HL Deb 03 July 1974 vol 353 cc312-41

Second Reading debate resumed.

4.11 p.m.


My Lords, in this House, we seem to be having a sequence of Bilk concerned with housing, but this is not surprising because housing is a matter of such importance to everyone throughout their lives. The Bill before us to-day, unlike the Rent Bill is not politically controversial. Although there are Amendments which we shall seek to make to it during the Committee stage, we on this side of the House shall support it at Second Reading.

As in the case of the Control of Pollution Bill this Bill is similar in principle to that introduced by the last Government, although this Bill has a different title. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, for his very detailed explanation of it. As we are taking two Bills together to-day, which I believe is a somewhat unusual procedure, I shall confine my remarks to the Housing Bill and my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton, who will be speaking later in the debate, will deal with the Scottish Bill. I am sure this is the best procedure for, although I understand that the two Bills are similar in principle, it is right that the Scottish Bill should receive full and proper treatment in this debate.

As I have said, my Lords, we support the principle of the Bill. It is a piece of legislation similar to that introduced by the previous Government and based largely on the White PaperBetter Homes: the Next Priorities. This White Paper identified, broadly speaking, three new areas of policy. First, there is the whole concept of housing action areas—a proposal contained in Part IV of the Bill. Secondly, it recognised that a great deal more needed to be done to bring up to standard the many properties in this country at present falling into decay, or those which do not have the basic amenities, or which need structural repairs to bring them into a fit condition. We have recognised the real danger, that as fast as new houses are built, older houses fall into disrepair and decay, so that when we come to look at the net increase in housing it is disappointingly low.

The third new principle is the extension of the functions of the housing corporation and the voluntary housing movement, a development which is most welcome, in that I believe it will provide a real alternative in housing to being either an owner occupier or a council tenant. I think it is recognised now that we have seen the provisions of the Rent Bill that there will soon be very few, if any, private landlords and very few private lettings. This is not something which I myself welcome, although I believe the Government do. However, it is important to recognise it as a fact so that the Government and local authorities will recognise that they too will have greatly increased responsibilities. For they will undoubtedly be called upon to house many people who are at present housed in private accommodation, and at the same time they will be asked to meet new and varied needs, to which I believe so far they have given no consideration at all.

Although I welcome the extended functions of the housing corporation, I hope it will not be used simply as another means of extending the municipalisation of houses. I do not wish to dwell at length on the many disadvantages which could arise if we were to reach a stage where this country was a nation only of owner occupiers or council tenants. The polarisation of society into two separate groups would be most undesirable. The frequent inflexibility of local authority housing policies would mean that many people whose needs did not fit local authority housing schemes would suffer. Of course, not all people wish to to become tenants of council houses. But I believe that the housing corporation, as well as local authorities, should consider the variety of housing now needed and extensively offered in the past by the private landlord, and consider what provision they can make to meet that demand.

I should like to touch on two specific points. In the course of our deliberations on the Rent Bill we debated at length the difficulties facing young people in the future, and especially students. On reflecting further about this matter I should like to ask the Government whether, under Clause 28, it would be possible for student unions to be eligible for grants from the housing corporation. As I understand it, the difficulty facing student unions at the moment in providing hostel accommodation is that local authorities are restricted by circular as to the types of institution to which they can lend money. Furthermore, the Secretary of State for the Environment considers that the provision of accommodation comes more rightly under the Department of Education and Science. It is true that some local authorities offer surplus council housing to students, but it seems to me that one way of improving the present situation, which we all recognise to be one of great seriousness, is for student unions themselves to be responsible for providing some hostel accommodation. They, above all, should know the needs of the students. Therefore, I wonder whether the Government would consult the National Union of Students about such a proposition, and whether, if it were agreed, they would consider establishing a pilot scheme in some university town.

The second point which I should like to make is in regard to co-owner-ship schemes. This is an extremely complex subject, but I understand that co-ownership schemes are usually administered by housing societies defined under the 1964 Housing Act, and that they aim to provide on a non-profit making basis cost-rent housing under co-ownership arrangements. In this respect, they differ from housing associations, whose tenants pay a fair rent. There is a great variety of schemes and between September 1, 1964, and the end of March, 1974, the housing corporation provided 48,119 housing units in 1,255 different schemes. The advantage of such schemes is that they provide a further variety of choice in housing, and as the housing corporation says—and I quote: … they give a modern home without any of the worries of an owner occupier in facing what can sometimes be heavy costs of repairs and maintenance and having to sell your house when you wish to move… They go on to say To give value for money based on the cost of providing the dwellings and the services that go with them. However, the schemes have recently run into difficulties. At a time of rising interest rates and at the same time rising house prices some co-owners are at a disadvantage as compared with owner occupiers. For instance, some who entered the schemes in 1968 or 1969 are now having to pay, sometimes out of a fixed income, a much higher rent than they originally expected or now find that they can afford. I quote this simply as one complication, but there are others, for those who wish to leave a co-owner-ship scheme. But because of the complexities of the scheme, I believe there is a great deal of misunderstanding about the nature of co-ownership schemes, and for this misunderstanding I believe that the Housing Corporation must bear some measure of responsibility.

My Lords, I do not wish to go into further detail on this complex subject at Second Reading, but I should be glad to know, although I do not expect an answer to-day, whether the Government have any proposals or have considered an amendment to this Bill for dealing with the difficulties these schemes are presenting. In pointing out the difficulties, I should at the same time say that I hope a way of overcoming them will be found, so making co-ownership schemes work effectively to the benefit of the co-owners; add to the variety of choice in housing available, and enable young people to get a foothold in the housing market.

