§ 2.38 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN rose to draw attention to the Housing situation; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is nearly seven years ago—to be exact, June, 1955—since the House last discussed housing on a Motion. It is true that since then there have been before the House a number of housing measures on which it has been possible to have more or less satisfactory general debate; but, as I say, this is the first time since 1955 that we have discussed housing specifically on a Motion. Therefore no one can complain that we have been precipitate in putting this Motion down. On that occasion I had the privilege of moving a similar Motion, and I remember that on the other side of the House there were two speakers, one from the Back Benches and one from the Front Bench. The Back Bench speaker was rather critical of the Government and expressed various views to the effect that they had not done all that they might have done. He probably would not make a similar speech to-day: he is the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. The other speaker was the noble Earl, Lord Munster, whose presence we greatly miss this afternoon.
§ On that previous occasion I gave the House the benefit of a survey I had made. I had taken some care to try to work out what our housing requirements were, and I gave the House the conclusions I had arrived at under a number of various headings, such as the increase that we might expect in population, the numbers required to clear the 64 slums, overcrowding, the need for mobility, the effect of the rising standard of living, provision for old people and so on; and the conclusion which I then came to was that we required 6 million houses to be built over the next 20 years. That was in 1955. Since then we have had built about 2 million houses, and only a week or so ago the Minister of Housing and Local Government made a public statement to the effect that we now required 6 million houses: indeed, he went a little further, because he really said that it was at least 6 million and probably more.
§ At the time when I made this estimate it was generally thought that I was overstating the problem. But the fact that, after seven years and the provision of 2 million houses, the official estimate is at least 6 million houses is an indication that I certainly did not over-estimate the problem at that time. Indeed, the feeling I have about the housing situation is that almost whatever estimate one makes of housing requirements is likely in the event to turn out to be an under-estimate. To-day estimates are being made in various quarters. I would mention, among others, the Alliance Building Society, which has produced a thoughtful and careful survey of the situation. They have come to the conclusion that there is a need for 8 million houses to be built over the next 20 years. If I may say so, my own view to-day would be much the same.
§ At the time when I made the original survey I was not, of course, aware of the results of the Census figures of 1961. When we take that and various other factors into account, I think we shall not be overstating the position if we say that we need 400,000 houses a year over the next 20 years in order to meet our housing requirements—that is, to provide every family with a self-contained house with modern amenities. That does not necessarily mean a new house, but at least every house should contain the minimum modern amenities of a private bathroom, a water closet, separate water, its own kitchen and adequate bedroom accommodation for the size of the family concerned.
§ Why is it that, in spite of the fact that we have built 2 million houses since 1955, the housing situation is to-day as acute as it was at that time? About that 65 there can be no doubt whatever. The difficulty of obtaining accommodation is at least as great as it was then, and, so far as the great majority of the people of this country are concerned, their hope of getting a dwelling at a reasonable rent is certainly no higher than it was in 1955. May I set out some of the reasons why in my view the position has not been improved? The first is that there has been an unanticipated increase in the population and, correspondingly, a greater increase in the number of separate families than was anticipated. I know that the Census informs us that the size of families is increasing very slightly and, therefore, the increase in the number of families is not proportionate to the increase in the population. I make the noble Earl who is to reply a present of that point. The fact remains that the increase in the number of families has been far greater than could ever have been anticipated in 1955.
§ Since then, there has been a considerable movement of industry which has created a demand for new houses in the new industrial areas which have not been fully provided. Then the rate of decay and the number of unfit houses has been greatly under-estimated. When we had the figures before us on an earlier occasion, we were given figures which had been provided by the separate local authorities. Standards might have been different for these authorities; some might have taken a more optimistic and some a less optimistic view of the slums that they had, and short of a national survey it is difficult to get reliable figures as to the number of houses which should be demolished. But one thing is quite certain. The actual figures before us were an under-estimate of what were our requirements.
§ I do not dispute that a good deal has been done by way of slum clearance; yet even to-day one family in every three in this country is living in conditions below what we should to-day regard as the minimum standards of accommodation—that is, they are either overcrowded or have not a separate water closet or separate bathroom, kitchen or supply of water. That applies to one family in every three. I do not want to paint a harassing picture of what life must be like for so many 66 families in this country under those conditions. I think we can all imagine for ourselves. But I would invite noble Lords to read the debate on Housing which took place in another place last Friday, when a considerable number of examples were given by honourable Members of conditions in their own constituency. If these conditions are even approximately correct they represent a disgrace to the civilisation of this country.
§ To go on with some of the causes of the housing situation in which we find ourselves I would mention the effect of decontrol. By that I mean particularly the loss of security of tenure. I know this is controversial. I myself have never taken the view that the rents of controlled houses are sacrosanct and should never be interfered with. But I feel very strongly that it was wrong, in conditions of great scarcity, to give the landlord the right to evict his tenant at will after a certain period and before the housing shortage had been made good. We can see some of the effects of it in the new problem which has arisen of the homeless families in a number of our large towns, particularly in London, where families are being separated. Husbands are not able to live with their families, and the wives and children have to be housed in old Poor Law institutions and places of that kind because nobody will take them in as tenants. If one goes back far enough, these people have been evicted from rent-controlled premises.
§ Although, as I have said, we have built a large number of houses since 1955—I think more than half have been built by private enterprise—they have been almost entirely for sale. Very few private enterprise houses or flats have been built to let. The fact is that only a very limited number of people can afford to pay the prices which are being asked for private dwellings or flats. It has been estimated that about 10 per cent. of the population requiring housing accommodation have not the earnings by way of wages or salary to afford to buy or even to rent, if they had been available, the dwellings which are being built by private enterprise.
§ This is in spite of the fact that until quite recently mortgages have been freely available—mortgages of un to 90, 95 and, in the case of local authorities, 67 even 100 per cent. But, as regards building societies, who naturally have to look to their security, they are not prepared to lend money to any person whose income is less than £20 per week. We know that the average income of an individual to-day is very substantially below that and, although in many cases the family income is well over £20 a week, the building societies—I am not saying whether they are justified or not, but this is their general practice—will not lend money unless the income of the breadwinner, of the head of the household himself, is over £20 a week. The local authorities have until recently been inhibited from lending money because of the difficulties of getting the funds and they are only now very slowly going back to lending money in respect of houses. But, even if they do, the repayments are so high that it is difficult for the ordinary wage earner, or even the average small salaried man, to afford the repayments.
§ Another reason why we are in this difficulty is that houses, and particularly the private enterprise houses and flats, are being built in the wrong areas so far as the needs are concerned. Building is dictated by the availability of land and the question of cost. It is certainly not necessarily related to industrial or other needs but largely takes place on the outskirts of existing towns, causing other problems such as traffic congestion and long and tiring journeys to and from work. Where there is this building, especially in the centre of the large towns, the prices of land are so prohibitive that only the exceptionally wealthy are able to live there.
§ There has been, as the House will be aware, a substantial reduction in recent years in the number of houses becoming available for letting by local authorities. The building of such houses and flats has in many areas come completely to an end. This is due partly to definite and direct Government policy in concentrating on slum clearance, but is also due to the repeated changes in Government policy leaving local authorities in considerable doubt and apprehension as to what will be the Government's next step. The Government's policy has been one of "Go! Stop! Go again! Change course to slum clearance! Stop again!"—and so on. There has never 68 been, certainly not in the last ten years, any continuity of policy for a period of, say, three or four years, with the result that local authorities are very apprehensive of starting a programme which they may not be able to continue. Furthermore, there is the question of the high interest rates and the credit squeeze, and since the last Housing Act there has been the right of the Government to bring subsidies which they have undertaken to pay to an end after ten years. It is, therefore, no wonder that local authorities are bewildered by lack of certainty and continuity in being able to carry on with any programme that they have begun.
§ Also accentuating the problem is the tendency to earlier marriages, probably due to higher earnings and the fact that it is now the normal thing for a husband and wife to continue to work after their marriage. But the result is that this all helps to create pressure on housing requirements. The combination of all these factors which I mentioned can be dealt with only by a considerable increase in the number of houses of the right quality that become available to let, and, as I have tried to indicate, the only hope of getting such houses provided under present-day conditions, having regard to the high cost of land and of buildings, is through the local authorities.
§ As I have said, at the most, only 10 per cent. of the general population are able to afford a house provided by private enterprise. So what is the solution? It is not easy in the course of a short speech to set out a programme and I would not wish to do so to-day, but I would put forward a number of matters which I think are worthy of consideration. First is the question of some form of control over building to ensure that we get the right priorities. There is tremendous pressure, too great a pressure, on our building industry. After all, the building industry is one which is of necessity limited in its personnel, in its facilities, in the number of architects, surveyors, and so on. There is a limit, and there is bound to be a limit, on what this country can afford in the way of carryinig out these operations. Should there not be some order of priority? Ought we not to make up our minds as to not only priority within housing itself but a general priority?69
§ I think that we are spending too much of our resources in luxury building; that is, in building houses and flats which are too highly priced. One has only to look around in London and some of the other large cities to see What is going on. A large amount of our building resources is being diverted to what one can only regard as not necessary. I think we ought to have some kind of priority not only as between types of houses themselves but as between different forms of building, labour, materials and professional resources, and we should make some kind of choice as between houses, roads, hospitals, schools and all the other things that we so badly need. I think I would say that housing ought to have first priority. I myself would put it above anything else—housing for the kind of people whom I have been talking about.
§ Then I would suggest for consideration that there ought to be reasonable control of rents and prices. Free competition in housing has its virtues—I do not wish to deny that. But free competition cannot work fairly and efficiently in a time of great shortage, and we are now obviously in a time of great shortage. That is a matter which, in my view, ought to be considered.
§ Next there is the problem of high and increasing land costs. I am very glad that the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, has a Motion down on the Paper following mine in which he to raise this question. I do not know in what form he is going to raise it, whether he will approve of the high cost of land, or whether he will say that it is inevitable, one of those things we have to accept. But that it is a factor in the housing question there can be no doubt; and it is a factor that is affecting detrimentally the number of houses we are able to provide and their availability.
§ Then there is the high rate of interest. My noble friend Lord Latham will be winding up this debate, and perhaps he may be able to tell us what is the effect of this high rate of interest on rents or on housing costs. But undoubtedly it is a very different thing to pay, say, 4 or 5 per cent. interest, as against 6¾, or even 7, per cent. to-day, when you are obtaining a mortgage, and pay it over a period of 25 or 30 years. It is a very considerable deterrent. I am not now 70 discussing the Government's economic policy: it may have been necessary or desirable to have a high rate of interest, but whether it was essential to have that same rate in connection with housing I do not know. I should like the Government to consider whether it is not possible to have a special interest rate in respect of housing, certainly for housing of the class of person who is to-day homeless, who is so much in need of a house and cannot get it.
§ Then, my Lords, we ought to try to secure greater productivity in house building. I believe that the major contractors are fairly efficient. Indeed, I was reading an article the other day in which it was stated, I think with great authority, that the labour costs as between an efficient contractor and an inefficient one varies in the ratio of one to three; that is to say, the efficient builder will spend only a third of the labour costs as compared with the inefficient one. Of course, that is taking two extremes. That seemed to me a very remarkable statement, but it was stated with great authority in an article in the Economic Review, last December, by a Professor of economics at Manchester University. If that is anything like the truth, then it is something that might well explain in many cases the high cost of building.
§ We ought to do everything we possibly can to create greater productivity in housebuilding and more efficiency. We should encourage the introduction of more efficient methods; we should encourage mechanisation and large-scale co-ordination of work as among different authorities. Obviously, when we find a number of small authorities each building half-a-dozen houses at a time (some of them, I notice in the latest report from the Ministry, propose not more than a dozen houses a year) such houses must obviously be far more costly than if we could secure some method of co-ordination by which they were all built together, perhaps by a single contractor, and properly phased. There are many other things, such as more prefabrication, about which the noble Lord, Lord Bossom, is keen as I am. We could secure far more prefabrication—I do not say complete prefabrication, but far more prefabrication. In this way much more of the work of building could be done in the factory and much less on 71 the site, so that we should be much less dependent on the weather than we are at the present time. I have no doubt that people like the noble Lord, Lord Bossom, will be able to make many other suggestions that would bring down very materially the cost of building in this country.
§ If we are to provide satisfactory homes for our people, to enable them to enjoy their greater affluence—and I hope that gradually they will secure greater affluence—we must look to the future. We must carefully consider the kind of building, the kind of home which not only is suitable to-day but will be suitable in 20, 30, 40 or 50 years' time. We know that many of the homes that were provided, say, in the inter-war years are already out of date and not satisfactory. We should look ahead and ensure that the same thing does not happen to-day. It is improvident to build small houses which are likely in a few years to be regarded as wholly out of accord with the standards people will be demanding.
§ I was glad to find that the Central Housing Advisory Committee, a Government-sponsored Committee, of which I once had the privilege of being a member, appointed a sub-committee to consider housing standards of the future. They produced a very attractive booklet, which I have here, Homes for To-day and To-morrow which I would recommend every noble Lord to read. It is most fascinating reading. It sets out the kind of homes that ought to be provided. Some of them are most interesting, and certainly quite timely. For instance, they suggest that every single house that we provide to-day should have a garage. Not only that; in that garage there should be accommodation for a motor-cycle, or possible a moped, and for a bicycle. That may sound fantastic to-day; but I am sure it will not sound fantastic even in five years' time. The Committee also say that there should be refrigeration in every house. I am sure that to-day almost every noble Lord has refrigeration, and wonders how we could exist without it. They say that there should be central heating facilities; and they set out different types of central heating—solid fuel, gas, electricity: you can make your choice. They say that there should be larger rooms; and in my view, there should be rooms 72 that will afford a certain amount of privacy for the family, a room where children can entertain their friends without having the constant company of the grown-ups.
§ Many other excellent features are recommended in this Report. The Chairman of the committee was Sir Parker Morris, a former Town Clerk of Westminster. The total additional cost they estimate at about £200. I would suggest that this expenditure of £200 on a house will save us, in the long run, far more than if we have to adapt our houses in the future to what the requirements will be.
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question on those particular figures? Does the £200 include the cost of fitting central heating, garage and larger rooms?
§ LORD SILKIN
Yes. I do not think that they contemplate oil heating; but, after all, in every house to-day some sort of heating has to be provided, whether by a back-oven or something of that sort. This is the additional cost. However, if the noble Lord questions it, he had better have his argument with Sir Parker Morris, and not with me, because that is what is recommended.
My Lords, I am afraid that I have already exceeded the time I had intended to take, and there are another twenty speakers, so I forgo the luxury of saying some of the things that I had intended saying. I hope, however, that I have indicated to your Lordships my view, that I regard the solution to our housing problem as of the highest social priority. I would put it higher than anything else. We cannot regard ourselves as a really civilised nation when so large a proportion of the people of this country are badly or inadequately housed. I have always felt that a man's dignity is enhanced by the quality of the house he lives in; I would say that the reverse is the case, too. Our duty is to ensure that we enhance the dignity of our people in the shortest possible time. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.11 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT GAGE had given Notice of his intention to ask Her Majesty's Government, to what extent they consider that the price of building land has been, 73 or is continuing to be, increased by restrictions on development in current town planning schemes, or by speculation; and, if any serious social consequences are arising from either of these causes, what action they propose to take; and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I should like to start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for agreeing that my Motion should go along with his, and indeed for suggesting that that should be done. The price of building land, is, of course, only one aspect of the housing problem, but as the noble Lord himself has said, it is an important aspect and one which has latterly been attracting a good deal of attention. In fact, I can hardly imagine a debate on housing taking place to-day without some reference being made to what is frequently called the scandal of high prices.
§ As this is a housing debate, I should like to make clear that I am going to confine my remarks to the sort of land we usually associate with housing—namely, undeveloped land. I am quite aware that the redevelopment of built-up areas is likely to have an increasing impact on and is increasingly important to housing, but the redevelopment of built-up areas brings in a number of complications which are not specifically related to housing and I think well merit a separate debate. Meanwhile, the complications of undeveloped land seem to be quite enough for one debate.
§ Lord Silkin has referred to recent speeches that have been made on housing matters, and I think it would be fair to say that the Opposition Front Bench have been charging the Government that, by the removal of the development charge from the 1947 Act, they have enabled owners and speculators, and perhaps racketeers, to exploit the public, and that that is really the explanation for the high price of building land. Be that as it may, I also, in my no doubt limited experience of local government, come up against this complaint about the high price of land; but the complaint is of an entirely different nature. I hear little about racketeering and nothing at all about the development charge; but I do hear a good deal about town planning. It is the unnecessary restrictions of town planning that, I am informed, are putting up the price of 74 land, and the villains of the piece are not the racketeers but those who administer town planning—for example, such people as myself. So I have a sort of vested interest in this matter, though not, unfortunately, a financial interest, because I own no building land.
This sort of charge is not confined to builders and estate agents, though I must admit that they are pretty vocal. I noticed the other day in that not very revolutionary journal, the Sunday Times, an editorial which said:
It is notorious that the scarcity of building permissions has driven land prices up to extreme heights in the areas of peak demand round London and the Midlands. Land at Chigwell fetches £12,000 an acre, and it is £10,000 at Solihull. At eight-to-the-acre development, that is £1,250 to £1,500 per house. The present system of local permissive planning, rather than regional constructive planning, seems bound to produce this sort of result"—
and it goes on to say, that unless some great change is made housing will be held up through lack of building sites.
§ I thought, perhaps over-optimistically, that in the comparatively dispassionate atmosphere of this House one might hope for some sort of scientific analysis of all these things. How far is there a public scandal? How far are there social evils being created? How far are these high prices due to speculation and profiteering? How far are they due to town planning? How far are they due to some other cause? And if it can be shown that we are confronted with a serious social problem, how can we deal with it? If there is speculation and profiteering, how can that be affected by taxing capital gains or by reimposing a development charge? If it is due to town planning restrictions, ought town planning to be administered in some other way? Above all, my Lords, I hoped that we should have some enlightening as to the facts.
§ I suppose we have all read the somewhat spectacular figures that have been quoted in the newspapers relating to certain particular transactions in land, but I think that if any of your Lordships tried to find out at all systematically about the price of land in different parts of the country he would find it an extremely difficult thing to do. I, as a town planner, know something about the cost of land in my own county of East Sussex. I know, for example, that within what I might call "the commuter 75 belt" the price of suitable building land with planning consent ranges from £5,000 to £7,000 an acre. I know that in the rather more distant areas along the coast which are favoured by the retired, prices range between £3,000 and £4,000 per acre; and I also know that away from those areas land may go down to £2,000, or even £1,000, an acre. So there is a considerable variation in one small county. But I have had the greatest difficulty in finding out about the prices elsewhere.
Building societies have some figures. I wrote to the Chairman of the Alliance Building Society, whose pamphlet has been quoted by Lord Silkin and has attracted a great deal of attention. I asked him whether he had any figures that would shed light on this matter, and I should like to read a paragraph from a letter I had in reply. He said:
The difficulty of obtaining detailed information about the price of building land in different parts of the country was the first problem we faced in the preparation of our booklet. After exhaustive investigation we found that there is no source from which can be obtained reliable statistics which would enable proper comparison to be made in the price obtained for one area of land and another. There is no department or professional body engaged in the compilation of the necessary information.
That is a fairly straightforward statement, and it seems to me that we are rather inclined to pass judgment, and, indeed, to suggest quasi-scientific solutions, on evidence which I do not think any scientist would accept as being in the least adequate. However, there is one organisation with which I am connected that has been attempting to amass some knowledge about this matter. It has done it by the laborious process of analysing a large number of different transactions that have been recorded in the Estates Gazette, and using intelligent guesswork as to whether they were comparing like with like.
§ The picture that arises from this investigation is that everywhere the price of land tends to rise in the vicinity of large centres of population. But whereas in any area within 50 miles of London where communications are good the price of land varies between £5,000 and £12,000 an acre, with something rather similar occurring in the West Midlands, around Birmingham, there 76 are a whole range of counties—for example, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, parts of Suffolk, Devonshire and Wiltshire—where the price of land is on an entirely different scale, varying from perhaps £3,000 an acre to a little above agricultural prices. My Lords, as I have said, I cannot call this a very scientific analysis, but it is to some extent borne out in some of the more erudite articles on this subject that I have read in the professional publications. If it is a true picture, it seems to me to lead to various deductions.
§ The first is that this problem of land prices is largely a regional or local one. The second is that the price of land is settled by the ordinary laws of supply and demand, as determined in the auction room. The third deduction, perhaps a more controversial one, is that if that is so, no amount of taxation, or the reimposition of a development charge, whatever other merits those suggestions might have, would necessarily do anything to reduce the price of land to the consumer.
§ I should like to say, in passing, that in principle I have no objection whatever to the taxing of capital gains on land, provided always that some system could be devised which was not more trouble than it was worth. Indeed, if such a system could be devised, and the proceeds went to local authorities I might become quite enthusiastic about it, particularly in my own county. But I question very much whether it will have any predictable effect on the price of land to the consumer. I really think the noble Lords opposite must agree with this because, despite the tremendous castigation the Government have received for removing the development charge, I notice that nobody has suggested that it should be reimposed. Instead, the Labour Party are proposing something quite different, which is something I should like to come to in a moment.
§ This brings me to the general question of speculation in land. I suppose that where favourable conditions exist, any smart operator will almost always turn the circumstances to good account, but, although I am probably very simpleminded, I cannot see how any ordinary owner can profiteer in land except by 77 the process of buying it cheap and hanging on to it until it becomes dear. The other day I ask a Starred Question of the Government with the object of finding out how much land they considered was deliberately being hold off the market in spite of its having planning consent. The answer I was given was that, although the Government were quite prepared to take strong action if they knew of such cases, the plain fact was they did not really know, and did not really intend to try very hard to find out. They did not clearly regard speculation as a very large element in the price of land.
§ For my part I rather wish that they had conducted such a survey, as I think they would have found that quite an appreciable amount of land is being kept off the market. But I think the real explanation is partly that a large number of owners do not care to develop at the present time: that, for example, they want to avoid building development all round their house during their lifetime, and also that there are a large number of builders who are buying land, not for the purpose of profiteering, but to guarantee the continuity of their operations by having proper reserves of land.
§ I think we in this country get a certain thrill out of the idea of conspiracy. Our detective fiction is full of these malevolent conspiratorial groups. In my time it was the armament manufacturers, the oil magnates and the bankers who were invested with this rather sinister glamour. Nowadays I notice that in some sections of the Press a new sort of mystery name has been invented in connection with alleged racketeering in land. It is the "faceless men" who have been exploiting the public—of course with the full connivance of the Government! I do not know how a "faceless man" sets about his work, but I should have thought that if he was keeping a lot of money locked up in this way, with the bank rate as it is at the present time, he is pursuing a pretty risky game. In other words, I personally believe that the degree to which the price of land is due to to a deliberate attempt to hold it up to ransom by professional speculators is, at any rate to-day, comparatively minor. But I see no reason why this charge should not be properly analysed and examined.78
§ This brings me to the question of town planning. How true is it that town planning restrictions are causing, or at least adding to, the high price of land? This is a very difficult question, and I do not suppose anybody could give a complete answer to it. But there seem to be some pointers to the conclusion that if there were no town planning at all there would still remain a land price problem. Quite recently I had the curiosity to look up the debate that took place on the Lloyd George proposals to tax land values in 1908 and 1909. Curiously enough, in those days they seemed to be saying very much the same as they are to-day. There was the same comparison drawn between the high price of building land and the price of agricultural land; the same complaints that certain individuals were reaping their rich harvest. But the big difference seemed to be that the roles have changed round. In those days the Government were complaining that it was the owners who were concentrating building in this way and restricting other land. In fact, the whole object of that measure, so far as I can understand, was to bring more land into the building market.
§ To-day, however, it is the other way round. It is the owners, or some of them, who are making exactly the same charge against the Government. The only moral I deduce from that is that in 1909, before there was any town planning, there seemed to be sufficiently serious land problems to justify the Government in bringing in some very comprehensive and very contentious legislation. Again, I think that figures from foreign and Commonwealth countries, which do not have the British system of town planning, show that there are these very big discrepancies between land in some places and land elsewhere. To my mind, all this suggests that town planning does little more than magnify or accentuate to some degree the difference in price that would in any event exist were there no town planning.
§ I should be the first to admit that when we come to the detailed effects of town planning we run into some extra-ordinary anomalies. I ran into a case the other day where, for the purpose of public acquisition, the estimated cost of 79 land on one side of the road was just about five times as high as the estimated cost of the land on the other side, although to the eye both parcels of land looked very much the same.
§ Anomalies of this sort arise from the extraordinary complexity of the law respecting values to-day, but I think they are of quite local significance. I do not really think they affect the general conclusion that I would draw—namely, that the market price is simply an indication of demand and that therefore it is clearly of little use releasing for building a lot of low-cost band in the hope that you will thereby reduce the cost of land in the high-cost areas. To reduce the price of land in what I would call high-cost areas you would have to release land which, were it not for town planning restrictions, would also be high-cost land, and you would have to do it on a large scale if you hoped to make anything but a very temporary difference.
§ I have little doubt, for example, that if you were to release the whole of the Green Belt around London it would have an immediate effect on the prices in all of the counties around London. I do not think any of us would wish to see that. But I do not believe that small-scale releases of land would have more than a very temporary effect indeed, if any. Ministry Circular No. 35/70, which was issued last July, now governs town planning, but, at any rate in my own area, my guess would be that it really will not have much effect, if any, on prices. So, my Lords, if action against speculators is not likely to have much effect, and if town planning can have an effect only if there is a change in a direction which few of us would like to see, what is there to be done?
§ Here I think it would be only right that I should refer to the Labour scheme shown in the pamphlets Signpost for the 'Sixties and Towns for Our Time. I suppose it would be thought that anything that came from these Benches in regard to those pamphlets would be necessarily tendentious, but I should like to say that there is at any rate a great deal of preliminary matter in Towns for Our Time with which I entirely agree. I agree that the only real solution to this question lies in so 80 contriving matters that the demand for land is spread much more evenly over the whole country than it is at present. This is, of course, an extremely difficult thing to provide for, but it is being done by the present Government to a certain extent by such measures as the creation of New Towns away from the big conurbations, by measures for the control of industry, and by what I hope will be measures to control office building, which I understand is now under very careful discussion. Surely these things are all in the right direction.
§ Although I cannot believe that any Government could work on quite the apocalyptic scale envisaged in this document, I also agree, nevertheless, that something more could be done if there were greater co-operation between local authorities and Government Departments in this task of creating new centres of population, and so creating new land values. At the present moment, if a New Town is being started all branches of the Government co-operate to make it a commercially viable town. The Ministry of Housing and Local Government give special housing grants, the Board of Trade give industrial certificates, and the Ministry of Transport not only plan the roads but actually give financial priority to enable them to be constructed. But operations on a smaller scale than New Towns seem to create quite a different attitude. The Board of Trade say, "Why do you want industrial certificates when you have no unemployment?" The Ministry of Transport say, "How can you justify priorities for money where you have no real traffic problem?"—all of which is quite reasonable if you are not deliberately setting out to create these new centres.
§ There seems to be some indication that the Government are taking another look at the Town Development Act, which so far has not been working very well, and perhaps my noble friend Lord Jellicoe will say something about this. If he does, I hope he will make it clear that, if towns are going to be selected for expansion, they will enjoy the cooperation of all Government Departments in the same way as New Towns do.
My Lords, while I agree so far with the theories in this document, I feel that
it can only have but a very long-term effect on land prices. It could not really be expected to produce results for years. It is when we come to their short-term proposals that I confess I find the reasoning much less convincing. It is apparently contemplated that a Land Commission should purchase all building land, presumably as soon as it is so designated in a town map. The price that they would pay for this would not be the market price by present-day standards, but a negotiated price at something less than the market value. The document says:
If the present system were replaced by one in which all buying of development land were regulated by a single buyer, the price at which an owner would willingly part with his land would be much lower than now.
