My object today is to review the history of the administration of this Government since the last General Election in the matter of local authority housing and to see how we stand today.
There can be very little doubt that there is an immediate need for more council houses. Some of that need is desperately urgent. The Minister is usually coy about housing lists. He does not inquire about them or know about them, but in March of this year 523 housing authorities, covering more than half the population in England and Wales, answered an inquiry from the National Housing and Town Planning Council. Those housing authorities had on their lists over ¾ million applicants of whom more than a third, that is to say, more than ¼ million applicants, were treated as in urgent need. We can apply those figures to the whole country. They mean about 1½ million on housing lists of whom more than ½ million are urgent cases. If we take an average family of three and a half people, that means that more than 5 million people of all ages are represented by those applications. That is to say, 1 in 8 of the population of England and Wales, or thereabouts, and nearly 2 million of those are urgent cases.
No doubt the standard of what is an urgent case differs from place to place, but the average will not be far off the mark. I would remind the Committee that cases of that kind include medical cases, tuberculosis, for instance, cardiac weakness which prevents people walking upstairs, illnesses resulting from damp, and so on. Hon. Members know very well the kind of case I have in mind. If they choose, they can give instances from their own experience, not only of illness cases but other instances, of people living in intolerable conditions of overcrowding and unfit houses.
This need is largest in the big towns. I shall begin with London. In London in 1956 the L.C.C. had 160,000 applicants on its list, including 53,000 urgent cases. It had to tell the great majority that there was no hope of rehousing them. Up to 7th March this year, 5,000 families, and no more, had been rehoused from that list and the estimate is that about 1,500 families will be rehoused from it this year, plus a certain number of priority allocations. That is no criticism of London County Council, which has done better than it expected in 1956 to do. The inadequacy of what it can do is no fault of the Council, but a measure of the insufficiency of Government policy. A list of that kind would mean that out of 3¼ million people in the L.C.C. area more than 1 in 7 requires a council house, but, naturally, with the warning given in 1956, people have not sought to put their names on the list of the hopeless. Otherwise, it would have been much larger.
The figures I have given so far do not relate to Scotland, and in speaking today I can touch only very lightly on the problem in Scotland. I hope that my deficiencies in this respect will be supplemented in the course of the debate. In Glasgow the situation is even worse. There, among a population of rather over 1 million, there is a waiting list for council houses of 120,000 families or, on the basis which I have taken, well over one-third and nearly half of the whole population. I am not concerned today to make estimates of the rising need in the future. I simply take those figures because they show the size and urgency of the problem today.
What have the Government done? I propose to keep to the point—the record of the present Government. I am not going to talk about the number of houses built in post-war conditions and the number of houses built when the present Prime Minister was in office as Minister of Housing and Local Government. I am not going to do that for a very simple reason. Those figures are misleading and were intended to mislead. They take no account of post-war conditions, they take no account of other demands, partly in connection with housing and partly not in connection with housing, on the building force. At the end of the day, they take us no further whatever in the problem we have to consider today, which is, what are we to do in the present situation?
When the Government came in after the 1955 Election, houses were being built at the rate of nearly 300,000 a year in England and Wales. That figure had been reached in 1954, but ever since 1954 the total of building, both for local authorities and for private owners, has fallen steadily, until last year it was just over 240,000. What is much more significant is the fact that it has occurred steadily and increasingly in the proportion of houses built for local authorities. These are houses to let. They are the houses built for people who, even with building society aid, cannot afford to buy houses of their own.
The number built for them by local authorities in 1954 was nearly 200,000. Since then it has fallen year by year, and last year it was only just over 113,000. The Government have succeeded in nearly halving the number in five years. Meanwhile, the rate of building for private owners who can afford to pay for their own new houses has risen from 88,000 in 1954 to 124,000 last year. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I hear hon. Members applauding, but what about the people on council waiting lists who cannot afford to pay for their own houses? For the first time since the war, private building has reached a figure larger than that of council house building.
In Scotland, the position is similar. Some 39,000 houses were built in 1954 and the total fell to 32,000 last year. Local authority housing—always especially important in Scotland—has fallen from 35,000 in 1954 to 27,000 last year. Meanwhile, there has been a small rise in private building.
There is no doubt that both Government legislation and Government administration have had their effect in reaching these results. The Government did not take long to get to work. In October, 1955, they restricted the expenditure of local authorities, they removed their freedom to borrow from the Public Works Loan Board. They intimated that housing subsidies for general need would in future be reduced from £22 1s. per house to £10 per house and, after a year or so, would stop altogether. They duly did all that in 1956, and in October of that year the present Minister of Defence, who was then the Minister of Housing and Local Government, told the Conservative Party Conference at Llandudno that the policy of the Government was
progressively to abolish rent control altogether.
The first step was the Rent Act, introduced in the following month on the lines he indicated at Llandudno. It decontrolled what he called a slice of the higher value houses. It extended decontrol to any new tenancies and decontrolled houses a stage further to such houses as the Minister might order subject to affirmative procedure. The new rent limits on controlled houses had the effect of roughly doubling the rent. The result, as a contribution towards solving the housing problem, was, of course, not to provide a single new house. It was to raise rents by something like £100 million a year and to put an additional burden on public funds, since the National Assistance Board has to pay many of these rents, and it caused grave disturbance in the larger towns. Tenants of decontrolled houses were obliged either to move from the dwellings, which often they had occupied for most of their lives, or to come to terms with landlords who had the whip hand. The Opposition and public opinion between them forced the Minister to mitigate the effect of what he had done by temporary provisions enacted in 1958, but
the protection given to tenants was both temporary and very limited.
Of course, the Rent Act has caused moves into and out of houses, but there is no evidence whatever that it has made it any easier to get a house, let alone to get a house at a reasonable rent, nor that it has reduced the demand for council houses. Complete decontrol which, we have been told, will happen if the Tory Party comes back to power again, will make no contribution to the housing problem. It will only put more money into the pockets of landlords, cause more hardship and more disturbance, this time among people living in smaller houses who are even less fitted to face it.
On these facts, I turn to the Minister. I do not ask him whether this is what he wanted. It is exactly what he wanted. On 11th November, 1957, as reported in column 638 of HANSARD, he said:
I am taking as my aim that in the financial year 1959–60 local authorities … in England and Wale; will complete 100,000 houses.
May I remind the Committee that there are 1½ million people, ½ million of them urgent cases, on housing lists? How did he justify this? He said:
Although there is still a severe shortage in some places, particularly London and the big cities"—
how right he was—
over the country at large local authorities have found that they have built enough to satisfy urgent needs or that they are within sight of this.…
May I point out to him that "the country at large" includes London and the large cities and that the figures I have given apply to the country at large? The right hon. Gentleman went on:
In other places authorities are finding their building programmes contracting through shortage of sites.
He concluded with these words:
In these circumstances, there is no doubt at all that housing can make a contribution to the Chancellor's anti-inflationary measures.
I shall have something to say about that in a moment. Later, the right hon. Gentleman said that
all local authorities should review their housing programmes. Most of them are already doing so. Most of them are already deciding how they will reduce their programmes in the light of a 7 per cent. Bank Rate and 6¾ per cent Public Works Loan Board rate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th November, 1957; Vol. 577, c. 638–9.]
That, of course, helped them. He has now nearly reached his goal. At the end of March this year there were only about 100,000 council houses under construction and of those less than a half were for general need housing, including. I hope, one-roomed dwellings for old people where the subsidy has been preserved. If we take those one-roomed dwellings as about a fifth of the total—that is what the right hon. Gentleman says it is—there remain fewer than 30,000 houses under construction for general need in the whole country, with housing lists mounting to about 1½ million applications.
I turn from that to the condition of the houses. There are about 6⅔ million houses let by private landlords at present and 6 million—80 per cent.—of those are houses which were built before 1919. Those houses are more than forty years old. It is not so bad in the case of owner-occupied houses. Only about 30 per cent. of those are more than forty years old. With local authority houses, naturally the proportion as old as that is negligible. That gives some indication of what the position is, but when the right hon. Gentleman is faced with this he relies on the effect of the Rent Act. His usual argument is that under the Rent Act machinery only 37,000 certificates of disrepair have been issued by local authorities. Does the right hon. Gentleman really contend that only 37,000 houses out of 4 million left under control and tenanted were out of repair? He omits all kinds of things, landlords undertakings, arrangements made, and so on.
My conclusion is not that those were the only houses which needed repair, as the Minister seems to suggest, but that the machinery of this part of the Act has been so dilatory, so complicated and so weighted in favour of the landlord against the tenant that it has not fulfilled its purpose and that these houses stand unrepaired. I suggest that the total of repairs done under the Rent Act is not very large, that it is certainly far less than the increased rent which has been given to landlords and that it is even to a greater degree less than the profits which have been made out of managing and speculating in houses decontrolled now or expected to be decontrolled after the next General Election.
I was about to give an example. The case which I take is that of a company called A. Peachey and Co., Ltd. I find from the Stock Exchange Yearbook that this company has over 200 subsidiaries, that it has temporarily ceased its building activities, and that it now invests and deals in property and that it holds in the main rent-controlled houses, maisonettes and freehold ground rents. It is difficult to find a suitable company, because so many of them also hold a great deal of office accommodation, and no doubt this company has some, but I think that it is a fair instance.
In June, 1955, its 2s. shares stood at 19s. They were split in the February of the next year into 1s. shares and there was a bonus rights issue of another million 1s. shares. This watered matters a little, and in June, 1956, the 1s. share was worth only 7s. 4½d. The right hon. Gentleman's legislation and administration seems to have helped the company. In June, 1957, the 1s. share was worth 12s. 9d. In June, 1958, it was worth 14s. 9d. In July, 1958, it was bought out for the equivalent of £1 a share.
That is one case, and I hope that the Committee will accept it from me that I tried to select a case which I thought was fair. If I find one case in Stock Exchange dealings, I am quite certain that there are many others where the same thing has happened on a smaller or a larger scale in respect of companies and individuals holding masses of rent-controlled property all over the country. I add one further comment. I do not blame the present frantic boom which is taking place in property shares entirely on the Government's housing policy. I believe that there are other factors involved. I say, however, that without that housing policy it would not have gone as far as it has gone.
During the discussions of the last three or four years evidence has been put forward similar to that which the hon. and learned Member has put forward today in respect of a property company, and I know that the Committee would be very grateful if he would break these figures down for Messrs. Peachey and Co. Ltd. What is the extent of the house property and the industrial and office property involved? I think that it is fair to put this point. I should like to know how much the effect on the shares was due to the Rent Act or to the advantages gained from it and how much of the increased value of the shares is due to other reasons.
If I took too long in my speech I should be stabbed from behind, if not from in front, with the last remaining flick knife in the country. I described the character of the company as I read it in the Stock Exchange Yearbook, and I tried to select a company which was likely to be most affected by the type of legislation and administration about which I am talking. I cannot do more than that. Only someone in the company, such as an accountant with access to the books, could split the figures and give them in detail. Moreover, it is not the detail which matters. What matters is that shares of this type have risen substantially and that the contribution which was required to be made to the Chancellor's anti-inflationary campaign may have been made by local authorities but it has certainly not been made by property owners or by those who speculate in property shares. I regard as a poor contribution to the anti-inflationary campaign a rise of that sort over the period of the credit squeeze. It is a rise which, I suggest, is very marked and it is against the general tide.
In his defence the right hon. Gentleman mentions his so-called slum clearance campaign. In 1955 the local authorities made their proposals about slum clearance, as was required of them under the 1954 Act. Those proposals showed no fewer than 850,000 slum houses in the country, of which the local authorities proposed to clear rather over 395,000 in the next five years. That was at the rate of 79,000 houses a year.
Thereupon the Government took two steps to start the slum clearance campaign. The first was that in cutting out the general need subsidy they left the slum clearance subsidy untouched. They did not increase it by a penny. The argument seems to have been, "if you reduce council house building for general need you will enable or oblige local authorities to demolish more slum clearance houses than they would otherwise have done." It must be borne in mind that the local authorities' proposals had been made before the cut in the housing subsidy. Given the way in which local authorities usually tackle their housing problem, that seems to me like telling someone that by cutting off one leg he is bound to hop faster on the other.
The next step which the Government took was to tell the world at large that their target of slum clearance was 60,000 houses a year, or about three-quarters of what the local authorities had proposed. The effect of all this was to do in three or four years about half what the local authorities would have done if they had been left to themselves. That is the Government's slum clearance campaign.
I turn to another question. What methods has the right hon. Gentleman used in reducing council house building to the level to which he has succeeded in reducing it? I need not go into the ordinary procedure of disallowing programmes, refusing loan sanction and all the rest. I am sure that he has used all those or we should not have the present figures. There are, however, some questions referring to room to build upon which I want to say a word.
The Permanent Secretary at his Ministry said at Nottingham in 1956 that there were about 2 million people in the large cities who could not be housed inside them and who would have to be moved out. The right hon. Gentleman told us afterwards that he regarded this estimate as too high and that the true figure was, in his view, 1,100,000.
I have said that it was 1,100,000 people. Those were the figures which were given at the time.
On any showing that is a very serious problem. What has the right hon. Gentleman done about it? He has omitted to do one thing and he has done another. He has omitted to designate any new towns at all. I hope that the Committee will not take this deficiency on the right hon. Gentleman's part too seriously in this connection. It is serious enough in other connections, but people do not realise how small is the contribution which new towns can make to the solution of this problem.
The best figure which I can give is that of the L.C.C.'s exports of people, if I may use that rather inelegant phrase. In the last calendar year, 1958, they put 376 families into the new towns and another 105 families into other places by way of overspill. Incidentally, the right hon. Gentleman's encouragement of overspill has at times taken rather curious forms. He will be well aware that there was a real prospect of Kettering, in my own constituency, taking a slice of the London population and that the matter went no further because he would not let it go further. Whatever contribution has been made or may be made and while I do not say that the right hon. Gentleman has neglected this matter as he has neglected the possibility of further new towns, I do say that his encouragement of it has been distinctly partial.
I now turn to another aspect of the matter. A large city seeking to let out its population and to do something to cope with its housing lists will have to get sites for the purpose. I have some evidence, and I agree at once that it is, and in cases of this kind must be, slight evidence, that the right hon. Gentleman, and, for that matter, his predecessors in office have deliberately preferred private development whenever they could do so to giving the local authority a chance.
These cases, of course, take some time to develop, so I have to start rather far back. I will take two in London to begin with. The Abbotsbury Road site in Kensington was the subject in February, 1952, of a resolution to acquire it. The first compulsory purchase order was made, and hon. Members will remember that making is not the point but that confirmation is. Objections were received from an estate and from some leaseholders. There was an inquiry on 27th June, 1953. The Minister, not the present Minister, decided to refuse confirmation of the compulsory purchase order, and the reason that he gave was that there was a reasonable chance of redevelopment by the owners by the erection of flats within the next two years. That appears in a Written Answer on 28th July, 1953.
In March, 1956, no redevelopment had been done, and a second compulsory purchase order was made. Objections were taken again by the same people, and there was another inquiry in December, 1956. The neighbouring estate produced the building agreement for the redevelopment of the land. It said that it could not have done anything earlier because of the credit restrictions imposed by the Government. The London County Council pointed out to it that these credit restrictions were not, in fact, imposed until after the two-year period had ended. But I am not concerned with that dispute now.
In April, 1957, the Minister refused confirmation of the second compulsory purchase order because he was of opinion that the land should be left to be redeveloped by the owners. This is a site of round about seven acres, and on it, if it had had the chance, the London County Council would have provided either 242 or 282 dwellings. There were two alternative schemes with accommodation for just under 1,000 people.
What is the present position? It is that on half the southern portion of the site redevelopment began in January, 1958, and about sixty houses are now completed and occupied. It is actually rather more than half of the whole site. I suppose that, finally, we may expect about 100 houses. But no start has yet been made on the other half of the property at all. It seems to me that that is a case of preference for private development which requires an answer if the right hon. Gentleman claims to be the Minister of Housing.
The second case is in Woolwich. In February, 1954, there was a resolution to acquire the site in Woolwich. Apparently, these things take time, because it was not until June, 1955, that there was a public local inquiry about it, and in October, 1955, the right hon. Gentleman refused confirmation of the compulsory purchase order in order to allow a firm, Messrs. Wates, to develop the land concerning which the firm had a building agreement between itself and the owners.
This was a site of about four acres. If the Minister had confirmed the order, the London County Council could have begun to build in about September, 1956. Messrs. Wates began building in June, 1957, and the development was completed by June, 1958. The London County Council would have provided eighty dwellings and Messrs. Wates provided sixty-nine. The same story on a slightly smaller scale.
The third instance comes from Newcastle. The Parliamentary Secretary and I had an opportunity of talking about housing there the other day. This case relates to the efforts of Newcastle to find enough room to build, because, like other large towns in the country, it just has not got room. The Newcastle Council, then Tory controlled, and the Northumberland County Council between them got an option on a site at Newburn which is just outside Newcastle. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hillhead."] Hillhead. At any rate, it was the site in Newburn. Being Tory-controlled, the council let the option lapse, and the owner took it back. But it became a Labour-controlled council this year and that Labour Council went to the Minister and asked, "May we buy this land?" So far, my information is that the right hon. Gentleman's reply has been, "No, it is possible to have it privately developed"—probably by the person who owns it; I do not know.
What is Newcastle going to do to solve its housing difficulties? How is it going to get on with its slum-clearance programme when it has nowhere to decant the people from the slums? How is it going to deal with the overcrowding which exists in that as every other town?
I take these three cases as instances, and I am quite certain that my hon. Friend and other hon. Members, probably on both sides of the House, if they are honest, will be able to tell us of many others in which, as it seems to me, an ideological preference has been given to private development against council houses.
Excuse me, but this is no laughing matter. There is a very serious Parliamentary practice at stake. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is a point of order."] Not exactly. I would like to ask the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell), who made the previous intervention, if the hon. Members representing Newcastle constituencies proposed to go with the deputation to see the Minister.
if I may be allowed to intervene, I would like to say that if I catch the eye of the Chair I propose to go more fully into the situation. The hon. Members concerned would certainly have accompanied the deputation if the Minister had agreed. A request was submitted to the Minister that they should accompany such a deputation.
I am concerned for the moment not only with the Minister's procedural misdeeds but with matters of general importance in this connection. My hon. Friend will know that I am not in any way slighting what he said.
I want to say a word or two about private housing. We in the Labour Party have always been anxious to help the owner-occupier. We introduced improvement grants for his benefit, and we have other proposals concerning him in our electoral programme. But we do not regard private house building as any substitute for council building. The two must go on together.
When the Government claim to have built private houses—that is the language they usually use—they have done little or nothing, except to make some limited provisions for advances through building societies. The substantial point is that a man who has to pay interest and repay principal on a building society loan for twenty years on a house costing £1,700 has to pay 49s. a week. That is not a high figure for a house, but 49s. a week is a great deal more than the rate even for an unsubsidised council house.
What the Government are doing in connection with private houses is to provide for one class of people who, with or without help, can afford to build their own houses. They are not meeting the needs of many people, indeed most people, who want a house of their own in which to live. They are not meeting the needs of young couples who cannot afford to build a house of their own, who are on council lists and who, on present figures, stand no chance of obtaining a house, council or otherwise.
I must ask the right hon. Gentleman a question, to which I expect an answer. Does the right hon. Gentleman really consider that the steps he has taken to encourage private house building—he has not built the houses, though he says that he has—are any substitute whatever for council house building? How does he intend to meet the need exemplified by the housing lists?
In a year when we stand a prospect of having a General Election, for political or economic reasons the right hon. Gentleman has told local authorities that they can add slightly to their housing programmes. The question we must consider today goes far beyond small additions of that sort. It has taken the right hon. Gentleman and the Government five years' hard work to reduce the council house building programme to about one-half of what it was when they came to power. What do they intend to do? Do they expect that they will ever solve a housing problem of this magnitude and urgency by that kind of conduct? I cannot see that they will ever solve it if they continue on present lines.
In this country we have had bad housing for centuries. We have had it worst since the Industrial Revolution. For decade after decade through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries masses of people in this country were living under intolerable conditions. Conditions became so bad that after the First World War we took two steps towards remedying them. The first was a little patchwork, namely, rent control. It was only patchwork, but we had to keep it on during two wars and many years of peace between, because we knew that patchwork was needed. Rent control has been taken away.
The second thing we did was to introduce council house building on a large scale. That was done to provide houses for the people, not just to provide houses for those who might be able to show that they could not otherwise obtain a house. The intention was to make housing what it must be in this country if we are to avoid the conditions prevailing at present, namely, to make it a social service. On those lines council housing grew and prospered. We are discussing today the extent of it, but there remain this mass of old, tenanted, small houses, at present rent-controlled, but intended to be de-controlled by the Tory Government after the General Election.
What are we to do about it? Councils try to make exchanges. The right hon. Gentleman encourages them to do so. They do not succeed, because one private landlord will play and another will not. Companies, speculators and others continue to make their profits out of housing. They make their "contribution to the Chancellor's anti-inflationary measures."
