HC Deb 17 March 1976 vol 907 cc1344-407

Motion made and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Snape.]

4.35 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Rossi (Hornsey)

Some 19 months have elapsed since the Rent Act 1974 was enacted, and perhaps this is an appropriate moment for the House to take stock of the impact and effect of that piece of legislation on the country.

During the passage of that measure, the Opposition expressed the view that it would have the effect of drying up the supply of rented accommodation. In the arguments which we deployed, we drew attention to the solemn warning of the Francis Committee, and pointed out the experience of Scandinavia, North America, Paris and Vienna of the inevitable effect that legislation of this kind had upon the supply of accommodation. We also drew from our own experiences, in which the supply of rented accommodation had decreased from being 90 per cent. of the housing stock when the first Rent Act was introduced down to 17 per cent. of the housing stock at the time the Rent Act 1974 was introduced. There has been a further decrease until private rented accommodation is now at a level of about 14 per cent. of the housing stock.

However, our warnings and arguments were to no avail. The Government were singularly inflexible in their attitude, which could be summarised as saying that all private landlords were villains, that they must be exterminated as soon as possible and that everything they owned should be brought into what the Minister for Housing and Construction euphemistically called "social ownership".

We warned the Minister that, if he thought that the public sector could make up the necessary provision, he was living in a world of fantasy. We pointed out that the levels of public expenditure and public borrowing would not permit this.

What we said two years ago is, if anything, even more true today, and we are seeing local authorities obliged to cut back on the municipalisation programmes in which they were to buy up the private sector. The impact of the Act has been far worse than even we imagined. Whenever, in the intervening months, we have sought to raise the problem with the Minister, he has replied to us that there is no evidence that the Act is drying up the supply of rented accommodation and that, if we have evidence, we should please produce it.

Why a Minister should ask the Opposition, with the limited means at their disposal, to undertake this task, I do not know. He has the Civil Service to do the monitoring for him. During this debate we shall want to know whether he has had the effect of the Rent Act 1974 monitored and, if so, with what results. We await with interest any figures about this matter that he can produce.

Let me tell the House what I have tried to do, since the Minister has not been at all forthcoming in this matter. First, within a few months of the passing of the Act, I wrote to all the estate agents concerned with lettings in my constituency. I thought that that would be a preliminary fair sample, because I had about 18,000 furnished lettings in my constituency. The replies which I got back immediately were to the effect that the whole private rented sector was now in a shambles and that, whereas this was normally the busiest time of the year for estate agents for lettings, they had nothing on their books. That was the evidence I had of the immediate impact of the Act.

Then last summer I wrote to a number of newspapers, which circulated in the London area, inviting people to write to me describing their experience of the operation of the Act. I received 451 replies indicating that 505 properties previously let were then up for sale—Rent Act legislation being given as the reason—and 169 properties previously let had already been put up for sale and sold. Within two weeks of receiving the last of those letters I sought an interview with the Minister. For a variety of reasons it was not possible for a number of appointments to be kept and I eventually left the letters in his Department for his officers to study.

The third step I took was more recent. I had a letter sent to universities and polytechnics throughout the country asking for their view of the effects of the Rent Act legislation on the supply of accommodation for students and whether they felt that student accommodation should be taken outside the scope of the Rent Act. As I mentioned during the debate on the Bill put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane), the replies were mixed. However, 18 universities informed me that they had grave problems which they attributed directly to the effects of the Rent Act. Others stated that they had sufficient halls of residence and that in their particular part of the country there was no problem. It was significant that the Association of University Accommodation Officers took the unanimous view that the Rent Act had had a vast detrimental effect upon the availability of accommodation for students and it wanted to see immediate modifications.

However, even that plea which we have raised with the Minister from time to time has fallen upon deaf ears. It is in fact worse than that. I was given a written undertaking by a former Under-Secretary in the Department of the Environment that amending legislation would be introduced. The Government have gone back on that undertaking and there are no prospects of the students being helped by the Government.

The problems which are being caused are enormous. Hon. Gentlemen may not be convinced by the bandying around of figures, but I point out to them that of necessity, in view of the resources available to me, the samples must be small. I shall give an indication of the type of letter that I am still receiving today and which the Minister is receiving, because I discovered that some people who write to the Minister do me the courtesy of sending me a copy of the letter they have sent him. Therefore, I know something of the type of representations that are being made to the Minister and the Department of the Environment. An extract from one letter says: I have been a landlord for 20 years in Putney and have a number of very high quality furnished flats. For years I have had extremely good relations with my tenants, many of whom subsequently became close friends of my wife and myself. Unfortunately, the 1974 Act has destroyed the trust between landlord and tenant. Now when our flats become vacant we no longer let to English people, no matter who they are. This is a great hardship for me as well as for those who want my flats. A letter I have received from Middlesbrough says: I have four flats which have been let furnished at very reasonable rents for over eight years. Even rent control did not persuade me to give up letting, but permanent security in the 1974 Rent Act did. Three perfectly good flats are now empty and in the process of being sold. I am sorry to do this as most of my tenants were professional young people saving a deposit for their own houses and stayed for between one and two years. The Rent Act 1974 has killed all this for me. Incidentally, my wife, myself and two children were 10 years in furnished rooms, so we know both sides of the story. A letter from Scotland says: I advertised a two-bedroomed flat under a Box Number and had 69 applications, which highlights the present situation in Edinburgh caused by the Rent Act At the moment I am giving preference to foreigners on courses at the university. I have two flats leased to doctors from El Salvador. This seems ridiculous in view of the large number of our nationals unable to find anywhere to live. Finally I have a letter from one of my constituents which says: I advertised two rooms and a kitchen to let in the Hampstead and Highgate Express. Commencing 7 a.m. the 'phone has not stopped ringing. I have had 100 calls already followed by harrowing stories of people sleeping on the floor. 99% of these prospective tenants were satisfied that all the 1974 Act has done is to cut off what accommodation was available. Those letters do not provide us with any statistical evidence but they give us an impression of what different landlords are thinking in different parts of the country—for example, London, Middlesbrough and Edinburgh. It is not only individual landlords who are singing this type of tune. If one keeps an eye on what is being published one will know that scarcely a month goes by without an article appearing in a newspaper or a magazine drawing attention to the adverse effects that the Rent Act 1974 has undeniably had upon the supply of accommodation. Even Good Housekeeping—an unexpected source—had a long article in February giving case history after case history showing why furnished accommodation is drying up. Within the last week an article has appeared in the Observer in which Katherine Whitehorn wrote: It is by now a platitude that the more the people who want to protect tenants block up the loopholes in the various Rent Acts, the less rented property there is—I know, without even asking around, of four premises not let in the ordinary way because of it: a shop with the flat above it left empty for three years lest the shop be one day unsaleable with the sitting tenant; my milkman's large house in north London with four empty rooms, 'of course you'd have let them in the old days, but not now'; and two people living in grace-and-favour flats paying their rent in whisky because the owner won't risk a proper tenant. That is the type of evidence that is appearing month in and month out.

There have been a series of articles and pamphlets printed that seek to posit figures. There is great difficulty in getting statistical evidence short of actually having a national census. Some of the figures that have been bandied about indicate that at present there are approximately 650,000 empty properties and half of them in council ownership. As far as I can ascertain, those figures are based upon the 1971 census which shows the divisions between the private rented and the public rented sectors. I see that the Minister is shaking his head in disagreement. He has persistently repeated at Question Time that there are about 55,000 empty properties in the public sector. However, the figures that he produces are only the Department of Environment figures of annual re-lets, that is, the re-lets of casual vacancies in current rented accommodation. There is an average 10 per cent. turnover in council flats of which 1 per cent. remain empty at any given time while the new tenant is being allocated to them.

The Department of Environment figures ignore the take-up through municipalisa-tion and properties which are left empty whilst improvements are not being carried out. The hon. Gentleman may shake his head, but I suggest that he speaks to some constituents in his own constituency because I would not be surprised if there are not a few such houses owned by his local authority that have been left empty for a disgraceful and inordinate length of time.

The figures which have been produced are inconclusive. For example, "After Six" carried out a survey of notice boards in newsagents' windows. It found that there had been a drop of between 25 and 50 per cent. in the number of small advertisements. The Evening Standard advertisements for furnished accommodation are running at about 75 per cent. below their pre-Act levels. I know that the Government will say that the Rent Act has enabled people to remain in their existing accommodation; and that therefore it does not mean that property has been withdrawn from the market, but simply that people are not being evicted and that the properties are not offered for re-letting. There must be some substance in that, but it does not account for everything. We must look to other figures in order to ascertain what is happening. The best figures one can get, I suggest, are the figures of people managing rented properties.

A group of estate agents has written to me from Bournemouth saying that the lettings managed by them are 14 per cent. less than they were before the passing of the Act. Those properties are either being withdrawn and left empty or they have been sold. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors recently conducted its own sample among 50 estate agents across the country. Its evidence shows a reduction in management of between 10 and 20 per cent. We are not therefore talking on the basis that the Minister has referred to but on the basis of management.

If we add to this 10 or 20 per cent. the cases he has in mind we possibly arrive at the figure of 75 per cent., which is the reduction in furnished accommodation advertisements in the Evening Standard. We must arrive at something which is realistic, however, so the best evidence we have are the management figures. If we seek to take a mean of these figures we arrive at a figure very close to that supplied from Bournemouth which indicates that in the 19 months which have elapsed since the Rent Act about 15 per cent. of formerly furnished accommodation has been withdrawn from the market by landlords who are thinking along the lines of the landlords I have quoted.

We know from the Minister that in 1974 at the time of the passing of the Rent Act there were 756,000 furnished lettings. He gave that figure on Second Reading. That was his target of the number of people he wanted protected by the Act. If we deduct from that figure the 15 per cent. I mentioned earlier, the loss of accommodation totals 114,600. That is the best method I can devise, short of conducting a national census, of arriving at a figure which indicates the scale of the problem created by the 1974 Act. If there are better ways of doing it, and if the Department or the Minister have made the calculation, no doubt we shall have the benefit of their conclusions.

I should like to be proved wrong because I do not like to think of people being denied a home because of legislation. It is within the Minister's competence to produce the figures if he is minded to do so. The fact that he does not do so is a matter for concern and it makes one wonder whether we are very near the mark when putting these sort of suggestions.

On page 71 of the latest public expenditure White Paper there are tables covering the period 1966 to 1974 showing furnished accommodation as a percentage of the total housing stock, year by year. They show a decline of 8.4 per cent. in the private rented sector. If we look for a compensation of that in the public sector over the same period we find an increase of only 2.5 per cent. of the national stock. The gap between the decline in the private sector and the improvement in the public sector is thus quite wide. As these figures straddle four years of Labour Government and four years of Conservative Government, perhaps the honours can be divided equally.

The figures have a particular significance in view of what the Minister told the House on 27th January 1973, that there had been an increase in furnished lets of 54,500 between 1966 and 1971. At that time they were out of rent control. What he told the House proves two things. It first proves that he can produce figures and, secondly, that when accommodation is not controlled there is an increase in the supply.

The alternatives were argued in the House during discussion on the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge when we considered the ways in which we could encourage the letting of the vast supply of empty accommodation in the country. We discussed the North Wiltshire scheme and the shorthold scheme as proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams). We also suggested different ways in which we could mitigate some of the worst effects of the Act, to take student accommodation out of the issue, to end the nonsense of fixed-term lettings, and to exempt residences above shops, lettings by executors and lettings by people of their own homes when they subsequently find they do not have to return to them.

I received two letters recently which give an example of the situation. In one case the owner of a property was moved to the North of England and he entered into a mortgage to buy another property. He let his house in London meanwhile. When he found a buyer for his London house he was unable to sell it because the tenant claimed the full protection of the Rent Acts, and as the owner could not show that he wanted the house for his own use, he had no right to demand it back. The consequence was that because this man made his house available to another family on what he thought was a temporary basis, he is now saddled with paying two mortgages. The tenant has proposed a simple solution. He told the owner "Pay me £1,500 and I will get out". In the second case the tenant did not ask for a sum of money. He said "Sell me your house for £2,000 less than the purchase price".

