HL Deb 29 March 1965 vol 264 cc894-940

6.15 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, when I was "guillotined" I was about to say that there were two further questions that I wanted to ask the Government before I sat down. I will now amend that to two further questions that I would ask the Government after I have sat down. First, what steps are to be taken to ensure that our building resources, men and material, will be used in the right place for the right thing and at the right time? Physical controls, licences and rationing are understandably unpopular. But what alternatives do the Government propose if the country is to get the houses, hospitals, factories, universities and schools that it needs? To put the question bluntly, can men and resources be diverted from what is unnecessary to what is necessary, except by controls?

Second, even though controls may be necessary, they can be only a temporary palliative; they cannot provide a permanent solution. A permanent solution demands an all-out effort to speed up and to develop building techniques. Old-fashioned methods and restrictive practices not only add to our difficulties but make it well-nigh impossible to reach our goal. I understand that last year only 25,000 houses were put up by industrialised building techniques. What is 25,000 when we remember that we need 500,000 or more? I know that local authorities and building firms may find the use of these techniques expensive, but if the Government would encourage the councils and the other authorities to club together and place bulk orders, the situation might be different. So my question is: what are the Government doing to hasten industrialised building techniques, the sort of thing that is happening in some countries on the Continent. I believe that unless we grapple with this problem, there is no hope of solving this complex situation.

My Lords, I have recently read through some of the speeches that my predecessors have made earlier in this century on the subject of housing in London, in particular the speeches of Dr. Garbett who, though known to some of your Lordships as Archbishop of York, was for many years Bishop of Southwark. A survey over 50 years leaves me with two impressions. The first is of encouragement. On a limited scale much has been achieved, and the sort of scandals to which Dr. Garbett and my predecessors drew the attention of your Lordships' House have been partially overcome. That is encouraging. But the second impression is less favourable: that no Government have made an all out attack. Instead, action has been piecemeal. Local authorities have usually done their best, but it has been bow-and-arrow affair, not modern weapons. It is my hope that this Government, with the support of all Parties, will tackle the housing problem in London with the imagination of a war effort. This spirit alone will provide the people of London with what they most need—homes. And it is on the home that the security and wellbeing of our country and nation depend.

6.20 p.m.


My Lords, the authors of the Report which we have been discussing this afternoon expressed the view that what, above all, was in their opinion needed for the remedy of the evils into which they had inquired was what they called "a common frame of mind". Housing, they said, had for too long been the sport of political prejudice. The authors of the Report were rather naïve if they considered that a document of this explosive character, with all the opportunities for rhetoric which it presents, was likely to be received in that manner. Like my noble friend Lord Hastings, I would not suggest for a moment that the subject of housing should be treated as a non-Party subject.

It is right that it should be the subject of debate, but it is a subject which gains nothing from being debated in a highly controversial tempo. The noble Lord who introduced this discussion treated the subject in that manner; that was the course he took, and I listened to him, as I have listened to him for many years past, here, in another place and elsewhere, with the respect which I feel for his knowledge and experience in these subjects. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack took a different course. In that course I do not propose to follow him.

I desire to say something first of all about the effect which I believe that the planning policy which has been carried out by the planning authorities for a good many years has had upon the problems of congested areas and overcrowding with which this Report deals. It has been, since the war, the policy of the planning authorities in London to reduce the density of population in the central areas of London. That is an aim which is wholly admirable; but I believe that that policy has contributed in a major degree to some of the overcrowding which to-day exists in the central areas. The opportunity for reducing density of population in a particular area arises when a slum clearance scheme is being carried out or when properties are being demolished for the purpose of constructing new roads or other buildings, often public buildings.

It is not possible to rehouse on the sites which they have formerly occupied the whole of the population which is displaced by these clearance schemes. They are offered by the clearance authority alternative accommodation, usually in other parts of London. They may be offered alternative accommodation at places quite a considerable distance from that part of London in which they have been accustomed to live. A case was brought to my notice the other day of a tenant who was been evicted under a clearance order in Paddington. She was offered alternative accommodation at Richmond. To a person who has spent her life in Paddington, Richmond is like the other side of the world.

What happens? Alternative accommodation is offered in another area. Some go. Perhaps many go. But not all go. Quite a large number of persons who are offered alternative accommodation in some other neighbourhood reject it. They just go round the corner and take the first room that they can find, in a "roomed" house, sharing sanitary accommodation, kitchens, baths (if there are baths), perhaps with two or three other families. In that way the effect of a clearance order for slum clearance or for clearance needed for new road construction is, I believe, adding to the overcrowding which exists in the central areas.

The Committee were conscious of this, because in their introductory chapter they say that It frequently proved impossible within Permitted densities to build enough new dwellings on the sites made available by slum clearance to rehouse on them as many families as had previously lived there". After the first chapter, the Committee seem to have paid little attention to the problems which these clearance orders arouse. What is the answer to this? I myself have never been convinced that high densities of population are so necessarily undesirable and had as many people regard them, provided that the area is to be laid out afresh, with proper reservations for open spaces and for other amenities. Provided that the area is to be laid out afresh, I do not think that it is such an important aspect of the replanning that the densities of the population should be reduced as drastically as the planning authorities are seeking to reduce densities to-day. There are, indeed, in the Report of the Committee two photographs of developments —an old development with a density of 200 persons to an acre, and a new modern development, carried out by the borough of Finsbury, with the same density of population.

Of course, it means that one has to accept much taller buildings. I was glad to hear the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London advocate the use of buildings much taller than we have been accustomed to erect in London. It is quite true that a flat at the top of a 14-storey block is not perhaps an ideal place to bring up young children, but it is a great deal better than a single, overcrowded room, sharing sanitary accommodation and all the rest of it. I see no alternative to the problems of overcrowding which clearance orders present, unless we are prepared to accept buildings much taller than we have been accustomed to in the central areas of London.

I saw in The Times recently a most interesting plan of the new circular roads which are being planned for London. I could not help asking myself how much misery, distress and overcrowding the construction of these roads, and the clearance of the sites for them, is going to cause to the population of London. After all, the needs of the population come before the needs of the traffic. But there it is. With a different standard of height and a different standard of density in the area, it may be possible to rehouse, in the districts to which they are accustomed, many of the people who will be displaced by the construction of these great new roads.

I should like now to turn for a moment to the part that private enterprise plays in the solution of these problems. One of the things that astonished me about the Milner Holland Report was that it constantly returns to the subject of the position of private enterprise. I per- sonally do not know that I have any ideological preference for private landlords' houses. Indeed, I think I have been more of a local government man in the past than an advocate of private enterprise housing. But I was forcefully struck by the reiterated emphasis which the Milner Holland Report places upon the part that private enterprise could play in the solution of London's housing difficulties. It has always surprised me that private enterprise has never entered the field of constructing houses to let.

Private enterprise, with all its flexibility, all its adaptability, has always shown itself ready when any public demand arises to meet that demand, and to meet it very adequately. Private enterprise has met fully and completely the demand for houses for sale. It has never attempted to enter the field of erecting houses to let. Why is that? Why should this particular field of activity be an exception to the conditions which seem to promote private enterprise in almost every other field? The answer is not far to seek. There is always the shadow of control. Private enterprise will not go back into the industry of building houses to let so long as the shadow of unrestricted control remains hanging over it.

The Milner Holland Committee were at pains to draw attention to a number of different directions in which they felt that private landlords could be brought back into the housing field and made to play their part. Indeed, whatever their views about private enterprise, it is quite clear from the proportions of families who are to-day housed in privately rented houses that no comprehensive solution of the problems of London housing can be reached unless adequate use is made of the contribution which private landlords are able to make.

I hope that when the noble Lord comes to reply for the Government he will tell us whether it is intended to attempt to make use of the service of private landlords and, if so, in what directions the Government are contemplating moving. I hope that he will not tell us, as I think the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack told us, that the Government did not intend to make use of private landlord housing at all. If that is so, it seems to me that the solution of London's housing problems is going to be made very much more difficult than the circumstances of the case require.

The odd thing about the Milner Holland Report is that it gives the landlords a very good name. I think that in one part of the Report it is calculated that 68 per cent. of the uncontrolled tenants are satisfied with their landlord-tenant relationship. The Report says very forcibly that the great majority of landlords are not the undesirable type but persons who find themselves in very difficult and embarrassing financial situations with controlled tenants, without the means of maintaining their property, and unable to comply with sanitary orders if the local authority makes one. I hope that the Government will not be too ideological in their approach, to this subject but will make use of the private landlord in the various ways suggested in the Report.

May I now say a few words about Rachman? Rachman is, of course, a very highly controversial subject. The Report shows very clearly that Rachman was not really the creature of the Rent Act, 1957. It may be that his operations were assisted or changed in some ways by the passing of the Act, but Rachman began his operations before the Act had been passed. He began his operations in 1954, and we know that he and those like him were working in London long before the Rent Act came out. Indeed, in some ways it is more true to say that control produced Rachman rather than decontrol.

