HC Deb 03 November 1970 vol 805 cc852-68
The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Peter Walker)

Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on some of the broad decisions of principle on the basis of which we propose to change the structure of housing finance.

There are a multitude of disadvantages with the present system. Ratepayers and taxpayers are being faced with a large and rapidly growing subsidy bill. The subsidies are not distributed so as to remedy the housing problems of the worst areas. The rents paid by tenants are related neither to the value and quality of their accommodation, nor to their capacity to pay. The help available to the poorer tenant is incomplete and haphazard. The present system of rent control in the private sector is creating new slums at the very time when local authorities are replacing existing slums with new houses.

My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales and I have worked out a strategy for reform, but before our plans can be perfected we will need to consult the local authorities and other interested parties.

We intend to introduce a pattern of rents which will remove the present artificial distinctions and inequalities between the private and public rented sectors and within each of them.

The fair rent principle has become generally recognised as an equitable basis of determining rent structures. I am glad to pay tribute to the party opposite for introducing this principle. We now intend to take the natural step of extending it within the private sector. We intend to see that controlled tenancies will progress more rapidly into the fair rent system. We will thus prevent thousands of dwellings from sinking into decay and encourage the improvement and repair of these properties.

At the same time we shall apply the fair rent principle to local authority dwellings in England and Wales over a period. There will be a limit to the average increase of rent in any one year.

In Scotland my right hon. Friend has concluded that, because of the different nature and the relative number of privately and publicly rented houses, the fair rent formula cannot be applied at present to council houses. However, in consulting the Scottish local authority associations he will be making proposals which for the next few years will have broadly the same financial effects as those which I have outlined for England and Wales, and will provide for the same rate of progression in rents. The aim will be to balance housing revenue accounts by the end of this period. My right hon. Friend will consider the possibility of moving later to the same rent basis in Scotland as in England and Wales.

In order to see that tenants are not prevented from occupying accommodation suited to their needs because of their inability to afford the rent we will introduce a comprehensive system of rent rebates and allowances for all of those in need. Any tenant of unfurnished accommodation who cannot afford to meet the full new rent will be able to obtain financial help which will have proper regard to his income and family commitments.

Until now rent rebates have only been available to council tenants where the local authority has operated a rebate scheme. Under the Government proposals rent rebates will be available for the tenants of all local authorities. Under the previous system of subsidies, the system which will now be entirely recast, only one-seventh of the subsidies went into rent rebates. This Government intend to see by statute that subsidies from public funds will be directed towards those people who need them.

In spite of the fact that the 1968 Family Expenditure Survey disclosed that a far higher proportion of households in the private unfurnished sector had incomes below £1,000 per annum than in the public sector, no form of rent rebate has been available to private tenants. It is the Government's intention to see that, in future, help is given to these tenants by means of an entirely new system of rent allowances for those tenants who need them—allowances that will be as generous as the rebates available in the local authority sector. Subject to discussions with their associations, we contemplate that the local authorities will operate the scheme and that the Exchequer will meet the greater part of the cost.

There are two further major changes we intend to make in the subsidy system. The Government do not consider that the present subsidy system for slum clearance is adequate to meet the problem and we intend to take special steps to relieve the high cost of slum clearance.

Secondly, in those areas where there is serious overcrowding new building is often exceptionally costly. It is therefore our intention to give special assistance to those authorities who need it to meet the high cost of tackling the related problems of overcrowding and obsolescence.

We intend to continue a major drive for the improvement and rehabilitation of older houses.

A reform on these lines will bring the full weight of Government assistance to bear on the worst areas of the housing problem. It will mean that those local authorities with serious housing problems will be better placed to solve them speedily. It will distribute subsidies equitably where they are needed and in doing so substantially reduce a growing burden which has become wholly indefensible. It will give the citizen more genuine responsibility in choosing the housing he needs. In short, it will create the conditions in which we can pursue a housing policy which is rational, fair and compassionate.

