§ 6.18 p.m.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF HOUSING AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT (LORD KENNET)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Let me first of all say something that I know the whole House will join with me in saying: that I am very sorry to hear that Lord Brooke of Cumnor is slightly damaged, and so cannot be with us tonight. I am very glad that it is only slight damage. I am also very glad that Lady Brooke will be speaking for the Opposition on the Second Reading, because these husband and wife teams are becoming a feature—and in my view a very welcome feature—of the proceedings in our House.
973 Parliament is asked to consider a Housing Bill of one sort or another about every third year, and this is an indication both of the importance and of the difficulties of our housing problems. The subject of the present Housing Bill is older houses and the areas in which they stand. This measure is a long one, and in some respects it is complicated. It contains a number of coherent provisions to deal in the right way with a wide range of houses, from those that on any reckoning are not worth saving, to those which, with improvement to their structures and to their environment, can be given a fresh lease of life for many years.
These provisions derive from one basic premise: namely, that it makes good economic and social sense to spend a good deal more in many cases on the preservation and improvement of older houses than we have been spending up till now. As a matter of fact, the best calculations that we have been able to achieve or obtain suggest that it is often worth spending two-thirds of the cost of a new house on prolonging the life of an old one for a certain period of years. This does not mean that we shall not at the same time press on with the clearance of houses beyond redemption; nor does it mean that we shall reduce the programme of new house building.
The Government have come to this view about the economics of older housing after very careful research and study. We have benefited from the Dennington Report, the paper called, Our Older Homes—A Call For Action. The Ministry and the local authorities together have carried out, or are at the moment carrying out, pilot schemes of area improvement—these are not studies but are actual experimental schemes—for example, at a part of Rochdale called Deeplish; at Whitworth, which scheme was recently opened by my right honourable friend, and at Exeter. This is to find out how the idea of area improvement works in practice.
Also, in order to gauge the extent and character of the problems, the Government undertook in 1967 a sample survey of the condition of houses in England and Wales. Up till that point we had believed that there were about 800,000 unfit houses in the country, and we had believed this because each housing 974 authority had assessed the number of unfit houses it had in its own area, the Government had added up the answers and this was the result. But there were a number of factors which made this an unreliable result. Different housing authorities applied different criteria. For very understandable human motives, some maximised their problems; others minimised them. We therefore cross-posted public health inspectors from one housing authority area to another with which they were unfamiliar and with which they had nothing to do, and on the basis of this sample study we found that, according to the more objective criteria employed in it, there were a total, not of 0.8 million unfit houses but of 1.8 million unfit houses, and, beyond that, 4½ million in need of significant repair or improvement, or both.
This was a much more gloomy picture than had hitherto been supposed. These results, and all the other available facts, were then fed into a study conference at New Hall at Cambridge in 1967, over which I myself had the honour and pleasure of presiding and to which we called experts from the housing authorities, from universities, from the relevant professions and institutions, from Whitehall and from the Press, in order to discuss everything that might be done. The result of this conference was that we realised the need for urgent action and the Government took up the challenge in the White Paper, Old Houses into New Homes, a paper in the drafting of which I was also glad to be closely involved. The proposals in that White Paper are the basis of this Bill.
Record figures have been achieved in new house building and a very large new housing programme will continue for as far ahead as we can see, in particular to meet the needs of slum clearance. But the time has come for older houses to get a fair share of the extremely high expenditure on housing, and this is why, as the White Paper says, the Government intend that within a total public investment in housing at about the level it has now reached a greater share should go to the improvement of older houses.
I turn now to some of the particular provisions in the Bill. There is in it a clause which lays upon local authorities a fresh general duty to review the condition of older houses in their districts and 975 to come forward with proposals for dealing with them. It complements, thus, for the first time, the duty local authorities have long had to review the need to provide new houses for those who need them. From this fresh duty just about all the actions of local authorities under this Bill will flow. They will take the lead but, as I hope to show, they will lead in partnership, wherever possible in cooperation, with owners and with residents.
One obvious example of this is in the making of grants for improvements and conversions. Part I of the Bill introduces a new grant code under which local authorities assist owners in improving their property. This new code is generous indeed. Discretionary grants are increased from a maximum of £400 to one of £1,000. Grants for the conversion of three-storey buildings go up from a maximum of £500 per flat obtained to £1,200; and even higher grants will be able to be fixed in exceptional circumstances, perhaps where the building is of historic or architectural importance or because of some other factor. The grant which housing authorities must pay for the provision of standard amenities goes up from £155 to £200.
The system is flexible. We are getting rid of as many fixed statutory requirements as we can. Even where some are necessary—for instance, the requirements of the mandatory standard grants—the housing authorities may relax them, subject to directions from the Minister. The system is coherent and comprehensive. Grants are at present administered under no fewer than three main Acts. The new code is self-contained and provides for everything from improvements on purely social grounds for short-life houses—something quite outside the present system—to a fully-fledged improvement or conversion for properties with an unlimited future.
The Exchequer will continue to bear its fair share of the financial burden. As now, it will make good three-quarters of the local authority's costs of grants to private owners as contribution to loan charges. Local authorities will of course benefit from the new grant limits when improving their own houses. So will housing associations. They will both now receive assistance also on the acquisition 976 of property for conversion or improvement, with the effect that any artificial bias towards demolition and redevelopment should be removed.
I should like to say a special word about soundly-based housing associations. I am sure that they have a significant part to play in improvements. In cooperation with local authorities they can perform a most useful service in area improvement, which I am about to describe, by concentrating their purchases in districts where authorities are also improving the environment. The Government do not claim that they have out of the blue divined the advantages of improving whole residential areas. The 1964 Act was concerned with a limited improvement of tenanted houses in defined areas, but it is generally accepted that the relevant provisions of the 1964 Act have not been a great success. Part II of this Bill seeks to remedy this with its concept of general improvement areas.
The 1964 Act is failing because it is too limited. It provides nothing for the improvement of the area itself as opposed to the individual houses within it. Part II of this Bill is in this respect coherent and comprehensive and rather generous. Local authorities are given powers under it to improve the environment by the provision of play spaces, by the planting of trees, the closing of streets to traffic and so on, and can attract a specific Government grant towards the cost of this work equal to £50 for each dwelling in the area covered by the scheme. The 1964 Act does not seek to realise the full potential of all the houses in the area. It was aimed only at the standard amenities. Our intention is that the authorities should freely make grants at all levels on all improvable houses in general improvement areas that are a reasonable reflection of what is worth spending.
The 1964 Act proved somewhat bureaucratic. It all turned too much on the serving of notices and counter notices, and objections to notices and objections to objections. Part II of this Bill enables and encourages local authorities to enlist the co-operation and support of the owners of houses and those who live in them. The local authority commits itself by declaring a general improvement area, although it is axiomatic that before that there will have to be informal consultations with those who are going to be 977 affected. At every stage the housing authority will be under a duty to tell people of its current proposals. The authority will have the greatest possible stake in the success of its public relations exercise: and that stake will be the success of its own investment in environmental improvements.
In the vast majority of cases the benefits of the increased grants and the evidence of the authority's commitment to the improvement of the area will be incentive enough to encourage owners to improve their own properties. But we believe that it is necessary to have in reserve a power of compulsion to be used in the last resort. In these cases powers of compulsory purchase will be available. The exercise of these powers will, of course, be subject to confirmation by the Minister, and my right honourable friend has already made quite clear that compulsory purchase will not be entertained if authorities show a harsh or unconscionable use of the powers. He has specially in mind indefensible action against elderly owner-occupiers for the sake of an improvement to the interior of their houses.
House improvement with the aid of a grant will go on outside general improvement areas as well as inside them, but we look to local authorities increasingly to turn their attention to this general improvement area as the main weapon for the years to come. Here, for the first time, we can think in terms of the revitalisation of whole areas of our country and their preservation as communities with real roots.
I referred to evidence from the sample survey that disrepair was distressingly prevalent in the housing stock. We are doing something about that. Repairs may now rank for grant if they are done with an improvement scheme, and no less than one-half of the grant may be allocated to the repair element of the improvement scheme. We are sure that this provision will remove an obstacle that in the past has deterred many owners who are otherwise anxious to improve their houses. At the same time we are able to give local authorities a long overdue power to oblige owners to rectify substantial disrepair which may have hastened the course of many decent houses downwards into slumdon. Until now they have been able to act only 978 when the house has become actually statutorily unfit.
My Lords., the Scottish Bill, which we shall debate as soon as we have finished with this one, has been amended in its course through Parliament so as—to put it in a nutshell—to ensure that replacements of fittings as well as improvements which may be carried out by tenants otherwise than under the terms of their tenancies are to be ignored when setting a fair rent under the Bill. I shall be coming to that clause in a minute. But this means in effect that if a tenant has paid for his job when he did not have to, the rent assessment officer will not be obliged to allow for that fact in any increase of rent which may occur during his statutory tenancy. This idea in the Scottish Bill seems to be a good one that England and Wales might usefully follow, and I hope to put down an Amendment to the English and Welsh Bill for the Committee stage, having the same effect.
One persistent feature of the improvement grant system over the years has been that it did not sufficiently attract landlords. The reason has become clear. As the White Paper stated, the rents chargeable after improvement did not and do not normally provide a sufficient return to encourage landlords to do the improvement in the first place. So Part III of this Bill and Schedules 2 and 3 set out to give a reasonable incentive to good landlords, while still holding a fair balance between landlord and tenant.
Put briefly, the basic proposition is that tenants of fit houses in good repair and improved so as to possess all the standard amenities will move toward payment of a fair, regulated rent in stages, provided that they can afford to do so. There is no question of a general increase in rent levels. Indeed it is only a minority of controlled tenants who are likely to be affected, and every safeguard has been inserted to protect their legitimate interests. As a matter of equity and to help keep in decent condition those rent controlled houses where the standard amenties are already present, we also propose in this Bill a transfer, in stages, to the payment of a fair rent in those cases. Let me repeat that this does not mean a general increase in rent levels. If we take both categories—that is, those which are already improved up to the 979 required standard and those which will be so improved as a result of this Bill—we find that perhaps 400,000 houses are involved in a rent controlled sector of some one and a half million.
