Orders of the Day — Housing

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th November 1971.

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Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral 12:00 am, 8th November 1971

I have selected the Amendment in the names of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and his right hon. Friends. However, before I call the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) to move it, I wish to say a few words about the scope of the debate.

As the House will be aware, the provisions of the Housing Finance Bill, which was presented last week, are largely coincidental with the substance of the Amendment. I am, therefore, bound to have some regard to Standing Order No. 11, relating to anticipation. A very similar situation arose on 18th November. 1963, and my predecessor then gave a Ruling which was accepted by the House. Its terms were as follows: Though the scope of the Amendment is wider than that of the Housing Bill, and though, therefore, the two forms of proceedings are not identical in their context, a strict application of the rule against anticipation would compel the Chair to intervene as soon as any of the topics falling within the scope of the Housing Bill were touched on. This would inhibit speeches in favour of the Amendment and frustrate those in reply to it.Therefore, if both sides of the House agree, the Chair will be liberal in its interpretation of the rule, provided always that that liberality is not abused by direct discussion of the Housing Bill. That Measure would not at this stage be the business before the House and debate on it would directly infringe the rule."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th November, 1963; Vol. 684, c. 629.] If there is general agreement, I will proceed to act in a similar manner today.

4.9 p.m.

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add:

But humbly regret that the Gracious Speech, at a time of acute housing stress, offers no assurance that a higher proportion of national resources will be devoted to housing, and moreover that Her Majesty's Government's housing proposals will further intensify the rise in the cost of living by large increases in the rents paid by both council and private tenants, while giving no protection to the home-buyer against the present disastrous rise in house prices.

On the Ruling that you have given, Mr. Speaker, I hope that we shall not run into any difficulty as the major proposals in the Housing Bill were almost all foreshadowed in the Housing White Paper.

We have had a housing shortage in this country for many years, and successive Governments have failed to deal with it. What we have never had since the 1930s is an acute housing shortage combined with high unemployment and idle resources. As a result of the Government's economic policy we now have nearly 1 million unemployed, of whom 120,000 are construction workers. This figure is likely to approach 150,000 in the months ahead.

Many of these workers are unemployed in areas which have a desperate housing need. This is the paradox of the present situation. But surely, unpleasant though the picture is, it provides an opportunity. Under full employment, a bigger housing programme means a smaller programme of something else. But today a bigger housing programme would achieve two objectives simultaneously; it would give us more houses and, at the same time, bring down the present lamentable figure of unemployment. So surely this is the moment for an intensified housing drive—a drive on homelessness and overcrowding, which seem to be getting worse rather than better in some of our large cities, notably London. There should be a drive on slum clearance, which is going ahead much too slowly; on the huge backlog of unfit houses, amounting to some millions in all, which lack the basic decencies of a bath, running hot water and inside lavatory, facilities which every family is entitled to expect in 1971. There must be a drive to meet the needs of many small households, which are not being adequately met today. There is plenty to do here which 150,000 unemployed building workers could be doing, both for their own good and that of the community.

There is unfortunately no sign of any such intensified drive to meet our most urgent housing needs. True, starts in the private sector are up, and this is, extremely welcome. True, improvements and rehabilitation are going ahead, mainly as a result of Labour's 1969 Act, and I welcome the Government's recent concession in this area for the development and intermediate areas. New building in the public sector, however, shows a gloomy picture. Starts in September amounted to 11,700, 3,000 fewer than in the corresponding month last year and 3,000 fewer than in April of this year. Seasonally adjusted there has been an almost continuous decline in starts over the last six months. Taking quarterly figures, public sector starts in the third quarter of this year were 3 per cent. clown on the second quarter, and 16 per cent. down on a year ago. For 1971 as a whole, it looks as if public sector starts will be the lowest since 1962, and public sector completions the lowest since 1964. This is indeed a reversion to the Tory norm, and at a time when the number of unemployed construction workers is actually greater than the number of workers employed on new public sector housing. Surely this is a damning combination of figures.

I greatly welcome the increase in building for owner-occupation. I believe that owner-occupation can and will expand even beyond the figure of 51 per cent. of all households in Britain, reached under the Labour Government. But it cannot do the job alone. It cannot solve the problem of homelessness and overcrowding, because the homeless are too poor to buy their own home, and it cannot deal with slum clearance and urban renewal, although it can doubtless play some part in subsequent redevelopment.

It is not only the poor, the homeless, the slum dweller and the handicapped. There are hundreds of thousands of ordinary working class families who cannot afford to buy a house, and certainly not at the present fantastic prices. There are innumerable other people who prefer to rent rather than buy—those who are too old to get a mortgage, young unmarried workers, single, middle-aged people, people whose jobs force them to move around the country, or people who simply prefer not to take the risk of ownership. After all, freedom includes the freedom to rent if people so choose. For all those reasons, the present decline in rented starts is calamitous.

We must use this period of enforced unemployment for an emergency programme of new rented housing, primarily to meet the needs of the homeless, the slum dweller and the low-income groups, but also to meet the needs of those—and there are thousands of them in my constituency as there are elsewhere—who do not wish or cannot afford to buy a house of their own. In practice, this means a much enlarged programme of local authority building, since no one expects the private rented sector to do the job. This sector has been in continuous decline since the turn of the century. It is remarkable to think that in 1914 90 per cent. of households lived in private rented accommodation. In 1947 the figure was 61 per cent., and now it is 15 per cent.

Even if it were desirable, no one I know of thinks the Government's proposals will reverse this trend and spark off new investment in private rented housing. Most of us on this side of the House would not think this desirable even if it were possible, because for many social groups the private landlord—tenant relationship is an impossible one. This is particularly true in the inner areas of the cities where the pressure on housing is worst, and where those with the lowest incomes, greatest need and least bargaining power are concentrated. That is where the relationship is all too unequal. That is where Rachrnanism flourished, and where, today, the exploitation, harassment and above all, the insecurity still occur.

In the inner city areas where the housing need is worst, we cannot and should not look to private rented housing for a solution. Quite the reverse. In these areas we shall need a more systematic policy of municipalisation than we have had in the past. We must also look to housing associations, which often provide the best and quickest way of preventing a private rented house from going out of the service of low-income groups into more expensive owner-occupation.

[MR. CROSLAND.]

The crux of our housing problem today is to reverse quickly and sharply the present decline in local authority building. Unfortunately, the omens for doing this under the present Government are extremely bleak. It is precisely here, in the area of greatest need, that an unpleasant note of doctrinaire ideology creeps into the Government's thinking. This was shown in the notorious speech by the Secretary of State at the Urban Research Bureau Conference in June, 1969— the "for all sorts of seemingly good purposes" speech. I shall not embarrass the right hon. Gentleman by quoting it yet again. [Interruption.] The speech has been quoted many times in this House. I shall certainly be quoting from it later in my speech.

This doctrinaire attitude was most blatantly expressed in the September issue of "House Builder" by someone who, or so he claims, played a key part in drawing up the present Tory housing proposals, Mr. Michael Latham, the new secretary of the House builders' Federation, the late Tory parliamentary candidate, and as Housing Officer at the Conservative Party Research Department, a member of the Housing Policy Group which drew up the report on which "Fair Deal for Housing" was based. Mr. Latham would like, in his own words, to drive a substantial nail into the coffin of public- sector housing".

The White Paper is the first step, since one of its intentions is that those local authorities which do not have slum problems should stop building council houses altogether. His comment in the White Paper is worth quoting in full: The White Paper is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Council house building will not stop, indeed in some areas it may well increase. But at least the first major step towards sanity in housing has been taken, and, who knows, in 10 to 15 years time the futility of building council houses at all will be so generally accepted that another Government will be able to stop it altogether and let the market do the job properly, as only the market can.

What fatuity this is, and what utter remoteness from the needs of millions of people! Yet I am sure Mr. Latham's interpretation of Government policy is fundamentally correct. It fits wholly with the famous 1969 speech of the Secretary of State where he said bluntly that the proportion of local authority housing was much too high at the present level of wages. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite are determined to push down the ratio of local authority housing.

Even if this were not the intention of the new policy, it will certainly be its effect because what, after all, is the central feature of the new policy? It is a cut in subsidies of £200 million over the next five years and £300 million by the end of the decade. By 1980, in other words, subsidies will be halved compared with what they would otherwise have been. We cannot do that and at the same time get the upsurge in public sector building we so desperately need. The effect of that can only be a further fall in council building even below the present deplorably low level.

I have three suggestions to make to the Government. First, we shall not solve the housing problem in large cities unless we have a metropolitan strategy and an organisation capable of implementing that strategy. This the Government's new proposals for local government reform totally rule out. I therefore urge the Government to amend those proposals in such a way as to create joint metropolitan housing agencies in each of the big conurbations. I am certain that without these agencies we shall not get the drive, the sense of urgency, the co-ordination and the overall strategy which are essential for solving the urban housing problem.

Secondly, let the Government take a leaf out of their own book. They are taking the most astonishing draconian powers to deal with any council which does not carry out the fair rents policy in full, which seeks in any way to protect the tenant or to mitigate the rise in rents. They will impose a default order, withhold subsidies and as a last resort send in a housing commissioner—I would have thought "commissar" was a better word—to take over the local authority's housing functions. These default powers far exceed the default powers in any previous Housing Act; they far exceed anything proposed in the much-criticised Education Act, 1970, although, by the way, the Government should not put ideas into our heads. Perhaps the next Labour Government should take similar powers in respect of secondary reorganisation and send in an education commissioner to any area which refuses to go comprehensive.

My immediate point is that if this great panoply of Government power complete with Whitehall Commissar can be used to compel an authority to double its rents, why cannot it be used to compel an authority to build houses? One of our troubles since 1968 has been the number of Tory councils which have refused to build. Luckily there will not be many of those after May 1972! Nevertheless if any council, Tory or Labour, is falling down on its housing job, and many are, will the Secretary of State take just as drastic default powers to make councils build houses as he is proposing to take to make them charge higher rents?

Thirdly, money. If "Fair Deal for Housing" meant simply a redistribution of money towards the areas of greatest need, then the Opposition would welcome it. Of course it does not mean that. Its primary purpose is drastically to reduce the total amount of public money spent on rented housing. That inexorably rules out any increase in council house building. The new Labour-controlled authorities will do their best, I am sure, but they will be operating in a straitjacket. Public expenditure is the crux of the housing problem, and it is the basic ideological divide. We cannot solve the housing problem in Britain on the cheap. I urge the Government, particularly at a time of high unemployment, to re-think their views on public spending and to be willing to spend whatever amount of money is needed to achieve a sustained and rapid rise in council house building.

I come now to the cost of housing and to what, after all, is the central Government proposal for so-called fair rents in the public sector. Let me deal first with a favourite debating argument used by hon. Members opposite, that because my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) introduced fair rents for the private sector in the 1965 Act, therefore it follows logically that fair rents should be extended to the public sector. The Prime Minister produced this argument in his speech last Tuesday, like a conjuror producing a rabbit out of a hat, bursting with mirth and self-satisfaction at finding such a clever answer. I can forgive the Prime Minister for this at least because he knows nothing about housing but Ministers at least should know better, and of course they do.

There is no analogy between the two sectors. Fair rents in the private sector are designed to give the landlord a reasonable profit for maintenance and improvement. But a local authority which has a large and varied stock of housing over which to spread the cost of maintenance and improvement does not need fair rents from every house for this purpose. If we need proof of that it is that over most of the country fair rents will produce not just a reasonable profit for maintenance and improvement but a large surplus half of which will go to the Exchequer. The basic argument for fair rents in the private sector has no application in the public sector, and this has long been recognised by every serious commentator.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

The right hon. Gentleman has genuinely been misled on this. The rebates that go into the Exchequer from the surplus on the housing account are a net figure taken into account in the projections of expenditure, so in reality those amounts will go as an increase to the bad areas of housing.

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

I carefully said, when I talked about profit in the housing revenue account, "over most of the country." I am aware of, and in no way seek to minimise, the value of the residual subsidies which will go to areas of need. It remains a fact that over the rest of the country, including my constituency and many others, housing revenue accounts will be in surplus as a result of the Governmenl's proposals. This total lack of analogy between the private rented and public rented sector was recognised by the Prices and Incomes Board in its 1968 Report, by Mr. Harry Aughton in his recent widely-praised and widely-read paper to the Rating and Valuation Association, and even in The Times, not exactly a pro-Labour paper at the moment, which had this to say in its editorial last Thursday: It is doubtful if the 'fair rent' formula of the Crossman Act, devised for a hypothetical market situation, is appropriate for council rents.

That is putting it mildly.

[MR. CROSLAND.]

Let us have no more of this specious argument. My right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East no doubt merits many tributes but must be denied the credit on this occasion. In any case it is not the formula that matters or the derivation of the formula. What matters are the consequences, and we on this side of the House believe that the consequences of fair rents in the public sector will be calamitous.

I take first the effect on the cost of living. It is not in dispute that fair rents will be on average twice as high as present standard rents and more in some parts of the country. True, the increase will be phased and limited to 50p a year. Here let me say that I was wrong on one point. I thought, and I have written, that new tenants would be "fair rented" immediately and automatically. The Minister for Housing and Construction kindly corrected me on this point, and I would like to correct any misapprehension I may unintentionally have caused.

The increase will be phased and limited to 50p a year; but this is still a drastic increase in a particularly sensitive price. For most council tenants outside London it is an increase of 25 per cent. a year in their rents, and it will go on year after year until fair rents are reached, and even then the fair rent will be revised upwards.

So, millions of tenants now face complete instability in their rents for many years ahead. They face an annual increase which seems to bear no relation to the C.B.I.s appeal for a 5 per cent. limit to price increases, or to the Government's appeal for moderation in wage claims. The Government cannot seriously expect the trade unions to turn a completely blind eye to the drastic increases in the cost of housing looming ahead. If we add to fair rents the effects of the value-added tax and of import levies, the Government's claim to be subduing inflation is going to look very hollow in two years' time.

Our second objection concerns the effect of the rebate scheme. We do not object in principle to the rent rebate or to rebates in general, although we are accumulating a very large number of them now under successive Governments. But this scheme differs in kind from any rebate which we have today because it will cover an actual majority of those who consume the product—the product being council and private rented housing. The White Paper says clearly that the rebate will cover all those on average earnings, most of those on £30 a week and many on £40 a week. Mr. Aughton, whose calculations are, I think, reliable, estimates that the overwhelming majority of council tenants will be entitled to rebate under the fair rent proposals.

Surely this is wholly wrong in principle —to set rents at a level which the majority of tenants cannot pay without rebate, to impose in consequence, and for the first time, means-testing on a mass scale, to say to 60 or 70 or 80 per cent., whatever it is, of council tenants, "Fill in a form, come to the council office and apply for your rebate." That is an appalling reversion to Victorian ideas of pauperism. The only fair principle is to set rents at a level which the majority can pay without rebate, without means test, and as a Tory Government should want, standing on their own two feet.

It is not only that this rebate is wrong in principle but it also presents most formidable practical drawbacks. The increase in bureaucracy—in the number of rent officers and local authority staffs— especially to deal with the gigantic task of administering private rent allowances —goes quite counter to all the Government's pledges about reducing civil service manpower, and it will be interesting to hear what Tory back benchers think about that. Again, there is the probability of low take-up because people are too proud or too stubborn or too ignorant or find it all too complicated— we can see the pattern from experience of the F.I.S. and rebate schemes in London and Birmingham.

There is also the appalling effect on incentives of this rebate scheme coming on top of all the others. We have all seen calculations showing how for a family with two children, if the income rises from £16 to £20 a week, virtually 100 per cent. of the increase is taken in income tax, national insurance contributions and loss of rebates. From £20 to £30 per week, about 60 per cent. goes in the same way. In other words, we are talking about marginal rates of taxation of from 60 to 100 per cent. Do the Government really know what they are doing when they introduce this scheme? Do Tory back benchers understand what is happening? After all, it is they who have been complaining so bitterly year after year about the disincentive effect of high marginal rates of tax. What effect is all this going to have on incentives? What effect on wage claims? What effect on productivity bargaining, on the whole attitude to work of a very large segment of our population? These are extremely serious questions, and the Government are treating them with utter frivolity.

Thirdly, we object to the likely social effects of fair rents. One of the objects of the Government's proposal—there has been no concealment of any kind about this—is to drive many better-off tenants out of council housing into buying their own houses, whether they want to or not, whether they can afford to or not, and at a time when house prices are going up drastically against them. I have no doubt that the Government will succeed in their objective. If they price council houses at well above cost—this is what fair rents will mean in fact— they will drive people out and we shall have empty properties on a substantial scale over much of the country. We shall certainly have empty properties in Grimsby and a great many other places as well. And of course, as my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) said in a letter to The Times today, this will make it absolutely certain that we shall not get the upsurge in new council building that we so badly need.

What is the Government's motive in this? Their motive, perhaps surprisingly, is not to save money, because a tenant in a fair rented council house will actually cost the taxpayer less than someone buying a house on mortgage. The motive is purely ideological. They want to cut down the proportion of council housing, and most Tories have an ideological view, and in my opinion a very unattractive one, about who should live in council houses and who should be owner occupiers.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack , Cannock

The right hon. Gentleman has several times boasted about the fact that during the period of office of the Labour Government house ownership went up to over 50 per cent. He therefore believes it desirable to have owner occupation as wide as possible. If he does, surely he must accept that there will be fewer council dwellers if there are more owner occupiers.

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

The hon. Gentleman is obviously not very well versed in the housing situation. If he were, he would have taken the point I made earlier that the most dramatic feature of the housing situation in the last 50 years has been the decline in the private rented sector, which will still go on. Therefore, the reality is that we must and should have both an increase in the proportion of owner occupation and an increase in the proportion of local authority housing.

I find myself unable to understand the view that some people should live in council houses and others should not. I find it socially divisive. It pushes us back to the old pre-war concept that council housing is one-class welfare housing for the deserving poor. I find that view paternalistic and Victorian. I believe in the opposite philosophy of free choice or variety, where a man should be able to choose the sector in which he wants to live according to his family needs, his likely income and his own preferences.

Our last objection to the fair rents scheme concerns the redistribution of income which it will mean—redistribution of income usually from the less well-off to the better-off, and certainly in total making for greater inequity and greater inequality. At least the Government cannot be accused of inconsistency here, because their housing policy is in line with their policy on social service charges, education, local finance and taxation generally. The crux of the redistribution is that tenants will pay much more in rent. The Government will not tell us exactly how much, but it is going to be some hundreds of millions of £s more under the fair rent scheme than under the present standard rents. Where will the money go? It will go, first, to save the taxpayer some £200 million to £300 million a year in reduced subsidies. So the first and biggest shift of income is from council tenants to the national taxpayers —certainly, to use the jargon, a regressive shift in the distribution of income.

The next slice of income from these larger rents will go to pay for rent rebates.

[MR. CROSLAND.]

In other words, council tenants will take over from the national Government part of the responsibility for dealing with poverty—and one must not forget also the private rent allowances. The whole cost of administering, and, after 1975 20 per cent. of the cost of paying private rent allowances will fall on the local ratepayers—a suggestion which has caused the greatest resentment in local government.

This is surely a wrong principle. Poverty and low incomes are not the responsibility of council tenants but of the State and of the central Government. Why should council tenants be made to pay rebates? Indeed, if it comes to that, why should not owner-occupiers do so? The answer is that neither should do so. It should be the clear responsibility of the national taxpayer and the central Government. This is something which I thought had been agreed between all political parties since before the First World War.

Photo of Mr James Allason Mr James Allason , Hemel Hempstead

(Hemel Hempstead): Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the purpose of housing subsidies, running at over £200 million a year, is to ensure that those living in council houses who cannot afford the full rent should have help?

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

A very small proportion of present subsidies, as the Secretary of State often reminds us, goes to rent rebates. The bulk of them go to increasing the level of council housing.

The final scandal is still to come. Even after fair rents have saved the taxpayer enormous sums in subsidies, and even after, on top of that, they have covered the cost of rent rebates, they will still be sufficient, over most of the country, to produce a large surplus on housing revenue account, and half of the surplus will go to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In other words, a large part of local authority housing, 30 per cent. of all the housing in the country, is not merely in future not to receive a general subsidy; it is not even to be left as a non-profit-making service, balancing its books and drawing sufficient rent income to cover the costs of management, maintenance and improvement but, over most of the country—and I say this in view of the Secretary of State's interruption— will produce a large profit, half of which will go to the Government. In other words, we have an entirely new housing principle in this country, that the bulk of local authority housing, so far from being subsidised by the taxpayer, will actually itself be subsidising the Exchequer.

What does this mean, for example, to the council tenant in Grimsby? He pays his income tax like everybody else, and quite right, too; he pays his rates like everybody else, and quite right, too; but then he pays a rent which is not merely unsubsidised but, especially if he lives in an older house, will far, far exceed the cost of his house; and out of this surplus rent he will pay the entire cost of the rent rebates to the poorer tenants in Grimsby, while the owner-occupier and other taxpayers will make no such contribution; and even after that his rent will still produce a profit for the housing revenue account, half of which will go to the Chancellor.

One wonders what that half will be used for—perhaps to finance the new handout by the Secretary of State for Education and Science to direct-grant schools, perhaps to help pay the soaring bill for tax relief to owner-occupiers, perhaps even, at some future date, to bring down surtax. I cannot see how this redistribution of income can possibly be defended.

The right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Housing and Construction made a speech on housing at the Tory Party Conference at Brighton. I have a copy of it here. It is very good knockabout stuff, as we would expect. it contains some very agreeable badinage at the expense of my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East and myself. It also contains more misquotations and selective use of statistics than I have ever seen in a major political speech. But, despite that, or, more probably, because of it, I am told that the speech received a standing ovation. But since it is. apparently, the case that all platform speeches at Tory Party conferences receive a standing ovation, including even those of the Secretary of State for Wales, that was perhaps not such a remarkable achievement.

However, this speech contained two very striking statements. The first was: Housing is rather like religion.

The only link I can think of between religion and housing is that the right hon. Gentleman's speeches on housing exactly fit Marx's description of religion as the opium of the masses. At any rate, self-intoxicated by the opium he was injecting into the massed ranks of the Tory ladies at Brighton, the right hon. Gentleman came out with an astonishing statement: It is wrong that people who are better off should live at the expense of taxpayers and ratepayers often much worse off than they are.

If we insert "rent payers" before "taxpayers and ratepayers", that, of course, is precisely what is going to happen under the Government's proposals. The rent payers of Grimsby, who are also tax- payers and ratepayers, are going to relieve and subsidise the national Exchequer to the tune of large sums of money, and under this Government we can be sure that that money will go to better-off people.

