§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
I beg to move,That this House notes both the increasing change from unfurnished to furnished accommodation, with resultant higher rents and comparative freedom from control and the frequent conversion of furnished lettings to hotel use, resulting in a mounting loss of normal housing accommodation; and calls upon the Government to take the necessary steps to reverse these trends in the interest of people most in need of homes.I make no apology to the House for using my luck in the Ballot once more to call the attention of hon. Members to this increasingly serious problem, particularly in London. It is a matter of great regret that there is mounting evidence of a worsening position, certainly in London but also in the centres of many of our cities. We are confronted here with a problem of human misery and of social cost which must be regarded as intolerable for a civilised nation.
Today I am concentrating on only two elements which are part of this dark picture and I start by substantiating my assertion that there is an increasing change from unfurnished to furnished accommodation. We are now in a situation in inner London where about one-quarter of all tenancies are furnished. That is on the basis of the 1966 census. We are still awaiting figures from the last census but there is every reason to believe that that proportion is certainly no less. The Francis Committee, on page 83 of its Report, said:There can be little doubt that there has been a significant 'switch' on the part of landlords from letting unfurnished to letting furnished.On page 137 it states that the great majority of landlords said it was easier 1718 to get tenants out from furnished accommodation andthey could charge higher rents".That seems to me to give all the weight of the argument to those of us who very much regret that the Housing Finance Bill currently going through the House excludes furnished tenancies.
I do not want any Minister to take up the time of the House by reproving Members on this side for the fact that furnished accommodation was not included in the Labour Government's legislation. It was a matter of great regret to myself, as a member of the Committee on the Bill, and to other hon. Members on this side that we were unsuccessful in persuading my right hon. Friend the then Minister to do what we knew would be right, but we succeeded in getting into the Labour Party's election address at the last election a pledge to provide some sort of control for people in furnished tenancies. The fact that these tenancies are increasing makes the matter all the more urgent.
I know that it is easy to regard most tenants of furnished accommodation as transient people. In many big cities there are transient tenants who do not want to stay long and who do not put down their roots, and account must be taken of this. We are, however, disadvantaging thousands of ordinary families who have to go into furnished accommodation, not because they are transient but only because they have no other way of getting roofs over their heads. They are the most vulnerable of tenants.
One of the first things to notice is that tenants of that sort increasingly consist of young married couples. The Francis Committee found that 43 per cent.—that is, nearly half—of heads of households living in furnished accommodation were under 25 years of age. These young couples go into furnished accommodation because they have no choice. Often their married lives are gravely at risk because they are afraid of having children, and it is almost automatic that the arrival of children means eviction. In any event, many of the furnished tenancies known to me are not suitable places in which to bring up children. The figure of 43 per cent. of the under-25s in furnished accommodation compares with 15 per cent. of 1719 the same age group in unfurnished accommodation, and it is important for the House to have this contrast in mind.
About 44 per cent. of the tenants of furnished accommodation in stress areas who were interviewed by the Francis Committee said they would have preferred unfurnished accommodation. The Francis Report made it clear that under-privileged families in the stress areas must accept furnished accommodation because of the lack of unfurnished accommodation. The Committee found that over half of the tenants in furnished rooms had children and that more than half had lived in the same area, in the same borough, for several years.
I therefore beg the Minister not to brush aside this question on the grounds that people in furnished tenancies are here-today-and-gone-tomorrow types, because the real problem is that of the families who want to put down roots and have more children but are prevented from doing so by the cruel shortage of housing in London.
It is obvious to those who know the centre of London that there is a growing habit among landlords of unfurnished accommodation to see that when it becomes vacant it is let furnished to groups of young people, perhaps students or waiters, at rents which are pitched so high that they can be met only when three or four wage packets are coming in, and the rent reaches such a level that the ordinary working man with two or three children cannot compete in this market.
We are losing from our city centres at an increasing rate the kind of rooted families who really belong to our cities and who give a great deal of character to them, especially in London. I hope that hon. Members will forgive me for parochial about this. These are people who take a keen interest in the locality and make a genuine contribution in a civic sense to the centre of the capital.
I was looking recently at a Shelter report. In August and September it was found that of the people who went to Shelter for help because they were in trouble, 28 per cent. from furnished tenancies had been living at the same address for two years or more. It is clear, there- 1720 fore, that we are not talking about holiday makers or others visiting London for short periods.
Another objection often voiced against bringing furnished tenancies under rent control is the claim that the number of people who at present let parts of their own homes would be dissuaded from making that accommodation available if they were subject to control.
I want to make it clear that I am not referring particularly to that group of people. In any event, in central London they comprise a declining group. There is declining owner-occupation and private landlordism in this area. It must be possible, given the will—we should be able to co-operate over this problem, which has defeated both Labour and Conservative Governments—to find a way round this difficulty.
Perhaps we can learn from the system in New York, where a landlord who lets not more than two tenancies in his own home is exempt from control. In the excellent Minority Report to the Francis Report by Alderman Miss Lyndal Evans it is suggested—and I quote from her report to give it the credit it deserves—that furnished tenancies should be included in the Rent Act exceptresidental accommodation … where the landlord resides in 'small premises' and shares some accommodation other than storage accommodation and means of access (e.g., bathroom or W.C.) with other persons living on the premises and who are not members of his household.Even if that precise definition is not acceptable, it should be the basis of action. I trust that it will borne in mind and that the Government will take account of experience in New York.
There is another way in which the availability of housing for ordinary families in central London is being destroyed. This happens when a borough council, fully cognisant of the housing needs of its locality, tries to bring into planning permission for office development elements of residential use, thinking that in particularly high cost areas there will at least be an element of housing.
From my experience in Camden, and particularly in St. Pancras, this policy has unfortunately contributed nothing to the housing supply, beyond the odd pent house and pied-à-terre for a managing director; and the rateable values of these 1721 premises are so high that even if they were unfurnished they would not be subject to control.
There is a building called Beatty House by that ugly development round Euston Tower where the council's planning permission included two floors of residential accommodation. The local council was glad that the planners and developers agreed to this.
On 28th September, 1971, I read an advertisement in The Times which said:Newly furnished 2-bedroomed flats—near Tottenham Court Road. W.1—In brand new block—central heating lift. From £36.75 per week.I emphasise the word "from". When I made inquiries about the possibility of getting a flat there I was informed that £36.75 was the winter rate and that during the summer it reached over £50—that that sum had been asked and obtained for these two-bedroomed, not very large flats.
I ask hon. Members to bear in mind that the occupants do not possess leases but rent them on a weekly or monthly basis. A cleaning service is provided, for an extra 50p per hour. It is terrible that almost cheek by jowl with some of the most disgraceful accommodation which I am ashamed to say still survives in my constituency, flats of that description and at those rents should exist.
As long as we leave this large area of housing development in the hands of private developers and speculators, there will be an inadequate contribution to solving the heart of the problem as it affects the majority of people in need. Again, by putting in furniture, rent inflation takes place, with the loss of potential homes in areas of great stress.
I come to another way in which the putting in of furniture acts to the disadvantage of the public. Since the Housing Act, 1969, if a local authority gave an improvement grant it used to be possible for it to ask for a fair rent to be fixed by the rent officer. When the work was finished, the place was inspected and a fair rent agreed. In a block in my constituency which used to be called Derby Buildings, a large sum of public money was spent on improvements. There was consultation with the landlords, and the rents were fixed. But as each tenant moved out and the flats became vacant—flats on which a very 1722 large amount of public money had been spent—the landlords moved in a table and chairs, so that they are now completely exempt from the rent conditions which were, in effect, part of the bargain made for their subsidy from public funds for the improvements that now enable them to ask a higher rent.
We hear a great deal from right hon. and hon. Members opposite about subsidies to tenants. But this kind of subsidy was given to a property firm. It was not given to a little old widowed landlady. It was a rich property firm, which obviously knows its way around. One cannot blame the firm; it is in business to make money. But we are in business here to see that the law does not provide this gaping loophole, these incentives to people who make money out of the housing needs of the most distressed people in the queue.
There is also a question of protecting public money. It is not part of my understanding that it is the policy of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite to provide extensive public funds for the increasing of profits of speculative builders and landlords. But, on the other hand, those who live in the poor type of furnished accommodation to which I referred, those who are having to put up with most inadequate accommodation at a high cost, are the people who, although they will be paying taxes and a rate element will be included in their rents, will not receive any benefit from the Housing Finance Bill. They will be subsidising the luckier tenants in the unfurnished accommodation and, to a certain extent, in the council flats. This group of people are at the bottom of the heap. They are getting the stick from every direction, in lack of security, overcharging and lack of any compensation from the present legislation.
I pass from that to the part of the Motion referring to the creeping hotel use of furnished flats. Once a block of flats has been furnished, or even a few flats in a block, it is a very small step to the use of those premises for what is, for all intents and purposes, an hotel. This is an attractive idea to some. Again, I return to the point that people are in business to make money, and no one can blame them for making as much as possible. Usually, the shorter the tenancy the higher the charge can be. 1723 Naturally, the centre of London is very attractive to tourists. Many people when on holiday, especially if they are tourists from countries used to higher rent levels than those here, will manage a comparatively high charge for a short period, the sort of charge which few families in Britain could permanently sustain. Because of this the problem becomes very difficult. But if it were not for the first step of furnishing, and thereby elimination from the strictest rent control, it would not be possible for this second step to take place.
I asked the Minister recently the number of rooms affected in this way. He gave me an estimate of 1,000 bed spaces a year. That was his estimate of the unauthorised change from residential to hotel accommodation in central London. One thousand bed spaces a year is an unlovely phrase; but it is at least an acceptable measurement. If that takes place year after year, we shall have a very serious imbalance in London. I ask the Minister to tell us a little more about his estimate of 1,000 a year.
I read a very interesting speech the other day by Sir Desmond Plummer.
§ Mrs. Jeger
Sir Desmond spoke on 11th November at the British Tourist Authority conference. He said that in one borough alone, Kensington and Chelsea, outstanding projects approved will entail the loss of 1,000 residential bed spaces. That is in one borough. Sir Desmond went on to explain that this matter is now regarded as so urgent that the Strategic Planning Committee of the G.L.C. is examining it.
We hear that outstanding hotel projects in Greater London already approved but not yet built will provide another 30,000 new hotel rooms. Can the Minister say how many more bed spaces will be lost to the resident or would-be resident population by those further 30,000 new rooms? This does not include any hotels already built or in the process of being built.
I would be the first to agree that we must appreciate the importance of tourism. But its effects on employment, traffic generation and residential accom- 1724 modation must be monitored in some way so that we can get some vision of what is happening, especially in London. Therefore, we must know the figures. I know that this matter is difficult for the Minister because it partly overlaps with the Board of Trade, and subsidies to hotel building have given a great impetus to it.
I asked a Question on 17th November about this matter and was told that the Department was consulting with the three central London boroughs on means of preventing unauthorised changes from residential to hotel use. This is happening parallel with the new agreed hotel building. I represent part of Camden. The talks and consultations are going on and this is an extraordinarily difficult subject. But that is no reason why we should not tackle it. The Minister will need to give some assistance to the boroughs suffering in this way. I have looked at the matter very carefully, and it seems that some changes in the law will be required. Residential use is not defined in the Town and Country Planning Use Classes Order, 1963, and there are some who think that the planning order ought to be amended. My borough council received a very unhelpful letter from the Minister's Department in June of last year, in which an attempt was made to deal with the question of what comprises an hotel. The letter said:On the first point it would seem that a definition of 'hotel' in the Use Classes Order would not be of any assistance to the kind of problem you face. The question which first has to be decided in this kind of case is whether there has been a material change of use and this is something to be decided on the facts of each case.Your problem is therefore not strictly a Use Classes one but of deciding in particular cases whether there has been a material change of use. The essential difference between a hotel and a block of flats is one of fact and in doubtful cases it is considered that it would depend primarily upon the degree of day to day management and control over the persons using the premises which is actually exercised by the management.That is one attempt at a definition, but it is cold comfort to the officers of the three boroughs who are trying to tackle the problem. It would require an extraordinary amount of policing if someone must go into these places and discover the degree of day-to-day management and control over those using the premises. It cannot be taken as the final word, though I appreciate the difficulties of definition.
1725 I press the Minister to try to have hotel use more closely defined, because of the trend to which I have referred. In an increasing number of cases flats in a residential block which may have been let unfurnished originally fall vacant; the owner is then entitled to furnish the flat before reletting it; gradually he can make extra services available. If the complete block were suddenly to be changed from bed-sitting rooms to an hotel advertising openly through tourist literature, it would be simpler.
Our problem and that of those who are trying to bring some thoughts to the Minister arises where the change is gradual. If consideration is given to the building as a whole, there are difficulties about defining the point in time when the allocation of further rooms to hotel use constitutes a material change of use of the building as a whole.
I greatly welcomed the Minister's decision on Chelsea Cloisters. I was especially glad that in his ruling he confirmed that he would respect the anxieties of those who were worried about the loss of residential accommodation. In a way, the case of Chelsea Cloisters was slightly easier than many of the cases I have in mind, because there the landlords were asking for block bookings from tourist agencies and were advertising rooms to let for a night. Thus it was easier to identify what was going on.
A similar case arose in my constituency concerning the White House. The case was complicated by the fact that there were earlier hotel uses and also because the ground landlords were the Crown Commissioners—a complication not always appreciated by the tenants of the White House. We have come to some agreement between the Crown, the council, and the owners of the White House, by which we have safeguarded one block to be used solely for permanent, undisturbed residential use.
I hope hon. Members who represent Kensington and Chelsea will not mind my referring to the coincidence that today Kensington and Chelsea Corporation has deposited a Private Bill which includes provision in Part II for the registration of what is called "sleeping accommodation". This is a very intelligent action. The Bill suggests this definition: 1726In this Part of this Act, 'specified purpose' means—The Bill shows an appreciation of the case of the person taking in one or two lodgers and it exempts the provision of sleeping accommodation for fewer than three persons.
- (1) the provision of sleeping accommodation in a building or any part thereof for payment in circumstances where the relationship of landlord and tenant is not thereby created; or
- (2) the provision of sleeping accommodation in a building or any part thereof for payment in circumstances where the relationship of landlord and tenant is thereby created, but where the total duration of the letting is, or is expected to be, less than twenty-two consecutive days."
It is a good Bill. I wish it all the luck in the world. Kensington, perhaps, can afford more than Camden to bring in a Private Bill. I am particularly glad that it is proposed that registration can be refusedon the grounds of—I do not know whether the Kensington and Chelsea proposed definition will help the Minister. If it will, other boroughs are entitled to his advice and guidance. Is it his wish that all boroughs with this problem should bring in separate Private Bills at great expense to themselves and to the time of the House? Is there any way in which the proposals of the Kensington and Chelsea Corporation can be incorporated in more general legislation? I hope that the fact that boroughs of such varied political complexions are all agreed about the urgency of the problem will give the Minister added cause to press on with the work.
- (a) loss of residential accommodation; or
- (b) of the proposed use being inappropriate to the area".
I could give other examples, but I hope that I have said enough to make it clear that this is not just a small occasional local problem. It is another gaping hole in the availability of housing accommodation on a permanent basis for ordinary people. I have tried modestly to help by wondering if planning legislation could be amended so as to provide a different use definition for what might be called "domestic accommodation providing what would normally be the home of the tenant". I am sure that the lawyers will find everything wrong with that. Let them try to translate it into their jargon. That is the meaning I want to get across.
1727 Until planning legislation recognises that there must be these sub-divisions under the residential heading, the housing problem cannot be tackled intelligently, because we can tot up all the housing units and all the square feet of residential accommodation which have been built in cities and then find that they have contributed nothing to those on the housing lists, to those who, because their families are growing, need to move, and to those who have never had a home of their own.
I have tried to explain my reasons for tabling the Motion. I hope that, because of its urgency, that matter can be taken a little further today. In expressing the hope that the Minister will be able to help us, I enter the reservation which I know that my hon. Friends will share, that we shall never get to the heart of this intractable problem as long as the housing of the people is left to the whim of private investment. Unfortunately, private investment pays off best in the middle of cities. That is where the impact of the profit motive is completely distorting the provision of housing. Certainly this is true of central London.
We are not in need of any strange, rare genius to solve a new and frustrating problem. No undiscovered processes of science are required. All that we face is a problem of priorities and of social values. Until we approach the situation in that light, people in London will stay on housing lists in increasing numbers, will be in welfare accommodation, and will be held to ransom for higher and higher rents in furnished accommodation.
