HC Deb 09 August 1972 vol 842 cc1799-816

3.17 p.m.

Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)

I must declare a small interest in this subject in that I am an unpaid director of a South of England building company which I joined two or three years ago mainly to find out what goes on. What happens with this company also happens with many others. We no longer tender as we did for public contracts because inflation now renders profit or loss margins precarious. Our main work has become speculative house building. Houses we sold a year ago at £5,500 now fetch £9,000 and up. This is not out of the ordinary. Crawley new town authority, for example, is now asking £10,000 for houses which fetched £8,000 upwards in April and £6,000 at the end of last year. I calculate that for a young couple a mortgage of £9,000 means £65 a month over 35 years.

So, at least in the South-East, where one-third of the population resides, we now have the £5,000 council house without land and the £10,000 house for sale with land. Many councils which apply the Parker Morris standard find the first of these cannot be built within the Department's yardstick without direct labour. The second, in many places, is losing quality because, alas, inflation pares standards as well as raises costs. Building land at £10,000 an acre and up inevitably pushes down the quality of some houses and attracts bad builders. I am deeply troubled by the number of people who are investing £10,000 in such houses even though they will pay in depreciated currency.

Reverting to the company, it would pay us best not to build houses at all. Between the acquisition of land and building, even without undue delay, the value of much land in South-East England and the West Midlands today is rising by more than the prospective profit on houses. So if we can build houses today it very often pays us not to sell them, and if we have land with planning permission it pays even more handsomely not to build on it. This seems to me to be a recipe for social disaster, and, while fully weighing and giving all credit to the Minister's proposals of last April, I do not take the view that those proposals will go to the root of the trouble.

I come to the conclusion that there are a number of factors. One factor is the amount of land with planning permission now being held but not used. The Standing Conference on London and the South-East Regional Planning puts the figure conservatively at 120,000 houses plus another 200,000 houses on land for which permission could be got. The second factor is longer-range investment by European and British finance houses in certain farmland. I ask, although it is not strictly relevant to the debate, whether the figures published this week by the Institute of Agricultural Economics at Oxford are anywhere near the mark. If so, the soaring prices of some farmland will eventually distort and grievously damage the pattern of agriculture in the South.

The two factors I mention add to the following absurd paradox. On the one hand, we have genuine builders desperately short of land on which to build and paying ludicrous prices for what they can get and, on the other hand, we have a lot of land with outline and detailed planning permission held by land holders, development companies and some local authorities, and simply by sitting on the land these land holders can, and do, make between 10 and 20 times, and even more, on their original investment. To put it quite bluntly, they are in effect profiteering from prospective house purchasers, many of them young couples. I take the view, and I am sorry to say it, that unless we act to remedy this situation we shall not readily be forgiven for it.

What should the Government do? First, they must get the measure of what we are up against. I am not absolutely confident that they have yet done so. I do not dismiss the April measures, some of them excellent. I think that they will work, but will work slowly and inflation will overtake some of them.

The levies and taxes on land that we have tried since the war have failed. It is true, as the Prime Minister has reminded us, that we have a capital gains tax; but what is the objection to the tried Australian or Canadian progressive tax on land with planning permission which is held but not used? On balance, I prefer the fiscal to the compulsory purchase approach. If local authorities are simply invited by the Minister to weigh in with compulsory purchase orders on this land and pass it on to someone who will use it, ratepayers and taxpayers will pay heavily and some injustice may be done to individuals. I want to see the sort of tax which the State of Victoria has used to control development in the greater Melbourne area, and thereby kept down prices.

Why does not the Minister try a tax of, say, x per cent. on land valued by the district valuer which has had outline planning permission for two years? Then let him double that tax on land which has had detail planning for two years. I am sure that we would be surprised by the consequences of doing just that. I am advised by those who know more about the subject than I do that land prices would probably fall.

Again, though this is subsidiary, I set great store by the £80 million made available to local authorities on assembling land, because this costly public servicing has discouraged some from making land available. I also urge the Minister to take a long, hard look at the building industry—I do not mean the big operators—because, frankly, it is in a mess. It is saddled with an obsolete apprentice system and an acute shortage of skilled workers. It was absolutely right, of course, to make sub-contractors pay tax, but that was done too late in the day and it has inflated costs.