It is this, of course, which creates the current anxiety about equity between the tenant and the owner-occupier. The Minister should not try to distort what I have said and written on this subject. He knows perfectly well that I am strongly in favour of owner-occupation, and he knows that the Labour Government took exceptional measures to encourage it, and I may say that it was under the Labour Government and not a Tory Government that, for the first time, half the families in Britain lived in houses of their own. The Minister knows that perfectly well. But we must maintain a proper equity between the two sectors, and it is this equity which this Government will destroy by their proposals for what is, in effect, a new tax on the majority of council tenants, while continuing to give tax relief to the owner-occupier. This is not something which has simply worried me and other hon. Members on berth sides of the House. It is an anxiety which has been expressed in every single local government journal, an anxiety which was strongly expressed in The Times leading article of Thursday of last week.

It is the Government themselves which have created this problem. We all believe strongly that mortgage interest relief has had the most beneficial consequences for the community, but the Government by their fair rent proposals are now tilting the balance grossly against the tenant and driving a wedge between the two sectors. But just as the Government have created the problem, so they can solve it by withdrawing their fair rent proposals, and if they do that they will dispose of the matter at a stroke.

Of course, the irony is that it is the Government themselves—and not the Labour Party nor the local government journals, nor The Times, nor anybody else—which are at this moment striking a savage blow at the would-be owner-occupiers by allowing the most fantastic rise in the prices of land and houses we have ever seen in this country in any normal peace time year. Lest my words should not be taken for that I will quote what was said in the Building Societies Gazette in September of this year: 1971 was a year of record increases in the prices of private housing".

Indeed, Mr. Michael Latham, the well- known Tory housing expert whom I quoted just now, has commented: Soaring prices of land for private house building will have a catastrophic effect on young people's chances of buying their first new homes unless immediate action is taken.

Shades of all those brave things which we were told when the Land Commission was so instantly abolished!

The indictment of the Government is this. It is not that they have brought forward new proposals. We needed some, and I particularly welcome the new private rent allowance and the in- creased aid for the areas of greatest distress. It is that the totality of these proposals, the sins of omission as well as commission, add up to a disastrous housing policy. Furnished tenants, the poorest of all the housing groups, receive no help or protection of any kind; the would-be home owner is a victim of the Government's doctrinaire belief in laissez-faire; and 5½ million council tenants face a doubling of their rents, means testing on a mass scale, and, on top of their ordinary rates, an enforced levy to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

These proposals are harsh, inequitable and inflationary, and we shall oppose them bitterly.

4.49 p.m.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I am sure that both sides of the House will join [MR. WALKER.]

me in regretting that, due to the sad death of his father, the Leader of the Opposition cannot be with us in this debate today. I should like to say on behalf of this side of the House, and, I know, on behalf of the other side, too. how very much we regret this news. Certainly the father of the Leader of the Opposition was one of the finest examples of constant parental encouragement and support to somebody in public life.

I am pleased that this debate should have been opened by the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), for this is the first time since he had Cabinet responsibility for housing that I have taken part with him in a general housing debate as opposed to specific White Paper proposals. During the nine months when he had that responsibility there were four major housing debates in the House, in only one of which he spoke. I do not blame him for not wanting to speak on those wickets, for they were very uncomfortable wickets for a Labour Party spokesman, but he should not lecture us upon the need for using unemployment to boost the housing programme when during his nine months of Cabinet responsibility we saw the swiftest decline in the housing programme combined with rising unemployment. This perhaps shows the conversion of someone who has learned from his mistakes in the past; but it is a remark- able change.

It is also remarkable that the right hon. Gentleman should make suggestions about future housing policy when, presumably, as Cabinet Minister responsible for housing before the General Election he had some part in drawing up the Labour Party Manifesto on housing. I hope that hon. and right hon. Members opposite will look at their Election Manifesto on housing. Despite one of the worst declines in housing, it made only two suggestions, one concerning mortgages, which we have since fulfilled, and the other for the extension of the fair rent principle to the furnished sector, which members of the Labour Party now attack so savagely. Those were the only two recommendations the Labour Government made after the right hon. Gentleman had for nine months presided, if silently, over a great decline in housing.

I will start by giving four items of good news on housing. First, in the first six months of this year there has been an increase of 10 per cent. in the approvals for slum clearance, compared with the same six months last year when the right hon. Member for Grimsby had responsibility for housing. I know that both sides of the House will welcome that information.

Secondly, as the right hon. Gentleman has said that this is a good time to revive our housing programme from the depths it reached under his Administration, I know he will be pleased to hear that in the last nine months the number of new housing starts was 30,000 higher than during the nine months for which he was responsible.

The third item of good news, which I know both sides of the House will warmly welcome, is that after five successive increases in mortgage interest rates under the Labour Government, this month, for the first time since a Tory Government were last in office, interest rates have gone down.

The fourth item of good news, of particular pleasure to those interested in the injection of expenditure into the public sector, is that, as a result of the measures brought forward earlier this year by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction to increase to 75 per cent. improvement grants for older houses in the development areas, local authorities have decided during the next two years to modernise no fewer than 103,000 old council houses. That is a remarkable figure which I obtained only this morning. A population equivalent to three times that of Grimsby will have their older council houses modernised as a result of that action of a Conservative Government.

The right hon. Gentleman made only a passing reference at the end of his speech to the cost of housing and the increased cost of new houses which have been built in the past year. From what has been said, I should have expected whole passages of his speech to be devoted to this topic. I do not blame him for making only a passing reference to it since the record of the previous Labour Government is a remarkably bad one. When we came to office there were a number of Government impediments on the cost of housing, all of which we have removed, or at least reduced. The Government have reduced by half selective employment tax on building; they have done away with the betterment levy on land; they have abolished the import deposit scheme which affected the price of timber and other commodities; they have reduced interest rates to the building industry. In all these ways the Government have reduced the cost of building.

The right hon. Gentleman can truly claim that in the nine months he was in office land prices started to stabilise—. and he knows the reason. This was a period of such decline in the private sector that the demand for land decreased much faster than at any other time. When I took office the building industry was in such a depressed state that the difficulty for most builders was not land but survival. More builders went bankrupt in the last year of the Labour Government than in any year since the war, so of course the pressure on land decreased. Now that the building industry is reviving once again, one has the pressure on land.

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

(Salford, East): What is the right hon. Gentleman going to do about it?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

One thing which I shall not do—and I guarantee that the Labour Party at the next General Election will not either—is to bring back the Land Commission. Another thing I shall not do is to bring back betterment levy. Neither of those measures had any effect.

The only way to tackle the problem of land demand in areas of pressure, which are primarily in the South-East and the Midlands, is to provide a regional planning strategy in which the Government make clear the growth areas for meeting the demand for housing and economic expansion. In fairness to the last Government, I should say that I inherited from them the South-East Planning Strategy in which for the first time local government and central Government worked together to see how best to cope with growth in the region. I do not think I can be accused of any delay in publishing that document, which I did immediately; in consulting local authorities, which I did immediately; or in publishing my findings.

For the first time in post-war Britain, partly as a result of the work of my predecessors and partly as a result of the speed with which I have supported that work, builders and local authorities are aware of the areas in which the Government consider that land should be brought forward for housing development. 1 hope that careful study will be made of these planning strategies. One has now been completed for the Midlands, which I shall consider as soon as possible together with suggested changes. I hope to start a similar strategy for the North-West and the North-East, and I hope that within the lifetime of this Parliament we shall have under way regional planning strategies for each region. This is a more positive approach to the question of land.

The House should be aware of one substantial contrast between our record and that of the Labour Government on rising house prices and the cost of mortgages. I will take the rise in price of a new house under a Labour Government and under a Conservative Government. I am taking the figures up to the third quarter of this year, so that they are as bang up to date as they can be. During the Labour Government's period of office, the mortgage repayment on an average price new house rose by 77 per cent. During the period we have been in office, from the third quarter of 1970 to the end of the third quarter of 1971, the rise in mortgage repayments on an average price new house will have been 10 per cent.

There is this further difference. Whereas during the period of the Labour Government the mortgage cost of an average-price new house went up by 77 per cent., earnings went up by 54 per cent., with the consequence that fewer and fewer people on average earnings could afford to buy an average-price new house. Under this Conservative Government, on the other hand, because of the decrease in the mortgage interest rate and the increase which has taken place in earnings, the reverse has been true. To put it another way, for a young couple wanting to buy an average-price new house, under the Labour Government 8s. in the £ of any wage increases they had went on increased mortgage repayments. Under this Government, however, the increase so far has been nearly half that. [HON. MEMBERS: "One year."] Certainly, but throughout every year of the Labour Government, year after year, the gap between earnings and. [MR. WALKER.]

mortgage repayments widened. We are reversing that trend.

The right hon. Gentleman ought to acknowledge the great contrast between the position which he left to this Government and the position which his Government inherited. In the year the Labour Government came to power, the number of new houses started was 426,000. In the year when the right hon. Member for Grimsby was primarily responsible, the number of starts was 319,000. As for his criticism, and his strong requirement to improve housing in the private sector—his phrase was that he is very much in favour of an increase in starts in the private sector—when he was the Minister responsible he was remarkably unsuccessful in fulfilling that objective, for during his nine months of responsibility the number of starts in the private sector fell by 18,400. Moreover, slum clearance declined. The voluntary housing movement faced a great crisis. Builders went bankrupt. As for the big cities, where he now suggests a metropolitan strategy, he sat inactive for nine months knowing full well that all our big cities were running into a financial crisis in housing which they were unable to meet.

The hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Freeson), who was Parliamentary Secretary at that time, now suggests that London needs to double its slum clearance programme and needs to double its council house programme; but he was in office during the period when slum clearance declined and council house building declined.

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

The right hon. Gentleman is most flattering in the many responsibilities which, quite reasonably, he imputes to me. Would he care to comment on the fact, which the House may not have perceived amid the statistics which he has been giving, that during the six years of Labour Government taken as a whole a quarter more houses were built than during the preceding six years of Conservative Government?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I am willing to concede two points: first, the Labour Government succeeded in completing that large number of houses which we had started; second, during their six years, the Labour Government did rather better in the five years three months when the right hon. Gentleman was not responsible than in the nine months when he was.

All right hon. and hon. Members who have been appointed to office will know that when they arrive at the Department they are given what is described as a situation report. In June 1970 when I arrived at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government I received a situation report on housing which, as the right hon. Gentlemen opposite know very well, was a thoroughly gloomy document.

I take, first, the prospects for owner- occupation. I have already mentioned the rise in prices which had taken place. In addition, for a long time the building societies had been short of funds, making things very difficult for people in the lower income groups. As regards local authority mortgages, the Labour Government had pursued a remarkable stop-go policy— mainly stop—during their six years in office. They inherited local authority mortgages running at the rate of £178 million a year. They lowered that rate every year until eventually, in the year before the election, they had brought local authority mortgages down to £45 million. The option mortgage and 100 per cent. mortgage schemes were in need of revision, but no revision had taken place. As for the young couple who could not afford the deposit for a new house, nothing was done, although the question was mentioned in the Labour Party Manifesto.

We have altered all those things. Local authority mortgages may now go to whatever limit local authorities wish. The option mortgage scheme and the 100 per cent. mortgage scheme have been revised. We have negotiated with the building societies the provision of 100 per cent. mortgages for young people with good earnings. We have removed the stamp duty from mortgages. We are providing legal expenses as well as removal expenses for those who wish to move from local authority housing to private owner- occupied housing. Above all, for the first time since the last Conservative Government, we have reduced the mortgage interest rate.

For the owner-occupier, those are all factors which have already brought about a considerable increase in the number of starts in the private sector.

Now, the position of the tenant. Listening to the right hon. Gentleman's speech, one might almost have thought that local authority rents remained stable throughout the whole period of the Labour Government. He seems to forget that during that time local authority rents increased by nearly two-thirds—by 65 per cent. But the difference lay in the principle which the Labour Government applied, the dangerous principle which the right hon. Member for Grimsby now advocates in his latest Fabian pamphlet.

In passing, I must say that no document could be more appropriate to the basic theory and style of the Fabian movement, for at the end he concludes "We have at least another four years before we have to develop the policy." Having started to prepare a policy on local government housing subsidies in 1965, if the right hon. Gentleman meets his target date, the Labour Party will have taken exactly a decade to do it.

In that pamphlet, the right hon. Gentleman gives hints about the principle of historic cost, and it was the principle of historic cost upon which council house rents were increased during the period of the Labour Government. What it meant was that in those areas with bad housing problems, the scarcity centres—London, for example—had to increase their rents the most because under the subsidy system, generous as it was, any local authority with a large house building programme which had to build afresh at current costs had to put either an impossible burden on its rate- payers or an impossible burden upon its tenants. Those were the only options, and plenty of hon. Members opposite know that that was so.

When the right hon. Gentleman argues about profitability and the fair rent principle, he ought to understand that the fair rent principle takes away the scarcity factor, so that in many of the areas of scarcity the level could well be below the new cost, not above it. This is why the proposals that I make in this connection will mean a very considerable increase in help to bad areas of housing.

The right hon. Gentleman stated one very surprising principle today. My hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) intervened during the right hon. Gentleman's speech and asked him what is the position about rent re- bate. The right hon. Gentleman said that it has been accepted that housing subsidies are designed primarily to help to encourage house building and not for rent rebates. That is in complete contradiction to the Labour Government's 1965 White Paper on housing. In that White Paper, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite advocated strongly that local authorities should use their subsidies for the purposes of rent rebates. They went on to argue that some courageous authorities were doing this and that it was the duty of all authorities to do it.

The Labour Government sent round a circular to that effect. What I do not understand from the right hon. Gentleman's argument is why his Government sent out a circular asking local authorities to adopt a standard rebate scheme since, had they adopted it, all the ill effects which the right hon. Gentleman has described of a massive increase in means testing would have taken place.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

Of course it would have. The reason why it did not take place was that 40 per cent. of local authorities had no rebate scheme at all and that the 60 per cent. which did did not have one up to the standards that the previous Government advocated.

The only sin of my rebate scheme is that it is far more generous than the previous Administration's standard scheme. If my scheme is more generous, more people can apply for it. If I see a person on average industrial earnings getting a rebate, of course, it will mean extra means testing.

Photo of Mr Richard Leonard Mr Richard Leonard , Romford

(Romford): But does not the right hon. Gentleman see that the reason why the majority of tenants will be eligible for rebates under his proposals is that the average rent will double? If the rebates are applied without doubling the rents, they will apply to a much smaller portion of the population.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I accept that. It must be remembered that the last Government put up the rents of 1,400,000 tenants in the private sector to a level which I shall maintain and gave them no rebate scheme of any description.

It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to ask why we do not have [MR. WALKER.]

rebates for the section which needs it most, the private furnished section. For six years right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite gave no rebate in the private sector, yet during the same period they increased rents to the level that they now describe as "outrageous", "disgusting", and "against the interests of the poor". That is their record on rebate.

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman fully comprehended my earlier point. It may be that I did not put it very well. The fact is that the surpluses on housing revenue accounts of those areas which either have a large number of houses on their books at outdated historic costs, which is the main factor, or those without a housing problem not having to build afresh, will go to the Exchequer. But in our estimates the expenditure on housing subsidies is net after those surpluses are deducted. Therefore, the whole of the surpluses will be in addition to subsidies, which we shall maintain at the present level. To give an illustration, if in one year the claw-back is £50 million in surpluses and our estimate on public expenditure is £200 million, in reality the net figure will be £250 million.

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

In effect, does that mean that the half of the surplus going to the Exchequer is an earmarked tax, that it will be used only to offset subsidies, and that it will not be used for any other Government purpose?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

It is meaningless to use the phrase in that sense. The total that we shall obtain from surpluses will be far lower than the figure that we spend on subsidies. It would be meaningless to give that assurance. The estimates of maintaining the £200 million on subsidies at its present level are made having taken account of the net effect of any claw-back on surpluses. I am keeping subsidies at their present level and adding part of the historic cost benefit to those areas with the worst housing problems.

Security of tenure has been an important factor, and I have supported it fully. When the Leader of the Opposition spoke the other day, there was a certain implication in his speech that there would be some adverse effect on the security of tenure of tenants. I do not think that he intended that. If that was his suggestion, it would be a dangerous one, because it would make tenants uncertain of their rights.

The existing security of tenure not only remains; it is improved. The one way in which a tenant previously could lose his security of tenure was by the non-payment of rent. The moment that one brings in a system of generous rebate schemes for tenants in both the private and the public sectors, one adds to the security of tenure.

Photo of Mr Bob Mitchell Mr Bob Mitchell , Southampton, Itchen

If, in addition, one increases rents to the extent that a tenant is paying much more than previously, how does that add to his security of tenure?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

If the rebate scheme that we suggest is more generous than the one that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite said was right, that situation will not apply. If it does, it means that the rebate scheme suggested by the previous Administration was thoroughly bad.

I turn now to the removal of slums and the improvement of our older stock of houses. I am carrying out a new survey to bring up to date our information of the condition of the country's housing stock. It will also give us up-to-date figures. I am also looking into the finances for slum clearance. I have not seen any dispute about this by either the right hon. Member for Grimsby or any local authority. In future, the financial help for slum clearance will be far better than it has ever been in our history. Under these new financial arrangements, there is no reason why local authorities of every political persuasion should not now analyse the extent of their slum clearance problem and think about targets which will enable them to remove their slums at the earliest possible date. Under the financial arrangements that we suggest for slum clearance, there is no reason why all authorities should not be able to clear their slums within a decade. Massive progress will take place in that sphere during the next ten years.

As for the improvement of our older stock of houses, once again progress has been remarkable under this Government. In the last nine months, improvement grants are 40 per cent. up on what was achieved in the last nine months of Labour Government. Two hundred general improvement areas have been declared, and now, with the additional legislation we have passed and the additional grants that we have approved, a further £40 million of public expenditure will go into the improvement of our older houses.

In London, I hope that we shall be conducting the biggest campaign that the nation's capital city has ever seen for improving our older houses.

Photo of Mr George Cunningham Mr George Cunningham , Islington South West

Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to undertake a study on the usage of these improvement grants with a view to discovering the extent to which they serve to benefit owner-occupiers and developers who sell the places shortly afterwards, and the small extent to which they benefit tenants paying private rents?

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

I cannot do better than point out that our new measure is resulting in 103,000 old council houses being improved in the development areas. I do not intend introducing any restrictive legislation to slow down the improvement of our general housing stock.

Coming to this censure debate, part of the Opposition Amendment accuses the Government of investing less in housing. That is said at a time when the number of new houses being started is increasing, when the number of slums being cleared is increasing, when the number of old houses being improved is increasing, and when the figures in all these sections are far far better than the figures during the last period of Labour Government.

The Government have set out four main priorities in housing. First, to provide the finance to remove the slums from our worst areas of housing. This we are doing, and the slums will be cleared.

Secondly, to modernise that massive stock of older houses in need of modernisation. This we are doing at an accelerating rate which nobody could reasonably have predicted when we came into office.

Thirdly, to see that those in need of financial help in housing have available a national rebate policy which will meet those needs.

Finally, to give more freedom and encouragement to those who wish to own a home of their own.

I believe that in the months that we have been in office we have shown remarkable progress in these spheres, and will continue to do so.

5.21 p.m.

Photo of Mr Charles Loughlin Mr Charles Loughlin , Gloucestershire West

The right hon. Gentleman's speech today was compounded of deliberate dishonesty and fertile imagination. It is appalling that in the debate on the Queen's Speech the Minister should attempt to score debating points instead of dealing with the problem of housing.

It may be that during the last nine months of the Labour Administration there were difficulties for owner- occupiers. I do not doubt that the prices of houses went up during that period. But, taking the whole period of the Labour Government, one cannot argue that point. Taking the six years of Labour Administration and trying to make a comparison with one year of Tory Government, although the percentage figure is lower it does not prove what the Minister was attempting to prove this afternoon.

I am surprised that we should have had such a story of success regarding owner-occupiers. I believe in owner- occupation. Right hon. and hon. Gentle- men opposite used to talk about a property—[An HON. MEMBER: "Property-owning democracy."] I thank hon. Gentlemen very much. I was waiting for someone to prompt me. If they restrict it to the purchase of council houses, perhaps in the next four years they will achieve their objective. But if the present situation applying to the owner- occupier or the potential owner-occupier continues, I cannot see them achieving this grand slogan about which they have talked for so long.

In practice—this is what the right hon. Gentleman should have been concerned about today—large sections of the community are being priced out of the property market. We are reaching a situation where the price of property—not merely newly-built houses but property built within the last 40 years—will be so high that the average earner will not be able to afford to purchase. This is the situation with which the Minister ought to be dealing.

On behalf of someone close to me, I have in the last few weeks examined the [MR. LOUGHLIN.] possibility of purchasing a semi-detached house built, say, in the last 40 years. The area in which I live where the house was to be bought is certainly not one of the dearer areas in this country. This applies to hundreds of thousands of people in Britain, not just to the instance which I am quoting. I have found that in what is a comparatively cheap area for houses the average price of a 40-year old semi-detached house is in the region of £5,500 to £6,500.

Assuming the would-be purchaser is able to find a deposit of £1,000, it means that he will have a mortgage of £4,500. The mortgage is the first of the basic outgoings in the purchase of a house, but there are other matters—rates, light, heat, insurance, and repairs—4o be taken into account. If a man gets a mortgage of £4,500 he has to repay, on the basis of 25 years, £36·65 per month. In terms of the building societies' system where mortgages are allowed in the main—there are exceptions—on the basis of one month's repayment equating one week's earnings, the figure of £36·65 for a modest property, without the additional outgoings, will reduce the number of people in industry and, indeed, many of the youngsters coming out of the universities, who will be able to afford to buy a house.

I do not know whether the Minister is proud of this situation. He did not address himself to the difficulties of house purchase. The increase in house prices in the last 16 months has been scandalous. It is no use the Minister coming to the House and suggesting that everything is lovely and that he has done all kinds of things to help reduce the price of houses. He came out with the hardy annual of S.E.T. I challenge him to give me the name of one builder who, in consequence of the reduction in S.E.T., has reduced any house price. I know that he cannot, because the builders told us that they would not reduce any house prices if we reduced selective employment tax.

Photo of Sir Albert Costain Sir Albert Costain , Folkestone and Hythe

Surely the hon. Gentleman will recall, from his experience in the Ministry, that the standard form of building contract makes it essential that a builder should reduce his prices if S.E.T. is reduced. The hon. Gentleman was one of the Ministers who produced that contract.

Photo of Mr Charles Loughlin Mr Charles Loughlin , Gloucestershire West

I am dealing with owner-occupation. Whatever contract the M.P.B.W. had relating to house prices, it did not in any way affect owner-occupation. It did not affect the company with which the hon. Gentleman was associated when it was doing speculative building. I do not understand the point of the intervention.