How can Labour Members in all conscience say that this is a just law when it permits that kind of situation to arise? What incentive is there to people with a house to let when they know that this is the consequence of being so foolish as to make their property available to others? That is the situation that Labour Members must face up to. If they have the strength of character and the courage to do so they will admit that the Act has been an unmitigated disaster as we said it would be and as the country knows it is.

The other question which is relevant to the debate concerns the housing stock, and no debate would be complete without a word on improvement grants. In 1973 these were running at 453,000. In 1974 they had dropped to 300,500. In 1975 they dropped to 159,000. Therefore, the number of improvement grants for the years 1974 and 1975 totalled 446,500 less than if the 1973 level had been maintained. That figure represents properties not modernised, not converted to provide extra homes, not given basic facilities such as hot water and internal WCs because of the fiscal policies of this Government and their belief in municipalisa-tion and the extension of public ownership rather than the improvement of the housing stock which can be used. If we add the 115,000 houses which I have posited as lost as a result of the Rent Act and of the Government's policy, we reached a total of 560,000 lost homes. That is not a record which I should like to sit lightly upon my shoulders, although the Minister, with a smirk on his face, does not seem to find it worrying one whit.

I respect the hon. Gentleman's sincerity. He believes that the answer to the housing problem is through social ownership. He believes that almost with a religious fervour, a bigoted fervour, which has blinded him to the real plight of people in this country.

5.2 p.m.

The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr. Reginald Freeson)

For the most part I shall try to avoid the tone and style of the speech by the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi), to which we have just been treated. The hon. Gentleman took us through some statistical exercises which I found interesting and I look forward to receiving the details. I refer to his reference to having had consultations with certain groups of estate agents who have been managing properties and to one of the professional bodies which has reported on the matter.

Mr. Rossi

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Freeson

No. I have hardly started.

Mr. Rossi

I am tired of doing the Minister's work for him. It is time that he did it for himself.

Mr. Freeson

The hon. Gentleman should learn to conduct himself with more courtesy and seriousness when discussing housing matters. I was welcoming the information which he had provided and am looking forward to receiving further details. The hon. Gentleman's other statistical references were convoluted nonsense. I will come to those in due course. I have figures which show that he was inaccurate in many areas.

Inevitably, I suppose, I must deal with the well-worn theme that the 1974 Rent Act is the cause of most, if not all, of the troubles in the rented housing sector. That was the style and theme of the hon. Gentleman's speech. Indeed, it is the style and theme of most comments by Opposition Members about the Rent Acts generally. In debate after debate they bring out this criticism. It is a point of view to be argued. There is no point in denying that it is a point of view. But I disagree with it. I do not know why Opposition Front Bench spokesmen should deny a view which is constantly expressed in this House by Opposition Members. They are entitled to that view, and I propose to deal with it.

If in 1974 the Opposition believed that the Bill, as it was, would be an "unmitigated disaster", to use the hon. Gentleman's words, and that it has so proved to be in their view, why did they not vote against that Bill? Why did the hon. Gentleman seek to make clear in public statements issued by him in the form of Press releases that he was not opposed to the Bill when local people in his constituency and elsewhere challenged him on the point? If the Bill was to be the "unmitigated disaster" which he now alleges, why was there no vote against it when we were a minority Government? We did not have even a small majority then.

Mr. Rossi

The hon. Gentleman knows that there was likely to be a change of Government. Had we defeated the Bill, we would have gone through that summer until the election with a lot of people trying to beat the legislation. We did not want wholesale evictions taking place throughout the summer while people were trying to beat the Bill. The hon. Gentleman will know that, because the complaints which he made about our opposition in Committee were very loud.

Mr. Freeson

That was a clarifying answer. If the Opposition continue to take the same line on the Rent Act generally, why did they not take the opportunity during their three and a half years in office to repeal the Act which they are knocking? If they considered it right to maintain the 1968 Act, why should they object to the extension of the principles of the 1968 Act to the occupants of absentee landlord furnished properties? There can be no logical acceptance of the first and an objection to the second. All we have done in the 1974 Act is to extend the principles of the 1968 Act from dealing simply with unfurnished accommodation to dealing with furnished accommodation. One scratches one's head and wonders why the Opposition now oppose what they did not oppose in 1974—namely the extension of the 1968 Act principles to furnished accommodation.

According to the hon. Member for Hornsey and his hon. Friends, the 1974 Act, as he has been explaining or alleging, precipitated a massive flight from letting by landlords. In little over a year, it is alleged, thousands of dwellings have disappeared from renting. Some have attributed to the Act a decline so enormous—over 600,000 dwellings was the figure quoted in a recent debate in this House which was not challenged by the hon. Gentleman—as to equal the total size of the furnished letting sector. These wildly inaccurate generalisations serve no sensible purpose. Within a week or two of the Act being passed, the hon. Gentleman was saying that it had caused a complete and massive exit of rented accommodation from the market. Most of these wild allegations serve no sensible purpose. I should like to discuss the issues rather more coolly than the hon. Gentleman is prone to do.

I have never denied that the Act would be a disincentive to some people to let properties. But I should make it clear—I have done so before and I do so again—that this has been offset by the considerable reduction in evictions from thousands of furnished lettings which would otherwise, when vacated, have been sold out of the rented sector. The Act put a stop to a great deal of that activity. That was its purpose and it has been successful.

It is a common experience among those who deal with the problems of people living in stress areas—housing aid centres, housing departments, Members of Parliament in their surgeries, and this is certainly my experience in the London Borough of Brent—that the number of families coming for help and advice over court orders, notices to quit, or harassment have dramatically diminished since the implementation of the 1974 Act. They still come in, but the numbers have dropped dramatically. Some housing aid centres have said publicly that the number of cases of this kind has been at least halved. There has been recent correspondence to this effect in the national Press. Obviously, with these families now secure in their rented homes, there has been a drop in mobility in the private rented sector, but the drop is in compulsory mobility and I am not apologetic about that. I am glad of it.

The standpoint from which the Opposition view the 1974 Act puts a different emphasis on its effect. I do not complain about their right to argue the case as they have done. They focus on how it may have affected the supply of dwellings and they quote, as the hon. Member for Hornsey did, evidence to show that the number of lettings being advertised has dropped steeply. The hon. Member gave some figures to this effect.

That is hardly a surprising finding. As I have said before, we would have ex- pected the Act to slow down the number of transactions in the sector as fewer tenants needed to seek new accommodation because they were secure in their own homes. Even the hon. Member for Hornsey accepted that, although in a rather back-to-front fashion.

Mr. Rossi

I accepted it in this sense, that the number of advertisements had dropped by 75 per cent. I had posited my figure on a 15 per cent. loss, not 75 per cent. I conceded that there were factors involved in the figures other than deliberate withdrawal of accommodation by landlords.

Mr. Freeson

I have not quoted figures. All I am saying—I gather that it is now accepted—is that the drop in advertised vacancies relates to the increase in security. People are not moving so rapidly because there is no compulsory mobility. Therefore, their flats are not available to let through estate agents or in the Press. That is not surprising.

No one ever suggested that all the problems in the private rented sector would be solved by the 1974 Rent Act, but what we hear constantly from the Opposition is the claim that virtually all the problems of the sector derive either from that Act or from its predecessors, the 1968 and 1965 Acts and others before them.

The private rented sector has been in decline for many years. The only Rent Act significantly to accelerate the rate of decline in letting was the Rent Act of 1957, passed by a previous Conservative Government as the panacea for the problems of the private rented sector. In the few years after the passage of that Act, there was an average fall of 250,000 dwellings per year in the sector—the highest figure on record. Apart from that period, private renting has declined at about 100,000 dwellings a year over a long period. It was only in the wake of the 1957 Act that there was a major increase. One million dwellings were lost in the next four years. Yet that Act was supposed to do the very opposite, according to the case which was made at the time and which has been made constantly since by the Conservative Party when it has felt like knocking the Rent Acts—while not actually voting against them.

Mr. Anthony Grant (Harrow, Central)

The Minister's argument is a great boast of the fact that he has created more immobility among the people of this country. Yet his colleagues who are concerned with industry and the economy and who wish to get us out of our economic mess all say that one of our major needs is more mobility among the work force. How does he reconcile the two?

Mr. Freeson

It is clear that I should not have given way. The hon. Gentleman should have listened to the phrase I used, which was important. What we have done is reduce compulsory mobility, not voluntary mobility——

Mr. Grant

That is just semantics.

Mr. Freeson

That suggests that the hon. Gentleman thinks that it does not matter. I was making a factual point which is important for what we are now discussing.

As I have said, the decline in the private rented sector can be attributed partly to the Rent Acts being a disincentive, but the fact that the decline has continued during periods of lesser as well as greater legislative control reinforces my view that there are much stronger "pull" than "push" factors at play. There is the drive towards owner-occupation, the availability of more alternative sources of investment than many years ago for small property owners wishing to realise capital assets, better returns on investments than most market rents provide and more council and housing association accommodation.

Owner-occupation has grown enormously over the years and by about 1970 comprised more than half the households in the country. A major factor in that growth has been by change of tenure in existing stock which was previously rented. We need to consider problems which arise at the margin of owner-occupation—that is for another day—but the growth of home ownership through the acquisition of existing buildings, generally down-market, although originated by working-class organisations and an earlier Labour Government, is now common policy between the parties. However, it cannot be treated separately from the rented sector. Its growth must inevitably result in a decline in the number of private dwellings to let.

In such a situation, one still has to ask and answer the question, how do we supply the need for rented accommodation? This is where social ownership, whatever the Opposition's ideological objections may be—and whatever they may think about the ideological basis for much of the thinking about it—is essential. This may be illustrated by some basic figures, some recent, others more historic.

Between 1970 and 1974, the number of rented dwellings fell by an average of 115,000 a year. At the same time public sector building for rent—the hon. Member for Hornsey discussed this point, but so selectively as to render his conclusions inaccurate—dropped from about 200,000 to about 100,000 a year. That is a net loss of 15,000 rented dwellings a year.

In reversing the collapse of public sector building, we are now approving a provision of about 200,000 rented dwellings against an estimated annual loss of about 110,000 private rented dwellings a year. That shows, since we came to office, a net overall gain of 90,000 rented dwellings a year against a small loss in the immediately preceding years. This is no fantasy such as the hon. Member described. These are the facts of housing provision of the last two years as compared with the preceding three or four years.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)

Is it not a fact that the difference between the two sets of figures that the hon. Gentleman seems to be quoting is that the net gain in the rented housing stock is putting an ever-increasing burden upon the ratepayer and the taxpayer, whereas the cost of provison in the private sector is borne by the individual?

Mr. Freeson

In the private sector, the cost is not necessarily borne by the individual. If I do not deal with that point in detail for lack of time, it will be implicit in some of my later remarks about the conditions of the stock and some of our ideas about how to handle it. Hon. Members cannot have it both ways. They cannot say that there is a loss of rented accommodation which we should correct and then complain on another front about the net increase that we are now providing as compared with the net loss in the three or four years before we returned to office.

I want to deal with a matter that was raised by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) during Question Time today when he sought to prove that there is some kind of decline in prospect in local authority housing. In a somewhat ragged exchange at Question Time he sought to establish that the figures in the recent White Paper on Public Expenditure showed a reduction in the rate of local authority new house-building. They show nothing of the kind. There is no ceiling. The figures which the hon. Gentleman quoted—and I shall pursue this matter in greater detail by correspondence if necessary—relate almost entirely to other aspects of housing policy, which would take a good deal of time to examine in detail today. In case there is any doubt here, in the media or elsewhere, there are no cuts by local authorities in new house building. Housebuilding will rise.

Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)

Not yet.

Mr. Freeson

I want to make one qualification. I suspect that the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) realises it because otherwise he would not be smiling. I am worried about political changes of policy in certain quarters around the country. This is nothing to laugh about. Opposition Members up and down the country have already indicated their intention in certain cities and towns to cut and hold up housebuilding programmes. The evidence before us—which I shall develop in greater detail if necessary on another occasion—on the basis of the last two years indicates a continuing trend in local authority new housebuilding.

Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

The figures to which the Minister has referred relate to capital investment in housing, so the reduction of £300 million between this year and next year will mean that fewer houses will be provided through public funds.