The root of our difficulty is the fact that after the credit squeeze of the late 1960s the building industry simply could not meet the pent-up demand of last year and of this. Some of that was to be expected, but some I attribute to weaknesses in the building industry which we must get right.

Again, I refer the Minister to the remarks of the Standing Conference's Technical Panel last month: Negotiations among owners, builders, market advisers and financiers, and with public authorities about the provision of public services, can be complex and time-consuming so that some years can pass between initial approval of start and building. Bluntly, a number of planning authorities need brassing up. They are dilatory and inconsistent. That does not go for all of them, but it certainly goes for some of them. If my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) were here I am sure he would add "What about money supply?" That is a very relevant question.

I do not expect my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, even with his very wide responsibilities, to find the remedies to the evil consequencs of inflation, which basically is what we are talking about—the rise in retail prices since 1962 of 60 per cent. and, even worse in this context, expectation of continued inflation. That, as has been observed in another place, corrupts and distorts the whole basis of the society in which we live, but I venture to say by way of conclusion that a blunter avowal of some of these difficulties would help, We shall not get, nor shall we deserve to get, the concerted and urgent action we need if we wrap around the real evils too thickly with hopefulness.

3.26 p.m.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

Listening to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) it seemed to me that we had gone back to the idea of the speculators' hoarding of land, which is the usual way in which the public blame the Government. Land speculators and land hoarding have been blamed as a major cause of our present shortages. Figures have been mentioned by the Standing Conference on London and South-East Regional Planning which show more permits for house building than have been actually taken up and turned into bricks and mortar.

The report says that a pool of about 150,000 planning permissions for houses remain to be acted on in the South-East, excluding Greater London, but this figure has to be qualified. Existing permissions are often owned by persons who are not in a position to develop. Some are very old, some are intended for council housing, and some of the land may be sterilised or blocked in by other land.

A recent survey by the National House-Builders Registration Council in Hertfordshire showed that of some 700 acres of undeveloped land with outline planning permission in only 237 acres was lack of development deliberate. Nearly 200 acres of this land was in the ownership of local authorities, and the largest single private owner was a golf club. I therefore feel that we must not make too much of this idea of land being hoarded by the speculator.

The amount of land built on in the United Kingdom was only 4.3 per cent. in 1970. We have 9.56 per cent. of green belt and 9.02 per cent. devoted to national parks. The rest, over 70 per cent., has still not been built on, provided as green belt or accounted for by national parks. The recent boom has been almost entirely supported by the easy credit after several difficult years. Government measures to increase house building for home ownership has added to the problem. By the success of our initiative, we have created the problem—by the inflow of funds into the building societies, the option mortgage scheme, which was made more flexible, the abolition of stamp duty on mortgages, the abolition of the money ceiling on local authority lending, the abolition of the betterment levy and the halving of SET.

Mr. Christopher Tugendhat (Cities of London and Westminster)

I agree with my hon. Friend about the Government's accomplishments in this respect, but is it not extremely disturbing that in Greater London, not an area in which land lacks sewerage or other facilities, the number of planning permissions given has exceeded the number implemented in every year since 1965, with the exception of the first half of 1971, and that in the City of Westminster we have seen twice as many planning permissions given as have been implemented? Would my hon. Friend agree that this is particularly disturbing in the light of the various other considerations he mentioned?

Mr. Hill

The London problem is one all on its own. As I come from an urban constituency, it is a problem for which I should not like to answer.

However, there are now unmistakeable signs that this escalation is being curtailed. House prices have passed their peak, and this must mean a corresponding flattening out in land prices. I prophesy that certainly by the end of the year the acute problem will be over. But the prices will not thaw and melt away. Consequently, what can we do to solve this problem? The chief problem seems to be that town planners have little understanding of the commercial implications of their decisions. Firstly, they try to balance the demand for all kinds of accommodation. This produces distortions in the market. Therefore, it seems that the best way to tackle this problem, instead of just saying, "More land must be released on to the market", is to make sure that more land is released on to the market.

I should like the Department of the Environment to have about six inspectors of planning who could be sent to county planning authorities to work with the planning departments for a month at a time to obtain confirmation for the Secretary of State that land releases for both commercial and housing needs are being dealt with at a rate in advance of requirements, and that the price of both houses and land held is not supported at a high level due to the county planning officer's drip-feed method of land release.

