§ 3.0 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN rose to call attention to the housing situation; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in submitting this Motion to your Lordships, I want to say at the outset that I hope I shall say nothing of a politically provocative character, though possibly some of what I propose to say may be controversial. I feel that, if at all possible, housing should not be, as it has been in the past, the subject of Party politics. To-day the better housing of our people is the professed aim of all political Parties. If there is any difference of opinion between them it can only be on means and not on ends. If we have as our objective the doubling of our standard of living in the next twenty or twenty-five years, then the biggest single factor in the raising of the standard of living must be the improvement of the housing of our people. I have therefore come to the conclusion that the most useful contribution I can make to this debate at the present time is to try to make a survey of what our housing needs will be for the next twelve years, what contribution we are making towards these needs, and what further action is called for.
§ In view of the perhaps unusual manner in which I am treating this subject, I have given some notice to the Minister who is going to reply, and I hope it will enable him to give an effective reply. I am afraid I am going to trouble your Lordships with a number of figures, which I hope will not be too difficult. For my information I have drawn extensively on the annual Abstract of Statistics for 1958 and the latest Digest of Statistics for October, 1959. As your Lordships will know, in the Abstract of Statistics the Registrar-General projects the population as he sees it right up to the year 1999. I do not want to go as far as that; I propose to go up to 1972, which is a matter of twelve years. In that twelve years the projected population figures 1091 show that there will be an increase in population of something like 4 million in the United Kingdom. Throughout I am going to give United Kingdom figures. They include Northern Ireland, but I hope that that will not disconcert the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave. The figures are given mostly in that form in the Abstract, but the Northern Ireland figures are so small that I doubt whether they will in any way affect the main argument that I am putting forward.
My Lords, I do not want to interrupt the noble Lord except to say, in case it affects the noble Lord's use of figures, that I have not the United Kingdom figures including the figures for housing in Northern Ireland. I have some England and Wales figures and some Great Britain figures, but not, I am afraid, Northern Ireland figures.
§ LORD SILKIN
They are quite small, and I am not proposing to suggest that my figures are mathematically accurate to the last person. Inevitably, we are talking in hypothetical terms—even the Registrar-General who is projecting the population. But it is interesting to note that, according to the Registrar-General's forecast, the population of this country is increasing every five years by about one million people, and that figure is fairly steady right up to 1972. If we take an average and translate that into terms of families—at the present moment the number of persons per family is about 3⅓, but it is tending to become less—it looks as if we shall need something like 56,000 houses a year for the next twelve years merely to keep pace with the increase in population.
I add to that our requirements in order to provide decent housing accommodation for every family in this country. We have to take into account slum clearance, demolition, closure and so on, which will involve obsolescence and the relief of overcrowding. It is difficult to get anything like exact figures for those particular types of housing accommodation, but in 1950 an estimate was made of the constituents of the problem. That estimate has remained on record unchallenged and it will give your Lordships some idea of the magnitude of the problem. In 1950 there were nearly 7 million households with no fixed baths, and over 3 million families either shared 1092 or were entirely without a W.C. Nearly 2 million families shared or were without a kitchen sink. Over 1 million families shared or were without a cooking stove. There were 4¾ million houses over 65 years old in 1950, and of these—these are accurate figures, I think—2¼ million houses were 100 years old or more. Of course some of these conditions have improved. Since 1950 something like 2 million houses have been built. But the houses that I have referred to—the 4¾ million houses which were over 65 years old in 1950—are nearly 10 years older; and the 2¼ million houses which were then over 100 years old are now also nearly 10 years older.
For all the purposes that I have outlined in dealing with these various housing difficulties, and in order to give every family a house of its own—a separate house, with all the facilities and amenities which we think to-day have become necessities—I have assumed that we shall need 200,0000 new houses a year. These would include dwellings for the relief of overcrowding, slum clearance and all the rest, and I am taking the period over the next twelve years. Then we shall need a certain number of houses—there is a great demand for them—for a general improvement in the standard of living. As your Lordships know, there is a growing practice, even among middle-class persons, people with moderate means—especially those who are living in congested parts of our cities—to acquire a second home in the country. This is no longer a rich man's dream. A great many people of moderate means have a second home of some kind in the country, and I include this demand, which is a perfectly legitimate one if we are to increase our standard of living. I couple that with the general improvement in standards and I say that there is a demand, over the next twelve years, for something like 20,000 houses a year for that purpose.
Then there is an excess of immigration over emigration. On current figures I estimate that we need about 10,000 houses a year for that purpose. Your Lordships will be aware of the difficulties which have been created over the immigration of large numbers of people from the West Indies and other territories; and it is of the greatest importance that we should avoid those 1093 difficulties in the future. Many of them have arisen in respect of housing, and I have assumed that there we need about 10,000 houses a year.
I want to add, further, a certain number of dwellings that in my view are essential if we are to provide some mobility in our population. At the present time a person's job is determined by where he lives and, in practice, he cannot leave that job because he will have the greatest difficulty in finding other accommodation. In an industrial nation such as ours it is of great importance that people should be able to move fairly freely from one town to another or from one place to another and be reasonably sure of getting accommodation. Here I am taking an arbitrary figure and saying that there will be a need of something like 150,000 dwellings to provide that mobility. Thus the grand total of our requirements is 300,000 dwellings a year.
That is not an impossible figure. It happens to coincide with a figure which was settled by Her Majesty's Government at a certain Conference some years ago. Whether that was an intelligent guess as to our requirements or pure coincidence I will not say; but it is an indication that if we had kept up providing 300,000 dwellings a year and continued to do so for the next twelve years we should be keeping abreast of our housing situation. I may say that over a number of years we have provided more than 300,000 houses. The average number of dwellings built over the eight years from 1951 to 1958 was just under that figure—293,000; and if we take the last six years the total is almost exactly:300,000 dwellings a year. So your Lordships will see that certainly up to this stage I am not being in the least controversial.
The number of dwellings that we are providing, however, has been declining since 1954. That was the peak year, for in 1954 we provided, in the United Kingdom, 354,000 dwellings. In 1955, the total was 324,000, a decline of 30,000. In the year 1956 the total was just over 300,000, and in 1957 307,000. In 1958, it was 278,000—a further decline of 19,000; and in 1959, I estimate (and we now have figures for the first ten months of the year) that the total will be 263,000, a further decline of 15,000. So that compared to the number in 1954 the 1094 number of dwellings which are being provided in the present year will show a drop of 91,000. I repeat, if we had been keeping pace with the total of 300,000 a year, we should, according to my calculations, have been keeping up with our requirements; but we are falling sadly behind, and this year we shall be 37,000 dwellings behind the number that we require.
This decline in output of dwellings is due entirely to the reduction in the number of dwellings provided by local authorities. Production by private enterprise has been gradually increasing. The peak year for local authority dwellings was 1953, when they provided 245,000; but last year the total was only 150,000, a drop of 95,000; and this year it looks as if the total is to be 130,000 dwellings, or a drop of 115,000 dwellings from the peak year. This drop in the number of dwellings built by local authorities is not accounted for wholly by the abolition of the subsidy—and I want to be quite fair—because the subsidy was not abolished until March, 1956. Nor is it entirely accountable to the high rates of interest. Those began in November, 1956, when the rate was 5¾ per cent. In January, 1958, it was 6¾ per cent. and to-day it is 5¾ per cent. Those rates have, of course, been factors, but the decline in local authority housing began before those rates came about, although it is true to say that the abolition of the subsidy and the high rates of interest have accentuated the drop.
Private building has increased, but it has not entirely made good the decline in local authority housing, and so we have this overall drop to which I have referred. Furthermore, apart from a number of luxury flats in London and certain seaside resorts, private building is almost wholly building for sale, and there is a growing tendency even for flats to be erected for sale only, and not for letting. The rents and selling prices are high and, as a rule, are not within the reach of most persons needing accommodation. Consequently, private enterprise housing is riot, on the whole, making good to any large extent the need of accommodation at rents or prices which families with incomes of, say, up to £1,500 a year can afford to pay.
1095 In other words, we are not catering, by and large, for the large middle classes. We are providing substantial accommodation in the way of luxury dwellings, and the local authorities are building a certain number—a declining number—of dwellings for workers. But in between those two classes we are doing very little. In house building we are falling between the two stools of local authorities and private enterprise, and we are not making great headway in dealing even with the lower-paid section of the community. If one wants evidence of this, one can find it in the waiting lists of local authorities, which are as long to-day as they were years ago—and in some cases waiting lists have been closed—and by visits to places like Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Glasgow, Belfast and other of our great cities. Noble Lords may have read in the Sunday Times this week an article on Manchester, the first of a series. That article portrays a horrible picture of housing conditions in that great city, and one can find those conditions repeated in most of the large cities of this country. In London alone, where there were, according to the 1951 Census, 1,130,000 dwellings—that is in the London County Council area—nearly half were shared by two or more families.
An interesting sidelight on the difficulty of accommodation is the growing number of permanent caravans we have in the country. There are to-day something like 60,000 families living permanently in caravans. Caravans are not very popular, except with those who are living in them, and not always even with them. Your Lordships may have seen the Arton Wilson Report which was recently published. The finding of the Arton Wilson Committee is that people are living in these caravans because they can find no other accommodation at a price they can afford to pay, and because they are enabled to put them on sites which are close to where they are about to work, and they are a considerable contribution towards mobility. But the caravan owners and site owners are having great difficulty with local authorities. A large number of the permanent caravan sites are unauthorised, and nobody seems to want them. Yet they are making a contribution towards the housing problem of this country. I am very glad that we have had this Committee reporting, because 1096 something must be done to regularise the position and to enable those people who want, or have, to live in caravans to be able to do so in proper conditions and on authorised sites.
It may well be that the noble Earl who is going to reply may challenge some of the figures I have given. If he does, then he ought to challenge the figure of 300,000 houses which the Conservative Party, at their conference in, I believe, 1954 or 1955, agreed to build. Evidently that figure must have had some relationship to the needs. But I hope he will agree that I am not far out in my calculation—I do not pretend that it is a purely scientific calculation, but I think it is near enough for my purpose.
If we are going to build 300,000 houses a year over the next 12 years, and possibly beyond that, we shall need a considerable amount of land: something like 20,000 to 25,000 acres a year—say up to 300,000 acres for the next 12 years. Many local authorities are not zoning enough land for residential purposes; others are desperately short of land. Indeed, in some of the most congested parts of the country, and particularly, as I know, on the outskirts of London, in places like West Ham and Walthamstow and so on, there is no more available land in the area. In any event, for both these reasons—because land is scarce and there is not enough land being zoned for residential purposes—land costs are rising, and rising very rapidly indeed, so helping to accentuate the problem. This is becoming a serious factor in the cost of housing. It is not at all unusual to find that the cost of the land for a dwelling is about £1,000. This high cost of land and the scarcity are combining to create pressure for greater densities in our cities—and eventually, I think, the same will apply to the countryside—and high flats are becoming more common.
The trouble about high flats—flats of, say, 13 or 14 storeys—is that they are becoming more and more expensive to build. I think the optimum height for a block of flats with lifts is about 9 or 10 storeys; without lifts it used to be about 5—quite high enough. But once we go above 9 or 10 storeys we add to a very considerable extent to the cost. The London County Council, whose rents are by no means low, find that they have to 1097 contribute a subsidy of £100 per dwelling per annum in respect of most of these high flats. That, my Lords, is an impossible position, and we must do something about it. As I say, we are bound to have this conflict between providing dwellings, say, in the way of houses, thereby, in many cases, losing agricultural land (and since the noble Earl who is to reply is interested in both houses and agriculture he may have to resolve his conflict), and building high and forcing the majority of our people into flats, which is contrary to our traditional way of living. It seems to me that we have to do one or the other.
I have stated the problem, my Lords, and it is, I would repeat, largely due, first, to an increasing population; secondly, to the enormous backlog of bad and overcrowded houses; and, thirdly, to the desire that we all have to provide our people with a higher standard of living over the next 20 to 25 years, and that means better housing and getting rid of many of our pre-war houses which are to-day regarded as most unsatisfactory.
What is the solution? The solution seems to me to relate not so much to the difficulty of providing the required number of houses as to ensuring that we build the right type of accommodation. We shall get no solution if we concentrate on building expensive blocks of flats. The Minister may well answer that in time there will be a surplus of such accommodation and that we shall not get any more; but while that building is going on and developers are discovering that there is this surplus, the ordinary person is not getting the accommodation he needs. We have to divert a certain amount of our resources to the provision of housing and to accept that as an established and permanent part of our social requirements. We have to make more land available. On any calculation we shall need more land. We have to see to it that the additional land that we require is used in the most efficient and economical manner. I would suggest that the Government are making a great mistake in not building considerably more new towns, which are not only economical in their use of land but most rewarding, financially and socially. I would recommend to the Government that they might well look at this idea of new towns once more.