Mr. Crosland

That is in many ways a surprisingly vague statement, although much of it tends in an obviously reactionary direction. In particular, it is extraordinary for the Minister to make a statement about housing subsidies without giving any idea of the amount by which they are to be cut. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in his statement referred to cutting housing subsidies by between £100 million and £200 million in 1974–75. What is the right hon. Gentleman's intention in this respect, and by how much does he expect his cut to raise council house rents—by 50 per cent., 70 per cent. or 100 per cent.? Will there, on top of that, be a further increase when the Government refuse to extend the 1969 Act controlling rent increases and when no doubt on top of everything else they cut the rate support grant?

We recall the sharp fall in council house building between 1952 and 1963. We recall the right hon. Gentleman's lectures to Tory councils a year ago not to be too enthusiastic about council house building. Does he think that the reduced subsidy, whatever the figure is, will be adequate to pay for comprehensive rent rebate schemes to which he has referred, and also for slum clearance, for urban renewal, and for special high cost problems of places like London? The answer is that it will not, but which one will take the rap?

The previous Government did a great deal, through the option mortgage scheme, to help owner-occupiers and we all wish to do—[Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite seem not to be aware that last year, for the first time in our history, 50 per cent. of the houses in this country were owner-occupied.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the tax relief to the owner-occupier goes contrary to his principle of capacity to pay? It is not only regressive, but also indiscriminate. Will the right hon. Gentleman be careful that he does not cut council house subsidies to the point where an undesirable and excessive gap opens up between the help given to owner-occupiers and that given to council house tenants?

Lastly, we shall want to examine the question of the housing allowance for the private tenant when we have more information to make sure that this is not a simple subsidy to the bad landlord or the profiteering landlord at a time when subsidies are being cut to councils with the most appalling housing problems. Will not this once again add a large number of people to those who are already subject to means tests, and will the Minister tell us now how many of our fellow citizens are subject to how many separate rebates and means tests? Is this process to continue indefinitely—[Interruption.] Is this process of creating two nations to continue indefinitely under a Government pledged to create one nation?

Mr. Walker

On the question of our proposals being reactionary, it ill becomes a Government that put 400,000 tenancies over to the fair rents principle without any rebate scheme at all to call this a reactionary Measure. I would point out that under the last Government there were 8 million tenants living in unfurnished accommodation, of whom only 4 million had a possibility of obtaining rent rebates. Under our proposals all 8 million will be able to have the advantages of a rent rebate scheme.

As for the allegation of a means test, once again it ill becomes a Government that sent round a circular to local authorities asking them to use their subsidies for rent rebate schemes now to condemn that principle. The last Government did just that. They also introduced a rate rebate scheme on the same principle.

As for the effects of the measure on council house building, I believe it will result in a substantial increase in council house building in those areas in need, because whereas up until this moment, for example, the worst areas of London such as the Inner London boroughs have not had the financial help needed for the high cost of slum clearance and of new buildings, that cost will be met as a result of our proposals. Nor will they be restricted as they have been in the past by knowing that the new houses that they build will be let at rents that the tenants cannot afford, because under the rent rebate scheme they will be able to afford them. The results of these proposals will be a very substantial increase in the aid given to the worst housing areas in this country.

As for the question of the total amount of money saved, I would point out that last year—1969–70—the total housing subsidy bill was £190 million. On the old system it would have risen, by 1975–6, to £330 million. Even if, after negotiations with local authorities, there were a cut of £100 million in the 1975–6 figures, we should still be spending £40 million more than was spent last year on housing subsidies, the difference being that it will all be going to those who need it instead of being given indiscriminately.

On the question of vagueness of the total figure, this arises because we intend to discuss the question in detail with local authorities, who are the main housing authorities concerned. The details of their schemes will be discussed with them.

As for owner-occupation, this Government have already encouraged sales of local authority houses and new town houses for owner-occupation, and one of the proposals that I intend to bring into the new legislation will be a proposal that in addition to local authorities being able to help in the removal expenses of tenants wishing to go in for owner-occupation we shall include legal expenses in these proposals.

Mr. Sandys

Is my right hon. Friend aware that most objective and fair-minded people will greet his announcement as a long overdue measure of social justice?