What happened? All over London there are landlords who own a little property. There are many small landlords. One must not forget that real property, and particularly housing property, was the favourite form of investment for working-class savings in years gone by. There were many landlords who owned a run of three or four terrace houses in London. The landlords' rents were controlled, and sometimes restricted to the rents charged in 1914. In such cases the rent income was insufficient to enable the landlord to maintain his property in a proper manner. If the local authority served a sanitary notice he was not able to comply with it. Eventually he gave up in despair and sold his property for the best price he could get for it.

That was Rachman's chance. He bought property all over London at rubbish prices, prices at which even the controlled rent gave him quite a good return. He then set to work, by the methods which have been exposed, to get rid of his tenants. Once he got a controlled tenant out, the procedure was that he brought in a few pieces of furniture and claimed that the letting was a furnished letting. In the end, a county court judge had to decide whether or not a table, an armchair and pieces of linoleum constituted a furnished letting.

All that was going on long before the Rent Act was passed. It is true that after the Rent Act was passed Rachman did not bother to furnish his tenements. He could let them free from control. But the thing that brought Rachman and his friends into this business was the fact that they knew they could buy at rubbish prices property out of which they could make quite a handsome return, even with the restricted and controlled rents they received. That is one aspect of Rachman's activities, and it is an aspect which ought not to be forgotten.

In conclusion, may I join with other noble Lords in expressing my appreciation at the colossal industry of Sir Milner Holland and his associates? May I unite with that my appreciation of Lord Silkin's contribution by the tone and manner in which he opened this debate to-day.

6.38 p.m.


My Lords, may I, too, add my gratitude to my noble friend Lord Silkin for initiating this debate on the Milner Holland Report? He was particularly worth listening to, both because of his experience in housing and because of his legal experience. At this point in the debate I shall try not to repeat the points already made, although this is somewhat difficult.

The Milner Holland Report is an admirable Report, not less good for being a very modest Report. It is modest in its claims. It makes no pretence of being an exhaustive record of London housing, though it was got out in record time. It is also very modest in its conclusions. It sets out a clear picture of hardship alongside affluence. After reading through the Report in the rather fitful way that I adopt when dealing with so many figures, certain salient facts stand out in my mind. I shall refer to only a few figures: 180,000 people on waiting lists in 1962; 7,000 homeless in 1964; 230,000 dwellings short in 1964. Another item very dear to a woman's heart is the comment that it would take 30 years to modernise all the existing council property.

I saw quite a lot of both old and new housing when going on political tours all over Britain with my husband. I feel rather smug now, when my observations happen to coincide with those of the Milner Holland Report. But on reading the Report about London, the facts seemed to swell to such an enormity, to such a big problem, that I indulged in a bit of fantasy. I felt that there was only one solution—to seal off London and to stop people coming into the city. Only then could we begin. But this, as I say, is just mere fantasy.

The fact is that the growth of employment, as the Report notes, has far outpaced the growth of housing. No proper planning can be done, one without the other. As has been pointed out already, the Committee said that housing has been the sport of political prejudice. It is true that retrospective recrimination is the sport of incoming Governments. But let there be no mistake about it, my Lords, decisions taken on housing needs are political decisions—and here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hastings. The clamping down on office building by the new Labour Government, when they took office, was a political decision of critical importance for easing the housing shortage. When there is a shortage of accommodation such as we have in London at the moment, and you go on building offices, in effect you are merely creating jobs for homeless workers. There is a time when a Government should discourage people from coming into the centre of a city. In fact, I believe that there must be a very tight control of office, industrial and commercial building. I believe that this is essential at the moment, and it may, indeed, involve payment of proper compensation. Nothing short of long-term planning can tackle the serious situation outlined by the Milner Holland Report.

The main conclusions of the Report cannot help giving satisfaction to the Labour Party, whatever we may say about tackling the problem from a nonpolitical point of view. Speech after speech made all over the country stressed the need for building houses for rent; but they fell on deaf Conservative ears. That was the reason why we criticised the reduction of building subsidies for local authorities. For years the free market acted in a social vacuum, house building and legislation taking little account of the changing social pattern. To-day we have a position in which old people do not want to live with their children. Today we have a position in which children do not want to live with their parents. You have to lock up your daughters to prevent them from sharing flats with their friends, and these flats are sometimes suitable for working-class families. The young marrieds would sooner outlaw their in-laws than live with them; in fact, it is almost a social stigma. The new social pattern that we have come to spells independence for every age group, but this multiplies the number of dwellings that we shall require in the future.

The Milner Holland Report made a good start in collecting the facts, but more research is needed, and much more information. It is good that the London Government Act, 1963, legislates for this. The Milner Holland Report renders good service, disproving some popular explanations of the housing shortage. One of the most popular political prejudices is the story of the rich tenants of subsidised council houses. The implication is that the tenants are living on the immoral earnings of local authorities, because many people think, in their ignorance, that the rates and taxes are money extorted for nothing in return. There is no truth whatever in this view. In fact, one of the tables shows clearly that the owner-occupier gets tax relief equivalent to the local authority subsidy on a house.

The Report defends, and pleads for, the rôle of the private landlord. I myself have no prejudice against the private landlord, and one of the good things that the Report does is to get rid of the idea of the Dickensian landlord. Really, there are very few of these to-day. I myself have noticed that the relations between landlord and tenant sometimes become very bad, especially in the low-rent areas. My husband and I used to stay in his constituency in South Leeds, in one of those back-to-back houses which are so typical of that area. This was a very good house, in spite of its being back-to-back. It had a bath in it, but the toilet was halfway down the street and was shared by four families. It seems to me that only the bad relations between the tenants and the landlord stop them from getting together, paying for the improvement and getting their indoor sanitation. I could see no other reason why this house, which had a bath inside, could not also have indoor sanitation.

However, whatever contribution private landlords can make to this problem—and they can make some contribution—the major task must fall on local authorities. Local authorities are really good landlords. They maintain and manage their property well. The Report pointed out that the worst housing existed where there was least local authority housing. The Report states categorically that the normal operation of the market does not eliminate the worst conditions, "which are bad and becoming worse". Whatever one can say about the original Rent Act—it might have been modified over the years—it gave security of tenure to many people. The 1957 Rent Act took this away. No one who has not experienced it can imagine the hardship of insecurity of tenure.

The Milner Holland Report gives the green light to much of Labour Party policy on housing. The new Rent Bill which has just come out, and which we shall later be debating in this House, has a solid, humane basis. It provides conciliation to encourage good landlord and tenant relations, and to persuade them, with the help of local rent officers and tribunals, to agree on fair rents. Some people will say, "It is unworkable, it is doctrinaire, it is bureaucratic." These are magic words of taboo, spoken simply to delay action. But when we look at other cities—New York, Paris, Stockholm—we find that they have their rents fixed and reviewed; they have an increase in rents for improvements; they have the true value of property assessed.

I was greatly interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, had to say about the tax reliefs which private landlords receive. I myself did not notice them when I looked at the Report, but I shall do so after what he has said. In some cities, too, owners are guaranteed a minimum return on their investments. The restraints are, in fact, concentrated on the poorest tenancies. In other cities, the proportion of private tenancies under rent control is higher than in London, and security of tenure is more easily available. All this kind of information is extremely useful to us, and we can learn much from it. What they can do we can surely do as well. We can match the efficiency of their administrative officers and tribunals. The Government have laid plans to tackle this gigantic problem, this serious housing shortage, and they are greatly helped by this excellent Report. Only political prejudice and quibble and delay can hamper the start they have made to try to provide the number of houses we need for our people.

6.50 p.m.


My Lords, in the very few moments for which I wish to address your Lordships' House tonight I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for putting down this most important Motion and for giving us a chance to discuss the Milner Holland Report. Nobody in this House, I think, has more experience of housing than the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. He has addressed your Lordships on many previous occasions, when I have had the pleasure of taking part in the debates. I have always listened to him with the greatest respect because I know of his great knowledge of this subject, and he is always a fair debater. I should also like to pay my respects to Sir Milner Holland and his Committee for this excellent Report which we are discussing here tonight.

The few remarks I wish to make are on Chapter 3, on the economic side of the problem, which I feel is one of the most important points for the future. Personally, I am very proud of what my Party has done in the last 13 years, and I think there is nothing to be ashamed of when one remembers that it brought down the housing lists from 479,000 to the up-to-date figure of 231,000, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, told us it was to-day, although the Milner Holland Report does not go further than 261,247. That is a reduction of 200,000 in the waiting list—200,000 more dwellings have been provided in the Greater London area—but, of course, the problem now is getting much greater. One of the most difficult problems is to find the land. It was not quite so difficult ten years ago. If you look at the housing return—the latest one I have is for last September—and at the amount of housing now being built in the inner area of London, you see that it is greatly reduced from what it was simply because we have not got the sites. But it is also because of finance, and I should like, for a few moments, If I may, to put in front of your Lordships a suggestion.