Mr. Edward Taylor:

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the famous Scottish building firm of Messrs. McTaggart and Mickel, which builds houses not only in my constituency but in Mr. Deputy Speaker's, publicly announced that it was reducing house prices specifically because of the reduction in S.E.T.?

Photo of Mr Charles Loughlin Mr Charles Loughlin , Gloucestershire West

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because that is to the credit of the company. All I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that none of the building associations nor any of the building firms with which I was indirectly concerned whilst I was at the Ministry would give the slightest assurance that it would reduce house prices in consequence of any reduction in S.E.T.

We ought to try to devise methods by which the price of houses is brought within the means of the average person. I believe that most people want to buy their own houses. One of the biggest factors in housing costs is the tendency for planning authorities to think in terms of conservation when they ought not to do so, which means that they do not release the necessary amount of land at the right time.

I gather that the Minister—and perhaps I may have his attention because I want to say something nice about him —wants to see the strategic planning studies going ahead. The more land that can be released from the white areas, and the more quickly, the less chance there will be of an increase in the price of land in the future. Having got to the stage of saying that it is necessary for there to be a clear discrimination between green and white areas, it should then be possible for action to be taken speedily to release the necessary land, because in that way land can be made available without necessarily increasing its cost.

The second matter which I wish to raise is one to which I have drawn the Minister's attention on previous occasions, and that is the time lag in appeals. I believe that responsibility for planning ought to be taken away from local authorities. I know that this will be regarded as heresy, but I sometimes think that the planning of houses should be done by a separate organisation rather than by the county authorities.

It often happens that when an appeal is lodged by a developer in respect of a large development there is a time lag of anything up to 12 months before the matter is finalised. It often takes 12 months for the inspector's report to be produced after the appeal has been heard. I do not know why that should be so, but I recall that recently I dealt with the Minister's Department over a case of that kind.

Quite often land is purchased and is held for a time by the purchaser. After that, the development is held up for, say, a further 12 months after the holding of an inquiry. The delay is bound to affect the ultimate cost of the houses. I ask the Minister to look at his Department's procedures for the issuing of appeal decisions. Sometimes the decision goes against the proposed development and the houses are not built. Sometimes there is friction between the Department and those responsible for the town maps. I should like to see some local authorities making up their minds a little more quickly about town maps.

Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to have almost a pathological hatred of council house tenants. The argument invariably advanced is that, somehow or other, it is immoral that council house tenants should receive a subsidy. In what was almost his peroration the Minister boasted about what he had done by providing development grants for the improvement of old properties. The thought flashed across my mind —or perhaps, to be accurate, I should say that it went slowly across my mind, because my mind works only slowly— that every landlord and every house purchaser who gets a development grant gets a subsidy, but nobody thinks of it in those terms.

If I want a country cottage—and many of the grants are made for improvements to country cottages—all that I need to do is to buy a broken-down building and say that I propose to rehabilitate it. It does not matter how much money I have. I can go to the local authority and get either a standard grant or a discretionary grant, pound for pound. Nobody argues about the money that is provided. If my child goes to a grammar school and working-class people in the area, by virtue of rate contributions, pay for my child's additional education, nobody argues about that. Yet if it is suggested that somebody living in a council house should get a subsidy, that is regarded as immoral.

I believe that there ought to be a complete mix of the population in council housing developments. I believe that living in council houses there should be those who are very poor, those who, like myself, are not so very poor, but still poor, and those who are rich. The majority of council house tenants, far from receiving a subsidy, make a contribution to the rest of the community because in the main subsidies are paid in respect of houses that were built during the last ten years. For the rest, when those houses were first occupied the economic rent calculated on the basis of the then £8 a year subsidy was about 12s. Today the tenants of those houses—and they may be the original tenants—pay £2 or £2·50 a week in rent. There is no subsidy there. There are literally hundreds of thousands of council house tenants in this situation.

The council tenants subsidise the rest of the community because the local authority has to balance its housing revenue account on a yearly basis. Many authorities include not merely advance payments to builders, for which money has to be spent, but interest costs on land which is being held in abeyance for future building. When I analysed the housing revenue account of one local authority, I found that, although it was making a £3,000 a year rate subvention to the account, most of its tenants were also making a contribution for items which were unconnected with their tenancies, and were really building up the assets of the community. It is about time that hon. Members opposite began looking at the realities of local authority housing and getting rid of the prejudices which they exhibit.

The Bill to introduce fair rents will, of course, he a swindle. What the Government say is, "We will double your rents and we will then be very generous and give you a rent rebate". Most council tenants will be paying more in rent, whether they get the rebate or not, at the end of the transitional period than the sum which they are paying at present and which it would be reasonable to assume that they would pay without the fair rents system. It is a swindle; it is based on the pathological hatred of the Tory Party for council tenants.

Nor will private tenants be any better off. They will not receive subsidies: the Government will simply enable the landlord to get a higher rent, which will mean that the subsidy will go to the landlord and not to the tenant.

I like to hear Ministers boast, and by heavens we had one who boasted this afternoon. He boasted without justification. When he speaks in three or four years' time —from the Opposition Dispatch Box—it will be while hanging his head in shame.

5.44 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Allason Mr James Allason , Hemel Hempstead

The speech of the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin), who spoke at some length—I made it 35 minutes—showed the passion felt by hon. Members opposite about this vote of censure on the Government, further evidence of which is the teeming benches over there. I shall seek to speak more briefly.

The hon. Member said that most council tenants will be paying more with rent allowances. I accept that; but would he consider the corollary—that the other proportion, something less than 50 per cent., will be paying less? Does he object to that? These are the people about whom we are really concerned. I could take the hon. Gentleman to people in my constituency—widows with children, for example—who are finding great difficulty in meeting public authority rents. They will be paying less under this system. I should have thought that the whole House would approve of such a system.

Both sides of the House must agree that we need a great expansion of the housing programme. If we have learned anything from the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West, it is that housing is now very costly.—But hon. Members

opposite talk as though it were possible to isolate public authority housing from this and let the taxpayer take care of the whole difference. I believe that housing is costly and that if we want the end—a vast increase in the housing programme—we must also will the means.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was a little unfair to blame the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) for the reduction in the housing programme. That reduction came rather earlier and was clearly on the shoulders of the Leader of the Opposition. When devaluation regrettably became necessary, the Leader of the Opposition said that housing would not be affected. But within a couple of months we found that it was affected. There were severe cuts in Government expenditure all round, including a severe reduction in housing. The housing programme collapsed from that point, and there has been a steady reduction, which is still being felt in the 1971 completions. It is only now that starts are beginning to improve that we shall see an improvement in future in the housing programme.

The reasons for high prices, as the hon. Gentleman said, are high land prices, high building costs and high interest rates —none of which is a phenomenon of this Government. This movement has been taking place since 1964. These factors have combined to make an average house appallingly expensive. The cost of providing a £5,000 house is about £9 a week. Let us just consider how different occupiers have to meet this.

First, an owner-occupier gets tax relief on his mortgage interest, which reduces the cost to about £7·50 a week.

As for a local authority, under the 1967 Act, the Government provide a subsidy which reduces the cost from £9 to £5 a week. But, even so, £5 a week is more than the local authority would wish to charge. So by means of the pooling of rent on the historic costs and by means of the rate subsidy, rents are reduced to something far below what the owner- occupier has to meet.

For the private landlord, although the cost is £9 a week, this is not the cost to him, because he must pay tax on a notional income which he gets even though there is no profit. So the breakeven point for the private landlord is about £10 a week. That is where he gets no profit at all but only succeeds in paying his tax on the notional profit which he has not made. So he must charge more than £10 a week if he wants to see any return on his money. There are similar discrepancies for cost-rent housing associations and for co-ownership housing societies.

At present there is no private building in the regulated sector. The only solution to this is to give capital allowances for new buildings built to let. An income tax capital allowance would bring the £10 cost substantially down so that it might be possible for a private developer to provide houses in regulated sectors. All hon. Members should welcome such a suggestion, except the right hon. Member for Grimsby, who does not approve of private landlordism and wants to see it municipalised.

The other effect of this distortion of the cost is on local authority building. The high cost of the subsidy is a drain on the Exchequer. After devaluation there was a reduction in council house building and in the whole housing programme, because the country could not afford the £200 a year subsidy per house.

It will be a brave local authority that undertakes a substantial scheme and then says to all its tenants, "We are sorry, but the cost of these new houses is £5 a week. Consequently, we must increase your rents considerably to spread the load.". One town in my constituency has refused to do this because it is too great a burden on existing tenants. Instead, the council concerned is charging very high rents for the new houses. I believe this system to be unfair and not a way to get housing built.

The alternative is the new policy of rent increases. Clearly, it is not popular. No one wants to be told that his rent must rise next year and the year after. It is easy for the Opposition to try to gain popularity by fighting this. I ask them to consider whether they have a constructive alternative or whether it is not their duty to say that housing is now very expensive and everybody must take his share in meeting its high cost.

The rent increases will be accompanied by generous housing allowances. It was suggested to my right hon. Friend that some people would not be able to afford their rents if they were increased. Those whose rents will rise significantly are the people who can best afford to pay rent increases. Some people living in council houses pay only a very small proportion of their income in rent. The rents of such persons will rise significantly over the years. The rents of other people who can least afford to pay their present rents will be reduced, and I welcome that.

At present rent rebates amount to only 6 per cent. of the total Government subsidy. The right hon. Member for Grimsby said that rent allowances will be paid for by council tenants out of the increases in rent. When I pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman that that is not so and that the rent allowances will be paid for in total out of housing subsidies, the right hon. Gentleman said that he did not believe that housing subsidies should be used for housing allowances; they should be used to subsidise everybody's rent.

Obviously, everyone dislikes the idea of having to impose a means test on the majority of tenants, both private and public. The alternative is to continue with the present system of subsidising everyone, thereby ensuring that the subsidy goes in the main to those who do not need it and least of all to those who need it.

Photo of Mr John Pardoe Mr John Pardoe , North Cornwall

It is madness to give a subsidy of this sort, which will involve a means test for at least 70 per cent. of all council tenants. In view of the hon. Gentleman's point about subsidising the better off instead of the worse off, may I ask why the tax subsidy for owner-occupiers remains?

Photo of Mr James Allason Mr James Allason , Hemel Hempstead

If the hon. Gentleman had been present at the beginning of my speech he would have heard me deal with that point. There is no question of council rents rising to the level which is involved for a comparable house in the hands of an owner-occupier. I mentioned the figure of £7·50. If anybody says that the fair rent of a house that costs a council £5,000 will rise to £7·50, I will eat my hat. If there are any council rents at that level at present, those rents will come down when the fair rent policy is introduced.

It is fair that 70 per cent. to 80 per cent. of tenants should be means-tested, because the maximum aid will then go to those most in need. There is no stigma in a means test which covers 70 per cent. to 80 per cent. of tenants. People find no difficulty in claiming income tax allowances if they are entitled to them. The housing allowance will be no more than that. Those who apply for it will not be seeking charity. They will merely be asking for an allowance to which they are entitled, in exactly the same way as they are entitled to tax allowances.

A radical reform is needed because of the utter failure of the Labour Government's housing policy. We need a reform which is fair to tenants and owner-occupiers and stimulates fresh building. This is the reform which comes from the Tory Government but which the Labour Government so lamentably failed to produce.

5.58 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , South Shields

The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) referred at the end of his speech to the lamentable failure of the last Government in housing. It is a curious lamentable policy which resulted in more houses being built in that period than had been built in the previous comparable period. It is curious that the Labour Government's policy should be regarded as a failure when it involved an enormous expansion in local authority building, albeit an expansion to far less an extent than many of us wanted, after the Tory Government had allowed local authority building to fall to a disastrously low figure.

What is depressing about the speeches of the Minister and other hon. Members opposite is that they fail to face the tragedy that housing still is for so many people. I remember the Government hopes of years ago that we were within sight of an end to the housing problem. It was not very long after the war. Yet we still have a very long way to go. The overwhelming issue which those of us representing urban constituencies hear about is the extreme anxiety, worry and tragedy of people in bad housing. We have had plenty of failures, but a great deal has been done, and it is wrong to give the impression that there was no attempt during the five years of the last Labour Government at a major restoration of local authority building. The tragedy facing so many of the people I represent is the knowledge that the stock of housing on which they must rely—namely, the housing provided by the local authorities—is rapidly declining. This is the reality for the people in my constituency who are most urgently in need. It is no use talking to them about building houses for sale. There is a need for houses for sale and we are right to be proud of the new facilities we have offered people to help them in buying. We welcome the reduction in the interest rate, but do not let the Government claim responsibility for it.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , South Shields

It is very nice for a party to come to power after the trade balance has been put right and some of the major economic problems have been solved because it can reap some of the advantages in the form of lower interest rates. But do not let us deny that many people have to look to the local authorities for the answer to their problems. Many local authorities, especially Conservative-controlled authorities, are cutting their house building programmes, which means less hope for many of the people about whom I am concerned.

We must be happy at the prospect of an increase in slum clearance, but we have a responsibility to think about the position of low income families who are pushed out of slum properties with no clear idea as to how they will manage and without realising that local authorities are steadily reducing their building programmes. The Government may say, "We shall provide rebates for many people in the new local authority houses or in the older estates", but we must realise that in many areas over 80 per cent., perhaps 90 per cent., of the ten- ants will require rebates. That is the scale of the problem.

In those circumstances, why impose by law a requirement to have a rebate scheme? What sense does that make? Why should not local authorities retain their own judgment and right to determine whether they use the subsidy by way of rebate? In areas of people with relatively low incomes where the proportion of tenants requiring support is very great, why should not the subsidy be used, as it has been used, generally over the property or at least a very large part of it? The sanity of doing that is shown by the monstrous absurdity of the cost of administering a rebate scheme in conditions of this sort. If a relatively small number of people, or even up to 50 per cent. of them, are likely to make claims, it may make sense. But it would be infinitely less costly to allow authorities to make a general rent reduction over the whole area of their property if they wished. That would put a much smaller administrative burden on them and would be very much more effective.

But only a proportion of people entitled to rebates claim them. The take-up of many of the Government's recently announced allowances, such as the Family Income Supplement, clearly shows that. The take-up of rate rebate scheme in many areas is lamentably low. Although the situation may be improved by publicity, large numbers of people who need support are not likely to claim. These are the people who would benefit if the Government allowed an authority to determine whether it should apply a rebate scheme.

The Government pretended that they were concerned about the liberty of action of local authorities, yet in many instances no liberty is given. First, the extraordinary, childish, petty Government policy on school milk was forced on Tory-controlled and Labour-controlled authorities. Now the Government propose not only to impose rent rebate schemes on authorities but to say what kind of schemes they will be—the details of them.

Photo of Mr Julian Amery Mr Julian Amery , Brighton, Pavilion

I am confused about the way in which the hon. Gentleman's argument is developing. At one time he seemed to be saying that our scheme would lead to an excessive take-up of rebates. At another time he seemed to be saying that there would be an inadequate take-up. On which leg is he standing?

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , South Shields

What I am saying is that only a small number of the people who are entitled to rebates in areas like mine are likely to apply for them. This is the experience with all the schemes which have been introduced. Those who do not apply but are entitled to benefit will suffer. The Minister is not likely to overcome this problem by means of the scheme he proposes.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , South Shields

The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but he must admit that there has been a relatively minute take-up in many areas of the Government's Family Income Supplement Scheme. That can be said of rate rebate schemes and other schemes. What the Government have to face is that in areas where the overwhelming majority of tenants are entitled to an allowance, only a relatively small number in fact apply. It is all very well to take an upper-class attitude about what people should and should not do, but this failure to apply for allowances is a fact of the way of life of some people. It is the Government's responsibility to ensure that local authorities have the opportunity to operate schemes which seem applicable to their areas. Why should they not? Why should the Government deny local authorities the right to operate schemes as they think sensible?

Photo of Mr James Allason Mr James Allason , Hemel Hempstead

May I remind the hon. Gentleman that in 1965 his Government urged that there should be generous rebate schemes and yet, as I pointed out, only 6 per cent. of the Government's subsidies, £13 million, are used on rent rebate schemes?

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , South Shields

I spoke on this subject when the Labour Party was in office. The Labour Government recommended proposals, but then never went so far as to impose them on local authorities. [Laughter.] Right hon. Gentleman may laugh as much as they like, but the fact remains that my right hon. Friends never imposed such schemes. They recognised that local authorities had the right to consider conditions in their own areas, and that, although it was perfectly sensible to have a rent rebate scheme in some areas, in many, not all, it was perfectly sensible to have a general subsidy as so many tenants would in any case require assistance because of their low incomes.

Hon. Members opposite began by insisting that they were eager to give local authorities greater freedom, but when it comes to the reality they do precisely the opposite. They propose to impose rent rebate schemes throughout the country irrespective of local conditions, and they are taking out of the hands of local authorities the final determination of what the rents in their estates are to be. I do not know of any hon. Member who promised that to the electorate.

What an extraordinary combination it is! On the one hand, the Government claim to be giving new liberty of action to local authorities and, on the other, they are taking away some of the major rights and powers always exercised by local authorities, rights and powers of which they have been proud. In an area like mine, where the Conservatives have the proud record of having increased male unemployment to some 15 per cent. and where wage levels generally are low and where a great deal of short time is being worked, what sense does it make to impose rent rebate schemes?

My other major fear is that we shall again get a movement towards a reduction of the standards of house building such as we saw when the Conservatives came to office in 1951. Then, after a period of increased local authority building, we got a steady reduction in standards, and now authorities throughout the country have to face the problems of the repair and improvement of properties built at that time, properties that were not big enough and in which builders had to skimp on a whole range of provisions. Now they stand plain for all to see. I fear that we shall return to segregated groups in our towns with slum clearance estates such as we had before the war, something which many of us thought we had at last managed to leave behind.

Some of us were proud of the fact that in the 1949 legislation we cut out the expression "working class" and insisted that a local housing authority had a general housing responsibility. The objective now, clearly, is to force authorities back into the narrow confines of insisting that they should provide only for the lowest income groups, so that it is made clear to everyone in a neigh-bourhood that those are the people who live in council estates. The old music hall jokes about council houses will return.

It is a tragedy not only because we have been getting out of that situation— we have been proud of the quality and standards of many housing estates—but because it is divisive of the community. The tragedy is that the Government are not offering any hope for the many people who still want decent housing accommodation. The Government are satisfied with a situation in which it is their proud boast that they will insist that local authorities provide subsidies only on the basis of need, while subsidy may be provided by way of grants for the improvement of houses and by tax allowances for house purchasers without any question of the means of those involved.

I am one of those who helped to introduce the first of the improvement grants schemes, and I was proud to have done so because we believed that we should benefit the community as a whole by maintaining the stock of housing at as high a level as possible. Why should that not apply to council housing, too? Why should what is agreed to he reasonable for privately-built housing not be true of council-built housing? Why should not council housing be open to subsidy in the same way as private housing? One of the greatest tragedies of the return of the Conservative Government is that we shall face many ordinary people with bad housing conditions from which it may take years to recover.

6.20 p.m.

Photo of Sir Albert Costain Sir Albert Costain , Folkestone and Hythe

At the outset may I declare to the House my interest in the building industry and in house building. I would also remind the House that this is not the first occasion on which I have spoken on housing. I shall on this occasion however try to place my remarks on a different basis and refer to different subjects from those with which I have dealt previously.

I was flabbergasted at what the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) said and by the hypocrisy of the Amendment. When the last Labour Government came into power, in 1964, I sat as an Opposition speaker on housing on the Front Bench. At that time I was able to point out to the House the enormous success which the then Minister of Building and Public Works, now the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, had achieved. I pointed out how, having taken up the slack and rectified the mistakes of the Labour Government, he brought out a policy which I said would enable the Labour Government to build a record number of houses. In that respect I was right.

We watched the planning efforts of the Labour Government, we saw the success they made of our plans. The Secretary of State did not give the Labour Government the real credit for the greatest success in housing. After all, that success was to build up the biggest stock of bricks this country had ever known—surely a clear demonstration of the failure of their housing policy. The right hon. Member for Grimsby made much of the fact that the Prime Minister knew nothing about housing.

Photo of Sir Albert Costain Sir Albert Costain , Folkestone and Hythe

The hon. Lady says, "Hear, hear", but if my recollection is correct the Prime Minister is the son of a builder, and I cannot imagine any son of a builder not knowing a great deal about housing. I am the son of a builder, and I recall, as a small boy in 1919, going round the very first council scheme ever built in this country. The scheme was built for Bootle Corporation and it was explained to me that this was the first council scheme to be built as "homes for heroes." It was said that this scheme would replace the almshouses and would, in turn, be replaced by new housing. Thus the first council scheme came into being. There was nothing wrong with that conception.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite keep saying that we in the Conservative Party have some in-built prejudice against council house tenants. [Interruption.] This is utter nonsense. We are as proud of our council tenants as anyone. The hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East is prejudiced the other way round. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that whereas in 1914, 91 per cent. of households lived in private rented property, today that figure has dropped to 15 per cent. He did not point out, however, that many investors would be. delighted to put their money into private property. They have been held back from doing so only by the vicious attacks of the Opposition and the threats, continually made, of what they will do to landlords when they get back into power. It is for this reason that we have had to concentrate rented properties on housing associations.

Photo of Mr Julius Silverman Mr Julius Silverman , Birmingham Aston

If the hon. Gentleman is right, why is it that private rented property has declined steadily in 13 years of Tory administration?

Photo of Sir Albert Costain Sir Albert Costain , Folkestone and Hythe

I must not be making myself very clear. What I said was that the private investment companies would be only too delighted to build houses to rent if it were not for the threats of the Labour Party against the landlords. That is why so many office blocks have been built in this country.

I said 12 years ago, and repeat now, that if the Opposition spokesman on housing would make a solemn promise— and I use the phrase reservedly—that the next Labour Government, if there be a next Labour Government, would not continue attacking landlords, there would be private building to rent. My own company built one of the largest blocks of flats in Europe to house 5,000 people —Dolphin Square. We have for years carried out a system of building for rent, but because of the Rent Act and the threats of the Opposition, we just cannot build houses to rent today in this country, although we do it overseas.

The Opposition are saying that a person who has been unable to get a house and becomes a priority case hits the jackpot.

Photo of Sir Albert Costain Sir Albert Costain , Folkestone and Hythe

The hon. Gentleman says, "Rubbish" but we are saying that a person in a council house should not be isolated from all other effects. When people come up to have their needs properly assessed, they find that those needs are assessed against the needs of others. The needs of people in council houses are completely ignored. The tenants stay on as permanent tenants, many of them in houses which are too big for them, because their families have decreased in size.