Turning now to local authorities, I feel that I can only ask again, as I did on the Rent Bill, what advice the Government are going to give to local authorities in order that they can meet the new demands to be made on them. For example, are they right to continue to build ever more two- or three-bedroomed houses and flats? What provision are they going to make for single people? I think this to be an important point for the future. It has recently been drawn to my attention that taking the South-East, where the need for this sort of housing provision may be thought to be high, figures provided in a recent report of the National Economic Development Office, 1974, suggest that by far the greatest growth in private households between mid-1969 and mid-1981 will be in the one-person household. It is estimated that married couple households, the classic types whose need the housing policy of all Parties has been designed to try to satisfy, will grow by about 7 per cent. in that period, yet one-person households will grow by three times as much, over 20 per cent. In this connection, I wonder whether the Government have considered advising local authorities that they should review their housing waiting lists to see what has happened to everybody who has been on the list for some time, to see whether what they are proposing to build fits the wishes of the people on their list.

My Lords, I should like to press the Government to consider encouraging local authorities to sell council houses. This leads to a diversification on council housing estates. Anyone who is at all familiar with large council housing estates knows they can give rise to serious social problems. By mixing in owner-occupiers among the council tenants, one gets a mixed society, and one which I think benefits both groups of people.

I am very glad to see that the Bill retains the excellent objective of the Conservative Housing and Planning Bill; namely, the concentration of effort and resources on housing stress areas, now called housing action areas. We on this side of the House believe that in these areas it is necessary to act quickly, and that we should concentrate our resources on them. Of course, this is a policy of selectivity, of concentrating help where it is needed most. For this reason, I hope that these areas will not be too large. I shall read with care what the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, said, if I understood it right, on the possibility of extending them into a neighbouring area which might be known as a general improvement area, because it seems to me that once an area has been designated a housing action area, it ought to have only a limited duration. If we give indiscriminate help over too wide an area, we shall give less effective help in the area of those most in need.

I think it is useful for the House to know that support for the housing action area legislation has come from Shelter. I quote from a conference that was held a little time ago. In the Summary it is said: But in my view"— that is the view of the Deputy Director of Shelter— it is by far the most relevant piece of legislation for securing improvement in conditions in the worst areas of housing stress that we have seen. It is based on a much better understanding of the economic and social forces at work in stress areas than in 1961. 1964 and 1969 Housing Acts. My Lords, I am, however, concerned about Clause 46 which, as I understand it, gives powers to the Greater London Council to declare a housing action area or a general improvement area, if necessary against the wishes of a London borough within whose boundaries the housing action area might be. It seems to me that this goes against all the principles of local authority freedom as I have always understood them. But I understand that the proposals are departures from the basic principle which has so far been followed in London government; namely, that in matters of local housing improvement, the Greater London Council should not act except with the consent of the borough concerned. I hope for an assurance that the Government will look at this matter again, otherwise I intend to put down an Amendment on Committee stage.

My Lords, in conclusion, may I say that I also welcome most warmly the fact that the Government have retained Clause 64 which empowers local authorities to pay a grant for repairs. This follows upon the grants for standard amenities, and the discretionary grants available for improvement, and should enable the excellent record of improvement of older homes of the last Government to be maintained. Not only does such a policy prevent the loss from the nation's housing stock of older housing, but equally important, it means that older houses, in which many people prefer to live, are repaired and brought up to date. It means the rehabilitation of areas rather than redevelopment of them, and that the community can be kept together. This in itself is so important for those living in the older parts of our cities, particularly the older people. May I also add a warm welcome to the grant for improvements to the environment. Everyone who has looked at the kind of improvements that can be made knows that it can do so much by tree planting, by effective layout in the poorer areas to improve the quality of life for all who live in them. For all those reasons, we wish to see this Bill on the Statute Book. As I said at the beginning, although we shall want to move some Amendments to it, in principle we support it.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to welcome the Housing Bill, although I am somewhat confused by the addition on the Order Paper of the Housing (Scotland) Bill, because I am sure your Lordships will agree that for any Episcopalian to express any opinions about what should or should not be done North of the Border would be most unwise. Only yesterday when I asked a Question on housing, I suffered the shrapnel from the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, and if I were to talk about Scotland to-day I might find some Jenny Geddes hurling her stool at me. So I confine myself to the Housing Bill so far as this country is concerned.

I welcome the Bill, as I did that put forward by the previous Administration. I welcome it even though, in my view, it does not go far enough. I have worked in London for more than 15 years, and I think that the housing situation has deteriorated nearly every year. Some of your Lordships may remember that 10 or 11 years ago the then Bishop of London and I led a procession to St. Paul's Cathedral and then to mine in Southwark.

Many hundreds of people, including the Lord Mayor of London, joined this procession. We thought the position was bad then, but it is infinitely worse to-day. Even compared with 1970, the situation is worse. Then there were 12,800 in temporary accommodation provided by the local authorities. More recently, pressures have reached the level where local councils arc having to place upwards of 700 families in London in bed and breakfast accommodation in hotels.

The homeless, alas, are only one category of people who are at a disadvantage in London. There are thousands of families living in overcrowded accommodation, which is so damaging to family life and is responsible for truancy, violent behaviour and many of the other social tragedies with which we who live in London are only too familiar. I am sure it is the housing situation which, niore than anything else, is responsible for violence among young people, and the conditions are worst precisely where there is the least hope of solving the problems. It is the Inner London boroughs, where the authorities are faced with almost insoluble problems, that demand all the sympathy and encouragement we can give to help them as they face these very difficult housing problems. Yes, my Lords, it is an appalling situation, and that adjective is not an over-statement.

