Orders of the Day — Housing

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th February 1973.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral 12:00 am, 6th February 1973

Before calling the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) to move the motion, I have to inform the House that I have selected the Government amendment, in line 1, leave out from 'House' to end and add: approves the measures Her Majesty's Government have taken to meet housing needs and welcomes the increasing number of housing starts for home ownership; the provision, by means of improvement grants, of a record number of modernised homes; and the encouragement of local authority housing in areas of stress; and further welcomes Her Majesty's Government's determination to increase the amount of land available for house building'.

3.43 p.m.

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

I beg to move, That this House censures Her Majesty's Government for its disastrous record of combining the biggest ever increase in the price of housing with the lowest rate of housing completions for a decade. The present Government have become notorious for the gulf between their promises and their performance, between their words and their deeds. Nowhere is this gulf more startling than in the field of housing. I will illustrate this by quoting one or two examples. The first example is the words of the previous Secretary of State for the Environment during the last General Election, on 6th June 1970: If Labour got in again and house prices rose as they have risen, the average price of a new house would be £7,000 by 1975. The fact is that the average price of a new house, already in 1972—three years before 1975—was not £7,000 but £8,725. The second example, by the same speaker, also during the General Election, at Stevenage, on 22nd June 1970: The manner in which the Labour Government has forced up the price of houses will not be forgotten by the thousands of young couples searching for a home of their own. Under Labour the average new house has risen in cost by £1,500 to the staggering figure of £5,000. Those are the words. The fact is that under this Government the average new house has risen in price not by £1,500 in six years but by just under £2,700 in 2½ years, nearly double the rise in less than half the time and there are now many more thousands of young couples searching for a home of their own who will not forgive this Government for that.

The third example is found in words from the former Minister of Housing and Construction on 6th May 1971: Our aim, as I have told the House, has been to bring home ownership within the reach of people who could not previously have contemplated it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th May, 1971; Vol. 816, c. 1680.] The fact is that under this Government there was a price rise of 47 per cent. last year, following one of 21 per cent. the year before, which has kicked right out of the market not just those who previously could not afford to buy but also many of those who previously could afford to buy.

My last example, once again, is the words of the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor as Secretary of State, commenting on 8th November 1971, on a speech I had made in this House. Referring to myself, he said: 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. …. 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."—OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th November, 1971; Vol. 825, c. 676.] The fact is that under this Government the price of the average new house rose as much in the last six months of last year as in the entire period 1965 to 1970. If our record was a remarkably bad one, I wonder how the right hon. Gentleman would describe his own record?

Luckily for him, he has evaded the problem by skipping smartly to another Department and he is probably very glad indeed that he is not taking part in this debate today. The fact is that, as hon. Members must know, we have had a rise in prices of a degree never before seen in this country. In the South East the price of a house rose during last year by £68 a week. A £10,000 house at the beginning of the year was worth £14,700 at the end of the year. Of course, it is not only to the South East and it is not only to new houses that this applies. In my own constituency of Grimsby—and many of my hon. Friends could duplicate this a hundred times—a backstreet terraced house with outside lavatory and no bathroom is passing hands at £3,000—a ludicrous figure for a house of that kind.

The irony of it all is that we are told that things are getting better and that we are in for a merciful release because in the fourth quarter of last year the price rise actually slowed down to only 8 per cent. in three months—an annual rate of 32 per cent. and during a wages freeze. It is a comment indeed on the position when the Government treat this as cause for self-congratulation.

As to rents, I shall say very little for we have debated that subject again and again in this House. I shall merely summarise the figures. In the year up to April 1972 the average council house rents, according to the latest IMTA figures, rose by just under 11 per cent. In the financial year up to this April unrebated rents will rise by 24 per cent. and rebated rents, assuming everybody takes up a rebate, by 14 per cent.; that is unless the Minister has a different figure as a result of the higher needs allowances. I doubt whether the figure could be substantially different. Following 1st April, we have another 50p on 28th April and for many a further rise in October. For private rents there will be still higher increases, often higher than will occur in the council house sector under the Housing Finance Act, and even allowing for the private rent allowance—and all this the result of deliberate Government policy.

I turn to house building. Again, we have the same contrast between words and deeds. For words I go first to the famous Tory Conference of October 1970. How long ago it seems now, those heady, intoxicating days, those rapturous ovations, the slaughter of lame ducks, the reclamation of a demoralised Britain to a land of virility, free enterprise, self-help and, of course, no prices and incomes policy; Bliss was it in that dawn to be aliveBut to be young was very heaven! Unfortunately, this mood of exaltation overcame even the Minister of Local Government and Development—although he is not all that young, any more than are the rest of us and he is not normally given to inspirational rhetoric. But on that occasion, no doubt trying to rise to the general standard and to evoke a standing ovation from the audience by his imagery—at once up to date and down to earth—he said: We have to get both our house building industry and our planning out of that Socialist reverse gear and make it gather speed in a Conservative forward gear. Those were his limpid and imperishable words.