1098 I hope that to-day I have established at least a need for a full inquiry. I am not asking the Government to accept my figures in their entirety: I am not suggesting that they are not capable of amendment in one form or another. Nevertheless, I think that I have established that this is a matter which ought to be looked into either by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government itself or (and in my view preferably) by an outside Committee. I would ask the noble Earl to represent to his right honourable friend that, if we want to look ahead and see that our people are well housed in the future, and not build up problems for ourselves, there really is a case for setting up an inquiry at the earliest possible moment, so as to ascertain what our real needs are and what are the means by which we can meet them.
I have not suggested that this is going to be an easy problem to solve. It is a subject which bristles with problems and difficulties and conflicting views—such as that between flats and houses; the need for preserving agricultural land; the need for housing land, and many others. I can only say that good housing in the right place might help to solve many of our other problems. It might well solve the traffic problem, for instance. I do not want to enlarge on that, but it is a fact that a large part of our community spends a large part of its time in going from one place to another—going from home to work, and home to leisure. With more satisfactory arrangement of our housing conditions, we could save a great deal of traffic; we could save a great deal of ill-health and time lost; we could provide more leisure and an opportunity of a better life. I believe that in the long run the welfare of a people must be judged by the houses they live in. Nothing is more capable of creating conditions of contentment and happiness than good homes, and nothing is more rewarding. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ LORD AMULREE
My Lords, the noble Lord who has moved this Motion has made an extremely interesting and constructive speech. It is one which nearly makes me feel compelled to tear up the few notes I have in front of me, because there is nothing he has said with which I do not entirely agree, and 1099 I find that there is little that I can constructively add to what he has already said. However, there are just one or two points which he mentioned that I should like to emphasise, and upon which I think I can bring to bear a little more light.
It has been mentioned in one of the publications of the Ministry that about nine million people have been rehoused since the war. I am not sure of the exact figure, but I think it is something approaching that number. That is a very good record indeed, but it does not mean that there is not a great deal more to be done. One of the things which have rather startled me during the last few years is the conditions in some of the London areas. There are parts of the town which I knew quite well when I was a medical student, doing my maternity work in the year 1925, which even then had absolutely worn-out buildings—floors rotten, bug-ridden, and everything else one can think of. A large number of them have been pulled down, I agree, but when I go to see people, in those areas to-day I still find, even in 1959, many of the same old buildings which certainly should not have existed in 1925 and probably should have been pulled down before the First World War. So when the noble Lord puts our need at the rather large figure of 300,000 a year, I think he is not in the least exaggerating; indeed I should say that he is not even quoting quite a big enough figure. Certainly there is no difference between us about that matter.
There is one point which rather worries me. One knows that there is this enormous demand for houses and that people are still badly housed, with families living in congested conditions, and therefore I think it is sad to see some of the large blocks of offices which are being put up. I do not want to use the term in an unpleasant way, but I think that they are put up in a somewhat speculative fashion in the sense that they are not fully booked up before they are built; and one has read in the national Press from time to time that some of these blocks have not been taken and are not occupied. I do not say that the Government can do anything about it, but it makes me wonder whether some of the work cannot be directed from 1100 these great big blocks of flats to houses for people to live in.
As the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has pointed out, the pressure for houses is going to increase. The population is going up, as the noble Lord said, by about one million every five years. That figure corresponds with the figure which I have been given too; and the need for separate dwellings is, I am sure, going to increase at a faster rate than the population is increasing. More and more people who are at present sharing accommodation in a rather uncomfortable fashion want to live, with their families, by themselves in some form of private accommodation. That is shown by the work of the private builder. There has been a great increase in the number of houses built for the owner-occupier, as the noble Lord has said, rather than of buildings being built entirely for flats.
The question of putting up these blocks of flats is indeed a difficult one. For quite a long time the Ministry of Health, followed by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, have been following a policy of high-density building, but it seems to me that there comes a moment when it gets extremely expensive. The noble Lord quoted some figures. I was given some further figures by the Town and Country Planning Association, which I think is a reputable body and gives quite good figures. That Association told me that if you build a block of six-storey flats with an average square-footage of 850 each flat costs about £2,465; if you build a block of twelve-storey flats of the same type the cost would be £2,847; whereas if you build a two-storey house, particularly round about London, the figure drops to £1,615. So that is, indeed, one of the great troubles about these tall blocks of flats: they are very expensive.
A further point is that, as the noble Lord has said, the vast majority of people would far rather live in a house than a flat—and there I am bound to say that I agree with them entirely. One wonders therefore, whether some kind of compromise could not be reached between the two-storey house and the tall block of flats. I realise that that would mean a large encroachment upon valuable agricultural land; and I wonder whether the Government should not 1101 seriously consider building more new towns rather than putting up these enormous great blocks of tall flats which are very expensive and which are not very popular. Further, one does not really know what their future is going to be. Whether they are going to turn into slums in another fifteen or twenty years' time I simply do not know, because they have not been there long enough to see; but I am rather suspicious that some of them may not last very well and may, in an even shorter time than some of the houses, turn themselves into slums.
What I should like to suggest, therefore, is that the question of more new towns be gone into very carefully; and I would ask at the same time whether it would not be possible to attract industry to some of the smaller towns and to build house property there, rather than to concentrate on the building of flats in the big areas—in other words, to try to reverse the process. It is simpler to make provision for people in some of our towns which are rather decayed and to attract industry back to them in that way.
One of the matters which is as important as ever it was is what Edward Chadwick in the middle of nineteenth century first began to talk about as environmental hygiene. That is something which we all think is firmly established. Now that most people have piped water water supplies, drainage and sewage disposal, there is a tendency to think that everything important has been done: but the Chadwick theory applies just as much to good conditions of housing, to the actual design of a house and its rooms and to the way it is constructed. All this is just as important as the facts that we now have a wholesome water supply and reasonable drainage.
This has been brought home to me in an interesting way. Not long after the war. I went down to Torquay to visit a nursing home used entirely for old folk. It had about twenty or thirty patients. One of the great difficulties we had then was to find out what to do with people in their seventies who were taken with Icing-term illnesses, and hospital beds were scarcer then than they are now. I asked them at the nursing home what the old people did, and I was told that it was very extraordinary, but long-term illnesses among old people just did 1102 not occur there. I was told that when people get to a certain age they get old people's illnesses from which they either recover or die. So they did not have that problem of the long-term illness.
At that time I was involved in two schemes for cottage homes, one in London at Mill Hill and the other in Surrey, at Weybridge. These homes take mostly people who were small shopkeepers or who had served behind the counters in drapers' shops or haberdasheries. Because there is a long waiting list, these people are generally about seventy, and they go on living there as long as they want to. When the cottage homes were founded sixty or seventy years ago there was a good deal of accommodation for the long-term sick, but they just do not occur. About a couple of days ago I visited both these homes. They were full of perfectly fit people in their very late eighties and nineties, who were not in bed. They were there merely because they were rather frail, but they had no long-term illness.
All this makes one think that good housing, with a certain amount of care and a considerable increase in domiciliary service, to bring that side in, too, will take away in time the enormous pressure on hospital beds which now exists for the old and elderly with long-term illnesses. Commenting on that, I think it is a great pity that it is not simpler for elderly people to be rehoused. By that I mean that it should be easier for someone who is elderly and frail and has a room perhaps on the fourth floor to be rehoused on the ground floor. I know from a great deal of personal experience that that would save an enormous amount of trouble, because old people who live on fourth floors cannot lead normal lives and a certain number have to come into hospital, where they use the hospital merely as a hotel, which is an expensive and wasteful way of employing hospital beds. This is due to the difficulties which local authorities seem to find in moving someone from the top floor to the ground floor. I. think that this matter should be looked into.
There is another point which I should like to raise, and which I think is covered by the terms of the Motion. I am rather sorry that there appears to be no medical staff at the Ministry of Housing and 1103 Local Government. I have looked in the Imperial Calendar and there certainly do not appear to be any doctors. Nowadays when housing, new towns and water supplies are extremely important matters it seems rather sad that there should not be a well-established and experienced medical staff at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. It was one of the saddest things which occurred in the 'fifties when the Ministry of Health was separated from what has now become the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, a separation which more than anything broke up the conception of environmental hygiene. One of the brilliant bits of statesmanship which occurred in this country after the First World War was the turning of the Local Government Board into the Ministry of Health, which was very well managed by the father of the noble Viscount whom I see on my left, who was for a long time the Leader of your Lordships' House. It was a tragedy when that good arrangement was split up. Before I sit down, I should like to make a plea that if these two Departments cannot be put back into one, certainly from the health point of view there should be a tighter link between them than they have at the present time.
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF ALBEMARLE
My Lords, before entering on the few remarks which I wish to make, I should like to explain that I felt a need to speak on this Motion by reason of two articles which I saw in the papers on a house-builders' conference, where the needs of private enterprise housebuilders were put forward. These articles raised a question on which I have previously spoken to your Lordships—namely, the use of land and its reservation, the question of preventing, so far as we can, agricultural land from going the wrong way or in ways other than the best. I am greatful to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for obliging us by putting down this Motion to-day. He is a master of the subject and has so much to his record, from the days in which he was in charge of housing on the London County Council until the days when he gave us the Town Planning Act, that I am sure that nobody has more right than he to put forward this Motion. We have all 1104 had great pleasure in listening to his remarks, although we must differ sometimes.
I should like to clear myself of any possible misapprehension. On the printed page of the magazine, the House Builder, I saw that the Minister of Housing and Dame Evelyn Sharp, the Permanent Secretary, disclosed that they were against allowing local authorities to zone a greater amount of building land in the next quinquennium than in the past, and that the official view was that they rather favour renewing the centres of old towns, getting rid of worn out property and, if necessary, building high. The house builders were very proud of themselves in that in the first nine months of this year they had put up 107,402 private houses, which is not a bad contribution. But they pointed out that that contribution could have been much greater if they could have laid their hands on land at an economic price to make it possible for them to carry on their business. When the 1947 Act made the green belt, it immediately threw a blight on certain land on one side of the line and gave a sort of semi-monopoly value to land on the other side of the line. It was disclosed to me that the house-builders think that more white land should be put at their disposal, but not at the price of £9,000 an acre which has been reached and which is, of course, of no use at all.
This is where I have endeavoured to think out what could be done. It seems to me that the next thing to food (which is our life-blood) that we want is shelter, and nothing can be more important in that respect than housing. We must therefore put houses on the ground, and we must make the ground on which they are built of a value that enables house-builders to carry on their activities. That cannot be done under the present methods.
I was looking at the Ipswich new town plan the other day. They divided their territory into six areas and designated two of them as residential land. What must happen? The moment that is disclosed, up goes the monopoly value, which cannot be for the good of the general public. What, therefore, can be done? We have the Nature Conservancy, with an income of £350,000 a year, who are, I understand, entitled to buy land; 1105 and the Forestry Commission have an income every year, and they are entitled to buy land. It seems to me that we need a land bank, constituted how you will, but having the public interest at heart, which will acquire from municipalities and on the open market land from which, being a public body, they will not be seeking speculative returns; and, by being a land bank, they can hold land for people until such time as the growth of population and the growth of demand gradually comes down, and then it can come out of deposit and be used. That, I think, would be a tire development, and I cannot see why it should not come about. It would inure to the benefit of the public and prevent speculation, which we want to prevent. In regard to the question of getting possession of land for the Ipswich plan, the fact that certain areas of land had been taken up by the large developers, which meant that there was less land for the small builders and the small building owners, was much deplored. I, too, deplore this, and that is why I venture to put this idea before authority.
There is a parenthesis here which I wish to bring in because I think it will be of interest and of use. One purpose of the Local Employment Bill now before the other place is to be able to move populations. We know that this has been difficult to do and in many ways it has been a failure. There is in this country a body of private house-builders calling themselves registered house-builders, and they undertake by their terms of association to build houses of a certain construction which any surveyor would declare, and so would enable a would-be second purchaser to know that he was buying good quality stuff. In America they have developed this scheme and use it in the way that I have described. When a man finds his work in one place is ceasing and wants to get to work in another place, he trades in the standard registered house, for which he has no difficulty in finding a purchaser, and thus has a reasonable sum with which to buy another house in the new place. If that idea is not already known, I would commend it to the Front Bench as being something which might help us in the question of location of industry, distribution of population and local employment.
1106 I now turn to the subject of central information. I was told that it was not easy to discover what the demand for land by the Ministry of Housing might be over the next five-year period, or the period up to 1971. Further, my informant knew of no place where it was easy to discover what similar demands for land might be put forward by the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or the Board of Trade. I wish to ask the Government whether it would not be a desirable thing (if it does not already exist) to have an annual review at which these four major Departments could coalesce and state what their requirements are; and not only that, but give out the result to the public, so that the public may know what is intended to be done or what needs to be done. Surely that would be valuable to many people. I would say that we need to take stock of the whole position.
