Housing (Milner Holland Report)

Part of Civil Estimates and Defence (Central) Estimate, 1965–66 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd March 1965.

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Photo of Mr Richard Crossman Mr Richard Crossman , Coventry East 12:00 am, 22nd March 1965

If the hon. Gentleman wants to debate the question of unused accommodation we will certainly do so. A most careful analysis shows that this is not a major issue, and certainly not in council housing. Every time we discussed control and decontrol we heard talk of the deadening effects of rent restriction. The Report explodes this Tory prejudice.

And what about the Tory legend that the housing shortage was due to under-occupation of council houses? This was not quoted by the right hon. Gentleman, although the Committee says: In London, only local authority tenants, a fifth of all households, are housed without appreciable under-use or over-use of space. That means that these council estates are the only well-managed rented estates in London. And in another passage of the Report another Tory smear on London council housing is exploded. We read that the household budgets of council house tenants are not above but below those of private tenants. So much for the popular Tory theory that the best way to solve our housing shortage is to get rid of the rich council house tenants with their Jaguar cars so as to make room for the poor and needy.

Then we come to the next explanation of the shortage—immigration, either from the rest of the country or from overseas. The Milner Holland Report is equally incisive about that. It states that the migrant to London, from wherever he comes, is a victim not a cause of the housing shortage, just as the coloured landlord who persecutes his tenants is often a victim of a clever white man who has sold him a tumbledown house at far above its value. Thus, immigration is proved by the Report to be as bogus an alibi for Tory failures as under-occupation.

Having seen how the Committee destroys all of these Conservative explanations of our housing shortage, I will summarise what the Committee states to be the real situation in London. It is, first, that while the majority of Londoners are better housed than they were 10 years ago, a large and growing minority are living in miserable conditions and in fear of eviction. These people are overwhelmingly the lower-paid workers to whom the building societies will not give mortgages and who, either because they are not eligible or because they cannot wait five or six years for a council house, are compelled to accept what the private landlord can provide in furnished or unfurnished accommodation. The one kind of housing which is in desperately short supply, outside the council estates, is just that accommodation which these lower-paid families or migrants can afford.

The second point is that the Report shows that this shortage of cheap rented housing was needlessly aggravated by my predecessors' housing policy, with its exclusive concentration on owner-occupation and slum clearance. How often was it said that the housing shortage had been overcome? How often did they try to prove this by quoting national figures, stating that the number of units of accommodation now exceeded the number of family units in need of accommodation? I do not think that there was ever a time when national averages were used more misleadingly or when global figures proved such globalloney.

It should be made clear that it is no good building houses for people unless they are the right houses in the right place and at the right price. Let us consider the facts. In 1961, the South-East Study had already estimated that 150,000 London households lacked accommodation and that 1 million Londoners would have to acquire homes outside London by 1980. Now, after a fuller investigation, Sir Milner Holland reports that conditions have worsened. Not 150,000 London households but 190,000 are in urgent need and another 61,000 single persons are living in accommodation without sinks or stoves. That is the shortage after 13 years of Tory housing policy.

If that were not bad enough, what makes it far more grievous is that most of these people who cannot have houses are far too poor to think of becoming members of a property-owning democracy and buying houses. The only kind of housing they can afford is rented, and this is precisely the kind of housing which the Tories have been busily destroying in London all these years. All over London private developers have been demolishing old houses previously let at controlled rents and replacing them with blocks of flats at £300 or £400 a year. Theoretically, this may increase the stock of available housing, but actually it has made the housing crisis far worse than it was before.

If any hon. Member does not believe this I urge him to read Appendix VI of the Report which, ironically, the Committee describes as an appendix on rehabilitation. It is concerned, first, with Shepherds Bush, the neighbourhood where Rachman operated. Of course, it has been "improved" out of all recognition, but the result has been to change it from a working-class to a middle-class area. The developers, of whom we heard so much from the right hon. Gentleman, felt no obligation to the 1,200 people who lived there before. And as for the local authority—and although it was a Labour local authority it should be blamed—in the words of the Report, …they are unable to rehouse anyone from the estate, and the redevelopment will result in all the 1,200 persons living there now having to find accommodation elsewhere. The Report shows that when cheap rented housing is demolished it is never replaced. It states—and this is one of those interesting points in the Report which the right hon. Gentleman did not quote: We obtained no evidence that any private landlord was building flats or houses to let at net rents below £400 per annum. We did, however, obtain evidence from one company who intended to redevelop land in West London by building shops and residential flats. However, they intended to sell the flats to the local authority at cost and obtain a return or their investment from the shops alone. The result of all this is perfectly obvious; a disastrous reduction in the stock of private rented housing. That is what we are suffering from in London today and, it should be added, in the nation as a whole.

In the nation as a whole, my Ministry reckons that since the introduction of the Rent Act—that great Measure for conserving property—the figure for private rented housing has sunk from just over 5 million to about 3¾ million. That is a 25 per cent. decrease in the total stock of rented housing. The figures for London are roughly in scale; an annual loss since 1960 of 4 per cent. In fact, during the whole 13 years of Tory rule the type of housing in shortest supply—private rented accommodation—was disappearing without replacement.