We cannot go on like that. Those who sacrifice council house building in this country to building by private persons for their own use or for profit are the merchants of misery. They are sacrificing to ideological conceptions and to property rights the happiness and the chance of living a decent life of people in this country, partly those who have to live in these old and wretched houses and partly those young couples who want to start a family and start in life on their own, but cannot afford to do so under a Tory Government. That is what is happening at present. That is the meaning of this debate.
The right hon. Gentleman said the other day at Welshpool—speaking to a Conservative conference, I believe—that bad housing is the root of all evil. Perhaps that was a little exaggerated, but there was much in it. He had the right intention, but do the things he has done and failed to do follow what he said then? Do they follow the idea he had in mind?
The Committee is dealing today with the Estimates. I cannot go too far into this, but I see no solution to this in the long run except the disappearance in general of the private landlord of the small house in favour of the municipal landlord. I shall not develop that. I would be out of order if I did so. The Govern- ment should not tell my right hon. and hon. Friends and I that it will cost a lot. The councils will receive the rents and they can pay the interest on the compensation out of them. I will not go any further into that. Indeed, I cannot go further today.
I remind right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite that we in the House of Commons are not only representatives. We are human people. Every hon. Member present, including the right hon. Gentleman, knows full well that if the Government make mistakes or fail about housing policy they inflict great cruelty and hardship on those people who can least afford to stand it. I exhort them not to let their ideological notions and their insistence on the rights of property stand in the way of the task which faces us all today and will face us tomorrow. The task is to meet the needs of those people who are on the housing lists today and will come on to them year after year, and who under the present system stand no chance.
On a point of order, Sir Charles. Is it not a fact that, owing to the absence from this important debate of a large number of Government supporters, who are no doubt at Ascot, if it were not for the presence of hon. Members on this side of the Committee the Committee would be counted out?
It seems to me, as I am sure it seems to many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, that the Opposition must be pretty hard up for some stick with which to beat Her Majesty's Government if they have to pick on housing, of all subjects. The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) ranged fairly wide in what he had to say this afternoon. He referred mainly to the tempo of council house building, to the cut in subsidies, to high interest rates, to the Rent Act, to land difficulties, and to a number of other broad issues, most of which I hope to comment on in the course of my speech, Neither my right hon. Friend nor myself has any intention of evading any of the questions which the hon. and learned Gentleman addressed to the Government this afternoon.
While the hon. and learned Gentleman was addressing the Committee, my mind went back to the many debates on housing to which I, and I am sure many hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, have listened in the last nine or ten years. I very well remember, within a few weeks of coming here in 1950, listening to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan)—who, in those days, made very uninhibited and interesting speeches—defending a total building programme of 175,000 houses a year and arguing that the then Labour Government could not possibly hope to improve on that performance without slashing school building, power station building and all the rest. Actually, it was not quite "all the rest," of course, because in those days there were no new hospitals and very few new roads.
I remember, too, the first housing debate that took place after the fall of the Labour Government in 1951, when many right hon. and hon. Members opposite dowsed with buckets of very cold water the notion that my right hon. Friend the present Prime Minister could do very much better than build 175,000 new houses a year. That, coming from a radical party such as the Opposition, I used to find not only very restrictionist, but very defeatist, very sad and very depressing.
A great deal has happened since those days. Looking back, I think that the country can fairly congratulate itself on the enterprise, and the courage, of successive Conservative Housing Ministers who, over the years, have got to grips with almost every facet of our housing problem—
Naturally, I do not propose to evade anything, and I will come to that point in a moment or two.
If my hon. Friends were to accept at its face value the indictment that has been made against us by the hon. and learned Gentleman, we should certainly be in sackcloth and ashes—and, of course, the electorate would be straining at the leash to oust my right hon. Friend into the political wilderness. But even after eight years of alleged Tory misrule, the political pendlum seems to have stuck. It refuses to swing. Whether this is due to the virtues of Her Majesty's Government or to the Opposition's ineptitude I do not know; it is probably due to a bit of both.
The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the difficulties of local authorities in acquiring sufficient land both within their own boundaries and outside them to rehouse the people in need. I believe that my right hon. Friend will wish to say something about that later, but there is one short point I want to make on the Newcastle case that was referred to by the hon. and learned Gentleman. Without going into the history of that matter, it is the case that the Newcastle City Council has a compulsory purchase order before my right hon. Friend at the present time. In those circumstances, it would be quite improper for any member of the Government to comment on the merits and demerits of that proposal—
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that Newcastle has had to make the request for a compulsory purchase order for this strip of land because of the Minister's refusal to allow the council to take up the option on the land that it has had for some years.
I am just as well versed in the history of the case as is the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members representing Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
Hon. Members on both sides realise perfectly well that when questions of planning appeals and of compulsory purchase orders come before my right hon. Friend, he, as Minister of Housing and Local Government, has to consider those questions on their merits, whatever they may be. That, in fact, is what my right hon. Friend, without bias or prejudice, invariably does—
On a point of order, Mr. Hoy. I should like to point out that my hon. and learned Friend gave way on several occasions when hon. Members opposite wished to intervene.
I am obliged to the Parliamentary Secretary. I wanted to say that he was seeking to mislead the House by trying to give the impression that this issue had not yet been decided. It was decided four or five weeks ago, when the Minister allowed an appeal which meant that the land would be used for private house building and not for council house building.
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, it frequently happens that there is a dispute as to whether or not land should be used for housing purposes. As I understand it, the purpose of the earlier proceedings was to decide whether the land should or should not be used for housing purposes. That question was resolved, and there later arose a question as to whether the local authority concerned should be able to exercise its compulsory powers in order to use the land for its housing purposes—
With respect, Mr. Hoy, I did not say anything that contradicted the view that the hon. Gentleman has just expressed. If he is successful in catching your eye, I am sure that he will develop his argument involving the Newcastle City Council. Therefore, perhaps we might leave Newcastle out of this for the moment and come to the gravamen of the charge against the Government.
As I understood it, the hon. and learned Gentleman's allegation against us refers to our inhumanity—that is what it amounts to—in the housing of the people and, in particular, refers to our alleged indifference to council housing. I must say, if the hon. and learned Gentleman will allow me to, that I have a rather higher opinion of his unquenchable eloquence and untiring tenacity for bad causes than I have for his selective arithmetic in this debate—although I agree that with so thin a case as that presented this afternoon he must be selective with his figures. Nobody minds that.
I should like to concentrate for a moment on the arithmetic—and the arithmetic is perfectly straightforward. Between 1947 and 1951—and here I refer to England and Wales, and not to Great Britain—the total number of houses built each year averaged less than 170,000. Between 1952 and 1958, a period of seven years, the average annual figure has been over 265,000 houses—an increase of 55 per cent. Those figures, however impressive, can never reveal how much happiness has been brought to Millions of men, women and children by the success of the housing drive—
No—I shall not seek to evade anything.
Between 1947 and 1951, the average annual figure of council houses built in England and Wales was 142,000, and the corresponding average for the following seven-year span under the Conservatives has been over 170,000. In our judgment, these figures stand up for themselves, and require no political embroidery at all.
But, said the hon. and learned Gentleman, what about council building in 1958 and 1959? That is the relatively narrow issue from which the Opposition criticisms derive today. Even in the year 1958 the total number of new houses built was 70,000 more than the number built in 1951, the last year of the Labour Government. Admittedly the figure for council houses was lower, but why on earth should the Committee isolate the council house figures? The idea that only houses built by local authorities have any social value at all is an utter absurdity. A house is a house, whoever builds it, whoever occupies it, and whoever it is built for. People who go into new houses, whether they be tenants or owner-occupiers, do not come out of holes in the ground. They vacate other accommodation, and the fact is that every new house which is constructed in this country makes its contribution to lessening our housing difficulties.
I must correct the hon. Gentleman on two points. On the first point, they sometimes do. We have a case of a woman who is trying to rent a house and who had to live in a cave.
As to the second point, the rate of council house building has been halved, and deliberately so, by this Government. What I said was not that no houses other than council houses have a social value, but that council houses are needed, particularly when there are 1½ million applications on the housing lists.
I appreciate the hon. and learned Gentleman's point of view, and, as I said at the beginning, I do not propose to shirk any of these questions. As to the person who was living in a cave, all I can say is that the local authority must have been of a different complexion from the party on this side of the Committee. People do not live in caves when the responsible local authority is decently run.
I should have thought that the reasons for the fall in council house building are perfectly well known and understood in the Committee and throughout the country. When the country was faced with economic difficulties in the autumn of 1957—and this is not the first Government to be faced by economic difficulties since the end of the war—the Government decided to retard the pace of council house building. There was no concealment whatever about that. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer came to this Box, as did my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, and explained with perfect candour what the Government proposed to do. We said that, while about 150,000 houses would be put up by local authorities in 1958 for the country as a whole, the programme would be slowed down during the next two years to about 80 per cent. of that figure.
There is, I submit, no doubt at all that in 1958 the reduction in the building programme—and, after all, house building had been accounting for between one-quarter and one-fifth of the national investment programme—made a very real contribution to the country's economic stability. That stability is now clearly reflected in the cost of living index, which has remained firm during the past twelve months. I would go so far as to say that the surging fortunes of the Conservative Party and the deepening gloom of Labour supporters in the country is evidence of that.
Here I come to the hon. and learned Gentleman's other point. It is precisely because of the Government's success in dealing with inflation and not because of the approach of any General Election, that the Government decided in the autumn of last year to ask the local authorities to step up the rate of house building. I think the Committee would like to have the comparative figures for last year and this year.
The hon. Gentleman did hold out, from his brief I believe, some suggestion that the proportion of investment was satisfactory in this country. Has he looked at the table in the report relating to the finance of housing all over Europe, and observed that, out of the gross national product, this country pays the smallest percentage of any but three—Portugal, Southern Ireland, and one other? The United States and most of the Western countries pay a higher proportion of their national product towards housing than we do under this Government.
I think that anyone who knows of housing conditions in this country and housing conditions in the rest of the continent of Europe, or, for that matter, throughout the world, realises that housing conditions in this country are at least as good as, and probably better than, anywhere else in the world.
The hon. Gentleman is making the point that the Government's economic policy to restrict capital investment resulted in the reduction in the number of houses built. That is true; it did. But why was it only on local authority housing? The figures in the Ministry's Annual Report this year show that while local authority housing went down, private building went up. It is up to the Government to explain the reasons for progress under private enterprise as against municipal enterprise.
If hon. Members opposite will be a little more patient, they will find that all their questions will be answered either by myself or by my right hon. Friend before this debate is over.
I should have thought the Committee would like to know the comparative housing figures for last year and the current year as a result of the steps taken by Her Majesty's Government to step up the rate of house building. Last year we approved tenders for just over 100,000 houses for England and Wales, and, of these, 28,000 were approved in the first four months. In the same period of this year—that is to say, the first four months—we have approved tenders for more than 42,000 houses. In the first four months of last year a start was made on 32,000 council houses, and this year a start has been made on 41,000 council houses during the same period. In the case of private enterprise building, starts in the first four months of last year were 40,000. This year they are 51,000. All told, 70,000 houses were started in England and Wales during the first four months of last year, whereas this year's comparative figure is 92,000. I think the Committee will realise that that is a very appreciable improvement on the 1958 figure.
I am trying to deal with this subject with perfect candour. I agree that it would be disingenuous to put it about that changes in the pattern of the housing programme are dictated wholly by economic considerations. That is not so. When we took office in 1951 there was a crying need for more houses to be quickly erected, and for that reason we made housing one of our top priorities during the early years. But by 1958 that situation had dramatically changed. After all, nearly 2 million new houses had been built in England and Wales alone. In many parts of the country—I do not say all, because that would be a false thing to say—the need to continue new building was very much less urgent in 1958 than it was in 1951.
It was once said in this House that Socialism is the religion of priorities. Be that as it may, I have noticed that even the Socialist writ sometimes writhes under rather painful changes of emphasis. One might almost call them agonising reappraisals. That would be very rightly so, because the country needs schools, hospitals, roads and all the rest as well as houses, and to go on building 300,000 houses a year for ever and ever might be very nice, but the shortage of new houses is not the only housing problem. There is the really intractable problem, as the hon. and learned Gentleman very rightly pointed out, of the older houses, of adequately maintaining them and of seeking to improve them. That, of course, is precisely what my right hon. Friend has been seeking to do through the Rent Act and the House Purchase and Housing Act.
This afternoon the hon. and learned Gentleman once again paraded his argument—I do not say that offensively—that only 30,000 to 35,000 houses were being built for general need. How is that figure arrived at and what is the reasoning behind this argument which, after all, goes to the root of the debate? To begin with, we ignore the houses which are put up by private builders for sale. Presumably nobody ever goes to live in them. They are the useless product of the speculative builder. They are no use to man or beast. Then we take the total number of houses built by local authorities in 1958, and from that we subtract the houses occupied by families which have come from the slums, the numbers built in the new towns and the dwellings built solely for elderly people. What is left—perhaps 30,000 or 35,000 houses for general need—is the figure on which the hon. and learned Gentleman so largely bases his argument as to inadequacy.
I thought I provided the hon. Gentleman with plenty of figures. He seems to have misunderstood this one. It comes from his right hon. Friend's Answer to a Question about the number of council houses at the end of March, and I said so quite clearly. That number was 100,000. The right hon. Gentleman said that rather less than half of them were for general need housing, including the old folk houses—the one-roomed bungalows. The right hon. Gentleman says that the old folk houses represent one-fifth of the total. I therefore took 20,000 off. I reached a figure of 30,000, and I said quite clearly that those were houses for general need. I meant—and the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well what I meant—houses built for general need by councils not attracting any subsidy.
Indeed, there is no doubt at all about it, and there is nothing at all between the hon. and learned Gentleman and myself so far as the figures and the superficial argument go. But what I do say to the hon. and learned Gentleman is this. The residual figure of houses for general need, whether is be 30,000 or 35,000, is a purely fictitious and misleading figure of the number of houses available for general need.
For example, there are many families, as hon. Members on both sides of the Committee realise, who are at present unfortunately living in slum conditions and who are recorded on the local authority housing lists. Many of those families are, in fact, accommodated under the existing system by the local authorities. It is also perfectly true that many of the people who come from the large congested cities into the new towns have been on the general housing lists of the local authorities.
Finally, of course—I think this requires saying—there is a growing number of people who have been on the local authority housing lists and who have been hoping for local authority houses provided for general needs but who are today turning to the prospect and opportunity of purchasing their own homes from private sources.
The truth, of course, as we all know, is that many of the local authorities themselves throughout the country, in spite of all their efforts, do not really know—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—how many of the names on their lists refer to live applicants.
Do I understand, therefore, that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government does not know and has not itself taken any steps to acquire the knowledge, which seems to be basic to the problem, in order to find out how many live applicants there are on the waiting lists in this country at any time, either last year or now?
I am bound to add—and here I agree with the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale—that, even if that information were available, it would be totally misleading the Committee to give it.
The hon. and learned Gentleman was highly critical also of the Government's slum clearance progress. The proposals of the local authorities, as he rightly said, involve the demolition of about 375,000 slum houses in England and Wales by the end of 1960.
In 1956, there were 36,000 houses demolished and closed, and that number has risen progressively since 1956. Last year, it reached more than 55,000. Since the beginning of the programme, more than 400,000 people altogether have been rehoused. My right hon. Friend is confident, from the rate at which clearance and compulsory purchase orders are coming to him, that the present level of slum clearance will be maintained both in this year and in 1960.
We believe that the achievement so far is satisfactory. Considering the very real complexities of slum clearance operations, we feel that the local authorities have done a very good job. The Committee and the country are in their debt for all the valuable work they have done and will continue to do.
I really do not see how that helps the Committee at all. Hon. and right hon. Members in all parts of the Committee recognise quite freely that there is a great demand for houses in this country, especially in the large cities—
—and it does not help matters to have the precise figure, which might be 500,000 or 600,000. The great thing to do is to get the houses built, and that is what Her Majesty's Government have concentrated upon.
On a point of order, Mr. Hoy. The Minister has been unable to give us the figure which, on any intelligent assessment of the matter, seems to be the basis of the major premise upon which a national housing policy should be based. The need is the first premise. My point of order is this. Would you be prepared to accept a Motion, "That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again", in order that this information might be available later?
Further to that point of order. How can we have an intelligent debate on the Government's housing policy without this key figure showing the nation's need?
I am very grateful to you, Mr. Hoy. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) has to clutch at such insignificant straws as that. It really does not help at all.
The hon. and learned Gentleman made some references to the abolition of the general need subsidy and to high interest rates. If I may say so, the effect of these two factors on council house building is, in my view, really grossly exaggerated. They ought not to prevent the local authorities from continuing to build even for general needs, nor should they lead to excessive rents.
What are the facts? The present Public Works Loan Board lending rate for housing is 5¾ per cent., but, of course, what matters to a local council more than the lending rate at any particular point of time is the average rate of interest which it is paying on its outstanding indebtedness. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] I am perfectly prepared to give way at this point if some hon. Member wishes to try to refute that incontrovertible statement. The fact of the matter is that, between June, 1946, and August, 1955, during which time, as the Committee knows, local authorities borrowed very heavily on housing account, the Public Works Loan Board rate ranged from 2½ per cent. to 4½ per cent. During many of those years, of course, a Conservative Government was in office.
Although I have no exact figure, I should be very surprised if the average interest rate were anything like either 5¾ per cent. or even 5 per cent. My conjecture, based on the best researches I have been able to do, is that the average rate is not likely to have exceeded 4 per cent. up to the present time. Hon. Members opposite say, in their latest party publication, of course, that, if they formed the Government of the day, they would give local authorities loans for housing purposes at a low rate of interest.
The hon. Member asks, "Why not?" Does it mean the market rate of interest, in which case the statement is meaningless, or does it mean at a rate of interest below the market rate?
May I deal with the hon. Gentleman's first point? It is, of course, perfectly true that the rates of interest prevailing under the Labour Government were about 3 per cent., and they have gone up since then. In my view, a local authority considering housing development at present is deterred by the high rate of interest, and I notice that that view was shared by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister who, in the passage from which I have already quoted, said:
Most of them"—
that is to say, the local authorities—
are already deciding how they will reduce their programmes in the light of a 7 per cent. Bank Rate and a 6¾ per cent. Public Works Loan Board rate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th November, 1957; Vol. 577, c. 639.]
If all they were considering was the average rate over the past ten years, that observation would have been meaningless, and I do not think that it was.
As to the hon. Gentleman's second question, I can assure him that the Labour Party, when it comes into power, will ensure that local authorities fulfil necessary needs such as housing with money at a low rate of interest.
On a point of order, Mr. Hoy. In the interests of those who want to make a contribution to this debate, is it possible for you to stop this "Flanagan-less-Allen" double act and let some of us who wish to make a contribution have an opportunity? Is it possible for the Parliamentary Secretary to be allowed to give us the meat in order that he can satisfy our appetites when we want to tear him to pieces later?
I think that what the hon. Member says is quite right, I was about to intervene. If I may say so, there has been considerable interruption this afternoon. We are still only on the second speech. Over twenty Members have put down their names to indicate that they wish to take part in the debate. I hope that from now on the Parliamentary Secretary will be allowed to complete his speech so that other hon. Members may have their opportunity.
Once again. Mr. Hoy, I am grateful to you. I feel that a little time has been wasted this afternoon because practically every question which has been raised I have subsequently come to in the course of what I have to say.
In reply to the hon. and learned Member for Kettering the present Public Works Loan Board rate is 5¾ per cent.
The hon. and learned Gentleman entirely agrees with my right hon. Friend that it is, of course, the average rate of interest on all existing loans which really matters.
I come now to subsidies. One might almost think, judging by some of the statements which are made from time to time, that the Government were contracting out of their subsidy liabilities altogether and that Exchequer subsidies were falling. This, of course, is a myth and a fiction. We are still paying subsidies on houses built for general needs started before 1957. On top of that, we are continuing to pay subsidy for slum replacements, for overspill, and for one-bedroom accommodation. This is why we find that whereas in 1951 Exchequer housing subsidies amounted to £23 million, last year they had risen to £53 million. That is some financial measure of our success in getting the houses built by the local authorities since 1951. It is the view of my right hon. Friend that, if the local authorities use the subsidies which they receive to help those tenants who need help, they ought then to be able to build new houses without charging unreasonably high rents. As it is, there are, I think, between 350 and 400 local authorities in the country, some Socialist-controlled, which are operating differential rent schemes. The number is increasing, as it ought to be.
I do not wish to keep the Committee for more than a few minutes. The hon. and learned Gentleman said a brief word or two—I will try to emulate him—on the very difficult question of the maintenance and improvement of our older houses. On this matter there is a sharp difference of view between the two sides of the Committee. I think that the Committee is entitled to know, at least vaguely, what the policy of Her Majesty's Opposition is in this respect.
I have a rather curious turn of mind. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I read most of the party literature which emanates from Transport House in Smith Square. I read pamphlets which are long-winded but accurate, hoping to learn something from them, and, also, I read those which are shiny, slick and inaccurate, for amusement.
What would the Opposition do to rid us of this very difficult problem? The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), when he spoke on this subject at Blackpool in 1956, said clearly that if municipalisation were to be carried out it would have to be imposed on local authorities by the Government and that it would have to be done slap bang or it would not be done at all. However, later, at Pontefract, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, in the best traditions of inevitability of gradualness and Ramsay MacDonald, declared that the transfer to municipal ownership would have to be done slowly, and he added that it would be a very difficult operation.