I expect that would be true, and I expect it would be true of commodities other than land. I must confess that I cannot see this working without very large-scale use of compulsory purchase.
§ When it comes to the disposal of land which is to be by lease, and to who is to get the leases, and at what prices they are going to get them, the document seems to be very obscure. Apparently it is contemplated that the State will make a large profit out of the disposal of land in this way, and everybody will be satisfied with the price that he has to pay for his lease. Again, my Lords, I wonder. The whole theory of this part of the document seems to be based on the supposition that the one thing that is bothering the people of this country is that they are paying a profit to private individuals, and that they would not mind paying that same profit if it went to statutory bodies. There may be people who think on those lines, but I do not happen to have met them. The people I meet in my particular part of the world want cheap land, and they do not really care from whom they buy it. The sort of argument I hear is: "Why should we, the poorer people in Sussex, have to pay £400 or £500 more for the purchase of a house, or the equivalent expressed in terms of rent, simply because of the competition from commuters and from immigrants who come to Sussex to retire?" I find that a difficult question to answer. I find it difficult to tell them that if they want cheap houses they must migrate to Lincolnshire or Wales.82
§ The problem is a difficult one, and one which I think is likely to get worse; but I believe that it is the only really serious problem that we have. Of course local authorities, too, have to pay inflated prices for land, though they get from this immigration, some quid pro quo which the ordinary individual does not get. Nevertheless, I think that the way to deal with such cases, if it is justified, as I think it is, is by some form of open subsidy, rather than by concealed subsidy brought about by, as it were, "monkeying about" with market prices. I do not know how far the general grant, the rate-deficiency grant, special grants under the various Housing Acts, and so forth, do enable local authorities to compete with these high land prices. Some of these authorities do not seem to think that they do, but it would need a member of a very expert profession to judge whether that was a prejudiced point of view or not. However, I hope that the Government will keep the matter under constant review.
§ To summarise, my Lords, I believe that the great differences in these land prices are very largely due to immigration and to movements of the population. I think that a measure of immigration may he quite natural; but, in my view, excessive and too rapid immigration does lead, or may lead, to great human misery—and that is quite irrespective of where the immigrants come from. There is a Bill going through Parliament dealing with immigration to this country from overseas, and I suppose that the discussion on that Bill will turn largely on the colour bar. I should like to put forward the somewhat unconventional view that, though these racial matters are, of course, of great complication, fundamentally it does not really matter to, let us say, a town in the South-East of England whether the immigrants come from Jamaica or whether they come from Wigan; the same impossible tasks are set to the local authorities in the way of housing, education and so forth. I hope, therefore, that the Government will press on with what they are already doing to dissipate demand and to spread out the population.
§ In conclusion, I would say that, although I have been expressing certain views—as, indeed, other people have done; hardly a week passes without some Paper appearing on this subject—I admit 83 at once that I base what I have to say on information which I consider pretty inadequate. My main object is to try to extract the Government's views based on their information, which I suppose is the most authoritative that could be obtained. Having regard to the importance of this matter and to the amount of attention that is now being paid to it, I feel that it would be a good thing if some Papers giving information could be laid, as my Motion asks, and therefore I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.43 p.m.
My Lords, a famous philosopher once said that if men did not flatter each other there would be no such thing as polite society. Without wishing to flatter, I must say that I was greatly struck on this occasion by the very informative and unbiased way in which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, addressed himself to this subject. I do not think he is present at the moment, but there was one question I wished to ask him, and that was: did he say that building societies do not like to lend money to people with an income of less than £20 a week? If he made any such statement—and I do not know whether he did—I can only say that I nearly had to send for a doctor. But there were no medical Members of your Lordships' House present, so I had to recover on my own. However, it was a great shock to hear such a statement. I can assure your Lordships, and everybody, that building societies do not lend money to men of straw; nor, for obvious reasons, do they lend money to people with very small incomes. But they very definitely have no rule as to £20 a week. In all appropriate circumstances, building societies do lend money to people whose incomes are less than £20 a week.
My Lords, there are certain factors to be considered before we suggest any remedies for this problem. First of all, there is the undoubted growth of population, coupled with the great influx of immigrants. The last subject is a very delicate one, and as my learned and noble Leader is sitting in front of me, and below me, perhaps I had better not express any personal views on the subject or I may find myself in very hot water. But the fact is that we have had an increase in population of our own 84 people, coupled with an enormous influx of immigrants which is now going on and increasing every year.
I am making no criticism, but the fact is that we cannot build enough houses for all purposes. I am not making any criticism of the Government, nor of the local authorities. The Government have only the taxpayers' money; and, apart from grants, the local authorities have only the ratepayers' money. Therefore, when we criticise these various august bodies we are, in a sense, criticising ourselves. When we take into consideration the very old, insanitary houses that should be pulled down in the coming years, and the new houses that we have to build, in any event, to satisfy current requirements, it means, broadly, that between 400,000 and 500,000 houses must be built each year.
There is another feature to Which I would draw attention, and that is the terrible congestion that exists—and it is increasing—in the South of England. At the present rate of development, by 1970 there will be a continuous street from Charing Cross to Reading, with similar development in other directions. In an area covered by a radius of 40 miles from Charing Cross, in all directions, there will be a population of some 20 million people. That is a horrifying prospect, yet no-one seems to take any interest in the matter.
On the subject of the Green Belt, there is a good deal of misunderstanding. In fact, only one statutory Green Belt has been formally approved—the one round the Greater London area. There have been 70 sketch plans submitted. Of that number, 47 relating to the Green Belt have been accepted generally or in part, and 23 proposals have been submitted for formal incorporation in development plans. Whichever way one looks at the matter, the outstanding fact is the increasing demand for more and more land for building. That, in itself, operates to put up the price of land. There is no reliable index relating to the changes in average land values throughout the country, but it is estimated that, apart from certain astronomical rises in the cost of land, the cost of building has increased by about 25 per cent. in the last six years. It is only fair to say that that is partly due to the cost of building itself and partly to the cost of land.
85 Having made these comments, may I make now a couple of constructive suggestions? I am not suggesting for a moment that any overall or global plan is possible. I am certainly not in favour of land nationalisation. However, having said that, I agree that there should be some form of State intervention on a limited scale. One of the pressing problems to-day is the replanning and rebuilding of districts in the middle of most big cities. The cost of that operation is beyond the scope of local authorities. May I suggest that there should be set up a trust, like that advocated by the Civic Trust, to buy and hold decaying areas until either the local authority or private enterprise is ready to develop them? All areas would not be taken over at once; and, as a prospective area was sold or leased for development, the trust would be repaid. Needless to say, the trust would require powers of compulsory purchase.
The other matter which is causing us all anxiety is the lack of houses for letting. I know that the Socialist Party—I am never quite clear whether I should refer to them as the "Socialist Party" or as the "Labour Party", but your Lordships know whom I mean: I mean the good-looking noble Lords and Ladies sitting on my left—are always in favour of the building by the State of houses for letting, but they are not in favour of the building by private individuals of houses for letting. I myself think that every possible encouragement should be given to private developers to build houses for letting. But the position to-day is one of extreme difficulty. One suggestion is that the local authority should acquire areas of land and then sell them to private developers. Of course, the local authority, in selling the land to private individuals, would have to make a small profit in order to recoup themselves for their administrative and other expenses, and there would be no objection at all to that. The builder, in turn, would be financed by the Government at some very low rate of interest, such as 2 per cent.; and when the house was built, it would be a condition that the builder should lease it and not sell it. From the revenue thus obtained, the builder would gradually repay the Government, and eventually he would be the clear and unfettered 86 owner of a house which brought him in revenue every year.
My Lords, they are only two very mild suggestions which I make, and which I hope the Government will take into consideration. There are many speakers to-day, and no doubt many other admirable suggestions will be made.
§ 3.52 p.m.
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF HOUSING AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT (EARL JELLICOE)
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said in initiating this debate, it is now several years since your Lordships last debated the problem of the nation's housing. Nothing, of course, more intimately affects the welfare and happiness of us all. I should therefore like to start off by saying that I welcome these two "Siamese twins"—the two Motions moved, and so ably moved, by the noble Lords. It is high time that we again took stock of this great problem. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and my noble friend Lord Gage, will forgive me if I do not answer all the many points which they have made. To do so would take an inordinate amount of time. However, my noble friend the Leader of the House will be dealing with their speeches when he winds up, and we will certainly endeavour to answer any questions posed in the debate, then or thereafter. But I myself feel that the House might prefer, at this stage at least in the debate, if I were to sketch the broad problem as we see it.
First, a quick glance back. For a number of years now, house completions in the United Kingdom have been running at around the 300,000 mark annually. The total score is now just over 4 million. That means that of our national stock of housing, about one-quarter of the stock is represented by new, post-war homes. All this, of course, is pretty familiar to your Lordships. Perhaps less familiar is the less dramatic story of modernisation. I have no figures as to what has been done on purely private account, but I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to the sharp increase in grant-aided improvements. Before the 1959 Act, these were running at around 35,000 dwellings a year. For the last 87 two years the figure has been stepped up to around 130,000; and at this rate we should therefore be able to look forward over the next ten years to the improvement of some, million-and-a-half houses. In terms of arrested obsolescence and of greater comfort for over four million people, this relatively modest work of face-lifting can mean a great deal.
This overall achievement in the past has closed the critical gap between the number of dwellings in this country and the number of households seeking dwellings. Ten years ago, the gap was a million wide—12–1 dwellings and 13–1 households. To-day the gap is 100,000–14.6 million dwellings and 14.7 million households. Sometimes, my Lords, I feel that we overlook this broad achievement. I believe myself that the general improvement in the housing situation which underlies it should be accounted a massive national achievement.
But what of the present? When my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government recently opened the four-millionth house at Twickenham, the Daily Herald, in a leading article, commented that this was a matter for congratulation, but not one for complacency. I entirely agree. The nation still has an enormous housing problem on its doorstep. The estimates of the national housing need, of course, vary, it has, in fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, made clear, become a favourite guessing game for our statisticians and economists. The estimates, as your Lordships know, vary from some 5 million to some 8 million over the next 20 years; and, as your Lordships also know, our own best guess of the need over the next 20 years is at least 6 million.
Since the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, dealt with these figures, I will try to put the sums as simply as I can. First, there are the slums. We have at least half-a-million slums to sweep away and replace. Secondly, there is the backlog of shortage. The statisticians tell us that the gap between households and dwellings is now only 100,000, but we all know how these broad national statistics can conceal pitiless local shortages. We also know that to give flexibility, 88 and to allow us industrial mobility—more mobility, a point which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, touched on—we need a surplus. We estimate that to overtake the backlog of shortage and to create the necessary surplus will entail at least another half-million houses. Thirdly, there is obsolescence. It was the Industrial Revolution which provoked the great building wave of the last century. As a result, much of our housing in this country is old; not as old as in, say, France, but not as young as in, say, Scandinavia. By 1981, unless we replace them, over 4 million of our houses will be 100 years old or more. Some, of course, will still be serviceable, I hope mine included; but we must certainly aim to replace not less than 3 million of these old houses.
Finally, there are all the by-products of a growing population and rising standards. Many unexpected things have happened since the war, but I think few have been less expected than the population explosion which has taken place within these Islands. The Registrar-General suggests that we shall have to crowd about 5 million more people into our small Island in the next 20 years. But this is not all. The really significant factor is that households are increasing even more rapidly than the increase in the population. In the last ten years, for example, the population rose by 5.3 per cent., but the number of households in this country increased by 12.1 per cent. We live longer; we marry younger; we have more children; and to accommodate this incontinence (if I may so term it) we must add another 2 million houses to our estimate. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, referred to the Alliance Building Society's estimate as being higher—8 million, as opposed to our 6 million. I think the difference between our estimate and theirs lies in a different estimate of the increase in households. We believe that they are wrong. We believe that we are right. I suspect we are both wrong.
The result, in any case, as we see it, is that we must plan for at least another 6 million dwellings in the next 20 years, at least 300,000 a year. I would not, of course, suggest that we should not aim higher. If we can hit this target before 1981, so much the better. Above all, I should not wish to leave any impression that when we have secured these 89 new houses we can rest on our laurels. Because of the continuing need to replace obsolete or obsolescent housing, there is no magic moment when any particular generation can say: "We have solved our housing problem". Never has this been truer than it is to-day, when we are faced with this double dynamism of a growing and increasingly prosperous and therefore exacting population. But I would not claim that the figures of 6 million in twenty years, or at least 300,000 a year, are in any way sacrosanct. Indeed, we must try to raise our sights, if we can. I suggest that they offer a rational background against which to view some of our special problems.
The need after the war was for a mass attack on housing shortage, a general advance all along the line, to try to cope with the sheer shortage of general need housing. I believe that to-day housing is becoming a more sophisticated problem, and in that way perhaps a more difficult one, more selective in its incidence in particular sections of the community, more qualitative and more localised in its geographical impact.
There are two special gaps which we believe need to be closed. The first is that of providing good suitable housing for elderly people with their very special needs. It is a subject which your Lordships discussed only recently. I will therefore touch on it briefly. It is a subject in which I, embarking, as it were, on the approach march to old age, find a particular interest. It is one to which the Government and my Ministry will continue to give the closest attention. There has already been, as your Lordships know, a dramatic increase in the number of one-bedroomed dwellings suitable for old people, completed annually—a rise from 11,000 in 1951 to 27,000 in 1960. There has also been a corresponding improvement in design. We trust that local authorities and housing associations, and everyone else interested in this field, will maintain the impetus. It is important for its own sake.
I was in one of our northern towns recently on a particularly cold day. What decent housing can mean for old people was borne in upon me by a dramatic contrast in conditions: on the 90 one hand, old ladies dragging themselves out from their slum houses through the snow to the cold, rickety, shared toilets; on the other, within a few hundred yards, much the same old people—warm, relaxed and happy in their flatlets. This is work which must be kept up.
The second gap which requires filling is that of new housing to rent, which has been touched upon this afternoon. At the present time very little medium-priced accommodation is being built for rent. At one end of the scale there are, of course, luxury flats to let, and at the other, the cheaper type of house or the seedier type of "digs". But at the moment there is a void between council houses for rent and private enterprise houses for sale. Of course, this is partly a reflection of the continued and, indeed, healthy desire of people to own their own homes, but in other respects the position is not so healthy.
There are growing points of our national economy where new rented accommodation is badly needed for, say, the younger managerial staff. This lack of rented accommodation, indeed, affects our whole industrial mobility. Again, whatever your Lordships' views may be on chemical monopoly, I think that most Members of your Lordships' House would agree that it would be unhealthy in the long run if rented accommodation were to become a municipal monopoly. In fact, most of us would like to see more private enterprise building of houses to rent. Perhaps the Labour Party, by reaffirming their second thoughts on municipalisation, will be able to give private enterprise the necessary assurance on this score.
Perhaps local authorities could help if all of them were to adopt realistic rent policies, with, of course, the necessary safety net for those in real need. This would help to reduce the present unrealistic gap between the rents of their subsidised accommodation and the rent of unsubsidised accommodation. The noble Lord, Lord Meston, who I see has, very wisely, slipped out, gave us some advice about how we could help to meet or fill this need. All I would say on that is that we will look into his suggestion.
In any event, we hope that the housing association movement will feel able to step increasingly into this breach. 91 We trust, of course, that they will continue as in the past to co-operate with local authorities in providing for special requirements of various kinds. A circular which we are just about to issue to local authorities will make this clear. In addition, however, we hope that housing associations will take advantage of the £25 million loan fund provided for under Section 7 of the Housing Act which your Lordships' House passed last summer. We should like them to play an increasing rôle in the field of unsubsidised building to let, for those who do not wish or are not able to buy their own houses, and who cannot expect the local authorities to help them.
We believe, in fact, that the housing associations can make a really important contribution here, as they can in the almost unexplored field, at least in this country, of co-operative housing. It may be argued that the £25 million loan financing will not go very far. Granted. At the same time, it is our hope that this element of Government financing should serve to prime the pump. There is no reason why new building of this sort to let should not offer a sound investment for private capital. In all this, we believe that the National Federation of Housing Societies, of which my noble friend Lord Gage is the President, can play an increasingly important part as a guide and as a stimulus to progress. As a sign that our intentions towards my noble friend are both serious and honourable, I would merely mention that we have increased our annual "dowry" to the National Federation from £2,500 a year to some £15,000 a year.
I said just now that there was a qualitative problem as well. It is this. The growing wealth of our society brings with it quite inevitably a demand for better building, more spacious and better equipped homes. The homes we are building to-day must satisfy the needs of our people for the rest of this century and beyond. This is a point which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, made. Homes are not throw-away containers. They cannot be bought and discarded, like last year's motor car, in favour of next year's models. They have to have built-in longevity; they must 92 not have built-in obsolescence. In short, the homes we are building to-day to satisfy the affluent society of 1962 will have to satisfy the much more opulent society of 2012. I am not confident that all the houses that have been built in this country since the war, whether by local authorities or by private enterprise, satisfy this simple test.
I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has said about the Report recently produced by my right honourable friend's Central Housing Advisory Committee, called Homes For Today and Tomorrow. The noble Lord has told your Lordships broadly speaking what is recommended in that Report. I will add only one point to those which he has made, and that is to remind your Lordships that this Report appeals for the better lay-out and landscaping of housing estates, often deplorably low in standard in this country, and suggests, quite rightly, that local authorities and builders are foolish if they do not make certain, by employing competent architects, that all the houses they build satisfy the higher standards now called for. But these higher standards will, of course, cost money. Given the country's economic position at present, I do not deny for a second that this Report comes, as it were, at an awkward moment. But again the remedy lies very largely with the local authorities themselves. The more their rent policies are flexible and realistic, the higher the standards to which they will be able to build.
There are further reasons why I believe this pursuit of higher quality is practicable, even in to-day's rather difficult economic conditions. One is because I believe that we need to increase the efficiency of housing construction and to get better value for our money. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said on that score. My noble friend will, I gather, be referring to this subject at greater length when he winds up, and therefore I wish to touch only briefly on what we as a Ministry are trying to do on this particular front.
Many of your Lordships are aware of the success of the Ministry of Education's development group. Since 1959 my Ministry have established a similar development group composed of a balanced team of architects, sociologists, 93 quantity surveyors and administrators. This group is now conducting concentrated research into what type of housing people really need and the advantages we can obtain by applying new techniques in house construction. My noble friend Lord Bossom will be glad to hear that this study includes a study of standardisation and prefabrication of components. The group's work is as much practical as it is theoretical. There is a group of old people's flatlets at Stevenage which is in process of erection at this moment; there are two houses to be exhibited at this year's Ideal Home Exhibition at Olympia; there is a group of 39 houses shortly to go up in West Ham; and there is a slum clearance and re-development scheme in Oldham. These schemes will all incorporate a measure of experiment in materials and techniques, and we propose to have the results carefully studied before they are passed on to the local authorities. But I would emphasise that this sort of work takes time. I do not think we can expect immediate results in economies or in better design from this type of work. It is a field for patience and carefulness, but also for concentrated effort.
In a sense—but in a very real sense—the housing problem, at its most acute, is predominantly a Northern one. It is in the older industrial towns of the Midlands, of the North West and North East and, indeed, of Scotland, that we find the worst and the most slums. Of the 50 authorities with major slum problems only one is to be found south of a line drawn from the Humber to the Severn. It is in the North, too, that we find the biggest areas of blight and obsolescence. Only too often in the North we come upon a drab and stagnant town centre. Now much progress has been made with slum clearance. In 1955, 850,000 properties in England and Wales were declared to be slums. Since then, nearly 350,000 have been swept away. Last year, some 62,000 were dealt with, and if we could maintain this pace we should be able to liquidate the remaining half-million within ten years. But because the slums are unevenly distributed it will take us longer to deal with the hard core of the Northern slum problem, if I may so term it, even with a very special effort.
94 I do not need to dwell on the social consequences of slums. But, my Lords, it is not only the social and humanitarian consequences which should give us pause. There are wider consequences, too. I was struck by an article by Tom Stacey which I read over the weekend in Mr. Roy Thomson's latest coloured production. In it Stacey, in describing the youth of Britain, said that in a sense the concept of Disraeli's "Two Nations"—the rich and the poor—was now becoming out of date. But, unless we are careful, we may create, or allow to be perpetuated, two other nations in this country: the favoured South and the less favoured North—a sort of Italy upside down.
My Lords, this is the point where our housing and planning policies must come together. Our greatest single housing problem is that of our Midland and Northern slums. But our greatest planning problem is the magnet of London and the South-East, the Drang nach Suden, if I may use a German expression. This magnetism will be accentuated if squalid housing and living conditions in our Northern cities are allowed to persist. The young and the enterprising will inevitably be drawn South and it will be that much the more difficult to attract industry to the North.
It was therefore not only with the social and humanitarian problems of the slums in mind, but also because he is acutely conscious of this vital planning factor, that my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government announced last Friday that as soon as economic conditions permit he was proposing to mount a further attack on Northern slums and squalor. Next to maintaining the general impetus behind the nation's householding programme, slum clearance, with a special blitz on the Northern slums, must remain our first priority, with all that this means in terms of adequate resources of special skills, of finance, and of land. This clearly implies that a substantial proportion of our housing effort must continue to be invested in subsidised housing for rent. In terms of planning it implies that we should do all we can to enhance the amenities of our older Northern towns and help breathe life once again into their centres.
95 I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that there will be no "Stop-Go" about this policy. It is intended to be a steady and consistent policy. I would also assure the noble Lord, Lord Meston, that we have, of course, noted the Civic Trust's proposals about the re-development of central urban areas; but I think we are awaiting a study which my noble friend Lord Mancroft is at present conducting in this respect on their behalf, in the intervals of lecturing in the Southern States of America.
The second great problem before us is that of containing and accommodating our great urban regions. It is this problem on which the Motion of my noble friend Lord Gage so largely bears. Planning, of course, has been affected by just the same factors as housing—the explosion of population and the even greater explosion of households; and by the enormous and unexpected spread of the motor car. Again, I think our planners may originally have underestimated the extraordinary attraction of the big cities for mid-20th century man. But we are not alone in having possibly underestimated. Even those super planners, the Russians, appear to have miscalculated. This is what Mr. Khrushchev said to his Party Congress in October last:The housing problem remains very acute. In the past few years the growth of urban population in the U.S.S.R. has considerably outpaced the estimated figures. By the end of the 7-year plan (1965) the urban population will increase by about 15 million more than had been assumed".But, my Lords, the mere fact that these planning problems have become more acute is surely the justification for planning. For what would have been the position had we not had these planning controls, if the Lord Gages had not been at the helm? We should have had endless ribbon development spidering out along the main roads from the cities. We should have had an unchecked spread along our coastlines—"marzipan development", as the late Aneurin Bevan termed it. The towns would have gorged on our precious countryside; London would have married Birmingham and the Chilterns would have been submerged. I think it is incontestable that planning controls in a certain way heighten prices—perhaps in a localised way. If we 96 could all build over Green Park, I suppose that prices of land in Belgravia might come down; and I imagine that if we could build round the shore of Lake Ullswater the price of land at Bannisdale might come down. But if the price of planning is indeed higher prices—and to a certain extent I think it is—surely it is a price worth paying.
My noble friend also referred to speculation. I have spoken for too long, and I will therefore be very brief in what I shall say on this. One hears much talk of speculation, but it would certainly be difficult for us to pin down rumours on this subject and to get concrete examples. In this sort of thing, the tale loses nothing in the telling. Speculation does not, of course—and this is the point I would put—affect true land values. If the land is not worth what the speculator is asking for it, he will not get his price, and we personally doubt very much whether speculation—and I think we agree here with my noble friend—has had any material effect on the market as a whole which, incidentally, appears to be falling slightly at the present time.
But what are we doing about this great urban problem? We have a great number of surveys in hand, special studies of the great conurbations. At the same time, we have done everything within our power to bring home to local authorities the need to squeeze the best use out of available land and, where necessary, to ensure that suitable new land is brought forward in good time for development. We issued a circular some eighteen months ago on this subject, and some 90 suggestions for amended development plans have come in. Many of these propose substantial new areas for residential development—300 acres at Cambridge, 155 acres on the periphery of Ipswich, and 400 acres at Fareham. But in general our contact with the local planning authorities shows that the latter are well aware of the needs of the moment, and that most of them already have in mind ways and means of ensuring that building is not hampered by a shortage of land. Of course, what we now need and propose is to get these ideas clearly written into the development plans with the least possible delay. That is the broad strategy.
97 I should like, in conclusion, briefly to mention what it means, as it were, in terms—and I will take a most difficult example, that of "the great wen" of London and the South-East. I suppose the next most acute is a smaller wen, Birmingham and the West Midlands. What is our approach to these problems of the South-East? In the first place, I think we must recognise that a further great expansion of population within the South-East is inevitable, if only as a result of the natural population increase. We cannot, and should not, adopt a Canute-like policy on this issue. What we can do is to mitigate this growth by making our Northern regions more attractive to live in, to work in and to play in. What we can also do is to plan to absorb this increase in as sensible and as economical a manner as possible.
What does this mean specifically? First of all, it means winkling out every available acre at the heart of Greater London which is suitable for residential accommodation. A good deal has been done along these lines already. Perhaps the biggest bonanza which we may expect is that from the British Transport Commission. We hope that in the very near future they will be throwing up about 850 acres of land within Greater London, with perhaps more to come. We hope that a substantial amount of this will be suitable for residential development. This can mean new homes for many thousands of Londoners.
That is one approach. The other approach is to secure redevelopment at realistic densities. Something can be done by building high, as the London County Council have shown just over the river at Brandon Estate, or down the river at Poplar and Stepney. And higher densities, within limitations, are quite compatible with civilised living conditions. Yet a law of diminishing return applies here, and we feel that the best bets are the spacious suburbs developed at two or three houses to the acre. We believe that there is great scope for redevelopment within those areas.
While we must aim to secure the fullest possible use of land within the conurbations, we must clearly also plan for a great wave of what is inelegantly termed "overspill". This is already taking place, of course. In the last ten 98 years the population of Greater London has shrunk by about 200,000 people, and, given the natural increase concealed within these figures, this means that about 500,000 people have moved out of Greater London in the last ten years. But at the same time, the population of the Outer Metropolitan area, to which the noble Lord, Lord Meston, referred, has grown by over 1 million. What is perhaps even more significant is that our best guess at the present time is that the population of the South-East region as a whole is likely to grow by about 2½ million in the next 20 years. Much of this overspill can be absorbed through a network of private decisions, within towns expanding, as it were, under their own steam. But much of this overspill must necessarily be planned overspill.
In all this we recognise that the New Towns will have a great rôle to play. The New Towns were conceived under a Coalition Government; they were born under Lord Silkin, and have matured under ten years of Conservative rule. Almost everyone who knows them at all well must recognise the success which they have proved: in social terms, despite difficulties; in architectural terms, despite mistakes; and, above all perhaps, in economic terms and in the way in which they have attracted industry. I personally should hope that in this next decade we shall see a whole new generation of New Towns brought into being, possibly fewer in number than the first generation, but conceivably larger in size.
We must also look to further large-scale town expansion schemes. I will admit straight away to my noble friend Lord Gage that progress under the Act of 1952 has been somewhat disappointing, but it is now gathering momentum. Take the town expansion schemes which depend on London. Already the agreed schemes will provide for the absorption of 155,000 people, and schemes under negotiation will add an additional 80,000. Here again, we are planning for the future. Possibly we should now concentrate our efforts more, and plan for fewer but bigger town expansion schemes. In any event, I am quite certain that we shall need to run very fast indeed if we are to keep 99 pace at all with the dynamic expansion of the South-East of this country.
