§ 3.57 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, the House will, I am sure, be grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, for the lucid, concise and, may I say, most agreeable way in which he has submitted this measure for Second Reading. I should like to commence my speech by quoting the opening passages of the speech of the Minister of Housing and Local Government when introducing the Second Reading of this Bill in another place on March 27 of this year. I am quoting from the OFFICIAL REPORT, column 960. The Minister said:I say frankly that it has always been my hope that I would get an opportunity, as Minister of Housing, to initiate and to carry through Parliament a major Housing Bill.There are some among us, I suppose, who might have thought that the present Minister of Housing has done sufficient damage to housing the people without his seeking to have another Bill of this character—damage which has issued and continued, of course, from his successive Rent Acts, and from the alteration, reduction, and in some cases the abolition, of subsidies.
This is not a major Housing Bill. Except as regards the building of accommodation to let by housing associations, this Bill will not add a single dwelling which would not otherwise have been constructed. This Bill has really for its purpose the manipulation of subsidies in favour of the Exchequer and to the disadvantage of the local housing authority. There is nothing in the Bill, I submit, to encourage an increase in the total of council house building. There is, of course, likely to be a change of emphasis or of priorities in the various elements which constitutes the present shortage of dwellings to let at reasonable rents. Of course, the shortage varies from region to region. Here there is a problem of slum clearance; there it is the problem of old people, and in another district it is general housing. Elsewhere it may be redevelopment and renewal, often on a big scale. And then, of course, there is the problem of overspill which arises from most of these activities. Overspill is not a problem of itself; overspill is a consequence of 105 housing in other directions and for other purposes. All these are facets of one vast and complicated problem which really represents a legacy from the days of spacious ease for the few in earlier Victorian and Edwardian days.
The Bill's main purpose is, as I have said, to effect a reduction in the subsidies to the local authorities; to put local authorities, in short, on a means test as regards housing subsidies and indirectly, therefore, to put the tenants on a means test. It is an indirect way also of almost imposing upon local authorities a policy of differential rents. In that connection I should like to quote from the White Paper, Cmnd. No. 1290, which has already been referred to by the noble Earl. Paragraph 32 says:The actual rent income will still depend upon the extent to which it is decided, after allowing for Exchequer subsidies, that the cost of an authority's houses should be met from rents as opposed to rate contributions and that decision will still rest with the authority.These are the important words:But in determining the amount of subsidy which the Exchequer should pay, the Government are entitled to assume that councils will pursue reasonable rent policies, and the changes now to be made in the subsidy arrangements will encourage them to do so.That is a pretty insidious and, I submit, an unworthy way of seeking to impose upon local authorities a policy as regards rents which otherwise they might not accept.
That is the more so when it is observed from the provisions of the Bill that the Minister is likely to exercise a more stringent use of his power of disapproval of housing projects. Of course, one of the elements which might go to determine, with others, his disapproval of a housing scheme is that differential rents were not to be applied to the houses in question. It is not a very nice method of seeking to get your own way. I am a little surprised that the present Minister of Housing should have resorted to it.
It is the case, as the noble Earl has said, that this Bill restores a subsidy to all types of dwellings, but the Government's intention, as the noble Earl affirmed, is that the total Exchequer subsidy should not be affected and should remain roughly at the £3 million mark 106 annually. That, I think, is borne out by paragraph 37 of the White Paper to which I have referred. Notwithstanding that there might be further increases in the cost of land or that other aspects of expenditure in connection with housing schemes may go up, the Minister proposes to keep the Exchequer grant roughly at a fixed, static sum. It means, of course, that if there is more building in one direction there will be less in another. For instance, we might have an increase of general building at the expense of slum clearance. These devices to fiddle with the subsidy—and there are quite a lot of them—are set out in Part 1.
What, in briefer description, is this basic subsidy, and how is it arrived at? It is in fact arrived at by taking advantage of the fact that certain forward-looking, active and dynamic local authorities built a number of houses before the war and were fortunate enough when building them to be able to raise money at, relatively speaking, low rates of interest. Now, instead of the local authority being permitted to benefit from that prudence, that foresight, that wisdom and that activity, a good deal of which was shown—all those qualities were shown by my noble friend Lord Silkin when he was chairman of the Housing Committee of the London County Council—that advantage is to be filched from the local authorities and taken into account by the Exchequer or handed out to other local authorities which did not exhibit the same kind of prudence, the same kind of forethought, and which took the view that housing was not a proper function of local government.
I submit that it is a most indefensible proposal that the authorities which were active between the wars are to be penalised and those which were inactive are to benefit from their inaction. I believe it to be the case that Liverpool will rank for only the £8 subsidy, whereas Bournemouth, poverty stricken as we know, will get the whole of the £24. My Lords, that really cannot be justified. Because Liverpool was active —and let me be perfectly frank about it, for many years under a Conservative Council they were active—and built a number of houses, and borrowed the money cheaply, now the benefit of that has to pass over to the Exchequer or to 107 other local authorities. That, I submit, is indefensible.
Another point in regard to this basic subsidy is this. Why is it that there are no stages? Why should it be either £24 a year per dwelling or £8? Why the gap of £16 between? Is that, as I suspect it is, in order to keep the Exchequer contribution, the Exchequer subsidy, at roughly £3 million, whatever might be the number of houses or dwellings which may be built by the local authorities and which are eligible for subsidy? As I have said, the real beneficiary of this alteration of subsidy is the Exchequer. I understand, as indeed the noble Earl indicated, that the subsidy was to be determined each year. That seems to me to make it a little difficult for housing authorities to plan their housing projects from a financial point of view. For instance, they will lose the benefit of the low rate of interest and the low cost of housing between the wars, which of course went in reduction of the contribution normally made out of the rates.
Then there is the power given to the Minister to reduce or abolish the subsidies after a lapse, I understand, of a period of ten years. There is no provision for the Minister to increase the subsidy, but if the tenant's circumstances —that is to say the tenant's ability to pay rent—improves then the Minister is entitled after a period of ten years to consider whether, and if so to what extent, he should reduce the subsidy, or indeed abolish it; and that reduction or abolition can be discriminatory as between authorities: it will not necessarily, I understand, apply to all housing authorities. If I am wrong in that perhaps the noble Earl will correct me. But supposing there are increases in the rate of interest, supposing other expenditure rises, why in those circumstances should not the subsidy be increased? If the Minister is taking power to decrease why not also take power to increase? Why have it all one way and nothing to the local authorities the other way? So much for this Part of the Bill, which is called a major Housing Bill. It really is, as I have said, a collection of proposals to ease the amount of the Exchequer grant.
Let me take now one or two other aspects of the housing problem. I was 108 glad to hear the noble Earl, brief though his acquaintance with this problem has been, say that he had already formed the opinion that this Bill will not cure the housing problem; and, indeed, that there is a vast housing problem still facing this country. Of course, his Minister, as he may know (and if not I will tell him), has said—indeed he said it in his speech on the Second Reading of this Bill—that the national shortage of housing had been overcome; and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, always correct of course, said so by way of question and answer in another place a few weeks ago. I am glad to know that the noble Earl does not associate himself with those views, because it is nonsense to talk about the national shortage of houses having been overcome. I shall refer to that problem a little later, but meantime I want to submit to your Lordships that no Bill can be said to be a major Housing Bill unless it deals with the question of land.
My Lords, land is one of the governing factors of house building at the present time—not only the fantastic price of land, but also the shortage of sites. In this Bill there is not a word about land. The present Government carry a heavy burden of responsibility for the present increase in the price of land, because it was thought fit to dismantle by a series of Acts the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. Although they were committed to the proposals contained in the Reports, they threw out of the window, successively, the Uthwatt Report, the Scott Report and the Barlow Report.
My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord. I have so often heard him make this observation, that the Government have increased the price of land by upsetting the development charge. I have never yet understood how the development charge could reduce the price of land to the consumer. I know that it is a different subject, but I only wanted to interpose that remark.
