxious, to see any abuses of this kind rooted out. But the right hon. Gentleman has to show, if he is 68 to take this line, a certain courage in abandoning old ideas about landlords which many of his party hold.
The Report itself brings out the fact that many landlords are small people of modest means. It brings out that 60 per cent. of London's landlords own one house each. Many hon. Members know cases where a few houses are the sole support of elderly people. They probably do not play a very great part in the economic development that I have been talking about or in the greater development of housing. They are, however, people who are entitled, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will agree, to a fair deal.
I have been receiving in the last few weeks a number of letters from people so placed. I will not weary the House with those letters, but I could show them to the right hon. Gentleman. I stress that the right hon. Gentleman will not succeed unless he carries successfully with him the private sector, and he is particularly fortunately placed for carrying it with him if he wishes and if he will take that line.
I remind the House of the final recommendation of the Report on page 228:Finally, we believe that what, above all, is needed for the remedy of London's ills is a common frame of mind. Housing has for too long been the sport of political prejudice. The need now is for a common approach to the problem and for a fully considered development of policy based on an understanding of the whole housing situation and purged of irrelevant prejudice against landlords, tenants or any other groups of the population. The housing problems confronting London, as they confront other great cities, will not be resolved by market forces or by the provision of more houses alone; they are of a long-term, perhaps permanent nature. We hope that our survey will have helped to identify them and that there will be an agreement on the measures needed for their solution and a common will to see that the measures are applied.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Not at this stage, because I am trying to put to the House the very serious appeal which the Committee made to all of us. It is a spirit that I have tried to follow in my speech.
I know that all of us have prejudices in this matter which we sometimes rationalise into principles, but, all the same, we shall not resolve this problem 69 of London if we insist on stirring up and reviving old controversies. This is an immensely important, human problem which some of us have known, and which certainly I have known since I was acquainted with Limehouse in the years before the war, when I saw conditions which, thank God, have disappeared for ever.
This is a problem which we want to see resolved in the spirit of the Report. The right hon. Gentleman has a great opportunity. He can, if he wishes, turn this into a matter of controversy, and if he does, we shall meet it. He can, on the other hand, deal with it as a specific problem which should be tackled, as the Committee has suggested, without irrelevant prejudice, as a practical problem to deal with very real and pressing human needs. If the right hon. Gentleman takes that line, he will not find Her Majesty's Opposition unhelpful.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Richard Crossman)
I was curious to see how the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) would deal with the very delicate situation in which he was placed by the decision of his right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) to establish the Milner Holland Committee and by the Report which that Committee has published.
It is obvious, as the right hon. Gentleman made only too clear in his speech, that any kind of party political approach would have been fraught with disaster. The debate had to be got over under the most favourable circumstances. I noticed, with appreciation of it, the parliamentary skill with which a day was given by the Opposition and so given that no vote could be taken. That was wise, because if the Opposition had put down a Motion to take note of this Report, we should have put down an Amendment which would have deeply embarrassed them if they had tried to vote against it. So there were obvious reasons for doing it this way.
There were obvious reasons, also, for stressing the argument that the Report should be discussed only with the strictest relationship to London. I think that what Sir Milner Holland says is quite true, that his Report is strictly, as an 70 analysis, valid only for London and that it would be unwise to draw deductions about conditions outside London from descriptions of conditions inside London. The drift to the South-East has produced a world of difference between the housing problems in the areas of rapid growth like London and the Midlands and those of the great cities of the North.
There is another reason for caution. Each of the great cities faced with problems of security of tenure and housing shortage, problems common to all the great conurbations, has grappled with them in a different way. One has only to compare how Leeds has handled the problem with how it has been handled in Birmingham or Liverpool to realise that what the right hon. Gentleman said is true, that one should know not only about London but about the rest of the country.
It is also true—I shall say something about this later—that people who were 13 years in government and left us without any knowledge of a reliable sort about the subject such as we get from the Milner Holland Committee have no right to demand that because the information has been denied for years, the evil has to continue until six more investigations take place. That is not at all what we are going to do in dealing with the problem.
I observe that apart from this close attention to seeing this as a specific and unique London problem, we also have to see it from a strictly non-party point of view. Long before he rose here, the right hon. Gentleman was addressing the Conservative Local Government Conference last week. Already, there he was endorsing Sir Milner's plea for a policy purged of irrelevant prejudice, a plea reinforced by a muted thunderclap from Printing House Square. I am not quite sure what Sir Milner Holland meant by the original complaint, but I must admit that its endorsement by the right hon. Gentleman and the editor of The Times fills me with the gravest suspicion.
When I heard the right hon. Gentleman recommending a non-party approach and telling us not to stir up old controversies, I could only draw, because I know him well, one conclusion, which is that in terms of party politics the investigations of this Committee and the study of its Report can be nothing but a devastating disaster to the Opposition.
71 Just imagine if the Report had given, as it was hoped, a commendation to the policies of the previous Administration. Would we then have heard the right hon. Gentleman say that the House must put it all behind it, that we must eschew party politics and old controversies? The right hon. Gentleman is an old party politician and he knows that one talks in this way when in a fix. He did his best and I congratulate him, but I must say that ever since we took office hon. Members opposite have been busy avoiding responsibility for the difficulties which we have to grasp and denying that these difficulties are legacies which we inherited from them.
The responsibility for the London housing crisis and for the miseries caused by the Rent Act in every one of our great conurbations is something which hon. Members opposite cannot wriggle out of now that the Report is published. Here we have it, the sober, impartial and annihilating analysis of how the tenants in London's privately rented properties have fared under 13 years of Tory rule, seven of them after the Rent Act came into effect.
Although housing can never be removed from the centre of party politics it is certainly possible to endorse Sir Milner's plea for "housing policies purged of prejudice." I watched the right hon. Gentleman opposite and I did not see any attempt to remove the beam from his own eye in order to see the mote in mine. There did not seem to be much removing of prejudice. He took only the points which favoured his prejudices and asked us then to remove ours.
I will talk about landlordism. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right. One of the central problems of the Report is how to handle private landlords after 13 years of Tory administration attempting to handle them. I thought that the non-political atmosphere was carried a little far when the right hon. Gentleman attacked the tax system as if he had forgotten that he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury running the tax system and that he was Financial Secretary eight years before. So the right hon. Gentleman has had 13 years to help the landlords and to give them a fair deal and to try to win their support.
72 The right hon. Gentleman now tells me that it is my chance. I accept the challenge. Let me tell him that I have a natural prejudice against landlords. I share it with many hon. and right hon. Members on this side of the House. Let me also say this to him. This prejudice is so strong in large sections of the community that many Labour supporters jumped to the conclusion that the Rachman story was typical of the behaviour of the big landlords and that they were the villains of the piece. It is perfectly true also that Sir Milner, after careful investigation, acquits not only large numbers of landlords of sensational forms of persecution and exploitation, but tells us that, on the whole, the big landlords are, as far as he can see, the least guilty in this regard and that most of the abuses are to be found among the small landlords, often abusing tenants in their own houses.
Without qualification, I accept that Sir Milner and his Committee have given us an objective and correct picture of the abuses. According to Sir Milner and the members of his Committee there are still, at a minimum, 3,000 cases of vile abuse a year. Let us also agree with the Committee that the abuses, the sensational thing about the landlords, are not what we ought to look at. What we have to study is the underlying trouble in dealing with all private rented property. I agree that it is absurd and also bad theology to think that it is due to original sin in a class of people called landlords. We have to look, therefore, and try to find out what is wrong. This is something which the right hon. Gentleman hardly mentioned. He managed to skirt round those chapters of the Report.
There is something desperately wrong with private landlordism today. Sir Milner shows that misery, vile conditions, overcrowding and persecution by landlords are virtually limited to private rented property. There are no complaints about owner-occupation and council estates. It is only in this realm of private landlordism that all these evils occur. It is not due to original sin on the part of the landlords, so, then, it is due to something underneath. Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he agrees with me and whether I am right about Sir Milner's account of the cause? He says that we can attribute 73 it to one simple fact. The service which the landlords provide, cheap-rented housing, is at once unprofitable and in short supply. Before the First World War the provision of working-class housing at working-class rents was an extremely profitable business even for the good landlord; it has become in the last 40 years extremely unprofitable.
Flats at £400 a year or more are still money spinners, and here there is still a free market where the laws of supply and demand can operate and the respectable landlord can earn a fortune. But further down the social scale the only way to make a quick living out of widowers' houses is to scamp the repairs and exploit the tenants' desperate fear of eviction. Hence the willingness of a minority of landlords to exploit and to persecute. Hence the determination of the majority who are not bullies or exploiters to get out of the business altogether by selling their houses and so very often turning the luckless tenant into a reluctant owner-occupier saddled with a decaying liability.
Most of these little landlords, Sir Milner tells us, are perfectly decent people who are desperate because they cannot get any return on the money they invested or the houses they inherited. But then, let me repeat, whose fault is it that this suffering and misery goes on? If the landlords are victims of the system—the housing policies and the tax arrangements under which rented property has been managed for the last 10 years—then the burden is placed fairly and squarely on the politicians responsible for those policies and tax arrangements. It is they who must be prepared to "purge their minds of irrelevant prejudice" and abandon the excuses which they have used for the conditions they have tolerated.
But if it is not the fault of the landlord, whose fault is it that this suffering and misery in rented property has continued for 13 years of Tory administration, and which the party opposite pledged to put right? The answer he gives is that if the landlords are not guilty, the politicians are guilty through their housing policy and tax policy. If they are, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us that he and his colleagues, after 13 years, do not bear some responsibility for what happened during that period?
74 In one very telling passage the Committee lists what it describes as "four hypotheses" which have been advanced as the cause of London's housing crisis: (a) the deadening effect of rent restriction—we have heard that one; (b) the inefficient use of local authority housing—we have heard that one too; (c) immigration; (d) unused housing standing empty. These, he says, are the four legends and he tells us that there is no truth in them whatever. How many Conservative and Liberal speeches have we heard in the House during the past 10 years using one or all of these hypotheses to discredit the Government's critics.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there were over 40,000 houses vacant in Greater London at the time of the census?
§ Mr. Crossman
If the hon. Gentleman wants to debate the question of unused accommodation we will certainly do so. A most careful analysis shows that this is not a major issue, and certainly not in council housing. Every time we discussed control and decontrol we heard talk of the deadening effects of rent restriction. The Report explodes this Tory prejudice.
And what about the Tory legend that the housing shortage was due to under-occupation of council houses? This was not quoted by the right hon. Gentleman, although the Committee says:In London, only local authority tenants, a fifth of all households, are housed without appreciable under-use or over-use of space.That means that these council estates are the only well-managed rented estates in London. And in another passage of the Report another Tory smear on London council housing is exploded. We read that the household budgets of council house tenants are not above but below those of private tenants. So much for the popular Tory theory that the best way to solve our housing shortage is to get rid of the rich council house tenants with their Jaguar cars so as to make room for the poor and needy.
Then we come to the next explanation of the shortage—immigration, either from the rest of the country or from overseas. The Milner Holland Report is equally incisive about that. It states that the migrant to London, from wherever he 75 comes, is a victim not a cause of the housing shortage, just as the coloured landlord who persecutes his tenants is often a victim of a clever white man who has sold him a tumbledown house at far above its value. Thus, immigration is proved by the Report to be as bogus an alibi for Tory failures as under-occupation.
Having seen how the Committee destroys all of these Conservative explanations of our housing shortage, I will summarise what the Committee states to be the real situation in London. It is, first, that while the majority of Londoners are better housed than they were 10 years ago, a large and growing minority are living in miserable conditions and in fear of eviction. These people are overwhelmingly the lower-paid workers to whom the building societies will not give mortgages and who, either because they are not eligible or because they cannot wait five or six years for a council house, are compelled to accept what the private landlord can provide in furnished or unfurnished accommodation. The one kind of housing which is in desperately short supply, outside the council estates, is just that accommodation which these lower-paid families or migrants can afford.
The second point is that the Report shows that this shortage of cheap rented housing was needlessly aggravated by my predecessors' housing policy, with its exclusive concentration on owner-occupation and slum clearance. How often was it said that the housing shortage had been overcome? How often did they try to prove this by quoting national figures, stating that the number of units of accommodation now exceeded the number of family units in need of accommodation? I do not think that there was ever a time when national averages were used more misleadingly or when global figures proved such globalloney.
It should be made clear that it is no good building houses for people unless they are the right houses in the right place and at the right price. Let us consider the facts. In 1961, the South-East Study had already estimated that 150,000 London households lacked accommodation and that 1 million Londoners would have to acquire homes 76 outside London by 1980. Now, after a fuller investigation, Sir Milner Holland reports that conditions have worsened. Not 150,000 London households but 190,000 are in urgent need and another 61,000 single persons are living in accommodation without sinks or stoves. That is the shortage after 13 years of Tory housing policy.
If that were not bad enough, what makes it far more grievous is that most of these people who cannot have houses are far too poor to think of becoming members of a property-owning democracy and buying houses. The only kind of housing they can afford is rented, and this is precisely the kind of housing which the Tories have been busily destroying in London all these years. All over London private developers have been demolishing old houses previously let at controlled rents and replacing them with blocks of flats at £300 or £400 a year. Theoretically, this may increase the stock of available housing, but actually it has made the housing crisis far worse than it was before.
If any hon. Member does not believe this I urge him to read Appendix VI of the Report which, ironically, the Committee describes as an appendix on rehabilitation. It is concerned, first, with Shepherds Bush, the neighbourhood where Rachman operated. Of course, it has been "improved" out of all recognition, but the result has been to change it from a working-class to a middle-class area. The developers, of whom we heard so much from the right hon. Gentleman, felt no obligation to the 1,200 people who lived there before. And as for the local authority—and although it was a Labour local authority it should be blamed—in the words of the Report,…they are unable to rehouse anyone from the estate, and the redevelopment will result in all the 1,200 persons living there now having to find accommodation elsewhere.The Report shows that when cheap rented housing is demolished it is never replaced. It states—and this is one of those interesting points in the Report which the right hon. Gentleman did not quote:We obtained no evidence that any private landlord was building flats or houses to let at net rents below £400 per annum. We did, however, obtain evidence from one company 77 who intended to redevelop land in West London by building shops and residential flats. However, they intended to sell the flats to the local authority at cost and obtain a return or their investment from the shops alone.The result of all this is perfectly obvious; a disastrous reduction in the stock of private rented housing. That is what we are suffering from in London today and, it should be added, in the nation as a whole.
In the nation as a whole, my Ministry reckons that since the introduction of the Rent Act—that great Measure for conserving property—the figure for private rented housing has sunk from just over 5 million to about 3¾ million. That is a 25 per cent. decrease in the total stock of rented housing. The figures for London are roughly in scale; an annual loss since 1960 of 4 per cent. In fact, during the whole 13 years of Tory rule the type of housing in shortest supply—private rented accommodation—was disappearing without replacement.
§ Mr. F. V. Corfield (Gloucestershire, South)
The right hon. Gentleman is quoting some interesting figures, but can he tell us anything about the rate at which this private property was running down? Is it not a fact that since the Rent Act it has been running down at a somewhat lower rate than it was before?
§ Mr. Crossman
It is a great misfortune to leave a Ministry and also leave the figures behind. I have the figures and later I will return to the subject. I assure the hon. Gentleman that it is running down catastrophically.
Obviously, the job of replacing rented housing should be taken over by local authorities and, obviously, it should have been made their top priority. But what was our predecessors' attitude to local authority building? Here are the facts. In the early 1950s, Mr. Macmillan and his Government were out for 300,000 houses. In 1954, public authorities built 257,000 out of 348,000 new houses in Great Britain. Ever since, year after year, down, down, down. In 1955, the figure was 204,000, out of 317,000. In 1956, the figure was 176,000; in 1958 it was 146,000; in 1960 it was 129,000 and in 1961 it was 119,000.
Then came the election prospect and the figure was 156,000. If the party opposite had won it would have been 78 down again. Even last year, with the election in prospect, the figure was only 156,000 in total, or less than had been built in 1948 under Aneurin Bevan. That is the record of housing in the nation as a whole. It shows what has been done in the face of the urgent need for rented accommodation at moderate rents.
Let us consider the figures for London and the way in which they have declined. In 1955, 19,000 were built out of a total of 31,000; in 1956, 17,000 out of 28,000; 1959, 14,000 out of 26,000 and in 1961, 13,000 out of a total of 24,000. Even by last year—under my predecessor, who, I think, had a different view, and I will come to this later—they had risen to only 15,500 out of a total of 29,000.
That is the real reason for the crisis; a deliberate, total priority given to owner occupation, and a deliberate, total neglect of the essential responsibility of the State to look after the weakest and the poorest in the country. That is the record. Council building throttled back till it did little more than make good the loss caused by slum clearance while private developers were demolishing thousands of rented homes but replacing them with offices, with luxury flats, or both.
No wonder the picture that the Milner Holland Committee paints of housing conditions amongst lower-paid workers and migrants is so appalling. But the right hon. Gentleman never mentioned a single word about it—never mentioned that quite literally those unable to afford owner-occupation and not eligible for council houses are being herded together in worse and worse quarters, more and more in multi-occupation.
The 1963 tenant inquiry showed that four out of five of the boys and girls who had not married when the Rent Act was passed were living in multi-occupation. It also shows that nearly all statutory overcrowded households were families with young children. These are the groups who are forgotten, because they cannot get a house.
There is the extreme consequence of Tory policy—those actually homeless. The Committee found that 7,000 people were living in local authority accommodation in 1964, and about 1,000 children were in care because of housing difficulties. It added, dryly:These are only the homeless who qualify for welfare accommodation: there must be 79 many more who do not. Single people and couples without children are almost invariably excluded from such accommodation. It is also the policy of a number of welfare authorities to refuse to admit husbands, and families without a mother.That is the real background—not the Tory propaganda—against which we can measure the decision to introduce the Rent Act and decontrol of housing.
The previous Government knew of the housing shortage. They were warned of it—they were warned of the disastrous effect of decontrol. Sir Milner is as forthright in condemning the responsible politicians as he is in defending the majority of landlords, and I think that he is fair to do so. I think it fair to say that if we are to measure guilt the politicians who brought in the system are more responsible than those who worked it. Sir Milner shows how every prediction made by those who promoted that infamous Measure has been falsified by the facts.
I do not want to make a lot of quotations, or quote the wild prediction of such doctrinaire extremists as the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), but I should like to take one more example from one notable for his great moderation, statesmanship, caution and loyalty—the former Member for Saffron Walden, now Lord Butler. Speaking in a debate in 1960, when the disastrous consequences of the Rent Act were clear to every eye, the right hon. Gentleman said the effect of the Rent Act… was to encourage landlords to keep their property available for letting instead of selling as soon as they obtained vacant possession… The object was also to encourage private enterprise to provide new accommodation for renting, to convert their properties in larger number and more convenient units and to encourage the better use of the available stock of housing by discouraging people from occupying more space than they need or can afford."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th November, 1960; Vol. 629, c. 963.]Let us take that statement clause by clause. The first is… to encourage landlords to keep their property available for letting instead of selling…In fact, the pool of private rented property was reduced. The next is:…to encourage private enterprise to provide new accommodation for renting…80 No accommodation at all was provided at rents which these tenants can afford.… to encourage landlords to make the better use of the available stock of hous.…Under-occupation has increased since 1957 in the private as against the public sector. That means that every single one of the claims made for the Rent Act by Lord Butler in 1960 is shown by this Report to be balderdash.
The excuse is, we were told by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, "We did not know. We had not the Milner Holland Report. We had to wait for the facts". The Committee has, of course, collected much invaluable information—I shall have more to say about that a little later—but its Report contains no revelation, nothing new. We did not have to wait for publication of the Report to foresee what must happen if decontrol took place when private rented housing was in desperately short supply.
In 1957, speaker after speaker among my right hon. and hon. Friends, when we were in opposition, described what would happen under creeping decontrol. In preparation for this debate I went into some of the debates of seven or eight years ago, and I was struck by the remarkable resemblance between the analysis made by my right hon. Friend the present Foreign Secretary, then the Opposition spokesman on housing, in half a dozen debates, and the analysis of the Committee. I was struck by the amazing way in which he anticipated the Committee's findings. Even his style anticipated the Committee's blend of objective logic and human sympathy.
I think of what was said by the Joint Parliamentary Secretaries, who described conditions in Bermondsey and Paddington as they knew them; of what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt) and, above all, of what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) in his one-man campaign. If anyone can claim responsibility for this debate taking place today, it is my hon. Friend, who produced evidence and views that compelled this kind of investigation. One other name I must mention—the late Michael Cliffe, a former colleague of ours. He was picked 81 out by Sir Milner Holland as an understanding student of London.
There is not an argument in the Report, there is not even a description of conditions, that is not outlined in sketch—sometimes in detail—in Opposition speeches between 1959 and 1964. What effect did those speeches have on the Government? [HON. MEMBERS: "None."] None at all.
§ Mr. Christopher Chataway (Lewisham, North)
The right hon. Gentleman has agreed with the Milner Holland Committee that the greatest need over these years was an increase in private-rented housing, but how many of the speakers whom he has quoted were urging an increase in private landlordism and in privately-owned rented housing?
§ Mr. Crossman
I see the effect of losing office. I said that the shortage was in rented housing at moderate rents. People in need do not ask questions about whether it is publicly-owned or privately-owned property, it they can have it. If they can, they probably prefer the publicly owned. What they want is rented housing at moderate rents—
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
In considering those debates, will the Minister turn his attention to my speech in which I said that as long as the Socialist Party intended to bring in controls, there would still be no enthusiasm for private landlords to build?