In regard to the building programme, so far as I can see there are four ways, some of which have been mentioned already, to link the schemes; and that, we were told, was the main official view. The private enterprise builders want us to release more white land. Then we have the Outer London plan. In the Greater London plan the centre was contained by a concentric green belt, beyond which were all the newer dormitories and the new centres of light industry, which are alas!—because I understand there is no grand central plan for this outer fringe—rapidly becoming a sprawl, where chaos will some day reign if good planning is not indulged in. On that subject, I do not know whether I am Tight but my notion of a development plan is a five-year plan. It seems to me that after the first difficult five-year period we ought to have a coalition of five-year development plans of the neighbourhoods into a regional plan, with the lesser authorities grouped together.
The fourth way in which housing could be produced would be by what is known as the expanded towns. I understand that that would be better, or at any rate easier, than setting up a whole new ring or triangle of Harlows or other satellite towns. The expanded town idea means older centres of population, probably with great charm and with a market place as a good centre for the new town expanding round that. It seems to me 1107 quite clear that the number of houses required has been under-estimated, and we cannot long put off the day when we must have something in the nature of new towns. This curious thing has arisen. The existence of these places where commuters live and sleep, as I call them, is now producing a two-way traffic. It not only produces that mass of people rushing into the centre of London, but it also produces people who are rushing to the new towns because their work is in light industries in those new towns. That ring needs organising and preventing from becoming ill-adapted, as we have seen nearer home. It all comes out of the general slide of industry and population southward, which the Barlow Report hoped would have been prevented.
I do not know whether your Lordships are aware that from 1951 to 1958 400,000 new jobs came into London. The population in Greater London is now 27 per cent. of the whole, and what might be called "Greater Greater London" can be said truly to be linked with towns 100 miles apart, East and West, North and South, from Reading to Southend, from Luton and Chelmsford, and down to Brighton. They are all somehow linked up with London. If things go on with the increasing strains and stresses of getting to and from work, the Government will have to do something to resolve the knot into which one might say we have got ourselves entangled. That is all I have to say, except that I believe private enterprise has a right, as reputable business men, to come into their own after the years of subordinating themselves to council house construction which was necessary after the war. A great reputable body like that should be encouraged, and if we do not agree with the Party opposite—we who are hoping to see more private houses and private enterprise—I think that all sides of the House should be prepared to see our great English private enterprise building industry given looser rein.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ LORD AUCKLAND
My Lords, a debate on the housing situation has been long overdue, and I feel sure that I speak for Members in all parts of the House when I say how grateful we are to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for initiating this debate. I wish to devote the main 1108 part of my speech to one aspect of this problem, and that is mortgages and the Schedule A tax. The Schedule A tax is a niggling tax. The revenue obtained from it is small, and it means only that the person who is purchasing a house other than by direct help from the taxpayer or from local authorities is further penalised.
I must declare an indirect interest in this matter, because I am a Vice-President of the National Union of Ratepayers' Associations, of which my noble friend Lord Ellenborough is the President. I would stress that this organisation, although some people seem to think that it is one of these secret Tory societies, is in fact a strongly non-Party organisation. It has the Government's blessing and, indeed, has had considerable support from the Minister of Housing and Local Government. We as a body are out to press the Government for at least a review of the Schedule A tax. We do not say necessarily that it should be taken off in one fell swoop. It is arguable that this tax is an incentive to people to keep their homes in good repair. But whether a house is 50 years old or five months old, the same amount of tax appears to be payable. Fortuitously, I received my own Schedule A demand this morning, but that has not entirely prompted me to raise this particular matter; I have been planning to do so ever since I put my name down to speak. I speak as a young house-owner, and there are a great many in this country.
It is, I think, the wish of all Parties that we should become a property-owning democracy. There may be differing views among the Parties as to how this should be carried out, but whilst the Government have improved the mortgage situation very creditably there is just one very nasty thorn in the flesh, and that is this problem of legal expenses. A young couple applying to purchase a house may get a 90 per cent. mortgage, and that, I submit, is a generous mortgage. But then they are faced with a bill for legal fees that may amount to anything up to £60 or £70. I know that the amount is based on a scale of charges, but it is nevertheless a cumbersome and uncomfortable dip into the pocket.
I am not suggesting that legal fees should be abolished but perhaps the noble Earl who is to wind up this debate 1109 would consider the inclusion of legal expenses in any mortgage that is granted. At present it seems to me rather like going into a cafe and ordering a steak and chips, which may cost five shillings, and then being presented with a bill for the hire of the plate. I feel that there is a comparison there; and it is, I would say, an unfair burden on the intending purchaser of a house. I can speak with some experience here. I own a relatively small house, with four bedrooms. I am not complaining for my own part, but there are many thousands of young people who are constantly being urged to buy houses and are faced with this very difficult problem.
The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, had some words to say on the new towns, and I should like to make a few more points. The noble Lord will be well acquainted with Stevenage. During his term of office as a Minister of Town and Country Planning certain people did rather naughty things to the signs on Stevenage station—perhaps the noble Lord will recall that: and may I say that I deplore such activity. I think we should all give credit to the noble Lord and his associates for their venture into the new towns. They have been a success, and certainly in Stevenage the building is going ahead extremely well. The same cannot be said, however, of the quality of some of the building, and indeed of council houses, particularly in that area. I was asked several times by council house tenants, during the Election campaign, when I canvassed in my old home town of Baldock, a few miles away, "Why cannot we buy our own houses?" The quality of some of those houses, although they had been erected for only a short time, was far from satisfactory, but I think that, here again, some incentive could be given for council house tenants to buy their houses. After all, it would save a considerable drain on the Exchequer and on the local authorities.
Far be it from me to decry council house building; it is a necessary thing. But so is private building, and I believe as a small property owner that every incentive should be given to private building After all, it is not only the rich city man who buys a house privately; people of all incomes and all walks of life are trying to do just that. While on the subject of private building, may I say that there was an interesting article 1110 in the magazine Houses and Estates which perhaps I may quote briefly to your Lordships. It said:It is worthy of note that Russia initially forbade private ownership of land and buildings and yet more recently they abandoned part at least of the policy, and it is now permitted to own a dwelling for one's own occupation. One may go further and say that there is even encouragement if one takes into account the low rate of interest charged on mortgage advances by the State Bank.Perhaps some of our own building societies might take note of that paragraph. Quoting further, on the subject of new town building, an article in this month's Home Finder gives most encouraging figures of building in the new towns. In Crawley New Town eight out of nine residential neighbourhoods have already been completed and each houses a population of from 5,000 to 8,000 people. And indeed the new towns generally are springing up into very fine community centres. I am told on good authority that in Stevenage New Town only a small fraction of 1 per cent. of people have recently been moving out; they are all very satisfied with the community life there. I know that recently there were somewhat spurious complaints from malcontented youngsters, but certainly from what I have seen of the new towns the community spirit is thriving fast.
Turning to slum clearance for a few moments, the Government, I think, are to be commended on the rate at which they are going in this business of slum clearance. I am not saying for one moment that a great deal does not remain to be done—indeed, only a few hundred yards from Edinburgh's Royal Mile I saw less than two years ago some of the worst slums in the country. I, too, read the very interesting article on Manchester in the Sunday Times, quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. It is an article which gives a great deal of food for thought. The noble Lord mentioned the building of more new towns. In theory, that is an admirable proposition. But the big question is, where are they to be put? I submit that possibly Scotland may be the solution, although it would no doubt call forth a great deal of protest from the Highlanders, if the eventual policy was to industrialise the-Highlands and so relieve the unemployment situation that is at present affecting Scotland. Perhaps Aberdeen, or 1111 somewhere in that area, might be a site for a new town. However, no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, will have some observations to make on that point.
I would conclude by once again congratulating Her Majesty's Government on their progress in the housing drive. The housing problem will be with us for many years to come. So long as we have farmers and builders this will remain an extremely difficult problem, because much of the land on which houses are built is necessarily good arable land. Just how that problem is going to be resolved, I am not in a position to say. But I would make this final plea to the Government: that they should look into the problem of Schedule A tax, and give every possible incentive to those who wish to buy their own homes out of their own pockets. By doing that, a great stride forward will be made in the solution of the housing problem.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I think we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Silkin for giving us the opportunity for this badly needed discussion, and also for introducing the subject in such a broad way and giving us so many ideas to discuss. I cannot hope to emulate him in his broad vision on the subject, and I shall not attempt to follow him in being completely non-controversial. When, for many years, one has been in contact with thousands of people and one knows of their extreme difficulties with regard to housing—continuing difficulties, difficulties which may in fact be getting worse—it is impossible for one not to feel at least rather warm about some aspects of the subject, although I hope I shall be as objective as possible. I am perfectly well aware that it would be quite impossible for noble Lords opposite personally to commit an act of social injustice on others; their lives are greatly taken up with acts of personal kindness and benevolence. But we are faced with the remarkable paradox that in housing matters they support, and continue to support, the Government's housing policy which, in fact, inflicts hardship and misery on the very people they desire to serve. In saying that, perhaps I should absolve the noble Earl, Lord 1112 Albemarle, who appears quite strongly to disagree with the housing policy of the Government. I must say that I found myself in agreement with almost everything that the noble Earl said, and I am glad that we have found such a doughty exponent of planning.
As I see the housing situation, there are three important facts which govern it. First, we have in this country over 6 million families living in houses from 65 to 100 years old; 6 million families without a bathroom, 3 million of them having no separate lavatory, 2 million having no separate kitchen, and as many as 1 million having no kitchen stove of their own. Secondly, as I see it, the only hope—I emphasise "the only hope"—of providing decent living conditions for that big section of the population is through the building of houses and flats by local authorities. Thirdly, in my view, the Government, by legislative and financial policies, have made it increasingly difficult, and in some cases impossible, for local authorities to build at all. It is small wonder, therefore, that this year, for the first time since 1947, the number of local authority houses and flats built in England and Wales will fall below 100,000; and it is equally small wonder, therefore, that the waiting lists are longer than at any time since the war, despite the building programme which has, I think, been quite properly referred to as creditable.
That is the size of the problem, and it is impossible for anyone to be complacent about it. I say that building has become impossible for some local authorities and has been drastically restricted in the way that the figures prove, first, because of the abolition of the housing subsidies for general housing needs; secondly, because of the high interest rates which have doubled the cost of interest and repayments—for example, on a three-bedroomed house, in 1951 the total repayments payable over sixty years, including interest, would have been £3,000, and now they are well over £6,000; and thirdly, because of the 1957 Rent Act, which has increased the cost of site acquisition by at least 25 per cent. Because all these things have made it impossible for people in lower income groups to pay the economic rents that it would be necessary to charge, local 1113 authorities have been impelled either drastically to reduce the number of houses they are building or to cease building at all.
To illustrate the effects of this, and also one or two other points that have been raised during the debate, I should like to discuss the position in two totally different areas with which I am familiar—one a Metropolitan borough and the other a completely rural area. First of all, the Metropolitan borough is the Borough of Shoreditch, which is immediately adjacent to the City of London and of about the same size. Its population, which for a good many years had been decreasing, has been virtually static for some years and numbers about 43,000. It was a badly bomb-damaged area, and all the houses in that borough, apart from local authority building, are about a hundred years old. There is not the faintest possible chance of any private enterprise building there; in fact, the task of the local authority is to rebuild the whole borough. They have been getting on with it extremely well. They have an outstandingly competent housing department, because since the war and up to October of this year this small borough—one of the smallest in London—has built no fewer than 3,160 flats. They have rehoused since the war more than one-quarter of the entire population in new flats. That is a record not merely far and away better than that of any other borough but, comparing populations, four times as good as the next best borough. So we are dealing with an extremely competent local authority in this respect.
In October, 1951, when the present Government took over, the borough had on its waiting list 4,236 families. On October 31 last, it had on the waiting list 4,584 families—an increase of 350 despite the fact that in the intervening eight years 2,500 flats had been built. This, of course, confirms in a particular detail what my noble friend has said, but my point is that there is no question whatsoever that the need is still desperate and that in such areas only the local authority can satisfy it. I do not think that that is disputable.
Consider what this local authority is up against. Because of the subsidy policy of Her Majesty's Government the local authority is confined entirely to 1114 slum clearance. It cannot possibly do anything with regard to the general housing need. Inevitably, that means expensive, high-density building. Yet although it has adopted mixed development, which provides forty flats per acre and housing for 136 persons per acre—and that is a fairly extreme density—every redeveloped estate houses fewer than the number of families on that land before it was developed. That problem exists all over London.