§ LORD LATHAM
In the first place the easy run for the speculators would not have been there, and in any case the Government would have been able to set betterment against development; and there was no doubt that it was the accepted opinion of the Tory Party, and 109 of the Coalition Government, including the Tory element in it, that the principles of Uthwatt and Scott should be embodied, as indeed they were embodied, in law by my noble friend Lord Silkin. But now, the law having been dismantled, the high cost of land can be said, and I say it, to be directly due to the action of the Government and their recantation of their own policy embodied in the White Paper of 1944, the title of which I think was Land Use. At present, I understand that one very large authority receiving a special subsidy, which is to be continued, of course, in respect of expensive land, finds that the special subsidy represents no more than about 50 per cent. of the excess cost of the land. The remaining 50 per cent. has to be borne by the local authority, and, ultimately, by the tenants or the ratepayers.
Then there is no reference in this Bill to the high interest rates which are having to be paid. I understand that in 1950, when the Public Works Loan Board rate was 3 per cent., the total debt charge on a house costing £3,000 was £108 per year; it is now, with a rate of 6¼ per cent., £193; and it has been as high as £207 a year. Those are increases of, roughly speaking, 100 per cent. and 90 per cent. Moreover, as a result of the high rate of interest, while the average tender price of a three bed-roomed council house was £1,400 in 1951, and at the Public Works Loan Board rate of interest then prevailing the cost to the council was about £4,000, the loan charges repayable over 60 years, the builders' cost is now £1,800 and at to-day's inflated rates of interest the cost to the council is £7,500. Of that increase more than £3,000 is the extra cost spent on increased loan charges and not on producing an improved or larger council house. In point of fact, as the noble Earl may know, the size of the average council house has fallen since 1951 from 920 square feet to 865 square feet. The smaller the house, of course, the greater liability, in certain circumstances, is there of its ultimately becoming a slum.
Now with regard to slum clearance. In the White Paper, in paragraph 9, certain figures are given. But I must point out that those figures are now six years old, and every day that passes new slums are created, especially in dwellings in multiple occupation. It is so not only with the old big houses—they are bad 110 enough—but also with a number of small houses, built for single occupation but, because of economic circumstances, now occupied by more than one family. They, too, are rapidly becoming slums. Therefore it is misleading to take the number of slums which have been cleared and replaced as being a reduction of the number of slums which still exist in this country. In point of fact, it was estimated by the Sunday Times, in an article about two weeks ago, that new slums were being created at the rate of something like 150,000 a year. That is nearly three times as many slums as have been cleared.
Anyone who has become familiar with all the facets of the housing problem knows that slums are being created faster than they are being cleared. Those in multiple occupation, dealt with in Part II, and those which are condemned, local authorities are to have special and new powers to deal with. I am glad to know that the noble Earl made himself aware, at all events, of the bestial conditions which exist in many parts of London and the Provinces. As the noble Earl admitted, the proposals in the Bill, dealing with these dwellings in multiple occupation and condemned houses, will not really solve the problem.
My Lords, I wonder whether I may interrupt the noble Lord? I was not aware of having admitted that the proposals would not solve the problem. I seem to recollect that I said that the proposals had real teeth in them and that they would be extremely effective.
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, we will let the OFFICIAL REPORT determine. I do not want to misrepresent what the noble Earl said. I certainly made a note. If I am wrong, I will certainly withdraw it. But is it not a little optimistic to assume that the owners of most of these large old houses in multiple occupation will in fact comply with the provisions of the Act? And have the local authorities sufficient staff to insist upon their compliance? I doubt it. I think the only way to deal with this problem of multiple occupation and the absence of amenities—as the noble Earl has said, in many cases it is a dreadful and a most unworthy sight—is for the local authority to acquire them; and, as a preliminary step, there should be a register 111 of all the houses which are condemned, or in respect of which the local authority carry out either one or other of the powers provided in this Bill. As the noble Earl said, in many cases the condition of the houses in multiple occupation is worse than the slums.
Then we come to general housing, which is likely to be kept, as it were, under the table, as it has been since the abolition of the subsidy. There is an immense demand for general housing, if only by reason of the fact of the lack of amenities which is so common among well-nigh seven million houses. There are three million families without a separate water closet; there are two million without a separate kitchen sink, and one million without a cooking stove. In this jet and atomic age—it is almost unbelievable, but it is the case—nearly half the families of this country lack the ordinary amenities of decent living. That is a shocking state of affairs. That was the state of affairs in 1954–55. I submit that it is no better now—that, in fact, it is probably worse.
In the face of this, can any honest, decent person aver that there is no national housing shortage? This is a state of affairs of which we ought to be really ashamed. We ought not to seek to mitigate it and to pretend that it does not exist. There is a vast shortage. There is an immense problem facing this country, and it cannot be dealt with by twiddling and footling around with the subsidy or by legislation of this kind. This is not a Bill to produce houses or homes. It is a Bill to "fiddle" the Exchequer subsidy; to give greater power to the Minister as to his approval or disapproval of local authority schemes; to give power to the Minister to break a Government contract as regards subsidy with local authorities, by refusing or abolishing the subsidies provided by this Bill, and not to increase them whatever adverse circumstances might arise and might call for an increase of subsidy. This is a Bill to "footle" about with old houses, overcrowded and over-occupied, many of them already condemned. There are quite minor provisions, especially in Part III, but when they are added up they do not amount to much—they are really derisory as a contribution to the solution of this housing problem.
At the beginning of this speech I referred to the commencing passages of 112 the Minister's Second Reading speech in introducing the Bill. I should like to conclude by quoting the concluding paragraphs of the Minister's speech on March 27 [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 637 (No. 82)] at column 979. From this, noble Lords will discern that it appears that the Minister, like the Parliamentary Secretary, has recently discovered the slums. Some of us discovered them many years ago—in London in the 'twenties, and elsewhere much earlier. They are a monument to neglect and guilt. However, let me quote the Minister. This is what he said:I shall long remember going into one of these big Victorian houses, up dirty steps through a door with most of the paint off, up a staircase that never was cleaned, to three floors of squalor, except that in one of them the mother was obviously struggling against her surroundings to give her husband and children a decent home. There were no proper kitchens and no lavatory above the ground floor. I then went down to the basement. They tried to discourage me from seeing the basement, because a couple of women who were thought to be prostitutes occupied the basement, and it smelt one degree worse than the rest of the house.I do not know exactly on whom rested the responsibility of the state of that house, but I felt, there and then, that unless I did something about it, part responsibility would lie on me. I made up my mind that when the chance came for me to strike at such miserable living conditions in an English city in the twentieth century, I would strike—and strike hard.Well, it is a credit to him—to his heart at least; but it is the mind, not the heart, which will be needed to clear away the rottenness of the housing conditions of this country. What an indictment of landlordism and successive Tory Governments !—for, apart from about eight years, a Tory Government has been in power since the end of the first war. In these conditions can we expect people to be able to make a home, to rear a family and to become decent, well-disposed citizens and, when required to fight, risk and give their lives to defend this squalor, dirt and filth? This is what the exercise of free enterprise has left us. This is what so-called "enlightened self-interest" (to use the hypocritical slogan and doctrine of the Industrial Revolution) has left us. All of us, as citizens, without distinction of Party, should be ashamed that in these rotten and festering conditions the sons and daughters of the people should sleep, live and have their being.
113 The right honourable gentleman the Minister said at the end of his peroration that he would strike against these abominations, and would strike hard. In this Bill he has not struck hard except perhaps against the local authorities on subsidy. This, in my submission, is an inadequate Bill. It is insufficient to meet the demanding problem of the housing conditions of our people. It fails miserably to measure up to the ghastly problem of housing which still faces the nation. It is a poor thing. If it satisfies the Minister, then, if I may say so, it is time he was changed. We will not vote against the Bill, we will seek to amend it. We will vote for the Second Reading only faute de mieux.
§ 4.34 p.m.
My Lords, this is a very important Bill and I think the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, should be congratulated upon his masterly exposition of his subject. I remember that during our discussion of the Rating and Valuation Bill we were very much struck by the masterly wisdom of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe. I believe he is the only person in the country who understands Part II of that Bill, which deals with the valuation of water undertakings. Certainly nobody else understands it.