The Milner Holland Report has taken a house at £3,500 or £3,700, but I have taken a house at £3,000 because I know that in the outer areas it can be built for just about that. Such a house is very small, of course, with only two bedrooms. It is not, I think, unfair to say that even local authorities have to take 8 per cent. interest, sinking fund and management, on that capital. That would be £240 a year, or approximately £4 13s. Od. per week. On a £4,000 house, the interest at 8 per cent., again with sinking fund and management, would be £320, or approximately £6 1s. 0d. per week. On a £5,000 house or the flat unit in London, which is much more likely because the costs are very heavy, it would be approximately £400 a year or £7 15s. 0d. a week. However, in the Milner Holland Report, at page 51, the weekly rent of a £5,500 house is given as £3 3s. 8d., as has been earlier quoted tonight, and of a £3,750 house it is £2 7s. 0d. But, of course, there is a very large element of subsidy in that. There is a £2 or £3 a week subsidy.

I was interested to see a report, which I think was accurate (I saw it on a tape machine the other night) that Mr. Fisk, the chairman of the London County Council, said that the average subsidy for London boroughs was £43. Of course, a higher subsidy is paid in London than throughout the country, because in the country areas, such as where I live, for local authorities the subsidy is only £26 a year, or 10s. a week. But, as was described earlier to-night by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in the central area of London, where houses are being built on expensive sites, the subsidies are more.

My own humble opinion is that the subsidies will have to be revised, and revised very soon, as my noble friend Lord Hastings has said. I believe that a great deal more will have to be given by way of subsidies in the Greater London area and in other big cities, and less in other areas. It will be an unpopular decision with the local authorities in those other areas, who will be very annoyed. But if we are to have more local authority housing built, I am afraid that it will be necessary to give greater subsidies. Because although the lower income groups cannot afford more than perhaps £3 or £4 a week (a fifth of their income, I think, is considered by the experts to be about the right figure) rent, it has been shown to-night that an economic rent would be at least £7 15s. 0d.

Many local authorities have told me that the more houses they build to-day the more they get into debt, and the more they have to put the rents up of the pre-war houses. All the rents are pooled, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has told us, and the pre-war houses are having to subsidise post-war houses because the building costs are going up by something like 10 per cent. a year—a very heavy increase. I am appalled at what it costs to build houses to-day, compared with what it cost seven or eight years ago; but that is the fact. Therefore, in the lowest income group, wages have not gone up in proportion to the rise in building costs.

My Lords, we must either have bigger subsidies or get building costs down by industrialised methods. We have made a start on that, but it does not seem to me that they are any cheaper. They are quicker, but no cheaper. We need cheapness, and, of course, speed. But if we are to solve this housing problem in the next ten or fifteen years, I am sure we must bring in all agencies, as the Milner Holland Report says. We have to bring in not only the local authorities, who do a very good job; not only the housing associations, about which my noble friend Lord Gage spoke to-night, but also private enterprise—not the individual landlord, because I do not think he can afford it, but the big companies, which own tenement houses now and which have come out very well in this Report. There has not been any trouble of Rachmanism there. I think they should be helped financially with a subsidy, as is done in Sweden. Sweden, my Lords, has been a Socialist country for many years, and if they can help their private enterprise to build these houses, I do not see why we should not.

Naturally, there would have to be some control of the rents charged. But unless they are given a quite substantial subsidy, such as is given to local authorities—especially in the big areas, where land is so frightfully expensive, and they have to build very high—I do not think we shall get the houses built. I do not like subsidies, but we have to give them. We give very large subsidies to agriculture; and housing people is vital. A roof over one's head is the most important thing in life. To be able to bring up a family in the Christian way, as the right reverend Prelate said to-day, is a very great problem without it. So, with those few words, I implore the Government to look again at their subsidy policy, and to see whether they cannot rearrange it so as to give more subsidies in these areas where they are greatly needed.

In conclusion, I hope that we shall not have these extremely high interest rates for very much longer. I was checking up this morning, before I came up to London, with my own county council, and I was told that, for seven-day money, the rate of interest is now 8½ per cent. —if you get it: it is very tight—and that for six-month or three-month money it is over 7⅛ per cent. That does not help when you have got to borrow large sums of money. I know that we have had balance-of-payments difficulties, and that we have needed a high bank rate; but if this situation and this very high rate continue much longer local authorities will not be very willing to build, because the cost will be penal, both for their ratepayers and for their tenants, since rents will have to be raised yet again.

7.0 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened with great interest to the whole of this debate, and I should like to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for giving the House an opportunity of discussing this extremely valuable Report. I hope that, without impertinence, I may congratulate him on the extremely moderate way in which he made his speech, avoiding all forms of Party political controversy. I, too, am going to avoid all forms of Party political controversy, first because I think, as I am sure do we all, that the London housing situation should be put right, and that we must adopt what Sir Milner Holland in his Report calls "a common frame of mind"; and, second, from a rather less idealistic point of view, because I do not really think there is very much to be gained from a Party political "knockabout" over this particular subject. Indeed, those of your Lordships who have read the Hansard of another place will, I think, deduce that each side came out about even from the lambasting over this matter. Of course one can make remarks about "thirteen years of Conservative Government", but, equally, there were thirteen years of domination of London housing by the London County Council and the Socialist controlled councils. I do not wish to enter this field; I think it does great harm to the cause and is completely without value.

I should like to say a few words in defence of the good landlord. I make no complaint about it, but the first one heard about the Milner Holland Report was when the evening papers and those of the following day carried banner headlines describing all the terrible things that had happened and which had been written down in the appendices to the Report. I do not complain about this because it is the job of the Press to sell newspapers. While 999 good landlords do not merit one headline and do not sell one extra copy of the newspaper, a single Rachman may sell two or three extra editions. But the fact remains that the Report itself, in pages 122 to 127, says that the great majority of landlords behave responsibly. It goes on to say that the Committee were satisfied that most landlords discharge their responsibilities as fully as the rent from their properties permits. Indeed on page 152 there is a table which sets out the number of "satisfied", "fairly satisfied" and "dissatisfied" tenants. Your Lordships will see from that that 88 per cent. of London tenants are satisfied with their landlords and only 4 per cent. are totally dissatisfied. I think the company landlords come out of it extremely well.

I remember that in my old constituency —and no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, will know the area I am talking about—there was a lame block of flats called Du Cane Court. Two or three years ago it changed hands, and many of the tenants were terrified that they were going to be evicted. They sent a deputation along to see me and I wrote to the managing director of the company, which owned a vast block of flats, and asked whether I could go along to see him. He replied that he would come to see me; he did so and said that the stories about eviction were ridiculous. "I will, here and now, give you two guarantees that you may pass on to the tenants of those fiats", he said. "The first is that nobody will be turned out for any cause whatever; the second is that nobody will be asked to pay more than they can afford, more than they are now paying". He added, and I thought this was a very sensible remark: "Don't forget, young man" (he called me "young man", about which I was very pleased) "we are in this business not as a short-term measure but in order to make money over a long period. To achieve this we must have satisfied tenants". I always remember that man and I was extremely impressed by the way he and his company were handling their property.

I will turn to the subject of bad landlords. Shortly after the Report had appeared, I was telephoned by a reporter from the Evening News who asked me to give my comments on South London housing as a whole, for use in an article that would be published in two or three days. When it eventually appeared, in the Evening News of March 16, the article was entitled "London's Little Rachmans. Is it so bad in Wandsworth?" The reason they chose to write about Wandsworth was because Wandsworth was the "Number one" on the infamy list, on the "League of Infamy", a list of the small-time Rachmans.

But the Press reporter also asked for the comments of the chairman of the Wandsworth Housing Committee. Wandsworth Borough Council is Socialist-controlled, and the chairman of the Housing Committee, Alderman Challen, is a Socialist. He said that his council had received six complaints about landlords and of these they thought only three were worth investigating. All the other cases came from the citizens' advice bureau; and this, I think, is very significant, because there is a great difference between the view that a Member of Parliament or a council committee will take on an issue and that taken by a citizens' advice bureau.

I know that when I was in another place I used to hold an advice bureau every Friday night and I would get some complaints perhaps about bad landlords. The first thing that one says as a Member of Parliament or as a council official to people who make complaints is: "It is no good telling me these stories unless you have some form of corroborative evidence. Without evidence it is simply one man's word against another." One has to ask whether there are witnesses, and generally the answer is that there are not. I have never yet received any concrete evidence. The citizens' advice bureau probably does not have to take action in these cases: that is no part of their job. Presumably they simply record the cases without asking for evidence. I am not trying to minimise the appalling harm which is done in some cases, but there are very few complaints on the whole in this area.

Now I will pick up one or two aspects of the Report from a London constituency point of view. First, there is the matter of the police. They have not been mentioned to-day. I was extremely pleased that the police were exonerated, indeed were praised, in the Report. They do a magnificent job of work. People sometimes grumble at them, usually for the reason that the police are powerless to act because the law needs alteration and because people produce no form of evidence, so the police have to ask them to find witnesses before they are able to help. Then there is the question of the tenants themselves. The noble Lord, Lord Ilford, mentioned this when he was talking about the decanting of tenants. This is perfectly true. I saw a great deal of this in the Wandsworth area.