It is with some diffidence that I turn now to Part IV of the Bill, which deals with the problems of multiple occupation. This is because in 1593 an Act was passed—and I quote—For the reforming of the great mischiefs and inconveniences that daily grow and increase by the reason of the pestering pf houses with divers families and converting of great houses into several tenements or dwellings within the cities of London and Westminster and other places adjoining.The war against the evils of multiple occupation—or, to put it in layman's language, overcrowding—has been waged ever since, with varying degrees of success. But I must warn the House that in the nature of things legislative measures cannot entirely deal with these evils while people are attracted to areas already bulging at the seams. If they want to go there they are likely to get there, whatever the law says, and the law just has to make the best of it afterwards. We must attempt—and we do in this Bill—to regulate and improve the conditions where gross multiple occupation is established, and also to control its spread. This Bill, building on the Housing Acts of 1951 and 1954 and on certain local Acts, sets out to do both these things in ways adjustable to meet a variety of local circumstances. It also introduces, in Part I. a special grant to encourage the alleviation of conditions which may arise from multiple occupation.
On the other hand, solid progress has been achieved in slum clearance since the Act of 1930—the original slum clearance Act which was introduced by my right honourable friend's father. The time has come for a fresh impetus. About 75,000 slums are now being cleared each year in England and Wales. This is a lot: but we must do better than that in order to make a real impression on the 1.8 million which remain.
One feature of slum clearance is the increasing proportion of owner-occupiers who are found among those affected. They have a real grievance in that they are at present losing their homes for 980 amounts of compensation which take account only of site value. They may well get nothing for the bricks and mortar into which they have sunk their savings, and their natural hostility to slum clearance has in many cases deterred housing authorities from getting on with it, and has in many other cases prolonged an operation which ought to be of benefit to all those living in these worn-out areas. It is perhaps too much to expect the active co-operation of the owner-occupiers of unfit houses in slum clearance, but it is right that their sense of grievance should be removed. This Bill therefore provides in Part V and Schedule 5 for the payment to owner-occupiers of compensation equivalent to the full market value of their house in cases where formal clearance action was begun after April 23, 1968, when the proposals were published in the White Paper.
All the same, the Government consider that, as the White Paper says, the site value basis of compensation should remain to he the general, formal rule of slum clearance, as it has been since 1919. The Bill does not propose the extension of market value compensation to landlord owned houses. What it does, on the other hand, is to propose in those cases to double the payments for good maintenance. Well-maintained payments were introduced in the Housing Act 1935, and that is the Housing Act that was introduced by my own father—we cannot get away from these dynastic things in this country—when he was Minister of Health. Since then, the well-maintained payments have proved a useful incentive to landlords and tenants to keep their houses in a decent state despite inherent structural defects. Now, at the higher rate proposed under the Bill, these payments will in many cases bridge the gap between site value and market value. For the first time payments will also be available for unfit houses whose interior or exterior alone have been well maintained, without reference to the state of maintenance of the interior or exterior, as the case may be.
This Bill has also given us the chance to deal with other important and urgent matters. They are contained in Part VI. They provide for increased flexibility in the option mortgage scheme. They enable certain long leases to become marketable once more and they ensure that a 981 leaseholders' price of enfranchisement under the Leasehold Reform Act is kept to the value of the land.
This is an important Bill. It is dealing with old houses, but it looks to the future and what ought to be done in it. There is nothing abstract in its purposes. The concern of the Bill and of the Government, and I confidently believe of the Opposition and of all sides of this House, is with people and what can be best done for them now in changing circumstances. We believe that because of this Bill many thousands of people will have new opportunities of living in decent homes in pleasant surroundings. When the proposals were first published in the White Paper, they were given a general welcome, and it is true to say that the further consideration which has come about since then has in no way diminished this original welcome. I am confident that this House will now wish to welcome a Bill which implements these proposals. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Kennet.)
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ BARONESS BROOKE OF YSTRADFELLTE
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has kindly explained, I have a special reason for asking for your indulgence this afternoon. It was intended that my noble relative should speak at this point, but he asks me to express his apologies because he is laid up at home with a badly poisoned foot. He had, however, considered what he wanted to say, and with your Lordships' permission I will endeavour to act as a channel of inspired communication on his behalf. I would only add that, although I have some practical knowledge of housing problems, and indeed was chairman of the Hampstead Housing Committee for several years, I would never claim to be expert in housing law, so if noble Lords try to catch me out they will find me much less formidable and much more vulnerable than my noble relative would be if he were standing at this Box instead of me.
This is a Bill of extreme complexity, partly because it deals with seven or eight quite distinct aspects of housing policy, and partly because a great deal of it involves legislation by reference. Your Lordships will be the more grateful, 982 therefore, not only for the excellent Explanatory Memorandum at the beginning, but also for the noble Lord's exposition of the Bill and what it does.
Parts I, II, IV and V are sensible and logical developments of previous housing policies initiated by earlier Governments of different political colours. Improvement grants were started by a Labour Government some twenty years ago, but it drew the terms for them so rigidly that very few were taken up, until Mr. Harold Macmillan as Minister of Housing relaxed the conditions and made them more realistic, and ever since dim a million or so houses have benefited by them.
The next type of grant, the standard grant, was first introduced by my noble relative. It has stood the test of experience, and one is pleased to see that the Bill continues it, and that Schedule 1 adjusts the amount of grant to the falling value of money. In Committee the question should be raised whether it need still be a condition for standard grants that the house must have a useful life in front of it of at least 15 years. I know that there is a subsection empowering the Minister to give directions whereby this period may be reduced, but it seems to me we have reached the point where the local authorities might be given rather more discretion. They have a strong incentive not to waste public money, for they have to produce a quarter of the grant themselves. What one fears is that we shall be condemning hundreds of thousands of people to live on for another 12 or 14 years in houses where there is no bath, no hot water, and no proper W.C.
In the same connection, one must be very suspicious of Clause 55, which seems designed to prevent the modernising of just those houses where the poorest families live. I thought that a Socialist principle was "To each according to his needs", and it seems an odd facet of Socialism to downgrade the needs of the poorest families and then legislate riot to meet them. Of course, it is now becoming clear that the right answer to this, as to so much else, is to relate housing subsidies in future to family incomes and make them available not only to council tenants but also to tenants of privately owned property with low incomes.
983 Then we come to the new type of grant, the special grant for the benefit of houses in multiple occupation. This is a good and logical development of the standard grant. These houses in multiple occupation, of which Clause 58 gives us for some reason a new definition, hide some of the foulest living conditions in the country, often far worse than the little old two-storey terraces which we are pulling down as slums. The Conservative 1961 Act introduced the new idea of management control for them, and the 1964 Act, in the light of three years' experience, carried it further. Clauses 59 to 64 continue that process in the light of another five years' experience, and they are to be thoroughly welcomed.
Part II of the Bill introduces the concept of the general improvement area, which again is a sensible development and enlargement of the improvement area provisions in the 1964 Act. It is not absolutely clear how they are related to, or will overlap, the action areas under the latest Town and Country Planning Act, but perhaps that will become clearer as our debates go on. One is a little sceptical, too, as to how far the provisions of Part II will achieve what I know is the Government's object of engaging the interest and co-operation of all the people living in the area. Perhaps where the local authority is highly intelligent and imaginative they will.
The provision in Clause 32 enabling a local authority compulsorily to acquire any land whatever is obviously far too wide, and needs amending; and Clause 36 is a bit mysterious. Clause 34—Protection against blight—which was added to the Bill on Report in another place as a result of Opposition pressure, is welcome so far as it goes, but many of us will not be satisfied until the whole of the arrangements for protecting innocent people against having the value of their property blighted by the actions of public authorities are completely overhauled and broadened. The whole of Part II is intended to speed up the declaration of improvement areas; but, alas! the intention is going to be frustrated. unless the Government improve the scale of Exchequer contributions laid down in Clause 37. The figure of £100 multiplied by the number of dwellings in the area is not going to be enough. Unhappily, this is a 984 matter of money, and so your Lordships' House cannot force the Government to alter it. We shall have the same sequence of events with which one is only too familiar in housing legislation—of the Treasury tying the strings too tightly in the first instance, and releasing them only after years have been wasted.
Part III takes the first tentative steps towards bringing up to date the rents of some of the million or more rent-controlled houses whose rents are still fixed at the now derisory figure of twice the 1939 gross value. One should, I suppose, welcome this as the beginning of a breakthrough to more rational rents. But it seems to be only a faint beginning, and it has some extraordinary features. No rent is to go up at all until January, 1971, by which time the Cabinet reckon that the next General Election will have taken place and a Conservative Government will be in power. Even so, increases will be scaled. Those landlords who have done nothing to modernise their property, and who start to do so only when this Bill becomes law, will not be able to charge a fair rent, as defined under the Rent Act, until 1974 or 1975. But those who have already done all that could be expected of them—modernised the property, put in all the standard amenities, kept the house in good repair—will be prevented by Schedule 3 from charging a fair rent until 1976 or 1977.
This is presumably the Socialist idea of justice, but to all normal people it seems incomprehensible. It will be helpful if the Government can tell us how many houses are likely to come under paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) respectively of subsection (2) of Clause 50. One hopes that we can find means in Committee of simplifying the extraordinarily and unnecessarily complicated procedures laid down in Clauses 44 to 47 about qualification certificates. At one moment the Government are saying that public health inspectors and rent officers are fully stretched—and as regards public health inspectors I know that that is all too true; yet at the same moment, the Government produce these excessively elaborate provisions which will produce the very maximum of work for local authorities and their staffs. Surely, in cases where the facts are not at all in dispute between tenant and landlord, the procedure could be simplified, leaving the 985 elaborate and time-consuming procedures for only those cases where there is a difference of opinion. Not all tenants and not all landlords are at daggers drawn with their opposite numbers.
