Orders of the Day — Housing (Amenities)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th November 1960.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Whitelaw.]

10.1 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

I should like to start with a story about the Lancashire lad who returned home after doing his National Service. He sat one Sunday night on the back step talking to his father about the things he had seen abroad and he said, "Dad, we have travelled the world. Things have got to be different. We have lived in houses—proper houses, modern houses, houses with a bath, hot water and inside toilet. Look at this place—dirty, filled with lice, bugs and rats. Look at that", and he pointed to the outside toilet.

He grew so angry about it that he said, "It is a disgrace" and he pulled a Mills bomb out of his bag, lobbed it on to the outside toilet and the outhouse went up in smoke. So they sat there for another five minutes, until the smoke had cleared. The father turned to his son and said, "Son, tha should not have done that. Thy Ma was in there." I am suggesting tonight that there are better ways of going about it than that.

It is a national scandal that, in the year 1960, 5 million families in Britain are living in houses without baths. That means that approximately 15 million men, women and children—I am including Scotland in my figures—or, in other words, roughly one in three of our fellow countrymen are living in these conditions.

Photo of Sir Keith Joseph Sir Keith Joseph , Leeds North East

I do not want to get things wrong, and what I shall say does not minimise the problem, but the 1951 census, from which the hon. Member may be quoting, showed that the number of dwellings was 3 million. I hope that the hon. Member will keep to that, which is the only figure we have from the census.

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

I should like to take this up on another occasion, because I am using Government figures.

Many of these houses are a disgrace to civilisation and the only remedy for them is to demolish them. That would take many years, however, and according to the Minister's figures, 3 million of these house—3½ million if one includes Scotland—are structurally sound. This shows that the figure of 5 million was not a long way out. It is an appalling situation that all these houses are in this condition and most of them are also without hot water and inside toilet.

It is a strange kind of affluent society where people have no bath in the house. I believe that the Welfare State has not even started. Who is it who says, "You have never had it so good"? Perhaps it is gentlemen like the one I met from a comfortable Surrey suburb last week, who told me that when there is a full wage packet coming in, the ordinary working-class family does not mind if there is no bath in the house.

It is quite clear that one half of the world does not know bow the other half is living. Let us take the case of a typical worker doing a dirty kind of job that is common to our great industrial cities. Let us say that he is a fitter or a turner in heavy engineering; and I know about this because I have done the job myself. He comes home from work, filthy and stinking of oil, of steel filings, of sweat and of mistic—a coolant liquid used to reduce the heat of the cutting tool. It is a great mistake to think that most engineering workers have baths at work; they have not. Usually, the only engineering worker who has a bath at work is a foundry worker.

So the engineer comes home to a house without a bath. If he wants to wash his feet, his wife has to pull an enamel bowl from under the cupboard and put the kettle on—this in an age of space travel, atomic energy and automation. Suppose that he or his wife or children feel a cold coming on. If they could take a hot bath and go to bed all might be well, but they cannot do this. I believe that the absence of baths is a great contributory cause to a good deal of avoidable ill-health.

If the man's position is bad, his wife's position is far worse. Let hon. Members think of the problems facing a working class mother desperately trying to bring up her children Olean and healthy. I could take the Minister to a "two-up, two-down" house in my constituency where a mother and father and eight children share an overcrowded kitchen. Every drop of hot water in the house has to be heated in a large saucepan on the gas stove. Consequently, it is no wonder that two of the children have been seriously scalded. Bathing young children in the usual zinc bath in front of the fire, ladling the water in and out, calls for the strength of an athlete. So there is not much of the "press-button age" for mothers in those circumstances.

I quote a letter which I received this morning from a war widow: I have never known the luxury of having hot water on tap. I never doubted that by the time my child had grown to manhood conditions would have so progressed that he would take for granted a bath and hot water tap that I fondly imagined would be in every home. But there is no such luck. He is married and has not been able to get a house with a bath. Having one's own bathroom is an impossible dream to ordinary folks like me. That is what it means to millions of decent folk.

Let us take another aspect. A friend of mine is suffering from a stomach complaint, he must frequently visit the toilet at short notice. He lives on the first floor and cannot get down quickly to the toilet, which is in the yard outside. That is a real difficulty which must affect a considerable number of people. I believe that it is utterly wrong, too, that very young people and very old people should have to go out of the house in the cold or wet weather to visit a toilet. I know a place in Stockport where the mother has to take her child's chamber pot across the square to a hutted toilet in the middle.