Again the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, will probably know the area I am talking about when I mention Wardley Street by the Wandle River. This was an appalling place in the London of the middle 1950s. The Wandle is a small river, full of every sort of unpleasantness, including even an overflow from a sewage farm. There was at one time a torrential thunderstorm when the river flooded the surrounding streets to a depth of about two feet. Everything in the ground floor, furniture and clothes, was ruined. I went myself and managed to get an interview with the chairman of the L.C.C. Housing Committee, who was extremely kind, and I like to think that it was possibly due to what I was able to do that we quickly got all the tenants in this street, and of another which was badly affected, rehoused on a great, new, nearby housing estate. I remember going to see the people who had been rehoused. I expected to be received with a great deal of acclamation. I thought they would be very pleased. Precisely the reverse was the case: they were absolutely furious with me. The people who had lived in this street were nearly all costermongers and barrow boys and the street they came from had little backyards where they kept their horses and ponies. When they went to this first-class modern L.C.C. estate, they had to leave their horses and ponies behind and they did not like it one little bit.

All tenants are human beings, and I hope that when the Government begin to develop mass measures, they will treat tenants individually and as human beings. I think it highly desirable, if only we can have it, to have decanting areas near the slum areas that are being knocked down and emptied out. As my noble friend Lord Ilford said, it is particularly difficult for elderly people to be moved out of the street or area they have known all their lives and taken often two or three miles away. They feel wholly lost. Speaking about decanting areas. I am going to say something which is probably absolute heresy. I do not see why, as a temporary measure, we cannot use some of the commons on the fringes of London as temporary decanting areas. In South London where I live, there are many large commons not tremendously used by the inhabitants. A few unpleasant cases have taken place of children being molested on these commons and there are very few parents who allow their children to walk on the commons. I cannot see why at least one of those commons should not be covered with the latest new types of L.C.C. "prefabs", which are semi-permanent, and used as a decanting area for people coming out of slum areas. Also, in that part of the world, there are one or two hospitals that have large hospital farms which are not used very much, and I believe that they could be used as temporary decanting areas.

I was pleased to hear my noble friend Lord Ilford talking about building upwards. Again in South London we have several large estates of upward blocks of flats. They are absolutely delightful to be in. I know that parents have to caution their children to be extremely careful, because they have balconies and railings. On the other hand, to be up on the 20th floor in London is a really delightful experience. You get above the atmosphere of London and it is extraordinary to look out of a top floor window and see a pigeon sitting on its nest about 50 feet below you. These flats are enormously appreciated by the tenants who go into them. I am sure that we can increase the population density and I do not think it does any harm at all. In Putney and certain other areas the density has been slightly increased and it is extremely effective.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, mentioned an overall authority. I entirely agree with him. The Report itself says, in paragraph 225: Success depends on a comprehensive grasp of the whole housing situation. I am convinced that we must have an overall authority to deal with this problem. The lack of an overall authority, as at the moment, produces a great many of the anomalies which the Report mentions. There is a variation in rebates and subsidies. Some councils have rent rebate schemes; some do not. Indeed, in some boroughs we find an L.C.C. estate and a borough estate side by side, the L.C.C. subsidising their tenants and the borough operating a rent rebate scheme. Certainly the tenants I have spoken to consider this extremely unfair and would like to have it changed.

Another reason why I should welcome an overall authority concerns the question of Quotas for new estates. This is always a burning issue in an area where the L.C.C. may be carrying out a large building operation, where only 2½ per cent. of the accommodation is allotted to the local borough, the parent borough, and a large proportion to people coming in from outside from slum clearance areas. This is very much resented by the locals. One overall authority might be able to give a slightly larger proportion of accommodation to local people. It would also give great help on the question of the qualifications needed by people to be put on to the housing list. Most boroughs operate a system whereby anyone has to be at least twelve months resident in the borough before the council will even consider his name for the waiting list. This produces immense anomalies. For example, someone might be evicted and have to go and stay with mother-in-law in another borough, and his previous qualification of eight or nine months' stay is wiped out and he has to start all over again. I suggest that, with an overall authority, we could get rid of many of these anomalies.

So far as insecurity is concerned, the Government are proposing to take measures so that people may be rendered secure. All I would say is that I hope the Government will make certain that everybody understands what is intended. After the Rent Act was passed I found, in going round housing estates, that the ignorance among some people as to their rights under the law was simply staggering. If they are going to take effective measures, I hope that the Government will produce an explanatory leaflet that can be introduced into every household in the London area. In conclusion, anyone who has had firsthand knowledge of the misery caused by bad housing conditions in London cannot help but welcome this Report. So often we see illness brought on by bad housing conditions, and the tragic separation of families, which results in the launching of young people, who might otherwise have gone perfectly straight, into a life of vice and crime. My last words are that I hope that this Report will not be made an excuse for Party political recrimination, but will be a spur to effective action.

7.20 p.m.


My Lords, may I express my sincere regret that I was not able to be here when this debate was opened by my noble friend Lord Silkin? His service in this field, his experience and his constructive contribution to a solution of the problem, are things of which all Members of this House, and not only Members of the Party to which he belongs, should be proud. I should also like to say that I owe the House an apology because I was not able to be here during the early part of the debate. I was engaged in discussions on matters which will shortly be coming before the House.

When I read the Milner Holland Report I was impressed by the fact that its descriptions applied to more areas than London. My noble friend Lady Gaitskell has suggested that it might be desirable, if perhaps a fantasy, to establish a seal around London to prevent a greater population from entering. Her seal would have to extend far beyond London. It would have to apply also to many towns in the South of England which have to face exactly the same problem of populations pouring into their neighbourhoods when no housing accommodation is available.

I had the honour to represent in another place the constituency of Eton and Slough. I took great pleasure in representing Eton. But one of the values of the representation of that constituency was that it gave a knowledge, in the case of Slough, which enables one to contribute to a debate upon housing, because there we have a similar problem to that of London. Slough is a prosperous town. We have at this moment over 1,200 vacancies at the employment exchange. We have workers pouring into that town from the North of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and certain parts of Wales, and when they arrive there is no accommodation for them. Perhaps I may illustrate the problem by reference to one particular aspect of it. Every three months I wrote to each newly married couple whose wedding was announced in the local Press. I heard from 69 of those newly-weds, and not one of those married couples had been able to obtain a house or a flat in which to live: all had had to live with in-laws or in crowded lodgings.

I want to refer to a matter which may have been mentioned in earlier speeches, (which regrettably I did not hear) but to which no reference has been made in the later speeches, and that is the relationship of this problem of housing to the problem of racial feeling where there are large Commonwealth immigrant populations in towns. In Slough we have one of the largest proportions of Commonwealth immigrants, reaching nearly 7 per cent. When they obtain accommodation, I find that is the greatest stimulant to racial feeling among the residents who are living in crowded conditions. I would illustrate that by reference to the newly-weds to whom I wrote. Three years later, as children began to arrive, they established a young mothers' campaign for houses, and when they marched upon the town hall they carried a banner saying: "Houses for us before the coloureds". That is a natural reaction to this problem.

I am going to ask the Government to be particularly careful how they approach this problem. I regard the coloured immigrants who are in this country as the scapegoats of the housing shortage, rather than as the cause of it. They number in our society only 1.5 per cent. of our population. They are the scapegoats, and they live under the worst conditions. In Slough, the number of coloured immigrants to one room is twice that of the resident population. Nevertheless, I am going to say this to the Government—and it may be a surprise that I should say it. When they deal with the housing problem in London, or in towns like Slough, they must be particularly careful not to give privileges to our immigrant population. The racial feeling in towns which are overcrowded would only be intensified if the Government gave special privileges to immigrant population.

However, there is a method by which this problem can be met. The towns in which our Commonwealth immigrants are resident are also the towns with the worst housing situations. In Great Britain, if one includes London as one town, the immigrants are concentrated in only 33 towns. Those towns, because they are prosperous, are exactly the towns where the housing shortage is greatest and where the need for help to the local authorities in dealing with the problem is greatest. My plea to the Government is that they should concentrate not only upon London but also upon the other towns where the housing shortage is so severe. By providing more accommodation for the residents of those towns they will be reducing the colour feeling which exists, and will, at the same time, be contributing to a solution of the problem of which the coloured immigrants are the victims.

I did not intend to make more than that contribution, but I want to emphasise (the noble Lord, Lord St. Helens, has just urged this) that the housing shortage in our country is the ereatest social evil that is in our midst. It causes more ill-health, more breakdowns through nervous tensions, more family severances and more personal conflicts; it is a great handicap to the children born in those homes in seeking to do their homework to pass their examinations, and it causes more juvenile delinquency than any other evil in our land. I think that all Governments have a terrible responsibility for allowing this situation to arise. I would beg our Government to begin to deal with problem with the same kind of dedication that is given by the nation in war time to providing the means of war. In peace time nothing is more necessary than that every family in our nation should have a roof over its head. I hope that the Government, as they approach this problem, will do so with the determination to remove what is the worst evil in our midst.