§ Mr. Crossman
I was not trying to cover all the speeches made in the debates, but only pointing out that the arguments and analyses in this Report were presented by the Labour Opposition in analysing what was wrong, and not by the other side in defending the Rent Act.
I will take just one more instance to remind us of the mood. I see sitting in the back benches the right hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke). He was my predecessor in 1960. He had been forced to listen to my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) pointing out what was happening to tenants who lost their security of tenure under creeping decontrol.What is the Opposition suggestion…?He asked testily, when he finally rose to reply: 82Is it security of tenure? The best way in which people can make certain of security of tenure is by buying a house of their own."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th November, 1960; Vol. 629, c. 860.]There is a macabre blend of Marie Antoinette with an Edwardian aunt in this suggestion that if those families in Willesden or Islington did not like the single furnished rooms in which they were huddled they should just go out and buy a house. What a relief we felt when the right hon. Gentleman was promoted—until we saw that he had even bigger and better opportunities to display his prim precise humanity in his new office as Home Secretary, [HON. MEMBERS: "Cheap."] It is not cheap, it is true.
I turn from the Opposition, whose records I have been analysing, to the conclusion of this Report, and I start with information. Sir Milner Holland draws attention to the appalling inadequacy of the data available. I will not quote the passage, but he says quite clearly that he requires us to organise an adequate intelligence service which enables us to know more than anybody knew about London before he did his investigation.
Even before the Report came into my hands, I had been beginning to reorganise the information services required. I hope we shall get that done. It will take some time and we shall require from local authorities far higher standards of information than we have at present. But we are making sure that the results of the census are made available far more quickly. When we came into office, the vital housing statistics from the 1961 census had still not been processed, partly because my own Ministry's statistical department consisted when I got there of one statistician who had been there for three months and partly because the processing of the figures was taking place on the War Office computer and had to be stopped every time the War Office needed the computer for calculating Service pay.
That kind of nonsense which survived 13 years of Tory rule we are slowly putting right. This should mean that we can begin to plan our housing programme in relation to real housing needs so that we know not only the total number of family units to be catered for but also whether we are over-building for three bedroom and under-building for one bedroom accommodation in the country as a whole and region by region.
83 There is something else we know little about. That is the condition of tenants. How perilous it is to base a housing policy upon ignorance I illustrate from one example of my immediate predecessor. Speaking just 12 months ago in another of these statements he said this:Since the Rent Act—and I admit that our evidence is several years out of date, but it is the latest evidence available—80 per cent. of the dwellings which are vacated have remained rented, admittedly at a higher price. They remain in the rented pool."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th March, 1964; Vol. 691, c. 1426.]I regard the right hon. Gentleman as one of the most hard-working Ministers there has probably ever been. He would never have made a statement without getting the best information he could. Yet on that occasion he totally misled the House, as I have already shown. When he claimed this success with the Rent Act, the rate of loss was catastrophic. Indeed, my calculations suggest that the number of privately rented houses sank in London between 1961 and 1964 by 130,000 houses. How did the right hon. Gentleman come to make this mistake? I have discovered the reason—because the latest figures he quoted were drawn from a study which had been made in 1958, six years before. No other information had been collected since then. So I believe that both sides of the House will agree with me that we cannot afford to let our policies be based on such hopelessly obsolete and misleading information.
I turn now to the Committee's recommendations about security of tenure. Here I was fascinated by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, because he was so careful to tell us that he had discussed only London. It so happens that the Committee cast its net a little wider. I want to read a passage from the Committee's conclusions. Having come out quite clearly with the statement that lack of security of tenure is a major problem in London, the Committee goes on with the following sentence:It is perhaps anomalous that while other forms of tenancy—business, agriculture, and indeed almost every tenancy other than residential—have long enjoyed the protection of security of tenure in some form accompanied by a proper system for ascertaining the correct rent, no analogous security is given to private residential tenancies except in the 84 limited and diminishing field remaining in rent control.That does not refer only to London. That is a statement about everywhere. How I agree entirely with it! How characteristic it was of the Conservatives that in 1954 they passed the Landlord and Tenant Act to give security to business premises. Three years later they passed the Rent Act to take security away from the home.
In the Protection from Eviction Act we have set about the task of putting this right. What we have done we can measure to some extent by the figures of London's homeless. In the six weeks immediately before the passing of that Act 132 families applied to the L.C.C. for accommodation and said that they were homeless or threatened with homelessness by their landlords' action. In the eleven weeks after the Act the figure had dropped from 132 to 42. Certainly, this is not perfect, but it is a considerable improvement.
I know that a great deal of alarm has been caused in London by the Clerkenwell case and in Birmingham by a similar case. However, I think that some of my hon. Friends have the thing wrong. What these show is not a hole in the Protection from Eviction Act. These show that brutal harassment, which should have been regarded as a crime long before the Protection from Eviction Act, is tolerated in this country and no action is possible against it. We have looked at the Committee's Report. We have studied the New York statute. Our new Rent Bill will include a clause dealing with harassment, torture and persecution which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will find strong enough to suit him. I want to utter this warning. No law however perfect, can prevent inhumanity, unless tenants know their rights, report them to the police or local authority, and speedy effective assistance is proffered to them. A number of changes will have to come about in order to achieve that.
I do not intend to discuss any more the Bill that is to come next week. I want to say something about the other side, which is the way we are going to build the new rented houses which both sides of the House now agree must be built. On the details of the policies, my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary 85 Secretary, who has a special responsibility for London, will have a great deal to say. He has already visited every one of the new boroughs. He has talked the problem over with them and has remained in constant touch with the G.L.C. He is already, to his credit, clawing back for public rented housing a good many acres of building land in London which private developers had their eye on. I will leave him to tell his own story. I shall deal only with the two issues of principle raised by the Report.
The first of these is the rocirc;le of the private landlord and what we should do. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is a clear recommendation of the Committee and, moreover, a recommendation which flows logically from its whole philosophical attitude to the problem. After recognising the prime rôle of the local authorities in building, the Committee urges that linked with that should be the housing associations and also private landlords, even though this must involve the Government not merely in removing the present tax bias in favour of owner-occupation and against rented property but also in paying outright subsidies to private landlords as well.
There is one point on which I agree with the Committee wholeheartedly. I am glad that it has confirmed our view that, if we are to get the quality of rented accommodation we need in our great cities for these lower-paid workers, each house must be heavily subsidised so as to keep the rent within the capacity of those who need the houses most. The provision of these new houses cannot be undertaken as a commercial enterprise. It must, in the literal sense, be regarded as a social service which the taxpayer and the ratepayer sustain because, without these rented houses and the people who live in them, the life in a great cosmopolis, a great urban conurbation, cannot be sustained. These lower-paid workers simply cannot afford to pay the ordinary commercial rate. This is the reason for this social service.
It is just because I agree with the Committee that the provision of this kind of housing must be a social service that I doubt whether the Committee is right in suggesting that in this task private should be yoked to public enterprise. 86 When the Committee urges us to consider housing associations for cost-rent housing, my reaction is completely positive. If scarcity is to be overcome—and that must be our aim as soon as possible—the local authorities cannot afford to reject any ally who could take over any part of this burden.
If housing associations can be used to offer cost-rent housing—which is a practical proposition especially to help the mobility of young executives—I am convinced that they should be supported and the tax law should be modified in order to assist them. But I am equally convinced that there will be no advantage in extending housing subsidies outside the public sector. Subsidies should go to the local authorities, to the housing associations, and not into the begging bowl of private enterprise.
Having said that, I want to add something else. That does not exclude the private landlord. He has an enormous rocirc;le to play in the repair and improvement of the great grey areas of private property which are falling into dilapidation or being demolished and replaced with expensive accommodation. It is here that public enterprise needs the help of the private landlord, and I am hopeful that the flexible rent regulations we have evolved will not only restore security of tenure to the good tenant but will encourage the landlord to prolong the life of his property by repairs and improvements. If it does not, the Bill will not succeed.
I must add this. When I studied the record of my predecessors in office, from Harold Macmillan with "Operation Rescue" in 1954, what "Nye" Bevan called "a mouldy turnip", to the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East, I must say that I realised that something much more drastic than inducements and tax concessions to private landlords is required if the areas blighted by multi-occupation are to be renewed and the twilight areas saved from decay. That is why I entirely accept the Committee's stress on the need for an attack applied and directed to London as a whole, and I hope that the G.L.C. powers in this respect are sufficient to provide the strategic central direction needed—which again the right hon. Gentleman failed to mention.
87 The last proposal which the Committee made was for the establishment of "special areas of control" with a special organisation to control sales and lettings, to acquire property, to require improvements and to redevelop. To those who want speedy action, this proposal is obviously tempting, but I want to issue a word of warning. London is going. through a difficult period of local government reorganisation. The last thing that I want to do is to add to the multiplicity of new administrative units. Certainly, special areas must be designated for special treatment. Certainly, we have to make sure that the procedures of redevelopment are streamlined and that the powers of compulsory acquisition are sufficient to make urban renewal more than a mere phrase. But whether we need to set up a new authority in such special areas is much more doubtful. Indeed, there is only one type of new authority which I am at present prepared to consider.
I am consulting with a number of well-established old towns—Ipswich, Northampton, Peterborough, Warrington—in order to evolve a system of twinning under which a new town corporation can be established so as to double their size in the shortest possible time and so help to deal with overspill. This new town type of machinery, which was evolved in the first place by Lord Silkin, was far the most brilliant and successful invention of post-war housing. Wherever it has been applied it has achieved more housing, better housing and better planned community living than would have been possible under normal circumstances.
I am very hopeful that the marriage of this new town technique with old town renewal will prove successful. In working out the details I have sometimes wondered whether it would not be possible for one of our great conurbations, faced with the almost insuperable scale of central redevelopment required, to demand that a new town corporation should be established to rebuild one of its areas, to carve out an area within it and build a new town inside the old town. Of course at present that is only an idea, but if the request comes to me from any great conurbation it certainly will not be automatically turned down.
§ Sir Keith Joseph (Leeds, North-East)
The right hon. Gentleman told my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) that he would say something about the pace of the fall of rented stock before 1957. My hon. Friend was asking about the relative pace before and after. Has the right hon. Gentleman got the figures?
§ Mr. Crossman
The pace was 4 per cent. per annum from 1957. I will try and get the other figure before the debate is wound up.
To sum up, the Government's attitude to the Milner Holland Report is of course positive, apart from two important exceptions which I have talked about. And no wonder, because what we said during the years of Opposition about London housing shortage and housing shortage in general, about the effects of decontrol, about the dangers of unplanned private demolition and development, about the doctrinaire and exclusive preference shown by the Tories for owner-occupation and their doctrinaire dislike for public rented housing—on every one of these issues the Report has provided the evidence which vindicates our attitude.
Sir Milner Holland urges us to accept the need for subsidised housing in London and give it top priority. That is just what we shall do, and we shall be announcing our plans in the coming weeks. Sir Milner urges us to end creeping decontrol by restoring security of tenure and rent regulation. The Rent Bill which we will submit to the House next week is our response to his challenge. In expressing the hope that the Opposition have been sufficiently chastened by this Report and are now ready to abandon their own policies and help us to pass our Rent Bill, I can give them this assurance. This is only our first assault on the insecurity of tenure, our first step towards urban renewal, our first step in disposing of the housing shortage that we inherited from them. There are a great many more to come.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Brooke (Hampstead)
The Milner Holland Report has been almost universally acclaimed in the House and outside. The difference between the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Housing and Local Government and us on this side is that we accept the whole, 89 whereas he obviously intends to be selective. He has specifically explained that he does not intend to seek to give assistance to private landlords to play their part in solving this most intractable housing problem, a part which the Milner Holland Report says it is essential for the country to look to private landlords to play.
§ Mr. Brooke
No, I shall not give way as soon as I have got up.
The members of the Milner Holland Committee deserve the warmest thanks from both sides of the House for the accuracy, the penetration and the speed with which they have completed this Report. I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) on his action in setting up this inquiry. If I blame myself for anything, it is that I did not set it up before I left the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.
I support the implementation of the whole Report, unlike the Government. I agree with its findings and I most strongly back the co-operation between public and private agencies which it urges as an absolute necessity. Whether they share that view will be the ultimate test of this Government's policy. I have never at any time concealed my view. I also, have been looking up some of these past debates. I have never concealed my view that a very grave housing problem still exists in London for the types of household that the Report pinpoints, in spite of the widespread improvements in recent years for most people, as the Report itself testifies. If the Minister thinks that any Government, in 13 years, could make good all the shortcomings of two centuries he has a great deal to learn.
My assessment of the housing position is on record. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman did not look at these other quotations. When I was Minister I said in paragraph 2 of the last White Paper which I presented to Parliament, in 1961, thatTaking the country as a whole, there has been an immense improvement in the housing situation. But it is not yet enough, for there are still serious shortages in some areas, and there remains some terribly bad housing.I also said, in paragraph 55, and this has special relevance to the London situation, that 90One of the most acute housing problems still left is the multi-occupation by families or lodgers of many large houses designed originally for use by single families. There has been no proper conversion, and the houses are without adequate cooking or sanitary facilities for the numbers now living in them. Often as a result the houses are decaying and the living conditions are disgusting.There is not much that the Milner Holland Committee could teach me about some of the features of London housing in the bad areas. I served on the London County Council Housing Committee and on my own borough council housing committee, after the end of the war, when the most acute and most terrible housing shortage affected almost everybody in London. Since then housing standards and internal equipment have greatly improved, as this Report shows, but that has sharpened the contrast with those groups whose problem is not yet solved. Far from it.
If I may look wider for a moment, the nature of the London housing problem today is but one facet of the national geographical distribution of population and economc wealth. The forces working for high concentration of population in the South-East area of England are very powerful. This is why, when I was Minister, I first initiated the South-East Study, and that is why the Conservative Government started a drive for better balanced regional development throughout the country.
However great the population pressure in the South-East, in a free market, if there were a free market, economic forces would, of course, produce enough houses. But we have not got a free market. I can give three reasons why: partly the handicaps which the law still imposes on private landlords, partly the artificial subsidy systems which the Report itself condemns, and partly the existence of the green belt policy, which we all, I hope, on both sides uphold.
If we had let the green belts go, land would be cheaper and plentiful and London's housing shortage would be well on the way to vanishing. But, equally, London would very quickly join up with Brighton, Reading, Luton and, I should think, Southend. London's housing shortage is part of the price we have to pay for preserving all that lovely scenery within reach of Londoners. If we are to retain the green belts, we must 91 be sure that we get everything else right so as to obtain the maximum number of houses and flats at rents within people's means. Here I completely agree with the findings of the Report.
We must secure the maximum land for housing. I well remember how my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), amended the London County Council's draft development plan and insisted on more land for housing and less for commercial use than the council had proposed.
Further, we may need to raise permissible densities on housing land. Again, the London County Council, in all sincerity, I know, though wrongly in my view—always opposed the raising of densities. I heard the hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Freeson), my nextdoor neighbour in North-West London, ask my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd Carpenter) whether he would propose to increase the density of 200 persons per acre in the centre of London. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows the situation well enough to realise that, whereas 200 is the maximum density in the centre, large areas of the rest of London are zoned at 130, 70, or, in some cases, lower figures.
§ Mr. Freeson
The main problem outlined in the Report is related to inner London and my question related to inner London. I took it that the right hon. Gentleman was referring to inner London and dealing with the main problem which he had discussed earlier. My question was directed to any proposal to increase the density beyond 200 in the central London area.
§ Mr. Brooke
The hon. Gentleman seems to be putting his own interpretation on "inner London". Normally, when one speaks of inner London now, one refers to the former County of London, and within the County of London there are enormous areas zoned at 70 persons per acre.
If we can get the land, and if we can examine again the permissible densities, we must see also whether we can create circumstances more favourable to private building to let. It may not be possible 92 to secure any contribution here in inner London where land is very scarce and expensive and building costs are high. If, even when the handicap of taxation and the other difficulties mentioned in the Report are removed, private owners still cannot make a material contribution with new houses or flats within London, we must do everything we possibly can to help the improvement of the vast amount of private rented properties in London. This goes without saying, in my view, but I am not at all sure that the Minister himself accepts it.
The Report speaks of areas of special control. I was very interested in that reference, and interested also in what the right hon. Gentleman said about the possibility of a development corporation taking over a particular part of a big city. This is something which has been discussed before, and I am myself in favour of the widest variety of attempts being made to solve the problem. But I did not quite understand what the Report had in mind with reference to an area of special control, because I could not quite see what it wished to be done by some new organisation which could not be done by the local housing authority taking over the whole of the property compulsorily.
In my borough, a Conservative-controlled borough, quite a large area of run-down property has been taken over. It is now being much better managed and will, in due course, be redeveloped by the housing authority. But I know the reluctance of local authorities to own near-slum property, and the right hon. Gentleman will discover this as a difficulty with which he has to cope. Yet I do not consider it right that local authorities should avoid the responsibility. There are circumstances in which a local housing authority must take over property which it certainly would not wish to own but in respect of which its purchase and management and final redevelopment offers the right solution for the area.
Of course, there must be more building by councils and by the housing associations, to which the right hon. Gentleman gave very little attention in his speech, for the appropriate people. When he was giving figures for the years 1955 onwards, I was not sure whether he was including all the houses which were being 93 built for Londoners outside London in new towns and elsewhere, and neither was I sure whether, in his figures, he was taking sufficient account of the difficulty which all housing authorities in the built-up area have had ever since a few years after the end of the war in finding land on which to build.
For a few years it was possible to use the bombed sites, but, now that these are virtually exhausted, the main problem facing every housing authority in the London area is to find land on which to build.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown (Shoreditch and Finsbury)
The right hon. Gentleman has emphasised the inability of authorities to find land. Will he explain one of his own actions when Minister? The Camberwell Borough Council came to him for help to take over vacant land for development and he refused, insisting that the council should not touch that land in Dulwich. The consequence has been that 1,000 homes have been built by private enterprise at prices from about £7,000 to £20,000, many of which are still empty and being advertised by the developers for sale.
§ Mr. Brooke
I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to a deputation which came to see me some years ago to discuss whether certain redevelopments should be done by the Dulwich College Estate, or by the Camberwell Borough Council. Having reviewed the whole situation in Dulwich, and having seen that the borough council had a good deal of land to go on with, I came to the conclusion that, in that instance, it was quite reasonable to permit the Estate to build on that area.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
The right hon. Gentleman has not taken my point. At no time have there been fewer than 5,000 families on the Camberwell waiting list and at that time there were 6,000. Will he not agree, therefore, that he permitted development in that area for "out of this world" housing with a density down to 50 persons per acre? He has been talking about densities of 200 persons per acre in inner London, yet he himself allowed building there at 50 persons per acre.
§ Mr. Brooke
I am quite sure that my decision in that case was right. The hon. Gentleman gave me no warning that he 94 would raise this point and did not give me a chance to look up the facts, but 1 have no doubt that at that time the Camberwell Borough Council had land to go on with and I believed that the redevelopment would take place more quickly and more satisfactorily if it were done by a charitable organisation, the Dulwich College Estate. There is no question of private landlordism here.
I was saying that the building by local authorities and housing associations must be for the appropriate people. I am sure that that means that the new building which the Minister is rightly wishing to encourage must be based on systems of differential rents. It is not appropriate that households with large incomes should either stay in or move into council flats at present if that will keep needier people out.
The Report says that in London £21 per week is the average household income of council tenants and that 22 per cent. of them have household incomes over £30. There may be reasons for households with large incomes to be in council flats. For example, in the days of far worse housing shortage after the war numbers of people qualified for council flats on genuine housing need although they had good incomes. But if councils nowadays grant subsidised rents to people of these incomes, what they are really doing—I must say this—is to subsidise not the rents but the cars.
Since those post-war days the London housing situation has become far better, except for the classes that are identified in the Report—families with several children, households with small incomes, newcomers, and old people who can afford very little. Then there is the feckless minority whom it is nearly impossible for any of us to help. They make up, I am afraid, a big percentage of the homeless families. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] The Minister claims—
§ Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a careful report about homeless families produced by the L.C.C. as a result of an inquiry conducted with great impartiality, concluded that the problem was not the feckless ne'er-do-well, but the decent, ordinarily 95 paid worker who just happened to have as many children as the Queen of England?
§ Mr. Brooke
I am certain that there is a link between problem families and homeless families. That was always so while I was Minister, and I am certain that it continues now.
When the Minister claims that a temporary Act has reduced the number of evictions, I cannot help wondering how much that represents more people being enabled to go on living where they are while not paying any rent.
§ Mr. Crossman
This is a question of fact. The L.C.C. breaks down its hostels into four categories—A, B, C and D. I was dealing only with categories A and B. These are very carefully classified as categories where the loss of home is due to action by the landlord. All cases of not paying rent are excluded, and those who do not pay rent are classed under "their own fault". Therefore, the ones where the motivation is mainly from the tenant are not included among those where the landlord's action was primarily concerned.
I spoke of a reduction from 130 to 40. Therefore, I think that I was using the statistics very carefully, thanks to the ability of the L.C.C. to break these down extremely well. I can substantiate what has just been said by my hon. Friend, because the L.C.C. tells us every time that the amount of fecklessness causing homelessness is relatively small.
§ Mr. Brooke
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his explanation. I come back to the Rent Act.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Dr. Horace King)
Order. If the right hon. Gentleman does not give way, the hon. Gentleman must sit down.
§ Mr. Brooke
I will give way in a moment if the hon. Gentleman wishes to speak.