Mr. Freeson

I do not know why the hon. Gentleman persists in this nonsense. He is a Conservative Front Bench spokesman and Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment. He should stop it. We can show him the facts.

Mr. Raison

Tell me.

Mr. Freeson

We shall do so. I wanted to clarify an area of doubt that arose in earlier exchanges today. I intend to discuss the issues before us in the time left to me. It is not for any member of the Opposition Front Bench who was a member of the last Conservative Government to talk about the housing programmes, their decline or their increase, in view of the collapse in both private and public housebuilding sectors—a situation which this Government inherited in 1974. We inherited the biggest slump in housing construction for between 30 and 40 years. We have reversed that slump and it is not for any Opposition spokesman to query either the desire to get more houses built or the facts that we present to the House on the housebuilding programme.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (South Angus)

In the Minister's castigation of the Conservative Party and bearing in mind any present increase, is it not true that the Labour Party came to power after a decade of falling housebuilding figures and that there is a tremendous backlog to catch up on?

Mr. Freeson

I accept that there is a great backlog but I do not accept that there has been a decade of falling housebuilding figures. [Interruption.] If Opposition Members wish to go outside and have their own debate, they are quite welcome to do so.

Mr. Anthony Grant

The Minister is creating confusion. Will he tell us what these cuts are? If there are no cuts in new building, perhaps he will give us the information on what is happening.

Mr. Freeson

May I suggest that the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) does what I suspect that he has done very little of——

Mr. Raison rose——

Mr. Freeson

With respect, the hon. Member for Aylesbury should act like a Front Bench spokesman and stop his constant catapulting and sedentary interventions when I deal with matters which he and his hon. Friends raise. He did it during Question Time and I hope that he will desist.

I suggest that the hon. Member for Harrow, Central reads the White Paper and tries to understand the figures which are the subject of discussion. No matter what Opposition Members may say, the plain fact is that having had a collapse in housebuilding and a net loss in the provision of rented dwellings during the three to four years before we came to office, there is now a major increase in housebuilding in this country and mere is a net increase in the number of rented dwellings provided.

Mr. Raison rose——

Mr. Freeson

I intend to continue with my remarks. [Interruption.] It is an interesting debate. Perhaps we could hear it on another occasion.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

The Chair will intervene if it becomes necessary.

Mr. Freeson

I could also make comments about the other side's interventions from a sedentary position, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I propose to do so—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I draw the attention of hon. Members to the fact that good manners are imperative.

Mr. Freeson

We shall do our best to continue with good manners but requests for good manners should go to both sides of the House, not just to one.

I have given some current figures which have obviously upset the Opposition because they were in office when the collapse in housebuilding occurred. I want to cite some figures which show the background to the rented housing position over a longer period of time and which will refute the main argument advanced by the hon. Member for Hornsey.

Thirty years ago there were about 8.6 million rented dwellings in Great Britain—7 million were privately rented and 1.6 million were in the public sector. Today there are 8.5 million rented homes, including 2.2 million in the private sector and 6.1 million in the public sector. That is a net loss over 30 years of 100,000 dwellings. In other words, losses and gains have virtually netted out over this period while the general quality of the rented stock has vastly improved as a result of the switch from one kind of ownership to another.

I turn to the vital topic of getting better use of the existing stock of housing.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Freeson

Is it on the point that I am discussing?

Mr. Lawrence

It concerns the national statistics. It is relevant that the Minister should give us the figure for the number of homeless at present compared with the number of homeless 30 years ago.

Mr. Freeson

I do not know much about the figures for 30 years ago but if the hon. Gentleman wants up-to-date figures on the number of registered families that are homeless I shall write to him as soon as possible. However, I cannot give him the figures for 30 years ago.

I turn to the subject of the existing stock of housing, although this will be pursued in greater detail towards the end of my remarks. No doubt there are particularly bad cases, such as those which the hon. Member for Hornsey mentioned, which I should follow up. I welcome his courtesy in providing me with the details about the Brent cases. He has not had any correspondence with me on the matter and it is normal parliamentary practice between one hon. Member and another to conduct affairs in a somewhat different way. I give him warning that if we are to break normal custom, we might get "Hornsey" and "Aylesbury" bandied across the Dispatch Boxes, too. I would welcome the information——

Mr. Rossi rose——

Mr. Freeson

If I may say so, not right now. The hon. Gentleman does not do his case any good by treating it with such levity. To make the kind of sweeping generalisations which he and others have made on the basis of individual cases is quite false.

The re-let survey to which the hon. Gentleman referred covers municipalised properties—it does not exclude them. It covers all properties in the housing revenue accounts for the country. The survey showed that out of a total of 5 million local authority dwellings in England and Wales, about 22,000 are vacant and available for letting at any given time; and about 34,500 are undergoing modernisation, repair or conversion.

These figures show that vacancy rates are far lower in the public sector than in the private sector.

The latest comprehensive information on empty houses, both private and public, is from the 1971 census. Some 676,000 dwellings out of a total stock of 17 million homes in England and Wales were recorded as vacant on census night—3.8 per cent. of the total stock and well within the 5 per cent. margin that housing economists allow for in the housing market. Over 100,000 of that figure were newly built and not yet occupied. Many thousands more were unfit. About 40 per cent. of the empty dwellings in the 1971 National House Condition Survey were classifiable slums. But despite the often legitimate reasons for property being empty, I am most concerned that, especially in areas of housing stress, empty or under-used property should be occupied as quickly as possible.

At the end of the debate my hon. Friend will deal more extensively with the action we are taking. I shall refer only briefly to some aspects of it.

Our measures to end the mortgage famine of early 1974 and to stabilise the flow of mortgage funds have reduced the number of houses empty for want of purchasers. Our policy of gradual renewal of older housing to prevent the need for massive clearance will reduce the blight of older housing standing empty.

Among the initiatives has been the adoption of leasing schemes for empty private property by over 40 local authorities; rapid repairs services to deal quickly with municipalised properties in a state of disrepair; selective conversion of large under-occupied local authority houses to provide more small dwellings; priority municipalisation and housing association acquisitions of vacant and sub-standard housing. We have been discussing with the local authority associations and other representative bodies a range of administrative and managerial measures which will be the subject of a forthcoming circular on the better use of the housing stock.

A fundamental aspect of the better use of stock is its care, modernisation and maintenance. About 400,000 local authority dwellings need modernising and upgrading, partly because of poor standards imposed when they were built and partly because of failure in putting adequate resources into programmed maintenance over many years.

Much more serious is the large-scale obsolescence and disrepair in private rented property, especially in our inner urban areas. This has been mainly unaffected by housing improvement Acts, which have had their main impact on owner-occupied and council-owned property. While the private rented sector constitutes only 16 per cent. of the total housing stock, 40 per cent. of its dwellings lack basic amenities and suffer disrepair; and 23 per cent. of this stock is actually unfit to live in.

These problems are central to future policy on housing finance, better housing management and our review of the Rent Acts. We must find ways to ensure that all owners of rented property are enabled to establish something akin to capital reserve funds for housing repairs and renewals on the basis of model schemes.

During the passage of the Rent Act 1974 I declared our intention to undertake a review of the Rent Acts and recently the Secretary of State announced that this would follow on from our Housing Finance Review later this year.

A central issue of the Rent Act review will be the vexed question of the rent determination process and rent levels, a question which the Housing Finance Review also has much in mind. The question of an adequate return on investment is far more crucial to decisions on the continuance of letting than any question of security of tenure, such as is campaigned for by the Conservative Party so frequently.

The present system of rent fixing has achieved much over the last 10 years in setting a level of rent fair to both landlord and tenant. But there are problems which need examination, which have been particularly exacerbated by the appreciable inflation of recent years. It is certainly important to encourage maintenance of property, while at the same time retaining accommodation at rent levels suitable for those who cannot afford high rents.

We cannot and must not allow rents simply to run free, as is advocated by quite a large number of hon. Members—although I am not clear about the Opposition Front Bench view on this matter. This would run contrary to the principle of protecting tenants from paying excessive rents. What the review must try to find is a method which ensures that sufficient resources go into maintaining housing and at the same time protects tenants from excessive rents because of shortage, particularly in stress areas.

I should like to spend my last few minutes in looking at how I see the private rented sector developing in the future.

I believe that private landlordism will eventually evolve into social ownership.

Mr. Raison


Mr. Freeson

I stand by that view. As such—yes.

This concept of social ownership will not merely be an extension of local authority estates but will cover the full spectrum of housing associations, cooperatives and other forms of social ownership. Indeed, I hope that forms of social ownership could incorporate new ideas which would involve some of the management expertise at present within the private sector.

One possible approach on these lines that I have been considering which might be practicable and help towards the preservation of rented property in good repair is an idea that has also been considered by organisations such as the London Boroughs Association—a form of licensing. This might take the form of an arrangement whereby existing organisations control properties on behalf of the public authority for a suitable payment.

I have been thinking about various other ways by which we could widen and diversify social ownership and tenures. I I attach great importance to this ideologically—as a pluralist rather than a monopolistic Socialist! But it is important, too, on practical grounds, for by acting in this field we could, in a continuing situation of capital expenditure and local government management constraints, bring private managerial and financial resources into a social housing policy. This is necessary in order to speed up what, under conventional municipalisation policy, will be far too slow a process of socialising rented property in relation to the decline and decay of the private sector.

Some of the possible developments that I have been considering include various forms of local authority and housing association leasing of private rented property, including compulsory leasing in certain stress situations. I have also been considering joint local authority/ private landlord management schemes; registration of small landlords in "producer-co-operatives" on a proper costing basis; annuity purchase of small landlords' properties by local authorities or housing associations; landlord/tenant co-ownership or shared equity schemes; tenants co-operative enfranchisement and a statutory right to collective purchase in certain circumstances; and housing associations to sponsor home ownership and shared equity, as well as co-operative housing.

We must look to ways of meeting the needs of the more mobile tenants, of single people, of those who want a high quality of accommodation and can afford to pay for it, and of those who for one reason or another do not wish either to become owner-occupiers or to rely on council-owned housing. I see a variety of developments. There must clearly be greater flexibility on the part of local authorities and housing associations in their allocation policy and in the way that they manage property.

Our Housing Financial Review, our Working Party on Alternative Forms of Social Ownership and Tenure, our Study Group on Municipalisation and Improvement Programmes, our housing management advisory groups and our Rent Acts review are aimed at the issues and objectives that I have been discussing.

I invite the Opposition to come out of the trenches in which they have stuck themselves and to join us in developing a genuinely social policy on housing for the future.

5.39 p.m.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

I promise to be brief. We have already had over one hour of speeches from the two Front Benches, and I know that many other hon. Members will wish to speak in this debate, which is to stop at 7 o'clock.

There are many observations that one would wish to make, particularly after the last few minutes of the Minister's speech, because he threw out many interesting ideas. However, one is rather horrified about the fact that the review of the Rent Acts will not start for at least a year and that it will probably be about two years before we get results. That is a very long time to wait if one is waiting for a property, and at present it is not much encouragement.

First, it is almost criminal that at a time of severe economic crisis we are not making full use of our assets, and those include bricks and mortar. I was proud a week or two ago to be one of the sponsors of the Bill presented by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane). It contained a number of small but very useful clauses which the Government could and should have adopted, particularly in regard to resident landlords, second let-tings and the right for council tenants to sublet.

Secondly, there is still a lack of accurate statistics. We are seemingly still going back to the 1971 census. I know that the next census has been delayed, and that it may be difficult to obtain accurate figures. Are there 600,000 or a million empty properties capable of renovation and occupation? I suspect that the figure is nearer a million. It is important to obtain proper returns of empty properties from local authorities, and here I include commercial properties. Many local authorities are sitting on shops, offices and so on which they have bought up for central area redevelopment which has not taken place and which could be converted for occupation without too much expenditure. There have been some such premises in my constituency for more than 10 years. The Government should be vigorously pursuing these questions with the authorities. I welcome the Minister's declaration on the matter in his speech.

There is still too much demolition. I receive a number of letters from the North-East, where many people are still concerned about the number of compulsory purchase orders and where local authorities are still demolishing properties which, I am told in a letter today, were the subjects of improvement grants only 12 months ago.