Photo of Mr George Cunningham Mr George Cunningham , Islington South West

Will the hon. Gentleman explain to me in what way my constituents, going into a council flat at £8 or £9 a week in Inner London, are isolated from the effects of the market? Will he not agree that many council tenants pay enormous sums, more than they would have to pay on a mortgage. if they could get it?

Photo of Sir Albert Costain Sir Albert Costain , Folkestone and Hythe

I am not familiar with the hon. Gentleman's constituency, but a few weeks' ago a constituent of mine asked me whether I could use my influence to get him a council house. I made inquiries about the house he occupied and discovered that he wanted the council house only because the rent was so much lower than the one he was paying. He wanted the same chance as them.

The one thing which the Opposition have learned during the time that I have had the privilege of addressing this House has been that a change of attitude towards owner-occupiers is needed. This is because they have seen the majority of council-house tenants becoming owner-occupiers.

Housing is always much too political. If only we could get politics out of housing—[Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite may laugh but they know that this is so and they know that their party cannot keep politics out of housing. The Labour Party still snipes at the owner- occupier but it is slowly dawning upon them that if people buy their own house they cease to be tenants.

The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) failed to appreciate the difference between once-and-for-all grants to improve property, to make them an asset to the community, and paying a continuing subsidy. The grants to which he referred were once-and-for-all grants for property improvement.

On many occasions when I have spoken about housing I have issued warnings. I pointed out that the bottleneck which would occur in housing would be a shortage of mortgages, and that tragically came to pass. I say today to the Minister that the problem in housing over the next two years will be a shortage of land. The Land Commission and betterment levy made land prices rise. That rise gathered momentum. People began to afford to pay the high prices and were still able to sell the houses. As a result the demand for land rose even more rapidly. It is a fact that the less Government interference there is, the more houses are built. There is, however, one area in which Government must interfere and that is town planning. Even the most ardent house-owner accepts that.

What every Government has failed to realise is that it takes two to three years to get a house from the land stage to the finished project. Because of that every builder has to carry a stock of land to last for three years. The problem here is that if we are thinking of anything like 500,000 houses a year, we need over 50,000 acres of land per annum, allowing for roads, schools and other things. My suggestion for dealing with this is a positive planning policy. We know that this land will be needed over the next 12 years. Why cannot it be released over that period so that people will know that certain areas will be available at specified times? That would immediately give a plentiful supply of land and reduced prices and would enable builders to plan ahead.

It is a simple matter, but I know that the Minister will ask how he will be able to allocate land, how can he be sure that it will be absorbed? This, too, is relatively simple, if he will accept that we have had negative planning for too long. We have had "Thou shalt not built" for too long. Everyone wants houses, but having got one they do not want anyone to build near them. The Minister must determine the amount of land he needs and then ask every local authority how much land they can make available. He must then point out that it is their duty to make it available in the next ten years. Then he should say that planning permission will be given over that period and that if it is not used up the balance will be transferred elsewhere. That would enable us to get the land, to reduce prices and to get on with the housing programme.

6.35 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

I hope to deal with some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Folke-stone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) later in my speech.

The Government's scheme is not just a failure to keep down the cost of living as promised. It is a deliberate increase in what is a major item of expenditure in the budgets of most families. The purpose of the White Paper is not to ease the serious housing situation by building more houses. The basic intention is instead to shift the burden of housing finance from the Government on to the shoulders of tenants. Far from cutting council-house subsidies, more subsidy is required.

The subsidy to owner-occupiers is rising each year—and I do not complain of that. It now reaches £302 million a year compared with £220 million a year from local government and national Government sources for council-housing. More of the country's resources must be devoted to housing. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need 500,000 new houses a year plus 200,000 improvements. And I hope that the improvements will not be used as a substitute for new houses, because we need both.

West Germany achieves these figures with a population the same as ours. There is no miracle; the Germans do not work any harder than our workers. Yet they build one-and-a-half times more houses than we do because they devote one-and-half times the proportion of their gross national product to housing that we do. We devoted 3·7 per cent. of our G.N.P. to housing; the West Germans devoted 5·5 per cent.

Photo of Mr Peter Trew Mr Peter Trew , Dartford

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that the vast bulk of German housing is done not by the local authorities but by the voluntary housing movement? Could we not take a lesson from that?

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point, because it is my next one. There is nothing wicked about subsidising housing. Nearly all Governments do it. In West Germany, for example, up to a certain income, a worker can receive the first part of a loan to buy his own house interest-free or at 1 per cent. Do not let hon. Members think that it is only council house tenants who get subsidy. People get subsidy for housing all over the world, and rightly so.

In this country, subsidy to the owner-occupiers is to be continued and without a means test. But in fact there is a means test in reverse. If one obtains a £30,000 mortgage—and these are being secured today—one gets a far higher subsidy than does the small borrower. I have not worked it out exactly but I think that it is a subsidy of about £16 a week. That should not be so. There should be a ceiling on the mortgage.

Neither party is suggesting an ending of relief to owner-occupiers. I hope that is generally understood. But what is most unfair is that, whilst the owner- occupiers' subsidy is to continue, council tenants are to lose theirs. I challenge the Minister to explain what is the fairness in the proposal that owner-occupiers should, quite rightly, receive their subsidy while council house tenants have theirs removed. Surely he is not suggesting that the council house tenants are wealthier than the owner-occupiers. The fact is that there is an ideological objection to tenants by the Government. This bias reveals their anti-working class prejudice.

The effect on council housing will be calamitous because many families in terrible housing conditions—I have them in my constituency, as do others—will be discouraged from seeking council houses because, even after rebate, they will be unable to afford the increased rents.

I have promised to be brief so I want to draw attention to just one or two of the evils in the White Paper which have not yet secured attention. Not only will a means test be required—it will have to be a continuing means test because family means are continually altering. For example, the mother who has been going out to work gives it up and stays at home when she is going to have a baby, so her income is lost. Or perhaps the husband loses his overtime, or a son may leave home. Means are continually altering, which entails a continuing means test. Indeed, the Government prescribe that this test shall be carried out every six months.

So hordes of new officials will have to be appointed. Perhaps that is the Government's way of solving the unemployment problem! It is not, however, going to solve the housing problem. Even on the Government's own reckoning, they will require 400 additional staff to serve the rent assessment panels, 100 additional staff for the Supplementary Benefits Commission and at least 850 more rent officers to deal with the conversion of controlled tenancies to rent regulations. That adds up to about 1,350 extra officials. But that is only the beginning, because extra staff will be required by the local authorities, the new town corporations and so on, in order to administer the rent rebate and allowance schemes. That requirement will be several times the extra number required by the Government agencies.

If all this were to build more houses or to help people keep rents down, it would be forgivable, but it is unacceptable when the overall intention is to force rents up. I suggest that there is an element of trickery about the rebate scheme because, while some tenants will receive rebates, they will mostly find that the rebates will be far less than the increases they are required to pay, so they will be worse off.

I want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser), who has dug out of the Minister of Housing and Construction some very valuable figures which show that a single man with a gross income of £30 a week receives, after he has paid national insurance, pension contribution and income tax, not £30 a week but £21 13s. a week. If he is married but without children, he gets only £22 14s. out of his £30. So the tables provided for the rebates are far less generous than they might seem.

Let us look at the composition of rent assessment panels—the bodies which will, without right of appeal, fix the rents for 51, million families right away. One-third of the members are lawyers, one-third are usually valuation officers and chartered surveyors and the remaining one-third are lay men. Thus, most members of these panels, with some exceptions, are biased heavily in favour of high property values and hence of high rents. I suggest that these people are biased against tenants, and the dissatisfaction which is now being expressed in London against the London rent assessment panels shows this to be the case. Even middleclass tenants, some of them earning quite considerable sums and paying rents of up to £20 a week, are boiling over with indignation about the decisions made by some of the panels.

Photo of Mr Arthur Jones Mr Arthur Jones , Northamptonshire South

I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman's criticism. Does not he recognise that most of these appointments were made by the last Government?

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

I do realise that. I think it was a tremendous mistake. The last Government appointed the wrong people to these panels. Speaking personally, I would go further and say that I am very doubtful whether there is such a thing as a fair rent, because what is fair to the landlord is unfair to the tenant and vice versa. It is a doubtful concept altogether. However, that is not the point I want to make.

I am saying that the panels have raised regulated rents to 2·6 times what they were when they were controlled rents. That pattern is going to be repeated for the remaining tenants who are now to be taken out of rent control. There is no dodging this fact. We have the figures. So it is not surprising that today the overwhelming majority of cases being taken through the rent fixing machinery are landlords' applications and that not many tenants are applying. The "Fair Deal for Housing", so called, is a raw deal for tenants.

There are other highly objectionable parts of the Government's plans. It may not yet have sunk in that a fine of £50 can be imposed on a tenant who refuses to admit officials of the rent security committees into his home to examine it from the inside. An Englishman's home is his castle indeed! Councillors and officers of a local authority who re- fuse a document or to supply information to a housing commissioner will be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £400. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has quite realised what trouble he is going to provoke.

I can tell the House that resolutions are pouring in from all over the country to the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party at Transport House urging that the forthcoming Bill should be repealed by the next Labour Government. I hope and believe that that will soon become the official policy of the Labour Party. The good parts of the Bill—and we have to search hard for them in the 160 pages and 103 Clauses —could be included in a new Bill by a Labour Government.

I notice that the Association of London Housing Estates, which co-ordinates 132 tenants' associations in London, is, together with tenants associations throughout the country, arranging to lobby M.P.s in Parliament next Monday, on the day of the Second Reading debate. I urge hon. Members to listen carefully and sympathetically to their case. If they do not, I warn them that these people represent tenants amounting roughly to 49 per cent. of the population. They have votes and they will be prepared to use them against councillors and hon. Members, but most of all against a Government who insists on punishing them.

6.50 p.m.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Glasgow Cathcart

It is always a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun). He speaks with sincerity about housing problems, although many of us do not agree with his conclusions. I was upset to hear his proposal that a future Labour Government would repeal the current legislation, because that would mean that the rebate arrangements which are being introduced for private tenants would disappear and. perhaps more important, that the present injustice whereby tenants of similar accommodation pay much more rent in some areas than in other areas would be reintroduced.

I feel that my right hon. Friend made a satisfactory report to the House today in respect of the massive extension of improvement grants which will help city areas, the first reduction for many years in mortgage rates, the extension of rent rebates to private tenants, the reorganisation of local authority finance and the special arrangements being made for Scotland to take account of the fact that its rent pattern is very different from the average in England and Wales. I know that my right hon. Friend would not wish me to spend the few minutes at my disposal in praising him for what he has done but would prefer me to spend my time asking questions about matters that I think should be looked at further.

The hon. Member for Salford, East was representing a lot of opinions in the Labour Party and, perhaps, in the country, when he talked about the prejudice of the Conservative Party and of some Conservative councillors against council tenants. I am sure that that is not true, but many people think that it is true. It is very important that members of the Conservative Party should make it clear that we do not regard the holding of the tenancy of a council house as in any way second-rate or second-class. The best way to do this, having embarked on a major programme of reorganisation of housing finance through a more just system, is to make it clear that we have more to say to the great housing areas than simply to put up their rents.

Some people have suggested that council tenancies are remarkable things—that someone who moves into a council house is the winner of some great lucky dip, because he will be going to live in some kind of municipal paradise at a very low rent. Everyone knows that many council estates are grim, miserable concrete deserts, often starved of amenities— places which are not communities but are simply large collections of houses. Some local authorities have made impressive efforts to improve the character of their council estates and to raise the quality of life in them, but others have made little progress in that regard.

I hope that, having begun the task of reorganising housing finance—and having made a very good and just job of it— my right hon. Friend and his colleagues will turn their attention to some of the human problems that exist in council estates, not only in terms of amenities but in relation to inadequate tenants. and families who cannot cope. There are many problems which require our looking at other aspects of council housing.

Hon. Members of both parties have been concerned about the ever-increasing cost of housing for owner-occupation. Prices and land costs have been soaring. I very much doubt whether any party, or any individual, can find an easy solution which would immediately or automatically bring down the cost of housing, but we must make sure that no step is taken which would aggravate the problem, or greatly increase the cost of buying a house.

In this connection I ask my right hon. Friend and his colleagues to bear in mind the fact that this party has a splendid record in owner-occupation, having abolished taxation on owner-occupation by removing Schedule A tax and substantially reduced S.E.T. I hope that we can make a clear commitment that it is the policy of our party and our Government to avoid in all possible circumstances taxing the purchase and sale of owner-occupied property. We have recently had a Green Paper on value-added tax. It said that other European countries had special arrangements in connection with the purchase and sale of owner-occupied homes and suggested that some kind of special arrangement might have to be made here. According to information given to me by my right hon. Friend, in almost all European countries value-added tax applies to new houses—with adjustments in some countries—and registration tax applies to older houses.

I can give an example. In the United Kingdom there is no tax for an old or a new house costing £5,000, but in the countries of the Community there is value-added tax on new houses in general— there are some exceptions—and registration tax on old houses. For a £5,000 house in Belgium the tax is £300; in France it is £240; in Germany, £350; in Holland, £250; in Italy, £375, and in Luxembourg, £250. Any taxation on the purchase and sale of owner-occupied accommodation in this country—V.A.T. or registration—will impose a substantial additional burden.

Bearing in mind the fact that in 1977 all the countries of the Community—and that will apply to us if we are one of them—will have to contribute 1 per cent. of V.A.T. to the Community's budget, it would be strange if such a tax were levied on a different basis. No Government can give an assurance about the future of such taxation, especially when the decision might not be entirely ours. On the other hand, it is fair to say that we could certainly look to this Government to say that in the event of our joining the Community their general policy in Europe will be to press for the removal —certainly not the introduction—of any tax on the purchase or sale of owner-occupied houses.

My next question concerns private rented property. Before 1955 we had controlled houses and decontrolled houses. Decontrolled houses often had very high rents and controlled houses very low rents. Since then there has been the introduction of fair rents, and in the 1969 Act a substantial extension—in Scotland and England—of the number of houses coming out of control and into the regulated and fair rent systems. In Scotland, in any event, a substantial number of houses approved by local authorities as being in a good state of repair were brought into the fair rent system, phased over a period of years. Logically, the system seems ideal, because only houses in a good state of repair are brought within the scope of this arrangement.

We also have provision for social security which will pay the additional cost to someone who cannot, in fact, afford it. We are taking the further step of saying that those on low incomes will get rent subsidy in the same way as those in council tenancies get them. Certainly the system is there. The system, when we expand it, will make provision for all those on low incomes who cannot afford to pay more. There is no question that the facilities are there, but, on the other hand, I feel there is a danger that in the further extension of the regulated tenancies which we are introducing we are, perhaps, not taking account of the human problem of those who, for example, live in houses which were decontrolled under the 1969 Act or brought into regulation, and who, many of them —I believe the majority of them in Scotland—are people who are of very advanced years, many of them living quite alone.

The first notice—having lived in a controlled house with a rent of perhaps £20 or £30 for 30 years or 40 years— which they receive of a change is of an increase of perhaps from £15 to £120. This quite often happens. They are told they can appeal within seven days. The fact is that many of these elderly people do not appeal against these decisions, because they have no one to turn to for proper advice and they are not aware of the appeal procedure. The fact is that under the 1969 Act introduced by the previous Government many elderly people have gone through agony and misery simply because they have not been aware of their rights, not aware of the appeals procedure and of the rights which were available to them.

Photo of Mr James Dempsey Mr James Dempsey , Coatbridge and Airdrie

I am much obliged to the hon. Member for giving way. He is very good at giving way. Is he aware that in the town of Coatbridge the rents of single pensioners of tenement houses are going up by more than 600 per cent. and that when they have appealed to the rent tribunal their rents have been increased further? Does the hon. Member appreciate that landlords now are ignoring the rent officer because they are getting a much better increase by going direct to the rent assessment tribunals?

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Glasgow Cathcart

I am sure that what the hon. Member says in respect of his constituency will be correct, and that is the very point with which I am dealing. I am sure that he has explained to his constituents that the rent increases were introduced by his Government with his personal support. I am sure he has made that clear to the old-age pensioners in Coatbridge, But this is the very problem with which I was wanting to deal.

Many old people are presented with these massive increases. They are told in the document which they receive that the increases will be phased over a period of years. They have their rights under social security, but the fact is, as the hon. Member said, that most of them are not aware of the procedure. The rent is fixed by the rent assessment committee. Many are not aware that when they appeal from the rent officer their rents can be increased very substantially indeed. I am sure that hon. Members have many examples. I have had one just recently from my own constituency of 15 flats, almost identical. The landlord fixed the rent at £125. The rent officer suggested a figure of round about £80 to £90. Three cases were resolved in negotiations at a figure between £100 and £120; 12 other tenants felt this was too high and went to the rent assessment committee and the result was that rents between £147 and £164 have been fixed.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Glasgow Cathcart

I hope the hon. Member will not make a political issue of a very real human problem, but this is something which must be resolved.

What is the answer to it? First, we can say to hon. Gentlemen who complain about this that for the first time those in this situation will be able to get rent rebate, something which was not available to them under the previous legislation, but I would appeal to my right hon. Friends to realise that many people are not aware of their rights and that many people do not take advantage of the simple appeals procedure, because many old people, living alone, do not have proper advice. The only thing they see is that first notice which comes to them through their letter boxes from the rent officer.

Would it not be fair and reasonable, when considering further extension of rent regulation, to have an arrangement whereby elderly people who received such notification should have special assistance from a welfare officer seconded to the rent office? Many of the rent officers are trying to undertake this function themselves and are very sympathetic, but when somebody is in a controlled house which suddenly becomes decontrolled, or subject to regulation, he should receive a call from someone from the rent office not only telling him what is happening, but also explaining the appeals procedure, telling him that the Supplementary Benefits Commission can give assistance, and, that, as a result of our rent policy, rent rebates are available. I think that this would greatly reduce the misery which so many people suffer. I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, in the new legislation, will ensure that some arrangement along these lines is made so that elderly people living alone are made aware of the rights available to them.

The last point I wish to make is in relation to Scotland. A major achievement has been scored by the Secretary of State for Scotland in ensuring that we have special arrangements for Scotland simply because our historic position is so different. The average rent in 1970 of a local authority house in Scotland was £74; in England, I believe, the average figure was over £120. So there is an historical difference. Our system will be different. We are moving to- wards true rents instead of fair rents. They will be basically economic, but with rents varying from one authority to another. They will not be higher but considerably lower in many cases.

One thing which does seem, perhaps, unfair is that some local authorities had substantial pre-war house building programmes, and built 120,000, in some cases, before the war, when average rents were much lower than those for houses built in post-war housebuilding programmes, by other authorities, which have had substantial programmes in the last two or three years when house prices have been very high. Can there be, and will there be, some arrangement to make provision for those local authorities whose housebuilding programmes were concentrated at a time when house prices were very high and building costs were high?

I believe that in the short period of one year this Government have made a major step forward in housing policy, and I hope that having done this, perhaps the Government will be able to deal with these minor points which I have raised.

7.8 p.m.

Photo of Mrs Renée Short Mrs Renée Short , Wolverhampton North East

I want to mention, first of all, very quickly two very important items which I hoped would be included in the Gracious Speech.

The first which I had hoped to see was some reference to additional provision for nursery education. We had mention of this on Friday. I know that the Secretary of State for Education and Science has found a small amount of money to provide a few more places, but I also know that she is finding more than twice that amount to reduce fees at direct grant schools. This is just another indication of the kind of bias which we expect from this Government.

The main thing we are discussing today is housing, and the second thing which I had hoped very much to see in the Gracious Speech was some reference to the need for a population policy. Everybody in the House agrees that this is a most urgent problem, and it bears very much on the subject of our debate today, because the larger the population the greater the demand on education and on housing, and on all the provisions which the Government have to make through the whole of their spending Departments.

It is time that the "think tank" in No. 10, the Rothschild group, got down to these matters, since it was supposed to consider population policy, and that some proposals were put forward by the Government. I hope that these will not be too long delayed, because this is an urgent problem.

I have not time to refer to all the macabre examples of humour that appear in the Gracious Speech. There are references to working for good relations with the Soviet Union and to sustaining the Commonwealth association, while at the same time going ahead with entry to the Common Market which will under- mine the Commonwealth. We are promised legislation to increase protection for ancient monuments. There are ancient monuments sitting on the Government side of the House who get too much protection, and I hope that many of them will shortly be removed.

Once again the major proposals show how little the Conservative Government understand the social needs of ordinary people. The people who can afford to buy houses are not homeless or living in slums and those who are will not be helped by the proposals in the Gracious Speech, which will not provide a single additional house. I beg to differ from the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), who always manages to precede me in housing debates. The problem is not one of land supply. The major problem is the under-capitalisation generally of building and the refusal of people to invest in the right areas.

Between 1964 and 1970 I was critical of the Labour Government's housing policy. I made that clear by Questions and speeches. I thought that we were not going ahead fast enough and that we should be giving a much higher priority to the provision of housing generally. I hope that we shall learn our lesson and that when we again have a Labour Government this will be remedied.

Several of my hon. Friends have pointed out how the proposals in the Gracious Speech will undermine and whittle away the authority now possessed by local authorities. I will make a brief quotation from the Conservative Party Manifesto. It may be rather painful for hon. and right hon. Gentlemen to he reminded of this, but it is apposite in relation to the housing finance proposals: Under our new style of government …

We know this new style, to our cost—

… we will devolve Government power so that more decisions are made locally. The independence of local authorities has been seriously eroded by Labour Ministers on many issues, particularly in education and housing. They have deliberately overridden the views of elected councillors. We think it wrong that the balance of power between central and local government should have been distorted, and we will redress the balance and increase the independence of local authorities.

As many of my hon. Friends have pointed out, the Bill will go in the other direction, taking away from local authorities much of the responsibility they now possess. The object of the Bill is to save taxpayers' money which is now used through housing subsidies to keep down housing costs. It is all right for house purchasers to receive subsidies. Interest on mortgage charges is allowed as a deduction against income. On earned income borrowers are helped to the extent of 30 per cent. of the interest, and on unearned income by nearly 39 per cent. Surtax payers are helped even more—

Photo of Mrs Renée Short Mrs Renée Short , Wolverhampton North East

I do not want to, but I will.

Photo of Mrs Sally Oppenheim Mrs Sally Oppenheim , Gloucester

Is the hon. Lady aware of the figures published on page 9 of the report of the Building E.D.C. last July, which show that the amount of subsidy to a tenant in a new council home, including the Exchequer subsidy and the rate subsidy, amounts to about £200 a year? On the other hand, the amount of tax saved by a purchaser of an average-price house paying tax at the standard rate is about £95. That hardly shows that a house purchaser is privileged by comparison with a council tenant.