The optimistic statements went on long after that famous conference. These are the words of the predecessor of the Secretary of State in July 1971 about the decline in house building: The decline has been halted and the turn round commenced. In October 1971 the same right hon. Gentleman said: The conditions are now ripe for a major expansion in our house building programme. As late as 27th April 1972 the same irrepressible humorist was at it again. He said: The hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) will be pleased to know that starts in the public sector are increasing."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th April, 1972; Vol. 835, c. 1797.] Those were the words. What again is the fact? The fact is that all those blithe statements were either deliberate deception of the House or Micawberism gone mad. The reality is the reverse, with one welcome exception which is the increase in the number of improvement grants. I am a strong supporter of that system, though it is fair to say that it stemmed largely from Labour's Act of 1969.

Turning from that one single ray of light to the picture of new building, we find that it is totally in contrast with the statements which have been made. Completions are the lowest in total since 1963. In the council sector they are down disastrously on every single year of the Labour Government. In the private sector they are still below 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967 and 1968. Starts are marginally better than they were in 1971, though they were lower in the fourth quarter than they were in the fourth quarter of 1971. They are still lower than in any year from 1964 to 1968. Council house starts are far, far lower than in every single year of the Labour Government.

The Minister for Housing and Construction, when presented with these figures, tries to explain them away in the following manner: In many areas of the country the crude shortage of housing has already been overcome. I agree with him. He goes on: I believe that it would now be helpful to all who are interested in housing problems if the statistics highlighted progress in the areas where the need is greatest. Those are excellent words.

However, the facts are that the Minister's figures show the reverse of progress in these areas. They are remarkable figures. Completions in the six stress areas which he singled out were down last year by no less than 13 per cent, while national completions dropped by only 2½ per cent. Starts nationally were up by 8½ per cent., but in these stress areas they fell by 1½ per cent. This Government's housing record is worst in those areas where the problem is greatest, and all the talk about concentrating help where it is most needed has turned out to be a total mockery.

I hope that some of the individual figures will be referred to by my hon. Friends from different parts of the country. They are amazing. For example, on Merseyside last year completions of council houses were 31 per cent. down on the previous year. Is it true that Merseyside can do with a 31 per cent. lower level of council house building than in the year before? It is incredible. What is more, it was not made up by private starts. Total starts were down badly.

Let us take the West Midlands as another example of an area which still has a housing problem. Completions of council houses last year in the West Midlands were 46 per cent. down on the years before. Again, this was not made good by a vast increase in the private sector. Total starts were down, as were completions.

Let me take, finally, the most extraordinary case of all, Greater London, which has by far the worst of our housing problems. Last year completions of council houses in Greater London were 13 per cent. lower than the year before. Again, the shortfall was not made good by the private sector. Total completions were 12 per cent. down on the year before. That was the position in this area which has the most acute housing problem in the country and one of the worst in the world. What are the prospects for next year? Starts are precisely 3½ per cent. up.

It is an extraordinary picture against which the Government have the nerve to refer in their amendment to the encouragement that they have given to local authority housing in areas of stress. I hope that the Minister for Housing and Construction was not responsible for that phrase. I should like to think that some acolyte inserted it. If the hon. Gentleman was responsible, he will begin to lose his well-merited reputation for honesty.

The Minister's answer to those figures is disingenuous. He disclaims any responsibility. He washes his hands of the problem. Again and again he says that the Government place no restriction on the number of houses that a local authority may build. Of course, the Government do not place a direct restriction. They do not step in to veto local authority house building. However, they place indirect restrictions upon it, and that brings me to the positive question to which I shall devote the remaining part of my speech. What should the Government do to reverse this present dreadful situation?

I take this opportunity of apologising to the House in advance for the fact that I shall not be present for the whole of the remainder of the debate. I have a public engagement which has been heavily advertised. I should prefer not have it, but I have it, and I present my apologies to the House in advance.

Looking ahead to the future, if we are to get council house building off the ground—and it is right on the ground at the moment—I believe that we must have action in four directions: on cost yardsticks, on the price of land, to remove the uncertainty about the future burden on the rates which is being created by the Housing Finance Act and by revaluation, and, in London especially, to end the scandal whereby the inner London boroughs cannot get the land that they need desperately in the outer London boroughs. In that connection we have had the recent disgraceful case of Brent and Barnet.

To get house building as a whole, to quote the Minister's words, … out of reverse and into forward gear". I have become more and more convinced that we must take a long hard look at the construction industry. I am becoming increasingly doubtful whether it is capable of sustaining a substantially higher building programme as well as all the other demands currently made upon it. In advance of Thursday's debate when no doubt we shall once again exchange speeches, I suspect that if Maplin goes ahead there is no possibility of the construction industry in the South-East being able to cope with that and with the housing and other demands made upon it.

The industry's leaders always put the blame on the shortage of land. This is a problem in many parts of the country and no one tries to write it off. However, in many places land is available, and the constraint on building comes from the insufficient capacity of the construction industry. I believe that a rapid and high-powered Government inquiry is needed into the construction industry to discover whether it is capable of meeting the demands made upon it; if not, why not; and if not, what structural changes are needed.

I illustrate these restrictions by examples from two different parts of the country. They happen to be two cases where I have spoken to the chairman of the respective housing committees within the past 24 hours. In Norwich the Labour Council, anxious to build more houses, had planned 1,000 starts in 1972. It ended up with 727. It planned for 950 completions and ended with 613.