Some London boroughs are willing to give housing associations properties which were scheduled for demolition. Quadrant is one housing association which has done up 150 properties at an average cost of £2,000. That is the right way to deal with the problem.

I know the different feelings on both sides of the House about private landlords. There is also a difference between city Members and those of us who represent more rural constituencies. Such differences exist in my party. Councillors in a city such as Liverpool have ideas about the rôle of the private landlord different from those of Members who represent constituencies such as mine. That is a good argument for having powerful regional authorities, if devolution is brought about, able to decide whether to adopt certain legislation. The Rent Act 1974 is an example. I think that that Act was right for the inner urban areas, but in my constituency and, I dare say, in Bournemouth, it has dried up accommodation and made matters more difficult.

However, I remind Conservative Members of the unfortunate attitudes now being adopted by some unscrupulous mobile home site owners, which is a rude reminder of the attitude some people take when they have the opportunity to increase rents.

Nevertheless, I am sure that we should give property owners more freedom to let with certainty of regaining possession. I know all about the North Wiltshire scheme, and I welcome it. But some local authorities are worried because they are not sure that they will be able to obtain possession when the three-year term is up. Why not permit the letting, furnished or unfurnished, of all properties coming vacant after a certain date? It should be for a fixed term, subject to the same conditions as apply to the letting of business premises, under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954, and subject to a fair rent being fixed by the rent officer. By this means the tenant would have a considerable measure of protection and the landlord could regain his house if it were required for his own occupation or for a member of his family or for redevelopment.

If that measure of freedom is provided to property-owners one is also entitled to consider requisition or the right to challenge in court for a tenancy if a house remains unoccupied for a long time without a valid reason. Owners could be given the opportunity to let first.

We want not only to see our people properly housed but to allow them some mobility, which a pool of property to let would provide. Time after time jobs are turned down because of lack of housing and the cost of moving. I support a property-owning democracy, but one undergoes quite an ordeal when one moves, as I recently did. One has to deal with estate agents and solicitors and one has to borrow money at high rates of interest, in addition being charged an arranging fee, something which made me hopping mad.

The police force gives an example of the problems of mobility. I know of a top-class policeman who is leaving the force because he has bought his own house and dare not give up possession in case he does not get it back. Giving the property-owner more freedom to let would help in that situation and in industry.

The maintenance and management of council-owned property are extremely costly. We desperately need to establish tenants' co-operatives. It is not easy, because most tenants do not want to take the responsibility, but it is essential if we are to cut council property repair costs.

5.45 p.m.

Mrs. Millie Miller (Ilford, North)

We have heard a great deal about the effects of the 1974 Act. Hon. Members of the Opposition are fully aware, as we are, of the way in which the private rented sector so rapidly dried up under the previous Administration.

In the early months of 1973 I met a large group of residents in a Central London area who were under terrible pressure from the owners of the properties in which they lived. The break-up of the estate had enabled the owners to sell individual units. While they were waiting to sell the properties they were letting them out furnished to groups of students who in many cases, but not in all, were causing great distress to the people who had established residence there. The situation in many parts of Central London resembles that following the 1957 Rent Act when security of tenure was removed from many people in the lower income groups rather than in the medium income groups.

The group that I met in 1973 are now campaigning against attempts by the present owners to drive them out of their properties, either by increasing management and service charges over and over again, or by trying to persuade them to vacate their property so that it can be sold. A number of companies have been involved as landlords over the last few years. The situation is a repetition of what happened in the 1970–74 period.

The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) mentioned a reduction in improvement grants. He may not be aware of it, but by the time the Conservative gimmick of improvement grants came to an end there were many rackets involved, and some people were pocketing the money that they were given in grants. Others were using grants to build play rooms. Following the 1957 Housing Act, Milner Holland in his Report which was published in 1965 spoke of: Increasingly attractive improvement grants offered to owners in a succession of Acts from 1949 in an attempt to encourage the installation of amenities … but landlords of rented houses generally remained unattracted. The Minister's remarks today confirm that in many cases landlords have remained unattracted.

There is no shame on our side of the House in the fact that there are fewer furnished rented properties on the market today because we know the terrible plight in which families were placed when they were forced out of furnished accommodation. That is why we campaigned for the 1974 Act. I appreciate what my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction has said about the difference between mobility in terms of labour needs and mobility that is forced on defenceless families whose homes are taken from them in the search for profit.

Milner Holland was presented with evidence in the early 1960s about the removal of security of tenure and the effect that it would have. Houses were wanted by owners not for their own occupation but for reletting at higher rents than the original occupants could afford. A growing number of homeless families were found to be applying for welfare accommodation in that period.

That was the situation in which pressure was put on tenants to leave their homes. The 1974 Act has been successful in substantially reducing that pressure.

It must be accepted that one of the worst affected areas is London. It has more rented properties, and more furnished rented properties, in proportion to the total housing stock than any other area. It has more housing stress, more families in difficulties and greater social problems of a general kind.

It is in London that the worst consequences of the housing policies pursued by the previous Administration are being felt. Ruth Glass, who reported to the Milner Holland Committee, described what might easily be the scene in London today when she said that inner London was composed of zones of transition. She meant that families at the end of council housing queues and immigrants from outside London and from overseas were making their way to the London area. She said that inner London had largely been rebuilt by the local authorities and that there had been a reduction in densities. That has meant that in many cases there has not been enough room for those who want to return to central London.

The inner London problem is spreading to the outer areas. The problem of empty property, whether in the private rented sector, the local authority sector or the owner-occupier sector, or in the hands of a multitude of Government Departments, is a crying shame for all the hundreds of thousands who have unsatisfactory homes.

I invite hon. Members to join me in a walk around London to see the blight which has been created in our time, a blight which is denying decent families decent homes. Public expenditure should be directed to maintaining and improving houses. There are many solid and well-built properties which stand waiting for tenant occupation.

I recognise the point of the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), that many properties have been taken into use for offices and other non-conforming user rights since the war. In Russell Square, for example, house after house bears the notice "To let for office accommodation". That is a common situation although there are millions of square feet of purpose-built office accommodation standing idle. Rows of beautiful houses are being used as office accommodation.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on making a most constructive statement of intent, but we want intention turned into action. The people of London have suffered since the war. They suffered the bombing during the war and the neglect of private landlords for almost a century. Those factors took their toll of London's housing hopes. It is time to stop talking, to stop making surveys, to stop preparing reports and to get down to the business of using empty property. Let us take empty property into social ownership. Let us come to arrangements with landlords and use the property which is so desperately needed.

5.55 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Scott (Chelsea)

I hope that the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) will forgive me if I do not take up her argument in detail. I wish to make a particular case—namely, that we need privately rented sectors in our cities and that we shall continue to need them for the foreseeable future. It is virtually unthinkable that it will be possible for there to be any substantial decontrol in areas where there is housing stress. Any idea of a substantial expansion of the private rented sector is a pie-in-the-sky hope. Therefore, we are left with the task of making the best of a bad job.

I am sad that over the past two years the Government have shown that they are determined to make the worst of a bad job. The Minister's speech was peevish, petulant and thin-skinned. Perhaps it indicated the quality of his case and the record that he is having to defend after holding office for two years. In particular, I take issue with his suggestion that the extension of council renting can compensate for an equivalent decline in private renting. There is no equation.

I accept that the hon. Gentleman is sincere when he says that he is a pluralist and that he objects, as does his Secretary of State, to the concept of councils becoming monopoly landlords. But I hope that he is not merely paying lip service to pluralism. I hope he will ensure by positive action that there will be genuine choice in the rented sector. If we were to have a situation in which large areas of our cities were in the control of council monopolies, our citizens would suffer a grievous loss of freedom.

There is another reason for private renting being so important that relates to my concept of what a city is all about. The Minister is proud that he has abolished compulsory mobility. I understand why he takes that line. I hope that he also understands that a city lives, thrives and grows because young people are all the time coming in to refuel it, to give it new life. If there is immobility a city will ossify and decline. If that is allowed to happen we shall see our cities going the way of many cities on the other side of the Atlantic.

It is natural that young people coming into the cities for the first time should find their way into the private rented sector, especially the furnished sector. In our policy towards the existing privately rented sector, and the replacement of that sector through voluntary housing associations, for example, we should pay especial attention to the need to provide for young people coming to the cities for the first time. Very often they move to the cities to commence their first job. As they lack residential qualifications they are not offered local authority accommodation. They are not able to make their way into the owner-occupier sector because of their economic circumstances. They turn to the privately rented sector, especially the furnished sector. It is an important sector.

I do not believe that we can contemplate any substantial measure of decontrol. I agree with the Minister that if there were substantial decontrol we should be likely to repeat the experience of 1957. We should see a tremendous haemorrhage out of the private rented sector. I do not look for any substantial measure of decontrol in our cities, nor do I believe it is possible to look for any substantial expansion or new investment in the private sector. One reason is the economic situation. It has not been possible to build flats privately to rent at a profit for the past 15 years. In view of the high cost of building in central London, and also the rents that must as a result be charged, we are in cloud-cuckoo-land if we think of making any profit on top. As chairman of a housing association which deals with property conversions, I know that the registered rents are often below one-third of the real costs. Therefore, it is unrealistic to expect those rents to treble and also to expect an element of profit.

The division between the parties on housing matters and the implacable hostility of the Labour Party towards the rôle of the private landlord, inhibits expansion in the privately-rented sector and also takes no heed of the continued substantial contribution made by that sector. I hope that it will be possible to overcome the chasm between the two sides of the House and to seek to find common ground.

I wish to make five specific suggestions to make the best of a bad job in the privately-rented sector. The first suggestion is tangential because it involves the rôle of the voluntary housing movement. At the end of his remarks the Minister went so fast that it was impossible to list his suggestions, but he seemed to have an open mind about the range of options open, in a non-council sense, in the social area of housing to meet the varying needs of our cities.

I hope that particular attention will be paid to the problems thrown up by the large blocks of flats in private ownership in many cities, some of which are now in the hands of receivers or are in other financial trouble. The options open for those blocks of flats lie between their being placed in ordinary council ownership and their becoming luxury semi-hotels. Both options are equally obnoxious. We must find a way via cooperatives, co-ownership schemes, housing associations, or in some other way, to ensure that such properties are used to provide accommodation for the middle band of people who in the past 25 years have been squeezed from the cities.

My second suggestion relates to the subject of short leases. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) hopes to speak on that subject as it affects empty properties. We certainly must do something about the situation. I do not know whether something can be done by way of short leases, or on the lines of the North Wiltshire scheme, or via a system of housing emergency officers suggested by Shelter. I do not know how it is to be done, but one of these options must be taken up. The Government must say which road they are to take. It will be disastrous to delay any longer.

Mr. Freeson

We are already backing 40 local authorities in pursuing schemes on the lines of the North Wiltshire scheme.

Mr. Scott

I am grateful for that assurance from the Minister. In backing local authorities to start such schemes, I hope that there will be no back-door municipalisation. I hope that whatever is done will be a genuine step to bring available properties back into use, if only for a short time.

Thirdly, I hope that the Government will consider whether they were wise on 20th February to talk out the Homes Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane). That was a small, sensible piece of legislation and would have given a useful breathing space while the Government's major review is taking place. I could not understand the Government's attitude on that occasion in defeating that legislation. I believe that the provisions in my hon. Friend's Bill are important.

Fourthly, I wish to deal with the subject of incentives. Will the Minister seek to persuade whichever of his right hon. Friends will be presenting the Budget in a few weeks' time to see that resident landlords are exempted from capital gains tax when selling properties? Will the Government consider exempting such landlords from the first tranche of their rental income when they are letting rooms in their own properties? It is common ground that there is a great deal of under-occupation in the public and private sectors. The right kind of tax incentives could bring a great deal of accommodation on the market, do something to repair the damage done by the Rent Act 1974, and relieve the accommodation problems of young people who come to live in cities for the first time.

Fifthly, I wish to emphasise that the frustrations of landlords and tenants over the law are now very great. Consideration should be given to the establishment, under a county court type of procedure, of small informal courts for landlords and tenants to deal swiftly with problems in the privately-rented sector.