It is possible to argue now, with hindsight, that in London the Rent Bill should have paid more attention to getting rents 96 up to a more economical basis and less attention to decontrol. I must remind the House that at the time the Labour Party opposed increases in controlled rents to twice the gross value as strongly as they opposed the decontrol provisions. We now see that twice gross value was, in fact, not enough. It is a very low rent; it is not sufficient now to enable one to keep London property in repair.
The Report says that the Rent Act resulted in no general excessive increase in rents, and that council rents rose as fast as private ones. Over most of England and Wales, away from London and the South Coast and the big cities, we could now have complete decontrol. It is remarkable how housing, which was the major issue of the 1951 General Election everywhere, had ceased over a great part of the country to be an election issue at all in 1964—but not in London. In London, the problem remains of how to remove the anxiety about insecurity without discouraging the letting of rented property, without freezing under-use of accommodation and without compelling landlords to subsidise tenants who do not need it.
I was concerned, when I was Minister, to break away from the destructive effects of rent control at the then quite uneconomic rents, which opponents of the Rent Bill defended, and which the Milner Holland Report roundly condemns. Obviously, in 1956 pre-war rents could not cover repairs at three and a half times pre-war prices. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the responsibilities of the politicians. It was the state of the law at that time that was forcing millions of houses to decay inside and out. We were the Government, and we were told by the then Opposition that we should do nothing about it.
In those days, when a landlord got vacant possession, he naturally tried to sell, or to let furnished. The Rent Act certainly slowed down the rate of loss on rented property far more than it would have slowed down, had there been no Rent Act. There is no question whatever that whereas, up to 1957, when a landlord of such rented property got vacant possession, he sold as quickly as he could, in a far greater number of cases since 1957 he has favourably considered reletting.
97 That the Rent Act did not achieve more in slowing down the rate of loss of rented accommodation was due principally to the threat of municipalisation. By the time the Labour Party had discovered that municipalisation was an ill-judged policy, and had dropped it, the harm had been done. It had done massive harm in stopping what the Milner Holland Report says is needed more than almost anything else—the investment of money in private housing to bring it up to date.
I will support any punitive measures which are effective against that small, hateful, bad minority of landlords, but if we are to get London housing right the Labour Party's war against private landlords as a class must cease. I was looking up the proceedings in the Standing Committee on the Rent Bill, and I see that I said one day:a few evilly-disposed people can do great damage. What we must avoid is making the unoffending many suffer for the sake of the miscreant few."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 19th February, 1957; c. 880.]I was very interested in the passage in the Milner Holland Report dealing with the New York law. It may be that something on those lines is the right solution. However, as the right hon. Gentleman said, it is one thing to pass a law but it is another to see whether it is enforceable and effective, and one cannot be content about legislation until one sees that the desired result will be achieved. Existing laws affecting these matters may, as the Report says, be hard to enforce through sheer shortage of public health inspectors. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned this point, but the recruitment and training of more public health inspectors is all-important if we are to get London housing right.
When my predecessor introduced the Rent Bill into the House, in 1956, I do not think that anyone foresaw that falling population would be accompanied by an actual rise in the number of households. But the 1961 census made that position very clear. This is the new factor which has worsened the problem for a number of London housing authorities, my own among them, as the table on page 62 of the Report shows.
It is also quite possible that in 1957 I did not sufficiently allow for the deterrent effect, at the key time, of the 98 policy of municipalisation, in discouraging the private landlord from putting money into his property. The selling went on because, until the Labour Party, in 1961, saw the error of its ways, a private landlord had no permanent expectation of retaining control of his property.
Then there was the heavy Commonwealth immigration from 1960 onwards. That, also, whatever the Report says, has made the task of a number of London housing authorities far harder. I do not think that the Report takes sufficiently into account the intense localisation of these pressures on what were already problem areas. It was a tour I made of bad housing conditions in London in 1960 which made me more certain than ever that multi-occupation was the worst evil in London housing—much worse than existence in the little old box-like houses which were very old and needed to be pulled down, but in which people had, nevertheless, been accustomed to live on their own all their lives.
Multi-occupation often takes the foulest forms. The Report makes the point that London contains more than half of all the multi-occupation in the country. With permission, I would like to quote something I said in the House almost exactly four years ago on this:I have seen old, out-of-date houses so modernised that any woman could take pride in running them, and I have seen some conditions so foul that most people would not believe they still survived in this country of ours.I shall long remember going into one of these big Victorian houses, up dirty steps, through a door with most of the paint off, up a staircase that never was cleaned, to three floors of squalor, except that in one of them the mother was obviously struggling against her surroundings to give her husband and children a decent home. There were no proper kitchens and no lavatory above the ground floor. I then went down to the basement. They tried to discourage me from seeing the basement, because a couple of women who were thought to be prostitutes occupied the basement and it smelt one degree worse than the rest of the house."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th March, 1965; Vol. 637, c. 979.]
§ Mr. Brooke
I do not want to give way again. I just want to finish my speech.
It was that sort of experience which led up to the quite new powers in Part II 99 of the 1961 Bill which I introduced, and they were further strengthened by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East in the 1964 Act. I believe that these powers have already been invaluable in improving the situation in a number of multi-occupied houses, but we are still up against the shortage of public health inspectors.
Broadly, I endorse all the aims to which the Milner Holland Report points, as an integrated whole. In 1957, the protection which was given by the 1954 Act to business tenants could not have been extended to domestic tenants, because then there was no free market at all in rents and, therefore, no norm by which the county court could fix rents fairly; but perhaps something on these lines would be workable now as it certainly was not then.
I want to end on a deeper thought. If we try to solve London's problems by making it a place where almost everybody ends up by paying less than an economic rent for his accommodation, either through rent control or through subsidies, this really means that wages throughout the London area are being subsidised with public money. That cannot make sense from the standpoint of the proper distribution of population over the country as a whole.
I believe, therefore, that there are much bigger issues thrown up by the Report than those which have hit the headlines. I believe that deep thinking as well as deep human emotion and determination are needed if, with the help of this great new study, we are to find the right ways through. I pray that we may all press on tirelessly and in unity to find them.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
I only intervene because I think that I can offer the House a long experience of this problem. For more than 40 years I have been engaged in London in converting and modernising large houses in Kensington. I have also brought up a family of six children and have had to house them. I am, therefore, all in favour of owner-occupation. I have had it most of my life and it has "paid off", as the saying goes.
I was never subject to the whims or fancies of any private landlord. I 100 could do more or less what I liked and, in the course of time, with inflation continuing, the price of any house I have owned also rose so that, in selling it in order to buy another I have nearly always received more than I have paid. It is true that I have improved my houses, as I hope every owner-occupier does, and the cost of that must be added to the purchase price.
I am, therefore, looking and speaking about this problem from an objective and factual point of view. I listened to my right hon. Friend, with all his eloquence and debating skill but, if he stays in office long enough, his test will be that of action and not criticism of the Opposition, although right hon. Gentlemen opposite badly deserve it. It is not the slightest use former Ministers getting up and trying, to make alibis for what they have or have not done. My right hon. Friend is quite entitled to criticise them, and to do so strongly, because at least they have had power—supreme power with good majorities—for the last 13 years. Although I do not put down the whole of this problem to them, nevertheless, had they been as energetic as my right hon. Friend gives the impression that he will be, I believe that they could have done more to alleviate the subject.
But neither they nor this Government can solve the housing problem in London within the next 20 years, taking conditions as they are, with population flooding in from all over the country and the world. The problem cannot be solved unless land can be found to build on. I shall not speak for long, and I hope that I shall be allowed to make my case. Perhaps it will not be popular, but I hope that at least it will be factual as a result of my experience.
I was interested to hear my right hon. Friend, with his imagination—one might almost call it "vivid"—speak about experimenting with the building of a new town, as it were, in the midst of London. My right hon. Friend pointed to a very good example which was started by the Labour Government between 1945 and 1950, the example of the new towns. There is this difference—and my right hon. Friend will find it quickly enough if he has not done so already—that whereas the new towns were mostly built on virgin soil, as it were, in London there are large developed areas with all the 101 tremendous costs of acquiring developed land, unless my right hon. Friend alters the whole basis of compensation on which local authorities can take over property.
This is a remarkable idea, but, I regret to say, it will not be and cannot be accomplished in any short time. What of the numbers of people already living in these areas and who will have to be turned out, to be decanted to somewhere else? That, alone, is one physical problem. Nevertheless, in our present situation all ideas should be pooled, wherever they come from, even from the Opposition, if they have any on this subject; and at the last moment they seemed to have only one idea, which is to endorse many of the things which the Report says but of which they must have known when they were in office.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
If the right hon. Gentleman reads a speech which I made five years ago from the Government side of the House, he will see that the idea of new town corporations within old towns was put in almost exactly the same words which we heard from the Government Dispatch Box today.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I have no objection to the hon. Gentleman claiming some credit for the idea which my right hon. Friend put forward. However, the Opposition did nothing about it when in office. The whole test about plans to deal with the homeless is action, not words. That is the only point of argument which I should like to offer to my right hon. Friend—that the test will be whether he can deliver the goods.
The Report is the outcome of the prompting mainly of my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin).
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Robert Mellish)
And other London Members.
§ Mr. Bellenger
My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) reminds me that it was also other London Members. That may be quite true, but it was my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North who got the headlines, at least on the Rachman examples which he gave to the House.
102 I will give credit to my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and to other Members for London constituencies who prompted the setting up of this Committee. However, it was mainly Rachmanism which started the operation of this Committee whose deliberations we are today debating.
§ Sir K. Joseph
As a point of fact, the Committee was announced in February, 1963, in a White Paper which I laid before Parliament several months before the name of Rachman became known and infamous.
§ Mr. Bellenger
It is very fortunate for the Opposition to be able to quote these apparent coincidences, but we are debating a problem which the Government of the time did not tackle as thoroughly as, I hope, my right hon. Friend will tackle it, and that is sufficient condemnation of right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
The Report is voluminous. I have read many housing reports, right back to the days of Booth, who investigated the poorer London districts at the beginning of the century, but this Report is of a kind which we have not seen for a long time. The right hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke) said that he accepted it in its entirety, but I do not think that one can do that. One has to take its various parts and draw conclusions.
For instance, I agree with my right hon. Friend that if subsidies are to be paid, they should go to local authorities rather than to private landlords. The area of private landlordism among lower rented properties has been depreciating, and I hope to show that it will continue to depreciate. Private landlords operate for a profit, as do many other estimable people. I do not believe that they want subsidies. They want to get rid of their lower rented properties if they can and invest their money in something which will give them a better return. This is a free country and if landlords want to do that, why should they not? Certainly, I agree that they should not be given a subsidy.
§ Mr. Costain
As the right hon. Gentleman began his speech by defending home ownership, would he also say that the 103 owner-occupier should not be subsidised, even though that helps to get houses?
§ Mr. Bellenger
In certain circumstances he should, although how the subsidy is given is a different matter. It was the hon. Gentleman's own Government who gave the owner-occupier a subsidy by withdrawing Schedule A Income Tax, which used to be imposed on owner-occupied property. I am not against the owner-occupier getting some sort of subsidy, but not in the form in which it is given to local authorities who build houses.
The reason, as my right hon. Friend said and as the Milner Holland Report shows, is that in the main local government owned and managed properties are far better managed than the lower rented controlled properties which are owned by private landlords. The reason is obvious and it all comes back to the factor of money. Whereas the rents of local authority houses are not controlled, those of the lower rented houses of private landlords are.
Next week, my right hon. Friend is to introduce a Bill which will reimpose controls on security of tenure. I do not object to that and I do not think that landlords will object. The whole purpose of the landlords is to get good tenants at remunerative rents. The last thing a good landlord wants to do is to turn out a good tenant, for he knows what a bad tenant can do, and I can assure the House that I have seen quite a number of bad tenants who have neglected the property and who, in many cases, as the right hon. Member for Hampstead said, have lived in slum conditions, often of their own making.
When I was a young man, after the First World War, I collected rents in North Kensington, but not for long, I am glad to say. Incidentally, I followed in the footsteps of Bernard Shaw. It may not be generally known that in his young days Bernard Shaw was in estate agency and had to collect rents. I have seen some of the slums of North Kensington. They were horrible places and some of the tenants living in them are not the sort of tenants a good landlord would want to have in his property.
My right hon. Friend says that he has effected a remarkable transformation in 104 the eviction figures, and, according to the figures he has given, he has. Incidentally, Rachman was a foreign landlord and I hardly like to think that English landlords could descend to the depths he did. It may be, but I would not like to say. Rachman is a name like Quisling has become and—
§ Mr. Molloy
Would my right hon. Friend not agree, nevertheless, that it was an English Act of Parliament which gave Rachman the licence?
§ Mr. Bellenger
I am not sure that it was. No Act of Parliament which this House has ever passed gave Rachman or anybody else the right to treat tenants, or mistreat them, as he did. I regret very much that local authorities, faced with that problem—and they know about it, even though there may not be sufficient health inspectors—did not take action to prevent it which, although I do not want to say too much about the matter, is a criticism of them.
All that I am saying is that it is interesting to note that it was a foreigner who was responsible for that. As I say, I have seen many bad conditions and I have seen some bad landlords, but, although perhaps my hon. Friends with more experience than I have can point to them, I do not like to think that Englishmen can descend to the depths which that man did. We will leave it at that.
We know the problem. We knew it in part before the publication of the Report, but we certainly know it now. How are we to deal with it? Although my right hon. Friend has disclosed, in one way or another, some of the features of the rent control which he is to introduce, may I say to him that, although he is absolutely right on the security of tenure aspect, if he thinks that he will get more houses by controlling rents at a figure which will not enable the landlord to keep those properties in a proper state of repair, the inevitable result will be more slums needing to be demolished and more housing problems for the next 10 or 20 years.
We shall see tomorrow what is proposed in the White Paper, but, as I understand it, my right hon. Friend takes this problem, as the Milner Holland Committee did, in two parts. One part concerns security of tenure, with which I agree with my right hon. Friend about, and the second concerns the control of 105 rents. We cannot force private landlords to enter the house property business if it is not worth their while. If we say to owners of property which is still controlled that the rent which they are able to charge will not be sufficient to pay for the adequate repairs on which local authorities must insist if we are to house tenants properly, landlords will do what they have been doing in spite of sanitary notice after sanitary notice: they will let their property depreciate, and, in particular, owners of one or two houses who do not have additional means will simply say "You can take them". Some have done this, and local authorities have refused to take them.
If we look at the Report devoid of bias or prejudice, we can see a lot of information about how local authorities operate. The remarkable thing is that many local authorities are not providing houses for the lower income tenants, and they do not mean to do so. Indeed, nine local authorities said to the Milner Holland Committee, "The family which stands a good chance of getting a council house is the one which will pay the price." They are doing just the same as private landlords: if one can pay the price one can get the hereditament. Incidentally, I think that flats and not houses are the only solution for this problem. We cannot provide the small houses with gardens such as those which were built in the Victorian age; we do not have the land. That is the most uneconomic way of providing homes for people in London.
All that I would say about the controlled tenancies—it looks as though all the decontrolled tenancies under the 1957 Act will be recontrolled—is that my right hon. Friend, in doing that, which I agree with, will have to provide a fair rental basis one way or the other. It may be that rent tribunals will have to be set up to adjudicate on what is a fair basis of rent. Whatever way is adopted, if those properties are to be kept in adequate repair, a reasonable rent must be charged.
Most hon. Members know how difficult it is in London to get skilled workmen to do a small job in their home. Often the plumbers, glaziers, painters, bricklayers and plasterers say, "We are not interested. We are interested in the jobs which pay us much better." That is why a contract of under a few thousand 106 pounds is not considered. They want to do more remunerative work. I do not blame them. As long as we have private enterprise, that will always follow. Nevertheless, even if we can get somebody to carry out repairs in decontrolled or uncontrolled property the cost is enormous.
I told the House that I had had over 40 years' experience in this matter. I know that in the old days the cost of simply repairing a sashcord or putting a washer on a tap was practically nothing. But today we know what jobbing builders charge for doing those small jobs. It may be said that tenants can do this work—many of them do do it—but it is the landlord's responsibility in many controlled tenancies. However, when it comes to decorating and structural repairs, controlled rents simply do not provide the basis for this work to be done either by a private landlord or by a local authority, even if houses were municipalised, which the Labour Party had as part of its policy some years ago.
I think that most tenants of council houses pay the local rates apart from their rent. Many tenants of controlled properties have the rates included in their rent. But there is provision in previous Rent Acts to deal with increases in rates. Look at the increases which we have had to stomach as a result of the latest revalution and assessment of property in London. There has been a 20 per cent. increase in rates in many local authorities in central London. That must be paid by the occupier.
Incidentally, one fact which emerges clearly from the Report is that private rents in a certain category are not greater than local authority rents. It is shown on page 30 that, in the case of the gross rent paid by tenants in receipt of National Assistance in 1963, the rent of tenants of private landlords in the County of London averaged £1 14s. 10d. a week whereas that of local authority tenants was £1 19s. 3d. This proves the point that I am making, that the rents of local authority property which is not controlled under the Rent Act are dearer than those of many small privately-owned tenancies. The reason is obvious—because the small privately-owned tenancies are rigidly controlled by an Act which has been long out of date, namely, the 1939 Act, when rents were frozen and security of tenure was given, too.
107 The two parts of the problem must be tackled together. We cannot isolate the private owner part from the local authority part. My right hon. Friend the Minister has said somewhere that the target is 400,000 houses, and I hope that he will get it. When I was a member of the first Labour Government, although the conditions were quite different just after the war, our target was 200,000. When the Tories brought their target up to 300,000 because of the clamour that was made at one of their conferences, they themselves did not believe that they could achieve that 300,000 and it took them a long time to do it. Unless we cut down other building, particularly office-building, we will not get the 400,000 houses a year, to say nothing of the 500,000 which, I think, is our long-term objective.
I am one of those who believe in the old saying, "Shoot at the moon if you want to hit a haystack." Ministers, however, have to be practical people when they come to this House. We can debate as we like, we can throw all sorts of accusations across the Floor of the House, but today many people, thousands of them, are without a home. They may not be homeless, but they are without an adequate home.
As I said at the start of my speech, having brought up a family of six children over the years I know the meaning of a comfortable home. It generally means a happy home. Therefore, because of the lack of homes among a large number of the population, especially in London, there must be many unhappy homes.
I merely offer my advice or comment, such as it is, in relation to that factor. If we want a contented population, especially amongst the families—and I put them first—we must provide them with a good home. Private enterprise will do it for the upper income brackets —we need not worry about them. I have never had any trouble in getting my housing accommodation, and neither has my right hon. Friend the Minister; he has never had any trouble either. He is fully conscious of the large number of people who are not in the same position as he or I, or even of Members of Parliament generally.
108 Therefore, the test will be whether my right hon. Friend can solve this problem, never mind what the Opposition have done in years gone by. He will not do it on the basis of a debate on the Milner Holland Report, or even of the Bill concerning rents which he will shortly introduce. It needs one, if not more, comprehensive housing Bills. Only thus can we deal with the situation that is outlined in the Report. That is what I should like my own Government to do. Whether they can do it in the parliamentary time at their disposal and with their majority, I do not know. Make no mistake about it, however. That is the only way to solve this housing problem.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Christopher Chataway (Lewisham, North)
The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) has at least approached the Report in a more dispassionate and more constructive spirit than did his right hon. Friend the Minister. In arguing that rents must be set at a reasonable level or else we create more slums, the right hon. Gentleman takes the attitude that is evident in many parts of the Milner Holland Report.
Hegelians might, I suppose, argue that the Report provides something of a synthesis between the past views of the parties. We may argue, if we wish, whether the tenor of the Report is nearer the original thesis of the Conservative Party or nearer the original antithesis provided by the Labour Party. The truth of the matter, as most hon. Members will admit to themselves, if not in this debate, is that the tenor of the Report is in many respects very different from the policies that have been advocated from many quarters in this House.
Two major recommendations stand out from the pages of the Report. The first is a need to strengthen the safeguards given to a considerable proportion of tenants in London. That means the need to forge yet stronger weapons to deal with the small minority of thug landlords. I was glad to hear the Minister say that he thinks that something can be done along the lines of the New York legislation. It also means more and wider security of tenure.
The Report proves, to my satisfaction at least, that the free market cannot, in 109 the short run, meet the problems of London. I believe that like other Western countries, we should be moving towards a free market, but in London's conditions it seems clear that security of tenure has to be afforded to a wider section of the market than is now the case.
§ Mr. Freeson
Apart from Sweden, can the hon. Member state which European country is moving towards a free market in rented housing?
§ Mr. Chataway
Yes, West Germany. The Report particularly commends the system by which West Germany is moving to a free market, pointing to the fact that West Germany has developed sophisticated techniques for determining the point at which rent controls may be removed. That is one of the major conclusions that stand out from the Report.
The other major conclusion is the need to render rented housing more attractive to investors. I believe that the pages of the Report—and there are many of them—which are devoted to this subject will have come as a surprise to many hon. Members. I readily confess that until I read the Report, I had not appreciated just what are the disincentives that the private investor is faced with in moving into housing.
As the Report states at page 187, however, hardship caused by insecurity of tenureis accentuated by the inadequate and shrinking stock of London housing available for private renting".No measures for increasing security of tenure will be much good without measures to increase the stock of private rented housing. The crying need is to make private landlordism more attractive. If hon. Members opposite want today to point to a whole lot of conclusions in the Report that are at variance with arguments advanced by the Conservative Party, we equally can point to the fact that virtually nobody among hon. Members who now occupy the benches opposite was arguing that case.