The Bill sets out to tackle the situation and, in particular, the extended powers of the Housing Corporation as set out in the Bill are greatly to be welcomed, as they will facilitate greater activity on the part of housing associations thus providing an increase in the stock of rented accommodation. An increase in rented accommodation is something which is so much needed to-day. In 1940, which is only 30 years ago, 61 per cent. of all households lived in accommodation rented from private landlords. To-day the figure has dropped from 61 per cent. to between 17 and 18 per cent. and frequently the rents charged are exorbitant. I will not take up the time of your Lordships, but I speak as one who has to deal with the housing of young people. Reference has been made to students by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, opposite, and I am sure she knows as well as I do the most pathetic stories of students who are being asked for anything from £14 to £15 for a single room; and I could cap that with even worse illustrations.

It is not just a question of those who are seeking rented accommodation for the reasons I have indicated. There are also those who are driven to it because they simply cannot afford to buy their own houses owing to the mortgage situation. According to a report in The Guardian last month, the building of private houses is likely to fall this year by over 40 per cent. Meanwhile, the number of households in this country is increasing due to various factors, including earlier marriage, the rise of one-parent families and because people are living longer. Housing associations are just one means of dealing with this serious problem. I welcome this Bill, because there is to be more generous treatment towards the housing associations. But I would ask the Government to bear in mind that it is felt in some quarters, rightly or wrongly, that the housing associations that are likely to be registered will be the larger ones with the greater resources and expertise. I can well understand that, but I would say to Her Majesty's Government that there are many smaller housing associations dealing with small sites which also need to be encouraged and which have a great deal to contribute.

The growth of the voluntary housing movement is to be welcomed, although it provides but a small percentage of rented accommodation between the private and the local authority landlord, and it cannot, of course, begin to solve the housing crisis. Much more needs to be done on a wider scale. We have to utilise all the resources possible, whether it be development land which is owned by central Government, or by local authorities, or by nationalised industries or, as I indicated when I asked my Question yesterday, land which is not wanted by the railways or the hospitals or the energy boards. And I admit, having been reminded by the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, yesterday, that there may very well be land owned by the Church which is not used and which, too, should be used for the building of houses.

In addition to that, we ought to consider the responsible use of the present stock of houses; and under that heading I include council houses as well as private houses. I sometimes think that the rules applied by some local authorities deter tenants who would be quite prepared to offer accommodation to people other than members of their own family. Sometimes the rules are so hedged around that it becomes very difficult for a person living in a council house to let out a room to anyone other than a member of the family. Again, local authorities might do more to encourage people who no longer want to live in large houses, or who ought not to want to live in large houses, to move to smaller ones.

I have in mind an elderly widow whom I visited the other day. She had a large council house in which there were four bedrooms, for she had had a large family. The family has now flown from the nest, the husband is dead, and she lives alone in that house. Some local authorities encourage tenants to move to smaller houses and the scheme recently announced by the London Quadrant Housing Trust, whereby free accommodation is provided for the elderly or single in return for the purchase of family-sized properties, could well be copied elsewhere. I hope very much that the Government will urge local authorities to pursue such a path, and to do all they can to encourage people living in large houses to move to smaller ones and thus free the larger houses for families.

I welcome Parts IV and V of the Bill which deal with housing action areas and general improvement areas, as they enable local authorities to designate areas in which they have special powers to bring about improvements without the customary delays. Especially do I welcome the power that is given to local authorities to demand that landlords inform them of houses they wish to sell, so that local authorities have the opportunity to buy those houses and use them before the speculators can step in. However, we should not be under illusion with regard to the number of housing action areas that will be required in London. Nor should we be under any illusion as to the cost of these proposals, because very costly they will be. Especially is this true of the five or six Inner London boroughs, where there is so much to be done by way of restoring the houses that are rapidly deteriorating and by improving the general amenities of the areas.

In conclusion I have two points. First, I hope that there will be a determined effort to deal with the overspill areas and with the outer London boroughs. I am well aware—and the Government will know it—that this is a delicate matter. There is a natural reluctance on the part of the outer boroughs to welcome people from the inner boroughs, especially if the rates are going up in consequence. I know that people living in the inner boroughs tend to look upon the outer boroughs as a foreign land and wish, if they are to be re-housed, to remain in their present locality. However, we have to face facts and this is just impossible in many instances. There has to be a coming and going between the inner boroughs and the outer boroughs and the overspill areas. I urge the Government to encourage the local authorities to face these facts.

Secondly, in considering housing—private accommodation and council accommodation—I hope that we shall re-think our attitude towards the people who are serving the community, the social workers and teachers. We know only too well of the difficulties that face the education authorities in London where schools are without sufficient teachers, and where boys and girls have to go home because there is no one in charge. I believe that the problem would be partially solved if accommodation could be found for the teachers. It is hard enough in all conscience to take up teaching in some areas in London. It is even less attractive if people have to travel miles from the other side of London or from outside London, to these inner areas. In tackling this subject, perhaps the Government will do what they can not only to provide rented accommodation for those to whom I have already referred, but for those people who are essential in maintaining the fabric of our society.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, in the very few remarks that I wish to make I shall refer entirely to voluntary housing, but even then in no great detail, except perhaps to inform the right reverend Prelate who has just spoken that I am a member of a housing association which, in Sussex, is using Church land for the purpose of housing. I do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, will be interested to hear that.

In general, I have some rather mixed feelings about those parts of the Bill dealing with voluntary housing. I should like to make clear that that does not in any way arise from the contents of this Bill. I welcome the Bill. I am grateful to the Government for introducing it, and particularly for those new amendments which deal with the difficult situation created by the rent freeze. I hope that the Bill will reach the Statute Book as soon as possible. My reservations arise from the changes that are now taking place, perhaps quite inevitably, in the nature of the housing society movement itself, and the direction in which it seems to be moving. It seems to me that that may be affected by the way the Bill is worded.