I have, of course, taken note of what my noble friend said about the difficulties met with in certain towns which are being expanded and which difficulties, it is suggested, are due to bad liaison in Whitehall. I would assure him that no differentiation is made in these matters between New Towns and town expansion schemes. But I will certainly undertake to look into that possibility on his behalf, in case something may be going wrong.
My Lords, may I briefly summarise the main outlines of the policy which I have tried to sketch? First, we recognise that, despite the massive progress made since the war and during the last ten years of Conservative Government, the housing needs of this country are still far from satisfied. Secondly, we plan, during the next ten years of Conservative Government, to secure at least another 3 million new houses. This means, on the average, at least 300,000 a year. Thirdly, as our first housing priority we propose, within the limits of what the national economy will bear, to mount a concentrated and sustained attack upon the slums of our older industrial towns and cities, especially in the Midlands and the North. Fourthly, we shall continue to pay substantial attention to the needs of the elderly, to the provision of medium-priced rented accommodation, and to the modernisation of older properties. Fifthly, we believe that the quality of the nation's new housing should be raised.
Sixthly, we shall, together with local authorities and the building industry, seek to secure, without sacrifice of quality, economies in house construction. Seventhly, we shall, as our first planning priority, continue to pay close attention to the development of our great urban areas, and, in particular, to the problems posed by the magnetic attraction of the West Midlands and the South-East. Finally, we shall aim to ensure that sufficient land is made available for development in good time and in the right places; that the best possible use is made of all available land, and that co-ordinated plans are made for the reception of overspill.
100 May I just say this, my Lords, in conclusion? Despite the progress we have made, it would be quite idle to pretend that the housing problems of the nation are yet solved. For, quite apart from much too much bad housing, we are still faced with an overall shortage of housing, especially in some of the great urban areas. Indeed, this is perhaps the last great problem of material shortage with which we as a nation are confronted. But whilst we cannot be complacent, we should not doubt our ability to rise to this challenge. Thirty years ago there were nearly 2¾ million unemployed in these islands, and much real want and hunger. My Lords, we have basically conquered that problem, and I see no reason myself why we cannot equally, and indeed in a much shorter time, conquer the problems that we are discussing to-day.
§ 4.32 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF BIRMINGHAM
My Lords, the noble Earl who has just preceded me has covered the ground so widely and so effectively that he has taken away much of the criticism that could be levelled against the present situation and has shown that the Government intend, if indeed they do intend, to have a really bold policy. But I want to bring your Lordships back to the more immediate problem which has been slightly lost in speaking about the next five, ten or twenty years, and it is the immediate, present condition of homelessness of a very large number of people. It is most severe in those cities and towns where the housing problems as a whole is most acute; in industrial cities like Birmingham, where there is virtually no hope whatever that a family with two or three young children evicted from furnished rooms will be able by their own efforts to find alternative accommodation.
The intensity of this problem in Birmingham will be realised from the fact that there are roughly 30,000 lodger families living in other people's houses, with no separate home of their own. In hundreds of cases there are husband and wife with three or four children living in one room, without a kitchen or living room. Others may have a share of a living room and kitchen but still be dreadfully overcrowded. Side by side with its efforts to tackle this problem, 101 the city is dealing with 47,000 other families who have a separate home of their own but one which is condemned as unfit for human habitation. Taking the two groups together, there is an immediate need—and I stress the word "immediate"—for 78,000 additional homes, and this takes no account of the further increase of the population over the next twenty years or of the demand arising from the formation by the existing population into smaller and smaller groups in a way which is evidenced by population statistics.
A great deal has been done in the past; and I can pay tribute to the work the city has done in constructing 40,000 new buildings since the war. The rate of new house-building is 2,200 a year. It cannot go faster than this for a variety of reasons, the principal one being the dwindling supply of land in the city, and the second, the keen competition for the inadequate supply of building trade labour. In the city of Birmingham—I cannot speak for London—building costs are considerably higher than in other parts of the country. A house which could be built for £6,000 in the Eastern part of England and £7,000 in Liverpool costs £8,500 to build in Birmingham, and that is due to the fact that builders have to pay what they call incentive wages in order to prevent people from going to the more lucrative jobs in the motor trade and the allied industries connected with it. These are matters of great importance.
Altogether some 5,000 homeless are given their own homes each year, but at the present rate it will take sixteen years for the people who are asking for houses to have their legitimate desire for a house fulfilled, quite apart from any legitimate growth of the population. The city has made very great efforts, both in a municipal way and through its housing associations, to deal with some slum property, not merely in clearing it but in improving it in such a way that a large number of these houses have been reconditioned in order to help people.
But the problem is immense and it is largely due to the question of overspill. Where are we going to find the land in order to build the houses that are necessary? The city has made repeated representations to the Minister of Housing and 102 Local Government, and, following the last Wythall inquiry in 1959, the then Minister promised to give the problem of overspill his personal attention. But people stand at attention for a very short time and are very soon standing at ease. In recent months discussions with the counties surrounding Birmingham have taken place with a view to the possibility of securing overspill places at Droitwich, Worcester and Daventry; and the Ministry is exploring the possibility of a New Town of Dawley. But all these schemes are merely paper exercises at the moment and until they are translated into bricks and mortar the problems of homelessness and slum clearance in Birmingham are likely to become even more serious than they are at present.
It is true also that the solution of these problems is held up not merely by overspill but by high rates of interest, and it may well be that the idea of subsidy might be replaced by a system of low interest rates for housing. I know the problem has been discussed and looked at, and it may be that it is more of a national problem than a local problem so far as finance is concerned, as indeed it is in some European countries, notably in Sweden. Whatever the methods used, it is beyond dispute that the present rate of slum clearance is both too slow and inadequate in size. Probably some extraordinary measures are required, and I think one of the chief ones is the stirring of the public conscience about the problem. It may be that one way of stirring the public conscience is to ask people to pay the bill.
So much for the homeless. One has to speak in terms of detachment to a certain extent, because this is not the place to try to interpet these ideas in terms of the actual pain and despair that rests in the hearts of people when they think of the long time it will be before they get a house of their own. The people who are evicted are not always evicted because they are bad lodgers. Very often it is through no fault of their own, nor is it necessarily through the fault of rapacious landlords. It is often enough that the family, growing older, can no longer stand the younger, and turn them out. Sometimes it is that the landlord wants the house in order to put some urgent case of his own family into it, and people are evicted. Of course, 103 we must have methods of dealing with people who would be without an actual roof over their heads if it were not for the provision of what are called half-way houses and hostels. But the use of hostels involves segregation between the father and the rest of the family, and it can be for only a very short time; and the half-way house sometimes provides merely a room for so many months while they go on trying to find other accommodation. That is perhaps the particular problem in Birmingham and the West Midlands. It is largely due to the fact that there is no more land to be had, but it has to be thought of in terms of what is actually happening to the people.
To turn to the more serious work that has been spoken of, there are one or two things one might add. It has been said that the general belt of population has been from Lancashire down to London, going through the Potteries and the Midlands, and people have been encouraged to drift that way. Later there was a new belt that goes from just south of the Wash down to Southampton, and people have been urged to drift that way. I am so glad to hear the noble Earl suggest that there might be encouragement to drift back to that most delectable part of England, Northumberland and Durham. Although they have many slums at the moment, they could be built up into very lovely parts of England, taking the place of some of the worked-out mining villages of West Durham, in order to get the drift flowing backwards. This requires far more co-operation with those who are responsible for industries, whether it be the Board of Trade or such organisations which deal with it. This housing problem cannot be unrelated to industries where people work, and industry itself has to be related to all kinds of factors, such as ports and raw materials.
There is one other point which I think ought to be considered, which is a social problem. One has to realise that with the break-up of the village something very beautiful and lovely in English life went out. There you had a community which was a mixed community of people of different trades and of different professions and they knew each other and cared for each other. We still have that in the country towns where people know each other. In the 104 new housing estates, whether they be in London or the conurbations of the West Midlands, or wherever they are, there is a tendency for everybody to be of one kind and they do not know each other. They may know each other at work but there is not the same neighbourliness.
It is sometimes said that the slums of England are a cause of a great deal of delinquency. That may be true, but it is equally true, as has been proved in most parts, that the new housing estate by itself does not bring any reduction in delinquency. Something more than merely a new house is needed. A house is material. The home, about which some of us have been talking, is something which is spiritual and moral; and although we cannot legislate for the spiritual and moral, we can at least legislate in such a way that the moral and spiritual become possible. Some way or other must be found to deal with these new housing estates, to turn these new housing estates which are built round the towns into communities. A great deal more help should be given through that factor being taken into consideration by the housing authorities.
It has sometimes been said—it was said in another place on Friday—that if we took people off these building sites the particular trades that they have, the particular skills and materials they use, would not be available for the actual building of houses. That is true so far as the bricklayer is concerned. But when you consider the vast amount of housing that is built on exactly the same principle as these thirteen-storey flats and as offices are, then the criticism has no great merit behind it. There must be some consideration given to the priorities: whether to build offices for prestige, or houses in which to house people where they can have real homes of their own.
A great statesman—and I hope it is not controversial to call him a great statesman—Austen Chamberlain, speaking of this problem some years ago, said that this was a matter that had to be tackled almost at once. He said:What I care about is that something should be done and done quickly to remedy conditions which are a scandal to all who know them, which grow worse as time passes, and, until we find a remedy for them, spread like a canker, attack new areas and bring the fungus of unhealthy life to others.105 Those words are relevant to-day, certainly to certain sections of our country. Good housing should be recognised by everyone as a basic need for healthy living. Only by resolute action by the Government, encouragement by voluntary societies (I am glad to say the housing associations are encouraging) and knowledgeable good will by ordinary men and women who can feel the problem and see that something is done about it, can the problem be effectively tackled and solved.
§ 4.48 p.m.
My Lords, your Lordships will have listened with great interest and distress to the speech of the right reverend Prelate. We must all deplore the conditions he describes. It is clear that the magnet of industry has attracted to Birmingham far more people than Birmingham can properly house. I am quite convinced that my noble friend, when he replies, will be able to tell the right reverend Prelate the proposals of the Government in the matter. It appears, from what one hears, that the housing authorities are absolutely overwhelmed with this problem so far as Birmingham is concerned, and have not been able to look, or have not looked, far enough ahead to make reasonable provision for their population.
We have two Motions on the Order Paper this afternoon. It is rather difficult to run them in double harness. My noble friend Lord Jellicoe has covered the housing proposals of the Government so fully, and I would say so adequately, that I do not believe your Lordships would wish to go again over the full range of figures that he has provided. There can be no doubt that, with an expanding population, the housing problem is a continuing one. There is no solution, as I think the noble Earl said, to the housing problem, it is a continuing problem. During our lifetime—and I speak as one over 60 years of age—the housing problem will continue. It is limited, or its solution is limited only by the amount of labour, land and finance available to build 300,000 houses, or more, a year.
As to the labour position, I hope that that will be gone into by later speakers. The building labour of this country at the present time appears to be fully occupied, and from the housing figures 106 recently pulblished, I do not believe that more than 300,000 houses can be started. If more can be started, then I greatly hope that the Government will authorise an increase; and if an increase is possible I believe that it should be devoted largely, if not entirely, to slum clearance. In the more rural and agricultural communities housing problems to-day have not the same urgency as they have in what are called the great conurbations (I always regard that as a horrible term), but in great groups of industrial towns; and any surplus of labour and finance ought to be diverted to those.
I do not believe that the solution of the housing problems of Birmingham, or of any great city, is impossible. It is only necessary to go sufficiently far out to build what my noble friend Lord Jellicoe described as a New Town, or a new satellite, or whatever name you like to call it. These things have been done. New Towns have been built. There is a ring of them to the north of London. If they can be built there, they can be built beyond the Green Belt of Birmingham. It is surely only a question of the Ministries concerned making a decision and putting the labour on to the work. The problem of London has not been solved, but strides have been made in the New Towns of Crawley, Hemel Hempstead and Basildon. A great many places have been built, If that can be done for London, surely it can be done for the city of the right reverend Prelate, too.
I should like to refer to the great advance that has been made in the use of both improvement and standard grants for the modernisation of older houses. It is extremely satisfactory that at last local authorities are making a greater number of grants and that the owners of eligible houses are applying for the grants. But there is still one rather deplorable aspect of this matter—there are housing authorities who are not making a discretionary grant in any circumstances. They do not act in this way for any housing reasons, but on political grounds. But because of their attitude the intention of Parliament is evaded. There is no doubt that if a man lives in one rural or urban district he may get a discretionary improvement grant for his house; but if he lives in another, perhaps only a mile or two away, he will not because the council 107 there has determined not to make discretionary grants. I hope that, when replying, my noble friend will make some reference to this point, which for a number of years now has caused a great deal of ill-feeling in the countryside.
I am rather surprised that the question of the rents of houses has not been mentioned, either by the noble Lord who moved this Motion or by any subsequent speaker. Usually, when we in your Lordships' House have a debate on housing severe words are expressed about the level of rents. I have with me an extract from the Ministry of Labour Gazette, summarising family expenditure in 1960 for 3,540 families. I think these figures are of interest, because they show that rents have not risen excessively in the last few years. The total family outlay of these families, which averaged 3.04 persons per house, was £16 10s. 2d. a week. That meant, roughly speaking, a rise of £1 a week since 1959. The housing expenditure rose from 27s. a week in 1958 to 28s. 11d. in 1959, and to 30s. 10d. in 1960. That latter rate is almost exactly one-twelfth of the total family expenditure, and I am sure that all your Lordships will agree that that is a small proportion of total expenditure. That proportion is lower than it was in 1930, when it was one-eighth, and is equal to the figure between 1900 and 1914, when it was also one-eighth of the total weekly expenditure. Therefore, I do not think it can be proved, on the Ministry of Labour figures that rents have risen out of proportion to weekly expenditure.
I should like next to refer to the second Motion, standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Gage. My noble friend took the question of the price of land back to the year of Mr. Lloyd George. I myself should not go so far, but I should like to refer to the time of Mr. Justice Uthwatt, the author of the Uthwatt Report. When he commented on the price of land he drew special attention to what he called "floating development value". Those of your Lordships who were interested in these matters so many years ago will no doubt remember it. He said that the whole of England was covered by a floating development value which, in the days 108 before the various Town and Country Planning Acts, might descend anywhere at any time, and the fortunate owner of the exact spot would then benefit not from the total floating development value but from a portion of it; and therefore he might receive a considerable sum for a plot of land which hitherto had no obvious development value. I fear that I have not explained that proposition as ably as did Mr. Justice Uthwatt, but broadly he wrote on those lines.
My Lords, floating development value has now come to earth. Wherever land is zoned for development for building, or for industrial development in county development plans and in statutory town maps, floating development value has come to earth. You have only to look at the map to see where development will take place, and that is where high values will be found. That, I believe, is the reason why high prices obtain in special localities. They are to be found only where extensive development is likely to take place over a very short period of time, either in regard to industry or owing to a move or increase of population. You will not find these high values in what one can term the normal agricultural counties of England; you do not find them in the far west or in the far east. You do find them in the south-east, due to special reasons. But, normally speaking, you find them in the belt, described by the right reverend Prelate, stretching from Liverpool to London, and in this new south-east conglomeration of population which is now growing so fast.
Roughly speaking, in the outer areas the value of building land has followed rises in wages and rises in prices of commodities. Land that may have cost £300, £400 or £500 an acre on the outskirts of a small town before the last war, now costs £1,500 or £2,000 an acre for comparable land. If that is the case—and there is a good deal of evidence to show that it is—I think it will be found that the increase of prices in the more highly priced areas that I have described is pro rata: the price of building land goes up just as prices rise in all other directions.
Before I sit down, I should like to say a word about some of the reasons why this trend of population is confined 109 to two or three areas. Your Lordships have approved on many occasions the creation of national parks and of areas of outstanding natural beauty. The national parks cover one-tenth of the land surface of England and Wales—5,254 square miles; the areas of outstanding natural beauty (which of course are national parks in all but name), cover no fewer than 1,701 square miles. Of course a great deal of this land is mountain, moor, lakes, and so on, but it all has to be subtracted from the total amount of land in this country.
The National Parks Commission, whose Twelfth Report I have in my hand, have under consideration the designation of another eleven areas of outstanding natural beauty—I will not read the names that appear in the Report. So far they have designated twelve such areas. If it is reasonable to suppose that the eleven new areas will equal the existing twelve, it means that there will be another 1,701 square miles of land, chiefly in the southern counties—Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, Buckinghamshire. Hampshire again, the Cotswolds, North Norfolk and mid-Wales—on which very little building will be allowed. Very rightly they will mainly be concerned with agriculture and the preservation of scenic beauty, which is the object of their designation. But it means that there will be that much less land available for other purposes.
The last category of land, which I have not so far mentioned—and it may even be greater than the two I have already mentioned—is that of Green Belts. The Green Belt for London is finally approved, and if you wish your Lordships can see a map of it; but the other Green Belts are still in sketch form in the hands of the Ministry, and nobody but the Minister of Housing and Local Government knows how much land they cover. I myself have taken part in outlining a Green Belt around Bristol and Bath. From east to west that is a distance of about 20 miles, not all in the County of Somersetshire, for it covers a great deal of land in Gloucestershire, to the north, and stretches into Wiltshire, to the east. On that land very little building will be allowed, because the Minister has already published the principles on which 110 he proposes to allow building on Green Belts.
My Lords, that is only one Green Belt, and I am quite convinced that all other great cities, like Bristol, and I am sure Birmingham, too, are to be surrounded by a Green Belt, which I believe to be the wish of the nation.
I believe that the country wants Green Belts around the great industrial towns, but it will take hundreds and thousands of acres of land out of the possible building market, in order that it may be preserved for the enjoyment of the public, for the use of agriculture and for the preservation of its natural beauty. Those are most admirable objects, but, by the time the map of England has finally been redrawn, with all these reservations of land in their final form, there will not be many places where new towns can be built. This is a fact which the Minister of Housing and Parliament will have to face. If we are to have these admirable schemes, we shall have to think very hard indeed where our new towns are to go; and I believe that if your Lordships will look at the price of land against the background of all the places where building is not allowed you will not consider that the price of land is too high in those places where building is allowed.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ LORD PEDDIE
My Lords, my noble friend, Lord Silkin, is unquestionably deserving of congratulation for bringing to the notice of the House this important social problem of housing. I would emphasise that the problem under discussion this evening is a social one, although some of the speeches might indicate—at least it seems so to me—that it is being approached in the same sort of attitude and atmosphere in which one might present a company balance-sheet. Shelter, my Lords, is a basic human need, and the housing of the people is a major responsibility of government. I know there are some social responsibilities which a Government can neglect, and with good fortune can escape any serious consequences, but housing is not in that category. There is no escape at all from the social, economic or, indeed, moral consequences of neglect of the housing problem. It is important to realise that every day's delay in tackling this problem in a fundamental manner 111 adds to the difficulties and piles up the cost.
In spite of the statement that we have heard this afternoon, I believe that not even the most complacent supporter of the Government could find any degree of satisfaction in the present situation, because, judged from any standpoint, the present housing situation, particularly in the North, to which the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, drew attention, is a scandal and makes a complete mockery of any claim to national affluence or, indeed, national dignity. I believe there is something wrong in any state of society that attempts to measure progress in terms of motor cars and television sets—although we cannot provide the roads to contain the cars—and yet can tolerate circumstances which cause hundreds of thousands of people in this land to live under intolerable conditions. Those are the circumstances to-day.
Far too often—and this has been the case during the course of this debate—the problem is considered as a matter of arithmetic, with a statement as to the number of houses that have been built during a particular period; and, if figures can be quoted showing an increase in one year over another, it is assumed that we are approaching, or are within reach of, a solution of the problem. Nothing is further from the truth.
The social problem of housing is more complex and more significant than I honestly believe the Government realise. There is no single problem of housing; it is a series of inter-related problems bearing upon a wide range of social services and responsibilities. It will never be satisfactorily tackled, unless that fact is thoroughly understood by those who have the responsibility for seeing that this nation tackles in a far more strenuous way the problem of housing. It certainly cannot be solved by pushing up "brick boxes" for private profit. While we want to see an extension of the development of private building where it is necessary, private enterprise production of houses so far tends to go where the pocket is deepest, not where the need is greatest. That is a factor which must be borne in mind.
The whole problem cannot be dealt with in isolation. As I have said, it is related to many social and economic 112 factors, and the repercussions that can follow have an impact upon every phase of our national life. It is hardly necessary for me to state—both sides of the House realise it only too well—that bad housing carries its penalty in terms of national ill-health. In short, fewer houses, more hospitals. Inadequate housing and overcrowding are unquestionably linked with the social problem of crime and juvenile delinquency. If anyone doubts it, I can take him to many areas where, unquestionably, the housing conditions have had a serious influence upon the rise in juvenile delinquency. I would draw attention to the fact that not only slum conditions but bad housing conditions—and there is a difference—place an appalling disability upon both child and teacher in the realm of education. I should like your Lordships to appreciate fully the tremendous disabilities that are placed upon the working-class people of the North, due to the reluctance to bring about much earlier that drive which has been promised this afternoon.
I was glad, too, that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, made reference to the close connection between production and housing. I agree with him, and I agree that all too frequently we tend to neglect that important aspect. I think we should all agree there may be a demand for greater mobility of labour in the future even than there has been in the past, but there can be no mobility of labour if removal, on the part of a working-class family, carries the danger of being rendered homeless. It frequently happens that where it is necessary for sections of the working-class population to move to another area, the greatest difficulty in bringing about that measure of mobility, which is necessary in the national interest, is due to inadequate housing and the fact that these workers recognise the appalling difficulty of securing a house, of renting a house, in some other part of the country.
I should hope that consideration of these facts would cause the Government to effect a reappraisal of the priorities and a reassessment of the cost of tackling this problem, because I would draw the attention of the House to the fact that to-day we are spending relatively less on housing than we did a few years ago. I am informed that since 1953 investment in housing as a share of the 113 total fixed capital formation has fallen from 26.4 to 17.7 per cent., and between 1951 and 1959 the annual rate of house construction in the United Kingdom was only 5.8 per 1,000. Just in passing, I would merely state that I am informed that in Germany the annual rate of house construction is 509,000, which is slightly more than 10 per 1,000 inhabitants.
Therefore, my Lords, there are many facets to this problem. First, as has been mentioned by more than one speaker, there is the problem of the slums and the appalling blot that they have been upon the community; secondly, there is the cost of housing. I would point out that only a matter of a few days ago a summary of the experience of building societies—and I would indicate to the House that I am a director of one of the leading building societies in this country—indicated that existing house prices rose by 8 per cent., and new house prices rose by 11 per cent., during 1961. Would those noble Lords opposite who made reference to land prices indicate that, in those circumstances, the cost of land has not had a tremendous influence upon that upward surge? I would also point out that that trend has been adversely affected by the Government's own financial policy, and I would ask for some consideration to be given to the possibility of insulating the flow of resources for housing against financial interest variation. I believe that it would be possible, and at least it is worthy of consideration on the part of the Government.
I believe also (and again I should be glad to hear the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe) that we need a greater emphasis upon the problem of the deployment of housing as influenced by the location of industry. But all that demands a sustained and orderly planning. We need the provision of houses planned from a community standpoint. Throughout Britain have seen, at times, acre upon acre of faceless houses. Someone has referred to "faceless men", but these are faceless houses. They all bear the same sort of face, or lack of it: there are no amenities of any description. We do not want that; we want to build communities. The nation claims the strength: surely we should be able to tackle this problem. We also need 114 the provision of old people's houses which will fit into those communities, and attention to be given to the whole question of house standards, which have shown a steady deterioration over the years.
My Lords, there has been considerable reference in this debate to land, but, in spite of the statements made by the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, and the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, I remain unconvinced. I am quite certain that in many parts of this country we have seen vicious exploitation so far as land prices are concerned. According to the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, the problem of land is regional. It certainly is; it varies between area and area. But the fact remains that in every single area in this country the price of land available for sale to-day shows a far greater increase than the general average increase in the price of any other commodity you care to mention. That is a clear indication of the effect of the monopoly aspect of land. Because, my Lords, land is different from any other type of commodity of which more can be produced whenever the price rises. That is not possible with land, and so we find that people are taking advantage of the monopoly position. I am certainly not prepared to place the responsibility upon immigration or upon any emigration tendencies on the part of Wiganite friends of mine.
Then there are the slums. Quite frankly, my Lords, I offer a suggestion. I do it seriously, and not facetiously; and I do it kindly. I would suggest that Members of the Government spend a few days, or a week, living in any of the slums of the North—not an official visit, with the Lord Mayor in his chain attendant upon them, and with the green paint and the whitewash preceding the visit, but living there. If they were to do that, and survived the ordeal, I am certain that the result of that practical experience would he an entirely new recasting of all the promises we have heard this afternoon; and the wiping out of the slums would be indicated as a first priority. I offer that as a suggestion.
I wonder if I may interrupt the noble Lord for one second. I thought I had made it quite clear in my speech that the wiping out of the slums was a first priority.
§ LORD PEDDIE
I agree; but it is a question of speed. There is not much satisfaction to a person who is living in a slum to know that, in twenty years' time, there is a possibility that these slums will be wiped out. I believe that it can be accomplished in far less time. That is the point at issue. It is no satisfaction to a person living in a slum to be told that. I accept the sincerity of the statement that we have heard this afternoon, but it is no sufficient satisfaction. We want the problem to be tackled far more intensively. We want it to be placed higher and higher in the order of priorities. In any event, my reply to the noble Earl is that if that be the intention of the Government in the future, at least it is not borne out by the indications given by the expenditure of recent years. Relatively, the expenditure has tended to go down, which certainly would not seem to indicate that the clearance of slums is a very high priority.
One-quarter of the entire stock of houses in this country to-day was built before the Public Health Act, 1875, which. was the first Act to lay down any standards at all; so one can understand the standard of houses in this country to-day. The noble Earl made reference to the Census of 1955, when local authorities estimated that there were approximately (I think it was) 961,000 slum dwellings. My Lords, I can assure this House that that figure of 961,000 was a gross under-estimate, and I will tell your Lordships why I think so. Anyone who knows anything at all about Lancashire will appreciate that there was something very odd in the figures that were presented relative to different towns in Lancashire in that 1955 Census. Figures were put forward by some as a full statement of all the houses that had to be considered slums. Others interpreted it as their ability to deal with the number of slum houses within a certain period; and the different attitudes of the various towns had an influence upon the figures.
Let us have a look at these figures. Liverpool showed 43 per cent. of all its houses as being registered as slums; Manchester, 33 per cent.; Oldham, 26 per cent.; Salford, 24 per cent.; Bolton, 10 per cent. Since 1955, I agree, 400,000 of these slums have been demolished, with 550,000 condemned dwellings still 116 in occupation. But this is the point. If the Government are claiming some satisfaction from that achievement, and pointing to it, as has been said this afternoon, as an indication of the complete conquering, within a reasonable measure of time, of this problem of slums, I would say that they are barking up the wrong tree. The fact is that the position is getting worse. The rate of deterioration and obsolescence of houses is faster to-day than the rate at which these slums are being pulled down and new houses are being erected. That is the tragedy of the case, that we are not catching up.
I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord again, but I should like to be quite clear about this. I was merely claiming that, if we maintain the same pace as that which we have maintained over the last five years, we should be able to clear those houses which were declared unfit in 1955; but there was, of course, the difficulty that their incidence was uneven geographically. I also mentioned the fact that our estimates included the clearance of 3 million obsolete houses which by 1981 would be over 100 years old. So the larger estimate includes, as it were, the smaller one.
