HL Deb 17 July 1963 vol 252 cc216-93

3.42 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, I should like first to offer my humble apologies to all your Lordships, and particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for not being in my place when I should have been, when the noble Lord rose to move his Motion. I could make an excuse, which I think would sound reasonable, but I will say merely that it was basically a miscalculation on my part, and I am sorry.

The noble Lord has introduced his Motion with his accustomed moderation and has, of course, also discussed all the aspects of the problem before us with his accustomed thoroughness—although he will perhaps hardly expect me to agree with some of the things he has said and some of the conclusions he has drawn. I am grateful to the noble Lord for the opportunity he has given me to present to the House the Government's policy in the field of housing, as laid down in the two White Papers published in recent months and amplified in various speeches by my right honourable friend and by Government action in other spheres.

The noble Lord draws attention in the first part of his Motion to the housing situation. In view of his remark, reported to me, that the ideas in the White Paper might have been better if they had been produced earlier—even twelve years ago—and in view of the attitude he and his Party are taking nowadays towards the housing problem, want to make two things crystal clear at the very beginning of my speech. First, the Government fully acknowledge—as is made plain in both White Papers—that there is in truth a problem, and a big problem. The corollary of this awareness is that the Government have a comprehensive and logical policy with which to meet this challenge and the determination to carry this policy through. We believe, not surprisingly, that our policy is much better than the policy of the Labour Party. Secondly, the Government's record in the field of housing over the past twelve years is a good one. No matter what the Opposition may say, no matter how they may wish to diminish our achievements, they cannot conceal the fact that the housing situation now is vastly better than it was when the Conservative Party took office in 1951. And I am sure that the people of this country know that is true.

We are invited to look at the housing situation, and if we are to see matters in perspective, it is only reasonable to look at the past as well as to the future. Since the end of 1951, over 3,400,000 new houses have been built and 670,000 improved with grant (and many more improved without grant), so that at least 1 in 4 of our total housing stock to-day has been provided new or improved to a decent modern standard during our period of office. We came to office pledged to raise the rate of building from 200,000 per annum to 300,000, which the Labour Party at that time said would be impossible. But, by Lords, we have kept our promise. We are often accused of neglecting council housing to rent, but in that period some 2 million houses were built by local authorities, nearly doubling their holdings to a total of 4½ million houses. During this period of which I am speaking, the amounts of money paid out in Exchequer subsidy have trebled from £22 million to £66 million per annum for England and Wales. Owner-occupation has increased from about 25 per cent. to over 40 per cent. of the total housing stock. In 1951 there was an absolute shortage of 750,000, compared to the estimated number of households. Yet, since then, although the number of households has increased by 2 million, that gap has been closed; that deficiency of 750,000 has been made up; houses have been provided for the extra 2 million families; and half-a-million slums have also been cleared—in this latter case since 1956. Absolute overall shortage, in the sense I am using it, is not, of course, the same as net actual shortage on the ground, when it comes to geographical distribution. The actual shortages, not surprisingly, are worst in the London and Midlands areas. But even in the case of London, the net actual shortage has been reduced from 350,000 in 1951 to 150,000 to-day.

When we consider that during this period of twelve years the population of Great Britain has increased by 3½ million, as the noble Lord, Lord Meston, pointed out, and that at the same time the number of households has increased out of proportion, owing to the fact that people are marrying younger, living longer, and have more money, so that they both want and can afford a separate home, which has thus led to a huge demand for houses, in addition to which there have been slums to clear and a legacy of old pre-World War I houses to improve and repair; when we consider the tremendous improvement which the Government brought about in the housing situation, in face of all these difficulties, and that they have at the same time instituted vast investment programmes for roads, schools and hospitals, then I think we can claim, justifiably and with complete confidence, that the Government achievement is one to be proud of. That does not mean to say, as I have already pointed out, that the Government are complacent about the future of the housing situation, but it does mean that the Government have no reason whatever for any feeling of shame. It means that any attempt to belittle the Government's achievement in this field is utterly unjustified.

So much for the past. Let us look to the future. There is still, of course, a net actual shortage of houses in the places where they are most needed. If we are to overtake this shortage in the next ten years, and at the same time clear virtually all the remaining slums; to provide for the growth of the population; to allow for mobility of labour, not to mention making a start on renewing the depressed or twilight residential areas, then there is no doubt but that the rate of house-building must be raised to at least 350,000 a year.

It has been said that that is not enough, and that the figure should be 400,000 houses a year. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, is of that opinion, and has said so today. The Government would dearly like to see 400,000 houses a year built, but I would remind your Lordships that during the discussions on the London Government Bill the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, brought the White Paper into the discussion and said that my right honourable friend was promising all sorts of things which he ought not to; and I think that, by implication, he was suggesting we were not being very honest about the matter. If we were to promise to build 400,000 houses a year in the near future, then that would be dishonest. The figure we are aiming at is realistic and takes account of the demands upon the building industry, of educational establishments, hospitals, industry and commerce—all of them continually expanding demands.

The aim of 350,000 houses a year is, I repeat, realistic and honest; but it does, indeed, represent a vast effort by any standard. At a conservative estimate of an average cost of £2,500 per house, it amounts to an annual investment of £875 million. How are we going to achieve that number? I will leave the details of new building techniques to my noble friend Lord Jellicoe, who will be winding up this debate for the Government. Suffice it for the moment to say that the two Ministries concerned, Housing and Local Government together with Public Building and Works, are working together on the use of industrialised building systems, and I would here only draw attention to the 5M system developed by the Research Department of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, for it has special relevance to the building of houses as distinct from tall blocks of flats; and 80 per cent. of all dwellings in Great Britain are in fact houses.

What I want to clarify at this point is the part that local authorities can, and indeed must, play if the objective of 350,000 houses a year—and in due course more—is to be achieved, for this is a direct responsibility of the Department I have the privilege to represent. We are making it possible for the local authorities with the worst problems to plan their housing programmes for at least five years ahead, and for the others to plan for three years ahead. We are also encouraging them to work together in groups for the purpose of placing large forward contracts. Such consortia already exist in Yorkshire and the Midlands, and informal groups are consulting together also in the North-East, Glasgow and London. To assist in these matters, and in the general field of housing, slum clearance and urban redevelopment, we have set up offices in Manchester and Newcastle.

Now, my Lords, I come to the type of housing that needs to be provided out of this 350,000 a year. I spoke earlier about the increase in the number of houses owner-occupied. I said that over 40 per cent. of all dwellings were owner-occupied (in America it is 60 per cent.), and I feel that nobody in his senses can quarrel with that. This has some reference to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, about needs. A property-owning democracy is a basic aim of the Conservative Party, and if it is not also the aim of the Labour Party, I am sure we should like to know.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the number of houses for letting is not sufficient either in the public or in the private sector. With the increasing speed of slum clearance envisaged, and the necessity for relieving the serious problem of overcrowding and multi-occupation, the local authority building programme should be stepped up to at least 150,000 houses per annum, all for letting. But there is scope for alternative methods of providing houses to rent. Many young people, newly married, for instance, higher wage-earners, retired people, widows with private but limited means—all these groups may find difficulty in buying their own homes; or may not want to do so for a variety of reasons. They may not want a council house, and in most cases do not need any special assistance or subsidy. Private enterprise has not made this sort of provision in the recent past, deterred as it has been by fear of rent control and by the problems of management and maintenance. There is an obvious gap here which needs to be filled.

This is the reason for the Government's proposal to set up a Housing Corporation with a fund of £100 million with which to grant loans up to one-third of the cost of building, with the balance to come from building societies. These loans will spread over 40-year periods, which in itself will be an innovation of considerable value. It will be the Housing Corporation's duty to encourage and assist the expansion of housing societies, with a view to providing houses to let at cost rents, which, in accordance with schemes already successfully launched under the 1961 Housing Act provision of £25 million for that purpose, work out at £4 to £7 a week exclusive of rates. Another opportunity for the Housing Corporation and for the housing societies can be found in co-ownership schemes, individuals contributing, say, 5 per cent. of the cost and borrowing the remainder, also over a period of 40 years. Shares in these schemes will carry with them a right to occupy a house, and that right will be transferable to another person when the original holder wishes to move elsewhere. Thus a degree of ownership, with the security that that offers, can be acquired by those who cannot afford or do not wish to buy a house. I think the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, will admit that in these proposals, and in our admissions of the need for houses to rent, we are thinking in terms of the sort of houses that are needed out of the 350,000 which we propose should be built per annum.

Since I have been talking about houses for rent, it would be appropriate for me at this point to make a passing reference to rent control simply to put forward the Government's views. We maintain that rent control will not add any accommodation for letting, and it will not overcome the problem of overcrowding; and those are the two basic matters to bear in mind. The only things that will have that double effect are building more houses to let and compulsory improvement and repairs of those already let. The Government propose to see that both these things are done. I would direct your Lordships' special attention to the Government's proposals in the White Paper for compulsory improvements and repairs in respect of rented dwellings. By compulsory improvements we plan to prevent some 3 million old houses, without amenities but otherwise structurally sound, from deteriorating into new slums. The obligation to improve should take effect only on a change of occupation in an area designated by a local authority as an improvement area, or anywhere else at the request of the sitting tenant. Compulsory repairs present greater difficulties which we shall soon discuss with local authorities and property owners. But the aim would, of course, be not only the prevention of deterioration, but the assurance of decent living conditions, as well.

Perhaps at this point it would be convenient if I made some reference to standards, which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, brought up—and I am happy to do so, because it is indeed a relevant, but also a difficult problem. The noble Lord may know that we have recently issued from the Ministry a new bulletin called Housing Costs Yardstick. It is a very complicated looking arithmetical table, but it is very useful, and is designed to allow any local authorities to get the best value for their money and also the best layout. It gives examples of costs per head according to varying densities per acre and also of the necessary variations according to the different sizes of families. It is quite surprising how the costs vary in that respect. It should be most useful.

Those costs have, nevertheless, been based on schemes already in existence, because they had had to be compiled from statistics provided, and those schemes have mostly been built to 1949 housing manual standards and, therefore, allowance would have to be made in the future for anybody building to Parker Morris standards. With regard to the difficulty about building immediately to Parker Morris standards and of such standards being obligatory, really the answer was given by the noble Lord himself very soon after he brought up this subject. The very next thing he mentioned was that the building costs must be lowered; and, of course, if without further investigation we were to make the Parker Morris standards obligatory building costs would inevitably go up.

What we are doing at the moment is this. Although we want to see Parker Morris standards generally introduced, we felt that a trial period was needed and that the Ministry, in collaboration with willing local authorities, should have time to design and build some schemes to Parker Morris standards. That is now going ahead. From these and similar schemes undertaken by local authorities who build to these high standards, we hope to learn how the standards work out in practice. Of course, we shall gain a lot of practical experience in erecting the buildings, and of the cost of them. We shall eventually be able to point to several of these Parker Morris schemes on the ground. We feel that until we have more facts on this which can be related with sufficient accuracy to building costs, it would be unwise at the moment to enforce these standards. In due course, when we have ironed out the snags, we shall have much to say about this matter of higher standards, because, as the noble Lord pointed out, it would be a pity in the long run to build too many houses below standards which we believe to be necessary—houses which may have to last from fifty to one hundred years. But this is a problem which we are certainly not ignoring, and we are fully aware of the relevance it has to housing in the future. In order to carry out the Government's policy which I have been describing, and in particular if we are to build 350,000 houses a year in the right places—and I agree with the noble Lord about that—it is obvious that we shall require more land.

That brings me to the second part of Lord Silkin's Motion. In the first place, I should like to refer to the development plan system, which is designed to deal with the availability of land. There is provision for ad hoc amendments to be made, in addition to the statutory reviews. Local planning authorities have been urged to keep a close watch on land demands, and to see that more land is allocated where necessary and where this can reasonably be done. Since the original circular to local authorities was issued in 1960, substantial additions have been made to housing land allocations: 321 amendments to development plans have been submitted, and new town maps have been prepared for 122 towns. In most areas, the planning authorities can cope with the situation in this way; and if I mention them only in passing it is not because I undervalue their contribution.

In some areas, however, the problems are so pressinig and cover so wide an area that they must be looked at in a more comprehensive way. These are the major conurbations which we know so well. In each of these areas, the Ministry of Housing, in close collaboration with the other Government Departments concerned, are carrying out a regional study, and this also is well known. The aim will be to give local authorities in these areas estimates of the land demands which will have to be met over the next twenty years; and also to suggest ways in which the problems of overspill from the conurbations might be tackled. In the Midlands and the North-West, the Minister has already taken steps to help the areas with the greatest housing problems, with his proposals for two new towns to relieve the West Midlands conurbation, two to relieve Merseyside, and one to relieve Manchester.

These regional studies of the congested areas must not be looked at in isolation. One important cause of congestion in these areas is the growth of employment. As a consequence of this, the Midlands and the South-East offer jobs, not only for the strong natural growth of their own populations; they also attract migrants in search of work, some from overseas, and some from parts of the country where the rate of unemployment is above the average. Studies to improve the economic competitiveness of these latter regions contribute to the solution of the problems in the congested areas. Regional studies are therefore being carried out for Central Scotland, and for the North-East. One for Wales, where past improvements need consolidating, is also to be undertaken. The regional studies, both for the areas of congestion and for those of unemployment, are essential to the Government's approach to the problems of land availability.

I think that answers the points brought up—and quite rightly brought up—by the noble Lord, Lord Meston, including his reference to new towns. The Government are approaching this matter in a thorough, analytical and constructive way, with the idea that these regional studies will put the new towns where they are wanted. They will take account not only of congested areas but of unemployment areas as well. It is not simply a question of building them in the right place and moving, or encouraging industry to move in the right places. It is also a question of an integrated attack on the problem, and I hope the noble Lord will not go away thinking that the Government are not fully aware of that and tackling it in the proper manner.

It is also part of the answer, at least, to the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, to see that houses will be put in the right places. There is no overall shortage of land in this country, but the shortages have to be tackled where they occur and, more widely, by measures to encourage a better distribution of population and employment. There is, none the less, a tendency to look at this problem in terms of allocating more virgin land.

But this is not the whole story. One encouraging feature of the present high-level demand for land is that it is forcing us to use it more economically. One aspect of this is the trend towards higher densities, which the Minister has encouraged and on which he has issued a bulletin. Another is the redevelopment of older areas. A particularly interesting development here is the extension of urban renewal from city centres to residential area. There are formidable technical difficulties in this operation, and the Ministry of Housing is making a study of the whole problem. As the White Paper on Housing mentioned, the study includes pilot schemes to be prepared jointly by local authorities and private developers. On the basis of the experience gained in these studies, the Ministry hope to produce proposals for solving the practical problems that arise in those cases.