When we come to "The Future Labour Offers You" we find nothing at all about the municipalisation of rented houses. All that it says, with one eye on Labour policy and the other, I suspect, on the floating voter, is that the Labour Party will tackle the problem of improving homes by empowering local authorities to buy these properties and to modernise them as soon as possible.
On a point of order. I feel a little hard done by. I was longing to expatiate on my party's programme, but I thought that it would involve legislation and would not be in order in a debate on the Estimates. For that reason, I touched on it only generally. I do not mind the hon. Gentleman doing this. In fact, I like to hear him, although he usually gets it wrong. I wish that I had thought of touching on party policy, because, apparently, it is in order.
Further to that point of order. I do not for a single moment quarrel with your Ruling, Mr. Hoy, but since it precludes us from dealing with the problems to which the hon. Gentleman was referring, I take the opportunity of saying that the hon. Gentleman has given a completely garbled version of our publication which one would expect from a man who once belonged to our party but went over to the party opposite.
Thank you, Mr. Hoy. I recognise that the observations of the hon. and learned Gentleman were, either out of desire or out of necessity, rather brief on this subject. The point that I was trying to make was this. Whatever may be the differences of approach between this side of the Committee and the Opposition to this difficult question, at the end of the day, when the problem is approaching solution one way or the other, it is bound to mean a vast expenditure of money by private interests, by the Government or by local authorities. It is idle for any hon. Member to give the impression, wittingly or otherwise, that the problem of the five million old houses which so require improvement and modernisation can be carried out without a big increase in rent, in rates or in taxes.
I do not believe that the approach of the party opposite is the right one. My belief, and that of my right hon. Friend, is that the approach of Her Majesty's Government since 1951 to our housing problem has not only been comprehensive but has also been successful. Not only have the houses been built but we are now turning our attention energetically and sensibly to the difficult problems of maintenance and improvement.
After his speech, for him to suggest that we on this side are hard up for argument is dreadful. The hon. Gentleman mentioned what he called public opinion at the moment and the by-elections. Perhaps he has been asleep for a week or so and has not seen the result of the Penistone by-election. He introduced the very unfair accusation that in the immediate post-war years we on this side did not build as many houses as have been built since hon. Members opposite have been in office. He quoted averages. How unfair it is to quote averages when from 1945 to 1950 we had the years 1946, 1947 and 1948 when not only did we have to build factories to turn the depressed areas into development areas but also many of our builders were not available to erect houses at that time. There was also the war damage as well.
Today, the position is entirely different. Far from there being economic expansion, hardly any new factories are being built, and far from there being a shortage of builders, they are, in fact, out of work. The fact remains that in 1951, the year we went out of office, local authorities were building 141,587 council houses, whereas in 1958 the Government built 113,146 council houses, a reduction of almost 30,000.
The speech of the Parliamentary Secretary was typical of the kind of complacent attitude which the Government have shown towards our housing needs. As I say, fewer local authority houses are being built now than in 1951, yet there are long waiting lists of people who are living in appalling conditions. It has been the deliberate policy of the Government to cut down local authority housing by making it much more difficult for councils to build council houses through the reduction in subsidies and the increase in interest rates.
A good deal has been said this afternoon about private building. I want to emphasise that we on this side believe that there is a lot of good in home ownership and owner-occupation, but what the Government are doing is compelling young couples and others who cannot afford it to saddle themselves with payments which they cannot keep up. It is not that people are deliberately choosing private houses rather than council houses, but because council houses are not available they are having to saddle themselves with large payments. We say that priority in the building of houses must go to those in greatest need. There is no doubt that, by and large, the people in greatest need are, first, those on local authority housing lists, and, secondly, those living under terrible slum conditions.
It is sometimes said by hon. Members opposite that our housing problem has been solved. Anyone who thinks that we have no housing problems today should go to the big cities where the surface of the problem has only been scratched. I represent the centre of Leeds and the area around the centre of Leeds, and I make no apology for speaking principally about Leeds. Leeds is an example of a city with an acute housing problem, and I am sure that it is only typical of Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, Birmingham and all the other big cities.
Since the war, Leeds has completed 18,000 new dwellings, but even so there are 23,298 families at present on the waiting lists. Only 2,350 of these are regarded as being adequately housed and over 6,000 of them are classified as living in overcrowded conditions. The Parliamentary Secretary says that most of the people in the slum clearance areas are on the council waiting lists, but not all of them are. Indeed, the number of houses to be provided by the city of Leeds is far greater than the numbers on the housing lists, because many of the people who live in the clearance areas are not on the housing lists.
The people in my constituency live in the most shocking conditions. Housing is still the greatest single problem. I have more letters about housing than on every other subject put together. More people come to see me about housing than about all the other problems in the constituency. Every post brings letters. I have a typical one today. It is a letter from a woman who is in some respects not quite as badly off as some of my other constituents, because she happens to have two bedrooms. The majority of the houses in my constituency have only one bedroom for the whole family.
This woman writes to me in desperation, saying:
I am writing this short letter pleading for your help. This house we are living in is getting on my nerves. It has two bedrooms and a box room, two ground floor rooms and a basement. The basement cannot be lived in as the walls are all damp. My water supply is down there, and I have all my water to carry up 20 steps.
She adds that her husband has just come out of hospital, that he is being visited by the nurse and that there is no hot water supply of any kind.
This woman is lucky in some respects, although she has five children, in that she has two bedrooms, but she is perhaps unlucky in that because she has two bedrooms she is not regarded as living in overcrowded conditions, and because of that she stands scarcely any chance on the general housing waiting list.
This year the Leeds City Council has asked to be allowed to let out contracts for 2,500 houses, but so far the Minister has agreed to the letting of contracts for only 2,000 houses. I hope he will allows Leeds to let contracts for the other 500.
One of the problems which my local authority faces is concerned with the finance to build houses, because the rate of interest which it is paying is a very great burden. In Leeds we have a very great slum clearance programme. In 1955 we published a programme to get rid of some 22,550 houses, but we have not got rid of even half of them; in fact, 15,000 remain.
I agree with the Parliamentary Secretary in one respect. He said that the problems of local authorities are not only in the building of new houses, and I agree with that. However, I do not agree with the way in which he dismissed the subject and did not put forward any constructive suggestion to deal with the older houses There ought to be a shortening and simplification of the procedure for repairs and closing orders. During the winter months people come to me because the rain and snow are coming through their ceilings and walls, and I find that, although the local authority does everything it can to speed things up, the inevitable lapse of time means that almost the whole of the winter goes by before the repairs are done.
When we were considering the Rent Act we were told that rents had been allowed to be increased so that repairs could be done. In my constituency I have seen no rush by landlords to do those very necessary repairs. The position today seems to be no better than it was before the passing of the Rent Act. I want to put this point to the Minister, because the situation will be acute in the next year or two. Houses of over £30 rateable value in the provinces have been decontrolled, but as each week goes by other houses are being decontrolled as the tenancies change. That means that we shall have among the decontrolled houses not only some of the better ones with a rateable value of over £30 but some of the worst property with rateable values of much less than £30. As these other houses become decontrolled there will be no protection whatever for the tenant I wonder what the tenant can do in those circumstances to get any repairs done to the house. How can the tenant take any steps knowing that there is no protection and no security of tenure? I feel that every year that goes by this problem will become much worse.
We have also the problem of the preservation of houses which—although they are not slum houses which should be cleared—are good structurally but have no modern facilities, no bathroom, no hot water and no toilet of their own. The Government's new Measure makes it compulsory for local authorities to offer improvement grants up to £150 for owners who will provide baths or showers, hot water, private toilets, proper storage for food and so on. I believe that this part of that Measure will prove to be absolutely worthless.
Local authorities have had these powers for a long time—not compulsory but permissive powers. There have been isolated cases where landlords in various parts of the country have wanted improvement grants and local authorities may not have allowed them, but in the main the chief reason why so few grants have been taken up is that the landlords have not wanted to make improvements.
I will give a very telling example from my own city. In 1951 31 per cent. of the houses in Leeds shared a toilet, and the position is not much better today. The 31 per cent. represents thousands of houses. Also, 32 per cent. shared a bath or had no fixed bath, mainly having no fixed bath of their own. The Leeds City Council has not only encouraged owners to take improvement grants but has actually approached owners of suitable property and suggested that they should take advantage of improvement grants so that their houses might be given modern facilities. Where the owners have not been willing to do that the Council has offered to buy the houses from them so that it could carry out the improvements.
What has been the result? Although the city council has gone out of its way to encourage landlords to take advantage of improvement grants, since 1949, in a city which has thousands of houses without water, thousands without baths and thousands without toilets of their own, only 634 applications have been granted. Of those, 459 have been granted to owner occupiers and only 175 to the landlords of tenanted property. I think that shows that, although they are encouraged, landlords are not going to make the necessary improvements to property. In the meantime, property is becoming much worse.
We believe—I hope I am not out of order in saying this—that unless the Government do much more about this problem, unless there is a blitz on the part of local authorities to take over whole blocks of houses and convert them, more and more houses will fall into disrepair and the improvements will never be carried out. The Government's record in housing is indeed a black one, as my right hon. Friend has said this afternoon. We have seen a decrease in the building of local authority houses when, as I said at the beginning of my speech, there is no shortage of builders and when the Government cannot give the excuse that they are building factories or hospitals. They have built no hospitals at all.
We have seen the Rent Act and we have seen what has happened with regard to decontrol. I hope that it will not be very long before this Government have no more opportunity of making housing conditions worse for the people of our country and that we shall have a Government that will really treat housing as a social service, which indeed it is.
I am very pleased to have the honour of speaking after the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon), but I am afraid that I cannot agree with her that the record of the Government is a black one. I think it is an exceptionally bright one. I think, however, that the hon. Lady and the whole House will agree with me when I say that we can all acknowledge that good housing is the bedrock of human stability and of family life.
I am afraid that I am not able to follow the hon. Lady in what she has said about Leeds, because I have no personal knowledge of Leeds. There is a fundamental difference in concept between the party opposite and the party which I have the honour to support. In our view, private enterprise and private ownership have a very big part to play in our housing programme, and I would deprecate a vast expansion of public ownership. This debate has pinpointed these fundamental differences between the two sides of the Committee.
I shall concentrate this afternoon on the main policy issues and not on details of any particular locality, except in one respect. We have followed up four main priorities with regard to housing. The first and fundamental priority must be to build the houses, and in that we have succeeded. I shall not weary the Committee with figures, but I must refer to building in the local authority sphere, and here I am referring specifically to building in England and Wales.
The best record in local government house building by the party opposite was in 1948, when in England and Wales 175,000 houses were built. We started our building programmes in 1952 and immediately surpassed that figure by 1,000. Our figures of council house building rose to a peak in 1954 of 220,000. It is the total that counts. In the private enterprise sphere the party opposite, when in power, brought about a state of affairs where building under private enterprise dwindled from 39,000 houses in 1947 to 21,000 houses in 1951. In the sphere of private enterprise, since the Conservative Party was returned to power, that figure has steadily risen from a total in 1952 of 32,000 houses to 124,000 houses in 1958. I maintain that it is total building that we must look at, because that is what the great British public is looking at.
I wonder whether the hon. Member is aware that in Edinburgh, when we had a census of the needs of the people on the housing list, 95 per cent. wanted municipal houses to rent?
That certainly surprises me. I am not a Scottish Member, but as I believe there is to be a Scottish interlude, let us leave that part until Scotland is discussed.
I was most encouraged this afternoon by the figure given by the Parliamentary Secretary of new houses started in the first quarter of 1959. Here we see the figure building up again. The figure of council houses built showed a 30 per cent. increase on the similar period of last year and in the private sphere a 20 per cent. increase. I admit that the total amount of building declined in 1958, but that was for a reason of policy. Our first priority was to defend the £, and we realised that cuts had to be made. As the Parliamentary Secretary said, his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer came to the Dispatch Box and gave out that figure and the reasons for it.
That is extremely revealing. We appreciate that the hon. Member has been extremely frank. Would he therefore tell us why, so far as his party is concerned, when it was necessary to save the £ local authority building had to be cut down and simultaneously private enterprise building went on almost uninterrupted?
The cuts took place all over the economy and, if my recollection is correct, those cuts were spread over the nationalised industries as well.
My second point, which is a very important point, is that we concentrate our help where help is needed, and the whole point about the council house building programme is that it is for those who are in genuine need. The Housing Subsidies Act, 1956, brought about a cessation in the subsidy for general needs. I support that policy wholeheartedly, but we carry on a triple policy of building at the present time in the public authorities sphere. We have heard of the slum clearance programme, and that is going extremely well. The new towns programme, which has been referred only briefly to by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), is also going extremely well. As regards the houses in the new towns, I have recently been to Crawley and seen almost the completion of that new town. It is an excellent new town and all the houses built there by the authority carry a subsidy of £24 a house.
Would the hon. Gentleman say what new town has been commenced since this Government came to power in 1951? Does he not realise that every one of the new towns he has mentioned was planned under a Labour Administration?
What I am saying is that these towns have been brought towards completion and that programme has been pressed ahead.
As to the housing in the new towns, I agree with the second interim report of the Reith Committee, published in April, 1946, which stated that the large majority of the Committee felt that it would be unwise
to combine the functions of land owner and local authority in a single body.
I entirely agree with that. I support the dual system of owner-occupation and building in the private sector and
in the public sector where there is genuine need. I think that our priorities in that respect are getting things just about right.
I would ask the Minister of Housing and Local Government one question, and that is what is the proportion of owner-occupiers at the present time in these new towns? I feel that the new towns are being a success and that they will become much more like the traditional towns when we get the proportion of owner-occupiers increased in those towns. I hope that he will be able to tell me something about that when he speaks.
Another sphere in which we have continued the subsidies is in respect of one-bedroomed council houses. I have seen many of these small settlements of one-bedroomed council houses going up, and they are extremely well planned into the new housing estates. We know that the number of these one-bedroomed houses is 20 per cent. of the whole. I believe they make a valuable contribution to and are a real part of our housing programme.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering, who, I am glad to see, has just resumed his seat, referred very briefly to the Rent Act. I am not going to speak of it at any length, but there is one thing which is relevant in the context of local authority houses, and that is that all local authority houses have always been outside the ambit of rent control, and the Rent Act brought in a period of four weeks' notice which would apply universally to council houses and to other houses.
My fourth point is home ownership. The hon. and learned Member for Kettering and I are in agreement on this, I believe, although I believe that the party I have the honour to support goes far further than his party in this respect. The House Purchase and Housing Act which has recently gone on the Statute Book will, I believe, help young couples. The hon. and learned Member asked what we were doing to help young couples. I believe that that Act will he a great help, because in the provinces there is no doubt that the older houses are for sale at the present time at figures in the region of £1,000. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] There are building societies, and these young couples will be able to purchase those older houses, and the total cost will be about £8 a month. This is an amount which is within the compass of many young couples. Under the House Purchase and Housing Act the local authorities will have a tremendous task.
The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to improvement grants. These have recently been running at the rate of 35,000 a year. I want to see a huge task imposed on the local authorities, for I want these improvement grants to be taken up at the rate not of 35,000 a year but of 350,000 a year, and I hope very much that the local authorities will get busy. Like Harry Corbett's Sooty, I would say,
Izzy, wizzy, let's get busy.
I hope the landlords will wake up and take advantage of these grants, because we are tackling a figure of 3,500,000 houses which have not got the standard improvements which the improvement grants are intended to help to provide.
Why does the hon. Gentleman make that statement, when since 1949, in the country as a whole, only 15,000 landlord-owned houses have had improvement grants compared with 135,000 owner-occupied houses? How, then, is he going to convince those landlords that they ought to do it?
If the hon. Lady had followed the debates in the Committee on the House Purchase and Housing Bill. I think she would have been convinced by hon. Members of her own party, because on that occasion they constantly referred to over-generosity to the landlords. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes. It is just this over-generosity to the landlords which is encouraging them to take up grants. I hope very much they will take advantage of these improvement grants, and at a rate of 350,000 a year, so that in ten years all those houses will have those standard improvements.
May I just say to the hon. Gentleman before he sits down that we did not say that there was over-generosity for the landlords? In fact, we got a washbasin added. What we did say was that the tenant ought to be able to insist on the improvements being made, and against that proposition, I am afraid, the hon. Member and his hon. Friends divided.
Is my hon. Friend aware that of the 135,000 mentioned by the hon. Lady the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater) of owner-occupied properties which had improvement grants, the vast majority had improvement grants in respect of accommodation which was being provided in parts of the houses? Perhaps my hon. Friend will accept this from me. A very large proportion of them were given to owner-occupiers and were actually paid for making improvements to the houses.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. H. Butler) intervened an hour or so ago to say that a rather "Flanagan and Allen" note was being sounded in this Chamber. I would support him in that remark. If I am allowed to make my own speech in my own way, I shall finish the sooner and other hon. Members will be able to take part in the debate.
Finally, on the question of improvement grants, I hope very much that throughout the country there will be a boom in sanitary fittings. I hope that all those houses which do not at present contain those attributes for the provision of which the improvement grants are intended will very soon have those very necessary and useful attributes.
Now I come to a point made by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering when he asked, what are we to do in present circumstances? I am going to answer him. I have said that I believe that the decision to abolish the general needs subsidies for new building was entirely right. Where do we go from there? I believe we have a triple approach which should be followed. I believe that differential rents schemes should be used much more universally than they are at present. The November, 1958, booklet of the Institute of Municipal Treasurers and Accountants gave the figure of 363 councils which were operating either differential rents or rent rebate schemes out of a total of 1,223 authorities; that is, approximately one-third of the local authorities were operating schemes of this nature. That is, in my opinion, not sufficient, and if those schemes of differential rents or rent rebates were used on a much more extensive basis, then indeed we should get into those houses people who are the people really in need.
My second point is the sale of council houses. That has not been going exceedingly well. The 454 councils which at present are operating the scheme have sold only 10,408 houses. If we could get more council houses sold, then indeed the local authorities would have the money with which to build more houses for general needs.
I want to cite my own local authority, the council of the City of Chester. It is at present building an experimental group of 24 houses. Those houses are being built at an all-in cost of £1,890, and those houses are going up for sale to existing tenants in houses which are carrying a general needs subsidy. It is interesting to note that at the end of December last year there were 70 applications for those 24 houses but up to the present time the number of applications for those houses has risen to 105. I believe that this is a wise policy. I believe it is a sensible policy. I believe that if it is pursued it will free an enormous number of houses for those people who are referred to as being in special need at the present time.
The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering, to whom I keep referring, briefly touched on municipalisation. He did not enlarge on this project—I think probably for very good reasons. Nor shall I enlarge upon it myself, except to quote what the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) said in a letter to The Times on 5th December, 1958, in which he confirmed that the policy in "Homes of the Future" was still the policy of his party.
On a point of order. As one who bore some responsibility for the Labour Party policy statement, along with others of my hon. Friends, I deliberately refrained from replying to what had been said on the other side, because it was ruled to be out of order. Do I take it, Mr. Hoy, that now the hon. Gentleman is in order?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Hoy. I think I owe to you and to the Committee an apology for even having mentioned the matter. I cut it as short as I possibly could, but I think I ought not to have mentioned it at all.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Hoy. As Birmingham is the only authority which has taken over nearly 60,000 old houses and is in fact managing them, is it not a fact that only hon. Members representing Birmingham will be in order in talking about Labour's, policy?
Now that I have had the opportunity of resuming my speech, I have to say that I am very near its conclusion. I firmly believe that our policies have been right. They have produced the results. Bad houses are coming down, and good ones are going up. I have every confidence in my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, and I trust that he will be spared for many years to carry on his excellent work.
I am sure that many hon. Members will deplore the exhibition given by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government when he spoke on behalf of the Government today. The speech was full of inaccuracies and of many instances of relying for an argument on saying, "What did you do?" or "What did Gladstone say in 1878?", or "What did the Labour Party do in 1945 or 1951?" This was the main point of the hon. Member's speech, in an attempt to attack the Labour Party on its council housing programme. It was a pitiful exhibition. The hon. Gentleman tried to say what a local authority housing programme should be, and then had to acknowledge that he had not the vaguest idea of the total number of people on council housing lists.
The hon. Gentleman stated that changing economic circumstances should not be utilised with a view to changing the pattern of house building. But almost in the next sentence he argued that economic circumstances completely changed the pattern of house building by giving rise to greater concentration on owner-occupied houses and private house building than on local authority building. We are entitled to more courtesy, and to have a more reasonable case put forward.
I want to talk chiefly of constituency maters. This subject has been raised already in interchanges in the debate. In Newcastle-upon-Tyne there is a considerable feeling of frustration among people on the subject of the city's housing needs and the way in which they have been tackled. I wish to outline some of the difficulties which have given rise to this feeling. In case my two hon. Friends, the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) and the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop) are not fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Hoy, I want to say that they fully share the opinions which I shall express on this matter.