§ 11.40 a.m.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Bristol, North-East)
May I first declare some interest in the Motion, since for many years I have been involved in tourism? Secondly, I congratulate the hon. Lady for selecting this subject for debate. I agree with almost everything that she said. Certainly I agree with her about the implications of what she said for the hotel and tourist industry. The hon. Lady has raised a number of wide issues, and I hope to pursue some of them, especially those affecting the hotel and tourist industry.
The hotel user is a visitor; very often he is a tourist. He is not a resident. If any action is taken on the hon. Lady's 1728 Motion, I want to make sure that some differentiation is made between the resident seeking accommodation whom the hon. Lady mentioned and the tourist. One of the problems is that we may confuse the interests of the two.
One point which I wish to make initially concerns the hon. Lady's reference to the Housing Finance Bill. She did not also mention the Development of Tourism Act, 1969, which, it seems to me, is extremely relevant. Some of the points that the hon. Lady makes could have been incorporated in the 1969 Act. That legislation would have been a very suitable vehicle with which to deal with the problem.
Tourism is a comparatively new phenomenon facing the Government and, as the hon. Lady said, it overlaps the responsibilities of the Department of Environment and the Department of Trade and Industry.
Amongst other matters dealt with by the Development of Tourism Act was the provision of hotel grants which has led to a great increase in the provision of hotel beds in London. However, this is tending to bring about a new range of social problems on which I want to dwell briefly. One could criticise that Act in many ways. One of its main faults was that it showered grants indiscriminately on many large international companies helping them to do what they intended to do, anyway, and hundreds of thousands of pounds have gone in that direction.
With respect to the last Government, the Development of Tourism Act was not the most carefully drafted legislation. However, it was the first time that any Government had looked specifically at the problems of tourism. Although the Act has many drafting faults, equally it has brought to the Government's attention the need to look at the full implications of tourism.
Tourism can bring tremendous benefits to the country, especially to London, provided that it is understood and controlled. If it is not, tourism and tourists may well become a scourge. The hon. Lady referred to the speech by Sir Desmond Plummer at the recent B.T.A. conference which was opened by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. My right hon. 1729 Friend's presence encouraged everyone interested in the tourist industry, and it underlined the fact that the Government are aware of the impact of tourism on the environment.
Tourism has to be dealt with as a problem which faces us now. We cannot wish it away. The hotel and catering statistics on tourism which are now available give us an idea of the sheer size of the problem that we face. In 1970, 6,730,000 overseas visitors came to this country. In 1971, it is estimated that the number will exceed 8 million. In 1975, the number is expected to be 10 million. Clearly, once we have 10 million people coming to the country, the overwhelming majority of whom arrive in London, we shall be facing a problem which could have horrific possibilities.
It is important to indicate the value of tourism to our economy, and I mention these figures only because we must be careful what we do if we are to introduce legislation. Taking four commodities at random to indicate their value to the British economy and the balance of payments, in 1970, chemicals produced £786 million, tourism produced £572 million, textiles produced £396 million, and iron and steel produced £348 million. Clearly we are entitled to consider tourism as a major and important industry. It is a growth industry, but there is no doubt that London receives a tremendous amount of attention from the world tourist scene. London is the magnet, the honey pot which draws people to our shores.
We should be concentrating on what the Development of Tourism Act specified, and I am glad to say that the present Government have confirmed this intention. We have to see whether, in the interests of our economic and social needs, we can make better use of tourists rather than simply plopping them down in London and leaving them to sort out their own problems. We must get more of them into the regions. This is laid down clearly in the Development of Tourism Act, the provisions of which are supported in all parts of this House.
The British Tourist Authority brings tourists to the United Kingdom. The English Tourist Board is trying to get them out of London. The Greater London 1730 Council is left with the problem of what to do with them in London.
I wish to give a brief illustration of how the need to disperse tourists into the regions is of such prime interest to the regions. As for tourism in the regions, I take the example of employment in my own region, the South-West. In June, 1970, taking the five largest arenas of employment, the first was construction, followed by retail distribution, education services, medical and dental services, and finally catering and hotels. Though catering and hotels comes in position No. 5, it is probably higher in the South-West than in any other region. The tourist industry is a basic part of the infrastructure of the South-West: it is our natural resource.
§ Mr. Ernest G. Perry
Is the hon. Gentleman trying to justify, especially in a place like London, the transfer of housing accommodation or sites for housing to hotel use?
§ Mr. Adley
I am not trying to justify it at all. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) was allowed to elaborate her case, and I am hoping to elaborate my own. I am pointing out the importance of the tourist industry, but I am saying that it may bring social problems, and I am trying to stress to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary the need to understand the full impact of tourism not only on London but on the regions. I apologise if I appear to be wandering from the subject, but the impact of tourism is important to the regions and not only to London.
Sir George Young has stated in a report:The Government, the Greater London Council and local authorities must decide where their priorities lie and end the present unsatisfactory situation whereby resources are expended in encouraging overseas visitors to come to the U.K., but no practical provision is made to ensure that they will be accommodated.It serves little purpose if the Government announced hotel development incentives, if planning permission for the hotels is subsequently turned down by the Greater London Council. It serves little purpose if the Greater London Council exhorts local authorities to make provision for hotels in their development plans if such advise is ignored. The whole concept of planning hotels in London, and indeed the complicated and time consuming process of planning permission, is not conducive to an optimal solution of the problem and is in need of urgent revision.1731 The hon. Gentleman will see that I have come back to London. I apologise for taking him into the regions. The Motion concentrates on hotels. I am concentrating on the impact of the Motion on the tourist industry, which needs closer scrutiny in the interests not only of London but of our overall economy.
We are in danger of killing the goose that lays the golden egg. I well remember when I first entered the House the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) raising as a point of order the difficulty of crossing the road in July to enter the House, because of the tremendous crush of tourists. We must deal with the problem. In the same way as too many people in London can ruin London, and no one will want to come here, too much traffic through a village can ruin that village. That is why I stress the need to bring together the Department of the Environment and the Department of Trade and Industry to tackle the problem, as the hon. Lady suggested. The natives could well be restless by 1975 if we have 10 million people coming to this country.
Hotels, properly planned, provide jobs. London has a tremendous number of hotel rooms under construction. The hon. Lady gave a figure of 30,000 rooms. The latest figure I have is that directly as a result of the 1969 Act 24,260 hotel rooms, for which application for grant has been made, are under construction in the Greater London area. The Act did not indicate where the hotels should be planned. It was a willy-nilly attempt to bring people to this country and stay in our hotels. It failed to deal with the planning aspects.
§ Mr. Reginald Freeson (Willesden, East)
There is no conflict between the figure given by my hon. Friend and the figure the hon. Gentleman has just given. I understood that my hon. Friend was quoting additional accommodation on top of the 24,000 the hon. Gentleman has just mentioned. So we have in effect roughly 24,000 rooms under construction, or about to be completed, and another 30,000 with planning consents, so far as we are aware either just starting or not yet starting, making 54,400 altogether.
§ Mr. Adley
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that clear.
The tourist authorities in this country are equally concerned with the problem 1732 of conversion of rented accommodation to hotels. There is no question of any conflict between the organised development of tourism and the needs of the residents of London and other major cities to find somewhere to live. I spoke this morning about the problem to Sir Mark Henig, Chairman of the English Tourist Board, who is happy that I should quote what he said. He told me that the board never intervenes in planning matters and he fully agrees that local authorities must preserve their housing stock. He pointed out that there is plenty of room for hotels in London, and it is not necessary to put all the tourists slap bang in the middle, because then we arrive at the point where tourists are competing for space alongside the areas with the greatest housing demand. The tourist boards have excellent relationships with the planning authorities, and there is no question of the authorised tourist interests opposing the Motion in any way. Far from it; they will welcome it.
The hon. Lady mentioned the White House. She will recall that no long ago there was a proposal to convert Park West into a hotel, which the G.L.C. rightly turned down. I believe that the sponsors of the hotel scheme appealed to the English Tourist Board, but it refused to intervene in the matter.
It seems to me that the G.L.C. is only too well aware of the problem. I will not weary the House with numerous quotations from the excellent document "Tourism and Hotels in London", which the G.L.C. produced in March. I commend it to my hon. Friend the Minister, and particularly page 19, where we find the statement:The difficulty is that planning controls are not stringent enough to prevent the conversion of, say, a boarding house formerly used by students on a medium-term basis to short-stay visitors' accommodation.That puts the problem in a nutshell. It is certainly not the wish of the tourist industry to see London full up with visitors and no residents.
The hon. Lady said that tourism must be monitored, and that is absolutely right. There are not sufficient facts available on tourist movements. For example, I have been unable to find out the number of overseas visitors going to the South-West. Therefore, I echo the hon. Lady's plea for a more selective monitoring of 1733 the information on tourist requirements and movements.
The impact of tourism in our economy has never, perhaps, been fully understood by Governments. Over the years we have based our policies on industrial development areas. Yet in London, the South-West, North Wales and the Highlands of Scotland tourism is already, or will certainly become, a major industry. I should like the Government to consider having tourist development areas as well as industrial development areas. It would greatly help in the centre of London and in certain regions if the problems of tourism were considered in isolation.
I have many notes here on the problems created by the conversion of property in central London. One of these is that the cheap conversion of these properties, as the hon. Lady rightly mentioned, produces cheap hotels in the worst sense of the word and this discredits the whole hotel industry. I accept the point that the conversion of property into hotel use without any planning control is both socially and economically undesirable. Of course, we need all kinds of tourists, not just the rich ones, but we could provide good accommodation for them without necessarily doing so in property converted without planning permission.
There has been too much of a war of attrition between certain hotel companies and local planning authorities. This is something which the hotel industry should watch. There is no doubt that some hotel companies go into discussion with local authorities in an atmosphere of suspicion. I think that hotels must acquire a sense of social responsibility.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Worsley) will bring up particular points of relevance to his constituency and London generally. There is no doubt that the conversion of rented accommodation into hotels has changed and can ruin a whole area. We used to be faced with the problem, when dealing with resolutions like the one from Kensington Council, which the hon. Lady mentioned, that one could not define a hotel. In discussion with the Treasury over the years, officials would say, "But what is an hotel? There is no such thing for taxation purposes as an hotel." 1734 Then came the 1969 Act, which contains a definition of what an hotel is. I echo the hon. Lady's call for a long hard look at the need for Government action on this question of planning permission for conversions rather than encouraging numerous local authorities to come forward with Private Bills.
The hon. Lady also mentioned the registration of hotels, linking this with her statement about the importance of monitoring tourism. Until we are willing to compile an effective and efficient register of hotels, we will not be able properly to control the problem she has highlighted. The British Tourist Board has said:As there is no Hotel Registration Law, there is no way of accurately ascertaining the number of beds available.That is an unsatisfactory situation.
The hon. Lady has recognised the problem and has put forward a suggestion for a solution to one particular part of it. I ask the Government to take, through the Department of the Environment as well as the Department of Trade and Industry, an interest in the whole problem of the tourist industry as such and the implications for it raised by this Motion. I end with a note of encouragement to the hon. Lady. The Government, by the establishment of the Department of the Environment, and by the presence of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State at the B.T.A. conference on tourism the other day, are becoming very well aware of the problems she has raised. I thank her again for giving the House an opportunity to discuss them.
§ 12.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest G. Perry (Battersea, South)
Whilst I have the same surname as Fred Perry, the tennis player, my Christian name is Ernest, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am afraid that I never managed as a tennis player to aspire to the same heights as Fred Perry. He was a very great amateur; I could hardly get the ball over the net.
The hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Adley) spoke with knowledge of tourism and the work that it entails. 1735 In fairness to the last Government, however, he should have pointed out that the Development of Tourism Act—in the Standing Committee on which I was Government Whip—was welcomed by both sides of the House.
§ Mr. Perry
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but from some of the things he said in his speech one would have thought that the legislation was of no use. We tried to encourage the owners of hotels and other buildings which could be used for hotels to improve them. We were prepared to spend up to £1,000 per room so that when a tourist came here he could have a bathroom or shower and decent facilities. That was a prime objective of the Act. But the then Opposition were stressing at the time that we should spend a lot more money, and over an extended period, on the facilities to be provided. I am not saying that the Act is perfect. No matter what provisions a Measure contains, snags arise within two or three years after it has reached the Statute Book.
The amount of grant money provided for in the Act ends next year and I hope that the Government will take into consideration granting an extension or some other provision at that time. We are going to have 10 million visitors. I welcome them all but we have to improve the facilities for them. We must remember that 10 million British people will be going to other countries.
§ Mr. Perry
I remind the hon. Gentleman again that we went further than we had intended with that Act. We set up separate boards for Scotland, Wales and England in the hope that they would be able to function as propagandists for their areas. I hope that we can further improve on that.
1736 In choosing the subject of this debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) has done the House a good turn. She seems to be one of the lucky ones. No doubt, if she fell into a horse box she would come up with a diamond. Some of us put ourselves down for Private Members' Motions or Bills year after year without success. As soon as my hon. Friend puts her name down, her number comes up.
The problem of London is very serious. In this House, from time to time we discuss every other region—the North-East, the North-West, the South-West, Wales, Scotland and so on. London is the new neglected area. We do not discuss London enough. It is about time we did. Compared with the time we spend on Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, London gets a very poor showing. It is remarkable that Northern Ireland, with a population of less than 2 million, has a Prime Minister and a Cabinet, whereas London, with a population of 9 million, has the Leader of the Greater London Council, without any salary and working perhaps 100 hours a week in the interests of London. It is good that stress has been laid this morning on the problem of London but I know that I carry my hon. Friends from London with me also in saying to my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett), who represents the North-East, that we are glad to see him because the problem faces the whole country.
I have known Sir Desmond Plummer for many years and I have great respect for him. When I read his speech about tourism and the effect on London, I felt it was a speech that we must all support. We send him our congratulations and gratitude for the fact that he has brought this into the open as far as the G.L.C. is concerned. I am sure that Sir Desmond is conscious of what is going on in London at present. I make no excuse for reading out a very short article published in today's issue of Labour Weekly.
§ Mr. Perry
Yes. The article was taken from the Sunday Times of last Sunday.
1737 This report is condemnatory. It is headed, "Landlords' bonanza" and it says:A new property boom which is the direct result of the Tories' return to power is being hailed by landlords and property developers.A 'confidential' newsletter called 'The London Property Letter' is being circulated to landlords to help them cash in on the new boom. It says:'Dear Sir,For the first time since the early 'Sixties it's possible to make real money out of property.…Since the Tories have returned to power:
- 1. House prices have boomed as never before, giving dealers a rising market to profit from.
- 2. Office development restrictions have been shot away. Birmingham has become a capital place to operate in. (Rents have gone up from £1 to £1.25 per square foot in a year.) And Leeds and Bristol are following fast.
- 3. Landlords have started to cash in on the new bedsitter trend.
- 4. Many other factors are benefiting property, not least inflation, which is making bricks and mortar a safer hedge than ever for the investor. And the biggest bonanza of all may well be our entry into Europe. Already British developers are active in Brussels and Paris, and there will be equal scope in catering for Continental firms needing office and industrial accommodation in the U.K. Someone is going to make a killing out of all this, and it might just as well be you.'The letter, whose editor is Mr. Robert Troop, the property correspondent of Lord Thompson's Sunday Times, is headed 'How to make your first £100,000.'That has been sent as a private letter to property owners to tell them how to make a fortune. I do not doubt that this will be an issue to be discussed by Standing Committee E, which is now considering the Housing Finance Bill.
Literally hundreds of property sharks are loose in London seeking to cash in on the demand for hotel accommodation, bedsitters and luxury flats. The whole property business and estate business is full of these people, who are running around London trying to find sites where they can operate and even buying up good houses which are pulled down to make way for small blocks of luxury flats.
This is happening in my constituency and in Wandsworth. Ordinary people are frequently deprived of normal standard accommodation in order that blocks of flats may be built. My constituency 1738 is now part of Wandsworth. An enormous amount of riverside development is taking place in London, from Vauxhall right down to Barnes, and Wandsworth Corporation is the boundary manager for the whole of this length of the river. When an industrial firm decides to move away and to operate further down the river, before publicly announcing its intention to do so it forms a company to take over the property and develop it privately. In Battersea huge blocks of luxury flats are being built along the river to be let at high rentals, but that will deprive people in Battersea and Wandsworth of places in which to live.
This is a serious problem and I am sure that my London colleagues, on both sides of the House, will agree. Wandsworth has the largest river frontage of any borough in London. A great length of the river is becoming available for development. I am not opposed to the construction of luxury flats or hotels, but sites should be fairly apportioned, especially in areas of high density and where people are living in slum, or even simply unsatisfactory, conditions. There is no reason why sites should not be properly developed and used for hotels if necessary, but there must be provision for ordinary accommodation for ordinary people at ordinary rates. Another factor to be remembered is that if the working population is driven out of the inner London area, the transport problems in and out of London will be made even worse.