However, Part III as a whole is welcome, in so far as eventually it will bring rather more sense into the rent situation. We should by now have escaped from housing shortage, if over the past half century our rent policies had been wiser. As a country, we produce all the milk and bread that we need, but not all the houses; and the simple difference is that those who deal in milk and bread are allowed to charge enough to cover their costs.
Part V of the Bill very rightly extends the well-maintained payments for houses in clearance schemes which, nevertheless, have been well-maintained, and introduces the useful new category of partially well-maintained houses. There has been so much injustice arising out of the present law that the new financial arrangements certainly ought to apply to all cases where the compensation has not yet been settled. This will mean an Amendment to Clause 66.
It is frequently the case that a long Bill ends with a final Part called, "Miscellaneous and Supplemental", but Part VI of this Bill is more wonderfully miscellaneous than anything I have ever seen. It ranges from standards of fitness for human habitation, through option mortgages, to terms of leasehold enfranchisement. There could hardly be a more mixed bag, and this seems to be partly due to the Government's having had last-minute thoughts and introducing unrelated new clauses on Report in another place. One wonders how much Clause 70 is going to mean, or is intended to mean. It imposes an obligation on every housing authority to carry out an inspection of their whole area from time to time. Unless public health inspectors are to be taken off work of more immediate urgency, this instruction seems likely to remain a dead letter in the areas where housing conditions are worst. In the areas where housing conditions are good, the inspections will be easy, but they will not be necessary.
Clause 77 is a desperate and overdue attempt to rescue the Government's option mortgage scheme from the failure it has been up to the present. One of 986 the reasons for the Government's abysmal showing in by-elections is a promise made by the present Prime Minister, before the 1964 Election, when he said:By intelligent monetary policies, Labour will bring mortgages within the reach of young people living on average incomes.Young people, my Lords, do not vote for politicians who let them down. Clauses 78 and 79 are also overdue. At long last they rectify flaws in the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 which the Opposition repeatedly pointed out in debate on the Bill in another place, but of which the Government took no notice, with the result that many leases, through no fault whatever of the leaseholders, became unsaleable. That situation is now, after 18 months of hardship, being put right.
One wishes one could give an equal welcome to Clause 80. This clause appears to be designed to make the working of the unjust Leasehold Reform Act still more unjust. It even breaches the principle on which the Government maintained that that Act was founded: that the site belonged to the freeholder but the bricks and mortar to the leaseholders. This clause embodies the fantastic proposition that values shall be fixed on the basis that the man who is buying shall he deemed not to be in the market to buy. Obviously, this is going to be one of the big issues which will need attention in Committee.
Speaking generally, however, one does not anticipate that we shall need a prolonged Committee stage. The reason is that this is a Bill which has been examined in another place at great length, and, by common consent, constructively, thanks to the detailed knowledge and assiduity of Mr. Graham Page and others of my honourable friends. It is a many-sided but useful Bill, and I would certainly advise your Lordships to give it an unopposed Second Reading, and then seek, in Committee, to remove the blemishes.
§ 6.57 p.m.
My Lords, the noble Baroness need not have been so apologetic about taking the place of her noble husband, because she has given us a most thoughtful and interesting speech. She will perhaps say that it was her husband's speech, but nevertheless in order to give it she must have a considerable grasp of the subject. I am not 987 sure how far her fear that this Bill will he too slow in its effect will be justified. In some of the criticisms she had to make about Part III, for instance—that it was a "faint beginning"; that it had extraordinary features, though she welcomed it, in so far as she felt that it would eventually bring some measure of sense into the rent structure—I was not quite sure how far she was perhaps damning the Bill with faint praise in this respect. I know that a good many people would go further than she does, and feel that there is much in Part III which will inhibit this Bill in its effect. I do not take that view. Not only do I think, as does the noble Baroness, that this is a good and helpful Bill, but I do not think that some of the things—some of the faults, possibly, and difficulties—to which she drew attention will have the effect of slowing down the Bill in what it proposes to do, or indeed in inhibiting landlords from doing what this Bill suggests they can do.
I agree that one can never quite say whether a measure of this kind is going to work, but I am quite optimistic about it. I believe that it will. I think it is going to work extremely well. And it is interesting that the opponents of the Bill (by which I mean the extreme Left) also think that it is going to work. They are afraid that it is going to work, because they think that too much labour, too much time and too much money will be spent on repairing old houses which probably should be left, as they have been left for so long, to get into disrepair, and that the money so spent could be better spent on new housing. They also fear that the Bill will succeed because, they think, it will put too much money into the landlords' pockets. Both of these criticisms are real criticisms, but they are based on the belief that the Bill is going to work, and they do not really amount to very much.
My own view is that, with care and attention, it should be possible for the amount of money, time and expertise that is going to be spent upon repairing old houses to be spent sensibly. And so far as the point about putting too much money into the hands of landlords is concerned, it seems to me that this must be done to some extent. In the past it has been very unfair to landlords that a great deal of money has had to be spent 988 for a very little return. I do not think there is any doubt about that, and I believe that both sides of the spectrum of political opinion would agree with that view. What they would possibly say was that from an egalitarian point of view this was a sensible thing to do anyway. That is as may be; but it does not help towards resuscitating our rather derelict houses.
So far as many noble Lords on this side of the House are concerned, Part III of the Bill is the Part about which they have misgivings, so it is on Part III that I should like to say a word or two. Your Lordships will remember that Part III deals with changing the old control of 1957 into the new regulation of 1965. I think that a great many people who represent the landlords' interest feel that this is unconscionably slow, and that it will militate against landlords' putting money which they should put into this kind of repair and improvement. I shall try to show why, in my view, their fears are groundless.
On the other side, some of the people who believe that they are trying to promote the interests of tenants feel that these rents should not be brought into regulation out of control. I would remind your Lordships, however, that regulation is a very strict control indeed. It is in fact, as the Minister of Housing has himself said, an attempt to produce a fair rent for a decent house in good condition. I was astounded at the figures produced by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, which showed almost a doubling of the estimated figures of houses in a really bad state. I had no idea that the figure, which we had all assumed was under one million. was in fact one and a half million, and I think that the rent structure is in some measure a cause of this terrible state of affairs. Up to now, landlords have had a statutory duty to do a great many things at a cost which is often grotesquely out of line with what they have Cot back in return: and Part III of this Bill, although it may be slow, does offer some incentive.
A great many Amendments were moved in another place to try to speed up the procedure by which controlled rents could be converted into regulated ones. Those Amendments met with no sympathy whatever from the Government, and I think it would be a waste of 989 time to move them again in this House, because I believe they will meet with the same reaction here. My feeling about it is that this procedure may well be slow—it will be two or three years before the controlled rents of improved properties move towards being regulated ones—nevertheless one should be thankful for the many mercies which this Bill does provide for the owners of property.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, ran through them all. May I repeat them? They are the increased grants—and another Amendment which was moved in another place was extremely interesting. Whereas in the past if one had been given a grant to repair property and wished to sell it or use it for other purposes one had to pay back that grant, now the Government themselves have moved Amendments which provide that both an owner and a landlord can sell a property without repaying the grant. That is a very substantial help, and I welcome it. Secondly, repairs which are what might be considered "structural repairs", also attract grant; and this is new.
Thirdly, there is the question of full compensation. I agree that it is only for owner-occupiers, and I think it is perhaps a little harsh that it is not also for landlords. Because so far as owner-occupiers are concerned, do not forget that they have never been in the difficult position in which the owner of controlled property has been. The owner-occupier always had command of his house; he could always sell it with vacant possession if he wanted to. The landlord renting property has never been able to do this. In view of this I think it is a little unfair that this particular concession of full compensation instead of the site value should not also go to the landlords. I admit that the Government have met the landlord half way: they are giving him a bonus, as it were, for the fact that a given property which is to be subject to slum clearance was well and properly maintained.
Another concession which I consider a very good one is that landlords who have already put their property in good order may also move the rent of their house from control into regulation; and I imagine that that is the state of affairs which, as I hope—indeed I am sure—applies in the case of all noble Lords in this House. I am sure that there are 990 on both sides of the House noble Lords who are landlords of the kind whose house property is already in as good repair as it could be. I do not suppose that this concession was designed to sweeten us up; nevertheless, I welcome it because think it would have been most unjust not to allow it and it might well have militated against landlords putting money into repairs and improvements.
What we have to bear in mind, when considering the slowness of the application of the provisions for converting control into regulation, is that not all landlords of rented property are exactly like noble Lords in this House. Some of them are characters or companies whom your Lordships would not care to know. That is a point we have to bear in mind in any complaints that we may have that the application of the provisions under Part III is too slow. The sort of tenant who is the occupier of that kind of property is among the poorest in the land. I think that one forgets how extremely poor a very large section of the community are, and that the Government have a duty to be over-cautious and to bend over backwards in making sure that tenants of that kind of property are not put at a disadvantage by a Bill which, in fact, is meant to help them.
I sometimes feel extremely sorry for landlords. I am sometimes even outraged at the way Governments appear to treat them. Nevertheless, landlords do get by somehow, and so, in view of the complete change of heart which I recognise as having come over the Government with regard to their approach to housing in this Bill, I think that noble Lords who are critical of certain aspects of it, such as Part III, should be thankful for the mercies that they are getting under the Bill and not be too worried—and I am sure that they need not be—about the slowness of the position under Part III. In most respects this is an admirable Bill, and I hope, as does the noble Baroness, that it will get a warm welcome from all sides of the House.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ LORD SILSOE
My Lords, I want to speak, if I may, on Clause 80 which has been mentioned rather cruelly by the noble Baroness, and which I consider to be a complete blot on an otherwise admirable Bill. I have known and worked 991 under many Housing Acts, and if I may say so without being impertinent, I believe this to be an excellent addition to the housing law; excellently explained in a White Paper, excellently explained in the Explanatory Memorandum and, if I may say so, excellently and shortly explained by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. But that one clause is a real shocker in an otherwise very good Bill.