I have said that this emphasis on making better use of land is due to the fact that land is short in certain areas. It is also due, in no small measure, to the fact that land is expensive. When virgin land is cheap, there is no reason why anyone should turn his attention to the much more difficult business of redevelopment. But this process of urban renewal is essential, and I make no apology for introducing what I have to say about land prices by emphasising that there are advantages in higher prices. Of course, prices are higher than they were before the war—though the difference is often exaggerated by neglecting the fall in the value of money and the tendency towards higher densities which makes a comparison based on cost per acre misleading. Of course prices are higher; but conditions are very different. Then population was relatively static, the economy was depressed and land was often wastefully used—for example, ribbon development and that kind of thing. Now, land demands are rising, and we value our land more highly. Of course we are planning to prevent sprawl all over the countryside, and that has an effect on prices as well. That is inevitable.

First, I should like to clear out of the way one misconception. Some people talk as if the land market operates in a vacuum—as if developers bought land without considering how they intend to use it. But it is the price of the finished article that determines the price that the developer can pay for the land. It is still the price that people are willing to pay for houses that settles the builder's asking price; and it is with this in mind that he competes for land on the market. One cannot, therefore, entirely separate land prices from house prices, or attribute the cost of houses necessarily to the price of land.

There is another reason for looking at the two things together. What people want is not land, but houses: and the real test must be whether land is coming forward so that the houses are being built. The figures give the answer. Last year, 305,000 houses were built in Great Britain—a higher total than in any year since 1955. So whatever criticism may be made of the present system, it must be conceded that it works and that the land is coming forward and the houses are being built.

It is far from clear that any alternative offered by the Opposition would work, and I am perfectly willing to accede to Lord Silkin's request that we should discuss this not in a polemical manner and try to get to the bottom of things and discuss them on their merits. But what is this alternative? Even the Opposition do not wish to return to the system of development charges which existed between 1947 and 1952. They propose instead a Land Commission, which would step in and buy up land when permission was sought to build or rebuild. I do not want to pick holes in the details of this proposal. Indeed, one is not quite sure what the details are, because their plan is still only in outline, but maybe one cannot avoid seeing the following disadvantages in it.

First, the Commission would buy land at less than market value. This would mean that less land would be offered for sale willingly. This must be so; and the Commission would, therefore, have to resort to compulsory purchase on a massive scale, and this, quite apart from the objections of principle, would take time and slow down development. And this is a result that we can least afford now, when we so desperately need to get more houses.

Second, there is the question of how the land is leased for development. It has been suggested that if the developer was going to build houses, the Commission would not strike a severely commercial bargain but that, in return, they would exercise control over the price at which the house would be sold. But what about the people who buy the house? Would they be subject to the same restriction? Would they be allowed to sell their house at open market value, and, therefore, be allowed to make a large profit? If not, to what extent would their freedom of movement and freedom of choice in the future be restricted if they had to buy their house under some sort of restrictive covenant?

Are the Opposition really suggesting that the Commission would continue to exercise this form of control over every one of the thousands of houses built privately every year under this system? Who is going to operate this control and who is going to pay for it? What it comes to is this. The Opposition's scheme is not really a scheme for dealing with land prices, nor to any appreciable extent, as far as I can see, with the end product, namely, the price of the house. It is, rather, a device for diverting the increased value of land to a state corporation. And not only would its effect in practice be to slow down the supply of land coming forward for development, but it would also, in the long run, mean the end of owner-occupation as we understand it to-day. Whatever the intentions of the Socialist planners may be towards existing owner-occupiers—and their intentions are, I think, distinctly ambiguous in this respect—they cannot deny that their proposals would bring future owner-occupation virtually to a standstill.

The Government recognise the hard economic fact that land, like any other commodity, is expensive where it is scarce. Some rise in prices is, therefore, to be expected; and, while this is not to be welcomed in itself, it does have the beneficial effect of making us value land at its true worth. Recognising the fact that price is a matter of supply and demand, the Government are tackling the problem on both fronts. They are tackling demand by encouraging the decentralisation of employment from the conurbations, the big city areas, and by stimulating growth in the less prosperous regions. They are tackling supply by encouraging the planning authorities to bring forward more land, and by a comprehensive approach to land needs in the pressure areas. These measures, together with the larger housing programme, are, in the Government's view, the right way to approach the problem of rising land prices.

To summarise, the housing situation has improved out of all recognition during the Government's term of office. The problems ahead are still enormous but the Government's plans for resolving them in the next ten-year period are realistic and imaginative. We are looking forward to carrying them through with success.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him one question? Does the realistic figure which he mentioned of 350,000 or more houses include Scottish areas? Perhaps I have asked a question which needs an answer later.


Certainly the Government's plans for housing include Scotland. I think that the actual figures I gave include Scotland, but I will let the noble Earl know. Certainly, Scotland has not been forgotten in all this drive.


You mentioned Glasgow.


Yes, I mentioned Glasgow.


But Glasgow is not necessarily Scotland; there are other places like Dundee. There were scathing remarks made from other Benches about Budden Camp. I come from that district and I know that those remarks are not true.

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, I am very glad that this, my second speech in this august House, should be on a subject of such great importance as housing; for it seems to me that the nation, despite all that the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, has said, needs to realise, and to become more deeply aware as a whole of, the still critical situation of housing to-day. It is all too easy for us to become used to the situation and to take it for granted, in exactly the same way that we have taken for granted the road situation for many years past, so that people have begun to say that our road system—perhaps one of the least satisfactory of any civilised nation in the world—can never improve. At last, almost too late, a great deal of money is being spelt on roads—money which, in time and energy saved, would have been amply repaid had it been spent years ago.

The same ignorance is true in the minds of many people to-day on the subject of housing. The average man in the street still does not realise that no fewer than 2,300,000 houses in England and Wales were built over 110 years ago, before 1851; and that no fewer than 4,200,000 houses—in other words, nearly 30 per cent. of all the houses in this country—were built ever eighty years ago. Furthermore, some of those houses, built, alas! rapidly, and often with very little respect for æsthetic or sanitary considera- tions are scarcely fit for human habitation to-day. This problem has been greatly accentuated by the comparative absence of repairs between the years 1939 and 1958. Furthermore, I wonder how far most people of this country are aware of the size and nature of the legacy handed down to this generation by those who lived in the second half of the nineteenth century—that period of rapid industrial development, when houses for the majority were being built with little or no planning or regard for health, comfort or social amenities. It has been estimated by one expert that, even allowing for sound old property, the annual rate of demolition of slum dwellings should not be less than 100,000, and that to replace all the pre-1877 houses it would be necessary to double this annual rate for the next ten years. This means 200,000 houses a year to cope only with the problem of slums and obsolesence. But of course, the overall need is very different indeed.

The question is: what is required to meet the problem to which I have already referred, plus the problem of population expansion and changing social conditions? The lowest estimate is 5 million houses over the next twenty years; and some authorities have put the figure at 8 million. The present Government have declared for a building programme of 350,000 houses a year, which would amount to 7 million houses over the next twenty years; and the noble Lord, Lord Hastings has given extremely compelling reasons for that figure. But, my Lords, I still believe that that figure is too low. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, is nearer to the mark when he estimates a figure of 400,000 as being more realistic.

But, whether it is to be 350,000 or 400,000 houses a year for the next twenty years, that will entail a vast concentration of effort and drive upon this one all-important section of the whole domestic front. Have we seen such effort and drive from the Government during recent years? Despite all that the noble Lord has said just now, I still, frankly, feel that I am bound to say, No, we have not. And the facts and figures from other countries seem to prove it. As a country we have spent a lower percentage of our gross national income on housing than most European countries. The figure, for instance, of West Germany is 5.7 per cent. I know that their problem was very acute, owing to the bombing; but the figure of Switzerland is 5.7 per cent., and for many other countries it is in the 4 per cent. region. Our figure in the United Kingdom has been 3.2 per cent.

I said just now that the annual figure of new houses per year for the next twenty years should be 400,000. During the past ten years the number of new houses built in a single year has only once reached a figure of 300,000. So if this new total is to be reached, it will call for a very high degree of co-operation at all levels, and it is about this co-operation that I want for a few moments to speak to-day—the kind of co-operation that a nation shows itself capable of when there is a war and its security is threatened. It is no use any political Party or section of society wasting time in trying to prove that the other Party's plan is unworkable, simply for the purpose of catching votes or winning popularity: for the situation is far too serious for that kind of manœuvring.

I realise only too clearly, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Meston, that many factors add to the problem—such as the drift of population from North to South. As a North-countryman, born and bred, and one who is proud to be a North-countryman, it is, I think, fitting to realise that there are many great amenities in the North and that our public relations have got to be, I think, slightly more effective. Our countryside is beautiful, our air is bracing, and our people are virile. Our task is to present more faithfully and effectively a happier picture of the North than can be sometimes got by listening to the less civilised people of the South! That one factor alone, the drift, aggravates the problem very considerably; for in some areas, as we know, there is a surplus of houses, while in others, notably London, many people are desperately searching for houses at prices they can afford to pay. I mention that point to indicate that I am aware of other factors which add to the difficulty, but I wish to restrict my remarks to the heart of the problem as I see it; and that is the vital need for co-operation.

Let us see where this co-operation is needed, and needed urgently. First, it is needed between local authorities and housing societies. I am impressed by the Government's plans for helping the development of these societies. Many people are willing to pay a higher rent or would like to become property owners but cannot do so under present conditions. Their only hope at present is to rent a house built by local authorities. But most of the latter have a long waiting list, and for other reasons, to which I will refer later, they are being discouraged by hard economic facts from expanding their building programme. So the lists do not, alas! grow much shorter. This being so, the development of trust ownership, under which houses can be provided at cost, and properly managed, seems to me to be an excellent thing. Trusts of this kind could provide houses to let at market-value rents or to be acquired on a co-ownership basis. This system has worked well in Scandinavia, where perhaps people are more co-operative-minded than in this country. Nevertheless, people in this country must be prepared to respond to new ideas, and this is an example of a sphere in which cooperation is needed. I therefore welcome the Government's proposal to ask Parliament's consent to the provision of £100 million to help provide 40-year loans to housing societies.

Co-operation from local authorities is needed in helping to make suitable sites available to these housing societies, and from banks and building societies in the mortgage schemes involved. It is needed also from the ordinary men and women, the "Tom, Dick and Harry" who make up our society, in their willingness to try out the idea of co-ownership and co-operative management, at the same time getting rid of any preconceived ideas that this favours one particular section of the community. So far as I can see, even if such a system does provide the solution to the problem for one section, those who do not want a council house, it does not do so at the expense of others.

The second area of co-operation is more specifically related to the ordinary man and women. It is very much a matter of co-operation in thinking afresh, in a willingness to adapt one's thinking to changed conditions. I would put it in the form of a question: is it true that in some areas the rents being charged by local authorities are well below the economic level? If this is so—and I am asking the question—it may well be one of the reasons why, in spite of building subsidies, local authority building programmes are contracting when they ought to be expanding. For surely it should be axiomatic that local authority rents ought to be at a level which enables them to balance their revenue account. It is often argued that the low rents charged by local authorities confer an advantage on one section of people at the expense of others. There is, I suppose, some truth in this; and there is little doubt that, with the change in social standards, and the tendency towards a levelling of incomes, many people occupying these houses today could afford a higher rent. But not all—some will always be in need of assistance.

The solution seems to me to be that local authorities ought in the first instance to charge rents, dictated by prudent financial considerations, but with the power to grant reductions on proof of hardship or special need. I realise only too clearly the difficulties involved in such a scheme. One might find oneself in a host of administration problems. In a certain city that I happen to know, where this differential rent scheme was invoked, the council had to employ a horde of officials to examine thousands of wage returns to ensure that the man gave a correct percentage of his income for his house. Dozens of extra officials had to be employed, with the result that the cost of working the scheme was more than the amount received from the differential rents. I realise this danger, though I am not convinced that this need always be so. But certainly I am glad to note that the Government propose to consult with local authorities in a complete overhaul of housing subsidies, and I hope that this will mean a resolute facing of the problem of the level of rents and differentials. The important point, surely, from a national standpoint, is to ensure that those subsidies are not wasted, but are used as and where there is real need. This policy, I feel, calls for real co-operation by all of us, at all levels and of all political persuasions, particularly in the acceptance of real rents and not artificially created ones.

A third area for co-operation is the building industry. The Minister of Housing referred in a recent broadcast to the Government's intention to stimulate factory-built houses. From all I have learned about this principle I believe that it is full of possibilities, by the use of pre-fabricated units capable of producing a diversity of buildings in a much shorter time. The use of standardised fittings would also hasten output and reduce costs. I realise that any industry must first be satisfied that there is a clear policy which, on a long-term basis, would justify a change of technique. If this is forthcoming, then there should be no insuperable barrier from the side of the building industry.

The fourth area of co-operation is in relation to the landlord who lets his property, either houses or flats. Here is a formidable problem. Many landlords look after their houses; but not all as we know. Some have no concern for their tenants' welfare. We all, of course, dislike compulsion; and there are some people who will resent the Government's proposal to devise means of insisting that all privately rented houses should be kept in a proper state of repair. But what is the alternative? Improvement grants are of little use where there is an acute housing shortage. Tenants must, alas, put up with rotten conditons if there is nowhere else to go; and there are some tenants, as we know, who actually prefer rotten conditions with low rents, simply because they cannot pay more.

Something must be done about this situation; for, even on the most optimistic basis, it will be a long time before we see the last of our old houses that came to us as a legacy from the past. Until they are demolished they must be made as habitable as possible, with a reasonable amount of light and air and certain basic conditions. I am glad to know that the Government propose to discuss this problem with representatives of local authorities and property owners. I hope that much may be done by greater co-operation, and that compulsory powers if granted, will not have to be used widely; but where compulsion is necessary, I hope the power will be there for drastic action.

One final point about co-operation. We all have a particular concern for elderly people. For many, the finding of a home at a rent they can afford is a nightmare. I hope that all the organisations which I have mentioned—local authorities, building societies, housing societies, et cetera—will co-operate with the welfare services in meeting this particular need. Elderly people are still a comparatively neglected group. They need small dwellings in localities in which they have lived for a long time past. On some council estates, as, for instance, in my city of Coventry, special provision has been made; but the need still remains. To sum up: my clear impression is that much has been achieved. The records of local authorities, building societies, builders and others over the past years, is good. But we have not, even yet, become sufficiently aware of the problem, its size and its nature. There is a need for far greater social awareness and, as I have said, a great need for co-operation at all levels.

One final, but most important point. I have refrained so far, deliberately, from mentioning the cost of land. I have done so for two reasons: first, because the discussions I have had with experts in my own diocese indicate that, in relation to housing problems there, the cost of land is far less important than the other matters to which I have referred. But I am conscious of the fact that it is by no means true of all areas. In regard to London I have little doubt that national help is needed to meet the high cost of land required for housing at reasonable rentals.