The building of luxury flats in these areas is only one step from turning those blocks of flats into hotels. That is one of the reasons why I hope that the Under-Secretary, who is interested in these matters, will view with care any attempt to change buildings from luxury flats to hotels. I am sure that he will keep his eyes open. As I am, the Under-Secretary is a member of the Standing Committee that is considering the Housing Finance Bill. He will appreciate that that Committee will have to consider proposals to deal with furnished accommodation. I appeal to hon. Members to ensure that furnished accommodation is as protected as ordinary unfurnished accommodation.
I am grateful to the House for listening to me. I hope that the Minister will take seriously what has been said, because the problems of inner London are as serious as any outside.
§ 12.17 p.m.
§ Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith (Chislehurst)
I, too, wish to congratulate the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) on having taken her opportunity in the Ballot to raise an issue of such general interest. I know that in her constituency she has a particularly acute housing problem. As a result of the overwhelming increase in tourism, and the acute shortage of hotel accommodation, there is now a bonanza for some people who are able to make money quickly to turn a quick pound by diverting their property from its proper use as residential accommodation to what by any criterion is substandard hotel accommodation, second-class or even third-class.
I join the hon. Lady in asking for controls over this change of user. I agree with her that this is a wasteful use, because one purpose-built hotel is far less wasteful of sites, and profits are better with properly planned accommodation, than the scattering of hundreds of visitors over an indifferent selection of accommodation, indifferent by hotel standards but nevertheless able to provide proper homes and residential accommodation. Side by side with this we must recognise the invaluable contribution of tourism and the tremendous attraction of London, despite all the efforts of the English Tourist Authority to persuade people to go elsewhere. I wish the Authority every success but in spite of its efforts to persuade tourists to go to other parts of the country, almost all of them inevitably start with two or three days in London before going down to the West Country or up to Scotland. It would be a disaster if we were to stop the trend of increasing tourism, which in this country as in many others makes a valuable contribution to the economy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Adley) spoke of the high returns in foreign currency. I make a point which is frequently ignored—that about 95 per cent. of the £572 million which tourism produced last year is a straight foreign currency gain. It helps to buy the food and raw materials which we must purchase from overseas. It covers wages and services, all paid for in sterling. The only part of the entire service requiring counter-expenditure of foreign 1740 currency is the amount of food imported from non-sterling countries.
During the war, naturally, and for too long in the post-war period—for some 20 years—virtually no new hotels were built. With cheaper fares and the increase in foreign travel, our tourist trade suffered severely from lack of accommodation, and nowhere more so than in London.
It is essential that we should emphasise the contribution which the tourist trade makes to the national economy and, at the same time, try to mellow the criticism which is called forth every time someone suggests building an hotel. It is very easy to say, and it is a popular call, "Homes before hotels". But the purpose-built hotel, taking into account the enormous cost of sites in good and popular tourist areas, is inevitably built in the smallest possible space. It is also built as high as the local authority and planning authorities will allow. Purpose-built hotels are not wasteful of space. By allowing a proper and progressive hotel policy, we would eliminate the need for the adaptation of housing accommodation to hotel purposes and, at the same time, gain invaluable tourist currency from overseas visitors.
It is a fact that more and more of our own people are spending short holidays in London. They are taking the opportunity, in the same way as those who spin off to hotter climes, of package deal holidays in this country. It must be borne in mind that this is a counter industry. In the last 20 years tourism has ceased to be an industry catering solely for the rich. The great expansion in the tourist trade has been brought about by people of the middle and lower income groups. In the first week in January, perhaps even on New Year's Day, people will pore over brochures and decide whether, this time, they will go to Spain or Italy or to the West Country on a package deal holiday.
I do not know to what extent this has a direct effect on the hon. Lady's problem, but if she had emphasised the need to get more offices out of London rather than dealing with the absorption of good sites, she would have commanded very wide support from some of us in the Home Counties who have been pressing and begging the Minister to encourage more office building in those areas. Such 1741 a policy would relieve our terrible commuter problem. My own constituency is one of the hardest hit during the peak hours, with some 39 per cent. of commuters having to stand during their journeys. There is a great need for office accommodation outside central London. At present, far more sites are taken up by offices in London and, as the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Ernest G. Perry), emphasised, terrific rents are now being charged for office blocks in London.
We believe that the Government should take much stronger action to persuade firms to build their offices in the Home Counties. This would relieve the acute commuter problem in areas where plenty of white-collar labour is available. It would also be socially desirable, since it would enable office workers to be employed nearer their homes.
But hotels are not the biggest land grabbers; to a far greater extent office building is the culprit. I believe that the hon. Lady has raised a very valid and sore point about the back-door methods by which many properties are being turned into accommodation for high-paying, or higher-paying, tourists. I also agree with her about those who find themselves in the tragic circumstance where they are the last remaining tenant and are subjected to harassment. I would also support the hon. Lady's contention that in some blocks of flats, as vacancies occur the flats are being padlocked and applications refused from tenants who are ready and willing to pay fairly high rents. This trend is wrong.
My only reason for intervening today is that I think it would be a disaster if we did not have adequate and proper accommodation for the vital tourist trade. We have heard that some eight million visitors will come to London next year. We cannot afford to neglect this traffic or to lag behind in hotel development. There was a time in France, after the war, when it was felt that good food was enough. The tourist in France obtained a fabulous meal, but on going upstairs he found a Victorian brass bed, the inevitable bidet and a bathroom on every other floor. As a result, the French gave the Spaniards a headlong start. In the last 20 years Spain, from receiving a mere trickle of English tourists, now takes more than any other country.
1742 We should forget the problems which British visitors to Spain have had recently in the shape of one or two unfinished hotels. Millions of our people are now going there: about one million a year visit Spain, where they have a very happy holiday because they book their bedroom and bathroom. They also hope that they will get the sun.
We cannot afford to lose our tourist trade through lack of accommodation. That accommodation must be of good standard and modern. I hope that the House will recognise that the good purpose-built hotel does not take up a great deal of land and that if we can get good hotels, the bonanza for the backdoor dealers will not be as good. It will obviate the need for people to let accommodation, for private persons to let a room to take in a married couple from, say, America because there are no rooms available in London.
We hear a great deal about the conflict between applicants over sites. If one wants 10 acres for playing fields for a new school or for a housing estate, one hears the protest that farming land will be taken and one has to weigh the economic values of each claim.
I believe that the tourist industry is too valuable for us to break its ascending success. The economic state of the country will determine whether we succeed in finding the provision we require in housing.
Although I agree very much with the hon. Lady—we have had an amicable debate—I hope that between us we can agree that there should be controls to prevent this exploitation and to avert the wasteful use of accommodation and the human tragedy of the practice of taking property which should properly be residential. At the same time, however, we should accept that the tourist trade is an invaluable asset, with social and international advantages of great human value in that we meet other people.
There are times, of course, when we are mistaken in our own country. I stood at the corner of Birdcage Walk and Buckingham Palace Road recently looking for a taxi. An American came up to me and said, "You look as if you are lost in London. May I direct you? I know it rather well." I told him that I had lived in London all my life. We finished with 1743 a very amicable conversation when I established that I had also visited his home town.
I welcome the Motion but I hope that the emphasis, while by all means being directed to clearing up the murky dealings of which the hon. Lady complained, will not be towards limiting legitimate building for the tourist trade. I would also ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to consider sympathetically the representations of hon. Members on both sides.
§ 12.33 p.m.
§ Mr. W. E. Garrett (Wallsend)
I too add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Prancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) for drawing our attention to this important matter. I know that, for many years she has had a doughty problem, as have most London Members, in dealing with the metropolitan housing situation.
This debate is splitting into two parts—one concerned with tourism and hotels and the other with the housing needs of the metropolitan area. As the second provincial Member to speak today, I hope that the House will forgive me for dealing with the provinces. The problems in the North-East are minute compared with those of London or any other region. I can only compare London's problems with those of some of the provincial university cities, where needs are in conflict.
Most of the responsibility lies initially with planning authorities, some of which have been very strong in resisting pressures to demolish areas in the centres of cities and to build hotels. It has been a saddening experience to me as a provincial Member, who, because of this profession, spends so much time in London, to see so many of the areas of central London in which people live being demolished and replaced by these international hotels. One of the causes is not just the financial inducement but the lack of will on the part of the authorities.
In the North-East, the planning authorities have taken a much tougher line. They have kept to a firm policy of refusing planning permission for new hotels or conversions. I like to see property 1744 of achitectural merit—especially if people live there—being kept. I am appalled at the bad conversions of much private property into hotels. We have seen some terrible hotch-potches in some of our cities.
I should like to congratulate those authorities which have resisted these commercial pressures. In the long run, this courage in resisting pressure will be to their advantage, especially in the university cities, some of which are allowing good tourist accommodation where people live to be made into students' hostels. As a result, it is unoccupied for some periods, when it should be used all the time. New university hostels should be built. This would probably be cheaper in the long run than the present practice.
By resisting the commercial pressures for redevelopment, authorities in the North-East have managed to stabilise the situation. Hotels have been built in the suburbs and on the outskirts of major towns. This example could well be followed by other planning authorities.
Immediately after the war, this resistance to pressure was fully applied. Now, hotels also qualify for the £1,000 grant per bedroom. Some good hotels have been built in the North-East. If any hon. Member wants to see an area where tourism has not been exploited, he should go to Northumberland, which is probably the only county left of any outstanding beauty—[HON. MEMBERS: "Not at all."] Visitors can at least be assured of good modern accommodation.
There are also some larger houses in the United Kingdom, some old ancestral homes. A good case could be made for making them into hotels. Most of them are very large and are situated in rural areas, and one owner cannot maintain them. They should qualify for maintenance grants so that some examples of our great architectural heritage could be maintained and used at the same time.
This problem is principally a London problem. It can be resolved only by more positive action by the present Government. The Department of the Environment is the only Department in the term of the present Government which has had a success story. It has been successful in applying pressures and inspiring some local authorities to be more 1745 active. The Minister could put pressure on local authorities to resist the lure of the rich commercial advantages which are dangled before them.
§ Mrs. Lena Jeger
I should like to make it clear that many local authorities are finding it difficult to take this advice, because the sort of conversions which I am talking about are made without planning permission and are very difficult to detect. Therefore, while I support his appeal to the local authorities, I hope that he will support mine to the Minister to help local authorities where there is evasion.
§ Mr. Garrett
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. She has corrected one of my points and strengthened another. I also hope that the Minister will advise local authorities not to sell any of their land to commercial interests, and that his Department will have some say in that land's use if it is decided to sell it. If any authority wishes to sell land in a central area for hotel development, I hope that the Minister will dissuade it from doing so.
Perhaps the Minister will consider strengthening the legislation so that the land on which housing stood before it was demolished can be used only if housing is again built upon it. Many people live in cities not from choice but because of necessity. They should therefore enjoy good standard accommodation.
§ Mr. Channon
I understand the hon. Gentleman's point in relation to London and other cities, but there are some provincial cities in which it would be wholly unsuitable to insist that land on which houses have been demolished should again be used for housing. Circumstances vary in different parts of the country. What may be right for London is not necessarily right for some of the older industrial cities of the North-West, for example.
§ Mr. Garrett
I accept that. I was probably being too parochial. I had in mind the City of Newcastle where some very bad planning decisions have been made.
The Under-Secretary of State has a responsibility to impress upon his colleagues in the Department the need to tackle the problems which have been adequately stated today. I hope that he 1746 will tell us the Government's thinking on this matter and that we shall hear a statement on what positive action is likely to be taken.
§ 12.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Scott (Paddington, South)
I hope that the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) will allow me to add my congratulations to her for raising this subject. In a sense, she is responsible for my being a Member of Parliament. When I ended my National Service in the early 1950s I went to help in a by election, having no profound political commitment either way, and was so moved in opposition to her political beliefs that I embarked on the road which led me to become the Member for Paddington, South. I am now much older and perhaps a little wiser, and I have come to respect the concern which the hon. Lady demonstrates for people in the worst housing conditions in London. I add my congratulations to her for using her good fortune in the Ballot to raise this subject.
I do not wish to make any party points, but the hon. Lady ended with a moving appeal for social justice and an acceptance of priorities, and the Development of Tourism Act, for all its undoubted advantages and the all-party support it received, contains the provision relating to the payment of £1,000 a bed for new hotel development which has acted against the interests of residential accommodation in central London. I think that we all agree that that was probably too much of a blanket incentive, and we shall be glad when it is phased out.
My constituency has certainly suffered from new hotel building and from what the hon. Lady called the "creeping conversion" of residential accommodation into hotels. I welcome the attitude of Sir Desmond Plummer, of the Westminster City Council and of Kensington and Chelsea in seeking to strengthen the control over the development and extension of hotel accommodation in central London. We need more control over that aspect of tourism and probably a more conscious effort to control other aspects of tourism, such as the large coaches which chunter round central London and park in the squares overnight. I am very attracted by the idea 1747 of encouraging the provision of hotel accommodation on the fringes of London with the rapid transit of tourists into the centre of London, which commands their attention during the day, by underground railway and by the development of aboveground rapid transit systems which could also serve the hard-pressed commuters.
I wish to speak mainly about creeping conversion. At the Conservative Party conference this year a remarkable constituent of mine, Miss Rabagliati—twice Mayor of Paddington, councillor in Paddington and Westminster for many years and finally an alderman of Westminster—made a very moving speech about the impact of creeping conversion into hotel accommodation on the long-term residents of areas like Paddington and Kensington. Many of those concerned are retired people who perhaps worked in central London. I think particularly of single ladies who have retired with a fixed pension whose contacts are in and whose lives have been built round central London. They can afford a small flat, and they can even afford to pay a little more rent as the years go by, but they are being squeezed out by creeping conversion into hotel accommodation, sometimes by landlords who make false claims about having already received planning permission and who bluff the tenants out in that way. We want more of the sort of control envisaged by the Royal Borough's private Bill if effective control is to be exercised over this matter.
New hotels are the answer, particularly where they can be built on sites which have already been used for hotel accommodation. We have streets in London which were originally made up of houses but which in the period after the war, in the main, came into hotel use and where new hotels can be built, with more beds on a given acreage of land. We should encourage that, even though it has its problems, because in some rather narrow streets the building of an hotel causes fantastic disruption of the lives of the residents in the area. Although it is sometimes possible to persuade local authorities to make a reduction in the rates because of the inconvenience caused, I cannot help thinking that there should be a more consistent approach to the disruption 1748 and inconvenience caused by large-scale redevelopment. In the next 20 years we shall be physically renewing this country, I trust. As we do that, we must pay regard to the question of the disruption of people's lives.
One cannot speak on this subject without saying a few words about the loss of character suffered in areas when blanket "hotelisation" takes place. Westminster City Council has adopted a policy of determining the point at which no more hotels will be allowed in a given area. That is eminently sensible.
The problem of the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Ernest G. Perry) would perhaps be solved by encouraging mixed development where sites for large-scale redevelopment become available. This should not exclude high-rented accommodation, for which there is a demand in London, and if we did not provide it we would cause other problems. To set aside sites exclusively for one use is generally a mistake.
I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will forgive me if I bore him by saying that it is almost impossible to overstate the future potential contribution of the housing associations to solving the problem of rented accommodation in central London. The shrinking ability of private landlords to provide rented accommodation in central London on reasonable terms will disappear entirely unless the Government are able to provide much greater incentives in the provision of accommodation by private landlords. I do not believe that it is in the interests of the central London community or of social cohesion, or, indeed, of freedom, that the only sort of development which should go on is that by local authorities. In between council estates and the higher-rented population we need provision for middle-income accommodation, and it seems to me that in the future that will be best provided by housing associations, and we ought conscientiously to be seeking to find ways in which to ensure the development of their work.
One final word. I know that we as politicians are always accused of having this solution to any problem, but I feel we have been strong on analysis of the problem this morning and perhaps a little weak on solutions. It is more than 10 years since Milner Holland. Housing in 1749 central London is an immensely complex and difficult problem. I query whether the time may not have come when we need a new authoritative investigation into the whole area of housing in central London to see whether we could produce such policies as would ensure a truly balanced community in central London in the years which lie ahead.