Another very good idea, in the long term, is the Domesday Book for the South East. This must eventually be an excellent way of identifying land. These Domesday Books should cover every region and should be open to public scrutiny.

Returning to the immediate short term, today I was disappointed at my right hon. Friend's inability at the Dispatch Box to answer Question No. 23, although this is no reflection upon him.

It was a perfectly straightforward request for information on the number of permissions for private dwellings in Bromley in 1969, 1970 and 1971, and the number built. How can a worthwhile exercise on the ability of a planning office be mounted if the Department of the Environment does not have the initial detailed information? It is essential that the Department gets the detailed information.

I feel that there should be a special grant to local authorities which, by their sheer circumstances, are almost afraid to release land for development. They should receive an acreage grant to enable them to deal with all the services and social requirements of an area, such as schools, roads, welfare services, bus services, and so on, which are demanded by a modern society. If an acreage grant were given to the smaller local authorities that might make them more amenable to releasing land ahead of requirements.

My right hon. Friend will receive much advice this afternoon, but I hope that he will keep in mind the two suggestions of an acreage grant and the need for an inspectorate to check on county planning officers.

3.35 p.m.

Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)

This is a short debate and I shall not enter into all the points of argument which could be more usefully de- ployed against the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. James Hill) if it were a long debate.

We ought to welcome the Minister this afternoon. I have been chasing him for six months trying to get him to come to the House to talk about his proposals on land prices and housing costs. I am indebted to the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) for initiating the debate.

The Government's record on land and house prices is appalling. In the last 12 months the Opposition have presented proposals of such a concrete nature that they might have dealt with some of the problems arising, and the Minister has been considering them ever since. After the last debate on this subject, his right hon. Friend said that I had made a constructive speech and that he would consider my proposals. But he has not written me one line since then.

The Government have shown a far greater consideration and sympathy for land speculators and profiteers in housing than they have for looking after the interests of ordinary people. To say that the answer is to build more houses, which is what the right hon. Gentleman has been repeating over the last 12 months, is a nonsense. Before the houses are built in the requisite numbers to deal with the situation, the sharks and crooks in land and building will have gone home with the loot anyway. I do not wish to quote examples of profiteering. There are too many such examples, and they have been quoted time and again in the House and in the Press.

But let us not believe for a moment that this problem is restricted to London and the South-East. The Bristol and South-West Building Society issued a report last week relating to the whole of the South-West. The problem applies equally to areas I represent as it does to London and the South-East. I give one example which is illustrative of the point I want to make. I refer to a case in Mitcheldean in my constituency, where a builder, on the basis of land bought years ago, has increased his profits by thousands of £s per house at the expense of the workers of Rank Xerox, by progressive increases in each phase of the development of the site. This is one of the rackets that have been occurring all over the country.

Today land speculators and builders in many instances who have had land banks in their possession for long periods are literally robbing people of thousands of £s, and these people cannot afford to be robbed. If we had anything of a moral society, we would not be talking today in terms of simply finding methods by which we could stop this racket; we would be prosecuting these people for obtaining money under false pretences in the way that they do.

There is only one way to deal with this stituation, and that is to impose the kind of progressive tax to which the right hon. Member for Ashford referred, a tax based upon the number of years, becoming progressively more swingeing from the time at which permission to build was granted by the local authority. I would fix that tax, after two or three years, perhaps, at such a level that land holders would pay an amount in excess of any profits that they made consequent upon apportioning the cost per house on the piece of land and over and above that which they purchased it for.

Sir Gilbert Longden (Hertfordshire, South-West)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Loughlin

No. I want to give an opportunity for other hon. Members to make their speeches. All right, I will give way.

Sir Gilbert Longden

I do not dissent from what the hon. Gentleman says, but how would he prevent the purchaser from paying the tax?

Mr. Loughlin

It is always difficult to stop the purchaser from paying a tax. We must devise ways and means of doing that. I am sorry about this, but I did it only because of the grin on the face of the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse), who assumed that I did not want to give way. The difficulty is that as soon as a tax is imposed the whole of an industry engages in devious ways of avoiding it. The Treasury should have people to ensure that the tax is not avoided. This is the only progressive way. Other countries do it. I would seek to ensure that profiteers would not make any profit in this respect.