Mr. Crosland

The right hon. Gentleman has not answered my first and central question, which is by how much he proposes to cut the subsidies and thence by how much rents will rise. He says, quite reasonably, that he wants to start discussions with local authorities, but he must have some idea in his mind about the cut in subsidies and the consequent likely increase in rents. Broadly, is it one-third, one-half, or 100 per cent.?

Mr. Walker

This will vary from one locality to another. There are completely different regional patterns and it would be wholly deceptive of me to produce a figure of that type.

Sir D. Renton

I greatly welcome this early fulfilment of our election pledge and the manner in which it will be operated, namely, by giving help to those most in need. Is my right hon. Friend aware that towns with schemes under the Town Development Act, such as Huntingdon and St. Neots, are having acute financial problems and have high rents and rates? In his further consideration with local authorities, will he do what he can to help such towns with these problems?

Mr. Walker

We shall certainly have very full discussions with local authorities and no doubt problems such as this will emerge in those talks.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Is not the real point of the announcement the fact that the Minister is not redistributing subsidies; he is slashing them. Secondly, as one owner-occupier to another, may I ask him whether he accepts, on Government figures, that owner-occupiers, quite rightly, receive £215 million a year in subsidies, which is far more than council house tenants do? Does he feel no shame in hitting those who need help most? Does he not agree that the pathetic queues on the council house registers will have their hopes completely destroyed, because council house building will come to a stop except for the disabled and the pensioners?

Mr. Walker

I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman's attitude, because I can imagine few towns that will benefit more from these proposals than Salford. I have heard the hon. Member complain that rents of new council houses in Salford are beyond the means of the tenant. That will no longer be the case. I have also heard him complain that people living in accommodation that was transferred to the fair rents scheme under the previous Government could not afford the consequent increases. They will be helped by this legislation.

Salford will get more for slum clearance, more for the high cost of clearance, and for rebates in respect of all those tenants who want to afford the increased rents.

As for comparison with owner-occupiers, this Government have no intention of reducing the tax rebates for owner-occupiers. I would point out that the council house tenant will have an advantage over the owner-occupier, first, because, unlike the owner-occupier, he does not have to pay part of the capital cost of building before he moves in; secondly, the owner-occupier does not have available to him any form of rebate scheme and, thirdly, if tenants with incomes that place them outside rebate schemes consider that owner-occupation is much preferable, this Government have allowed them to buy their council houses at a 20 per cent. discount.

Earl of Dalkeith

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement so far as it goes, but does he not agree that it is desirable to stimulate the building industry, preferably by the abolition of S.E.T., at an early opportunity, bearing in mind that that would not cost so much as the huge sums of money being paid in terms of unemployment pay for those in the construction industry? Will he take note of the special needs of Scotland and stimulate home ownership there, in view of the fact that Scotland has the lowest proportion of home ownership of any European country this side of the Iron Curtain?

Mr. Walker

The question of S.E.T. is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We have already introduced measures to assist the building industry, such as the removal of the import deposit scheme on timber and doing away with the betterment levy. On the need to increase the proportion of home ownership in Scotland, I agree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Pardoe

Would the Secretary of State realise that many hon. Members in all political parties, while wishing to reserve their position on the details of this scheme, will welcome many of his intentions as expressed this afternoon? However, can he direct his attention to the point about local authorities? He said that he contemplates that local authorities will operate the rebate scheme. Does that mean that he contemplates that they will operate it in the private as well as the public sector? Does he realise that there are many objections in a moral sense by people involved and by local authorities themselves to them operating any means test at all? Would it not be better to put it on the Exchequer or the Supplementary Benefits Commission officers?

Mr. Walker

We gave thorough consideration to this point. The reason that we rejected the hon. Member's suggestion—I understand the reasons for it—is, first, that they do already operate rent rebate and rate rebate schemes in the local authority sector. We are trying to get them to organise housing advisory services, where all this information will be available. But also, one of the most important tasks of local authorities is properly to analyse the housing problem in their localities and my financial arrangements will enable them to solve those housing problems when properly analysed. We are fitting into a number of major reports on this subject, which suggests that local authorities should deal with the total housing problem instead of just fragmentation of it. It is on that basis that I have pursued this course.

Mr. Gummer

How far does my right hon. Friend think that his statement will help the voluntary housing movement?