There are two reasons why it is said that this clause had to be slipped in during the Report stage in another place. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, told us that the Minister of Housing and Local Government had said that compulsory acquisition would never be used harshly or unconscionably. Perhaps that is the reason why this clause was introduced by the Secretary of State for Wales and not by the Minister, because nobody could possibly say that the compulsory enfranchisement of land under Clause 80 could be done otherwise than harshly or unconscionably.
It is said, first, that there are one million householders involved; and, secondly, that the Custins case in the Lands Tribunal—Custins was the name of the tenant—was wrongly decided, owing to the fact that the market value was shared between the landlord and the tenant. I do not apologise for mentioning what this clause does, because the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, did not mention it in opening and I think your Lordships should know something about it, since it will certainly be heard of later in the proceedings.
Clause 80 says that the tenant is no longer to be considered in the bidding for the compulsory enfranchisement of the freehold of a house. It was said in another place, as has been said so often, that the house belonged to the tenant and the land belonged to the landlord. What is known as bricks and mortar value was the tenant's and not the landlord's. It is said—and this is the only reason given for this clause—that the court has offended against the White Paper and the Leasehold Reform Act, in that it has given to the landlord some portion of the bricks and mortar value. I wish to state absolutely categorically that this is not so, and it does not begin to be so.
992 I have read every word of the judgment and of the valuations—in fact, I have read everything about it—and the Lands Tribunal, which is a very competent court set up for this very purpose, did not award any bricks and mortar value, in any shape or form, to the landlord. Furthermore, I want to say that if by any chance it had done so, the figure of one million families, which has been mentioned, is a fanciful one. Nothing like that figure exists anywhere.
The question of law which was raised in the Custins case was whether or not the tenant should be a bidder at the auction, and the court decided that he should. One thing which is quite clear is that if you are valuing the site—which you have to do under the Leasehold Reform Act—the fact that there is another bidder does not make the slightest difference to the bricks and mortar. It merely means that there is somebody else bidding for the site. It may put up the value of the site, but it cannot possibly put up the value of the bricks and mortar in any way, and it was not done in this case.
The most serious part of the judgment reads as follows. The court said:We note that Section 1 of the Act"—that is, the Leasehold Reform Act—requires that the acquisition should be on 'fair terms' and we do not think that the exclusion of the tenant would result in a 'fair terms' sale, because a price which was calculated on a basis which ignored the price which a tenant would be prepared to pay would not be on 'fair terms'.One could not have clearer words from a competent court. But this clause which has been put in the Bill is doing that very thing. It is making it compulsory that the tenant shall not bid, and compulsory, therefore, that the terms shall not be fair. I venture to suggest to your Lordships that, at the right time, this clause cannot be passed by this House. There is a finding of fact by the law to this effect.
Now what is the cause of this misunderstanding? Why has it been said that this terrible thing has happened? My Lords, I do not know. It may be that there was panic in Wales, where most of the trouble under the Leasehold Reform Act comes from, and possibly an Amendment had to be made quickly by the Secretary of State during the Report stage in another place. I cannot think of any other reason.
993 I should like now to come to this figure of one million families which was given by the Secretary of State. Where the million are, where they come from, who has counted them, we have never been able to discover since this Bill was first introduced, nor can we now discover it. All we know is that a great many tenants were removed from the Leasehold Reform Bill when it went through Parliament, but still the figure is the same. I hope very much indeed that, at the next stage of the Bill, we shall be told where these million families are.
It is a well-known fact that the majority of long leases exist in three areas—South Wales, Greater London, and Birmingham and the Midlands. One of the chartered institutions of surveyors has carried out a survey to see how the Leasehold Reform Act is working. They surveyed 47 housing estates, of which 40 were in South Wales, Greater London and the Birmingham area. A total of 40,000 houses were found to be within the limits of the Act, but at the end of one year—and your Lordships will remember the tremendous cry about the urgent need for the Act—only 2,500 people had applied for the freehold.
There was also a special provision to deal with the very hard cases where the leases had expired before the Act became law. A special section was put in to help those people. On one local authority estate 63 cases were discovered to come within that section, but on the whole of the other 46 estates there were only six claims made, and the time limit is now up. I apologise for giving so many figures, but they had to be given to counteract the figure of one million.
My summary of the present position is as follows. The first flush of urgent cases under the Act has been quite tiny; the amending clause, even if it is sound, will produce tiny benefits; the Lands Tribunal has not awarded bricks and mortar value, it has not breached the Act or the White Paper; and Parliamentary action in introducing this clause has been taken without the benefit of a judgment of the Court of Appeal, which is the usual procedure, to say the least of it. This seems to me to be conclusive proof that the Government have been advised that the decision was right. I cannot read it any other way.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord for a second? The noble Lord cannot really imagine that the Government concern themselves whether court decisions are right or not. The interpretation of the existing law is a matter which this Government, like all others, leave to the courts.
§ LORD SILSOE
As the noble Lord has raised the point, may I tell him the constitutional position? I happen to have been trained in it and I happen to have earned money under it for many years. I operated one War Damage Act and all the various planning Acts myself, and I was always told you could not go to Parliament unless you had been to the Court of Appeal. It is a well known feature of life. I was not going to raise this point but as it has been raised I am dealing with it. It is perfectly normal procedure. If you do not go to the Court of Appeal, what other deduction can be drawn but that the Government thought that the decision was right?
§ LORD KENNET
The noble Lord said that one cannot go to Parliament unless there has been a decision in the Court of Appeal. I wonder who he thinks has been to Parliament.
§ LORD SILSOE
The Government have. They introduced this clause at the last minute, at the Report stage below, on the decision of a court of first instance.
§ LORD KENNET
I know that the noble Lord will readily yield the point that the Government have not been to court.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, if the House does not mind our pursuing this matter, and if the noble Lord will yield again for a moment, perhaps I may say that I thought the noble Lord was under the impression that somebody had applied to Parliament for this provision at a certain point in the process of a case upwards through the courts. Of course that is not so. This is a provision proposed by the 995 Government to alter the existing law. The Government's opinion on the correctness of court decisions is something which does not come into the matter, and it would be very improper if the Government had any such opinion.
§ LORD SILSOE
My Lords, I allowed myself to be interrupted, but I am afraid I am not changing my view that the only possible deduction is that the view taken is that it is right. I cannot make any other deduction. There is a finding of fact by the court, the Lands Tribunal, that to do what this clause proposes would not be fair terms. That is a finding of both fact and law. I respectfully suggest to your Lordships—and I shall make more statements at a later stage—that it would be very wrong for this House to allow something to go through when the court itself has decided that the clause would produce unfair terms. That is all I wish to say at the moment. I apologise for worrying the noble Lord about who was right and who was wrong, but I am afraid that I must stick to my point that I am going to assume that the Government think that the court was right.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, I should wholeheartedly welcome the provision in this Bill which raises the maximum improvement grant from £400 to £1,000, which is quite a spectacular increase, if I felt sure that in all cases where this £1,000 of public money was to be spent the result was going to be a home for somebody to live in—for I suppose that these days our greatest domestic problem of all, if it is not race relations, is the housing shortage. But I am sorry to say that I have grave misgivings about this.
The position was safeguarded in the earlier Housing Acts, because they contained a condition which laid down that any developer who obtained a grant for an improvement or a conversion, if he was not going to use the dwelling for himself, must make it available at all times to be let. So the dwelling could he used by somebody as his home. There was also the further provision that if the developer failed in fulfilling that condition then his grant could be recovered. Those very useful provisions were to be re-enacted in this Bill. They were, in fact, 996 Clause 13, 14, 15 and 16 of this Bill as it was first introduced to Parliament. It had a most exhaustive examination in Standing Committee in another place. Those clauses, Clauses 13 to 16, survived Standing Committee, and it was not until the Report stage in another place that those clauses were struck out of the Bill. My Lords, I want to know why; and I want to know whether it is useful and right that those clauses, which have formed part of earlier Housing Acts, should now disappear.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, may remember my bringing to his attention a case in which it appeared that the chairman of a company, in receipt of a salary of £12,500 a year, had been given a £400 grant to turn an outbuilding into a cottage to provide accommodation for his occasional guests. I am not against millionaires' providing their guests with accommodation: I merely think they ought to pay for it themselves, and that if there is to be a £400 grant, or a £1,000 grant, and a dwelling is provided, it ought to be provided for somebody who is looking for a home to live in. Of course, the local housing authorities will still have their discretion, and presumably those that are thoroughly alert and conscientious, when they realise that an application of this kind is being made and that the house to be provided is not going to provide anybody with a home, will say, "No grant". They will say, "Unless you are providing somebody with a home, you will not get a grant". But, my Lords, life being as it is, and local authorities being busy, as they are, I should imagine that what will happen in practice is that it will be assumed that applications for grants will be made only for the purpose of providing dwellings for people to live in, and it will not occur to the local authority to doubt it. Therefore, I do not think that millionaires who want £1,000 of public money for a guesthouse will have much difficulty in getting it. That is the sort of way things work out in practice.
Consider next the pressure that will be put on local housing authorities in this matter. The £1,000 grant is to be subsidised by the central Government as to 75 per cent. by a direct subsidy. If one takes into account the general rate subsidy, which gives another 10 per cent., that makes an 85 per cent. subsidy from the central Government. That leaves, in theory, 15 per cent. of the grant to be 997 found out of the ratepayers' pocket. But then it has to be remembered that nobody gets a grant unless he puts into the scheme at least as much money as the amount that he gets in grant. That reduces the local authority's contribution to the house from 15 per cent. to 7½ per cent. And then one has to remember this. It would be very remarkable if the house owner's contribution worked out at exactly a half share; the likelihood surely is that his share in practically every case is going to be substantially more than a half. That reduces the ratepayers' contribution from 7½ per cent. to—shall we say?—5 per cent. So the local housing authority get a new dwelling for a contribution from them, from their ratepayers, of 5 per cent.—a dwelling on which they can collect rates. They are getting a very good bargain indeed.