Local authorities should have compulsory purchase powers to acquire land where planning permission has not been taken up within a reasonable period so that they can build houses, in conjunction with the building industry, for persons who are active or long resident in the area of the housing authority. In such cases there should be conditions of sale to ensure that no killing will take place as the result of any reduction in price arising from such a policy, so that the local authority would lay down conditions whereby, if there was a reduction in the total cost of the house consequent upon the compulsory purchase of the land, the purchaser would be restricted as to the period in which he could sell the house, or he would sell back to the local authority, as some progressive local authorities are doing at present.

I, like many hon. Members, have seen how speculative builders have been able to get away with murder by the use of discretionary grants from local authorities. It is time that the Minister for Housing and Construction or the Minister for Local Government and Development told local authorities that discretionary grants, although it is desirable to maintain the housing stock, should be used to help people who want to build or improve houses for themselves to live in and not to sell at a speculative price or to have as a second home. Local authorities must be told that their job is to give discretionary grants to people who really want homes and not to those who want to make profits, nor to those who want second homes.

Finally, to some extent I agree that the planning procedures should be examined. I am sick and tired of the Gloucestershire planning authority refusing planning permission for people who have a little land in their own area which has been in the family for a long time and who want to build a house for members of their family on that piece of land but whose application is turned down by the local planning authority and by the county planning authority only for it to be found later that the area is developed by a speculative builder who has been granted planning permission.

One of the consequences of the present policies followed by many planning authorities is that they are destroying villages and communities and are trying to apply urban planning principles to rural development. It is time that the Government faced this situation and told planning authorities that, given certain safeguards, a man who has a piece of land of his own and wishes to develop it and build a house of his own should not be refused planning permission and exposed to the activities of speculative builders, as is happening in Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire.

The Minister has a responsibility in this matter, because it is not something that can be resolved in the sweet by and by. People are trying to get houses and they are fastening albatrosses round their necks for 25 to 30 years because of the Government's neglect to stop speculative builders from making these killings.

3.46 p.m.

The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr. Julian Amery)

My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) has done a service by raising a matter which can justifiably be described as of national concern, although there are wide sections of the population which are not directly affected. The rented section is not directly affected, though it might be indirectly affected if building costs were to rise too fast. Owner-occupiers are not adversely affected except in the purely economic sense of having the satisfaction of seeing an important capital asset appreciate considerably in value.

The problem to which my right hon. Friend has drawn attention is a very real problem for young married couples, for those on lower incomes who aspire to own their own homes, and for the parents of both categories. Homes are inevitably, naturally and rightly an emotional subject. So is the thought of profiteering in the matter of homes.

If light is to be thrown on this problem, we must look at it dispassionately, almost clinically. The first question to be asked is: how much have house prices risen in comparison with earnings and other prices? An interesting article which appeared in the Financial Times the other day showed that over the period since devaluation in 1967 there has been for much of the country—for the North and even for the Midlands—a close correla- tion between the rate of increase in house prices and rising earnings. Although this is true of much of the country, it is manifestly not true of the South and the South-East, where the increase is much more marked and much more dramatic, and where one-third of the population live.

The next question is: what has caused this increase? On the one side, there is the increase in money available for purchasing in real wages and salaries. There is the increased availability of credit and the underlying trend, possibly stimulated by the return to office of the Conservative Government but it has been true all along, from tenanted occupation to home ownership.

The one great change which has taken place since 1970 is that hundreds of thousands of people who never dared to think that home ownership would be within their reach now want their own homes and have the means to buy them. Unless we understand this deep social change we shall not understand or be able to grapple with the problem. It is not a case of people who always expected to buy a house being shut out of the market by rising prices. It is a case of many more people who never thought of buying their own homes now banging on the market door and bidding up the price.

In so putting the matter I am presenting it as an economic problem, for that is what it is in part. It is also a social and human problem. It is about people who want to buy homes.

It would be quite attractive to Ministers to go about the country saying "We have stabilised home prices". But it would not help people to get homes. Of course, the better-off people will always be able to afford the deposit and the repayment even if we run into another mortgage famine. But the people whom we are trying to help, whom both sides of the House are concerned about, are the young married couples buying a home for the first time, the lower-paid people who want to become home owners and those who want to move to a better house than the one they have today. These are the people whom we want to help. If we were to ration mortgage finance we would be excluding precisely these people from any chance of getting their own homes.