We have all been shocked by the revelations brought to light by what I can only describe as "the Rachman racket". Sooner or later, this question of land values must be faced. Land in London which four years ago was worth, say, £14,000 an acre is now worth over double that figure. How can a local authority, if it wants to purchase the land for housing, pay such an extortionate price? The only people who can do this are, alas!, the Rachmans of this world. The problem of how to deal with rising costs is not one upon which I feel able to speak. A policy of subsidies, compulsory purchase orders and direct rent reliefs appears to me to meet the needier sections of our society, and here I think we are all on fairly common ground. Beyond this common ground, however, proposals diverge con- siderably in principle. Some would like to see land transferred to public ownership. Others would leave freedom to individuals to profit, while safeguarding the public interest through designated land and compulsory purchase orders. The common ground, however, does indicate that a welfare society concept is now common to all political Parties, and it is my view that the cost of putting it into practice should be borne by taxes rather than by rates, as this broadens the area of responsibility.

In conclusion, I would repeat that I am glad and privileged to take part in what I believe to be an all-important debate. For a person's character is determined to no small extent by environment, and the house we live in is the most important environment of all. By raising the standard of housing for all, we shall be helping in the solution of many problems that stem from it and that cast a dark shadow on our society. Sacrifice is needed. It may be the sacrifice of private gain, or the sacrifice of a long held and cherished idea. But without it we shall never reach the point of mutual co-operation, without which I am certain this problem can never be solved. Only slowly are we as a nation becoming aware of this appalling and heart-breaking problem. Some people who are readers of the Sunday Times were shocked into awareness by a recent "slum issue" brought out by that newspaper. But has not the time come for something approaching a slum removal campaign on similar lines to the Famine Relief Campaign, which is doing so much to prod people awake to that kindred problem of world famine?

We must continue, month in and month out, to hammer home three simple basic facts: first, slums must go, and we must get rid of the mentality which says that slums will always be with us; second, every family has the right to decent living conditions; and third, that this is a national problem and calls for an all-out national effort. If a country like West Germany can allocate such a large proportion of its entire national income to the housing problem, surely a great nation like ours could perhaps do even more than we have done. Let us then go forward with resolution and boldness to tackle this formidable, but by no means insuperable problem.

4.37 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his speech, and I am particularly glad that he should call attention to the good work done by the housing associations, and also the fact that it is difficult to generalise in regard to land prices, among other things because of the absence of statistics. There are figures, but it is difficult to generalise. I submitted in a Motion some months ago that although there were contributory causes, the essential explanation of the exaggerated prices was the long queues of people wanting to buy parcels of land in particular places. I agree, up to a point, that the position has been magnified by town planning restriction, and I think that there is still a certain amount of land which is being kept off the market deliberately by speculators. I think it is wrong ever to do that. But that is a rather popular Party political approach.

The reasons why people tend to concentrate in particular areas and in particular localities are no doubt most complex; but I do not think that anybody would deny that they exist. Two things seem to follow, therefore: in the first place, that the ultimate solution to the housing problem is to take deliberate steps to diversify the demand, such as by increasing the number of expanded and New Towns and by the control of industry and offices. I look forward to a statement that we were promised some time ago by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government on this question of increasing the number of new and expanded towns. But that is all a long-term matter; and the question is whether anything can be done in the meanwhile to reduce what is so frequently termed "the scandal of high land prices". I really feel, as I have said before, that we ought to be clear what the scandal is. You may, if you like, regard it as scandalous that the mere accident of ownership should put large sums of money into people's hands. You may think it is true of ownership of land; you may think it is true of French Impressionist paintings; you may think it is true of Blue Mauritius stamps. But I do not think that anything—


Except that—if the noble Viscount will allow me to interrupt—it is not a fair analogy, because we all need to have a house, but we do not all need to have Impressionist paintings.


I hope that I shall have something to say that will please the noble Lord a little later. All I am saying is that even if it is scandalous, that particular aspect should be dealt with by some form of taxation. But, as I have said before, what most people consider scandalous is the amount of money that they should have to pay for land—in other words, what the customer has to pay for land. I can never understand on what basis Labour thinking goes in this respect. You can buy land cheaply, you can expropriate land, but you will still be confronted by a long queue for it. I have never yet discovered on what basis the Labour Party would distribute this land and how the queue would be satisfied. It seems to me that the queue would be just as long, and just the same questions would arise, if one distributed land on some basis other than market value. While it may be all right for local authority purchase, one would get into a tremendous jam if one started doing this with other forms of private enterprise.

There is one aspect of this matter which is a little scandalous. I think it is scandalous that a local authority should have to pay "through the nose" for the privilege of supplying what everybody to-day regards as the essential services to go with residential development. This is exactly what happened in the New Towns. The New Town corporations started exploiting land values as merrily as everybody else. Then the County Council Association and others went to the Minister, and he said that this was a little severe. An agreement has been reached to supply these services in the New Towns. The New Towns will let the local authorities have them for a period at existing use value. That is a principle which I think might be followed in regard to the expansion of towns or any large-scale residential building operation.

My suggestion is that when planning, consent is sought for such large-scale building operations local authorities should be allowed to issue consents subject to conditions, and that one of such conditions should be that the requisite land for the statutory purposes should be set aside and be made available at existing use values. It may perhaps be legal to do so at present. One of the charms of town planning is that one never quite knows whether what one is doing is legal or not. I read of a recent case where an applicant took a ministerial decision to the High Court where it was ruled to be ultra vires. The principle of the thing, which I am sure will give rise to a lot of complicated details, is right: that in supplying residential land, with all the conveniences that go with it, our task should be made easy rather than difficult. We old-fashioned landowners were always expected in days gone by to give land for school sites, road widening and so forth. To-day it is all compulsorily acquired at district valuer's valuation. I cannot see any reason, from the Conservative point of view, why that sort of condition should not be made.

I would agree that acquiring land in this way for this sort of purpose is only a partial solution. I do not think that it could be extended for acquiring land for council houses. If you make it cheaper to provide one sort of housing rather than another you will get into great difficulties. We must keep a sense of proportion about this matter. I believe the right reverend Prelate referred to over-exaggerating the cost of land. In my area I calculate that a penny rate would pay the loan charges on one million pounds' worth of land, or, if for grant-aided schemes, two million pounds' worth. You can buy a lot of land, even in Sussex, for £2 million. So I do not think we ought to exaggerate this difficulty, although I think there is something in it.

I agree that where one has an area of high development, as in London, the problem is exceedingly difficult. In my area we find it almost impossible to implement proposals for sports grounds and open spaces within the built-up areas, although they have been designated for open spaces in the town maps for many years. Under the extremely complicated and intricate system of calculating values in these built-up areas we simply cannot afford to purchase land at full residential value for such purposes as sports grounds or open spaces.

My Lords, I must apologise for making a dull and technical speech, but I feel that this problem will really be solved only in dull and technical ways. It is profoundly complicated and involves a lot of town planning procedure. We are learning all the time. I think it is important to differentiate between the really essential social uses and what may sound very profitable to some. I support the remarks made by the right reverend Prelate.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, we owe a debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for raising the question of housing, which is one of the most important subjects we have on our entire programme. I believe that considerably more attention must be given to the practical details than has been given in the past. Your Lordships have spoken of the principles of planning, the cost of land and other aspects, but I want to mention a few of the new techniques and practices which can be applied anywhere and which will not have to wait for any new towns or regulations. They can go right ahead now, if only the owners, architects and builders will adopt them. If they will do so, then by carrying out principles that have already been applied with great success in other countries we ourselves, can reap many of the benefits.

It must not be forgotten that all buildings that are erected are a charge against anything which we export; they are a charge which we have to meet in the way of taxes and so on. If we can apply simple processes that have been followed successfully elsewhere they will afford great benefits, and we shall be very unwise if we do not follow them. Unfortunately, not many of our builders adopt these methods very easily. A number of the leading builders are adopting them with success, but the great majority, particularly in regard to housebuilding, have not done so.

I should like to refer to some of these principles which have been so successfully applied elsewhere. We can build houses in this way more quickly and at less cost. It is being done already, and your Lordships no doubt know countries in which it is being done. Such methods are being carried out by some people in this country, but, as I say, not by the majority. I speak with knowledge of the subject when I stress that the majority of our lesser builders stick to the old and traditional methods. For instance, it is by no means usual that the co-operation between the owner—whether it be the local authority, the Government, the private person or the corporation—and the architect and the builders is nearly as close and mutually helpful as it could and should be. They should know exactly what they want to do. It is not the common practice to make drawings in sufficient detail before the work starts. The average set of drawings one sees in an architect's office to-day—not all of them, by any means, but a great many—are not prepared in sufficient detail, certainly not in the sort of detail that is undertaken in Scandinavia and the United States. There they go into much more detail, and the drawings are much more complete before they start. If similar methods were used here, it would be possible to avoid wasteful and expensive changes later on. There should be complete drawings, and there should be competition on all the details before the work is undertaken. All the detailed drawings and complete specifications should be available before any actual construction work is undertaken, or even before tenders are sent out. The building contract should be quite clear and understandable by everyone concerned.

There is another very important practice that we in this country do not follow at this time; payments to the builder should be made promptly, and for as large a proportion of the cost as can be done with reasonable equity to all concerned. If that is not done, he borrows money from other people, and everybody has to pay for it in the price of the building. Complete small-scale drawings and detailed drawings should always be available for all those connected with the work—not only the owners or the foremen, but the actual operatives, who should be able to study them at any time. This will give them encouragement and will prepare them for what they have to do. Another practice, one that is practically never followed here, is that a complete time-and-progress schedule should be prepared beforehand. Everyone should know how many men and how much material will be wanted; at what date they will start, and at what date they should complete their task. This should be made a part of the contract. It should be a contract document signed by the architect, the builder and the owner before any actual work is undertaken. By this means it is possible to follow the building through at a pace which cannot be imagined if you have never used this method.

Another practice which could be followed with advantage is that of modular construction, which means that every dimension in a building should be a multiple of 4 inches. That may not sound very much. The Government are already operating 1 foot, 8 inches, which is five times 4 inches, but that is a little too large. The American military services who at one time used this system declared that they could complete their buildings 10 per cent. more quickly and 10 per cent. more cheaply than by using the normal processes. That system could be adopted here quite easily and without any trouble. As I said just now, the Ministry of Works are advocating this modular form of construction. It does not in any way limit the variety and form of the building, but if it is followed thoroughly, with drawings, by the architect, before the work is started, it saves literally all cutting and patching. It should be realised that the average cutting and patching on the ordinary building to-day, in brickwork alone, means 11 per cent. added to the job; and that could be avoided if proper modular construction were used before work began. This is one of the serious causes of the high cost of building.

In 1943, while I was in the other place, I was asked to go anywhere and find means of building quickly and cheaply. It was very important; we were being bombed badly, and we needed homes for our people. I was told that I could select anybody to take with me, and I asked for Sir George Best, Sir James West and Mr. Wolstenoroft, who was then Chairman of the T.U.C. Unfortunately, Mr. Wolstenoroft became ill and could not come with us. However, we went to the United States, and, to cut a long story much shorter, we flew 33,000 miles and at the Fantana Dam, in the Tennessee Valley, saw the two halves of houses being brought together. When we got down from the Dam they had been stuck together; we went inside, and they had tea ready for us. I found out that these houses were being built at Illinois entirely by women labour; though they had a man foreman. I brought back five of these houses, and we put them outside the Tate Gallery. There were 170,000 of them built all over the country. When we bought them they each cost about £500, or £600—that was the price for the best; but due to the methods of construction used here, and the refusal of builders to adopt the methods that had been used elsewhere, they were costing up to as much as £2,000, instead of £500 or £600. It was the same identical building, but the majority of them here cost £1,000 to £1,200.

This same principle of prefabrication need not mean that everything is made to look like everything else. Prefabrication will enable any building to be put up. A building like this could be made by prefabrication, just as well as a house. It is only a matter of co-operation by the architect and the builder. With proper architectural co-operation, this principle of construction can be followed to great financial benefit; and the good appearance of any building will be retained. Equally, standardised parts can be introduced. This has been done already, with great success. We could get the costs down and the buildings could be improved with very little trouble. With prefabrication and standardisation the majority of the work could be done in a factory or workshop and could proceed quite irrespective of the weather.

In 1908, the very first 20-storey building ever built in the world was erected at Richmond, Virginia. Three months were occupied on the foundations, but the building itself was finished absolutely and completely in eight months. If you walk around and see any building 20 storeys high in this country, you will not find one that has been built in any time like that. Many of them take eighteen months, and it is very seldom that one finds a time of construction anything like that. That was fifty years ago; to-day, we are taking all this time. We have not learned a bit, because we refuse to adopt this method.

What is more, no so-called "prime cost" should be allowed on a building. In other words, you should not get a specialist to manufacture any particular article, to quote a price for his work on that job, and just have it included in the bill of quantities with no competition at all. I can quote a case where 72 per cent. of the building was given at prime cost with no competition at all; and when you reach that point you realise how much that building is costing which it should not cost. What is more, our supervision should be much more punctilious than it used to be. The people responsible for all sub-contracts on a job should meet every two weeks. Someone representing the architect should meet them and require them to say whether their work is up to the time-and-progress schedule. If it is not, it should be required to be brought up to date before the next meeting two weeks later. That would prevent the delays which occur now and are so terribly wasteful and expensive. If the subcontractors are not ready, or if any work is not coming in as quickly as it should, there should be expeditors (who are not commonly used in this country) who should go to where the work is being done and stay with it until it comes back to the job, finished and in proper condition. I mentioned earlier that a number of contractors in this country are following many of these principles and practices, but this is by no means universal all over the country. It is a fact that a large proportion of our builders who are on housing work do not use these methods.

Finally, the last payment on a job should be paid within 30 days of the completion of the job. Very often the builder has to wait for a full year before he receives the final payment. If a builder is a responsible builder he ought to be able to give a guarantee that he will put anything right, and if he were paid promptly that would save the builder having to borrow money to pay for his business, and would avoid the owners having to pay a double interest charge right the way through. I know that these are not very interesting points, and they are highly technical; but they are known to most builders. Most owners are beginning to learn something about them. Modular construction is now known, and standardisation. All this duplication can be done, and done without any additional manpower. We do not require any more manpower to do it. I am sure that, if only we would attempt to introduce these latest practices, which have proved very successful in other countries, and if only we would attempt to follow them here, we should make a great gain, we should get our work done more quickly, and very much more cheaply than we are to-day.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Bossom always speaks on these technical matters of construction and organisation with very special authority. I have often benefited from hearing his views, and I hope that, as a result of the increased powers given to the Ministry of Public Building and Works, what he has been preaching and what the Ministry of Works has, I think I can say, listened to very attentively, will now be applied over a wider sphere than in the past.

I intend to address myself chiefly to the question of finance. Finance, it has been said, is not merely a matter of sums, but is the basis of all policy. When the Conservative Government came into office in 1951, I think it was the case that the Rent Restriction Acts were the greatest obstacle to the housing programme. The artificially low rents imposed upon private house owners made it necessary that houses built by local authorities should be kept cheap by high subsidies. The wheel has now gone a full circle, and to-day it is the relatively low rents charged by local authorities, largely owing to the subsidising of rents out of rates, which discourages private enterprise from building houses. It is essential, if one is to have a steady, progressive programme of building, that the rents both of council houses and of privately-owned houses should be at an economic level and bear a fair relationship to each other.