§ LORD PEDDIE
I appreciate that point, and I have no desire to take any unfair advantage. I am merely stating the case as I see it. The only point I am emphasising, and I must repeat it, is that in spite of the progress that has been made—and I compliment the Government upon that degree of progress—it is not sufficient. Unfortunately, the rate of slum creation is greater at the moment than the rate of slum clearance. Coupled with that, also, is the important fact which the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, himself stated: that standards are rising, and therefore our estimate of what is considered to be a slum may, in ten or fifteen years' time, be different from what it is now.
That brings me to the point of housing standards. The noble Earl also made reference to the fact that we have to build for the future; that we have to keep in mind the standards of tomorrow. Well, how are we keeping in mind the standards of to-morrow? The average floor space for a three-bedroomed house declined from 1,032 117 square feet in 1951 to 898 square feet in 1960; it went down. And this at a time when we are running against the longterm trend. As living standards rise, surely there will be a demand for more living space. The noble Earl himself made that statement. Yet the trend today is running precisely opposite to that indicated by the noble Earl. Indeed, housing construction in the United Kingdom shows a downward trend since 1954.
The average number of houses completed each year per thousand of population between the years 1958 and 1960 I think I have already given; and I will not weary the House with a series of figures relating to many other European countries, except merely to state that we show ourselves at considerable disadvantage. The housing problem must be pursued on many fronts with purpose and imagination, and I believe that the situation could be transformed within less than a decade. But I say in all seriousness that I think it needs a far more intensive effort than that which has been demonstrated by the Government this afternoon. I agree that there is room for varied forms of housing development, such as municipal renting of houses.
Whilst on that point, I would indicate that the noble Lord, Lord Meston, made reference to the Labour Party's attitude toward private building to be rented. I think he knows more about our facial appearance than about our programme. Because our difficulty is not a question of any adverse attitude toward private building. We find great difficulty indeed in discovering any private interests who are willing to build for renting purposes, and I am quite sure that no person in the House will blame the Labour Party for that.
I was also interested to learn of the development of co-operative housing. I think there is a tremendous field here. I was also intensely interested in the noble Earl's reference to co-operative house ownership, although I would agree that the amount of £25 million is not a great sum. I hope he is right in believing that this will be a pump priming operation. My own personal view is one of great faith in home ownership. Although there has been a discernible switch in this country to home owner- 118 ship, at the moment it stands at about four in every ten.
In this regard I was pleased to hear more than one reference to the work of building societies. I would take this opportunity, because I think it is of value to the Government in tackling this problem, to emphasise the work of social service which is undertaken by building societies. During 1960 building societies advanced loans covering the sum of no less than £559 million. It is recognised, of course, by all people that building societies operate in a high interest-rate environment. But what is not generally realised is that taxation accounts for 1¾ per cent. of the current mortgage rate of 6½ per cent. I believe the total taxation bill of building societies amounts to about £46 million; but that means only a net amount of £37 million, for reasons which Members of the House will appreciate. I suggest to the Government that the question of building societies' taxation is worthy of a new approach. Recognition should be given to these social services, and the valuable contribution which could be made by building societies by the substantial reduction of their mortgage rate down to 5 per cent., and the expenditure by the Government of a maximum of £37 million; and that is not taking into account the consequential savings.
I think, my Lords, that I have spoken for long enough but I would end on this note. I would agree, as I am sure all noble Lords would, that it would be dishonest on the part of any Member of this House to try to create the idea that this problem of housing is one of easy solution. It is not. We, at least on this side of the House, are convinced that it needs a dramatic change in the order of priorities; and we believe, limited though our resources may be, and great though the strains at this moment may be, that in placing an increased emphasis upon housing we need not measure it in terms of physical cost. We should look to the enormous return and the tremendous dividends which would result, not only by way of social benefits, but in practical, economic content, as a result of the improvement of the housing situation.
§ 5.36 p.m.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Peddie, has made a powerful speech, somewhat on the lines of the 119 angry young man who berates the present for not getting rid of the past quickly enough. I think he can assure himself that there is no Government supporter who is complacent about this particular problem, because we all realise what an appalling problem it is. And it is not confined to us; it exists in practically every major city in our Western civilisation; and worst of the lot is Moscow, the heart of State planning.
Normally, of course, a shortage of any commodity soon creates a supply. But for various reasons, including rent control over the past years, and so on, the law of supply and demand has never been given free access to the housing situation, and so artificial conditions have prevailed for a great many years. Some of the artificial conditions may be inevitable and necessary, but one can minimise the handicap they impose by being a little more realistic about some of them. There are still very large sections of the country where the rent of houses bears no relation whatsoever to the cost of replacing them. If they did, that alone would be a great help in providing finance for further housing.
My noble friend the Under-Secretary made a particular plea for an increase in houses to rent for a class of people who are very neglected in this respect; that is, the people with middle incomes. I would suggest to him that the building of houses for other people to rent is a dying practice in this country; and any chance it has of reviving is completely killed, to my mind, by the fact that it is generally believed that the Labour Party believe in rent control, and some people believe that one day they may again form a Government. If the noble Earl wants to get houses built for rent—private enterprise houses—obviously he must produce some sort of scheme whereby, in certain circumstances, the owner can demand that the Government purchase his house from him at a price at which he should not have lost on the bargain as a whole. The noble Earl very rightly stressed the importance of housing for the old-aged, and I hope that he will go into the question of extending the subsidy there to all who supply accommodation for the old-aged, regardless of the particular type of 120 accommodation which they must be supplying.
I was interested to hear the excellent speech by the right reverend prelate the Lord Bishop of Birmingham. It raised thoughts in one's mind on the general question of the planning of industry. Some industrialists say that it is wrong to force industry to go to particular areas, because by so doing, it adds to their costs. But, goodness me! the speech of the right reverend prelate was an absolute exposure of the results of not planning for industry. By allowing the motor industry to expand so fast in Birmingham, and to entice people away from their jobs all over the country into Birmingham, what a tremendous lot has been added to the social costs of the City of Birmingham! I think that that abundantly proves the case for the planning of industry.
At the moment, the Church of England is engaged in a large programme of modernisation and replacement of its old and over-large parsonage houses. As a member of the Committee of the Church Commissioners which deals with this matter, and chairman of a diocesan finance board, I come into contact with this aspect of the building problem. What I see leads me to believe that in most parts of the country the building industry is definitely overburdened. In some parts it is difficult to get adequate and prompt attention from architects. In some parts it is hard to get proper contractors to tender; and, when they do, the price is often unexpectedly high. Prices are running something like 20 per cent. more than architects estimated them to be a year ago. I suggest that that 20 per cent. amounts to a good deal more than can be accounted for by the wage increase in the autumn. I think it must be caused by increased building profits and by builders having to bribe away skilled operators from their competitors to keep in business.
The price of building percolates throughout the whole economy, and if overburden is leading to too high prices, it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to do their utmost to relieve the situation. This can be done in two ways: either by increasing the capacity of the industry or by reducing the burden on it. There is a school of thought among the economists which suggests 121 that the present proportion of our resources devoted to building is about the largest the economy can stand. That may well be. But, if that is so, in view of the housing situation, I suggest to Her Majesty's Government that the general public will demand that a higher proportion of our resources should be devoted to housing than is being done at the moment. The most satisfactory solution, of course, would be to increase capacity through an improvement in productivity—in other words, no increase in the labour force, either in building or in materials industries, and the production of a greater final output. I would ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied with this aspect. Are we producing enough skilled people? Are the apprentice schemes working?
When we come to the position of materials, it appears, from the figures I can find, that in the last four or five years the production of cement has gone up 20 per cent., whereas the production of bricks has gone up only about 12½ per cent. We hear of brick shortages, and I should like to know why that is so. The brick industry is prosperous. I am a shareholder in the largest brick company, and I am sure we are willing to put up new capital at any time for the enlargement of the industry if it be necessary. It can be no question of capital. Could it be labour? To the layman, it would appear that the brick industry was tailor-made for complete automation. From the claypit to the finished brick, the clay would be untouched by human hand. That is an unskilled verdict. But are Her Majesty's Government satisfied that research and progress in that line have been sufficient?
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that the "stop and start" policy of the Government led to the brick industry's being underemployed a few years ago?
Only for very short terms, I think. The cement industry, which has been subjected to the same "stop and go", has been expanding steadily the whole time. The necessary productivity cannot take effect in the short term, and I believe that Her Majesty's Government must help the economy temporarily by trying to cut down some building, in order to reduce the overload. In the event that the back- 122 log of orders decreases, contracts will proceed more quickly, and in the end the industry will be fitter than at the start. The trouble is to know where on earth to do any cutting because there is hardly any building on any scale going on in this country to-day which does not appear to be essential.
The target of considerable criticism at times is the amount of building of shops and offices. It is difficult to secure correct figures, but the Rodwell group of construction engineers published in the Daily Telegraph on January 25 figures of the estimated amount of total construction. Out of a total of £1,665 million spent on building, shops and offices accounted for only £130 million. That is not a large amount. So it is difficult for the Government to see where they can get even a small percentage of relief of the burden.
My Lords, £130 million out of £1,665 million, which does not include maintenance. If one includes maintenance, the figure amounts to just over 5 per cent. of the total new construction plus maintenance. I do riot know whether these are correct figures, but they are the only ones I have. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer thinks that the overloading of the building industry and rising costs are an inflationary factor in the economy, he could go after the finance of the less necessary building in the private sector. He is clipping the wings of the banks with his special deposits, but he has no similar way of influencing the lending of other financial institutions which seems to be directed more to building of the luxury type.
When we turn to London, about which I thought we should have heard more this afternoon, the position is terribly difficult. There are fewer people living in the area and more office space and therefore more transport problems. We have the legal right belonging to most owners that where they wish to redevelop offices they can provide cubic space which can house up to 40 or 50 per cent. more workers than are working in a similar space to-day. That, of course, must put up land prices; and it 123 means that anybody with the remotest claim to a planning consent to redevelop an office will cling to his land until he gets a high price, even if at some stage temporary saturation should appear to have been reached. The economics are on their side. The office space can rent at, say, £2 a square foot, and at least half of this is paid by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But if the same space were to be let as a residence, it would be a very poky flat that would be available for £1 a square foot, and the Chancellor contributes nothing unless they are company-tied dwellings. The result is that, unless we do something, the centre of London is going to be inhabited by only the richest and the poorest, and those with the middle incomes will be forced out further and further to the surrounding countryside and add to our transport problems.
We must have some bold plan to tackle this problem, and I suggest that, just as developers have to provide garages, so they should be compelled to provide residential accommodation. The Barbican scheme seems to be an excellent example. They will get a lower return on their money, which in the first instance will certainly mean a lower land price, because the development will not be so profitable. If we can make some substantial residential additions to the office and shop accommodation in the central area, then we shall find the transport problem will be eased.
At the same time, we must obviously explore every possibility of finding new sites. For the last two or three years I have agitated Her Majesty's Government into forcing British Railways to disgorge some of their land. At first I got the impression that British Railways had no spare land; but I have now read in the newspaper that quite substantial quantities of land may come on the market. If that were the only action taken by Dr. Beeching, I think that would justify his appointment. But now we want an inquisition into land in the hands of all Government Departments, because up and down the country they are large owners of land, not only in great blocks of training areas and so on, but in odd little corners with some dilapidated huts on them; and one wonders if it is known to whom 124 these odd sites belong. In many cases they would make the most perfect building sites.
Only last Sunday, when walking, after two miles I came on a site of about an acre which was used to house Italian prisoners in the last war, but which since then, so far as I am aware, has been completely derelict. I do not know to whom this belongs, but it would certainly make an excellent site for four to six bungalows or a similar number of council cottages. It is difficult for Ministers to force Departments to produce and disgorge their land. Whitehall in this respect is like a big damp sponge: their prodding and so on will have no impact at all. I am not sure, but I believe there persists a custom that a Department does not hand over its land for sale until it has consulted everybody else in Government circles which it thinks might be able to use that land. Obviously, this is a slow process, and we want something a great deal quicker. The only thing I can suggest is that the general public should be invited to write to their Members of Parliament when they see these odd pieces of land suitable for building up and down the country and ask them to put down a Question in the House.
In addition, I would suggest to my noble Leader that once these pieces of land have been sited, what is needed is some sort of Geddes Committee to sit and hear evidence as to whether there is or is not good reason for keeping the land; and their decision should be final. I believe that up and down the country there are innumerable sites Which are perfectly suitable for building, and they are held on to by Government Departments who in many cases have forgotten what they bought the land for. We have started with British Railways and are getting results there; now let us start on the Government Departments.
§ LORD LINDGREN
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I would say that he made a statement in regard to the British Railways development of properties and development of land, attributing to Dr. Beeching recent development. I think this ought to be corrected, because this has been going on this last ten years.
§ LORD LINDGREN
A special company has been set up and, as I say, the development has been going on for ten years.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ LORD BOSSOM
My Lords, we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for introducing this Motion dealing with a subject which is, without doubt, one of the most important of our internal problems. Nearly every phase of housing has been touched on in the debate, and I wish to adopt rather a different line from that adopted by other noble Lords. It seems more than likely that we shall enter the Common. Market and consequently face the stiffest competition, and in the selling price of all our goods we have to add the overhead of the cost of housing our people. That cannot be avoided. This overhead charge has to be added on to the cost of every article we have to sell, which means that we have to provide the indispensable housing for the lowest practicable and appropriate cost. I do not mean that we should reduce the quality of our housing, but that we should take advantage of all the latest approved, advantageous, technical knowledge available. Certain of our contractors are doing this, but they are in the minority.
There are three techniques, all of which have been proved beneficial either as to cost or as to time of production, that could be adopted in this country but which are very much ignored at the present time. There has been much discussion this afternoon about the cost of land, but I propose to confine my remarks to the building situation. There is no doubt that there are a good many builders who have already used one or two of these techniques, but very few take advantage of all of them together. If they would do this, they would get much more advantage than they are getting now. First, I would refer to the gains obtainable from a rigid following of what is known as a time-and-progress schedule. Many builders say they are using this, but the fact is that few rigidly follow their time-and-progress schedule when they have made it, and very few are equipped to do it, or even to make the schedule, because they have to get all the drawing and specifications completed before they start any work. You cannot make a schedule if you do not 126 know what you are going to make it about. That condition is not uncommon in this country, unfortunately.
Also, there must be total harmony between the owner (no matter whether or not the owner is the local authority), the architect and the builder. There must be no uncertainties. Everyone must know exactly what is to be created. That is vital, yet, unfortunately, it is not always the situation. Everybody who is interested in the job must know. With this information a schedule can be worked out stating exactly to the day when all operatives in each trade—and there may be as many as 28 trades included in a big operation—must be on the job. It can be worked so that it is known exactly on which day the men will do the job, when they will start and when they will finish. This can be done, and is being done, in the country where they do more building than in any other country in the world.
Most builders now use time-and-progress schedules, but only a few adhere strictly to what they have laid out. Many of our large undertakings are not finished on time. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, remembers when he was on the London County Council how few of those big jobs were finished on time. It could be done and it is being done in other parts of the world, so there is no earthly reason why we should not do it. With such a schedule, worked out exactly, it is known when every man has started on the job and when he has to finish his job; every piece of material, no matter what it is, is there ready in time. There are not those delays which now occur so frequently. All this must be checked every two weeks. There must be a meeting on the site with all the men from each trade present, and they must go round and see how the job is getting on. They must ask, "Are you on time?" If a man is not, he has to be told, "You must have the job ready within the next two weeks." I am quoting things that are happening in other parts of the world, but which do not always happen over here.
To demonstrate the result of such precision of work, one of the first twenty-storey buildings in the world, the headquarters of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway in Richmond, Virginia, was 127 finished from the foundations to the completion of the president's office in less than a year. As a matter of fact, it took a little over eleven months. Look at all the big buildings which are going up in this country to-day, and see how much time we are taking on those operations! That was done in 1910, 50 years ago, and we have had 50 years' experience since that time to see if we could do as well. How many of our buildings are making that same pace? That is one technique we are not using.
A second technique not being practised to anything like the degree it could be is prefabrication. Prefabrication does not mean making everything look alike. We all know what happened in 1944. Three people were sent over to America to see whether they could find anything which would help in building so as to avoid the effects of the bombing. We went all over the place, and at the Fontana Dam in the Tennessee Valley we saw two wagons come up with two parts of a building. They put an adhesive round them and they were stuck together. We went inside, and they had tea ready for us. Those buildings were being built by women; all the work was being done by women without any trouble at all. We brought back the details of that. We put five models of that building outside the Tate Gallery, and they were copied all over the country. We erected about 170,000 of them. Those were put up right away and saved the nation the great difficulty of having no houses for our people at that time.
I am not suggesting that we should build a great number of that type of prefab, but I am strongly recommending that we should adopt the same advantages that that prefabricating principle could give us. We could standardise the details, and then have them made in quantity production. They would fit into all sorts of houses yet in different environments they would not all look alike. That could be done, and it would be a considerable saving. It would be perfectly simple. A few enterprising builders are, in fact, doing this to-day, but they are doing it to their own and their clients' material advantage. But how seldom we see this eminently scientific principle used! In the first 128 place, information about it must be made available. Here again, the United States (I dislike referring to it so much) have a system of what they call a Sweet's catalogue. It is a very thick volume. Every builder and architect goes to it, and they know exactly what they can get all over the country. In that way it is possible to get buildings more quickly and cheaply than by having every individual piece designed and collected from different sources.
Then there is the third principle, which we are not applying—the modular principle. In simple words, that is making everything that goes into the buildings in multiples of four inches. This may not sound very much, but eighteen countries have officially adopted it. Russia is using it, and France is using it. No fewer than eighteen countries are using this principle, but we are doing nothing about it. I must declare my own interest in this matter, as I am President of the Modular Society. We have been working for years to get the country to adopt this principle, and the architects and builders are showing themselves more and more in sympathy. Canada and the United States are using it already. It cannot be done, however, without the backing of a Government Department. It will not cost a farthing to adopt the principle, but we must have Government backing as a basis. To carry out the principle we must have what are called modular components—that is to say, everything must be in a multiple of four inches, so that it can be produced in quantity and builders and architects know that they can get it. There are architects in the Ministry of Housing who are very keen to do this (I am not "telling tales out of school" when I say that), but at the moment they do not receive support from the Building Research Station.
I am going to refer to my good friend our Leader. I mentioned this question once before in this House, and he rather questioned whether I was accurate about it. I think that at that time there were a number of people within that Department who were not very keen, but with a mild backing of the Minister for Science or the Minister of Housing this could be done, and done very rapidly. To show what can be done, one of the leaders of the Building Research Station has now written an article, which has 129 been published, strongly endorsing the use of this principle, and I would ask whether our Leader would kindly inquire again of the Building Research Station how they feel. I think that he will find a change of heart among them and that they are now much more sympathetic towards the idea than they used to be. I believe that when they go into it in more detail they will find something here that will enable them to build more quickly and more cheaply than in the past. I believe that in the last six months there has been a rapid change of heart, largely due to our housing situation. They have realised that if this were carried out it would help us very much indeed.
It is impossible to tell when the modular system has been applied. This Chamber could be built on a modular system, and you would never know it. It could be used in a small house, or in a great Chamber like this. Everything fits in, and there is not the waste of other methods. It used to be the rule that in ordinary brickwork the cost was increased by 12 per cent. if the fitting was wrong. That has been almost cut out with this system, which gives the man the opportunity of doing more work and getting better results in very much less time.
I have mentioned that 36 countries are doing it, and more countries still are now joining in rapidly. I have talked to experts in America, Where it is actually compulsory, by law, in certain departments of the Government. They say they are saving 10 per cent. in time and up to 10 per cent. in cost by using this principle. I think—and this has been said by several people this afternoon—that, looking forward, we must improve and make better housing for the future. I do not think that what satisfies to-day will satisfy in five, ten or twenty years' time. We must do more. Things like weather stripping could be applied in the housing work to cut out draughts and make heating more satisfactory; sound proofing could be introduced to give people a more peaceful life at home; there are roof insulation and things like double-glazing on exposed sides of housing. All that type of thing can be done with ease and benefit. I realise that a number of people will disagree with these proposals, and may even say 130 they are almost impossible, but I would suggest that they continue their investigations a little further before they become too positive in saying that we should not gain in speed and get a better article with the same effort.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ LORD WISE
My Lords, I feel sure that the noble Lord, Lord Bossom, who has just sat down will not expect me to follow him into the realms of building operations. I am pretty certain I should not be any use whatever in this time-and-motion study, because I should always be behind schedule; but we all have our own problems in regard to housing and I shall refer later on to one which interests me. I was very struck by what the right reverend Prelate said about conditions in and around Birmingham. They are pretty formidable, and those which confront me are not nearly so formidable as those which confront him. I was so struck by his speech that I hope noble Lords will read it again very carefully, because I thought it extremely able and very appropriate for the occasion.
During the last few days we have been hearing much from Government circles about the need for national planning. In fact, it is suggested that new slogans will shortly appear on our hoardings in regard to that particular matter. This awakening by the Government and their supporters appears to he somewhat belated; but one sinner who repents is some measure of success, even though he be only a small addition to the ranks of those who for years have endeavoured to persuade those who govern us that an orderly way of life is the only satisfactory one for our people. Our economic and social welfare, our material and spiritual strength, our family lives and homes, our international prestige and our peaceful co-existence with other nations cannot succeed in the present age if we continue to exercise a national and international "free-for-all."
Whatever may happen farther afield, it is important, I think, that in home affairs all loose ends should be avoided and that our efforts interlock and tie up. We are discussing housing on a national scale, and I wonder whether such coordination as must be necessary for efficiency and success has been and is being applied at present in this respect. 131 It would seem to me that as far as rural housing is concerned there is an apparent loose end, and one which has not been tied up and coupled with housing operations in other spheres. There cannot be isolation in any housing activities; they must all fit in together. It is for that reason that I want to speak generally about housing and homes in country districts. It is natural that I should do, as I am essentially a countryman and interested in those who live in rural Britain, whether their homes are in small country towns, villages, lanes or open fields. Fortunately, I do not share their problems and difficulties but I can do my best to help them to solve theirs.
A few days ago there was discussion in another place similar to the one we are having here to-day, but on a cursory glance at the Hansard Report it did not seem to me that any speaker, Government or otherwise, gave any consideration to rural problems except the first and the last speakers, and their references were very brief. In planning national housing on any appreciable or reasonable scale you must not divorce rural conditions and needs from those of the cities and heavily populated areas. If you should do this and think only of New Towns, overspills, slum clearances, city flats and new businesses and factory erections, and thus ignore the rural areas, then our country villages and towns will die, our people will migrate to the cities or to overseas, and country life and pursuits—the pride, I suggest, of the present—will be numbered as things of the past. Our balance as a nation is maintained by country and town. Both have needs and difficulties of their own in housing and other ways. These needs should be satisfied; and responsibility for this lies with the Government.
"Where there's a will there's a way" has always been accepted and is as true now as when I heard it on my mother's knee. In my own neighbourhood complaints are being voiced at the non-erection of village houses by local authorities with Government aid. Village folk have their difficulties in regard to water, sewerage, lighting, schools, rail and road transport which are unknown in the towns and cities, and it is realised that on lower income, high or even economic 132 rents comparable with high present-day building costs cannot be paid in the countryside without a serious inroad into other necessary family expenditure. There is not, therefore, the same incentive for rural local authorities to undertake the task which has been allotted to them. But we are one nation, and each and every one of us is entitled to a home and decent living conditions.
I said that local authorities in rural areas are trying to do their best with restricted resources, but many schools which might be commenced still lie dormant for that reason. Villagers do not wish to see their villages decay, but such appears to be happening, and stagnation sets in. Newcomers cannot be welcomed and families leave to seek their livelihoods in cities and towns. Last year no fewer than 19,000 farm workers left their industry. Some probably did not leave their villages, but I expect most were forced to do so through lack of alternative accommodation, if they occupied tied cottages.
Two instances have recently come to my notice in my awn particular area, instances to Which I should like to refer very briefly. I know of one village which has been described as a dying one, where for many years, apparently, no council house or cottage has been built, and where it will be impossible under existing financial and other conditions to build such a house or cottage for several years to come. It has been stated that only half the farm workers employed in that parish live in that parish, owing, presumably, to lack of accommodation. The rural district council concerned have the matter in mind, but it is said that it may be some years before another house can be built. There is a reasonable agitation taking place to save this village, and I hope it will succeed.
Here is another example of village difficulties. This is a village adjoining a very large and apparently important American air base, at which I believe some 200 to 300 houses have been built to accommodate the families of American personnel. I understand that they were known as tobacco houses, but even if they were such, it is certain that they were built by the use of British labour and materials. The village people have waited for ten years for an additional 133 council house to be built in that particular village, and apparently are still waiting. I have said I realise the difficulties of the appropriate rural district council, and I do, but who, I ask, are the real people who should count for consideration in our own country? These problems could probably be duplicated and multiplied up and down the country.
The tied cottage problem is still with us, and there is a very disturbing case from a Kentish area which has received recent publicity. This particular case throws some light on the scarcity of rural housing in that particular area. So far as I can gather, the case runs along these lines. A farm worker and his family, having had to leave their cottage on the farm on which he had worked from 1945 until 1961, a matter of sixteen years, are without a house. The man is in lodgings and the wife and three children are in a hostel Which they will have to leave shortly. The break-up of families was referred to by the right reverend Prelate, and he made reference to the hostel accommodation and the ways in which families had to live. An application from this man for a council house was made as long ago as November, 1946. The council house was not granted because he was already in a tied cottage; he was working as an agricultural worker and he was already housed. But his present family position is precarious. The rural district council concerned cannot provide him with a council house. One of the reasons for this is that at the moment they have nineteen evicted families on their books, who are naturally due for rehousing before this particular family to which I have referred. All these people, I expect, are in dire need.
These human problems can be solved eventually only by recasting all our views upon priorities, which was referred to by my noble friend Lord Peddie, and coming down wholeheartedly on the side of humanity. We would then act accordingly. I have said enough, I hope, to turn some light on the problem of housing in the countryside and the conservation of rural life. I do not wish to see our villages decay and families forced to leave. What I look forward to and envisage is greater prosperity in agriculture, the retention of higher paid labour, and the improvement of village 134 homes and conditions so that all concerned can really enjoy the fruits of their labours and continue to live in the delectable parts of rural Britain to which mention was made earlier this afternoon. I hope the Government will look at the rural position.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ LORD AUCKLAND
My Lords, first I must apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and to my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House, for the fact that I have to leave immediately after I have spoken, due to a prior engagement in my own village, and I hope I have the indulgence of your Lordships on that account. I must declare a small interest in this matter, being a Vice-President of the National Union of Ratepayers' Associations. I am sure that all sides of the House are extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and to my noble friend Lord Gage for moving a debate on these two very vital subjects.
For those of us who are still young the housing problem is perhaps one of the most vital of our time, because the population of our island is increasing all the time and therefore the need for housing will become greater and greater. One of the problems which face young people is not only the difficulty regarding mortgages for houses hut the ancillary expenses, such as legal fees, that go with it. The stamp duty has to a large extent been abolished, which helps; but these fees present a real difficulty for the young family man who is trying to buy his own house freehold. He is therefore forced, very often, to try to find a flat, and flats to-day are extremely scarce for a number of reasons. Mention has been made of the shortage of building labour, and with the vast new hospital programme which is before us and with the increased need for new factories the shortage of building labour is a problem which I think will be with us for some time to come.