If somebody comes along and says, "What about a grant for me? It is going to cost your ratepayers only 5 per cent. anyway; and Parliament is no longer worried about the provision that requires a dwelling to be provided for somebody to live in", that puts pretty strong pressure on the local housing authority; and it will be very easy indeed for them to yield to it. I very much wonder whether all these grants of £1,000 will go into dwellings for people to live in. I shall listen carefully to what the noble Lord has to say when he replies to the debate, but at present I feel very strongly inclined to move in Committee to re-insert those clauses, Clauses 13 to 16, which were struck out when the Bill was on Report in another place.
My Lords, I have had a good deal of experience of house conversion. I have myself at home, with the aid of grants, converted about 12 outbuildings into houses and flats, and I think that by now I should have converted about another six were it not for a circumstance which I wish briefly to point out. I think I can safely say what I am now going to say without being thought to be airing a private financial grievance, because I believe it fairly obvious, as the maximum grant is now to be raised from £400 to £1,000, that nobody who has been operating the scheme under the £400 maximum has been doing so at much profit to himself. He surely has been doing socially useful work at a pretty high cost to himself.
998 The breaking point between me and my local housing authority was over a bungalow which I made by conversion out of certain outbuildings. The local authority imposed on me a condition in writing which said that rising dampness in walls and floors must be eliminated. I do not complain, and have never complained, about that. It is a very sensible condition to impose and I was very pleased to do it. But it was a very expensive operation. The Minister of Housing knows what a very expensive operation it is, and having regard to the fact that the maximum grant was then only £400 the Minister made known that he was prepared to consider applications for special grants for the particular purpose of eliminating rising dampness in walls and floors. I asked my local authority whether they would be so kind as to apply to the Minister for this special grant. Their reply was, "No". They were not prepared to apply. I said, "It will not cost you anything. It is the Minister's grant and does not cost your ratepayers anything. There is only a fourpenny stamp involved. How about forwarding an application?" "No", they replied. They would have nothing to do with it.
I then referred the matter to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. I am sorry he is not in his place, but I realise that a Minister cannot sit on the Front Bench for ever. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, thought that this was a pretty stupid impasse and worth while trying somehow to resolve. The noble Lord was kind enough to offer to send a civil servant from the Ministry of Housing on a 90-mile journey to a meeting between me and the local housing authority to see whether the matter could be resolved. "No", said the housing, authority, "we don't want to have a meeting with Lord Airedale and a civil servant from the Ministry of Housing". So that was no good.
"Very well", I retorted, "I am moving out of the house conversion scheme. It has been costing me a great deal of money. I shall be much better off if I get out of it. The people I am sorry for are the people in the town of Stamford, five miles away." Your Lordships might think that a little town like Stamford would not have a very great housing problem. I myself was rather surprised to discover that at the last count they found that they had an 8½ -year 999 waiting list for council houses; that there were young married couples facing a wait of 8½ years for a council house. I should have been very pleased to do something to help those people, but if I am not to get the grant, if the Minister is not even to be allowed to entertain an application for the grant which he alone is to supply and for which the local authority are not going to be responsible at all, then I am sorry for the people of Stamford, but I cannot go on doing this work.
My Lords, I have nearly finished, but there is one other matter. When this bungalow was completed it was the month of January. In the month of February an officer of the local authority introduced to me a prospective tenant. I granted a tenancy in February and the first tenant of this new dwelling moved in. In the next month, March, I got a letter of complaint from the local authority surveyor. He said, "I have noticed that some of the exterior top coat painting has not been completed on a door and on two or three windows". My Lords, it is not surprising to find in the months of February or March that somebody has not completed the outside painting. It was no hardship to me to wait until April or May to complete the painting and then to qualify for the grant. But what occurred to me was this: what happens in this area if you complete your house in October? Do you have to waste time and money putting a top coat of paint on the outside in October in order to get your grant? Or do you have to wait six months until the painting season comes round again? And in the meantime, do you have to borrow money at 10 per cent. (if you can get it) for six months?
I wrote to the surveyor and I asked these questions. He was not kind enough to answer. I wrote three times more. He did not answer. I thought that I would write to the clerk. I wrote four times. The clerk did not answer. Finally, I wrote to the Chairman. I am sorry to say the Chairman did not answer. So all that I can say to anyone who might be of a mind to accept an improvement grant is this: "If you consider you may be unlucky enough to complete your dwelling in October and if you live in an area where they may keep you waiting six 1000 months for your grant—you having to borrow the money in the meantime at 10 per cent., if you can get it—do not have anything to do with it. If it is a dwelling to let, the housing problem is the problem of the housing authority, it is not yours; so do not have anything to do with it". My Lords, it is these niggling bits of nonsense which frustrate so much of the good work which could be done in this business of improving old houses to make dwellings for people to live in.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF EXETER
My Lords, I shall not keep you more than a few moments at this late hour, but I should like to add one more voice of welcome to these proposals which I believe are going to have a very profound effect in several different directions. One is from the human angle. A great many people who thought that they would have to live indefinitely under conditions in which they should not have to live—because the economics of improving their houses made improvement impossible—are now going to get proper surroundings in which to live.
The Bill is also going to make a great deal of difference, I believe, because the large number of houses which are going to be saved will include houses in the villages and small towns. Very often these houses are, by their nature, among our beautiful looking dwellings. In the villages that is of immense importance. Sometimes I think we forget that nowadays people drift away from the villages but their roots always remain there: and if they come back after a few years and find the whole surroundings are changed, it is quite a blow to them. It is one of those things in life that people like to come back and see the surroundings in which they were brought up and recall the happy times of their youth. Now they will have the added joy of seeing decent houses behind the fronts.
Moreover these houses are a great advantage from the tourist trade point of view. One of the things that we have in superlative quantity in this country is beautiful villages. Perhaps I should declare an interest, because I am, I think. still President of the British Travel Association, which, as your Lordships will know, is being absorbed by the Board of Trade at this moment; and once more 1001 I am experiencing that recurring phenomenom in my life of being presented with a "bowler hat".
The other thing I want to say is in reply to some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale. I am not going into any detail about the discussions with the rural district council to which he has referred on such an important occasion. I happen to have been honoured by being the Chairman of this body. It is nothing new to me to find once more an attack being launched at us. For many years we have had correspondence piling up with him. The noble Lord has indeed been fighting a marathon solo campaign against his rural district council. When the noble Lord got up and started his strictures on our council I almost felt that the poem which I tried, indeed as with many others, but ineffectually, to learn at school would apply:Once more unto the breach, dear friends …I can assure your Lordships that there are answers to all these points; not put in exactly the way in which the noble Lord has put them, but answers which I believe are satisfactory to the great majority of people—although possibly not satisfactory to the noble Lord.
I must add one thing, my Lords, in case the word should go out from this august Assembly that this R.D.C. was not doing its job properly. It is probably one of the smallest councils in the whole country. There are 7,000 people who live in the district. We have 1,600 houses, 600 of which belong to the Air Force. And out of the remaining 1,000 we have built 236 council houses since the war. This is in addition to the 61 we had before the war. We have given grants and we have been most forthcoming in helping over this matter in 177 cases. In addition, it may interest your Lordships to know that we have completed our final drainage scheme and that 96 per cent. of the people are on main drainage. This has been achieved with a balanced housing account and reasonable rents, and our rate figure is among the lowest 14 in the 470 rural district councils in the whole country. I do not think this is something about which the local people should be ashamed. Indeed, it is something of which they are proud; 1002 and that is why they keep sending the members of the council back to office, to carry on with the good work.
If I might conclude with one last word, I would urge the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, to come down from Mount Olympus, from where he is casting his darts, and join in the rough and tumble of the day. He might even become a candidate for membership of the local rural district council; and if he did so, I think that I could assure him of—shall I say?—a warm welcome.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ LORD ANNAN
My Lords, I must declare an interest in this debate; it is not a pecuniary interest, but I am a member of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, and I wish to plead that in this Bill specific provision should be made for assisting student housing associations. I am a director of one of these associations, but I am not speaking purely on behalf of university students. I am speaking also for those students who are members of polytechnics and other colleges of further education, and who, because they are compelled to live away from home, have to find accommodation.
The objects of the student housing movement are very simple. If they were able to be treated as housing associations under the Act they would be able to benefit from low interest rates and loans through the local authorities, and would thus relieve the University Grants Committee or the local authorities of an obligation to provide more student residence—to the great benefit incidentally, of the economy of the country. The Robbins Report showed that the average hall of residence in 1962 cost £1,425 per student place. The association which I know best, Student Co-operative Dwellings, has calculated that it could build. at 1969 London prices, for within £800 per place.
I do not think there is much doubt about which form of residence students would prefer. Ask any 21-year-old student whether he would rather pay £7 10s. 0d. per week to live in a traditional hall of residence, with meals provided at stated times, and have his bed made, and to require permission to come in after 11.30 p.m.; or pay £3 10s. 0d. and make his own meal, or eat out, and 1003 have the same freedom as any other 21-year old. You can imagine what answer a student would give. What is more, the student housing movement eliminates one of the irritations which have recently erupted into student life; that is to say, the irritation which a student in a polytechnic feels when he is asked to study with practically none of the facilities which the university student enjoys. Among students there is a very strong feeling that there should not be a first-class and a second-class system. And all too often under the present system in universities, facilities such as the refectory in the hall of residence duplicate facilities which are available in the main university building.
My Lords, I am not here discussing only the students' whims. In the present state of the country's finances funds from the U.G.C. for providing student accommodation are drying up almost entirely, and this is inhibiting the growth of new universities and polytechnics. If the U.G.C. is able to provide funds, they are more likely to be so small that universities will probably abandon trying to build these custom-built student halls of residence and will try to buy up low-cost housing in the neighbourhood, so displacing poor people whose only hope of getting accommodation for their families lies in getting a flat in one of these houses. About half the full-time students in Britain occupy lodgings and fiats which could be used by low-income families, and it is largely these families who are thrown on to the local authorities' waiting list for housing.