The most immediate need now is to stop the subsidising of rents out of rates. Each year some £17 million is paid in subsidising council house rents out of rates. I suggest that the facts show that there is no need for that to be done, Bristol, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Northampton, just to take a few examples that I find in Housing Statistics, 1961–62, are making a nil contribution out of the rates towards the rents. Merthyr Tydfil, on the other hand, is contributing out of rates 30 per cent. of the housing fund. I have argued on a previous occasion that this is not only unwise because of its depressing effect upon the building of houses by private enterprise, but it is most unjust. People living in their own houses, sometimes in slum houses, are being obliged to contribute to the rates in order to keep down the rents of people living in better conditions.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord—I wanted him to finish his sentence, which happened to be rather a long one—could I ask him this? When he compares those authorities which are making no contribution out of the rates with those that are, is he taking into account the fact that those who are not making a contribution have a very large stock of prewar housing, and that by charging modern rents for the pre-war houses they are in fact able to subsidise the post-war houses?


My Lords, I am going on to deal with the whole of that matter later. It is extremely important; but I will take it in my stride, as I have made a note upon that subject. My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister of Housing and Local Government has given attention to the Local Government (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Bill, which was recently before the House. The effect of Clause 3 of that Bill is that, instead of the Rate Equalisation Grant being based upon the actual rents charged, which in Scotland are in many cases quite absurdly low, the grant is calculated on a notional rent which is what is deemed to be a fair and a reasonable rent. It seems to me that it would be possible in the case of the one-third of the local authorities of England and Wales who benefit from the Rate Deficiency Grant, to introduce the same principle, so that the assistance that they would receive would be based not upon the low rents that they actually charge but only upon any deficiency there would be if they charged reasonable rents.

I know that under the Rent Act, 1957, the private owner of a controlled house is restricted to charging 2⅓ times what was charged before the Act came into operation. Since then, there has been a great increase in building costs, and a great increase, also, in earnings. Therefore the reasonable level of rents in this country should now be deemed to be considerably higher than 2⅓ times. It is not for me to say what the figure should be—it would be a matter for careful calculation—but I should imagine it would be something in the neighbourhood of 3⅓ times. That is a suggestion for applying in England and Wales, a principle which has commended itself to the Secretary of State for Scotland, to bring pressure upon local authorities to raise their rents to a reasonable level.

I have spoken about subsidising rents out of the rates, and I now want to say a word or two about the subsidies from the Exchequer. Originally, after the war, the subsidy was paid in respect of houses. In the 1961 Act a change was made from that in order to pay the assistance to the authorities; a distinction was drawn between the richer authorities and the poorer authorities; and the criterion that was adopted was very much the criterion which I have just been suggesting should be the basis of what reasonable rents should be.

For the future, I should like to see subsidies given to those persons who are in need, and also to special cases where the cost of housing is particularly high. I regarded (and I said so at the time) the Act of 1961 as a retrograde measure. I far prefer the earlier system of subsidies confined to dealing with slum clearance and overspill. The Act of 1961 meant, in large measure, a return to a general subsidy. I cannot believe that there is any greater justification for subsidising housing as a whole than there was for subsidising the cost of food. That, the Conservative Government criticised when they came into power, on the ground that it meant taking the taxpayers' money and distributing it indiscriminately to those who were not in need as well as to those who were. That is just what has been happening in the case of housing subsidies. I think the time has now come when it should be possible to cut down subsidies very substantially, if not to abolish them altogether.

In 1914, a working man used to pay up to about 20 per cent. of his earnings in rent. At the present time, in the average working-class home there are 1½ wage-earners, and the average wage of an adult man is £15 per week. Therefore it is only exceptional that families are unable to pay an economic rent outside the London area; but where there are such cases I should wish them to be dealt with on the principle of subsidising need where need is found. The aged do not come into this category, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, will confirm. The Assistance Board in the vast majority of cases—more than 95 per cent. in fact—adds the actual rent paid by aged people to the assistance scales.

There is an additional reason for reducing or abolishing subsidies. It is not merely that it is a heavy burden on the Exchequer—although I am not ashamed to put forward that reason—but between the two wars, whenever there was a reduction in housing subsidies it was found that the cost of house building fell. In this inflationary age I should not be so optimistic as to say that a cut in subsidies would actually bring about a reduction, but I would say that a cut in subsidies would do a great deal to check the appalling increase in the cost of building houses to which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, drew attention in his most interesting and constructive speech.

My Lords, I note in Cmnd. 2050 that the Government promise a complete overhaul of housing subsidies. I should like to put a blunt question to my noble friend who is going to reply. Has the system of two rates of subsidy provided for in the Housing Act, 1961, worked? In the first place, has it worked as Mr. Brooke expected it would work? Secondly, has it proved satisfactory? Frankly I find it difficult to believe that it has. London is in the category of a poor authority and receives a subsidy of £24 per house. Manchester and Liverpool fall into the category of rich authorities and receive a subsidy of £8 per house. Presumably, if the Government were entitled to be satisfied with the way in which the subsidy is working, they would not now be holding a conference with local authorites with a view to a complete overhaul of the system. I very much welcome the tone of the White Paper on subsidies and I hope the Government will have the courage to confine subsidies to cases where they can economically be justified.

When considering subsidies I am, of course, referring to future houses. I agree with the Government view that the subsidies in respect of houses that have already been built constitute a binding obligation and it would not be possible to alter them without a breach of faith. Virtually all local authorities now pool their subsidies for the purpose of their housing fund. But the pooling of subsidies does not necessarily imply a sound rent policy. Here I come to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. Council tenants should pay rents according to the quality and quantity of the accommodation provided by the local authority for them. The cost of building a particular house is not a fair criterion to be taken into account when fixing rent. The great division is between pre-war and post-war houses. Prewar houses should, at the present time, show a substantial profit; and that profit should be added to the pool of the housing fund for the benefit of the more costly houses built since the war.



This is a principle which has been adopted by the London County Council and they call it "comparability of rents". Far example, for a three-bed roomed house built before the war the rent, in 1961–62, was 26s. 3d., and for a roughly-similar post-war house 30s. 3d. There is very little difference between the two. In the case of Hampstead—I am sorry to say, under a Conservative administration as opposed to the Socialist administration of the L.C.C.— the difference is that pre-war houses carry a rent of 38s. 7d. and most post-war houses a rent of 86s. 6d. The only explanation of this wide discrepancy is that the cost of building houses after the war has been very much greater than that of building a house before the war.

Why should post-war tenants pay more than twice as much as pre-war tenants for approximately-similar accommodation? It is due to the illogical idea that it is improper to make a profit out of supplying a good house in the right place for the person who needs it. But in considering the whole question of rents, subsidies and rate subvention I am sure that we must try to insist on all local authorities applying the same "comparability of rents" principle as the London County Council. I have spoken with appreciation and admiration of the policy of the London County Council; their rents, I think, are equitably calculated as compared with those of many authorities, and their rents are not very low. They were, in 1961–62, twice the gross annual value; and after this year's increase they will be up to 2½ times the gross annual value; but still 11.6 per cent. of the total housing income comes from rates.

Why is housing in London so expensive? Here I follow what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said on the subject. I would say that I cannot agree with the somewhat complacent attitude of the Government as expressed by the Parliamentary Secretary. Within the last two years there has been a rise in the cost of land which the L.C.C. has been buying from £20,000 per acre to £70,000, £80,000, £90,000 or £100,000 per acre. It is a simple calculation that, with 40 dwellings per acre, the cost will amount to about £2,000 per dwelling for land alone. It will not appear for another two years or so, because houses now being built and occupied are on land which was bought two or three years ago. But this is what will happen in another two or three years' time.

Clearly, in cases of this sort in the London area there must be an exception to my suggestion of abolishing subsidies; and large subsidies will obviously be necessary there for some time. But I hope that no one, and certainly not the Government, will consider the paying of a large subsidy for land as a permanent solution. It cannot be. What is needed is a drastic decentralisation of London. We have discussed this before. In Command Paper 1952, London Employment: Housing: Land, the Government have diagnosed the situation very clearly. For example, at one point, in paragraph 7, they speak of: "separate homes being wanted for at least 200,000 additional families from the present population of London over the next ten years". But when we come to the remedies, they are extremely disappointing and unsatisfactory—paragraph 68, in particular. It was for that reason that I moved an Amendment to the Town and Country Planning Bill, in order to make it far more drastic than it was, because I cannot believe that it is doing more than trifling with the problem of additional offices in the centre of London.

It is disquieting that after twelve months we are still without any information about what is going to happen to the 1,000 acres of railway land which is now becoming surplus to railway requirements. Your Lordships inflicted a defeat on the Government last year in order to insist that at any rate part of that land—and I think your Lordships would have liked all of that land—may be made available for housing purposes in London, and not all of it for additional office accommodation. Actually, the Amendment was an ingenious one by my noble friend Lord Conesford. It provided that although there should be nothing to prevent new offices from being built at suitable places, such as over railway termini, an equal area should be sterilised in order that the total number of clerks travelling into London in the morning and out again in the evening should not be increased. Now, what is the position in regard to that?

This increase in the price of land, as my noble friend the Parliamentary Secretary said, is due to supply and demand. I do not know that we can do much about providing more land. I think there is a good deal to be said for reducing the demand upon it, in a congested area like London, with all the social and economic problems that it creates.

There is also Covent Garden, where again your Lordships inflicted a defeat upon the Government, because of the concern the House felt at the idea that Covent Garden should be rebuilt in the centre of London. As your Lordships will be aware the Fantus report has recommended other sites, and the site that was provided in the Government's Bill is fifth and last of the sites in suitability. Now an argument is going on about that and there will be further delay in dealing with the problem of Covent Garden. I mention these things because something far more drastic than anything adumbrated by the Parliamentary Secretary will be needed, if this appalling problem of the rising cost of land for building in London is to be arrested. A study of the South Eastern region is to be published in the autumn, and we must hope that there will be something more constructive and radical in the Government's proposals when it is published.

I come to what the Government have said about the Green Belt for London in Cmnd. 2050. Paragraph 65 I can only describe as a woolly cocoon intended to encircle and conceal this sinister sentence: It cannot' reasonably be maintained that none of this land that is, land in the Green Belt— should be considered for development however serious the housing shortage may be … I feel that those of us who have a concern for the future must stand absolutely firm on the maintenance of the present Green Belt in its entirety and in its full integrity. Certainly I shall do what I can to persuade my friends to oppose any proposal for any invasion of the Green Belt, even for the purpose of housing, unless there is an overwhelming reason and some generous compensation, in the way of additional land given to the Green Belt. I cannot believe that, in the long run, even the great cause of housing is going to benefit by a reduction in the Green Belt.

I want to put an important technical point to the Minister of State, and I hope that he will deal with it when he replies. Under the planning legislation, lines have been drawn between the Green Belt, which is sterilised from the point of view of development, and land where development may take place. So the value of land in the Green Belt is only a small fraction of the value of land which may be used for development. It may be that the lines were arbitrarily drawn and that some injustice was caused when one man, Mr. A., was in the area that could be developed, so that his land rocketed in price, whereas his neighbour, Mr. B., was in the Green Belt, where building was not going to be allowed and the value remained low. Any injustice that was done at that time has, however, largely sorted itself out. In both cases, land is likely to have changed hands in the light of the arbitrary decisions that were taken by the planning authorities. If the Government propose now to allow building on any part of what has been the Green Belt, it will mean a new arbitrary gift of great wealth to the owners of that land. I think that it would be an extremely wrong thing arbitrarily to confer entirely undeserved benefit upon an individual owner of Green Belt land by giving to him a right which he never expected to have.

My Lords, I apologise for speaking so long, but I think that a general review of these financial principles—the need for a wise and fair land policy extending all over the country; a very careful review of the subsidies that are paid; the termination of the unfair and injudicious system of subsidising rents out of rates—all these are essential if our housing programme is to go ahead on the lines that we all desire.

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord who moved this Motion laid stress, not unnaturally, upon the high cost of building land. Of course, the high prices which are being asked for land, particularly in the South and South-Eastern areas, are an important factor in the cost of houses. But, as the noble Lord developed his speech, I was glad to find that, with his customary experience and fairness, he recognised that the cost of land is not the only factor, and not, indeed, the major factor, in the cost of houses.

The high and growing cost of construction is, I believe, an equally if not more important factor in the cost of houses. I think the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, recognised that fact in the course of his speech. It is not only that the cost of construction is high: the most distressing aspect of the question is that the cost of construction is rising rapidly. It is interesting to see what the experience of the London County Council has been. The cost of construction of houses erected in the year 1949–50—and I take that year because that is the first year for which the statistics are available—was 36s. per foot super. That figure is exclusive of land, of the provision of roads and public services and of all professional fees.


My Lords, would the noble Lord kindly repeat the year about which he is talking?


The year 1949–50; and, as I say, I take that year because the figures are not available for earlier years. I would have preferred to take the years immediately following the war. In 1961–62 the cost had risen to 44s. per foot super, an increase of 8s. It is not right to give the impression that the high cost of land is the major factor in the growing cost of building. The cost of construction is a more important factor in the cost of the house. It is for that reason that the new technical methods of construction of which my noble friend Lord Bossom spoke, and to which I think the Minister himself referred, seem to me to be of supreme importance.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, referred to his own attempt in the Act of 1947 to deal with this problem of high land values. I have a great respect for the noble Lord and for the Act of which he was the author; it is, indeed, the foundation of our planning law to-day. But when I read in the Bill the provisions for dealing with this problem of the rising value of urban land, I felt convinced that they were not going to succeed. It seemed to me that they had all the weaknesses of other schemes which had been proposed at other times by other political leaders which aimed at siphoning off for the public benefit the increase in development value. That is exactly what happened to the noble Lord's proposals.

The difficulty really is the fundamental difficulty in assessing a value that has not been realised. It is difficult enough to assess an accrued value, but it is almost impossible to assess a value which has not yet been realised and is still in the developing stage. That has been the essential difficulty of every Government that has endeavoured to deal with this problem, and it is for that reason that every scheme that has been proposed has met with failure.

There have been two major factors which I believe have contributed to the difficulties of the housing situation in urban areas, and particularly in London. One of these factors has been the attempt to reduce the density of population in urban areas of high density. That in itself is a most praiseworthy aim, but, in my view, it has produced disastrous consequences. Experience since the war has convinced me that you cannot effectively reduce the density of population in high density areas unless you are prepared to take power to direct people where they are to live. No one suggests that you could or should do that. But unless you can do it, I do not believe that it is possible to reduce high population densities by planning methods.

In London—and I speak of London because that is the area where these problems are the most acute—the population of the Administrative County has been reduced by something like 250,000 since the end of the war. These people have gone to the out-county estates of the council, to the expanded towns and to new towns. But this is the difficulty: not everyone who has been displaced by slum clearance or improvement schemes, or is patiently waiting on the lists of local authorities, has accepted the alternative accommodation which has been offered to them. There are many persons who are not willing or able to leave the central areas of London. They are largely the people who are today living in overcrowded conditions, sharing lavatories, bathrooms and even kitchens. What happens is this. The clearance order or the improvement order is made; they are offered alternative accommodation, but sooner than accept it they go round the corner and take the first room they can get in what is called a roomed house.