7.30 p.m.


My Lords, I think we can fairly say that this has been an extremely good and valuable debate, with contributions made from both sides of the Chamber displaying a knowledge, personal feeling and understanding of real needs, together also with a very real and practical approach. Of the many fine examples from my own side of the House, I was particularly impressed with the speech of my noble friend Lord Ilford, who has great knowledge and experience, and with others, as well. It is my first occasion since joining this House that I have had the privilege of hearing the Lord Chancellor on his feet. I must say, if he will not take it amiss, that it seemed to be rather a dull speech, almost reading a Departmental brief. If I may paraphrase the remarks of Mr. Brown, in Sheffield: "Scratch the Lord Chancellor and you find a politician underneath." As soon as he was interrupted, I was glad to find that in his noble office he was as much a politician as the rest of us.

The Report, which has had many remarks of good will and praise showered upon it, and deservedly so, stresses that we should try to avoid prejudice—prejudice about the past, and Party prejudice as well. I think the avoidance of prejudice refers especially to the future, as well as to the past. This debate, if I may say so, has been distinguished by the almost complete avoidance of Party political prejudice. One thing which the Report itself stressed, and which some of us have perhaps strayed a little away from, is that it deals with London; and Sir Milner Holland was very careful to point out that whatever was said about London did not necessarily apply to other parts of the country. In any event, it is almost inevitable that noble Lords with personal experiences, such as the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, who has just sat down, would refer to their experiences as Members of Parliament for Eton and Slough and other constituencies. I am sure it is wrong to generalise from the Milner Holland Report into views about the housing situation of the country as a whole. Naturally, it was constructive and interesting to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, had to say about Leeds and her own experiences in going around the country with her late husband.

I should like to remind your Lordships that the Report came to be written as the result of the initiative of the late Conservative Government. It was a Report initiated by my colleague Sir Keith Joseph, then Minister of Housing and Local Government, because he knew that what was required was a fresh assessment of the facts. After a Government have been in office for a number of years, it is only too easy for them, on the one hand, to assume that they know all the answers, or, on the other hand, to assume that they know nothing at all and that they must get outside advice. This I regard as an imaginative half-way house between those two extremes. My friend Sir Keith Joseph realised, with his great knowledge of the subject, that he did not know it all, and that it would be valuable to have a view from outside. Here we have, as a result, a most admirable Report, full of facts and proposals.

It deals decisively with what some have thought was the original offspring of the Report. It deals decisively with Rachmanism, which the Report shows to have been a relatively small matter confined to Rachman himself and to one or two others, by no means sparked off by the Rent Control Act, 1957, having started before then but having, by 1960, lost most of its disreputable profit motive. The Report also deals most decisively with the Rent Control Act, 1957, which really, as the Report shows, neither satisfied those who disbelieved in it nor satisfied those of us who thought it would provide a full answer to the housing shortage of London. The problems, as we have seen from the Report, arise—and this is perhaps worth stressing because it was not brought out by any of the noble Lords who spoke today—mainly from the prosperity of Britain and of London in particular.

A brief summary of the points which are referred to in the Report I think is worth giving again to your Lordships. The first is the great growth of employment in the London area. Then there is the division of the population of London into more numerous and smaller households (in itself a sign of prosperity); the growing numbers of old people who continue to maintain separate households (surely a direct product of the National Health Service and all the ancillary services which have done so much to prolong old age); and the additional demands caused by the very progress of slum clearance. Then there is the increasing competition for living space by those with increased wealth, and, finally, the natural demand for higher standards of housing in an era of rapid economic growth and rising prosperity.

The problem which is high-lighted in this Report would be nothing like so large if none of those six factors had been present. If we had had the old dying ten years younger; if we had had a declining standard of living; if we had had a high level of unemployment with, therefore, little money and little inducement to expand and improve oneself, the problem would not have been so serious. So the problems postulated in this Report arise largely because of the prosperity of Britain and of London in particular. Despite what has still to be done, I think it is worth while restating to your Lordships the solid and fine Conservative achievements over the last thirteen years, because although much remains to be done, a good deal has been done, and I think it is only right, in a complete absence of political prejudice, to set a few of the facts on the record. Indeed, the Report itself shows how London's housing substantially improved under the Conservatives. Multi-occupation decreased by 44 per cent. between 1951 and 1961; overcrowding was down by 22 per cent.; the number of houses with exclusive use of all facilities was up from 52 per cent. to 62 per cent., and the net deficiency of dwellings was reduced from some 479,000 to about 247,000.


My Lords, is the noble Lord claiming this as an achievement of the Government, or as an achievement of the Labour London County Council?


I am not claiming it as an achievement; I am saying what has happened during the period of Conservative Government, to show that a good deal of progress was made. That is my point, and I am quite prepared to give credit to the London County Council where credit is due to it; and I should naturally like noble Lords opposite to give credit to the Conservative Government where credit was due to us when we were in office.

Having restated our achievements and the progress made by the London County Council, as well as by the Conservative Government, in a climate in which they were enabled to make progress, I should like to refer—having once got the solitary snake out of the bath—to what the Report has to say about private landlords, because I do not think anybody expected the Milner Holland Report to come out so strongly in favour of the private landlords as it has done. I was sorry to see that Mr. Crossman said in another place: I have a natural prejudice against landlords".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 709 (No. 82), col. 72, March 22, 1965.] That is an exact quotation, without snipping anything off either end to make it look different. Such a prejudice against landlords I thought was obviously shared, if I may say so, by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in his own speech, and I was sorry, from what I had expected to be regarded as a judicial office, that prejudice should remain so violently in his mind, in the face of a Report by such an eminent Q.C. as Sir Milner Holland, who takes a very different view.

As it has not been referred to, I should like to quote briefly from the Report in respect of landlords. On page 151 the Milner Holland Report says: The great majority of tenants were either 'completely satisfied' or 'fairly satisfied' with the way the landlord had treated them, and the figures in the Table suggest that the 'most satisfied' tenants were those in furnished lettings and the least satisfied were those in controlled tenancies". The landlord's side also shows a picture of fairly general satisfaction, and on page 161, where it summarises the position, the Report says: We are satisfied that most landlords discharge their responsibilities as fully as the rent yield from their property permits. So let us have no more vendettas against landlords.

Then I think it is worth mentioning that not all tenants are angels and that there are bad tenants, too; and we must realise that some landlords are frustrated by the behaviour of bad tenants. On pages 181 to 186 of the Report it is worth seeing what the Committee have to say about tenants: Many notices to quit are given in order to get rid of tenants who are in arrears with rent or who are considered undesirable on other grounds. Although much of this Report is devoted to the problems of tenants, we do not wish to give the impression that there are no difficult or unsatisfactory tenants. We have had a number of cases reported to us in which it would be impossible for any reasonable person to avoid the conclusion that the tenant was thoroughly objectionable and the landlord fully justified in wanting to be rid of him. This is summarised on page 186.



The noble Lord opposite says "So what?". Just so that I hope there will be shown no prejudice against landlords or exceptional favour towards tenants. There are good and bad landlords and good and bad tenants. It is worth noticing that the worst cases of bad landlord-tenant relationships is usually where a landlord lives in his own home and lets off a room or two, and perhaps only shares the bathroom on an informal basis, which leads to friction among the families.

I think that one of the great things that the Committee have done is to set about the collecting and analysing of information on the problem of the housing of the people of London. Much light has been thrown on a difficult matter. The first problem is to decide on what sort of information to collect. Straight away, what is a "household"? The noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, herself referred to young girls who rent a flat on their own. Are they a "household" or an "accommodation unit"? Where do they fit in? Where parents stay with their children are there to be considered two households living in one house?

What about the amenities? Is a bath an amenity? We have heard a great deal about baths this afternoon, and I think in this country we take it for granted that a bath within the accommodation unit is essential, but the Report on page 117 refers to the views of Londoners in the eighteenth century where it says: a bathroom was not included in a gentleman's house in those days. It was considered dangerous to wash". But in the course of the last few months we have had the case of the up-to-date Canadian pre-fab houses imported into this country considered, if not substandard, not full standard because they were equipped with showers and not baths. We do not want to be too dogmatic about standards, so that we can have some fairly clear ideas.

We must realise that many Commonwealth immigrants are attracted here because living standards, bad though they seem to us, are vastly better than those they have left behind. If we are to consider Commonwealth immigrants and their life in this country, we must realise that in very many cases they prefer to live in large families sharing accommodation and certain communal facilities rather than be divided up into small accommodation units. That excellent novel The House of Mr. Biswas, the story of a wealthy Indian family living in Trinidad, shows us how entirely different was their concept of family living from anything we should regard as satisfactory in this country.