When I spoke to Mrs. Hollis, the Chairman of the Housing Committee, who is known to many of my hon. Friends, I received the reply: We are suffering from two things: first, delay in approvals by the Department, due to yardstick problems; and secondly there are very few contractors willing to take on housing contracts now that they can make far more money by using their limited labour resources to build offices. Another example is Hammersmith. Hammersmith is an area of desperate housing stress where the council is now running four months behind its housing pro- gramme. I quote the Chairman of the Housing Committee, Mr. Ian Grey, who said that the difficulty is Land plus the yardstick. Land is practically unavailable and costs £400,000 an acre when we can get it and tenders are now regularly 60 per cent. above the yardstick. It is no good the Minister saying that he places no restrictions on local authority building. Labour councils which are anxious to build are now unable to do so.

I turn to the price of housing and I list four things which must be done if the present frightening situation is to be brought under control. First, the Government must halt the constant upward pressure on rents, both council and private rents, which is being exerted by the Housing Finance Act. How can they expect the willing co-operation of trade unions on phase 2 when on 28th April millions of tenants who have already had substantial rent increases of 50 pence last April are due for another 50 pence increase, and others will be subject to an increase next October? The Government seem to have failed totally to grasp the simple truth that rent policy cannot be divorced from price and incomes policy.

Secondly, the Government can and should take the froth out of the market in private housing by withdrawing the clearly excessive element in State aid to the home owner and at least withdrawing tax relief on second homes and mortgages above a certain level. Thirdly, I return to the question of building societies to which I have referred before in the House. Their lending policies obviously exert a dominant, but in my view undesirable, influence on the housing market. It is not that those who run them are evil men—of course not—or even profit-making men in the conventional sense, but they react like automata to changes in the inflow of funds. Those changes are at times violent and totally unconnected with the housing situation. When they occur we have corresponding fluctuations in building society lending—violent fluctuations caused by factors quite outside the housing situation. The paradox about the building societies is that as lenders they are in the market for housing but as borrowers they are in a quite different market for savings. There is a fundamental irrationality in these two functions being connected through the building society.

I quote an example from Nationwide, the building society's bulletin, which shows that mortgage advances until 1969–70 were going up a little each year but were relatively steady. But in 1970–71 when they increased from £131 million to £187 million. In 1971–72 they increased from £187 million to £288 million. This reflects the general building society picture. This was an increase in advances in mortgage lending of 54 per cent. But during that year the number of private houses available went up by only 2½ per cent. If there is a 54 per cent. increase in mortgages and only a 2½ per cent. increase in availability of private houses this means that the price goes through the ceiling.

This is why the favourite argument of the Minister and his predecessors, always to quote the additional number of mortgages given to borrowers, is absolutely meaningless. This is merely a way of describing why the price rose so fantastically last year. I am not optimistic about the future behaviour of house prices if the Government continue with their laissez-faire policy. The Government have one achievement to their credit. In the last few weeks they have produced a massive Stock Exchange slump. The consequence may be that frightened investors will move at a considerable rate into building society funds. We may then have another of those fluctuations and on the figures I have given there would be no increase in the number of houses but there would be a huge effect on the price of houses. That is why I return as a matter of urgency to the suggestion of a building society stabilisation fund.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Epping

I am following the right hon. Gentleman's argument precisely, but I think he was a little less clear than he intended to be on the number of loans as opposed to the size of individual loans. Surely the number of loans made is something which we all want to see high and that is directly related to the number of houses available. The right hon. Gentleman was making a point about the size of the loans and he appeared to confuse the two.

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

I do not think I confused them. At any rate my object is perfectly clear. It is to keep the rise in building society and mortgage lending broadly in line with the increase in the number of houses.

I turn to my fourth point on the price of houses—land. Land is central to the whole issue of equity and equality in our society. I repeat what I have said, that the fantastic rise in land values, creating vast unearned profits on the one hand and hardship and injustice on the other, will prove when history is written to be the major social scandal of the 1970s. It is quite clear that we cannot achieve our social aims—not only in housing but for a civilised urban environment—unless the land required for these purposes is taken into public ownership. That is what a future Labour Government will do.

I conclude by returning to this Government. What will not be tolerated by the country is a continuance of their indolent, complacent laissez-faire passivity in the face of the present housing situation, a passivity broken only by their implacable determination to force up rents. We have had two and a half years of false promises and soothing words, appeals and exhortation. Now we must have some deeds and positive action. We must have a sufficiency of decent homes at prices which people can afford. If the Government will not provide them, then, as I quoted the former Secretary of State as saying: thousands of young people searching for a home will never forgive them. —and nor shall we.

4.8 p.m.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: approves the measures Her Majesty's Government have taken to meet housing needs and welcomes tine increasing number of housing starts for home ownership; the provision, by means of improvement grants, of a record number of modernised homes; and the encouragement of local authority housing in areas of stress; and further welcomes Her Majesty's Government's determination to increase the amount of land available for house building. I think the whole House has enjoyed the speech of the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland). It was good-humoured and full of excellent phrases but, I fear, not a very constructive speech. It is no good just putting the blame on to the building industry. [HON. MEMBERS: "He did not."] The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues had plenty of opportunity when they were in office to put in hand what he has called, "these searching inquiries". He failed to take account, in his assessment of figures in the conurbations and elsewhere, of the building strike.

