HC Deb 08 March 1967 vol 742 cc1702-11

Amendment made: No. 105, in page 32, line 24, after "1(5)" insert: or (Subsidies for conversions or improvements by housing associations) (6)".

12.15 a.m.

Mr. Mellish

I beg to move Amendment No. 106, in page 32, line 33, to leave out paragraph 10.

With your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to take at the same time Amendment No. 107.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

So be it.

Mr. Mellish

These are related technical Amendments. Paragraph 10 of Schedule 3 is meant to ensure that all dwelling houses approved for subsidy under the Bill are treated as dwelling houses for certain rating and valuation purposes. Amendment No. 107 ensures also that dwellings approved for the new subsidy for conversion and improvement by housing associations will be brought within the scope of this provision.

Furthermore, this Amendment takes account of the fact that the relevant rating and valuation provisions are being consolidated in the General Rate Bill which should come into operation on 1st April, 1967.

Both Amendments taken together shift the paragraph to its correct place in the logical order of the Schedule. I commend the Amendments to the House, and I hope that everyone understands.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: No. 107, in page 32, line 47, at end insert: 13. Paragraph 2 of Schedule 13 to the General Rate Act 1967 shall have effect as if— (a) Part I of this Act were included among the enactments mentioned in sub-paragraph (1)(a) of that paragraph; and (b) section (Subsidies for conversions or improvements by housing associations) of this Act were included among the enactments mentioned in sub-paragraph (1)(c) of that paragraph.—[Mr. Mellish.]

12.16 a.m.

Mr. MacColl

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I am sure that the House does not want to take a long time on Third Reading, but it would be discourteous if we were to say nothing at this stage. This is an important Bill and one on which we have had a great deal of help and co-operation. It introduces an important subsidy in the public sector and an entirely new scheme for giving assistance to home owners. We believe that it will be tremendous value for those purposes.

We have been through the Bill in detail in Committee and on Report. More than most, probably, this Bill has required a good deal of co-operation from other people in its production. On Part I we had continuous help from the local authority associations. On Part II, we had similar help not only from the local authorities but from the building societies, insurance companies and friendly societies. On behalf of my right hon. Friend, I want to say how grateful we are. We are grateful also to the officials who have worked very hard on the Bill, and, as always, to the draftsman who suffered so much in hearing his work of art mangled in Committee.

I thank hon. Members opposite and my hon. Friends for their constructive help and, above all, for their constructive silence. Hon. Members opposite have worked hard in a genuine effort to improve the Bill. I am pleased that we have been able to accept a good many of the proposals which have been put to us. I never think that it is the job of a Government to be obstinate in refusing to accept suggestions which are put to them. This is the advantage of our Parliamentary procedure, and, where a Government can meet points which are made, the sensible thing is to do so. That is what we have tried hard to do whenever we could.

12.19 a.m.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)

Perhaps I should apologise for intervening at this late stage, but, like many hon. Members who did not take part in the proceedings in Committee, I am none the less extremely interested in the way the Bill will work in practice and, in particular, the effect it may have on the operation of town expansion schemes.

There is a town expansion scheme at Thetford in my constituency. The borough of Thetford has drawn my attention to one difficulty which is giving concern at the moment. I know that, in the debate on Clause 8 in Standing Committee, the Parliamentary Secretary said that there would be a full inquiry into the wider financial difficulties of town expansion schemes, particularly in relation to the facilities for providing communal amenities and so forth. There is one aspect, however, which has given Thetford and, presumably, other expanding towns some concern, and that is the disadvantage they feel they may be under in the calculation of the loan interest subsidy provided under Clause 2. I think it is true to say that most expanding towns have incurred by far the greater part of their loan debt within the last decade when high interest rates have prevailed. It has been impossible for them to cut back their capital programmes in times of financial stringency for the simple reason that they have entered into commitments to provide not only houses but factories and they have had to go on borrowing at a time when other local authorities not committed to schemes of expansion have been able to hold back in accordance with Government policy.

The expanding town has had to keep up with the building programme as well as the borrowing programme all the time, and it follows that the average borrowing rate in an expanding town has probably been higher than the national average. These towns are, therefore, concerned with the way in which the borrowing rate under Clause 2 of the Bill will be calculated. That Clause represents the broad yardstick of the excess over 4 per cent. which will be the basis of the subsidy, and, as I have said, they are concerned with how it will be arrived at.

The Clause does not take into account average interest rates but "representative rates", and I realise that it says that different rates may be so specified in relation to different classes of recipient authorities. Could the Parliamentary Secretary assure the House and, through it, the new towns that their particular difficulties are being taken into account and that with the powers now given the Government will be able to meet the difficulties which have been found to exist?

12.23 a.m.

