HL Deb 20 June 1972 vol 332 cc143-6

2.46 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware of the social discontent caused by the steep rise in property values in the past year, and if so, what steps they propose to take to deal with this urgent matter.


My Lords, the best solution to the problems of the housing market is to increase the supply of accommodation. The Government's policies are being markedly successful in bringing that about.


My Lords, would the noble Lord accept that his reply is totally inadequate? Is the noble Lord aware that one cannot expect a working lad, taking home £20, £25 or even £30 a week, to read of property deals of £24 million and other astronomical sums and to be content? I hope that we can get a more satisfactory reply.


I do not at all accept that my reply was unsatisfactory. In fact a number of trends are moving in the right direction, not least the number of mortgages which are being taken up by people earning £30 a week or less. As I made clear in my statement last week, although it is certainly true that a number of house prices have been rising more than we should like, the number of new purchasers taking up mortgages is increasing; the proportion of young people buying houses is rising, not falling; and the number of people in this lower bracket is also increasing.


My Lords, does the noble Lord not recognise that, despite the number of mortgages that are being taken out, young people are being bled white by the top prices that are being charged for the land upon which the houses are built?


My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that the rise in property values which has these deplorable consequences is an inevitable by-product of the decline in the value of money? When the value of money is deteriorating at the rate at which it has been deteriorating in recent months, would he not agree that it is only natural that people should seek to invest their money in objects which they think would have a more lasting value?


My Lords, this is undoubtedly so. It does not alter the fact that we must do the best we can to mitigate it. I should like to hear from noble Lords opposite what their proposals are. Our proposals are to increase the supply of the commodity which everybody wants.


My Lords, is the noble Lord seriously asking Members of your Lordships' House to believe that there is a large, increasing number of young people, earning less than £1,500 a year, who are buying houses when the total amount that they could possibly borrow from any building society is not likely to exceed £4,500? And where are these houses that are being sold at £4,500?


All I can do in answer to that question is to give the noble Lord the facts. Borrowers under 25 numbered 105,000 in 1969 and 145,000 in 1971.


My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that the only way to increase the supply of land, particulary in the South East, where prices have shot up more rapidly than in the rest of the country, is to allow local authorities to alter their development plans? The Secretary of State has issued a circular to local authorities asking them to release more land on to the market, but what is the force of that circular so long as the procedures for alteration of development plans are so complex?


My Lords, I recognise that difficulty, but fortunately we do have the Regional Study in the South-East, and we have already indicated to the local authorities that we will take into account the growth points indicated in that Study in considering appeals.


My Lords, would the noble Lord note that the Question refers to property values? Some of the worst features of the rise in prices have been in large blocks of property which have changed hands several times. This, coupled with the diminution in the value of long-dated and non-dated Government stocks, some of which—War Loan 3½ per cent., for example—have in current values gone down by 12½ per cent., is a traditional sympton of the fear of inflation. It is really the fear of what Le Monde to-day calls "galloping inflation" which results in large sums being invested in property, and it is the dismissal of the fear of inflation which is the immediate problem of Her Majesty's advisers.


My Lords, there may well be a good deal in the diagnosis of the noble Lord, Lord Hale, as well as that of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins. I was asked how we should treat this problem. I return to the point that I made before, that we should seek to secure by all means possible the supply of the commodity which everybody wants.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that at a meeting last week called by the Secretary of State of the chairmen and chief officers of the county authorities in the South-East, the Secretary of State achieved unanimous support from all the county authorities in speeding up the release of land in order to enlarge the reservoir of land for which there is planning consent and the land which would come within the area of development, to do just what my noble friend is asking for? Is my noble friend aware that, while this has to be done in a very nice balance to remain within the principles of good planning, this will have some effect at least in steadying up this far too fast rise in land prices?


My Lords, so we believe. It is also for that reason that we are encouraging local authorities to sell their council houses, as I announced in a Statement last week. This, too, may make a significant contribution. As I said then, the number of council houses being sold now has more than doubled over the last two years.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that for every council house that is sold there is one person on the waiting list who remains unsatisfied? Is the noble Lord further aware that large areas of land which have already been released by the planning authorities for building purposes have not been built on because the people who own the land, or are expecting to develop it, are deliberately holding back, realising that they can get twice as much for a house built now as for one built at the time when the planning permission was granted?


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the landowner is in a most invidious position? If he sells the land, he is a wicked speculator; and if he does not sell the land, he is accused of putting up the price of houses.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that houses are available in some parts of Scotland at the present time at prices ranging from £3,500 to £7,500?


My Lords, is the Minister aware that on the one o'clock news to-day one of the experts on property (I cannot remember his name) said it was not likely that houses would be cheaper than they are to-day for a long time?


My Lords, we are aware of all these problems. I am also aware that this Question has perhaps gone on long enough.