When the Government ended the housing subsidy for all but slum clearance properties and for the housing of aged persons, there was in Newcastle a waiting list of 15,000. An estimate made of the city's needs indicated that by 1971 there would be 28,400 people awaiting accommodation. An estimate was also made of the city's slum clearance needs and a five-year plan was prepared to rehouse 5,310 families, out of 2,392 houses, between 1st January, 1954, and 30th June, 1958.
I regret to say that the local authority failed pretty miserably in the task that it had set itself to rehouse these slum dwellers. By May, 1958, house building had already declined considerably. Only 587 dwellings were under construction, and tenders for a further 257 had been approved. That was the rate of progress under a Tory Progressive administration. Very few indeed of the 5,310 people who had to be rehoused in that period had been dealt with. It was not surprising that in that month the Tory Progressive council was defeated at the election. The Tory Progressives had been in power eleven years. They were turned out and Labour was called upon to take over responsibility.
A new check was made of the waiting list and it was found that the real waiting list probably numbered 9,000 people. Since then, I am told, the number has been increasing at the rate of about 60 a week. A further reappraisal of the city's slum clearance needs was made. This indicated that an additional 1,428 houses were effected, involving 2,917 families, which would have to be dealt with in a second five-year programme.
These figures are extremely interesting. Can the hon. Member say whether any of the slum clearance figures are included in his 9,000 estimate of live applications? It would be useful to know to what extent those living in unfit houses are on the housing waiting list already.
As far as can be ascertained, according to a reply given by the Minister to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central, the number on the waiting list in July last year was 14,570 and the number in slum clearance houses was ascertained as far as possible. By a process of deduction, an adjusted figure was obtained.
It had been well known for a long time that the corporation lacked building land. Very little land was available in the city and it was obvious that land occupied by unfit houses would have to be used to rehouse these people. This, of course, meant that the houses would have to be demolished and the sites prepared before rebuilding could take place. No real effort on a large scale had been made to accomplish this in the previous eleven years' rule of the Tory Progressives and when it assumed control a year last month the Labour Party had to prepare its plans accordingly.
This, of necessity, is a very long process. First, vacant possession of the houses had to be obtained. This meant that priority in respect of all new houses had to be given to people who were living in slum clearance areas. They had to be given priority also in respect of any ordinary houses that became vacant. This naturally involved great hardship, by increasing the waiting period, for those people already on the housing list who were living in overcrowded conditions, often with relatives where domestic strife had developed. I know many such cases as were quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon). These hardships are realised by the members of the council, and are a challenge to them to go forward with their development plan with all speed. This planning policy will eventually ensure that more people will remain within the city, instead of having long distances to travel to their places of employment.
The housing situation in Newcastle is serious because people who urgently need houses feel frustrated when they find that those living in unfit houses are receiving priority. There must be a reason for this, since eleven sites are now earmarked in the city for building on them forty-two blocks of 10 to 15 storey flats. These will be sound-proof and will be fitted with lifts and all possible modern conveniences. They will bear no relationship to the shocking barrack-like three-storey flats dotted all over the city which were built under the Tory Progressive administration, where young women had to take their children in prams up three flights and had to carry coals, because no provision was made for those things by the previous administration. Preparatory work on the new venture is well in hand, so that the work can commence as soon as the cleared sites become available. It is hoped, therefore, that there will be no delay in the approval of the plan at Ministerial level.
In spite of utilising all the land available in the city, there is not nearly sufficient to meet the housing need, and certain land outside it has already been acquired. Yet even when this has been fully developed there will still be a shortage of accommodation amounting to 1,200 dwellings. At least that was the figure until the recent decision of the Minister, when he refused to allow the corporation to develop the Hillhead, Chapel House site at Newburn, which was referred to earlier. I will give the Parliamentary Secretary the full story.
The Minister has decided that instead of the corporation building houses there the land can be developed by a private builder. This confirms what was said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), namely, that the Minister is far more concerned about the profit of the private builder than about the urgent needs of the people who are waiting for council houses. On this site of approximately 200 acres it was proposed to erect 2,000 corporation dwellings. Bearing in mind the shortage after using all the available land, one can realise the city's urgent need of this land. The loss of the site will mean that, according to present requirements, the corporation will be without land for the accommodation of over 3,300 people, and within the next few years that figure will be greatly increased.
It is the Minister who is putting the corporation in this difficulty. Its members were greatly disturbed when the Minister allowed the appeal of a private builder. The story behind this is that many years ago the land in question was designated by the town and country planning authorities as a site for corporation houses which would solve the overspill problem. Because of the inertia of the Tory-controlled council this site was not developed within a reasonable time and the private builder who appealed to the Minister was allowed his appeal. The land will still be used for housing but, of course, for private instead of corporation houses. When the members of the corporation were advised of this they were seriously alarmed. They realised that the Minister had reached his decision and probably would not change it, but the scarcity of land in Newcastle was so great that they asked the right hon. Gentleman to meet a deputation accompanied by the four Members of Parliament concerned.
The letter requesting this was sent to the Minister on 29th May this year, and on 2nd June the Minister replied refusing to meet the deputation, shielding himself behind the fact that the Newcastle Corporation had decided to ask for a compulsory purchase order in respect of the land. A public inquiry is to be held on either 14th or 24th July, and it is hoped that the Minister will approach that inquiry with an impartial mind and will not let the sins of the past affect the welfare of the future.
The members of the corporation are greatly disturbed because they feel that the Minister is more concerned with the profit motive in housing than about the bad housing conditions of many people who cannot afford to purchase their own homes. The corporation believes in encouraging the individual owner-occupier, as it has shown by the various measures initiated in the past to assist him. He is a valuable asset and there is plenty of scope for him and for private housing development outside the city on land not available to the corporation.
Since, as I have said, the Hillhead site was designated many years ago as one available for the corporation, and since the need of Newcastle for land is desperate, I beg the Minister even now to meet a deputation. The Northumberland County Council, as the planning authority, is in full agreement with the corporation using this land, and the type of house to be built there, also the layout, would be comparable with the very high standard of the Newburn District Council in whose area it is sited. This, incidentally, is a far better standard than was that of the Tory-dominated council.
I beg the Minister to give further consideration to this matter. Newcastle, like other local authorities, is in great difficulty over its housing problem. As I have indicated, the slums must be cleared from the sites before houses can be built within the city boundary, and this will have a penalising effect on those upon the waiting list. Newcastle cannot build houses for these individuals because the Government insist upon an economic rent being charged, and this would be in the region of at least £2 10s. to £3 a week, plus rates. Therefore, if any new housing becomes available to be let to these people, the increased costs of these houses must be shared by increasing the rents of the other council tenants.
Until last year, Newcastle let a lot of people on the waiting list go into those homes. Lip service has been paid to slum clearance but nothing else. Consequently, Newcastle is now faced with a difficulty and will have to raise the rents of its existing council houses because of the spreading of the burden. These rents have been forced up. It is right, therefore, that people living in the council houses should know who is responsible for these increases. Responsibility for them rests fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the present administration. High interest charges and high costs all play their part.
Since the Government came into power in 1951, Newcastle, like many other authorities, has been forced to reduce the standards of the houses it is building. A lower standard of specification in house building has been allowed. In effect, the same Tory policy is being carried out as was followed before the war, when the main incentive was to build a brick box, call it a home and give it as few amenities as possible. There has been a big tendency for that kind of trend to return.
Following World War I, there was a realisation by all parties that house building to let at an economic rent could not be a business proposition. The 1919 Addison Housing Act embraced the policy of subsidies to allow houses to be let at rents that workpeople could afford. Until recently, every succeeding Housing Act has embraced the subsidy principle. The present Government, however, have entirely thrown overboard all those lessons from the past in housing development and have reverted to their practice of 1914, returning to true Toryism.
During the debate earlier this week on the Finance Bill, the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) and other back bench Tory Members complained that the Government were not following true Tory policies. In housing, they certainly are doing so. They are reducing the standard and they are making it more difficult for local authorities to fulfil needs. For the ordinary individual who wants to own his own house, they have increased the charges at which he has to borrow his money and have made the proposition a difficult one for him.
In housing, the Government are showing complete disregard of their social responsibilities. By their policy, they are jeopardising the welfare of the nation. It is humbug for them to claim that private building can ever meet the housing demands. It can play its part, but it is only a small part. Local authorities must still play the major part in solving this one of the most important social problems of the day.
Even at this late hour, I appeal to the Government to consider again the whole policy of council house building. They know that councils cannot provide houses to let at an economic rent. The Parliamentary Secretary has juggled with the effect of adjustment of interest rates over a given period, but saturation point has been reached in the juggling process. This has been revealed not only to Newcastle but to all other local authorities who constantly have to increase the rents of their existing houses to meet present needs. Therefore, even now, and before the election, I hope that the Government will give some indication of a change of heart.
It is inevitable that for back benchers the pattern of this debate should centre around their constituencies. This has happened in the case of the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) and the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell). In my remarks, I propose to direct my attention mainly to Croydon. Before doing so, however, I should like to say to the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West that to suggest, as he did, that the main concern of my right hon. Friend the Minister is simply to encourage the profit motive in housing, is rubbish and nonsense. Everybody who knows my right hon. Friend knows this, too.
It was a poor taunt on the part of one hon. Member opposite who suggested that hon. Members on this side were so little interested in the country's housing problem that they had virtually all gone to the Ascot race meeting. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] We all know that several hon. Members from the other side are at Ascot this afternoon. Furthermore, the owner of the first favourite at Ascot today was a former Socialist Member of this House. The horse also lost.
We know which horse is running in this race and which horse will be first past the post in the electoral race. May I, however, point out that conditions have now worsened, because there are only three back-bench Conservative Members present for this vitally important matter? [An HON. MEMBER: "There is now a fourth."] Oh, yes. The Conservative lack of interest is only worsened by the Liberals, who have not had a representative here at all during the day.
As was evidenced in the opening remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), there appears to be little sting in the attack that is being made in this debate. It is a poor case which tries to show that a Conservative Government who have produced something like 50 per cent. per year more houses in their years of office compared with the Socialists, have done a bad job for housing. For this reason, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, in reply, was able to make some devastating comments; the reason he had such a large number of interruptions was because that was all the Socialist Party could do on this occasion.
We in Croydon consider that the Ministry, and my right hon. Friend the Minister and also his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary in particular, have done a first-class job of work for housing generally. We in Croydon are proud to feel that we have shared a considerable proportion of this progress. Croydon indeed has a proud record of housing progress. Since the war the Croydon local authority has built 6,000 permanent houses and flats and nearly 1,000 temporary homes.
Today, it is approximately 300,000. Formerly, it was about 260,000. Further work is progressing and contracts have been let for an additional 1,300 permanent corporation houses and flats. That is a record number for Croydon at any time since the war.
In addition to the figures that I have given, private enterprise has built since the war over 3,300 permanent houses and flats. I say that to satisfy hon. Members opposite that the proportion of building is very much in favour of the corporation. All these new houses and flats, which will be completed by the end of the year, have already been allocated to cases which have been approved for rehousing by the corporation. Although the council is building as quickly as it can, we know the limitations in regard to land—
The hon. Member is expressing his ignorance if he does not know that most local papers are not printing this weekend. I will leave the hon. Member to say something on behalf of Scotland later. Perhaps it does not apply there.
In Croydon we have our difficulties in regard to land, because it is a very built-up area and a very developed town. There are about 2,400 qualified families already on the waiting list for houses. Croydon is trying to deal with this problem by a rather special method, which a few months ago excited a certain amount of interest—to put it mildly. The authority feels that it has a statutory obligation to give reasonable preference to people in need. The housing list has recently been severely pruned in order to satisfy the local authority that all those on it are genuine cases. I must say that I cannot understand why it should be difficult for the Ministry to obtain this sort of information in respect of authorities all over the country. I know that Croydon is progressive, but I did not know that it was as progressive as all that.
In the area covered by the Royal Commission on Local Government in Greater London there are about 106 housing authorities. Outside the County of London there are 76 authorities, which include three county boroughs, of which Croydon is one. Inside the County of London there are 30 housing authorities, comprising the London County Council, the City Corporation, and 28 Metropolitan Boroughs. These 106 authorities are responsible for about 20 per cent. of the population of England and Wales.
The Ministry of Housing and Local Government, in the evidence it tendered to the Royal Commission said that the multiplicity of local authorities in Greater London was, in the absence of any co-ordinating machinery, an obstacle to the effective handling of London's housing problems. It makes it difficult to deal with the reality of the housing situation. An acute shortage of housing land in Great London also makes it quite impossible for the large majority of these authorities to solve their problems within their own areas. For instance, Croydon has taken a very active participating interest in the new town of Crawley right from its commencement.
The Ministry also said that in its experience there is not necessarily any connection between the size of the authority and the efficiency or quality of its house building. It went on to say that it believed that, though size and resources cannot be ignored, they are less important than the personnel employed on the work. Many hon. Members will agree with that. The final comment I wish to quote that was made by the Ministry was:
One medium-sized authority has produced some of the most attractive housing schemes in London. They owe this to their engineer who has had the imagination and enterprise to bring in good architects from outside and give them the opportunity of doing something out of the ordinary, without, however, being wasteful or extravagant.
We in Croydon like to think that this reference must apply to us, although it was not specifically stated in the evidence.
A few months ago national publicity was given to the Croydon Corporation's decision to impose conditions on council house tenants with incomes exceeding a certain figure. I am very pleased to see that the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. McDermot) is in the Chamber. I have been trying to find him during the day because he did us the honour of coming to Croydon and telling us how we should run our town, and I want to make a few remarks about that. The local authority decided to give notice eventually to tenants who were earning over £20 a week, and not to accept on its housing waiting list tenants earning over £15 a week.
The intention behind this action was to free council houses occupied by people in a good position to help themselves, so that the corporation might comply with the statutory requirements placed upon it to provide houses for the more needy members of its population. Needy people are considered to be those living in unsatisfactory conditions—in the main, people with small incomes—and with little prospect of getting houses unless the corporation provides houses for them. In so doing the corporation is endeavouring to comply with the obligations imposed upon it by Section 113 of the Housing Act, 1957, which requires that in the selection of council house tenants reasonable preference should be given to people occupying unsatisfactory or overcrowded houses, and people with large families, or living generally under unsatisfactory conditions.
It does not specifically refer to their earnings, but I am endeavouring to make it clear that the corporation is trying to deal with the more needy of those on its waiting list. I can assure the Committee that those requirements and conditions apply to all the 2,400 families on the present waiting list. The list has been most carefully vetted of late.
When the hon. Member for Lewisham, North came to Croydon, I believe he stated that council tenants should be given the same protection as tenants of controlled tenancies under the Rent Restriction Acts. In expressing that view he had the support of many of his hon. Friends. I would tell him that in my view certain difficulties would obviously follow from the adoption of that course. One of the grounds upon which a private landlord can obtain an order for possession is that the house is required for his own occupation, or for occupation by a member of his family. That ground cannot possibly apply when the landlord is a corporation. The hon. Member also said that the court should require proof that there are proper grounds for possession, such as arrears of rent, breach of the terms of tenancy, nuisance or annoyance.
I concede that point, but I wish to continue my argument.
It is principally on these very grounds that I have stated that responsible local authorities evict the comparatively few people evicted nowadays. Councils would be put to unnecessary work and expense, and ratepayers would also be put to considerable expense, if they had to obtain authorisation in order to exercise a necessary right which they already exercise today in limited circumstances.
I also find it difficult to know why there should be any difficulty in the hon. Member understanding why local authorities should he treated differently from private landlords. There is surely a simple answer to that. The private landlord selects his tenants by their suitability and ability to pay rent. Local authorities cannot be selective. They are faced with the obligation of housing those who, because of lack of means or for some other reason, cannot find a house under a private landlord, and have little or no prospect of getting a house unless the corporation assists them. As the corporation has to deal with tenants left after all private houses are taken, it is to be expected that local authorities must enjoy the widest possible powers of management.
As we know, these powers have in the past been given by Parliament. It is also to be expected that responsible local authorities—and in this I certainly include my own Croydon Corporation—would exercise the discretion given by Parliament with reason and without oppression. Responsible local authorities throughout the country do this.
Local authorities should have as much power as possible to deal with local matters. Council representatives are elected by the ratepayers who have the facility to ensure that the council representatives do their jobs properly. They must have as much jurisdiction as possible in the management of their own affairs. I know the Socialists generally do not agree with this. In the main they believe in the maximum central control from Westminster. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] I have been a member of the local authority for many years, and that Socialist view has often been expressed. I do not believe in that policy nor do Conservatives generally. Why, for instance, should the Croydon authority not have unfettered rights over its council houses? In reply to a ques- tion, the Croydon Council made it clear that it would deal with all applications for houses reasonably and fairly and that it would examine all such cases individually, taking into account all the relevant circumstances. Further, each tenant would have a right of appeal to a sub-committee.
It is fair to state, too, that the leader of the Socialists on the Croydon Council conceded the principle of limiting council tenants to definite earnings because in a television broadcast he said that if the limit had been £25 instead of £20 he would have been in agreement with the scheme.
The Croydon Council can be trusted to manage its own affairs to the benefit of its ratepayers. This was endorsed at the May elections when the anti-Socialist party on the Croydon Council gained a further two seats from the Socialist party in spite of the national criticism of its housing policy.
I think the Minister, too, was unnecessarily critical of Croydon's action. Croydon Council has done a first-class job of work. In the same way as the council would praise the Minister and the Ministry for what they had done for their part, I think the Minister should recognise that Croydon has also done its job extremely well.
I was very interested in hearing the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. F. Harris) indicate the endeavours of the Croydon Corporation to give priority, or preferential treatment, to the more needy cases when dealing with applications for houses. We are having this debate today so that we can indicate to the Government that they are not giving priority and preference to the more needy people who require housing accommodation. I should have thought that the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West would have supported us in our condemnation of the Government's failure to concentrate all our resources in the areas where houses are most needed. The most needy areas are the slum areas and those areas where people are living in houses that are 120 to 140 years old. This applies to 40 per cent. of our people in Scotland.
I should have liked to have heard the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West develop his argument and castigate the Government for their failure to do what Croydon, a Tory-controlled council, did. It had the sense to realise that the best basis for the allocation of houses was to give the houses to the people who required them most. However, I will not traverse further into Croydon, but will content myself with dealing with an area of Great Britain that has a serious housing problem.
In Scotland the problem is so serious that, by its very nature, Scotland finds itself in the position of having a problem that is without parallel in the whole of Western Europe. By its very nature, the solution of the problem depends in the main on the efforts, and only the efforts, of the municipalities in Scotland. I hope that as I proceed with my remarks I shall be able to demonstrate that the policy now being pursued by this Government is one which is restricted and retarded, and, indeed, has played havoc with the efforts of local authorities in Scotland to provide houses for our citizens who need them.
I listened to what I can only call a masterpiece of gabble, garble and garrulity by the Parliamentary Secretary. I was amazed at the apparent pride of the Government in their post-war housing achievements. I do not know why they should feel proud of their record. There is more cause for despondency than there is for satisfaction.
I do not wish to concoct my own figures, but to base my case entirely on those produced by the Government. I propose to refer to Table 5 of the Housing Return for Scotland issued by the Scottish Office on 5th March of this year. The table sets out the tenders for houses in Scotland approved from 1945 until the end of last March, and it also analyses the size of the houses. I wish to discuss both the numbers and the size of those houses.
The report reveals that during the six years of the Labour Government, from 1946 to 1951, the total number of tenders approved was 148,080 for permanent houses and 32,176 for temporary houses, making a total of 180,256. Taking comparative figures for six years under a Conservative Government, from 1952 to 1957, I find that tenders were approved for 178,734 houses. In other words, the Conservative Government actually approved less tenders than were approved under a Socialist Administration.
The size of the houses is very important, as the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will realise.
I think he is listening—he does not understand, but he is listening.
I find that from 1946 until 1951, when a Labour Government were in office, no fewer than 658,711 apartments were included in the list of tenders. Under a Conservative Government there were only 587,148 apartments. That represents a reduction of 72,000 apartments. It is equivalent to a reduction of 24,000 three-apartment houses. Yet the Government boast of their housing achievements, as did the Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon. The hon. Gentleman suggested that we were hard up for a subject when we selected housing for a debate today. I do not think that there is any need for the boastfulness and the pride which was exhibited by the hon. Gentleman. We shall not solve the housing problem in Scotland by building one-, two- and three-apartment houses.
I was shocked to find that, according to the table which I have mentioned, during their six years of government the Conservative Party built over 14,000 one- and two-apartment houses in Scotland.
Over 60 per cent. of the houses built in Scotland are of the small type. On several occasions I have said in this Chamber that small houses are the curse of Scotland, and I wish to emphasise that again this afternoon. Already half of the municipal houses which we built during the inter-war years are grossly overcrowded. I think that the Scottish Office recognises that a solution to this problem will not be found by allowing 60 per cent of the houses to be of a small type.
I wish to ask the Joint Under-Secretary of State why there has been such a serious decline in the number of tenders approved in recent years. He will have observed that in 1953 the number was 36,000; in 1955 it dropped to 26,700; it went down in 1957 to 22,800 and in 1958 to 20,000; that is, a decrease of 46 per cent. in the last few years. When we have discussed—as we have done on many occasions—why there has been a reduction in the number of houses built in Scotland during the last few years, and when we have asked for the reason, we have always received the same reply from the Joint Under-Secretary of State or the Secretary of State himself. They say that it is due to the smaller authorities having completed their housing programmes. That is absolute nonsense. To advance such an argument is to ignore completely the realities of the situation.