I am glad to see that the Minister has now returned. As I was saying during his absence, I hope that for the rest of the day we will not be primarily concerned to determine whether the Report is nearer to the arguments that have been advanced by the Conservative Party or nearer to 110 those advanced in the past by the Labour Party. The Minister may laugh and argue, as he did during his speech today, that housing is bound to be a matter of party politics and that he always suspects his opponent of having a weak case, and argue that it should not be the subject of fierce party knockabout. The fact is, and it is well argued in the Report, that in most European countries there has been a greater measure of political security for the private investor. The Report argues that it is on that account that most European countries have seen a larger investment in private housing than we have in this country.
§ Mr. Molloy
The hon. Member says that we cannot argue the case on what the Conservative Party or the Labour Party have said in the past—and that may be so—but that we must argue it on what the Report says. We then discover that the Report generally is a condemnation of certain aspects of private landlordism. It has no bad word whatever to say about local authority landlordism. It is we on this side who are in favour of local authority landlordism, and it is the hon. Member who supports private landlordism.
§ Mr. Chataway
I am not encouraged to give way to the hon. Gentleman too many times in the future after that intervention. He will, no doubt, have an opportunity to give his own account of what the Report says. The only point I have made so far—and I do not see that he had any reason to challenge it—is that the conclusions of the Report and what amount to recommendations are in many respects at variance with what hon. Members in all parts of the House have been saying in the past, and it seems to me more profitable to concentrate on discussing whether those recommendations are right.
Perhaps the single most illuminating chapter in this document is Chapter 12, the chapter which gives the international comparisons. I have had a feeling on many occasions in the past that we are still too insular in discussing our social problems. I believe this to be true in education, and I have wondered in the past whether there would not be advantage in having somewhere in Whitehall a statistical and information bureau from 111 which one could get details of the practices of our neighbours in Western Europe. It is not, of course, that they are more likely to be right on every issue than we are, but whether it be comprehensive versus grammar school, whether it be land prices, or the shortage of teachers, or private rented housing, the fact of the matter is that in many of those Western European countries exactly the same problems have been faced over a good long period, and a number of different solutions have been tried out.
However that may be, the data collected here about other cities are, I think, extremely valuable. In Chapter 12, and in Table 12.2, we see that Paris, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Geneva, Amsterdam and Hamburg all have a very much higher proportion of private rented accommodation than we have. To London's 34 per cent. we find in those other cities proportions varying from 50 per cent. to 73 per cent. of private rented houses.
Perhaps the most serious weakness in London's present housing situation is that the stock of private rented housing is being reduced by 4 per cent. a year and that private investment is not being attracted into housing. The Report urges various changes. The Minister the other day, in his by-election speech, said that he would not be inclined to follow the recommendations of the Report about taxation for landlords because, he said, "The Conservatives have been trying to get private investment into housing for a good number of years and they have failed and I do not see there is much point in my trying now"—words to that effect. He will know that over these past years it would have been extremely difficult in practice for my right hon. Friends to have persuaded investors into housing in any large numbers while the Labour Party's policy remained as it did. He may contest that, but, of course, he knows it is true. When most private landlords were threatened with municipalisation, naturally they were not going to invest large sums of money in housing. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may not like that, but if an hon. Gentleman opposite were to invest for a trade union, or if he were a private investor on his own account, would he put a 112 massive amount of money into housing when under a two-party system the second party said, first, that it would municipalise property and, secondly, that it would introduce an economic rent? Of course not.
§ Mr. Crossman
May I ask the hon. Gentleman one question? This point has been made by various hon. Members opposite. I have read the Report very carefully and it seeks to analyse all the reasons for the failure to have private rented housing. Would the hon. Gentleman show me the passage in the Report where it indicates the influence which Labour's propaganda had on it? Because I cannot find it here.
§ Mr. Chataway
The right hon. Gentleman will not expect me to produce the best reference to that offhand, but I will refer him to page 218, since this is the chapter I am talking about at the moment, where, talking about rents, the Committee said thatwe gained the impression that landlords themselves seldom attract the political interest focussed upon them in London. In countries where the rights and wrongs of the private landlord have not been the subject of such prolonged and embittered political conflict it has been possible to establish more productive and responsible relationships between government and the various interests and groups concerned.That is one reference. No doubt, given time, I could find better ones. It was therefore disappointing to many who had supposed that the Minister was prepared to accept the spirit of the Report that almost his first comment on it should have been that in his by-election speech to which I have referred.
It will be very easy to reimpose rent restrictions, as the right hon. Gentleman has emphasised. It is desperately important that we do not get the wrong kind of rent controls which will leave the situation worse than it was before. Too rigid rent controls could, of course, remove yet more property from the rented market.
I would suggest that there are really three essentials in any extension of rent control. The first is that rent control should be imposed only in those areas where it is really necessary. Both Germany and Sweden, I suppose the two outstandingly successful countries in postwar housing, are, as I mentioned earlier, 113 decontrolling where possible. Secondly, rents should be set near to the market level and provide a good return on capital. Thirdly, there should be machinery for regular and impartial reviews of rent levels.
It is significant to see in Table 12.4, on page 216, that of nine cities London has been the longest without reviewing its control of rents. It will always, I suspect, be difficult for any Government to review rents fairly. Governments are subject to all sorts of pressures which make it uncertain that they will regularly review rents. I would hope, therefore, that for the controlled part of the market we would follow the example of quite a number of other cities cited in the Report and set up an independent review tribunal.
Clearly, the Minister has a choice to make about this Report and his housing policy. Either he can slap on wholesale, uneconomic rent controls which may please sections of his party, and perhaps in the short-term they will win him a few votes, but if he does that he will go down not only as the person who ignored this Report but as a Minister who positively accentuated London's housing difficulties. Or, he can, as the Report persuasively urges, encourage all four types of housing—council, housing association, private rented and home ownership.
We have an effective machinery in this country for council building, probably one of the most effective in Western Europe, though the system of subsidies and means of Exchequer grants, as the Report suggests, needs some review. Secondly, we have a good record of building for home ownership, and all I would say on that to the Minister, who today has been arguing that a much larger proportion of our building ought to be council building and a much smaller proportion for home-ownership, is that this is an odd argument to advance in conjunction with a policy for lower mortgages, which must surely increase the demand for the small stock of private housing.
Thirdly, the housing associations. My right hon. Friend set the housing associations along an expansionary path, although tax concessions are needed, as the Report demonstrates, if the associations are to meet the most pressing needs. 114 I was glad to hear the Minister give what I thought a favourable reaction to that suggestion. Our greatest deficiencies are clearly in the field of privately rented housing. Here, as the Report repeatedly urges, measures are urgently needed to provide capital and render more attractive the ownership of rented property. The Minister might, as is done in France, give generous capital allowances to residential developers. He might, as happens in Germany, use a combination of tax incentives and subsidies to mobilise private enterprise in this sphere. He might, as is done in Sweden, give private developers of rented accommodation a third mortgage at a low rate of interest.
I do not believe that necessarily there should be both tax incentives and subsidies. The Minister seemed to be arguing that because the Report talked about tax incentives and subsidies, and because he was not prepared to envisage subsidies, therefore we should leave things as they are, but surely—
§ Mr. Crossman
I limited myself to the view that I thought it unwise to consider a Government subsidy for private landlords building new housing. I left the question of the tax law free, only saying that I was in favour of a tax being fair to housing associations, and indeed to everybody.
§ Mr. Chataway
I am glad to know that the Minister is still prepared to consider the recommendations about tax changes, because clearly if those changes are made, even without any other change, the private developer could cater to a lower level of income than at present.
The Report certainly lays stress on the need for tax changes. In this country we have what is probably one of the most efficient property industries to be found anywhere. Its techniques are being employed all over the Western world and yet, as is shown by Table 12.3 on page 215 in the Report, of nine cities, only London and one other do not give Government loans or subsidies to privately rented houses, so it is not a very revolutionary suggestion which is made in the Report. I should have thought it one 115 which did not need to be dismissed out of hand by any Government.
Of the nine cities referred to in the table only London and two others do not give tax exemptions for landlords' depreciation funds. On this issue more than on any other the sincerity of the Government in dealing with the housing problem will be judged. I hope that the Government will accept the recommendations in the Report as a whole. I hope that the Minister will be prepared to stimulate housing on all four fronts, as the Report suggests. If he picks and chooses, if the Government show no interest in the development of private houses for renting, it will be clear that the right hon. Gentleman is more interested in party dogma than in London's housing problem.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)
The hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway), who spoke in his usual disarming manner, suggested that this subject should be considered objectively and free from party prejudice. The hon. Gentleman then went on to make some party points. He must realise that this is a matter which cannot be divorced from party controversy as party affairs are all affairs that concern the social conditions of our people. We can no more divorce housing from party controversy than we can divorce employment, health or any other matter closely affecting the lives and conditions of our people. We should be failing in our duty if we did not express our party principles on these occasions. That does not mean that we do not try to examine the Report as objectively as possible.
The other thing which the hon. Member for Lewisham, North said which interested me very much was that he supported the move for wider security for tenants, as is suggested in the Report. We were all delighted to hear it, but we must remind the hon. Gentleman that he supported the 1957 Act which did more to remove security of tenure from tenants than any other Act passed by any Government during this century. By its wide measures of direct and creeping decontrol, security for tenants was removed in a big way. Indeed, that Act is condemned, indirectly but implicitly, in 116 the Report which we are discussing today, which speaks of the "haphazard and unpredictable process" of decontrol which took place in this country and suggests that it is among the major causes of the abuses which take place and the bad relations which exist between landlord and tenant.
To me, as to all hon. Members who have spoken in this debate, this Report is a remarkable document. It is remarkable in its analysis, in its conclusions and in the evidence it produces in support of those conclusions. It is a near-miracle that the Report should have been produced in such a short time. In its horrifying revelations it may well be compared with some of the Royal Commission Reports of the last century which exposed the frightful conditions in which various sections of the working-class lived and worked. Then, unfortunately, it usually took decades, with opposition by private vested interests and frustration by delays in legislation, before effective remedies were applied. Today we are fortunate in facing the prospect that these grave social injustices, or at any rate, most of them, will be remedied quickly under the guidance of my right hon. Friend. No doubt in the Bill which he will bring before the House—and the House will pass rapidly—we will see a number of measures to get rid of, at least, some of the worst abuses exposed in this Report.
I want to say a few words arising from my own experience of these matters, having attended a weekly "surgery" in my constituency for over 40 years. In pre-war days the greatest distress caused to my constituents, and to the working people of London generally, was the fear of unemployment. Today it is the fear of losing their home. That is a more serious and distressing threat in that it leads to a break-up of families which may last a very long time. The exposures in the Report can come as no surprise to those of us—most London hon. Members do the same as I do—who regularly attend "surgeries" for our constituents. We knew this sort of thing was happening in our own areas. One of the things achieved by the Report is the revelation that conditions which we might have thought unique in our own constitiuencies are common throughout London.
117 When we quoted in the House or in the Press individual cases of gross exploitation and persecution of tenants by landlords, we made little public impact, as the cases were often dismissed as exceptional and too sensational. Those of us who spoke about them were regarded as being animated by political bias. So, too often, our points fell on stony ground. That can no longer happen, now that this exposure has been made of the conditions which apply all over London, by an impartial and objective body supported by a mass of incontrovertible evidence. It has shown that it is not simply a matter of a few luckless families, falling by accident on unhappy times, but a condition affecting thousands of people throughout London and threatening tens of thousands more all the time.
The Report is right when it says that the greatest distress caused to the people of London by the present housing situation is not the actual bad housing conditions in which many people have to live—though these are horrible enough—but the insecurity in the minds of so many who have homes. Threats and potential threats of being turned out of their homes cause indescribable distress and often result in the mental unbalance of the parents of families. They come to us, Members of Parliament who want to try to help them and give them advice, and ask us what they can do, how they can prevent themselves and their children—and as the Report shows, it is young married couples with children who suffer most—being put on the streets when their landlord threatens them with eviction. In nine cases out of ten we have to tell these people—this is the most painful duty which we have to perform—that we can give them no help. There is nothing that we or they can do, because, under the law as it stands, they are powerless to do anything if they live in uncontrolled premises. The landlord has power to evict them, and they have to go through all the heartbreak and distress of becoming homeless, with nowhere to go.
It is no use saying to them that this is a result of the laws passed by another party, by the Conservative Government, and that they will have to wait until the law is changed. We have to dismiss them and say that there is nothing to be done, that they have to suffer. That is a horrible thing to have to say. Of course, 118 the situation is better as a result of the Act which my right hon. Friend has brought in to prevent eviction. If the Labour Government had done nothing else but produce this Act, it would have justified its election to power. It has, by that Act, earned the gratitude of thousands of people throughout London. I hope that the coming of legislation which my right hon. Friend will introduce will be equally beneficial.
It seems to me that the Report in its disclosures of the distress and difficulties which Londoners suffer through the present shortage and lack of security does not give sufficient emphasis to one aspect of the problem, and that is the illegal and improper pressure put on large numbers of tenants to disposess them of their houses, when their landlords have no legal right whatsoever to do so. People are so frightened by the threats, blackmail, solicitors' letters written with all the authority which their authors can devise and quoting Acts of Parliament that they often leave homes without taking advice, and their families are split up. That happens constantly with numberless tenancies in controlled premises.
However, there are other devices which are also common and the Report makes no mention of these. Here is one example which came to my attention a short time ago. An elderly couple had lived in controlled premises for years when a new landlord took over and said to them, "I can give you better premises than these. I want your premises for development. I will not raise your rent at all and I will pay your removal expenses." They thanked the landlord warmly and moved. They went into nicer rooms, their rent was not increased and their removal expenses were paid. After three weeks, the landlord gave them notice, and, as they were in uncontrolled premises and had no protection, out they went. This sort of thing happens on a large scale. Another type of abuse which is not uncommon happened to a young couple with children who went into premises which were pretty rotten. The young man intended to make this a home for his wife and children of which he could be proud. He understood that they could stay there as long as they liked. He had spent all his savings, £300, making these rooms habitable, when the 119 landlord said, "Out you go," and out they had to go, with no legal redress.
There is one more example which I should like to quote of the sort of practice which a landlord may get up to. It happened in my own constituency which is not far from here, and is in fact just over the other side of the river—which does not make people more law-abiding, but it does somehow make it more shocking, when it happens so close to the Palace of Westminster. A controlled tenant was threatened with eviction and I told him that he need not worry, that he was perfectly all right. Shortly afterwards, the landlord, who had unsuccessfully bullied him to go, asked him if he would buy the house. He said he would let him have it cheap, for £2,500. The tenant could not pay it anyway, but I happened to know that the landlord had bought the house, shortly before, for £1,750. If he could not make his vast profits by raising the rents substantially, he hoped to do so by selling the house to the tenant at an extortionate profit.
I was delighted to read in the Report a comment that immigration into London has not been a cause of overcrowding in the London area. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It says that the housing difficulties experienced by immigrants have been the result and not the cause of the real trouble. I am particularly pleased because, in areas where they are many immigrants, such as my own, people are apt to blame the wrong cause. They blame the apparent visible cause. When people tell me that, I remind them that, in pre-war days, constituents coming to me about their housing problems often used to say, "It is outrageous that accommodation in this neighbourhood is being taken by foreigners." On asking what they meant by "foreigners" I frequently got the answer "They come from Wales." Anybody who comes into London from outside is regarded or was regarded as being a foreigner. My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will be aware of this in another part of London.
§ Mr. Strauss
That may well be.
120 The most interesting and constructive part of the Report is Chapter 12, which gives the comparisons with the protection afforded to tenants in regard both to rent and security in other countries. The Table on page 216 is particularly illuminating, because it shows that London is the only one of the nine capital cities examined by the Committee where there is no rent control over the majority of privately owned lettings. It is the only city where there is no effective control over the rent and security of those living in such tenancies. That is an outrageous state of affairs which no doubt my right hon. Friend will rectify in his coming Measure.
I am particularly interested in this comparison between the protection afforded against landlords to tenants in the capitalist country of America where it is thorough, comprehensive and effective, and our neglect of this in London. This comparison was one of my favourite themes in my General Election speeches. It is a shameful situation. In New York tenants not only of low-class property but of good-class property are protected, through effective legislation administered by the city council, from being turned out improperly or having their rents improperly increased. The rents are fixed by an independent tribunal which takes account of the landlord's interests just as much as it does of the tenant's. As far as I know, the system is accepted by both landlords and tenants as being a fair way out of the difficulty of fixing a reasonable rent. The landlord feels that he is not exploiting the tenant, and the tenant feels that, as the rent has been fixed by independent people, it is not unfair and he is prepared to accept it.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will incorporate measures along these lines in his Bill. I am sure he will. In New York tenancies up to £1,000 a year are protected in this way, but if there is a family which has more than three in the household, there is no limit. Whatever the rent may be, the tenant is safeguarded against eviction and undue increase in rent. It has been suggested that if such a proposal were incorporated in our law, it should be applied only to the lower-rented tenancies—I am glad to see my right hon. Friend shaking his head—and that it should not apply above a certain low limit.
121 I am glad to get an indication that that will not be so in his Bill. The one thing that I do not accept in the Milner Holland Committee's Report is its belief that there is no shortage in London of flats or rooms to let at a range of £400-£500 a year. That is not true. Of course, one can get some rooms at £8-£10 a week. If they are rooms belonging to a housing trust, one may be able to get two or possibly three rooms at that rate. But if it is a private landlord, for that rent one probably can get only one or at the outside two, wretched rooms. There is colossal pressure by professional people earning £1,500-£2,000 a year seeking decent accommodation in London for themselves and their families. Many of them are living in misery comparable with manual workers earning £15-£20 a week.
Moreover, with the increasing standard of life of professional people and the fact that the number of rooms and flats of this sort is not increasing, the pressure or this type of accommodation will increase. The scarcity will become greater and prices will rise. Therefore, I hope that my right hon. Friend will ensure that the range of rents which will come under his new legislation will be high and comparable with that in New York.
The Minister is on the eve of presenting to the House a Measure which I believe may be an historic one for improving the housing conditions of the people in London—and maybe of the whole country—and in particular removing their present sense of insecurity. He has a great opportunity of righting some of the grave wrongs and injustices that have too long brought distress and tragedy to many of our people. He has the opportunity of making a reality of the principles of social justice for which the Labour Party stands. In his task he will find that he will be greatly helped by this authoritative Report, and in carrying his proposals to fulfilment he can expect the enthusiastic support not only of every hon. Member on this side of the House but, I am sure, of every hon. Member in the House and of every decent person in the country.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Allan (Paddington, South)
I am sure that every hon. Member on this side of the House welcomes the last sentiments of the right hon. Member for 122 Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss). If the Minister's new proposals are to achieve an improvement in the housing conditions of our constituents in London, then I am sure that my hon. Friends will support them, too. But I would put in a caveat. No one has yet mentioned conclusion No. 5 on page 187 of the Milner Holland Report, which indicates that nearly 50 years of rent control, including haphazard decontrol, have not led to any real relief of stress in the London area. Having made that caveat, I am ready to judge on their merits the proposals which come from the right hon. Gentleman.
The right hon. Member for Vauxhall expressed surprise that so many of his constituents were subjected to intimidation when they were controlled tenants. This has surprised me, too. This is backed up by the Report, which says that of the cases which it examined—I think there were 953 cases of intimidation—more than half, 517, were in uncontrolled tenancies. This has caused me some surprise. But it also means that all the blame for intimidation cannot be put on the Rent Act, because those tenancies were not affected by it. They were uncontrolled tenancies anyway before the Rent Act was passed.
I was very moved by the examples given by the right hon. Gentleman from his constituency. I could give similar instances from my constituency, though most of it escaped the most violent form of intimidation. It is only recently that the worst aspects of this have come to my notice in my part of Paddington. It would be ungenerous of me not to say that my violent reaction to this moved me to a feeling of gratitude that my colleague in Paddington, the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) raised these matters and brought them to public notice. But, having said that—
§ Mr. Allan
—I think it is very necessary that we should get the thing in proper perspective. I am told that there are 700,000 private tenancies in London. This Committee, sitting for 18 months, produced only 1,589 cases of abuse. But even if we double that figure, taking an annual average of 3,000, and not by any means are all of them intimidation, that is only a half of 1 per cent. of all tenancies 123 in London. Though one must be sickened by and deplore these things, one should not, I think, generalise from these very sordid particulars.
I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman will be introducing legislation along the lines of the New York system. I have examined it, as the right hon. Member for Vauxhall has, and I support it.
The Report lists the pressures which are responsible for the overcrowding of London. None of those pressures are to be regretted. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) detailed them. None of us can object to any of the reasons given. Indeed, if London does not act as a magnet and does not attract people it will become dead and there will be far larger areas of London made derelict by under-population than the relatively small number of areas made derelict by over-population today. This increase in London is going to continue, and we must accept it. Therefore, we must tailor our housing policy to it.
This pressure comes not only from those who want to live in London but from those who must live there. These are mainly people of relatively low income whose work is to service London. They are concerned with transport, hospital services, communications and with general maintenance. Ideally those are the people who should be council tenants. They should have priority because of their work. Of course, I realise that it is not practicable to do this at once, and there would be grave drawbacks, social and others, if this policy were fully implemented. However, I think that, by and large, local authorities should alter their housing priorities so as to give higher priority to those whose work demands their presence in the centre.
This, of course, must be coupled with some other form of provision of accommodation outside London in preparation for the time of retirement. It is no good filling up the vital space at the centre with key workers and then finding, when they retire, that they have nowhere else to go. I have canvassed people in my constituency and they would be delighted with such a development.
This would help, to some extent, with certain categories. But then we come 124 back to the question which we have been discussing most of the afternoon, the question of what is to happen to the private rented houses. I repeat what we said before, that the Committee came to the conclusion that there could be no solution without making use of this type of accommodation.