Mr. Bessell

I do not think that this occasion should pass without someone from this bench saying how much we welcome this Bill. Although we regret that some of the Amendments proposed by the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) were not accepted by the Government, I think the whole of the proceedings today as well as in the Standing Committee have been an example of how all sides of this House can work together in order that a very useful piece of legislation can be put on the Statute Book.

I ask the indulgence of the Parliamentary Secretary because, as he knows, I did not serve on the Standing Committee and am, so to speak, standing in for the Liberal Party because my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) has been able only to take part in the later stages of the debate. However, he did raise during the Second Reading debate the question of the cost-rent housing societies and pointed out that they might not benefit as would housing societies. I now understand that they will under the new Clause 1 moved today. If we could have an assurance on this point I would be most grateful.

This is a realistic and, moreover, a radical Measure, and, on behalf of all my right hon. and hon. Friends, I say that we are grateful for the steps which the Government have taken and for the progressive attitude shown throughout all stages of this Bill.

12.25 a.m.

Mr. Eyre

Part 1 of the Bill should certainly be welcomed, especially since the range of its scope has been improved as a result of the Amendment moved in the Standing Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) the principle of which has been accepted. I think that this will be distinctly helpful to tenants, and particularly those in the big cities. I acknowledge that it will be very helpful.

Part II, which is intended to help home owners, is thoroughly disappointing. Recalling the period before the 1964 General Election and what was then being said by the Labour Party about home ownership, the loose talk that was generated about 3 per cent. mortgages, the heavy criticism of mortgage interest generally, who could then have thought that under a Labour Government mortgage interest would rise to a record height and that it would be the result of Government mismanagement?

People who remember that talk will see no cause for a fanfare of trumpets because of the very limited relief now given to a very limited section of the community. Great numbers of people who were misled by that kind of talk in 1964—and it was repeated to a considerable degree in 1966—will be disappointed to find that there is no general and broadcast relief, or escape from the reality of problems, as was promised then in that respect and in other respects.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot on Third Reading speak of what is not in the Bill.

Mr. Eyre

I accept your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of course, but in judging the Bill one must consider the general atmosphere that was created at that time. In place of those promises we now have a very limited form of relief for a very limited section of the population. And even for them the benefit will be doubtful, because in the exercise of the option very many variable and complicated factors have to be taken into account, and it would be quite easy for some to make a mistake and so not gain any benefit at all from the scheme.

When we think of the limited section who will benefit, we have to realise that their concern will be with the purchase of the older type of house because, inevitably, those who benefit under the option scheme will be in the lower income groups and will buy the older, smaller properties. We must also remember that in the past the building societies have found considerable difficulty in financing the purchase of that type of house. The Bill thrusts a very considerable burden on them, because they will have to provide the funds for that kind of purchase. Hon. Members opposite will have to acknowledge that extra burden and stop sniping at the building societies if they have to fix a realistic rate of interest in order to attract enough money to finance the purchase of the smaller houses, where the benefit of the option mortgages may be available.

The Bill provides a solution inferior to that advanced by the Conservatives in the 1959 Act, when £100 million was made available to local authorities specifically to finance the purchase of the older type of house in the big cities. Unfortunately, there is this lack of benefit for the great mass of purchasers who cannot for taxation reasons take advantage of the scheme.

Other drawbacks in the Bill are the much delayed commencing date for the option scheme and the indefinite postponement of the guarantee scheme. Against the background of the former promises and the inducements to support Labour, it will be seen that Part II is a poor and a half-hearted effort and, as that realisation sinks into the minds of the great mass of would-be home owners, they will find it a very disappointing Bill.

12.30 a.m.

Mr. Channon

Rising for the last time to speak on this Bill is like saying goodbye to an old friend. The short Third Reading debate has raised a number of interesting points which the Parliamentary Secretary will no doubt wish to answer. I am sorry we disappointed the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell), but we pressed cost-rent housing societies in Standing Committee on three occasions and that is the only reason why we did not put down an Amendment on Report.

I am very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) raised the point he did, because I know Thetford very well. I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary will take note of his points. We were extremely disappointed that the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) did not deploy the arguments for the London Borough of Newham, as he had eleven Amendments down on the Notice Paper for the Report stage.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre) has rightly pointed out, we have shown at all stages that Part II is thoroughly disappointing and falls short of past promises. I am sure that people will feel great disappointment when they realise exactly what is involved. In spite of his enthusiasm for Part I, I think my hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green will agree with me that it is insufficiently selective in its system. It only has my qualified enthusiasm, as has Part II.

I do not want to part from the Bill in a censorious and critical mood. I apologise to the House for having kept it sitting for nearly 15 hours today, but we have got through nearly 30 pages of Amendments and, if anything, we deserve a productivity bonus rather than the censure of the House for delaying it.