In Manchester today there are 250,000 men, women and children living without a bath in the house. In Salford, the situation is even worse. In my constituency, Salford, East, and also in Salford, West, five out of ten houses have no bath, hot water or inside toilet. More than one in three are in this position in Wigan, Bolton, Bury, Burnley, Rochdale, St. Helens and Preston. This is not confined to the North; I have figures showing that West Ham, Leyton and Southwark have an even higher percentage. In the great cities of Birmingham, Liverpool, Cardiff, Newcastle, Leeds and Sheffield the same story can be told. In Glasgow, it is even worse.

In 1949, the Labour Government made grants available, but no use was made of them by private landlords. So, in 1959 the Conservative Government made more generous grants available, and one would have thought that they were a gift for the landlords.

Photo of Sir Keith Joseph Sir Keith Joseph , Leeds North East

Is the hon. Gentleman referring to the grants in 1949 which were used by owner-occupiers?

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

Yes. Half the total cost up to £310 is now granted by the Government, and the landlord can recoup his half by increasing the rent by 8 per cent. for twelve years. In other words, it costs him nothing. Yet the landlord cannot be bothered.

The figures show that the owner-occupiers, to whom the Parliamentary Secretary has just referred, have, sensibly, made use of the grants, but the private landlords have not. Government figures show that the owner-occupiers of one out of 27 houses which were structually sound have made use of the grants, but only one out of every 200 private landlords with structurally sound houses have made use of the grants. In a Written Answer this month the Minister told me that only 18,000 private landlords' houses have had the grant for baths, inside toilets and hot water in the first nine months of this year.

Recently, officials of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government said that it would take forty years to remove the slums in certain local authority areas. It will take longer to introduce these improvements into houses because a far larger number is concerned. What is the Government's target? Is it to be forty years, fifty years or sixty years before every house in the country has a bathroom? What is the Government's solution to the problem? I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will say—because he has said it before—that the Government's solution is to have more publicity about the scheme. But this will not do the trick. In Salford, as the hon. Gentleman knows, there were two show houses demonstrating these improvements which were visited by 11,000 people in three weeks, so widespread is the longing for a bath. Yet, although there are 43,000 landlords' houses in the city, only seven received a grant. I am not saying that all landlords are heartless. There are some honourable exceptions; but they are precious few.

If publicity has failed, as it has, what proposal have the Government to make now? I believe that the only solution is to let the tenant himself apply for an improvement grant. If, as at present, a local authority approves a house as suitable for these improvements and the house has an estimated life of more than fifteen years, the landlord should then be compelled to apply for the grant.

I know that in an adjournment debate I am not allowed to ask for amending legislation, which would be the simplest way of going about this problem—and I hope that is what the Government will do. However, I am proposing another way of doing it. Under the Public Health Act it is required that the landlord should keep his house in a fit condition. I believe that in modern terms a "fit house" means a house which contains a bath, inside toilet and hot water. In other words, I am appealing that that Act should be applied more stringently. Consequently, I conclude by asking the Minister to use his power to grant this boon which is so deeply desired by millions of families in the country.

10.15 p.m.

Photo of Sir Eric Errington Sir Eric Errington , Aldershot

I want to put the view of the property owner on a problem that is admittedly far from satisfactory. My first point is that the 8 per cent. increase in rent in respect of the amount spent by the landlord is quite inadequate. The cost of maintenance is very much greater. The hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) spoke of repayment in twelve years, but I would point out that there is a liability for Income Tax. In fact, over a period of fifteen years the property owner who improved his property would find himself about £14 "in the red". In spite of that some property owners are doing their very best.

Improvement is, however, a very difficult matter. One of the greatest difficuties lies in the fact that a tenant is very often not prepared, because of his circumstances, to give up the extra room necessary to make a bathroom and hot-water supply available—

Photo of Mrs Harriet Slater Mrs Harriet Slater , Stoke-on-Trent North

Would the hon. Member tell us whether his association has tried to find out how many tenants would be prepared to give up the room?