This situation, I believe, is going to get worse. We ought not to forget that during the 1970s the expansion of student numbers is bound to continue. I would guess that the universities will rise in numbers from just over the present 200,000 to some 330,000, and that by the beginning of the 1980s the total number of students engaged in some form of higher education will probably go well beyond the 700,000 mark. Unless we can do more than we are doing at present to provide residence for even a fraction of the students, we are going to be in very serious trouble.
What do other countries do? The pattern is remarkably similar in four countries. In Canada, Sweden, Finland 1004 and Denmark the students first obtained amendments to their National Housing Act. Student housing associations were then eligible for loans at low-interest rates. The loan was of course amortised at the capital cost, and that was spread over a period of 40 to 50 years. In every case the interest was favourable. A furniture loan was also forthcoming, interest-free, repayable over 10 to 15 years. In Finland, 40 per cent. of the loan came from private sources, such as banks and insurance companies. Only a few years after the amendments had been made to the National Housing Acts in these countries astonishing progress in student residence was made in each country. In Canada, 11 million dollars' worth of new buildings were constructed between June, 1964, and May, 1968, and a further 9 million dollars' worth are in the pipeline. In Denmark, 3,000 student places were built every year. In Sweden, the target for 1972 is 63,000 places, of which 19,000 had been built by 1967.
What then is happening in Britain? The answer is: virtually nothing. Under Section 119 of the Housing Act 1957, housing associations are already entitled to enter into authorised arrangements which permit local authorities to lend the associations over 60 years, at an effective rate of 4 per cent. interest, 100 per cent. of the cost of the buildings they erect, and these facilities have been spelled out in the Housing Subsidies Act 1967. When student housing associations have asked local authorities if they might benefit under these provisions the local authorities have usually replied that they cannot extend these facilities to the student associations. They argue, of course, that it is the job of the University Grants Committee to provide student residence: they seem to forget that they themselves have responsibilities for the students in the 30 polytechnics.
That is why, when this Bill was debated in another place, Amendments were pressed at Committee stage so as to make it clear that a housing association which made provision for the residence of students was a housing association in the same way as any other housing association as defined in Section 119 of the Housing Act 1957. If it was accepted that this definition includes housing for students, local authorities would then be entitled, under Section 1005 119, to lend to a housing association such as Student Co-operative Dwellings. Subsidies would be passed on to the cooperatives, because the Housing Subsidies Act 1964 says that a "housing association" has the same meaning as in the Housing Act 1957. If this were done, it would of course apply to any housing association sponsored by a university, as well as to one which is sponsored by, for example, the Student Cooperative Dwellings movement. These Amendments were interpretive Amendments. They were vital to the Act, because the interpretation of the Act rests with the local authorities. If these Amendments were incorporated in the Act, local authorities would no longer be able to plead that student housing associations were outside the terms of the Act.
It was on this point that these Amendments ran into trouble when the Bill was considered in Committee in another place. The Minister seemed to be clearly in sympathy with the Amendments, which he recognised could have the effect of relieving pressure upon accommodation for the local population. He said that there was nothing to exclude students or any type of residence in the definition of "housing society" in the Housing Act 1964, because no mention was made of residence. But at the same time he was clearly worried that the "authorised arrangements", which were meant to cover housing for the sort of people whom the local authority would be expected to accommodate in its own council housing, could hardly be available to student hostels. It was clear from what the Minister said that he did not wish student housing associations to be excluded under the definitions of the 1957 and 1964 Acts and he argued that they came within the scope of the arrangements for the purposes of Section 15 of the 1958 Act, so far as hostel grant is concerned, provided that they satisfied the criteria.
This it seems, is where the real trouble lies. There are two ways of obtaining loans at preferential rates. The first is through the Housing Corporation for a housing society; but in June, 1967, the Housing Corporation decided that student housing societies do not satisfy their criteria. The second way is through the local authorities for a housing associa- 1006 tion. The local authorities also argue that the sole criterion for a subsidy to a housing association is that it must cover housing for the sort of people whom the authority would otherwise expect to accommodate in its own council housing. So, although students displace families by occupying low-cost family flats, they do not technically comply with the criterion. That is why, of over 30 registered student housing associations in this country, there is no record of one having received authorised arrangements under Section 120(1) of the Housing Act 1957; and this of course is the thing which the student housing associations are up against.
That is why the Amendments to this Bill were pressed in another place. They were not substantive Amendments. They were interpretive Amendments. They asked simply that the student housing associations should be recognised as coming within the Act for the purpose of subsidy. I would readily admit that in terms of strict drafting this should not be necessary, if it were not for the fact that the experience of the student housing associations in applying to local authorities shows that the authorities decline to accept the definitions which at present obtain under the Housing Acts. What other remedy, therefore, is open, except moving Amendments, when the relevant authorities deny what the Minister states to be the case? How are we to get round this obstacle?
This, I think, is an example of the frustrations in Government with which we are all so familiar these days. I should like to acknowledge here most warmly the interest and support which Mr. Greenwood, Mrs. Shirley Williams, Mr. Dick Mabon and, in your Lordships' House, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, have shown in this matter. I have not the slightest doubt that that interest is genuine; but it does not appear yet to have removed the obstacle. For my part, I believe that this means of providing accommodation would be made even more attractive to Government if the whole of the loan for capital costs were not met solely through housing subsidies. I believe that insurance companies, building societies and pension funds would be willing to invest in these loans if a guarantee of repayment were forthcoming from the governing bodies of universities and polytechnics. This would relieve the pressure on 1007 the Treasury to provide ever larger housing subsidies, and I suspect that it is probably that feeling which is at the moment "gumming up" the works.
But all that, my Lords, is in the future. The student housing associations must first get recognition that they do in fact qualify under the scheme for loans on preferential terms. That is why I may well feel bound to move Amendments at the Committee stage of this Bill. I should be greatly relieved if the Minister could give a categorical assurance that these student associations do qualify. I should be even more reassured if the Minister could indicate that he is prepared to set up a Working Party on which the Ministry of Housing, the Department of Education and Science, the local authorities and the student housing associations were represented, to see whether the cost of providing student residence could be cut—a cut which would have the effect also of giving students quickly the kind of accommodation they want, and more of it. If the student housing associations work as well as they do in other countries, why cannot they be given a fair chance here?
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to me to be following my noble friend Lord Annan. He and I frequently follow each other in discussions in the more or less placid atmosphere of one of our universities. We usually find ourselves in agreement—and perhaps that is fortunate for me. I must say, as treasurer of one of these universities—one of whose tasks is to grapple perpetually with questions of student accommodation—that I have listened attentively to what he has said to-day about student housing societies, and shall most probably find myself later on agreeing with him in the suggestions he has made.
I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Brooke of Ystradfellte, on the clarity of her speech welcoming the Bill. Naturally, she had to show her political claws once or twice, but I was rather interested in the way she did this. First of all, she said that she wants us to spend more than we are proposing to spend under one of the provisions of the Bill. Well, I shall have to leave her to 1008 settle that with Mr. Heath, who, day after day and week after week, is telling us that he wants to spend less Government money in order that he can bring down taxation. But do not let me intervene in private grief.
The noble Baroness complains that the Treasury are keeping too tight a hold on expenditure. Surely that is a tribute to the wise economic direction of the Ministers in the present Government. How can the noble Baroness complain about tight Government control, and at the same time not support the Government in the line they are taking here? Then the noble Baroness says that she wants to put up certain of the rents which are mentioned in this Bill much sooner than the present Government want to do in the text of the Bill itself. I am afraid this is merely typical of the difference which exists between the two main Parties in this House.
Personally, I think this Bill is a very good ambulance measure. It will prevent a large number of houses from degenerating into slums; it will provide a large number of people with homes far more comfortable than they have to-day. Both of these objectives are good. We all know that there are 1¾ million houses which are in such a hopeless condition that the only possible thing to do with them is demolish them. We know also that there are 4½ million houses not so badly off as that, where good restorative work can be done. These are two separate problems.
So far as the slums are concerned, I heard with great pleasure the assurance by my noble friend on the Front Bench that slum clearance work is to be speeded up. I was particularly happy to be acquainted with that clause in the Bill which is to increase the compensation paid in certain cases where slum houses have to be demolished. We all know that there have been in recent years some very sad cases of old people who have seen the whole of their savings disappear overnight, merely because their particular little house—not a good house, perhaps deservedly a slum house; but still their home—has had to be demolished.
So far as the repairable houses are concerned, my investigations tell me that only just over 100,000 of these have been dealt with each year. The local authorities are primarily responsible for getting 1009 this work done, and I feel that many of them have failed lamentably in their duty. I hope that the Ministry, when this Bill is on the Statute Book, will drive the local authorities (if that is the right word to use in a democracy), and prompt them to show more enthusiasm for the Bill, which is a good Bill for the nation and can also be a good Bill for their particular localities.
With regard to the 1964 Act, it is a fact that only a small minority of local authorities have taken that measure seriously. A couple of years ago the figure was 10 per cent. of local authorities. It may be a little more than that now, but it certainly is not as much as 20 per cent. of the local authorities. I hope that the Ministry will do what they can to see that this scheme is made to work on a very big scale. Incidentally, one of the benefits of operating the scheme on a big scale is that it will provide a continuous flow of work for small builders, who frequently find themselves frozen out of big council house and private building contracts, particularly where councils are undertaking house building by the systematised method.
My noble friend did not give us any indication of the number of houses which he expects to see repaired and provided with improved fittings each year. I have seen a figure of 200,000 mentioned. I sincerely hope that enough steam will be put into the Act to get a much higher figure than this, because, with 4½ million houses needing this kind of treatment. if we deal with them only at the rate of 200,000 a year it will be well over twenty years before the job is completed; and in the meantime, of course, other houses may be going to seed.