My noble friend Lord Hylton, and those with whom I normally work in this matter, may not agree with what I am saying; but I go back a long way, and I must confess that 20 or 30 years ago I found it a heartening experience to go round and find all over the country small groups of people, often quite humble, people, who, without any pay or reward, were moved out of pure altruism to help to house their more unfortunate neighbours. As their object was to give satisfaction, they usually did so. But as legislation became more complex, and as more and more we had to rely on Government statutory finance, it became apparent that these matters were beyond the competence of part-time amateurs, and so paid professionals had to be introduced. Yet, I suppose it could be said that, however amateur and incompetent those small groups were, there would not have been a voluntary housing movement had it not been for their inspiration. I cannot believe that the great charitable trusts such as the Guinness Trust, the Rowntree Trust, the Sutton Trust, and a few others like that would have expected or welcomed whole sections of the Housing Bill directed to their interests. I feel that we owe a great deal to those original, small associations, and one of the reasons I intervene in this debate at all is because I thought that somebody ought to pay public tribute to what those early pioneers did.

Things are different now, and in a situation where paid professionals employed by housing associations are spending largely Government and local authority money and are subject, if my arithmetic is right, to something like 35 different forms of Ministerial direction, it is obviously a very different sort of voluntary effort to what it used to be. Nevertheless, I agree that it is difficult to see how it could be altered. Clearly if you have to use Government money on a big scale you must be prepared to accept the safeguards that go with it. It is also true that the voluntary principle is preserved in that the decision to initiate schemes, the promotional work, is still undertaken by unpaid amateurs. However, I can foresee some possibility of this function also being invaded by the professionals, perhaps by the Housing Corporation, and others. Indeed, it is possible that, in the course of time, the whole voluntary principle may, by imperceptible steps, become entirely eroded, and that the so-called voluntary housing movement will have degenerated, or developed, according to how you may think of it, into really another and second form of statutory housing. There may be some who really do not approve of voluntary housing and would welcome such a development. All I can say is that I would regret it.

4.49 p.m.


My Lords, I must declare my interest to-day because I am at the moment chairman of the National Federation of Housing Associations under, I might add, the presidency of the noble Lord, Lord Fiske. I was also the founder of a small village housing association in Somerset. It is a particular pleasure to-day to follow my noble friend Lord Gage, because I can well remember the day in January, 1972, when I made my maiden speech in your Lordships' House on his Motion dealing with the difficulties and problems facing housing associations. I tried to draw attention to their knife-edge finances, and to the gap which existed then, and still exists today, between the fair rents which associations are permitted to charge and the economic rent which they need to cover their costs. I said something two years ago about the difficulties of controlling the equity in housing association assets, particularly where those associations are not charities. I also mentioned the importance of the ethics of housing association committees and their general members.

It is for those reasons that I welcome the Bill to-day. I welcome its bipartisan approach because I think it provides a framework within which the very serious difficulties which have bedevilled housing associations can begin to be solved. In saying that, I should like to pay tribute to the extreme helpfulness, friendliness and courtesy of officials within the Department of the Environment with whom we have been in dialogue ever since the White Paper came out, during preparation of the previous Bill and in the various stages in another place of the Bill which we are considering to-day. I welcome very much the stronger powers that have been given to the Housing Corporation. I would join with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark in hoping that when it comes to the registration of housing associations the Government, the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, and the Housing Corporation will not automatically assume that bigger is necessarily better and that they will bear in mind that voluntary bodies are quite different from statutory bodies. Their motivation is completely of another sort and therefore they cannot just be merged at will or amalgamated simply because it looks tidier on paper.

I welcome also very much the Government Amendment which provides special support to deal with the problems arising from the rent freeze and from the much higher level of interest rates which we now have. The Bill, when it becomes an Act, will be a real challenge to the voluntary housing movement. In my view there will be no competition whatever between housing associations and local authorities. They will, as in the past, work in a complementary way and in no sense in competition. I strongly hope that the associations will rise to the challenge and will, over a period of years, begin to produce a proportion of housing in this country more similar to the Scandinavian countries where they are significant providers of housing.

If I may turn from the limited aspect of housing associations and societies to wider questions of Government housing policy, I would welcome the susbtantial extra funds for housing which the Government have provided since the Budget, of which mention is made in the D.O.E. Circular 70/74. This, I feel, should be compulsory reading for every member of every local housing authority up and down the country. There are not only extra resources coming into housing but also greater borrowing powers for the Housing Corporation and extra money for housing action areas. With this greater amount of cash, I feel the ball is now firmly in the court of local housing authorities. I hope that they will feel a real sense of urgency; that they will pull out all the stops, and that if they find the extra resources are still not sufficient, for them to do the job which is needed, that they will come back to Central Government and clamour for yet more.

I should like to say a word about urban renewal—I welcome the emphasis on it—and about housing action areas. As I have told your Lordships before, there is a strong case for knitting together the various policies which deal with educational priority areas, with urban aid areas and with housing stress areas. What we need is a coherent urban strategy. In working that out, I would ask the Government to bear in mind the considerable volume of experience that was built up in Liverpool during the period of the SNAP experiment in the Granby Ward of Liverpool 8. This, I think, tends to show that we need a social programme and the active participation of the residents of housing action areas as well as the physical housing work itself. I realise that the Government have had these things in mind and were not able to incorporate them into this Bill, but if they remain in power I hope that they will do so in a future Bill.