Some noble Lords have suggested that we should go out, but I am going to suggest that one of the most important developments in the Metropolis (and I imagine this largely to be the case in other large towns) over the next immediate few years will be a tendency to come in, because so many problems are solved when we re-build our cities on the sites of the old derelict, ruined ones. The transport problem is solved, for people are near to their work, and we solve many social and community problems. Shore-ditch is a village which basically has not changed for a thousand years. It is still a village to-day, and still the same type of village as it was at the time of William the Conqueror, with distinctive people who do not want to go away and will not go away; and if they do go away they spend the next two years feverishly trying to get back. Let us recognise that fact and deal with it in a sensible manner, as the local authority that I have mentioned has been dealing with it.
But the cost of sites has been enormously increased in this old borough, where many of the areas ripe for residential redevelopment include scattered shop property, licensed premises and other such non-conforming user as factories and warehouses. The Town and Country Planning Act, 1954, added development value to the cost of acquisition in cases where Part VI claims had been admitted under the 1947 Act; and the Rent Act, 1957, increased rents of residential properties held as investments and thus raised the cost of acquisition of sites by 25 per cent. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, has left the Chamber for a short time, for he is familiar with the area of which I am speaking and I know would bear me out.
As a consequence, for some of the worst properties in the worst streets in London, streets worse perhaps than many 1115 of your Lordships have ever seen, where people should have been paid to live, the cost to the council of site acquisition was in one case £64,000 an acre and in another case £49,000 an acre, for the very reasons and the very policies which noble Lords opposite supported and doubtless will say they still support. A site cost of £64,000 an acre for forty flats to the acre works out at £1,600 per flat for land alone, and some of them were only one-bedroom flats. The interest and repayments on the land alone amount to more than 40s. per week, and over sixty years the interest and repayment will total £7,000 for land alone for a single flat. The cost of building the flats, exclusive of site works, varies according to size from £1,400 to £2,000. I know that the noble Lord quoted much higher figures. I will not weary your Lordships with a list, but I assure you that the cost in that large development is, according to size, from £1,400 to £2,000 and is nothing like the figure of £2,800 which has been mentioned.
But the cost of site preparation is extremely high. It is true that there is a slight, though quite inadequate, element of subsidy in respect of exceptionally expensive sites; but that does not take account of the cost of piling. Your Lordships will realise that in digging down in an area immediately adjacent, as it were, to the City wall, which for centuries has been a dumping ground and which covers the sites of old markets and even old charnel ditches, one has to go a long way to get to blue clay or foundation level. The extra cost is tremendously heavy, and I would ask the noble Earl when he comes to reply to say, if he is in a position to do so, whether Her Majesty's Government will consider some element of special subvention for extra costs of piling.
Your Lordships will observe that the people living in boroughs close to the City of London are penalised through their proximity to the City, because the site and other costs are virtually City costs but the wages of the people are in no way related to City incomes. If one takes the site I have mentioned, one finds that for working class flats, for some of the poorest working people in London, the land costs £1,600 per flat; so that the cost of a three-bedroomed flat on that 1116 land, including site preparation, would be £4,000. The economic rent, exclusive of rates, would be at least £6 a week, which is wildly beyond the means of a man earning £12 or £13 a week.
If building in such an area is to continue—and I would submit that social justice and decency demand that it must—the local authority must be given help in addition to the slum clearance subsidy, first in relation to the special costs I have mentioned, and secondly, in respect of rates of interest on the loan. I find it difficult to understand why Her Majesty's Government, having set up the high-level Radcliffe Committee, should have rejected its main recommendations. Certainly it will be a hitter blow to people in need of homes if the decision of the right honourable gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to local authority borrowing is not reversed, because the existing restriction of access to the Public Works Loan Board has forced local authorities on to the expensive, short-term market.
If Her Majesty's Government now agree to provide long-term capital through the Loan Board at gilt-edged rates, it would mean that local authorities could borrow at a time most convenient and avoid the high cost of competitive borrowing in small amounts. Surely in cases where the Government are still subsidising home building, in slum clearance, and still controlling the level of local authority investment, they should be prepared to finance at reasonable rates schemes of which they approve. I would submit that failure to do so could only mean that they were not as much concerned with providing homes for the people as they should be.
I would also urge that in such areas there should not be the present insistence on the cheapest form of building, because that can be pursued to the point of destruction of amenity; and now that we are at last wiping out the crimes of Victorian builders surely we must not replace them with fresh atrocities. I was very interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, said on this subject, but I do not think that the advantages of mixed development of flats in high-density building have been sufficiently realised. The Ministry of Housing and Local Government, in their hook Houses and Flats. 1958, insist that four-storey 1117 maisonnettes are the best form of high-density development. I agree that they are the cheapest form of high-density building, but in our experience they are the worst possible form of development from the amenity point of view, because they allow scarcely any usable space around them; and in an area where people have never had any green grass around them I submit that it is essential that we should take the opportunity of having at least small green plots to create amenity value.
These four-storey flats, according to the book, cost £333 per flat less than six-storey blocks with lifts. Our experience is that with mixed development from six to eleven storeys, where one gets plenty of opportunity for open green spaces and really decent landscaping, the cost per flat is only £50 or £60 higher than with four-storey maisonnette flats. I think that that is a matter which should be carefully considered, and that the provision of flats of this kind should be looked into. A few years ago I had the pleasure of conducting Mr. Duncan Sandys, the then Minister of Housing and Local Government, around some of these estates, and he then supported the view we put forward, because these æsthetic considerations must play some part in the redevelopment of metropolitan London. Everyone is affected by his everyday environment, and although it is not economically possible to plan a green city, at least it is imperative that civic design should provide green areas of sufficient size to form a proper amenity. That is the example from metropolitan London.
I should now like to say a few words about a completely different area and the problems of a small rural district council in Somerset. Last week we were somewhat startled by a frank report of the Ministry of Education which said, in giving advice to teachers in rural slum schools, that they should take the children into the open air whenever possible and improvise means of washing—I imagine that means a bucket and a piece of soap. But what the Ministry apparently do not realise is that many of these same children, who when they go to school have to have improvised washing facilities and be taken out into the open air, have to make do with improvised washing facilities in the homes and cottages they live in, and many have to 1118 go out of the cottage to get fresh air. In both cases the cure is new schools and new houses.
The rural area I have in mind comprises 32 parishes, many with very few people in them. In fact, the whole population covered by the local authority is only some 20,000 people. Everything is on a very small scale. The authority's total income from former subsidies was about £20,000 a year, but they are an efficient authority and since the war have built 700 new houses. Now that they are deprived of subsidies for general housing need, losses on rents arising from new building must be made good out of the housing revenue account. The ratepayers make no contribution, so the council can continue to build only at the cost of a general increase in rents. The rents of post-war houses have already gone up by 10s. a week, and of pre-war houses by 8s. a week; and your Lordships must remember that many of the pre-war houses still have bucket lavatories and no tap water. And that, I would submit, is a "bit thick." This local authority have not stopped building. For the present they are fairly well off for sites, and they are building 27 bungalows. But there are 228 families on the waiting list, and at least a third of the families on the waiting list have already been there for more than five years, so obviously they are going to have to wait a long time—or some of them will—before they get proper washing and sanitary facilities.
How can we possibly stop the drift from the land unless we make a reasonable attempt to provide decent housing and ordinary civilised amenities? I would submit that the suspension of general housing subsidies has fallen far more heavily on the countryside than on the towns. Overall, the number of local-authority dwellings has dropped from its peak figure of 202,000 in 1953 to fewer than 100,000 this year in England and Wales. Nearly half of those 100,000 dwellings would be in respect of slum replacement, and therefore mostly in the towns, and it is the case that in rural areas now only one house is being built by local authorities for every five that were built in 1953.
That is general to all rural authorities, but the particular authority that I referred to earlier also has the problem 1119 of families still living in huts. I have some knowledge of this matter, my Lords, as the noble Earl will probably recall, because I helped to put them there 13 years ago—13 years ago, when there were virtually no houses available, and no prospects, when the men were coming home from the Services and had literally nowhere to go. There were empty Army camps, of which some were half empty, and empty hospitals; and without anyone's leave we put them there. Subsequently I went to see the Minister of Housing, and if the accommodation was good enough we were able to get facilities so that it could be made reasonably habitable. I believe that in that one area we rehoused in that way some 700 or 800 families. We thought, of course, that it would be for two, three or four years—indeed, it was the case that a housing officer would come to me and tell me of new sites where I could lead the population to the promised land. We certainly did not imagine that they would still be there 13 years later. I would therefore ask the noble Earl whether some consideration can be given to assistance for those local authorities. They may not be many, and the number of extra houses needed may not be so many now in total; but I think it is about time we got these people out of the huts.
Then there is the question of tied houses. No fewer than 58 of the 228 families on the waiting list I mentioned are living in tied houses—one in four. The fact that they are on the waiting list proves that they want to get out of a tied cottage into a house of their own. I hope that this unsatisfactory position will be cleared up. It is unfair to compel tenants to stay in unsuitable employment because they have nowhere to go. It is equally unsatisfactory to farmers, who have to leave unsatisfactory workers, or perhaps retired employees, in cottages they badly need for themselves, badly need for agriculture, just because they are too decent and have not the heart to turn them out. We all know the position. It cuts both ways: it is about fifty-fifty. But we do know also that we occasionally get the sickening case where someone is turned out on to the roadside with his wife and children.
1120 We on this side of the House admit that there are cases where it is essential, because of the nature of the tenant's job, that he should live in certain property. Such property should be registered with the local authority. The local authority should then have the duty of supplying another house when the tenant is forced to leave, whether through age or ill-health or any other reason which is no fault of his own. I think that would be of tremendous advantage, not merely in the cause of liberty and justice but also to the farmers and the owners of tied houses. But, of course, if this obligation is placed by the Government on the local authority then the Government must give reasonable financial assistance to facilitate the building of the requisite number of additional houses.
In my view, my Lords, there can be no major improvement in our housing situation until the Government set their face against high profits for property companies and high interest rates for financiers. But since at present that seems to be too much to ask, I would most strongly urge that attention should be given to the special problems of the two completely different types of local authority that I have mentioned; that is, the metropolitan boroughs who have to contend with fantastic site costs and special building problems, and the small rural councils whose small-scale operations make market borrowing expensive and who need help in dealing with the replacement of war-time huts and tied houses. Action on these lines will ease the hardships of thousands of families who are very hard pressed at the moment, and I hope that action will be taken.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ LORD GREENHILL
My Lords, it is, I believe, in the spirit and tradition of your Lordships' House that when a Member of the House contemplates speaking in a debate he should notify the Minister most concerned and tell him of his intentions. I duly informed the Minister of State for Scotland, the noble Lord, Lord Craigton. To his regret, and to my regret, however, he is unable to be present to-day, because of public duties in Scotland, and he has asked me to convey to your Lordships his apologies for not being with us this afternoon, which I gladly do. I am sorry 1121 that he cannot be here, but I am sure that he is as sorry as I am.
Like my noble friend Lord Silkin, I prefer to deal with this question of housing in a non-controversial manner. There are some problems which are so great in magnitude that there is little room for quarrelling. We are all, I think, at one in the aim that we have in mind, although we may differ, sometimes considerably, in the method we adopt in order to reach that aim. If I mention what happened last week in Edinburgh, where a six-storey tenement collapsed—a tenement known as the "Penny Tenement", because that is the price at which the owner offered to sell it—and if I mention also a collapse in Glasgow, where masonry fell upon a police constable assisting in rescue work, to his most severe injury, it is not because I want to offer any criticism at all (although they are open to it) of the local authority or the owner of the property. It is only to point out that these terrible happenings are not acts of God but are human-made accidents, avoidable and presentable if the necessary steps are taken in good time.
But my concern, my Lords, is with the housing conditions in Scotland. I do not pretend that nothing has been clone in Scotland to deal with this extraordinarily big and complicated problem. Indeed, a good deal has been done; and, if one dare to repeat just a few figures, I would ask noble Lords to remember that from 1945 up to date some 374,000 houses have been completed, to which might be added about 31,000 prefabs, as they are called, which still remain standing. Noble Lords who may feel that a greater proportion of these houses should have been built by private enterprise as distinct from local authority building, may be interested in some figures. Local authorities have built 278,000 houses; the Scottish National Housing Association have built more than 44,000 houses—and here, if I may, I should like to pay tribute to the very good work which that Housing Association have done towards the partial solution of the problem; the new town corporations have built 9,600 houses, and private builders have built 32,500. That last figure, I know, is a very much smaller proportion in Scotland than in England 1122 and Wales, but there is obviously a preference for houses built by local authorities rather than by private builders.