I would now refer to the price of the land. I live in Surrey, which is the county perhaps most affected of all by the high price of land. When my own house was new the land cost something like £1,500; it is now worth approximately three times that figure. Fortunately, we have a local authority which 135 does not allow indiscriminate building in back gardens—which has been the practice in a number of areas. It is for that reason that much of this ribbon development has been occasioned. But, of course, planning authorities all have varying ideas. By the side of the railway line near where I live some maisonettes have just been erected. I must confess that I regard that as bad planning. For one thing the noise must be almost intolerable at times; and there is also the safety factor. To be fair, the maisonettes are quite presentably designed. But, of course, in the Home Counties, and particularly in areas like Surrey and Middlesex, where the Green Belt takes up a large area, the housing problem is becoming more and more acute. The need to preserve the Green Belt, which I hope we shall do, and the need for housing more and more families have to be reconciled.
In regard to the high price of land, may I tell your Lordships that last week I took a cutting from the Hitchin Gazette, which covers an area that I know well, having lived near there for some years immediately before and during the war. I see that in regard to the village of Ashwell, which is not far from Hitchin, there is an advertisement which says:Two plots, with 75 feet frontage each and with planning permission for one detached house on each plot, £1,250 each.I do not know the circumstances of that particular development, but it seems that at least in some areas the price of land and of house building is not as high as we have been led to believe in some circles. Nevertheless, I think that the high price of land is something that will need careful investigation. I do not think it is something for which any Government can be held entirely responsible; it is largely a question of supply and demand. For example, my own village of Ashtead, in Surrey, now has a population of nearly 10,000 people. At the end of the war it was something like half that number. It has become a popular area for a number of reasons; there is a good train service to town and a great deal of lovely countryside. All these factors add to the housing problem.
I must just say a word as a commuter because it is an important con- 136 sideration in any housing problem. Even as late as quarter past nine in the morning trains from Epsom go to Town with standing room only. That may be a good advertisement for the attractions of the neighbourhood, but it leads to grave travelling problems. A good deal has been said recently about offices moving out of London and into the suburban areas—indeed, at Kingswood, which is not far from where I live, several offices, including one big insurance company, have moved in. So far as I know, this is proving successful. But here again there are problems for existing staffs, some of whom probably live north of the Thames. They are faced with a cross-country journey to and from home. Even if they try to find houses in that area they probably find that there is a waiting list, and they may have to take their turn.
I personally am a great believer in the New Towns. As the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, knows, they had their teething troubles. Having had some experience of the New Town of Stevenage, I feel that it is a typical example of a well-planned New Town. The factory area is on one side of the Great North Road and the housing part on the other; and a great community spirit exists. The shopping centre is well laid out; there is a big choice of shops and there are no traffic problems—there is no problem of children running under a car, because all the cars are kept well clear of the shopping centre. That is an example of imaginative design.
My brother lives near the town of Roydon, in Essex, and for shopping purposes Harlow has proved much cheaper than some of the surrounding towns like Hoddesden. One of the great advantages of the New Towns has been to make some of the shopkeepers bring their prices into reasonable line. I do not suggest that that was the purpose of building the New Towns, but it is an important consideration and is one of the things which has justified the existence of these New Towns. The styles of building are improving all the time, and I think that more and more housing authorities should go to these New Towns to look for ideas. I do not say that New Towns are the solution to all our problems—far from it, because it means that land has to be acquired, and 137 there are many other difficulties. But one of the great things about them is the community spirit, particularly among the young.
Turning for a moment to our aged population, which is growing all the time, I hope that the Government will consider the possibility of building, or encouraging local authorities to build, more bungalows. Brighton is a typical example of a town which has been doing this, and is still doing it, with advantageous results. Some of the bungalows are most attractive, and the elderly people there are very happy. This has been a worthwhile debate. The Government have been given a number of sound ideas, and I hope that it will be possible for at least some of them to be put into practice.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ LORD LINDGREN
My Lords, I intend to follow the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, only on the point, which I personally was glad to hear, of his appreciation of the development of New Towns. His speech, too, is a criticism of the Government, though at the time he was speaking he may not have intended it to be so. After all, in spite of all the post-war difficulties and the reversion of the economy of this country from that of war to that of peace, my noble friend Lord Silkin, and the Labour Government of 1945–51, started fourteen of these New Towns, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, has just said, are a credit to this country and the envy of thousands upon thousands of foreign visitors to this country year after year. But the Tory Government, which took over the reins in November, 1951, six years after the end of the war, have not started one single New Town. But the tragedy goes even deeper. One of the problems of my noble friend Lord Silkin in setting up the New Towns was to find the specialised personnel to create the organisation for their development.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
My Lords, would the noble Lord forgive me for interrupting for one moment? Is he speaking of England and Wales? Does he forget there is a place called Scotland? Because we have started a New Town there.
§ LORD LINDGREN
Yes, but the Government have not started that New Town. The Government put that re- 138 sponsibility on to the local authorities. There are two in Scotland, which were started by my right honourable friend, but I was going on to what is an even worse tragedy than the Government's not starting these, because it is going to be difficult for us if we start again, as I hope we shall.
My noble friend, Lord Silkin, had considerable difficulty, as I was saying when the interruption took place, in starting the New Towns, owing to the lack of specialised personnel. We really had only the experience of the existing local authorities of Letchworth and Welwyn to draw upon. The fourteen New Towns which had been created during the time that he was Minister, under the Labour Government, were built by a cadre of specialised, efficient personnel. Due to the fact that the Tory Government have not started any New Town during their ten years of office, those very excellent men and women have been gradually drifting away, going into private industry or local authority service. If the Government take the hint from the noble Lord, and I hope they will, that the method of dealing with the housing problem can be solved only by expanding the New Towns, then they will again be faced with the difficulty of finding the personnel—the same difficulty as that experienced by my noble friend Lord Silkin at the time this cadre was created in 1945–46.
My complaint against this Government is that they have been playing politics with housing ever since they came into power, preying on the difficulties the Labour Government had to deal with from 1945 to 1951. We had to plan the resources of the country. We realised that the building industry could not undertake more work than it had either the labour force or the materials to cope with. As we were developing factories and schools as well as housing, we said at the time that 200,000 houses per year was the maximum that the country could build, having regard both to the conditions of the building industry and to the economy of the country in relation to other requirements.
§ LORD LINDGREN
I do not say it still. That was in 1945 to 1951, when we 139 were changing over from a war to a peace economy. The whole of the building industry had been out of existence for the period of the war, and the brick-making industry had also been largely out of use. Therefore, not only did we have to recreate a labour force for the building industry, but we had to recreate the building supplies industry in order to carry out that programme of 200,000 houses. Whatever the programme of housing one has to deal with, it has to be planned in relation to the capacity of the building industry to deal with it; and the excellent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bossom, shows that there are at least some people on the architectural and production sides of the industry who are trying to face the problem a little. As I have said, my complaint is that the Government have been playing politics with this problem, and that their attitude is that the commodity of housing, whether it affects the owner-occupier or the person who rents his house, is just like every other commodity, one on which one makes a profit, and that the greater the profit the greater the success of the industry.
My Lords, I do not want to go over old history too much, but private enterprise just cannot deal with the problem of housing for the mass of the people of this country. Roughly, the housing figures are as follows. Out of 14 million houses, just over 4 million are owner-occupied, and 10 million are rented—in other words, rented from a landlord. Of that 10 million, 7 million are privately owned by landlords, and just over 3 million are owned by local authorities. That shows a ratio of 10 million rented to 4 million owner-occupied, and that proportion must always be borne in mind.
I said just now that private enterprise cannot deal with the requirement of rented houses for the average worker because it cannot provide houses at a rent they can afford to pay. That is not a phenomenon of post-1945; it has been the fact almost ever since the Boer War, since which time there have been practically no houses provided by private enterprise for renting to the ordinary worker. We dealt with the housing of the worker between the Boer War and the 1914–18 war only because of the develop- 140 ment of transport in the larger towns, to which the right reverend Prelate referred earlier, such as Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and London. Due to this development the better-off people moved away to the newly-created suburbs, leaving their old houses for the workers to occupy as tenement dwellings. The dwellings in which most of us were brought up between the Boer War and the 1914–18 war were those left by those better-off people leaving for the suburbs, the new methods of transport, the railways and later on the motor car, making it possible for them to do so.
Following the 1914–18 war it was simply impossible for private enterprise to provide workers' houses for rent. This was due to the cost of land, the organisation of the building industry, and so on. Between 1919 and 1939, well over one million houses were built by local authorities—I think the accurate figure is 1,111,000—and there was a whole spate of legislation from 1919 onwards, including the 1936 consolidating Act. Since 1945, of course, again the local authorities have provided the houses for ordinary workers. I maintain that the record of the Labour Government from 1945 to 1951 was an excellent one, having regard to the difficulties we had in providing 200,000 houses per annum. My noble friend the Leader of the Opposition reminds me that that was in addition to dealing, in those early years, with the whole of the war damage.
But since 1951 the housing record of the present Government has been really disgraceful. They came to power, I will not say on the cry of housing alone, but partly on the cry of "300,000 houses per annum". And, of course, they say they have done it. But they have done it by a debasement of standards and have brought about fluctuations which have made the greatest difficulties for local authorities.
Since 1951 the life of the average local authority officer and member has been a nightmare. From 1945 to 1951 it had stability and security. Rates of interest remained the same right the way through; rates of subsidy remained the same right the way through. They could plan their housing, they could enter into negotiations for purchase of land, they could go through their committee stages, 141 have consultations with architects, and go to tender, knowing the circumstances under which they were going to make their programme. Since 1951 they have just not been able to do that. Rates of interest alone have changed 24 times, and subsidies have been varied up and down and finally cut out altogether, except for special houses such as old people's bungalows. But for general needs, subsidies have gone altogether. During the eleven years from 1951 the local authority just has not known where it has been from day to day.
As regards the purchase of land, because of the tampering by this Government with the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, local authorities have hardly known, certainly not from year to year, where they stood on the price of land, on interest charges and on building costs within the building industry. The circumstances in which they made their first preliminary plans with their housing manager and architect were nowhere near the conditions under which they had to let the houses at the end of the contract.
If we are going to deal with the problem of housing it can be dealt with only on the basis of planning by everyone, the local authority and the building industry, so that they know where they are not from day to day but from year to year; and we must get that situation. We are a little happier than we were a short while ago, when in another place I had to fight Elections while the slogan was "Tory freedom works". Of course, this is the mess that Tory freedom has got us into. Now I understand the slogan is going to be "Tory planning works". If we are going to deal with the problem of housing it can only be done on the basis of planning.
The fact is that to-day there is practically no building whatever in this country for general need. My noble friend Lord Wise referred to the plight in the countryside. I am proud as I go up and down this country to see the houses that were built between 1945 and 1951, while my late right honourable friend Aneurin Bevan was Minister of Health. They can be found in every village in this country, but since 1951 there have been practically no houses built in any village anywhere, and of course the 142 reason is that local authorities cannot afford to build them.
I am not concerned only with that; I am concerned with falling standards. I referred earlier to the 1,111,000 houses which were built by local authorities in the inter-war years from 1920 to 1939. I have been associated with local government ever since 1928, and there are very few local authorities in this country who were really proud of council housing in the inter-war years. The local authorities were not to blame, and I am not going to blame the Government too much; they were trying to force down costs. But they certainly were not a credit to the building industry which was responsible for them, or to the building trade worker whose skill was used in their building. In fact if any of your Lordships in those inter-war years were so proletarian as to visit music halls, you will remember that when the comedian grew tired of "flogging" the mother-in-law joke he turned to council houses—you could hear the woman next door changing her mind; you pulled the chain and the house fell down around your ears. Those were the music hall jokes, but the tragedy was that there was a basis of truth in them.
During the war the Tory Government recognised this, because they set up a Committee under a very respected Member of this House, the noble Earl, Lord Dudley. His Committee sat during the war years and the people of this country were promised that, after the fight against Fascism, they would come back to housing standards better than those of the inter-war years. To give the noble Earl, Lord Dudley, and his Committee the credit to which they were due, those standards of housing which were accepted in 1944 by the Tory Government were a considerable advance upon the standards that existed in the inter-war years. It is to the eternal credit of the Labour Government and Aneurin Bevan, as the Minister of Health, that in the early post-war years the Dudley standards were adopted for the 200,000 houses which were built every year; the promise made by the Tory Government during the war was honoured.
Year by year since 1951 those standards of housing have been reduced by the Tory Government, until we are 143 to-day building houses of a lower standard in floor space, height of rooms, fittings and density, than we were building in 1938. Is that something of which the present Government can be proud: building at lower standards than obtained in 1938? Because of financial provisions and so on, houses built by local authorities now are little better than the result of skilful calculation by an architect of boxes 12 feet square and 7 feet high, with no circulating area within the house, no hall, no pram space and so on: houses which are now down in some cases to below 800 square feet, although the Dudley standards were well above 1,100 square feet.
That lowering of standards does not apply to only local authority housing. And it applies to space. During my connection with the Urban District Councils Association, of which my local authority was a member in earlier years, we fought the Ministry of Health to give us the power to build houses at ten to the acre, and finally, with a little squeezing, we got that power. Local authorities are now building houses, not at 10 or 12 to the acre, as we were doing in 1937 and 1938 under the 1936 Act; they are now building them at 17 to the acre. As a good Cockney, I know the saying, "There is not enough room to swing a cat". There is not enough room in the back gardens to hang out washing so that the wind can get at it and so that it does not knock the fence over or get dirty on the fence. Seventeen houses to the acre is nothing of which we can be proud.
As regards references to eating up agricultural land and our not being able to spare the land, it is not the working-class houses at ten and twelve to the acre which eat up agricultural land; it is the houses at one, two or three to the acre on the peripheries of towns. If you really would like to tackle the problem of density, and have a greater density of those houses which have parkland around them, I will give you all the help you like. But forcing ordinary working-class people back to living in houses which are seventeen to the acre is, I think, going much too far.
I referred to the fact that there is no provision there for building houses for general need. I have not the figures for 144 1961, but in 1960 103,000 local authority houses were built. Of that 103,000, 60,000 were under slum clearance schemes; 15,000 were to rehouse people displaced by demolitions necessitated by road-widening schemes, factory alterations, planning alterations and the rest; and 27,000 were one-bedroomed houses for old persons. So out of the 103,000 houses built by local authorities in 1960, 102,000 of them were for those specialist categories of slum clearance, rehousing because of demolition for road-widenings, and old persons' bungalows, and only 1,000 houses were for general need. For all the sons and daughters of the workers up and down this land who were getting married, there were only 1,000 houses. If we are really going to deal with the problem of housing, we can deal with it only on the basis of increasing the availability of houses for general need as well as coping with the clearance of slums which were created in the years gone by.
The main reason why local authorities are not building for general need is the problem of interest charges; and, like private enterprise, they cannot now provide a house at a rent which the worker can afford to pay. An interest rate of 1 per cent. on money means 6s. per week on the rent of a house. Local authorities, if they are borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board, are having to pay, because of the period over which they can borrow the loan. 6⅛per cent. That means to say that, before they deal with anything else—the cost of materials used, the cost of development, the cost of the building trades' workers' wages, and so on—36s. 6d. goes in interest charges to the financier. Something seems to me to be all wrong when the financier gets such a huge return on the elementary human right of a person to be adequately housed.
I return now to the question of those 103,000 houses which were built in 1960. I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, has just left the Chamber. I do not complain, because I did not give him any notice that I was going to raise this matter.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL AND MINISTER FOR SCIENCE (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive 145 me, may I point out that my noble friend has not left the Chamber. He has gone to the Box to obtain certain information which I sought in order to put me in a position to answer the noble Lord's argument.
I stand corrected, and I am grateful to the noble Viscount for the very pleasant way he called me to order. I saw the noble Earl go that way, and I know that the time is getting on—and even the noble Earl is entitled to eat; he has been sitting on the Front Bench from the time the debate started. However, the noble Earl made an interjection when my noble friend Lord Peddie was speaking about slum clearance, and if I understood him aright—and please correct me if I misunderstood him—he was satisfied with the progress that the Government were making in slum clearance. Their programme, if I may say so, has been a dismal failure.
I remember taking part in debates in another place when, in 1955, the Government announced their programme of slum clearance after the 1954 survey by local authorities. They then said that there were 378,000 houses to be cleared in the five years ending 1960, and that the programme was to deal with 75,000 houses per annum. Now the yearly average over the whole of the period from 1955 to 1960 has been 52,000, and the total number built is 255,000. That, on the Government's own programme, their own five-year target of 1955, is 123,000 short; one third of their target short. I do not know which way percentages work, but I should say that that shows that they have done only 66 per cent. of the work they promised to do. That does not seem to me to be anything of which to be proud. Even in 1960, which was one of their best years, when they dealt with 60,000 slum clearance houses, it was 15,000 below their target of 75,000 per annum.
Now the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred to the question of average housing costs as quoted by the Ministry of Labour Gazette, showing that they had not gone up very much. May I quote an instance that is happening at this very time in the area of a local authority of which I know something? There, we are now carrying out a scheme involving 100 houses. These houses, I will admit, 146 are being built for general need. The land has cost £2,500 per acre. Just as a side comment, my Lords, I may say that that same land was bought in 1920 for £40 an acre. It was £40 an acre in 1920—as agricultural land, I will admit: it is £2,500 in 1962. However, the land cost £2,500 an acre, which is not excessive bearing in mind the price of land sold in the Home Counties. The development cost—road charges, sewers and the rest of it—is £200 per house; and the contract price for the three-bedroomed house of 997 feet is £1,795. Now on the basis of interest at the present moment of 6¼ per cent., the rent is £3 5s. a week. The rates on the house are 12s., and that brings the total to be paid by the tenant up to £3 17s. My Lords, the average wage in that area is £11 a week. Practically £4 out of £11 is, in my view, an undue proportion to take out of the wage for the ordinary workman. It is no good noble Lords like the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, trying to blind us with science; saying that workers are paying only one-twelfth of their income in rent. It just is not proved.
My Lords, could I ask the noble Lord whether the rents in his particular local authority are pooled? What is being charged for the older houses?
§ LORD LINDGREN
My Lords, why should a worker who lives in a house which was built in 1919 under the Addison scheme, with all the disadvantages of the houses which were built at that time—the music hall jokes that I have referred to—have to pay, as an addition to his rent, for accommodation and facilities which he has not got, just because the financier is getting a "rake-off" of 36s. 6d. out of this house to which I have referred? Will the noble Lord tell me why the ordinary council house tenant of a house built in 1920 should make a contribution to the financier for money lent in 1962?
My Lords, I wonder whether I might ask the noble Lord a question. He talks about financiers. Again, I feel that this is a sort of conspiracy. It is the sort of thing I was referring to in my speech. Surely, quite a lot of the interest goes to the Public Works Loan Board. Is that a financier?
§ LORD LINDGREN
My Lords, I will deal with that now, although I was going to deal with it later on. That is another "racket" in which this Government have been engaged. My Lords, I apologise; I am forgetting that I am here and not in another place. That is another complaint I have against this Government—that, perhaps, is a more Lordly way of putting it. Local authorities have always had difficulty in dealing with their financial problems, and back in the 1890's, in order to help local authorities, the Government said, "We will amalgamate your credit, and you can purchase money from the Public Works Loan Board which we will raise on the credit of local authorities, and you will not be at the mercy of the financier." The Public Works Loan Board was set up, I think, somewhere around 1897, but right the way through the Board have advanced money to local authorities at a lower rate of interest than they could themselves have raised on the open market. This Government stopped local authorities from going to the Public Works Loan Board, and said, "You must go on the open market." And in order to prevent the local authorities from even trying to go to the Public Works Loan Board they put the rate of interest up so high that the market rate was just a little bit below.
What in fact has happened is that the excessive rate to which the Government raised the Public Works Loan Board's rate has become the market level of loans to local authorities. They are now raising it. The noble Lord who interjected can pick up a newspaper on any day, and a Sunday newspaper in particular, and see advertisements from local authorities, rural borough and county councils, appealing to the ordinary person to invest money at 6½ per cent. I remember seeing on Sunday that Middlesbrough were even offering 6¾ per cent. if the money available was over the £5,000 mark. So again this Government have stopped the use of the collective credit of local authorities through the Public Works Loan Board, and have forced them to the financier and the open market.
The Government also talk about "a property-owning democracy". But, my Lords, the interest rates to which I have just referred, and which in some building 148 societies go up much higher than 6½ per cent.—some are even as high as 8 or 8½ per cent.—make it almost impossible for the ordinary person to purchase a house. Sometimes we on this side of the House are accused of being against house ownership. My Lords, we are not. The more people who are in a position to enter into an obligation to purchase a house, the better it is. But I take the view that a person who enters into an obligation to pay a rate of interest and the repayment of a mortgage over 20 or 25 years—and some local authorities and building societies argue now for 30 years, in order to ease the payments—should be in a position to be able reasonably to meet that commitment. There are very few ordinary working-class fellows, very few ordinary manual workers, who know that they will be employed this time next month, let alone this time in 20 years. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House rather smiles and titters. But the fact remains that there is no guarantee of employment for the building trade worker, the fitter, and the rest of them. It is true that for the last 20 years there has been a period of full employment. But even skilled workers—and the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, raised a question in this House last night about men who are quite skilled, and who have had jobs over a long period of time—are now facing the fact that their jobs have gone.
I have never held the view that full employment means that one has to be employed in the same job in the same place all the time. There ought to be the availability of employment, and that means mobility of employment. Even if we take the case which my noble friend made yesterday, I do not say that we have to find a job for every aircraft worker in Christchurch, or Portsmouth. But if we are going to have mobility of labour for the fellow in Christchurch, or Hatfield, or Stevenage, or anywhere else, to move to some other part of the country where his services are required, housing must be available for him; and that type of person does not find it easy to own his own house.
My Lords, I have spoken longer than I intended, but if we are going to deaf with this problem, it can be dealt with only in conjunction with the reorganisation of the building industry, to which 149 the noble Lord, Lord Bossom, referred. That is an essential part. There is not the slightest doubt that the building industry, with its hundreds of thousands of small firms, is antiquated and unable to deal with the problem on the correct basis. If we are going to have planning of industry; if, as I suggest, the only way to deal with general need is by local authority permission, then it can be done only by large-scale building and large-scale contracts, with the contractor using the latest methods to which the noble Lord, Lord Bossom, referred, and only, I might add, by the Government's bringing finance into better relationship with housing.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ LORD MOLSON
My Lords, at one moment when the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, was more controversial than he was at other times, he said that he had almost forgotten that he was not in another place. My Lords, I quite forgot that I was not in another place. When I heard his criticism of the (as he called it) lower standards, I well remembered the same speech which he made soon after the present Prime Minister became Minister of Housing in 1951. I will not pursue his arguments further, beyond saying that I hardly think that his arguments would particularly commend themselves to the one million families who are occupying the houses which they now have as a result of the increase in the rate of house building from 200,000 to 300,000 a year. In ten years that means that an additional million families have been rehoused.
My Lords, I was on the Central Housing Advisory Committee for ten years, and I made a number of speeches on housing at that time; but from 1951, When I became a junior Minister, I have been obliged to keep silent. I hope that my noble friend the Parliamentary Secretary will not object if this evening I pass in review the general policy of Her Majesty's Government, and make some criticisms which I hope will be of a constructive kind.
Rent restriction and subsidies go hand in hand. Private rents were for a long time kept artificially low, and consequently it was necessary for large subsidies to be paid, in order that rents charged by local authorities should not be substantially higher. Rent restriction 150 meant that a subsidy for the benefit of tenants was paid from the pockets of private landowners. Subsidy meant that the rents of occupants of local authority houses were kept artificially low at the expense of the taxpayer and ratepayer. The removal of rent restriction has been making slow progress since the Rent Act, 1957, and we know that one-twelfth of the houses still rent-restricted are being freed each year as tenants move or die. There is, in fact, very little hardship under that Act. The Survey that was made soon afterwards showed that controlled rents had increased by 60 per cent. and uncontrolled rents by only 52 per cent., which tends to show that, as houses are freed from rent control and come into the free market, rents are not made excessively high. I much regret that at the last Election the Conservative Party thought it necessary to give a pledge nothing more would be done to speed up the removal of rent restriction, but we are moving in the right direction, even though it be unduly slowly. If this goes on, it should be possible soon to deal with the problem of subsidies.
Events have followed very much the same course in the years after the Second World War as they did after the First World War. It was in 1933 that Sir Edward Hilton Young, the Minister of Housing, and afterwards a Member of your Lordship's House as Lord Kennet, brought to an end the payment of general subsidies for building new houses. The immediate effect, as it was on every occasion when subsidies were reduced during those 20 years, was that the cost of building fell. It also had the further effect which Sir Edward Hilton Young foresaw, but which was not foreseen by the Opposition at the time, that there was a sudden and remarkable increase in the number of houses built. I am glad to say that at approximately the same period after the Second World War, Mr. Duncan Sandys had the courage to do away with the general subsidy for the building of new houses. The result has been extremely satisfactory.
Last summer your Lordships passed an Act which perhaps in some respects was another step in the right direction, in so far as it directed subsidies generally to the particular local authorities who are most in need of help. The test, your 151 Lordships will remember, was a notional rent of twice the gross annual value. That meant that where assistance was given, it was given on the basis of the real requirements of a local authority. But I very much regretted that this meant the restoring, in some degree, of a general subsidy, instead of the subsidy continuing to be directed to the building of houses for aged people and for slum clearance. To that extent I feel that it meant once more the payment of money without a careful study of whether it was necessary in the particular case.
It is also important, I feel, to consider the subvention of rents out of the rates that are paid. There are really remarkable cases where local authorities are charging too little. Of course, it is the expectation of the Government that, as a result of the new test that has been applied, there will be a strong financial inducement to local authorities to raise their rents to a reasonable level, but we are far from having reached that point at the present time. The Minister of Housing and Local Government, in another place on February 2, gave the figure that for most of the houses now being built the economic rent is 60s. a week. He mentioned that in the case of Manchester the rent paid was 15s. 9d. a week; in the case of Wakefield, 17s. 9d. a week; and in the case of Wolverhampton, 18s. 7d. But nowhere in England is there anything so fantastic as the rents that are being paid in Scotland. As your Lordships will remember, until recently, Dunbarton was charging 2s. 10d. a week for modern houses. I hope your Lordships will have that matter in mind when, at some time in the future, the Scottish Housing Bill comes before us.
It may be asked: How can we expect Private enterprise to compete with artificial subsidies paid in this way out of the rates to the tenants by the local authorities? In point of fact, private enterprise has done extremely well. This was not one of the figures quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, but whereas in 1950, when I think that the noble Lord was still Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Housing, the number of houses built by private enterprise was 27,000, and that by the local authorities, 170,000—
§ LORD MOLSON
Let me finish my figures, then the noble Lord will know the point he has to answer—In 1960 the number of houses built by private enterprise was 168,000 and that by the local authorities, 129,000. Now what has the noble Lord to say?
§ LORD LINDGREN
My Lords, that is my point. The houses built by private enterprise have no relation to the needs of those who occupy them. The 27,000 provided by private enterprise in 1950 were for owner-occupiers, and the 168,000 provided last year are again for owner-occupiers. They are not for the general need for houses to rent.
§ LORD MOLSON
My Lords, that argument fails on two points: first, because the total number of houses built was half as large again as it was in 1950; and secondly because, as the noble Lord himself pointed out, such a large number of the houses built by local authorities were built for the purposes of rehousing slum tenants. The noble Lord, like other noble Lords on the other side, emphasised, very rightly, how important it is to get on with the slum clearance programme, which, of course, was held in abeyance, for understandable reasons, while the Party opposite were in power.