Mr. Walker

I am very anxious to stimulate the activities of the voluntary housing movement; where it has been in difficulty through not being able to obtain rent rebates in this sector, my plan will be of great importance to that sector.

Mr. Ross

My right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) suggested that the statement was vague. It is much more vague for those in Scotland. Has the right hon. Gentleman any indication or idea as to when the Secretary of State for Scotland will tell us anything at all about any of these matters that relate to Scotland? Am I right in assuming that the fact that there will be more rapid progress into fair rents means, first, that rents are going up more speedily than expected and will cover many more privately-tenanted houses, and, second, that although the principle of fair rents will not apply to local authority houses, for Scotland, since the words were that the same rate of progress in local rents will be expected, this will mean increased rents for private property as well as that of local authorities? Is that the case? The problems of Glasgow are being solved mainly outside Glasgow by the new towns and also by the Scottish Special Housing Association. To what extent, there too, will there be higher rents and to what exent can this lead to any solution of the problems within Glasgow? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me honestly whether he thinks that we will get more houses—and this year it will be a higher record than ever of housing building in Scotland—than before?

Mr. Walker

On the first point of the rent increases in the private sector, these will vary because the movement from control to fair rents and those remaining in the controlled sector will depend on the assessment of the rent officers. I had discussions with the presidents and vice-presidents of the rent assessment panels and discovered from the cases that they have taken already that this can result, in bad slum property, in very low rents, and that they have known rents as low as 2s. 6d. a week for bad property. Therefore, in terms of this movement, some will go up and some down in the remainder of the controlled sector—

Mr. Ross

In Scotland?

Mr. Walker

I am talking about Scotland—[Interruption.] I am talking about the whole of the country. So far as tenants of these houses are concerned, whereas previously in Scotland no tenant has had the availability of a rent rebate scheme, they will now all have it. In terms of the number of houses built, I believe that these proposals will result in many more houses being built in those areas of bad housing and housing need.

Mr. Allason

I welcome this notice of a very notable reform in housing, but would my right hon. Friend be more explicit about the situation of houses in bad repair? Is it likely that their rents will increase as a result of this measure, or will they remain about the same?

Mr. Walker

I am satisfied from my discussions with the presidents and vice-presidents of the rent assessment panel that houses in bad repair will be granted very low rents indeed.

Mr. Silverman

The Secretary of State concentrated on the sugar on the pill, but we have heard little about the contents of the pill itself. Would he be a little more forthcoming? How does he propose to save on housing subsidies, and will it be £100 million to £200 million a year in 1974? Without that basic information, what he is telling us is almost meaningless. Second, does his statement today, in conjunction with the White Paper, mean that every council tenant will have to submit to an increase in rent unless he qualifies for or submits to a means test? Third, with regard to the private sector, again apart from those who qualify for a rebate under his scheme—and no one knows how that will work: there will be a great deal of difficulty with regard to that—will he say whether every other tenant by this rapid transfer from control, at any rate in the controlled sector of the private sector, will again have to submit to an increased rent?

Mr. Walker

As I said earlier, for the year 1975–76, one could show a £100 million saving on the present estimates and still be spending £40 million a year more than in 1969–70, the difference being that the whole of the £230 million would then be going to those people who need help. As for the means test point, I would point out that the previous Government circulated local authorities urging them to provide rent rebate schemes and to spend their housing subsidy on providing rent rebate schemes, but this Government, unlike the last, intend to see that this happens.

Mr. Tebbit

Does my right hon. Friend's statement apply in its entirety to the new towns?

Mr. Walker

Yes, it does. Of course, linked with our policy on the new towns was my announcement in a circular last week that tenants in the new towns would in future be able to purchase their houses on a 20 per cent. discount on market price.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that the heavy increases in rents that this statement envisages will mean that many workers on average wages will be expected to pay something like 30 per cent. of their earnings? Under his kind of provision, will he not also provide for a steady reduction in the standard of building?