What is the remedy? I think the only answer to this problem is that we must revise our ideas about densities in urban areas. That I believe the Minister is encouraging local authorities to do. I have never been convinced that high densities are in themselves necessarily a bad thing, provided that the surrounding area is properly planned with proper reservations for open spaces, schools and other public purposes. Conurbations, in my opinion, have come in for much undeserved abuse. I was born in a conurbation, I was brought up in a conurbation, I spent my working like in a conurbation, and I represented a conurbation in another place. I do not know that that in itself is an advertisement for conurbations, but it leads me to think, when I look back on a long experience of conurbation life, that the conurbation is perhaps not such a bad thing as it has been represented to be.

But if we are to increase densities in urban areas, that means we must be prepared to build upwards. Of course, a flat on the top storey of a fifteen or twenty storey block of dwellings is not an ideal place in which to bring up a young family. But it is a great deal better than a room in an overcrowded house. These are conditions which we must accept in these urban areas of high density if we desire to relieve the overcrowding which exists there at present.

There are in London miles and miles of shabby, badly-planned, inconvenient, Victorian houses, most of them now seriously overcrowded. They should and, I hope, will be swept away, but we must be prepared to rehouse a large proportion of those persons who are living in these houses at present somewhere in the same neighbourhood to which they are accustomed, otherwise the overcrowding will go on unchecked. I remember that the London County Council came very slowly and cautiously to accept the tall building. Indeed, some of their early re-organisation areas were planned upon the basis of much reduced densities. I remember the first re-organisation area which was proposed by the Council in Stepney and Poplar. In those days, I was a member of the planning committee—indeed, I think I was the leader of the opposition on the committee—and we certainly accepted the proposal, so we all bear the same responsibility.

What was proposed was that the population of that area should be reduced by something like 55 per cent. That meant that more than half the persons who had lived in Poplar and Stepney before the war would be required to find homes elsewhere. I am sure that that attempt, praiseworthy as it was, to reduce the density of population in a high density area produced a substantial measure of the overcrowding which we have experienced since in other parts of London.

The other factor which seems to me to call for urgent attention is the failure of the planning authorities to control office accommodation in Central London. My noble friend Lord Molson referred to this. The London County Council made great efforts to restrict the growth and, indeed, the location of industry in those areas of London which could be regarded as residential. Indeed, they incurred a great deal of expense in attempting to move industry out into what was regarded as a more suitable location. And yet unchecked and unplanned expansion of offices has been a much more unsatisfactory factor in post-war planning than the presence of industry in residential areas ever was. I do not blame the London County Council for this. Their powers were in certain respects inadequate. Nor do I blame the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, from whose Act these powers were derived. We all, I think, have shared the responsibility for this policy. I do not think that any of us foresaw what was going to take place.

I am very glad that the Minister appears to be fully alive now to what is going on. I think I had better say no more than this. I think we must make up our minds to ensure that some of the sites which might otherwise be available for office development are diverted to housing purposes; and, indeed, it may well be that in outer London, in the suburbs, some of the sites which are at present reserved for housing development might be usefully and helpfully diverted to office development. There has been a complete lack of balance between the development in inner London and the development in outer London. That is all I propose to say on that subject. I hope that my noble friend, when he comes to reply, will be able to assure us that the Minister is now fully alive to the dangers of what has been happening, and that effective steps will be taken to bring it to an end.

5.47 p.m.


My Lords, Housing Ministers since the war have had a most Herculean task. I think the late Minister of Housing thought he was beginning to see himself getting on top of the task, but his expectation of that was based on the Registrar-General's figures that the annual birth rate in this country was steady at around 650,000 births, whereas the latest expectation is 750,000, rising possibly to 925,000 by the end of the century. On the coming into operation of the original Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, the development plans, and everything which flowed from them, were based on the original figures. These, as I say, have proved to be totally erroneous; and the actual birth rate has made the original development plans quite inadequate. I point that out to noble Lords opposite to underline how the best attempts of people to plan are always set at nought because human nature does not fall in with their plans.

The other vital figure in these calculations is the number of persons to each household, which tends to fall, with the early marriages we have been having and the lower ages of puberty of girls in this country, and also with an increased proportion of old-aged people in the population, which means households of one or two. This figure is very much a guess so far as the future is concrned; so that, taken by and large, the number of houses required for the future is equally a guess. Mr. Cohen of the Alliance Building Society, thinks that the number of persons per household will continue to decline in the same ratio as it has done in the past. On that basis, he says that we want 8 million houses in twenty years. On the other hand, the Ministry (though I do not think they publicise their method of calculation) believe that 6 million will be enough. I suggest that both these figures are speculative. But what is absolutely certain is that over the next four or five years we need far more than 300,000 or 400,000 new houses a year. And I would remind your Lordships that, when one is dealing with statistics, the official figures contain a very large quantity of empty accommodation—a point to which I think the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, referred—and, also, when we calculate the number of houses per head of the population, that certain people own more than one house—again a point of which no account is taken.

The concentration of demand in the Home Counties and the inadequate development plans have led to a grossly overloaded building industry and to a famine in land, with consequent high prices, in the Home Counties. But, of course, this famine in land, with high prices in the Home Counties, is bringing into the market a certain amount of land which would otherwise never come in. All sorts of people in small towns see their way to solving the problems of keeping an over-large garden properly weeded by selling half-an-acre to a developer at a price anything up to £10,000 or £12,000 an acre. If the price of land were more reasonable I think that those people would continue to tolerate their weeds.

I am trying to get hold of some figures to see how one can measure this particular pressure, and the impression I get from advertisements in the papers (though it is difficult to know whether one is comparing like with like) is that in the Home Counties the price of a small, three-bedroom house is running at about £4,000, whereas a similar property in the more outlying parts is available at around £2,500, the difference, of course, representing the overloaded building industry, and famine in land. If we come to houses without land—that is, building costs, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, referred, and of which he gave prices for London—my impression is that in the Home Counties the cost of council houses is 5 per cent. to 10 per cent. more than in the North and East. When we come to individual houses, as one who has some connection with the supply of new rectories, which are individual houses, I reckon that in Sussex, Kent and Surrey a new rectory is costing approximately 20 per cent. more than in the North and East. That is on our own land, and is just the cost of building a custom-ordered, tailor-made house. In Sussex the cost of a rectory on our own land has gone up approximately 40 per cent. in six years. On the other hand, the proceeds from the old rectories that one discards have shown an even more spectacular rise.

In London, of course, my figures lead me to believe that the rise has been still greater, and I am surprised at the moderation of the figure which the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, gave. A rise of some 22 per cent. in eleven years, I should have thought, would be less than the inflation. I think that a London diocese would have found that the cost of providing rectories had gone up at a much greater rate than that. This shows that the building industry in the Home Counties is overloaded. It is paying higher wages than in the other parts of the country and is, I am quite certain, making higher profits. The remedy should be to give a greater priority for housing in the Home Counties or to expand the building industry; in other words, perhaps to try to call off these great building firms from the office blocks in London and get them to tender for housing development.

The pressure on land is terrific, but when one talks about higher densities and so on, one inevitably runs into higher prices. The cost of a flat in a 12-storey block as compared with a house is more than double. The net result is that, as in all booms, the participants, the developers, have overestimated their market and have paid higher prices than their customers can afford, with the result that we have a lot of empty accommodation, particularly on the South Coast and in the dormitory towns; accommodation which people either are unable to afford or will not take because the value for money is bad. It is easy to be complacent about the whole situation if one lives in one's own home, but it is a pretty desperate situation for young people marrying and setting up house, when perhaps the young man is getting between £500 and £1,000 a year, and accommodation at the price he can afford is unobtainable.

The problem of supply of land, quite frankly, seems to me insoluble. I do not believe that the Socialist Party's remedies would work. The only remedy I can see is to encourage the dispersion of the population to try to relieve the pressure on the land, and, at the same time to continue to harry the Government, as your Lordships have always done, to see that the railway lines are disgorged, and also the land belonging to Government Departments, which, in the opinion of most of us, is grossly excessive for the needs of those Departments throughout the Home Counties. But we of late have heard very little about either of these two subjects.

New Towns have been mentioned and we shall want these North of the Thames. I was very glad, too, to hear my noble friend Lord Hastings say something about attempts to disperse industry into Wales. But I still maintain that eventually we shall have, to some extent, to industrialise East Anglia, preferably by building some new towns and also satellite villages for those towns. There is an experiment, either starting or about to start, for a large satellite village to Cambridge: it is located about five miles out of Cambridge, I think on the Huntingdon Road. But I was rather shocked to see that the planners had decided that they must start on a completely virgin site where there was no habitation before. I should have thought it would be a great advantage, particularly in East Anglia, to develop an existing village, where there are those wonderful old churches which were sufficient for a huge population when wool growing went on in that part of the world, and to build around that village, rather than start on a completely new virgin site. Perhaps the Minister would care to look into that particular point.

We come to the supply and the cost of money, which means so much to those who want to buy their houses. There are so many competing claims on our capital savings, what with Government and local authorities, industry, hire purchase and the like, that I do not think there is any orthodox method available to reduce the cost or increase the supply of money, and anything unorthodox would probably only lead to horrible inflation. But I do think we might have a little bit of thoughtful criticism and research as to whether we are using it in the best possible way. A building society normally will not lend for more than 25 years, and to borrow £3,000 for 25 years costs one £4 10s. a week. If they lend for 20 years it becomes about £5 a week. I do not know what the cost would be if they lent for 60 or 100 years: it would obviously be considerably less. That leads one to ask, if we base our programmes on housing lasting something like a century, why is it necessary that nobody will lend on them for more than about 25 years. In any case the land will not run away. Could we not find some method by which money was lent on the land for a longer period than on the house'? I think we might have to look at things of that kind, always remembering that the longer we make the time for repayment the less is the turnover of the money and the fewer the new customers who can be accommodated by the building societies.

I think the whole country has been completely horrified by the revelations about that despicable Pole who has recently died, though I think we did suspect that things of this kind went on. But what one wonders is whether the local authorities have enough powers. Rough justice would demand that where you get dilapidated, over-populated houses and elusive landlords who disappear when you call on them to do anything, the local authorities should have power to step in and take over the property, do the repairs and sit on them and wait for the landlord to come along and claim his property. He might never do so. It looks as if the present process is that they have to search for the owner first, and the owners appear to be extremely elusive gentlemen. Rough justice, I think, would be served if the Minister would look into that.

We in this House have fought the battle of the office accommodation in London so often. But I would call your Lordships' attention to one thing that struck me as rather strange. Apparently, according to The Times newspaper, there is a large block of residential accommodation which is being built on the South Bank, and the United Nations Organisation wishes to set up a branch in London and has put in a request that these flats should be turned into offices for their accommodation. The London County Council has very properly turned them down, whereupon the United Nations Organisation has appealed to the Minister. Knowing the Minister, I have not the slightest doubt that he will dismiss that application just as quickly as he sees it, but I hope it really will go to him, and if by any chance this application from the United Nations in being sponsored heavily by the Foreign Office—


My Lords, I think the noble Lord is under a misapprehension. This is certainly not an application by the United Nations. It is an application by somebody who hopes to dispose of it to the United Nations, but he has not even done that yet.


I was about to intervene to acquaint the noble Lord with the error he has fallen into. It is not the United Nations Organisation, which is in New York and has a London office. This is the United Nations Association, of which many of your Lordships are members in a branch in this House. Should they be successful in getting this, one of their ideas is—and I rely on Press reports only—to try to persuade the United Nations office at Russell Square to go there and to try to get the local UNESCO office established there. But it is definitely not a United Nations application.


I am very glad to hear it because it will make it all the more easy for the Minister to turn it down.

I do not want to fight the battle of Covent Garden again, but it is always worth reminding my noble friend the Minister that that would make a wonderful site for development, not as offices; I have little doubt it would be extremely valuable as residences for the newspaper industry who keep most irregular hours round the corner, and I hope it will eventually tend that way.

Finally, I think that the Ministry are much too complacent regarding the immediate future. It is important for their calculations that they should know the life of the old houses and the life of the new, because my calculations lead me to believe that, if we had to renew all our housing accommodation every 100 years, during the course of the twelve years in which my noble friend says he has built 3.1 million houses 1¾ million have fallen obsolete; so they must not be too complacent about this.

There is one small point which caused me some worry. The modern house is built with a hollow wall tied together with galvanised ties. Sooner or later those galvanised iron ties presumably rust and rot through. In that event does the house collapse or not? What is the life of those galvanised iron ties? The Ministry in making their calculations must have done that little sum, and perhaps my noble friend can tell me in due course. I would emphasise that all calculations for the future of housing over twenty years is really the most utter speculation. All we know is that over the next five years we want a large number of houses, far more than proposed in the Government programme. The Government programme itself is probably as much as the building industry in its present form can possibly tackle. If my noble friend can bring in this factory construction and so on, all to the good; it will be a great step forward, and I hope we shall do much better in the next few years.


My Lords, the noble Lord spoke about building more houses in East Anglia. As housing affairs are in the hands of the housing Ministry, who are very well acquainted with that situation, I do beg them to tell us that they will be firm about not using up good corn growing land in the East of England, where it can best produce crops; and also to reassure us that the housing Ministry do know how short we are of water in that part of the world. Therefore, I hope we shall not have expanded towns, or other towns, in that part of the world until it is resolved that there is enough water.

6.10 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has once again performed a very valuable service in this House by bringing to the attention of the House this very grave human problem of housing and the cost of land. I think it is particularly pertinent at this stage of the Session of Parliament that we should think of this subject, especially as there has recently been a debate in another place, and there are doubtless gaps which have been filled in which were not filled in there. I am myself Vice-President of the National Union of Ratepayers' Associations, which of course has a very large interest in this particular subject. Let me say at once that we are grateful to the Government, at least for making their favourable proposals known on the Schedule A tax. This will be of considerable assistance to house owners.

This is not a political matter, particularly so far as land is concerned. As has been said on all sides, it is largely a matter of supply and demand. As your Lordships doubtless know, I live in the County of Surrey, which is perhaps the county most affected by this land shortage, chiefly because it is near London, and those who work in the City or the West End of London, and who have to put up with the noise, the heat and other inconveniences, like to get a little peace and quiet in the evenings and at week-ends, and they move into the country. But Surrey and many of the Home Counties are becoming less and less rural. This is a great pity, but the demand for housing goes on, and it is perhaps inevitable. But what is most worrying to those of us who live in these parts is the fact that so much of the land is owned by large building concerns.