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, I must disabuse him straight away. I am with the majority.
I am obliged to the noble Earl. He is very modest. Dealing with the general housing situation, I hope a few figures will not be out of place. There are some 14.3 million dwellings in England and Wales and of that number 11 million are privately owned, and of that total of 11 million 4½ million are owner-occupied. The rest are owned by public authorities, housing associations or Government Departments. So far as housing subsidies are concerned, in my view it is generally preferable that the individual, so far as he needs assistance, and not the house, should be the subject of the housing subsidy. I should like to ask the noble Earl to what extent this Bill encourages or even enforces the adoption of differential rent schemes.
At the moment about one in three of the 1,500 housing authorities in this country operate differential rent schemes. 114 If this Bill will compel local authorities to adopt differential rent schemes or rent rebate schemes it will be of great benefit to the individual, as distinct from benefit to the house itself. As for the proposal in the Bill to make advances of up to £25 million to non-profit-making housing associations, this is highly commendable and it conduces directly to the building of houses for letting. There are about 900 housing associations in this country which together own about 200,000 dwellings; but last year in this country only 1,600 houses were built by them, and it may be that proposals in this Bill should greatly encourage them to increase their efforts.
I speak under correction but I understand that for a house costing £3,000 to build the rent will be about £4 per week. This rather encourages me to touch upon the painful subject of the investment of private capital in building houses to let. I understand the Government are in favour of that, but I am afraid that up to date it is only a flow of words. The private developer is in a very sad position. First, there is the high cost of land; and he has no power to purchase compulsorily. I have made this suggestion before and I make it again. I feel that in a proper case the local authorities should be allowed to buy land compulsorily and then sell it to a private individual at that price for the development of houses to let.
Furthermore, there is no tax allowance for capital depreciation and I feel that this matter should be seriously pursued by the Government, especially from the financial and taxation points of view. People get married today and are unable to rent a house so they proceed to purchase a house with a very large mortgage from a building society. I have no objection to that, being connected with a building society myself, but at the same time that places a heavy burden on this young couple for many years to come. The provisions relating to houses in multiple occupation are, I think, very desirable. I would, however, suggest an improvement in the drafting of these provisions so as to concentrate the obligations and penalties on the person responsible for the multiple occupation, namely, the person directly in receipt of rent.
The provisions in the Bill relating to the reconditioning of condemned houses 115 are also admirable. The unfitness test results in many reasonably-fit houses being condemned for clearance as being unfit. So far as this Bill will enable the reconditioning of houses which are not really unfit it is most welcome. As the Bill is drafted at present, however, it is not clear at what moment the local authority are to be allowed to change their mind. The Bill appears to permit a local authority to acquire a dwelling house compulsorily as unfit and to pay compensation at site value and then to exclude the house from the clearance area on the grounds that it is not, after all, unfit. If that is the correct position I feel it ought to be cleared up.
I will now touch upon a rather painful subject: that is, the repairing obligations of parties who have bought leases. I think every reasonable person supports the principle that tenants under a short tenancy should not be responsible for constructional repairs. Some people take the view that there should be no implied covenant on the part of the landlord, which would result only in many landlords asking high rents in order to cover the risk of having litigious tenants. It should be sufficient to give power to a tenant to apply to a court to terminate the tenancy and to be relieved of the obligation to pay rent under the lease if the house became uninhabitable. It would seem wholly inequitable that the short-term tenant should, for example, force a landlord to rebuild after a collapse due to dry-rot, particularly in view of the flood damage earlier this year. Statutory rebatement of rent would be reasonable in such a case, but not a statutory rebuilding covenant. That is merely a point of view which is taken rather strongly by some people, but I feel that there are cases in which a landlord should be relieved by a court from having to rebuild a house in certain circumstances. My Lords, those are only a few, sketchy observations I have to make about the Bill. I have no doubt that the matter will be debated again on Committee stage, and that your Lordships look forward with pleasure to many midnight sittings.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ BARONESS HORSBRUGH
My Lords, I should like to join the two noble Lords who have already spoken 116 in congratulating the noble Earl on his speech in introducing this Bill to us this afternoon. One could realise that he knew the subject: it does not matter for how long; he at any rate knew his subject and knew the background to it. It was not simply, as we have sometimes heard, and as we sometimes make speeches ourselves, a series of sentences trying to express thoughts, knowing that we were not quite sure whether the reason for those thoughts had been properly considered.
I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Latham, who is, I know, a great expert on this subject, and I would not for an instant suggest that I could follow him in all the remarks he made. No doubt the noble Earl, in winding up the debate, will be able to answer a good many of his questions, but the noble Lord mentioned in his speech the statement that was frequently made in the other place: that this was no major Bill. I do not mind what you call it. It seems a comprehensive Bill, if one looks at the number of detailed problems with which it deals. It always seems to me that the housing problem is a very complex problem, made up of a great many smaller problems which must be solved in connection one with the other —rather like jigsaw pieces, which fit into the picture of better housing in this country.
The noble Lord, Lord Latham, spoke about the national housing problem. I agree that housing is a national problem, but I do not myself believe that it is national from the point of view that it is the same problem throughout the country. I think that more and more we shall be helped in doing our work if we realise that fact. It seems to me that it is getting more and more like the position we had to deal with in regard to unemployment. We had high employment in many areas, but in others we had pockets of very heavy unemployment, and the Government had to bring forward legislation in order to deal with it. If you had gone into any of those places and talked about the high employment, the people there would have told you how very much worse the employment situation was then than perhaps it had ever been before. I believe it is a great thing if we can face the problem (as we are going to do now, in the scheme that is 117 laid out before us) much more as a collection of areas or local problems, and deal with the help we can give to those areas accordingly.
I should also like to congratulate and thank my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government for the White Paper. I think it is one of the best White Papers I have ever read. It is clear, concise and altogether a first-class progress report. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Latham, thinks that there has been no progress since my right honourable friend took office, and that he has done damage; but, going by the facts and the figures in the White Paper, I am very glad that he has been in charge of our housing affairs and that so much has been done in the years that have passed to improve the housing situation. Having said that, I must go on to say that of course we all realise the appalling state of housing in many parts of this country. I should like particularly to speak—and I have looked at this Paper and this Bill particularly from this point of view—on the subject of slums and slum clearance.
My Lords, for many years in another place I know a good deal about this problem, for I was the Parliamentary representative of Dundee for fifteen years and, after that, for a part of Manchester for nine years. In both those places I saw slums; I knew slums. People in those slums were some of my greatest friends, and I knew the conditions under which they were living—and they were simply appalling. Now each Government and each Party has tried to do something about this. It is no use our simply blaming landlords, or the fact that not enough money has been expended. I believe that the problem is much more difficult and much more complex. At this stage, when I am speaking of the slums in Manchester and the work that needs to be done on them, perhaps my noble friends would allow me to pay a tribute to my successor in the Moss Side Division of Manchester, Mr James Watts, who died so suddenly a few days ago. On the Second Reading of the Bill which we are discussing, he urged the need to regard our housing efforts as a crusade. Mr. Watts knew well that I did not agree with all the suggestions he made as to how to deal with the present slums, or how to prevent slums from appearing, but he knew that I 118 appreciated his great sincerity; and when he talked about wanting a crusade, I know that he himself had the spirit of a crusader.
In examining this Bill, as in the case of most Bills of this type, I suppose we all look to see what it seeks to achieve and the means it is going to use to achieve it. It seems to me that the first thing it is going to try to achieve is to channel subsidies where they are most needed, either to the local authority or to the individual. I should not have thought that anybody could object to that principle. I should not have thought that anybody could object to a commonsense, realistic policy like that, though they might say that it was not being done in the right way. But we want to have the money used to help those in need, whether they are local authorities or individuals.
The noble Lord, Lord Latham, spoke about money being filched away because local authorities were now getting the advantages of the houses they had built in pre-war days. We are glad they did build them. We had a good many Housing Bills in pre-war days, whichever Party was in power. We are thankful for the fact that the houses were built; and if they are now sold to build up the revenue of the local authority, I cannot see any dishonesty at all in suggesting, as we are suggesting in this Bill, that they can use that revenue to go on dealing with the housing problem.