§ 12.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Kensington, North)
I welcome the suggestion which the hon. Member for Paddington, South (Mr. Scott) has just made for an authoritative inquiry into the basic causes of and solutions to the housing problem in London. We have today undoubtedly the worst housing problem in the country; in scale, complexity and degree our housing problem in London is worse than is the problem anywhere else in the country. We need to analyse it a great deal more deeply than we have done hitherto.
Essentially, the problem is that we have too many people seeking to live in central London. There is not physically the amount of space for all the purposes for which we need it. I see one of my hon. Friends is shaking his head, but I maintain that the problem essentially is that there is not enough space in any given area to rehouse in satisfactory conditions the numbers of people who are living in unsatisfactory conditions. We have large slum areas where the density of population is such it would be quite impossible satisfactorily to rehouse in those areas that same number of people.
To achieve a solution to this problem we have both to look to those measures which we can take to reduce the numbers seeking to live in central London, and, at the same time, ensure that the supply of housing land is maintained. I welcome the suggestion of the right hon. Lady the Member for Chislehurst (Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith). We should be seeking to get office accommodation out of London. Unfortunately, the great majority of jobs which exist in central London are jobs which cannot be moved out. We have a large number of the top management jobs; we have a substantial and growing number of service occupations. We have comparatively little of manufacturing industry which is not closely related to the needs of any particular area and 1750 which could, therefore, easily be moved out of London. The work of the Location of Offices Bureau is very valuable in this respect, but it has not achieved a very great deal.
I should like us to be considering, in terms of the housing problems of the country, the ineffectiveness of regional employment policies. We tend to think of regional employment policies in terms of employment in the least prosperous areas of the country, but those policies also have very substantial effects on London and other overcrowded areas. I should like us to be considering to what extent we could get a major shift of population out of London, perhaps by moving the seat of Government out of London.
It is very difficult to conceive of any other substantial measures which might be taken to move a large amount of business from London, apart from Government, and I think that this is something we need to look at, because we have here probably the most serious social problem of the country—that is, the appalling conditions in which so many people are born and spend their lives; from their childhood, condemned, probably for the whole of their lives, to an inadequate and unsatisfactory environment. Bad housing breeds a bad environment, bad educational opportunities and bad attitudes towards society.
The Motion moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) deals with two subjects which are of particular concern in my own constituency. In the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea we have the highest concentration of furnished tenancies, we have the highest concentration of hotels; 17 per cent. of the hotels in central London are in the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and I gather that over one-third of the contemplated hotels will be in that borough also. So, because of this hotel development we are losing more housing land than any other borough. We also have over 35 per cent. of all households living in furnished rental accommodation.
I have on many occasions in this House already spoken of the problem of the lack of security for tenants of furnished premises. I shall not today repeat the arguments which I have put on previous occasions, and most recently on 15th 1751 November, but I would urge the Under-Secretary of State to bear in mind that the families who are living in furnished premises have not only a housing problem but inevitably have immense social problems over a wide range because of poverty resulting from high rents for bad accommodation, and because of lack of security. One cannot hope to provide a satisfactory environment for children in a situation in which one knows one is liable to be evicted from one's home at any time, and it is principally a consequence of this insecurity that many of the families concerned have so intense social problems in fields other than that of housing alone.
There has been little if any justification at any time for the exclusion of the protection of tenants of furnished premises from the Rent Acts. In 1965, when my own party introduced legislation to protect other tenants, it was a great mistake that we did not extend that protection at that time, but if there was any justification then, that justification has gone completely with the proposal to extend rent rebates to private tenants. To exclude the furnished tenants from security now is to exclude them also from the possibility of having rent rebates.
I would urge the Under-Secretary of State to look again at the recommendations of Miss Lyndal Evans in her Minority Report in the Francis Committee's Report, and in particular the recommendation she makes for the definition of Part VI contracts, which would exclude from protection of the Rent Acts the small dwellings where landlord and tenant live closely together, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South referred, but which would protect the tenant whose landlord regards the house primarily as an investment. I have said that it would not be practicable to extend to all tenants complete security of tenure; where a tenant shares accommodation with his landlord the frictions which can develop can make life in the same house an even worse hell than being homeless. Except in that situation, I feel that everybody has a fundamental right to security in his home, and we must devise ways whereby everybody can have security, and have it in a home which is reasonably adequate to his needs. If we are to achieve that, 1752 we must bring about a balance between the numbers seeking to live in central London and the number of houses available there.
I have mentioned some of the measures which could be taken to reduce the pressure of numbers in central London and I have done so because the Motion deals not only with hotels but with the maintenance of the number of housing units available. Many forms of development are taking place in central London and a lot of it is taking potential housing land for other purposes.
Every time there is a development which takes potential housing land and turns it to other uses, it creates jobs and aggravates the housing problem not only by reducing the supply of housing land but also by increasing demand, for more people must live within reach of the centre to perform those jobs. I therefore urge recognition of the fact that we have in particular, reached the limit of the number of hotel developments required in Central London.
As the hon. Member for Paddington, South suggested, there is plenty of scope for hotel development on the periphery of London. Indeed, with the development of the railway line to Heathrow I do not see why many tourists should not, on arrival at Heathrow, be provided with accommodation close to the airport, with rapid and satisfactory transport services to the centre of London. Similarly, at Foulness when it is built. This should be acceptable to tourists. I do not see why we insist on accommodating them in the centre.
Whether or not we accept as a matter of policy that no further hotel development shall be allowed in central London, it must be accepted that the local authority should have power to decide whether it will allow further hotel development in its area.
I hope the Minister will not say that in the light of the Chelsea Cloisters case there is no longer a need for legislation. That was a welcome and valuable decision, but it was a decision in respect only of Chelsea Cloisters being turned into an hotel, and unless there is a clear requirement that at some stage in the process of creeping conversion application must be made for planning permission, in most cases the local authority 1753 will not even know that it has another hotel in its borough.
In Kensington and Chelsea we have this problem on a large scale. One consequence of this creeping development is that many of our hotels do not even begin to comply with the fire regulations. The hon. Member for Paddington, South and I have had disastrous fires in our constituencies in hotels which have probably never needed to apply for planning consent, so that the question of whether they complied with the fire regulations was never considered.
At what stage under the law as it stands does a property turn into an hotel? Is it when the landlord finally gets his unfurnished tenants out and puts furnished tenants in? Is it when he starts to provide breakfasts for some of his tenants? Is it when he makes a television set available, provides some additional services or starts taking weekly or daily bookings?
There must be a clearly defined point at which in law premises become an hotel, and that is not provided for by any decision in any specific case. Certainly we get decisions in particular cases, but they apply only to those cases.
Mention has been made of a Bill which is being presented by Kensington and Chelsea Council. This has the support of all parties in the borough and has been welcomed by representatives of both parties in other boroughs which suffer from this problem. I hope that the Bill will be supported by the House.
The factors we are discussing—furnished tenancies and hotel development—are only aspects of a major and general problem. The real problem lies in the fact that we have too many people seeking to live in an area in which there is not sufficient land to enable them to be housed satisfactorily. We need solutions which will resolve the land shortage problem. In my view we need a national housing agency to ensure that land is acquired outside areas of stress where local authorities are unwilling to receive the people from those areas.
We need far greater co-ordination between local authorities so that we do not have the ridiculous situation that if a council tenant in North Kensington wishes to move to Sunderland, where there is 1754 no shortage of housing, he has no entitlement to council housing even though he is giving up housing in an area in which it is desperately short and is seeking to acquire housing in an area where there is plenty.
We must find solutions which will enable people to move out of their council accommodation when they retire and wish to live outside the areas of stress, perhaps at the seaside or in the country. A minute scheme is run by the G.L.C. for this purpose but it is totally inadequate to meet the immense demand for it, and an expansion of this could help to alleviate the problem in London.
We need a study of the problem to find a fundamental solution to the imbalance that exists, so enabling us to ensure that everyone, even in the stress areas, has a reasonable home and, even more important, security within it.
§ 1.7 p.m.
§ Mr. John Cordle (Bournemouth East, and Christchurch)
The hon. Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann) has raised a number of interesting points. I agree that we need a far greater degree of co-ordination between local authorities if we are to house more effectively the people who must be housed in stress areas. Many people need housing in these areas—to be near their relatives or places of work—and this applies in London and other big centres throughout the country.
The hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) moved the Motion expertly and I congratulate her on her speech. She has done a real service in highlighting some of the problems she faces in London, though I assure her that we in the South-West face similar problems. I appreciate, however, why the debate has centred around London. We recognise the acute problem that exists in this area, particularly in relation to hotel development, with the consequent increase in the number of people who, with more hotels, must work in this area for the tourist industry.
London is, of course, a centre of great attraction, with its historic buildings and places of interest. There is, however, need to think about this problem on a wider basis and to consider, for example, the South-West. After all, London is not the only place that attracts foreign visitors. Hon. Members may be interested 1755 to learn that my constituency attracts more than one million visitors a year, a growing percentage of them from overseas.
The success story of Bournemouth is perhaps not so much the growing number of visitors and the increasing number of hotels but the language schools which now attract between 4,500 and 5,000 students a year to my constituency. These all-the-year-round students help with our economy and to a great degree offset the old problem of bedroom voids, because they occupy their rooms for 365 days a year.
It will be obvious, therefore, that we in Bournemouth have a problem concerning furnished accommodation. This is a specialised aspect of accommodation and it is necessary and popular for those who come to my constituency on holiday or for short periods.
There is a great scarcity of unfurnished accommodation in Bournemouth. This causes me concern, especially as more and more people are coming from the North to live and work in the South-West. We are hoping to increase some of our industries. Be they light, nevertheless they are vital to the economy of the South-West. If we are successful in that aim, we shall have to provide more and more accommodation. It ought to be clearly stated that Bournemouth and the environment need more well-designed and cheaper residences, especially for the younger members of society.
In introducing the Motion, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South spoke about the need for additional controls. I disagree heartily with her on that subject. We need more private enterprise and less control. But perhaps when it comes to the need to look at the whole approach and idea of the increased hotel areas, be they purpose-built hotels or the creeping erosions of the system of converting old houses into hotels, this problem needs to be examined because we shall change the entire environment by allowing the increase in the number of hotels, especially in residential areas where they are converted from old-type houses. But it is pleasing to travel around one's constituency and see some of those drab 1756 old houses, long since outmoded, now taking on a new life having had a facelift. This has been brought about largely through the generosity of successive Governments in recent years.
Representing a seaside town, I am in the very fortunate position of being able to speak on the basis of facts which refute the suggestion that the conversion of property built during the Victorian and Edwardian eras for purposes more suited to modern needs leads to a loss in the number of dwellings available. Bournemouth is not a typical English town but in many respects it corresponds to the inner London boroughs in that it is a very heavily built-up area with little or no undeveloped land available for new housing. Provision of new developments must, therefore, now take place mainly after the removal from sites of large houses which no longer meet present-day requirements.
I apologise for being a little more parochial than perhaps I should be, but anyone who has visited Bournemouth recently will be aware that large old houses situated in spacious grounds are now being used as hotels, boarding-houses, flats and flatlets or are being demolished to make way for flat development which in the central area may rise to eight floors or even higher. No one who visits Bournemouth has need for statistics to be aware that such loss of old dwellings as has taken place has also resulted in a much larger number of new and more attractive dwellings becoming available.
Although the statistics readily to hand are limited, I quote some figures which prove my point. These have been supplied by the Town Clerk of Bournemouth. The conversion of old houses to purpose-designed flats in the three years up to March, 1971, meant that 119 dwellings were first lost; but in their place, by adaptation of the premises, no less than 377 dwellings became available in new flats. One can quickly recognise some of these old houses which have been successfully converted into a number of dwellings by the method of providing flatlets which are now so much more acceptable than heretofore.
Bournemouth is a holiday resort, and there is a continuing demand for hotels and boarding-houses of the smaller size which can be run by the proprietor. This 1757 again has caused some loss of ordinary dwellings in that in the three years I am quoting, 45 new hotels or boarding-houses were obtained to supplement the existing very large number of available rooms. Among the provincial towns in Britain, Bournemouth has the largest number of hotel bedrooms—about 61,000. We have visitors from along the coast, from the rest of the country and from overseas. We are attracting every year more than 2,000 couples who wish to retire in the area, who have no doubt had their executive place in the country.
However, lest it may be thought that even this loss of housing might cause difficulty, I must refer to the number of new one, two and three-bedroom flats built within the town on sites previously occupied by older houses. In the three years to March, 1971, 698 new flats were completed. With so great a margin of gain, there is no case for any contention that the ordinary person seeking accommodation is being frustrated by the operation of natural growth of private enterprise building. I emphasise that I am not quoting figures for luxury buildings. Certainly one can buy expensive penthouse flats in Bournemouth, but the majority of building now in progress is providing flats at prices between £4,500 and £7,500, well within the figures acceptable to present-day buyers. With the prospect of the Government's more advantageous housing policy, the building of flats to let is a worth-while proposition.
Bournemouth's planning policy is operating to restrict areas in which old houses can be converted to hotels and boarding-houses. Refusal of planning permission—which must be obtained before change of use—has been normal practice within recognised residential areas. This policy has been tested by developers who have taken hotel conversion applications to appeal, but the Minister has upheld the council's refusal and confirmed that where there is a well settled local policy, the applicants have to abide by it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, South (Mr. Scott) suggested a full inquiry into the whole question of the development of the hotel and tourist industry and the accommodation required for it. I should welcome such an inquiry.
§ 1.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Acton)
Whatever may be the happy situation in Bournemouth about displacement, I know that the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Cordle) will understand that it is not the happy situation in London. If anything, it is the reverse. That was well put by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger), who described the terrible symptoms of the housing problem, of which the conversion of houses to hotels is one. She made an appeal that we should try to discern the trends, and not take each of these problems piecemeal, to try to see what is happening. She also rightly emphasised that a tracer element in this problem, which I have called the housing vortex, is what is happening to children, and to couples on the point of marriage who want to set up homes of their own. If we use both those criteria in looking at our social and housing problems in London, we should make a little progress.
The hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Adley) declared an interest, and I have an interest. I am a co-opted member of the Environment Planning Committee of the Greater London Council. That committee has been mentioned today. The hon. Gentleman congratulated the G.L.C. on producing a green paper on hotels policy. I am sorry that he is not present, because I could tell him that that policy was forced out of the G.L.C. very late in the day by the opposition on the committee. The committee was faced with application after application for hotel development which, hon. Members will be pleased to know, was not in central London. We said to the officers, "What is the criteria for judging these applications?" But they have no criteria that we recognise. It was only subsequent to that sort of discussion that the G.L.C. managed to arrive at some sort of policy.
The hon. Member for Paddington, South (Mr. Scott) talks on these matters in a sensitive and understanding way. As I wish to make a partisan speech, I can say to him that he will find that the political philosophy on to which he has hitched his wagon—unfortunately, not that of my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South; I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman took the 1759 wrong decision—will not solve the problem but will make it worse.
The burden of my speech is to try to prove that very point. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann) rightly said, up to a point, the difficulty we face is that the demand for accommodation in central London exceeds the supply. The Department has announced a working party to study the supply of housing, but it has not announced an inquiry into the demand. I do not think that in a free country with a free economy we can necessarily control the demand. The demand will depend upon a whole host of other factors over which we do not have direct control. It is to those factors that I shall refer, because this will enable us to tell what is going on and to discern the tide which is underlying all the wreckage of flotsam and jetsam and human difficulties which we see on the surface.
It is a problem of displacement, of which hotels, boarding houses and bedsitters is one type. London has had this type of displacement for a long time. It has an effect upon people, because, although people can live as individuals in hotels and even in bed-sitters, where bedsitters occupy a whole house and not perhaps an odd room with families living in the rest of the house, families and family homes are displaced.
This means that only people in certain occupations and of certain ages are likely to be able to live in the area. To start with, those living in the area must be in work. The hon. Member for Paddington, South mentioned the problem of some of the retired. In other words, where there is this displacement, there is a distortion of the age structure, the occupational structure, and the social structure. So there is what I shall describe as a social cancer; because, wherever there is a social imbalance there is social disease of all sorts.
It is no good the House pouring millions of pounds into social security, the probation service, the police—call it what you will. The cancer will not be fought by that means. The market function in housing is the dead root of this by the hotel use displacement syndrome.