My noble friend assured us that the Government do not intend to reduce new house building. I am delighted to hear this, but there is one fact about the Bill here which rather disturbs me. It is said that the Bill will cost £40 million a year when it gets into full swing in three or four years' time. At the same time, we are promised an accelerated programme of slum clearance. Some of the money spent on slum clearance—though not all of it—will go to erecting new houses; and we know that the cost of building each house will be higher as the years go by. Yet we are told that the total amount of money 1010 to be spent on houses is to remain at the same figure at which it stands to-day.
So what does this mean? I do not say that it does, but it could mean that fewer new houses will be built. It could mean reduced building by councils; and the general economic conditions of the country could also mean reduced house building by private contractors. Yet, side by side with this, the population is increasing; the marriage age is going down, and there is a need for more and more houses year by year. So, while I welcome the Bill wholeheartedly, I sincerely hope, if I have stated the position aright in regard to the prospects for new building, that my noble friend will urge his Minister to look once again at the building programme for the next few years and make sure that there is no reduction.
We know that the initiative in framing municipal building programmes rests with the local authority, and one of the sad things about the change in control of local authorities throughout the land in recent months has been that many of the newly elected councils, now dominated by a certain Party (your Lordships will see how non-political I am straining to be), are deliberately cutting down their housing programmes for this year and the following year. I will mention a few now under the control of that Party: Sunderland, Darlington, Bradford, Wakefield, Coventry, Southampton, Harrow, Waltham Forest, Hillingdon, and, saddest of all, Macclesfield—because it was at Macclesfield 47 years ago this week that I took my bride into a nice little council house as my first married home. I know how happy I was then, and I know what enormous happiness the offer of a council house can give to a young married couple.
The last thing in the world that I want to see, even running parallel with all the proposed development in this Bill, is any cutting down in the provision of council houses. My noble friend will probably be able to assure me that no cutting down is envisaged. If he can, I shall be very pleased indeed. But having uttered this warning note, I think fairness demands that I should say this. The record of new house building under the present Government has exceeded anything that has ever happened in the history of this country. This is a fact, and I hope that it will continue.
1011 I should like now to turn to the provisions of the Bill. I warmly welcome the bigger subsidies that are going to be paid to owner-occupiers and other owners to improve their houses. It goes against the grain, I must say, to be paying bigger subsidies to some of the private landlords whose families have been drawing incomes from this property—probably for 100 years—and who may have done nothing at all to keep it in good condition. The real, urgent need now is for houses that are comfortable and up to the standards of what we expect in 1969, and so we must be realistic and pay these increased subsidies. I think the increased subsidies, and also the loans that the Bill provides where the owner is short of ready cash, will persuade a good many owners to put these improvements in hand. When all is said and done, it is going to give them a new lease of profit-earning on what is very frequently a diminishing asset. We have to face the fact that there will be many landlords who will not co-operate, and in other cases there will be some tenants, afraid of the increased rent, who will be unco-operative also.
What can we do about this? First of all, let me look at the landlords. The Bill proposes that where the owner is hostile to an improvement scheme, in most cases he should be threatened with compulsory purchase. If we think that compulsory purchase is going to be a constructive remedy for this situation we are burying our heads in the sand, like ostriches. There is no local authority, whatever its political complexion, that likes compulsory purchase, and in view of recent changes in the political domination of many councils I suppose the average degree of affection for compulsory purchase is now lower than it was twelve months ago. I am not saying anything about the merits of that; it is an historic fact. I feel there will be very few landlords indeed who will have compulsory purchase orders invoked against them. If we think we can depend upon that, we are legislating with a cardboard sword. If we are in any doubt about it, the Minister himself has told us he intends to approve compulsory purchase orders only in the most exceptional cases. So let us reconcile ourselves to the fact that compulsory purchase is going 1012 to play only a very minor part in the execution of the proposals in this Bill.
What can we do, therefore, where the owner turns out to be hostile? What we can do and what we should do is to reenact those proposals in the 1964 Act which allow the council to issue a compulsory repairs order, as distinct from a compulsory purchase order. The compulsory repairs order is now being abolished, except in a few specialised cases, under the proposals of this Bill. I think a general authority to issue compulsory repair orders would be far more effective than a general authority to issue compulsory purchase orders when the squabble between the council and the owner comes to the crunch. I know it will be said that the compulsory repairs order, which was provided for in the legislation of 1964 and which is now largely being dropped, was not so effective as it might have been. That is quite true. The local government officials who are responsible for executing work of this kind agree with this. They say that it failed largely because it was too cumbersome, too ritualistic, there were forms and forms to be filled up, there were discussions after discussions to be held, complications after complications had to he hammered out, there were delays after delays. These expert officers are of the opinion—and they know their jobs—that if the compulsory repairs provisions were streamlined and simplified they could be far more effective than they were in the 1964 period, and be considerably more effective than the compulsory purchase provisions that are in the Bill before us tonight.
I hope my noble friend will listen to this plea. If he wants to keep the compulsory purchase order provision, let him do so; let him keep it as a long-stop. Let us also have the compulsory repairs provision side by side with it. I do not think compulsory purchase alone will get us anywhere; councils in fact will find they are left with nothing else but their powers of persuasion, and when a goodhearted council comes up against a recalcitrant landlord it is very doubtful whether the council will persuade that landlord to take action.
Now let me turn to the recalcitrant tenant. There will be some of these people. old-age pensioners and people on incomes similar to those of pensioners, who would 1013 rather suffer on in discomfort in their old house than face an unspecified rent increase, because they have heard, and experience has shown, that the rents might rise to double what they are now, and sometimes more. Under the 1964 Act, the tenant knew where he was; he knew his rent could be increased by 12½ per cent. of that portion of the cost which the landlord himself had had to bear. I rather wish—although I am open to persuasion here—that there was a formula of something of the kind in this Bill, although 12½ per cent. would not he realistic in these days. But, apparently, it is not to be, and instead the tenant is to be taken to the rent officer, told he is no longer controlled under what he understands to be the old rent restriction law, and that he is now to have a new regulated fair rent fixed by the rent officer. He knows, probably through gossip locally, probably through what he has read in the papers, that this new rent may be double his old one.
In so far as the house is concerned, this may be economically justifiable. But we are not dealing with economic statistics; we are dealing with people; very often we are dealing with old and suffering people. I want to see this through the eyes of an old-age pensioner at the stage when he is asked to sanction the improvement. He may have to say, "Yes" or "No" without any idea of how much rent he will then be called upon to pay, and he may frequently and regrettably say, "No". I should like to see two things done in order to make it easier for him to make this decision. This can probably be done administratively by action between two Government Departments.
First, let the old man go to the rent officer in advance with the list of improvements and an estimate of what it would cost. Let him say to the rent officer, "If this is done, how much will the rent increase be?". Then let him go to the pensions officer and ask, "If this rent increase is imposed, what extra allowance will you give me each week?". He will find that the pensions officer will probably be most considerate and most generous. At present we are putting the cart before the horse; we are asking a tenant to agree to these improvements while he is completely blindfolded as to whether he can afford them or not. Under my proposal I think fewer tenants would be objecting to improvements, and this 1014 means there would be more houses saved; it means this would benefit the people who live in them and also benefit the State and community.
It may well be that something on these lines is already being done on an informal basis in some areas. I should like to make it obligatory and official. Incidentally, speaking of rents, I am rather frightened by Clause 50(3), which gives a Minister power to enforce some rises at much earlier dates than are laid down generally for rent rises in the remainder of the Bill. I do not know who the next Minister may be, but I do not want to run the risk of putting a powerful weapon like that in his hands, especially after I heard what the noble Baroness, Lady Brooke, said earlier this afternoon.
The last thing I want to say is this. I have already said that I hope the Government will do all it can to push local authorities into embracing the scheme enthusiastically. There are many local authorities who have shown no enthusiasm at all for the 1964 Act. I also want the Minister to stimulate those local authorities into a state of urgency. Because we must remember that many of these local authorities have the sword of Maud hanging over their heads and a threat of extinction waiting in the wings, and they may be inclined to leave some of their tasks, including the task provided for in this Bill, to their successors. That would involve years of very unfortunate decay.
My Lords, I have said a lot, but in essence it comes down to two things. First, I should like local authorities to be given the compulsory repairs powers that they enjoyed generally under the 1964 Act. They will have that power to a very limited extent in respect of a very narrow group of houses under the present Bill, but I should like to see them have it generally. And I should like steps taken administratively, as I have said, to help the old-age pensioners and similar people to say "Yes" to schemes for repairs to their houses, whereas at present they are probably financially frightened into saying "No". Then a very useful Bill can become an even better one, and I certainly wish it well.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, I think that much, and perhaps most, of what has been said falls into the category of 1015 things we can pursue more usefully in Committee and on Report. But there are some main points which have been made which your Lordships would no doubt like to think about between now and Committee stage. I will do my best to pick some of those out and say what I can, in order to help your Lordships to think about them between now and then.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brooke, asked about the number of houses in the different rateable value bands which we think would come into rent regulation out of rent control—this is (2)(a), (2)(b), (2)(c) and so on. The Government's approach to this was to see how many houses would come out of rent control into rent regulation altogether, all told, and the best guess we can get (it is only a guess but it is the best available) is about 200,000 because of improvements to be done in future, and about 200.000 to be brought into regulation because of improvements already done. The rateable value bands—(2)(a), (2)(b), (2)(c) and so on—simply slice that figure into equal portions. Once again it is approximate, and one cannot guarantee that it will work out exactly. But our purpose in slicing it that way was to move them forward at those intervals in equal proportions, band by band.
To come now to the enjoyable place where the noble Baroness displayed her political claws, I thought that she went very close when she said that all that was wrong with housing in this country was that those who provided housing were not allowed to charge enough for it; were not allowed to charge what it cost. I thought she came very close to a "Powellite" housing world, and it could he construed (I am sure she did not mean it this way, although I rather hope that she did) as meaning that there should no longer be any subsidies on council housing, and there should no longer be any tax relief on mortgage payments, and so on.