On my next point there will probably be disagreement, because it deals with the way it is suggested the needs of the authority should be assessed; how one should discover what subsidy the authority should receive. As I have already said, it seems to me common sense that, in doing that, you should look at what I might call the housing authority's accounts—at the amount of the expenditure and the amount of the revenue. I do not think anybody could really oppose that in principle. But in considering what the revenue is to be—it is here in the White Paper, and again in the Bill—what they are going to do is to consider the potential revenue. In other words, if local authority houses were let at a rent twice the 1956 gross value, it is what that would bring in. It seems to me that it is a fairly sensible way, and I should be very interested to know 119 whether this could ever be published and we could be told what the revenue of various authorities would be if those calculations were made.
The noble Lord, Lord Latham, referred to there being no help in the Bill at all, and he said that the only beneficiary was the Exchequer. I do not know his reason for saying that. He may have had a reason, but he did not explain it. At the same time, he said that the subsidy was going to cost the Exchequer the sum of (I think it is now) £61 million, and there will be this increase of £3 million. The Exchequer does not seem to be gaining very much out of that, but I can only presume that he meant that the Exchequer ought to spend more. I do not believe that merely spending money, and then more money, will solve our housing problem; I believe in some more definite organisation. In passing, I might say that my reading of the Bill and the White Paper is that these subsidy arrangements are more flexible, and that if difficulties arise under certain heads, it is laid down that extra subsidy could be paid. However, I may be wrong in that, and perhaps I have not read it in the same way as did Lord Latham.
If we are going to give this subsidy in this practical way to the local authorities, what about the individual tenants? We all know there has been a great deal of feeling that some people who can afford to pay a full economical rent are at present living in houses where they are not paying an economical rent, and therefore the rest of the taxpayers have to pay for them. We all agree that that should be stopped; but I do not agree, as some people suggest, that these people should be told to leave their houses. I think it would be too harsh a measure to turn them out because they have sufficient to buy a house or to pay a rent of, say, £4 a week (or whatever it may be), and to say they should not live in their present house. The tenant may have had his house for some time. He may have been a good tenant, looked after the house, and perhaps improved it in many ways; he may have made up his garden and is accustomed to living in that community. Therefore, I would not agree that he should have to move.
At the same time, I see absolutely no reason why he should not pay an 120 economical rent and stay in his present house. As I say, I personally would not turn him out; I would rather that more people bought their houses or rented houses of their own, leaving us with other housing accommodation owned by a local authority for other persons. For any local authority in these difficult areas an empty house is far more valuable than the money they would receive from it by way of extra rents.
If these people are to move, or if new people who are able to pay an economic rent are not to go into council houses, then the great problem—and we have known this for ages, but have not yet been able to get round it—is to have more houses for rent. The old days of middle class people owning a couple of houses for rent, I am glad to say, are gone. People have been left them by their grandmothers or aunts, but they cannot keep them up. They do not want them, and very naturally—and I do not quarrel with this in any way; I am sure I would do the same myself—when the houses become vacant they want to sell them.
There are bigger associations which can build houses for renting, and a good many of us feel that they certainly want to be encouraged. The suggestion now put to us in this Bill is that some work can be done by housing associations. I have an immense admiration for the work housing associations have done in the past. We all know cases where they have worked well with local authorities. They have worked together with them in their schemes, and the local authorities have arranged for them to have the same subsidy as the local authorities are getting from the Exchequer. But now we have something new. The housing associations are now to be asked if they will build houses which will be let without subsidy. In other words, a house costing about £3,000 will probably be let at a rent of about £4 a week. Are they going to be able to do it? I do not know.
I said at the beginning that when we look at a Bill like this we look at what the Government are aiming at, and then look to see whether that aim can be achieved. Her Majesty's Government may have great confidence that the building societies are going to be able to tackle this, but I am certain that there 121 has to be an enormous urge from the public as a whole. There has to be a real feeling throughout the country. Here is a great opportunity. Here is a chance, we believe, of giving the right sort of houses to these people and, to a great extent, leaving available the other houses and the houses which may be built so that we may clear people out of the appalling slums in which they live to-day. I hope this Bill will enable us to do that, and I am most glad that the housing associations will have the subsidy of £24 for housing the elderly.
The housing problem is not merely a question of demolition; it is also a question of prevention. Looking back over the years—and I can look back to 1934 or 1936, I think it was, when I was a member of two departmental housing committees, one for England and one for Scotland—we were dealing with this problem at that time. We were then talking of modernising, of maintenance and of conversions. In those days, when we sent in our report and had some housing legislation, I used to be absolutely full of hope and confidence that now we were going to see a great difference. My Lords, I have learned that with our housing legislation things go slowly, and I can assure your Lordships that, even after the passing of this Bill, in no other committee will it ever be a confident morning again. We have to remember that this sort of legislation is bound to move slowly.
We have made mistakes in the past. I believe we were not soon enough in building flats and in building up, but the building techniques in those days were not so advanced. In some cases we were desperately extravagant in the layout and use of the land, and we did not have the present planning. Above all, I think we have not pushed, urged and insisted on modernisation, maintenance and conversion in every way we can. We could have done an immense amount in the past. I am glad that it is going at the rate it is now, and that the improvement grants are being taken up in much greater numbers. I see from the White Paper that the improvement grants in 1958 amounted to £34,000, and that in 1960, after the passing of the 1959 Act, they were up to £131,000. I hope that will continue.
122 The noble Lord, Lord Latham, was perfectly right; slums are being made at the same time as we are trying to demolish slums, and really to attack the slum problem you must attack it from both sides. But there is a third side—the slum dwellers, poor things, in their multi-occupied houses. The noble Lord, Lord Latham, read to us from what the Minister in his speech said about that. The noble Earl, in introducing this Bill, said he has visited these places, and many of us know them. When the noble Lord, Lord Latham, blamed the present Government, or at any rate said a good many things about our present Minister of Housing and Local Government, I should have liked to say to him that no other Minister has tried to tackle this before. This is the first time, and I congratulate the Minister on his courage and enterprise, and I only hope that he has chosen a way which can succeed.
Now, what is suggested? I am going to ask, if I may, some rather detailed questions. I hope your Lordships will not think that these are more suited for Report stage; but if there are any changes to be made, the Government could look into the matter and I may be able to move some Amendments. It seems to me that this question of what should be done is divided into two sections. There is maintenance and management, which is one section; and structural alterations, which seems to me another section. We have heard about the dirt and the appalling conditions, and I will not repeat what has been said. When the Minister told the other place of his visit, he ended up by saying that he did not know who was responsible for this dirt and this misery. I wonder if he has yet found out. I wonder if Her Majesty's Government have yet really found out. We all know who is the person we want to get at. We all know it is the person who makes money and large profits and leaves people in this condition. But are we really getting at him with this?
The noble Earl said that local authorities would have the power to rehouse, so that it was not a case of turning people on to the streets. But suppose, in a filthy house, certain people will not do the cleaning and refuse to take their turn, can the landlord turn them out? Has the local authority anywhere to put them? Suppose a local authority finds how many 123 people are living in a house, and sees that the number of water closets and the kitchen facilities are absolutely nothing like the right number; then suppose the landlord says that he does not want all these families living in the house, and that if he can take away half the number the existing facilities will be adequate —what happens then? There is to be a subsidy for de-crowding, but at that moment it is not the subsidy that we want, but the houses. I can see that we may have to leave some of these appalling conditions. If people go out of these houses, we can prevent more people from coming in; but how can we put the present tenants out until we can provide somewhere for them to go? I feel it is courageous for the Minister to deal with this problem. So many of us have seen what the position is and have not been able to suggest how it should be dealt with. And I am most anxious that it should be dealt with.