It is no good hon. Members giving general support to strikes and then throwing up their hands in horror at the consequences in terms of production. The Opposition motion and the speech of the right hon. Member show that they have learned nothing from their failure in office to grasp the realities of housing policy, whether in relation to the building of houses, the provision of financial justice, the release of land or the renewal of outworn urban areas.

Our debate will make sense to anyone outside the House only if it is clearly relevant to the objective we all share of providing good homes for all on fair terms, whether they buy or rent. Picking up and twisting national statistics and lumping together public and private building and forgetting to add, as is done in the Opposition motion, the effect of improvement grants in building up a stock of modern homes is just a political gimmick. We do not address ourselves to the real issues and remedies if we do that.

Over the whole range, with the varying needs of every section of the community, it is the Government's purpose to increase the supply of good homes. That is the basis upon which all human and family life is built. The pressure of demand is an indication of rising material prosperity and expectation. The basic problem of supply and demand which is at the root of the high cost of houses and housing land can be solved only by increasing the supply of accommodation of all kinds.

It might be generally agreed that the price of building land turns basically on the market in houses and not the other way round. At the same time, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the supply of building land turns upon planning policy and planning permissions and is crucial to the increase in the rate of house building. It is pathetic that the right hon. Gentleman should have skipped over this as quickly as he did and attacked the Housing Finance Act and the fair rents policy.

In the News of the World on Sunday he suggested that the fair rents policy was wrong because it was driving more and more council tenants on to the private market. As for the upward pressure of rents to which he referred, I would remind him that it was the Labour Government which urged local authorities to introduce rent rebate schemes which would maintain a fair balance between ratepayers and tenants. In their circular of 30th June 1967 they said: This means that subsidies would not be used wholly or even mainly to keep general rent levels low. Help for those who most need it can only be given if the subsidies are in large part used to provide rebate for tenants whose means are low. The Labour Government talked negatively but they left it to the Conservative Government to act positively.

Any authority which acted on the Labour Government's advice received no extra subsidy. The extra cost had to be met either by a general increase in rents or an increase in rates. We have further improved the position——

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East) rose——

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

I should like to deal with the position under the new needs allowance. The right hon. Gentleman referred to this and it is fully appreciated throughout the country. What I suggest on this whole question of council rents and private rents is that our present rent rebate arrangements plus the new increase of £3·50 in the needs allowance, which helps private as well as local authority tenants, means that those in need are protected. This increase in the needs allowance will cost between £25 million and £30 million in 1973–74.

As a result of this measure a large number of families will not be faced with a rent increase, even if their income goes up as envisaged under the new guidelines. Many people will find that they pay less rent. That is not apparent from what the right hon. Gentleman had to say.

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman saying that anyone on this side of the House ever proposed that our Government should force councils to make a profit out of their tenants? That is a new policy and it is this Government's policy. It is these higher rents which are forcing people to look round for housing which they cannot afford to buy.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman looks at that circular. The Labour Government set out what ought to be done. They said that there ought to be fair rents——

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

—and that there should be a rebates policy ensuring that help went to those in the greatest need. It is worth reading. What matters is how the policy will work in practice for those in real need. At present a couple with two children and a gross income of £30 a week and a weekly rent of £4 receive a rebate of 74p. The increase in the needs allowance, if there is no increase in their rent, will mean an extra 60p in rebate. Even if their rent increases by 50p they will, with the increase in rebate, be paying 40p a week less than at present. That sort of arrangement is eminently fair and reasonable and shows how wrong are the criticisms of this fair rent policy.

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

I rise only to correct a statement of fact. The right. hon. and learned Gentleman said that the 1967 circular committed the Labour Government in some way to the principle of fair rents in the council house sector. This is not the case. That principle was explicitly rejected more than once.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

I would not suggest that it committed the Labour Government to the principle of unfair rents. I quoted directly from the circular. The Labour Government set out what was the right policy but refused to follow it. They left it to us to do so. Insofar as local authority tenants can afford to buy their own homes, that is something to be encouraged. I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman believes that local authorities should build for sale. I hope that he will encourage Socialist-controlled authorities to sell more of those houses which they have already built.

The right hon. Gentleman is concerned, as we all are, about the rise in house prices. He recognises, as we do, that that is brought about largely by the pressure of demand for home ownership. Our policy must reflect that demand. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will encourage Socialist authorities to reverse decisions not to sell council houses. I am glad that his own local authority at Grimsby has reversed a previous decision and agreed to sell council houses. That is a right policy.

Instead of a constructive approach to home ownership what we have had today has been the usual speech from the right hon. Gentleman, a rather conventional party speech, nothing like as inspiring, if I may say so, as his article in the News of the World. Instead we have had today the publication of the Socialist Party's rather depressing and retrograde policy for the GLC election. After its quite pathetic performance when it controlled London it now either picks up and claims as its own policies which the Conservative council has introduced or else falls back on those old, outworn slogans—"No sale of council houses," "No fair rents." The Labour Party wish to municipalise all remaining private rented accommodation. What the Opposition say is, "Discourage home ownership while at the same time ensuring that the supply of private rented accommodation dries up entirely. "I do not think that is a constructive way of proceeding..