There is a slight danger, I think, over this housing action area idea that there will be too few areas, with just a token one area per borough being thought to be enough. In my view hundreds, if not thousands, of such areas will need to be declared and will need to be worked through. Just to give some evidence from London, in no less than six London boroughs one-quarter of all the wards are housing stress wards. There are 68 such stress wards scattered somewhere through Greater London, and 39 intense housing stress areas have been pinpointed, mostly within Inner London, as the right reverend Prelate mentioned.

There has been general welcome to the Bill. I join in that wholeheartedly, but we should not shut our eyes to the serious problems which are still to be seen on all sides. Just recently there has been gloomy news from the Building and Civil Engineering's "Little Neddy". They are gloomy about the amount of house building that will be achieved in 1974 and 1975. We have also recently heard that the brickworks are laying off men because of surplus bricks piling up at the kilns. Two days ago the Finer Committee on The One-Parent Family published its Report. There are thought to he some 620,000 one-parent families in Britain. If I may quote from The Times to-day: The Report says the financial difficulties of the one-parent families are second only to their disadvantages in the housing market. Many one-parent families have no homes of their own and share with other people ". A few months ago The Times, in an editorial in connection with the National Children's Development Study, said that if all the disadvantaged children of Britain could wake up tomorrow in good housing, that would be the greatest single improvement that could be made to their lives. On this point of one-parent families, a body with which I have worked for many years, the Catholic Housing Aid Society, in addition to making 54 recommendations to the Finer Committee, has just published two pamphlets which drew out the meat from eight years of experimental work. One is called What Chance a Home: Housing difficulties of one-parent families. The other is entitled Housing and Marriage Breakdown. The families we are considering are the ones where social disadvantage, poverty and bad housing coincide to the greatest degree. The Bill will help them to some extent, but it is something which requires greater thought and very much greater action in future.

If I may turn to the London situation, this was developed at some length by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark. I myself described 1973 as being a disaster year for housing in Greater London, and no one attacked that point of view or denied it. It seems that in London we suffer from some rather severe difficulties in the machinery which is supposed to provide new houses and to improve old ones. If I may quote from the Layfield Report, they said on page 219: All the evidence supported the view that the interests of the boroughs and the Greater London Council are quite naturally in conflict. Any scheme must provide for the resolution of this conflict. None of the common housing policies are being achieved, and unless the London Government Act is amended the housing proposals in the Greater London Development Plan will remain largely academic". The right reverend Prelate pointed out very forcefully, as some of us have been trying to do at intervals since 1965, that the outer London boroughs simply have to come to the rescue of the inner London boroughs. In this connection, it was a great step forward, I think, when the Anglican Bishops, the Catholic Bishops and the Free Church leaders appealed in December, 1973, to their congregations in outer London to put pressure on local authorities to make more land and more housing units available for inner London. The right reverend Prelate has been asking Questions about dockland, surplus Government and nationalised industries' land, and I call upon the Government to make sure that something more effective comes forward than we have had up till now from the Action Group for London Housing which has been giving its mind to this problem.

My Lords, in conclusion, I once again welcome this Bill. I apologise for the fact that I shall not be able to be present during the Committee stage, but I hope that the Bill will very swiftly be on the Statute Book because it is so badly needed.

5.3 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that I shall make the noble Lord the Minister of State for Scotland feel more at home as I speak briefly on the Housing (Scotland) Bill (which I welcome on behalf of the Opposition), especially since the Government allowed various Amendments and gave assurances on Clause 19 last Wednesday in another place. I shall not go into many of the general principles of the Bill because they are similar to those of the English Bill, upon which my noble friend Lady Young has already given our views. I felt sorry that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark felt unable to give himself the pleasure of talking on Scotland for fear of a Jenny Geddes. I do not think that, with my theological background, he need have feared anything from my side. Perhaps my noble friend Lady Elliot was the one who frightened him, but I do not see a Jenny Geddes in her.

Nevertheless, the Scottish housing scene is, I think, one which we would all agree varies considerably from one area to another. We have some 180,000 to 190,000 houses which are unfortunately still substandard, but this number is being dealt with. Recently, when we were in Office, we were demolishing or putting closure orders on some 20,000 of these houses every year. I hope the present Government will adhere to our plan to eliminate this nasty blot on our housing landscape. Last year we were pleased with the result of new building in Scotland, which also saw, of course, the greatest ever increase in homeownership. We had just over 12,200 houses in the private sector completed, with over 16,300 houses under construction in that sector at the end of last year. In the public sector we completed over 17,800 houses. These are good figures, my Lords.

In the field of housing improvement in 1973 we had a record of over 92,500 houses given grants compared with only some 13,679 in 1968. As has been said on many previous occasions, a house given a grant is a house saved; and these 92,500 grants actually represented 25 per cent. of all grants made last year in the United Kingdom. When you think of Scotland, with its population of 5 million or 6 million and compare it with the United Kingdom, with its population of 55 million, that is a most fantastic figure. It shows how, when in Government, we were doing everything to encourage house improvements.