I have gone through the Housing Returns to see whether I could find some explanation which would fit the realities of the situation. The figures which I have extracted reveal that 55 small local authorities have completed their housing programmes. I find that those authorities built a total of 3,123 houses in the last 14 years, from 1945 until 1958. Putting it in another way, each local authority has built 57 houses during that period. To put it even more clearly, it means, in essence, that each of these local authorities has, on average, built four houses each year. And it is suggested that because we are losing four houses per year from 55 authorities, there is a decline of 46 per cent. in house building. That is the explanation adduced by the Government. What a fantastic situation. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary now realises that the fact that those small authorities have completed their housing programmes has comparatively little, if any, influence on the decline in house building in Scotland.
I can tell the Joint Under-Secretary of State or the Secretary of State where they will find the real explanation of this trouble. It will be found in areas where houses are most needed. That is where there is a decline; in areas like Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Lanarkshire, Dunbarton, Clyde- bank, and Inverness. These local authorities have a permanent problem.
In 1951 Glasgow had a waiting list for houses numbering 98,000. Between 1951 and 1958 no fewer than 37,000 municipal houses were built in Glasgow, and therefore one would naturally assume that the waiting list would have gone down at least to 70,000. But we find that, despite the building of those houses, the waiting list has actually increased to 120,000. Of that number of applicants over 30,000 are homeless and over 40,000 live in grossly overcrowded conditions. Is there another city in the whole of Western Europe with such a problem? Yet we note the complacency of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. George), who has been briefed by the Government and who will probably speak after me, and of the Joint Under-Secretary of State. They will set out to justify the decline in local authority building which has taken place.
In fairness to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. George), I think I should tell the hon. Gentleman that I have not a clue about what my hon. Friend is going to say.
Probably the hon. Member for Pollok has not himself a clue.
Glasgow has a desperate and tragic problem. In 1955 there were 95,000 municipal houses in the city. In 1958 the figure had increased by 13,000 to 108,000. The number of privately-rented houses in Glasgow in 1955 was 189,000, but four years later that number had dropped to 172,000, so that in those four years we had actually 17,000 fewer privately-rented houses. Despite the fact that in those years we provided 13,000 new municipal houses, we have sustained a net loss of rented houses in Glasgow of more than 4,000. I know that the number of owner-occupied houses has increased in those four years from 34,000 to 47,000, an increase of 13,000; but these are not newly-built owner-occupied houses—far from it.
The bulk of the increase which has taken place arose from the slum tenement type of house which, on becoming vacant, is put up for sale. That is the type of house which the Joint Under-Secretary of State and the Secretary of State himself told us would be improved under the Rent Act and made available for renting. I remember the Joint Under-Secretary telling us, during the debates on the Rent Bill, of the great pool of houses which would be created for letting and how those houses would be improved. We have always had a number of empty houses in Glasgow. The houses are empty and the pubs are full. What I want to emphasise is that in 1955 we had 2,616 houses unoccupied and awaiting a buyer, but in 1958, after almost a year of the Rent Act, that number had increased to 3,300. I think it was the hon. Member for Pollok who described that as absolute sabotage on the part of the property owners in Glasgow. I have it here in black and white.
Sabotage on the part of the factors and the property owners. What we are seeking to find out this afternoon is the reason for this decline in house building and when it took place? Glasgow, in 1954, built over 6,000 municipal houses. In 1958 the number dropped to 4,000. There was a decrease of more than 2,000. Edinburgh has a waiting list of 9,000 and a slum clearance problem of 7,000. In 1954, Edinburgh built 1,920 houses and in 1957 the number dropped to 874 houses, a decrease of more than 1,000. Dundee is another illustration. When I study this return, I ask: why is it that places like Clydebank had only four houses under construction at the end of 1958? Why in a place like Dumbarton has no house been under construction? Why has Inverness only 21 houses under construction? Those local authorities are far removed from having completed their housing programmes. Surely there must be some reason for this tremendous decline in house building in Scotland.
There are one or two factors which I regard as of crucial importance in the decline. First, there is the steep rise in interest rates, and secondly, the substantial reductions which have taken place in housing subsidies. In the last three or four years interest rates have jumped from 3½ per cent. to 6¾ per cent. Subsidies have been reduced from £42 5s. per house to £24 per house. What has that meant over the years? In 1951 the interest rate was 3½ per cent. and in 1957 it was 6¾ per cent., and by that increase an annual burden has been put on the local authority of £51 9s. 9d. for every house built. The reduction in the subsidies of £18 5s. has meant that the annual debt charge placed on a local authority in Scotland has been increased by £70 each year.
What does that mean to a city like Glasgow, which builds more than 5,000 houses a year? It means that the city is faced with an additional financial burden of more than £350,000 every year for sixty years until eventually it reaches the fantastic total of £21 million. No wonder the magic of our financial civilisation makes it utterly impossible for most of us to comprehend all that is involved. It should be abundantly clear to the Secretary of State that when high interest rates are imposed and subsidies are reduced, a climate is created in which it becomes utterly impossible for local authorities to build houses or, indeed, to charge reasonable rents for the houses that they do build.
Why does the Secretary of State for Scotland, in his public utterances, continually denigrate council tenants by referring to them as a new privileged class who live at the expense of their fellow citizens? That was in a speech he delivered at a dinner of the National Federation of Property Owners on 20th May at Pitlochry. The Secretary of State talked about this privileged class who live at the expense of their fellow citizens. We have had twelve Secretaries of State in the last thirty years, but the present occupant of the post is the only one, to my knowledge, who has engaged in such slanderous and cowardly statements which affect almost 2 million of our people who live in council houses.
Yes, almost half the population. Now that he has been as far north as Pitlochry to make a speech to the factors and property owners, I ask whether he could pluck up courage and spare a few moments at his office in Edinburgh to meet a deputation of the tenants he has so maligned and so consistently refused to hear. He could then tell the tenants about the privileged industrialists who get subsidies of £4½ million every year by way of rating relief. He could take the opportunity of telling the tenants at such a meeting about the privileged farmers in Scotland who get £25 million every year in subsidies—subsidies to build pigsties for the pigs, but no subsidies to build houses for the people. He could tell the tenants about property owners who, in the inter-war years, got subsidies for building houses to rent. It was the only way to get them to build them. Since the war private builders have not built 1 per cent. of houses to rent in Scotland.
Yes, after the first war, because they were heavily subsidised to do so. When the Secretary of State meets this deputation of council tenants, I should be obliged to him if he would read this quotation to them. It is from a speech made in this House on 6th November, 1950. Here is the quotation:
It is not only a question of building houses, … but the cost has risen to a point which, despite subsidies on an enormous scale, involves rents which many of those in most need of houses cannot afford. The rents charged to the tenants have risen remorselessly."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th November, 1950; Vol. 480, c. 696.]
That was in a speech made by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) when he was attacking the Labour Government in 1950 for imposing such high rents on the tenants of municipal houses. If it was true then, how much more true would it be today when costs are still rising and subsidies are much less? I ask the Secretary of State to be a man and to meet these tenants.
We always listen with great interest, if not with unfailing agreement, to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes) when he speaks on housing. No one gives the subject more study, as is obvious from the amount of arithmetic which he has done in the past week and the amount of time which he has spent this evening trying to prove that the Scottish housing situation is black and that progress in recent years has been poor. I will take up a few of the points which he made.
First, he tried to show us why certain areas have few houses under construction. He attributed that to the high interest rates and to the cut in the subsidy. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary made it clear this afternoon—I had the temerity to say the same thing a year or two ago—that local authorities do not judge the interest rates per day or per week, or even per year; they judge the interest rates which they are paying over the whole of the money which they have borrowed. With interest rates at 7½ per cent., 7 per cent., 6¾ per cent. and 5¾ per cent., we find that in 1958 Glasgow was paying 4·23 per cent. on all the money it had on loan. Throughout Scotland local authorities are paying much about the same rate, just over 4 per cent. That is not a level of interest which should prevent local authorities from building houses. I am certain that it does not prevent them. The Department of Health says in its Report that it can find no evidence that the rate of interest has in any way led to a reduction of the figures.
I will leave that on one side and turn to the question of the subsidies. The hon. Member said that the cut in the subsidies had led to a slowing down in the building of houses and had led to some areas having very few houses under construction. What was the purpose of the subsidies? Who introduced them and what was said when they were introduced? Were they to be permanent and to go on growing or were they to be cut and eventually to be abolished? Perhaps I may read to the Committee what the late Joseph Westwood said when he was introducing the subsidies in 1946.
I expect that I would.
Speaking on 19th March, 1946, Mr. Westwood said:
I wish to make it clear that the contributions now proposed—this applies to the rate contributions as well as the Exchequer contributions—are maxima, and it is the intention of the Government that they shall be reduced at the earliest opportunity."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th March, 1946; Vol. 420, c. 1706.]
It must be remembered that there is a rate contribution as well as an Exchequer contribution. I have read to the Committee what was the intention of the Labour Party.
The intention of the Labour Party when it introduced these subsidies was to cut them out as soon as possible. The subsidies have been cut down? Why were they cut down? We must remember that while in England subsidies were abolished in certain cases, we still enjoy them in Scotland, and we are in a preferential position.
Why have subsidies been reduced? The reason is that the subsidies were being abused. They were not being used for the purpose for which they were originally introduced. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Central has spoken a great deal about rents. We find in Glasgow and in other areas that whenever a man applies for a council house he is automatically considered to be in need The need for a house is not synonymous with financial need. Many people who apply for council houses, and many people who enjoy council houses, could well pay a substantially higher rent and would willingly pay a substantially higher rent than they are being allowed to pay by the local authorities. The subsidies were therefore being abused. In order to bring some method into local authority work in Scotland, subsidies were cut.
I did not interrupt the hon. Member during his speech and I will not give way now. He challenged the Secretary of State for having said that the council tenants were a new privileged class, and he ridiculed that statement. What did the hon. Member for Hamilton say on this very subject? I will quote from a report of an Institute
of Housing meeting at Dunoon on 27th March. He said:
Rents are on average too low and should be increased, with the adoption of reasonable rent rebates for low income tenants. … Rent levels and the contribution to housing from rates should be reviewed thoroughly once in every three years.
The hon. Member went on to say:
It is my experience that tenants are usually surprised to learn that the rent they pay for a modern well-maintained house is the equivalent of twenty cigarettes a week.
That is the hon. Member's view. Does not that indicate that he thought that they were a privileged class? Does it not suggest that he thinks that the equivalent of twenty cigarettes a week is not a proper rent to pay? I am certain that in their quieter moments hon. Members opposite have exactly the same views as the Secretary of State, and there are sound reasons for it.
What is happening to rents in Glasgow, about which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central waxed so eloquent? In 1958, through the local authority rate contribution, £3 million was taken from the citizens of Glasgow by way of rates and put into the housing account, while only £1·4 million was taken by way of rent. Is not that privilege? In other words, 22½ per cent. was paid into the housing account by rent and the remaining 78 per cent. was put into the housing account by the infliction of rates upon those who in many cases are less well off than the council tenants themselves.
Of course they are a privileged class and of course something has to be done about it. One-third of the people in Glasgow are council tenants, and two-thirds are paying subsidies to keep them at an unreasonably low rent. In that way I agree with my right hon. Friend that they are a privileged class. I wonder how long the other two-thirds will bear the imposition which Glasgow is putting upon them increasingly year by year.
The hon. Member gave it as his view that the Government's policy for housing had been to restrict, to retard and to play havoc with the local authorities' efforts to provide houses. Let us turn to Table V, with which the hon. Member made such play. He spoke of the drop in the approval of tenders. I well remember, when hon. Members opposite were in power, the number of skeletons of houses standing incomplete for years all over Scotland. Too many were approved and to few were finished. We determined to approve only those which we could complete in a reasonable time, and we have always tried to follow that policy. In those years a large number of houses were under construction because they sometimes took over two years to complete. When we can complete houses sometimes inside a year it is not necessary to have as many under construction. That is why the number under construction has fallen.
The hon. Member also referred to the fact that smaller houses were being provided. Of course we have more and more smaller houses, because that is what is required. We are building to meet the need which faces us. We have not built on theory. Perhaps the hon. Member would care to look at the new development in the Gorbals, by the corporation of which he is so proud. His own authority is building in the new development in the Gorbals 33 per cent. of the houses of one or two rooms. Why is it doing that? Because it has seen the actual need. It has seen that in the City of Glasgow the larger and the growing families have moved out to the city borders into the new housing schemes, and in the heart of the city we have the smaller and the older families. As a result, the authority of which he is so proud is building 33 per cent. of the houses in that great scheme, which it opened with righteous exaltation, of only one or two rooms.
I am obliged to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. George) for giving way. Where else in Scotland but Glasgow would the situation be found which the hon. Gentleman described of the young family going out to the perimeter of the city to new housing schemes, leaving the old couple in the Gorbals? That is why Glasgow, rather than shift old couples out to the smaller houses in the perimeter, decided to provide that 33 per cent. for old couples, because the families were moving. Where else in Scotland would that be found?
What the Glasgow authority did was to face up to realities and build to meet them. That is what we have been doing in the last seven years. That is what we shall continue to do.
After that intervention, I will now return to the initial charge that the policy restricted, retarded and played havoc with local authority building in Scotland. I am sometimes amazed at the course which our housing debates take. Without any party bias in this, I think that we should count our blessings with regard to housing in Scotland. We have great cause to count our blessings. I cannot understand this narrow, carping criticism at a time when housing is being provided at a speed which has never been equalled in the history of Scotland.
Perhaps hon. Members opposite will allow me to proceed. Approximately 50 per cent. of the people in Scotland have been given new houses since 1919. Approximately 20 per cent. have been given new houses since 1945.
I will state the figures. It is remarkable that between 1919 and 1944 365,000 new houses were built in Scotland, re-housing 1,100,000 people. Between 1945 and 1958 the same number—I repeat, approximately 365,000—were built, again re-housing 1·1 million. Therefore, since 1919 we have built 730,000 new homes in Scotland and rehoused approximately 2·2 million. Out of 1½ million homes in Scotland, 50 per cent. are less than forty years old and 25 per cent. are less than fifteen years old. The average annual pre-war rate of building was 16,800 for the twenty years before the war. The average annual rate during the time the party opposite was in power, excluding 1945, was 21,600. The average over the last seven years was 34,300.
I cannot but rejoice at all these figures. I rejoice to think that the speed of building to get rid of the housing problem in Scotland is gaining velocity year after year.
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) interrupts to say that it is going down. It is true that we had two peak years. We should again rejoice that we had two peak years. Hon. Gentlemen opposite remind me of an old general manager for whom I used to work. We had tried to bring our output in the colliery up to 2,000 tons a day for a long time. We had failed. We achieved 1,950 tons or 1,970 tons, but never 2,000 tons. One day I succeeded in raising the output to over 2,000 tons. I telephoned the general manager and told him so. All I had by way of answer was, "Something to think about tomorrow". On the Thursday the output was less than 2,000 tons, so Thursday was a bad day. If I had not exceeded 2,000 tons on the Wednesday, Thursday would have been a good day. Thursday was still a good day, because I had not achieved 2,000 tons before. In Glasgow we had two good years—something to think about tomorrow.
Having had those two peak years, what has happened since? In those two peak years we supplied the needs of many areas. In the years since then we have approached the end of the building programme in many areas. I can speak with authority, because I was a member of two councils which, before I entered the House, were rapidly approaching the end of their housing programmes. They had practically completed the job. That is repeated many times over the whole of Scotland.
In Glasgow and other towns we had large sites to start with, on which we could build houses quickly and make them cheaper by virtue of the vast area available. We are building far more gap sites than ever before. We have tackled slum clearance. All these factors are bound to slow down, but it has not seriously reduced the output of houses. The average over the last four years is 32,000 without much variation one way or the other. We intend that it should be kept at that level.
The slum clearance campaign was started three years ago and we have practically accomplished our three-year plan. One hundred and twenty thousand people have been removed from slums in the last three years. The only two drives upon slums in our history have been from this side of the Committee. Hon. Members opposite never at any time turned their minds to removing slums. We made one drive and we started another. We consider the first three years of the second as being successful, and we intend to go on with that slum clearance in the years ahead.
The first slum clearance drive about which the hon. Gentleman is speaking ended just before the Second World War began. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that such was the general housing policy that, as a result of overcrowding, we had more slums at the end of that drive than we had at the beginning of it.
One thing which is always obvious from the conduct of hon. Member opposite is that, if a good thing is achieved, they will find an argument to make it look a bad thing. The two slum campaigns were undertaken, and both have been successful. A third slum clearance campaign will soon be under way. That also will be successful, because we shall ensure that it is.
This is a great subject on which we could spend a great deal of time. In our time, we have organised every agency to plan, to produce and to build. We have co-ordinated these agencies in such a way that we have beaten all past records. Never in the history of Scotland has housing been provided for so long at such a high level, and it never will be again. We have driven on with the general needs programme, with high priority at the beginning. When the picture changed, we switched to the slums and to the old people who did not get a fair crack of the whip in the years between. Between these years we have tried to save that great mass of private houses which are rotting due to rent control. They will be saved. I do not see as many efforts as I would like to see to spend money on repairing old property, but the Committee must remember that today repairs are costly and landlords must be given time in which to accumulate some money to put repairs in hand. I am confident that rent decontrol will result in saving many thousands of houses which have fallen into decay.
We have gone on to assist the provision of the essential amenities in perfectly good houses. There are plenty of well-built houses without amenities in Glasgow, and the new Act will give, by right, grants to install the given amenities and give them an extra fifteen years' life. We have also brought in new arrangements to show our intense desire to cure the housing problem. We have a new arrangement to assist house purchase, both for old and new houses.
In the seven years that we have been in power we can record a catalogue of earnest endeavour to improve and preserve the old, where justified, and build the new far faster than ever before. We have a proud record on which to face the country, and I for one will face it with an easy mind.
I have always had a great respect for the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. George), whom I regard as a very solid man, but tonight I find that he has another quality which, as a Celt, I must admire—he has a very rosy imagination. I can only say that if 50 per cent. of the people in Scotland have had new houses since 1919 I shudder to think of what the situation was before then. If those in the party opposite are the only people who have tackled our slum clearance, I wonder how it was that Glasgow entered the Second World War facing one of the biggest slum problems in the whole of the English-speaking world?
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes) dealt with a number of the points that I had in mind, and I shall not cover that ground again. He gave facts and figures of the situation in Glasgow to show that housing there is a public scandal—a statement that cannot be challenged by anybody. It has been a scandal for a great number of years, despite the fact that the 100,000th house was completed two years ago. Can hon. Members imagine the previous situation?
I was shocked to read a statement made by the Prime Minister on his recent visit to Glasgow. He visited Kelvingrove—he must have been looking over the annual general report of the Conservative Party there. The right hon. Gentleman was reported to have said: "Nobody nowadays hears a word about the Rent Act." I know that we are not debating that Act tonight, but its results cannot be divorced from the gigantic problems facing local authorities.
One of the virtues claimed for the Act—and had it been a genuine virtue I should have supported it, irrespective of who said it was bad—was that it would end under-occupation of large houses. Childless couples, elderly spinsters and the like were to move out of the large flats in the centre of the town and, presumably, go into other houses. Heaven alone knows where they would get them—the Rent Act did not state that.
Making full allowance for the fact, and it is a fact, that no scheme ever works as smoothly as its formulators hoped, I challenge anyone in Glasgow to tell me of anything remotely resembling that having happened. Where such houses have been compulsorily evacuated a notice has gone up to sell or let them, not for residential but for business purposes. A very respectable newspaper—not the gutter Press of which we have been hearing so much lately—described the old people who have been thrown out of the big houses as squatters of thirty, forty, fifty and sixty years' occupation. These are people whose fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers before them paid rates in the city where now they find themselves thrown on the street without option. Yet a very respectable newspaper which I shall not name described them as squatters.
I hope and pray that before it comes down or falls down the Minister of Housing will come with me to see a property in the ward of Anderson, the rent of which under the Rent Act the owner was allowed to increase by 25 per cent. I say no more than that. I hope that he will be able to see it before it falls down. As I have already said, I was utterly amazed that the Prime Minister should leave Glasgow saying that we hear nothing of the Rent Act now. I can assure him that he will hear plenty about it. The electors will give their verdict on the Act at the General Election when it comes, and I hope that it comes soon.
I will start on a pleasant and friendly note by replying to something said by the hon. Lady the Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Mrs. McAlister). She said that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had mentioned that we now hear nothing about the Rent Act. In my experience, we have pot heard about the Rent Act. The hon. Lady said that it has not worked out as smoothly as its formulators hoped. I must say to right hon. and hon. Members opposite that if that is so the reason is that it has been sabotaged by the Labour Party. I cannot think that any sensible person would spend money on a house if he was threatened with having it taken forcibly from him.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) denigrated our slum clearance proposals, and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes)—whose speech I so much enjoyed; it was so characteristic—also made reference to the importance of slum clearance. In April, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government was able to announce that in 1958 the Government's aim of rehousing 200,000 people from the slums had been realised.