Information, while it must be collected, is going to be difficult to find and we have in all this to consider a remarkable pace of demographic change. The movements of people, as shown by this Report, are much more rapid than was perhaps fully understood. Therefore, any snapshot, however comprehensive, may well be out-of-date by the time it is fully developed and processed.

The right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Southwark said in the course of a most interesting speech that control was no permanent answer. I hope I am not misquoting him, and I think he was probably referring more to physical controls on building and the like, though I naturally wondered whether in the use of the word "control" he was referring also to rent control. The right reverend Prelate; shakes his head and I have my answer. No doubt in dealing with rent in the face of shortage, it seems reasonable to turn to control. But I believe that control is a doubtful palliative and certainly never a solution. The 1957 Act may not have succeeded because insufficient new and converted accommodation was brought forward to create a free market which alone could have made the 1957 Act a success—a free market in which all types of housing requirements could be satisfied in competition with other domestic needs and desires. The new rent control is bad because it will aggravate shortage and not help to alleviate it, by deterring would-be providers even more than before.

There is not time for me to develop the great question of security of tenure, so admirably outlined in the Report, but I think that in considering any question of rent control some regard should be had to the economic value of security of tenure and that lettings for a longer period ought to be at a higher price than lettings for shorter periods. In settling the levels of rent control the economic value of security of tenure should have a place in the minds, thoughts and calculations of those who will be settling the levels.

If the shortage is to be overcome all three agencies outlined in the Report must be given full scope: the local authorities, the housing associations—and my noble friend Lord Gage made a most interesting speech on housing associations—and, of course, private enterprise in the widest sense of the term. Furthermore, the Government will be depending essentially on private initiative, private companies, for repairs to existing houses and to houses still to be built, for conversions and for new building. The Report states quite clearly that there is a tax bias against housing associations and private landlords. On page 227 it says clearly and unequivocably: We think that the taxation system of this country operates to discourage the provision of accommodation to let, and adversely affects the tenants of such property, particularly at the lower rent levels". Without the help of private enterprise in its widest form the Government cannot succeed in their objective of providing the housing needs of the population of London.

As I said a moment ago, rent control only aggravates the problem because along with the new rent control we are now to have control on the resale of electricity. I do not think that, in order to stop up another loophole by control, it is worth the trouble that will be caused for every seaside landlady and nearly all hotels whose bedrooms will be affected. Next after this, surely, will have to come control of sub-tenancies in controlled premises. It will be very interesting to learn from the noble Lord who is to reply for the Government, whether controlled sub-tenancies in controlled premises will be the next essay in control upon which Her Majesty's Government will have to embark. Having controlled those sub-tenancies, the next step will undoubtedly have to be control of services provided by the landlord in controlled premises. We have been through all this before, from 1945 to 1951—more and more controls become necessary to deal with the situations which arise when control is imposed.

But there is a way out of this dilemma. There is a deficiency of under 250,000 houses. If these could be made available quickly local authorities would have sufficient elbow room to bulldoze the bad old areas, which some of them wish to do, as stated in the Report, and rebuild; and, with substantial rehousing, something like a free market in privately let houses and flats could be restored. It is not so impossible. The Woolwich scheme initiated by the last Government is for approximately 50,000 houses. So we need four more such schemes. Is the green belt so sacrosanct that we cannot make available a few of the less attractive tracts to provide for four more such schemes? I suggest giving one to the new Greater London Council; one should be shared by the boroughs; one for housing associations; and one for private enterprise; and let us see who would get their scheme going first. Let us have a little competition in this field between the various agencies designed to provide more houses. Whatever noble Lords feel, the fact remains that a combined effort is needed, as free from prejudice as possible. This debate has shown the cross-weave of good will which exists. It is for the Government to shape this fabric into a fine new garment.

7.52 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale, always presents the appearance of an angel, and on this occasion I was sorry to see his rapid descent out of heaven into some less salubrious place; for indeed he began by exhorting us to avoid political prejudice and at intervals throughout his speech threw out a little aside for us to continue to do so, but he produced a speech which no doubt represents the policy of the Conservative Party but I cannot say I regarded it as coloured at any moment by anything but the most violent political projudice. He meant to do it; but we know him and we do not take it too seriously. But I must try to answer some of the questions put earlier in the debate, and I will try to do so as quickly as I can. If, at the end, I have omitted important questions which ought to have been answered, I will look through the debate afterwards and write to people, and if even that does not work no doubt they will write and remind me that I have not answered the pertinent question about whatever it was.

May I begin by joining all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate in praise of an excellent Report, which only lacked an index, but which contained a mass of material and sorted it. That was the contribution it seemed to me to make. In addition to that, the Report was prepared under continual pressure of time. The noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale, pointed out that it was asked for by a Conservative Government. So it was, and I can tell him why. It was asked for because there was a very loud outcry at the time about the state of London housing, aggravated I agree by some instances about Rachman and others, but substantially the complaint was that the Government for thirteen years past had really done nothing about the situation. I do not say people were right or wrong; for this purpose that does not matter. But there was that outcry, and there was an Election coming; there were political matters concerning the Greater London Council and the Greater London boroughs, and it was high time to hide behind something. That was the moment the Government chose to try to get the facts from the Milner Holland Report. That they succeeded so well in getting the facts is no credit to them, but is a great deal of credit to the Milner Holland Committee and the Report they produced.

I think this is really the moment to find, if I can discover it again, the really classic passage about London housing. This arose on the Second Reading debate of what is now the 1957 Rent Act. The hero of the occasion was Mr. Enoch Powell. I do not for one moment wish to prejudice Mr. Enoch Powell's undoubted chances of succeeding to the leadership of the Conservative Party, and I hope nothing I say about him will be held to have any effect on that, but he made a speech which to look upon is really rather interesting. He talked at large about housing in general and he came at a particular point on to London housing. I said at the time (I do not like people who quote their own questions many years afterwards, but still, I did happen to do it, and so I must): I have restrained myself with great difficulty from interrupting before and I am obliged to the honourable Gentleman for giving way. I want to ask only one question. Does he, or does he not, say that the demand for houses in London will have been met by the end of 1957?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Commons) Vol. 560, col. 770, November 21, 1956.] Looking back at the question, I should have thought it was fairly easy to answer. I do not know what he intended to say, but this is the remark that has rung down the "corridors of power" whenever we have a debate about housing: Undoubtedly there are areas of the country where the balance of supply and demand is different from that in other areas. In London there is a special situation, but the Government see no reason to doubt that the rents which it will be possible to obtain for this large number of rented houses coming on to the market at the same time will be not much in excess of the rents which will be permissible under the rest of the Bill for the houses remaining in control." [Ibid.] That was not the case. Decontrolled rents went up two or three times at least, and of course the large number of houses he referred to was in fact a very small proportion of the decontrolled houses, for what is now classed as creeping decontrol has done far more damage to the keeping of London rents to the level that ordinary folk could pay than anything that was done by way of change with reference to rating valuation.

This is a complex matter, and I think that the right way to tackle it is first of all to try to answer some specific questions. First, may I respectfully congratulate my noble friend, Lord Silkin, not only on initiating the debate but on the contents, form and everything else in the speech he made in doing so? And, in order to avoid any misunderstanding, may I here and now extend exactly the same congratulations to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor on the admirable speech he made. I do not quite know why noble Lords opposite sought to make some distinction. They were both very good speeches, I thought; I do not know which was the better and I feel humble towards both of them.

My noble friend Lord Silkin asked about the possibility of local authorities working together in the matter of pooling their building programmes or the execution of their building programmes, forming working consortia, possibly buying together, and so on. This is a very timeous question. This matter is, in fact, under active consideration. There has recently been a conference of local authorities to examine this particular question, under the chairmanship of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, and some progress has already been made.

If I leave my noble friend, it is to try to answer as much as I can of what the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, put to me. I must, by the way, correct him on one point. He was under the impression, I think, that the housing shortage had diminished in London in the last two or three years. That is not so. If he will look at page 99 of the Report he will find this: The Ministry"— after examining certain things— concluded that the housing shortage in London had grown worse since 1961—from about 185,000 in 1961 to perhaps as much as 230,000 by 1964. They give the reasons: … first, the rate at which new dwellings are being provided appears to have slackened, continuing a trend already established during the late 1950s. Secondly, the effects of the reduced supply are being aggravated by an accelerated growth in the number of households. When one turns to what has happened about new dwellings, one finds in London the same sort of picture as in the country at large; a slow drop in the total number and a rapid drop in the houses built by public authorities, with an increase in the houses built by private enterprise—and those, as this Report makes abundantly clear, built for sale and not for letting. That, of course, was the policy of the outgoing Administration and the Governments which preceded it. It was part of their way of dealing with the housing shortage to see that ample encouragement in every form was given to those who wished to build houses for sale, and therefore to provide for people who were able to buy their own houses, or were able to do so with the assistance of a building society. But they reduced in London, as elsewhere—the process was not quite continuous, but it was a steady decrease—the number of houses built by public authorities. They did so in various ways, one of which was the high rate of interest charged to local authorities under Tory financial administration, a matter which, as we have abundantly indicated, we propose to put right as soon as we can. If we cannot do it sooner, this is not our fault.