Photo of Mr Clinton Davis Mr Clinton Davis , Hackney Central

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman think it is a constructive way to proceed for the Barnet council to refuse the tender of the Brent council to take over land in Barnet, a tender which was far higher than that offered by private enterprise? How is it that the Barnet council awarded the contract to private developers? Does the Secretary of State approve of that? Does he think that is a constructive housing policy?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

Local authorities have a right to determine their own housing policy. [Interruption.] They have a responsibility to their ratepayers. Local authorities have power to acquire land in the areas of councils outside their own boundaries. If there is a dispute a compulsory purchase order is made and the matter comes to the Secretary of State for a decision on the merits.

What we have to come back to is the main theme of all our policy the provision of accommodation of all kinds.

Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Lambeth Norwood

Can we have an assurance that where Lambeth actually owns land in Croydon we shall have a decision by the Secretary of State which will give Lambeth council planning permission to build on land it actually owns, which has been resisted by the Croydon Conservative council?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

There is an inquiry under way, so obviously the matter is sub judice, and that question does not help. We can only believe that hon. Members opposite want to get away from the main subject of the debate, which I think demonstrates that their policy is fundamentally wrong in principle, whereas for our part we are trying to secure the provision of accommodation of all kinds to meet varying needs. Some of these matters of dispute may have to be argued between one authority and another, and there is a proper procedure for that.

The motion to which the right hon. Gentleman has spoken shows that there is no understanding among hon. Members opposite of the nature of the difference between public and private sector house building. Their motion lumps the two together, whereas in fact, as we all know, they serve quite different purposes. Local authorities build houses to rent to meet the particular needs of their own area. There might be a general need, although there are signs of that falling off, or special needs for old people or single persons. That is their prime responsibility. But the private builders build for sale to meet the growing demand for home ownership that cannot be met by the existing stock.

The right hon. Gentleman makes a great deal of the fall in the number of completions in the public sector, but it does not help to meet the housing need in Salford to build more council houses in Salcombe. What matter—sand here I agree with the right hon. Gentleman—is that those local authorities which need to build more houses to rent should be free to do so and should be able to raise their programmes to match their own local needs. I appreciate that this is a real argument which the right hon. Gentleman has put forward, to which we have to address ourselves. Each local authority basically has to decide local needs; that is its job by law, and rightly so, because only it is in a position to do it. What has happened is that many local authorities have decided that their local needs can be met with a smaller programme, or by some special arrangements. That tendency began under the last administration.

Total public sector completions in Great Britain reached their high point in 1967 at 203,900. Since then the total has declined every year. By 1970 it was down to 180,100, by 1971 to 158,900 and last year to 122,800. This declining trend has occurred in a situation in which there is no financial obstacle to any local authority's building as many houses as it thinks it needs—although I appreciate the argument about land—because unlike the last Government we have never cut back requests from local authorities to build on capital investment grounds, nor do we hold up sewerage programmes, as they did in many parts of the country. We have created financial arrangements through which local authorities can build what they need without having, as a penalty, to increase the rents of their tenants or to put an intolerable burden on their ratepayers.

The right hon. Gentleman dealt with the cost yardstick system introduced by the Labour Government. From time to time this has been put up by a certain percentage but the difficulty is that with a great percentage of tenders the means do not always meet the situation, so recently we have adapted the administration of cost control through the yardstick system to take account of local market conditions. I believe that basically that is the right way to proceed. As a result of taking this action, those authorities which need to build are finding their programmes running much more smoothly.

Photo of Mr Julius Silverman Mr Julius Silverman , Birmingham Aston

The Minister said that the present arrangement providing for the additional market price in the local area copes with the cost yardstick situation. The experience of Birmingham, which is duplicated in many other areas, is that the additional market supplement given by the Minister is around 12 per cent. lower than the price which has to be paid on tender, which means either that they cannot accept the tender or that the ratepayers have to pay an additional 12 per cent.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

The yardstick ought to be related to the local market conditions. I, for my part, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction are perfectly prepared to look at the whole question of how the system operates, both in general and in particular. Indeed, we have started some discussions with the local authority associations in order to deal with that situation.

Photo of Mr Douglas Jay Mr Douglas Jay , Battersea North

If that is the policy, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman remove the ban that his Department has placed, which is preventing the Camden Council from building council houses on a large site in Hampstead, where there is no obstacle other than his own Department's refusal?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

One can only look at each scheme on its merits. I am only saying that the yardstick system introduced by the Labour Government does not work well because it does not take account of the local market conditions. That is why my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction wrote on 22nd January to all county borough councils in England and other authorities in the conurbations, except London, where there is already a special action group. He has asked them to let him have their assessment of the need for future council-house building and their plans for meeting it. I assure the House that we are anxious that any authority which feels the need for further new houses to rent should come forward with schemes to meet that need.

It is clear that the need varies greatly over the country. In many places general needs may have been largely met and there may be concentration on particular problems, but we have to look at this not always in terms of some vast national problem. It is a varying problem in varying areas, and we will try to deal with the situation in each area as it exists.