I thank my hon. Friends for their support and help at all stages. My hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason), in particular, in today's discussions, has shown his deep knowledge, and my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Murton), my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Mr. Roots), and my hon. Friends the hon. Members for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi), Moray and Nairn (Mr. G. Campbell), Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), Birmingham, Hall Green and Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) have all played an important part in consideration of the Bill. I thank the Minister and his colleagues for their careful consideration of the points we have raised and the Minister's officials for the work they have done. I thank the authorities of the House for their unfailing help and courtesy in attempting to put us in order and to help us at all stages to put up our case on this Bill.

One thing disappoints me. During the Standing Committee I was sent a letter in Welsh by the Under-Secretary of State for Wales. Unfortunately, it would be out of order to quote from it this evening because it is in Welsh. By the courtesy of my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor Evans), who translated the letter for me, I have to tell the House that there was a misprint in it and that instead of telling me that there would be full consultation between the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Welsh Office, by putting in an "o" in a Welsh word instead of an "a"—and I hope this was a misprint—the Welsh Office informed me that there was an amorous relationship between the two departments. This is a serious matter, which we must probe at some future date. We have said that this has been a disappointing Bill, but we do not wish to delay it because we think it will give some help. It is disappointing for the reasons which I have given, but tonight is not the occasion on which to advance those arguments at length.

Although we have had great differences of opinion on matters of substance, throughout it has been a friendly, constructive and enjoyable occasion. All hon. Members have enjoyed the experience, and I think that we have improved the Bill a little. We send it on its way to another place. I hope that we shall not get it back with too many Amendments and have to debate it all over again.

12.35 a.m.

Mr. Mellish

I have been asked a number of very important questions by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I will reply to them.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) found at least one Welsh Member on his side who could translate the Welsh language. If he had been associated with this side of the House, there are a great number of hon. Members from the Welsh valleys and other parts of the Principality who could have assisted him.

The hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) asked a question about Thetford. Clause 8 is designed to give greater aid to the expanding towns and receiving authorities, and I will make him this offer. If he and his colleagues in Thetford are at all unhappy about the position, I am quite willing to receive a deputation at the Ministry and discuss it with them. I ask him to lead the deputation, and we can discuss the matter in detail to see how Thetford comes out of this Clause. My own feeling is that it will do pretty well. However, if the hon. Gentleman has any doubts, he had better come and see us at the Ministry.

The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Bessell) asked about cost rent associations. We have debated the subject, and I have said on behalf of my right hon. Friend that if subsidy is given to cost-rent associations their whole character is changed. Cost-rent associations were set up for the one purpose of not receiving subsidy of any kind. The cost-rent association scheme was designed for a special type of person such as a young executive who moves round the country. I think that we shall see more and more movement towards co-ownership rather than cost-rent, although it is not for me to say whether there is a substantial demand for cost rent associations. However, we had the debate, and the arguments are there to be seen in the OFFICIAL REPORT. As the Bill now stands, there has been no change in the position of cost rent associations.

Mr. Bessell

The real problem is that these cost rent associations buy older properties in what are called "twilight" zones. If there is a problem here and it proves to be more serious than the hon. Gentleman anticipates, will he look at it again at some later stage?

Mr. Mellish

The cost-rent associations about which I am talking are building brand-new dwellings for people to occupy, paying a cost-rent. The hon. Gentleman is talking about the purchase of properties in twilight areas, and I suspect that he is not referring to cost-rent associations but to housing associations. They would qualify under the Bill. However, if he has points about associations which he knows which are genuine cost rent and are performing another function, we will look at them.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre) praised Part I but not Part II of the Bill. His party was in power for 13 years and did not produce a Part II of any kind. Nothing which the Conservative Administration did went near the sort of effort which we are making under Part II. Whatever criticism hon. Gentlemen opposite have about what we are doing now, the fact is that we are doing it, and they never even tried. That in itself is enough to show up their criticism of this Part of the Bill as being worthless.

I would join with the hon. Member for Southend, West in thanking the authorities of the House for their courtesy and kindness. I join with the hon. Gentleman and with my hon. Friend in thanking our own officials. They have done a magnificent job in the presentation of the Bill, because there have been many drafting difficulties.

I want to thank the hon. Gentleman personally for the part which he has played. It was an intelligent part, and he asked a number of probing questions which were entirely justified. As a result, we have been able to make the Bill that much stronger to send to another place. This is the best Bill dealing with subsidies ever to be introduced by any any Government. Simple figures illustrate that. Today, subsidies are running at £86 million a year. Under the Bill, they go up this year to £100 million, and by 1970 they will rise to £140 million. We are determined to give aid to those in genuine need. This is a Bill which even their Lordships will describe as a first-class Bill produced by a first-class Government.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.