When one tries to deal with the housing problem, however, one cannot deal with it in isolation. Housing has to be considered in a very much wider context, because so many other elements in the situation are closely linked up with it. I need not remind your Lordships of the many factors which have made that necessary. For example, one of the tragic effects of the two wars, and of the post-war aftermaths through which we have passed—periods during which the whole energies of the nation were devoted to the creation of war defence material—has been not only that the old houses then in existence could not be looked after, but that no new houses could be built at all. To-day, one of the main problems with which we are faced is the fact that there still remain occupied a very large number of these houses which, in ordinary circumstances, should have been demolished and replaced long ago. Another factor is that houses cannot be isolated from the places of work in which people earn their livelihood. It is already a criticism that so much time and so much money must be spent in travelling from one's home to one's place of work and back.
Another of the factors which make it so difficult to deal with the housing problem to-day is that the older industries such as shipbuilding, heavy engineering, mining, and the like, are now giving place to new methods of production, or are giving way to new industries, new products, new methods—and, indeed, a new type of employee, with new skills. These are some of the problems which affect the building and the location of houses. Then there are changes, as my noble friend Lord Silkin has emphasised, in the population structure: marriages are taking place at an earlier age; parents are now having families at an earlier age; people are being grandparents at a much earlier age than previously; and they are living longer and are still capable of enjoying a good deal of the amenities of life away from the somewhat annoying incubus of unruly children. Those are factors which, as I say, are affecting the supply of houses. One can add to these the fact that what used to be regarded 1123 as luxuries in the home are now becoming the commonplace possessions of the population—such things as refrigerators, washing machines, television sets, and so on. These, too, are altering both the nature of the house requirements and the forms of life which our present population wishes and prefers to live.
All those factors, my Lords, must be taken into consideration when we are thinking of the problem of houses to-day. One is tempted to say that it is impossible and unrealistic to imagine a state of affairs in which one could, as it were, demolish at one fell swoop all the buildings, all the houses, that are undesirable, that are not well built, and rebuild a new lot altogether. That would be living in a dream world, completely unrealisable. One has to be at least practical in outlook, and to remember that the population does not remain stationary; that the condition of the houses does not remain stationary; and that the places of industry do not remain stationary. There is a constant movement going on with which we have to cope and to which we have to adapt ourselves if we are to make living really worth while.
My Lords, one of the matters that has brought me to my feet to-day is what we read in yesterday's paper in connection with the overspill problem from which Glasgow is at the moment suffering. As your Lordships will know, Glasgow has an almost insoluble problem in finding accommodation for some 300,000 surplus of population. They have, so far as I understand, entered into agreements with about 29 different receiving authorities. It does not follow that each one of these agreements will ultimately materialise in some kind of arrangement whereby the receiving authorities will take a number of people from Glasgow. Yesterday there appeared in the papers a report of a speech by the Secretary of State for Scotland in connection with Glenrothes. If your Lordships will permit me, I should like to read an extract from a letter which the Secretary of State addressed to the Lord Provost of Glasgow. He says this:We are now clear that the new town of Glenrothes, with which your Corporation have already made an overspill agreement covering 1124 the substantial number of 1,800 houses, can in future make an increasingly significant contribution to the serious problem of Glasgow overspill. We and the New Town Corporation are now regarding this as one of the major features of the policy to be followed there both as regards housing and industrial employment. To an increasing extent Glenrothes will thus become a third new town for Glasgow".I refer to this case particularly because the National Coal Board made an analysis of the coal situation, in which they assumed that a certain number of miners would be attracted from Lanarkshire and Fife, but those figures were found not to work out in practice. There has had to be an admission that the number of houses on which the National Coal Board had first demand has been overstated. I need not go into the reasons for that, because I am not blaming anyone; and in a sense the Secretary of State is now expressing a feeling of relief that these houses can be used for the benefit of Glasgow overspill. But even on the assumption that alternative homes are found for this vast overspill—and, of course, no one pretends that this can be done very quickly—what steps have been taken to avoid the continuing inflow of newcomers to Glasgow as the overspill is decanted into other parts of Scotland? My own impression is that in spite of the number who have left Glasgow, the population of the city still remains the same. There appears to be no control whatever over incomers into a city already sadly overcrowded.
As regards new towns, I also saw in to-day's newspapers that there are hopes that another small town, Lugton, will enter into an overspill arrangement of Glasgow whereby they would acquire a new population and, one hopes, new industries. As I have said before, it is important that the new towns should receive not only overspill but the industries which the occupants of the new houses follow in order to earn their livelihood. At the present time the Local Employment Bill is being discussed in another place and your Lordships will be aware that it is proposed to make provision in the Bill—I will not say, to direct, but to persuade, industry to go into areas where overspill will be sent. I have the feeling that there is a distinct lack of co-ordination between the several Ministries concerned in any major change in population and industry. Instead of allowing every Ministry, with the best 1125 of good faith, to arrive at its own conclusion, there should be constant consultation between the Ministries concerned, in order that the pros and cons of the various Departments can be weighed up carefully and a balance arrived at which, if not perfect, is nevertheless the best kind of solution for the time being. I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, said about the Ministry of Housing and Local Government having no medical department. That seems almost unbelievable when one realises the close connection between housing conditions and medical supervision.
I have spoken long enough. I have not wished to be controversial, because I think that the problem is too serious to be treated in a partisan way. But I should like to feel that the Government, in their laudable desire to solve this problem, will not move by minute step-by-step methods, but will rather try to think out a comprehensive plan in which all the Ministries concerned would have their say, and in that way perhaps help to produce the kind of housing conditions that we really want.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ LORD DOUGLAS OF BARLOCH
My Lords, many aspects of this problem have been developed during the course of the interesting discussion initiated by my noble friend. I wish to confine my attention mainly to the economic aspects of the problem. The noble Lord, Lord Auckland, referred to Schedule A income tax as being an obnoxious tax and detrimental to the provision of housing accommodation; but is it not true that a still more obnoxious and detrimental tax is the local rates which are levied upon houses and which so much increase the cost of occupancy?
I did not happen to have by me last night figures for the whole country, but I had those for a single county—Northamptonshire. Looking at them, I found that a large proportion of houses fell into the category of £19 to £25 rateable value. According to the district, it ranged from one-third to nearly one-half of the houses. I also noticed that in most cases the rate per £ which was levied was well over 20s. If we take a mean value of £22 rateable value, and the moderate figure of 20s. in the £ rates, that is £72 per year which is levied upon the occu- 1126 pancy of these medium-class houses. That is a sheer tax upon housing accommodation. In a sense, I do not disagree very much with the decision to discontinue the general housing subsidy, but it seems to me to be a corollary of that, at any rate, that the rates upon houses ought to be relieved. In the course of the next two or three years there is going to be a general revaluation, because those houses at the present moment are being rated upon a 1939 level of values, and when they come to be reassessed the rates imposed will undoubtedly be much higher; they are bound to bear a larger proportion of rates levied in the district. That is a serious tax upon the provision of housing accommodation. It is really quite ridiculous to continue upon that basis, hoping to improve the housing conditions of the population and at the same time putting this restraint upon doing so.
There is, of course, quite a simple solution to this problem, which unfortunately we have never yet adopted in this country but which has been adopted and tried and endured for many years in other countries—namely, the rating of site values. I hope that the noble Earl who is going to reply to the debate and his colleagues who sit on the Benches behind him are not going to bristle up with prejudices over this, thinking of events which took place in this country fifty years ago and the bitter controversies which ensued over something which, I must say, was really quite different from what I am talking about at this moment. I would point out also that in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Denmark and others which have adopted this proposal it has continued under Governments of every political complexion, once it was introduced. So that I hope it will be considered dispassionately. I do not think the noble Lord, Lork Auckland, is present now, but I rather think that the Association with which he is connected, the National Association of Ratepayers' Societies, at a recent conference passed a resolution inviting the Government to consider this matter. That was a resolution passed by a body which he quite correctly described as non-political but which, if it had any political inclination, would, I should think, lean towards the noble Earl opposite and his colleagues.
1127 This has a bearing upon some other matters which have been mentioned during the course of our discussion this afternoon. The noble Earl, Lord Albemarle, referred to the difficulty which builders were experiencing in getting land at an economic price; and the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, talked about the use for building purposes of good arable land. If you examine the conditions which at present exist in a great many towns in this country, and especially, perhaps, those of moderate size, you will find that there is a large amount of land which has not been developed, or which has not been developed adequately, and that it is not really necessary to encroach upon the surrounding arable land in order to find the space in which to house the population decently.
That fact has been proved by those cases—and they are quite numerous—dating back many years, such as Letch-worth, Wythenshawe, a suburb of Manchester, and so on, where an area has been planned for housing and other purposes on rational lines and has been fully developed without the gaps and imperfect development which so frequently arise where building has been allowed to proceed haphazardly and spasmodically, which is encouraged by our existing system of rating which exempts from local taxation undeveloped sites and positively encourages people to hold them idle in the hope that the growth and pressure of population will in the course of time add to the value of the land and enable the fortunate seller of it to reap an untaxed capital profit.
This also has a bearing upon the problem which my noble friend Lord Stonham referred to, of providing housing accommodation in the central areas of London, or of other large cities where the site value has risen to enormous heights and where the provision of housing accommodation has, upon that account, become extremely difficult because it is so expensive. I do not suggest that it is either necessary or desirable that such a change as a rate on site values should be made at one single blow—although, in fact, it has been done in that way in other countries without any serious trouble or inconvenience—but a gradual changeover from the one 1128 system of rating to the other would help to solve these economic problems which up to the moment have been quite intractable.
There is one more thing I should like to say which has some bearing upon this matter. In London and other places of large size—conurbations as they are called—one of the troubles, quite clearly, is that planning has failed, hitherto at any rate, to control the proliferation of office accommodation in the centres of the cities, and this gives employment to far more persons per acre than does the building of factories, which it has been one of the principal aims of the town planners to control. It is office accommodation in central London which is giving rise to the enormous site values and to the great density of traffic travelling into the centre, and unless some stop is put upon that it is evident that the price of land will continue to rise and the density of traffic will increase until a point will come where the whole thing will come to a standstill, because the increased values of land which are so created make it so expensive to increase the capacity of the streets by widening and improving them. Here, again, I respectfully submit to the Minister and to his right honourable friend that the time has come for a consideration of this problem of local rating, particularly in its bearing upon housing, and that it is becoming quite urgent when the near approach of a revaluation based upon present-day values is going to throw a still higher burden upon housing accommodation.
§ 5.20 p.m.
My Lords, I will say only a few words about this very important subject. At the outset, I am sure we are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for having raised this debate. I was struck by the comprehensive way in which he discussed this question and also with his great fairness and complete absence of any Party political bias. I wish merely to emphasise a matter which has been already mentioned by other speakers, namely, the question of whether the Government can encourage private individuals to build houses for letting. I want to make it quite clear that I am making no criticism of the policy of local authorities in building houses for letting. I think that that is a very good work and, indeed, essential. 1129 However, one would like to see a revival of the private development of houses and flats to let, particularly in the central areas of the towns and cities. This is desirable for a number of reasons: first of all, to stem the present trend of development which is towards all dwelling-houses being either owner-occupied or council-tenanted; secondly, to prevent the increasing burden of subsidies upon local and central government finances, and, thirdly, to provide for the mobility of labour in an area where increasing major adjustments in industry and commerce seem inevitable in the near future.
Quite frankly, there are a number of obstacles to the private development of houses to let. Some of these obstacles are the following: first, there is the subsidised competition of council housing and the ability of councils to let houses at less than the economic rent; secondly—and this is most important—the cost of land to a private purchaser as compared with the cost to a public authority acquiring it through clearance order procedure or compulsory purchase, and, thirdly, there is no doubt that we have the absence of confidence in the investor to lend money on mortgage of rented house property. I believe that these obstacles can be overcome. In the first place, stronger action could be taken to oblige councils to charge economic rents, relief being given to the individual of insufficient means—in other words, in future the individual and not the house should be the subject of subsidy. Secondly—and I think this is equally important—local authorities should clear sites by means of clearance orders and then, in appropriate cases with the consent of the Minister, offer them by tender for the private owner to redevelop. The confidence of investors in property mortgages would then tend to revive.
I have been told by numerous people that there is a growing wish among those financially capable of doing so to embark upon development of houses to let, but at the present time, of course, everything is against the private developer in this respect. First, it is impossible for him to compete with subsidised houses, and secondly, it is impossible for him in a great number of cases to buy land at an economic figure. If only local authorities would clear the land and then, subject to the 1130 approval of the Minister, tender it to private developers, I have no doubt that some of these obstacles could be overcome.
§ 5.25 p.m.