My Lords, although much has been achieved there is still one hell of a lot to do, especially in the Glasgow area. Although one regrets the passing of the 75 per cent. grant for improvement, leaving the 50 per cent. grant instead. I am sure this was right, because selectivity is now clearly necessary. It is, therefore, very welcome that in areas for housing action the grants will still be 75 per cent., and I know that there are powers for this to be varied, if necessary—up, not down. Part II of the Bill, dealing with housing area action will, I think, be widely welcomed. The only point I should like to draw to the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, although I am sure he is fully aware of it already, is that older people in areas for action, whether of demolition or improvements, are still very worried, understandably, when news of such impending action gets around. People need to be reassured, and I should like the noble Lord to confirm that the Government will be requesting local authorities to allay these worries more than by merely putting notices in the local Press. I hope that meetings can be held in local halls, where some sympathetic officials could answer questions and explain any points which might be worrying people. Perhaps even a local office, possibly only a room, might be opened nearby' any proposed action area, where again some kind person could be on tap to explain the full position to worried people in that locality, and their rights. Because I think we would agree that it would be tragic if, in improving people's housing environment, we did so at the cost of personal worry and unhappiness.

We, when in power, were very generous financially to the Scottish housing sector, and I feel sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will not wish his Government to lag behind our record. The Bill, I think, provides a useful framework wherein the all-important task of housing people in dignity and pleasant surroundings can be continued, and I wish the noble Lord well in his work ahead in this respect.

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, if I may intervene at this point, I do not want to talk for very long, but having had more than 16 years' experience of local government I wish to confirm what my noble friend has just been saying about the improvements in housing that have taken place due to the existing grants. I am afraid that I cannot talk for the whole of Scotland; I can talk only for my own part, which is Midlothian. But I welcome the extension of the principles of the old Act into this new Bill. In thinking about the Bill coming before us today, I endeavoured to look at what had been said in another place. I could not but be struck by the amicable relations between the different Members of the other place and by the number of Amendments which were accepted by the Government. In fact, any attempt to pick holes in the Bill which is before your Lordships' House will show that almost any point which may be raised will have been well discussed in the other place.

I certainly welcome the Bill, but there is one point which I wish to make. I should like to pick up what my noble friend Lady Young mentioned in regard to student accommodation. Student accommodation falls between two stools. I suspect that the Bill, when it becomes an Act, will make considerably more money available for ordinary housing, and that the grants available there will be considerably more than will be available for student accommodation. The reason for this anomaly is that student accommodation is really the responsibility of the University Grants Committee, and the amount of money which is given to it at present means that any university accommodation for students has to be paid for largely from university funds, with only a small proportion—though it is now up to nearly 30 per cent.—coming from the State. I think that it will be very important that the Government should have a close look at this. I do not suggest that the present system should be altered, but I would suggest that the Government should take a good look at the possibility of increasing the amount of money at the disposal of the U.G.C., to enable universities to put up better and more suitable accommodation.

5.13 p.m.


My Lords, it is a very easy and a very pleasant task which falls to me this afternoon. This is very largely due to the way in which my noble friend Lord Garnsworthy moved the Second Reading of the Housing Bill. He went into the Bill in such detail that I am quite certain that he has lightened my task very considerably, because a lot of questions which might otherwise have been asked have been answered in advance. Secondly, the Bill—perhaps rather unusually for a Housing Bill—has received an almost universal welcome from all taking part, though given the different political views which the Parties hold—for instance, on the value of the private landlord in the present circumstances—it is understandable that in some directions the welcome of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, was a little muted. On the other hand, the right reverend Prelate took the view—which was also expressed by my noble friend Lord Garnsworthy in moving the Second Reading—that this is not the Bill which the Government would have wished to introduce had there been ample time to produce a more radical measure.

We did, however, approach the position with the need to do something immediately in mind and the best way of doing that seemed to be to work—as has been done in other directions—on the proposals of the previous Administration, making such changes in them as we considered advantageous, though I appreciate that the Opposition may consider them to be steps backward. By and large, however, the Bill is very similar, although expanded, to what would have been done had a General Election not intervened. I should also say that, in this generally happy atmosphere, the thought occurred to me in listening to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, with whose views I find myself unable to disagree in any particular at all, that one or other of us must be sitting on the wrong side of the House. However, that is probably because I always listen to him on housing matters, and it may be that in some other fields his views and mine may diverge, which probably accounts for the fact that we face each other instead of being one behind the other.

To come to some of the points which have been raised during this very useful and enjoyable debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, raised the question of student accommodation, to which the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, has also added his voice. Without hesitation, I can say that the Government agree that there is scope for participation of student unions in the provision of accommodation, and I am told that there are already some small scale examples of this in existence. We shall certainly do our best to encourage developments along these lines, which we think would be very much in the interests of everybody concerned. On the other subject of making more money available to the University Grants Committee, I would hesitate to express a view because I doubt very much whether even within the very easy attitude of your Lordships' House, that could be regarded as coming within the terms of a Housing Bill, even a Housing (Scotland) Bill.


My Lords, I am very sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, but I wonder whether I could get this point straight. Is he saying that it would be possible under Clause 28 for a students' union to borrow money from the Housing Corporation for a hostel?


My Lords, I very carefully confined myself to the note which came to me from the Box, and if it was not their intention that that should be so they have given me a piece of misleading information. I hope, therefore, that what the noble Baroness is asking is possible, as if, in due course, I am told that we are both wrong she will probably present me with great difficulty if she tables an Amendment—though I would not attempt to dissuade her from doing so.

On the subject of co-ownership, it is undoubtedly the case that there have been very considerable difficulties, not because it is a bad way of doing things, but because, as the noble Baroness said, it is a complex way of doing things and it is sometimes very difficult to get people to understand the difference between a co-ownership and an ordinary housing association development. These difficulties have, of course, been aggravated by the very substantial increases in interest rates which, as the noble Baroness said, have put a number of people in real difficulties when they have found themselves under an obligation to pay more than they had contemplated, and, in some cases, more than they feel is within their means. The Government are reviewing the role of co-ownership as a system of housing, because it may be that there are better ways of meeting the need at which co-ownership is aimed. However, I am afraid that it will not be possible to incorporate any conclusions on this subject in the present Bill. That is perhaps another of the reasons why my noble friend Lord Garnsworthy said that we would have preferred to have had a little more time in which to produce a more wide-ranging Bill.