Photo of Mrs Renée Short Mrs Renée Short , Wolverhampton North East

The intervention is not relevant. What we have to consider is the total amount given in housing subsidies, and the total amount given in tax rebate to home purchasers, which is much more than is given in housing subsidies. The fact that the more a person earns, and the bigger and better the house he buys the more he gets in tax rebate, is an example of the bias of this Government in favour of house purchasers and against local authority tenants.

It is all right for house purchasers to get more than £300 million a year, but it is not all right to take subsidies away from council house tenants. Council tenants are often in much worse circumstances, particularly with the policies being pursued by the Government, and it is wrong that they should have this additional imposition of a 50p rise in rent each year until a fair rent level is reached. An even higher rise is permis- sible in certain circumstances. There are tenants of local authority houses who get no subsidy at all, especially people living in houses built before 1960. Many local authorities pool their rents and channel subsidies to reduce the rents of new high-cost housing built since then.

There are many countries which do much better than we do on this. Why under successive Governments have we not been able to do better bath for home owners and for those who rent? Why do we build so few houses in proportion to our total population when there is still a need for about half a million houses? How can Sweden, Holland, Norway, Germany, the Soviet Union and the Socialist countries do better? They can build more houses. They can invest more money in the infrastructure of housing development. They can give better and cheaper loans for house purchase and let houses and flats at lower rents.

The Bill provides no answers to these questions and no solution to our acute housing problem. Under the guise of "helping those who need it", which is the "in" phrase for describing brutal Tory doctrines, the Bill will reduce the standard of living of working people and have the same effect as a cut in wages. This will put the wrong kind of pressures on the economy at a time when people are being encouraged to spend and to create another consumer boom.

Many people living in local authority houses will face severe difficulties. In my constituency we shall face acute problems because we have a great number of people living in bad housing conditions, in houses owned by the local authority, and we have a large number living in new expensive housing. Both those groups will be in difficulties.

The new Bill itself is extremely complicated, providing for many different sorts of subsidy. Let no one imagine that subsidies will be abolished. There is a complicated formula which, I imagine, will make local authority treasurers feel that they will want to go on strike, or something like that, in protest against the legislation which is to be thrust upon them. There are to be transition subsidies, rising cost subsidies, operational deficit subsidies, rent rebate subsidies, rent allowance subsidies, town development subsidies, slum clearance subsidies,—all within the complicated network of this farrago of a Bill which is to be put before us.

As I pointed out a few moments ago in quoting from the Conservative Party Manifesto, local authorities will have their rent policy dictated to them; it will not be for them to decide what their policy should be and how to operate it. Even worse, the Secretary of State will raid the housing revenue account for any future profit which is made after the rent allowance for private tenants has been taken in to account. This is expropriation. I can imagine the sort of howl that would go up from hon. Members opposite if a Labour Government had made proposals of this kind to take money back from the local authorities. The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe would have had us roiling in the aisles at his performance had he been attacking a Labour Minister for doing preciseiy what his own Minister proposes now to do. I hope that, when he replies tonight, my right hon. Friend will give an undertaking that the next Labour Government will repeal this forthcoming Measure.

Already, there are signs from the local authorities that they are anxious about the additional work which will be put upon them, for which they will have to engage substantial extra staff. They will have to carry out investigations into the needs and circumstances of all the private tenants as well as local authority tenants in their area. There will thus be a continuing further burden on the ratepayers. Council tenants, private tenants and owner-occupiers are all ratepapers, and they will have to meet these additional burdens.

There will be unfairness—this illuminates the Government's whole attitude to the question of subsidy—between an authority which has a large amount of rented housing and one next door with largely owner-occupied property, for the one authority will be saddled with the problem of providing relief for the poor while the other will not.

In addition, there will be the cost borne by local authorities in having to take over the rent allowances at present paid by the Supplementary Benefits Commission. With families getting poorer as they are, with more families applying for help, what will be the effect on a local authority's rates?

Further, it will be necessary to recruit sufficient reasonably well trained and experienced people to act as rent officers. At present there are 320 in the country. They will not be enough, and some even of those 320 are largely inexperienced people, retired police officers and all sorts of folk with no experience in property or in valuation. They are doing the job as well as may be, some doing it much better than others, and there is an uneven pattern throughout the country. Additional recruitment of more people largely inexperienced in this subject will lead to more difficulties.

On top of that, there will be the "overlord" setup which will finally deprive local authorities of all their rights within this sector of local government, a special committee with powers to alter the assessments which have been made but against which there will be no right of appeal. This is dictation to the local authorities, and it will not surprise me if all the local authority associations make their views known in the strongest possible fashion.

For the luckless tenant, there will be an increase in rent. There will be a complicated procedure to apply for a rebate. Local authorities and, presumably, the Government as well will be wasting money again on propaganda telling people how they should apply for rebates. There are several Government Departments now responsible for rebates and means tests of one kind and another. If all the money which they have spent so far on the negative and sterile exercise of putting out propaganda about the present Government's various means tests were added together, quite a reasonable sum of money could be arrived at which could well be spent in a far more constructive way.

Now, a brief word— [Laughter.] I have not spoken for very long so far. Many lion. Members have taken up the references to unemployment in the Gracious Speech and have stressed the seriousness of the situation obtaining in their own districts. Several of my hon. Friends have done so today. One should look at the Government's housing proposals in the light of the present economic situation, for then one can fully understand how great will be the burden and how great will be the financial imposition on millions of people living in various parts of the country where unemployment has been allowed to rise.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition pointed out in his opening speech last week that unemployment in the West Midlands is now over 7 per cent. Referring back to my Press cuttings the other day, I found that last December, less than a year ago, it was under 3 per cent. in the West Midlands. One can see what a deterioration has taken place during the lifetime of this Government and how the situation has been allowed to develop to its present serious pro- portions. People do not call the Black Country the Black Country any more; they call it the "Bleak Country", because there are so many areas of depression, so many areas where basic industries have contracted, and so many areas where factories now stand empty.

Speaking in Birmingham recently, addressing the annual luncheon meeting of the Midland Regional Council, Sir John Partridge, president of the C.B.I., said: The signs of any kind of brightening of the outlook or any improving trend have not so far added up to much in the West Midlands. You have a serious unemployment problem, and there are certainly no grounds for any kind of euphoria here.

Many of my hon. Friends have raised these matters in the House already. We want to know what the Government intend to do to eliminate the serious unemployment in our areas. In the Wolverhampton local employment district we have nearly 9,000 men, women and young people unemployed, and 268 vacancies on offer. We have several hundred young people who left school at the end of the last school year but, in spite of the valiant efforts of the youth employment officer and his staff, have since been unable to find any sort of work.

Do right hon. and hon. Members opposite ever stop to consider the sort of legacy which we are giving these young people, and the kind of social discontents which we are arousing in our communities by leaving young people in this way, without jobs, without money and without any prospect for the future? That is the present position, in spite of the noble efforts of those who are charged with the responsibility of helping them get jobs, and in spite of the efforts of youth leaders, members of school staffs and everyone else concerned with finding employment for our young people.

Although such a large number of people are unemployed in the West Midlands, there are only a thousand places in Government training centres. There must be some expansion of this programme. A great deal more money must be invested in retraining, in finding new jobs and in using the offices of the Government to bring new industries into the area and others like it. The fact that there is this appalling depression in what was the most prosperous area of the country—the area which has always been regarded as the seed bed of British industry, where there is a great deal of skill and ability among working people— is a complete indictment of the failure of this Government's policies.

7.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Epping

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renee Short) will forgive me if I do not follow up the points that she has just made, especially in view of their length.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Epping

This debate springs largely from an Amendment to the Address. It is a passionate Amendment, and no doubt it is deeply, even angrily felt by right hon. and hon. Members opposite. However, as we have seldom had more than a dozen of them present, including one dozing, one Whip and one Front Bench speaker who cannot avoid being here, it is not altogether surprising that the best speech so far from the Opposition on this subject was made not today but a fortnight ago.

On 25th October, the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) said: In 1964 I was asked as Minister to provide the materials for the housing drive and found the materials with which 400,000 houses could have been built in 1965.…What stopped us was the financial policy of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff. South-East (Mr. Callaghan)… "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th October, 1971; Vol. 823, c. 1291.]

What underlines this debate is that the housing position is in the process of recovering from the situation into which it fell as a result of the disastrous policies of devaluation, squeeze, and stop and go, with very little go. It is not surprising that this is where we have arrived. Nor is it surprising that the muddled thinking still exists, including the accusations of prejudice against one group of people or another because of the tenure that they happen to hold. I do not share it; nor, I suspect, do my right hon. and hon. Friends.

We face a policy which has failed for the last 25 years to deliver the goods. It is no good our saying that while we know that it did not work, if we could only pursue it longer on an even more expensive basis, perhaps it would work. The past policy has not delivered the goods, and the houses have not been built in the requisite numbers. We have even managed to build them in the wrong places. We have empty council houses in Norfolk which were built with the benefit of planning, foresight and all that rubbish. At the same time, we have enormous problems elsewhere with which the planners have not coped.

The right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) said that the people most wanting housing to rent, especially council housing, are those who need to move round the country. However, I know of no council tenant who finds it easy to move round the country, and this again is one of the great failures of the system. It does not allow a tenant to move round the country easily—and if there were a justification for tenancy as opposed to owner-occupation, it would be the argument of mobility. However, the form of tenancy that we have encouraged has prohibited it.

Replying to an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack), the right hon. Member for Grimsby suggested that the new owner-occupiers would not come from council tenants unless we vicious Tories forced them into it. Surely the right hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that they will come from the 15 per cent. or so private tenants, who are the poorest group in the country. On average, private tenants are considerably poorer than council tenants. It is not from them that we can expect a great leap forward in home ownership.

Again and again we hear these smears and slurs about the difference between subsidies and tax reliefs. This kind of sloppy verbiage has reached the extent, if I understand the right hon. Gentleman correctly, of our hearing that the possible loss of a subsidy is an increase in taxation. We have heard it suggested before that the man who does not pay as much tax as might be extorted from him is in receipt of subsidy. Now it is suggested that if a man loses a subsidy he is suffering increased taxation. That is nonsense anywhere except in a 100 per cent. Socialist State.

In the Amendment, there is even a reference to the regret of the Opposition that there will be a rise in the cost of living caused by large increases in the rents paid by both council and private tenants. That is fair enough. Let us regret it. But how ill those words lie in the mouths of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite whose fair rents for private tenants increased those rents and the cost of living without the commensurate Bill which should have accompanied it and which is to be embodied in the forth-coming legislation to give the subsidy to those people as of right. In the face of that form of hypocrisy and cant—

Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Lambeth Norwood

The hon. Gentleman must be fair and concede that the fair rent system was introduced into a situation in the private sector where there was no rent control at all. If there had not been a fair rent scheme, rents would have rocketed over five years. The Labour Government did not put up rents. They introduced a stabilising system into the private sector.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Epping

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not trying to kid me that fair rents brought down rents—

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Epping

Certainly they did not bring down the average rent, I fancy.

I was hoping that we should have a firm promise or at least an indication from right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite about what they would do with this proposal in "Fair Deal for Housing" if ever they were returned to office. We know that the right hon. Member for Grimsby, in his Fabian lecture, proposed reprisals against owner-occupiers if the recommendations in "Fair Deal for Housing" were adopted. He said: To equalise the position we could either maintain a general subsidy to council tenants or limit aid to the owner occupier. If we chose the latter, the most logical method would be to restore Schedule A

The right hon. Gentleman would restore taxation on homes. If "Fair Deal for Housing" is enacted, in other words. there will be reprisals against owner- occupiers. We should prefer to see a statement saying that the right hon. Gentleman would ask for rents to be put back to their present levels—or is this all a charade?

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wants to be fair—

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

It is a parliamentary convention to assume so. Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) was simply throwing out suggestions'? He did not himself recommend or suggest in that lecture that it should be the policy of a future Labour Government.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Epping

I take the point. They are suggestions which would be well thrown out. I could not agree more. They are not suggestions for what a future Labour Government would do. They are suggestions which are being made by Opposition spokesmen. We should be interested to know whether they will be embodied in the programme of any future Labour Government.

7.41 p.m.

Photo of Mr Alec Jones Mr Alec Jones , Rhondda West

The hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Tebbit) chided this side of the House about the lack of attendance. I understand that the debate is to be wound up for the Government by the Secretary of State for Wales who has not been seen since the opening speech. He is probably busily engaged as Chairman of the Conservative Party. [An HON. MEMBER: "Unfair!"] It might be unfair, but it is no more unfair than the comments made by the hon. Member for Epping when he referred to planning and foresight as rubbish. If he regards planning and foresight as rubbish, that is the value that we should put on what he has said in the debate.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Epping

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Arthur Jones Mr Arthur Jones , Northamptonshire South

No, I will not give way.

Similarly, the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), who has gone away, chided this side of the House with hypocrisy. I thought that was the biggest joke of all time coming from the Conservative Party at this time in the life of this community. We were told that the Prime Minister was the son of a builder and would know all about building. What the Prime Minister and his colleagues have achieved is not what they promised prior to the General Election, a reduction in unemployment, but the biggest level of unemployment this country has known for many years. We have a high record of unemployment in the building trades, which really should be at work building the houses which our people need. If the hon. Member for Epping wishes to come in now, he may do so.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Epping

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. The point is not that all planning is rubbish, but that this planning which managed to achieve the building of council houses in areas where there was no demand for them is rubbish.

Photo of Mr Arthur Jones Mr Arthur Jones , Northamptonshire South

I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but he did not say that. He inferred that planning and foresight were rubbish. I cannot accept that as a reasonable view to express.

The Secretary of State for the Environment played the numbers game with the greatest selectivity. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the game. First, he selected figures for certain nine-monthly and then six-monthly periods. His whole contribution to the debate was more like a Form IV debating society than a serious contribution to the housing problem which is causing such concern to millions of people.

I should like to congratulate the Government on one aspect of their housing policy. I refer to the increase in improvement grants in development areas to 75 per cent. Representing a development area, I know how much this is appreciated and is being taken up. It is a good thing. I know that in 12 months or two years the Government will be using the figures of enhanced take-up to show how effective and concerned they are to improve our older stock of houses. If they are genuinely concerned, I beg them not to put a two-year limit on the 75 per cent. grant for improvements in development areas, but to allow it to continue as long as there is a need for it.

The Housing Finance Bill, forecast in the Queen's Speech, is to put into effect the White Paper, "Fair Deal for Housing". The title is well selected. Everybody likes the idea of being fair. We like to feel that fair play is a natural instinct of people. We talk of playing a fair game and doing the right thing. Yet, the use of the word "fair" is the greatest fraud of all. It is part of the continuing confidence trick being played by the Conservative Party since the Prime Minister's promise in June of last year to reduce prices "at a stroke". This "fair deal" in the White Paper has nothing to do with fairness and very little to do with the housing needs of the community.

Fair rents, as defined in the White Paper, are part of the redistribution of income, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) referred in his opening remarks, begun by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his White Paper of last October. Despite what the Secretary of State for the Environment said today—he tried to suggest that this was not so—looking at the White Paper published by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Cmnd. 4515, "New Policies for Public Spending", it is clear that it was the Government's intention to regard the reduction in housing subsidies as a saving in public expenditure. This redistribution is an increasing of the burdens —prescription charges, milk, meals, and now rents—on a large number of people to provide increased benefits for the few, and those few are in the main the wealthier sections in our community.

Whatever one's view about the White Paper, the question which people outside are asking is: What will be the fair rent? On this aspect the Government have a duty to tell us more. On this one aspect, what is likely to be the fair rent level, the Government have been strangely silent. All we know is that councils will be compelled to raise their rents by 50p a year until the fair rents have been achieved.

In the absence of anything to the contrary from the Government, we must take the assessments made by other people. Various estimates have been made. We know that the Borough Treasurer of Hemel Hempstead, speaking at the annual rating conference, said that he expected rents to double. Outside the London area he expected rents would rise from £2·18 a week to over £4. I understand—this again has not been denied—that officials of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government carried out a review of housing finance in 1968-69 and estimated that if fair rents, as defined in the White Paper, had been charged to council tenants in that year it would have meant an average increase of £L872 per week.

As a Welsh Member of Parliament, particularly as the Secretary of State for Wales is apparently to wind up, I ask what he has to say to the people of Wales about the fair rent level. On 18th October I tabled a Question to the Secretary of State for Wales asking, what estimate he has now made of the number of tenants in Wales likely to face rent increases…and what estimate he has made of the extent of the average increase?

Both on that occasion and again today the answer was: No reliable estimate can be made at present."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th October, 1971; Vol. 823, c. 21.]

I do not believe that it is reasonable to put forward a policy like this without being able to give the people some idea as to what the Government mean by using the words "fair rent".

I remind the Minister of State, who will undoubtedly pass on the information, that a quarter of a million council house families in Wales have a right to know to what level their rents will be increased in consequence of this measure. These new, excessive "fair rents" will discourage many families from leaving inferior houses. I know how difficult it is to persuade people who have occupied poor houses because they have always paid extremely low rents to move to better houses. This policy will discourage this movement even more. I fear that we may see a significant movement of people priced out of council houses back into poorer accommodation.

This afternoon, in answer to a Question, the Minister of State said that those who need help will be able to apply for a rent rebate. Of course, such an application has to be means tested. The Minister of State knows how passionately the people of South Wales abhor the very idea of means tested benefits.

Photo of Mr David Gibson-Watt Mr David Gibson-Watt , Hereford

The people of South Wales realise that the Labour Party operated the means test in various ways when hon. Gentlemen opposite were in office.

Photo of Mr Arthur Jones Mr Arthur Jones , Northamptonshire South

I assure the Minister that the extent of any means test introduced or continued when we were in Government was as nothing compared with the means testing which the present Government are introducing. The Government are seeking to introduce means testing and to apply it to a majority of tenants, which is something that has never been clone before. Means testing on this mass scale, with millions of families having to apply to their councils every six months for a rent rebate, is being introduced by a Government which, in their early days, talked about creating one nation. This is their idea of one nation.

Before we can judge the value of any rent rebate scheme we need to know two things, first, the size of the rebate and, second, the size of the rent increase, for it will surely be an Irishman's rise if there is a rent rebate of 50p to compensate for a rent increase of £2 a week.

Of all the services provided by any local authority, I am sure that most hon. Members would agree that none is more important than housing. I know that hon. Members feel passionately about other services, but I am sure that the housing services of any local authority are paramount. As a former school-teacher, I know that children living in poor housing conditions suffer a serious educational handicap. I know that marriages are at greater risk among families living in poor housing conditions. It is known, too, that the health of families coming from inferior homes is at greater risk than that of families from good homes.

Despite the importance of housing in all aspects of our social life, council housing is now, as a deliberate act of the Government, to operate on a profit- making basis. It has been argued that once fair rents have been introduced we might expect a surplus, or a profit, nationally of about £250 million, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer grabbing about 50 per cent. of it back. Even if one wanted all council services to be operated at a profit—which I do not— surely housing ought to be the last service to which such a doctrine is applied?

During the last 12 months we have heard a great deal from the Conservative Party about giving local authorities greater freedom. The contents of this White Paper mean that the Government's words are meaningless. Their housing proposals take away from councils the responsibilities which they have adopted for years on council house rents, because council will be compelled to raise rents to the fair rent levels. These levels will ultimately be fixed not by the council but by a non-elected rent assessment committee appointed by the Government. By these proposals the Government are compelling local authorities to do their dirty work for them, leaving the councils and councillors to face the wrath of the electorate.

To quote the Borough Treasurer of Hemel Hempstead again, he said: Housing is the last great service left to the district councils. If the White Paper proposals are implemented without modification, all the reality of control will pass into Whitehall hands. The very real measure of freedom which housing authorities have enjoyed until now will be gone. This is neither necessary nor desirable.

The Government's policy, as announced in the Gracious Speech, and as outlined in the Bill shortly to come before the House, emphasises the essential difference between the two sides of the House. We on this side remain convinced that council housing should be an essential part of the social services and not a profit-making operation. The Government's policy, as outlined in the Gracious Speech, detailed in the White Paper, and set out in legislative form in the Bill, will impose heavy additional burdens on families of average means. It cannot be described as a housing policy. It is a public expenditure policy, designed to cut public expenditure by £200 million, and I am pleased to hear my hon. Friends suggesting that the next Labour Government will seek to repeal it.

7.55 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Jones Mr Arthur Jones , Northamptonshire South

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Alec Jones).

He and I so often get our mail in the wrong pocket that we know what goes on in the other's constituency. I shall not debate the hon. Gentleman's views on Welsh affairs, although at one time I was well qualified to do that because, when I first entered the House for a constituency in the heart of England, I was put on the Welsh Grand Committee, and it was there that I enjoyed the eloquence of his fellow countrymen.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the uplifting of improvement grants in development areas, now totalling 75 per cent., and I was glad to hear the warm reception that he gave to the Government's proposal. There is an advantage in limiting the increased grant to a period of two years—the hon. Gentleman tried to suggest that it should continue for longer— in that it gives a sense of urgency to housing authorities in the development areas so that they get the benefit of this increased grant as quickly as possible.

There has been a general debate on the housing Amendment, and I want to refer particularly to two matters in it. The first is the regret that there is no assurance that a higher proportion of national resources will be devoted to housing.

I listened with care and attention to the speech of the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), in the hope that he would attempt to provide some justification for those words, but he did nothing of the sort. What he did was to refer only to the fall in the number of completions in the public sector, and he in no way referred to the adequacy or otherwise of resources going into housing generally.

I have looked at the housing statistics for August, 1971, in terms of improvement grants—this is in reply to the point made by the hon. Member for Rhondda, West —and loans for house purchase. A study of those two factors shows that significantly more resources are going into housing this year than in the previous two years. I do not want, as the right hon. Gentleman did, to divorce the public sector from the private sector. The right hon. Gentleman said that he was a convinced supporter of home ownership. I take it, therefore, that he agrees with me that we are considering total resources and not just those from the public purse.

Dealing first with improvement grants, the number of dwellings improved in the first six months of this year was more than 85,000, compared with 67,000 and 51,000 in the corresponding periods in the previous two years. If one has regard to the fact that it was a 50 per cent. grant, one ought to assume, at least, that those who were getting the benefit of the grant were putting in an equal amount of money themselves, though the fact is that they were probably putting in a larger amount because of the maximum grant of £1,000 for each residence, or £1,200 if it were multi-storey accommodation. If one extends the figure for the first six months, on a roughly double figure, to a full year, one sees that the level of expenditure, both public and private, on improvement grants for 1971 is likely to reach a total of about £400 million, compared with £269 million for 1970, and £207 million for 1969.

Referring again to the housing statistics, if one looks at the figure of loans for house purchase, Table 40, main institutional sources, one finds that the average mortgage grant has been 75 per cent., which is calculated on a figure of £1,337 million for the first six months of this year, compared with £990 million for 1970, and £876 million for 1969. So there is an increase of about £450 million in greater sums advanced in the first six months of this year, compared with the first six months of 1969.