The right hon. Gentleman blamed private landlords for not building in London. But in London there is not the land for either private landlords or councils to build on, so that private landlords have to go more and more towards conversion. Page 113 of the Report states the difficulties concerning the conversion of old Victorian houses in the part of London which I represent, Paddington, and in Kensington as well. The point is that these conversions are difficult. Because of that, as the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) said, they are extremely expensive.
When such conversion takes place—even when controlled there is a permitted increase in rent—the rent becomes far too often too high for the existing tenant to benefit from the conversion. The result is that the property either attracts a different type of tenant, who does not really need this kind of house, or it is sold. The original tenant who was seeking lower-rented property is simply squeezed out, as the Minister said. This, in turn, highlights the other subject about which we have been speaking today—subsidies.
The Report says quite clearly in the tables at the end and in Chapter 3, I think, how the tax advantages at present given to owner-occupiers are, in fact, housing subsidies. One hon. Member said this afternoon that it was obvious that we must continue this system still further. It can be done, but I notice in the present issue of the Economist that it is said that the medium-priced house which we have been building in London and the South-East costs £4,250 and that the average manual worker, if he is to keep the cost of his accommodation within one-quarter of his income, can borrow only £2,590, so it will be seen that house purchase is right out of the ken of many of our constituents who come to see us.
I still think that owner-occupation has a great contribution to make to solving housing difficulties, but it is certainly 125 not going to be the universal answer. There must always be rented accommodation. Those who rent from local authorities receive subsidies—and pretty substantial subsidies—as shown in the tables. They also have a fairly substantial hidden subsidy in that the local authorities in equalising the rents between older properties and modern properties can subsidise the tenants in the modern properties. Some of the big companies can do that too. Where they own pre-war property they can use it to subsidise the high rents of modern purpose-built rented accommodation in the centre.
The small landlord, however—and he is the man with whom we are mainly concerned—cannot do that, and neither the small landlord nor the big landlord can give the rate subsidy available to local authorities. What all this boils down to is that we cannot subsidise the public sector, give tax benefits to the owner-occupier, and, at the same time, expect the private landlord to provide accommodation at competitive prices. Somehow or other, this accommodation has got to be subsidised.
I am not in the least doctrinaire about this. I do not mind how the subsidy is paid. I do not necessarily want it to go into the pockets of the landlords. Why should it not be similar to the farming subsidy? I believe that the Minister, who is very flexible in the matter, could work out a scheme whereby the selected tenant in the lower income group has his rent subsidised, thereby giving the landlord an economic rent for the property and so making it possible to give security of tenancy. It is only where rents are controlled at artificial levels that we get the system of Rachmanism.
§ Mr. Albert Evans
The hon. Gentleman seems to be putting forward a suggestion similar to the one put forward by his right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) earlier today. It appears that he would subsidise the private landlord, and with that, of course, he would couple security of tenure for the tenant and also, presumably, accept the control of the rent by the local authority or that in some way the rent would be controlled. The hon. Gentleman has advocated that as the policy of his party, presumably.
§ Mr. Allan
My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames made some reference to this, but my point is simply that we do at the moment subsidise the owner-occupier and the local authority tenant. We simply cannot expect to get private unsubsidised accommodation at comparable prices. Therefore, we have to get an element of subsidy into it as otherwise there will be no improvement. I do not mind how the Minister does it.
§ Mr. Frank Tomney (Hammersmith, North)
Will the hon. Gentleman indicate what he thinks is the dividend return on capital for private landlords?
§ Mr. Allan
I should not like to suggest what it would be. The Minister has all the available resources at his command and could no doubt say what it is. I should not like to hazard a guess.
If this policy were adopted it would certainly help to produce better accommodation. It would not necessarily produce more accommodation. Indeed, it might produce less, because space hitherto devoted to living would then have to be converted to amenity.
I am riding a hobby horse of mine when I say that I believe that the only way to create more housing is to increase densities. This matter has been touched on this afternoon and I will not enlarge on it in detail, except to say that we will never solve our housing problems in central areas unless densities are increased. I appreciate that there are a lot of arguments against doing this, but if one goes to any of the squalid areas and asks people, "Would you rather live in a higher density in a new tower block than in this ghastly multiple occupation house?" the answer is "Yes" every time.
When considering this matter from the social point of view it should be remembered that a large number of people, council house tenants and others, have motor cars and are able to take their families out of the central areas at weekends to enjoy open spaces. I am 127 sure that higher densities must come. Indeed, I think that that view is being taken now, because I note that the resistance to it is now expressed not so much on social grounds as on grounds of cost. This, too, could be overcome easily by full and profitable multiple use of every site to be developed.
Some time ago I had a scheme of building high over Paddington Goods Yards. The scheme would have covered a 16 acre site and would have housed 3,000 people. The rents would have been lower than subsidised council rents because—and I am, of course, speaking notionally now—the domestic rents would have been subsidised by the rents which could have been obtained from light industry, commercial property and offices. I consider that this is the only way of overcoming the higher costs of building.
There are sites in London where the sort of building I have described could still be done. We have the Rossmore Goods Yards and another obvious example is the Paddington Mileage Yard. I hope that the Minister will do everything he can to press on with this type of development. The latest information I have is that those projects have been put back again. I see the Joint Parliamentary Secretary shaking his head, which means, I hope, that he realises the importance of this type of development.
I suggest that the Minister looks not only at railway land and similar sites which could be filled in and built upon but at other schemes, such as the one about which I was speaking for High Paddington. As I say, it would have covered 16 acres and if he checks the files in his Ministry he will see that the B.T.C., with which I was in negotiations at the time, was in favour of the idea. I am speaking about 1951. At the time there would have been considerable advantages to the railways, which would have got a covered goods yard and a rent as well. One of the major difficulties then was getting rid of the steam, but since locomotives are now virtually all diesels that difficulty would no longer apply.
I am sure that this type of development must take place, though, equally, it need not apply only to railway sites. There are plenty of other sites which 128 modern building techniques now allow us to develop. One can see, for example, when coming to London Airport the disused sand and gravel pits lying flooded and derelict. I am assured by friends in the building industry that it is now possible to build on such sites. There is a special foundation method called the "inverted saucer technique" which make foundations strong and stable enough to build high on that type of site.
I worked out my High Paddington scheme with a man who at the time had a most imaginative idea for high community buildings in areas around London. The idea was carefully worked out and was called "The Seven Suns of London". One must, if one is to go in for that type of building, create a new concept of vertical building—of vertical communities rather than horizontal ones. I am sure that projects of this sort are worth considering. I know that the Minister is prepared to be imaginative in solving our housing problems. While he is grappling with what are difficult and immediate problems, I hope that he will not be frightened to take a fairly long look ahead.
To sum up, my main points are these. We must accept that London will continue to attract people. Let us, therefore, try to work out schemes whereby we can provide houses for them. One scheme must be to see that subsidies are available to low-income, selected tenants of private properties let at economic rents. We must also accept the idea of higher densities and we must go for all kinds of building sites which modern techniques allow us to use. We must develop them on the best possible multi-use basis. If the Minister, in any of his forthcoming measures, produces ideas or schemes which will move in any of these directions he will have my support.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)
It is always slightly embarrassing to speak following the hon. Member for Paddington, South (Mr. Robert Allan), not only because after all these years he is a personal friend of mine but because I know, and he knows that I know, how much of what he says springs from personal knowledge and conviction and how much from political prudence.
129 I know that he knows—and that his right hon. Friend who will wind up for the Opposition knows—a great deal more about the origins of these problems than he sometimes dares to raise in a debate. Of course he knows. Of course it is not for nothing that we have had discussions outside the Chamber, in the Committee corridors and so on, over the years. We both know which points he accepts and which points he must walk gingerly over because of political pressures—and which view of them he does not yet accept because he is so stupid and has not yet understood it. Every now and then I get a bit enraged because the hon. Gentleman will not see what seems to me by now to be perfectly simple. If he will allow me, I will not comment on his speech bit by bit because inevitably, as I make my own speech, it is bound to be a counterpart to what he said.
In the short time that is available to me I must spend a moment paying tribute to all those who were responsible for compiling the Milner Holland Report. I am sure that everyone who has read it will agree with me. If mine is a personal tribute I hope that it will not diminish its value. I find nothing in it with which to disagree and not a point is hinted at that has not been discussed by me at some time during the last 10 years in Committee, late night debates and on other occasions.
The perceptiveness and delicacy with which, combined with a scientific and scholarly discipline, its ideas are brought together in perspective deserves high tribute indeed. It is a great help to all of us who must now say, "The argument is over. We can now work from the Report. The facts are established". The outstanding value of the Report is that it stretches far beyond the terms of reference to which the Committee had to refer from time to time in restricting its comments.
It insists time and again that security is the basic thing we must achieve. This goes far beyond housing. In saying a word about poor old Paddington 1 hope that Paddington will be recognised as being something more important, more interesting and more inspiring for the future than a little overcrowded borough which got defeated because it could not 130 cope with the problems which were on top of it. It is much more than that. I have claimed, and I think that my constituents in Paddington accept, that Paddington is, in a way, the Jarrow of the 'sixties. It is an example in the second half of the century of where the fundamental malaise has not been understood until now even by the inhabitants of the area. It was a long time before the people of Jarrow understood the significance of what was happening to them. Certain strains were at work which it was eventually seen would spread to the rest of the country if not tackled.
Paddington's situation could be summarised as my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) has recently indicated, and it is repeated all over the country. People are beginning to understand that the basic feeling of insecurity in the 'thirties rose from insecurity of employment, from industrial inefficiency; the basic insecurities of today spring from social inefficiency and stretch far beyond the evils of housing. We find there the roots of the malaise, the insecurities that bring such distressing symptoms as the purple hearts traffic, the juvenile delinquency, the failures in the educational system—I could go round the whole field of social welfare. It is hinted at in this Report, whose authors have, I am sure, seen this fact, and seen how important it is.
I hope that the Milner Holland Committee will realise—in case it feels in a moment of anxiety that it has worked so long but that, perhaps, all it said will not be taken into account—that we now have a situation in which the diagnosis itself is more than half the cure. We have the feeling in Greater London that there is an understanding of the situation. I myself feel as though I had been the amateur quack doctor, the amateur sociologist, with nothing more than a hunch, and now we have the hospital report.
Here is the report from the technical chaps—the X-ray, the blood count, the controls, the proper confirmation, the balance of the factors at work. A patient who has suffered a great deal of pain and distress from inexplicable symptoms can accept a report. "We have it sorted out now, old chap, and it will be a long 131 time before you are on your feet again."A patient understands that. I am sure that there is this kind of mood in my constituency and in this House. So the Committee has done far more already than merely set out the facts according to its terms of reference: it has gone a long way towards enabling the community to cure itself.
I should now like to go back for a few minutes to the situation that prevailed before the passing of the Rent Act, and before I had ever heard of Rachman. Those who know me best will know that I was campaigning against situations and symptoms like this before the Rent Act and before I had ever heard of Rachman.
In passing, in case anyone has a passion for meticulous accuracy of facts, I think that there is some little dispute about who started what. The right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) has just come in and, if he cares to have it, I am happy to hand to him a historical priority of credit for this, because if as a Parliamentary Secretary he had not nagged me in the Committee corridor every time he saw me to start a housing association I would never have gone round looking for houses for sale outside my constituency.
I would never have got into Rachman's "phoney" estate office, or met the characters concerned, or have been able later to have given information to those who were so helpful to me when the whole thing was blowing up. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman, who was then Parliamentary Secretary and later Minister, can at least have half of the credit of having incidentally—as I was lucky enough to do accidentally—drawn attention to it. But if the right hon. Gentleman is to share the credit, he must accept that he was uneasily aware then that there was a good deal more in this than there seemed to be.
To return to pre-Rent Act and pre-Rachman days, I would say that the arguments advanced by serious-minded people for some kind of intervention into the state of housing in London were put forward in all honesty at the time, but the remedies put forward have been disastrous. There were four main items. First, attention was called to the reduction in the number of dwellings 132 available for letting. Secondly, there was lack of mobility. Third, there was under-occupation of controlled tenancies. Fourth, there were problems of repairs of controlled dwellings.
Those were valid reasons for a courageous attempt to grapple with the problem. There is no time now to go into the way some people were deluded by the tyranny of abstract ideas into thinking that the Rent Act could work. If the Labour Party does not solve those four problems, it will break its neck. My right hon. Friend knows that, and I do not think that he will fail.
Lack of mobility is the most important matter. That is why I intervened to ask the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) whether he would not consider that it was the existence of only partial security of tenure that provoked this unwillingness to move sooner. That is why I believe that the Labour Party's policy of going back to complete security of tenure is vindicated by the Milner Holland Report, which not only establishes it as the main cause of trouble in housing but hints at its importance as a clue to other problems as well.
That will be the first thing to break—this log jam. As long as we have people in old, controlled tenancies, they will not move and we shall have under-occupation and, of course, we then have no chance to undertake repairs and improvements. The other things seem to follow, so let us have full and instant acceptance that the restoration of security of tenure at all levels will mean a far better chance of getting mobility.
The Committee says that we must have a radical reappraisal of present policies and procedures, but what we must do is to break that log jam somewhere. Once it is broken, we get a swirl, and we may get results far more quickly than our Ministers dare hope for or than I dare promise my constituents. I do not know how, but it can happen suddenly if we get things on the move.
As Minister, the right hon. Gentleman for Leeds, North-East has heard me before now challenge him to go back to his Ministry and look at everything again from A to Z; to put everything under the magnifying glass and see whether it was still valid. I have not the time now 133 to go through all the list, but perhaps I may mention just three items. We might have a completely separate technical inquiry into plumbing. As to two-thirds of our sanitary services, we are trying to catch up with the splendid standards set down by the L.C.C. in 1899. Things have been invented since then—new kinds of joints, of pipes, of devices—but no one has thought of any new kind of plumbing.
I have frequently said that if 1 per cent. of the money spent on research into whether we could live in outer space were to be spent on research into whether we can raise healthy children on the 14th floors of blocks of buildings, we might get somewhere. One question about space travel that must have been asked this week by a million children is, "Mummy, daddy, what do they do when they want to go to the toilet?" Well, let us ask them. Let my right hon. Friend the Minister ask his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to ask those concerned, because other devices in plumbing are being developed. Everything one can think of, except these basic domestic amenities, have been transformed by the Japanese—the tape recorder, the telephone, the portable radio, the motor cycle are unrecognisable. It is still necessary to use two gallons of water after a typist has got rid of her cup of tea before she goes to catch the bus. It should not be necessary any longer, because, even if it costs a great deal of money to invent these new devices, we are not installing expensive plumbing; we are saving rooms.
I have a luxury bathroom in an old coal-hole under The pavement. I have invited successive housing spokesmen on the Front Benches to come and drink sherry in it, but they have never come. When we were starting on it, after we had got the floor dug out and the preliminary drains laid, those doing the work came to me and said, "Mr. Parkin, this is going to be terribly expensive. We have already spent £100", to which I replied, "You are not installing a bathroom. You are saving a room". Any room in any house in London is worth £1,000, so if one can install one's conversion without using up a room and if one does it at less than £1,000 one is making a profit.
Another point which emerges again and again in the Milner Holland Report is 134 the astonishing shortage of small dwellings. Some people, even the local authorities, say—I do not want to spoil my relationships with the Ministers. Neither of them would speak to me for a month the last time I spoke about what the L.C.C. was doing about single people. But it is still going on. It is still being said that it is easy for a single person to get alternative accommodation. Milner Holland says that it is not. It is not. It is an extremely important point. I hope that the Minister will look at this from all possible angles.
I want to take up again the point about density. It is no good fighting a rearguard battle to defend densities and then surrendering en bloc every 20 years and saying, "We can pack them tighter." If we are to look at densities, we must ask—densities for whom? I beg the Minister to study what I have suggested before, namely, the idea that there should be an established density for the settled families who have to rear children and who need the full range of local amenities and that we should take a very different attitude towards those who live in single-room households, many of whom are living in London for only a short time. They are transits, migrants, students, trainees. Incidentally, they do not know where they live quoad the borough boundaries. They know a great deal about London as a whole, however. They live on the whole town, because they will learn all about it before they leave it.
When dealing with the old houses, we might well start in areas where there has not been a great deal of building for families. Up to now it has sounded crazy to talk about this being subsidised or undertaken on behalf of the municipality, but this could be a way out. The council should build high blocks of single-room flatlets which would release the older houses for conversion into maisonettes suitable for families, because families want space more than expensive modern accommodation.
Another thing Milner Holland hints at which the Minister will have to get round to is an employment policy for London—Gresham's law—which is militating against good quality industry in London, because the wretched slum factories from which young and progressive industrialists want to move are 135 scheduled for light industrial use and have a grotesquely inflated value for those who want to buy them up and pack them with some trivial, ill-paid employment, overcrowding them with people who have to overcrowd their homes instead.
Now, the sector of the private landlord. We ought to try to eliminate the emotive responses of suggestions of subsidies and who is right and who is wrong—politicians or landlords, and so on—from our minds and try to look at the problem in three separate parts. The first question is: who builds the house? The second question is: who ultimately owns it? The third question is: who manages it? Somebody said to me. "Mr. Parkin, do you think there is a place for the private landlord?" This is a purely academic question. He is here. He owns two dwellings in five in the London area. In case hon. Members opposite do not know, the remaining green fields in Paddington were built on some time ago. It is no good talking as though we were inviting fresh capital for fresh investment in fresh buildings on easily available sites. What we have to cope with is the existing situation.
Whether vast capital goes into new housing to let is a purely historical accident. It happened 110 years ago in Pimlico at the time of the California Gold Rush—Clementine's father taking part in the forty-niner. The gold was resting in the City of London asking for an investment outlet. It found it to coincide with the building of the big mainline stations. During the depression period a good deal of money was available: large insurance companies and others did not know how to invest. Of course they went into dwellings to let. It is only occasionally that this happens.
There is something else of immense importance. Every time an owner-occupier is created, a post-dated bill to oneself is being written, because in 30, 40 or 50 years' time there will be back on one's hands a property which has not been improved and which is in the hands of an unwilling legatee. Every new owner-occupier is eventually followed by someone who inherits the house but does not want it because he has his own house. That is the problem. 136 Some means must be found of tackling it. I have a few ideas on incentives, but no time to expound them properly. Why should they not be a disregard in Estate Duty if they are offered to the local authority at the district valuer's price? This is the sort of house that gives us really more worry than those which are characteristic of the abuses to which Milner Holland referred. The Milner Holland Committee gave Rachman just about what he is worth in the Report—two pages out of 450. Nobody is happier than me. Rachman was a very useful spotlight for calling attention to a problem which has now been investigated in the wider field. A much wider field than house-ownership is that of the unwilling legatee who gets something on his hands that he does not know how to manage and does not know how to deal with. This problem must be examined.
The problem of the cost of improvements must be faced. It is politically impossible for the Minister to offer an immediate higher rent to the owners of the old dwellings which still have controlled tenants. It is ludicrous to offer the landlord now a higher rent for an older property. This is rubbish. Equally nonsense was the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Paddington, South that the rents should be automatically reviewed according to the cost of living. It simply is not true that a house continues to get more and more valuable as it gets more and more derelict. This must be linked with a process of conversion and rehabilitation. This is one of the most difficult things the Minister will meet in his Bill.
Of course, it is obvious that the Minister cannot immediately offer an increase in rents for the old controlled properties. What I hope is that, as we get universal security of tenure and as we get decent controlled rents for reconditioned dwellings, people will be willing to move and so make room for a reconditioned house which can come on to the market again at a reasonably increased rent to meet the cost of the improvements.
One thing is certain: we cannot afford cheap rents. This is my last word. Let us not be deluded into supposing that there is any merit in preserving a city society divided into layers the lowest of 137 which can afford to spend on its accommodation only the type of rents that are now paid for the old controlled properties. Go and ask them. Of course most of them will want to spend more. I learned that lesson very early on when I used to ask people what wages they were earning and whether they could really afford to pay more than 10s. 9d. for their basement flats. They used to pay, "The family next door went into a council flat. They now pay four or five times as much, but for the first time in their lives they are saving money". They get a restoration of dignity and self-respect, and they can spend their housekeeping money more economically.
Everybody, of course, should be given the opportunity of raising their standard of living and paying more and getting more for it. It would be a great mistake if we did anything which would not greatly speed up the reconditioning of these old controlled dwellings. Once more we are not far away from a subject vastly more important than the temporary dfficulties in housing. It is the question of the individual's position in a City State, whether we can have grades of citizens doing different grades of work. We must work towards the raising of the dwelling standards of those who will have higher skills and higher standards of work which will bring in higher earnings.
The people on the Milner Holland Committee were very able people, otherwise they would not have been put on it. They must have had a great variety of personal interests and must have regretted the time they were asked to abandon and devote to this work. The Report is collective, but, however varied the personal interests of the members, I am certain that they will have been advanced by the work done on the Committee. The Minister will confirm that politics used to mean merely the art of learning how to live in a city, and the great problem before humanity is whether it can learn to live in cities. This Report coming at this moment will give inspiration to everybody outside the House. The sort of recriminations and slight twistings which are liable to occur among those involved in the political struggle will inevitably take place, but I hope that these will not be overheard by those outside the House who will now, I trust, allow us to get on with the job.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
Although the hon. Member for Paddington, North(Mr. Parkin) may not have been the first to introduce the subject, he has played such a vital part in drawing the attention of the House to this matter and getting something finally done about it that I am pleased to follow him in the debate and to have listened to some of the interesting suggestions that he made. I agree, in particular, with his comments on high density development appropriate to single people. It is a pity that when we discuss this subject people say that they are either for or against high densities without considering the types of occupants who are to go into these high-density flats.