My Lords, I apologise if my remarks are rather disjointed, but I had not intended to intervene in this debate. I think we have all learned to mistrust estimates, figures and forecasts. Over the last 10 or 15 years we have had so many examples of figures that have been proved woefully wrong—steel, coal, decline of population, and so on and so forth—that we must tend to believe more in man's fallibility than in his infallibility. Nevertheless, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, may be right, and the Ministry, whose figures are a good deal lower, may be too optimistic. In fact, I think I would take the noble Lord's figures against those of the Ministry, because there is a danger of merely counting houses and heads, which is a sort of Moscow method of doing it. It leaves out of account the fact that old people dislike moving out of houses which the Ministry say are too big for them, into other houses, particularly as they will probably have to pay a larger rent for their old age pensioner's bungalow than they already pay in their controlled rent existing house. It is possible that they may not have a bath, and all that kind of thing, but people who have lived all their lives without baths do not seem to feel the same need for bathing as those who have not done so.
I am sure that we have been quite right to encourage the private builder, and Lord Meston's news that there are financial interests prepared to risk their money in building houses to rent is most exciting and, to me, most startling, because that is something against which I should have been prepared to lay very heavy odds for ever. It would be interesting to know what type of tenant they have in view: whether they have in view the building of what used to be called weekly rents—because that is the type of property which I have always considered could never again be built by private enterprise. It is a different matter perhaps for middle-class flats, and so on. There are many of our population who from force of necessity are potential renters rather than buyers. Though they may turn into buyers in 1131 their later years, when they are established in their careers, it is economically wrong for many young people to buy houses, although they have great difficulty in getting anything else.
Local authority building has been stepped up a little, but the local authorities are still pleading financial impossibility. Before one accepts that explanation entirely, one would like to know whether they have scraped the financial barrel, and whether they collect the maximum reasonable rents for their existing housing. I remember some years ago sitting at a banquet next to a very high civic dignitary who led an important Labour council, and we were discussing this matter. He said he only wished that the Minister of the day would give him an order to apply some sort of differential scheme: it was impossible for him, in his position, to carry it out without an order. It may be that those people have now put into operation these differential schemes. The one that I personally prefer, and which I think is the most fair, is the scheme by which a tenant pays an economic rent unless he goes along to the housing officer and says that he cannot afford to do so; and then he is let off a certain amount.
When we continue this local authority building, however, I hope that we shall not forget amenities and architecture. I was with some friends examining some housing estates on the North-East coast a short time ago, and we were all deeply shocked by what we thought to be the bad quality of the architecture and the lack of amenities such as garages, shops and so on. When one compared the standard with that of the new towns the difference was most striking. I hope that the Minister, if he has any control over these matters, will in future see that there is at least space for garages in these enormous great housing estates and do his utmost to persuade the local authorities to employ a really first-class architect for the overall landscaping of these big estates. It was really most depressing to see the result of what I presume was the borough surveyor's effort.
There are bound to be special problems, and the land in our cities is one very special problem. If there is any subsidy to be directed to housing I should have thought that a subsidy 1132 towards the purchase of this city land would be one in the right direction. When we plan big rural housing developments I hope that we shall go more for the bad land than we have done in the past; only too often we have taken the best. My local new town, for instance, Crawley, had it been sited a few miles away, could have been sited on comparatively low-value forest land, instead of on the rich local clay. I also hope that if we are looking for new town sites we shall consider them in relation to future communications. The communications from London to the South, all the southern are, have been fully developed, and the last of them are now being electrified. The future lies to the North and North-East. If there are to be more new towns, I hope that they will be out in this direction and not nearer London than the present ones. In fact I believe that a mistake was made in not sticking to (I think it was) the Uthwatt Committee's recommendation that these new towns should be about 60 miles from London.
I fully expected that somebody would raise our dear old friend the price of money, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Latham, has a considerable portion of his speech devoted to it. But I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that it really would not make two-penn'orth of difference if a local authority could borrow to-morrow from the Public Works Loan Board. It would cost exactly the same as at the moment. The Government cannot borrow any more cheaply than the local authorities can, except by printing the money; and nobody would wish them to do that. At the moment there is a free market in money; people are saving money and lending money, and if the price of money should fall there is an enormous queue of borrowers waiting to step in and snap it up.
§ LORD STONHAM
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. It would in any case be a considerable added convenience to the local authority if it could borrow through the Public Works Loan Board, at the most convenient time, without extra cost.
I will not argue convenience with the noble Lord. I argue price because there is nothing in the price at all. I believe that it is no solution to our housing problem to suggest 1133 that somewhere round the corner is a sort of dream world of a vast, untapped supply of money for anything we want.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, I think the House will agree that we are specially indebted this afternoon to my noble friend Lord Silkin for having initiated this discussion on housing. He did so, both in projection and perspective, with a minimum of controversy and a complete absence of any Party feeling. He is admirably equipped to discuss housing, for he was the Chairman of the Housing Committee of the London County Council for some six years and was largely responsible for initiating and getting to work the housing machine of the London County Council, which had acquired by 1939 and the outbreak of war a very encouraging momentum and capacity for producing residences, whether houses outside London or flats within London. It is perhaps an unhappy conjuncture that my noble friend, Lord Douglas of Barloch, became the Chairman of the Housing Committee and had the sad and sorrowful duty of slowing down, and indeed almost dismantling, the housing machine of the London County Council because of the exigencies of war. It is, I think, a happy circumstance that these two should have participated in the discussion of this important matter. I must express my regrets to the noble Earl, Lord Albemarle, that I was unable to be in the Chamber while he was speaking. I intended no discourtesy to him, as I am sure he will acknowledge.
My noble friend Lord Stonham dealt, with some energy, an energy which I think is entirely justified, with the tragic situation which exists in many boroughs in the County of London, and he matched his knowledge of the problems of the metropolitan boroughs, especially the Borough of Shoreditch, with experience and understanding of the acute problem—too little recognised by us who live in cities—of rural housing; I am sure that his contribution to the debate on that aspect of the national problem was most valuable. My noble friend, Lord Greenhill, dealt, as was expected and is proper, with the situation in Scotland, where in certain of the cities the housing situation is no less than dreadful. I well recall that the first time Lord 1134 Greenhill and I met was at a conference dealing with housing (I think it was in 1935) when the noble Lord was an active and experienced member of the Glasgow Corporation.
In opening the discussion, my noble friend, Lord Silkin, said that housing was "number one" social problem. I think we must all agree that that is the case. After all, the basis of our society is the family unit; the haven of the family unit is the home, and the quality of the home depends upon the housing accommodation in which it is located. Sir Winston Churchill said many years ago when he was Home Secretary that the foundations of national welfare are set in the homes of the people, and I am sure that we shall all agree that that is not less true now than it was then, for the quality pf housing is, as my noble friend Lora Silkin said, an important element in the standard of living.
I was interested to read in The Times of the 19th of last month a report of a survey which has been made by Dr. Mark Abrams as to the pattern, as it were, of living of the people. I quote from The Times. He said:During a pre-election survey I found that all the working-class families I approached were not concerned with the Summit meeting, or Nyasaland, but only with making their homes warmer, snugger, tighter, more secluded and private.Then, dealing with the patina of household expenditure and the like, he went on to say that whereas in the 'forties the greater prosperity of the working classes was mainly devoted to more beer, cigarettes and cinemas, by the 'fifties this had changed to food, housing, fuel and light, household goods, private motoring and foreign travel.
Thus, I think it is incontestable that housing is of the very essence of the social structure of our country, and it seems to me to divide itself into three parts. There is, of course, first of all, the clearance of the slums. It is estimated that there are no fewer than between 800,000 and 1 million slums in this country—that is to say, residences unfit for human habitation. That number is not static. Every day that passes brings more low-standard properties, houses or flats, or both, into the realm and category of slums, and equally in every year that passes the number of slums increases. I think it can be said 1135 that, however active the local authorities are in clearing the slums within the limitations of their facilities and the like, including finance, the number of new slums (if we can use those words) exceeds those which are demolished and replaced. There is nothing which more quickly produces a slum than that a house should be in multiple occupation—that a house built for one family houses maybe two and sometimes three. It is estimated that there are some 2 million persons sharing accommodation or living in inadequate housing accommodation.
It is a little apposite perhaps, but there was in another place last Monday a discussion on housing in Birmingham. Almost inescapably, the discussion ranged wider than Birmingham; but in the course of the statements made in another place it was said that Birmingham, which has pursued a most energetic campaign for the clearance of slums, especially since the end of the war, has 45,000 dwellings unfit for human habitation. Some of them were declared as unfit for habitation in 1918. They are still occupied, and the occupants are still paying rent for them. It was also stated that there is a waiting list of some 70,000 people in Birmingham alone; and there are, of course, thousands and thousands of back-to-backs, those artistic legacies from the Industrial Revolution, the days of spacious ease. In Leeds there are 60,000 back-to-backs.
With regard to the London County Council area, excluding the metropolitan boroughs, the position is that the earlier list which contained some 180,000 applicants has been revised very drastically and a new test has been applied for applicants to get on the list—what is known as the "Basic needs list". The basic needs are these: that the applicant has too few bedrooms, or shares a living room with another family, or has not the sole use of a kitchen with cooker and sink. On this new list there are no fewer than 37,000 persons who qualify on the ground of those basic needs.
Like other local authorities, the London County Council is at the present time doing practically no general housing. Its activities in the field of housing are limited (a) to slum clearance, (b) to overspill and (c) to the provision of 1136 one-room and two-room flats for the aged. It has at its disposal no more than about 2,000 dwellings a year for general housing to meet the revised demand, to which I have already referred, of some 37,000 applicants. Of course, it means that thousands of families are living in conditions which no one could defend and no one of good will would seek to justify. Moreover, in the County of London—these figures come from the census referred to by my noble friend Lord Silkin—one-quarter of the dwellings have no piped water supply, one-sixth have no separate kitchen sink, over one-third have no separate water closet, and about two-thirds have no separate bathrooms.
That is the situation in the County of London. Moreover, the County of London housing activities in the field of general housing are also limited by the circumstance that, if a new road is projected or a road improvement is carried out, or a school has to be built in a certain place, or indeed an open space provided in those boroughs of London where they are so much under-provided with open spaces, it frequently involves the demolition of housing accommodation. It may be that most of it is old, but there is, of course, the obligation that the London County Council have to rehouse; and they have to rehouse, very often, out of residences and dwellings which would otherwise be available for the general list to which I have referred. The metropolitan boroughs at the present time are for the most part concerned with derequisitioning or slum clearance. No new general housing is being done; and that means that the situation is exacerbated with every day that passes.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, will not be disappointed by the fact that I do not propose to go into the question of the facilities open to local authorities to borrow money.
§ LORD LATHAM
No; I would not, if I were he, carry away that compliment. But I am going to refer to the circumstance, which has been mentioned this afternoon, that private developers have increased the number of houses or dwellings which they have built this year as compared with last year. As my noble friend Lord Silkin has said, however, 1137 those dwellings are not available to applicants who are upon the waiting lists of local authorities in every city in this country, principally because their cost and the amount of the monthly or weekly payments that would be necessary on the basis of a rate of interest of 5¾ per cent. are beyond the purse of practically every one of those who are on the lists of local authorities.
We often hear talk of high earnings, and I believe it is the case that the average is about £12 or £12-plus per week; and there are, of course, a number of people who, fortunately, earn very much more than that. But we cannot overlook the fact that, according to figures furnished by the Ministry of Pensions in connection with the National Insurance Bill, there are 7¾ million people in this country who earn £9 or less per week and are outside the scheme. There are 7¾ million people (curiously enough the same number) earning between £9 and £15, and only 5¼ million people earning over £15 per week. And so, for the most part, as I say, these dwellings are beyond the range of the people who most need them. I was a little surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, say that the question of the rate of, interest did not matter to local authorities in relation to their housing.
My Lords, I think the noble Lord must have misheard me, for I was not under the impression that I had said any such thing. What I believe I did say was that even if local authorities went to the Public Works Loan Board to-day they would not get their loans appreciably cheaper.
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, I am bound to accept what the noble Lord says, and I do so most willingly; but the situation is that when the rate of interest was 3¾ per cent. the deficiency on a scheme would be £72 per dwelling per annum for 60 years. With the rate of interest of 5¾ per cent. the deficiency is £111 per dwelling per annum for 60 years.
My Lords, may I just ask the noble Lord—and I think it is a fair question, as he has posed those two figures—how would he propose to borrow at the low rate to-day, under present conditions?
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, that is a matter of Government policy. There was a time when local authorities could borrow at lower rates—
§ LORD SILKIN
There was a different Government.
§ LORD LATHAM
—and if there be taken into account the change in relation to subsidy and rate of interest, then on the basis of the old subsidy and interest at 3¾ per cent., the rate contribution (and this is where the local authority comes in) was £14 per annum for 60 years. But with the present rate of subsidy and the rate of interest at 5¾ per cent., the rate contribution is £65 per dwelling per annum for 60 years. That has cast, and is casting, a very heavy burden on local authorities, and if it should fall out that any particular scheme did not qualify for slum clearance subsidy—and some schemes do not—there would be an additional £25 per annum to be borne out of the rates for 60 years.