I venture to say that, either now or in the very near future, there will be no need for the continued payment of subsidies in respect of housing. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, pointed out, subsidies should be paid where people are in need of personal help in paying the rents that are required. That is already done in the case of aged persons. The scales laid down by the National Assistance Board do not include rent, and normally the total amount of rent is added to the scale of assistance given to an aged or disabled person. What has happened is that subsidies have been paid in respect of houses quite indiscriminately and without any consideration of the need of the tenants.
How did that come about? I think that the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, will remember this—it is not in any way discreditable to him or to his right honourable friend. I well remember when, in the 153 Committee upstairs, the late Mr. Aneurin Bevan moved to delete from the Housing Acts reference to "the working classes". At the time the Conservative Opposition supported that, because, as faithful disciples of Mr. Disraeli, we wanted to do away with the two nations and have one nation, and so it seemed to us that these references to working-class dwellings were inappropriate. But I hardly think that Mr. Bevan foresaw—and I am perfectly certain my honourable friends and I in another place did not—that one of the effects of that Amendment would be that subsidies would be paid for the provision of houses by local authorities without any consideration of the means of the tenants who were to occupy them.
The payment of subsidies was in fact an expedient introduced as a temporary measure after the First World War. It was then expected that the value of money and the cost of building would go back to what they had been in 1914. That, of course, never happened and a great vested interest in the subsidising of housing has been created. It took a great deal of courage on the part of the Conservative Government to do away with food subsidies, and I hope that the time will soon come when we shall find that they have the courage to do away with housing subsidies also, in so far as they are paid in a general and indiscriminate way.
There was justification for the payment of subsidies only so long as the working classes were too poor to pay an economic rent for reasonable accommodation. I believe that the Government's mind is moving in this direction. I was interested to read in the speech of the Minister of Housing and Local Government on Friday last, when he spoke about 60s. a week being the economic rent, these words [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 652 (No. 47) col. 1513]:of course, not everybody concerned can manage rent of this kind, but the needs can be met in appropriate cases by rent rebate schemes. What can be wrong with the principle of distributing a subsidy according to need? Councils of both political complexions have done this in one way or another. I am sure that it is a sensible approach, which both sides of politics could share, that the subsidy which is available in one way or another could he distributed according to need.Then, if I may read on, because this is most important, he said (col. 1514): 154The introduction of rent rebate schemes requiring those who can afford it to pay a full reasonable rent might well remind some of the better paid that they are able to look elsewhere for a house and so make room for those who really need subsidising.That is obviously what is in the mind of the Government. My purpose in speaking to-day is really to ask them not merely to put this forward as a suggestion to local authorities, but to bring increasing pressure to bear upon them to do something of this kind.
The rents now being charged are calculated on the lowest incomes. In 1938 the average industrial worker was paid £3 9s. a week. In 1961, he has been receiving £15 7s. 1d. a week, an increase of rather more than 4⅓ times. But rents throughout the country have not gone up in proportion. And if we go back to the old figure of between 18 per cent. and 20 per cent. as being a reasonable rent charged on a working man's income, we find that gives a rent of about £3 per week. I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, said: that there may be places where, owing to the high cost of land and so on, the economic rent may be above £3; and that would, of course, be above what the lowest paid worker could pay. But it would not be above what the average industrial worker could pay, and it is a great deal less than some of the wealthier occupants of council houses could pay if they were called upon to do so.
§ LORD LINDGREN
The noble Lord keeps talking about rent and quotes the Minister of Housing and Local Government. But in addition to rent there are rates, which on the average house works out at about 12s. to 15s. a week, according to the rateable value of the house.
§ LORD MOLSON
I take all that into account. I am dealing with figures now, and it is not altogether easy to get accurate figures.
I will mention one difficulty. Whereas in the case of Scotland an official White Paper gives the average rent, I do not know of any official figure for rents that is given for England. In point of fact, the Institute of Municipal Treasurers, whom I am just going to quote, give them in different categories. But even 155 there the figures show that the rents being charged at the present time are ridiculously inadequate, having regard to the rent-paying capacity of the employed worker. For example, I find for 1960–61 that in a rural district rents were sometimes 9s. 6d. a week, going up, in the case of one single metropolitan borough, to 60s. a week. And in the case of post-war houses the latest rents vary from 40s. to 44s. a week.
In the case of Scotland, the average is available. I apologise to my Scottish friends if I refer to this point again, but it is just as well that, before the Scottish Housing Bill comes along, we should have these figures in mind. We may perhaps have allowed things to go a little by default in the case of England and Wales, but in the case of Scotland there is need for your Lordships to look at the Bill and consider the question of rents. Despite the fact that the Secretary of State for Scotland has managed to get the Dumbartonshire Council to increase its 2s. 10d. rent to something like two or three times that figure, the average rent payable is still only 9s. 1d. a week.
I ask your Lordships to consider the injustice of this subvention of council house rents from the rates. There are owner-occupiers who have bought their own houses and are maintaining them, and they are expected to pay out of the rates for the maintenance of other people's houses; there are slum-dwellers, those who have not yet been moved, paying their own rates; and there are many poor people in all kinds of accommodation who are paying rates as a subvention for the benefit of others, many of them much better off, who are living in the best and most up-to-date accommodation.
I fear that I shall fall under the censure of the noble Lord, Lord Peddie, who spoke about people discussing housing as being a financial or an accounting matter. If, however, we want to solve the housing problem in this country we must look at the financial side of it. I wholly accept what the noble Lord said about the great human tragedy of inadequate and unsatisfactory housing, and it is because I desire this matter to be settled and solved as soon as possible that I beg the Government to 156 look again at this question of finance. Subsidies no one will grudge if they are paid to those who are in genuine need. But it is entirely wrong that subsidies should be paid where there is no need, and the indiscriminate payment of subsidies has the effect of keeping up, or even raising, the cost of building.
Reference has been made this afternoon to the high price of land. I was glad that the noble Earl the Parliamentary Secretary indicated that the Government have no intention of departing from the sound town and country planning schemes which they have. I am sure this must be gratifying to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, whom I first got to know well on Committee in another place, when he piloted with so much skill the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, which has served both the Government of that day and the present Government so well in the ensuing years. I fully recognise the importance of the cost of land, and if I do not refer to it now, it is because I have put down on the Order Paper a Motion for debate on a later occasion (I hope that it may come on about Easter time, or a little later) on the whole question of dispersal, which I am sure will have a great deal to do with ensuring that land is made available for housing and keeping down its cost.
My Lords, I believe that the record of the Government so far is good in the matter of housing, but I think that a stage has now been reached when they should carefully consider the whole question of the application of subsidies to houses regardless of the means of the tenants.
§ 7.40 p.m.
My Lords, if I may, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, on bringing this Motion forward in the way he did. I am not going to be drawn by my noble friend Lord Molson into the question of Scottish rents, but I would warn him that I have been reading a nice little book. I think he should beware of averages. The book is entitled How to Lie with Statistics, which I recommend to him. He will find interesting and erudite remarks about averages in that book. One has to be very careful about averages.
157 The debate has brought out, if it was not known before, the urgent need for housing and has shown a certain amount of disquiet. The speech of my noble friend Lord Jellicoe comforted me considerably. There are, of course, sites available for houses, and there are actually in some parts of the country houses available which cannot be let. Therefore, I think one must consider one aspect of the housing situation as relating to the dispersal or dispersion of industry. No one will go to live in a house unless he has a job to go to. There are a large number of places in the development areas where there is no industry. There are cheap sites and, in some cases, houses available. In other cases, there are the facilities for providing houses. The only thing which is holding the matter up is the difficulty, and so far the failure, to attract industry to those places. My own local authority has agreed to take 300 families from Glasgow overspill. We cannot take them just to put them on the dole, which appears to be the case in a large number of places up and down Scotland. Therefore, I think one must consider which came first, the chicken or the egg?
The Board of Trade made, and are still making, strenuous efforts; and I think they should be congratulated on one or two notable successes. On the other hand, I feel that there is room for better liaison between local authorities, who are trying to attract industry, the Board of Trade, who know industries which might be interested, and the industrialists themselves. If one is at the attracting end it is very difficult indeed to know where to search to try and induce an industry to come. I think something might be done there.
To turn to building, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, mentioned central heating, garages and "fridges". Certainly two local authorities in Scotland are to my knowledge already providing them in their housing. Stirling is one and Cumbernauld New Town (which is hardly a local authority) are doing the same to the extent of providing background heating and a power point for a "fridge" which, of course, is a tenant's fitting. One can see in Cumbernauld township a brilliant exposition of really fine planning, really up-to-date housing, 158 and very cheap, too, according to modern standards and prices. It is a first-rate job. The planning and conception of the whole layout is simply brilliant. I think it is better than any of the other New Towns that are available to be seen, and I think everybody ought to go and look at it.
We talk about high building costs. If we really boil it down, the cost of a building is somewhere between 70 per cent, and 90 per cent. for labour and not for actual raw material in the ground, as one might say. Therefore, as soon as there are rises in the cost of coal, wages, transport, or any of these things, the whole lot accumulates and comes to roost on the building. I do not think contractors are making undue sums; in fact, I know most of them are not. The inefficient ones are going down, and the efficient are struggling along. What is happening is that labour is paid a wage plus incentive bonus; the wages are statutorily controlled and the incentive bonus is not. Therefore, the bribe, if one may call it so, to operatives is occurring in cases where people have to get the building done. That is a point where regulation of some sort should come in. Certain types of building, factories for example, need not be built in brick. Various other types of building can be built in other materials, and the authorities who give licences for building should take particular heed to the type of construction when there is an adequate alternative.
Small authorities could reduce their costs of building if they were to amalgamate in bulk buying with neighbouring authorities. They could bulk buy, for example, standard fittings such as doors, windows, sinks and other kitchen equipment at a smaller price, and if they work on a modular standard I think a great deal might be done which is not being done at present. I see the noble Lord. Lord Bossom, is not here. I wanted to ask him what he would propose to do with a brick which did not work in, so far as I know, with any modular standard. But there is a great deal to be said for the modular principle. It saves a great deal of money.
There are several other systems of building. There are about five or six houses which are produced in this country of various types of prefabrication 159 which might ease the pressure. The French have recently erected a 40-apartment block of flats. My figures are approximate, but very nearly accurate. It took them, from starting on the site to the complete erection of the building, 10 or 11 days, and 17 days after that the building was occupied. If that can be done I think that system is worth looking into and considering. It may not be applicable here; I do not know anything about standards compared with buildings in other countries. We talk about the Germans, but do not bother to inquire whether the accommodation provided in their country is equivalent to our accommodation. So you again have to be careful how you bandy these things about.
There is one other point to which I have never had a satisfactory answer. Roughly speaking, by the time you have finished paying all the charges (or the local authority has, bearing in mind that the money comes from rates or taxes) for a house which to-day is worth £2,000, you pay something in the order of £5,000. If individuals in private enterprise were given £1,000 they would build a house and, therefore, it seems to me that there would be a saving of £4,000. I am not quite sure what the answer to that argument is, but I should like to hear it. The arguments so far as Scottish housing is concerned in which I am chiefly interested, I shall have to reserve for our discussion on the Housing Bill when it arrives. But I have not forgotten the rent question. I do ask people not to talk too much about averages. Those who are still sinners and sell above the average price make it more difficult for others to build at a reasonable rate.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Silkin for initiating this debate, but I must confess that I would not be a good supporter of the noble Lord, Lord Bossom, although I am a builder, because my own schedule has gone hopelessly awry. I anticipated that I should be speaking at about a quarter-past six. That is possibly an indication of the intense interest there has been in this debate. Everybody has made a contribution that has been well 160 worth while and has not just ventured in for a cursory dip, although certain noble Lords did stick their big toe rather gingerly into the safer waters, with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Molson, who went in at the deep end and very nearly drowned himself. I shall come back to that in a few minutes.
I should like to say, while I remember to do so, how very much I enjoyed the speech made by the noble Earl, the Minister, but it was a disappointment in one sense. His language was so charming and the way in which he put it over so delightful that I only wish that his case had been as good as his speech. If it had been, then I should not have had very much to criticise. The speech was excellent; but when I heard the expressions of satisfaction from noble Lords opposite about what is taking place, it made me realise more than ever how very different the position is in Scotland as compared with the general situation in England; although the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, did indicate in his speech that as one moved farther North in England the situation was not quite so satisfactory, and it may be that in these northern counties their position approaches what we have in Scotland.
But although I think the Scottish situation is far from happy, to a certain extent the Government couched the statements in the same way as the noble Earl made his speech to-day. The White Paper on Housing in Scotland starts off in this way:In the sixteen years since the war 450,000 houses have been built in Scotland; altogether, over 800,000 have been built since 1919. This means that of the present stock of rather more than 1,600,000 houses about half are less than 40 years old; but it also means that half our houses are older than this, and that very many of them fall below a reasonable modern standard.That, I think, is putting it mildly. In fact, of the more than half which are older, because between 1913 and 1919 virtually nothing was done owing to the impossibility of the circumstances, it follows that rather more than half the houses in Scotland are 50 years old and upwards.
But that is not the end of the story. The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, referred to the fact that in 20 years' time there would be 4 million houses (I think it was) in England and Wales which 161 would be 100 years old. The comparable figure at the present time in Scotland is half-a-million houses which were built before 1880. He made the point, with which I must concur, that a house is not necessarily a bad house just because it is au old one. I have no doubt that his house is much older than mine, but the greater part of my house is 140 years old. It is a good house to live in, but the houses about which I am talking, referred to in this document as largely unsatisfactory, are not houses which it has been possible to modernise as years have gone by.
I am indebted to the Housing Convenor of Glasgow for some information about the position in that city. I should not wish to suggest that what exists in Glasgow can be taken as typical of the whole of Scotland, because it is recognised by everyone that Glasgow is in probably the most difficult situation of any local authority in the world. But it is worse only in certain degree than any other large centres of population. My own city of Dundee has almost as bad a problem as that in the city of Glasgow. When I give your Lordships these figures, it will give you an idea of the situation that Scottish authorities have to face.
Almost half the houses in the city of Glasgow—and remember, my Lords, that one person in five in Scotland lives in the city of Glasgow—have only one or two rooms, and over 400,000 people are living in these one or two-roomed houses. When I say one or two-roomed houses I mean just that; it does not mean one or two rooms plus a kitchenette and bathroom; it means one or two rooms. Where it is a one-roomed house, that room is living room, dining room, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom. Everything that a family has to do has to be done in that single room; and 400,000 people in Glasgow are living in houses of one or two rooms.
In fact, in Central Glasgow two-thirds of the houses are of not more than two rooms; 34,000 people in Glasgow live more than four persons to a room; 90,000 live more than three persons to a room. My noble friend, Lord Lindgren, was complaining about building in England being done now at 17 houses to the acre. In one district in Glasgow 12,000 people live on 18 acres 162 of land; and this still exists "despite", as the noble Earl said, "ten years of Conservative Government". The only word I would quarrel with in that statement is the use of the word "despite". I think he should have said "because".
Less than half of the Glasgow families have a bath in the house and over one, third share the facility of a water-closet—and, as the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, will know from his electioneering in Glasgow, that means out on the common stair. He may be the man who had the most unfortunate experience of standing at a door trying to get out of a little boy whether he could see his father to talk electioneering, but he was not in. Then he wanted to see his mother and she was not in. Did he have a big brother? Yes, but he was not in. Did he have a big sister? Yes, but she was not in. Only after all these questions did he discover that he was knocking at the toilet door on the stair. Now that may seem funny, but it is not funny to the people who have to live in these circumstances.
I could not help feeling when the noble Lord, Lord Molson, was speaking about the satisfactory situation—whether or not it is the case in England I am not competent to judge, because I do not know the situation—that if his references to England are not more accurate than his references to Scotland then he has not done much to destroy the case which has been put forward by my noble friends. He referred to averages, and was warned by the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, about the difficulties and dangers of averages. For instance, he talked of 18 to 20 per cent. as being the figure which used to be considered a long time ago as a reasonable amount for a working man to pay out of income for the rent of his house, but he should remember that that rent always meant the complete figure of rent, inclusive of rates. Rent, to the working man, because he generally paid the whole lot together, was what went out. He did not separate it and say, "So much for rent, and so much for rates".
At the present time, because of the different levels of valuation, although rents are very much lower in Scotland, rates are not. Again I am indebted to Glasgow for these comparisons, which 163 were made recently when they were considering the new Scottish Bill. Reference has been made to the Glasgow rents of 10s. 9d. a week for a two-bedroomed semi-detached house, whereas in Leeds the figure is 27s. and in Manchester it is 22s. But in Glasgow the rates which are payable on that house because of the very much higher annual value which now prevails, because Scottish valuation is ahead of the English, is 19s., whereas in Leeds the amount paid in rates on that house is 10s.; and in Manchester it varies from 11s. 7d. to 15s. 8d. So that the comparison is not quite so one-sided against Scotland as the noble Lord indicated.
He also said in his attack on subsidies that it was wrong that subsidies should be paid to anyone without reference to need. My first thought on that was that I hope the noble Lord and other noble Lords opposite will be prepared to carry this question of need when subsidies are paid throughout the whole field, and not confine it to those sections of subsidy which are mainly paid to wage-earners and lower salary earners; because there are many people at the present time who participate in subsidies from the Government who would not be able to substantiate them on the grounds of financial hardship they were suffering. But that is beside the point.
The noble Lord said that if people were unable to pay the economic rent then the remedy was an application to the National Assistance Board. Obviously, that is a remedy which is applicable to old-age pensioners, unemployed people, people on National Insurance and the like. But it seems completely to have escaped his notice that the National Assistance Board will not pay any assistance with rent to anybody who is in employment, no matter how low his wages are; because, of course, a wage-earner cannot go to the National Assistance Board for help. While the average wage in England may well be the figure which was quoted of £15, there are many areas in Scotland where the average local wage is very much less than that figure. I should think that a figure of about £10 a week is far nearer the average in many parts of Scotland. If anyone suggests that a wage-earner can pay a rent of £3 or £4 164 a week out of an income of that figure, then I think he is very much out of touch with reality.
The argument is that the rent to be paid should be an economic rent. How many of these people in Glasgow will get a council house, or a privately built-house, if they are to pay an economic rent? What is an economic rent? These was a reference to houses in England costing £1,700; but the figure in Scotland, when various things are taken into account for the average house, is, in fact, of the order of £2,000. The economic rent for that is approximately £140 a year. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, who said he thought the building of houses to let by private enterprise was now a dead letter and that we need not pin any hopes on a revival there. I entirely agree with that view, although I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Meston, who seemed to be under the impression that my colleagues were against the building of houses to let by private enterprise. As the noble Lord, Lord Peddie, said, we have no real opportunity of deciding whether we are for or against it, because it is something that does not happen. It was notable that when Lord Lindgren challenged Lord Molson on his figures for England and Wales, he did not dispute the fact that the figures for private enterprise were houses for sale.
In Scotland another document, a very useful one—and it is the most recent—has been issued, the Housing Return at December 31. I do not think that the Government can feel in any way complacent or even satisfied about what is happening in Scotland in the building of houses. There has been reference by some noble Lords to the fact that when the Prime Minister was in charge of housing he raised the accomplishment to a very much higher figure than had been achieved during the years of Labour Government. Little heed was paid to the difficulties under which the Labour Government worked. I am not interested in harking back to what happened in 1945 to 1950, or even between 1950 and 1960, because the folk who are living in the slums and in overcrowded conditions, or are homeless, in Scotland will not be housed now by what was done then, but only by what will be done in the future. It is only because of the trend that I quote these figures.
165 The Government in this document in Table I aggregate the years 1945 to 1954, and the toal number of houses built by local authorities in those ten years was 203,996; or, as nearly as makes no difference, an average of 20,400 a year. In 1955, under the present Government, the figure was 29,278; but every year since then, with the exception of 1957, the figures have fallen. In 1960, they had fallen to 21,500, which is slightly above the average of the ten years, 1945 to 1954; and in 1961, the last year completed, the figures had fallen to 19,541. So the Government in Scotland have now reached the unenviable position that fewer houses are being built for letting than were built on average in the ten years which included the six years of Labour Government.
It is no answer to say that the number provided by private enterprise has shown an increase. The total for the ten years I have quoted was 13,800, and that figure had risen in 1961 to 7,147. But I think that almost without exception those 7,147 were houses built for sale. The only houses, other than those built by local authorities and the development corporations, for letting, were a small number in 1960 of 542 listed as "others"; and that includes dwellings built by housing associations and houses provided or authorised by Government Departments. The number built by the housing associations was, in fact, only 53, and I think that can be taken as the total number of houses, outside of those provided by local authorities or Government agencies, provided in Scotland to rent.
If there is an intention to drive people to houses to let from private enterprise, we must look at what it is going to cost them. I am a builder, and at the present time I am building houses for sale. The other day, just for the exercise, I worked out the rent which I should have to charge for those houses if I were letting them, and then I took in all the various other items that would have to fall on the tenant. The figure I arrived at was £4 5s. per week, which does not fall so very far short of the weekly figure at which these people can buy the houses. So there is, in fact, no incentive for them to rent a house from private enterprise at a figure of that kind; and if people like the noble 166 Lord, Lord Molson, have their way, that is the rent they will have to pay also if they rent from a local authority. If that is to be the trend, the Government will solve the housing problem simply by removing people from the list. Because nobody will be in a position to take a tenancy of houses at figures of that kind.
The Government seem to have an idea that by raising rents they in some way make it easier for private enterprise to come into the field. I have never been able to understand that factor, and maybe at some time when we are finished a little earlier than to-night the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, will take me into the Lobby and explain the economics of this suggestion. At the moment I do not understand it. I do not want to go into it, particularly at this time as we shall be discussing it later in any event, but I should like to refer to the finance of the new Scottish Bill which is presently being discussed in another place. The Government have accepted the principle of payment according to the financial needs of the local authority. Again, this is something that I do not understand, particularly when it is said that the local authority are to be encouraged to get help by raising their income from rents.
If the position in Scotland is to be that the notional rent to be charged is the gross annual value, and if that is less than £60 there has to be added to that half of the difference between the gross annual value and the figure of £60—I understand that the Secretary of State is taking power to alter that figure of £60 so that if within the two years he wants to make it £70 or £80, he can do so, but let us deal with it on the basis of £60, which is the figure mentioned in the Bill at present—so far as I know, none of the major authorities in Scotland will qualify for the £32 subsidy. Certainly those that I have asked calculate that next year they will be receiving a subsidy of £12 for houses which were approved, I think after a date in November, 1961. What does that mean? The economic rent which the local authority will require to charge is £140. They receive a subsidy of £12 from the Government which reduces their outgoings to £128. A reference to the difference between gross annual value and £60 is not going to help them in the slightest. The local 167 authorities will still have to subsidise these houses on a basis of something of the order of £60 or £70 a year.
I turn now to interest rates. The noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, referred to the fact that a house costing £2,000 to commence with costs upwards of £5,000 by the time all the interest calculations are taken into account. I admit that that is an argument which is much used, and it is not a very valid one, but it is an interesting way of bringing home the effect of interest rates. The noble Lord, Lord Craigton, will forgive me if I quote him—he will not be surprised because I told him I was going to do so. I was reading the discussion on the Second Reading of this Bill in another place, and one of the Members of that House quoted a statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, when the 1957 Scottish housing legislation was passing through that House. This is what he said:Interest is now 5½ per cent. and it might be assumed that the average over the next few years will be lower, perhaps 5 per cent. There is absolutely no reason to assume that, because they are high now, they will remain as high as that for any long period.That was in April, 1957. Within six months the rate was up to 6 per cent. and it has never been below 6 per cent. since; in fact it has topped 7 per cent. That was justification for what was being done—that the local authorities did not need to worry about this high rate of 5½ per cent.
Reference to the Public Works Loan Board is a joke in Scotland, because you really have to prove that you are completely non-creditworthy before the Public Works Loan Board will give you any money. You have to prove that nobody else in the length and breadth of the land will lend you any money. Then they will say, "You cannot afford to pay these people, so we will charge you one-half of one per cent. more than they would have charged you had they loaned you the money in the first place." As a Scot, it always seems to me an annoying thing that the money which the Government are lending is below the line in the Budget, the surplus of taxation. It seems to me to be profiteering in the extreme that the Government should lend us back our taxes at 6¾ per cent. interest.
168 When these figures are taken into account, it is obvious that there can be no solution as to economic rents so long as we have, as part of the transaction, to keep interest rates at that figure. I do not subscribe to the point of view that because rents were low in the past necessarily they must be as low to-day. This is my final point. In the White Paper the Government stated thata low level of rents was natural in a period of bad housing conditions and low wages. With a rising wage level and standard of living it is not reasonable to keep the rent of a good modern house at an artificially low level.Subject to what is meant by "reasonable", I would not quarrel with that statement. But one of the results of Government policy is that, although they state in this document that a low level of rents was natural in a period of bad housing, in the city of Glasgow people are paying £2 a week for a single-roomed house without even a sink in that room, because the house is decontrolled—a thing which was lauded as something which was worth while in itself.
This is not the odd case. I am quite certain that the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, is not as ignorant of housing and slum conditions in Glasgow as one of my colleagues suggested noble Lords generally were. I am certain that he could, without difficulty, go to many houses of that kind in Glasgow where the rents have risen to that figure. There may be cases in England and Wales where decontrolled rents have risen only 52 per cent. while controlled rents have risen 60 per cent., but in Scotland it is quite a common thing to find that decontrolled rents have risen 200 to 300 per cent. over the figures that existed before 1957. In those circumstances, I think it is reasonable to suggest that in Scotland the Government must continue for a long time to rely on the efforts of local authorities to assist them in solving what is, in fact, still by far the worst of our Scottish problems. I suggest that they will not get that co-operation and support from the local authorities if they think they can buy it for a subsidy of £12 a year against an economic rent of £140.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
My Lords, it is not my intention to enter into the 169 intricacies of the Scottish housing situation, and I therefore hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes will forgive me if I do not follow him in that connection. I should, however, like to make one or two observations on certain of the remarks that the noble Lord has addressed to your Lordships. I was glad indeed to hear him say words to the effect that age was not necessarily the yardstick on which to judge the suitability of a house. I appreciate that very much. As a matter of fact, I live in a house which is about 198 years old. It was not built as a house but as a stable, and I find it most convenient to live in.
The noble Lord then referred to the situation in Glasgow. For years past I have said that the situation there is without precedent anywhere in the Western world. But, believe me, it is a mast difficult problem to solve. I had the privilege of serving on the local authority in that city for some years and I know just how difficult it is. I am sure that the House will appreciate the difficulty when, considering some of the statements which have come from the Benches opposite to-day, I say that Labour has been in office with a break of only three years since the year 1933, and still the situation is as described by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes.
§ LORD HUGHES
Yes, my Lords, but if I may interrupt the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I would point out that he must also admit that during all but six of those years the Labour Party in Glasgow were handicapped by the fact that they had to work with a Conservative Government and with Conservative legislation.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
The noble Lord asks me to take a great deal if I am to take that. But I think that one thing is most unfortunate, and I put it to my noble friend the Minister of State. The statistics which the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, used for the years 1945 to 1954 are lumped together. That is most unfortunate because the great year in Scottish housing was 1953, when all records were broken and nearly 40,000 houses were built. I leave the Scottish situation because we shall have plenty of opportunity to discuss that when in 170 due course the Bill comes before us. We shall have to wait a very considerable time before it arrives in your Lordships' House.
I would wish to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for having initiated this debate on housing, because housing always seems to me to be a somewhat delicate subject from the Labour Party's point of view. That being so, I appreciate all the more their providing this opportunity in your Lordships' House to consider a matter of such vital importance, for I have always been very strongly of the opinion that bad, inadequate housing causes more misery than any other failure to meet human needs.