The alternative approach, the alternative to cutting off demand, is to increase supply until it catches up with effective demand. This is the yardstick by which I hope the House will judge the Government's performance. We have tried to do two things—to ensure that the potential buyers have the necessary finance to buy, and to give confidence to the builders and those who produce the raw materials to get on with the job of building.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)


Mr. Amery

I am sorry; I cannot give way to the hon. Gentleman. I rose to speak later than I had expected.

It is a question of giving confidence to builders and those who supply them with their essential raw materials. A basic raw material of building is land. My right hon. Friend was completely right to devote as much of his speech as he did to the subject of land. The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) talked about hoarding land. I doubt whether there is a great deal of serviced land hoarded at present. Prices are very high—I would think probably near the top—and I would think that very few people are holding on to land in the expectation of a greater increase in price. The problem is not so much about land being hoarded and how to get it into circulation. The problem is to look ahead and make sure that in two or three years from now builders can look at least that far ahead and be sure that developers and local authorities can make sure that land is available to them.

I should like to join with my right hon. Friend in paying tribute to the Secretary of State and the Minister for Local Government and Development for what they have done—it has been of critical help to me—in making more land available. As the House knows, we are making £80 million available to local authorities mainly for the assembling of land for private home development. We are asking local authorities, particularly those in the pressure areas, to compile "Domesday Books" of suitable land which could be made available within the next five years. We are giving loan sanction for sewerage works connected with land assembly schemes in advance of need. The new towns will make a major contribution of 5,000 acres by 1975.

I can make one new announcement this afternoon. Local authorities will be allowed to use part of the £80 million of additional loan sanction to cover expenditure on infrastructure on sites acquired under the loan sanction itself.

There has been a good deal of anxiety expressed by my right hon. Friend and others about planning appeals. I dare say that the machinery does work too slowly, but we are increasing the number of inspectors from 143 to 200, and the processing of appeals has already been speeded up. I have encouraged developers to put in appeals if they are not satisfied with the answers that they have been getting. For the first six months of 1970 there were 2,267 appeals received by the central Government relating to the South-East. For the first six months of this year the number was 3,479, and that shows progress. [Laughter.] I think it shows very considerable progress. These are appeals received for decision by the Secretary of State.

The most acute land problem concerns London, but, as the Under-Secretary announced this morning, the reports of the London Housing Action Group, on which both parties are represented, which were issued today—they are in the Library—give grounds for some confidence that the overall shortage in London can be overcome within the 1970s.

My right hon. Friend has asked us to look at a land tax on the Canadian and Australian model. He expounded the idea in an interesting article in the Daily Telegraph some time ago. We have studied this and similar suggestions in the Department. There are advantages in my right hon. Friend's proposal, but he will be the first to recognise that there are also difficulties. There are advantages in the sense that if there is a tax on land already zoned for housing it will ensure that it is developed. On the other hand, there is the danger that it might stop people applying for permission until they are absolutely sure that they are going ahead and they might get the obverse side of the medal. On the whole, at this stage we have concluded that the way ahead lies rather in co-operation with other interested bodies. That is why we have been discussing land availability with house builders, land owners and local authorities and have tried to get the nationalised industries and other Government Departments, with some success, to unload as much land as possible.

Mr. Reginald Freeson (Willesden, East)

Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that question, may I put this point to him? If he is rejecting the suggestion which has been put to him by his right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), would he consider the point raised this morning at Question Time by his hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Sir Gilbert Longden) for taking measures to ensure that there is a reasonable return on the cost of land only when it is made available for owners or bought by owners for development for housing purposes?

Mr. Amery

The hon. Gentleman misunderstood what I said, I think. I am not rejecting my right hon. Friend's proposal. I merely say that we are considering this and similar proposals which have been put to us, and we propose at this stage to proceed on a voluntary basis through discussions which are taking place and which we believe may have the effect of producing more stable land prices. If we were to succeed in this, my right hon. Friend would he the last to push this suggestion. It is only if the trend were to continue, I imagine, that he would wish to insist upon it.

Mr. Freeson

The right hon. Gentleman has not answered my question. Would the Minister consider the suggestion put to him by his hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West?