Coupled with that added obligation cast upon local authorities comes the circumstance of the increased cost of land, referred to by my noble friends Lord Silkin and Lord Stonham. I have among my memoranda a paper which shows that in one particular case, while conversations were taking place for dealing with overspill by way of the Town Development Act, it was stated that since the passing of the Town and Country Planning Act this year, the price of a piece of land had increased by five times. My noble friend Lord Silkin said, and my noble friend Lord Stonham confirmed, that the cost of land in London at the present time is just fantastic; and at the present time it is the local authorities who have to bear a substantial proportion of that increased cost. In some cases they have to bear all that increase in cost—an increase which, of course, is very largely created by the activities of the community.
My noble friend Lord Silkin made what I thought was a very admirable suggestion: that there should be an independent national survey of the problem of housing, projecting its survey to, say, 10 years—though it might well be that 20 years would be a better period. Housing is no longer a local matter, capable of being dealt with in the confines of local authority boundaries. It has, in fact, overspilled the boundaries. We have 1139 new towns which are housing activities in a particular county carried out not by the county itself but by the Government. We have expanded towns where arrangements are made between one authority and another for overspill to be taken, and there are now all kinds of arrangements which I believe have made housing inescapably a national problem and a matter of national policy.
A survey which would include the allocation and use of land for housing, for siting of such new towns as might be advised and matters of that kind, would at all events give the Government and the nation a picture of the problem of housing to-day and to-morrow. For, after all, my Lords, the quality and content of our national life depends on good healthy comfortable housing for our people. I hope—and I am sure that most of your Lordships share this hope—that the Government accept this humanitarian point of view and the social obligation which it connotes. I therefore trust that the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, will be able to give us some encouraging indication that the Government appreciate the important situation and the acute problems which still remain in the domain of housing in this country.
§ 6.1 p.m.
My Lords, we are all, I am sure, extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for giving us this opportunity to debate this extremely important subject to-day. We must almost, I think, be ashamed that we have not had a general housing debate in this House for, I am informed, nearly four years, and I am sure it is fully time that this subject should be debated. I want particularly to thank the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for the way in which he introduced the subject and for the high tone which he set. This is a subject which in another place is apt to generate perhaps the absolute maximum of heat. It is perhaps fairly easy to understand why, because if our political alignments are for and against Socialism, broadly, there could be no subject on which to hang the arguments more conveniently than the subject of housing. It may be that that is why, when this subject is debated in another place, sometimes housing is lost sight of in the doctrinaire arguments that occur on pure politics.
1140 I do not propose for a moment to embark on any such thing to-day. I propose to follow the example so well set by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and even the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, who said he was not quite sure how far he could keep off controversy. I think he made a very good hand at it, and I thank him very much. But, of course, if in replying, and making what I hope may be an objective statement about the situation in housing to-day—which is, after all, what the debate is about—I show that the facts are not wholly disreputable, indeed, if the facts turn out to be fairly good, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, will not accuse me of playing politics. After all, one cannot help having so much sympathy with (I think it was) Lord Beaconsfield, who said that one of the great hardships in politics was that when things went wrong people always blamed the Government; when things went right they merely thanked God.
This subject is infinitely complex, especially for a junior agricultural Minister to answer, and I can only hope to pick out some of the highlights. The magnitude of the subject has been outlined by a number of noble Lords. The overall figure of 3,300,000 houses built since the war is a great figure and an immense achievement, but it must never lull us into a feeling of thinking for a moment that the battle is won. In many areas the sharp edge may have been blunted, but the demand is still acute in certain areas, as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, with whose points I shall be dealing in a moment.
We talk of houses and of people on lists, and I was interested and glad that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in his opening speech, as well as many noble Lords following him, emphasised that merely to talk in terms of houses and people is not really a sufficient consideration. What we are concerned with here is families, households. I thought it would be worth looking back at the figures of the 1951 census—one has to go back to that census for accurate figures, and the figures since then must be estimates—and it was interesting to see the figures of that census. Then there were 12,400,000 dwellings in England and Wales—I am afraid that here I must refer to England and Wales. There were 1141 13,100,000 private households or families. It meant that we were then 700,000 short. In fact, of course, there was a shortfall of more than 0.7 million. It was more than ¾million, because all the evidence goes to show that that arithmetical figure is not big enough. There are the vacancies and the houses that are empty, and so on, to be considered. That was the position in 1951.
To-day the position is better. To-day we can, of course, use only estimates, but the best estimates I have been able to obtain are 14¼ million houses and 14½ million families. We have now got down to being only 4¼ million short; and I think that the figures of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and my figures agree.
My Lords, when the noble Earl is giving those figures for the number of families and houses, does he include those families that have more than one dwelling?
My Lords, I am afraid that I must have notice of that question. I do not know whether those figures include families that have more than one dwelling, but I will certainly find out and let the noble Lord know later. The interesting point in all these figures is that households are, according to all the best estimates, increasing faster than the general rate of the population. This has been going on since the turn of the century, and in the next ten years it is estimated that, although the population will increase by only about 2.2 million—
§ LORD LATHAM
Two hundred thousand a year.
—the number of individual households will have increased by 850,000. This increase in families is largely due (and this is a point which was brought out by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, in particular) to the fact that people now live longer and existing households remain at the same time as new ones appear. One likes to think also that an increasing number of old people are financially able to remain in an independent home of their own and do not have to enter some form of institution or be a burden upon some younger family.
That is why the Government are tackling so energetically the problem of housing for old people. There is the 1142 special Exchequer subsidy of £10 a year for 60 years on every one-bedroomed house that local authorities build. In fact, 25 per cent. of all the local authority house-building—I am talking again of England and Wales—consists of these one-bedroomed houses which are particularly suitable for the old people. Since the war the figure has been running at only 10 per cent. It is now 25 per cent. and we have every reason to suppose it is going higher than that. But I do not want to go into too much detail at this moment.
Perhaps I may restate the problem again, in this very brief review that I should like to make before I go to the points that noble Lords have raised. To start with we have not enough houses; we have a population increasing all the time; we have families increasing relatively faster than that; we have a standard of living rising, and continuing to rise; and we have this wastage of the existing houses by age and by neglect—and that is a point that has been brought out.
I should like to take the last point first: this question of wastage. I do not know whether it would be wholly unfair to say that a city grows rather like a tree: it puts on rings outside. One does not want to take the simile too far, but everyone knows what happens to the centre of a tree—it gets rotten. By the same simile the outside part of a tree is the sapwood—the flimsy bungalows and teashops, while there is a mixture of banks and slums in the centre. I think we must always see, and must take the greatest care, that when the centre of our tree, the good solid heartwood, begins to rot, we infill. We cannot afford to go on and on outwards all the time (the country has only a certain size) and leave nothing in the middle, although we shall then be immediately up against the problem of the very high cost of land in the centre, and that must be tackled—and I hope to show that it is being tackled.
On this question of wastage, I was rather surprised that no noble Lord mentioned anything about the improvement grants that are available to private individuals and to local authorities. I think I should, therefore, in this brief survey, mention them for a moment. The 1949 Act introduced comprehensive 1143 grants for improving structurally sound old houses and converting larger houses into flats: and it is important to remember that half the houses in the country were built before 1919. The estimate is that there are 3 or 4 million houses which need modernising. That is a very big figure: it is equal to all the houses which we have built since the war. Now there is no denying that the 1949 Act did not really get off to a very good start, but we will not go into that. There was a certain amount of prejudice and there was a certain amount of difficulty. Perhaps the rules were too rigid. It did not really take off, perhaps, until 1954, when the Government eased up the requirements and the conditions. Since then, improvements under this Act have been running at 35,000 cases a year—but that still is not good enough.
It was not until the 1959 Act came along, with its famous five standard improvements—the bath, the wash basin, the water closet, the hot water boiler and the food store—that the whole business of these improvement grants really got going. I think that there were two reasons for that. One was that under the new 1959 Act grants are no longer permissive: they are payable as of right. If you add one of these improvements to a house, the local authority must pay you the 50 per cent. grant, of which, as we all know, 75 per cent. is Exchequer subsidy and 25 per cent. is rate-borne. Now there has been an impetus since then to the improvement of old houses, and some of this wastage has stopped: the new grants are available to all pre-1945 houses. Curiously enough, the fact that this new Act has stimulated these specific improvements appears to have stimulated the more general, comprehensive grants under the old 1949 Act, which are running now at nearly double the number that they were before. The fact that the Government have given a very great deal of publicity to this grant aid for improvements may have had something to do with this. There is a very good leaflet which was published—in fact, 50,000 copies of it have been sold at 1s. 6d. a time. I think that is all very satisfactory.
Nobody has to-night either mentioned rent de-control. In passing, I should like to mention that rent de-control has 1144 had an effect in easing up the situation and in getting repairs done which were not done before. For the very low rents which had been fixed before were not only unfair on the owners, many of whom were small people, but were unfair on the occupants, the tenants, because they did not get their repairs done. It would have been absolutely wrong to allow the wastage of old property to go on for that reason.
Unfortunately, of course, there is this large number of houses which are not worth repairing under any scheme. These are the slums which have to be cleared, and the Government feel that this task must now have first priority. There is a special subsidy of £22 1s. per annum for 60 years payable upon new houses built by a local authority to replace an unfit house; and noble Lords will know that it is possible for a local authority to get two grants (I suppose it is possible to get even more than two grants) of £22 1s. That is to say, if you are going to re-house two families out of one slum house, you will get the £22 1s. on each of the new houses that you put up; because it is a pair of new houses for re-housing people out of one condemned slum property. Since the end of 1955, 180,000 unfit houses have been demolished or closed in England and Wales. By the end of 1960, the total should reach 260,000. The target for Great Britain is that 200,000 persons a year should be moved out of slums. That was achieved in 1958, and is likely to be achieved in 1959. Before very long, indeed, many authorities may have seen the end of their slum clearance programmes. I doubt whether the city in which the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, is interested will have seen the end of it in ten years' time; but some will, and then we can all concentrate more particularly on those which have not come to the end of this intractable though not wholly insoluble problem.
I should like now for a moment to turn to some of the points raised by noble Lords, to see whether I can answer some of the many specific questions that have been asked. I cannot, of course, refer to all the points—it would be impossible to do that to-night—but they will be brought to the notice of my right honourable friend, and everything that has been said will be studied most carefully in Hansard. However, I must refer 1145 to some of the matters which were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. He was the first of many noble Lords who raised the famous figures of properties with no baths, no W.C.'s, no sinks, and no stoves. They are well-known figures, and they are incontrovertible. I accept them. We have got to improve upon them; and one hopes that in a few years' time one will be able to have very much better figures.
As to the figure of 300,000 dwellings a year, I should not like to say whether that is the figure we shall always require to have: but it is interesting to note that that average of 300,000 has been reached in these last years and it seems to me that it is about right. But rather than go out on a limb with a figure of that sort, I would say, and I would say on behalf of my right honourable friend, that what we want is a high level of new building. If the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, will forgive me, I will not at the moment say whether 300,000 is the right figure or not. There is a great difference between need and demand.
The noble Lord also raised the question of the cost of land. He will know that in the housing subsidies it is possible to take into account the cost of developing sites and also such special costs as piling, to which the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, referred. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, raised the interesting point of whether or not we have come to a stage when a special inquiry by some outside committee ought to be held. That is a matter well worth considering, and no doubt my right honourable friend will consider it. It is not entirely a new point. I understand that it has been raised in other quarters recently and is under consideration, but I cannot tell what will be done.
The noble Lord, Lord Amulree, made an interesting speech, as we have learned to expect from him, about old people. I was interested to learn that apparently old people do not linger on in Torquay, but die suddenly. I do not know what the implication of that is, but it is what the noble Lord told us. What he said about old people does go to show that good housing will take away the pressure on hospital beds. That is something we all want to see and something we must do. The noble Lord suggested that some of our difficulties could be overcome if local authorities could be 1146 persuaded to move old people from fourth floors to ground floors. I do not quite know how the Government can assist local authority in this respect. It seems to me largely a matter of tact and of good relations between the local authority and their tenants. I think that it is a good thing, but I do not see how the Government can help in this rather domestic matter.
§ LORD LATHAM
Rather hazardous matter.
Yes, rather hazardous, too. I sent for information about another point which the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, made and I find that he is right. The Ministry of Housing and Local Government do not have a special medical staff, but I am informed that there is a close liaison between the medical service and the Ministry, and I am sure that the situation is not so bad as the noble Lord may have feared. The noble Lord also referred to the great cost of high flats and asked if there was a special subsidy. Of course, there is. He also spoke of moving people out into the country. In the letter which the noble Lord sent me, and which I received only in the course of this debate, he made a number of points which are well worth considering.