The Opposition motion also fails to mention improvements. The right hon. Gentleman did it well enough in his speech, and he is entitled to claim a measure of credit for the Labour Government for starting the scheme off on a better financial basis. We had the improvement grants for some time, but they remained relatively set for a period and now we are doing very much better because an improvement, as we all now recognise, often brings the same benefit as building a council house. In 1972 the total number of improvement grants rose to a record of 368,000—twice as many as in 1970 and three times as many as in 1969. What matters is that full use is made of the powers which exist under the Act. The number of new or improved houses becoming available for families is now more than 200,000 a year above anything achieved before.

If we look at the totality of the programme, therefore, there are encouraging signs. However, it seems to me that one of the more serious aspects of the housing scene is the continued decline in the private rented sector. This is not helped by silly threats about nationalisation or municipalisation of all the remaining privately rented accommodation. For my part I intend to give the maximum encouragement possible to the voluntary housing movement in order to try to bridge the serious gap which we ought to recognise as existing between owner-occupied houses on the one hand and local authority houses on the other. I believe that both the Housing Corporation and the National Building Agency can play a bigger role in dealing with the problem of the lack of suitable rented housing accommodation, especially in central urban areas.

Photo of Mr Bruce Douglas-Mann Mr Bruce Douglas-Mann , Kensington North

Does the Secretary of State agree that he should apply to improvement grants in the private rented sector the regional discrimination which he is urging us to apply to the other housing statistics? Will he consider the fact that more than 55 per cent. of the improvement grants in inner London go to private landlords and developers, and that this is what causes a decline in the private rented sector? In London, are not improvement grants acting adversely on housing conditions and not beneficially?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

We have had many discussions about the whole question of improvement grants and their distribution, but the largest proportion goes to owner-occupiers. We have always known that there is a different balance in London, and from time to time there have been allegations of abuse which we have said we will look into. We have to remember that every improvement in a unit of accommodation creates a decent home for a family who would not otherwise have one.

The right hon. Member for Grimsby spoke of a cottage he had heard of which had none of the proper amenities but was offered for sale for £3,000. We know that in London many properties lack amenities. Once they have been provided with a kitchen and a bathroom and a pot of yellow paint has been thrown at the door they are good houses, built to a high standard and offering decent homes for people to live in.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman , Manchester Ardwick

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Ardwick) rose——

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

No, I cannot give way. I must be allowed to deal with my speech as a whole.

There is another aspect of this problem to which the right hon. Gentleman did not refer—slum clearance. That receives no mention in the motion, but we know that it is of great importance. Great and steady progress is being made in slum clearance year by year. Last year we launched a drive with the objective that within a decade no one should be required to live in an unfit or sub-standard house. We introduced in the Housing Finance Act—which the Opposition say they will repeal in toto—a slum clearance subsidy which will meet 75 per cent. of any loss incurred by authorities on acquisition and clearance of unfit houses, irrespective of the use to which the cleared land is put. That has removed another financial disincentive to slum clearance programmes which we inherited from our predecessors.

As part of the drive every local authority in England was asked to draw up a strategy for ridding itself of substandard housing by 1982. The response from local authorities shows that only a handful do not expect to have dealt with their existing slums by 1982.

That is the totality of the programme we envisage: houses to rent built by local authorities where they see the need; houses for sale by local authorities, as the right hon. Member for Grimsby envisages; houses to rent in the private sector, if we can achieve it, through housing associations, voluntary movements or otherwise; improvements in existing substandard houses the building of homes for owner-occupation. That is the programme, and speeches on housing policy which are not based on the basic premise of providing a decent home for every family at a fair price or a fair rent make no sense in modern times.

Of course, the rise in house prices is a very serious matter and we listened with great attention to that part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech which dealt with it. It is a real problem that we have to face. The House should fully understand the underlying cause of the tendency, which is the drive for home ownership. When we took office in the summer of 1970, we found a widespread latent demand for home ownership that the Labour Government had failed to meet. That is the background to the situation today. New houses cannot just be planned and taken straight from the drawing board into occupation, so demand has risen faster than supply, and house prices have risen far faster than prices generally—I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman acknowledges that there is now some evidence of greater stability in the market—and that is simply because of the pressure of demand. It is not true to say that all young families and the less well off have been priced out of the market, as the right hon. Gentleman seemed to imply. He pushes on one side the figures of new building society mortgages granted as though they are not relevant, but of course they are relevant.

In the first nine months of 1972 as compared with the same period of 1970 mortgages for first-time purchasers rose from 221,000 to 285,000. Mortgages for borrowers under 25 rose from 89,000 to 111,000. Mortgages for borrowers with incomes up to the average industrial wage rose from 114,000 to 147,000. Mortgages for all borrowers rose from 393,000 to 519,000. That is the story of the substantial increase in home ownership, but still the pressure remains.

I listened with attention to what the right hon. Gentleman said about building societies. His criticisms about the way they handled affairs are not justified. They have a splendid record of service to the community, and we should acknowledge that. They are entering 1973 with confidence that they can continue to fulfil their responsibilities. At the same time, what the right hon. Gentleman says about the need for a stable flow of mortgage funds must be accepted as a necessary part of housing policy.