If, again, one extends those figures for a yearly period, one finds that in the current year mortgage advances are likely to total about £4,000 million, compared with £2,500 million in 1969. Adding those two totals together—that is, improvement grants and loans for house purchase—one gets total resources going into housing for the current year of about £4,000 million, compared with £3,000 million in 1970 and £2,500 million in 1969. So I do not see how there can be a criticism of the achievements of the present Administration, as applied in the Amendment which censures the Government.

I agree that house prices have gone up. The figures have been quoted already. Table 55 in the statistics gives the gross fixed capital formation for housing for the three years. It shows that, in 1971, the percentage is 3·47 per cent.—that is a larger figure than was quoted by the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun)—compared with 3·39 per cent. for 1970. The figure for 1969 was slightly higher, at 4·12 per cent.

Therefore, having regard even to the higher prices for houses—part of my case is based on the total amount of advances made—the comparison between the current year and last year still is favourable to this year, so there can be no substantial criticism of the Government in that respect.

The rise in house prices is of concern to both sides of the House. It is an escalation in building costs. I declare my interest in a company which is involved in house construction. I know from first-hand experience the escalations which have occurred. Essentially, most of these increases stem from the higher price of land. Neither Government have dealt with this as effectively as anyone might hope. The Land Commission was clearly a failure.

What we have not been able to do in central government to support the size of house-building programme required is to ensure an adequate release of land. The problem here is the division of powers between central and local government. The counties mainly have control of the release of land for private development. I have assembled figures of the eight outer Metropolitan county areas in 1969, following the efforts in that year of the relevant Minister for the release of 31,000 acres upon which to build 35,000 houses a year for seven years.

I have the schedule here. I made inquiries of eight of the counties involved. These showed that the land to be released for the period 1968-75 totalled 61,286 acres which would provide 206,860 houses. This was against a plan by the Socialist Administration for the erection of 388,000 houses. So there was a shortfall of about 180,000 between what the Government hoped to achieve and what would be provided by the county planning authorities. That was the dilemma of the previous Administration and it is our dilemma today.

The root of the problem is the negative terms of the Town and Country Planning Acts. These are applied very effectively by counties. I know that they protect the countryside and that county planning committees and officers are concerned with the preservation of their county scene. But in opposition to that is the demand, which must be met, for a sensible level of housing development to meet the present demands and the future demands which must be made upon land for an expanding population, particularly in the South-East. I fail to see that either Government have yet made a constructive move towards a solution of this difficulty.

Here again, the whole question of the responsibility of central and local government is most pertinent. How can central government secure its ends, leaving the decisions in the hands of local government? I had hoped that we would see something in the new Local Government Bill. I was interested to hear the Secretary of State refer to regional planning strategy. We know that he has appointed officers in the region to look at this in detail.

But an added problem in the Local Government Bill will be the very tight boundaries which have been drawn around the metropolitan areas, so that the metropolitan authorities will be less able than hitherto to make provision for themselves. It must be a Government responsibility—clearly, this is intended— that we should have larger overspill and town development schemes to meet the requirements of the metropolitan areas, which they will be able to meet less effectively than hitherto.

Does this mean that we shall see the extension of schemes of new town development or development schemes attached to existing towns and cities outside the metropolitan areas and in those parts of the country where a greater release of land is required, both so that we can have an expanded programme and—the point which I am trying to make in cost terms—so as to reduce the cost of land? The only way to do that is to make more land available and to reduce the pent- up demand which there is.

Thus, our planning essentially leads to the tremendous escalation of prices for land. That is an unavoidable situation in present circumstances and in all the circumstances that one can see for the future. I refer to my criticism of the way in which the censure Motion is drawn about resources going into housing, and I hope that I have justified it. But as for the rise in house prices, I emphasise the absolute necessity for a much more positive rÔle for central government apropos local government in order to ensure an adequate release of land to meet what is clearly necessary—a larger house-building programme.

8.10 p.m.

Photo of Mr Julius Silverman Mr Julius Silverman , Birmingham Aston

I agree with the hon. Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) with regard to the question of forward planning of land. Modern planning—this does not apply only to the Town and Country Planning Act—is mostly negative and prohibitive. The only way for forward planning to take place is by an extension of the functions of the defunct Land Commission. The Commission had two functions which should not have been united in one body. One function was that of a tax collector, which obviously was very unpopular. The other was that of a land planner and a buyer of land. The second function, which I always regarded as the most important, was in its infancy when the Commission was assassinated. Unless there is an organisation which is capable, not merely of planning the use of land, but also of buying land, there can be no forward planning.

The hon. Gentleman then raised the question of the contrasting records of the Labour and Conservative Administrations and questioned whether the Amendment was correctly phrased. Why has there been an expansion of private building in the last few months? Is it because the Government have built more private houses? Everybody knows that Governments, Conservative or Labour, do not build houses. It is either private agencies or councils which build more houses. The major factor in the last year or so has been that more money has been available from the building societies. This has been the consequence of the industrial depression which has been striking Britain for the past 12 months.

Many years ago Mr. Aneurin Bevan said that one of the strange by-products of an industrial depression was a stimulation of house building. This is precisely what has happened in the last year. Capital has been released. People do not put their money into equities: they are not sufficiently profitable, but are speculative. People do not put their money into investment. Money is released and goes to the building societies, which are a safe investment. Finance is thereby provided for housing.

There is no shortage of building labour now. A few years ago there was a shortage of building labour. Now there are 120,000 unemployed in the building industry. The Government can claim credit for this at any rate, in that it is a by-product of their policies which have produced industrial depression. The Amendment does not refer to the present. As there is no assurance that the present state of affairs will continue, I believe that the Amendment is correctly worded. A stimulation which depends solely or mainly on the fact that there is an industrial depression which releases capital which releases labour is not a stable thing which can be relied upon.

The major project in the Government's proposed legislation is the fair rents policy, the White Paper and the Bill to follow it. I, together with my colleagues, was a critic of the last Government's fair rents policy—not so much the policy as the way in which it was administered. We heard words of great wisdom from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor). The hon. Gentleman said that in his area the assessments made by the rent officers were not bad. The trouble arose when the rent assessment committees revised the assessments of the rent officers.

The committees have been overloaded with the professional elements, not merely with lawyers, but with surveyors, who tend to regard property from a market value point of view. I do not criticise them. That is the basis of their training and their outlook. It is asking too much of them to expect them to eliminate the market element from their judgment. The scarcity element has not been eliminated.

The hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Tebbit) was critical of the fair rents policy. No doubt there is basis for his criticism, but in the present policy it is to be enormously extended, not merely in the private sector, where 1½ million houses will come out of control quickly and be subject to fair rents, but also in the council housing sector. If the present system is bad, it is to be greatly extended by this policy.

The houses which will come out of control are in many cases slum houses, providing that they have not actually been declared slums. For obvious reasons, most local authorities will not declare houses to be slums and will not pass the necessary resolutions until they are just about to demolish the houses. The only exceptions arise under the 1954 legislation, which is not being operated to a great extent.

It is suggested that the scheme will be mitigated by the rebate system to be introduced. Birmingham is the only city which has had experience of the operation of a rebate system for private tenants. The scheme has been most disappointing, almost a fiasco. About 250 tenants out of a total of 60,000 private tenants receive rebates. The scheme has operated for 12 months. This number may increase with the more generous rebates under the new scheme. But anyone who suggests that the rebate system will mitigate the hardships which will be created by fair rents and by bringing 1½ million controlled houses out of control into regulation is living in cloud cuckoo land.

Similarly, what is a fair rent in the council sector? Housing managers have no idea. What the Borough Treasurer of Hemel Hempstead has said is being said privately by treasurers and housing managers throughout the country. They consider the forthcoming Bill to be an abomination, especially from the point of administration. They ask, "What is a fair rent?". Where market forces operate to some extent in the private sector, some impression can be created as to what a fair rent is, or what the scarcity element is, bad as it may be. But how can anybody do that in the council sector? What is the market value of a council house? What is the scarcity element to be eliminated? No one has given a definition. The Government have given no guide except to try to apply the formula in the Rent Act automatically to council houses; but it will not work. What will be the consequence?

I know what the Government expect. They have told the housing managers privately what they expect. I know that in the City of Birmingham and the West Midlands generally the Government expect a general level of council rents of, on average, £5 a week, exclusive of rates, compared with the present average of £3 a week. In other areas the increase will he greater because the present level of council rents in Birmingham is higher than the average. Throughout the country the increase probably will be about 100 per cent. That will apply not merely to modern houses. It will apply to the old stock of houses, prewar and early post-war.

An intolerable burden will be imposed on a large number of tenants which the rebate scheme will do nothing or very little to mitigate in the great majority of cases. I calculate in my area that perhaps a small minority of people will be better off, but the vast majority, even those at the lower end of the scale—and Birmingham already runs a rebate scheme for council tenants—will be worse off. They will be paying vastly more rent when the scheme comes into operation in five years at the rate of 10s. a year, which will be only partly met by the rebate. Nothing is said about this in the Gracious Speech and very little is said about it in the White Paper.

How will the scheme be administered? This will be another headache for the housing managers. The process of the council making its provisional assessment is a farce because it cuts no ice. As soon as the council has made its assessment and the tenants have made their representations, the matter is submitted to the rent assessment committees, which can have no regard to the council's decision. They are the bodies which will decide, on the Government's formula, what the rents shall be.

How long will that process take? Birmingham calculates that it will take about three years—two years for the council to prepare its fair rent policy and to allow objections and representations, and at least 12 months for the rent assessment committees to operate. Twelve months is a very conservative estimate. There are 3,000 houses in Birmingham under regulation in which there has been an assessment of rent. Only a small proportion of them have been decided by the rent assessment committees. It is proposed to deal with about 150,000 houses within a short time. How will that be done?

In view of what the White Paper says about dealing with blocks, and so on, I cannot see how this job will be done, even with an increased staff, in less than a period of years. But in the meantime the rent increases go on. They do not wait for the council's final assessment or for the rent assessment committee's assessment. From the word "go" in 1972–73 the rent increases will begin at the rate of 10s. a year.

The rent rebate scheme is not to be decided by the local authorities. There is to be a national formula for that purpose. How will it be operated? Throughout the country about four million forms will have to be filled in, checked and investigated. The councils' spies will be out to ensure that there is no evasion. The same process will be repeated in another six months and if there has been any change in income there will be another batch of forms coming in. We shall be a nation of form-fillers. The people who receive supplementary benefit do not have to fill up the forms for that purpose, but they will have to fill up the same complicated forms in this case because their allowance will be handled by the local authorities.

This will be an enormous job calling for an enormous bureaucracy. The Government say that a small increase in manpower will be required. That is nonsense. It is the understatement of the year. An enormous team of bureaucrats will be needed to assess the rent. Rent officers and rent assessment committees will be needed to check the rent rebate forms. People will have to assess the new council rates. There will be an enormous increase in Civil Service and local government manpower to deal with this crazy scheme whose sole object is to shift the burden of expenditure from the taxpayer to the council tenant.

The tenant who tries to prevent his house from being inspected may have to pay a fine of £50. The paraphernalia of the big stick is present. If the local authority does not co-operate the Minister can say, "We shall sack the local authority and put a commissioner in its place". That is a provision which has never been made before. If any councillor or official does not provide a document or in any way obstructs the inquiries of this body he can be fined a sum not exceeding £400. What sort of country are we coming to? This is a foretaste of Orwell's 1984. I am not sure that this aspect is not as bad as the terrific burden which the Government propose to place on the council tenant.

It is probably too late to ask the Government to think again; they are too determined upon their path. But I assure them of one thing: if this scheme goes forward, it will be one of the largest elements which will contribute to their inevitable destruction at the next election.

8.28 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Benyon Mr William Benyon , Buckingham

I hope that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. Julius Silverman) will forgive me if I do not comment on all his remarks. His speech implied two misconceptions which hon. Members opposite have repeated again and again today. First, they say that we are bent on removing the subsidy for council house tenants. We are not bent on removing it, or even on reducing it: we are redirecting it to where it is most needed.

Secondly, we have heard dire warnings about the eventual level of the fair rents to be fixed. It is hard to understand how Labour Members have been in their constituencies since the legislation of 1965 without paying any attention to the case load which has built up from rent officers and rent assessment tribunals. In my area we have a good idea of what the level of fair rents will be, because the rent officers have man- aged to fix the rent for many properties, and we know perfectly well that the rise in our area will be modest. Indeed, one of the great difficulties will be that in some areas the modern rents being charged for some local authority dwellings will be higher than the fair rent I will come to that later on.

Photo of Mr Julius Silverman Mr Julius Silverman , Birmingham Aston

I do not know about that. I do not know the hon. Gentleman's constituency. But it must be an extraordinary situation for that to be so. I was concerned with the global total of subsidies. There is not the slightest doubt that it is the Government's intention—and it is set out in the White Paper—to save a substantial sum of money, which has been estimated as running at the rate of £300 million a year by the end of the decade. It is to be made out of slashing subsidies. It is a matter not of the diversion but of the slashing of subsidies.

Photo of Mr William Benyon Mr William Benyon , Buckingham

My right hon. Friend dealt with that very well earlier. With the current level of subsidies and with the comeback from authorities in surplus, more will be spent on tenants in future.

I welcome the proposals in the Gracious Speech. There is general agreement that housing is essentially a long-term matter. Today we are feeling the effects of actions taken and mistakes made over a very long time, going back to the First World War and even beyond. I agree with those Labour Members who say that we should build 500,000 houses a year. I have always thought that that was the sort of target at which we should aim, but in order to achieve success it is essential to create confidence, confidence among owner-occupiers, tenants and landlords, municipal or private. If any party in that equation is looking over its shoulder and wondering whether things will soon change, that essential element of confidence will be missing.

Ideally, in housing as in education, another long-term issue, we need a bipartisan policy, but it must be plain to anyone who has listened to the debate that a bipartisan policy on housing is completely out of the question. The Opposition have taken up the entrenched position which is shown by the Amendment, although it is perfectly obvious to any dispassionate observer inside or outside the House that if a Labour Government had been returned at the last election, right hon. Gentlemen opposite would have taken measures similar to those which we are suggesting. Luckily, confidence among owner-occupiers is growing day by day. No political party could possibly do anything to reduce it without running the risk of electoral defeat. Whatever the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) meant or did not mean in his Fabian pamphlet, the Opposition know that perfectly well.

The hon. Member for Aston spoke of the rise in house building over the last year and produced the rather curious theory that it was something to do with unemployment. The true reason is that confidence exists and funds are available and the movement is beginning to gain an impetus such as it has not had for a long time. Under the proposals in the Gracious Speech, tenants, too, will have greater security. The possibility of unscrupulous landlords harassing and brow-beating tenants—and this is something about which I feel strongly—will be greatly diminished. Most important; many tenants of modest means will find that the disproportionate amount of their income they are paying in rent will be lessened.

It is only when we turn to the area of property ownership, particularly in cheap rented housing, that the future looks gloomy. Leaving aside the political disincentive to invest money in this area, in dealing with housing investment we are talking about an investment over the next 50 years at least. Even with the current Opposition we must assume that the party opposite might conceivably win an election in that period. As a result, nothing will stop private landlords, when they get the opportunity, selling houses which have become vacant, thereby reducing the stock of privately rented housing, and this is shown by the figures which we have been given today. Also, I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), who said that if this was altered there would be an increase in private investment in cheap rented housing. With the costs of land and new building at their present levels, there is no possibility of the fair rents being changed for such new building producing an attractive return. No one will erect a building if he is not going to get an adequate return on his investment. I suggest to my right hon. Friends that they should forget the private sector when it comes to provision of cheap rented housing. There is no possibility of bringing this about in the current situation.

To return to my remarks about the price of land, and to the interesting speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones), one of the difficulties at the moment is the delay occurring in the preparation of structure plans by local authorities. When the previous Government brought in the legislation, they did not envisage the difficulties which would arise when local authorities came to consider this point. It is obvious that it will be at least five years before the majority of local authorities—if they carry on according to the Act with the participation procedures and so on—produce reasonable structure plans in the areas of high housing demand. Accordingly I urge my right hon. Friend to see if there is any way in which this can be speeded up and I know that certain suggestions have already been made on this point.

What the Government can do in low-cost rented housing, and the Measures envisaged in the Gracious Speech do, is to stem the reduction which is already taking place. The only addition I would suggest to this is that we look again at proper depreciation allowances on this sort of property, to make it a more attractive investment.

We are left with local authority housing and housing associations. I do not mind who builds the houses. I have no feelings about this. If the Devil himself came along and offered to build houses I would greatly welcome it, provided he built them to Parker Morris standards. However, if this is to be the sole way of providing this form of housing it will produce an unhealthy situation, as hon. Members on all sides of the House will agree.

This brings me to the subject of housing associations, which has not been touched on much today, but which I believe has great possibilities for the future. I welcome the parts in the proposed legislation which will help housing associations to do this. I am the chairman of a housing association, and I want to raise a point which concerns an association which has no historic estate, no charitable funds, and which cannot get a guarantee from the local authority to cover any deficit and will thus be placed in a difficult position in future.

To give the example of my own association; we have just constructed our first block of flats. With subsidy, the rent is £6·50 a week. The economic rent would be approximately £10 a week. We are assured that the fair rent will be roughly the present rent we arc charging. Under the proposals envisaged in the legislation we shall face 10 per cent. of any deficit in the first three years. Some way round this problem must be found for housing associations starting from scratch. If there is an historic estate it can be spread over the rest of the buildings. Housing association should be allowed to capitalise the remaining 10 per cent. deficit for the first three years.

I am sure my right hon. Friend does not want to see housing associations dealing only with renovation of old property. It would be a pity if such organisations were excluded from new housing activities, because they can provide an element of choice which would not otherwise be available. With those reservations I welcome the proposals contained in the Gracious Speech. They are welcome and long overdue. At long last we have a Government prepared to cut through the tangle of centuries and provide what we all desire, which is a decent home for every family in the land.

8.42 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Cunningham Mr George Cunningham , Islington South West

I hope that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) will forgive me if I do not go on about housing associations as he did. I have a great deal of sympathy with some of the points he raised and if time had allowed I should have liked to add a few of my own points. I want to concentrate entirely on one aspect of housing which has hardly been touched upon and which it would not be in order for me to raise on the Bill next Monday. I mean the subject of harassment.

In their White Paper the Government say that they will: … take the earliest legislative opportunity to propose increases in the maximum penalties for harassment and illegal eviction.

That grew out of the acceptance of the recommendations in the Francis Report. We have now had two Government Bills on housing, the first before the White Paper came out, or at about the same time, and the second one long after. Neither has contained any reference to harassment.

There are areas, particularly in the inner cities, particularly my kind of area in Islington, where this is far and away one of the major housing scandals. It is getting no better and no one should think that putting up rents as proposed by the Government will get rid of the problem. When house prices escalate as fast as they are escalating in an area like Islington it will always be profitable for the owner to winkle out tenants, to force them to get out in one way or another so that he can sell the place off to the highest bidder as one house, free for occupation.

I deplore the fact that the Gracious Speech made no reference to this very serious problem. I do not think that we give nearly enough attention in the House to just how serious the matter is. It is not just a question of having the right kind of legislation. We are talking here of positive crime which is going on day and night in almost every street of an area like Islington. I want to give a few examples because I do not think that hon. Members representing other areas always quite realise the kind of thing that happens. The cases illustrate the genuine difficulty of dealing with this problem by legislation. Every one of these examples has come to me in the normal course of my work as a Member in the last two weeks. I did not have to go out and search for them. No doubt the same number of cases will come to me in the next two weeks and so on.

The first is the case of an old lady, Mrs. Crump, of 438, Caledonian Road, who is pressed by the agent for her new landlord to allow the house to be inspected in order to see whether repairs should be made. She says that she is going off to work and that some better time must be found to do it. In the course of conversation between her and the men who have called, one of the men says, "I have a big strong friend". That kind of remark made to people, often old and living alone with no feeling of being protected by anyone, is what harassment is. One has to look very hard to find a way of protecting people against that kind of thing by legislation.

Another case concerns a Mr. Radziuk, of 80, St. Peter Street, Islington, who was given notice to quit. He took the case to the local rent tribunal and was then given a message by a representative of the owner to say that unless he withdrew the case he would be taken to court. That phrase, "We will take you to court", is frequently used by owners and agents to terrorise tenants. Of course, the significance of it should be that the owner will go to court and ask for possession, and there is much truth in that. But, not knowing the law, the tenant believes that he has committed some sort of crime and that he will be taken to court. Under that threat, Mr. Radziuk withdrew his appeal to the tribunal.

Another case involves a rather more serious situation. The tenant was told by the rent collector, when he made difficulties about paying his rent to someone whom he did not know as a representative of the owner, "I will get you out". Other difficulties followed, and when I took up the case with the owners' agents, Messrs. Chandler, Fox and Michael, of 431, Green Lanes, N.4, my constituent received a letter from the firm stating: We cannot afford the time in continually writing to you about this matter and take strong objection to being accused of harassment by your M.P. You know full well that this is absolutely untrue and we should be glad to receive an apology from you in due course.

I take a very severe view indeed of any owner or agent threatening my constituents because they have raised with me a matter and have stated facts to me which they have every reason to believe are true.

I considered very seriously raising this matter as a breach of privilege. I do not think that the privilege of this House should be invoked lightly but I would like to say here and now that I hope this House would take the very severest view of anyone who attempted to interfere in the privileged relationship between a constituent and a Member of Parliament:

Photo of Mr Graham Page Mr Graham Page , Crosby

indicated assent.

Photo of Mr George Cunningham Mr George Cunningham , Islington South West

I am glad to see the Minister nodding his head at that. I have been given an apology by these agents, who I think were unaware of the seriousness of what they were doing. But this is the sort of thing which cannot be allowed to pass.

Finally, there was the case of Mr. and Mrs. Gillespie, of 221, Holloway Road, who had their rent reduced from £6 to £2·60 on appeal and found themselves immediately harassed in a number of ways. Mr. Gillespie's car suddenly became painted while on the street, and its tyres were suddenly cut with a saw. A person was seen doing it. A bathroom whose use had previously been available to this tenant ceased to be available. Noise nuisance increased. Finally, the electricity supply was cut off. The first letter of complaint which came to me from this tenant was written by candle-light.

Those are not cases that I have gone out of my way to find; they are the kind of case which, in many parts of the country—particularly in inner cities—is occurring all the time. This is the reality of life for people living in such places as Islington. It is a damnable thing that a Government who have committed themselves to increasing penalties for harassment, and have said that they would find the first legislative opportunity to do so, have allowed themselves to bring forward a Bill which is called a Housing Finance Bill, so that it is not possible, even by Amendment, to seek to put in a provision concerning harassment.