I appeal to the Minister to build on the last part of his remarks in respect of the various options which he put before the House in respect of the privately-rented sector. Instead of keeping his cards so close to his chest inside his Department and presenting us with a fait accompli, will he support the idea of a Select Committee on housing to examine, as its first responsibility, the situation in the privately-rented sector? Will he try to find some common ground to prevent the subject of housing being used as a political football, and will he put the interests of the people first?

Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)

Although there may not be such a great difference between the housing policies of the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) and some Labour Members, I am sure he will admit that on most issues there is a wide divergence of view between the two sides. Therefore, does he not agree that such a coalition on housing could do more harm than good?

Mr. Scott

The hon. Gentleman seeks to perpetuate the divide. If such a divide exists, let a Select Committee find out how much common ground there is.

6.6 p.m.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Hemel Hempstead)

The effrontery of the Opposition Front Bench is exceeded only by its ability to forget the heartbreak and shambles on housing matters left behind by the Conservatives in the latter part of 1973. This is not the time to go into that sad story, except to say that in 1973 the number of new housing starts and completions in the public sector were at their most miserable level for more than a decade.

To meet the situation the Labour Government issued Circular 70/74. In paragraph 3 of that circular my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment urged that all possible steps are taken to secure an immediate increase in local authority programmes". Part of this effort sought to encourage local authorities to examine the possibility of doing deals with private builders holding land with valid planning permissions in what were called "package deals".

My own district council, the Dacorum District Council, tried to enter into such an arrangement with a firm of private builders owning land with valid planning permission. That firm is Fairview Estates (Enfield) Limited.

On 2nd January 1975, Fairview made an offer of 363 homes on an estate which it was developing at Woodhall Farm, Redbourn Road, Hemel Hempstead. The offer was for the Dacorum District Council to buy "off the shelf", as it were, homes to be built to the builders' own plans. But council officers carried out an inspection of homes already built by Fairview and found evidence of poor workmanship and serious technical deficiencies. They indicated that the council would be buying a load of trouble.

A report submitted to the housing committee of the Council on 4th February 1975 showed, for example, that by Parker Morris standards five house types were deficient in floor area. In other words, they were as pokey as farm labourers' cottages were in the earlier part of this century. Roof space thermal insulation of 25 millimetres of fibre-glass for houses and none for flats fell short of normal standards. Exterior windows could not be cleaned from the inside. There was no evidence that structural timbers had been treated with preservative. The floor screed to flats was below the standard recommended by the Building Research Station. For this reason the council insisted that in any deal it would not buy houses or flats already built and would want to supervise the construction of homes in the proposed package deal. Building regulations deal mainly with public health and safety factors and do not cover the more important detailed matters to which the council rightly wanted to pay attention.

It is interesting to note that at the time of the Fairview offer for a package deal there was a slump in the private house market and, sitting on a fairly hefty investment of land which must have cost between £20,000 and £25,000 an acre when bought, the company clearly saw some advantage to its cash-flow position in such a deal. To be fair, there was a matching advantage to Dacorum District Council provided it could be satisfied with the standards of building, materials and workmanship.

Talks continued between the council and Fairview on price and timing, and led to what Fairview described as "this firm offer" being made in October 1975 for the building of 363 homes with a clause to cover a rise in costs. There is no doubt the firm offer was made. The council's housing committee minute No. 1202 at the committee meeting of 25th November 1975 records: The committee noted that the council at its meeting of 18th November, 1975 has agreed to accept the offer of Fairview Estates Ltd. to provide land, estate works and 363 dwellings on this estate for £4,100,000. The committee approved that acceptance. This was subject to contract of course, and the council proceeded to try to get this signed, first, in accordance with Circular 70/74, to buy the necessary 22 acres of land at the District Valuer's price of about £34,400 an acre. Department of Environment yardstick approval had been obtained on 30th October 1975. Significantly, Fairview never got around to signing that contract nor indeed the legal papers needed for the council's purchase of the land.

The next the council knew—and the recent improvement in the private house market is not unconnected with this—was on 5th March 1976 when Fairview wrote withdrawing from what it now chose to describe as "this proposed package deal" and which less than five months earlier had been described by it as "this firm offer". Indeed that letter frankly acknowledges, I understand, that the company came to this view as a result of the improvement in the current market value of the finished dwellings. The use and development of housing stock is to do with people and getting them into decent accommodation.

The ethics of this move are dubious, though legally the company is in the right. But what of the effect? By one stroke of the pen, the company has condemned 363 of my constituents to stay on the waiting list longer than expected. It has torpedoed the local authority's housing programme, reducing it from a planned 1,390 over the next two years to 1,027. This firm has played ducks and drakes not just with the council but with the 363 people on the waiting list. It was ready to use public money to help it out of the problems it had at the time of "firm offer".

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) has left the Chamber, for this situation may not be unconnected with the fact that Fairview has meanwhile done deals with the GLC, and the Circle 33 housing association from the London Borough of Islington and the Metropolitan Housing Trust of the Borough of Haringey. In other words, having been helped out by these smaller deals—and by authorities with different pressures on them which have been willing to accept standards which my council would not—and I do not criticise those councils—it is now putting all its houses into the private market.

Fairview's late decision to withdraw its previous "firm offer" is not a good example of the sensible partnership which there should and could be between local authorities and private builders holding land. I cannot help thinking that the decision will set back the development of these package deals and make local authorities more wary of even discussing them.

I hope that the Minister will read through what I have said and perhaps call in the details of the unhappy episode for further consideration. Certainly any local authority or housing association contemplating any deals with Fairview Estates Ltd. would be well advised to think twice and three times. It is quite disgraceful that having toyed around with the package deal, the company should back down because it sees the chance of quicker and bigger bucks around the corner.

I hope that the Minister will look at what I have said and see whether there is some further advice he can give to local authorities about such deals.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

The Front Bench speeches will begin at about 6.45 p.m. I therefore appeal to hon. Members' better natures for brief speeches.

6.16 p.m.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (South Angus)

This is a United Kingdom debate, even though it is slanted more towards the English than the Scottish situation. Since the only hon. Member in the Chamber from Scotland is a Member of the SNP, that might be a good advertisement for devolution.

The Government have a case to answer in regard to the Scottish housing stock. In Scotland most housing is public housing. The rented sector is predominantly publicly-owned and the private rented properties are a relatively minor percentage of Scotland's housing stock. It is in that context that private rented housing takes its place as only one part of the whole Scottish housing stock.

The housing stock in Scotland is not being efficiently or effectively used. We have heard the argument about roofs over heads and the suggestion that we now have enough buildings to put a roof over everybody's head. But that is not true in regard to certain groups, such as single-parent families, the single homeless, young married couples or students. We seem to have an annual ritual of homeless students and the Rent Act 1974 has certainly played a part in creating this problem.

We must think not only of roofs over heads, but also of the standard of housing and what kind of roofs we can manage to put over people's heads. In Scotland, there are far too many houses with shared toilets and no baths, and the housing stock that exists is not being used properly. About 200,000 houses fall below the minimum basic standards.

According to the latest information I have, 7.4 per cent. of households have no bath or shower and about 220,000 households lack the exclusive use of one of the standard amenities—an inside toilet, a hot water tap or a bath. In 1976, this is an incredible indictment.

The roofs-over-heads argument begins to wilt when one investigates the actual state of the housing stock. Professor Cullingworth and his Committee had no mandate to look at rural deprivation but even on the small amount of evidence it came across the Committee was shocked. We do not suffer just from serious urban deprivation; there is also an extremely serious problem of rural deprivation to be investigated.

The cliché that we have enough houses in Scotland is not entirely true. Effective use of our housing stock must include an all-out battle to raise the standard of existing homes.

Of course we shall never solve the "housing problem". It is always a matter of rising standards and rising expectations. The day when Scotland's housing standards equal those of present-day Sweden I shall be very happy.

A great measure of housing ideas and priorities derives from the "homes for heroes" approach following two world wars. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, that approach produced the massive housing developments like Drumchapel, Easterhouse and Castlemilk in Glasgow—massive concrete jungles. Behind the cilché "concrete jungle" is the reality of sprawling, soulless public housing estates, built without people in mind, without shops, pubs, places of entertainment, or social amenities. In other words, it has created houses but not communities.

Any efficient use of the Scottish housing stock must now take these social needs into account. This situation and the use of the housing stock has created innumerable problems at the level of individual human beings. A glance at children's panel proceedings in our courts, vandalism, and rising crime rates shows part of the price being paid for these mistakes. The roofs-over-heads philosophy is not enough.

In dealing with the housing stock, there has been an additional problem in an element of overbearing paternalism. In this connection, the situation in my country differs greatly from that in England I hope that the Minister, in extending his municipalisation schemes, will examine the situation in Scotland and learn valuable lessons. In any plans for the future of the housing stock in Scotland, I hope to see far greater tenant participation and involvement, whether through co-operatives or other forms of active participation in decision making. There are signs of this happening spontaneously in different areas, where tenant action groups are forming to meet various problems confronting them.

One sign of the inefficient use of our present housing stock may be seen in the sadly positive creation of new slums in our massive housing estates. An example is the Blackhill housing estate, in Glasgow. There are other cases of public housing estates which won awards for architecture and design when they were first constructed but became slums within 10 years. Massive building programmes without concern for individuals or for the participation of the individuals who live in them will not do. Something must be done to improve housing management training and techniques. I note with dismay the dearth of such management training courses in Scotland. The sound use of our housing stock must begin and end at the human level.

A second phase, following that of postwar housing policy, came in the late 1950s and early 1960s, with massive new building programmes giving way to massive slum clearance programmes, through the comprehensive development philosophy and massive housing demolition. But, in relation to the efficient use of the housing stock, this has created massive problems at the human level. Whole communities were smashed up. This created among ordinary individuals a feeling of de-personalisation, insecurity and disorientation. Moreover, these programmes never succeeded in matching the task.

Worst of all, this grand slam approach has not been completed, for it has led to extensive urban wastelands in many of our cities, in which on any night one can see tenement stubs with just one or two lights still on. It is always the worst-off people who get caught in these circumstances. They are trapped in these crumbling, mouldering tenements. The elderly, the infirm, the low-income families and the young couples are marooned in these islands of squalor. When neighbours move out, it is always the undesirables who move in—the "winos", the drifters and the vandals. In some cases, young children are being brought up in these surroundings. Recent tragedies in Scotland have been all too sad reminders of what can go wrong in this situation.

Since the first post-war housing programmes have created new slums and urban housing "no-go" areas, we see how many tenants are refusing to be rehoused in the situation I have described. Recent eviction cases in Glasgow illustrate that point. It is a sad combination of the failure of two post-war housing policies.

Although these are marginal cases, they are in a sense the left-overs from an otherwise Government success story in rehousing people. These complex problems are real, and must be catered for. That is why I ask the Government to complete as rapidly as possible these redevelopment programmes, as an urgent priority. That must be done if the housing stock is to be utilised properly.

The most recent phase of housing policy shows a shift in emphasis from new building to renovation and repair of existing stock. That is seen in the statistics as a fall in public housebuilding under both Governments over the past, say, 10 years and, at the same time, the transfer of resources to modernisation grants and incentives.

That in itself has created grave problems. First, fewer new houses have been built. Scotland is at the end of the European league table with regard to new houses built per thousand population. The figure for Scotland is 5.4, whereas in Norway it is 9.8, while another small country, Sweden, produces at double the Scottish rate. Older housing stock is being demolished but, sadly, new houses are not being produced to replace it. It must be urgent priority to build new public and private houses to freshen-up and modernise the existing stock.

Unfortunately, that is less likely to happen under the present policy advocated by the Government, since there has also been a fall in the amount of money, in real terms, allocated to housing. Less money is spent, in real terms, and fewer houses are built. That is unacceptable in, for example, Strathclyde, which shows a 97 per cent. pocket of hard-core urban deprivation.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Harry Ewing)

The hon. Gentleman is waxing eloquent about the need to build new houses. He is a constituent of mine and Member of the Scottish National Party. Can he explain the decision of the SNP in Stirling not to build any more council houses?

Mr. Welsh

Before the hon. Gentleman criticises Stirling's housing policy, he should study the record in Strathclyde, which is a disgrace. However, I want to finish my speech.