On the subject of the sale of council houses, I understand that the Minister for Housing and Construction has made it clear that the Government have no doctrinaire views on the sale of council houses by local authorities but there are many cases of acute housing shortage where the prime need is to add to and not to subtract from the stock of rented accommodation. Thus the Government, while not promoting such sales, would expect local authorities to examine very carefully whether this is a step that could safely be taken without any risk arising to the general housing situation, and that, in particular, no families as a consequence would be left either in unsatisfactory housing or without housing accommodation at all.

I should say that in the Scottish context the Government have reverted to the position which existed before 1970. We have withdrawn the general dispensation given to local authorities to proceed with sales of council houses without reference to the Secretary of State. We have gone back to the position where, if a local authority wishes to sell council houses, it must put up all the circumstances which exist in their area and seek the Secretary of State's consent to such a sale. Because of my responsibilities for housing in Scotland, these eventually land on my desk. So far I have received only one such application, which is under consideration at the present time.

On the subject of housing for single people, to which the noble Baroness spoke and to which the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, also directed the Government's attention, we accept that more needs to be done for single people as part of the whole range of housing needs. A bulletin will shortly be published by the Department of the Environment on Goscote House in Leicester, designed by the Department's architects. This incorporates a range of units designed with single people in mind—completely self-contained units, and what are called "clusters", in which friends can share certain facilities. The hostel provisions in the Bill will also help single people. They will secure for the first time that the generous Exchequer support previously reserved for housing will be available for hostels, instead of what, I think I am entitled to say, were the rather derisory grants which were available for this purpose in the past.

The noble Baroness then asked me whether the attention of local authorities would be directed to the need to review their housing lists, with particular reference to the type of housing which they should be building. This is something which most good housing authorities do in any event, but I can certainly see nothing but good, once this Bill is on the Statute Book, in directing authorities' attention to the need for constantly reviewing their position, so that they are building the houses which are really needed in the 1970s rather than the houses which were needed in the 1950s or the 1960s.

The last of the noble Baroness's points—and it was also touched on by the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton—was on the question of the G.L.C.'s powers, although I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, took the same line as the noble Baroness. We have very carefully considered this question. The Government want, as do the G.L.C., the maximum of agreement between the G.L.C. and the London boroughs. The powers in the Bill are default or reserve powers for the G.L.C. to proceed without a London borough's consent, and they are, in fact, back-up powers only. But the Government think that they must be there. The risk of inaction in areas of stress is not one which the Government are prepared to take, small though that risk might be. If therefore there is good will on the part of the G.L.C. on the one hand, and the borough concerned on the other, it should be possible for results to be achieved by agreement. What we are determined not to allow to continue is the position where there is no result because there is no agreement between them. In these circumstances, somebody must have the power to act and that somebody must be the G.L.C.

I thought I had noted the noble Baroness's last point, but she had one other to which I want to refer. She expressed the hope that the housing action areas would not be too large. I am inclined to agree with her. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that they should not be too few. He expressed the view that what we have to guard against is authorities just making a token contribution to what is wanted. He said that perhaps we needed not a few but hundreds and perhaps thousands of such action areas. I think that possibly the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, are in agreement on this point and that what both would like to see are as many areas as are needed, but each of them being of a size which makes it possible to do the job as quickly as is reasonable in the interests of all those living in them, and that cannot necessarily be the way of tackling it if too big a development is being taken as the unit.

The right reverend Prelate raised the question of local authorities sometimes being too strict in their requirements, and he spoke of two aspects of this matter: first, the question of people being allowed to let out a room to someone in need of housing. I had noted that in our more usual Scottish context of, "taking in a lodger". I know that some authorities are particularly strict in this direction. There are many cases where this would provide a very satisfactory solution both for the tenant of the house and for the person who is looking for accommodation. I hope that local authorities will look on this in a reasonable way having regard to the fact that if they are too lax in their requirements they can create other evils altogether. It was not unknown in harder times that families who were re-housed from over-crowded conditions, because of the need or the desire to supplement their incomes, created entirely new over-crowded conditions by taking in far too many lodgers in the new house. It is a question of common sense being applied both by the local authority and by the occupant of the house. I will suggest to my honourable friend that this is a point to be borne in mind in any circulars which may be issued by him to local authorities—and perhaps with particular relevance to London.

On the subject of overspill areas and the outer London boroughs, and the difficulties which exist not only between the boroughs in the centre and the boroughs on the outskirts but also the people in the centre and the people on the outskirts, I should have had (as a Scottish Minister venturing into London problems) the same sort of trepidation as the Bishop had in venturing to Scotland if it were not in fact very much the same sort of problem with which I am familiar in Glasgow, where the need to get people to go out of Glasgow and to get houses in areas where it is possible to provide them presents very great difficulty. It is a matter where one can go only by persuasion.

That reminds me of what the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, said about the need for being kind to old people who are being moved. It is not always a kindness to move people from an unfit house into a perfectly good one if in the process one makes that person totally unhappy about being taken from one area which he knows and being put into an area which he does not know and which he or she decides in advance that he or she is not going to like. We are all far too familiar with the number of cases of people who move back into a bad house in an area which they know. It is a difficult point but I think we all agree with what the right reverend Prelate has said about the desirability of doing these things where they can be done with the willing consent of the people who are being moved.