Perhaps I have not been able to read the Bill with great intelligence, but as I read Clause 12 I felt that, if I were the owner of one of these houses, living in the house, managing and controlling it, and I looked into the Bill to see what my duties were and what effect the Government's legislation was going to have on me, I should not know. In subsection (2) (a), the Bill says that a local authority shallserve on an owner of the house, and on every person who is to their knowledge a lessee of the house, notice of their intention to make the order,Then subsection (6), which deals with revoking, saysA local authority may at any time on the application of a person having an estate or interest in the house …and so on. Is that a different person or the same person under a different name? Can we have put in that clause the same name or be told that they are the same? Then, in Clause 13, we find a reference tothe person managing a house,who is defined in subsection (2) (a) asthe person who is an owner or a lessee of the house and who, directly or through an agent or trustee, receives rents or other payments from persons who are tenants of parts of the house, or who are lodgers,'Is it a different person who is managing the house or is it the person who is 124 owner or lessee? Then what about subtenants? Suppose a house is let, and that somebody has two rooms and sublets one of them, or perhaps takes another room and sub-lets it, in order to make a large profit out of the subletting. Can we get at that person, the sub-tenant, who may be the culprit?
Again, in Clause 14, we come to what I may call the unknown manager, the case in which the name and address of the manager or the person who is described as "manager of the house" is not known. Subsection (4) says:Where a local authority serve a notice on any person under this section they shall inform any other person who is to their knowledge an owner or lessee of the house of the fact that such a notice has been served.Is the unknown manager an entirely different person from this owner or lessee? Later, in subsection (5) (e), we see the words:the holder of an estate or interest in the premises",and in Clause 15 (1) (a):the person having control of the house (as defined by subsection (2) of section thirty-nine of the principal Act),I should like to know how that is defined. Again, is this a different person?
One more question. Should we have a definition of "house"? It may be quite unnecessary, but when I read Clause 21 I found that the arrangements about management are to apply toa building which is not a house but in which there are two or more separate dwellings …I can understand what is meant. It may be a block of flats with shops and garages. But now I realise that a dwelling is not a house, though a house may be a dwelling. I should therefore like to ask whether it is necessary to have any further definition of these different terms.
My Lords, I submit these questions because I want the Bill to work, because I believe it is desperately important that we attack this problem. It is difficult, but it is absolutely urgent that it should be done. Many of us who have been interested in housing for long and who have seen, as the years go by, more and more Housing Bills brought in, sometimes feel sad about it, or even desperate. But over and over again, as we read the progress that has been made, we feel invigorated and encouraged to go on with this work. It is encouraging to 125 know that 60,000 slum houses are being demolished every year, though we know that we are not going to get rid of all our slums quickly or give everybody a good house right away. In spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Latham, has said, we are inspired by the figures in this White Paper that mark the progress that has been made, and we start on our new venture under this Bill, which brings these different problems into one complex, full of hope that in the years to come we shall see further improvement.
§ 5.7 p.m.
My Lords, I want to confine my remarks entirely to those parts of the Bill dealing with housing associations, with which, as my noble friend Lord Jellicoe said, I am associated, and I am grateful for what my noble friend said. For many years the work of these bodies has been commended by politicians of all Parties as a small but useful adjunct to the work of the other major agencies for building houses. Now the Minister, who himself has had experience of controlling at least one housing association, wants to see their work stepped up considerably. I should rather like to see them eventually occupying a position analogous to that occupied by housing associations in Holland, in Denmark and in the Scandinavian countries.
The question is: what prospects are there of this idea coming off? I would be the first to admit that the contribution of the housing associations, as compared with those of other agencies—the local authorities, on the one hand, and private enterprise, on the other—is of a pretty small order. The total number of houses for which we are at present responsible is 104.000. None the less, housing associations possess certain advantages over other agencies for building houses. In the first place, they enjoy all-Party support. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Latham, could hardly be described as a breezy or cheerful one, but I thought I detected a glimmer of hope that housing associations might build some houses under this Bill, and his colleagues in another place have been a little kinder. I think it is an advantage in itself that we should have this all-Party support, for this is the time when housing is in the forefront of Party politics and divergencies of policy seem to be growing. I have 126 always felt that in an essentially long-term business, such as housing, if you are going to have basic changes in policy every few years the prospect is not an entirely happy one. I was glad to see that when the Labour Party produced that rather revolutionary idea of municipalising all rented property they made a special exception of houses owned by housing associations. There is a bridge, therefore, if only a small one, between the two Parties.
Secondly, there are no class distinctions in housing associations. Some, of course, are grander than others. We have many that cater for the aged poor, where the rent is cheap and is paid out of public assistance; but we also have generals, admirals and maybe Members of your Lordships' House among our clients. I do not know much about the conditions in the North of England, but, speaking as an amateur town planner in the South of England, I notice a considerable gulf between the tenants of council houses and those who live in select residential quarters. In fact, I have learnt that it is a considerable crime to depreciate the value of select residential property by putting less select properties in too close proximity to them. I have no doubt that this is wrong and very unethical, but in the town planning world we have to take things as we find them. On the other hand, I have never heard of a property being depreciated by the proximity of a housing association.
Thirdly, there are no bitter memories of exploitation, profiteering and eviction with housing associations, because that sort of thing would be impossible under the law, and I have never heard any complaint on that score. I must say, as an agricultural landlord, that the idea of making a lot of money out of houses seems in my particular field a somewhat remote one, but certainly this profiteering has gone on, and we have heard eloquent testimony that in certain quarters (which, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Horsbrugh, I hope are only limited) these things are still going on as badly as ever.
Ideologically, the housing association movement are on a very good wicket. I wish I could say the same about the administrative position. I suppose one of the difficulties is to find people sufficiently public-spirited to undertake the 127 work of starting and running these associations. It is not really like local authority work, where you have an experienced official who comes along after the passing of a new Act and reminds his committee of what their duties and powers are, and probably suggests that those duties and powers might be implemented. There the committee take the decision and pass back the ball to the official for all the details to be worked out. There are a few big trusts who have paid officials but, generally speaking, things happen quite differently among those who run these associations.
Take, for example, the housing of the aged poor, of which I suppose we have possibly 10.000. What happens is that a few people, perhaps distressed by the condition under which their neighbours are living, get together and try to do something about it. They form the housing association and get it registered; they find the land on which to build the house, or find the house to convert; they arrange with the local authority for any grants or subsidies and for loan sanctions, and they instruct the architect and so on. Then, in the large majority of cases they examine the budget and find that it does not begin to balance by a long way. They then have to go and raise money from charity, possibly up to one-third of the total costs of the home they propose to put up. Often these associations get assistance from the local authority, and particularly from the housing manager; but this is not always the case. I feel that it is rather marvellous that anything happens at all.
It is a heartening experience in these days, when, according to the Press, the universal motto is, "I'm all right Jack", to go round and find a lot of people all over the country, members of the Rotary clubs and so forth, who seem prepared at the end of a long day's work to undertake all this administrative detail. They do this not for reward and with little publicity, but merely for the sake of doing good. And they do good. I am convinced that among the substantial number of poor people whom we look after, despite, all the powers and activities of local authorities, are quite a number who would not be in anything like such a happy position as they are were it not for these efforts.
128 I mention this because, in looking through the proceedings in another place, particularly in Committee, I seem to notice a certain element of—perhaps "suspicion" is too strong a word, but, at any rate, a feeling that the activities of these bodies should be examined very closely: "Are we quite sure that nobody is jumping the housing queue? Are we quite sure that the local authority have complete control? Are we sure there is no element of the tied cottage? What is the reason why in certain areas housing associations have a more favourable subsidy than local authorities?", and so on. I make no protest at these questions being asked—they should be asked—but I could have wished that slightly greater recognition had been paid to the immense difficulties of getting anything done at all.