I do not need to remind the House that we have now for very many decades lived in a world where the great majority of persons who live in houses in the country are helped to do so by Government subsidies: in the case of council tenants by the housing subsidy itself, which is now running at £3 a week for 60 years, which is very large; and in the case of 1016 owner-occupiers by tax relief on mortgage payments, which is now running at an amount which makes it about equal for them—or, rather, which makes the expenditure borne by the Exchequer on behalf of the two classes of people about equal. I do not know whether the noble Baroness really wanted to go back on that and cancel the lot. There are charms in the idea of a totally free housing market—it would save a lot of bureaucracy, for one thing—but if her Party is going to be the one to adopt that I shall not complain.
The noble Baroness spoke about Clause 77—the option mortgage clause—and referred to it, if I remember rightly, as a desperate attempt to rescue the option mortgage scheme. We shall come to it later on and we shall be able to discuss it in detail. At that point I shall attempt, with some confidence of success, to convince your Lordships that it is a reasoned, and I hope successful, attempt to bring the option mortgage scheme up to date. When the option mortgage scheme was introduced the interest rates were different from what they are now. This Amendment, quite simply, gives the Minister power by order to vary the option mortgage scheme so as to take account of differing interest rates. If that is a desperate attempt to rescue it, I do not know to what sort of measure she would accord the description of a rational move to update something which needs updating in the general interest.
The noble Lord, Lord Henley, spoke with many constructive suggestions and welcomed the Bill—and I was glad of this—as indeed did Lady Brooke, and, I think, almost everybody who has spoken in general.
I turn now to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Silsoe. He settled upon Clause 80 as the one which to him was objectionable and from what he said it sounded as if we might see some Amendments to that clause from him. I do not want to anticipate the debates we shall be having later. He mentioned the figure of a million families which had been quoted in another place. This is the figure which has been generally accepted by all concerned as the number of leases the holders of which might be enfranchised. No member of the Government would claim precision for it: it is a rough estimate. It has stood, so far 1017 as I know, in Parliament without challenge until this moment. If the noble Lord wishes to challenge it, no doubt he will give us chapter and verse at a more leisurely moment, and one can go into that.
The question of the proposed change in the basis of the valuation of the freehold interest passing under the Leasehold Reform Act from the freeholder to the leaseholder is one which we shall tackle later. The purpose of my intervention during the course of Lord Silsoe's speech was merely to make it very plain, as I think it should be to all noble Lords, that when a Government introduce an Amendment to the law they do not do so on the basis of any judgment whether or not the decision of a court on the law as it stands before that moment is correct or incorrect.
The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, made two main points. First of all, there was the calculation which he succeeded with impeccable logic in bringing down to 5 per cent. of the amount which a local authority would have to find out of the rates for the total cost of the work done in discretionary improvements under the Bill. All I should like to say at the moment is that I do not necessarily accept that it is as low as that, but in matters of local government finance one is rash to enter into a detailed discussion without full preparation and I hope we shall be able to come back to that. But I am inclined to believe, without full inquiry, that it is by no means as low as that. We can go into the truth of it later.
I think it would ill become me, much as I should like to, to get into the act between Lord Airedale and the Chairman of the Barnack Rural District Council. That is now one of the Parliamentary cliffhangers, and I think it is one of the merits of this House that such matters can, by chance, be pursued here when both parties of an epic local battle have representatives in this House. It adds to the interest of our proceedings and keeps us in touch with the real world. I am all for it.
I turn now to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Annan. I was deeply interested in his account of the student housing problem. I think that is something that forces itself upon the attention 1018 of anybody who comes into touch with students at all, and, God knows! that is most of us. They have a bad housing problem, especially in London. Lord Annan mentioned the cases of Canada, Sweden, Finland and Denmark, where good results for student housing had been attained by the amendment of the relevant housing law. Well, I have no doubt—why should I say I have no doubt?; I do not know anything about it—or it may well be that in those countries those good results were strictly dependent on an amendment of a law which had been in a concrete, tangible manner inhibiting the achievement of good results until that moment; but I do not at the moment believe that this is so in this country. Because good results are obtained in those countries following an amendment to the law it does not necessarily mean that good results can only be obtained in this country by amendment of the law.
As far as I have been able to look into the matter—and that is quite a distance—I very much doubt whether there is any statutory bar to the achievement of the results the noble Lord and the students and the Government and I personally desire. If that is so, it would not be right to carry a provision into law simply to declare that the law is as it is. That is not necessary; and if one is to write into this Bill a provision saying "O.K.; students can have housing associations and housing trusts, and let no one doubt it, even though they are students". one should also carry into the law all sorts of provisions saving that, for instance, people with red hair can have housing associations—even though they have red hair—and all sorts of other people who have an undoubted right to it would demand it. This, I think, on general principles is something to be avoided, simply because declaratory legislation is to be avoided.
The noble Lord asked me whether students qualify under the present law for the benefits which accrue to housing associations and housing trusts. The answer is that like any other group of people who form housing associatiors or housing trusts, it depends what sort of trust or association they form. If they qualify, they qualify; if they do not, then they do not. But I believe these is nothing in the mere fact that they are students which makes them any less likely 1019 to qualify than any other set of persons who may band together for this purpose.
Let me say at once that I agree with the noble Lord that we should go further into this matter. I think it is a legitimate purpose for all who care for the comfort and convenience of people, including young people, and who care for the furtherance of education, that we should go further into this subject and find out about it. But if it ever turns out that more housing for students through this form can be achieved only at the expense of less housing for families in general, I, for one, would not favour it. I believe that if there is an overall housing shortage, if anybody is to be uncomfortable on housing grounds I should prefer it to be the students, because in the main they are single and have no children. I should prefer students to be uncomfortable, because they are young and healthy, rather than for a family bringing up young children, or old people, to be uncomfortable. It is hardly necessary to say that the solution to this problem is the overcoming of the general housing shortage, towards which we are going hell-for-leather, and I will come to that in a moment.
Turning now to the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, I think most Members of the House will have shared my impression that here we came to real social values and real social needs and real social truths in what I consider to be a remarkable speech. He said that this Bill will make work for small builders—and so it will, and that is good. I think the work to be done under this Bill is particularly suitable for small builders and I hope they will rally round and conduct their procedures and do everything they can to make the most of the opportunities that will be offered.
The noble Lord mentioned the Government's housing record. Before going on to the question of improvements versus new housing I should say that he is right in thinking that it is not always realised how extraordinarily good the new housing record is. This Government will have been in office for five years during the course of the present year, and during the course of the present year the two-millionth new house built under this Government will be occupied. If we compare 1020 the new housing achieved by this Government in five years with the new housing achieved by the former Government in an equal period of five years, we find that the difference between the two totals is substantially greater than the total number of houses now standing on the ground in Birmingham. This is no mean difference.
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, what does the noble Lord mean by "an equal period of five years"? Does he mean a period of five years under a Conservative Government that he has selected, or what period of five years?
§ LORD KENNET
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his precision. I was referring to the last period of five years under the preceding Government—that is, 1959 to 1964—as compared with 1964 to 1969.
The noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, asked why we did not re-enact the compulsory repair power contained in the 1954 Act so that it would then have been continued in special circumstances. He rather made light of that. But these special circumstances seem to me to be pretty important and pretty widespread special circumstances, because where a tenant wants his house to be improved and repaired, and his landlord does not, where such a tenant moves the council to do so, the council retains the power to compel repair. I am not quite sure in what other circumstances the noble Lord would like the council to have that power. Would he like them to have it over owner-occupiers who do not want to move? There is of course no need for them to have it over landlords and tenants who both agree, because it will be done without compulsion.
Turning now to the question of what the noble Lord called the "recalcitrant elderly tenant" who does not want it done, although the landlord does, this is a matter of the greatest difficulty, which we shall pursue later. For the moment I will limit myself to saying that I will attend to and study carefully what the noble Lord has said, in conjunction with my right honourable friend. This matter has already exercised us very deeply and I propose to have one more "deep think" about it on the basis of my noble friend's remarkable speech.
On the question of the balance between new housing and the proposed increase in 1021 improvements, the policies for improvement under this Bill can only develop gradually, though I hope they will do so with increasing momentum. It is not a case of a sudden doubling of the rate. It will not happen like that. That is why the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum attached to this Bill looks forward to the financial effects in 1972 and 1973 as regards improvements—the £40 million which my noble friend mentioned. But as the House knows, in 1972–73 it is the hope of the Government—and I believe a well-founded hope—that the housing situation in some parts of this country will look rather profoundly different from what it does now. In some areas the need for new houses will not be so intense, and in those areas the more urgent problem will be the improvement of the housing stock. In other areas the need for new houses will remain paramount and may indeed—though I hope it will not—remain as intense as it is now. Therefore, new housing will go ahead in those areas, subject only to the limitation of manpower and physical resources, as happens now.
In other areas, particularly in the conurbations, there will be a continuing need for a concerted two-prong programme for improvements and for new housing. I have said so much because I should not like the House to imagine that this thing will go hang into operation at the rate of £40 million immediately we pass the Bill. It will not. Its effects will be long-lived, and will not reach their peak level until we have a rather different situation as regards new housing in some parts of the country: and I repeat that, because of the difficulty the Press has had recently in certain quarters in understanding that a housing surplus in some parts of the country is a very different thing from a housing surplus in all parts of the country. The former we may legitimately look forward to; the latter, unfortunately, will elude us for some time yet.
I conclude by saying that I am very glad to see that there is general approval for the purposes of this Bill. I think we shall send it into Committee with high hopes and with general accord that it is on the right lines. I look forward to the possibility of improving it in Committee, and I look forward to some pleasant occasions when I shall have to resist, I think on good grounds, Amend- 1022 ments which would make it not as good as it is now.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.