Let us remember the debts to the rest of the world with which we were left by the outgoing Administration, and let us remember the condition of the country after thirteen years of a Government which was not going anywhere in particular, and indeed did not know where it was going except backwards. That, as I see it, is the point about the shortage diminishing. By the way, the figure of 4.53 per cent. is, of course, perfectly correct for what it was, and the reasons for it were given in the Milner Holland Report; indeed, I rather think that they were quoted by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, in the course of his speech. One important reason is the fact that all the local authorities, with the single and significant exception of New Towns and other such developments, are able to draw on a pool of houses, so that, if they level out their rents and their borrowings, the net rate of borrowing will be lower than it would be on present figures.

Then we were asked about increasing the densities, how this was and should be done, and who should do it—and I think that was suggested, too. This seems to me to be a matter for the Development Plan for London, which is a general development plan for the whole of London, and is the business of the Greater London Council under the recent Act of 1963.

A question was asked about residential qualifications. Residential qualifications seem to me to be a rather difficult matter, because, as I see it, it is necessary to keep a balance between two things and this has never been easy. On the one hand, if you insist on absolute uniformity, it means depriving local authorities of the freedom that I think they ought to have to adapt what they are doing, in this case in connection with the housing programme, to the local requirements. They are, on the whole, the best judges, and, I may add, the elected judges. Therefore, I think that complete uniformity is going too far.

But I must say that the differences at present are rather startling. We were told, for instance, that there was usually —as indeed is the fact—a residential qualification. If I may give instances, in Edmonton it is ten years; in Enfield five years, and in Southgate one year; and there are similar variations in other parts of the country. This involves difficult questions. For instance, moving from one borough to another may entail some unfortunate consequences, since a man does not carry his residential qualications with him. But again, I think this is a matter that will have to be discussed, and will be discussed, with the local authorities themselves. I do not think one can say here and now that they must keep an absolute uniformity. Councils can merely try to make the scheme work, having regard to their proper function as an elected authority and to the fact that they are the best judges of their own local conditions.

I turn from that to another matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hastings —namely, densities. Again, it was suggested that they ought to he reviewed. I quite see the point. I see the force of the photographs that appear in the Report. No doubt it is a matter that has to be considered from time to time; but this again, as I have said, seems to be something which, at any rate in the first instance, is the business of the Greater London Council and, I may add, of the new London boroughs. Relations between the Greater London Council and the London boroughs must be just as good as we can make them. Quite frankly, as we all know, there were occasional difficulties between the London County Council and the metropolitan boroughs. We do not want that situation repeated. We want complete co-operation. But I think that this is a matter that the Greater London Council will have to consider.

It is not, I think, correct to say that the decisions on housing made by the Greater London Council can be made only with the concurrence both of the London borough and of the Ministry. I will not take up time by quoting the Act, but I think it will be found that the concurrence of either of those two bodies is sufficient; it does not require the concurrence of both.


My Lords, I think that is what I said.


I see. Then I am glad. I misunderstood. I thought the noble Lord was saying that it required the concurrence of both parties. But only one need agree. That seems to me a reasonable arrangement.

The noble Lord, Lord Amulree, talked about housing associations. So did the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, and so, with reference to their inability to draw on pools, did the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross. But it is not by any means an absolute inability. The position is that where an association are unsubsidised, they can do what they like. They have to frame their own objects in their own way. It is when associations are subsidised that difficulty arises. In such cases, they must apply to the Minister to make a scheme in order to pool the management of all the houses they are putting up. They have to consult the relevant local authorities, and perhaps the result of that has been that the power has been little used. I can only say to noble Lords who are interested in the matter that I see the force of the point, and that it is quite clear from what happened in another place, and indeed from what has been said to-day, that my right honourable friend the Minister desires to make what use he properly can of housing associations, and to encourage them. And no doubt that point will be considered.

As regards the progress of the Housing Corporation, about which the noble Lord, Lord Hastings asked me, I would remind your Lordships that it came into being only in January of this year. There were instruments issued for four schemes, and there are twenty-four in the pipe-line, so to speak, of which five are in the Greater London area. So it is a recent body but not an inactive one.


My Lords, is there in fact any difficulty about getting money from the building societies, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin suggested.


I am afraid that I do not know, offhand, the answer to that question. I will try to find out, if the noble Lord is interested, and see what the position is.

The right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Southwark asked what steps could be taken to ensure that the building resources of the country were directed to what is necessary. The Government have no present intention of reintroducing building controls, but we believe that the planning machinery can be used broadly for that purpose. Perhaps I may leave it at that for the moment. But that is the general intention.

The noble Lord, Lord Ilford, made the statement that no comprehensive solution could be found without the full use of private landlords. I wonder whether the noble Lord could help me. Was there a question which turned on that? I did not understand what was intended. If he was asking me nothing then I will leave it.


My Lords that was a statement of fact, though I did address a question to the noble Lord later on in my speech.


That is the note I have taken so far: I cannot find any other question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Ilford. If he cares to remind me now, I will try to answer him. If he does not, I will go on to something else.


My Lords, I asked the noble Lord whether Her Majesty's Government would take advantage of the contribution that private enterprise could make, as was pointed out in so many passages of the Milner Holland Report.


My Lords, I propose to deal with that matter later. It seems to me that, looking at this Report—which is what we are looking at to-day and not, incidentally, the Rent Bill (I say that for the information of the noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale)—there are two things which are perfectly clear. The first is that, whatever may have happened in the past, the London housing situation at the moment is very grave indeed. The extent of the shortage to which I referred just now, the fact that multi-occupation is not only very extensive but spreading, entailing the most disastrous and dangerous social consequences, and the further fact that, notwithstanding multi-occupation (which is the worst possible way of trying to solve the problem), there are still a considerable number of families without anywhere to go with the result that they have to be looked after by the welfare services, all emerge from this Report. We are bound to take these facts seriously. This state of affairs is a real scandal. The fact that it may or may not have been worse in the past does not make it any less a scandal, does not make it any less a responsibility on the present Government, as it was the responsibility of the outgoing Government, to do what we can about it.

One of the major questions which arises from the Report is what agencies we should use, and to what extent. There are three possible agencies. I have spoken already about housing associations, but I do not think that, from the nature of what they do, they can make a very large contribution to the real hard core of the problem, which is finding for the labourer, the man with a low income, somewhere to live in London. That is the problem. While no doubt there are other needs to be satisfied, and housing associations can make some contribution, they are not sufficiently widespread in their operations, and what they do is not important enough, for them to be considered as an alternative to one or other of the remaining two agencies.

Let us look at the position of private landlords. There are a very large number of houses at present owned by private landlords and let out to individuals. They fall broadly into two classes. One class are houses or fiats which provide for people who are relatively well off. There is not much difficulty about those; they are not mentioned in the Report. If you pay enough you can get somewhere to live by taking one of those houses or flats. But as to the real nub of the problem—what you are to provide for the man with the small income—private landlordism has failed, as I see it, completely. I see no reason to think that it will succeed any better in coping with the problem before us.

It has failed in a number of ways. It has failed partly—and the private landlords have not as a group been exceptionally wicked; I have never suggested that, here or anywhere else—because the landlords have been in a position which gives them, on the one hand, a very great measure of power over the occupiers of their houses, but, on the other hand, a very difficult role to carry out from the point of view of their own advantage. The result is that over years and years, the tenants are quite ready to admit in the majority of cases, as the Report found, the landlords try to do something but they do not succeed in doing it. They have this bad property, as is perfectly clear—and this is known to all of us, quite apart from the Report —all over London, and they have not given their tenants security of tenure.

I repeat, for the third time, and I will go on saying it, that I am not suggesting they are exceptionally wicked people. It is a question of the position into which they have been put in the middle of an extremely complex problem. When one has people in that position it is, on the face of it, extremely unlikely that they are going to be the best agency to use in order to improve the situation. They represent at present the very worst side of it. That is the present state of affairs, as I see it.


My Lords, is the noble Lord referring to the provision of new housing or to the adequate maintenance of existing houses? This is a very important distinction.


I am referring at the moment to the improvement of the general position, and I should regard both of those things as part of it. What I was saying was directed particularly to the provision of new housing. What I am now going to say applies to both. It may be said that they have never really had a fair chance. I do not accept that. I think that they have had the chance and that, in the economic world in which we live, that was what they were entitled to, no more and no less. If somebody is going to be helped in any way out of public funds, whether it be by taxation or in any other way, I am not sure that I would select those people as suitable candidates for the purpose—indeed, I would not. If what we are considering is the real improvement of London housing, I would put whatever assistance was available to the credit of the local authorities and to the housing associations rather than to the private landlords.