We are, of course, grateful to the Minister for this £24 subsidy; but, even so, with the continual rise in building costs and the price of land I cannot myself see that we are likely to advance very rapidly. The most one can hope for, I think, is a slow but steady advance in the number of these old people's homes. Without the financial position being better, I cannot see a rapid expansion. I understand that the Minister's real hope (this is what my noble friend Lord Jellicoe emphasised to-day) is that there will be more associations of the co-operative type, building houses without subsidies, but with the facilities of this new £25 million money available to be loaned in appropriate cases. We have a few societies of this sort already in existence, and I feel that there is quite a prospect that their number will grow under this Bill. Of course, for building without subsidy we have to think in terms of rents of £4 to £5 per week, and that means a class of person whose income is in the range of perhaps £20 a week. Nevertheless, I think it will grow, because there is undoubtedly a strong demand for housing accommodation to let, and that is not being satisfied by private enterprise, except for the very expensive type of flat.
The co-operative type of society really envisages groups of people who will put up a certain amount of capital themselves and borrow the remainder to put up flats or houses for their own occupation; and the freehold of the house belongs not to the individuals, but to the 129 society. Here there is a considerable element of self-interest, because share capital entitles one to a lease of a flat or a house. I feel a little more doubtful about another form of society which seems to be contemplated by the Minister under what might be described as the cost-rent scheme, where it is presumed that people will borrow some of this £25 million, perhaps up to 100 per cent. of the cost, for leasing houses to others. The only profit they can make there is the profit authorised by the Treasury, which now stands at about 6 per cent. The point is that people will work for themselves and, because of the great tradition of charity in this country, they will work for the poor and afflicted. But to expect people to work for those earning £20 a week seems to me to be expecting rather an unusual form of altruism. However, time alone will show what will happen there.
I can only say that the people with whom I work are most enthusiastic to try out these experiments. For myself, I feel that a great deal will depend, not only on the enthusiasm of the Federation of Housing Associations and of the Ministry, but on the degree of encouragement we get from the local authorities and from Parliament. I was glad to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Horsbrugh, that that was also her view. We hear a great deal to-day about the alleged evils of class distinction. Indeed, so strong is the feeling on this subject that it was held in some quarters to justify the very illiberal idea, to my way of thinking, of abolishing the public schools. However that may be, we seem to be busily engaged in building up another form of class distinction as between council tenants on the one hand and private enterprise owners and tenants on the other. I should have thought that the idea of a third agency which combines, I believe, at least some of the merits of both forms of enterprise was one which deserved the careful consideration and, I hope, encouragement of your Lordships' House.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ LORD AUCKLAND
My Lards, I welcome this Bill. Whatever may be said about it, there has been a great deal of discussion on it. It received its Second Reading in another place on March 27, its Third Reading on June 28, and there were over 20 Sittings in Committee. 130 It seems to me that the most important part of any Housing Bill these days must be slum clearance, and the Bill makes a good deal of reference to this matter. The grants for slum clearance in the Bill are, on the whole, commendable, though I should have thought that a sliding-scale grant for slum clearance would be quite a good idea. In Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham particularly, there are a large number of slums, although I think the Government and the local authorities of those cities are to be congratulated on the considerable progress already made.
In the White Paper, Cmnd. 1290, some interesting figures have been published of slum clearance by local authorities who have a very big task of slum clearance ahead of them. Out of 415,156 houses estimated to be unfit in 1955, from January 1, 1955, to December 31, 1960, 69,884 of these houses had been slum cleared. That is, I submit, a reasonably good effort. The problem is going to be re-siting the houses that have been cleared. I have seen a number of these slums, particularly during the two General Elections after the 1945 Election, when I did a good deal of canvassing in Fulham, where there are a great many buildings which could be described as slums and where people—very charming people they are, too—live in very difficult conditions. That brings me to the new towns. I have always been a supporter of the new towns, having myself lived for a number of years at one time only a few miles from the new town of Stevenage, and having seen it grow to some extent. Many of these people have gone from the dirt and squalor of the slums into these new towns. I should like to urge the Government to make sure that the new towns get the maximum benefits from these subsidies, because I feel that the community spirit which these new towns undoubtedly have will be of great importance in the future.
T would say this about council houses. I favour a differential rent scheme, but, like my noble friend Lady Horsbrugh, should not favour the idea of people being turned out of council houses just because they will not pay the full rent. I think that everything should be done to encourage people to pay the full rent—those who can afford it; and a number can—and I would also urge that some local 131 authorities should remove some of the pettifogging restrictions that are imposed on council house tenants. I know that that may not come within the scope of this Bill. But one reads time and time again that when a council house tenant wants to paint his door a certain colour, or to cultivate his garden in a certain way, the local authority say that he must not do it. Obviously, there must be some bounds and some sense of proportion, but I suggest that this sense of proportion is sometimes taken too far.
I think the success of any Housing Bill, particularly a Bill of this kind, must depend on the contentment of those for whom it seeks to provide. Here again, I think one of the problems of council houses is that many of them have been put up too quickly. In fact, the standard of building of many houses to-day, particularly by the big combines, often leaves a great deal to be desired. It is only common sense that, if a house is not properly constructed, it soon becomes a slum. Unfortunately, in at least one of the new towns I know well houses which I saw when they were first built in the early 1950s, and which I have seen recently, have tended that way. Of course, slums can be created by those who live in the dwellings themselves, and that sometimes happens. But I would say quite sincerely that the majority of dwellers in these new towns, whether they be council house dwellers or private house dwellers, look after their properties extremely well.
I went through some figures recently, and I read the very interesting articles of Mr. Gavin Lyall, of the Sunday Times, which were certainly eye-openers. It really is rather terrifying to read that something like 47 per cent. of the houses in Manchester (the noble Baroness, Lady Horsbrugh will correct me if I am wrong here) are classified as slum dwellings. But here again I think it is a credit to the local city corporation that they are making an effort with slum clearance. There are too many people who regard slums as existing only in such areas as Tyneside, Tees-side, South Wales, Liverpool or Manchester. There are, in fact, slums in almost every town in this country—slums of sorts—and one has only to go on a railway journey from, say, Epsom to London, or from any 132 other suburban town to London, to see along the railway line how many houses backing on to the railways are virtually slum dwellings.
I congratulate the Government on this Bill and on what they are seeking to do, but I would once again urge that we should perhaps "go easy" on the building of our new offices, particularly in the City of London, and concentrate on this slum clearance. It is very important to the health and the welfare of this country. With those reservations I commend this Bill highly.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, the speakers who have so far taken part in this debate have all quite obviously been masters of their subject and are well acquainted with the intricacies of housing legislation. I am afraid that I have no such claim to speak. I am doing so only because it seems to me unfortunate that so far no mention has been made of rural housing. I note that it is included in the Bill but it is perhaps significant that the only mention I can find of it, in Clause 5 (3), is a very small part of the Bill as a whole. There it says:If the Minister thinks fit so to determine in the case of any dwelling provided by the council of a county districtand so on, there may be payable an extra subsidy of £9 per annum. I think it is significant that the space taken up on this question in this Bill is so small and that the amount of money provided for rural housing also is so small.
The noble Earl in his opening speech (and a very admirable and comprehensive one it seemed to me to be) described graphically and sympathetically his visit to urban slums. I do not pretend for a moment that I could take him, and I doubt whether any other noble Lord could take him, to rural slums of similar squalor, but there is no doubt about it whatsoever that there are many dwellings in the countryside where the actual accommodation is no better than that which the noble Earl described. In fact, in many cases it is worse in certain respects in that the roof levels are lower, the actual cubic space per inhabitant is less, the distance that has to be travelled for water is far greater and, of course, there is an entire absence of electricity. I freely admit that if I were forced to live in a slum, no matter how bad it 133 was, I would rather live in a rural slum than an urban slum because there are compensations in doing so, but that does not detract from the fact that these rural slums exist. Because they are not packed together in tall buildings in narrow streets as the urban slums are it does not make their existence less real for those who have to live there. The conditions in which so many people have to live in the country are no less real.