The hon. Member said that he agreed with everything in the Milner Holland Report. One of the most remarkable features of the debate has been that the hon. Member for Paddington, North and the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames(Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) have found something to agree about in the sphere of housing. I would not say that I agreed with everything in the Report and I will come to points with which I disagree later, but it is a very valuable source document, and that is all that it pretends to be. The Minister said that there was valuable information in it but no revelations, and it is for us to decide the policy in the light of the information. There is no policy there ready-made for us.
The Minister also said how dangerous it was to base policy on ignorance. I hope that after the debate people will do their homework more thoroughly. Some of the statements made could not possibly have been made by those who have read the Report thoroughly, and in this connection I respectfully refer to the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames. He asked whether it was reasonable to stiffen the law on abuse. If the right hon. Gentleman agrees with everything in the Report I refer him to page 228, where the Committee says:We believe that this"—that is the stamping out of the serious evil of abuse—could be done by appropriate legislation.Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman said that he was surprised to find that 139 abuses of the kind described in the Report did not constitute criminal offences. I refer him to page 177 where the Committee says:It is surprising how few of the forms of misconduct by landlords constitute criminal offences…What the Committee has done in drawing our attention to the abuses that take place is extremely valuable, particularly where the Committee goes on to say that legislation of the type available in New York would be appropriate. I hope that the Minister will get on with this in a hurry. I should like to hear from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary when he winds up the debate whether legislation against abuse will be included in the new Bill promised for next week.
The Minister did not have anything startling to say about policy and we did not expect it so soon after the publication of the Report. One idea which he mentioned was to use new town development corporation type of machinery in the centre of large cities. I am doubtful whether this would be a good idea. We already have in the centre of London powerful local authorities capable of discharging the task of rehousing provided they are given central help by the Government. Rather than create new ad hoc authorities whose powers, as I understand, would overlap those existing authorities, I should like to see the Government giving the London boroughs the financial sinews to enable them to carry on the task of redevelopment. It will be very expensive in those areas of high density multi-occupation, and it will be necessary for the Government to rethink the financial arrangements assistance to local authorities.
In a Report to the Liberal Party, a committee of which I had the honour to be chairman suggested in 1962 the creation of what we called a Land Development Corporation whose function would be to assist local authorities with the financial burden while they were in the course of redeveloping an area when the income from rates and rents in that area had fallen off and there was nothing to replace it. This enormous financial burden may well deter local authorities from using their existing powers of designating an area as one of comprehensive redevelopment and using the compulsory 140 purchase powers which they already have.
One of the most astonishing things in the Report is that the shortage is so much larger than we had anticipated. All the measurements of shortage in the London area have been based on what is called crude shortage, that is, the difference between dwellings and households. The Milner Holland Committee points out that that is only one small part of the problem. We have first these 1,500 families who are homeless and I emphasise that these are only the ones in the County of London. We have many homeless in outer London as well and these should be added to that total if we are to estimate the total need.
On this point I was interested in what the right hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke) said about the homeless. He is totally misinformed on this. I refer him to page 94 of the Report, which says:The families that lose the race for scarce accommodation are by no means all 'problem' families: the most common is the unskilled worker with wife and several children, and in many cases their below average income has been reduced by unemployment or sickness.Practically every London Member could have told the right hon. Member for Hampstead that this was the case. We did not need the Committee to tell us, and if the right hon. Gentleman had referred to the Report which the L.C.C. submitted to the Milner Holland Committee he would have found that that was so.
§ Mr. Molloy
The right hon. Member for Hampstead needed to know, the Report would have told him, but he had not read it.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I agree. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will, perhaps, have learned something from this debate which he did not learn from his obviously somewhat cursory study of the Milner Holland Report.
There are many people in urgent need of better accommodation according to the standards set out by the Committee which embrace a combination of overcrowding and lack of facilities. There are 190,000 families in this category, as set out in Table 4.27, but to these we must add the number of families who have no bath. If we take the average of the two figures 141 given by the Committee, that is, 336,000 and 532,000, that gives 449,000 families in that category. In addition, there are the "concealed" households totalling 62,000. This gives a total of no fewer than 702,000 families in urgent need of better accommodation, so we can see from these figures that the shortage is at least three times as great as the figure of 150,000 given in the South-East Study.
The short-term problem is one of control. I was delighted to hear the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames say that he would assent to any measures for control of rents and security of tenure in the Greater London area. He agrees with the recommendation in the Report or page 227, where the Committee says:Any measure which confers this security must carry with it a proper and well-considered measure of rent regulation".It is good to know that we have all-party agreement on this and the Minister can go ahead with his legislation on the subject in the knowledge that it will have support from all parts of the House.
But this is tackling a symptom of the disease rather than getting at the root. The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) said that the main problem in Greater London was one of land. In my view, if we are to solve the housing shortage, this is the critical factor. The Milner Holland Committee refers on page 105 to the estimates given in the South-East Study. According to that Study, there is land remaining vacant for 30,000 dwellings, private redevelopment of low-density areas would produce 90,000 dwellings, sub-division of dwellings would produce 45,000 and general redevelopment would produce 25,000 dwellings, giving a total of 190,000 dwellings. Thus, is can be seen at once that the land available does not nearly match the size of the need.
If we are to consider what steps can be taken to solve the problem, the first thing to know is the availability of land over the next, say, 20 years in the Greater London area. The figures given in the South-East Study and repeated in the Milner Holland Report do not seem to be authoritative. I do not know where they came from, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary can enlighten us. It can be seen that they are unlikely to be very accurate when one considers, for example, that, between the 1951 and 142 1961 censuses, there was a net gain of 76,600 dwellings in Greater London arising from conversions, and this figure is a good deal higher than the 45,000 given as remaining available from this source according to the South-East Study. Therefore, I do not think that the figures are likely to be very accurate. If one takes the general redevelopment figure giving a further 25,000 dwellings, I find it impossible to believe that this is all we can get in the whole of Greater London.
In my own constituency, we have a redevelopment plan for the St. Mary Cray part of it which would give us an additional 1,300 dwellings if we were able to go ahead with it. In this connection, I put a point of some local importance to the Parliamentary Secretary. These redevelopment schemes are being stymied, or in this case sabotaged, by the actions of the Kent County Council. We put in for this redevelopment scheme some time ago and Kent referred it to the London Borough of Bromley. The London Borough of Bromley in turn referred it to several sub-committees, and we are now coming to the end of the life of the Orpington Urban District Council and part of its redevelopment scheme upon which we could already have embarked is not yet open to us to start. I wonder how many other cases of this kind there are in the whole of the Greater London area. If a local authority is ready with a scheme, having planned it and being prepared to start construction now on a part of it, every help should be given by other local authorities, the planning authority in this case, so that a start could be made as early as possible.
One final point in connection with these estimates in the South-East Study. In my view, quite a lot of land could be made available by the redevelopment of sites occupied by "prefabs" in the Greater London Area.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I see the hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Freeson) shaking his head, but I am sure that this is so. "Prefabs" were laid out at very low densities, and this is a function of their intrinsic nature. Experts have advised me that one could get approximately double the number of dwellings, at quite reasonable densities, on the sites they at present occupy.
§ Mr. A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)
I confirm what the hon. Gentleman is saying. In the Borough of Ilford, we are now doing just that.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for confirming what I am saying. This is an argument in favour of the Minister undertaking a survey to see what "prefab" sites there are in the whole of Greater London and what additional land could be made available by redeveloping them at reasonable densities. I wrote to the Minister about this at the beginning of January, but he did not feel that such a survey would serve much purpose. He agreed that these houses have lasted longer than they were intended to and that they were laid out in a manner which made a rather uneconomical use of land, but he went on to say:before they can be removed, new houses must be provided for the tenants, and meanwhile such temporary houses while they remain fit serve a useful purpose especially for those authorities which have large housing problems".That applies to every local authority needing to redevelop. It applies to the area represented by the hon. Member for Paddington, North. If his local authority is to redevelop, it has to decant tenants into some other property in the meantime. This is a very feeble argument which the Minister uses in correspondence with me against doing as I request. It would not cost him anything. I want him to ask the local authorities what "prefabs" they have in their area and what acreages they cover. He could then quite easily see what land would be made available by redeveloping the sites at reasonable densities.
§ Mr. Freeson
I shook my head because I have had some experience of this and I thought that the hon. Gentleman was going far too wide. What the hon. Gentleman has suggested can be done in some places—it is being done in my own district—but on many sites the "prefabs" were specifically put on areas of permanent parkland, and these are some of the larger "prefab" sites. One would be in great difficulty in including them in any kind of redevelopment policy because the sites must eventually revert to open space.
§ Mr. Lubbock
This is the kind of thing which the Minister could ascertain from a survey of the kind I propose. Of course, I do not suggest that the local authorities should redevelop sites earmarked for public open space. All I am saying is that there are many local authorities with "prefab" sites which, apart from that restriction, could well provide themselves with useful additional land if they were able to undertake the redevelopment.
I suggested to the Minister also that, because of the pooling of rents, some local authorities might be unwilling to redevelop as early as one would wish because the "prefabs", being fairly cheap, enabled them to keep down the level of rents as a whole whereas, if they were to redevelop the "prefab" sites, there would have to be a general increase in the level of rents. I put it to him that, if one were really to get a drive on this, it might be necessary to give local authorities some financial help in this matter. I am sorry that my suggestion has fallen on stony ground, but, now that I have raised the matter publicly, perhaps there will be some reconsideration of it.
Private rented accommodation has been the central theme of the debate. In spite of what has been said, I believe that private rented accommodation has to play a big part in Central London—because, after all, it exists. But we must not expect it to make a substantial contribution to the provision of new housing. We must try to keep these two things distinct in our minds—equity of treatment for the private landlords and the question whether we expect them to make a contribution to the supply of new houses.
The Milner Holland Committee made out a very good case for giving some tax concessions to the private landlord. I am not suggesting that this will help the tenant very greatly, but if a landlord is spending money on improvements on a property which has a life of 25 years, if he borrows over 25 years, and if at the end of that time the property has no residual value, I see no reason why he should not be able to recover tax on the amount which he paid into his sinking fund. That is a proposal also made in the report of the committee of which I 145 had the honour to be chairman. We said that the owners of dwellings to let should obtain relief for depreciation of buildings and improvements, which is perhaps an even more vital factor in the older properties of central London referred to by the Committee.
But even if we do these things, I do not think that the private landlord will make a very important contribution to the, people who are in the greatest need, which means those earning less than the average industrial wage and with large families. Hon. Members should look at the figures quoted in Table 3.16 on page 51 of the Report where the rents are compared between local authorities and private landlords for a new house costing £3,750. For local authorities the economic rent was £2 7s. a week and for the private landlord it was £7 1s. 6d.
Unfortunately, neither the table nor the chapter shows the make-up of the £7 1s. 6d. and to what extent it might be reduced if we made the tax concessions which the Report advocates, but I do not believe that it would be possible to bring those rents down to anywhere near the local authority level. First of all, the local authority can borrow at preferential rates either from the Public Works Loan Board, or because it is a borrower of great substance it can borrow fairly cheaply on the market, and can repay the loans over 60 years. These facilities are not available to the private landlord who, in addition, has to put his profit on top of all that. I very much doubt whether, even with the tax concession described in the Report, a private landlord could let a £3,750 house at less than about £5 a week and that would be of no interest to the bus driver or the postman with three or four children—and these are the people about whom we are talking.
§ Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
Will the hon. Member tell me why the development companies and the speculative builders who have turned central London into a gold mine should, in addition, get tax concessions?
§ Mr. Lubbock
I am glad that the hon. Lady made that point. Certainly these tax concessions should be limited to residential property let at economic rents and should not be extended to commercial or industrial property. The tax 146 position of commercial and industrial properties is quite a different matter and I am not referring to that or suggesting any change in the tax arrangements for those properties. I was dealing purely with the building of residential property or the improvement of existing residential property, which the Milner Holland Committee shows to be of such great importance.
I should be opposed to any suggestion that a subsidy should be paid to the private landlord, and I do not look on these tax concessions as a subsidy. We do not want private landlords to become a strong competitor for the scarce building resources available and this might happen if we demanded an enormous increase in the rocirc;le which they are playing in the provision of private houses. 1 do not think that this will happen if we limit what we do for them purely to giving a tax relief on their capital expenditure and also, as the Report advocates, on the money which they set aside for future maintenance.
For the housing associations this is of great importance because money is there set aside in the earlier years of the house which is not required until later. The Report points out that whether one goes ahead with a housing association scheme depends largely on the rent which must be charged in the first few years. Everything I have said applies to housing associations as well as to private landlords, and this question of money set aside to cover future maintenance is of particular importance to the housing associations.
Finally, I would make brief reference to what I consider to be the real cause of the housing shortage in Greater London. I refer to what the Committee said on page 22:London's population growth is the outcome of a long-term, national pattern of economic development that cannot be controlled without major changes in that pattern.While we are talking about the imposition of rent control, tax concessions to the private landlord and finding land on which local authorities can build, these all deal with the symptoms of the problem and not with its fundamental causes, and I disagree very much with the hon. Member for Paddington, North, who said that we must enable everyone who wanted to come to London to do so—that 147 we must accept the position and try to make housing available for them.
That is a defeatist attitude, and although this is not the time to go into the matter in detail I hope that we shall have economic policies which will encourage people to move away from London—encourage industries and commercial development to do so, and to go into the regions, into the North-East, or Scotland, for example, where the population drain has been taking place over so many years. Unless our housing policy is accompanied by a more radical policy for economic growth in Scotland, Wales, the North East and elsewhere, we might as well pack up, because in 10 years' time the problem will be with us again. We may manage to solve it for a few years, but the influx of people from the regions and from Scotland and Wales is continuing, and it will be an unending process unless this economic tide is changed.
I sum up by saying that there should be the maximum use of the available sites and an acceleration of local authorities' housing programmes wherever possible. The Greater London Council should be given greater housing powers if we are to have a radical onslaught on redevelopment and, particularly, if we are to make maximum use of industrialised building processes. It may be a little early to criticise the London boroughs, but why do we need a consortium between several boroughs when there is an authority covering the whole area which can do the same job? I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to consider that point.
There should be acceptance of higher densities but only for those for whom higher densities are suitable—single people, married couples without children and those whose children have grown up and left home. We should continue to exercise severe control over office and industrial development in Greater London and greater efforts should be made by the Government and nationalised industries to move their offices out of London.
Greater use should be made of existing houses. The Minister said that the Milner Holland Committee had dismissed some of the popular explanations or solutions for London's housing shortage, among which was the better use of vacant properties. 148 But I remind him that the Committee did not say that a contribution could not be made towards solving the problem by bringing vacant property back into use, but that it stated:No general explanation or solution of London's problems can be found along these lines.There are 26,000 houses vacant in the County of London and 40,000 in Greater London. If we levied rates on vacant properties, some landlords who are keeping properties out of the market would bring them back in. That applies not only to residential property but to all the offices standing vacant in the centre of the city as well. That would help towards the solution of the housing problem by increasing the rate income of local authorities.
I believe that continuous research into the standards and conditions of London housing is needed. To have this Report is excellent but it presents a static picture at one moment in history. I hope, now that we have all agreed on its value, that the Minister will take steps to set up machinery for accumulating this information on a continuing basis.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
In a leading article, the Financial Times described the Milner Holland Report as…providing the foundation of a rational policy—clear, impartial and crammed with facts".It also expressed the view that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government was exceedingly lucky in having inherited it. No doubt some credit ought to be given—and one should not hesitate to give it—to the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), who appointed the Committee. It is nevetheless fair to point out that the right hon. Gentleman appointed it only at a very late date—August, 1963—and only then, I am certain from what I know, as a result of consistent and continuous pressure by the then Opposition to do something to alleviate the housing situation.
§ Sir K. Joseph
The hon. and learned Gentleman should know that the late Government announced the Committee in February, 1963.
§ Mr. Weitzman
I said—and I repeat—that I recall vividly the constant and continuous criticism made by the then Opposition calling up the right hon. Gentleman to alleviate housing conditions and that he appointed the Committee—he deserves every credit for doing so—but at a very late date. That, I believe, was the result of our criticism.
The Committee was appointed with a sense of urgency. It was instructed to report as quickly as possible. The Report itself points out how handicapped in its efforts the Committee has been as a result, and stresses the insufficiency of the data which existed and how formidable its task was as a result. In Chapter 13, the Report makes the important point that the appropriate research and intelligence units should be established and kept up to date so that all the necessary data is available when required. I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend say that he had already begun steps in anticipation of the recommendations of the Report that such units should be established.
The Report is far-reaching. It reveals a terrible state of affairs. We have been urged by right hon. and hon. Members opposite and by the popular Press—which is mainly, of course, of one colour—to forget political argument and to put aside political prejudice. But this terrible mess must be cleared up by the present Government and it is only right, before they embark on the task, that the country should appreciate the position, that the Government should emphasise that they have inherited the mess and that that mess exists after 13 years of Tory rule, despite constant appeals by the Labour Opposition to get something done. The Report deals shortly in Chapter 2 with the efforts of the Labour Government in the post-war years and does so very well. The years which followed undoubtedly saw a considerable number of houses built, but the picture which remains is miserable one.
What are the conclusions to be drawn from the Report? London must clearly depend for its housing on four agencies—first, the new towns; secondly, the boroughs and the Greater London Council; thirdly, to some extent the housing associations; and fourthly, private landlords. The Report discusses in Chapter 2 what was done in the new towns, but otherwise devotes comparatively little 150 space to this source of assistance in the housing problem. Obviously, in any short-term or long-term policy a great addition in the stock of assisted housing is required, and for this purpose all possible agencies for the provision of rented accommodation must be used to the full.
Under the 1963 Act, the new London boroughs have the major housing functions, an immense task which certain boroughs will find it difficult to perform effectively. Tackling the housing problem in London should not be a piecemeal operation and should not be left to individual boroughs. Borough housing lists and qualifications to be on them need scrutiny and revision, but the housing problem in London should be planned for and tackled as a whole by the boroughs with the active co-operation of the Greater London Council, so that the fullest advantage can be taken of utilising land in outer areas and outside London and so that special attention can be given to areas where bad housing is concentrated.
My right hon. Friend referred to this. I suggest that it would be wrong to leave areas where bad housing is concentrated to be dealt with alone by the borough where it is situated. The Report suggests that such areas should be designated areas of special control, but whether they are designated or dealt with in that way, the real point is that the attack on bad housing conditions in these areas should be with every weapon which can be used in the London area.
Housing associations have undoubtedly made a considerable contribution in the past. The Report says that in the immediate post-war years the assistance which they gave was marginal, but housing associations can assist and there is force in the observation in the Report that if they are to do so, a new legal and financial framework is required.
I now turn to a topic discussed a great deal today—the difficult question of private landlordism. According to the Report, private landlordism, whether by individuals, companies, or trusts, was responsible for 1,250,000 houses and flats in London in 1961, clearly a very substantial number. The Report says that the supply of privately rented accommodation has diminished and is still diminishing. But obviously in the foreseeable future private landlordism must 151 play a considerable part in the provision of accommodation and it is therefore essential that, while taking measures to meet abuses and to protect tenants, steps must be taken, in so far as we can, to encourage private landlords to provide such accommodation and to maintain it in good condition.
The Report pinpoints certain abuses which can be dealt with immediately and which should be dealt with without delay. It sets out 12 classes of abuses and they clearly constitute a formidable indictment. Very properly, the Press on the day after the Report appeared gave prominent attention to them. It is true that they were perpetrated by a minority of landlords, but it is disgraceful that they should exist. The Report points out that they are too numerous to be dismissed as being insignificant and they are evils which should be stamped out.
I heard the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) say that he would have thought that they already came within the criminal code. Clearly they do not, and I am surprised that he, as a member of the Bar, should have thought they did. The Report makes it clear that such conduct should be made a criminal offence. I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend say, when he replied to the right hon. Member, that he intends to deal with this. I hope that he deals with it effectively. There are precedents in other countries. There is no reason why such disgraceful conduct should not be made a serious criminal offence, and it should be dealt with as quickly as possible.
A further evil to which the Report draws attention is the payment of key money. Most Members who represent London constituencies have come across cases where landlords demand a considerable sum of money, often for shoddy pieces of furniture, and the tenant, because of his desperate need for accommodation, is compelled to pay the sum to get possession. Very often, he may have to leave the premises after a short time and there is no hope of recovering that sum. I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) referred to an instance of that kind. There are many of them. I hope that the Government will look at this 152 carefully and will see that provision is made to deal effectively with this evil.
I must confess to a feeling of alarm when I read of the great number of tenancies in multi-occupied premises. I understand that about three-quarters of the property owned by individual landlords are houses and flats which are subdivided. They form, I understand, an appreciably higher proportion than the lettings of companies or other bodies. Overcrowding, the sharing of kitchen and toilet facilities which are often inadequate and sometimes non-existent and the absence of a bath are all marked features in more cases than one cares to think of and the law cannot be applied because of the lack of alternative accommodation which would follow its enforcement. Frankly, I confess that it seems difficult to know where to start with that problem. One can only urge that it is a special problem in itself and that it must be treated with expedition.
Apart from the provision of housing by every possible means, what immediate steps are necessary which follow from the Report? The case for security of tenure and, I suggest, for fair rentals is clearly made out by the Report, and machinery must be established to achieve both those ends. It is true that municipal authorities can be trusted to charge a fair rent, but even with them there is room for inquiry into the possibility of abuses and there is a case for considering security of tenure in connection with council tenants.