If better use is to be made of the Scottish housing stock, housing must be given a greater priority than any Govern- ment have given it so far. We demand an immediate, steady and effective increase in the housing programme, both public and private. We must have the machinery to meet Scotland's housing needs and to update our housing stock. The Under-Secretary of State's system is an insult to the people of Scotland. We must have a proper Scottish housing Ministry with its own back-up facilities and finance to improve the utilisation of the housing stock. There must be an all-Scottish housing survey, using acceptable minimum standards to map out the extent of the problem and it must be done urgently.

In order to build up and effectively use the housing stock, there must be adequate consultation and co-operation with the construction industry to ensure that men, skill and materials are available where they are needed, and when. It is crazy that we should have 61 per cent. unemployment in the construction industry in Strathclyde, side by side with this pocket of hard-core urban deprivation. That is the system which the Minister upholds, and he should be ashamed of it. There must be a Scottish construction industry liaison group—all praise to the English Minister for his initiative in this matter. It is a pity that he does not buck up his Scottish colleagues to follow his example.

These are part of the elements leading towards the better use of Scotland's housing stock. Decent housing and a decent environment should be available to all citizens as a fundamental right. If London has failed to achieve it, a Scottish Government will be happy to take up the task.

6.28 p.m.

Sir Brandon Rhys Williams (Kensington)

One cannot hope to solve the housing problems of Kensington in five minutes, so I will confine myself to three specific recommendations. In the long-term expenditure forecast, we see that in April 1966, the comparison of the dwellings and the number of households showed an absolute shortage of 100,000 dwellings. By the end of 1974, there was a gross surplus of 700,000 dwellings. Yet we still have overcrowding, slum conditions, and homelessness. The continuation of bad housing in face of a surplus of 700,000 dwellings in the country at large is a blight on our society. I realise that many of these houses are not in the right place or may not be suitable; but something can be done when the existing housing stock is obviously enough.

My first recommendation is that we should look again at the grants for conversions and improvement. Many people on both sides of the House are nervous about giving a large conversion grant to an owner who then immediately disposes of his property and appears to be pocketing the grant. Grants should be seen as loans, because the rates rise, and over a period of time the local authority recovers, through higher rates, what has been paid in grant. Why not make that into a fact and offer a loan system for improvements, so that landlords who wish to improve properties and then market them can have a source of finance which will encourage them to go ahead with the conversion of improvement scheme?

Second, I repeat my conviction that a new form of tenure to help home seekers seeking short-term accommodation is seriously needed. I do not know why the Labour Party is advancing a range of schemes for social ownership and experiments in joint ownership but has this doctrinaire approach to the private rented sector. There may be three good reasons but they are not final ones.

One is that the Labour Party wants everyone to have accommodation of a decent standard. Of course, we understand that. The Labour Party wants everyone to get a housing subsidy and feels that the municipal system offers that opportunity. And the Labour Party reflects that the private sector is not always satisfactory. Indeed it is not, but it is not always unsatisfactory, either, particularly for people who are looking for short-term accommodation, as are many single people and young couples in central London. The Labour Party accepts the owner-occupier as a provider of private short-term accommodation but rejects private provision of other dwellings to let. This, I consider, is not a logical stand.

Shorthold tenure—something on the lines of the system that I embodied in a Bill I introduced in the last Session and hope to be allowed to introduce again in the present Session—could meet a real need if the premises were subject to local authority inspection, with which I am quite prepared to agree; if the legal rights and obligations of the parties were clear; and the rent were within reasonable reach.

In the private rented sector there were in 1974, we read, still 3,261,000 dwellings. The Minister again and again makes the point that the private rented sector is in decline, but if there are still 3 million dwellings in the private rented sector he will not see the elimination of it all at once. It is natural that it should be declining when we consider the amount of money we put into subsidising home ownership and also into council tenure, which are forms of occupancy in competition with the private rented sector. I believe that we should seek to correct the deficiencies of private tenure and not try to eliminate it altogether for doctrinal reasons.

In the Housing Finance Act 1972 the idea was introduced of a rent allowance for tenants in the private sector, but only some 400,000 people are, I believe, drawing their rent allowances—that is, other than people on supplementary benefit. That is only about a quarter, at most, of those who are eligible.

I should like, therefore, to make a third specific suggestion. It is that eligibility for a rent allowance should be calculated through the income tax system and not by local authority tests of means. I am advised that it would not be difficult for people to return in their tax, or to get their employers to return in their tax statements, the nature of the tenure of their accommodation and what they pay in rent. The rest of the calcuations could be done without too much difficulty by machinery.

If we were successful in bringing all the eligible people into the net we might then find that almost every household in the country, in one way or another, would be getting some kind of housing subsidy. People would either be getting a council house subsidy, or mortgage interest relief, or they might be getting rent allowance or a housing allowance through supplementary benefit. There are also the people who are benefiting from the option mortgage scheme. The national insurance system contains a hidden householder's allowance, as I have often pointed out, which for pensioners at the moment amounts to £5.40 per week. In the tax system there is also the personal allowance of £4.50 per week to every head of household, which might be considered a contribution towards household costs as well, in particular towards rent.

There is room for a reorganising genius of Napoleonic capacity in the housing subsidy field. I should certainly like to see a housing allowance as a tax credit. That may be rather futuristic, but the Minister could still make an immediate contribution by seeking a genuinely nonpartisan housing policy. If he cares about homelessness, slum conditions and overcrowding, that is what he will do.

6.36 p.m.

Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)

I have some comments to make concerning local authority housing. I think the House will agree that whatever the record of succeeding Governments has been in housing it still remains a tremendous problem in our society.

I do not think that merely stating the record of the previous Government is of itself a sufficiently positive way in which to tackle the housing problem. No matter how justified those figures may be, the problem facing the Government is to determine, first, what faults have been made in housing policy and, second, what steps are required to remedy those faults and bring about a situation in which house building, in the end, in no matter what form, will meet the needs of those who are desperately waiting for houses.

The Minister's figures prove conclusively what local authorities have done to meet the housing challenge facing society. Had it not been for the contribution made by local authorities in the provision of houses for rent, the situation obviously would be a good deal worse than it is today.

The local authorities, through their building programmes, have been able over the years to meet the needs of those who would otherwise have had to try to meet them through the normal market forces. I do not think that there will be any dramatic change in that situation in the foreseeable future.

We were talking not long ago of the economic and social changes which have taken place in our society, and there has been reference this afternoon to a changed situation in housing, to higher incentives, and so forth. The economic situation has changed considerably in recent years, but it would appear that there is still to be a great deal of reliance upon the public sector and local authorities in the provision of houses. We have to see whether local authorities are getting value for money in terms of their housing provision. The reports from the various conurbations have proved that in many cases local authorities are not getting the best value from those in private enterprise who construct the housing. Evidence of this has been given here earlier this afternoon.

I have a similar situation in Liverpool, on the Netherley estate, in my constituency, in connection with which I asked a Question today. We have to examine very closely the sort of housing standards being provided by private enterprise to local authorities. It is essential for the Secretary of State and the Minister to take urgent and positive steps to deal with the inferior standards of many of these builders. The Netherley estate has proved to be an absolute tragedy. There are structural defects, amounting to many thousands of pounds. The tenants of the affected properties suffer as a consequence, and their lives have been made a misery by the inferior building standards prevailing on the estate.

I do not want to develop that argument further except to say that if we are to continue, through local authorities and the other agencies that have ben mentioned, to tackle housing problems on the principle of bringing housing into social ownership, we must be careful to see that standards are not reduced. We must avoid the dangers of producing substandard buildings which cause problems for tenants and local authorities. In spite of what has been said by the Opposition about the public sector it will continue to meet the main demand by working-class people for accommodation.

If we are to have continuity in our building programme and to tackle housing needs vigorously, as we did during the war, we need consistency in the building industry and in our policy. We cannot have that unless we take into account the need for a national building agency. Without such an agency, housing will be subjected to market forces and the political convulsions that take place from time to time. The only way forward is to set up an agency which would provide continuity of responsibility for a long-term programme as set out in Government policy.

The building industry suffers dramatically from the convulsions that periodically occur in it. We have a ludicrous situation, with the stockpiling of building materials that ought to be under public ownership. There are thousands of unemployed construction workers at a time when people are desperately seeking homes. Government policy must come to terms with the elementary problem of bringing these resources together to ensure the production of a building programme aimed at solving our problems. I hope that the Minister will take account of the points that I have raised.

6.43 p.m.

Mr. David Lane (Cambridge)

Looking back to the Second Reading debate on the Homes Bill on 20th February I feel sad that the Government seem so adamant against immediate action. I am glad that we have had this chance to return briefly to the problem today.

There is growing public concern over the scandalous waste of good, usable accommodation. The Government have asked for evidence of the extent to which rented accommodation has been taken off the market as a result of the Rent Act 1974. I have sent the Minister one dossier about our experience in Cambridge, which suggests that the reduction is about 20 per cent. I am about to send him a second dossier of individual cases all over the country which have come to my notice as a result of the debate on the Homes Bill. I do not have time to quote particular examples now.

I ask the Minister to take these cases seriously and look at the picture as a whole. It has come about not merely as a result of the Rent Act but because of the adverse effects of capital gains tax, about which we hope something will be done in the Budget, whoever introduces it.

On 20th February the Under-Secretary had to be very cautious in his response. He said that piecemeal solutions can lead to more anomalies. I believe that he and the whole Government are being overcautious. We cannot wait till 1978, the earliest possible date when the results of the current review of the Rent Act will be put into legislative form. Let the Government take interim steps now to ease the situation. If they persist in their relative inaction the nation will conclude that they are showing not wisdom but obstinacy.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

Although the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane) was short it was very much to the point. I am sorry that we have lost an hour or more of the afternoon and have had to cut our debate short. What we have heard has been interesting. I know that others of my hon. Friends had points they would have liked to have raised.

I am also sorry about the tone of the Minister's speech in reply to the opening speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi). My hon. Friend referred to lack of monitoring by the Department of the Environment and the evidence from accommodation officers at universities. The Minister did not face up to the consequences of the Rent Act. Everyone is agreed that we are not making the best use of our housing. The results of this can be seen in home-lessness, in the evil aspects of squatting, and the decaying property which exists in far too great a quantity. At Eastbourne on 20th November the Secretary of State said that the crude surplus of homes over households was well over 500,000. My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) reinforced this point. It is clear that, in addition to this surplus, there is a surplus of probably well over 500,000 empty properties in the country.

Obviously, there is a variety of reasons for this surplus. Some of the properties are in the wrong place; some property is necessarily vacant because people are moving about all the time; but some of this non-occupation is unnecessary. I have no doubt that disincentives and discouragement to the private sector are the main problem. Much housing is under-occupied. This is certainly partly due to artificially low rents. The result is that there is no financial incentive to move to smaller accommodation or alternatively to take in tenants as lodgers. The problem of under-use of our housing stock would be serious at any time. In the present public expenditure crisis it is desperately serious.

The White Paper on Public Expenditure may have been defeated last week but its status is a little mysterious today. Yet the problem of public expenditure remains. The Minister utterly ignored this. There has been a huge increase in spending on housing. It amounts to over £1,500 million, at 1975 survey prices, between 1971–72 and 1975–76, but there has been no remotely comparable improvement in the supply of housing. The villain is partly the use of housing subsidies as an ingredient of incomes policy and partly the soaring cost of public sector housing—as well as dottinesses like municipalisation.

We have to recognise that this increase in the cost of housing in public expenditure terms cannot go on. Even the Government have seen this. The fact is that there has to be a £300 million reduction in key sector local authority capital expenditure between this year and 1976–77. That figure is clearly set out in Table 3.5 of the White Paper on Public Expenditure.

Although the Minister has been trying to dodge these facts he did give some relevant points in a letter he wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and which was published in Hansard on 15th March. They included the facts that the average cost of a new local authority dwelling today, including land, is about £12,000, and that the subsidy in capital cost subsidy terms alone is about £875 per house. In addition, there are other subsidies and there is the rate contribution. We also have to face the fact that housing association housing has become pretty costly. The same letter from the Minister stated that the average grant per dwelling for housing association nouses is now £8,000. There is also some further subsidy in some cases towards rents.