The noble Earl, Lord Albemarle, interested me by his eloquent plea for a land bank and budget, which pleased noble Lords opposite a good deal, and he wound up by pleasing me by saying that he believed wholeheartedly in private enterprise in building. I doubt whether my right honourable friend would feel that a land bank was the solution to our difficulties, but we are always glad to look at points raised by the noble Earl.
The noble Lord, Lord Auckland, spoke of the difficulties of a young man, like himself, starting off buying a house. He spoke of the high legal charges, the high mortgage interest and Schedule A tax, which he dislikes very much. Although I am replying as an agricultural Minister to a housing debate, I do not think that I will take on the question of Schedule A income tax, which is a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and legal charges, which is for the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor. But these points will be brought to the attention of the appropriate quarters for 1147 consideration. The noble Lord congratulated Her Majesty's Government on the success we have had in our housing programme, and I am sure that he is right in doing so. He asked whether council tenants ought not to have every encouragement to buy their houses. It is the policy of Her Majesty's Government that council house tenants should have every encouragement to buy their houses, and the Minister has issued instructions, and I believe shortly is to be issuing more instructions, on this very matter.
The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, made a powerful speech, as we expect from him. He always manages to bring in Somerset when I am replying. He asked whether there could be special provision for a rural district in Somerset which wanted to move some people out of a hutted camp. That links up with the other point he made about Shoreditch, and the cost of land for housing and the extra cost of piling. Actually there are not special subsidies for these specific matters, but he will know that where dwellings are erected on an expensive site an Exchequer subsidy is available towards the cost of purchasing and developing the site. I am informed that the sort of point which the noble Lord raised is taken into consideration when that subsidy is being fixed. The sort of thing taken into consideration is the purchase price, including legal expenses, the cost of clearing, the construction of roads, extra deep foundations, and piling and retaining walls.
I am not such a greenhorn, though an agricultural Minister, as to be wholly convinced by the noble Lord's use of housing lists. They have been, and always will be, a matter of great controversy. There is the question of whether they are "live" and whether people have put their names on more than one list. But I am not going to get involved in a controversy about this at the moment. One can get an exaggerated and false picture of the whole question by using lists, unless they are looked at very carefully.
The noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, asked me about Glenrothes. He was good enough to give my noble friend Lord Craigton notice of this question. I think that I can give him some assistance on 1148 the points he raised, but as many of them are confined to Glasgow I would rather get in touch wth the noble Lord than weary your Lordships by going into the question fully now. But I should like to say this. As regards the three new towns in Scotland—East Kilbride, Glenrothes and Cumbernauld—it was always anticipated that a great many coalminers from Lanarkshire would be moving into Glenrothes new town. Now, owing to a different situation in the coal mining industry, that may not be so. My noble friend the Minister of State would not wish it to be thought that that gets him out of any obligation for providing for Glasgow per se; that is to say, it may well be that more people from Glasgow can now go to Glenrothes than was contemplated at one time. But my noble friend does not commit himself to whether or not other new towns are needed for Glasgow as a city. It just happens that it is helpful to find that this accommodation is available at Glenrothes, which at one time was not anticipated.
§ LORD GREENHILL
May I interrupt the noble Earl? As I understood it, this was an accidental outcome of an unforeseen situation; and one of my pleas was that it would be advantageous if, before decisions were taken by a body such as the National Coal Board, there could be this wider consultation, in order that all the facts could be obtained, instead of only a series of facts.
I take the noble Lord's point; and my noble friend will, I am sure, give it the consideration it deserves. We then come to the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch.
§ LORD STONHAM
Before the noble Earl continues, if he will allow me to interrupt, I should like to mention a point on which I am not clear. Do I understand him to say that subsidies will be available to local authorities who want to rehouse people out of hutted camps? And does the same thing apply to local authorities who are prepared, under approved conditions, to rehouse people out of tied houses?
I do not think the noble Lord means to take me up on this matter. He knows that when 1149 there are expensive or special costs in a re-housing project of a local authority there is an Exchequer subsidy towards the cost of purchasing and developing any special site of that kind. I am told that this subsidy is separate from, and payable in addition to, any subsidy for dwellings erected on the site. This is not a new thing; it is something that exists now. As the noble Lord is well aware, if a housing account is kept, and all the subsidies are put in, these subsidies can come in and help in the general rent situation of the local authority. There is no special subsidy for houses that have been built by a local authority to replace tied cottages, but the noble Lord must be aware that since the war new rural housing in England and Wales has been something of the nature of 400,000 houses; that is to say, one-fifth of all new houses provided by local authorities. I think he will agree that this means there is a substantially larger pool of houses for re-letting to help solve the tied cottage problem.
The noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, considered rates an obnoxious tax—and I am inclined to agree with him. However, I am not prepared, if he will forgive my saying so, to debate whether rating on site values would be more or less obnoxious. I think that is a matter that we must leave to another day, although I have taken note of the suggestion. The noble Lord, Lord Meston, hoped that private building for letting would continue. The Government would support that absolutely and would be only too glad to see it. Lord Meston's optimism that it was going to continue, or increase, seemed to cause the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, some surprise—and I will leave them to fight that out afterwards. What I do say is that the Government have done what they can to help this good end. The easing up of the rent control situation must surely have done that. Moreover, it is now five years since rent control on new construction was abandoned, which ought to make it easier for building for letting.
The noble Lord, Lord Hawke, as other noble Lords have done, said that we must not count houses and heads; and he asked that garages should be supplied and that architects should be used. It seemed to me that these were two admirable thoughts. Again, I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Hawke—because there 1150 seems to be some confusion about that this evening—that the subsidisation of expensive sites does exist.
Lastly, the noble Lord, Lord Latham, in, if I may say so, a powerful contribution, again stressed the question of families, a matter on which we all so fully agree. Here he was optimistic, and he quoted the working man to-day, who thinks more about the snugness of his house than about his beer. I hope he is not too optimistic, I think he is probably right. I feel, however, that he is too pessimistic when he says that he fears that slums are increasing faster than they are decreasing, and that new slums are being created faster than old slums are being cleared. As I say, I think that is too pessimistic, and I hope that the noble Lord may be proved wrong.
My Lords, we have had an extremely interesting debate, and we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Silk in, for raising this subject. The last thing I would say is this. We must have priorities in this matter of housing, and the Government believe that the blight of the slums is the first priority that we should have now. We are fully convinced that there must continue to be a high rate of house-building linked with the preservation of older sound dwellings; and there must be a reasonable incentive to encourage people to provide their own homes. We do not think it is necessary, or even desirable, that the local authorities should provide all the new houses. But if the local authorities pool all their various subsidies and use the money to help only those tenants who need help, we feel that they will be able to continue to build a good proportion of the new houses and to let them at reasonable rents. Local authorities finding themselves with unreasonably high rates and rents on all their houses can apply for the special discretionary subsidy, which is up to £30 a house. Noble Lords may be interested to know that already 47 local authorities in the poorer districts have applied for this subsidy.
It remains the most salient feature of this Government's housing policy that private building should continue to rise—as in fact it is doing. The total of 124,000 private houses built in 1958 in England and Wales is a post-war record. But this total will be beaten this year, because in the first nine months of 1959, 126.000 houses were started, as against 99,000 in 1151 the first nine months of 1958. This, of course, has been greatly helped by the House Purchase and Housing Act, 1959, which took the unprecedented step of providing Exchequer loans to building societies, under proper safeguards. So far, 61 building societies have joined the Government scheme, which means that advances of at least 95 per cent. of the value of houses of moderate size are available to purchasers. But not only the building societies have been helped by the Government; the 1959 Act gave local authorities power for the first time to make advances of 100 per cent. for house purchase.
We have, as I have said, had a valuable debate this evening, and I am sure that enough has been said to convince your Lordships that the Government are not only aware of the housing problems which confront us but are taking bold measures to deal with them. Two principles must guide all our thinking on this matter. First, we must zealously safeguard and preserve the assets we already possess, and we must never let up on adding to the assets by new construction. That must be the aim. And the second principle is that we must not allow any preconceived prejudice or doctrinaire political bias to frustrate that aim. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for having originated this debate, and I shall, of course, convey to my right honourable friend the substance of the many and most interesting and well informed speeches to which we have listened to-day.
§ THE EARL OF ALBEMARLE
My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, I should like him to refer to two matters about which I suppose I should have warned him beforehand. I understand that the Government are pleased with the Registered House Builders' Association and have given their official blessing to it. But can the Government encourage us still further by issuing a certificate so as to make houses which are built of good standard available to help in the moving of population to places where they are going to work?
I wonder whether the noble Earl would forgive me if I communicated with him privately with regard to that question? I want to get the answer absolutely right.
§ THE EARL OF ALBEMARLE
The other question is with regard to the Greater London plan which has been made, and which is now more or less filled in. But outside the Green Belt another greater Greater London has arisen, which is showing the same signs of sprawl and disorganisation and future chaos as in the old case. Would he ask his right honourable friend whether he would try to achieve the getting together of those five new counties on the outskirts of the fringe who need to have all their needs threshed out between them, so that we do not have a sprawl but work out a Greater London regional plan?
My Lords, without having had notice of that far-reaching proposal I could not possibly commit my right honourable friend. But as my noble friend has developed it fully in his speech, and has raised it again now, my right honourable friend will read it and I will communicate privately with him.
§ THE EARL OF ALBEMARLE
I thank the noble Earl.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I should like first of all to express my appreciation of the able and agreeable way in which the noble Earl has dealt with this debate. If he has not dealt with every point completely satisfactorily I do not blame him. The debate covered a wide field, and it is only natural that some points must be left undealt with. I hope I shall not be thought egotistic if I express my own great satisfaction at the way in which this debate has been conducted. I expressed the hope at the outset that we could discuss this vital question in a non-Party spirit, and I think I can say that that has been carried out. Even those who on both sides are accustomed to express themselves in somewhat more violent terms than perhaps I do normally have refrained on this occasion, and every speaker has made a valuable contribution.
I could not have hoped, and did not intend, to cover the whole field of housing. It is a far bigger thing than any one person can do, especially in a speech of 33 minutes, which I am shocked to find I took. If I tried to cover the whole field I should possibly have been 300 minutes. But speakers on all sides have 1153 admirably filled many of the gaps which I left, and I do not think there is much that has been left unsaid. I am very grateful indeed to all those who have taken part in the debate, and for the spirit in which they have done it.
If I mention two things, I hope I shall not be thought to be departing from that spirit. One is the question of rent control. I deliberately did not deal with it because I thought it might be out of keeping with the general spirit of my remarks. I am not to-day complaining of decontrol. What I do complain of, even now, and where I feel there has been a hardship, is in the loss of security. I see that frequently in connection with a block of flats with which I am intimately connected for a time—I hope not for too long—and that is Dolphin Square. Tenants are in constant fear of eviction because the Act has placed in the hands of landlords the powerful weapon of increasing rents to any extent they fancy, and this is creating on those tenants a great hardship which I am experiencing myself. Without wishing to be unduly controversial, I make the point that I hope the Government will not feel too complacent about the results of decontrol. It is in certain cases creating great hardship. I could extend this subject, but I will not.
The other point is on the question of the sale of municipal houses. We on this side all favour home ownership in proper cases, but I think it would be bad estate management for local authorities to sell off odd houses on large estates. No owner of a large estate would do it. You will not find the Sutton Estate, the Guinness Trust or the Church Commissioners selling off odd houses while retaining the bulk. That would be bad estate management and I do not think it is reasonable to expect local authorities to do so. At any rate, if a local authority wants to take a particular section of an estate that they have built and dispose of that to their tenants as a whole, that would be another matter.
Those are the only two things upon which I wish to comment. Except for that, I believe the noble Earl has dealt with this subject in a way which, if he will not mind my saying so, meets with my complete approval. I hope that this debate will not be left simply in 1154 the records of the House and ignored hereafter. So much valuable material has been given that I think it is worthy of consideration.
I know the noble Earl did not take my figure of 300,000 as the last word on the subject. It was an attempt to calculate our needs. I may be mistaken one way or the other, but broadly I think it is right. What I should like to emphasise is that I hope something will be done to create a long-term housing programme, so that we can ensure that within the foreseeable future of ten or twelve years—even twenty years, as my noble friend Lord Latham thinks would be right—these awful housing conditions which are a blot upon our civilisation will end. In order to ensure that we must plan it and provide for it, and we must ensure that we provide a certain number of dwellings per annum until the time comes when the problem has been solved. I am sure the noble Earl will take that point to his right honourable friend and that it will get adequate and sympathetic consideration. If it does, then I am sure that the whole House will agree that this debate will have been well worth while. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.