I ask the Minister who is to wind up the debate when we are to see the legislation concerning harassment to which the Government have committed themselves. It will be difficult for any legislation to be drawn finely enough to stop this kind of thing. Some local authorities, including my own, do everything they can, but I am beginning to think that in addition to the powers of local authorities in this matter we need a private organisation, which will be more flexible and which can, for example, operate at night. We need an organisation which will be able to chance its arm and operate rather in the way that Shelter operates in finding homes for people. That sort of body can help tenants to stay in their homes. I hope that when the Minister winds up the debate he will be able to tell us when the Government will introduce more effective legislation to extend the penalties for harassment.

8.51 p.m.

Photo of Mr Peter Trew Mr Peter Trew , Dartford

I must begin by declaring an interest in the building industry. I have listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. George Cunningham). I hope that he will forgive me if, in view of the time, I do not follow up his remarks.

At this time in our history there must be two over-riding aims in British housing policy. The first, which can be accomplished sooner, is to get rid of housing squalor and homelessness, and the second —this will take longer to achieve—is to make Britain predominantly a nation of home owners. The Government's housing policies, envisaged in the Gracious Speech, lay the foundations for achieving both aims.

The extension of fair rents to council housing will encourage better-off tenants to move to homes of their own, thereby making way for those in greater need.

The granting of rent rebates to tenants in private accommodation will reduce the likelihood of evictions for non-payment of rent, which is one reason for homelessness. Subsidies for slum clearance will channel resources to the areas in need.

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction has set the target in respect of the first aim by his statement at the Conservative Party Conference that, given the Government's present proposals, there is no reason why we should not clear the slums by 1980. It is high time that somebody set a date on it, and I admire my right hon. Friend's courage. I agree with him that this target date can be achieved, given the political will, not only at national level but also at local level, from whence much of the drive and initiative must come.

Important as it is to set a date for slum clearance and the ending of housing squalor, however, we must also work to a target for the wider spread of home ownership. I suggest that within 20 years—let us say, by 1990—we should ensure that not fewer than four families out of five own their own homes. The problems of slum clearance and homelessness are so serious that they brook no delay, but we must not tackle them in such a way as to slow down the rate of increase in home ownership. If we are substantially to increase the proportion of home owners in our society we must substantially reduce the proportion of tenants, and it follows that 20 years hence —even allowing for population increases —there must be less rented accommodation than there is today.

At present there are compelling reasons for the large-scale building of rented accommodation, but if we build rented accommodation faster than we are selling it for owner-occupation it follows that we cannot be making any real progress towards increasing the number of home owners in our society, and if we are to achieve both housing aims, the ending of housing squalor and also increasing the proportion of home owners, I believe we have got to do three things.

First of all, we must re-examine the widely held belief that slums can only be replaced by rented accommodation, particularly public sector housing. We must find ways of providing reasonably priced houses for sale in slum clearance areas. Secondly, where council house building is the best solution in certain areas we must ensure that the rate of council house building in those areas is matched by the rate of council house sales in other areas.

Thirdly, if we are to encourage tenants to buy their own homes we must ensure that we create conditions in which they can do so, and to do this we must have a reasonable supply of lower-priced houses. This we cannot do unless we have a greater supply of building land. The present rate at which house prices and land prices are rising is in a sense a penalty of success. During the period of Labour Government we got used to the idea of a prolonged mortgage famine and steadily rising mortgage interest rates. This has changed. Not only are mortgage interest rates easing but mortgages are much more plentiful; but easier mortgages without corresponding increases in the supply of building land lead inevitably to inflation in house and land prices, and if we want steadier prices we must ensure that easier mortgages are matched by an increase in the supply of building land.

I do hope that the Government will continue to press local authorities and nationalised industries and Government Departments to do all that they can to release any land which is suitable for building.

There is another way in which, I believe, in the long term we can help tenants to become home owners. One of the advantages of the owner-occupier is that inflation works for him by increasing the value of his investment, but, on the whole, it works against the tenant by increasing his rent, thereby reducing his ability to save, and, by its effect on house prices, putting home ownership progressively further beyond his reach. This disadvantage could be reduced if we could find a way of bringing to the tenant some of the benefits of increasing property values. I believe this could be done within the framework of the Government's new housing policy.

One of the consequences of extending fair rents to all unfurnished accommodation is that in time many housing developments will come into surplus, and we must explore ways in which we might credit part of this surplus to the tenant, not as a subsidy on his rent but by way of a lump sum payable on the termination of the tenancy. This would not only give the tenant some sort of hedge against inflation but would provide him with the wherewithal to put down a deposit on his own home, and by paying the money only on termination of the tenancy it would provide an added incentive to home ownership.

I do not underrate for one moment the vast contribution which local authorities have made in the past to housing in this country. I hope that they will continue to do so, particularly in the short term and medium term, but we have come to a watershed in British housing policy, and in the future I would like to see an increasing proportion of local authority housing effort done in collaboration with the voluntary housing movement and with private enterprise.

I should like to see profit-sharing for tenants on the lines I have suggested carried out through the medium of housing societies rather like the present co-ownership societies, which can easily be adapted to this purpose. The benefit of profit sharing could be extended to most council tenants if such societies were to take over from local authorities not only their responsibility for building new rented accommodation but also a large part of their housing stock. Local authorities could be represented on the management committee of such societies, together with representatives of tenants, local industry and trade unions. I should like to see our trade unions emulate some of their European counterparts and do more to provide social housing in this country.

In conclusion, I look forward to the day when Britain is a country in which most people own the home in which they live. This is what most people want. This is the direction in which British society is moving. It is a development which will be fostered and encouraged by the Government's new policies, and I welcome them.

9.1 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

We on this side of the House are deeply grateful to the Secretary of State for his reference to the death of the father of the Leader of the Opposition. I realise that it was more than parliamentary courtesy. We are grateful that before he began that dazzling exercise of juggling with figures he was able to pay his tribute, and I thank him for it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Alec Jones) was critical of the Secretary of State for Wales for not being in his place throughout the debate, since he would be winding it up. My hon. Friend was not aware that the Secretary of State had already conveyed to the House the explanation that he was engaged on official business. My hon. Friend, who has since been told, has asked me to say that his remarks would not have been made had he known this. That is the courtesy, as far as this debate is concerned.

We have heard from hon. Members on both sides of the House who are well versed in the housing problems of local authorities. I was deeply disturbed, as the House must have been, by the revelation of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. George Cunningham) that in London people walk in fear. These people must be on our conscience tonight.

The debate takes place against a sombre background of long waiting lists of people who want rented accommodation in every one of our great cities. It takes place against a background of soaring land and property prices. The Daily Mail, which is no friend of this side of the House, on 15th October noted that: Land prices in the London area have reached such staggering levels that in some cases buyers must pay £6,000 for a plot. This would mean a repayment of £30 a month for the land alone before a house could be built. The House will know that the average male industrial wage is approximately £30 a week, and the average price of existing houses is approximately £5,750— about £7,000 in London. This means that the average male wage earner can in the ordinary way command a mortgage of between £3,500 and £4,680-that is, 21 times or 3 times annual income. Therefore, he stands no chance of securing a mortgage sufficiently large to buy an average-price home, and especially is this true in London.

The Nationwide Building Society noted in its Occasional Bulletin No. 105 of August, 1971 that its index of new house prices had risen by 8 per cent. during the first half of 1971 to a new peak of 144, taking the level in December, 1965 as 100. This compares with increases of 21 per cent. in the first half of 1970 and 4 per cent. in the second half of 1970. The index in respect of older houses rose in the same period by 6 per cent., while that in respect of existing modern houses rose by 8 per cent., comparing with increases of 2 per cent. and 5 per cent. respectively in the preceding half-year.

I have no wish to emulate the Secretary of State for the Environment by producing lists of figures covering different periods. The plain fact is that, since the Conservative Party took office, prices have galloped at a rate unequalled in any other period. The figures I have just given show that we are considering the Government's housing programme against a background of mounting national anxiety.

The quality of family life, the cornerstone of our democracy, is influenced to an enormous degree by two basic factors: the quality of the accommodation in which people live, and the net income which decides their living standards. Both those factors are directly affected by the matters now before the House.

It is common ground between us that adequate housing for our people is still a distant goal. Millions of children in Britain today are condemned to grow up in conditions which disgrace us as a civilised people, and, if the Minister's statement this afternoon, looking a decade ahead, is correct, children yet unborn will live in conditions which none of us would want for our families.

In his address to the Conservative Party Conference, the Minister for Housing and Construction promised that, by 1980, our two million slums would be cleared. In this connection, we must take into account the four million obsolescent houses which still exist, quite apart from the two million declared unfit. A proportion of the four million will become unfit. Not all will benefit from the excellent improvement grant scheme introduced by the Labour Government in 1969. I want to know what estimate the Government make of the number of houses which must be started every year, taking one year with another, to fulfil the promise which received such rapturous cheers for the Minister of Housing and Construction when he was surrounded by his party stalwarts.

Photo of Mr Julian Amery Mr Julian Amery , Brighton, Pavilion

I should make it clear that I made no promise.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

It only sounded like it.

Photo of Mr Julian Amery Mr Julian Amery , Brighton, Pavilion

I said that there was no reason, given the new subsidy for slum clearance, why local authorities responsible for slum clearance programmes should not clear all their slums within a decade.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I am not surprised to hear that the right hon. Gentleman embarked upon misleading even his own friends—[Interruption.] I have the right hon. Gentleman's speech somewhere— [HON. MEMBERS: "Read it."] I will read it. I was about to say, with pleasure, but it will not be with pleasure that I read it. It is the speech which begins, "Housing is like religion".

I am afraid that I cannot find the speech at the moment. The House will have to be content with my assertion that the right hon. Gentleman left the country in no doubt at all that he believed—

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

The Secretary of State must not be impatient. The Minister for Housing and Construction left the country in no doubt that he believed that two million slum properties would be cleared by the end of the decade.

It is my misfortune and yours, Mr. Speaker, that I have now found the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He used these words:

I can see no reason why local councils should not clear away their slums by 1980.

Photo of Mr Peter Walker Mr Peter Walker , Worcester

That is what my right hon. Friend has just said.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Did the right hon. Gentleman mean that they would be cleared, or was he merely buoying up hopes? The clear indication of his words was that, given the chance, the Conserva- tive Party would be clearing our slums by 1980, and I want the Secretary of State for Wales to say what estimate he has made of the number of starts, taking one year with another, that will be necessary for the right hon. Gentleman's hope to be achieved.

Photo of Mr Raphael Tuck Mr Raphael Tuck , Watford

The right hon. Gentleman's words were not meant to be taken seriously.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

We all know that 30,000 houses every year are lost to us as a result of motorway extensions, town developments or road widening. At the same time, we need a massive housing programme to provide rented accommodation. I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) who advised the Government to forget private developers when it came to rented accommodation. Both sides of the House know that we require the full co-operation of local authorities if rented accommodation is to be made available to the millions of people who want it. Private enterprise has no conscience about people looking for rented accommodation, and it has proved it over the years.

The Government have now stated their objectives. First, a decent home for every family at a price within their means. That is a respectable target. But I suggest that the policy that the Government are pursuing will put the price of property beyond the means of people earning above the average.

Secondly, they offer a fairer choice between owning and renting a home. We shall examine how much fairer the choice has become.

Thirdly, fairness between one citizen and another in giving and receiving help towards housing costs.

These are unexceptionable aims. Unfortunately, the Government's proposals, as outlined in the Gracious Speech, make them much harder to attain. Their whole attitude to housing is dominated by their phobia about council house tenants. They seem to believe that a great proportion of council house tenants are well off people being subsidised by others.

I want to look at the subsidy, because right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite —the Secretary of State for the Environment was one—have avoided facing this question. In 1970–71 Exchequer housing subsidies amounted to about £157 million. Rate fund contributions to the housing revenue accounts totalled £60 million to £65 million. In the same year the value of tax relief provided in respect of interest paid on loans for house purchase was estimated to be £300 million. The bigger the mortgage, the more help is given. That is one reason that we are seeing properties in London rocketing to £50,000 and rich people are able to play off their mortgage against their tax and the poor are subsidising the rich. If ever there were a clear case for the Secretary of State to consider whether he could stop the very wealthy being subsidised by the very poor, it is there. But his concentrated attention has been given to council house tenants.

The Government propose to take no action to remedy the first injustice, and they could not reveal their prejudice against council tenants more starkly. The right hon. Gentleman knows, as I do, that those who borrow for a mortgage, if they are taxed on earned income, have the benefit of 30 per cent. tax relief on the interest element of repayments. If they have unearned income and are taxable in full, they get 38·75 per cent. relief on the interest element of repayments. if they are surtax payers, it is higher. About £300 million of the taxpayers' money is directed into this channel.

We on this side of the House have done as much as any Government this century to encourage owner-occupation. I recall the Conservative Party, in opposition, violently opposing our proposals to enable over one million leaseholders, tenants in their own homes, to become owner-occupiers for the first time. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite went into the Lobby against our proposals.

We know what it means to working people to own their own homes. During the period of the Labour Government owner-occupation increased at a faster rate than in any other period. The assistance given to owner-occupiers rocketed from £100 million a year when the Conservative Party was in power to £215 million a year, more than double, whilst we were in office.

Photo of Miss Irene Ward Miss Irene Ward , Tynemouth

Does the right hon. Gentleman remember that immediately after the war, when the men were coming home and were longing to build their own houses, the Labour Gov- ernment would not allow anybody to live in other than council houses? The Labour Government would not allow private enterprise housing, with the result that many people who never wanted to do so had to live in council houses.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

It is always a pleasure to hear the hon. Lady, even if one cannot understand the point that she is making.

I now turn to the Government's attitude on rents, because their policy here is positively cruel. This is a landlord's charter. Every landlord in Britain expects to be better off as a result of the Government's proposals, and most tenants of rented properties expect to be worse off. That is the general picture.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite have made much of the fact that when we were in office a fair rent scheme was introduced on a small scale. The House should know that only 176,000 out of 192,000 applications have been registered, but now, whether they like it or not, 8½ million families will be put to a means test to reveal their personal affairs to a lot of strangers. That is the largest number of people ever required by law to submit their personal affairs to scrutiny by local authorities since the 'thirties. Never have so many people been exposed to a test of this sort, and although we welcome the assistance to be provided for people in the lower income groups, we deplore the method that has been adopted.

The Government are transferring their responsibility, and the national responsibility to help poorer people on to ratepayers and on to council tenants. We must warn ratepayers that the total cost of administering this gigantic scheme will fall upon the local rates, without a penny being received from the Treasury in assistance. Rates are taxes which people cannot avoid, however poor they are. No accountant can help people there. We all agree that rates are regressive and unfair, but we have not yet discovered a more equitable system. In the meantime it is worth reminding ratepayers that even the rent allowance to tenants in private property will have to be subsidised by 20 per cent. from the rates after four years.

I believe that the Government have underestimated the work which they are imposing on local authorities, and that they have not yet worked out how on earth rent allowance and rent rebate schemes will work. Somebody will have to assess what is a fair rent. That figure will depend, among other things, on the character, the locality and the state of repair of the house. It will mean that every house will have to be visited. If there is to be fair play, every one of the 8½; million houses affected will have to be visited and examined to enable someone to decide what, by the Government's standards, is a fair rent.

How does this compare with the Tory promises of just over a year ago? Consider the Prime Minister for a moment— [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Only because I believe that he has broken more promises than Casanova—[An HON. MEMBER: "He did not get the same satisfaction."] I am limiting my observation to promises. Speaking at Glasgow on 10th June last year, just a week before the General Election, the Prime Minister told the Scots: Do you want a better tomorrow? Do you want a Government whose basic philosophy is to tell you what is good for you and what you ought to like, whether you like it or not, or do you want, not a free-for-all "—

no one wants that— but freedom to choose, freedom to breathe?

The Government's housing policy is an exercise in telling council house tenants, whether they like it or not, that they have to pay higher rents. It is an exercise in telling local authorities, whether they like it or not, that they must accept the scheme which the Government are putting forward. There is not a local authority in Britain that welcomes wholeheartedly the schemes submitted by the Secretary of State. He must answer other questions as well.

The Secretary of State for Wales, who is due to reply to this debate, is the Minister of Housing in Wales. He also received a situation brief when he took over. I know what must have been in that brief. He will know that, in our first five years, we built 40 per cent. more houses in Wales than the Conservative Party in their last five years. I am glad to see that improvement grants are still going up. The Conservative Party inherited a rising curve on the graph here. They are taking credit for our 1969 Act. We are glad that they are working it and also about the ways in which they are trying to add to it.

The Secretary of State for Wales, known in the Principality as our absentee landlord, must tell the House tonight what calculations he has made of the effects of the fair rents policy in Wales. A number of my right hon. and hon. Friends have asked him questions in vain.

At some time the right hon. and learned Gentleman must face the Welsh people. He is fortunate in that whatever he does to the Welsh people they can do nothing to him; because from the safety of Hendon he tells council tenants throughout Wales that it is in the national interest for their rents to be doubled and that, if the rent that is imposed upon them is put up too high, they get the money back. That is an Alice-in-Wonderland scheme which only the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be able to explain.

I want to ask the Secretary of State a question, which I hope that he will answer, about the V.A.T. and its effect on housing as the Tory Government propose to introduce it. Throughout the Common Market V.A.T. imposed a tax on the sale of new houses and a registration fee on existing houses. The cost is about £250 to £300. The cost varies in amount from country to country, but the principle is accepted throughout the Common Market. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman prepared to give an undertaking that this added burden will not be put upon people dealing with the sale of their homes in Britain?

The Tory Party has never liked the Welfare State. It has resented every effort to ensure a fair redistribution of wealth. The Tories now have their hands on the levers of power. Of course they can use their majority to force this scheme through the House, but I tell the people of Britain that we in our turn, when we are given it, which will not be long delayed by the look of it, will restore the principles that underlie the Welfare State that the Tories are so determined in their short period in office to destroy.

9.33 p.m.

Photo of Mr Peter Thomas Mr Peter Thomas , Hendon South

The right hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) very courteously said at the beginning of his speech that he had received my explanation, as indeed had the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), for being absent during much of the earlier part of the debate. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West for explaining the reason for my absence to the hon. Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Alec Jones). I apologise to the House for my unavoidable absence earlier. I know that my explanation is accepted by the right hon. Gentlemen opposite.

The parts of the debate that I have heard have been on the whole somewhat subdued, certainly very measured. The House is very grateful to the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West for the way he elevated the debate. We all greatly enjoyed his contribution. It is true that when one comes into government one gets a situation report. I had a situation report when I took over housing in Wales. Later I shall remind the right hon. Gentleman of the figures that were given to me.

The right hon. Gentleman's Government received a situation report when they came into office in 1964. I was surprised that not one word of tribute came from the right hon. Gentleman to the effect that his Government had inherited in 1964 a rapidly increasing house-building programme. Not one word of apology came from the right hon. Gentleman for his Government's failure to maintain that programme.

I will tell the right hon. Gentleman the figures which were given in the situation report. In 1964 373,676 houses were completed in Britain—75,000 more than in 1963. But 434,000 houses were under construction. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned how house building rose during the first few years of the last Government. The number of houses completed in one year is decided by the number of houses started and under construction in previous years; that is obvious. The reason why for a few years the number of houses completed under the previous Government continued to increase is that they inherited a rising programme. But the momentum was very soon lost because when they left office last June they left behind a house-building programme which had not only fallen behind the 1964 level but was steadily declining. In 1969 about 7,000 fewer houses were completed than in 1964, while the number of starts was going down and down. In 1970 the total completions were 23,000 fewer than in 1964 whereas the number of starts was 24,000 lower.

Photo of Mr Charles Loughlin Mr Charles Loughlin , Gloucestershire West

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Peter Thomas Mr Peter Thomas , Hendon South

Not yet. A categorical promise was made in the 1966 General Election that 500,000 houses would be built in 1970—

Photo of Mr Charles Loughlin Mr Charles Loughlin , Gloucestershire West

Now will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Peter Thomas Mr Peter Thomas , Hendon South

No. The promise given in 1966 was a firm promise. The Leader of the Opposition said on 27th March. 1966: This is not a lightly given promise. It is a pledge. We shall achieve the 4001,000 target and we shall not allow any development, any circumstances, however adverse, to deflect us from our aim".

In 1970—

Photo of Mr Peter Thomas Mr Peter Thomas , Hendon South

I will give way in a moment. In 1970 the Labour Government were 148,000 behind that target.

Photo of Mr Charles Loughlin Mr Charles Loughlin , Gloucestershire West

I am grateful that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has eventually given way. Will he give the figures—I shall not take him too far back —for 1961–62?

Photo of Mr Peter Thomas Mr Peter Thomas , Hendon South

I do not propose to compare years as far back as that. What I am stating, which is a fact, is that taking the years 1963 and 1964 and the starts in 1964 it is obvious that there was a rising building programme—

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

Order. I cannot allow that. I heard what the hon. Gentleman said. He must withdraw it.

Photo of Mr Charles Loughlin Mr Charles Loughlin , Gloucestershire West

I did call the right hon. and learned Gentleman a bloody twister, and I maintain it. I still say that he is a bloody twister. I will withdraw from the Chamber.

The hon. Member then withdrew from the Chamber.

Photo of Mr Peter Thomas Mr Peter Thomas , Hendon South

The right hon. Member for Cardiff, West asked whether I would give the figures for Wales. In 1964—and I am dealing with public housing. which is the housing to which the right hon. Gentleman attached great importance— there were 12,453 houses under construction in Wales. At the end of 1970 the figure was 7,118. There had been a steady decline in public house building since 1966. In 1964 9,207 houses were completed in Wales. In 1970 the figure had gone down to 6,825.

The right hon. Gentleman will know of the document, "The Way Ahead" which was presented in July, 1967. In that document there was an authoritative assessment of the housing needs in Wales. It was assessed that 20,000 houses a year should be built in Wales and that that should be gradually increased to 21,000. In 1967, 20,000 houses were built in Wales; the next year the number was down to 19,000; the following year it was down to just over 17,000 and in 1970 it was down to just under 15,500.

Photo of Mr Peter Thomas Mr Peter Thomas , Hendon South

I do not have time to give way.

I give the figures for local authority house building in Wales. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it ill becomes members of the Opposition to try to blame the Government for the fall in public sector building. The rot in public sector performance set in with the abandonment of the 500,000 target and the cutback in the public sector programme as part of the Labour Government's post- devaluation measures.

Local authorities, in spite of the 1967 subsidies, began to reduce their programme and that was fairly genera!, not the work of only Conservative local authorities, as the right hon. Gentleman appeared to claim. The pattern in Wales, where not many Conservative local authorities are to be found, makes that perfectly clear.