Mr. Amery

I thought I made it clear. We propose at this stage to proceed on a voluntary basis, and not attempt by fiscal or other measures to introduce compulsion.

There are other raw materials apart from land. There are bricks. I think the brick industry is bringing into production sufficient new kilns to meet the demand of the industry.

There is also the vital problem of labour. The industry has shown a great increase in productivity, but there is a great shortage of skills, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and I have been co-operating closely to see whether we could establish a better understanding between industry and the employment service, and to see whether we could improve training facilities. We welcome the decision of the National Joint Council to reduce the number of training years for trainees from four to three.

I come now to the crux of the problem: what is being done to increase not just the supply of raw materials but the overall supply of houses? My right hon. Friend said that the company with which he was associated was no longer interested in the public sector. I hope that it will revise its view about that. In the past, local authorities have sometimes been inhibited from building by the cost implications. Under the Housing Finance Act, the Government are committed to finance 75 per cent. of any deficit incurred, whatever the cost of building, so there is no longer any financial bar in that sense; house prices no longer represent a bar to local authority building.

Over the last two years, 279,000 public sector houses have been built, and with the new slum clearance subsidy and rising cost subsidy I imagine that this process will accelerate substantially.

The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West referred to improvement grants. I understand his anxiety about speculation, but I am even more concerned that there should still be over 2 million people living in substandard houses, and I am glad to see the dramatic increase in improvement grants. There has been an increase of 112 per cent. in London alone in the first six months of this year over the first six months of 1970, under the Labour Government, and in the North, again taking the last six months of the Labour Government compared with the last six months under this Government, there has been an increase in improvement grants approved of 279 per cent. In fact, the total number of approvals in the last six months was greater than that for the whole of 1969 and 1970.

My right hon. Friend was mainly concerned with private house building, but public sector work and improvements contribute just as much to the load on the building industry and so to the level of prices.

A word now about building in the private sector. In the 12 months to June, 1970, 156,000 private sector houses were built. There were bankruptcies, there was heavier unemployment, and there was a deeper depression, perhaps, than ever before. We set out to revive demand, as I said, by lifting the ceiling on local authority mortgage advances and by encouraging the building societies to make credit more readily available on easier terms. The results have been that in 1971 207,000 houses were built, compared with 165,000 in 1970, and in the first half of 1972 111,000 were built, which is an annual rate of 220,000. I do not have the official July figures but the National House-Builders Registration Council—builders have to pay it a fee when applying to register a development—records starts of 23,000 houses in July, which represents an annual rate of about 270,000.

One swallow does not make a summer, July is usually an exceptional month, and I am not going in for crystal-gazing; but there are plenty of people well versed in these matters who believe that next year we shall achieve a target of 250,000, and in 1974 as well.

On any estimate, therefore, at least 900,000 houses—and probably more overall—should have been built in the lifetime of this Parliament, assuming that it runs the normal course. To these 900,000 houses must be added those houses converted, either in the public sector or in the private sector, from rented accommodation to owner-occupation.

Council house sales are going at the rate of about 30,000 a year this year, and I think that private sector conversions are considerably more. It could be, therefore, that over the lifetime of this Parlia- ment between 300,000 and 500,000 houses will have been converted from rented accommodation to owner-occupation.

Thus, in the lifetime of this Parliament well over 1 million families should have become owner-occupiers who were not so before. This is a record. But what is more encouraging to me even than that record total is the breakdown in the figures.

It would have been only natural to expect that, with soaring house prices, young people and people on lower incomes would be priced out of the market. In fact, such figures as we have—I believe them to be reliable—show that the contrary is the case: 22 per cent. of all mortgages in the first quarter of this year, when prices have been rising faster than ever before, went to people 25 years of age or under, and in the same period 24 per cent. of mortgages went to people earning £30 a week or less.

I submit to my right hon. Friend and the House that we have achieved a good deal in these two years. There is much more to be done. Of course there is. We have to increase our efforts, and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for stimulating us to do better than we have. We must increase our efforts. So must industry. So must the building societies. But nothing would be worse at this stage, when we are really getting results, than to falter and cut back on the financial arrangements which make it possible for people who want to own their own homes to buy them. Prices will stabilise only when supply meets demand, and we are determined that it shall.

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