In Surrey it is practically impossible to obtain a builder of one's own choice in order to have a house erected. I do not know whether it is in the province of this or any other Government to deal with this matter. I raise it primarily because it is a matter of considerable concern. I do not wish to attack these large building concerns with any measure of unfairness—I am sure that they are run by honourable people—but, as has been shown, there is a real danger that some of the workmanship is not as good as it might be. I could quote one instance in my own village of Ashtead in Surrey. Only a few months ago some houses were put up, but during the recent heavy rainstorms the gutterings completely overflowed. That seems to me to be poor workmanship. It is true that housing lists are large and, therefore, it may well be that these houses have to be put up quickly, but, eventually, this poor workmanship recoils on its own head and repairs have to be put in hand, and often labour has to rebuild where it could be used for building new houses. This is a technical point, but it is an important one.

Now I come to the question of planning permission. Fortunately, our local council is fairly practical about this—at least, in most instances. A number of houses have large back gardens, but the council will not permit development in those places. If it did, one would soon get this hideous "banjo" development which I think most of us deplore. On the other hand, those who have large gardens which are not easy to cultivate, through lack of time or labour, are in difficulties in that the weeds have to stay. But it would disfigure the countryside even more if many of these houses went up ad lib. On the other hand, there have been one or two instances where I live of planning permission which I personally consider to be bad. For example, by the side of the railway lines maisonettes are being constructed. They are quite nicely built houses, but they are near railway lines. Admittedly, they are protected by iron fences; but children have a habit of surmounting these and, although nothing has happened yet, there is a real danger. There was, also, until two or three years ago, a large pool—what was once a large disused chalkpit, quite deep. It is now covered by a good many houses. I do not profess to be an expert in building, but I should have thought that to properly drain a pool of this size would take six or seven years, and not merely a year or two. My own fear is that these houses will soon be seriously affected by damp.

May I turn for a moment to the County of Sussex, where Eastbourne is a particular problem. A year or two ago the waiting list for council houses was something like 1,200. It has now risen to 1,600, because the Minister has been most insistent that only a certain quota of houses shall be built. Eastbourne is being developed to a considerable extent: a number of factories have gone up in the area, but the housing situation there is extremely difficult. I think that the overall national target of 350,000 houses a year is a good one. I agree that 400,000 would be an admirable figure to aim at; but, of course, as has been mentioned before, there is this shortage of building labour and also, certainly at times, a shortage of building material.

To turn for a moment to the subject of mortgages, building societies are frequently attacked by certain sections of the Press for charging high interest rates. Those who are buying houses on mortgage—and I am one—may well feel somewhat bitter about this. But there are many comparatively non-wealthy people who invest in these building societies, and more and more people are trying to buy their own houses. Therefore, it is difficult for building societies to lower interest rates ad lib. While on this subject of mortgages, I am not enthusiastic about any scheme which gives a 100 per cent. mortgage—at any rate, to young people. When I first married I bought, and lived in, a semi-detached, three-bedroomed house, for which I had to skimp and save, as do many people. But I believe that some incentive should be given to young couples to save. I think that possibly the legal charges could be incorporated in the mortgage, which would save the prospective buyer having to find another £60 or £70 on top of what he has to find for repayments. The cost of furniture and carpets, and so on, is high and perhaps here is something which the Chancellor of the Exchequer could look into. I feel that owning one's own house is a big step; and, while many young people to-day are thrifty, there are others who, I feel, in the two or three years before they marry, could do far more to save in a practical manner, and perhaps not always go in for the good times which some of them do.

The right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Coventry, made a most moving speech, and instanced the problems in his own area. It is primarily in the Home Counties that this problem over housing occurs, and I would agree with other noble Lords who consider that the decentralisation of London is becoming necessary. The problem is that more and more people want to move into the Home Counties of Surrey, Kent, and so on. Their offices are in Town, their travelling expenses are getting higher and higher, so that they are caught in an enormous spider's web. I do not know the answer to this problem. We all agree that where-ever possible offices should be moved outside London, but where can they be put in the Home Counties? At Kings-wood, for example, there are a number of insurance and other offices, nicely built in pleasant grounds, and in fact providing very much nicer working conditions than one finds in the City. But they are taking up land which could otherwise be used for houses. There is a lot to be said for really decentralising some Government Departments and moving them well outside the London area. The Ministry of Pensions have a good deal of their accommodation up in Newcastle. Cannot other Government Departments have at least some of their offices in the rather more remote areas of the country? This would also help to alleviate some of the unemployment which is hitting certain areas.

May I now turn to deal with the Green Belt? I agree with my noble friend Lord Molson that we should not permit any unreasonable violation of the Green Belt. I think that it will be scandalous for some of these modern, imaginatively-designed houses to be directed into such areas. As the admirable publication of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government on the Green Belt suggests, buildings for sport and recreation, and so on, might be allowed in approved cases, provided that the design conforms with the needs and the beauties of the area. But to-day, we find that more and more areas within 20 or 30 miles of London are being built on. Such areas of Green Belt as we have should surely be allowed to remain for those who like to see a little of the beauties of the countryside but whose work necessarily takes them to the great metropolis.

I would ask my noble friend the Minister of State whether it is not the case that the War Office are retaining too much land. I know that tank training, conventional weapon training and the like are necessary; but large areas of Dartmoor are still used by the War Office some of which use, I would suggest, is not entirely necessary. This seems to me to be a great pity, because when firing and other activities go on in these areas the public cannot gain access to them. On the other hand, I know that the War Office must have training grounds, and I should be the last person to quarrel with that.

Within those limitations, the Government's housing policy has, by and large, been sound. We are driving fairly quickly into slum clearance, although a lot remains to be done. One has only got to go into the City in the areas around Farringdon and Golden Lane to see some deplorable sights still there. What is happening to the Barbican scheme? Can my noble friend give any clue as to when that will be completed?—because that is an example of a way in which workers who like to live and work in London could be housed without too much difficulty. Finally, my Lords, I should like to say how grateful we are to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for enabling us to discuss this subject, and I hope that the Government will have some answers to the many problems raised.

6.27 p.m.


My Lords, I join with almost everyone who has spoken in the debate in thanking my noble friend Lord Silkin for this opportunity to discuss what the right reverend Prelate called the most important subject of housing. It is a rather sobering reflection that yesterday in this House there were some 130 of your Lordships to discuss and vote upon an item in the Peerage Bill, an item which has almost no bearing on the majority of the people in this country and which will in fact probably affect only a couple of dozen people all-told; yet to-day, when we are discussing a subject which affects virtually every man, woman and child in this country, we now have almost fewer Members present than the total number who have spoken so far.


My Lords, the noble Lord might look at the Benches behind him.


The comment is applied to this Bench as well. I was not referring especially to one Bench or another, or blaming one or the other. I am commenting on something that I deplore, and I think it is appropriate that one should. I feel very deeply about this question of housing. As the noble Lord will be aware, for a good many years, at least once and sometimes twice a week, I interviewed people in the West Country and in London. During that time I must have interviewed hundreds or even thousands of people, and at least half of them had housing problems. I say with all seriousness that that kind of thing leaves an indelible impression on one's mind that bad housing, housing shortage and overcrowding are the worse of all social evils, and the cause of a great deal of hysteria, mental and physical ill health, family quarrels, broken homes, broken marriages and deep-seated quarrels with in-laws which sometimes are never healed. When one has that experience and that knowledge, it is not easy to take with equanimity the somewhat facile assurances which were given by the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, in his speech. But I thought, if he did indeed sit down with a warm glow of complacency, it was very speedily dispersed in four sentences by the vigorous and forthright speech from the right reverend Prelate.

I think, however, that the most remarkable feature of this debate is that no noble Lord opposite, if he has dealt with the important question of land prices for housing, has been able to suggest any kind of solution. Some noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, said that we must not over-estimate the importance of this. He pointed to the fact, if it is a fact, that since 1949 the building costs per square foot have been increased from 36s. to 44s., which seems to me a remarkably small increase—less than the increase in cost of almost anything else in that period. But if that is true, then the high cost of housing is far more due to the increase in the cost of land than it is to increases in building costs. This is only a 20 per cent. increase in fourteen years. In Fort William, in 1963 they have to pay for a plot of land ten times the price they paid in 1962, one year ago. That is something like an increase, and it has not arisen through any kind of cleverness on the part of the landlord. It has arisen for the sole reason that they are going to build a factory there. Because they have to build a factory, the local authority have to build houses, and the landlord who owns the land has taken advantage of that fact to increase the price tenfold in one year.

The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, on this point made it quite clear that the Government neither can nor will do anything about the price of land. We are therefore led to the assumption that, for all they can do, the greedy will go on exploiting the needy, not merely without let or hindrance, but with every possible assistance which can be afforded by national and local Government. Then we are told in the White Paper—and with this I agree—that when prices rise to such an extent that sites become expensive, too expensive for local authority dwellings, they will have a special subsidy. That, of course, will incur the wrath of the noble Lord, Lord Molson, who is opposed to subsidies. But that is an illustration of this economic madness. We allow this to go on to such an extent that land becomes too expensive for local authorities to build dwellings for ordinary working people. When we have to subsidise such building, it means that you and I as taxpayers then have to pay these excessive profits which are being made on land.

My noble friend Lord Silkin, who initiated this debate, was the statutory and administrative creator of the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, and therefore the virtual creator of fourteen New Towns. He was responsible for what I regard as the wise and far-seeing provisions for the control of land use and the transfer of the benefits to society as a whole of the increased land value created by society, which I think is the only equitable way to deal with this problem. In my view, it is the destruction of the financial provisions with regard to land in the 1947 Act, and with it therefore the deliberate creation of a free-for-all in land, plus the 1957 Rent Act—and I cannot separate those two consequences: land, from house cost or rent—which are responsible for most of the miseries and ugliness which exist in our present housing situation.

My Lords, in another place I knew, and worked with on a number of social causes, the right honourable gentleman the Minister of Housing and Local Government. Therefore I acknowledge his sincerity and admire his ability. But the White Paper and the Minister's speech on July 8, and, indeed, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, to-day, show that they are not in touch with and fail to appreciate the basic causes of our present difficulties, which are clue to the two Acts of their own Government that I have referred to. It naturally follows that, for that reason, the Party opposite can suggest only expensive and ineffective palliatives. They can never suggest a cure. Indeed, in my view, by grossly inflating land prices and by massive decontrol of rents, the Government have planted two fat and greedy cuckoos in the national nest, which will surely thrust their parents into the political wilderness. That, of course, is a consummation which I regard as devoutly to be wished, but I should have preferred that it had been achieved by some means other than inflicting misery on so many people.

My noble friend, in his opening remarks, quoted from the newspapers—indeed, it is quite remarkable that, after twelve years of steadily rising house prices, the position to-day is such that last week-end it made the headlines in all the leading newspapers. The Sunday Times mentioned that this very day the 25-acre North Hyde Park Estate-25 acres of old, decrepit, long-leased Paddington houses, the last remaining bit of the Jasper empire—is being sold. The Sunday Times mentioned that in 1959 the estate was valued at £1.2 million and that they expect it to be sold to-day for £2 million. My noble friend mentioned the Sunday Express banner headline, "Biggest ever jump in house prices", and that there was going to be publication of a survey which would shock the Government. My Lords, I submit that there could not be clearer evidence than that of the failure of the Government's housing and land policy.

What of the effect of that policy on ordinary people—the people who want to buy or rent houses or rooms? We had in "Panorama" on Monday night, on the B.B.C., one example (I hope that it was an extreme example) of the effect on people of the present policy. They showed the empire of this man Rachman who came to the country penniless, took a job as a stoker, yet by 1961 was said to have collected £8 million on property deals. I noted down some of the words used by the B.B.C. spokesman, who I should have thought was objective. He said that this man was "the property king of Notting Hill", who owned hundreds of houses. He described how Rachman saw "a dazzling opportunity"—an opportunity created by this Government—for enormous profit by buying decayed houses whose leases were running out, or whose tenants he could frighten out. We were told of the vice empire he created; of a single room producing £45 a week. I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, to note this point, if he did not see the programme. What did emerge—and what is the most devastating thing—is that this is still going on.


My Lords, I am not quite clear. Surely, precisely the same thing could have occurred under the Labour Government, with rent control, because these are all furnished tenancies, are they not? Could this not have happened in those days, with the influx of the West Indians?


The noble Lord is by no means right. These certainly are not all furnished tenancies, as he thinks. There were actual pictures of the rooms; and, indeed, pictures of two rooms which had been devastated only last week by strong-armed thugs who beat up the tenants because they refused to pay exorbitant rents to which the landlord was not entitled, and who destroyed their furniture and everything. There was a blind Negro, evicted on Monday of this week, who had his home barricaded against him. We were told on television of tenants who were forced out by having people crowded in on them; of intimidation still going on, so that people are afraid to complain. We heard and we saw all this, which arises directly from these property thugs—you cannot call them anything else—tearing down this too flimsy protection which the Government have provided. The noble Lord, Lord Hawke, asked what powers are possessed by local authorities to compel landlords to do what they should do if they are not acting properly according to their tenants. Last week, in another place, the Minister said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 680 (No. 142), col. 992] that the 1961 Act: was designed to deal with Rachman and his ilk". He said: I have encouraging reports … from Kensington". The B.B.C. were in Kensington on Monday. I wonder whether the Minister is still encouraged. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, will still say that we have nothing to be ashamed of in this matter. Even more disturbing was the statement by the B.B.C. interviewer—and I am quoting again—that strong-armed men of the Rachman empire are still operating to-day for new landlords and new companies"; and that nothing can be done to trace and deal with the people responsible although the same names appear again and again". He said that the police have stood by while illegal evictions were taking place. Finally, the B.B.C. said: It is astonishing that more has not been done to make property owners responsible for their actions". The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, said that the Government have a logical policy to meet the challenge of the present situation. I hope the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, will tell us what that logical policy is to meet the challenge which was displayed in millions of homes this very week and which, if we are to judge the evidence of our eyes and ears, is authentic, actual and happening at this very moment. And not in Chicago, my Lords, but less than two miles from the Palace of Westminster! I want to know, and I think the country wants to know, when the Government are going to act in these matters. Will they give new instructions to the police? Will they use all the powers they possess; or, if there are not enough, take new powers to stop these inhuman rackets and to bring to book these men, these faceless men, who use the law, who flout the law and who hold ordinary, decent people not only in terror, but to ransom, too?

My Lords, all over London and in other big cities working people are being held to ransom without violence. During the campaign over the Rent Act, I was Member in another place for the East London boroughs of Shoreditch and Finsbury. I went into every street—not every house, but every street—in the borough, and thoroughly covered the whole area. Indeed, we fought very hard to get safeguards in the Act. But I can assure your Lordships that in that borough there are only two classes of property: one is council flats, and the other is houses that stayed controlled under the 1956 Act—in other words, homes that should have been safeguarded. But to-day, half those houses are decontrolled, in many ewes because the tenant died, or perhaps because he was bribed or frightened out, when the house became decontrolled.