In the area of London where I live this has gone on since the war. Now young people cannot stay there. People 1760 who have been brought up in this area, as I was, cannot afford to live there. Nor can people in relatively low-paid occupations. Many people—teachers may be a very good example—cannot stay in schools there, because when they marry they must leave the area to seek accommodation. The area which I represent Acton—is being killed by this sort of spread of displacement in housing. We have a changed occupation structure, a changing age structure, and a changing social structure which will produce and is producing all sorts of problems.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North is here. We are very short on facts in this debate, but I have here the G.L.C. Quarterly Bulletin of the Research and Intelligence Unit, September, 1969, which makes interesting and important points. The first is as to the population of London as a whole. In 1939 the population of the G.L.C. area numbered 8,618,000. In 1968, it had been reduced to 7,764,000. The population of inner London—the old L.C.C. area—was 4 million in 1939 and 3 million in 1968. Although London has an increased housing problem, it has a declining population and relatively an older population at that. So things are changing. It is a matter of market rather than of actual space. The market forces are predominant.
Looking to the future, the Inner London Education Authority tells me that the number of pupils in its schools will be reduced drastically over the next few years. In 1971 there are 240,000 primary school pupils in the inner London area. The Authority calculates that by 1980 there will be 183,000. Indeed, north of the river, which is the centre of London, London being a north-bank city, the drop is even more startling. The authority says that in 1971 there are 105,000 primary school pupils north of the river. It calculates that in 1980 there will be 73,000. So the trend is that the number of people of that age is rapidly falling.
Contrary to public supposition, the number of people working in central London is not rapidly increasing. The same Bulletin states:… the number of people working in central London is no longer increasing. Between 1961 and 1966 employment in the ten square miles of central London defined by the Registrar General as the conurbation centre, 1761 fell by about 60,000, and employment in the rest of the Inner Ring fell by a further 10,000.So in discussing this problem we cannot think only in terms of supposition. It is what is happening that we must consider. These facts are perhaps less well known than they should be.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North referred to the question of demand, which is the key problem. We are well aware of the demand for hotels and for offices. We are perhaps not so well aware of the demand for new jobs in the expanding occupations, concerned particularly with communications, media, and with students. The academic industry in London is very big. In this place we also have in mind the Government industry.
There is also the question of the number of people coming from abroad who wish to live here. The salary-plus-expenses element in London is provided by those who come here and have expenses in addition to their pay. People who come here from all over the world, for good, bad or indifferent reasons, are able to drive out of the market ordinary people who have been brought up and live in this city.
This is perhaps best seen by the spread of bed-sitter land as exemplified in my constituency and which is causing grave concern to the older citizens who remember the town as it was some time ago when it was socially far more healthy. If even a Victorian house is let out room by room separately, the rent is astronomical. This is what is happening to house after house in area after area.
The House may be interested to know that I learned last weekend that this is happening now in an area not far from my constituency, not with old Victorian houses, not with Edwardian houses, but with inter-war semi-detached houses. That is a symptom of social disease, if ever there was one. I am not blaming the young people who go into bed-sitters. They, perhaps, cannot do anything else. However, the spread of bed-sitter land brings about a total change in the social balance of the area. There is what I have called the social cancer.
What is more important, these young people cannot have a social stake in the area as citizens of the area. I do not blame them. They will not be there 1762 next week, perhaps. They may well have left six months later. Why should they join clubs? Why should they join even the Conservative Party? Better that, perhaps, than nothing, though I must be careful.
That is what is happening. Then hon. Members opposite say that we must have more police and more probation officers because society is going rotten and we must combat it. It is the price mechanism which produces this cancer. Every time a house is up for sale it will go to those who will pay most. The ordinary family man will be squeezed out.
I fear that this trend will increase, because there will be more people here from abroad. Travel and tourism will increase still further. Businesses will become even more centralised with the headquarters of large corporations being sited in London. It is all very well to say that we should move offices out of London, but the G.L.C. is planning for a large increase in office space. If we go in to the Common Market, London will have a function in the E.E.C.
About six months ago, at Question Time, I asked what impact the E.E.C. would have upon the housing problems of London. My question was greeted with laughter. I do not think that there would be any laughter today, since the increase in demand clearly will put up prices even further. If we go in we shall see a housing market in London which is sensitive not to London occupations and to people who commute from the South-East, but to world pressures. In those circumstances, what chance will a bus driver, a postman, or a person serving in our canteen downstairs stand? He will not have a hope. The social disease will increase space.
I am sorry that the Under-Secretary is not present at the moment. I asked him six months ago whether he would institute a study backed by the Government to investigate the dynamics and nature of the housing market in London. I asked him to consider a postman, a bus driver, a teacher, and people in a range of occupations, with the pay that they received in 1951, and see how much they had to pay in rent or mortgage repayments, and what proportion of their incomes those payments represented. I asked him to do the same for 1961 and for 1971. The Government have consistently refused to do that. I asked the 1763 other day about the new group which the Government have set up to look at the problem of housing in London, and whether they would ask that group to do it. I was told that this was outside the group's terms of reference. I ask the Government to enlarge the group's terms of reference so that it can make this investigation.
I know quite well why the Government do not want to do this. It is because there can be only one answer. The free market system that we have in housing itself is the reason for the difficulty. Competition will not work here. It is not even a question of it working marginally. It produces problems. I hope that the Minister will agree to do the sort of survey that I have suggested. Present Government policy can only accelerate the trend. The Housing Finance Bill will bring even more homes into this market vortex. People who are partly spared from it at the moment and who have perhaps until now inherited public accommodation will be tipped in willy-nilly, especially in my area, where we are being enjoined to have regard to the position of the property. Property which is adjacent to railway lines capable of transporting people quickly to the airport or to central London will have a great market value in the future. But that is no good for the man working in manufacturing industry just up the road. I shall not detain the House by relating the difficulties of manufacturing in London. It is being driven out.
This is the challenge that we face. I have tried to analyse what is going on, and I have come up with one suggestion for a possible solution. The question was asked for by the hon. Member for Paddington, South, who has a grasp of the problem. I suggest that we try to insert into the situation some economic bulkheads in an attempt to divide the market so that the bus driver, the postman and the man who looks after the boilers in this House do not have to compete in the same market with people flying in from abroad or those who get salaries plus housing expenses, which is what happens in many big firms.
Perhaps it would be better to say, rather than bulkheads, which are vertical divisions, some sort of horizontal divi- 1764 sions. If we have to have markets, let us give those concerned with serving us in this city a market which is separate and on a different level from that for those who are in the market in a different way. I am not clear how it can be done. But unless something like it is done, our present problems will be as nothing compared with what we shall have in 10 years time. We have seen in New York and all over the world the deadening and the poison of city centre decay.
We can build as many motorways as we like. The hon. Gentleman's Department can invest as much as it likes in electrified railways to bring in more and more people. But we shall still have a social cancer eating the heart of the nation's capital unless the Government realise that market forces have not worked, cannot work, and will not work in the future.
§ 1.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Worsley (Chelsea)
Like almost every hon. Member who has spoken, I congratulate the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) on her luck in the Ballot. In common with the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Ernest G. Perry) I have been trying in the Ballot all my life and I have never succeeded. I was delighted, therefore, when the hon. Lady tabled her moderate Motion on a matter which affects her constituency and which also affects my own to a great extent. It is a Motion which we on this side can support. The hon. Lady referred very properly to certain events in my constituency. I shall say a few words about them in due course.
I am glad that we are debating this matter on a Friday. Housing is a highly charged subject. Housing in London is perhaps even more highly charged. There is great value in discussing the subject in a Friday atmosphere. The hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) tried to warm up the subject in controversial terms. I do not think he succeeded. I appreciate that he thinks the operation of the market economy belongs to Tories alone. But it exists, whatever party is in power. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman heard his hon. Friends attacking the last Labour Government on this matter just as much as they now attack 1765 the present Government. I do not believe that we should discuss this matter in a partisan way. I appreciate the hon. Lady's lead in that direction.
Housing policy is very difficult, and simple answers often have a different result from that which one expects. There is no better example than the problem of furnished and unfurnished tenancies. However, I shall not speak at length on that aspect of the hon. Lady's speech since I want to concentrate more on hotel use, which was the title of the hon. Lady's Motion overall.
Simple to put furnished tenancies into the same category as unfurnished tenancies would cause more difficulties than it would solve. At the same time, the distinction is an obsolete one. It has gone on ever since the introduction of rent controls after the First World War. It is not the right place at which to draw a line. The hon. Lady cited the case of New York and admitted that a line had to be drawn somewhere. But it cannot be exactly on the basis of putting all furnished tenancies in with all furnished tenancies.
What we need is a new definition of the relationship between landlord and tenant so that we can put on one side of the line all tenancies, whether furnished or unfurnished. Whether there are odd bits of furniture is not a relevant argument. There are other more important arguments which are relevant. We need to get away from this approach, and I hope that we shall be able to produce a new definition which will enable a broader section of the private housing sector to come into both security of tenure and into rent allowances. There can be no bigger contribution to the solution of our housing difficulties than a move in that direction.
I was not sure whether the hon. Lady wanted to see no private enterprise in housing. All her remarks about private enterprise were pejorative. No doubt there are many instances where private enterprise is responsible for some deplorable results. It is equally true, however, as the Milner Holland Committee pointed out in its Report, that we need a private sector in housing and that we shall not solve the problems of housing unless they are tackled by different means, including private enterprise and public 1766 enterprise, with the housing trusts and associations in between. Unless we have a broad approach on all those fronts we shall not succeed.
I believe that there is not much disagreement about what we want to see in central London, and the debate has reinforced that belief. We want to see central London remain a place where people live, which it still is in comparison with so many of our great cities. The process of central decay in residential terms has gone much further in most of our great cities than in London. Let us agree, therefore, that we want London to have a good social mix in the centre. I think that even the hon. Lady accepted, a little grudgingly, that we want some houses for the better-off in the centre. We need such houses in the centre of a great city, but we want accommodation for middle and working-class people as well.
My constituency has maintained its social mix better than most and I want to keep it that way, not only because it is a more healthy sort of society but also because we need in central London people to do the jobs that keep the city alive. Those who help us in the House have been mentioned. We know the appalling hours that we make them work. In addition, there are the hospitals of central London. Many of my constituents work in those hospitals, including the hospitals in my constituency, among them specialist, postgraduate hospitals, where they work very awkward hours. It makes all the difference to the convenience of their life if they can get home comfortably at a frightful hour of the morning of the sort we know so well.
§ Mr. Spearing
Can the hon. Gentleman tell us how many of the people he has just described, living in his constituency or similar constituencies in inner London, can live there without protection from the effect of free market forces on the cost of accommodation? Are not they living in accommodation linked with their job or in an institution which provides accommodation below market prices?
§ Mr. Worsley
The short answer is that many people working in such institutions do not live in hostels or similar places attached to them. For example, nurses are less and less willing to live in nurses' hostels. People want to live more in 1767 the community. It is part of the general improvement in the nursing service, and it is something we want to encourage. Rooms are free in nurses' hostels at a time when there is a shortage of accommodation all round.
The people of whom I have spoken are under great pressures. Since the hon. Gentleman introduced a partisan element, I should like to do so at this point by talking about the Housing Finance Bill and the system of rent allowances. Credit has not yet been given, certainly not in this debate or among the general public, to the effect that rent allowances will have in central London. I suspect that their influence there will be greater than anywhere else. I believe that the hon. Gentleman's party will bitterly regret its vote on the Second Reading of the Bill.
When considering housing matters we always think of particular instances. People see us about housing problems and so often we cannot do much to help them. A week or two ago I saw an old lady of 76, a typical constituent in a way, someone who has had a high standard of living, who has been widowed for a long time and who found her means gradually eroding. To use that harsh phrase, she was someone who has come down in the world. It was encouraging to be able to tell her that the Government were taking practical action, through rent allowances, that would help her. Instead of facing the certainty of shortly having to leave a humble flat, the rent of which is quite properly to be increased, she will look to the future with confidence because she knows that rent allowances will be a practical help to her.
§ Mr. Douglas-Mann
In the debate on the Second Reading of the Housing Finance Bill the Opposition welcomed the proposed rent allowances. But does the hon. Gentleman think that in Kensington and Chelsea, where there are 35 per cent. furnished tenancies, the extension of the rent rebate system is likely to be of substantial assistance to the overwhelming majority of those who are in conditions of housing difficulty? Will he bear in mind that his constituent's flat is liable to have its rent increased on improvement and decontrol, if it has been a controlled flat, to a level which is likely to be more than a great many of his 1768 constituents could pay, even with the rebate?
§ Mr. Worsley
The hon. Gentleman is tempting me into different pastures. It is true that these rent allowances do not apply to the furnished sector, although not because of a dogmatic desire by the Government not to apply them, but because of the practical difficulties. I have already said—perhaps the hon. Gentleman came into the Chamber after I began my speech—that I am looking for a different definition, a different line between the furnished and the unfurnished sector, so that we can bring help to more of my constituents through the system of rent allowances. I doubt whether there is much difference between us in this respect.
Some of the pressures that bear upon my constituents and make such accommodation more difficult have already been listed. One that has not been mentioned is the increasing tendency to sell rather than let flats, which has made a big difference in my constituency. One of its unfortunate by-products is that many flats are empty because in the nature of things, if a sale—or long lease, usually referred to as a sale—is in contemplation, the accommodation is empty for much longer. This is a deplorable tendency.
The hon. Member for Acton mentioned the number of foreigners, and he is correct. When I was canvassing during the General Election campaign I thought that I could get in on the votes of the Americans alone. I found them extremely favourable to my point of view, and they said that they would do anything to help. But, alas, they were not on the register. However, I got in anyway with an increased majority.
I want to speak most about what the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South talked about, the question of hotels and tourism. As the debate so clearly shows, pressure here is hitting us in many ways. First, there is the pressure for new hotels. I was interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Adley) said about that. He properly approached the matter from a different angle. He is right to say that we need hotels. They earn good money. Tourism is a big foreign exchange earner. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith) had 1769 much the same thing to say on the subject.
It is equally true that without very strict control new hotels would cause a continuing loss of housing in central London. This is why my borough, as the hon. Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann) knows, has turned down many applications that might at first sight have seemed reasonable and has decided severely to limit new hotels. I gather that other central London boroughs, including the hon. Lady's, have taken a similar line. Since we need hotels—I am very sympathetic to the phrase which the hon. Lady used about monitoring—we have to have a policy, and I think that the Greater London Council's green paper is a step in this direction.
I recently took my youngest son to look at the Tower of London. While there, I looked at the two important hotel sites being developed on each side of Tower Bridge. These are marvellous sites. The down-river site, with St. Katherine Docks behind it and the river in front, is surely without rival in the rest of London. Certainly no one thought of Tower Bridge as an hotel area at one time, but of course it is extremely convenient for businessmen who come to London to do business in the City. They are much more conveniently placed there than in other constituencies. This is the key to the hotel problem. Let us think imaginatively of new areas, often based on a new underground railway line, where hotels can be developed, thus reducing the pressure on traditional housing areas in central London.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst made the point that unless we allow new hotels to be provided, the pressures on existing residential accommodation will become more and more intense. We have to make a two-pronged attack. On the one hand, we must seek to reduce the natural and proper pressure for new hotel rooms by allowing hotels to go up. On the other hand, we must do what I shall be suggesting later in my speech.
I want to give two practical immediate examples from my constituency of how the pressure to provide short-term accommodation for tourists is building up, thereby in both instances specifically reducing accommodation for residents. The first I have in mind is 1770 a mansion block of flats, built probably between 1900 and the First World War, the sort of block which needs a lot of money spent on it and where rent control has driven standards down. But what is being done? Very often, before flats become vacant there is something very near harassment or harassment itself as pressure is put on people to leave—and the irony of the housing situation is that despite all the security of tenure provisions, many people do not understand what their rights are. As flats are vacated they are modernised, as they should be, but they are relet, not on the residential market but short-term to visitors. Sometimes a bed-and-breakfast service is provided, sometimes not. At any rate, in my constituency there are plenty of restaurants around the corner. But the point is that the people living in these flats are no longer in any meaningful sense members of the local residential community.
I called at one flat to try to gain votes during an election and a charming young lady opened the door. I asked whether she was the person whose name appeared on the register and she replied, "No. We are three Persian girls with three Thai boys"—which is what one might call ecumenical, if nothing else.
The second example has had a great deal of public attention, as the hon. Lady mentioned, quite properly. This is the case of Chelsea Cloisters, block of 900 small flats, each with a single room, a small kitchen and a cupboard of a bathroom. They are ideal for single people of all ages and circumstances. Traditionally the block has been full of people just starting off in London—people who are widowed, divorced or whatever it may be, but single people.
I am told that only about half of those flats are now occupied for residential purposes. About 200 are currently being used as a hostel for Pan American staff and according to the intention of the management, more are to be added to this number. For a time, parts of the block were used as an hotel in the sense that the rooms were advertised through brochures to the general public. This is no longer the case. But it has not made very much difference to the residents in the block. I have visited some this week. The block is just like 1771 an hotel, with a reception desk, a bar and the rest. Coaches arrive throughout the day and night—up to six coaches are sometimes waiting in the street outside—and there are "Do not disturb" notices on the doors.