That is a notable achievement, and I am proud to say that Scottish local authorities have played their full part in it. In that year, they closed over 6,000 unfit houses and demolished another 6,000. Altogether, between 1955 and 1958, nearly 35,000 Scottish houses which were unfit for human habitation were closed or demolished as a result of the statutory action taken by Scottish local authorities. That represents over 88 per cent of the number of houses included in the first three-year programme of slum clearance. I think that even the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), for all his interventions, will agree that the local authorities have done a fine job in getting so near the target they set themselves.
As a follow-up to the first programme, my right hon. Friend asked local authorities last August to draw up yet another three-year programme, for the period 1959–61. So far, we have received programmes from 159 authorities which provide for the closing or demolition of nearly 29,000 houses, and I estimate that when all the local authorities plans are in the total will be about 35,000. I could not agree more with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central that the problem of the slums has been the bane of Scottish housing, but these figures show that the problem is being tackled energetically.
But we cannot, we dare not, be complacent. As well as demolishing slum houses, it is vital, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. George) said, that we should not let existing older houses deteriorate into slums, and I hope that both private owners and local authorities will take full advantage of the improvement grants, including those provided for in the House Purchase and Housing Act. In particular, I think that there should go out from this House a plea to local authorities to concentrate on trying to get rid of the shared W.C., which is still far too common and far too unpleasant a feature of our Scottish housing—
We have appealed to the private owners and have given them standard grants to do the work.
Reference has been made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central, to what he called restriction and havoc in housing policy caused by the present Government.
The hon. Gentleman says that the Government has appealed to the private owners, but if they have had to appeal so constantly to the private owners, what good was the Act?
To be fair to the private owner, I think I am right in saying that the Act came into force only last Sunday.
The housing position in Scotland different from that in England. We are still building more houses per year than were built at any time under the Labour Government. This reduction in building in Scotland is not due to any restrictions imposed on local authorities by the Government. In Scotland, local authorities are free to build the houses needed in their districts. The hon. Member quite rightly was a little worried about the number of tenders approved and about the slow fall in the number of houses being built. Many local authorities have stopped building, and I will deal with that in a minute.
In the industrial areas, where the need is still urgent, there has really been no slackening of effort on the part of local authorities—
Perhaps the hon. Member will at least do me the kindness to let me finish my sentence.
As I was saying, there has been no slackening of effort on the part of local authorities, hut, of course, the effort is becoming a little more difficult, and it is being directed into slightly different channels.
First of all, the local authorities, especially in the industrial areas, are tending to concentrate more and more on slum clearance and redevelopment of their central areas, and who would disagree with that? We must make the best use of the sites available. Secondly, they are now tending to concentrate, in order to give a slightly higher density, on multi-storey flats. Multi-storey flats take a long time to design and build as compared with ordinary houses. I do not think any hon. Member opposite really wants us to go on building in the fields and to allow the centres of our towns to decay. In any case, there is now a difficulty about building in the fields because virgin sites are getting smaller and harder to find.
Instead of blaming the Government, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central did, we should realise that the local authorities, who are doing such a wonderful job, have a difficult task to perform. The hon. Member said that the decline in house building is due to high interest rates and low subsidies. There is not a great deal that I can add to what my hon. Friend the Member for Pollok said. We refuse to be put on the defensive about this question.
I listened to the hon. and learned Member for Kettering and others talking about low interest rates. If the Government wish to assist housing, is it not better to come out in the open and give suitable housing subsidies than to upset the whole economy by suggesting preferential interest rates and opening a flood of difficulties? I should have thought that the Labour Party would suggest that we should put up the subsidies rather than have the ridiculous idea of taking one sector out of the economy and saying that we will give that sector a low interest rate.
I have listened with great interest on this question of prefer- ential interest rates. If the hon. Gentleman does not want to extend that to housing, why does he extend it in certain instances to private enterprise industries like Colvilles and others?
I am not going to be put on the defensive. Considering that Scottish subsidies are paid by the United Kingdom taxpayer, I am surprised that any Scot on either side of the Committee wants to raise the point of Scottish housing subsidies.
I am not going to deal any further with the point when we said that we had built 300,000 houses and hon. Members opposite said that they had built 200,000 houses, or that our record in Scotland is better this year than any year under the Labour Administration, even including the prefabs.
I want to come to the point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central about the local authorities who have no building on hand, of which there are 115, according to my advice. I want to be honest about this—not that I have not been honest about everything else that I have said. Of the 115 local authorities, only 11 have said that the lack of building is due to high interest rates. Nearly all of those 11—I have got the names of those authorities, but I do not think any hon. Member wants me to give them in detail—are small burghs in rural areas, which will not be building houses anyway. In short, there is at present no evidence to suggest that the number of houses being built by local authorities has been materially affected by the level of interest rates.
Yes, that is a fact. We feel that if the local authorities would pool the subsidies already available to them on the vast number of houses already built and if they would charge reasonable rents for those houses with rent rebate schemes, the present rate of interest and the present subsidy would be quite sufficient for them to continue building without causing any undue burden.
We hear a lot about this argument of the high interest charges spread over all the earlier loans. I dealt with this in the House some time ago and pointed out that even when that is done there is an increase on all local authorities in Scotland of anything between £9 and £18 per house. That makes a considerable difference to the rents.
I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman. But if the subsidies are pooled the weight is taken off the house that is having to be built at a time of high interest rates. Does the Committee realise exactly how much money all Scottish housing gets by way of subsidy? It is over £17 million a year.
That is nearly £3 10s. per head per annum on the Scottish people, and not all Scottish people get the benefit of that £3 10s. per head. I would also remind hon. Members that despite the high interest rates, which I agree have prevailed recently—and we are now glad to see it steady at last—according to the Rating Review for 1958 issued by the Scottish branch of the Institute of Municipal Treasurers and Accountants, the average interest rates on all debt for the majority of local authorities in Scotland was less than 4½ per cent.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pollok gave a figure of 4·23 per cent. paid by Glasgow, so Glasgow is getting its money a little cheaper than the average. I am sure the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central will agree that the hon. Member for Pollok did not need a brief from me. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Central blinds himself with figures and science. He tries to prove a reduction in the size of houses by dealing with the number of rooms. I would remind hon. Members that homes are not rooms. We cannot measure homes by the number of rooms. He said that we shall not solve the Scottish housing problem by building one, two or three-apartment houses. He knows better than I do that this is a matter which the local authority, and not the Government, decides.
Was it not the local authorities who so decided in the interwar years? In the light of experience today, more than half—in fact, about 60 per cent.—of our existing municipal accommodation is grossly overcrowded.
This is a democratic country and we leave it to the local authorities to decide on the size of their houses. Several local authorities, including Labour-controlled ones, pressed the Government to be allowed to build a smaller type of house at a time when the Government were not allowing smaller houses to be built. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) knows what I am going to say. The first steps in reshaping the policy were taken in 1949 under the Labour Government. Part II of the Scottish Housing Handbook contains a table analysing a representative sample of Scottish households and showing that 75 per cent. of families require houses with three apartments or less.
There has been a lot of misunderstanding about the large number of smaller houses. After the war we had a large number of fairly big families needing homes in Scotland.
The difficulty was that they built their four and five-apartment houses in long rows and they forgot one important point, namely, that what we need is a planned community. The children grow up and the old people want to move into the area where their children are, but there are no homes for them. So we in Scotland are faced with too high a proportion of unbalanced communities. It is in order to retain, or to return to, that balance that the local authorities quite rightly have done what my hon. Friend the Member for Pollok said. We have built to need, and the smaller houses are built for those who need them. We must have them if we are going to get balanced communities. [Interruption.] I am excessively well-informed.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about conditions in Glasgow and implied that nothing was being done, and the hon. Lady the Member for Kelvingrove referred to conditions in Glasgow as a public scandal. This is not a matter on which we can bandy words. I felt that I would be less than fair if I did not agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Kelvingrove. Of course, conditions in Glasgow are today a public scandal, as she says.
Yes, I am prepared to say that. I feel the Committee should know what is being done about it. We accept that generally the conditions under which people in Glasgow live are the worst in the United Kingdom and probably the worst in Western Europe. I do not have to tell the Committee of the degree of overcrowding and the large number of unfit houses. Half the houses in the city, with over 400,000 people living in them, have only one or two rooms.
The hon. Gentleman seems to think that we are engaging in levity when he says that half the population of Glasgow are living in houses with one or two apartments, only five minutes after speaking in defence of providing small houses at this time, more than half of them with one, two and three apartments. Does he not see how ludicrous he was making the Government's case?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. In Glasgow there are 400,000 people, families of all sizes, living in rows of houses with one or two apartments. That is wrong. But in every area of these new housing schemes how I wish, and how the hon. Gentleman will wish, that we had a higher proportion of small houses. That is the dividing line. Over 200,000 people in Glasgow have no separate sanitary facilities in their homes, and 700,000 live within three square miles of central Glasgow—a density of 400 or more persons to the acre.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Central said that houses were falling down. The situation is worse than even he said. Every year 2,000 houses collapse or have to be closed because they are dangerous. This is not the type of house, as the hon. Member for Glasgow Central said, when this Government or anyone would suggest could be improved or made available for selling but the hon. Gentleman has provided the opportunity for me to say that we all hope that anyone who wishes to buy a house will first find out from the Glasgow Corporation whether it is due for demolition.
That is just what I want to remind the hon. Gentleman, about. He was talking about houses being on the verge of collapse. He will remember that I mentioned a similar case earlier in my speech, and I am not speaking ironically when I say that I hope the Minister will be able to see it before it does collapse.
These conditions cannot be allowed to continue. The Glasgow Corporation, as the Committee or, at any rate, Glasgow Members will know, has identified 29 areas of obsolete development which it wishes to demolish and rebuild. It is no good doing this tremendous job if we do not do it properly. The trouble is that there are practical difficulties in the densities at which rebuilding can take place. More space must be left for the traffic to circulate. The children must have proper playgrounds. Who will deny them proper playgrounds for the first time? The houses must have adequate daylight and sunlight if they are to be healthy and comfortable homes. Sites are needed for the industries which will remain and will have to expand.
I can assure the Committee that I have been personally into this whole question in very great detail and I am entirely satisfied that anything higher than an average density of 150–160 persons per acre, which is the present proposal, would be quite impracticable if worthwhile new living conditions are to be achieved. This is not a low density. It involves a substantial proportion of very high building. This figure will surprise the Committee: 80 per cent. of the houses will be in buildings of 17 storeys or more in the first stage of the Gorbals scheme, to achieve that density. To go higher or build closer would merely result in the creation of new slums and would perpetuate the lack of privacy which has caused the social evils which we all deplore in Glasgow.
Even at that relatively high density of redevelopment, with over 150 people per acre, Glasgow Corporation estimates that it can replace only 40,000 of the 100,000 houses which at present exist in the 29 major redevelopment areas which it proposes. This gives an absolute minimum of 60,000 families for whom houses must be found. In addition to those 60,000 families, there are 120,000 families on the waiting list. It is very hard to give an exact figure, but I estimate that, of those 120,000 on the waiting list, 40 per cent. to 60 per cent. are not in any of the 29 redevelopment areas and are homeless or living in overcrowded conditions. Thus, in Glasgow, we are faced with something between 100,000 and 120,000 families needing homes. If one built on every available site and gap site in Glasgow, and one built up to 17 storeys or more, one could, at the most, provide 10,000 more homes.
I have made my statement on the new town previously. I do not think I will add to that. I want to get on.
In order to put the whole matter in perspective, I wish to do two things. First, I wish to outline very briefly the legislation undertaken by this Government in relation to Scottish housing during the last few years and then, if I may, I will make an announcement which may be of some interest.
First, we had the Valuation and Rating (Scotland) Act, 1956, the Sorn Bill, on which we had some sparkling debates. This put an end to the anomalies in the old Scottish rating system. Then we had the Housing and Town Development (Scotland) Act, 1957, which was not of so much interest to the public then, in 1957, but, in 1959, there is plenty to say in Glasgow about overspill and how we welcome the Act. That Act laid down the statutory framework for the great overspill and town development operations and introduced a new pattern of housing subsidies, including, of course, a special subsidy for high flats.
There was the Scottish application of the Rent Act. This was a courageous and long overdue Measure which grasped the nettle of rent restriction while, together with the Landlord and Tenant (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1958, retaining a reasonable measure of protection for the tenant. There was the Building (Scotland) Act, 1959, which provides an up-to-date basis for the administration of building standards.
I quite understand. The hon. Gentleman does not like it. Recently, we had the House Purchase and Housing Act, 1959, with the dual purpose of facilitating house purchase, especially in respect of older properties on which loans were formerly difficult to obtain, and introducing a new and simple system of standard improvement grants.
I had reached the point of saying that the House Purchase and Housing Act is intended to encourage and will encourage owner-occupation, we hope, to a great degree.
We Scots must face the facts. One in five Scots, as compared with one in three Englishmen, owns his own home. This Scottish drive for increased home ownership and the possibilities of being able to buy a house on a lower deposit, together with the elimination of the Stamp Duty on cheaper houses, has highlighted the cost and the complexity of conveyancing in Scotland. The hon. and learned Member for Paisley (Mr. D. Johnston) asked my right hon. Friend a Question about this on 25th November. In the last few days, two Scottish newspapers, the Daily Record and the Sunday Mail, have very properly ventilated this matter, including the question whether a system of registration of title to land on the lines of that in force in parts of England and Wales could be adopted for Scotland.
I am advised that, because of the differences in land tenure between the two countries, a thorough inquiry into the legal and practical problems would first be essential. Such an inquiry was set on foot a good many years ago under the chairmanship of Lord McMillan, who, unfortunately, died before progress could be made. My right hon. Friend has now considered the matter in the light of current events and he has decided that this inquiry should be resumed just as soon as the necessary arrangements can be made.
Referring to this announcement the hon. Gentleman has made, will he tell us, having regard to the fact that the inquiry was conducted so far, then stopped, and is now to be resumed, how long he expects that the inquiry will take before it is concluded?
I am afraid that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman that information. If he will put down a Question at the appropriate time, we will try to give him the information.
The facts show that this Government always have been, and are, fully alive to the Scottish housing problem. They are determined to take any steps that are necessary, provided that such steps will help to give Scottish people better homes.
I am sure that the Joint Under-Secretary will not want me to speak about Scotland. On this side of the Committee there are hon. Members who wish to speak about the very grave problems facing the large cities from which some of us come. A great deal of attention during our debate has been devoted to the subject of slum clearance. Listening to the speeches from the Government benches, one might almost imagine that the large cities of this country were not faced with a grave slum-clearance problem. Hon. Members opposite have tried to suggest that the Government have done a marvellous job and that not so many people are living in slums as there were several years ago. The fact remains that in this country, out of 14 million dwellings there are 1 million slums, 750,000 near-slums and 4 million dwellings which are structurally sound, but which need modern amenities to make them into decent homes.
Stoke-on-Trent has had a very good housing record since 1945. We in Stoke-on-Trent, until a few years ago and since this Government came into power, were at the head of the county boroughs in our record of house building. Out of 86,000 dwellings in the city, 24,000 are council houses. That is a very creditable record. But still in Stoke-on-Trent there are 7,000 slum dwellings. Three thousand of them are in my own constituency. There are 4,000 near-slums, and there are 10,000 houses which have only a fifteen-year life and which will soon be slums unless something is done.
In spite of all that has been said from the Government benches today, these slums are a relic of Tory rule during the years between the wars. They are a relic handed down to us because landlords in the past did not do repairs and did not improve their houses. Those houses gradually became slums. Unless something is done to the 10,000 houses in Stoke-on-Trent and the 4 million houses in the country which are structurally sound but which need modern amenities, those dwellings, too, will in another fifteen years be added to the slums with which the local authorities will have to deal.
The problem of slum clearance is increased by the difficulty in finding sites. I was very interested to hear the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland say a few minutes ago that Glasgow's problem could be solved only if one built 17 storeys high. What a thought—17 storeys high in an overcrowded city where people have, as it were, already built in on themselves. In Stoke-on-Trent we could not build up to 17 storeys. We can build to only three storeys because Stoke is a place from beneath which the mine owners of the past got the coal. As a consequence, we face two problems. First, we dare not build more than three storeys high, and, secondly, before a brick is put down we have to spend a very large amount of money putting in concrete and steel foundations to make the houses safe.
Also, we have the difficulty mentioned earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon). It takes far too long to obtain Ministry approval for compulsory purchase orders. In my constituency there is a site which has been bandied backwards and forwards for quite a while. Unless we have that site or sites like it, we can do nothing to start to clear the 3,000 slums, never mind about building houses for ordinary letting. Our problem, and the problem in every large city, is such that we need to build on sites such as the one I mentioned in order to rebuild on the sites which we clear.
There is a demand that people should not be sent too far away from the places where they work. Quite frankly, I would rather live a long way off, but many people feel that to do so adds to the cost of transport. It means that they have to have their meals out, and perhaps the women have to pay for their children to be looked after when they come home from school at lunch-time. All those added costs go on to the mounting figure of rent in the new houses, which is, because of the Government's interest rate policy, considerably higher than the rent they paid in the houses from which they are moved There is, therefore, a need for sites to be cleared so that where the services are and where people have lived we can again put houses and make it possible for people to live at a lower density, but nevertheless, closer to the places where they work.
Another problem we have is that we almost dare not put a closing order on a house because we cannot provide accommodation for the people there. Consequently, unless a house in Stoke is dangerous to live in—even though it may be one in a street and it ought to have a closing order on it—we are unable to issue a closing order because of the difficulty we have in rehousing the people there.
I come now to the improvement of existing houses. Listening to the Government speakers today, one would imagine that everything possible had been achieved in inducing private landlords to improve the houses which they own. Since 1949, of 3 million landlord-owned houses, in spite of all the publicity and in spite of "Operation Rescue" about which we heard so much from the Prime Minister, only 15,000 have had improvement grants. In Stoke, out of 5,000 owner-occupied houses 1,200 have had improvement grants. Since 1949, of 15,000 landlord-owned houses only 65 have had improvement grants. This is an appalling figure and just shows how little landlords are prepared to take advantage of improvement grants in order to improve the amenities in their houses in spite of the fact that if they improve their houses they are allowed to increase the rent. It just shows that they do not want to improve the houses. They are prepared to go on letting them as they are, without making any attempt to make it possible to increase the life of the houses and to enable the people in them to live under better conditions.
Not that we in Stoke have not done anything about it. We have modernised houses in which the firemen lived in the centre of the town. Inside lavatories, bathrooms, new grates and sinks have been put in. The old-fashioned ranges were taken out. The front room, which we called a parlour and which went straight through from the front door, was made into a separate room by putting a lobby in the house. Because of those improvements 5s. a week was put on the rent.
I will not give way, because many of my hon. Friends want to speak. The hon. Member can make his speech in his own time.
There was a demand for those houses, but only 65 landlords took advantage of the publicity which we gave, of the advertisements which we inserted in the Press and of the speeches which some of us made in the local council. The Government have very little hope of encouraging private landlords to improve their houses, even though they have sent out another booklet on the subject.
In addition, there is no way of finding out how many tenants have improved the houses themselves by putting in new grates, baths and sinks and by taking out the old-fashioned little brown sinks. Because of the Rent Act and because they did not know that they had to get their assessment changed to take advantage of it, people are faced, in many cases six and even twelve months after putting in the improvements, with Form A giving them notice of an increase in rent and with no possible chance of opposing it. The landlord wants the cake as well as eat it.
In any future housing programme we must consider housing for the aged. This is a terrible problem. When slums are cleared the people sometimes have to be moved a long way away, perhaps from all their family. We should build separate houses for the aged. What we have done in Stoke is to build maisonettes at the side of other houses so that the old people are not stranded from their friends. It may be possible, although I am not enamoured of it, to put a bed-sitting room in the house in which a family is to be rehoused. It is much better that old people should be rehoused on their own, providing that they are among people they know and are close to the shops, the health centre and other facilities.
I could say a lot more about the housing problem, but it is evident from the speeches of hon. Members opposite, especially that of the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, that the Government are definitely on the defensive. They could not possibly be proud of their housing record. Even the houses which they have built were built because the Labour Party found the sites, and stepped up the production of bricks and other things.
At the beginning of 1945, and after, we had to step up the production of bricks, doors and other things needed for houses. We encouraged workers to go into the building trade, but because of the Tory record in the last few years they have had to go on the dole.
As I have said, the Tory Government have not a proud record in housing. If the people of this country are to have decent homes in which they can rear their families we need more than an "Operation Rescue" of the Tory kind. We need an "Operation Rescue" which will adequately deal with this problem and make a drive not in the interests of private building but in the interests of the welfare of the people we represent.
The hon. Lady the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater) was intensely interesting, informative and constructive while she stuck to the facts and drew from her own experience and knowledge of her constituency. I do not agree with many of the conclusions which she reached from those facts. The early stages of this debate were, if I may use the phrase, rather bogged down in political issues, but when hon. Members addressed themselves to their constituency problems the debate was most informative and constructive, from whichever side the comments came.