So long as there is not a separate, decent house—I mean in respect of size, sanitary condition and repair—for every family in the country, house building should be pushed ahead to the utmost limit of the country's capacity. What I feel has to be decided and kept under constant review is the proportion of the country's total capacity that can be devoted to housing, while there is still maintained, at a level sufficient at least to prevent the possibility of a deterioration in our standard of life, the other essentials to a sound and progressive economy.
Reference has already been made to the fact that during the years of the Labour Government from 1945 to the end of 1951 only once, in the year 1948, were more than 200,000 houses built. There were 228,000 houses built in that year, and in 1951 the number fell to 195,000. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, for reminding me that in their 1951 Election Manifesto the Labour Party stated that they would maintain the then present rate of 200,000 new houses a year. I am also reminded that in his Election broadcast the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said that unless we stopped building schools and factories we could not then go beyond 200,000 houses a year. I have no doubt my Lords that the noble Earl's statement represented the honest opinion held by himself and by most of his influential supporters. Three of these supporters, whose words are on record, are now Members of your Lordships' House. Each of them made statements at that time which support the view I have just expressed. As they said more 171 or less the same thing, I will content myself by quoting just one of them.
Commenting on the Conservative Party's declared target of 300,000 houses a year, the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, referred to it as a cynical and irresponsible attempt to exploit the housing difficulties of the people. I do hope that words such as those will not be applied to some of the statements which we have heard to-day. But, be that as it may, the noble Lord's words can surely only have meant that he did not believe such a target was capable of attainment, and, by inference at least, I am led to assume that he was in agreement with the figure of 200,000 in his Party's Manifesto. I think we can take it, my Lords, that if it were not to do damage in other directions, particularly to school building and factories, as mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, the leaders of the Labour Party readily believed that new house building must be restricted to 200,000 a year. Well, as your Lordships know, they were entirely mistaken, and I think one of the reasons for that was probably that they failed to take into account the impetus to greater effort, the increase in confidence, which resulted from the removal of restrictions and controls, thus giving freedom to the building industry and the local authorities to get on with their job, a freedom which also allowed more effective deployment of both materials and labour.
In the result, of course, neither educational building nor factories suffered. The expenditure on educational building rose from £48 million in 1951 to £125 million in 1961. I cannot get any really comparable figures in regard to factory building, so I am driven to take the figures for the value of building and civil engineering work, which I have obtained from the monthly Abstract of Statistics. This shows that in 1950 £1,316 million was the value of the work done; in 1960 it was £2,581 million. Surely letting people mind their own business and get on with their own job produces very satisfactory results.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord again, but no one knows better than he, from his experience of the operation of the 172 Hydro Board, the extent to which costs have risen during these periods, and it is exceedingly doubtful whether the second figure he gave, the higher one, represents a larger volume of work actually carried out.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
It may not, but I thought it would be interesting to take the value as at those dates. Unfortunately, I have not had time to go into that exercise, and I should not like to undertake it while standing on my feet.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, the noble Lord should not brush this point to one side. If my noble friend is right, what becomes of the argument the noble Lord is putting forward?
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
The noble Lord's friend is probably right to a certain degree, but the noble Lord knows perfectly well one could not compete with the point made by Lord Hughes whilst one is standing on one's feet.
§ LORD HUGHES
Except that I did think I was being fair to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, by quoting a case that was within his intimate knowledge, since he knows that some of the contracts cost more than twice as much as was originally contemplated when they are carried out over a period of eight to ten years, because of the tremendous increases in the costs of wages and materials during that period. I am not suggesting that that applies over the whole field, but he was quoting civil engineering work. The Hydro Board are, of course, engaged in similar work, and I thought it would be comparable.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, as the question is directed to the volume in physical quantities in regard to factories and schools at the present time as compared with 1950, I must say that, unless I am vastly mistaken, it is within my knowledge that the volume has increased, whatever the change in the value of money.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
I am grateful to my noble Leader for that explanation. On the other hand, I am quite certain that none of the noble Lords opposite holds the view that factory building is lower to-day than it was in 1950.
173 My Lords, as Lord Peddie said when addressing your Lordships' House, it is useless to deal with housing in isolation. Granted that housing is one of the essentials, we cannot devote the whole of our energies to that and that alone. As the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, pointed out, there are other things, such as education, to be taken into consideration. I have already shown how much more we are spending in that connection during the present financial year, but the Government is presently set on the biggest school programme ever. It is intended to run between the present financial year and the year 1964–65 and to cost some £440 million. Furthermore, we cannot but take into account the expansion in the university population; 30,000 students, to start with, and a further 35,000 by the early 1970's, with seven new universities. That surely will mean a very great capital investment. Over and above that, there is the five-year plan, announced in 1956, for the expansion of technical colleges at a cost of £100 million, which programme has now been extended to 1964 at an additional cost of £60 million.
Then there are the hospitals. Naturally, no new hospitals were built for the National Health Service between 1945 and 1951. During the present year about £31 million will be spent on new hospitals and on major improvements to existing hospitals. There is also the recently announced programme, which envisages an expenditure of some £500 million on new hospitals during the present decade. There is, too, the road programme. We are in the middle of a ten-year programme which, including major improvements, is now running at £88 million, to be raised to £102 million in 1962–63. That compares with a figure of £5.4 million in 1951.
Now, my Lords, what I should have been interested to learn is which of these various programmes—be it schools, universities, technical colleges, hospitals or roads—would noble Lords opposite suggest should be cut.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE They are all essential to the future prosperity and well-being of the country. But perhaps noble Lords opposite would like to go further than that. They have not made any suggestions. Let me try to put something into their minds. I should like to refer to the breakdown, which was alluded to earlier in the debate, of expenditure on building and civil engineering work, prepared by Mr. Myers and reported in the Daily Telegraph of January 25. In his breakdown, the gentleman states that housing accounted for £630 million, out of a total of £2,565 million, which is about a quarter. Educational building accounted for £125 million—and surely we should not wish to cut that. Private industrial building accounted for £350 million and, goodness knows!, there are enough complaints about slum factories and the need for better layout. No one, I suggest, would wish to cut that sum, either. Then there were shops, £60 million; hotels, £15 million; and hospital services, £25 million, which sum will shortly be very considerably increased.
§ Then there were fire stations, and, if anything, we need to spend more on fire stations than we are spending at the moment. The sum there is £100 million. Maintenance accounted for £900 million, and no one would wish to cut that either, after the comments we have heard during the debate to-day as to the state of certain buildings. Commercial and office buildings accounted for £70 million, or 2.73 per cent. of the total sum. In the circumstances, although a good deal of comment has been made on the building of offices and commercial buildings, I would suggest that 2.73 per cent. of the total spent on building and civil engineering work is little enough for the purpose. Everyone knows that there are slum offices, also, and there is a good deal of thought and agitation for legislation to impose better conditions and accommodation for office workers.
§ My Lords, the building industry is very heavily engaged. My experience, and that of the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, leads me to believe that it is too heavily engaged. We cannot get more houses without cutting some of these other activities, and I suggest that it is for the Opposition to suggest at least where these cuts should be made, keeping 175 always in mind that in the days when they were in office they came deliberately to the conclusion that the priorities were such as to prohibit the building of more than 200,000 houses a year. That the building industry, working in co-operation with the local authorities and the Government, has succeeded over the past ten years in hitting the Government's target of 300,000 houses a year, while at the same time carrying out the programme in the other directions to which I have alluded, is to my mind very greatly to its credit. As for the Government, I would submit that, failing any conclusive evidence to the contrary—and we have had none whatsoever from the other side of the House during this debate—they have the priorities about right.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and also to my noble friend Lord Gage, for putting down this Motion to-day and letting us discuss this very important subject. To my mind, as I am sure your Lordships will agree, good housing, so that the people in our country may bring up healthy families under good conditions in a true Christian way of life, is one of the most important of all our social services.
I must, for a moment, look at the past record of Her Majesty's Government in this connection, before I come to deal with the future. I think that 3 million houses in ten years is a very great achievement, because right the way through the ten years that averages out at 300,000 houses a year. They rehoused one family in every five in this country, or 3½ persons per family, which is something like 10½ million people. The noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, said that we have really been playing politics for the last ten years and have done very little with the housing programme, but I leave it to the House to judge if rehousing 10½ million people or one family in every five is a very small programme. I read in a Sunday paper about two weeks ago that the Government badly needed a success story for the difficult times through which we are now passing. If that is not a success story, I really do not know what is.
176 Turning to the future, I would say that we must not be in any way complacent—and I fully agree on that with the noble Lords who have spoken in this important debate to-day—because we have a gigantic problem in front of us. We have heard a most powerful speech from the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Birmingham, about the terrible conditions in Birmingham. I thought we should hear a little more about the conditions in London, on which I should just like to say a word. Very great strides have been made, but if one reads the debates which have recently occurred in another place, one sees that the conditions in some areas of London are still appalling. I think there are about 8,209,000 people living in the London region, and from 1945 to December, 1961, the local authorities had built 299,225 houses, whilst private builders had built 128,451, a total of 427,676 houses. At December 31, 1961, 24,428 local authority houses were being built, and 12,509 private enterprise houses were also under construction, making a total of 36,937 houses. This information can all be found in the Appendix which was issued two or three days ago by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. Last year, 24,391 houses were completed in the London region. That figure has not been published, and I obtained it from the Ministry.
It is not always easy to know, because some of these lists are duplicated, but I am told that the London County Council have something like 80,000 people on their waiting list. On top of that, there are all the Metropolitan boroughs with their waiting lists. One finds certain duplications, with people putting their names down with both the local Metropolitan borough and the L.C.C., hoping that if one does not succeed the other one will. But we still have a tremendous problem, I submit, in the London region.
To-night we have heard the brilliant speeches of my noble friends Lord Gage and Lord Hylton, as well as those of other noble Lords, about the land problem, and land is, of course, getting extremely tight in the London region. A lot of people will have to be housed outside this region. I am a member of the County Council of West Suffolk, and 177 the Ministry have been looking to the Eastern counties to see what can be done. The County Council on which I have the honour to serve has agreed to take 40,000 of London's overspill in the next 20 years and the agreement has been made subject to the Minister's approval. It is now in front of the Minister and the London County Council, and involves trying to house 40,000 people from the London area in the next 20 years. I agree that that is only a small contribution, but we are only a small county, and other counties are doing the same thing.
But, as has been said to-night, the town development schemes are, unfortunately, going rather slowly. Haverhill, in the area of West Suffolk, was a pilot scheme, and there they have built a few hundred houses with the help of the L.C.C. The factories have come with them and it is quite a success. The original scheme was for them to take 5,000 of London's overspill, and they have now agreed to take another 5,000. Bury St. Edmunds, the county town, decided to take 10,000. That is all in the figure of 40,000. But the scheme is going rather slowly.
It is extremely difficult, as has been said by my noble friend Lord Stone-haven to-night, to match up industry and houses. One may be ready but the other one is not, and so on. But it is going on slowly. One would like to see it going a little faster, but I have the sort of feeling—I may he wrong—that many people really do not want to leave their native city of London, and would prefer to remain here. That is natural, of course, but when we read about the conditions in which some of these people are living in London and in these other big cities, we realise that it is inevitable that many of them will have to move out to the expanded towns and to the New Towns. Some of the New Towns are getting up to their maximum rate of building now, and so more and more will it be necessary to depend on the expanded towns scheme for London's overspill.
There is one other point that I should like to mention. The time is getting very late, but I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Bossom on the very interesting and instructive speech which he made to your Lordships 178 to-night on building techniques. In order to try to get more houses with the available labour—and I think that to-day there are something like a quarter of a million men in England and Wales working on new housing—we have to try to get more productivity. I have always thought that we should have more prefabrication and non-traditional methods of building houses. There are many systems, including houses made of concrete poured into metal shuttering on the site, and also prefabricated, pre-cast concrete section houses made in factories and brought to the site from those factories. They can be made to look quite nice; we have quite a number of them in various towns in the Eastern counties.
There is to-day, as we all know, a vast shortage of skilled bricklayers and carpenters. I hope that after next year we shall be able to push up the number of 300,000 houses, if it is possible; but, as has been said to-night, the building industry is extremely overloaded, what with the housing programme, the hospital programme, the education programme and the factory programme. Unless we can get more efficient methods operating in our building industry—and I do not see why it should not be done; I have seen jobs done very much more quickly in America than in this country—we shall not succeed. It is largely a matter of organisation and strict schedules, as my noble friend Lord Bossom said; of time-and-progress schedules. If we get good organisation on the sites, then I think we may get more houses built.
However, for this year I think it is extremely important that we finish what we have on the stocks, because in England and Wales last year 92,000 houses were completed by local authorities, but there were 122,400 in course of construction. In a speech in another place on Friday, the Minister of Housing and Local Government told the House how the average time taken to complete houses in this country had increased from, I think, ten-and-a-half to eleven-and-a-half months, and how the price had gone up in the last two years by no less than 20 per cent. Those are very alarming figures; but during recent visits that I have paid to a few building sites I did not see enough men working 179 on the sites. They are too thin on the ground. The builders cannot help that, because they cannot get enough men. I hope that to-night we shall hear from our noble Leader something of what can be done from the building research point of view to try to speed up the methods, because I feel that we must endeavour to get more housing in the next ten years—and I feel certain we shall succeed. In conclusion, I desire to wish the new Minister every success in his important job, and I hope that his programme will be massive and dynamic.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, we are moving towards the close of a most wide-ranging debate upon what is perhaps the most corroding social problem which faces our nation. The House is much indebted to my noble friend Lord Silkin for having introduced this matter in a speech which I think was informed, comprehensive, moving and impressive. I am sure that the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, will acquit me of any discourtesy if I concentrate my remarks principally on the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Silkin. I have spoken a number of times on the land price question, sometimes vehemently. I do not dispute its importance. Indeed, I shall make some allusion to the question later in my speech; but, as I have said, my remarks will be principally addressed to the other elements of the housing problem. My Lords, here, perhaps, I should declare my interest in a professional way in land and property development.
This is something more than a debate on housing. It really is a debate on the problem of people: of men, women and children, and homes for them. It is, of course, the case that the public conscience has recently been disturbed by the spectacle of the homeless—and well it might! This, of course, is one of the bitter fruits of the Tory Rent Act, which set the landlords free to oppress, and the people free to be evicted and to search for the houses which are not there. But, tragic as is the situation of the homeless—and no one would gainsay it—the housing problem which faces this nation is much wider and much deeper than that. It is a question also of the slums, housing 2½ million people; a question of the lack of housing 180 generally, so graphically referred to by my noble friend Lord Lindgren; of the mean and shabby, sub-standard old houses lacking even the most primitive amenities and facilities; and of all the vast number of people who have waited for years, and still wait, for somewhere to live in decency and comfort. My Lords, I am sure that none in this House would question the statement that housing is our social problem number one.
There are in this nation, in truth, in sorry truth, two nations: one living in comfortable dwellings and the other existing in wretched and insanitary, and often indecent, sub-standard dwellings, or the pretence of dwellings. As regards the grim and sordid houses in multiple occupation, some weeks ago the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, gave a mortifying picture of what he saw on a limited visit to some of these houses. In truth, millions of our people, as has been stated repeatedly from these Benches to-day, are living in conditions in which we really would not house a dog. Apart from the hardship and persistent suffering which these conditions involve, with the women fighting a ceaseless but vain struggle against dirt and all its concomitants, slums and bad housing, as the late Lord Kennet (then Mr. Hilton Young) said as far back as 1926, are "radiating centres of disease and death". In bad health and sickness alone they are a crushing social burden upon the nation.
My Lords, the family is the basis of society. How can parents bring up a family of self-respecting citizens in the squalid housing conditions which exist for hundreds of thousands of them? How, in such conditions, can they build a home which is the haven of the family? Should we wonder that, on occasion, their children are wayward and, indeed, unruly? We should hang our heads in shame that such things should be in our midst in the year 1962. And things are getting worse with every day that passes. Despite all our limited efforts to catch up, we are not catching up with our housing needs. As many of the speakers from these Benches this afternoon have said, old, decrepit, obsolete houses and flats are becoming more old, more decrepit, more obsolete, more unhealthy and insanitary, with every day 181 that passes; and more quickly than we can replace them.
The improvement and conservation provisions of the Rent Act, 1957, intended to encourage improvements, have failed to make any adequate or satisfactory impression. Private landlords cannot, or will not, carry out improvements. According to the Rowntree Trust housing study, in the first years after 1957 more improvements were done by tenants at their own expense than by landlords, despite the fact that tenants get no grant and the landlords do. In the last two years, landlords' claims have been less than one-fifth of all the grants made by local authorities. With thousands of these old houses, private landlords can no longer discharge the obligations of ownership, even if they were willing so to do. If improvement and modernisation is done, it will be done by public authorities, who will in any case have to deal with the dwellings when they become slums, as they are doing, at the rate of some 150,000 a year, though we are clearing fewer than 70,000 a year.
My Lords, housing has now moved into the realm of crisis, and the position is deteriorating, much to our shame. There are, of course, a number of estimates, but I think one can reasonably take the estimate that this country needs 8 million houses and flats over the next 20 years—that is to say, 400,000 a year. In England and Wales in 1960, we built 265,000; and in 1961, 269,000—over 100,000 short of estimated needs. Of those built by local authorities, 60,000 replaced slums in 1960, and 62,000 replaced slums in 1961. We are also falling back seriously in slum clearance, as compared with the five-year target set in 1955, to which, I noticed with interest, the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, made no reference. We are, in fact, over the target for five years, 123,000 short. Public investment in housing has fallen, [...]n real terms, by more than 40 per cent, since 1954—a sharper fall than that in respect of any other service. The proportion of resources devoted to public housing fell from 2.5 per cent. of the national income in 1954 to 1.3 in 1960. The result is that the number of dwellings built by public authorities in Great Britain in 1961 was less than one-half the number in 1954.
My Lords, that is bad enough, in all conscience. But it is much worse when 182 one realises, as my noble friend Lord Lindgren said, that in 1960 only about 1,000 of the council dwellings were built for general needs; and, of the 162,000 privately built, it is estimated that only 2,000 were for letting. Yet, as has been said already in this debate, it is estimated that only one in ten families can afford to buy a house, thanks, inter alia, to the monetary policy pursued by the Government.
The housing problem can be solved, in our submission, only by increasing public investment in council houses built to let. Doctrinaire devotees to private enterprise may not like it, but they cannot escape it: that is the inevitable remedy. It is becoming increasingly evident that the housing needs of the nation cannot be solved by reliance on houses built by private enterprise. In this field landlordism can no longer discharge its function and purpose in a tolerable social way. The acute housing crisis arises from this, and from the failure of the Government to recognise it, and from its neglect to plan and programme on a long-term basis, with a real plan and with adequate controls to make it effective. As with other things, housing has overtaken the Government. The present situation is a formidable indictment of this failure of the Government to deal with the housing problem. Despite legislation galore, there has been no programme and no national plan. There has been over the years, of course, a series of fits and starts; tinkering with subsidy; reduction, and, ultimately, the abolition, in some respects, of the subsidy; putting the local authorities on a means test in respect of housing; making house-building almost financially impossible by increases of the bank rate, with the consequent high rate of interest.
In any national crisis, housing has been the first of the services to be cut, both directly and indirectly. This happened again in July last, when the Government abolished the special facilities for building societies to advance money on pre-1919 houses. The scheme, I understand, was going very well, but the "stop" order was issued and the beneficient results were discontinued. Moreover, Mr. Brooke, the First Secretary to the Treasury, told the House of Commons in December last that there would be an increase in public expenditure 183 over the next 16 months in almost every item except housing. That is a sinister circumstance. The National Council of Building Material Producers say that in 1963 it is likely that there will be a sharp fall in the number of new houses and flats. It may be, they indicate, as much as 22 per cent., a fall of 66,000 dwellings.
I repeat that everything shows that the situation is getting worse. The Rent Act in operation has proved more baleful than even its sternest critics prophesied. Under cover of this Act, iniquitous things are being done against tenants, often illegally, I admit; but the Act gives opportunity to the oppressive and unconscionable landlord. In The Times of January 16 last, there was an article giving details of the tricks and cheating which are going on through the power of eviction which unscrupulous landlords can wield and exercise. Decent people of good will will recoil in shock and shame at the infamous things which are being done to tenants, ignorant of their rights and helpless in the face of being turned out on to the street. The Government cannot escape a heavy share of responsibility for these happenings, for it is their legislation which enables these dastardly things to be done against men, women and children. The Government also are responsible for the sad plight of many of the homeless. Of the 2,000 homeless families taken in by the L.C.C., it is stated that two-thirds were homeless because of the Rent Act. In Birmingham, where there were 1,300 homeless families during 1961, the number had increased by 130 per cent, since 1957.
There is another consequence of the Rent Act; that is, the creeping de-control of all new lettings which is taking place in a much greater measure than the Government predicted. This is taking place at the rate, it is estimated, of some 320,000 dwellings a year in England and Wales, more by a third than the Government predicted. In Metropolitan London alone the number is estimated to be of the order of 80,000. The Government took away the power of requisition which the local authorities possessed. This power should be restored. If the local authorities are to deal with the homeless in a humane way, they should have this power, which was 184 exercised by them in a responsible, wise and providential way when they had it. The compulsory purchase procedure, however much it may be facilitated by the Minister, is too slow to enable the Government to deal with the question of homeless persons and families evicted by landlords. The Government should reintroduce legislation to call a halt to the evictions which are taking place and, what is more important, to remove the threat of eviction which is the sinister weapon in the hands of the oppressive landlords.
This afternoon we have had exposed to us a picture of the grave housing problem, not only in London but also in the country generally, and of the sorry conditions in which people are compelled to live. It is one of the prime obligations of an organised society to provide shelter for its members, shelter which is decent, healthy, comfortable, and worthy of men, women and children—in short, accommodation which is civilised. And it is the duty of the Government of the day to see that this accommodation is provided. Clearly the Government have failed the people in this respect. They have no plan and no programme. They are more concerned with rents and decontrol and what the Minister of the day called "a free market in dwellings". What they have produced is a free market in human misery and wretchedness, with families traipsing the streets in a vain search for a place to rest.
In the face of the shortfall in slum clearance over the five years to 1960, with 123,000 houses short of the target, with a yearly average of 52,000 instead of 75,500, how could the Prime Minister talk, as he did at Brighton in October last, about putting slums first of all? As I have said, the First Secretary to the Treasury, Mr. Brooke, said in December that over the next sixteen months there would be no increase in expenditure on housing. That means that slums are not first but last, or very near the last, for slum clearance constitutes by far the major part of the local authorities' housing activities and therefore slum clearance is down in the queue near the bottom. I think that the Prime Minister should know better than to tantalise slum dwellers with hollow expectations. It may be good conference stuff, but it is 185 more than a little unworthy of a Prime Minister.
I understand that the Prime Minister is reported to have added another slogan to his collection. I suppose that as old ones get worn out—or should I say, found. out?—new ones must be confectioned to replace them. The new one I gather to be, "Conservative Planning Works". Really! Conservative planning! When did they plan? They are the inveterate enemies of planning. Did they not win the Election on the slogan "Set the People Free", which in practice has resulted in the calamitous housing position of to-day? The Government should have planned years ago—effective planning, with proper priority and adequate controls. If they had done so, there might have been thousands more of our people living in decent dwellings. That is all we ask the Government to do and to do now: real effective purposeful planning—not pretence, but reality—without shutting it down before it gets started, as has so often been the case in the past ten years.
So far back as 1957, on the Second Reading of the Rent Bill, the Government was urged to tackle this cancerous problem seriously and resolutely. So far from doing this, the number of dwellings built by local authorities has gone down from 137,000 in 1957 to 93,000 in 1961. These figures are one of the measures of the Government's failure, indeed, neglect, which, unhappily persists. The Government should repair their sins of omission without further delay and redeem the promises made to our people.
At this point, I cannot help recalling the promise made during the First World War, when it was discovered that we were very near a C3 nation and when homes for heroes were promised. The promise was not kept. When the war was over and the danger past, it was not forgotten; it was flagrantly repudiated; and the late Lord Addison, who was then Minister for Reconstruction, was ignominiously sacked from office because he sought to implement the promise. The heroes of the Somme and Passchendaele and of the other seats of war were betrayed; housing was shut down and contractors were paid large sums as compensation for not building houses. Then we came to the Second World War. The then Prime Minister, now Sir Winston 186 Churchill, on one of his ebullient occasions, said:Housing must be treated as a military operation.And so it was: the slowest military operation in military history, for, in truth, it never really got started as such.
Then came the next betrayal, which is the main cause of the high price of land, referred to in the Motion of the noble Viscount, Lord Gage—namely, the repudiation and repeal of the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, in respect of which my noble friend Lord Silkin is entitled to every praise. This Act was based on the Uthwatt and Scott Reports and dealt with compensation and betterment, and would have secured that the benefit of social development as expressed in land values would have inured to the nation; it would have prevented speculation and rocketing of land values. In a series of Acts this Government and their predecessors jettisoned these wise social provisions with the result that, as I have said, land prices have rocketed. The City Corporation, it is stated, is being asked to purchase a site from another public undertaking the cost of which is at the rate of £600,000 an acre—for a site near the Tower of London. The Conservative Party were committed to the proposals of betterment and compensation and to the development charge: they joined in the White Paper entitled Land User. This was the second betrayal: and so sixteen years after the war we have the shameful and indefensible housing conditions which have been portrayed this afternoon.
My Lords, this is not a question of rents or of housing units to be moved about like pieces on a board; it is a question of men, women and children being denied decent dwellings and decent homes. I do not think I can better conclude than by quoting what was said in your Lordships' House on April 16, 1957, on the occasion of the Second Reading of the then Rent Bill [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 203, col. 85]:It is about 112 years since Disraeli's book entitled Sybil or the Two Nations was published. It is a matter for pride and satisfaction that over the years that have since unfolded the social conscience of successive generations has led to the removal of many of those conditions of seething wretchedness, so graphically described by Disraeli in that book. But is it 187 the case that we have removed them all? No, my Lords, not all; not nearly so. For there still survive among us millions of the dwellings which were built round about the time of which Disraeli wrote. In that respect we must confess, with shame, I feel, that there are still 'Two Nations' in this island of ours divided by the standards of housing they respectively enjoy. The blot of a vast mass of disgraceful housing is still upon us. It is upon our national honour to remove it; to see that all our people are housed under conditions where the sweet qualities of family life can take root and flourish. Until we have done this, the conscience of the nation will remain besmirched, and we shall have failed to do our duty to our fellows.Strange as it may seem, those words were said by myself, and they are just as apposite now as they were in 1957—indeed, more so. The real tragedy is that we have largely wasted the intervening five years.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, the noble Lord's habit of reading his speeches has long endeared him to the entire House, but when he reads them twice at an interval of five years I am bound to say that we only realise how fortunate we are in having such a master of English prose in our midst.
I think that one thing emerges from this debate, quite plainly; and it is that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, was right when he said that after seven years it was high time we had a general debate on the subject of housing and land prices; and the large number of the Members of the House who have spoken has testified to the interest your Lordships take in the matter. Personally, I should think the subject could not be too often debated, and, speaking as one on whom it falls to answer debates of this kind very often, I should wish that it was little and often, rather than have to reply to twenty speeches covering such a wide range as those to which your Lordships have listened.
I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Jellicoe, if he will allow me to do so, on what I thought was a most constructive contribution to the debate. The right reverend Prelate who spoke was a concealed maiden, if I may use the phrase, because, unless I am mistaken, this was the first time upon which he had addressed your Lordships' House. But he was so coy about his maidenhood that he never really revealed this fact, 188 and so, I thought, achieved less than his usual and proper meed of congratulation. I hope that we may see him again and congratulate him in person on a later occasion. There has been a wide range of well-informed and interesting speeches from a great variety of experts, and with the exception I would say (and I hope I shall be forgiven for saying so) of two somewhat stereotyped Party speeches from the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, and the noble Lord who has just resumed his seat, I think the debate has been notably marked by the absence of Party feeling and Party slogans. I would particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for the objective and dispassionate way in which he introduced the subject.