Only this morning I received from a resident a copy of a letter she sent to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. She wrote:Despite local Enforcement Orders and your own findings against hotel use at the above block of flats, this hotel use is in fact still continuing in every respect, causing considerable annoyance and inconvenience to the permanent residents.I can confirm that impression because there is a general atmosphere of noise and lack of privacy and a feeling of insecurity. Only yesterday a lady resident there was attacked by two ruffians who got into the building somehow—all this in a building where hotel use was forbidden by the council and where my right hon. Friend has very properly backed the council's appeal and has said that hotel use is not to go on.
A subsequent appeal is currently in progress against hostel use. I appreciate that my hon. Friend can probably say little about that case because of its sub judice nature. I do not, therefore, intend to say very much more about it myself. However, I want to make some general remarks on the procedure. The present law does not in any way touch the block of mansion flats I have mentioned. There is nothing to prevent an unfurnished flat becoming in this way a piece of accommodation, a furnished flat, which is used entirely for short-term visitors from abroad. As I see it, there is nothing effective in the present law to stop that happening.
In the case of Chelsea Cloisters and other examples which the hon. Lady mentioned, I want to make some remarks about the time scale which applies. The present procedures are deplorably slow and cumbersome. The first appeal—that against hotel use—took just about a full year from the time at which the enforcement order was made to the Ministerial decision. The second appeal—the hostel enforcement procedure—will take about the same time. And of course during the year, which is a very long time for someone living in accommodation, the use 1772 goes on. It seems to me that we really must have a quicker procedure. I hope that my hon. Friend, without mentioning the case, will say something about that matter.
The hon. Lady was kind enough to mention the Kensington and Chelsea Bill. It is not always that my council is mentioned so kindly by the Opposition as it has been today and I am delighted to respond in the same spirit. One of the things we seek to do in that Bill is to enforce a quicker procedure. It is extremely expensive. The hon. Lady pleaded poverty for her borough. I am not so sure about that, but it is a fact that these enforcement procedures are expensive for local residents. The council has to brief counsel, and so on, and all this adds up to a great deal of money. In the case I have mentioned, two separate public inquiries will be needed. I am told that it is extremely unusual for costs to be awarded either way. They ought to be awarded in certain cases when owners are manifestly trying a new use. The subject of costs might be considered by the Department.
Many people, Kensington and Chelsea Council among them, say that planning control needs to be exerted in another way, namely, by compiling a hotel and guest house register and making it illegal thereafter to let rooms outside that register. For me at least, the debate has shed light on that possibility. A fire authority needs a fire certificate from hotels and it will be illegal—I think it is not illegal yet—not to have a fire certificate in respect of an hotel. I was struck by what was said about the desire of the English Tourist Board to have a register of hotels. Approaching this problem from all sorts of directions, we all seem to come to a similar answer and perhaps the right machinery to use for these different purposes is a register.
I hope that the Government will think seriously about this matter. Our Bill provides for a register, but that is intended to apply only in Kensington and Chelsea. However, I assure my hon. Friend that if he says that the Government will come forward with a proposal to register all hotels, perhaps for the whole of London at any rate, that would delight my council, because we appreciate that many of these problems would be better tackled on a national scale. 1773 But unless we can get action of that kind we are inclined to push the Bill as far as we can. I am glad that we are to have all-party support, because action on these lines is needed.
The debate today must have shown quite clearly that in all parts of the House there is an earnest desire for action to be taken, that the present system of control is incomplete, chancy and cumbersome and that something more must be done. That is why I commend the Motion.
§ 2.4 p.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor)
I apologise to the hon. Lady for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) for not having been here to heard her opening remarks. I reinforce what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Worsley). As a former councillor in his constituency, I know that considerable problems exist. He put his finger on the solution when he said that the procedure for halting work was cumbersome. That is the nub of the whole issue.
If someone starts converting premises into an hotel—and I shall not mention any specific instances, because those already mentioned are outside my constituency—there is a protracted and extremely expensive period before any action can be taken by the local authorities to prevent work from continuing. However, there is an important difficulty. One of the biggest difficulties is what might be called the fringe between the categories of user hotels, hostels, etc. It is time that local authorities were equipped with sufficient statutory powers, by regulations or, if necessary, by a Bill, to enforce immediate notification of a change of user so that, if that change of user is not approved, a mandatory injunction can be applied immediately. If a mandatory injunction is granted, anything happening after its application is illegal, unless the courts have approved.
I know the problem in London and in many other cities. I am concerned at the moment only about the time lag and the procedure for enforcement. There must also be a clear distinction between the categories of use of these properties, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be able to deal with these matters.
§ 2.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Reginald Freeson (Willesden, East)
My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) has sparked off one of the better informed debates which we get on occasions like this on an aspect of a subject which, particularly in the London area, although specialist in that it includes the provision of hotel accommodation, especially in central London, affects the general housing position at a number of important levels. Problems have been discussed at some length and detail by every hon. Member who has spoken, and I have found the debate illuminating.
I have one or two suggestions which I hope will be helpful in the solution of a number of problems, but I begin by saying that at all costs we should avoid political positions being taken up, for that would create what I have heard described as a kind of war of attrition between hotel interests and the general planning needs of the community. I do not think that the situation requires such an approach if we are prepared to take some positive policy decisions rather than approach matters solely on the basis of negative control. I hasten to add that I do not oppose control, but any attempt at controlling the activities of people in the hotel industry should be seen as part of a more positive approach to dealing with the related needs of inner London and other parts of the country that have problems which are similar in part, if not in whole.
I do not propose to make any general statement about the benefits of tourism, both economic and social. They have been stated generally time and again. There is no doubt that some aspects of hotel development have conflicted, and do conflict, with the interests of residents, in particular of the inner London area. They also conflict with what is called—to use the common popular term today "environmental considerations" in a general sense.
First, as has been stressed time and again, there is the diversion of housing and housing sites to hotel development, alongside diversion of such sites and properties to other purposes than housing. Secondly, there is the impact on jobs, which has not been dealt with so extensively in this debate, and, by such an impact, the impact on housing itself, 1775 irrespective of whether one takes housing sites. There are demands of a particular character created by hotel workers in an expanding hotel situation. Then there is the problem, related again to housing, of the need for low-priced accommodation, not only for residents generally, not only for families, but for many single young workers, students and apprentices as well as many of the younger visitors to London who do not fit so easily into, or benefit so easily from, the provision of the rather more expensive purpose-built hotels or better quality conversions. There are other problems: the major impact on public services and on other aspects of the social and economic life of the city.
There is no question about the growth of hotel demand. This has been building up considerably over a good many years, but it is a demand which is only partly being met by work in train. As hon. Members on both sides have indicated, the figure has been quoted of 24,000 bed spaces being provided in schemes now under construction within the grant aid provisions of the Development of Tourism Act. We have also heard quoted the figure of provision for another 30,000 hotel rooms. I suggested earlier, in an intervention, that these two figures if taken together would amount to 54,000. I realised then that I had underestimated, because hotel rooms are not the same as bed spaces. The figure of 30,000, in terms of hotel rooms, produces 50,000 bed spaces. Therefore, one is talking in terms of 74,000 bed spaces being provided now, or within the next one, two or three years, on planning consents already given, irrespective of anything else that comes along from the moment of this debate.
I understand, from the green paper which the G.L.C. produced, and from other sources, that this trend will continue beyond the construction of the present planning consents. I believe it is broadly accepted that this trend will continue at least throughout the rest of the decade, on broadly the same level. It will drop perhaps with grant aid disappearing within the year but, in the long term, the trend will continue. The London Boroughs Association, in addition to the individual boroughs which have been referred to in this debate, has 1776 expressed considerable concern, as a body, that the housing stock of London should not continue to be eroded through conversion which evades the change of use provisions in planning, which has loomed so large in the discussion today. Reference has been made to the position in Camden, Kensington and Westminster, but already there are indications that it will not remain confined to these three inner London boroughs. I know that in my own borough we have begun to feel marginal impact of the pressures of private hotel accommodation. There have been planning applications in the inner London part of the borough to take over sites and properties and replace them with purpose-built or major conversions to provide new hotel accommodation which is virtually in the inner London area but outside the boroughs mentioned. This trend will appear elsewhere. If it has not already started, I believe it will have an impact in Islington in the near future. There is already in certain pockets of Islington, not a tradition, but an experience of hotel provision. This area also will feel the impact increasingly time goes by.
As developments continue on the other side of the South Bank, the impact will be felt in the next few years in some of the South London boroughs as we have felt it north of the river. It is not something peculiar to two or three inner London boroughs out of 32. It will spread.
The joint working party set up by those three boroughs is studying means of action and legislation. Registration has been touched on, and I put that first among the suggestions I would urge to be pressed positively, not just considered at Government level. This will be a major contribution to the kind of planning control hon. Members and people outside want. Reference has been made to the Fire Precautions Act, which comes into operation at the end of this month or this year—any time now—which will require registration of a kind. If there are ways in which one can join together the procedures under that Act with a broader framework of legislation under the Development of Tourism Act, I shall welcome it. I suspect from what I recall of the Act that the definition of "hotel" for fire precaution legislation will be difficult to marry up with the kind of definitions required to meet the problems which 1777 have been put before us today. That is a problem which might have to be considered.
Registration is essential and must be proceeded with, either by voluntary or compulsory means; probably in the end, it will mean compulsion, but if we can move in that direction by an effective voluntary system being started under the auspices of local authorities, in co-operation with tourist authorities, this will be a good thing, but it will not solve the kind of problems we are concerned with today.
§ Mr. Adley
If people are a little sensitive to compulsion, there are ways of making the system voluntary with the introduction of value-added tax. There is a very easy way of doing this, which avoids the necessity of apparently compelling people and which offers them a real incentive to co-operate.
§ Mr. Freeson
The hon. Gentleman will not tempt me to accept the principle of V.A.T. to achieve a solution to this problem. I have too many other objections to V.A.T., not least to its prospective impact on owner-occupiers, as he may see from an Early Day Motion in my name and the names of my hon. Friends. There might, however, be other fiscal means than V.A.T. that could be adopted, possibly as part of a general taxation proposal in connection with tourism, but that is another matter.
I stress again the need for a positive approach to case this growing situation. None of the suggestions I make are by themselves the means to a solution but, if taken together, and with other suggestions that can be pursued positively by the Department and local authorities, they would provide a package approach to easing and solving the very real problems in this area. First of all, it is necessary to get what one might term, against the background of London anyway, a strategic approach—not to fiddle about with bits and pieces of solutions but to try to work out an overall approach to the London scene, into which we can fit some of the ideas which have been expressed in this debate and some of my suggestions.
For example—I do not put these suggestions in order of priority—I should like to see a concerted effort at identifying sites around the edges of London which 1778 might provide caravan and camping facilities to case the pressure—
§ Mr. Freeson
Yes, I have contacts with the Camping Club of Great Britain, and I know that it is being done. I have been pursuing this idea on and off in my area for some time, although we are largely an inner London borough. But I do not see signs of what I would call a strategic or overall approach to this in the London area.
I should like to see this kind of approach and action being taken—not just a report saying that it would be desirable and that there are areas where it could be done—possibly by the G.L.C., in co-operation with the local authorities on an overall planning basis to case the pressure in inner London.
There is also the question of accommodation for young visitors. We have had illustrations today of what this produces in the way of take-over of properties for bed-sitters on an increasingly large scale in certain areas of central London—properties which would otherwise be retained, to some extent at least, for family accommodation and in other respects for resident student and single worker needs in inner London.
I know that there have been some attempts to help in this direction. For example, the new scheme to be built in place of the old Y.M.C.A. in Tottenham Court Road will provide 600 or 700 beds of this kind for young visitors in a modern building, and I believe that the G.L.C. has made a small contribution to the fund to finance it. There is also an international students' village established at Greenwich. I am not sure what accommodation there is there; it is marginal, but it is helpful. The Inner London Education Authority is providing in two or three schools for 700 or more places in the high summer period to accommodate single persons. There are also halls of residence being used by the university authorities. This is all a considerable help.
But none of this meets the growing pressure, which has not been accurately estimated, of young visitors to London. Although I do not want to discuss this in detail today, I should like to put it to the Minister that this is an important 1779 aspect of student housing provision in London, which I get the impression is not being pursued by the Department of the Environment as its responsibility but has virtually been passed back to the Department of Education and Science.
During the latter period of the last Administration. I was personally involved in starting the examination of this aspect of housing demand in London. The reason that I mention it today is that, if we could deal with that problem, we would also be able to assist in the provision of holiday season accommodation for many of the young and single visitors to London who are putting pressure on residential accommodation. The students leave during the vacation, so their accommodation will be available for this other use. I should like to put this to the Minister as my second suggestion for serious examination in order to provide reasonably priced accommodation for holiday visitors to London on selected sites in purpose-built accommodation which would be used for students during the rest of the year.
There has been talk from time to time of imposing, as a planning condition on hotel developers, the requirement that they should provide housing accommodation for their workers. There are complications about this which will derive largely from the nature of the staff whom they will be employing. For example, if they are employing large numbers of foreign work voucher staff, it is not likely that family provision will be a problem, but with other staff it will be.
However, the fact that there are complications should not weaken this proposal. It has been talked about long enough. Action should be taken by Government and by local authorities, by whatever means are necessary, legislatively and administratively, to impose this as a condition or to have the power to impose it wherever, in the individual circumstances of an application, it is felt desirable.
It will not always be necessary or desirable, but I am convinced that, just as there have been moves—they have not been successful, as my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South said—to get residential accommodation as a condition of office development, there should be a similar condition, 1780 which should be far more effective, in the provision of hotel accommodation, so that new hotels, providing employment and bringing more people into the area—more often than not more single people, again putting pressure on accommodation in the area—would provide for those people themselves.
I see no reason why they cannot be required to provide that accommodation within their own development, rather than to say to a local authority, "We have found the answer: we will buy up a block of property up the road and use that as a hostel". This condition, if applied, should be closely watched, and it would be a major help in some localities towards solving this problem.
We must bear in mind that estimates have been made that, over the coming five to seven years, about 30,000 additional workers or staff will be generated by new hotel development in Central London. A total of 30,000 people, from wherever they may be drawn, makes up a sizeable contribution to housing pressure in central London, and this cannot be dealt with simply by filtering the problem away and assuming that they will find accommodation somehow.
There must be a positive planning decision to see that this need is provided for in future central London—in fact in any—hotel provision. After all, hotels do this in some of the more distant places where it is difficult to get staff. I have visited hotels in the Highlands of Scotland, where they provide first-class accommodation for their staff within the grounds of the hotels. There is no reason why London developers should not have this planning condition imposed upon them. This is where new hotel accommodation, purpose built, even on non-housing land, has a direct impact on the housing situation. It is not just a question of converting to housing accommodation.
I now want to turn to the question of the location of hotels. As has been said, too much concentration on hotels affects not just the actual housing provision. Even where they are to be on non-housing land, as has been the tendency in some cases—there are some first-class examples of this in central London—the whole character of the areas concerned can be changed, often 1781 for the worse, from the point of view of the residents.
Social and economic changes are created where hotels dominate in large numbers—where there is, to use the ugly expression that someone used earlier, "hotelisation"—and the character begins to change for the worse. Hotels can make a valuable contribution to the community development of an area, but, where this happens, there can be serious change. They tend to create—this is not peculiar to London or to this country and it happens in many other counties where tourism has, so to speak, exploded into a vast industry in a short time—high-cost, inner dormitory areas instead of communities. This has an impact on shopping, prices and amenity questions in areas where large numbers of hotels tend to be concentrated.
One or two good, well-placed hotels can and do contribute to the life and community attractiveness of the areas in which they are situated. Therefore the Department, from its planning function point of view, in co-operation with the Greater London Council, the London boroughs and the authorities in other appropriate areas, should concentrate on trying to identify sites in outer suburbs, particularly where there are to be urban renewal schemes, into which hotels could be conveniently slotted without expense to housing provision and as a contribution to the community development of town or suburaban centres in urban renewal schemes.
A positive, strategic effort should be made to identify sites on British Rail station property—and I do not mean only the big central London stations—and on London Transport property at convenient points of communication in the outer London area where hotels could be developed as part of other types of high-density development and where it would be most convenient for such high-density development to proceed. I do not mean simply office development, for which estate managers in British Rail and London Transport have tended to press. We need high-density mixed development which includes hotels. Such sites would also be suitable for the provision of high-density housing accommodation for single people, such as 1782 students and hotel workers, which is not suitable for family housing.