Mr. Walker

The figure of 30 per cent. is totally untrue—[HON. MEMBERS: "What is it?"] This will vary from one locality to another, but 30 per cent. is an absurd exaggeration and not a reality. One will have a situation in which the rent rebate scheme will enable people of average industrial earnings not to pay too high a rent.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

In view of the Government's progressive policy of expanding the operation of the fair rent principle, would my right hon. Friend think it timely and appropriate to make a report by White Paper or otherwise as may be convenient, on the five-year operation of the fair rent principle, with particular reference to the extent to which people have been able to agree at all between themselves or with the help of the rent officer on fair rents without the necessity of adjudication by rent assessment committees?

Mr. Walker

I will consider my right hon. and learned Friend's suggestion. Perhaps one of the indications that the system has worked well is that the last Government decided last year to put 400,000 more tenants under the system.

Mr. Harold Wilson

I think that the right hon. Gentleman said that there will be a limit on increases in rents each year. He will recall, I think, voting against our Bill to impose that limit when we were in office. We welcome his conversion. Will he maintain the same limit that we maintained—namely, an average of 7s. 6d. and a maximum in any individual case of 10s? Further, since he now regards my hon. Friend's estimate of a 30 per cent. increase in council house rents as exaggerated, will he give an assurance that council house rents will not rise by that amount in the next four years?

Mr. Walker

I welcome the former Prime Minister's interest in my conversion. I have also been converted to the 1965 Rent Act and the fair rent principle, so there is a double conversion for me. As to the question of the degree of the increase, the original suggestion was not that there would be a 30 per cent. increase; it was that 30 per cent. of the income of the average worker would be taken. This I consider to be exaggerated. As to the limits of increase in any one year, the Leader of the Opposition will understand that I want to discuss the figure with the local authorities, but I certainly intend to see that it will be a reasonable limit.

Mr. Maddan

Would my right hon. Friend refrain from following hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite into a campaign about bad and profiteering landlords? Will he remember that the vast majority of landlords are small individuals—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—they are small men—[HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."]—owning one or two houses? Will he therefore encourage them, for the benefit of themselves and their tenants, to take the maximum advantage of the repair grant available?

Mr. Walker

On the question of the nature of the landlords, it was the Labour Minister of Housing who said that 60 per cent. of landlords owned one house only and 40 per cent. of that figure were old-age pensioners. There is obviously validity in my hon. Friend's comments. I will certainly do everything I can to encourage the maximum use of improvement grants.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how long a period it is envisaged will occur before the full economic grants will be arrived at in Scotland? Secondly, he said in his statement that local authorities would be expected to operate the rent rebates for the private sector and went on to say that the greater amount of the finance would be found by the Exchequer. By the "greater amount" does he mean 5 per cent. or 99 per cent.? Whichever figure it is, does he not agree that all he is doing is transferring taxation from national level to local level; in other words, beating the localities to pay for the so-called promises of this Government?

Mr. Walker

As to the speed with which this will be done, it will vary from one local authority to another depending on the present level of rents. This applies over the whole of Great Britain. On the second point, as to the proportion of the cost of rebates, this is another subject which I want to discuss with the local authorities, but it will be a substantial part.

Mr. Longden

Dealing with houses in a state of ill-repair, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason), is my right hon. Friend aware that these houses are mostly in bad repair because their owners are the type of people referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Maddan) and have not been able to charge a fair rent for all these years? What will happen to them? Are they to be further penalised?

Mr. Walker

The tact that they will now be moved on to a fair rent basis and as they improve their properties will be able to get a fair rent, depending on the state of repair and improvement, will encourage a great deal of repair to these houses.

Mr. English

Has the Secretary of State altered the total Exchequer assistance with regard to housing at all? Would he give the comparable figures, the forward estimate, for the owner-occupiers' subsidy by way of tax allowance? Can he say what it was, and would he further say by how much it is proposed it will increase as a result of the disincentives he is now giving to the tenants of council houses?

Mr. Walker

In terms of the subsidy in the rented sector, if by 1975–76 there is a reduction of £100 million on the estimates for that year, it will mean that we would be spending £230 million that year compared with £190 million last year. In the owner-occupier scheme I have no specific estimate, but I hope it will be substantially increased because I hope that there will be a considerable rise in the number of owner-occupiers.