As private landlordism will continue to exist in the foreseeable future and as it forms one of the agencies which we must rely upon to some extent and, therefore, we must encourage it to build for letting and to let the property which it possesses, we must deal with it in a practical way.
I have been astonished today at the sort of remarks that have been made about granting subsidies to private landlords. It is amazing to think that the Opposition, when in power, regarded "subsidies" as a dirty word and that they should never be granted. Now, we have an almost universal plea from the benches opposite for subsidies to be granted to private landlords. One can almost see where the real interest of Conservatism lies. I should have thought that the answer concerning property of this kind lies in these two things: security of tenure and fair rentals.
153 No one suggests that security of tenure be the prerogative of the tenant which he can abuse at the expense of the landlord. The law will be framed so that the tenant is protected against the bad landlord but that the good landlord is not taken advantage of by the bad tenant.
I wish to draw the following fact to the attention of my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. The other day, I had a deputation of constituents, persons of limited means, who let rooms to tenants, furnished and unfurnished, and who depend upon the rents for their living. They complained bitterly of tenants who behaved badly and failed to pay their rents upon which they depended. Their only course was to sue them, with the consequent long delay and the probability of never recovering their money.
A landlord who provides accommodation has the duty of maintaining the property in good condition. If he does, no one suggests that he is not entitled to charge a fair rental so that he should be in a position to carry out that duty. In the same way the tenant, if he pays a fair rent and behaves reasonably, is entitled to remain in the premises as his home without fear of eviction.
The criticism which has been made from the benches opposite—the suggestion that a landlord should get a fair return for his money—is met by the fact that while the tenant gets security of tenure, the landlord will get a fair rent. If he gets a fair rent, he gets a fair return on his money. I hope that where complaint arises on the part of the tenant or the landlord about the adequacy of the rent, they will have the right to go to a rent tribunal and to get that tribunal to fix a fair rental having regard to all the circumstances. I am certain that the Government desire to tackle this problem to meet the interest of all, tenants and landlords. We emphasise the position of tenants because from what has happened in the last 13 years it is clear what a bad deal the tenants have had.
I refer to only one other matter. I read an interesting leader in The Guardian the other day which criticised the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames. It said these words about a speech made by the right hon. Gentleman at a recent Conservative conference: 154It sharply illustrates the official Conservative attitude to governmental reform. By all means patch and tinker, but it is dangerous to build anew. That, in fact, is a summary of the Conservative record on administrative and governmental reform during their 13 years in office.That was a comment on the last 13 years. The Tory Government pursued a policy of patch and tinker, and we now see the result. I hope that the Labour Government will face the problem boldly. I hope that they will use every possible means to bring some semblance of order out of the chaos in our housing situation, well illustrated by the Milner Holland Report. Citizens in London deserve a fair deal. I hope that the Labour Government will see that they get it.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)
There is no doubt at all that this Report which we are discussing today is a devastating indictment of Labour-controlled councils, and especially of the London County Council, for no matter what powers are available to local authorities these are as nothing if there is not willingness on the part of local authorities to deal with the problem.
§ Mr. Cooper
I have only ten minutes and I cannot give way.
Hon. Gentlemen may ask what are these powers which local authorities have had and which they have not used. I accuse the Labour Party in the Metropolitan boroughs and I accuse the Labour-controlled London County Council of slothfulness and unwillingness to deal with the housing problem in London over the years. I will tell hon. Gentlemen why I refer—[Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite do not like this. They have been trying to dish it out all the afternoon. They are now going to take it for a bit.
I refer hon. Members to page 235 of the Report where it starts to deal with Acts of Parliament passed by a Conservative Government which gave powers to local authorities over their housing problems. I would call attention to the Housing Repairs and Rents Act, 1954, referred to on page 235, and I would refer to paragraph 1 on page 235 dealing with slum clearance, and paragraph 2 dealing with the standard of fitness for 155 habitation. I would also call attention to the Housing Act, 1961, referred to on page 241, and the details of improvement grants and powers about multi-occupation. Again, I would also call attention to the Housing Act, 1964, referred to on page 242, which deals with the problem of compulsory improvement.
All the local authorities up and down the country have had these powers in their hands, and so I say to the London County Council, which is the housing authority and the planning authority in London, that it has made no use of its power. Why has it not used its powers? One hon. Gentleman referred this afternoon to a particular development in his own constituency—I think it was to Camberwell—where a particular type of development was approved by the Minister—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Cooper
Sit down. Hon. Gentlemen have had a good time this afternoon. Let them not get so excited.
In the speech of one hon. Gentleman this afternoon a reference was made to that particular scheme. It was approved for planning by London County Council, so the Socialist-controlled London County Council must have thought it was in the interests of the London County Council area, or why did the Council pass it? The trouble is that the Labour Party, which has controlled London for so many years, has failed dismally to deal with the affairs of London. [Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite do not like this medicine which they are now having to receive.
The Report also shows that by and large landlords behave properly, and we all regret the intolerable attitude and behaviour of a few. Happily, the majority of those bad ones are not British. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The Labour Party has a pathological hatred of landlords. In the eyes of the Labour Party all landlords are bad and all tenants are good. It seems to be thought that private people have a duty to provide at a loss accommodation for other people. Restrictions and abuse of private landlords have been piled upon them, but local authorities are not subject to 156 the same restrictions. This is one of the reasons why local authorities, in the main, can provide accommodation at better rents than the private landlord. Consider the advantages that a local authority has—an easier method of acquiring loans, the ability to borrow money for periods up to 60 years at better rates of interest, subsidies on its properties, authority—this is the important thing—to vary rents at will, something not permitted to private landlords—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes it is."]—I am talking about controlled property.
The position of the private landlord is becoming more and more difficult in the big towns. It is possible, and indeed probable, that they will play a much smaller part in the task of housing our people in the years to come, which will be a bad thing. By itself, rent control is a bad thing and creates many of the evils about which complaint is made in the Report. It is interesting to note that nearly all the cases of abuse referred to in the Report are in respect of controlled property. Rachman existed because of controlled property. So long as demand outstrips supply some control is necessary, and therefore the first task is to build more and more houses.
By reason of our expanding population we need more of everything—hospitals, schools, factories, power stations and houses. Full employment, by definition, means that our labour force is used up and to talk of a crash programme to deal with any of this displays a total ignorance of the facts. We must encourage higher productivity by new methods and by using new materials. We need less interference from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and greater speed and efficiency in getting decisions from that Ministry. Local councils must introduce differential rating schemes. I can never understand why Labour-controlled local authorities are, in the main, opposed to that. In some places it has been done, although under great duress, but many such councils refuse to do it. In the Borough of Ilford we operate a differential rating scheme which operates perfectly well. With the exception of a subsidy for old-age pensioners, there is no other cost to the ratepayers for housing in our town.
§ Mr. Cooper
I am not going to give way to the hon. Gentleman. If private landlords are to continue to exist in this country, they must be allowed a fairer return on the capital they invest. Today we have seen one or two shafts of light shed by hon. Members opposite, particularly the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) and the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North(Mr. Weitzman). Not all tenants are good, let us get that quite clear. There are some bad landlords, but equally, there are some very bad tenants. I doubt whether any hon. Member has not, at some time or other, had a letter from a landlord who has found himself in difficult circumstances because of the actions of a bad tenant. Whatever we do in respect of the new Housing Bill which is to come before Parliament, let us make sure that we concede not only justice for the tenant but for the landlord as well. In this way we shall get co-operation from all sections of the community. If we introduce provisions into the housing legislation which are loaded against one section or another, it will create more difficulties than we have at present.
My final point to the Minister is in respect of an article which appears in this week's issue of the Economist. I think it a very good article, but it has been published so recently that one has not had the time to analyse it. Superficially, it would seem to have great merit. It contains four proposals which, because I must sit down at 9 o'clock, I cannot deal with. They appear on pages 1,242–3 of the Economist, and I should be grateful if the Minister could have these proposals looked into by his Department to see whether there is some merit in them.
This document is probably one of the finest documents which has been produced by a commission for a long time. It has tremendous social implications. Let us learn from the lessons which it teaches us.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Sir Keith Joseph (Leeds, North-East)
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Cooper) generally succeeds in warming up a debate, but then the Minister did not exactly welcome the invitation of my right hon. Friend the 158 Member for Kingston-upon-Thames(Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) to treat this subject in a strictly non-political way.
I should like to add my tribute to all the tributes which have been paid from both sides of the House and from outside to the remarkable work of the Milner Holland Committee. Here we have a document which, as my hon. Friend has said, is a great social State paper: lucid, humane, cogent, put together in a remarkably rapid way and yet very nearly comprehensive. I say "very nearly" comprehensive because, of course, given the time and given the lack of material with which the Committee had to work, each of us is bound to find one point or another on which we should have welcomed more facts and figures. Nevertheless, it has been a remarkable job, and I add my tribute to the people concerned.
In the nature of things, as the Minister himself—who is not here at the moment—
§ Sir K. Joseph
—will accept, Ministers of Housing tend to work not for their own time of office but for their successors'. I mean no ill-will to the present Minister in imagining that, just as I set in hand this Report from which he benefits and as I am in my turn benefited from the preparatory work done by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead(Mr. Brooke), so Ministers yet to come—Tory Ministers, I suggest—will garner the results, good or bad, of what the Minister proposes to do as a result of this Report. One thing we can undoubtedly accept. That is, that a Minister of Housing, of whatever party he be, must in future regularly gather the facts and figures which, up to now, we have not had sufficiently plentifully or regularly.
I was going to refer to some of the things which the right hon. Gentleman said, and I am sure that he will not think me discourteous if I say them, although he is not here at the moment. Of course, we accept that the right hon. Gentleman is very able. We also accept that he is passionately sincere. But I think that it is fair to say that his speech this afternoon was a little over-confident. He spent a great deal of time in attacking my right hon. Friends and me and not 159 very much time on his own policy. We shall, of course, wait to see what his proposals are to follow up this Report. I thought that his caricature of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead was both offensive and inaccurate. My right hon. Friend, a most humane and dedicated Minister, was the man who initiated the South-East Study, the man who initiated the attack on multi-occupation. He did not deserve to be treated verbally in the way that the Minister did.
I have paid a tribute to certain personal qualities of the Minister and am now making references to what he said and what he did not say in his speech. The conspicious omission from the right hon. Gentleman's speech in his attempted indictment of Tory administration of housing was, I thought, his complete failure to mention a point which is constantly emphasised by the Milner Holland Committee, namely, the speed and trend of demographic change, particularly in London. The decisive fact is familiar to all students of housing. Although there has been a fall in the population of London, there has been an increase in the number of households for which separate dwellings have to be found. The Report makes plain that the fall in the average size of households, and, therefore, this increase in the demand for housing in London, has been taking place at an increasing pace, particularly since 1961.
That is why any attempt to pin the blame for the present overcrowding and misery in certain parts of London on the Rent Act falls completely wide of the mark, because these demographic changes have altered the nature of London's housing and the scale of need increasingly since 1957, when, as the House knows, the birth rate changed and the pace at which people married younger and the increasing rate of survival into old age began to make their impact.
The facts and the prospects of London housing are in this remarkable Report. Some we knew before the Report was published, but what was not possible was to judge the scale of the problem, the relative size of the evils of which we knew compared with the stock of housing. Now we know considerably more than we did. A summary of the Report would be to say, as the Committee says in many places, that amidst 160 general improvement of all aspects of housing there has been a concentration of misery and, indeed, a deterioration of the state of accommodation in certain limited, but still very significant, areas of Greater London.
But what, I fear, is even more to be borne in mind than this is the direction in which, by the nature of things, London housing is going. I draw attention to three points emphasised by the Committeee. First, it says in terms that it fears that, unless dramatic changes are made, there will be a total loss to the rented sector of all houses at present privately let. Secondly, it says that, whereas many of the conurbations are already facing the most massive obsolescence that they will ever have to face, this has not yet arrived for London. London faces at the moment desperate overcrowding and shortage, but obsolescence in London is by no means as acute, bad though it is, as it will be in 10, 20 or 30 years' time. The third thing that the Committee points out which seems to me to bode ill is that the trend to smaller households, which has already exacerbated the housing problem, is likely, in view of what is happening in other countries, to continue further.
In the light of the facts and of these trends, the House is obviously debating what should be the strategy of the Government. Here I must say that it would be perfectly possible to take the view that the free market would be the cure for London's housing need if—only if—we were to decide to let it work. But the free market would mean three things, some of which I do not think can be practicable in the case of London. First, it would need fair tax treatment for private enterprise. That seems to me to be perfectly practicable if the Government decide to do it.
Secondly, a free market solution would mean that effective demand had to be there; that is to say, that the people who need the dwellings have the money to pay for them or to rent them, and this would have consequences in respect of the earnings of people who work in London. I thought that my right hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead was absolutely right when he said that there was an even deeper issue lying beneath all the things found by this Report, and I suspect that one of the deeper issues is the fact that 161 people are working in London at rates of pay which do not allow them to provide an effective demand even if private enterprise could supply the goods.
The third thing which a free market solution would require is an ample supply of land, and that, it seems to me, is the real reason why I cannot suggest that a free market solution should be the one that should be adopted. We must recognise that in rejecting the free market solution we are, as it were, shackling the giant which could, quicker, I believe, than could be done by any other method, solve the housing need of Londoners. But to do that we should have to ensure ample supplies of land, and that would, in the view of most of us, create an ever-sprawling giant with an intensity of traffic generation which just would not be practicable. It would also involve creating an everincreasing London which would suck in more and more people and in which, therefore, the problem might never be solved.
If this be so, what strategy should be adopted by the Government? It is easy enough to talk in general terms. It should be to secure the building and improvement of housing and housing stock in London to the fullest extent practicable. Here I would add what may not be so acceptable to the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues: it is that I believe that that should be done by using every sort of housing management.
I would stress to the House the emphasis which is made by Sir Milner Holland and his colleagues on what they find the admirable habit of countries overseas, of using as many "centres of housing initiative" as possible. Of course, as the right hon. Gentleman has probably already found, and will find more and more, the key to tackling the housing problem is not just land; it is management, initiative, enterprise, be it public or private. The more people who for reasons of public service, duty, private enterprise or a desire to serve provide housing, maintain housing and improve housing, the better for the people of London and of the country.
Of course, we on this side of the House entirely accept that local authorities have a bigger part to play. This change in 162 the pattern of population, the increasing span of survival of people after retirement, the acceleration of slum clearance, with its corollary of more and more housing being needed for the elderly, the younger age of marriage and the increasing size of families all spell increased responsibilities for the local authority.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman might find it useful to have inherited not only this Report but also local authorities in Greater London which, however much the party opposite may have disputed the London Government Act, are at least sizeable enough to tackling housing on an effective scale.
§ Mr. Freeson
The right hon. Gentleman said that he and his colleagues accepted that local authorities had a big part to play. In view of the figures for the last several years quoted earlier by the Minister of the radical drop in local authority housing since 1955–56, can the right hon. Gentleman say when hon. Members opposite came to the decision that local authorities had a bigger part to play—in what year?
§ Sir K. Joseph
Local authority programmes have been growing up over the last, I think, speaking from memory, three years. The House must remember that large numbers of local authorities had come to the end of their most urgent need just about the time that the conurbations were ready to tackle slum clearance more decisively.
The fact is that the London boroughs and the L.C.C. were not using up the land which they had available nearly as quickly as I, for instance, as the Minister would have liked. The reason for this was not, as hon. Members opposite have consistently claimed, anything to do with the cost of land or the rate of interest, because, as the Milner Holland Committee says on page 131 of its Report, these were not the obstacles.
The fact is that local authorities cannot do everything. They cannot manage, improve and build on the scale required, and they must have the help of housing associations and private enterprise. Housing associations need, as the Committee shows, a different tax treatment from what they are now getting. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take this extremely seriously. He will find that he will need private enterprise 163 for three different purposes. He will want private enterprise—I hope he will listen—to retain for letting the whole of the rented stock. He will want private enterprise to improve and convert and, I suggest, to build. For each of these three reasons he will need to take more seriously than he appeared to do in his speech the strictures on taxation which the Milner Holland Committee sets our.
It is true that my right hon. Friends and I did not, when we were in power, take action on the tax side of private enterprise housing. Perhaps we should have done, but the facts were not set out for us as clearly as they are in the Report. I ask the House to imagine what an outcry there would have been from hon. Gentlemen opposite had we tried to do what is now shown to be absolutely necessary.
I also hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take much more seriously than he appeared to do the risk of continuing losses of rented housing. On page 212 of the Report the Committee spells out the reasons for this loss. There is the pace of slum clearance, which is much faster in this country than in any of the countries with which the Committee drew comparisons. There is the fact that houses in Britain lend themselves to owner-occupation and subdivision much more than flats, which predominate in countries abroad. There is also the fiscal position and political uncertainty. I suggest that unless the right hon. Gentleman acts on at least some of these things he may find that the rented sector will decline even faster than now.
I welcome his assurance that he will obtain regular figures and facts, but if we on this side find that the shrinkage continues and that he has done nothing on the factors suggested by the Committee which are relevant to this he will be gravely to blame, and I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway) in his speech on this aspect gave an excellent reminder to the Minister.
I ask the Minister to take more seriously than he appeared to do the Committee's repeated stress on the fact that local authorities cannot do everything themselves. This is spelt out on page 223 and also in the heart of the conclusions on page 225. I hope, therefore, 164 that even if the right hon. Gentleman rejects the idea of subsidies for private enterprise, although other countries do so, he will look seriously at the fiscal disadvantages to both housing associations in particular and to private enterprise.
I hope that in considering subsidies for the private enterprise sector he will bear in mind the implications of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead said; for subsidies to local authorities are indirectly subsidies to private enterprise because they make possible the earnings and wages which private enterprise now pays to the workers of London. One way or another either the earnings must go up or some subsidy must be paid perhaps to private enterprise.
However, all this will be of no avail without land and without taking pressure of demand off London. The right hon. Gentleman spent so much time criticising things in his speech that he did not mention some of the positive steps he intends to take. I presume that part of his policy is to continue the former Government's regional policies of trying to take pressure off London and the South-East.
Land is, of course, at the heart of any constructive housing policy. We hope to hear from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary something about the present position of the South-East Study. This Study was much criticised during the election, but I am glad to see that the Government are beginning to use it bit by bit as we always thought that it should be used. I welcome the decision by the Minister to expand Peterborough, Northampton and Ipswich, and I welcome the decision to have a study for the Newbury-Swindon area. I hope that we will hear from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary some of the immediate developments—not the long-range ones but the immediate ones—which will bring added help to people in housing need in London.
However, when all this has been said and done there is a desperate need for more land for Londoners in London, and my hon. Friends and I know that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will fight for every acre of land that he can get in London. That we know. That will 165 involve, as my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, South (Mr. Robert Allan) stressed, the need to reconsider densities in suitable areas, but I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us something of the present prospects; the imminence of housing in Woolwich, in the Lea Valley, in Croydon, Hendon, and Erith—although that was an L.C.C. initiative—and the position about railway land.
Between all those sites there may well be housing for perhaps a quarter of a million people—perhaps I am a little optimistic, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give us his view. He and his right hon. Friend have inherited a G.L.C. and London boroughs which, between them, working together, as they must, should be able to produce, given the professionals—and the professionals may often be a problem—a more rapid attack on housing than under the old arrangements.
We on this side accept that while the pace of building is accelerated, it is altogether sensible to tighten the law against abuses, and we shall await with interest to see to what extent the Minister can apply the laws of New York to this country.
It appears from what the Minister says that he is adopting the recommendation of the Milner Holland Committee to increase security of tenure. As my right hon. Friend indicated, we shall study sympathetically the proposals put forward by the right hon. Gentleman, but I hope that he will not under-estimate for a moment the two great problems that are not, to my mind, fully enough explored by the Milner Holland Committee.
The first is the risk that anything the Minister does in the way of spreading and increasing security of tenure may only intensify the shrinkage of the rented sector. The right hon. Gentleman says that it could not get much worse—if that is his rather unscientific attitude to this very serious risk, I hope that his Parliamentary Secretary will spell out the relative risks a little more soberly—
§ Sir K. Joseph
I am sorry—I have only a few more minutes.
166 Let us look at this risk. The loss of rented stock occurs, as I have already said—and it is spelt out in page 212 of the Report—for a number of reasons. Clearly, the more a landlord feels that he is to be controlled and regulated the more the risk that he will take the first opportunity of vacant possession to sell his property. That was the position before the 1957 Rent Act, and that is the position now for decontrolled dwellings, and we may find—I hope not, but we may—that the result of what the right hon. Gentleman proposes to do—and, of course, we do not know that in detail yet—is to reduce still further the stock of furnished accommodation, above all, which is the only hope of new households and newcomers to London.
That leads me to the second implication of security of tenure which I find the Milner Holland Committee, unlike all its other work, has not fully explored. As the Minister said, the bulk of the misery at the moment is concentrated on the young families with low wages—[HON. MEMBERS: "And the aged."]—and only to a lesser extent, generally speaking, the aged, because they are just those who, on the whole, benefit from rent-controlled dwellings.
Where do these young families with heads of households generally under 30 tend to go? There are not many vacancies for them in local authority accommodation because most local authority vacancies are pre-empted by slum clearance, road widening, and so on. So the new young households tend to finish up in furnished accommodation, and half the tenants of furnished accommodation, and of the multi-occupied furnished accommodation, are heads of families under 30, with children. It would be very serious if anything the Minister did were to diminish this sector of accommodation.
In a fully controlled city, there is very little chance of vacant possession being available for a new household. We read from the Milner Holland Report that fully one-third of the decontrolled lettings are made available by the owners—the landlords—to either relatives or friends or people who are in need. But when all dwellings are controlled there is, first, the probability that nobody will leave them and, secondly, the probability that, if by death vacant possession is available, the landlord will sell them.