Housing will always be a hot political issue. It is no misfortune to the general public that it is a political issue. It was, after all, the failure of the Socialist Government from 1945 to 1951 to produce an adequate programme for housing which put the Conservative Party on its mettle to produce the challenging programme of 300,000 houses a year. I carefully say that it was the failure of the Socialist Party to produce an adequate programme for housing. I do not wish to comment on whether it was possible from 1945 to 1951 to build more than 175,000 or 200,000 houses a year. I think the failure was that the party opposite did not promise anything more than that for the future. Therefore, as it became a political issue, it was of great benefit to the public that we on this side were prepared to put forward the policy of 300,000 houses a year.
There is a very important aspect which the hon. Gentleman has completely ignored. Between 1945 and 1951 more than 250,000 war-damaged houses had to be repaired. The hon. Gentleman's party did not have that problem in 1951. If they had had that problem, they could not have said that they would build 300,000 houses.
The hon. Member was not listening to what I said. I did not complain of the failure to build the houses during that period. What I complained of was the failure of that Government to promise anything better in future than that it was quite impossible to build more than 200,000 houses a year. That challenge produced a promise from the Conservative Party to build 300,000 houses a year and the promise was faithfully carried out. Taking the average over the past seven years, 1952–58, the figure has been over 300,000 houses a year. If one likes to translate it into days, it works out at 822 houses completed each day, which is a formidable figure.
I do not, however, want to be controversial about whether during the last year of the Socialist Government it would have been possible to build more than the 194,000 houses that were built. The promise of that Government at that time was that no more than 200,000 houses a year could be built. Within that figure of 200,000—and this is the point we are debating today—there were to be approximately 170,000 local authority houses a year. From 1952 to 1958, the Conservative Government have made it possible for the local authorities to build over 200,000 houses a year. That is the simple comparison of the policies of the respective parties, one saying that for the future, as from 1951, only 170,000 local authority houses a year could be built and the other, the Conservative Government, achieving a figure of over 200,000 local authority houses a year.
No. We want to be fair about this. The latest return of the number of completed houses—for 1958—shows that the number of completed local-authority houses was 113,000, and at no time since 1953, when the figure was 202,000, has it ever been higher than that. It is quite wrong, therefore, to give a figure of over 200,000 houses.
Possibly the hon. Member is looking at the figures for England and Wales, whereas I am quoting those for Great Britain. If he adds up the figures of local authority houses built in Great Britain between 1952 and 1958, he will find that they come to an average of over 200,000 houses a year built by the local authorities.
From that, it is fair to ask what would be the policy of the Socialist Party if in office. Is the Socialist overall figure of 200,000 houses to continue, only 170,000 of them being built by local authorities? Do hon. Members opposite censure the Conservative Government for building an average of 200,000 local authority houses a year? What is the right figure, bearing in mind the rapid increase in local authority building over the past seven years?
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) was shaking his head about the increase in local authority building. [HON. MEMBERS: "Look at the time."] If I were not interrupted so much, I would not take so long.
Admittedly, it has gone down in the last year, and the reasons have been explained. As my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said, however, the figure is going up again this year, as is shown by the number of tenders accepted and the number of starts made on building.
I am trying to discover what figure the party opposite would suggest as the proper level of local authority building. That has not been mentioned so far in the debate. I do not want to compete on figures, but the public should know what is being said by the Socialist Party, why hon. Members opposite say that we have failed, why they say that our average of 200,000 local authority houses a year is insufficient, and why they say that they could do better.
For either party, the answer must depend upon two things. The first is the purpose for which local authority houses should be built, whether they should be built for general need, as. I understand, is the policy of the party opposite, or whether we should concentrate on clearance of unfit areas and their replacement. That is the issue between the two sides. Are the local authorities to build freely, with no limitation as to number, for general need, or should we try to canalise their efforts towards clearance of unfit areas and their replacement by modern housing?
The second consideration must necessarily be the prevailing economic conditions of the nation. I merely name that as a factor and do not propose to discuss it at this stage.
In its recent pamphlets, the Socialist Party has made great play of its belief that housing should be a social service. Perhaps I shall disappoint hon. and right hon. Members opposite by saying that I entirely agree. I differ only on the sector in which it is to be a social service and on the extent to which that social service is to spread over housing. I understand that the idea of hon. Members opposite is that all rented property, except a very small margin of property of higher value, should be in public ownership and should be a social service. That would result in two-thirds of the houses in the country being in public ownership and the subject of a social service. On the other hand, we on this side believe that the current proportion of local authority houses to the total houses is about right. It is about one-fifth of the total number of houses in the country. I would not be dogmatic about a fraction like that. I would imagine that between one-quarter and one-fifth would be the right amount of publicly-owned houses which would form a social service in housing.
I find it difficult to understand how the hon. Member arrives at his figure of one-fifth. I can only think that it must be a guess. Is it not true that the need for local authority ownership must exist as long as there are waiting lists for local authority houses?
Indeed. I shall develop that argument as quickly as I can. This is how I arrived at my fraction of one-fifth. There are about 3 or 4 million council houses out of a total of 15 or 16 million houses throughout the country. The hon. Lady the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North gave a figure of 14 million. I regard that as low. The total number of houses in Britain is between 15 and 16 million. Council houses, therefore, account for about one-fifth of the total.
The fault with Socialist belief in housing as a social service is that it is proclaimed as a universal social service, rather like the National Health Service, but that the practical proposals to bring it into operation are not universal, yet they do not define the purpose or the people to be served. Our policy at least has the merit of defining the extent to which we believe that housing should be a social service. We define the type of person and the type of dwelling for which a subsidy should be provided, our main purpose being to rehouse people from clearance areas. Added to that are such things as overspill and single-person dwellings.
In carrying out that policy, a local authority has certain benefits over the private developer. It is able to acquire land at site value in a clearance area and have a subsidy for building on that land. This policy of redevelopment within a definite limit and area is one that has been gathering momentum since 1956. I am not sure whether the figures have been quoted, but in 1956 the persons rehoused from the slum clearance areas numbered 142,250. In 1957, the figure went up to 188,383, and in 1958 again went up to the very substantial figure of 204,975.
It seems to me that the policy which is advocated by hon. Members opposite of allowing local authorities to build for general needs would put the clock back to the time when not only was there no slum clearance under the Socialist Government but they were not even thinking about it. They had no plans for it at all. For hon. Members opposite to complain about insufficient slum clearance is, if it is a Parliamentary word to use, hypocritical.
Indeed, we are boasting about it, because the plan is gradually gathering momentum and my hope is that it will be developed still further. Even the figures which I have given are, in my opinion, no more than just touching the fringe. It is said in a Socialist pamphlet that there are 1 million scheduled slum properties. I agree. I think that to have rehoused only 204,000 persons in a year is only touching the fringe. More than 1 million persons have to be rehoused. I am sure that it is the Government's policy to encourage local authorities to make rapid progress with that. There is quite enough for the local authorities to do in that way without overburdening them by their taking over all rented property, and also having the job of housing for general need.
To say that there are 1 million people more to be housed from the slums might mean that we would have to increase the sector of publicly-owned houses. I think that it would mean that if we did not undertake something else as well, and that is a review of existing council house tenancies. A review is essential.
I am not saying extend the Rent Act I am now dealing with local authority property. I am going to say something provocative. I believe that we have created a privileged class—the tenant who got a council house some years ago and who now remains in that council house at a subsidised rent. There are many of them who do not need it. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman wants to say something, will he rise to his feet and do so?
The question whether public money is to be used for subsidies is a very interesting one. At the moment, under this Government, higher subsidies are being paid for building pigsties than for building municipal houses.
I should be only too willing to debate that question of pigsties with the hon. Gentleman at some other time. I think that it would be out of order now. There is no doubt whatever that there are many council-house tenants who do not require to be subsidised—well-to-do tenants—and they are keeping out those from the slum clearance areas.
Why does the hon. Member object to council-house tenants who manage to have television sets or cars and whose circumstances are somewhat better than they were five, ten or twelve years ago? Why does he object to that? Why does he want to turn them out?
I object to them because they are keeping out those who are really in need. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. F. Harris) pointed out that one of the reasons why Croydon adopted the course that it did was that it had many tenants really in need and there were tenants in council houses who were not in need of the council services which the local authority gives by housing.
As I see it, the programme could be operated in the following way. If there is a clearance area in which there are a number of families to be moved and rehoused there is bound to be a substantial surplus who cannot be rehoused on the site itself, but have to be rehoused elsewhere; but some can be rehoused on the site, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock) will agree that Liverpool has done that well, with blocks of flats—
I was paying the hon. Lady a compliment. I believe that the majority can be rehoused on the site, and that accommodation can be found for the surplus—without necessarily greatly increasing the existing number of council houses elsewhere—by encouraging the building by local authorities of houses for sale, and the consequent movement of council tenants who are prepared to purchase their houses.
Each district has its individual problems. In some there are a sufficient number of vacant properties, both for sale and for letting, to house the council tenants who do not require any further subsidising.
A sufficient number to carry out the operation which the hon. Member is describing? A sufficient number to take up the two-fifths left over from the slum clearance area?
I am told that Nottingham can provide more accommodation on a cleared site than is required for those needing to be rehoused by reason of clearance of that site. I know that in other places, such as London, as large a proportion as one-third must be rehoused elsewhere. I am quoting figures given to me; I cannot prove them in any way. I believe that the proportion varies throughout the country.
It might be thought that if we carried out the purchase of houses in that way we should eventually come to the sticky end to which the Socialist's policy would come—a nation of council tenants and owner-occupiers, and no privately-let sector. That may be the object of hon. Members opposite, but it is not the desire of hon. Members on this side of the Committee, and in the absence of a deliberate policy to take over all rented property I do not think that that could happen. We would have to go a long way before we would squeeze out the privately-let sector, which consists of between 6 million and 7 million houses, or about one-third of the total number of houses in the country.
Incidentally, the proportion of owner-occupiers, which is also about one-third, is very much smaller than in America and in some Continental countries. We can go much further in encouraging owner-occupation and home ownership without being in any danger of reducing to too small a limit the sector of houses to let.
The time has come when private developers can contribute to the development of cleared sites. Cases which have been mentioned during the debate have been decried by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering, but those examples show that the private developer is prepared to come in and serve a useful purpose by building houses to let. The hon. and learned Member for Kettering seems convulsed with laughter. Why should we not welcome the private developer? Why must it be traditional for the local authority to do all the redevelopment? I should like to see more development by the private developer.
Surely it is a matter of town planning for the local authority to decide the type of dwelling needed in any area. The hon. and learned Gentleman chose examples which suited his case.
There are many examples throughout the country where there has been development suitable to the area by private developers. A large number of dwellings have been provided.
Would the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering try and keep his hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) quiet. The hon. Member for Widnes has written a pamphlet "Plans for Rented Houses" in which he offers compensation on the basis of £6 a year for twenty years for a house. That will frighten any private developer. I suppose that is the intention, because the private developer would be afraid to develop in case the houses were taken over by a Socialist Government for a mere song in compensation.
If this operation of increased slum clearance and redevelopment and rehousing is to run smoothly, we must think more about the management of local authority houses, the allocation of houses, and the method of allocation. At present it is done on some sort of points system by local authorities, in secrecy by some small committee, and great resentment is felt by applicants on housing lists.
The allocation of houses is of vital importance to a family on the waiting list. At present the allocation is done in secrecy as an administrative act. Although justice may be done, I feel it ought to be done openly. I have aired this subject in an Adjournment debate and I do not want to deal with it in great detail now, but we should look into the methods of selection of tenants and the allocation of houses.
It is a matter of astonishment that hon. Members opposite have chosen the subject of housing for this debate after the failure of their Government to produce an adequate programme for housing and after the success of the Conservative Government's housing policy. One can see how the future programme is to be developed by the rapid progress of slum clearance and redevelopment over the past three years. That is the pointer to the future Conservative Government's programme—a programme as impressive and as bene- ficial to the public as was its programme of over 300,000 houses a year.
I feel tempted to follow up some of the things said by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), but I have not sufficient time in which to do so. Some of the tortuous schemes which the hon. Gentleman propounded would be completely unnecessary and he would have had no need to suggest them were there sufficient houses in the country for those families which need them. Because there are not we have asked for this debate, and the hon. Gentleman has been forced to make suggestions about how the existing pool of accommodation may be re-allocated.
The hon. Member for Crosby wondered why we on this side of the Committee desired a debate on housing. I wanted it because so many people in my constituency, particularly in the Tottenham area, have been asking me recently whether the Government realise the position regarding housing and whether something can be done to draw their attention to the problem. I wish to refer mainly to my own constituency and the problems in Middlesex, which are a little different from problems in other parts of the country so eloquently described by my hon. Friends.
In Tottenham, there are more than 7,000 families waiting for houses. This in itself is a tremendous problem, because there is no land available in the borough on which to build, except for five acres which are scattered about in small parcels. In the Wood Green area there is no building land at all. The same situation applies in other parts of Middlesex, in boroughs like Willesden, Edmonton and Acton, and I am sure that the hon. Members who represent those areas wish to put their problems to the Minister.
In the last few years the Tottenham authority has had to find accommodation, or is in process of finding accommodation, for a thousand families which are housed in requisitioned property. In an area where there is no land on which to build and where there is a long list of people waiting for housing accommodation, there are these priority cases, and a thousand families must be found accommodation. I wish to add my plea to that which will be made next week that the Minister should consider extending the date by which requisitioned property has to be released.
Authorities like Tottenham cannot solve their problems without assistance from the Minister. They cannot rehouse the people on their waiting lists; they cannot release requisitioned property or clear pre-fabs on open spaces, and house people evicted because of the operation of the Rent Act as well. They cannot find accommodation for overspill population from the slum areas without some outside assistance.
I wish to draw the attention of the Minister to two consequences which flow from the difficulties experienced by local authorities. The first is the human problem. Recently I have spoken to many homeless families. It is a curious situation. The Minister has recently sent out a circular regarding homeless families and voluntary and welfare organisations have been pressing the Ministry for a considerable time to do something about this problem. Voluntary workers are spending a great deal of time and energy trying to prevent families becoming homeless because they have not paid their rent, or for other causes which occur when families get into difficulties and have to be evicted from the accommodation which they are occupying. While these efforts are being made to prevent families from becoming homeless in this way through their own fault, as a result of the Rent Act other families are being made homeless through no fault of their own it would appear that on the one hand the Ministry is trying to stop families from becoming homeless while on the other it is deliberately forcing families to become homeless by the application of the provisions of the Rent Act.
I should like to reinforce what was said by the hon. Lady the Member for Kelvingrove (Mrs. McAlister) and invite the Minister to visit my constituency. I should like him to go to a hostel for homeless families in Tottenham. I went into one room in which a family had been living for nearly three years. The family consisted of the father and mother and two children. There was washing strung across a line and washing airing over the gas stove. There were four beds in the room and the conditions under which the family lived were appalling. The room reminded me of the little hut erected at the back of St. Martins Church to show the kind of accommodation in which the people live who are in refugee camps in Europe. I welcome the drive being made to aid these displaced persons, but I wish the Minister would do something to solve the problems of the homeless families in this country.
Local people blame the local council for the conditions which exist, but what can local councils do? They have no land on which to build. Families are being evicted by private landlords under the provisions of the Rent Act. There have been 45 families evicted in Tottenham under the Act, and still more because of the usual reasons with which we are familiar. Perhaps the wife is expecting a baby and the landlord says, "Out you must go". Some couples have found accommodation with a householder who is buying his house through a building society and he fails to keep up the mortgage repayments. The building society forecloses and then not only the householder and his family but also the tenant and his family are evicted.
In Middlesex the problem of homeless families is pressing. Yet when the county council invited the Minister to meet a deputation to discuss the problem, in a letter sent from the Clerk of the Council the local authorities, it is stated, paraphrasing the reply of the Minister:
The Minister is apparently not aware of any serious increase in the number of families which might justify special action.
I wish to read a letter I have just received, one of a great many from my constituency, pointing out the human aspects of this problem. The writer says:
I am an old man. That is the only crime have committed. It seems a crime to live long enough to get to my age of 74. I realise that I have got to get a little more than the old-age pension so I still do a day or two's work a week. I take the liberty to write to you to inform you that I am a victim of the vicious Rent Act. I have been in front of the judge three times at Edmonton County Court. At last my visits there are over as the time he gives me to hand over with vacant possession is 6th July. Then I suppose my home that I have striven for all my life will, be put in the street. A nice prospect isn't it? All this anxiety is making my wife ill. It is not much I am asking, just somewhere to live. …
That is the kind of problem with which authorities all over Middlesex have to cope. It is anticipated by the county council, which is drawing these problems together and summarising them, but the number will appreciably increase as time goes on.
That is the human aspect, and there is the other aspect, in the problem of building. With regard to that I want to put to the Minister that there are two solutions of the problem, both of which lie in his hands. We have heard a great deal tonight about the past. I want him to look to the future and to realise that he has got to do something about this problem. If boroughs like the two I represent and many others are to solve their housing problems they can do one of two things. They can concentrate on re-development of rundown central areas. The hon. Member for Crosby said this was Conservative policy. If so, I wish the Minister would realise what is happening.
I have an example from Coventry where there are two exactly comparable housing schemes, one on the periphery and one in a central area. The cost of exactly similar schemes is 80 per cent. higher in the central area than on the outskirts. That site in the central area had special features which made the cost lower than in other cases, but there was 80 per cent. difference, and in other schemes the difference would be 100 per cent. If local authorities are to redevelop central areas, clear away rundown areas and then build modern flats and houses as those congested towns must, the high cost will either make rents prohibitive or will make a very heavy drain on the rate subsidy. This tendency will increase the demand for land on the outskirts of the towns. In other words, it will increase the pressure on green belts.
If the Minister does not look at this problem of the greatly increased cost of land in central areas it will be aggravated when the Town and Country Planning Act comes into operation. We shall have derelict central areas in towns and enormously strong pressure on green belts which will be extremely difficult to resist. That pressure will come from all sides, from private developers as well as from local authorities.
Another point the Minister must look at is the problem of overspill. It is not enough to say that he is encouraging overspill by a special subsidy. He knows as well as I do the problem in Middlesex. He knows that Middlesex authorities have agreed that their housing problem is such that they need some special method of solution. He knows they are considering the possibility of having a new town. I ask what he intends to do to help. He has refused permission for a new town under the New Towns Act. Now that the county council is under Labour control, I am very glad that it is working with the local authorities in Middlesex to try to find a solution of this problem of a new town. Such co-operation is essential because as the planning authority the county council has the power to refuse planning consent for extensions of industry in Middlesex and it can extinguish industrial uses.
It is essential that industries as well as houses should be moved out. I therefore ask the Minister what he intends to do to help Middlesex to achieve a new town. If he will not allow one to be made under the Act, what powers will he give to the county council to help Middlesex solve its problems? Recently his own Ministry has been giving evidence to the Commission on Local Government in Greater London. It is estimated that from now until 1971 35,000 additional houses a year will need to be built to meet the housing needs of Middlesex. That is the problem and 2,000 families a year have been going from Middlesex into the new towns, but the new towns are rapidly completing their building programmes. By 1962 Hemel Hempstead, which has taken the majority of the Middlesex families will have completed its allocation of houses for families coming from outside.
Something must be done. The remedy lies in the Minister's hands. If he will not permit a new town under the New Towns Act, it is for him to provide some other means to solve the overspill problem for Middlesex. He must also look at the problem from the National point of view, because what I have said about overspill from Middlesex is true of many other parts of the country. It is his responsibility to look at this as an overall problem and as a future problem, instead of merely reiterating what has been done in the past. He must look ahead and help the authorities, which are doing their best but which need a national policy if they are to succeed.
I have only about two minutes and in them I want to deal with two points which I consider are important. First, the hon. Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) spoke about housing as a social service. I agree with her that it is a social responsibility to provide an adequate supply of houses, but it seems to me that there can be no social obligation on the taxpayer to subsidise a tenant who has sufficient money to pay for his own accommodation. May I draw attention to some comments of the secretary of the Labour Party, Mr. Morgan Phillips, who said that the Labour policy was one of compulsorily acquiring houses, which he would sell to sitting tenants and others on the basis that they should repair and put them in order? There is a clear acceptance of the fact that there are certain people who are not entitled to look upon housing as a social service.
If we apply that to council houses—and this is a matter of which I have some experience—we often find that council tenants are prepared to buy privately-built houses and to leave the council houses which they occupied for others whose need is greater. Although the Labour Party is a little doubtful about turning out council tenants of any kind, it ought to realise that there is a strong feeling against financing council tenants in certain areas and that the view is by no means unanimous that those who occupy council houses but have means of their own should receive the benefit of a public subsidy.
The second point which I wish to make is that in my opinion council housing subsidies are in a muddle. Some are for sixty years, some for forty years and some for twenty years and at varying rates of interest. I believe that the country would welcome a clear and definite statement about the full position of housing subsidies. It is proper that the State should look after those people who require help in housing matters, but it seems to me nonsense to make provision for those who do not need it. I am sure that the time is ripe for this information to be given to the country about the subsidy position in order that the whole problem can be considered in the light of the proved needs of the present, not of the future or of the past.