It seems to me that the difficulty of handling this problem lies in a fundamental dilemma with which one is faced at the outset. As numerous of your Lordships, from the right reverend Prelate onwards, have reminded the House, this is a very human problem. One cannot, of course, discuss the question of housing without a vision arising in one's thought of the human unhappiness which is caused by the absence of housing of an adequate standard; the picture of its disintegrating effect upon family life, both among those who are embarked upon marriage and among those who, it may be, in old age are faced with a housing situation which may lead to their inability to keep house together; the picture of inadequate sanitary accommodation, with which any of us who has represented a constituency in Parliament (as a very large number of us have done at one time or another) cannot fail to be familiar. All these things necessarily arouse deep feeling; and deep feeling, I must remind the noble Lord who wound up for the Opposition, on this side of the House no less than on the other side of the House.
At the same time, as one recognises that this is a human problem, the moment one seeks to handle it in an objective and conscientious way one finds the human trappings fall away. Instead of this poignant human tragedy one finds oneself confronted with a vast range of highly technical and immensely complicated questions of great difficulty, so complex that I would venture to say that ordinary men and women find difficulty in understanding them, and so 189 difficult to solve that they must be understood if a fair answer is to be discovered. The question is how to simplify without being superficial; how to answer a serious argument fairly without seeming—to quote from the language of the Opposition, which is always so happy—like a dessicated calculating machine, and, above all, how to discern the wood for the trees. These are problems of exposition before which anyone may quail. I venture, my Lords, only to make this observation about it; and I will try to live up to it. The true requirement of a scientific age in such matters is that a ruthless application of logic and clarity of thought to a problem is not less but more necessary, precisely in proportion as human suffering is involved; precisely because it is more important to arrive at a right answer than to excite human sympathy, and precisely because, if emotional arguments are used, it is difficult to acquire the necessary objectivity of thought.
I start with one object in mind, and that is at all costs to try to see the wood for the trees, even at the expense of occasionally emphasising the obvious. Behind all this complexity there is one simple truth. Behind the economics of land prices and house building; behind the problems of productivity, materials and manpower, all of which have been exhaustively treated; behind the demands for palliatives and machinery, (which have come certainly from noble Lords opposite), commissions, controls, subsidies, interest rates, compulsory purchase, and now the old bogy of requisition, and planning, there is a single fact which offers the key to the whole debate. That is that we are in the presence of shortage—perhaps, as my noble friend reminded us, one of the last of the great material shortages of post-war years; and, after all, the only way in which it is possible to cure a shortage if, as here, the effective demand cannot be reduced, because it is based on human need, is to increase the supply. It is with the problem of the increase of supply that I propose to concern myself mainly in what I have to say.
This analysis may appear to be obvious. Nevertheless, I think it is an analysis which tends to be overlooked; and in particular it seems to me to have been overlooked in some of the criticisms we have heard from the Benches 190 opposite, and in some of the policies which we have been offered as solutions to the problem. We have been accused of being doctrinaire. I do not think that is fair. We must remember that we have now, since 1945, nearly 20 years of experience of dealing with shortages of various kinds, of which shortage of housing and land is only one. I think we may claim that our experiences of dealing with shortage of all kinds is not based now simply on a priori doctrines: it is based on experience.
It is perfectly true—and I say this without any desire to make a Party point—that Parties have differed about the best way of dealing with shortage. The Party opposite, perhaps over-obsessed with the problem of shortage in the immediate post-war years when the problems of supply were very severe, aimed at rationing and control. We believed that in the long run, and even in the short run, shortage is cured by increasing the supply, and that many of the devices to which noble Lords opposite, when they were in power, were, for the best of all motives, driven, in fact exacerbated the shortage and prevented the shortage from being cured. In other words, they tended to perpetuate the evil of which they were designed to be palliatives.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I am about to proceed to that, if I may. If the problem is shortage and the remedy is increased supply, we should, I think, in particular, accept at our peril the various suggestions of price control or rent control which have been offered us this afternoon, notably by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who introduced the Motion, and by the noble Lord, Lord Latham, who summed up on the other side.
Price control and rent control are, of course, justified in time of war, when building and manufacturing are at a standstill. But neither price control nor rent control are going to bring any more land into availability for building, or any more building into availability for occupation. Quite the contrary. Our experience has been—and we sincerely believe it to be true—that they drive land and buildings off the market. Rent 191 control in particular, as my noble friend Lord Molson reminded us in what I thought, if he will allow me to say so, was quite a remarkable speech, leads to under-occupation, generates slum property, and also causes inadequate quantity of building.
If the problem is shortage—and I again return to this as my analysis of it—you can over-state the issue as between different kinds of houses. It must, I think, be accepted that anything which has the effect of increasing the overall supply in fact reduces the shortage over the whole range of houses, and not only over its own sphere. I should be the last to minimise the importance of what my noble friend Lord Jellicoe was saying about the desirability and the intention of my right honourable friend of producing houses to rent. There are many good reasons for this. There is a perfectly valid distinction to be drawn between the demand for houses to let and the demand for houses to buy. But as the number of families to be accommodated in the country is a given factor at any given moment, the increase in the availability of either type will in fact tend to reduce the pressure on the other, as will the conversion or subdivision of old houses also tend to do. I would therefore not go the whole way with noble Lords opposite in drawing that distinction.
Secondly, I feel that they have been, to say the least of it, incautious in attributing to the Rent Act, 1957, the consequences which they have attributed to it. Certainly my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing has been very slow to state the causes of homelessness, and so, I think, has the London County Council, which at any rate thought it more prudent to conduct an investigation into them before dogmatising to the extent of the noble Lord, Lord Latham, and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. Whatever the broad effect on individual tenants may be, the abolition of rent control does not of itself reduce the total housing accommodation by a single unit. My noble friend Lord Molson has developed this point at greater length than I propose to do. Property is not to any significant extent left empty, and that is what, fundamentally, to my mind, is unacceptable 192 in the attempt that has been made this evening to blame the Rent Act for homelessness in London.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, it transfers to the more wealthy, to those more affluent, the use of that accommodation which is left, and leaves a bigger problem for the local authorities to look after—the problem of those persons who have been de-housed by Government action.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I do not accept that either. But what I am saying at the moment is simply that if the question which we are really trying to solve is a question of overall shortage, whatever else is true about it—and it is possible to argue cases or not to argue cases on the basis of individual injustice—what is not possible is really to urge from the Benches opposite more than at best a marginal influence, and I should have said no influence at all, upon the overall balance between supply and demand. And although the noble Lord, Lord Latham, indulging in rhetorical passages, which no doubt he will be quoting again to us in another five years' time—
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
—ventured to call this the bitter fruits of the Rent Act, it was, of course, no coincidence that when the radio authorities sought to interview London's homeless, those they happened to stumble on first were people who, for one reason or another, had come into London from elsewhere, drawn into the Capital as if by a magnet.
Here again, returning again to my basic analysis that the important problem is one of shortage, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Molson, that it is this type of reasoning which must surely lead us to condemn any local authority which, in subsidising rents, does not at least consider a differential rent policy, or which in any other way seeks to pursue a policy subsidising tenants who are able to pay economic rents, at the expense of the rates.
§ LORD LINDGREN
Would the noble Viscount allow me to interrupt? Accepting that in his view differential rents are 193 a good thing for a local authority, would he apply the same standard to the private landlord?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
All I was saying was that a private landlord is not in the habit of subsidising rents at the expense of other people in the way in which my noble friend Lord Molson was describing.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
The private landlord is as much a seller of goods as any shop; he is providing a public service for which people pay. What I was saying at the moment was concerned with my noble friend Lord Molson's case, that there is basic injustice in the fact that some people are unable to have the houses they need—in a way which noble Lords from all sides of the House have described—and that these very people should be asked to subsidise those who, with adequate earnings, are enjoying at others' expense, accommodation vastly superior but at the subsidised rent. I say this only because more enlightened Socialist authorities are working out schemes of this kind.
I agree entirely with my noble friend Lord Molson that they are right to do so. This is not merely a Party point, because loyal authorities of both political complexions are pursuing the policy which I am advancing. All I am saying is that the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, is singularly out of date in his approach to the matter in seeking to defend practices which the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has condemned.
§ LORD LINDGREN
I might agree that a worker who has reached the age of 55 or 56 is at a better standard than when he took the house at 25 or 26, because his income is higher. But will the noble Viscount take it from me that building societies will not give him a loan at 56 years of age if he is a manual worker?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
All I will say to the noble Lord since he has raised the question of building societies, is that he went so wild in his speech as to suggest that ordinary people cannot afford to borrow in the ordinary way. All I 194 can say is that figures for mortgages wholly belie what the noble Lord has tried to put before the House. My recollection is that figures for last year were at the highest ever and represented over 177,000.
I am not in the least seeking to minimise the disadvantage of high interest rates, to which I shall refer in due course, when I come to that part of my speech. But I think the kind of wild statement to which the noble Lord committed himself in saying that ordinary people were not, in fact, borrowing from the building societies is not doing justice to the strength of his own case.
§ LORD LINDGREN
The noble Lord, I know, is not one to distort what I said. I would agree that if you are a local government officer, a railway clerk or a schoolteacher, you can get a loan from a building society; but a building society will not give a mortgage to a bricklayer, a plumber or a fitter in an aircraft factory.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
If the noble Lord had had more information about the earnings of some bricklayers, plumbers and fitters in aircraft factories he would not have made that remark.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I do not propose to bandy any further words with the noble Lord, except to say that the facts which he has stated are wholly inaccurate and that the wildness and exaggeration of what he said has condemned him out of his own mouth. The truth is that these policies which he is seeking to defend tend to make less accommodation available, both by exhausting taxable capacity which might be spent on new buildings and by encouraging tenants who could well move elsewhere to under-occupy accommodation which might be made available for those who need it more, which, in effect, perpetuates a social injustice.
Before I come to examine in more detail either the nature or the disease or its remedies, I think I must re-emphasise the points which were made, I think, by a number of noble Lords, including the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Latham; that these 195 remedies we propose must be put into the context of other policies, social and economic, which we are being pressed to pursue at the present time. Those noble Lords have been perfectly right to ask us to pursue, as indeed we are pursuing, a policy for distribution of industry which attracts workers to the Provinces and specifically to areas of less pressing employment. One of the areas mentioned was Scotland but it is, of course, only one of them. Clearly it cannot make sense in our desire to ease the housing problem in the capital to pursue policies there, or in the suburbs, which are designed to frustrate what we are seeking to do elsewhere.
I do not altogether share some of the hard things which have been said about other kinds of building. It is easy to condemn the erection of offices or garages, but, as my noble friend Lord Hawke pointed out—I think his figures were not quite the latest that I have, though they were broadly right in proportion—the proportion of offices and, still more striking, the proportion of garages is such a small proportion of the whole figure of constructional activity that it would be difficult to suggest a smaller one. It is of course less popular to complain of other types of buildings which obviously serve a social purpose, schools, universities, and hospitals, for instance. I am not prepared myself to admit that even offices serve no useful social purpose. People of all sorts work there, possible spending there almost as many hours a day as they spend in their homes. Recently when we debated the Queen's Speech one of the most strongly pressed of the complaints by the Opposition was the failure of the Government to find time in this Session for that section of the Gowers' Report which deals with regulating shop and office accommodation. The basic difficulty about shop and office accommodation in this country is that it is far too old, and you will not in the end make much difference to that by putting in a new lavatory here and a fresh coat of paint there. Yet when the builders put up new office accommodation they are attacked by the same critics for using labour and materials which could more profitably be put into housing. The figures are, so far as one can judge, that 196 out of £2,000-odd million of construction estimated for 1961, no more than £55 million to £60 million is for shops, £110 million for offices and £25 million for garages. I would also mention in passing, and I think I should endeavour to return to it in due course, the direct effect on the problems we are discussing of inflation and our ability to contain it. A country which is not able to stabilise prices or to equate incomes and productivity is, in my submission at least, not likely to achieve a rational housing policy, and equally not likely to deserve one.
The immediate and narrower inference which I draw from all this is, as my noble friend Lord Hawke said, the urgent need to expand the various constructional industries of which building is the most important but of which building is only part, and to improve their efficiency, which is not certainly, I think—I would agree with numerous speakers who have said so—as great as it ought to be. If this is not done there will continue to be a desperate need of accommodation of all sorts, and enterprises like shops and offices, schools, hospitals and factories which ought to be in partnership with housing will continue to be treated in Parliament as rivals to housing; the somewhat emotional will continue to exploit human misery; the passionate and sincere will continue to complain of the effect as if it were the cause, and Governments will be urged continuously to adopt palliatives where they ought to be seeking cures.
I would, with respect, seek to spend a few moments talking about this, as my noble friend Lord Hawke, invited me to do: the real problem of the industry, the real extent and shape of the housing need, the effect of speculation, the real problem of the site values and the shortages of craftsmen—in short the real planning problem. I do not propose at any length, since my noble friend, Lord Jellicoe, has already done so, to stress in detail the extent of the housing need. I only venture to say to the noble Lord, Lord Latham, who was much concerned to establish that the situation was getting worse, that the facts really disprove this allegation.
The first and most significant of the facts to which my noble friend, Lord 197 Jellicoe, drew attention was the diminution of crude overall shortage of housing at the present time from a crude million to a crude 100,000. These figures are comparable. I quite agree with my noble friend that to some extent they are misleading, because they conceal local shortages of a much more serious kind, and for various other reasons. But to describe a situation which in 1950 was such that there was an overall shortage of units of accommodation for separate units of family of one million, and a reduction to 100,000, as "rapidly getting worse" is something which could not possibly be justified before any dispassionate or objective tribunal.
I do not think it is at all insignificant that of the various different estimates of the extent of the housing shortage, varying from 5 million at the bottom to 8 million at the top, the noble Lord, Lord Latham, without a word of explanation, calmly took the higher, and said it is reasonable to assume that that is the correct one. For reasons which my noble friend Lord Jellicoe explained, my right honourable friend puts the shortage at 6 million over the next 20 years. I do not propose to enter again into these calculations, but nothing that has been said to-day leads me to suppose, or has given any reason to suppose, that that estimate is badly wrong. This would lead to a figure of rather more than 300,000 houses a year to deal with all needs, including obsolescence and a reasonable margin of vacancies; and this figure, compared with a figure of something like 300,000 constructions at the present time, is not one which justifies the kind of wild allegation which came from the Opposition in its concluding speech.
I therefore turn to one of the worst bottlenecks, namely manpower. I think it is disquieting to note that since 1951 the labour force in the industry has fallen slightly from 549,000 to 535,000, and I cannot fail to notice the shortage of skilled craftsmen to which numerous noble Lords have referred. Since the Carr Committee of 1957 reported, the training of craftsmen has been accepted to be a responsibility of the industry and not of the Government. This is contrary to the practice in most other European countries. In the immediate postwar years the skilled labour force 198 received reinforcement numbering 50,000 adults trained in Government training centres. This programme was ended in 1948 at the request, I understand, of the trade unions. The parallel Apprentice Masters Scheme ended in 1952. Since then Government training schemes have been limited to the disabled
From that time recruitment has, of course, depended on apprenticeships. Apprenticeships in this country start normally at 15 or 16 years of age and last for five years. I think it is noteworthy that in France, Germany, Italy and Sweden the period is normally three years and that there is training in State centres in France, where the annual output is 20,000, Italy and Sweden and to a growing extent in Germany. There is no standardised syllabus and external supervision of apprentices in Britain, although there is elsewhere. In Britain most apprentices are not given formal instruction but they work alongside craftsmen, and I would say that this is not considered an enlightened method of training in most modern industries.
A ratio of one apprentice to five journeymen is necessary to replace normal wastage. I am informed that in no one year since 1951 has that figure been reached, although I am glad to say that in 1961 the number of apprentices recruited rose by about 4,000 to 26,000 which is the largest figure in the last ten years. By September, 1961, there were seven vacancies for every unemployed carpenter and ten for every unemployed bricklayer. Moreover, in the very large firms which if the apprentice scheme was to succeed might well carry their share of the apprenticeships, the ratio of apprentices was not one in five—the replacement level—but one in sixteen. I state these figures with considerable distaste, but I am happy to say that my right honourable friend the Minister of Labour has recently personally initiated a series of discussions with the building industry on both sides, and that the industry itself has recently appointed a special committee to review apprenticeship.
I do not want it to be thought that this side of the matter should divert our attention from the subject of management. This has been referred to by several of my noble friends—the 199 noble Lords, Lord Bossom, Lord Hawke and Lord Wolverton. It is, of course, very difficult to obtain quantitative figures to support generalisations in this field, and certainly there is undoubtedly a wide range of different standards within the industry itself. But, broadly speaking, it is only the largest firms at the present time which are adequately served by qualified technical staff; and what is equally important is that there is a corresponding weakness in management in all but the largest firms. I should think the only longterm solution to this is better education in management and technology. I hope that this will improve in the next few years.
I would agree that there is at least as much scope for reducing costs and improving efficiency in building as has been suggested by various noble Lords in the debate. I do not want to follow my noble friend into the dispute about modules. I have inquired of the Building Research Station as to whether they still fail to accept in full the case which he argued, and I am sorry to say that they do fail to accept it in full. However, although I am responsible for them I do not intend to influence their scientific conclusions, but I should be most happy if my noble friend would pursue his argument with them.
My Lords, an excellent example of what can be done is given in the Report of the Committee on the Management and Control of Research and Development which describes the success of the development group of the Ministry of Education—and I was glad to hear my noble friend this afternoon refer to a similar group in his own Ministry which is developing. But what is needed is a change in the general attitude to innovation. Probably the major factor in such a change is the level of technological education. My noble friend referred to the Building Research Station. It is, I think, significant that the tower crane, which one can see so much in evidence on building sites at present, was introduced into this country almost directly as the result of the work of the Building Research Station. In fact, I wish they had had equal success in ensuring a wider spread use of the hollow brick which they introduced several years ago 200 and which saves about 30 per cent. of the labour in building with bricks, but which has not been adopted by the industry at all. Indeed, a number of largely imaginary objections to its use are constantly being advanced by those who claim to know, and who ought to know better.
This brings me to various questions of finance and first site values. Here again, I feel bound to start with what I regard as some of the facts of life. The first fact of life is that, as and when the prosperity of a country rises, land values in that country are bound to rise too. I do not think that this part of the situation is either unhealthy or undesirable. It is not only not reasonable, but it is not economically possible for land to be sold at pre-war rates in a country where 1960 wages, wealth, profits and products obtain. If some attempt were made by the Government to interfere with the process it could well create a certain amount of injustice, but in one way or another the facts of life would continue to emerge.
But on top of a natural and healthy rise one has to set an unnatural and unhealthy and, to my mind, broadly speaking, an unnecessary rise in consequence of inflation. If you get inflation in any country you will get a rise in all material values. This is unhealthy, but it is not confined to land. The important thing to recognise is that the nature of the cure may not follow from the nature of the disease. The way to stop it is not to control land values, or to tax them for that matter, but to control inflation. If this is not done no palliative will work. My feeling is that there have been too many demands for palliatives and too little recognition of the real nature of the disease.
This brings me to the question of speculation and, I am afraid at long last, to the admirable Motion and speech of my noble friend Lord Gage. Of course, after any rise brought about by inflation, where there is inflation, one must reckon with the effects of speculation. I personally agree with my noble friend Lord Gage, that the effects of speculation are probably exaggerated as a factor of the situation. Again I would agree that speculation is a thoroughly unhealthy sign. But the cure is also a return to steady prices. Speculation, as 201 my noble friend pointed out, only appears when other factors exist and are at work causing prices to fluctuate. Speculation can make a bad situation worse, but it cannot make an inherently good situation bad. That it exaggerates and accentuates and accelerates fluctuation in prices there is no doubt, but any action which counteracts the tendency of fluctuation in prices defeats any tendency to speculate. One cannot speculate in stable values and prices. Therefore, legislation is not a cure and is not a real method to control speculation, because the real method of steadying prices is to control inflation, to increase the availability of land and the productivity of industry.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, is not that the very problem which the experts in the City seem to have been examining?—and judging by the statement of the noble Viscount, Lord Monckton of Brenchley, the Chairman of the Midland Bank, that is a problem that you have not begun to solve. If you have to obtain extra supplies and further services and the rest, there has been no way yet of finding how they can be provided while you are restraining inflation; and the more you require increases of productivity and services the more you are in danger of inflating prices.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
That is one of the reasons why we are so anxious to engage the co-operation of noble Lords opposite in our National Council for Economic Development.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I would hope that the noble Viscount will urge his right honourable and honourable friends to give us the co-operation that we want.
My Lords, may I say now that there can, at any rate in our judgment, be no justification for paying less for 'a particular site which is wanted for public purposes than would be paid by a private buyer for private purposes. If we cannot or do not keep site values down, there can be no justification for punishing the owner of a particular site which is wanted for a school as against the owner 202 of the next site which is bought for a shop. Whatever excuse there may be in principle for confiscation—and in my view there is none whatever—there can be none for capricious confiscation as between different owners of the same class. The only way to avoid this is to pay market values. I would say that if we cannot control inflation we have no right whatever to penalise an individual owner for the results of our own collective shortcomings.
Whilst think I have gone a long way with those who argue against inflated land values, I am not myself prepared to concede at the end of the day that high land prices reflecting genuine value are necessarily a bad thing. With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, we cannot afford the grave waste of land which took place between the wars. We cannot afford to continue under-occupation. We cannot afford to hold down values in the capital of the country when we are trying to pursue a distribution of industry to attract people out of the capital. We cannot normally afford great residential areas in the heart of many old industrial centres, although in the capital itself we are in fact seeking to introduce new residential property with office accommodation.
My noble friend Lord Gage, in addition to raising the question of speculation, spoke about planning restrictions. As my noble friend pointed out, obviously planning restrictions in themselves can only tend to increase the cost of land which is not subject to the restrictions. But it does not follow from this, as both my noble friends Lord Gage and Lord Molson said, that such restrictions are unnecessary. In particular, the Green Belts are, I should have thought, a necessary safeguard which we ought to seek to preserve. But there are a number of ways in which both local authorities and private owners can help—this, I think, may help to answer the question which the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition sought to put to me a moment ago.
We must, of course, bring more land into the market at the right places. We can improve the actual use of land by treating each plot of land available as far too valuable a commodity to waste. Here, design and layout can play a much 203 bigger part than is realised. We can look round for under-used or misused sites, and for this purpose also bring, more land forward into development. If building accelerates, land which has previously been held back—it may be properly held back—should be brought forward in good time to prevent the creation of artificial shortages. My Lords, we can look through existing development plans which are now several years old for plots of land the allocation of which is now out of date. We can again, pace the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, insist on realistic densities to deal with this human problem. We can redevelop obsolete areas as well as slum areas. This can be done by private as well as by public bodies. I think there are areas not so far from the area in which we are debating which come well within this description.
Lastly, on the rise in the price of land, it is, I think, at least modest comfort to say that this has been checked. In the last six months at least the market has been steadier. The demand has decreased and the present trend of prices is not upwards. Builders are using up their stocks of land and making fewer purchases in advance.
I sympathise deeply with the difficulties of local authorities and others who have to compete in an inflated market for building services and land. This is why, so far as local government is concerned, the Government provide the expensive site subsidy of £60 per annum for every developed acre the cost of which, as developed, exceeds £4,000, together with another £34 per annum per acre for every £1,000 in excess of £5,000. We must, however, be careful of framing remedies which either aggravate or are worse than the disease. I was very interested in Lord Gage's suggestion of a weighting of the general grant. Of course, I will report it to my right honourable friend. My present thought is that it would be unjust to the local authorities at a distance greater from London unless the burden were simply transferred to the Exchequer, in which case it would be a subsidy to the South-East (where I live myself) at the expense of the taxpayer; and although dwellers in the South-Eastern counties have to bear these rather heavy burdens, they do have some 204 advantages through living there to compensate for that.
I am a little suspicious of requests that local authorities should be allowed to borrow at exceptionally favourable rates of interest, for the reasons broadly given by Lord Molson, and, a fortiori, of the suggestion made by Lord Meston, which I understood to be that private builders should be allowed to borrow at exceptionally favourable rates of interest. So far as local authorities are concerned, this is just as likely to be a subsidy to the ratepayer as an incentive to more building. As my noble friend, Lord Molson, pointed out. the history of incentives to more building is not a happy one. The high rates of interest at present current are in fact a reflection of our inability to retain demand within the compass of our productivity. The only radical and proper cure is to hold inflation. An intolerable situation is created if we attempt to encourage demand by low interest rates at a time when high interest rates are required to deal with inflation. That would only aggravate the disease.
I would therefore appeal for general support for a housing policy designed to deal with the actual evil. Let the capacity, let the manpower, particularly the skilled labour force available to the building industry, be increased. Above all, let its efficiency and productive capacity be improved. Let the unions and management look together at the training schemes. Let management change its attitude to innovation. I should think that there is enough building work to keep the building industry working busily for 20 years, and there is no question of a policy of "Stop-Start" inhibiting its activities.
Secondly, we must control inflation and hold prices steady, because only so shall we hold down site values and interest rates. In no field more than housing is there a greater scope for the policy of restraint for growth which we are trying to induce the country to adopt. Thirdly, Government and local authorities, and private enterprise too, must seek by one means or another to bring more land into economical use without violating the principles of planning or losing our essential Green Belts and open spaces. Fourthly, however serious aspects of the problem may 205 seem, let us determine not to decide on panic measures designed to aggravate the evils we are trying to cure, or cause others which are as bad as the disease. My Lords, if this policy is followed we can cope, I think, with the housing shortage. If not, I do not think we shall deserve to do so.
I cannot sit down without thanking the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for giving us the opportunity of debating this highly controversial and very interesting problem. I think this House has an important contribution to make to the solution of this problem, and the large number of well-informed speeches to which we have listened I think have offered a contribution of which Her Majesty's Government will not be slow to take advantage.
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I think I can say at least one thing about this debate, and that is that it has been a far better debate than the one we had in 1955. Secondly, I am very glad to find that there was no attempt on the part of the Government, or on the part of the majority of the speakers on the Government side, to minimise the gravity of the housing situation. On that I think the House is at one. We have, of course, had a controversial discussion in many respects, not least, as one would expect, from the noble and learned Viscount himself. But I make no complaint about that. That is what we are here for: to raise controversial issues, in good faith, and, to try to get them resolved.
I should have liked to continue the discussion, but time is passing, and I think it would be right, after a debate of seven and a half hours, to be merciful to the House and forgo the luxury of dealing with the speeches that have been made. I should like to mention just two speeches, without prejudice to the excellent speeches Which other noble Lords have made, particularly on my side of the House. I would mention the speech of the right reverend Prelate, which was, as I understand it, a concealed maiden speech. I myself thought that it was, but the right reverend Prelate made no mention of it. It was certainly an excellent speech, and I agree with the noble and learned Viscount that I hope we shall hear more of him.
206 I would also refer to the speech of my old friend—I must not say "my noble friend"—Lord Bossom. We have worked together on various bodies for very many years, and I congratulate him on having made a really constructive speech. I hope that the many ideas he put forward will be seriously considered by the Government, because he speaks from vast past practical knowledge and experience, and I think that there is a great deal in what he said. I will not say that from the point of view of his speech alone this debate has been worth while, but, at any rate, there is something concrete in what he said which may very well help to produce more houses, which is what we all want. With those words, my Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
My Lords, I do not propose to add anything more, except to thank my noble friend for his speech.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.