167 Therefore, for new households there is very small chance of obtaining accommodation in letting which is controlled, and by hypothesis these people cannot afford owner occupation. Therefore, I suggest to the Minister that there is a very serious danger that these new households and newcomers may find accommodation only as the subtenants of controlled tenants. I do not know yet what the Minister's legislation will be, but, unless he has a positive, sensible attitude to prevent the exploitation of subtenants and to guard against the exploitation of subtenants in the same way as we know tenants have in some cases been exploited, then he will make the lot of the have-nots even worse than now.
We cannot shirk this issue. Rent control and security of tenure will be fine for and will be welcomed by those who have accommodation, but it spells an even less promising future to those who have no accommodation. Now, those who have no accommodation admittedly compete for decontrolled and furnished lettings. They compete, as the Milner Holland Report tells us, with the rich, with the better off, as well as with each other. But if there is no empty accommodation because all the controlled accommodation is either full of privileged—I use the word obviously only to make a distinction here—tenants or is sold on vacant possession and if the Minister's policies—we do not know what they are in detail yet—reduced the furnished sector, the lot of the new household and the newcomer will be far worse than now.
We do not know what even the result of the Minister's—we know—benevolent Protection from Eviction Act will be. We welcome the drop in the number of homeless families of which he told us, but what he cannot tell us is how many dwellings which would otherwise have been available to let have been withdrawn from the market because of the Protection from Eviction Act. It may well be that the result of protection will be only to concentrate the over-crowded, with the sheer lack of rooms relative to population, into other equally unhappy concentrations. The only hope is more building, and that depends on land and it depends upon the maximum possible number of "centres of housing initiative", and it is on this that we look 168 forward to hearing the Joint Parliamentary Secretary.
Finally, in a rather more lighthearted way after what has been a very sober debate, may I tell the Minister that he is becoming a specialist in tantalising the public, a sort of intellectual performer of strip-tease dances. Only the other day, when he was discussing rates, the Minister told his audience that what he would like would be a local income tax, that that would ease the ratepayers' lot, but that a local income tax was not practicable. Then he said that what would be very helpful would be a sales tax, but he did not think that was practicable. He went on to say that what would really be a great help to the ratepayer would be a land tax, but he did not think that would work either.
In just the same way today at the end of his speech the Minister held out to the public a glimpse of a new town in London. May I tell the right hon. Gentleman that Minister after Minister has considered a new town in London. As the right hon. Gentleman knows very well, there is not the land for a new town corporation to do its normal function. If he thinks—he may well be right here—that local authorities need more professional help, I think that a new town corporation may be an instrument which could do much, as he said, for urban renewal. However, by his reference to a new town to help local authorities with urban renewal he surely gives the case that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I are putting in all seriousness to the Government. He accepts the Milner Holland Report only in part. He is rejecting the strong emphasis by the Committee that London's housing needs all possible help from private as well as public and as well as philanthropic enterprise.
We are not asking the Minister to commit himself to subsidise private enterprise. What we are asking him is to consider very seriously the present tax position as shown by the Report and as it affects housing associations and private enterprise. Let him at least look seriously at that. Let him recognise that other countries which are admired in this Report maximise the "centres of housing initiative". We wish him and his right hon. Friends well in dealing 169 with this clear, cogent Report and we hope that the Parliamentary Secretary can give us good news of the vital, above all, raw material—land.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government(Mr. Robert Mellish)
I have heard the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East(Sir K. Joseph) speak on many occasions. This again was a very good performance. He said that my right hon. Friend has recently been committing a kind of intellectual teasing of the public. That is his personal view, but I would say that my right hon. Friend in the course of three months has done more to bring happiness and contentment to more people in London than the right hon. Gentleman ever did. He has done it by simply bringing in one Act which the party opposite could have brought in, because they knew the facts.
The right hon. Gentleman asked for figures about local authority building and he said that it had been stepped up in the London region in the last three years. We had better get this on the record. [Interruption.] I am talking of London because I thought that this debate was about London. In 1961, 13,000 local authority houses were built out of a total of 24,000. It is true that the figure went up to 14,000 in 1962 out of 25,000. In 1963 it was 15,000 out of 26,000, and in 1964 it was 15,500 out of 29,000. This compares rather miserably even with the Conservative record in 1954 when local authority building was 22,000 and in 1955 when it was 19,000.
§ Sir K. Joseph
The hon. Gentleman knows very well that in the earlier years the L.C.C. was building on its out-county estates. He should give the number of houses built for Londoners outside London in new towns, expanded towns and by private enterprise.
§ Mr. Mellish
The right hon. Gentleman is now asking for figures which I cannot give off the cuff. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am not one of those dishonest people who throw figures about for party purposes.
The right hon. Gentleman's whole approach to the debate was that he virtually takes credit for the Milner 170 Holland Report. He said that what he did was to initiate the Report and, by implication, that he had somehow done us a great favour. At the end of the day he may well have done us that favour, but that was not his intention. I shall prove later that the right hon. Gentleman had all the knowledge at his disposal before the Milner Holland Committee ever reported.
The right hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that there were no facts in his Department. That is a fair comment. He was there for a number of years and his party for 13 years. He talked about taxation of private enterprise and housing associations. I say straight away to him that my right hon. Friend shares his views about the taxation of housing associations. My right hon. Friend said so this afternoon and he will be looking at the matter to make appropriate recommendations. The party opposite has already tried hard to give benefits to private enterprise. It brought in the 1954 Act, designed to help private enterprise. Incidentally that did not succeed and the party wiped it away with the 1957 Act which supplanted it. Private enterprise has been already tested.
I am not speaking against private enterprise housing. A great deal of it is good, but do not let us allow it to go out from the House that all that is needed now is special taxation privileges. The right hon. Gentleman had the temerity to talk of special agencies for the building of houses for those in greatest need. What stuff and nonsense this is for London and what stuff and nonsense is this idea that we must have a multiplicity of organisations. We already have the local authorities, the greatest possible organisation we could have, at our finger tips. Why talk about other great agencies which have yet to be created?
The right hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke) made an extraordinary speech. I have listened to him on many occasions, too, and today he had something to say about homeless families. I was convinced that he had not read the Report. He could not have talked about homeless families in the way he did if he had read it. The right hon. Gentleman knows only too well that the 171 majority of those to whom we referred in debate after debate in the House were not the feckless type. They were genuine victims of landlords, genuine victims of his own legislation. For him to have said, in effect, even at this stage, that the problem of homelessness always involves the problem family in some way or other and that this is something we must live with was really quite extraordinary. I am amazed by the right hon. Gentleman's attitude in these matters. He always conveys the impression that he has a great human outlook, but, somehow, in his actions he shows the opposite.
The speeches of hon. and right hon. Members opposite took the line which most of us thought they would take. The party opposite now says that we should treat this subject as non-political. Housing is to be non-political. This was the line adopted by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). He pleaded for a non-political approach, although, of course, he does not know much about housing anyway. I have never heard him speak in a housing debate before. I was not at all impressed by the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He asked for details of our ideas but he gave none of his own, and his great plea, like that of his hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway) and for Paddington, South (Mr. Robert Allan), was that housing should somehow be taken out of party politics.
I have to say, because I know that there are so many Londoners who want me to say it, that the 1957 Rent Act has created more unhappiness among the people of the Greater London area than any other Act that I can recall. In the Second Reading debate on 21st November, 1956, that great humanitarian and great politician, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) said:This Measure…will halt the drain upon rented accommodation, it will release additional accommodation which is under-used or wasted, it will arrest the deterioration of millions of houses…it will give to persons who are moving or setting up home the opportunity to find accommodation in the market…It will end long-standing injustices between tenant and tenant and between landlord and tenant."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November, 1956; Vol. 560, c. 1775.]172 That is what the right hon. Gentleman said then. I can forgive him saying it in those days because he may well have believed it. But I ask right hon. and hon. Members opposite, do they believe it now? Do they believe that that is what their Rent Act achieved?
What I cannot forgive the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West for is this. In spite of Milner Holland, he still argues—he wrote an article in the Sunday Times about a fortnight ago to this effect—that the free market is the real answer. We have heard from the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East that he does not agree with that, not in London anyway, and I gather that the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames does not agree with it. Then let us be clear about it. This is supposed to be a non-party matter now. How many hon. and right hon. Members on the back benches opposite would agree? The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West was a very powerful Minister. He is now on the back benches and he advocates his view publicly. Will the Leader of the Opposition disown him? Will he make a speech in the country saying that he dissociates himself from his right hon. Friend's view? While we have people like the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West taking the view about housing today that he does, how can the party opposite talk about this being a non-political issue?
In 1957 we pleaded against the Rent Act, that highly political Measure. The immediate effect of the Act was 380,000 properties decontrolled, and nearly 800,000 dwellings have been taken out of control since. The whole theme of the Milner Holland Report, the theme that really matters to me, is the insecurity of tenure, the fear and intimidation which has been the feature during the past few years. On page 179, the Milner Holland Committee refers to the great insecurity of tenure there has been throughout the past few years and says:The prime cause of hardship is insecurity of tenure in conditions of shortage.I challenge every hon. and right hon. Member opposite. Do they deny that their 1957 Rent Act accentuated this? Does anyone deny it? If they do not deny it, they must accept their full share 173 of responsibility for the misery and hardship which Milner Holland has described.
Let us remember this about those who now want to take party politics out of housing. In 1958, the Tories became afraid of their own Rent Act. Why? Because a General Election was pending. They therefore brought in an emergency Measure, the Landlord and Tenant (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1958. When he moved the Second Reading on 24th April, 1958, the right hon. Member for Hampstead spoke again. He said:…I remember laying stress on the relevance of easing and smoothing the transition, because it was no part of the Government's policy that acute hardship and homelessness should befall people who in no way deserved it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th April, 1958; Vol. 586, c. 1167.]Can the right hon. Gentleman say that now, in the full knowledge of the Milner Holland Report that 250,000 people in London are living in fear, with thousands rendered homeless because of the Conservative Government's legislation?
§ Mr. Brooke
The hon. Gentleman is now denying what the Milner Holland Report said, which was that the Rent Act was not one of the causes of the present situation.
§ Mr. Mellish
That remark only confirms my view that the right hon. Gentleman has not read the Report. The 1957 Act created and aggravated insecurity of tenure in London more than any other Measure, and the right hon. Gentleman knows it. If I were to call him a hypocrite and a humbug I know that it would be out of order, but history will say it of him—of that, I am certain.
We are told that the Opposition did not know about this situation. We are told that they knew nothing of the problem and that the Report has come as a great surprise to them. What stuff and nonsense. Let us nail that lie. The danger signals were flashing all over London at the end of the temporary Measure which held the position for the 1959 election. Homelessness reared its ugly head all over London and it could be seen.
A deputation went to see the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East and told him the seriousness of the position. What did he do? Nothing. He gave a lot of sympathy but that is all we got out of him. The truth is that the Milner 174 Holland Report only tells a story that most of us on this side of the House already knew.
This is a story of the past of which I am ashamed and I am not going to allow the Conservative Opposition to disclaim their responsibility in large measure for the evil, the sadness and the heartache that the Report exposes. Do not let any Labour Member of Parliament ever forget that a lot of the responsibility for this heartache rests on the party opposite, which now claims that there should be a non-party approach.
I want to answer some of the questions raised by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East with regard to what is to be done about the problems. When I was given the job of Joint Parliamentary Secretary, with special responsibility for London housing, by the Prime Minister, the first thing I tried to do was to find out something of the size of the problem. But before I go on to deal with that I want to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. Whatever I may or may not do in my job, I cannot blame him. He has given me all the responsibility and support that I should have in order to do the job. If I fail, it will be because I am not able enough or big enough for the job.
As I have said, I first tried to find out the magnitude of the problem. Even on the assumption that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs has enormous success in his regional planning in stopping the drift to the South, we in London face the particular problem at this moment of having 200,000 more households than dwellings, with an increase in those households of 20,000 a year. By 1980 we have to find homes for 1 million Londoners outside the conurbation.
We have 40,000 dwellings in vast tenement blocks that are a disgrace to society. Our known slums are still vast in number. Much of London has not been designated as slum because there is no purpose in designating it. The inhabitants could not be rehoused now. Unless something is done to halt deterioration, however, we shall be forced to designate these properties as unfit for human habitation. Referring to domestic amenities, the Milner Holland Report says, on page 108, that 175 more than 1 million households in the London conurbation lack or share basic domestic amenities like water closets and so on.
On taking office we took stock of our inheritance. We discovered great shortages in building materials, both brick and cement, plaster board and other component parts. Industrialised methods of building in London were almost negligible. We found that the pressure on London housing had been made worse in the last 10 years by the rapid growth of office jobs in Central London. Over 150,000 new jobs of this kind have been created. It was known in the mid-1950's that too much office building was being concentrated in London, and that there was a necessity to get those offices moved to other parts of the country. The previous Government waited until 1963 before closing a loophole which developers had found in planning law which enabled them to get 30 to 40 per cent. more office space on redevelopment, but beyond that they were not prepared to go, apart from exhortation.
I ask the House to listen carefully to these figures. We further discovered that office building in London alone in 1964 represented 23 per cent. of the whole of the office building in the whole of Britain and that over 10 per cent. of the total building labour force in Britain was employed in the London region building offices in that area. It is no wonder that we introduced our ban on office building as a matter of emergency. The tragedy is that so much of the existing commitment cannot be caught by the new legislation which we have introduced, and the slowness in waking up to this problem has not only caused grievous troubles in the past but will continue to have its effect in years to come.
From the inception of the Labour Government there has been close liaison between my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works. That is more than we can say took place in the last Government. Whitehall is full of stories of the emnity between the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East and Mr. Geoffrey Rippon. I gather 176 that they were like a pair of prima donnas.
After consultation with the industry, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works hopes to see the existing shortage of bricks eased from now on, and is aiming at higher production this year. He has recently had discussion with the cement industry. It will make a supreme effort to meet our demands, but this means imports. I had better put this on record: the Labour Government will have to import cement to meet the demand. We are still in trouble about plaster board at the moment, but this may be eased and the industry has promised that it will do its best to put things right later in the year.
Let the House understand the size and the magnitude of the problem arising from office building and shortages of materials. Let Londoners understand it. Do not let them forget. They must be told. When we are asked what the Government will do and how they will perform, let us be quite clear what was the Government's inheritance—not only the size of the problems but the tasks which they have to overcome.
I want to give a report on my own personal activities since I have had this job. It seemed to me right that I should visit every Greater London borough on the eve of their new life, which we all know starts on 1st April, and discuss with them their own local problems. In the majority I found great enthusiasm and eagerness to get on with the job. In some of the outer London boroughs I felt that they did not regard themselves as part of the Greater London area and they were concerned only with their own internal problems.
Some of the inner London boroughs have problems which are immense. I should like to give two examples. Lambeth and Islington. Here at first hand we see the appalling problems of overcrowding and immigration problems. Boroughs of this kind are crying out for an overspill policy. I discussed with the boroughs in what way the Government could help. They questioned our planning procedures and the long time taken over compulsory purchase orders. I was asked—I say this fairly to the House—what are the future prospects 177 for finance and when are they going to get cheaper money? They all want this as quickly as possible. They all want some relief following the present subsidy review. All boroughs, Labour and Conservative alike, are asking for a change in the present system of local government finance.
I was struck by the lack of industrialised building in London. Most of the boroughs argued that this was not through lack of good will on their part but through a shortage of any reasonable sites. I got from both Tory and Labour boroughs an expression of deep thanks from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing for his Protection from Eviction Act. I did not get any thanks from the Tory boroughs for what the right hon. Gentleman did in the last few years.
The most important impression I gained was that there was a tendency on the part of many of these boroughs to be too parochial and not to see the problem of London as a whole. One of my first tasks is to get a spirit of general co-operation between all the boroughs and the Greater London Council. With this in mind and recognising the shortage of land which is the vital factor, as the right hon. Gentleman said, in the last five months we have tried to bring into reality some of the areas of land which have been discussed before. Without overstatement, I should like to hint at the future of London as I see it.
The Woolwich Arsenal and Erith scheme now becomes a genuine reality. The Greater London Council will be the authority responsible for building and will provide homes for more than 50,000 people. This will be London's new town. I have already told the Greater London Council that I want this to be the greatest effort ever made in London, something which future generations can look back on and say that at any rate this generation did something worth while. This new town will be built with Buchanan principles in mind. The first 1,000 homes will be started early next year.
Here is the key to the future—with the Greater London Council, acting as the authority to deal with overspill in inner London, I can visualise that with close planning there will be a tremendous 178 break-through south of the river, and boroughs like Lambeth, Southwark, Wandsworth and Paddington, given certain and guaranteed overspill, in their turn can find sites, so that, with a leapfrog arrangement of finding sites for overspill we can smash overcrowding in that part of London.
Turning to the east side of the river, discussions are going on and, I hope, will soon be finalised, about the future development of the Lea Valley. For too long there has been too much talk and we are now looking for action. On the east side of the river, too, again with close planning between the Greater London Council and such boroughs as Tower Hamlets and Newham, the people of the inner London boroughs on that side of the river will be able to get the help for which they have been crying out.
At Croydon Airport we hope to provide homes for 5,000 people and the first start will be made in the autumn. At Hendon the consultants are now drawing up a master plan and I promise to report to the House as soon as I am able. At Kidbrooke we shall be able to rehouse 10,000 people and I have asked for a start to be made at the end of the year.
I want to emphasise that as other Government land becomes available, it will not be automatically auctioned to the highest bidder, as was the previous practice, but that local authorities will get first consideration. We now have the full co-operation of the Minister of Transport in dealing with railway land and I have asked the Greater London Council to negotiate with British Railways to speed up the acquisition of land. I give the assurance that when this land is made available, its use will be discussed with the boroughs. The Greater London Council will act as the agent for clawing back the land from the railways.
A short time ago, I called a conference of all London boroughs to discuss industrialised system building. As I said earlier, my visits to the boroughs had disclosed much uneasiness. At that meeting the London boroughs agreed in principle to form consortia to speed up building wherever possible. A meeting of the architects of all boroughs was held at my request last Thursday to work out details of the consortia and also to work 179 out how to adopt system building methods. We have made a definite start ready for April and I am being kept informed of the progress being made by the boroughs.
I have tried hard to show what an immense problem we face in Greater London's housing problem—the size and the increase of population and the fact that hardly any effort has been made in the last decade to stop the drift to the South, plus the growth of office building inside London, have all added to the problems facing the Labour Government.
The present rate of house building in Greater London is 26,000 per annum, of which just over half is by local authorities. My right hon. Friend has arranged for this to be stepped up to 35,000 and most of this increase will come from local authority building.
My right hon. Friend is asking all local authorities throughout the country for a four-year housing programme, but the Greater London boroughs will be asked for a seven-year programme. We need a seven-year programme if we are to do the close planning with the Greater London Council which is essential. We shall expect the maximum industrialised building output which is practicable in every one of these programmes. They will be subject to constant review and I shall be in touch with all the boroughs and the Greater London Council to make sure that their agreed programmes are maintained. I make it clear to the House that our aim is a considerable increase in the output of local authority building.
I want the town halls to become human, not just places where we pay the rates and register births and deaths. I want the town halls to show humanity which has been lacking in the past towards those on the waiting list. The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Cooper) had a right to criticise some of them. I want Members on both sides of the House who represent Greater London to do all that they can to ensure that the public relations side of their town hall is made a priority. I want people to feel that the town halls really care and to understand clearly that we on this side genuinely care.
180 I said that the Milner Holland Report stressed throughout that insecurity of tenure had been one of the fears which created so much unhappiness. My right hon. Friend the Minister can take credit for his Protection from Eviction Act. He produces his Rent Bill this week. That Bill will show the nation that we are making a genuine effort to get a better relationship between landlord and tenant. He will bring in a Bill later in the Session to deal with leasehold reform. He is already dealing with the question of reform of local government finance. He has already announced overspill arrangements for North Buckingham and the expansion of Peterborough, Ipswich and Northampton.
I end on this note. I speak as one who understands housing. I understand what bad housing can mean because I have lived in it; I know what it is. For 20 years as a Member of Parliament I have been handling individual problems. One cannot speak about housing in the Greater London area without some emotion. My right hon. Friend dealt with some of the myths which have been thoroughly exposed by Milner Holland. We know that immigration, with particular reference to coloured people, has been put in its right perspective and that the vast majority of council tenants are the sort of people who should be council tenants.
We believe that the main responsibility for rehousing those in the greatest need and to provide rented accommodation must be that of the local authorities. It is my task as I see it and the job which I have been given to galvanise the work of the boroughs and to make sure that they all understand that they are part of Greater London. Some of the outer London boroughs have stopped building. They are going to start; I will tell them that. They have got to, because my Minister has certain powers to ensure that they do.
We are not just talking about units of accommodation. We are talking about the right of every family to have a roof over their head. The trouble and tragedy is that most of us knew what Milner Holland has reported; and so did the public. But what has happened in the last 10 years? We have been brought up to believe that it does not matter and 181 that if we get a council flat we can slam the door on the rest of London and say, "I am all right". If one is buying one's own house, one slams it even harder. I always thought that one of the great virtues of our Christian faith was that we loved our neighbour. But it seems that our attitude is that our neighbour does not matter a damn to us. We have got to bring about a change of mind, because if we do not we cannot face this problem. So help me God, I shall do the best I can.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think that the hon. Gentleman's opening words were "Before the Minister sits down". Appearances are that he had sat down.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.