We come back again and again to the fact that there is only one sure answer to rising house prices. It is, quite simply, to build more houses, or to improve more houses, until the supply comes into balance with demand. That is the Government's policy, and it is working. In the depressed state of the private housing market which existed when we came to office, building was at a low ebb. Only 167,000 private houses in Great Britain were started in 1969 and 165,000 in 1970, the lowest since 1958—a situation over which the right hon. Gentleman presided. By 1971 the number of starts had risen to 207,000, and in 1972 to no fewer than 227,000. The 1972 figure was the third highest since the war and the highest since 1967. That upward trend will be reflected in this year's completions. It would have been more fully reflected in last year's completions but for the building strike, of which the right hon. Gentleman took no account.

The upward trend in private house building has to be reinforced, as the right hon. Gentleman said, by a policy of making more land available for housing to stabilise land prices. Thus it was that in April last year my predecessor announced a series of special measures to secure more planning permissions for housing, to encourage land acquisition by local authorities for disposal to private builders and to get more land released by Government Departments and nationalised industries.

Those measures have already brought a welcome response. Both in the South-East and the West Midlands planning permissions have been given for a lot more land. In the South-East in the first half of 1972 planning permissions were granted for 70 per cent. more private dwellings than in the same period of 1970. Good progress is being made with the special £80 million programme of land assembly. We have so far given local authorities provisional approval to proposals for acquiring a total of more than 1,600 acres of land at a total cost of £26 million, and schemes affecting a further 1,800 acres are being considered by them.

To give a further impetus to the £80 million programme, in response to representations by the authorities concerned, I have taken steps to facilitate the assembly of land by local authorities in the following three ways. First, the programme can apply to acquisitions which are not completed until the first half of 1974–75. Secondly, the expenditure under the programme available for non-principal roads and other services can be doubled. Thirdly, planning clearance will no longer have to be a prerequisite of loan sanction approval under the programme. We shall go ahead with the release of land for new towns and the arrangements for releasing surplus land held by Government Departments and nationalised industries, and I hope that the Nugent Report will help on this.

Meanwhile, the consultants engaged on the London Docklands Study have identified 140 acres for interim release, and the final report of the study is now being considered. Finally, we are pressing local authorities to publish the details of land available for housing development in the next five years which they have been preparing in response to my Department's Circular 102/72. Those returns are now becoming available. My hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction will be visiting the planning authorities concerned in the South-East and the West Midlands to follow up any problems which these returns reveal. But I accept that more is needed to maintain a high and rising level of construction. Builders must have confidence in the availability of land.

I intend to see that builders have this confidence, but such confidence can only be undermined by the concluding passages of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. It can only be undermined by the Opposition's proposal to nationalise all land required for urban development for the rest of the century. It is open to every conceivable sort of objection. It is systematic expropriation. It would be enormously expensive. In the south-east of England alone the cost of acquiring the 400,000 or so acres which might be required could hardly be less than £4,000 million.

The Opposition have not said how they will do it, how the plots will be identified, and they have not given any estimates of the bureaucracy required, but we have some experience of their past performance. They can hardly derive encouragement from the record of the Land Commission, which in three years acquired just over 3,000 acres and disposed of just under 300 acres.

We do not need nationalisation to release sufficient land for house building. The local authorities have all the powers required in law to secure the release and assembly of land. That I think is the proper way to proceed.

The Opposition have not offered any realistic alternative policies to those that have been pursued by the Government. Our policies are designed to deal with the real problems of housing—increasing the supply of houses, the land on which to build them, fairness between householders, meeting need where it arises, fulfilling people's desire for home ownership and giving adequate help to those who prefer to rent, whether in the public or private sector. It is the whole variety of the housing needs of our people that we seek, and intend, to meet.

4.42 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham

The Secretary of State was good enough to say that the Labour Government had failed to meet the housing problem. Let us admit that for decades now the problem of trying to house our people adequately has never properly been solved by any Government. It is an extremely difficult and complex problem.

Let us face the plain facts. House building under the last Labour Government was substantially greater than under the previous Tory Government and, what is more alarming, substantially greater than under this Government. In the modern industrial State, even with a worse Government, sheer increase of power, wealth and skill should enable us to do better. There was not a word in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech to explain the grim fact that in both council building and private enterprise building there has been a depressing decline compared with what we would have expected since the last Government were in power. I would not have complained so much about the decline in council building with a Tory Government in power, because that is what we would expect. That is what they hate and always discourage.

There is an attempt to give the idea that nowadays council building is out of date, that we live in an affluent society and have so many citizens who can afford to buy their houses. I wish people would get rid of that idea. I know that many of our fellow citizens are better off than they were a generation ago. We ought also to realise that the idea of buying a house represents a degree of affluence quite out of the reach of many of our fellow citizens. Their only possibility of a decent home is rented accommodation at a reasonable rent, and private enterprise is totally incapable of providing it. That is why the measures from one Tory Government after another in the way of discouraging council building mean that very many of our fellow citizens have no chance of a decent home. On this aspect of the matter the right hon. and learned Gentleman had nothing whatever to say.

But what are we to make of the fact that recently the provision of homes by private enterprise to people who want to buy their own homes has also been discouraged? We had no real explanation. We know why it is. Many of our fellow citizens, more fortunate than those to whom I was recently referring but hard-working citizens who try to pull their weight in the world, are employed in the rather better-paid occupations and would like to buy their own homes. Such people could pay decidedly more than average council house rents, but now find that the gap between an ordinary council house rent and what they are asked to pay to buy their own homes is astronomic.