Broadly speaking, there are two problems in connection with hotel provision in central London. One concerns new hotel development, with the impact which I have described, and the other concerns the question of conversion from housing, which has loomed so large in the debate. In addition to the controls which have been referred to and which I fully support, two or three other major policy steps should be taken. One has been dealt with by a number of hon. Members, namely, that furnished tenancies should be brought within the provisions relating to security, rent and other matters by which unfurnished tenancies are covered. We have been told time and again that there are difficulties about this. We know that.
One hon. Member opposite said that he wanted to see a new line drawn. Although we may argue about exactly where it should be drawn, the Opposition have already recommended in a number of speeches and public statements and documents where it should be drawn. My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann) said that it should be drawn between tenants who occupy furnished rooms or accommodation in owner-occupied homes and those who occupy property rented in the same way as any unfurnished property might be rented.
Any tenant of furnished accommodation who does not occupy furnished accommodation in an owner-occupier's home should come within the security of tenure and rent provisions. If provision were made to that effect in the Housing Finance Bill, it would be welcomed by the Opposition. If the Government were to table an amendment on those lines, we might quarrel with the detail and debate the precise form of it, but we should not oppose basically its principle. In fact, we propose to make such a proposition ourselves by way of amendment in Committee. I urge the Government to think again about this matter and to adopt the policy we suggest.
The answer to this problem in many instances is not planning control or security of tenure for furnished tenants but a decision by local authorities to buy properties in the areas we are discussing where there is the probability or strong 1783 possibility that the properties will be switched to other uses which will not serve the family needs in inner London. This would be a positive way by which we could preserve properties at reasonable rents for families in need. I certainly advocate it, because it is the only way in which we can positively ensure that accommodation is provided on a reasonable scale in inner London for families who are being squeezed out, not only by the pressure of conversion to hotels, but by all sorts of other pressures referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South.
§ Mr. Worsley
Does the hon. Gentleman want these properties necessarily to remain in the ownership of the local authority—what was once called "municipalisation"—or does he want the local authorities to set up housing trusts, as was done in the case of Dolphin Square?
§ Mr. Freeson
I was very flexible on this point when I was in the Department and touring the country urging local authorities to expand their housing programmes. I am just as flexible today. I believe in reducing the area of market speculation in this accommodation. If a satisfactory solution would be for local authorities to sponsor housing associations to do the job, I should be all in favour of devolution. I believe in extending the area of social control and ownership of this kind of property to ensure that families are able to remain in inner London where they want to live at reasonable cost and in decent conditions.
This would be a major way of stepping up the housing improvements campaign under the Housing Act, 1969, which both parties support. The level which we all want to see reached will not be achieved simply by issuing grants to property owners and owner-occupiers. We shall double and treble the campaign, which is what the situation demands, to modernise obsolescent property in inner London only if local authorities either sponsor housing associations or trusts or take direction action.
This requires Government backing. The Government must be prepared to say that this is the right policy and that they are prepared to give the necessary loan 1784 and block loan sanctions to local authorities to do this, whether directly or indirectly through housing associations. We therefore need an assertion of policy and intention from the Government to the effect that they think that this is the right policy and that they are prepared to back it up with the loan sanctions which local authorities will require.
I turn to the point which was stressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing). He spoke convincingly of the need for a much more thorough study of the housing market in London as a basis for policy-making at Government and G.L.C. level. We do not simply want another one-off study like the Milner Holland study. If we cannot have the sort of monitoring operation to which reference has been made in the debate, let us have another study equivalent to the Milner Holland study; but I should prefer a monitoring, continuous exercise rather than a once-for-all study which may become outdated by the facts even if it is basically sound.
The last suggestion which I want to make deals with the context in which we are operating. Ever since I was in the Department, and possibly earlier, I have been convinced that we need an overall urban renewal agency in our big city areas.
I do not expect a Ministerial statement today one way or the other, on such a major proposition, but I should like some assurance from the Minister—since this suggestion has been made, albeit briefly, on a number of occasions by myself and other people under different labels at different times—that at least this concept is being examined, or will be examined, by the Ministry in order to undertake the kind of overall monitoring, policy-making and executive action that London and other large metropolitan areas will require in order to deal, not only with the particular relationship of hotel expansion and conversion in the stress areas of inner London, but with the other stresses and impacts that are put on housing demands and needs in the inner London area from a variety of sources which we have not been concerned to discuss in any detail today.
§ 2.41 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Paul Channon)
This has been a very wide-ranging debate. I 1785 hope that I may have the indulgence of the House if I try to answer some of the points that have been made, ranging from a suggestion that we should move the capital, possibly to Wallsend, and to all sorts of other matters. There are two things that I shall treasure, and put in my list of quotations.
The first was the extremely moving tribute paid by the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Ernest G. Perry) to the wisdom, expertise and intelligence of Sir Desmond Plummer. I shall treasure that tribute, and I am sure that all hon. Members will wish to join me in it. I am grateful to the hon. Member for that tribute.
The second was the tribute paid by the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) to the work of the Department of the Environment. I shall draw my right hon. Friend's attention to that tribute.
I am glad that it is I who am replying to this debate because in the Department I have some peripheral responsibility for tourism as well as housing. I have some connection with ancient monuments, including the Tower of London. I hope that my hon. Friend found his visit to the Tower entirely satisfactory. I know the wide pressures of tourism in London and am also aware of the enormously increased numbers of people coming to London, and particularly to the Tower of London. The hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Freeson) also dealt with tourism.
A portion of this debate falls largely within the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. He has responsibilities for tourism, and I shall make sure that all the points that have been raised today are studied by the appropriate Ministers.
I congratulate the hon. Lady for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) on initiating this debate. At almost the same time last year she initiated a debate on another important matter concerning London's housing.
I shall try to deal with most of the hon. Lady's points, and those to which I do not refer today I shall study. I shall also try to answer most of the other detailed points that have been raised, but I expect that hon. Members will want me to concentrate mainly on London. One interesting point has emerged,how- 1786 ever, from the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol, North East (Mr. Adley), Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Cordle) and the hon. Member for Wallsend, namely, that a similar problem exists outside London. Up to now that problem has not been recognised to the same extent as it is in London. An interesting article in New Society made the same point yesterday; that this problem is arising outside London. Hitherto I have had no widespread evidence of it, but today's debate is perhaps a start.
The hon. Lady's Motion falls into two parts. First, she alleges that there has been a considerable move from unfurnished to furnished accommodation and also a frequent conversion of furnished lettings to hotel use. The hon. Lady also says that there is a mounting loss of normal housing accommodation. I shall try to deal with those points in turn. I cannot agree with all the terms of the Motion but it is broadly acceptable, and I would not suggest that the House should oppose it.
It is generally agreed that the London housing problem is an extremely acute one. The country's worst housing problems arise in London and it is essential that we should do what we can to increase London's housing stock and make sure that that stock is not reduced in ways that the hon. Lady has described.
I spend a great deal of my time trying to help cure the London housing problem. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Construction has asked me to take the chair of a small group—the London Action Group—which has now met to deal with London's housing problems. Its terms of reference are:To review regularly and at frequent intervals the progress of the drive to eliminate the London housing shortage and to take any action necessary to keep up its momentum.The London Action Group will be taking certain initiatives which will become clear to hon. Members before long.
On the point about an urban renewal agency, I would prefer to await the progress of the London Housing Office, which the London Boroughs Association is considering at the moment. We should like to have their views. The Group and I will be watching with great interest the progress of this suggestion and whether or not it comes off.
1787 I want to deal first with that part of the Motion which deals with loss of housing by hotel conversion. I was most interested in the hon. Lady's remarks, and in those of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Worsley), whose presence today is particularly relevant. I want to give the House what information I have. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, South (Mr. Scott), I admit that most of us have been strong in analysis but not quite so strong in terms of a solution to the problem that the hon. Lady pinpointed this morning.
I have no precise figure available of the amount of housing accommodation lost because of changes to hotel use, because the changes can take place without the local authority being aware of them. That is the nub of the problem. When we talk about solutions later on we must make sure that those solutions are based on relevant information, because if we cannot identify the problem and find out what is going on none of the proposed solutions put forward are worth anything.
In March, 1971, the G.L.C. estimated that the loss of housing accommodation, for the reason mentioned by the hon. Lady, was running at the rate of about 1,000 bed spaces a year. It is difficult to be sure about this, but there is some evidence that the rate has since been reduced, seemingly because there are changes in the pressure for hotel accommodation, that it has been possible for the authorities to take action to enforce planning control and, in particular, that the hotel grants available under the Development of Tourism Act are now over, so that the great rush may be falling off.
Although 1,000 bed spaces a year is relatively a small number in the context of the millions living in London, it is not small in the context of London's housing shortage, and I am very concerned that there should be no loss of existing normal housing accommodation to other uses without good reason. The Department of Environment has been having discussions with the three local authorities particularly concerned—Camden, Westminster, and Kensington and Chelsea. All three boroughs have been represented by their Members of Parliament in today's debate.
1788 The planning principles involved are quite clear. A change of use from normal housing accommodation to hotel use requires planning permission. The local planning authority can use its enforcement powers to require the restoration of the original use. It is the responsibility of the planning authority to decide whether enforcement action should be taken. An enforcement notice must allow not less than 28 days before it becomes effective, and during that time an appeal to my right hon. Friend can be made. In a case of any complexity, that usually involves a public inquiry.
Even when my right hon. Friend has issued his decision there can always be recourse to the courts on a point of law. Once an enforcement notice has been confirmed it is up to the local authority to prosecute if it is not complied with. The penalties for non-compliance are a fine of £400 in a magistrates' court or, on indictment, a fine of unlimited proportions, with a fine of £50 a day for continuing the offence—in the magistrates' court—or, on indictment, an unlimited fine. So there are very severe penalties which can be imposed by the courts for failure to comply.
The Town and Country Planning Act, 1968, also made a major change in the law and this may have some effect, too. Before then, enforcement action could not be taken against a use which had been established for four years. The 1968 Act removed that limitation, and action can now be taken against any change without planning permission after the beginning of 1964. As time goes on I think that this should prove to be of increasing value to local authorities in dealing with changes of use undertaken without planning permission, particularly, as has often been the case, where one of the difficulties is to establish the precise time at which the change of use took place.
Of course all of us know that the authorities attempting to deal with creeping change of use from residential to hotel use have a very difficult problem. One of the problems is where a house has been used for many years for taking in some lodgers and the scale of that use for that purpose gradually increases until the property becomes a boarding-house. No development would then be involved if it were incorporated into an hotel. Similarly, where parts of a dwellinghouse had been 1789 let out in rooms to long-term tenants, those rooms might subsequently be let on shorter terms and some increase in the number of rooms used for letting can take place and the rooms become used as an hotel.
The real problem, therefore, is to find ways and means of discovering when material changes of use have taken place without planning permission.
The local planning authorities concerned will be carefully considering the extent to which they can take action under existing powers. I know that there are difficulties in establishing, as it must be established in each individual case, whether, as a matter of fact and degree, a material change of use has taken place.
I cannot deal with any specific case in front of us at the present time because they may come to my right hon. Friend on appeal and no one would wish me to say anything which might prejudge a decision on appeal. But I can say, and, indeed, it was said by my right hon. Friend in his decision on the Chelsea Cloisters case, that on the planning merits of the conversion of residential properties to hotel use the general policy of the inner London boroughs not to accept hotel development which would cause loss of housing accommodation, either by demolition or conversion, has the full support of my right hon. Friend. I emphasise that.
The Chelsea Cloisters case was where a large number of flats in a purpose-built block had become used for hotel purposes. In relation to the majority of the flats where a change of use was alleged the facts were established to the satisfaction of my right hon. Friend and the enforcement notices were upheld in a decision earlier this month. The landlords have still the right of appeal to the courts, so my hon. Friend will understand that enforcement has not yet begun, and I had better not further comment on that at the moment. There are further appeals now before my right hon. Friend in relation to the same property, this time in respect of the alleged use of hostel accommodation for airline staff.
Here again, the House will not expect me to say anything about these current appeals, but, nevertheless, I think I can give some indication of the important 1790 principles which seem to me to flow from the Chelsea Cloisters decision. It will be appreciated that I am speaking only in general terms and that I cannot attempt to anticipate the views which the courts might take should a case come before them, and, as I have said, each case must be looked at on its own facts. So if I speak in guarded terms the House will understand why.
The extent of service provided by the management is one of the criteria in establishing whether a hotel use has been established. So is the degree of control exercised by the management. In addition, the case showed that control can effectively be exercised over change of use of part of a block of flats, even individual flats. On the other hand, it also shows that where limited services had in the past been available to occupants of the flats who could choose whether to use those services or not, this by itself did not establish a past hotel use.
Because of the difficulty of establishing at what point a change of use from housing to hotel takes place, particularly where the change has been gradual both in point of time and in the way in which the change has taken place, we have examined with those three inner London boroughs I have mentioned whether any quick changes in subordinate planning legislation could be made to enable this difficult and insiduous problem to be tackled effectively under planning powers. I may say we have no general representations from the local authority associations about this matter. We have had very energetic representations—
§ Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith
I have just had an opportunity, since speaking this morning, of seeing the minutes of the G.L.C. where there is an item—in the minutes I received this morning—suggesting registration might be a valuable help.
§ Mr. Channon
I will come to registration in a moment, if my right hon. Friend will allow me, but so far as I am aware we have not had formal representations. I note what my right hon. Friend has said and the point is a powerful and important one. I also note the interest of the London Boroughs Association in this matter, but I believe I am right in saying that the formal position is that we have had discussions so far with only the three inner London boroughs.
1791 The particular action we were asked to consider was an amendment of the Use Classes Order. It was suggested that by introducing a suitable definition of "hotel" it would be easier to establish when a material change of use had occurred. Alas, this is not as simple as one might have hoped. There is a very elaborate explanation of why it is not so simple, and whether I should burden the House with it I am not sure, but it is important. The Use Classes Order provides that no development is deemed to take place where there is a change of use within a class defined in the order. One of the classes in the order isuse as a boarding or guest house, a residential club, or a hotel providing sleeping accommodation".So it is possible to change from a boarding house or guest house to a hotel use without development taking place and, therefore, without planning permission.
§ Mr. Freeson
Would it not be possible to have a breakdown of a class into more than one, so that it would require the same kind of authority or permission to switch from one to another, rather than continue to group them all into one class?
§ Mr. Channon
I will certainly examine that. I hesitate to give an authoritative answer without taking legal advice. As at present advised I am told that it is not possible, but I will consider what the hon. Gentleman says.
The provisions of the Use Classes Order can have no influence on whether there has been a material change of use—and that is the crucial point and the question which has to be decided on the facts. I fear, therefore, that any extension of planning powers would have to be by way of amending legislation. This is a possibility which, we have agreed with the three London boroughs, should be examined. We shall examine it. I fear that any change in the law will be difficult, because there is a host of problems which one could cause while seeking to cure others.
For example, nobody would wish to introduce legislation so widely drawn that if a married couple were staying with the parents of either the husband or the wife and were paying for the accommodation provided, the premises would be regarded as having undergone a change of use. 1792 Nobody would wish to draw legislation so wide that that would happen simply because payment came into it. I agree that it is a lawyer's example, but it is the sort of thing that could happen. That is why we must be careful when drafting legislation in this sphere.
We will consult the local authority associations to try to determine whether the problem that exists outside London is similar to that existing in London. We will be seeking their views about the possible definitions concerning premises going into hotel use.
This is, of course, a problem that is particularly severe in inner London, and many hon. Members have concentrated on the position in London. The hon. Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann) referred to the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea including in a Private Bill—the Measure has been deposited today—provisions to deal with the problem by the introduction of a scheme for the registration of hotels. The House will not expect me to express a view on such a Bill without having seen it. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that the views which he and other hon. Members have expressed on this subject will have been noted and will be examined carefully.
There exist in the Development of Tourism Act provisions enabling an Order in Council to be made providing for registration by the tourist boards of hotels and other establishments at which sleeping accommodation is provided by way of trade or business. I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to the remarks that have been made about the possibility of introducing a scheme of registration for purposes rather different from those envisaged in that Act.
I shall also draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the problem created by the conversion to hotels of houses in areas of great housing pressure. The whole question is not how planning control might be made more effective in a particular case. The policy must be made clear and the pressures for hotel use spread over a wider area. In this connection I must point out that it is up to local authorities whether to grant 1793 planning permission for hotels. In other words it is up to them to decide what policy they will follow in the granting of such permission.