This morning, I spoke to one of my employees, a Nigerian. I spoke to him because he told me he had been here three years and that his wife was joining him to-night. I asked, "Why did she not come before?", and he replied, "I could not save up the money"—he is just a labourer, earning £13 or £14 a week gross. I asked, "Where do you live?" He told me; I know the house. At the time the Rent Act was passed the rent was 28s. a week. I asked him, "How much of it do you occupy?", and he said, "One room". I asked, "How much do you pay?", and he said, "£3 5s. a week". My Lords, compare those figures: 1956–58, 28s.; 1963, over £20 a week. This is the kind of exploitation which is now possible and which is going on in hundreds of thousands of cases in London and the big cities, simply because of shortage. And this is mean accommodation; slum accommodation, or near-slum accommodation.

My Lords, this situation has other implications, particularly when it concerns immigrants, especially coloured immigrants. It is not just a question of hardship: it raises the social side of immigration, or of integration, and class and race frictions. In fact, these wounds go very deep. Here you have the case of a man paying more than a quarter of his earnings for one room and no facilities. The noble Lord said that before the war a working man paid 20 per cent. of his wages in rent. I did not dispute it, although I think he was over-stating it; but now we are getting to 40 per cent. of earnings. The White Paper says, and possibly noble Lords believe—in fact, some of them have said so in the debate—that this is happening in London, in the Midlands and in the big cities. It is happening all over the country.

I am glad the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, is still in his place, because I have in front of me two cuttings from the same front page of the Somerset County Herald of only Saturday last. As he may remember, one is headed Trull plan gives £9,000 site profit". The noble Lord will know that Trull is a couple of miles outside Taunton, and is a country village. The gentleman concerned had got planning permission, and this report says: … he bought the field after the last war for £1,000 and had been offered £10,000 for it by a local firm if planning permission is given". Planning permission was given. That is a tenfold profit on a little piece of land on which to put fourteen bungalows. On the same page is reference to a self-help scheme being launched. This is one of the housing societies which has been launched within the Government's new policy and which we fully support. The new society formed there had received a letter from a woman, and it is printed in the paper. It said: 'My husband is earning £10 a week and we can't get a mortgage from anyone. We couldn't support this scheme because we couldn't afford it. For our income group there just isn't anything'". Another man wrote and said that it was no good because it costs from £4 to £7 a week to rent a house built in this way, plus rates.

The average take-home pay of a working man in this country to-day is just over £15 a week, from which there are deductions. It is probably £14 a week net, without tax. My Lords, £4 to £7 a week rent means £6 to £10 a week inclusive of rates. It is absolutely impossible, therefore, for a manual worker, whose average earnings we often have quoted to us, to take advantage of this scheme. That was why the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, was quite right when he said that the Government proposals fail almost completely to show us how they are going to provide the accommodation where it is most needed; and that is the whole point. Of course we do not begrudge arrangements made for what it calls (although I do not like the term) the "lower middle-class" people. Of course, they are entitled to the assistance the Government can give, and we are glad of it. But we are painfully aware that these people are vastly outnumbered—in fact by 10 to 1—by the people with incomes lower still, for whom the Government are making insufficient provision.

This £25 million and £100 million are only a palliative; just as the subsidies on expensive sites are palliatives to lessen the consequences of basically disastrous policies. We have heard a lot of talk about whether the target should be 350,000 or 400,000 houses a year or, as a Conservative Member of the other place said last week, 500,000 a year. The important thing is that slum clearance and the increase of population alone will take about 200,000 a year. So if the target is 350,000, there is a balance of only 150,000 to wipe off the back-log. Therefore, we cannot be satisfied with that target and we shall have to do everything we possibly can to enlarge it. I support the views of the noble Lords, Lord Molson and Lord Hawke, about the use of railway property. I think that with imagination and drive we could use a great many of those vast sites, the goods yards and so on. I see no reason why, with present engineering skill, we should not be able to cover them and, while still using the stations, have townships of flats above them. This would be applicable not only to Central London but also to large areas outside the cities.

I think what we must have—and the right reverend Prelate and my noble friend called for this—is a national plan in which the housing target is designed to meet the known need over a ten-year period. We must devote national resources, money, men and material, to the achievement of those targets. We must have regional organisations, the consortia of local authorities that the noble Lord mentioned—but there should be more of them; and we shall have to proceed with the development of industrialised building and the various methods mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bossom. We must use every idea and good will available to us to solve the problem.

Whatever noble Lords may think about this we must find a way of ending the land racket. The other day Sir Basil Spence said: The speculators are cornering the limited supply of building land in town and country and holding the community to ransom. No Government can allow the community to be held to ransom, either by speculators or by criminals; and the Government must decide whether they are on the side of the speculators or of the people. We have suggested our idea of a Land Commission to ensure that when land comes to be built upon it shall come into public ownership—except for plots built on by people who want to build houses to live in themselves. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, was not right when he said it would be the end of house ownership as we know it If the Government have a better plan, let them say what it is. They cannot just resign themselves to the situation and say: "We can do nothing about it"; because it is going on and on; and the taxpayers are paying for it. It just will not do.

I hope that the Government will ensure that local authorities build not less than 75 per cent. of the total dwellings built for people with limited incomes. The White Paper subsidy proposals I regard as very sound. I only wish that we had had them from the Government a long time ago. But let us hope that they will be implemented soon, and that this conference with the local authorities will not take long. We want to get on with the work, to rebuild the decaying city centres and to step up slum clearance programmes; but I do not think we shall get very far until we do something serious about stopping further decontrol. It will not provide more dwellings but it will restore security to a great number of people.

One part of the Government policy with which I can find no fault is their proposal for improvement, maintenance and repair. We have not had much discussion about that in this debate (in fact, I can recall no other noble Lord having mentioned it), but I think those proposals are very good and very important. Anyone who has looked around London and seen what can be done with some of this property must be immensely encouraged and heartened by it. It is a saving of money and of labour, and it is making better accommodation available. On this section of their policy the right honourable gentleman, the Minister, on paper at least, seems to have got a good grip; and I have very great hopes of it. But we want determined action in this field to effect large-scale and widespread improvement in a comparatively short space of time.

My Lords, we are grateful to my noble friend for initiating this debate. It has been an extremely useful exchange of ideas of which I know the Minister will, as always, take note. But having said that, I am bound to add one thing more; that is, that all these things in housing—and more—will be done when Labour come into power. That time, I hope, will not be very long delayed. Meanwhile, the Government should do the best they can to try to repair some of the damage they have done to the hopes which millions of people at present vainly cherish, of a decent home to live in.

6.48 p.m.


My Lords, it is almost eighteen months since we last discussed this very important matter. Since then Ministers have gone and Ministers have come. Even Under-Secretaries have gone and come. But two features of the scene remain unaltered. First, there remains the housing problem itself; and here I would agree with what a number of noble Lords, including the right reverend Prelate, have said: that this problem, with all the other minor problems wrapped in it, represents one of the most serious and challenging with which our society is faced.

Closer home, we have heard a typical speech from the customary introducer of this Motion, the noble Lord, Lord Silk in. It was moderately phrased and constructive, yet with a pointed barb or two in it. Echoing what other noble Lords have said, may I say how much I appreciated that speech?—more particularly since we know that it was made under the shadow of a grievous personal loss. I should like to say how impressed I was—and I hope it is not impertinent for me, as a mere layman to say this—by the lucid, critical, constructive, yet passionate speech of the right reverend Prelate. I think it impressed everyone in your Lordships' House who heard it. I was also glad that there was a contribution, to which we listened with interest, from the "very full" Liberal Benches.

Finally, I was particularly glad that we had a sextet from the Benches behind me. I find myself in considerable agreement with the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, regretting the relative paucity of attendance in your Lordships' House for a debate on a subject which affects the welfare of almost every single man, woman and child in this country. For that reason I was glad that there were six speeches, and six well-informed speeches, from my noble friends. I was also glad that the broad programme announced in the White Paper had their support, albeit at times their somewhat critical support. Here may I say that I thought our old friend Cassandra, of the Daily Mirror, was in particularly good form this morning, with his talk of a "played out, busted down, overpaid, time exhausted Government". I would merely comment that this White Paper, with its higher targets, its fresh thinking and its evident determination to grapple with these problems, reflects in my view not much langour and lassitude on the part of the Government. Nor indeed would anyone who in recent months has seen anything of the two Ministries most intimately concerned with this problem—the Ministry of Housing and the Ministry of Public Building and Works—have thought that they were led by "played out and busted down" Ministers.

One point that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, claimed was that with this White Paper programme the Government have come some way towards the type of housing programme and targets which he and his friends have been enunciating for some time past. I should not wish to bandy words with the noble Lord over this, but there may be quite a lot in the Government's programme which would commend itself to a different Administration, because I feel that in a sense it represents a national task. Nevertheless, I would make it perfectly clear that there is much in the programme enunciated by the Labour Party on which I, at least, have definite reservations—or at least on such of the programme as has been revealed to us.

We are told that the Labour Party support the conception of owner-occupation. If that is so, I should have thought that noble Lords opposite would welcome the fact, to which my noble friend drew attention, that more and more people are owning their own homes. I gather that the Labour Party are not against housing associations, but I must say that I found their line in this respect curiously tepid. I should have expected much warmer and more positive support for the new developments, especially those related to ownership, to be found embodied in the White Paper. To the noble Lord, Lord Stonham (who told me that he would have to leave before the conclusion of this debate) I would say that this £100 million would be a revolving fund, which would be fertilised as time went on.

We have heard about the need for more houses for rent. Of course, the Government acknowledge that need. That is one of the reasons behind their new conception of boosting up housing associations. Another way would be the encouragement of more houses for rent to be built by private developers. Nothing would do more to encourage that than a frank and explicit disavowal by the Labour Party of their former policy of municipalisation. Some of the noble Lords opposite have complained about the financial difficulties with which local authorities are sometimes faced. If that is what they feel, surely they would welcome the words of the White Paper, and indeed the practice of many enlightened Labour-led local authorities, in introducing rent rebate and rent differential schemes.

There is also the question of physical controls, to which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, reverted. He stressed, of course, that he was speaking personally here and not officially for his Party. I should like to study what the noble Lord said in this respect. While going some way in agreeing that, over this whole field of construction, priorities obviously arise, and while I would not dissent that there may be a need for further and fresh thinking on this question, it seems to me—and here I am speaking personally—that the rather blunt instrument of physical control, which I understood him to be advocating, is one more suitable for a siege economy than for the world in which we live to-day. But I should like to study what he said here.

We have discussed at some length some of the major road blocks which stand in the path of an expanded housing programme. We have discussed land, finance and planning. In addition, several speakers have focused our attention on another potential bottleneck—the capacity and productivity of the construction industry. My noble friend Lord Bossom in particular has done so. Again I think that we see in the noble Lord a further striking example of the virility of the Tory Party. I gather that he has flown the Atlantic overnight and has had two sleepless nights; nevertheless, with his young years fresh about him, he has come full of vigour to your Lordships' House this afternoon.

I should like in a moment to turn to this problem of the productivity of the construction industry but, before I do so, I feel I should attempt to answer some of the queries which noble Lords have put to the Government in the course of our discussion. I shall not be able to answer them all, I fear, and some have to some extent been answered in advance by my noble friend. Nevertheless, I should like to catch some of the queries which have been put to us. I will deal first with some land and planning matters. My noble friend Lord Gage suggested that, where planning permission was given for large-scale development, it should be a condition of consent that the developers should dispose of part of the land needed for local authority purposes at existing use value. I am not certain that I understood him correctly, but this was my understanding of the conception.

As I see it, at first blush, there are at least two considerable difficulties in the path of this suggestion. In the first place, it would be tantamount to selling a planning permission for a consideration. Secondly, it would provide a potential and hidden subsidy, at the expense possibly of individual owners, for certain local authority services. I feel that if a subsidy is to be provided at all, it would be far better provided openly and at the general expense rather than in this concealed manner. I know that my noble friend has had to leave the House, but I shall be glad to have his proposal looked into further.

My noble friend Lord Molson—I hope that he will not feel I am presumptuous in saying so—in a typically constructive speech, expressed disappointment at some of the proposals embodied in Command Paper No. 1592, the London White Paper on Employment, Housing and Land. My noble friend went on to express quite sharp criticism of the proposals in the White Paper regarding the Green Belt. So far as his more general criticism is concerned, I would suggest to him that he should contain his patience just a little longer and await the fuller and more comprehensive regional study of the South-East, which should be out by the autumn, as I think he will find that that goes into much greater depth on the whole subject than it has been possible to do here in a necessarily cursory treatment.

As regards the Green Belt, all I would say is that I feel he was inclined to lift the sentence to which he particularly objected a little out of its context. He referred to this particular sentence as cocooning. I think he has, to a certain extent, cocooned my right honourable friend's meaning by not referring your Lordships to the two sentences in paragraph 64, which read: The Government believe that the Green Belt should remain a permanent feature of the planning policy for London. They will maintain the approved Green Belt without substantial change, and they will make extensive additions to it. I should have thought that the general language embodied in the White Paper here is very cautious and moderate, given the very real needs of London for housing. My noble friend said, here again, that he would be content to await specific proposals put before Parliament by my right honourable friend, and we will await his animadversions on them when they are so submitted.

My noble friends Lord Ilford and Lord Hawke, in dealing with this part of the Government's proposals, both reverted to this important question of office employment. I think they are entirely entitled to concentrate and focus our attention on this, which has been the unexpected element in the increase in employment in London since the war. I would merely say that, since the publication of this White Paper five months ago, quite a lot of flesh and blood has been put on the Government's general intentions, which are to be found in paragraph 19 of that White Paper. For example, we have passed the Town and Country Planning Bill (I think it received the Royal Assent only yesterday) changing the 10 per cent. rule, making it 10 per cent. on the square rather than 10 per cent. on the cube. Secondly, we have set up the Location of Offices Bureau. Thirdly, the Government have undertaken a major review under Sir Gilbert Fleming of the possibility of further dispersal of the Government's offices from London, the point about which my noble friend Lord Auckland asked. I think the result of that review will be announced shortly. Finally, we have already started discussions with the local planning authorities on the provision of office centres outside London. I would claim that in the short space of five months this is quite substantive progress, and when I say that, I have very much in mind the recollection that I was not able to say a great deal on this question when my noble friend Lord Molson raised it in our debate last November.

Then there is the question of New Towns, raised by my noble friends Lord Hawke and Lord Auckland. Here, again, I think we can look to quite substantive progress in the last year or so; and in saying that, I know I am speaking to, as it were, the founder of the New Towns on the Benches opposite. I would merely refer your Lordships to the fact that the proposed creation of five New Towns has been announced within the last two years. I think that is not an unreasonable expectation. And the regional studies, to which my noble friend alluded, will also contain proposals for further New Towns. In saying that, I do not hide for one moment the fact that I consider myself a New Town man, and I personally look forward with enthusiasm to the creation of a new generation of new New Towns and also to the creation of new expanded older towns.