The problem of rural housing seems to me to divide itself into two. First, there is the provision of new houses; secondly, there is the rehabilitation of existing houses. There are grants for the latter, I know, but these grants, although useful in some areas, are completely useless in others, and I would say rightly useless in others, because existing rural houses, farm workers' houses, are structurally unsuitable for improvement. It would be a waste of public money to improve them. So I am not pressing the Government to extend the grant to cover that type of cottage, but, rather, am mentioning it to underline the point that improvement grants are very far from being the whole answer. There are certain areas in the country—the one I come from is one of them—where, because of the absence of good durable building material, this sort of problem is very prevalent. There are houses there made of clunch, of chalk, of lath and plaster, and very often thatch, even in these days, which are completely uneconomic to make into good, proper modern dwellings. So the rehabilitation grant may again in those areas he completely useless. For the greatest contribution to the problem of rural slums we must look to the actual provision of new houses.
In all these areas it is fair to say that the local authorities are poor by comparison with those in urban districts and cities, and for this reason the grant, the Exchequer subsidy, that must be given to them, must be a considerably higher one. As I said in the beginning, I am not an expert in these matters and I cannot pretend to have unfathomed the maximum amount which could be paid to a local authority for putting up farm workers' cottages and rural dwellings. It seems, from what I was able to find out, that the maximum subsidy can be £40 a year. Whether the extra £9 in Clause 5 that I have referred to comes 134 on top of that £40 or not, I do not know; but giving the Government the benefit of the doubt, that would bring it 'up to £49 a year, or just under £1 a week.
The present-day cost of building a house in the country, excluding the cost of land, which as we know is mounting almost daily, is in the neighbourhood of £1,500; and that, I think, is a low estimate. It means that the economic rent cannot be less than £3 a week for a new farm worker's dwelling in the countryside. Even being as generous as one can in the interpretation of these figures, and allowing for £1 a week subsidy, this means that the tenant of that property, of that house, will have to pay £2 a week. My Lords, that is entirely out of the range of a farm worker with his wage, including overtime, of not more than £9 or £9 10s. a week.
So I suggest that, unless you are going either to encourage the drift from the land, because farm workers move into these council houses and then find they cannot afford to pay for them on the wages they receive on the farm, and therefore go to work in industries which are nearby and which, quite rightly, are growing up in the countryside; unless you are going to have that happen and look on it with equanimity; or unless you are prepared to say that because a man works on the land he must be prepared to live there, even in a tied cottage, in that old-fashioned worker's cottage, at 6s. or 7s. a week, in what are now rural slums; unless you are prepared to put up with one or other of these alternatives you must do a great deal more than this Bill provides for in order to enable rural local authorities to provide the right form of accommodation for the people who live and work in the countryside.
My Lords, I am not going to develop this theme any further. I think that most of your Lordships who live in the country, or know it, will agree with these general remarks, and I certainly do not want to trespass on the realm of urban housing or construction or rehabilitation. But I would urge the noble Earl to extend his researches into slums from places near the Palace of Westminster to those rather further away; and I should be very happy to show him some not very far from where I live, if he would care to look at them.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO (THE EARL OF DUNDEE)
My Lords, I expect that a great many of your Lordships, like myself, have almost lost count of the number of Housing Bills in which we have taken some part in either House of Parliament during the last thirty or forty years. Some of those measures, like the Labour Government's Act of 1930, when Tom Johnston was Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, concentrated principally upon slum clearance or almost exclusively on slum clearance; others, like the succeeding Government's Housing Act of 1935, mainly on the relief of overcrowding. On one or two occasions since the war more particular attention has been paid to the needs of key workers coming into an area, and to the needs of old people, whose numbers in relation to the rest of the population are growing.
Always, both before and after the war, our difficulty has been that there never is enough building labour to bring all the houses in Great Britain up to the standards of comfort and space, sanitation and amenity which modern opinion demands. In 1939 we were a long way from our objective, but we were catching up; we were making progress in slum clearance, in relief of overcrowding and in building for general needs. For the next six years, or in effect rather more than six years, not only was there virtually no new building but practically no ordinary repairs could be carried out, and I have no doubt that the damage done to the overall housing position throughout the country by the inability to carry out normal repairs during the war was much greater than the more concentrated damage that was caused by all the bombing which we had.
The last time I held office in a previous Government during the war I put forward one suggestion which I soon realised was rather a foolish one. My suggestion was that as soon as the war came to an end we should continue wartime economy for a year or two, but instead of concentrating all our economic resources on producing war materials we should concentrate most of our economic resources on building houses and should try to build two million houses in a couple of years. Of course, the reason why this idea was not a good one was that after the war our 136 economic position made it imperative that we should concentrate first on building new factories, producing more industrial goods and exporting more, in order that we might keep alive and earn our living, and it was absolutely necessary that we should give priority to this economic expansion over housing, even though it meant tolerating a very large number of very bad slums for a very long time.
Even now, sixteen years later, it would still be true to say that if we want to maintain a rising standard of living in this country, based, as it must be, on expanding exports, we can devote only a certain proportion of our gross national product to the improvement of housing. As my noble friend, Lady Horsbrugh, said, in the enthusiasm of our youth we often think that things can be done in a hurry, and sometimes they can. There are some local authorities—quite a large number—in this country who have now solved their housing problem, but there are many others where we must act with patience and with perseverance; with patience because it is a physical impossibility to solve the problem in five years or perhaps even ten, and with perseverance because housing conditions in those areas are still very bad and we must not let up on our efforts to improve them.
In the White Paper your Lordships will no doubt have read the Appendix at the end in which there are listed fifty local authorities in England and Wales whose estimates indicate a long slum clearance task. Birmingham estimated in 1955—that was when all the local authorities made their slum clearance estimates, which are still the only basis we have to go on at this moment—that they had 50,250 unfit houses; in the last five years they have replaced just under 7,000; that is not quite one-seventh of the total. Manchester had 68,000 unfit houses; they have cleared 7,700; that is only about one-ninth. Liverpool had 88,000 unfit houses; they have been able to clear in this five years only 5,300; that is only about one in seventeen of the unfit houses. On the other hand, there is Stoke-on-Trent with 12,000 unfit houses, which has cleared 4,300; that is considerably more than one-third: Wolverhampton, with 5,600 unfit houses, has cleared 2,666; they want only another 134 to make it exactly half of their total in five years, 137 which is very good progress indeed. Those are what one might call the authorities where the problem is the most intractable. According to the White Paper, the total number of unfit houses in 1955 was 415,000-odd; the numbers cleared just under 70,000-odd; that is roughly about one in six. And, of course, that is not allowing, as the noble Lord, Lord Latham pointed out, for houses which may have become unfit in the last five years, which we can only guess at.
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, those figures are for only 50 authorities. They do not embrace the whole of the country.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
No. I thought I made it clear that these are the fifty whose estimates indicate a long slum-clearance task, and I described them as those authorities where the problem is most intractable. They have got a total of 415,000 of which they have cleared just under 70,000 in the last five years. The noble Lord rightly mentions that there are others. The total number of estimated unfit houses was 850,000 in 1955. That leaves 435,000 houses of those which are not included in the table which I have just read out, and in the last five years they cleared a little under 200,000 houses—that is about 4 out of 9. So your Lordships will see that there is a great contrast in the progress that is being made between one area and another. My noble friend, Lord Jellicoe, gave the gross figure, 270,000 cleared out of a total of 850,000.
I do not want in any way to deprecate what the noble Lord, Lord Latham, said about deterioration or about what needs to be done to a great many houses which have not been condemned as unfit. I thought perhaps there might have been some slight confusion between the figures based on the 1951 census, of houses without any fixed bath and without any separate lavatory, which were respectively about 5 million and about 2½ million, and the slum clearance—that is to say, houses classified as unfit, which is quite a different thing—in 1955. It is anybody's guess what changes may have taken place since the 1951 census. I am not going to make any guess. All I can say is that it will be safe to state that the number of houses without a bath will be vastly less than the 5 million which were found in 1951.
138 So far the only fact which has emerged from the 1961 census which was taken only three months ago is that the total number of families covered by the census is 14¾ million and the total number of separate dwellings, 14½ million. Although of course that means that a good many are more than one family to a dwelling, it is a vast improvement over the position in 1951. But the only figures we can go on are the latest ones we have. With respect to the newspapers, I do not think that the growing number of slums is anything like so great as the noble Lord, Lord Latham, feared; as your Lordships will see from paragraphs 10 and 11 of the White Paper, in January 1960 housing authorities were asked to review their programmes and to bring them up to date, and a number have already done so. At the beginning of the next paragraph it states that over the country at large unfit houses should have practically disappeared within the next ten years, and it then goes on to except the areas which are listed in the Appendix at the end of the White Paper.