As to the Minister's policy, we have in the past year been in consultation about the preparation of a development control policy note on hotels. This has nearly reached finality and I hope that the note will be produced shortly. It will give guidance to planning authorities, developers, advisers and inspectors on current Ministerial policy in relation to hotels. It will deal, among other things, with the special problem of London, drawing attention to the acute shortage of housing and the fact that a high proportion of foreign tourists come to stay in London and mostly stay in the central area. This has been pointed out by many hon. Members today.
The note will spell out in detail the main principles that should be followed in considering proposals for a new hotel, including the principle spelt out in the Chelsea Cloisters decision that a significant loss of housing is unacceptable in central London. The publication of this note should strengthen the hands of planning authorities by showing that the Government support them in this matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Adley) pointed out that the British Tourist Authority has for some years concentrated its advertising overseas on recommending visitors to come to London. The authority is now broadening its advertising to attract people to Britain over a wider range of areas. I agree with what my hon. Friend said about Northumberland and I hope overseas visitors will come here to see, among other things, the Roman Wall in that part of the country and will admire the work that is done by the Department of the Environment in looking after it.
A larger amount of new hotel accommodation found its way into the pipeline because of the Development of Tourism Act. As this becomes available on an increasing scale, pressure to take housing out of residential use and convert it into hotel accommodation will become less. This is at present only a hope but I believe that there is evidence to show that it will happen.
1794 In his short but important speech my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Dr. Glyn) spoke about change of use. In 1968 the concept of the stop notice was introduced and the then Labour Government decided that such notices should be confined and should not be served in relation to houses. That is as the law stands under the 1968 Act.
A stop notice can require operations to cease while an appeal is proceeding. It would be difficult to apply a stop notice in respect of a change of use because of the need to establish the facts and so on. However, we are instituting a review of the procedures for the issue of stop notices and are looking to see whether the enforcement procedures could be further improved along the lines my hon. Friend suggested.
I turn to the second point made by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South concerning the equally important question of furnished and unfurnished accommodation. The House may be interested to know the figures for privately rented accommodation in Britain. Unfortunately, the recent census has not yet given me all the figures I should like to give to the House. In 1960 the figure was 4.2 million; in 1966 it was 3.3 million; and we estimate it to be 2.8 million in 1970. Those are the most recent figures of which we have certain knowledge. There is always an element of doubt. In 1966 there were about 553,000 furnished tenancies, many of which were shared. Of those, about 230,000 were in Greater London, roughly divided as nearly two-thirds in inner London and a little more than one-third in outer London.
The hon. Lady said that the proportion of owner-occupied dwellings in London was falling. I have the total figures for London; she may be right about inner London. But owner-occupation in London as a whole—this tends to prove the point I shall make shortly—has risen in the past 10 years from 36.3 per cent. to 45.5 per cent., which is still incidentally below the national average. That supports my belief that on the whole there is not so much evidence that unfurnished lettings have been widely converted into furnished ones, although instances do arise. Many people, when an unfurnished dwelling becomes vacant, much prefer to sell it or occupy it rather than let it furnished or unfurnished. The 1795 evidence of the increase of owner-occupation is a factor which tends to support that case. Certainly the evidence given to the Francis Committee also tends to support it.
There is much more of a shift into owner-occupation rather than furnished lettings. Such data as is available suggests that the majority of dwellings are either transferred into owner occupation or disappear in the course of slum clearance if they are in a slum clearance area.
I am very concerned about the decline in the private rented sector. This decline has been partially offset by an increase in the accommodation provided by local authorities and housing associations in London which has risen from 578,000 units in 1966 to about 700,000 in 1970. I want to halt the decline in rented accommodation in the private sector, but I have an awful suspicion that the hon. Lady would not like to do so.
§ Mr. Channon
That suspicion applies also to her hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East. We must get this matter straight. Hon. Members have frequently made it perfectly clear that they have no particular wish to halt the decline in private accommodation.
§ Mr. Freeson
I hope that the Minister will not treat the matter as though it is a doctrinaire division. I sought to avoid all reference to doctrinaire views and to base my urging of municipalisation for some of these properties at risk on the facts of the situation rather than any preconceived idea. If the Minister persists in retaining these properties in the private sector, they will not survive for ordinary families. The evidence shows this.
§ Mr. Channon
I note the hon. Member's views. Certainly I have no wish to be unduly controversial in this debate, which has been extremely well-tempered, and there is no need to be controversial. But I must point out what the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) said during the debate on the Gracious Speech on 8th November. Referring to private rented housing, he said:Even if it were desirable, no one I know of thinks the Government's proposals will reverse this trend and spark off new investment 1796 in private rented housing. Most of us on this side of the House would not think this desirable even if it were possible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th November, 1971; Vol. 825, c. 662.]There is, therefore, a difference between the two sides of the House, inasmuch as I deplore the decline and the hon. Member for Willesden, East does not. But that does not mean to say that he does not wish to take action in a different way. Our approaches vary in that respect. I deplore the decline.
I cannot pretend that the Government's proposals will lead to an increase in private rented accommodation but I hope that they will have some effect in halting the decline now taking place and on the extraordinary amount of dilapidated accommodation which it has been impossible to improve until now. There are very interesting figures in this regard based on statistics of the effects in other countries and here of a policy of rigid rent control in the private sector.
On the question of security, the House will not expect me to go further than my right hon. and hon. Friends have done in the past. There is a genuine difference of view between the two sides of the House on this matter. I base myself on the Report of the Francis Committee. The evidence given to that Committee on this matter was very strong. [Interruption.] That is my view. The hon. Gentleman has a different view. Whether the Committee was right or wrong on this issue, the hon. Gentleman will not contest that it dealt with the subject very fully and issued a solemn warning about the effects of any extension of security of tenure to furnished tenants. [Interruption.] Miss Evans issued her own report, which was carefully thought out and which I have read with interest and with care.
The Francis Committee as a whole held that such an extension would in all probability result in a serious reduction in the supply of furnished accommodation for letting, without any compensatory addition to that for unfurnished letting. The Committee thought that that risk was unacceptable in the conditions now prevailing in stress areas and likely to have grave consequences.
The Francis Committee thought that the effect would be to buy a benefit for furnished tenants in occupation at the 1797 time the measure came into force at the cost of greater difficulty and hardship for those seeking rented accommodation in the months and years thereafter.
I know that there is a difference of view on this issue, and no one can be sure who is right. The view that the Government took at the time was that if there was this difference of view and if there was the grave risk that the Francis Committee mentioned, it would be irresponsible for us to allow this risk to be taken. That was why we took the view which was announced to the House at the time of the publication of the Report.
§ Mr. Freeson
The Under-Secretary will appreciate that he is now discussing what is probably the most important continuing element of controversy in housing. It is true that the Francis Committee came down against extending security of tenure in this way. It is also true that the vast majority of those who have read that Report, whether they be experts or not, have concluded that this part of the Report was the weakest part of the Report from the point of view of firm evidence. What is more, it is known to some of us—I trust that it is known to the Minister—that during questioning at certain meetings since the publication of the Report, Francis himself has said that this was a feeling that the Committee had and that there was no evidence one way or the other.
The Minister for Housing and Construction has indicated from time to time, when this matter has been raised, that although the Government have reached a conclusion on this issue, they would be prepared to change their minds if some clear delineation of procedure to deal with the matter could be put to them—for instance, the type of thing we have discussed today. I hope that what the hon. Gentleman has now said does not mean that the Government have continued to close their mind to a change of view.
§ Mr. Channon
The Government's minds are never closed on such matters. The Government's position has not changed since March. Whatever the hon. Gentleman's views may be about the merits or otherwise of the Report, the Francis Committee, in almost the most carefully emphasised section of its 1798 Report, warned against the very grave risks of taking this course. This is an authoritative Report of a Committee which was set up, not by a Tory Government, but by the Labour Government. No one can say that we rigged the Committee.
I accept that it is impossible to have hard evidence one way or the other on this issue. If there is a risk that to follow this course would dry up the supply of furnished accommodation and make the problems of London's distressed areas worse than they are now, I believe that the Government were entirely right to take the view that they did.
The hon. Lady raised the question of rent allowances in the furnished sector, too. No doubt we shall consider this matter in Committee when we come to consider the Housing Finance Bill. For the moment, I do no more than refer the hon. Lady to what my right hon. Friend said on Second Reading about this matter which has caused widespread concern and great interest throughout the country. Although there will not be a great many sittings of the Committee—[Interruption]—I am sure that one of them will be devoted to this important issue. The Opposition have given an assurance that they do not wish to prolong the sittings unduly.
I turn now to the remarks made recently by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg) about unfurnished tenancies. At the moment, my hon. Friend is away on the business of the House. However, I have spoken to him about it and he knows that I intend to discuss it today.
My hon. Friend alleged that there was a loophole in the Housing Finance Bill. I must say straight away that it does not in fact exist. In the Bill we are ending the freezing provisions of the Rent Act, 1968. Those provisions meant, very briefly, that a landlord could not generally increase the rent of a dwelling without going to the rent officer. It was hoped in this way to ensure that in a situation of scarcity, which in the centre of our conurbations is extremely serious, this would not lead to a runaway escalation of rents. In fact, the evidence is that there has been no runaway escalation. On the contrary, the fair rents system has worked very well. This is one of the reasons 1799 why we are extending it to the public sector. But it would be wrong to conclude that one of the reasons for its success was the freezing provisions, because, as the Francis Committee found, the freeze was, and is, widely ignored and tenants and landlords are able to agree rents without going to the rent officer. This does not lead to excessive rents because the landlord and the tenant know that the rent officer is always in the background if required. It is this situation which we are now recognising.
Of course, there is always the danger that some landlords will try to exploit up to the hilt the existence of a shortage. Therefore, in our rent agreement provisions in the Bill, we are including certain important safeguards for tenants.
First, a sitting tenant who is asked to agree a rent must be told at the time of his right to go to the rent officer subsequently if, having made an agreement, he changes his mind and decides that he wants a fair rent registered. Secondly, he must also be told that if he decides not to agree, the security of tenure that he enjoys under the Rent Act and which is his right under the Rent Act is in no way impaired. I agree with the hon. Member for Kensington, North that there are still very large numbers of people who do not know their rights. It is very important that they should.
I should add that for controlled tenancies which are becoming decontrolled and moving into a fair rent sector, there is the additional safeguard that agreement forms will be prescribed with the provisions that I have mentioned. These forms will be submitted for scrutiny to the local authority, which will be able to refer the rent to the rent officer if it thinks fit.
It is because of the existence of these safeguards that I cannot accept that the alarm at these proposals is justified. I see no grounds for suggesting that with the introduction of agreements, there will be the dramatic increase in rents to which some hon. Members have referred. If a tenant is fully aware of his right to go to the rent officer at any time, I cannot see why this will cause him to agree a rent which is higher than a fair rent, especially when fair rents can be looked up at the rent officer's office.
My hon. Friend also referred to the alleged practice of a property company 1800 making an agreement at an inflated rent with a suitable tenant and that rent being registered by the rent officer. It was alleged that because that inflated rent had been registered by the rent officer, when the rent officer came to look at other flats in the same block he would also have to register those at inflated rents. This is fallacious. The inflated rent will not be registered as the fair rent by the rent officer. He has a statutory duty to register a fair rent, and only a fair rent. If the rent submitted to him, by either the landlord or the tenant or jointly, is not fair, he will call a consultation and, when he has given the opportunity to both landlord and tenant to put their views, he will set a fair rent.
If the landlord quotes examples of agreed rents which are much higher than the existing level of fair rents, the rent officer will of course assess the value of that evidence. There can be no guarantee that those rents will not include something for scarcitiy value, but clearly the rent officer must have regard to his "comparables" and not simply increase his level of fair rents because of one or two examples of inflated agreed rents which are quoted at him. On the contrary, we hope that those who have agreed inflated rents will immediately go to the rent officer to have a fair rent registered.
Hon. Members have raised many anxieties and I shall study them with great care. All the subjects we have been discussing reflect the general London housing problem, which is largely the reason for all the other problems we have considered. The only solution is to tackle the London housing problem at its roots. The House will be pleased to learn, although it is perhaps only a straw in the wind at this stage, that progress is being made.
§ Mr. Channon
The hon. Gentleman changes his argument depending on whether we have a Labour Government and Conservative councils or vice versa. When things were going badly he said that Conservative councils were at fault, and when they were going well he said that it was the Labour Government's work. That argument is circular. It need not blind us to the fact that things are going a great deal better.
1801 I hope that starts in London will be up this year. Improvement grants are 50 per cent. up on 1970, and we are having a large improvement campaign next year. Slum clearance is running at a high level, about 60 per cent. up on 1970. It is never possible to do enough in London, because more will always need to be done, but there are welcome signs in new building, slum clearance and improvements. The subsidy system will also have a major impact on the finances of some of the inner London boroughs in the areas of worst stress. The hon. Lady's own borough will receive enormous benefit. I wish that the hon. Lady were on the Housing Finance Bill Committee to be able to express her gratitude for our having provided that money for her borough. Perhaps we can hear that on Report.
I am engaged in the London Action Group, which is involved in the search for more land to enable more houses to be built. The hon. Member for Kensington, North wondered whether there was enough land in London at present. The Greater London Development Plan figures clearly show that there is.
I say all this because it is the totality of our efforts to deal with the London housing problem that will make an impact on the more limited matters we have been discussing, the conversion of housing to hotel use and the question of furnished and unfurnished accommodation.
§ Mr. Channon
Yes, Sir. That is certainly very important. I must not delay the House any longer because other hon. Members wish to speak, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will do that.
The Government are determined to give the maximum priority to the drive to improve London's housing conditions. We welcome the hon. Lady's Motion and the debate, and we shall study very carefully everything that has been said this afternoon.
§ 3.24 p.m.
§ Mrs. Lena Jeger
With the leave of the House, I should like to reply very briefly.
1802 I very much appreciate the number of hon. Members who have taken part in the debate, which has been very useful and thoughtful.
Some hon. Members referred to my luck in the Ballot, but I should like to make it clear that I have been a Member of the House since 1953, apart from the occasion when there was a brief aberration on the part of my constituents, and this is the first time I have been in this fortunate position.
I selected the Motion because I knew that many hon. Members feel great concern about the housing position in London, and I limited it to two specific points because the subject is so vast. I hope that when the Minister has time to read through the debate he will give further thought to what I believe is an irrelevant dichotomy between furnished and unfurnished accommodation.
I readily appreciate the remarks of the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Worsley), who suggested that we must find a different place to draw the line. The impact of legislation should not depend on whether there are a few sticks of furniture in a room or not. A much more important differentiation is whether the person is letting accommodation in his own home. That is the kind of differential which we should have. I wish we could get an utterly new approach to legislation, which would be a landlord-tenant legislation, forgetting about sticks of furniture as being the basis. Then I think that we would be able to take a big step forward in our thinking.
I am sure that the debate will have been useful because it will have given some indication of their rights to many tenants, especially tenants who are nervous because of the evidence of creeping hotel use in their blocks, which is at the stage where the position is not quite right for enforcement by the local authority, and where there is an ambivalent situation. One block in my constituency has recently been bought by Grand Metropolitan Hotels, and everyone there is rather nervous. I hope they will be reassured to some extent by the debate.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will look again at the arguments on the use of the Use Classes Order. I still think that paragraph 11 needs breaking down. 1803 There is nothing secret about the recondite semantics of planning law, and I think that it is up to the draftsmen to find a formula which meets the difficulty rather than that we should have to put the difficulty of our Procrustean bed to the draftsmen.
This debate has been in some ways rather technical but friendly, and it has taken place against the background of a terrible social problem. I have begun to feel a little cold sitting here—it is a bit chilly—but I recalled that the latest survey showed that 11,000 single people will be sleeping rough in the London area tonight, either outdoors or at railway stations, while 2,000 families are in welfare accommodation and thousands more families are living in accommodation which should entitle them, on any decent definition, to be classified as homeless if we give any real meaning to the word "home".
Although the technical discussion must go on, I hope that it will be with a sense of urgency, with a sense of mounting impatience, which will be quite justified. I thank the Under-Secretary of State for the time and attention he has given to this wide-ranging debate, and I look forward to giving him a great deal more trouble in the future on the same subject.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House notes both the increasing change from unfurnished to furnished accommodation, with resultant higher rents and comparative freedom from control and the frequent conversion of furnished lettings to hotel use, resulting in a mounting loss of normal housing accommodation; and calls upon the Government to take the necessary steps to reverse these trends in the interest of people most in need of homes.