Photo of Sir Eric Errington Sir Eric Errington , Aldershot

I do not know what the hon. Lady means when she refers to "my association", but a company of which I am a director found itself in a position to improve twenty houses. We were able to improve fourteen of them. Unfortunately, the remaining six were in the middle and the tenants wore not in a position to give up room. We carried out the improvements to the fourteen houses, but it was more expensive than it would have been had we been able to have a straight run through of the pipes necessary for the supply. I feel that the Government should seriously consider whether they can do anything about a difficulty like that. The private landlord is not necessarily in a position, as is the local authority, to find alternative accommodation so that people can be moved, the house improved, and someone else provided with sufficient accommodation.

The cost of preparation of plans for the improvement of these houses is also quite considerable. A small company of which I am a director has tried for nine months to get the local authority to agree to its plans. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Salford, East when he says that that should be looked at. Where I disagree with him is when he does not realise that some of these improvement problems are not easy of solution, and I hope that my hon. Friend will indicate some of the ways in which the Government can help.

10.19 p.m.

Photo of Mrs Harriet Slater Mrs Harriet Slater , Stoke-on-Trent North

Since the passage of the 1949 Act, Stoke-on-Trent has had over a thousand improvement schemes to a value of £175,000—those are the latest figures in the Jubilee Year Book. Up to date, only eighty-eight landlords have taken advantage of the offer. That means that only 8 per cent. of the improvements carried out since 1949 have been carried out by landlords. Stoke-on-Trent has played a part in trying to persuade landlords to do this work, because we realise that in a city where we have a large number of houses that are good for twenty or thirty years longer, we could, if we could have modern amenities installed in them, be saved from having to build a large number of council houses to give the people the decent things they ought to have in a house.

The Parliamentary Secretary knows that Stoke-on-Trent is about to embark on another pilot scheme in a very densely populated area. I hope that the Minister will do much more this time than merely make a film of this work, but will consider some of my hon. Friend's proposals so as to ensure that landlords as well as owner-occupiers take advantage of the scheme. We are living in an age when children are taught at school to be clean and to use showers. The schools have inside toilets and a supply of hot water. We have a duty to save their mothers from the trials and tribulations that my hon. Friend has described.

10.21 p.m.

Photo of Sir Keith Joseph Sir Keith Joseph , Leeds North East

My right hon. Friend and I share completely the strong feeling shown on this subject by those who have spoken this evening. It is, of course, desirable that every household should have all modern amenities. Hon. Members have not referred to the major contribution being achieved by the slum clearance drive. Having said that, I shall not refer to it again, but the improvement drive is, of course, Government policy.

As the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) has said, we have calculated that there are probably 3 million structurally sound dwellings with fifteen years or more of life in them that merit improvement. Some lend themselves more easily than others to improvement. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) has pointed out, some are more difficult to improve because of their size, or because of the size of the families occupying them.

The hon. Member spoke of the 1949 Act. I am glad to pay tribute to the Labour Government for conceiving this excellent idea, but the fact is that until the new legislation was bought in the idea did not catch on, either with landlords or with owner-occupiers. Only under the 1958 legislation did the thin trickle of improvements grow to any size at all. In 1958, 35,000 improvements were carried out with the grant. In 1959, the number had grown, because of legislation passed by the last Government, to 80,000, and I think that hon. Members will be glad to know that the figure this year looks like topping the 130,000 level. This is a considerable improvement.

That is some success to report. It is true that, measured against 3 million, it means that many people will have some years to wait, but it does not seem to me to be altogether a discouraging record. My right hon. Friend the Minister has announced that he would like to see 200,000 improvement grants a year and when we reach that he would like to see an increase to 250,000 per year. These are figures which really bite into the problem.

The hon. Gentleman may say, "Why not be more ambitious still?" There is a limit to the speed at which we can go. It is the limit imposed by our resources. The building industry is absolutely flat out. It is building not only houses but schools, hospitals and factories. It is modernising railways and is doing a great deal of work which I am sure the House as a whole finds absolutely essential.

In fact, local authorities are already finding it very difficult to get their own housing programmes carried out to time because there is so much work in the building industry. As for plumbers, on which the enterprise depends, there are more vacancies than there are unemployed. There are virtually no unemployed to put on the job.