The registration of housing associations was another point touched upon by the right reverend Prelate and it also comprised part of the view expressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Gage. We agree without any hesitation that obviously it would be wrong to refuse registration to small associations just because they are small. The test of registration must be their fitness and ability to do the job which is required, and that will not necessarily be confined to large associations. It will undoubtedly be the case that some of the very large and expert associations will be the best vehicles for carrying out the work in many areas, but they will not be the only ones, and we would certainly not adhere to the view that because an association is small it should not be registered. The test will be: can it fulfil the criteria which will he laid down and to which the Housing Corporation will work?

The noble Viscount paid a very well deserved tribute to the work of the early housing association pioneers; as he said, they were totally voluntary people, not even assisted by professional workers. As the years have gone by the housing association has changed very much in character. It still remains a part of the voluntary spirit, part of the voluntary effort, but as the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, said, the associations rely more and more on the assistance of paid experts in carrying out their work. To sum up what he had to say, he accepted that in the changed circumstances where so much of the funds came from the Government the change was necessary, but he nevertheless accepted the change with regret. No doubt we would all subscribe to a certain extent to that point of view, but with the tremendous dependence on public funds I think the change is a necessary one.

I have already referred to my reactions to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. It was very pleasing that he should not only find what we were proposing to do for housing associations so helpful and welcome, but that he regarded other provisions of the Bill in relation to local authorities as being worthy of the same degree of welcome. I cannot say that I am familiar with the experiment in Liverpool to which he referred, but I have no doubt that my colleagues in the Department are, and I will certainly make it a point to ensure that the Minister's attention is directed to what the noble Lord said on that subject. I also accept his suggestion that the local authorities must be encouraged to use their new powers with enthusiasm, and I would agree also that if they find, as they almost certainly will in the course of time, that still wider powers are needed they ought to come back to the Government of the day and demand these extra powers.

On the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, regarding land for building in London, a comprehensive survey of land available for housing in London was carried out by the boroughs early in 1972 for the Action Group on London Housing, to which he referred. The first results of the survey were published in the group's Second Interim Report in August 1972. The figures were revised and updated, particularly in the light of the group's series of visits to 14 London boroughs, and published fin their Third Interim Report in July 1973. Work has been continuing to keep the information up to date. On the basis of the need to maintain the annual total housing programme in London at the maximum sustainable level of around 35,000 starts per year, the Action Group estimated that it would be necessary to ensure the provision of land for some 140,000 dwellings in the period 1972 to 1975. The evidence from the latest updating of the land survey suggests that sufficient land is available for up to 124,000 dwellings leaving a deficit of around 16,000 even on the assumption that all this land will be brought into early use. I feel that is perhaps rather an unwise assumption to make. Further gains can be expected from the continuing updating and refining of the returns and more land should become available in due course from docklands and from the current review of the Green Belt put in hand last year. Action is continuing to ensure that all surplus land held by Government Departments and the nationalised industries is released as soon as possible. I want to assure noble Lords that this is an aspect of housing activity which the Government are determined to pursue with zeal and enthusiasm.

The noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, dealt solely with the Housing (Scotland) Bill. I would agree with him that the previous Administration has good cause to be satisfied with two aspects of housing progress in Scotland. The amount of work which was carried out in improvements, was due very largely but not entirely, to the 75 per cent. grant which was available for improvement. I want to take a little of the credit for that to myself because it was when I had responsibility for housing at the Scottish Office that I was successful in getting changed the circumstance that repairs which were necessary to enable the improvement to be carried out should also rank for grant. Before that everything of the kind was excluded which meant that a whole host of necessary improvements were not started. There is no point in putting a bathroom into a house if it has a rotten roof which they could not afford to do anything about, with the result that they just allowed the rest of the house to get as bad as the roof. That was done in the time of the previous Administration and the last Government built on that. I am sorry that financial and other circumstances do not make it possible to continue the 75 per cent. grant. The Government made a concession on this matter for those who had approval before September 30, but this was as far as we could go.

There is, as the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, said, a need for being selective. Some of the grants in the past went to people who should not have received them and who merely put the grant into their pockets as an extra profit, and the people who bought the house got little or no advantage from it. Thus, we are being selective. On the question of houses for sale, the previous Administration also had cause to be pleased about the extent to which houses for sale increased substantially, although latterly, because of a tremendous rise in interest rates, that increase was very much slowed down. We are now going through the effects of that from which this Administration hopes to be able to recover. However, on the question of building houses to rent, I was a little surprised that the noble Lord allowed his enthusiasm for the work of the previous Administration to lead him into expressing general approval for what had been done in housing, because in the building of houses to let the accomplishments of the previous Administration in Scotland were lamentable. I say nothing about what happened South of the Border, but I suspect there was no greater enthusiasm for what they accomplished here.

During the last three years of the previous Labour Administration we succeeded in creating in each year a new record for the total number of houses built in Scotland and I would certainly hope that we would get back to what the previous Labour Government did in house building rather than to what the previous Administration did. So the noble Lord must be content that I give him praise for two aspects and not be too sad that I should find it necessary to be rather condemning in my attitude to what was done in the building of houses to let.

On the subject of old people being moved from central areas, I am in complete agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, and on this subject I can give him complete reassurance. Everyone in the area will receive a notice of what is proposed in clear and simple language which they can understand—and producing that will present a real problem for the civil servants! In addition, the Government will be advising local authorities to carry out further consultations with the residents by holding meetings or visiting individuals, as the local authorities think fit. So this is the note on which I wish to close, by assuring the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, that we shall be doing exactly what he asked: in other words, (taking us back to the point made at the beginning concerning political advisers) the Government have had nice political advice on this matter from the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for what he has said and to say that the halo is now shining even more brightly!

On Question. Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.