That seems to me the inevitable conclusion that comes out of this Report, unless you except one curious half suggestion, towards the end of the Report, that something might be clone by way of subsidising private landlords. I looked at it carefully, I read it through two or three times, and it was a quite minor suggestion. The substance of the matter is that if one is going to deal effectively with the London housing situation one has to attack the problems with a vigour which the last Government failed entirely to show, and one has to do this mainly through the local authorities. They are the only people who are in a position to deal with it, once you accept the conclusion which emerges from the Report that the people hardest hit are the people at the bottom of the income scale.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether what he is saying now means that Her Majesty's Government do not propose to adopt any of the proposals which the Report contains, for enabling the private landlords to make their contribution to the solution?


My Lords, had I meant that, I should have said so. What I did say—which, incidentally, was what my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor also said—was that my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government rejects the idea of a subsidy to private landlords; and I cannot myself see what possible reason there can be for such a subsidy.


My Lords, I think the noble Lord has got past me in his notes, and I have no doubt that he has lost the appropriate piece of paper. But I asked him whether he could clear up the difficulty which I foresaw about the fact that two-thirds (I think it was: I cannot remember the figures) of the tenants could not afford even the lowest provision of housing by the local authorities when it was a large house, and one-half could not afford the other sort. How, then, is he going to deal with the situation which is at the moment dealt with by the private landlords, if he is going to deal with it solely in future through the local authorities?


My Lords, I think this is a case for a little horse-sense. We must have new houses; they must be let, and they must be let at a rent which the ordinary labourer, the working man, the man in a low income group coming into London, can afford to pay. On that, I should have thought, we are all agreed. If that is the position, and if we are going to help anybody to build those houses, then it is much better to help the agency which has the minimum of difficulties. This, incidentally, was the passage which the noble Viscount quoted about new houses, and I think he would find the situation a little different if he expanded the figure somewhat. But I do not want to go into that: I want to take the question quite broadly. If we must house these people, and house them in rented houses, then the right way to do it is through the local authorities. That is really the conclusion. I have very great respect for the noble Viscount —I think he does his own thinking about these things—and, if the question is as I have stated it, I do not see how one can avoid that conclusion in the present circumstances.


My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Lord. He presumably means that the whole subsidy situation for the houses that are now going to be provided will have to be reviewed, and a very much greater subsidy produced for the local authorities.


I was going to talk about this, but I must not take too long because it is getting monstrously late. But it seems to me that housing subsidies must be considered as part of the general relations between local government and the central Government. There are other things that come into it—teachers' salaries and things of that sort, too. But I do not shrink from the conclusion that more subsidies may have to be given. But the case for them will have to be proved, and it will have to be examined and so forth. All I am concerned with in the debate on this Report is which of the three agencies I have mentioned is the right one, and I feel no doubt about the answer.

I want to end with one other point. This is, indeed, as several noble Lords have said, a complex situation. The difficulties are complex and the position arises from all kinds of factors, such as the complicated things which make up the civilisation and society in which we live. I think a problem of the sort has existed for a very long time in London; and it is quite true, as one right reverend Prelate said, that recent developments have made it more complicated. But when you come down to the end of it, it seems to me that there is one real point, which is not ideological prejudice, but possibly a deep difference between the two sides of the House. I do not accuse noble Lords opposite of saying that the rights of property ought always to prevail; that the investor must at all costs be safeguarded. That is going much too far. But I think they have a preference for the landlords' interests—and legitimate interests under the law as it is—as against the hardship which may be caused to a tenant.

On this side of the House we feel, without hesitation, that the crying thing in London at present is the personal misery and hardship that is caused to thousands and thousands of people, the old and the middle-aged, the young, all kinds of folk —people whom it is our bounden duty as a Parliament to help all we can. We feel that this overrides everything else in these considerations, and that if the forms that are adopted—the subsidies, the local authorities, the housing associations, whatever it is—are insufficient to deal with the situation, then they must be made sufficient to do so. It is a crying thing in this age of ours and in this city of ours. I am a Londoner, I have spent most of my life in London, and I feel a great pride in London. But, my goodness, so long as the housing situation is as it is now, I cannot feel any pride at what is happening to so many of my fellow citizens!


My Lords, before the noble Lord finishes, may I point out that I asked a number of questions about subsidies? I said that I thought the subsidy for local authorities in London and other big cities—though to-night we are talking only about London—would have to be increased to get the building done. Also, I begged the Government to consider, as was said in the Milner Holland Report, bringing in all agencies. One of the difficulties that private enterprise has had—and the companies come out well in the Report—is that building costs have risen so much that, as I said in my speech, without subsidies I cannot see how they can do much. Can the noble Lord answer the question?


My Lords, I am sorry that I did not answer the noble Lord. I did my best to answer most of the questions. I heard what he said about Holland, and found it very interesting.


My Lords, I referred to Sweden. Sweden is a Socialist-controlled country.


There is something of the sort in Holland, too. But be that as it may. I do not think one can put a figure on what is a reasonable subsidy and say, "It ought to be increased by so much". I think one has simply to say, "This is the way in which it ought to be done." Clearly, an increase in subsidies is not ruled out; but, equally clearly, it cannot be demonstrated, and is not demonstrated, in the course of a debate like this.

As my last but one point, I would remind your Lordships that this is the season of the year in which one says very little about public funds; and this is, after all, something to do with public funds. I am not saying that it is technically the Chancellor of the Exchequer's business, but it is clearly concerned with the Budget as a whole. Lastly, I would say that I am sorry that the noble Lord finds that the cost of building goes up so much. It is perfectly true that the cost of building has gone up, but in most cases another factor has made housing more expensive; and that is the fantastic increase in land prices.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt again at the end of the noble Lord's speech, but I think it essential that we clear up this question. The noble Lord keeps referring to subsidies. I never mentioned subsidies in my speech. I was dealing with tax rebates —indirect subsidy of a form, but only to the level already enjoyed by owner-occupiers and the tenants of local authorities. Does the noble Lord really mean that the 1,250,000 houses in London (I believe that is the figure) which are privately rented can become decent accommodation through the sole agency of the operations of a local authority? That is the whole point, and I want to know if the noble Lord, or the Government he represents, is definitely turning down any idea of tax rebates for privately rented property in that particular field. How can he claim that it is solely for the local authority to put the matter right?


My Lords, I am sorry if I did not answer the noble Lord. I think the answer is painfully obvious. Budget Day is to be on April 6, and tax rebates are entirely a question for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Obviously, by convention, he would not say anything about this now, and, even more obviously, it is something which I can say nothing about now. I would merely say that I thought some of the suggestions about tax rebates were (shall we say?) on the hopeful side.


My Lords, would it be possible for the noble Lord to answer the question which I asked with regard to whether or not the Government were seeking to encourage industrialised building techniques?


My Lords, I am sorry that was another one which forgot. The answer is, Yes. The right reverend Prelate will find that my right honourable friend the Minister of Public Building and Works has made one or two statements about the matter in another place. I will try to obtain the references for the right reverend Prelate, if he would like them.

8.30 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure those of your Lordships who are still left here will agree with me that it has been a well worth while debate. We have had a conflict of views, but, of course, that is what we are here for. We are not here to agree with one another: we are here to express our views, and to express them freely, frankly and, I hope, honestly and objectively; and perhaps we may learn from one another's point of view and be able to shift one another. At this late hour I do not want to develop this or any other points, but there are just three things I want to say. One is that I hope my noble friend Lord Mitchison did not mean to imply that we on this side are against owner-occupiers. We are not.



It is, of course, a question of priority, and in London at this moment there is a greater need for dealing with the problem of houses to let, and particularly low-rented houses, than there is for dealing with the problem of providing houses for owner-occupiers. But we are in general agreement here. We have agreed to provide mortgages for owner-occupiers, and I hope we shall continue to do so.

My noble friend did not, I thought, give sufficient credit to the possibilities of housing associations. He thought they had not got a large contribution to make. I think they have. I believe that, if they are properly assisted, they have a tremendous contribution to make and that there is a tremendous need for them. We have stressed this afternoon and this evening the needs of the lowest- paid workers, and I agree that they are very great indeed; but there is equal hardship among the lower-middle-class, who, equally, cannot find accommodation at rents they can afford to pay—and it is this class which the housing associations are designed to help. I hope that this Government will give every possible assistance to them, will encourage them and will believe that they really have an important and large contribution to make.

In this connection, I asked whether my noble friend could say—and I am not surprised that he is not able to do so—what is the assistance which the building societies have been able to give. I was afraid they had rather let us down so far. We had assumed that they were going to provide two-thirds of the finance. It appears from my own experience that they have not; but perhaps the noble Lord could tell us—could tell me, at any rate—when he has made inquiries, what is the position of the building societies. I shall then pass the information on to the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, as he was so sure that it was all right.

My Lords, I do not want to prolong this discussion. Once again, I should like to express my own thanks to all who have taken part in the debate for their valuable contributions. I now beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motions for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.