That is the picture. The cost of providing housing today through what the Minister engagingly calls "social ownership" is very expensive, and it is not right that society should have to bear this heavy burden.

In the circumstances, it is clear that we have to make the best use of what we have. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and others of my hon. Friends have demonstrated formidably today that we are not doing so. I accept that the Government have moved some way in this direction and that the Secretary of State acknowledged in his speech at Eastbourne last November that there is a real problem. I accept that in response to sustained pressure from the Opposition the improvement grant limit has been rather belatedly raised, although I gather that the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) regarded that as purely a piece of gimmickry. I also recognise that the Government are trying to encourage lodgers in council houses. I accept that the Government are also taking a more sensible approach to the balance between clearance and improvement, although many Socialist authorities—Wandsworth, for example—are still committed to bulldozer Socialism. I also note that the Secretary of State has even said that he wants to ease the passing of the private rented sector.

The fact remains that the Government's policy is still utterly perverse. Municipalisation is going ahead. The figure for 1976–77 is £175 million. It is a very expensive way of acquiring properties which then become council houses let at heavily subsidised rents. Instead of inveighing against landlords and potential landlords as greedy men and so on, as the Secretary of State was still doing at Eastbourne and as other Government supporters have done, it is far better to encourage them to put housing on the market for letting at fair rents. Kicking people is not the best way of encouraging them.

We have also to accept that housing associations, however valuable they are in many ways, are still an expensive way of doing what landlords might do of their own accord and largely at their own expense if they were given a sensible system in which to operate. All this points towards the resuscitation of the private rented sector.

The Minister spent a great deal of time telling us about the long-term decline in the private rented sector. Everyone knows that that has happened. It is as familiar a statistic as one could find. We know that the figure was more than 90 per cent. before the First World War, and what it has come down to, but now we have to consider how to house people who are homeless today. We need firmly to check this long-term decline in the private rented sector. I do not want to exaggerate. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) wanted to find new ways of helping the private rented sector but that he did not expect to see it expand in the future. That may be true. Perhaps I am a little more "bullish" about it.

However, I do not think that we shall see massive new investment coming into the building of homes to let for some time to come. Instead, I believe that we should look at the facts of existing underused stock and find sensible ways of bringing it back into the market. We should stop what we are doing at the moment, which is to discourage people letting off a floor or a room, or owning a house or two for investment purposes, or letting a flat above a shop which they do not want for themselves, or taking in students.

What are the Government doing about this?

Mr. Lawrence


Mr. Raison

I was about to say "precious little". My hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) says "Nothing". But I am a little more kind-hearted, perhaps.

We have been told again and again that there is a review of the Rent Acts under way. According to the Secretary of State, this will start within and follow on from the main housing finance review. That sounds like one of those definitions of transubstantiation which one tried to understand at school. It is clear that there has been too little sense of urgency from the Government, both today and over the last year or two, and there are still far too many signs of in-built prejudice. We cannot wait. People are homeless now. Action could be taken, and it should be.

I accept two points. First, I believe that the end of the distinction between furnished and unfurnished tenants is sensible. It is much better to look at forms of tenancy and so on rather than trying to preserve a distinction which was largely an artificial one and which led to all kinds of wangles, anomalies, and so on. Secondly, we are not trying to abolish the idea of security of tenure for the ordinary tenant. That is not our objective. There are still plenty of other steps which we can take to make housing more readily available.

The answer to our housing problems is not more restrictions and controls but, oddly enough, more housing. That is the way to provide choice, which we on this side of the House want, though I notice that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) was not very interested in it. It is also the way to deal with the famous abuses of the wicked landlord. There is one way to get away from Rachmanism and its alternate versions. It is to have enough housing and to stop people getting into the position where they can be pushed round by landlords.

It is because private letting produces such a poor return and so many disadvantages that landlords are keen to regain possession so that they can sell their houses. This debate, and the debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge a week or two ago on his very sensible Bill, has offered the Government plenty of suggestions for steps which they could take if only they had the will to do so.

One of these is the idea put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington of shorthold. This is a form of fixed-term letting between willing parties. I do not suggest that this should become the routine method of regulating long-term tenancies, but there are plenty of cases where there are two people very happy that one should rent a house from the other. It is nonsense that that should be impossible. We have also had references to the North Wiltshire scheme, and I am glad that the Government are sympathetic to that.

Then we have to ease the reoccupation conditions for owners. We have especially to end the provision that owners seeking to reoccupy their own houses have to prove greater need. If we can do that, we can get some sense back into this area.

We should make it possible in shared accommodation to give second and subsequent fixed-term lettings without conferring security. The fact is that on this point the present legislation positively encourages evictions, and that is nonsense.

Again, we should guarantee repossession of flats above shops where the owners wish to regain them, perhaps if they wish to sell their businesses. We should also end the present situation in relation to student accommodation so that their security should expire, anyway, when their normal courses have been completed. These are all practical steps, but security is only part of the problem.

The one remark of the Minister that I thought eminently sensible was that a fair return was an essential part of this. Here we must press on with decontrol. The present right to add 12.5 per cent. of the cost of repairs to the rent is obviously inadequate. After all, there is a rent allowance available to take care of people who might otherwise suffer hardship.

Then we have to make fair rents really fair. The House has heard that the British Property Federation said that the net return from unfurnished regulated tenancies was 1.8 per cent. and that that from controlled tenancies was 0.65 per cent. It is nonsense to have that kind of return. The triennial review has proved increasingly inadequate. Whether we should move to an annual review or to some form of indexing is a matter for argument, but something has to be done. We should also convert rent officers' discretion to consider fair returns for the landlord to something more powerful.

Another idea which has been put forward and which is worth thinking about is relief on capital gains tax which at present applies to rented property.

This has been a useful, if truncated, debate. The Government's response has been wholly inadequate. We had a dismal response to the Homes Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge and a dismal response today. I call on the House to condemn the Government's policy in the Lobby tonight.

7.0 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

I agree with the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) that in many respects this has been a very reasonable and helpful debate. During the time I have been associated with the great issue of housing, I have found it a subject that can be most frustrating. However, it is basic to the quality of life of our people and therefore I am interested that so many hon. Members, especially Opposition Members, feel that the answer lies in legislation. As the hon. Gentleman said in one of the better passages of his speech, the answer is the provision of more adequate accommodation.

If legislation could solve any problem it would certainly have solved the housing problem. We have had more legislation about rents, housing, and so on, in the past 50 years than about any other subject. Therefore, I do not apologise for saying that the housing finance review, and the Rent Acts review that will follow, will take time. This is not a matter in which there are any quick and easy answers.

What kind of debate would we have had if the 1974 Act were not on the statute book? The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) indicated that that Act was responsible for almost every problem connected with housing. What would the Opposition have blamed then for the increasing numbers of homeless families being evicted from furnished accommodation? Surely we have already seen what happens in a free market? The swiftest decline in the private rented sector came in the years following the Rent Act 1957. Far from being encouraged by that freedom to go on letting, landlords simply took the opportunity of a free market to get rid of their tenants—I need hardly remind the House what methods some of them used—and then to sell their property.

We are seeking to implement a coherent set of policies which will contain the rate of decline in the private sector and will be fair both to landlords and to those tenants who either want to remain in the private sector or are for the present trapped there unwillingly. This is the aim of the review of the Rent Acts that we shall be carrying out over the coming months. In reply to the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) I point out that it is hoped that that body will report in the middle of next year.

We often hear that the Rent Acts do not allow landlords sufficient ease of repossession—much has been made of that today—and that delays are too long, yet it is a fact that 96 per cent. of landlords who apply to the courts are granted the orders they seek. The average time to get to court appears to be about six weeks, and even this can be halved by a request for an expedited hearing. Again, we think it timely to review the workings of the provisions concerned and, as I said during the debate on the Homes Bill, the case for extending or adapting the grounds for possession will also be looked at. The suggestion made by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane) about regaining possession of the residential part of mixed premises will obviously be one candidate for examination in this context.

While I am speaking about the review, I think I should reiterate to the House certain views that we have about security of tenure. I can make it clear now that we see no likelihood, as a result of the review, of fundamental changes in our approach to security of tenure, above all for existing tenants in their homes. We are firmly committed to this principle and we regard it as of overriding importance in any humane housing policy.

In the future the enlarged public sector will obviously have to play a leading part in the solution of current private sector problems. The solution to the problems in the private sector must lie outside it. Therefore, we want the public sector to become flexible enough in the type of accommodation it builds and in the style of management it uses to cater for a much larger proportion of single people and couples, and for those who need to move with their jobs—groups which have traditionally been housed in the private sector.

I take on board what the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) said about the people whom we want to live in the inner cities, and so on. I assure him that the pamphlet published by the group with which he is associated will be carefully considered. I, too, thought that his speech was a helpful contribution to the debate. Apparently Opposition Members see no reason why these people should not continue to rely on the private landlord, and save the public purse. There are two answers to that argument. First, the sector is too small—hardly existing in some parts of the country—and, as I have said before, I do not believe that even a return to free market conditions will produce an increase in the number of lettings. In our stress areas in par ticular, such a move could bring about a quite disastrous decline.

Secondly, a level of rent which provides an adequate incentive for the landlord to remain in business and to keep his property in good repair is bound also to be a rent which which many people just cannot afford.

Whatever the hopes of Members on both sides of the House may have been, we must acknowledge that the rent allowance system, despite greatly increased spending on publicity, is still far from reaching everyone in need. Of course, we shall continue to study ways of improving take-up, but until we have made considerable strides on this it would be idle to pretend that rent allowances are an effective way of meeting the needs of all poorer tenants.

I turn to ways of putting our existing stock to better use, and remind the House of the steps that the Government have already taken to translate this policy into action. This is where the real solution to our problems lies.

First, there is the change of emphasis from wholesale clearance and redevelopment to the encouragement of the gradual renewal of older housing. I was interested in what the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight said about certain cases in the North-East. If he sends me details I assure him that I shall consider them very carefully indeed. We are following this policy by issuing new guidelines on the relative costs and benefits of clearance and improvement and by the coherent and rational allocation of funds for the improvement of council housing.

A major feature of our housing policy is to prevent older housing from drifting into such a poor state that demolition seems the only answer. My right hon. Friend is therefore keeping a close watch on the improvement grant situation in case it should turn out that the changes introduced in 1974 have been too restrictive. He has already announced one relaxation. We discovered that the existing rateable value limits for owner-occupied properties were discouraging the conversion of large houses into flats, which is the kind of scheme we believe should be encouraged. We have therefore just announced a doubling of the limits for this type of scheme. But the overall position is under close scrutiny and if we decide that further action is necessary to step up the rate of private sector improvement work we shall take it.

I turn now to the public sector. Here, too, we found that during 1972 and 1973 local authority expenditure on improvements to council-owned housing had improved quite dramatically. The following figures speak for themselves—all at 1975 survey prices: in 1970–71 local authorities in England invested £97 million in improving their own houses; in 1971–72 the figure was £182 million, in 1972–73, £315 million, in 1973–74, £402 million, and in 1974–75, £395 million.

Moreover, evidence collected by the Department indicated that quite a substantial proportion of the moneys was being spent on work such as modernisation of inter-war council estates, which although no doubt very desirable could not be made to rank very highly in our scheme of priorities.

For this reason the Government took power in what is now Section 105 of the 1974 Act to control authorities' expenditure in this area. The purpose of Section 105 is twofold: to get some kind of overall limit on the work and to ensure that the resources available are used where the need is greatest. Expenditure under this heading is estimated at about £270 million for 1975–76 and will be £300 million in 1976–77, following the Chancellor's announcement of additional provision for this work under the counter-unemployment programme. All these figures are at 1975 survey prices, so the House will see that although there has been some reduction from the peak reached in 1973–74, the provision for this important work is still running at over three times its level in 1970.

Closely associated with all this are programmes of acquisition and improvement of existing houses by authorities. The Government see municipalisation of existing houses as a very important part of their programme for dealing with poor quality houses, particularly where the poor housing is associated with the decline of the private rented sector. We are convinced that in those areas of housing stress in which many of the poor quality houses belong to private landlords who cannot or will not spend money on improving them, the best solution is often for a local authority or housing association to acquire the houses, improve them and then retain them as tenanted property, thus ensuring a continued availability of housing available for letting.