Sir B. Rhys Williams

While it is obviously better to subsidise families and not houses, has my right hon. Friend considered the overwhelming advantages of making assessment of income through the tax system and not leaving it to local authorities who are not equipped to handle means testing on this scale?

Mr. Walker

The use of the tax system in this sphere is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.

Mr. Denis Howell

Since very few landlords have built houses for letting for general needs in recent years, how will the criteria of fair rents be determined in those circumstances? Most important, how do these measures reconcile with the determined aim of the Government to bring down prices at a stroke?

Mr. Walker

Dealing with the first part of the question, I have consulted with the presidents and vice-presidents of the rent assessment panels and they are perfectly happy that they can provide proper assessments for new houses. There is no difficulty there. On the second point, there will be a large number of the 400,000 tenants that were moved over to fair rents by the previous Government who will have their rents reduced as a result of these measures.

Mr. Iremonger

What is the meaning of the word "fair" in the phrase "fair rent formula"?

Mr. Walker

It was a formula introduced in the 1965 Rent Act and Members on both sides had some suspicions as to how it would work. It is a method of trying to take out of the assessment of the market cost the scarcity value. Therefore, in areas of serious housing shortage and housing problems it means that tolerably fair rents are charged.

Mr. Carter

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that far from being welcomed, as was suggested by the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), this measure is an instrument of social injustice? Is he aware that people will regard the statement as a prescription for the return of Rachmanism?

Mr. Walker

The question of security of tenure which was very much connected with the condition of Rachmanism is, if anything, strengthened by my proposals because security of tenure remains for 8 million tenants. Whereas previously one of the factors in losing security of tenure was inability to pay the rent, by providing a proper rent rebate scheme over the whole system this will no longer be a factor.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

Will my right hon. Friend accept from those of us active in local government that we welcome the broad principles he has enunciated? Would he secondly accept the congratulations of many of us on what he has said about helping those in the private sector following particularly on the far-sighted legislation for the city of Birmingham? May I ask particularly what he thinks his measure will do to help the housing problems of Inner London where the cost of land is high and where local authorities such as Camden have to provide homes for lower-paid workers who take part in the essential services of the capital, but whose housing revenue accounts are steadily getting more and more into deficit, even though they are adopting sound rent rebate schemes?

Mr. Walker

My proposals were framed after looking in some detail at the problem of the Inner London boroughs. The combination of increased assistance for slum clearance and for the high cost of clearance of land in such areas, together with the provision of rebate to those tenants who cannot afford the rent, will mean that the Inner London boroughs are in a much better position than ever before to tackle their housing problems.

Mr. William Hamilton

Since the Secretary of State for Scotland has obviously lost the power of speech, can the right hon. Gentleman answer two specific questions about the Scottish problem, which is very different from the English problem? First, when the Chancellor said that there would be savings of between £100 million and £200 million a year in subsidies by 1974–75, can he say what proportion of that was the Scottish figure? Secondly, can he say whether this announcement made on behalf of Scotland goes to fulfilling the Prime Minister's promise that special help would be given to Glasgow, and if that is the case will it result in reduced rents in Glasgow Corporation houses?

Mr. Walker

I cannot give the proportions because they will be known only after discussion with the local authority. Therefore, the proportion between the countries will not be known. What I have announced will be of considerable value to Glasgow because that is an area with many low-paid people who will enjoy rebates and where the cost of slum clearance is high.

Mr. Warren

In establishing the rent which a tenant should pay, will my right hon. Friend consider the need to take account of the total income coming into each household?

Mr. Walker

The details of the rent rebate scheme will be worked out in discussion with the local authority. I want to ensure that it is a generous rebate scheme which meets the needs of the family.

Mr. Freeson

Will the Secretary of State inform the House how much he expects the increase in slum clearance to be over the next four years on current figures? By how much will his fair rent policy, when introduced, produce larger returns to local authorities than the cost of providing and running the estates?

Mr. Walker

On the latter point, my proposals will help local authorities. I hope that there will be a substantial increase in slum clearance as a result of the very substantial increase in financial help. This decision is for local authorities, but naturally I hope that, with a substantial increase in the help available, the slum clearance programme will go ahead much faster.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must protect the business of the House.