Photo of Mr Roy Hughes Mr Roy Hughes , Newport (Monmouthshire/Gwent)

I do not want to repeat what my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) said about the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Photo of Mr Roy Hughes Mr Roy Hughes , Newport (Monmouthshire/Gwent)

Did not two of the biggest authorities in Wales, namely, the county boroughs of Cardiff and Newport, have the poorest housing records of probably any authorities in the country?

Photo of Mr Peter Thomas Mr Peter Thomas , Hendon South

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman looks at Swansea and Port Talbot.

The Labour Government's excuse in 1970 was that they were not stopping local authorities from building. It was not the local authorities which set the target: it was set by the Labour Government. What the Labour Government should have realised was that the nature of the housing problem had changed. Previously, it had been a matter of getting as many houses as possible built virtually anywhere. But it had become clear by then that the housing problem was no longer a uniform national problem, but a series of local or regional problems.

That is the basis of our policies—the black spots. There are still immense problems for public authorities in the areas where help must be concentrated, in towns which still have big slum problems, particularly those in the Midlands and the North, in housing stress areas, mainly in the Midlands and, most of all, in London.

In those areas we must increase the local authority programmes. The local authorities must still be the main providers of the new houses at reasonable rents which are still needed in considerable quantities. With respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon), it is a waste of time to set national targets. That is not what is wanted and that is not what we intend to do. Our policies recognise what the real housing problems are and will enable them to be tackled with renewed energy.

I was very interested to hear the right hon. Member for Grimsby expressing himself strongly in favour of owner-occupation. The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that in this sector, too, we inherited a falling programme. Starts in Great Britain were down to 167,000 in 1969 and 165,000 in 1970. The corresponding figures for 1963 and 1964 were 199,000 and 247,000. Instead of the confident housing-building industry of 1964 it was permeated with gloom and despondency.

The situation is very different today. The industry sees greater confidence and optimism in the state of the market than it has seen for some time in recent years. The figures speak for themselves. Private sector starts from January to September 1970 totalled 123,000. For the same period this year the figure is 150,000, a rise of 21·5 per cent. That is an accomplishment of which the industry can be justly proud and I am confident that we shall see the improvement continued.

The right hon. Gentleman who so emphatically stated how strongly he was in favour of owner-occupation will no doubt agree with what was said in our White Paper of July about owner-occupation. We said then:

Home ownership is the most rewarding form of house tenure. It satisfies a deep and natural desire on the part of the house-holder to have independent control of the home that shelters him and his family. It gives him the greatest possible security against the loss of his home; and particularly against price changes that may threaten his ability to keep it. If the householder buys his house on mortgage he builds up by steady saving a capital asset for himself and his dependants. In this country the existence of a strong building society movement helps him to realise these advantages.

Photo of Mr Peter Thomas Mr Peter Thomas , Hendon South

I will give way in a moment.

There is no doubt whatever that this statement reflects the views and aspirations of vast numbers of our people. No-where is this more evident than in Wales, as the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West knows. Home ownership in England and Wales has expanded from one- tenth in 1914 to more than one-half now. It is a trend we want to see continued and one which we intend to encourage.

We have already taken a number of important steps towards that end—

Photo of Mr Peter Thomas Mr Peter Thomas , Hendon South

We have abolished betterment levy, we have disbanded the Land Commission, we have halved S.E.T. which put £120 or more on the cost of building an, ordinary family house; we have lifted our predecessor's restrictions on the sale of council houses to tenants: we have abolished the stamp duty on the mortgage deed ; we have worked out, in collaboration with building society leaders, recommendations

whereby the prospect of a mortgage can be improved for people whose earnings are good but whose capital resources are limited and also for people who might otherwise think they were too old for the mortgage advance.

Photo of Mr Peter Thomas Mr Peter Thomas , Hendon South

I will give way in a moment. We have made the option mortgage scheme more flexible, we have removed the money quotas imposed by our predecessors on local authority mortgage lending to priority borrowers. We have declared our intention to introduce legislation empowering local authorities to pay legal expenses, as well as removal expenses—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading.'] —to people who produce a council house vacancy by moving out and buying elsewhere. The Building Societies Association has been able to reduce its recommended rate on mortgage advances from 81 per cent. to 8 per cent. These measures, together with the more favourable financial climate, lie behind the upward trend achieved in private housing starts. They bear witness to our belief in owner-occupation.

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Will he now answer the question which his right hon. Friends have failed to answer all day? He has referred to owner-occupiers. He knows that both parties believe in maintaining the subsidy for owner-occupiers. Is it fair to maintain and increase the annual subsidy to owner-occupiers while reducing it for council-house tenants who are worse off?

Photo of Mr Peter Thomas Mr Peter Thomas , Hendon South

I am just coming to that. It is all very well for the right hon. Members for Cardiff, West and Grimsby to affirm strongly their belief in home ownership, as the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) does himself, but it is disturbing to hear the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West and the hon. Member for Salford, East suggest that something should be done in order to cut the tax relief on mortgage repayments.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

In order that the right hon. and learned Gentleman may be under no illusion, may I ask him whether he is aware that we have declared ourselves clearly on this matter? We want home ownership and we have cone more than the Conservative Party to get it.

Photo of Mr Peter Thomas Mr Peter Thomas , Hendon South

It is all very well to talk in terms of wanting home owner-ship, but the Opposition clearly do not want council houses to be sold. It is shameful that some Labour councils, taking their cue, no doubt, from their national leaders when in office, have not only stopped the selling of council houses but have gone back on commitments entered into by their predecessors. That is a strange way to encourage owner-occupation and yet another example of a doctrinaire living in the past.

Then there were the odd antics on local government lending in which the last Government indulged, when there was "stop-go" at its very worst, as my right hon. Friend said. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] Yes, I will answer the hon. Member for Salford, East. He is not alone in this. The right hon. Member for Cardiff, West tried to explain it and the right hon. Member for Grimsby talked about a soaring bill for tax relief for owner-occupiers. Indeed, he devoted a long passage in that pamphlet referred to by my right hon. Friend, when the right hon. Gentleman seemed to be worried about financial incentives to owner-occupation and the fact that they are not means tested. He appeared to be flirting with the possibility of limiting these tax reliefs in some way or other. He did not, I agree, make more reference to it today and I was not certain where he stood.

The right hon. Member for Cardiff, West, however, certainly suggested, as 1 understood him, that it was unfair that a tenant's means should be ascertained before he receives rent relief while the mortgagor receives tax relief irrespective of means. But the two reliefs are not comparable. One is for the relief of hardship; the other, like the improvement grant, which no one has suggested should be means tested, is for the encouragement of owner-occupation and is justified as a good means of securing the future of the housing stock and, like insurance premiums, which also get tax relief as a means of encouraging personal savings.

My hon. Friends the Members for Northamptonshire, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) and Buckingham referred to the availability of land. The Government, early in their term of office, issued proposals to local authorities by circular for the release of land for the building of houses. My hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Development conferred with a number of local planning authorities on this and arrangements were made to make substantial areas available for house building development. My hon. Friend the Minister will report to the House soon the results of the policy and I do not think that my hon. Friend will be disappointed by what he has to say.

My hon. Friends the Members for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) and Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) reminded us that our proposals also extend to private tenants. The right hon. Member for Grimsby referred to the feeling on the benches opposite that the relation-ship between the private landlord and the private tenant is an unhealthy one. But it is only unhealthy and uncomfortable for the tenant as long as the landlord receives such a low rent that he cannot keep the house in proper repair, and so long as the tenant, if he is poor, gets no help with the rent. Both defects will be remedied by our proposal.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor)—I apologise for not being present during his speech—rightly referred to the fact that many private tenants—particularly old people, sometimes living alone—were not aware of their rights, or of their chance of getting a rent rebate or a rent allowance. The primary responsiblity in the public sector for informing their tenants will rest with local authorities. As for private tenants, we shall make is compulsory for private landlords to put notices in new rent books, and, in addition, we shall launch a vigorous local campaign to publicise the rights of which my hon. Friend spoke.

I have now obtained, for greater accuracy, a copy of my right hon. Friend's admirable speech at the Conservative Party Conference. As the House is so anxious about it, this is what he said, on slum clearance:

The third aim of our reform—and perhaps the most important of all—is to help areas in need to clear the slums and end the overcrowding. Hitherto, slum clearance subsidy was only paid if new council houses were to be put on the land where the old slums had stood. This discouraged local authorities from getting on with the job. It could involve them in a substantial loss. We propose to separate clearance from redevelopment. Henceforth the subsidy will be paid for clearance, but the local authority will be free to use the site cleared for private building, for council building, for parks and play-grounds, or for office, shop or industrial development. This should bring a massive new incentive to authorities to clear the slums".

Photo of Mr George Cunningham Mr George Cunningham , Islington South West

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Even at this late hour, is it in order for the Minister, to whom has been posed many important question, including—[Interruption.] Is it in order for the Minister to take time—

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

Order. The nature of the Minister's reply cannot be a point of order, except in certain circumstances.

Photo of Mr George Cunningham Mr George Cunningham , Islington South West

On a point of order. May I put the point that it is at least a very unusual practice for the Minister to read out extracts when he should be trying to answer serious points put to him about harassment legislation?

Division No. 2.]AYES[10.0 p.m.
Abse, LeoClark, David (Colne Valley)Edwards, Robert (Bilston)
Albu, AustenCocks Michael (Bristol, S.)Edwards, William (Merioneth)
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)Cohen, StanleyEllis, Tom
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis)Concannon, J. D.English, Michael
Armstrong, ErnestCorbet, Mrs. FredaEvans, Fred
Ashley, JackCox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.)Ewing, Henry
Atkinson, NormanCrawshaw, RichardFaulds, Andrew
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Cronin, JohnFernyhough, Rt. Hn. E.
Barnes, MichaelCrosland, Rt. Hn. AnthonyFisher, Mrs. Doris(B'ham, Ladywood)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Crossman, Rt. Hn. RichardFitch, Alan (Wigan)
Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton)Cunningham, G. (Islington, S.W.)Fitt, Gerard (Belfast, W.)
Baxter, WilliamCunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven)Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)
Beaney, AlanDalyell, TamFletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony WedgwoodDarling, Rt. Hn. George
Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton)Davidson, ArthurFoley, Maurice
Bidwell, SydneyDavies, Denzil (Llanelly)Foot, Michael
Bishop, E. S.Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)Ford, Ben
Blenkinsop, ArthurDavies, Ifor (Gower)Forrester, John
Boardman, H. (Leigh)Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.)Fraser, John (Norwood)
Booth, AlbertDavis, Terry (Bromsgrove)Freeson, Reginald
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. ArthurDeakins, EricGalpern, Sir Myer
Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland)de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir GeoffreyGarrett, W. E.
Bradley, TomDelargy, H. J.Gilbert, Dr. John
Broughton, Sir AlfredDell, Rt. Hn. EdmundGinsburg, David (Dewsbury)
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.)Dempsey, JamesGolding, John
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Proven)Doig, PeterGordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.
Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury)Dormand, J. D.Gourlay, Harry
Buchan, NormanDouglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.)Grant, George (Morpeth)
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)Douglas-Mann, BruceGrant, John D. (Islington, E.)
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. JamesDriberg, TomGriffiths, Eddie (Brightside)
Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.)Duffy, A. E. P.Griffiths, Will (Exchange)
Cant, R. B.Dunn, James A.Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.
Carmichael, NeilDunnett, JackHamilton, James (Bothwell)
Carter, Ray (Birmingham, Northfield)Eadie, AlexHamilton, William (Fite, W.)
Castle, Mt. Hn. BarbaraEdelman, MauriceHamting, William

Photo of Mr Peter Thomas Mr Peter Thomas , Hendon South

If I had not been interrupted so many times I should have been able to answer many more points.

I end by saying that the fundamental aim of the Government's housing policy is to see that every family is decently housed at a price it can afford, with as many as possible owning their own homes. This means getting rid of the slums and the appalling overcrowded conditions in which too many families are living. It means getting adequate help with rent to those who need help, and speeding up the modernisation of older homes.

These are our clear aims, and the proposals described in the White Paper are directed towards those aims. They represent an important part of our major attack on poverty and squalor in all its forms—slum housing, slum schools, slum hospitals, poverty caused by lack of care, and poverty caused by lack of cash. They are radical, they are right, and they are compassionate, and I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to reject the Amendment.

Question put, That the Amendment be made:—

Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill)McGuire, MichaelRoberts,Rt.Hn.Goronwy(Caernarvon)
Hardy, PeterMackenzie, GregorRobertson, John (Paisley)
Harper, JosephMackie, JohnRoderick, Caerwyn E.(Br'c'n&R'dnor)
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)Mackintosh, John P.Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)
Hart, Rt. Hn. JudithMaclennan, RobertRoper, John
Hattersley, RoyMcMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
Healey, Rt. Hn. DenisMcNamara, J. KevinSandelson, Neville
Heffer, Eric S.Mahon, Simon (Bootle)Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Hilton, W. S.Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Hooson, EmlynMallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)Short, Rt.Hn.Edward(N'c'tie-u-Tyne)
Horam, JohnMarks, KennethShort, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N.E.)
Houghton, Rt. Hn. DouglasMarquand, DavidSilkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Howell, Denis (Small Heath)Marsden, F.Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Huckfield, LeslieMarshall, Dr. EdmundSillars, James
Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)Mason, Rt. Hn. RoySilverman, Julius
Hughes, Mark (Durham)Mayhew, ChristopherSkinner, Dennis
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.)Meacher, MichaelSmall, William
Hughes, Roy (Newport)Mellish, Rt. Hn. RobertSmith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)
Hunter, AdamMendelson, JohnSpearing, Nigel
Irvine, Rt.Hn.SirArthur(Edge Hill)Mikardo, lanSpriggs, Leslie
Janner, GrevilleMillan, BruceStallard, A. W.
Jay, Rt. Hn. DouglasMilne, EdwardSteel, David
Jeger, Mrs. LenaMitchell, R. G. (S'hampton, Itchen)Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)Molloy, WilliamStoddart, David (Swindon)
Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
John, BrynmorMorris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)Strang, Gavin
Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)Swain, Thomas
Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.)Moyle, RolandTaverne, Dick
Johnston, Russell (Inverness)Oakes, GordonThomas, Rt.Hn.George (Cardiff,W.)
Jones, Barry (Flint, E.)Ogden, EricThomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Jones, Dan (Burnley)O'Halloran, MichaelThomson, Rt. Hn. G. (Dundee, E.)
Jones, Rt.Hn.Sir Elwyn(W.Ham, S.)O'Malley, BrianTinn, James
Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)Orbach, MauriceTomney, Frank
Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.)Orme, StanleyTorney, Tom
Judd, FrankOwen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton)Tuck, Raphael
Kaufman, GeraldPadley, WalterUrwin, T. W.
Kelley, RichardPaget, R. T.Varley, Eric G.
Kerr, RussellPalmer, ArthurWalden, Brian (B'm'ham, All Saints)
Kinnock, NeilPardoe, JohnWallace, George
Lambie, DavidParker, John (Dagenham)Watkins, David
Lamond, JamesParry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange)
Latham, ArthurWellbeloved, James
Lawson, GeorgePavitt, LaurieWells, William (Walsall, N.)
Leadbitter, TedPeart, Rt. Hn. FredWhite, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Leonard, DickPentland, NormanWhitehead, Phillip
Lester, Miss JoanPerry, Ernest G.Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Lever, Rt. Hn. HaroldPrentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Lipton, MarcusPrescott, JohnWilliams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Lomas, KennethPrice, J. T. (Westhoughton)Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Loughlin, CharlesPrice, William (Rugby)Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Lyon, Alexander W. (York)Probert, ArthurWilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)Rankin, JohnWoof, Robert
Mabon, Dr. J. DicksonReed, D. (Sedgefield)
McBride, NeilRees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
McCann, JohnRhodes, GeoffreyMr. Donald Coleman and
McCartney, HughRichard, IvorMr. Tom Pendry.
McElhone, FrankRoberts, Albert (Normanton)
NOES
Adley, RobertBody, RichardClegg, Walter
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)Boscawen, RobertCockeram, Eric
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)Bossom, Sir CliveCooke, Robert
Amery, Rt. Hn. JulianBowden, AndrewCoombs, Derek
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth)Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. JohnCooper, A. E.
Astor, JohnBrinton, Sir TattonCorfield, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Atkins, HumphreyBrocklebank-Fowler, ChristopherCormack, Patrick
Awdry, DanielBrown, Sir Edward (Bath)Contain, A. P.
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)Bryan, PaulCritchiey, Julian
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff)Buck, AntonyCrouch, David
Balniel, LordBullus, Sir EricCrowder, F. P.
Barber, Rt. Hn. AnthonyBurden, F. A.Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford)
Batsford, BrianButler, Adam (Bosworth)d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry
Beamish, Col. Sir TuftonCampbell, Rt.Hn.G.(Moray & Nairn)d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Maj.-Gen.James
Bell, RonaldCarlisle, MarkDean, Paul
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)Carr, Rt. Hn. RobertDeedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)Channon, PaulDigby, Simon Wingfield
Benyon, W.Chapman, SydneyDixon, Piers
Berry, Hn. AnthonyChataway, Rt. Hn. ChristopherDodds-Parker, Douglas
Biffen, JohnChichester-Clark, R.Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec
Biggs-Davison, JohnChurchill, W. S.Drayson, G. B.
Btaker, PeterClark, William (Surrey, E.)du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.)Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Dykes, Hugh
Eden, Sir JohnKimball, MarcusReed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)King, Tom (Bridgwater)Rees, Peter (Dover)
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)Kinsey, J. R.Rees-Davies, W. R.
Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)Kirk, PeterRenton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Emery, PeterKitson, TimothyRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Farr, JohnKnight, Mrs. JillRidley. Hn. Nicholas
Fell, AnthonyKnox, DavidRidsdale, Julian
Fener, Mrs. PeggyLambton, AntonyRoberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)
Fidler, MichaelLane, DavidRoberts, Wyn (Conway)
Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead)Legge-Bourke, Sir HarryRodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton)Le Marchant, SpencerRossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Fletcher-Cooke, CharlesLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Rost, Peter
Fookes, Miss JanetLloyd, Rt.Hn.Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dfield)Royle, Anthony
Fortescue, TimLongden, GilbertRussell, Sir Ronald
Foster, Sir JohnLoveridge, JohnSt. John-Stevas, Norman
Fowler, NormanMcAdden, Sir StephenSendys, Rt. Hn. D.
Fox, MarcusMcArthur, lanScott, Nicholas
Fraser, Rt.Hn.Huah(St'fford & Stone)McCrindle, R. A.Scott-Hopkins, James
Fry, PeterMaclean, Sir FitzroySharpies, Richard
Galbraith, Hn. T. G.McMaster, StanleyShelton, William (Clapham)
Gardner, EdwardMacmillan, Maurice (Farnham)Simeons, Charles
Gibson-Watt, DavidMcNair-Wilson, MichaelSinclair, Sir George
Gilmour, lan (Norfolk, C.)McNair-Wilson, Patrick (NewForest)Skeet, T. H. H.
Glyn, Dr. AlanMaddan, MartinSmith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B.Madel, DavidSoref, Harold
Goodhart, PhilipMaginnis, John E.Speed, Keith
Goodhew, VictorMarten, NeilSpence, John
Gorst, JohnMather, CarolSproat, lain
Gower. RaymondMaude, AngusStainton, Keith
Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.)Maudling, Rt. Hn. ReginaldStanbrook, Ivor
Gray, HamishMaxwell-Hyslop, R. J.Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)
Green, AlanMeyer, Sir AnthonyStodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.)
Grieve, PercyMills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Grylls, MichaelMiscampbell, NormanStokes, John
Gummer, SelwynMitchell,Lt.-Col.C.(Aberdeenshire,W)Stuttaford. Dr. Tom
Gurden, HaroldMitchell, David (Basingstoke)Sutcliffe, John
Hall, John (Wycombe)Moate, RogerTapsell. Peter
Molyneaux, JamesTaylor,Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart)
Hall-Davis, A. G. F.Money, ErnieTaylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Monks, Mrs. ConnieTaylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)
Hannam, John (Exeter)Monro, HectorTebbit, Norman
Harrison, Brian(Maldon)Montgomery, FergusThatcher. Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)More, JasperThomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Haselhurst, AlanMorgan, Geraint (Denbigh)Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)
Hastings, StephenMorgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Havers, MichaelMorrison, CharlesTilney, John
Hawkins, PaulMudd, DavidTrafford, Dr. Anthony
Hay, JohnMurton, OscarTrew, Peter
Hayhoe, BarneyNabarro, Sir GeraldTugendhat, Christopher
Heseltine, MichaelNeave, AireyTurton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin
Hicks, RobertNicholls, Sir Harmarvan Straubenzee, W. R.
Higgins, Terence L.Noble, Rt. Hn. MichaelVaughan, Dr. Gerard
Hiley, JosephNormanton, TomVickers, Dame Joan
Hill. John E. B. (Norfolk, S.)Nott JohnWaddington. David
Hill, James (Southampton, Test)Onslow, CranleyWalker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)
Holland, PhilipOnslow, CranleyWalker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Holt, Miss MaryOppenheim. Mrs. SallyWall, Patrick
Hornby, RichardOrr, Capt. L. P. S.Walters, Dennis
Hornsby-Smith, Rt.Hn.Dame PatriciaOsborn, JohnWard, Dame Irene
Howe, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate)Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)Warren, Kenneth
Howell, David (Guildford)Page, Graham (Crosby)Wells, John (Maidstone)
Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.)Page, John (Harrow, W.)White, Roger (Gravesend)
Hunt, JohnParkinson, CecilWhitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Hutchison, Michael ClarkPeel, JohnWiggin, Jerry
Iremonger, T. L.Percival, IanWilkinson, John
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)Peyton, Rt. Hn. JohnWinterton. Nicholas
James, DavidPink, R. BonnerWolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)Pounder, RaftonWood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Jennings, J. C. (Burton)Powell, Rt. Hn. J. EnochWoodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Jessel, TobyPrice, David (Eastleigh)Woodnutt, Mark
Johnson Smith, G.(E.Grinstead)Prior, Rt.Hn. J.M.L.Worsley, Marcus
Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)Proudfoot, WilfredWylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.
Jopling, MichaelPym, Rt. Hn. FrancisYounger, Hn. George
Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir KeithQuennell. Miss J. M.
Kaberry, Sir DonaldRaison, TimothyTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. ElaineRamsden, Rt. Hn. JamesMr. Reginald Eyre and
Kershaw, AnthonyRawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir PeterMr. Bernard Weatherill.
Kilfedder, JamesRedmond, Robert
Main Question again proposed.

It being after Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.

The House divided: Ayes 272, Noes 297.