Then there are the matters of finance, raised particularly by my noble friend Lord Molson in his interesting speech on local authority rent policy. I think he expressed the hope that we shall soon see a wise and fair rent policy over the whole country. Again, I think I should be perfectly right in claiming that this is very much in the spirit of the White Paper itself. As my noble friend knows, my right honourable friend is proposing to conduct a review with the associations of the subsidy problem, and that will certainly include the question of whether or not further alleviation or other methods are required to deal with the question of particularly high prices in particular places, the expensive site subsidy and related matters. To the direct question my noble friend asked me, which was whether the Government were satisfied with the working of the 1961 rent policy, I would reply that, in general, we are satisfied. I think it has succeeded in its relatively modest object of bringing rents up to twice the gross value level.


My Lords, I drew my noble friend's attention to the anomalous way in which the subsidy of £24 is paid in respect of London and only £8 in respect of towns like Manchester and Birmingham. Has it been found that this is equitable, fair and satisfactory?


I should prefer to write to my noble friend on that point, or ask my noble friend Lord Hastings to do so. I am afraid I am not fresh enough from the Ministry to be able to reply off the cuff to that particular point.

Then there was (I am trying to catch this major group of questions) what I would call the "Rachman" side of the coin. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, asked a number of questions regarding the effectiveness of our present legislation to deal with this type of landlord. All I would say there is that Section 2 of the 1961 Housing Act, which I had the honour to introduce in this House, was designed to catch this particular type of problem. It did not catch Rachman, but many of his operations were conducted well before that Act came into force. I would add that its effectiveness largely depends upon the willingness and the ability of individual local authorities to implement its provisions.

It is my understanding—and I would here reaffirm what my right honourable friend said in another place—that in certain local authority areas where there is this intense problem of multi-occupation (in Nottingham and Kensington, for example) this Act is being effectively used. I am not saying that it is being used effectively everywhere, but I should like to confirm again what my right honourable friend said in another place: that he is proposing to review with the local authorities the effectiveness of this Act. I am certain that if he felt that yet sharper teeth were required they would be embodied in legislation when that proved possible. I would merely add that there are other lines of defence open here. The local authorities have the power to make compulsory purchase orders on properties where they feel that tenants are being unfairly victimised.


My Lords, if my noble friend is leaving that point, could he tell me whether it is necessary for them to find out who the genuine landlord is before they make these compulsory purchase orders? Because that seems to be the problem. The landlord can be so elusive that it can never be discovered who owns the property.


My Lords, on the question of the landlord and the compulsory purchase order, I am afraid I have not the precise information. It is my recollection—I will certainly refresh my memory here—that Section 2 of the Housing Act, 1961, was designed to catch the "stool pigeon", as it were, who was put up by the real landlord. But whether it is working effectively in so doing is a matter which my right honourable friend is anxious to review with the local authorities.

I mentioned that several noble Lords have focused our attention on the question of productivity in the building industry. I think they were absolutely right to do so, because unless we are to distort our economy generally, and to neglect our other great national priorities, I think we shall not succeed in getting and maintaining the sort of housing programme which we are anxious to get and maintain, unless the building industry has the requisite capacity and the required efficiency. In the last year we have seen an increasing involvement of Government with this process, following the establishment of the new Ministry of Public Building and Works and the installation there of an energetic and imaginative Minister.

Since I represent that Ministry in your Lordships' House, I hope you will allow me, albeit towards the close of our debate, to outline some of the progress and the plans on this vital sector of the housing front. The extra capacity we need can be won in a number of ways. In the first place, we can deploy more resources, both human and material. This, of course, immediately brings up the question of skilled craftsmen. We have examined the prospects here very carefully, and it is quite clear to us that by 1967, if we do not take remedial action now, we shall be faced as a nation with a critical shortage of skilled craftsmen like carpenters, bricklayers, plumbers, plasterers and tilers. That is why the Government's plans to expand the existing Government training centres and to create at least fifteen new centres are so important. That is why the industry's own plans to modernise its apprenticeship structure are equally important.


My Lords, I do not know of any single place of instruction to-day where these processes which have proved so satisfactory are being taught. If it could be carried out in your planning it would be very helpful.


My Lords, I am sure my right honourable friend will give close attention to my noble friend's suggestion.

So much for the bottleneck of restricted resources. Another possible impediment is the uneven flow of work. We need more men, especially more skilled men, on the job, but we also want to make certain that those already on the job are continuously and efficiently employed. Uneven employment—the bane of the building trades—is the enemy of efficient production. Yet even within an expanding economy there are bound to be periods of increased or reduced momentum. It is with a view to anticipating such fluctuations that my right honourable friend has recently set up a Directorate of Economic Intelligence within his Ministry. It will be the aim of the Directorate, by forecasting and analysing economic trends, both regional and national, to avoid men in the construction industries being thrown out of work and the impetus of production thereby being lost.

But, of course, it is not only impersonal economic forces which can disrupt production. There is also, as my noble friend Lord Bossom said, our old friend, the British climate. We are not too well organised in this country to deal with that, as we know only too well from last winter's experience. In the building industry, as elsewhere, we tolerate far more disruption from our relatively mild British winters than do other countries with their far bitterer climates. We thereby lose many thousands of houses quite unnecessarily. We need, in short, to put our winter house in order. It is this which has led my right honourable friend to commission an urgent professional study on this whole problem.

It is, of course, obvious that the best means of raising the capacity of the building industry is by securing increased productivity within it. In the past—indeed the quite recent past—I think it is fair to say that the industry has shown some reluctance to abandon its traditional ways of doing things. But we live, as we all know, in an age of accelerating change. As the Chief Architect of the Ministry of Housing said the other day: Within the last two or three generations more ways of spanning and enclosing space have been invented than in the whole previous history of architecture and building. We must be inventive and resilient here, and I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said in that respect. If everyone concerned shows himself willing to make innovation his ally, and to apply and adopt the latest techniques, I am quite convinced that great advances can be won. In all this I am naturally thinking of industrialised building methods and techniques.

If we are to reap the full harvest from modern techniques, both the industry and its customers must be willing to adopt two prerequisites. First, we must rapidly reduce the present hopeless and haphazard variation in the dimensions of buildings and of building components. There is much to be gained here from intelligent standardisation, but to achieve this we must introduce some order into the present jungle of different shapes and sizes and specifications. Secondly, all must work to achieve intelligent coordination of demand which will provide large and continuous orders and make possible large-scale production and long runs, and the rest of it. I would claim that significant progress is already being made in both these directions.

Dimensional co-ordination is the essential first step if we are to secure standardised building components. Last February my right honourable friend published the first of a series of guidance statements on this subject. Before the autumn a further statement will be issued recommending more preferred dimensions for housing, including housing components. This will be accompanied by a parallel bulletin issued by my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing, giving advice on the design implication of these dimensions. This work of co-ordination will take some time to mature, but when it has matured it will lead, I think, to a significant advance, and it will help very much on this question of house-building costs, to which several noble Lords have alluded.

That brings me to industrialised housing as such. Although we have been pioneers in building systems for schools (and CLASP is world famous), we are behind some of our neighbours—for example, the French, the Swedes, the Danes, the Russians and the Americans—in the application of these techniques to housing. By and large, of course, these Continental systems are based on pre-cast concrete floor and wall units which are lifted into place by cranes. One can see the sort of thing going on with a forest of cranes all round Paris or, indeed, Moscow to-day. These systems have important advantages. They can cut building time by a half and save a third or even as much as a half of the man hours needed for traditional building. In an estate of five storey flats around Moscow, I am told that the blocks are being completed at a rate of one storey fully completed and finished per day. I do not necessarily claim that we should ape that, because I suspect that they are pretty hideous. Nevertheless, I am glad that certain large housing authorities—the L.C.C. and Liverpool, for example, are trail blazers—are adapting, albeit modifying, such systems.

That said, I should not claim that these systems represent any universal panacea. They are suitable mainly for flats rather than for houses, and for the large contractor rather than for the small man. They require much capital investment. Moreover, most of them, at least those I have seen, do not lend themselves to aesthetic treatment, nor do they really cater for the traditional British liking for the two-storey home. As my right honourable friend has recently made clear, the growing pressure on land—and I think that this is the point which my noble friend Lord Ilford mentioned—means that we shall not be able to give full rein to that love of the two-storey home everywhere. Nevertheless, most of our new homes which we shall build in the next decade or so are likely to be two-storey homes and already much valuable work is being done on the development of systems for two-storey housing.

One very promising new system is the so-called 5M system which is being developed by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. It derives from the CLASP system of school building. It is based not on rigid type plans, but on a series of standard components which earn be used by architects to produce plans of any kind. An initial programme of 850 of these houses has been arranged. They will be built for the City Councils of Leeds, Sheffield and Hull—the Yorkshire consortium—and for the Ministry of Public Building and Works, who are taking 370 for use as Army barracks at Catterick. I think this shows the sort of advantage which comes from very close co-ordination and effort from these two Ministries. I believe that with the active stimulus of the two Ministries concerned, and with the full participation of industry and local authorities, we are in fact on the eve of really quite significant advances in this field.

Administrative organisation is just as important as technical innovation and organisation. That is why I was very pleased to hear much of what my noble friend said. Fully to exploit the advantages of these new techniques, we need above all to co-ordinate client demand. This, of course, is particularly important with industrialised building with its heavy demands on capital. The Government, I would claim, have shown the way here by bringing together almost all public building under the wing of the Ministry of Public Building and Works. I think the significance of this organisational change has rather passed the public by, because the new Ministry will be the direct client of the construction industry for much of their work, and, in conjunction with the other Ministries concerned, will be able effectively, albeit indirectly, to co-ordinate client demand for the rest of the field of public orders.

For their part, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government are helping by promoting consortia of local authorities, about which we have heard. Elsewhere they are contributing to productivity by encouraging local authorities to plan their slum clearance programmes four, five and six years ahead, and underwriting them. Finally, my right honourable friend has suggested that it might be desirable to set up a central planning agency which would help smaller local authorities or even the private developers to collate and coordinate their programmes.

I would claim that there is scope in all of these for a really dynamic partnership between Government and industry, and I further claim that my right honourable friends have shown their realisation of this not only in words but in deed. I am quite certain that, as a result of the stimulus which they and their Ministries have imparted, and given the full co-operation of both clients and the building industry, we shall reach our target of 350,000 houses a year sooner than many suppose. This will give us a solid base from which to make a further advance.

My Lords, I am only too conscious in winding up that I have left unanswered a number of questions posed by noble Lords, and I am also conscious that I have spoken, even so, at some length. But I should like in conclusion to say this. I feel that in his speech my noble friend dealt very comprehensively with the Government's White Paper on Housing. I believe that there is a vision behind the sometimes rather prim prose of that White Paper, and in my concluding words I should like, very briefly, to describe that vision as I see it. I believe that what we have done as a nation in housing since the war does, in fact, represent a very substantial national achievement. However, although the advance has been great, the needs are still very great. Indeed, I would freely admit that. Partly, of course, those needs are a direct reflection of growth and prosperity; of an increase in population; of an increase in the number of households; and an increase, above all, in expectations due to increased social mobility and affluence.

But, of course, those needs also reflect the continued disparities and harshnesses within our society. It is indeed ironical that in this age of television, when 8 out of 10 households in this country have television sets, some 3 million houses are still without basic amenities. Be that as it may, this White Paper means the raising of our sights and means that great gains are within our grasp. I believe myself that this programme means that, within ten years or so, we shall have virtually eliminated from our islands our last great material scourge, the scourge of poor housing. This programme means that within a decade we shall have virtually eliminated the slums as we know them—as we have known them for far too long. In one or two remaining slum strongholds the local authorities should by then be poised for their final attack upon their remaining slums.

Elsewhere throughout the country, in ten years' time, we shall be progressively moving on towards the much more rewarding and constructive task of urban renewal, of dealing with the so-called "twilight" areas. We have seen a great transformation in the physical outline of many of our towns and cities in the last decade, but I think that a far greater transformation is about to come. We shall have built between 1963 and 1973 getting on for 4 million new houses, thus renewing over one quarter of the nation's entire housing stock, and we shall have repaired and converted nearly 2 million houses more, a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, so rightly attached attention. Thus, by 1973, more than 10 out of every 15 or 16 houses in the country will either be newly built or newly converted since the war. Side by side with this, we shall see a dramatic increase in house ownership. Parallel with this, and as a new, strong third force between owner-occupation and the still indispensable local authority housing, we shall have seen a progressive increase in houses and flats to rent under the wing of a vigorous housing association movement.

My Lords, I believe, with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that there is nothing in the material sense which perhaps contributes more to human dignity and human happiness than decent housing. There is, of course, nothing sacrosanct about the broad programme which we have been discussing this afternoon. It will doubtless be modified and possibly accelerated as a result of new and unexpected demands, or as a result of new and unexpected techniques, or as a result of changing political priorities. Nevertheless, I believe that this programme which we have been discussing is not only coherent and constructive but also realistic and eminently realisable. I further believe that it will, when it is realised, contribute very materially to the health and happiness and dignity of a great many millions of our fellow citizens. It is for those reasons that I have been glad to hear this programme so ably commended by my noble friend Lord Hastings, and it is for those reasons I have been so happy to defend it myself.

7.41 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure the House would not wish me to continue this discussion, much as I am tempted to do so. I should like to thank all those who have taken part in it, because I do not regard it as an entirely political question, although there are, of course, different points of view about the matter. May I just give my own impression of how the debate has gone? It struck me as almost entirely unrealistic. Here we have a Government who are probably at the end of their life, in a Parliament that is rapidly coming to an end, putting forward proposals which they themselves must know they are not going to be in a position to carry out, which would involve a great deal of legislation before they could even begin, and which, if they had really meant business, they should have initiated many years ago. That is my feeling about this debate. I would congratulate the noble Earl on having done the best he could and made the best possible job of the White Paper. But that strikes me as being wholly unrealistic to-day.

I myself raised three essential matters. One was the high cost of land, and on that everybody said "What a pity!", except the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, who thought that it did not matter all that much. But nobody has had any real contribution to make as to how we can deal with the problem. The noble Lord, Lord Molson, thought it would be possible to reduce the cost of land by thinning out the population; and the noble Lord, Lord Ilford thought it could be done by having a higher density. They can fight it out between themselves, but in my view neither is a solution. And the Government themselves have no answer; they regard this as a matter of inevitability. No wonder three of the noble Lords who spoke referred to the Government's statement as being complacent! The right reverend Prelate, whose speech we all enjoyed (and we hope to hear a lot of him), the noble Lord, Lord Molson, and the noble Lord, Lord Hawke all referred to complacency as the main feature of the Government's statement. So much for the high cost of land. I had no comfort on that.

On this kite that I tried to fly, we had the noble Earl's assurance that he will himself think about it—I do not know whether he meant the Government or himself personally; but it is a comfort that at least somebody will think about it. If he means himself, I should be very happy if we could have a talk about it over a cup of tea, or even something stronger. Certainly I feel that this is a matter which, irrespective of Party, ought to be developed. On the third point I raised, the question of housing standards, I had no comfort at all. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, simply "jumped on" me over that, and said that it would cost more money; that there was nothing we could do about raising the standards of housing, and we had to be content with what we have got. In those circumstances I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.