As proof of the importance that the Government attach to this programme, the public expenditure provision for acquisition of existing houses by local authorities is £175 million, compared with estimated expenditure in the current year of £120 million. For this reason, too, the categories of priority expenditure under Section 105 give high place to work on acquired property.

In order to encourage authorities to continue with their programmes of acquisition, the Department has today issued a circular setting out the arrangements for municipalisation which will apply during the coming financal year. Subject to certain limitations, authorities are now free to acquire any houses in housing action areas, general improvement areas and priority neighbourhoods, whether the houses are tenanted, owner-occupied or vacant. They also now have consent to acquire any houses in other areas of housing shortage which have been vacant for more than two months.

There are also new and more favourable arrangements for acquisition of properties for use as hostels. In addition to all this, authorities are always free to come to the Department with proposals for other acquisitions which do not come within the general consent categories, and in dealing with such applications the Department will seek to be as sympathetic as possible, particularly where the acquisition will help to meet the needs of the homeless or secure the improvement or renovation of dilapidated or obsolescent houses.

Hon. Members have spoken of the need to take action to bring empty property back into use, particularly where the owner would like to let his property for a limited time but wants to be certain of getting it back when he needs the accommodation for himself. I see great scope here for local authorities, housing associations and the private landlord to come together in arrangements of mutual benefit to provide more housing more quickly and at little cost.

The kind of schemes I have in mind are those pioneered by the North Wiltshire District Council and since taken up by a number of local authorities, under which the authority takes up a tenancy or lease on privately-owned property and sublets to homeless families or people on the waiting list.

We have already said that if it becomes clear that we are not making firm headway against the problem of empty houses, particularly in housing stress areas, we shall not hesitate to consider introducing new and realistic powers to deal with the situation.

As a Government we are pursuing a range of policies that we believe are both socially sensitive and realistically geared to the complex of problems that we face, and which represent the best

use of the financial and physical resources at our disposal. The solution to our problems needs a painstaking and detailed approach—there is no other way. There is still much to be done, but we intend to continue firmly with what we have begun. We believe that such policies will commend themselves to all who believe that decent homes for all our people must remain one of our highest priorities. I therefore ask the House to reject the motion.

Question put, That this House do now adjourn:—

The House divided: Ayes 265, Noes 285.

Division No. 91.] AYES [7.15 p.m.
Adley, Robert Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray) James, David
Alison, Michael Eyre, Reginald Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Fairbairn, Nicholas Jessel, Toby
Arnold, Tom Fairgrieve, Russell Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Farr, John Johnston, Russell (Inverness)
Awdry, Daniel Fell, Anthony Jopling, Michael
Baker, Kenneth Finsberg, Geoffrey Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Banks, Robert Fisher, Sir Nigel Kaberry, Sir Donald
Beith, A. J. Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Kershaw, Anthony
Bell, Ronald Fookes, Miss Janet Kilfedder, James
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham) Forman, Nigel King, Evelyn (South Dorset)
Benyon, W. Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) King, Tom (Bridgwater)
Berry, Hon Anthony Fox, Marcus Kirk, Sir Peter
Biffen, John Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Kitson, Sir Timothy
Biggs-Davison, John Freud, Clement Knox, David
Blaker, Peter Fry, Peter Lamont, Norman
Body, Richard Galbraith, Hon T. G. D. Lane, David
Boscawen, Hon Robert Gardiner, George (Reigate) Langford-Holt, Sir John
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Gardner, Edward (S Fylde) Latham, Michael (Melton)
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham) Lawrence, Ivan
Braine, Sir Bernard Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) Lawson, Nigel
Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Glyn, Dr Alan Lester, Jim (Beeston)
Brotherton, Michael Godber, Rt Hon Joseph Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Bryan, Sir Paul Goodhew, Victor Lloyd, Ian
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Goodlad, Alastair Loveridge, John
Buck, Antony Gorst, John Luce, Richard
Budgen, Nick Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) McAdden, Sir Stephen
Bulmer, Esmond Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) McCrindle, Robert
Burden, F. A. Gray, Hamish Macfarlane, Neil
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Grimond, Rt Hon J. MacGregor, John
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Grist, Ian Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)
Churchill, W. S. Grylls, Michael McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Hall, Sir John McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Clark, William (Croydon S) Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Madel, David
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Marten, Neil
Clegg, Walter Hampson, Dr Keith Mather, Carol
Cockcroft, John Hannam, John Maude, Angus
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye) Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald
Cope, John Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Mawby, Ray
Cordle, John H. Hastings, Stephen Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Cormack, Patrick Havers, Sir Michael Mayhew, Patrick
Corrie, John Hawkins, Paul Meyer, Sir Anthony
Costain, A. P. Heath, Rt Hon Edward Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)
Critchley, Julian Hicks, Robert Mills, Peter
Crowder, F. P. Higgins, Terence L. Miscampbell, Norman
Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford) Holland, Philip Moate, Roger
Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Hooson, Emlyn Monro, Hector
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Hordern, Peter Montgomery, Fergus
Drayson, Burnaby Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Moore, John (Croydon C)
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Howell, David (Guildford) More, Jasper (Ludlow)
Durant, Tony Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Morgan, Geraint
Dykes, Hugh Hunt, David (Wirral) Morris, Michael (Northampton S)
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Hunt, John Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Hurd, Douglas Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)
Elliott, Sir William Hutchison, Michael Clark Mudd, David
Emery, Peter Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Neave, Airey
Nelson, Anthony Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) Temple-Morris, Peter
Neubert, Michael Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire) Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Newton, Tony Royle, Sir Anthony Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Normanton, Tom Sainsbury, Tim Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Nott, John St. John-Stevas, Norman Townsend, Cyril D.
Onslow, Cranley Scott, Nicholas Trotter, Neville
Oppenheim, Mrs Sally Scott-Hopkins, James Tugendhat, Christopher
Page, John (Harrow West) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) van Straubenzee, W. R.
Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Shelton, William (Streatham) Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Pardoe, John Shepherd, Colin Viggers, Peter
Pattie, Geoffrey Shersby, Michael Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Penbaligon, David Silvester, Fred Wakeham, John
Percival, Ian Sims, Roger Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Peyton, Rt Hon John Sinclair, Sir George Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Pink, R. Bonner Skeet, T. H. H. Wall, Patrick
Price, David (Eastleigh) Smith, Dudley (Warwick) Walters, Dennis
Prior, Rt Hon James Speed, Keith Warren, Kenneth
Pym, Rt Hon Francis Spence, John Watt, Hamish
Raison, Timothy Spicer, Jim (W Dorset) Weatherill, Bernard
Rathbone, Tim Spicer, Michael (S Worcester) Wells, John
Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter Sproat, lain Welsh, Andrew
Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal) Stainton, Keith Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Rees-Davies, W. R. Stanbrook, Ivor Wiggin, Jerry
Reid, George Stanley, John Wigley, Dafydd
Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts) Steel, David (Roxburgh) Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex) Steen, Anthony (Wavertree) Winterton, Nicholas
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Stewart, Donald (Western Isles) Wood, Rt Hon Richard
Ridley, Hon Nicholas Stewart, Ian (Hitchin) Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Ridsdale, Julian Stokes, John Younger, Hon George
Rifkind, Malcolm Stradling Thomas, J.
Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW) Tapsell, Peter TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Taylor, R. (Croydon NW) Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and
Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks) Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart) Mr. Cecil Parkinson.
Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Tebbit, Norman
Abse, Leo Corbett, Robin Ginsburg, David
Allaun, Frank Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill) Golding, John
Anderson, Donald Crawshaw, Richard Gould, Bryan
Archer, Peter Cronin, John Gourlay, Harry
Armstrong, Ernest Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony Graham, Ted
Ashley, Jack Cryer, Bob Grant, George (Morpeth)
Ashton, Joe Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Grant, John (Islington C)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Grocott, Bruce
Atkinson, Norman Davidson, Arthur Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Hardy, Peter
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Davies, Denzil (Lianelli) Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Hart, Rt Hon Judith
Bates, Alf Deakins, Eric Hayman, Mrs Helene
Bean, R. E. Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Heffer, Eric S.
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Delargy, Hugh Hooley, Frank
Bidwell, Sydney Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Horam, John
Bishop, E. S. Dempsey, James Howell, Rt Hon Denis
Boardman, H. Dormand, J. D. Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Douglas-Mann, Bruce Huckfield, Les
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Duffy, A. E. P. Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Dunn, James A. Hughes, Mark (Durham)
Bradley, Tom Dunnett, Jack Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Eadie, Alex Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Edge, Geoff Hunter, Adam
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S) Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)
Buchan, Norman English, Michael Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)
Buchanan, Richard Ennals, David Janner, Greville
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Jay, Rt Hon Douglas
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE) Evans, loan (Aberdare) Jeger, Mrs Lena
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)
Campbell, Ian Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Stechford)
Canavan, Dennis Fitch, Alan (Wigan) John, Brynmor
Cant, R. B. Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W) Johnson, James (Hull West)
Carmichael, Neil Flannery, Martin Johnson, Walter (Derby S)
Carter, Ray Fletcher, Raymond (likeston) Jones, Barry (East Flint)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Jones, Dan (Burnley)
Cartwright, John Ford, Ben Judd, Frank
Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Forrester, John Kaufman, Gerald
Clemitson, Ivor Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Kelley, Richard
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Kerr, Russell
Cohen, Stanley Freeson, Reginald Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Coleman, Donald Garrett, John (Norwich S) Kinnock, Neil
Concannon, J, D. Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Lambie, David
Conian, Bernard George, Bruce Lamborn, Harry
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Gilbert, Dr John Lamond, James
Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Padley, Walter Stott, Roger
Lead bitter, Ted Palmer, Arthur Strang, Gavin
Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Park, George Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.
Lever, Rt Hon Harold Parker, John Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Lewis, Arthur (Newham N) Parry, Robert Swain, Thomas
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Pavitt, Laurie Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Lipton, Marcus Peart, Rt Hon Fred Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Litterick, Tom Pendry, Tom Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Loyden, Eddie Perry, Ernest Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Luard, Evan Phipps, Dr Colin Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Lyon, Alexander (York) Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Tierney, Sydney
Mabon, Dr J. Dickson Prescott, John Tinn, James
McCartney, Hugh Price, C. (Lewisham W) Tomlinson, John
McElhone, Frank Price, William (Rugby) Torney, Tom
McGuire, Michael (Ince) Radice, Giles Tuck, Raphael
Mackenzie, Gregor Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S) Urwin, T. W.
Mackintosh, John P. Richardson, Miss Jo Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
McNamara, Kevin Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock) Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)
Madden, Max Robinson, Geoffrey Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Magee, Bryan Roderick, Caerwyn Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Mallalieu, J. P. W. Rodgers, George (Chorley) Ward, Michael
Marks, Kenneth Rodgers, William (Stockton) Watkins, David
Marquand, David Rooker, J. W. Watkinson, John
Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Roper, John Weetch, Ken
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Rose, Paul B. Weitzman, David
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock) Wellbeloved, James
Maynard, Miss Joan Rowlands, Ted White, Frank R. (Bury)
Meacher, Michael Sandelson, Neville White, James (Pollok)
Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Sedgemore, Brian Whitehead, Phillip
Millan, Bruce Selby, Harry Whitlock, William
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Shaw, Arnold (llford South) Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Miller, Mrs Millie (llford N) Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne) Williams, Alan (Swansea W)
Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen) Shore, Rt Hon Peter Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Molloy, William Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C) Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Moonman, Eric Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE) Williams, Sir Thomas
Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford) Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich) Wilson, Rt Hon H. (Huyton)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Sillars, James Wilson, William (Coventry SF.)
Moyle, Roland Silverman, Julius Wise, Mrs Audrey
Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Skinner, Dennis Woodall, Alec
Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Small, William Woof, Robert
Newens, Stanley Smith, John (N Lanarkshire) Wrigglesworth, Ian
Oakes, Gordon Snaps, Peter Young, David (Bolton E)
Ogden, Eric Spearing, Nigel
O'Halloran, Michael Spriggs, Leslie TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
O'Malley, Rt Hon Brian Stallard, A. W.
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham) Mr. Joseph Harper and
Ovenden, John Stoddart, David Mr. Thomas Cox
Owen, Dr David Storehouse, Rt Hon John

Question accordingly negatived.