Still, we hope that the trend will continue upward and that higher productivity from the building industry will enable the industry, however busy it may be, to pick up an increasing number of improvement grants. Its record seems to me to show clearly that whatever needs there may be, there is absolutely no case for compulsion.

The hon. Gentleman, in a courteous way, has pointed the finger at landlords. My right hon. Friend would very much like more landlords to use the grant. He is constantly saying so. Any ideas to encourage more to do so will be carefully studied. But it is only recently that the figures of improvement grants have been split to show how many have been carried out by landlords and how many by owner-occupiers. We only split the figures this year, partly at the suggestion of the hon. Member, for which I thank him. Landlords accounted for 18,000 of the grants in the first nine months of this year. That is 27 per cent. of all the grants made.

Applying the same percentage, which one must do arbitrarily, to the 1958 total, that would have shown that landlords in 1958, had the same percentage held, would have claimed 8,400 grants in the whole year. But this year they have already in nine months claimed 18,000 grants. In other words, on that assumption—we have not got the analysed figures for before this year—landlords are already doubling their rates. We hope that they will continue to do so.

Landlords have their difficulties, too, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot has indicated—difficulties associated with the return on capital, which, in some cases on present figures might even be a negative one; difficulties in connection with the space available to the tenant and difficulties in connection with the expense of preparing plans. I can only say that the compulsion for which the hon. Gentleman asks would raise enormous difficulties. If the landlord is to be compelled surely the tenant should be compelled, too.

As the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady know, at the moment the tenant, on the whole, quite rightly, has a power of veto. No matter how much the landlord may want the improvement, the tenant can say "No". He can say, "No" for understandable reasons—because he does not want the improvement, or cannot spare the money for the extra rent, or cannot spare the space or does not want to be disturbed while the work is going on. He has got the power of veto, and if the landlord were compelled, it is only fair that the tenant should be compelled also, and this would lead to a whole structure of appeals.

The owner-occupier, with whom the hon. Gentleman compared the landlord, seems to have an easier task. He is improving his own asset of which he can, after three years without repayment of grant, give vacant possession at an enhanced price. This is a considerable incentive to an owner-occupier. Still, my right hon. Friend welcomes all improvement grants which are taken for whatever motive, and he would like to see more taken not only by the owner-occupier but by the landlord as well.

We should bear in mind that because of the difficulties that the landlord sometimes finds, there may be landlords who are improving their properties, possibly not over the full range required by the improvement grants system, without claiming the improvement grant. All people who are interested in the whole subject of housing will be delighted when the census figures for next year are produced and we can see a photograph of the country's housing situation instead of having to refer back to 1951.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about the position in Salford and the hon. Lady the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater) spoke of the position in Stoke-on-Trent. No one tries to minimise the problem there, of course. But it may be that in those towns, and in many others in the North, the size of the houses makes improvement grants rather more difficult than in some places in the South where the average size of houses is larger. If a household has not got a bathroom and has to give up its parlour as a living room, and give up its living room as a dining-kitchen, so that the scullery can be converted into a bathroom, there is an added obstacle to saying "Yes", which is not so when a spare bedroom is given up. However, the picture is so encouraging, with the graph rising and nearly doubling each year, that we do not at the moment have to consider these problems while the graph is rising so fast and the building industry is so busy.

The hon. Lady referred to the demonstration which is to be opened by the Minister in Stoke-on-Trent. It is true that the last demonstration has produced disappointing results so far. But since then the new legislation has made the field more attractive. Here publicity, no doubt, will have helped, and people must admit that the results are much less disappointing than they were; indeed, I would put it in another way—much more successful than they were. We hope they will continue to go in the same direction. I am sure the hon. Gentleman did not mean to disparage publicity. It is a great help when officialdom as a whole is trying to make this system work.

My right hon. Friend is anxious to see the figures rising even more steeply. He has set a target for what he hopes people will do for their own benefit—either owner-occupiers or landlords. Therefore, I would say that the trend is encouraging and there is no case made for compulsion when, by the existing system, houses are being modernised at the rate of 400 a day, though of course we wish the rate to be faster still.

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

May I point out to the Minister that my figure of 5 million is nearly right? The Government figures total 4,870,000.

Photo of Sir Keith Joseph Sir Keith Joseph , Leeds North East

The hon. Gentleman is confusing households with houses. Those are households, many of whom share.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes to Eleven o'clock.