I am not trying to paint the picture either too bright or too sombre. All I would say is that I wish Glasgow's prospects of solving its housing problem were as good and likely to take as short a time as seems probable from the information we have for England as a whole, even including those areas which are listed in the Appendix. If you take the total number of houses that have been built since the war, 3¼ million, that is not quite a quarter of the total number of houses in the country but it houses one quarter of the families in the country. Having regard to our economic difficulties in the last sixteen years, I think that the complete rehousing of one quarter of the population of this country in that time is by no means a mean achievement.
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, if I may say so, in regard to complete rehousing, a number of them are new tenants—new families. They are not rehoused; they are housed.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
That is perfectly true; but, of course, when you house a new family you increase the total number of houses among the older buildings which are available to others.
§ LORD LATHAM
That is not a new family. If there is a new family there is nothing made available for others.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
I understand the point. It is the number of families as well as the number of people who are increasing. In fact, before the war you had a big increase in the number of families while the population was almost declining, because the families were getting smaller. Now we have slightly larger families but the total number of houses required in relation to the total number of people still goes on growing.
As the noble Lord, Lord Latham, I think implied, this Bill does not make any major change in the objectives of our policy, although there are a number of changes in method, the principal ones being the discretion which is given to the Minister as to whether he will grant a subsidy at all and for what purpose he will grant it. The noble Lord mentioned Bournemouth as being a town which might perhaps not need a great deal of help from the Government. Of course, if Bournemouth is rehousing and is building new council houses to rehouse slum families or overcrowded people, it may be just as entitled to a subsidy as anybody else. But if the Minister thinks it is not so entitled, under this Bill, there is no obligation on him to give Bournemouth any subsidy at all; it is left to his discretion; and whether the building is for slum clearance, or for general needs or for overcrowding, it is for him to decide whether it is required or justified.
The next change is the differential subsidies which your Lordship's have gone into fairly fully. Then there is the power after ten years to reduce or to end the subsidies on houses which have already been built. The noble Lord, Lord Latham, mentioned that it can be done for one authority and not another. That is quite correct. But that is not new. Under the 1956 Act the Minister can for future building change the subsidy for one authority and not for another, but of course he cannot do it at all for those which are already built.
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, he cannot do it retrospectively, which he will be able to do under this Bill.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
That is the new feature here, that he can do it retrospectively. The next is the additional help given to housing associations. I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Gage for his most interesting speech on that subject. Finally, there are the entirely new powers which are provided to deal with the problem of multiple occupiers. There have always been a large number of houses in this country which are occupied by more than one family. The reason why the problem in the last ten years has become so acute as to constitute practically a new problem is because of the practice which has been growing up on the part of many unscrupulous owners of houses of making large sums of money by often exploiting immigrants who are not experienced in these matters and who are easily imposed upon. I think my noble friend impressed your Lordships by his own experiences of what he has seen. But of course this is not exactly the same problem as that of slum clearance and unfit houses; because some of those houses which are made so horrible and filthy through being occupied by too many people with too little regulation could be perfectly fit if they were not so abused.
I believe that your Lordships are fairly well agreed on this part of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Latham, suggested that it would be better if all families living in multiple occupation houses could be registered. I quite see the point of that suggestion, but the reason we are not doing it is that there are a great number of houses which are in multiple occupation which are perfectly all right. Moreover, the staff at the disposal of local authorities for doing work of that kind is very limited. It would take a very long time to make such a register.
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, can the noble Earl help me? Even those places will, nevertheless, have to be inspected by a local authority in order to comply with the conditions in the Bill. An inspector will have to ascertain whether or not those houses are in bad condition and particulars could be taken at the same time for registration.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, it will not be necessary for a local authority inspector to visit every house occupied by more than one family.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, we want to enable local authorities to strike now, quickly, at houses which are known to be in the occupation of more than one family and in bad condition through having insufficient provision of lavatories, kitchen appliances and other things that they should have. And I believe that it will do much more good if local authorities, without waiting for registration, can move immediately in regard to any bad cases that are reported to them, and that they will be able to make salutary examples of such cases.
My noble friend Lady Horsbrugh seemed a little puzzled about exactly which person would be liable to be prosecuted under Clause 13. The idea is that the definition of the person managing the house is to be varied by regulation. But responsibility for management will rest on the owner or lessee who draws profits from the house, and on any accredited agent or trustee through whom he receives them; and the local authority will be able to take action against either. A precedent for including the agent as well as his principal may be found in the definition of a person having control of a house in Section 39 (2) of the Housing Act, 1957. The reason is that the agent who has to put in an appearance to collect the rents is sometimes the only person concerned who can be pinned down. We think the definition in the subsection should be wide enough, but the less reputable people engaged in this line of business can be expected to look for any possible loophole, and therefore it is considered prudent to reserve power to amend the definition should that prove necessary. That is done in Clause 13 (3) of Part II of the Bill which provides that:the foregoing definition may be varied or replaced by regulations under this section.I hope that my noble friend will write to me if she wants any more specific information about our objectives in this matter.
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, having regard to the tricks these people are up to we cannot make the definition too wide.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, I entirely agree, and the language which it is necessary to use in order to make 142 it wide enough in the Bill not unnaturally may lead to some little confusion among those reading the Bill.
The criticisms which can be made against the proposals in regard to subsidies and the discretion granted to the Minister are all fairly obvious ones. They have been fully canvassed already, both here and in another place, and, if I may say so, I thought the noble Lord, Lord Latham, put them very moderately and I am sure that, having stated the objections, he does not desire me to start a long argument about them now. I entirely understand the way he feels about those matters and I think he understands the answers which have been made on behalf of the Government. The noble Lord thought paragraph 32 of the White Paper foreshadowed an insidious and unworthy way of imposing a policy of charging rather higher local authority rents. I think that most of your Lordships will agree that twice the 1939 rent is not an unreasonable amount to charge; and if an authority deliberately charges less then that authority is indirectly subsidising the tenant and to that extent diminishing the resources which might be used for building more houses or demolishing more slums.
Besides the positive criticisms of the Bill which noble Lords opposite have put forward, the noble Lord, Lord Latham, mentioned one fault of omission. He said that there was not a word in this Bill about the price of land or any proposals to deal with that. This question of land values is one which I have always found fascinating. It seems to me that in theory it must be possible somehow to impose a tax on land values or to remove large unearned increments without at the same time increasing the price of land and stopping any building from taking place; and I daresay it might be possible to find some practical way of doing that, too. But, somehow, as with Mr. Lloyd George's land tax proposals of 1910, or those of Mr. Snowden of 1930, or the proposals of the war-time Coalition Government, embodied in the Town and Country Planning Act, passed at the end of the war, it always seems that these measures are framed in such a way that they have 143 the effect of preventing good development, stopping people building and sending prices higher than they otherwise would have been.
Whether it is possible by further perseverance to find some method of dealing with this problem which will not have these disastrous effects, I do not know. I dare say that it may be possible, but I would only beg your Lordships not to try to do it in this Bill. During this Session we have spent a great deal of toil and sweat, though I hope not many tears—
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, I am not presuming to dictate to the noble Lord, Lord Latham, any Amendments he may or may not move in Committee, but I was appealing to your Lordships not to try to deal in this Bill with the subject of land values. As I was saying, we have suffered some legislative disappointments this Session which nobody knows better than the noble Lord, Lord Latham, for he is one of those who devoted so much of his time—so much toil and sweat though not, I hope, too many tears, and no blood (except for the "Bloody Mary") on more than one Bill which another place, when they have received it, have not proceeded with at all. But do not let us retaliate in kind. Let us return good for evil and deal with this Bill now through all its stages intelligently, efficiently and quickly.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.