The Parliamentary Secretary began his speech earlier in the course of the debate by chiding the Opposition that we must be very hard pressed to find subjects on which to attack the Government or we would not have chosen housing. Does the hon. Gentleman think that now? Later in the course of the debate, during a very lively Scottish interlude, his colleague in the same Government, the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, confessed to the Committee that after eight years of Tory rule the housing situation in Scotland was a public scandal. That is the answer to the Parliamentary Secretary.
During the course of the Parliamentary Secretary's speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon), having heard that statement, handed me a letter. I have been in two minds whether I should read it, because it is horrifying and I do not want it to be thought that I am approaching this subject from that point of view. However, in view of the Parliamentary Secretary's attitude, as if housing were no longer a problem and as if everything was all right, I will with the consent of my hon. Friend read this letter. I hope that I shall read it quietly. I can give the Parliamentary Secretary the letter if he likes, and he can discuss it with my hon. Friend. The letter comes from Glasgow. Glasgow is in this country and is the responsibility of Parliament. Part of the letter says:
We live in the above tenement For a fortnight now we have been up to our knees in water from the foot of the stairs to the entrance of the close. The water is thick and vile in this heat and, as the property is infested with rats, you can imagine how we dread any disease spreading. Just now there are three dead rats floating in the water amongst the garbage and 'stepping stones'. I have written to the sanitary and the Factor, and still no response. Just now five of the children in the tenement are down with chickenpox, our mail is stopped and I have lost a job through it, the dustbins are full and the hack courts strewn with rubbish. The rents of course have risen 75 per cent. on average. … At the least you could offer us legal advice.
The Parliamentary Secretary began his debate by saying that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I had a cheek to discuss housing, yet conditions exist of the kind stated in that letter.
I express my regret to many of my hon. Friends from many towns and cities who have not been able to intervene in the debate. I should like to have given them my time. The speeches we have heard from Leeds, from Newcastle, from parts of London, from Stoke-on-Trent and from hon. Members on the other side of the Committee have revealed to us clearly that housing is still the gravest of our social problems. I believe that we are not only right to bring this matter before the House of Commons at this time, but that we shall be dead right in expressing our condemnation of the failure of the Government when we reach the end of the day.
The debate was opened by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). I marvelled at his knowledge and his grasp of the subject. I want to thank him for the speech he made today and for the immense service he rendered to our party and to the nation in this field. I am proud to be associated with him. I speak as one who does not claim to be an expert in this field, and for that reason I shall deal with some special aspects of it. I thank my hon. and learned Friend and all those hon. Members who have spoken today and presented their problems before the Committee and before the country.
Since I have given some of my time quite willingly, I will deal with two or three special aspects. First, the Parliamentary Secretary told us that his Department has no figures to give us as to what are the waiting lists. I do not know what the arrangements in the Department are, but since housing is now, and is likely to remain for some considerable time, one of our greatest social problems we ask the Department to provide us with figures of waiting lists and all the other information required to enable us to see the size, nature and character of the housing problem.
Since the Government themselves have no such figures, I presume that they will accept those quoted by my hon. and learned Friend, which are derived from a survey made by the National Housing and Town Planning Council. We must take them as the most authoritative that we can have, because the Ministry has none of its own.
The Council inquired of 523 housing authorities, covering 52 per cent. of our total population, and found that they had over 750,000 applicants on their waiting lists. Of those, one in three was regarded as being in urgent need and, as my hon. and learned Friend said, if that is representative of the whole country it means that one in eight of our whole population is in urgent need of housing accommodation—
All I can say is that this survey was conducted by a very reputable body. Why does not the Minister take such a check and provide us with the figures? Until he does, figures of this kind have to be accepted as the basis, and they show that on the waiting lists are hundreds of thousands of families, many in urgent need. There are cases of tuberculosis and other types of sickness. There are people living in frightful conditions, and we know that there are thousands of young people still waiting for houses. These are all cases of urgency—and this is the position in 1959. Figures such as these show quite clearly that housing is a grave social problem, and that we are far from having developed policies to meet the need.
Very many questions have been put to the Minister by my hon. Friends and other hon. Members, who have also given detailed statistics and figures of their own areas. They have also questioned him about the future. Therefore, if I do not deal with those matters it is because they have already been amply dealt with. Instead, I shall speak on the aspect of the problem that we face in the big towns and cities. My own view of housing there is that we cannot solve it by treating it merely as a housing problem—as we say in our policy statement. It is part of a bigger economic and social problem, and many of the speeches which have been made this afternoon clearly illustrate its gravity.
I have here the British Journal of Sociology of December, 1958, in which there is an article by Mr. J. B. Culling-worth, who deals with the measurement of housing needs. Speaking of the cities and big towns he says:
Indeed, in the large cities—even those which have declined in population—the local authority waiting lists are now longer than they were ten years ago despite"—
and this meets the point made by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson)—
annual checks to keep these live.
Does the Minister accept that? Lots of houses have been built—since the war we have had a net increase of 2½ million houses—yet this reputable authority says that the live housing waiting lists in the cities and big towns are greater than they were ten years ago. What we are facing is the problem of overspill in the great conurbations. There are what are officially described as six great conurbations in England and Wales—Greater London, the Tyneside, the industrial West Riding, South-East Lancashire, based on Manchester, Merseyside, based on Liverpool, and the West Midlands, based on Birmingham.
Of the total population of this country, 37·3 per cent. live in these six conurbations. The acreage of these conurbations, expressed as a proportion of England and Wales, is 3·56 per cent. This shows, therefore, that over one-third of the population of England and Wales are living in about one-thirtieth of the total land area. This is a topsy-turvy system. Talk about free enterprise—this is stupidity.
See what has happened in my lifetime, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) has experienced this, too. Far a quarter of a century, during the depression—and we cannot he blamed; the Tories were there all the time—the population of the country was drained into these conurbations. In the 1920s and 1930s the Ministry of Labour subsidised men and families to move from South Wales, Durham and Lancashire into the conurbations. The Minister of Labour still does that. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Housing knows this because I met him earlier in the week and I mentioned it.
My valley has lost 2,000 of its people in the past twenty years and my town has lost 200 of its families in the last twelve months and many of them have been subsidised to go into the conurbations. For 25 years we drained them into the Midlands, into London and the other great cities. We paid to transfer them. We gave them a removal allowance. Now we are confronted with the insoluble problem of overspilling them out again. If people call that Tory freedom, they can have it.
This problem cannot be solved without decent planning. The waiting lists in these large conurbations are greater than they were ten years ago, in spite of the fact that houses are being built. We are building houses all the time and draining people from the other areas so that we have these concentrations of population. What a way to run a country! What a topsy-turvy system!
We have heard about Glasgow. The Under-Secretary, who is not here at the moment, described it as the city with the worst housing conditions in Western Europe. My interview with the Minister earlier in the week was lively, and I enjoyed it. I was also appalled by it. I was quite frank, and I marvelled at the patience with which people put up with conditions of this kind. In Glasgow—and this is true of all the conurbations—there are no available sites for building. There is not the land on which to provide houses for the population. We have got to spill people out. What is the good of the Minister trying to build houses when the President of the Board of Trade allows new factories and new people to go to these places to add to the overspill problem? In twenty years' time we shall have another overspill from these conurbations because we have not the sense to distribute industry properly.
Let we come to the medal of the week. I am told that in Glasgow they have got to find room for overspill. I am credibly informed that one of the suggestions which has been considered is that some of the overspill population of Glasgow shall go to Kilmarnock, 22 miles away. See what happened yesterday. My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) had a Question down to the Minister of Labour. He asked the Minister about a proposal by the British Transport Commission to move the railway workshops from Kilmarnock to Glasgow, and this has been agreed. Did hon. Members ever see anything more like Bedlam in their lives? Here is Glasgow planning to overspill some of its population to Kilmarnock, and here is the British Transport Commission, with the consent of the Government, after consultation, moving people from Kilmarnock to Glasgow and subsidising the removal. The overspill from Glasgow to Kilmarnock will meet the workers from Kilmarnock going to Glasgow.
We cannot solve the housing problem without dealing with those considerations. In these big towns and cities there are terrifying problems, but unless we tackle this problem of the sensible distribution of our industry we shall create a housing problem in all our cities which will be with us in twenty and thirty years' time.
The debate has concentrated upon local authority housing. Figures have been given, and I do not want to repeat them, but what is quite clear—and this is one of our major charges against the Government—is that as a piece of deliberate policy there is a shift from Government house building to private house building. I hope the Minister will reply to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell). Land which the local authority wanted for building council houses was given in preference to the building of private houses. On what ground was that done? Very often we on these benches are told that we are doctrinaire. Who are doctrinaire now? Who are putting private profit and private ownership before public need?
My hon. Friend gave examples and figures to illustrate this continuous shift from local authority housing to private building. We have heard so much from the benches opposite about what is called the Tory social policy. Indeed, it is sometimes called the Tory social philosophy, though, as a Socialist, I cannot see how philosophy and Toryism go together. The Tory philosophy is to concentrate our endeavours and, in particular, our national resources on meeting the greatest need. The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance waxed eloquent about it earlier this week. He justified the new National Assistance Regulations by saying that they would concentrate the resources of the nation upon meeting the greatest need of those who were on National Assistance. That is the philosophy. The whole effort of the State should be to provide for those who are in greatest need.
How do the Government square that with their housing policy? It is only the local authority which can meet the housing need where the need is greatest. It is only the local authority which takes need into account in letting houses. If private builders build houses, they have no points system. They give no preference to those in need. There is for them no question of testing need. With them, the question is, who will pay the biggest rent? Not only are the Government doing injustice to the people, but they are doing more than that. If their philosophy is as I have stated it, they are betraying their own philosophy. But that is typical of them. When their philosophy conflicts with private interest, the philosophy goes and private interest comes in.
The question which we hope the Minister will answer is this. What role does he see the local authorities playing in meeting the housing need? In the first place, does he admit the need? Does he claim that private building will meet the need? If not, the only alternative is for the local authorities to meet it. Yet the whole trend of his policy, particularly in the last few years, has been away from the local authorities and towards private building. Our charge against the Government is that our national housing policy is being distorted for private ends and is failing to meet the real needs of the people today.
I want to say a word now about home ownership, because so much has been said about it for our party. If I may say so, I give way to no one on the benches opposite who talks about home ownership and about the virtues of home ownership. I was born in an owner-occupied house. I live in one. I represent a town which was one of the first in the country to adopt the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act. I lived in a valley where 75 per cent. of all the houses are owner-occupied by coal miners.
Why do hon. Members think that the miners sacrificed, saved and skimped in order to own their own houses? It was not because of any doctrinaire ideas about a property-owning democracy. They did it because of their memories of the past. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. George), who has the enviable distinction of being the only miner on the Tory side—how he comes to be there, I do not understand—knows the reason perfectly well. We have our history and tradition. We are as proud of our tradition as hon. Members opposite are of theirs. There is a memory among our people of the old days when the owner owned the pit, the shops and the houses. When there was a strike or a lockout, often the men were beaten by their families being evicted. There grew up a passion for each man to own his own castle so that he could stand up to the boss on more or less equal terms.
Hon. Members opposite speak as though they were the only ones Interested in home ownership. Of course, we shall provide for home ownership, but we shall provide for it in such a way as not to make it a lifelong burden for young people starting off family life. I ask the Committee to remember the present rates of interest and all the other conditions involved. I shall not speak today about our policy. We have explained it already, and we cannot discuss it now.
We regard housing as a social service. Because we see no answer to the problem of housing except public ownership, we have our policy. But when we take them over for public ownership, we shall make the first offer to those who live in them so that they may buy at the take-over price and add to real home ownership in this country.
I come now to the subject of the older houses. Not so long ago we listened to the present Prime Minister, who was then the Minister of Housing, talking about an inspiring adventure. Hon. Members will remember that speech. Through his Housing Act, the repair of old houses would be achieved. Then we had "Operation Rescue". Very shortly afterwards it was a flop. It was the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok who called it a flop. He admits that, does he not? Now the Government have a new scheme. Perhaps the Minister will tell us how the new scheme is going along. They tried "Operation Rescue", and it failed. They have tried this new scheme to deal with the problem presented by the millions of old houses which need repair and improvement.
There are millions of houses today without a water closet. We live in a topsy-turvy society. We travel in space, yet there are families living in houses without a water closet. What sense of social values is that? If the new scheme fails, what then? There is no alternative. The Minister knows it. The nation will know it. There is no alternative to ours.
I hope that the Minister will say something about the Rent Act and about control. In the unlikely event of the present Government returning to power, the country will be entitled to know whether they will increase rents again and carry out further measures of decontrol. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), when introducing the Rent Act in 1956, said—I am paraphasing his words, but I believe that I do them full justice—"We are in sight of a solution, and, within twelve months, we shall reach a stage when, over all, the supply of houses and the demand will be equal". He described to us how in those happy days, which should have come in 1957, landlords would be going about looking for tenants. That is the assumption on which they based their legislation. That assumption, like so much of their policy, has been completely falsified by events, and it is because of their failures that we shall ask the Committee to divide against them when the time comes.
No one who supported the Labour Government of 1945–51 has the smallest right to criticise the Conservative Government's housing policy. What people want is not talk but houses, and for every 30 houses built under Socialist policy, 40 are being built today. There are 700,000 families now enjoying new homes who would not have had them if the Conservatives had not got in and set a much faster pace in house building than the Socialist Government were contented with.
Because we have helped to make 2 million people happy, the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) calls us merchants of misery. I think that he must have got up on the mantelpiece this morning, like Alice, and walked through the looking glass because he is living in a backwards world.
I want to deal with the specific points raised in the debate, answer the questions asked, and finally come to the general argument. The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to a speech which I made in November, 1957, and he quoted me as saying that I was taking as my aim that local authorities would complete 100,000 houses in the year 1959–60. We shall, in fact, do better than that. I do not know whether he criticises us for doing better than that, but we shall. I was perfectly frank with the House at that time. I said that housing could not contract out of the steps that had to be taken towards economic recovery and to achieve victory over inflation. I hold to that view, and no responsible Minister standing at this Box could say otherwise. Unless the economy of this country is soundly based, it is goodbye to successful housing, social services and everything.
Do the Opposition venture to say that, whatever the economic situation, the country should go full steam ahead with house building? That is the only ground on which they could criticise what we did 18 months ago. If they hold the view that, regardless of the situation, we should as a country simply aim at constantly building all the houses that can be conceivably put up, why did not they do that in 1950 and 1951? Of course, I appreciate that when the Socialists are in power there is no way to economic recovery except by a change of Government, so that the problem for them is a different one.
The hon. and learned Gentleman's next point concerned interest rates. His party's policy of artificially low interest rates produced inflation in the years after the war. That was one of the largest factors in launching this country on the slippery slope of inflation. It produced inflation and sent building costs soaring. The rise in building costs is something which we have had to struggle against during the post-war years. We have used interest rates to counter inflation, and we have been so successful that for the last three years building costs have stopped rising for the first time since the war. For three years building costs have been absolutely steady.
The hon. and learned Gentleman contended that local authorities were suffering from high interest rates and were being prevented by them from building the houses that were necessary. He seems to forget that in our legislation we have provided for discretionary subsidies. Any local authority which cannot build without putting either the rents of its houses or its rates unreasonably high can apply for a discretionary subsidy under the Housing Act. These subsidies are substantial and no fewer than forty local authorities in England and Wales are receiving them.
The right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and other hon. Members asked for further information about the housing waiting lists. They presumed to complain that the country could not reach any assessment of the housing situation unless somebody added up all the waiting lists of the local authorities and gave an authoritative figure. That is exactly what the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) was repeatedly asked to do when he was Minister and as repeatedly refused—rightly so—saying that any such figure would be valueless. There was then, and there is now, a housing shortage in many places. Do not, however, let us divert the energies of valuable people to adding up lists when those lists can tell us nothing unless we know in advance that all of them are drawn up on the same basis and according to the same criteria.
The right hon. Member for Llanelly, in his speech, also read out a letter which had been sent to one of his hon. Friends. I gather that it was written from a Scottish address. I am not responsible for housing policy in Scotland, but from what I gathered from the terms of that letter I would have said that had the writer been in England, the local health authority was not doing its job.
The hon. Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) suggested that the Government were stopping local authorities building houses that were badly needed by giving them inadequate allocations, and she quoted the case of Leeds. It is true that in November last year, before 1959 began, the Leeds Corporation indicated to me that it would like an allocation of 2,500 for 1959 as against its 1958 allocation of 1,800. I said that I would give the corporation 2,000 at that time and would review the position later in the year. That is exactly how matters stand. According to the information available to me, although we are nearly half-way through the year. Leeds still has in hand no fewer than 1,800 houses approved but not yet started.
Other hon. Members made the charge against the Government that my predecessor and I had not always permitted local authorities to build everywhere that they wished to build. In particular, the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) raised a question concerning the city which he represents.
Part of which the hon. Member represents. I am sure that he will understand, and the House will appreciate, that I could not possibly meet a deputation from any local authority when questions relating to the same land were before me on a compulsory purchase order. I am always ready at the service of any Member of the House who wishes to see me or to see my Parliamentary Secretary about any matter within my responsibilities arising in his constituency, but I seek to make it an absolute rule—and I hope that both sides of the Committee will support me in this—in declining to see those who are not Members of the House on matters which are before me and in which I have to act in a quasi-judicial capacity. I feel certain that that is right. I assure the hon. Member that when I get the report of the further inquiry which is to be held, I will consider it with an open mind on the basis of all the evidence which is brought forward at that inquiry.
May I take it that the fact that an appeal has been allowed previously which hands this land over to private enterprise will not have an undue influence with the right hon. Gentleman in his decision on the compulsory purchase order?
I said to the hon. Gentleman that I would consider it with an open mind on the basis of all the evidence brought forward at that inquiry. It will be on what takes place at that inquiry rather than on anything that has taken place or might take place outside the inquiry that I shall seek to reach my decision.
If hon. Members opposite reproach the Conservative Government for not having invariably given local authorities power to build wherever they will, let me say that no Minister in my experience has ever done that. I was a member of the London County Council when the Socialist controlled L.C.C. sought to make a compulsory purchase order over 800 acres of land at Chessington, and it was Lord Silkin, who was then Minister, who refused to confirm that compulsory purchase order, just as he refused to confirm in whole a further compulsory purchase order which the Socialist controlled L.C.C. sought to make in those years at Hurlingham.
We must consider all these cases on their merits. In the last few weeks and months I carry in my mind a case where I authorised private enterprise rather than a local authority to build on certain land because it was clear that the local authority had enough building land for several years already in its possession, whereas private building in that area might otherwise have been at a standstill. I have done the reverse, and in another case that I bear in mind I have authorised a local authority to build on land which was being sought after by private enterprise because in that case I believed the local authority's work would be brought to a standstill and it would not be able to carry out its statutory duties, whereas it appeared to me that there was other land in the neighbourhood on which private enterprise could build.
The hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) raised the question of requisitioning. She will appreciate that any extension of the date of 31st March, 1960, would require legislation, and, therefore, I cannot answer any questions on that. I think that she should give me credit for making a decision—and not an easy decision—lately in favour of her Borough of Wood Green. She spoke of overspill problems, and these are very present to my mind. About 120,000 more people will be going to live in the London new towns before further development is completed, so it would be wholly wrong to say that the Government have clamped down and prevented any further overspill from London taking place.
Then there was the claim made by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering that the Labour Government had introduced improvement grants for modernising older houses. That is perfectly true, but the Labour Government's scheme was so impractical that from 1949 to 1953 only 6,000 houses were improved with the aid of those grants. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister held my office he altered the scheme, and since then they have been running at the rate of about 35,000 a year. I agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East that that is not enough, and that is why we have put on the Statute book the House Purchase and Housing Act. I endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) said about the importance of these grants being made use of, and I am sure that I can rely upon the hon. Lady, and, indeed, upon hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, for support—for part of that Bill has had all-party support—to do everything they can to publicise the new standard grants scheme and get it used to the full.
The whole basis of my argument and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater) was that even though we represent those cities where landlords have been entitled to use these improvement grants hardly anything has been done.
That is why we have amended the law and made the scheme simpler and more attractive.
The Opposition make the charge that in these days the Government allow only wretched boxes to be built in place of houses. Do hon. Members opposite never go into modern council houses or flats? I have been into a good many newly built houses and flats lately in different parts of England and Wales. I was in some new flats last week in two London boroughs, one under Socialist and the other under Conservative control—Finsbury and Kensington. They were not boxes. They were not cramped. They were charming flats, and all the tenants said how delighted they were to have got them.
I want to pay a tribute to what local authorities are doing for the old people. In the years after the war we did not build enough for them. We naturally had to build mostly for families. The result was that when the Labour Government went out of office only 7 per cent. of the council houses and flats being built were designed for old people. Now the figure is about 20 per cent., and I hope that it will go up to 25 per cent. Is that what the Opposition criticise when they seek to debate local authority housing?
The hon. and learned Member says that he wants the others, too. The truth is that once again the Opposition are censuring the Government for building too many houses. This time their case is that they are not the right sort of houses. Half the houses now being built are houses which people are choosing to live in for themselves.