Why is that? It is partly because of the profiteering in land. The right hon. and learned Gentleman tried to raise the usual bogies about nationalisation. We must place the following plain fact on record. In this country—thickly populated, and likely to be more thickly populated as time goes on—the value of an acre of land is bound to increase. That will mean in reality that the increase in value will always go by the luck of the draw to the private person who happens to be the owner at any one time. If that is so we shall never solve the housing problem at all.

If the Government want a realistic prices and incomes policy, they will never get it if they try to say to the man who works for his living, whether by hand or by brain, "You must exercise restraint", and allow the man who, by good luck, happens to own a piece of land that is in need to make massive increases in income without having done anything to enrich the country. I invite the Government to think that over. It is a question not only of the increase in price of land but of the increase in the price of a house.

I hope the House will forgive me if I relate a personal experience here. Not much less than two years ago I moved from one house to another. I sold one and bought another. Every day I journey to Westminster I pass my old residence and I have noticed the upping and downing of the "For Sale" boards on the house. It has changed hands certainly twice, and probably three times, in rather less than two years. For two very brief periods it has actually been inhabited. Most of the time it has remained empty for the owner to hope that some day he will be able to sell it at a rather larger price. This house, which was to me an ordinary home, not very large, could be a home for a married couple. It is being treated as an instrument to make more money month after month for the person who owns it. As long as that goes on, as long as it is possible for a large number of people to treat a piece of house property not as a home but as an instrument for profit, we shall never get anywhere in trying to solve the housing problem.

May I repeat a proposal I made in the House some months ago, that it should be made quite clear that when a person buys a house and does not propose to live in it but intends to sell it again within a comparatively short time—I am willing to argue about the period, whether of two, three or four years—first preference should be given to the local authority to buy it and use it to meet the desperate needs of those on its housing lists? I make no apology for repeating the proposal.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

When the local authority buys the house, what happens when the person concerned tries to buy another? Most people sell their houses, as no doubt the right hon. Gentleman did, because they want another, and, therefore, need its transfer value.

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham

I sold one house and bought another because, like most of our fellow citizens, I simply want one reasonable home to live in. I do not want to use a house property as an investment. What I am saying is that if a person buys a house property and wants to sell it again in a few months he should be answerable to the local authority. He may have a good reason for doing so, and then he can shell it out. But if lie is doing it as a mere investment, the local authority should have the first chance to buy the house.

Photo of Sir Raymond Gower Sir Raymond Gower , Barry

The right hon. Gentleman has put forward an interesting theory, but would he conceive it to be a good reason for selling that the person in question wished to move to another part of the country? For example, an elderly person might wish to move from the north of England to the South Coast. Would the right hon. Gentleman conceive it a good reason if a person had to move because he had obtained another job? Are there not innumerable reasons why ordinary people from time to time have to move to other places?

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham

I do not think that there are innumerable reasons. I am saying that in our present desperate housing shortage the person who buys a house and proposes not to live in it but to sell it, probably at a profit, in a very short time should spell out why he wants to do it. There may be many good reasons, but I think that to use the word "innumerable" is ridiculous. If it is plain that he is selling solely for profit, that profit should accrue to the public authority.

Photo of Mr Ernest Perry Mr Ernest Perry , Battersea South

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that he is referring not to owner-occupiers who want to move for reasons of work or retirement but to people who acquire property as an investment, to make something out of it?

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham

That is exactly the point. What damages the whole market in houses today is that, while many people want to buy a house for the plain, civilised reason of living in it, many others buy houses with no intention of living in them but in the expectation that, owing to speculation, rumours and so on, they will be able to sell six or seven months later for a higher price. I want to remove from the housing market the man who buys property merely to make a profit and to leave in the market those who want to buy a house simply to live in it.

When I made this suggestion some months ago, the debate was answered by the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), who has since moved from housing to the Foreign Office. Whether that is to the general advantage of mankind must remain a matter of opinion. At any rate, he is not with us today. His comment on my proposal was that it was purely negative. I believe that it is fairly positive. It tells people plainly that there is a desperate housing shortage, and that it is not only the feckless, the difficult people, who are sometimes landed in the most desperate positions, not knowing whether they will have a roof over their head next day. It happens to solid, hard-working citizens. In this situation we cannot be too tender about the exact rights of private property. The Secretary of State has not shown in his speech the smallest understanding of the problem.

I should like now to say something about the particular position of London. Many years ago, under a former Tory Government, Parliament passed the London Government Act. We all know that when all the flim-flam was finished the problem with which it was designed to deal was that for many years the London County Council had had a Labour majority. The purpose of the Act was to create an authority in Greater London which would have a Tory majority. The very first election for the Greater London Council turned out the wrong way, and I hope that the forthcoming election for the GLC will go the Labour way again. There was a case then for creating a housing authority to cover the whole huge conurbation of 8½ million people in Greater London. The only thing that would have made sense was to give real housing powers to the GLC.

What is the position today? I do not believe that in Greater London as a whole there is a shortage of building land for housing. The real problem is that there is a shortage of land in Paddington, Hammersmith and Tower Hamlets. There is not all that much of a shortage in Kingston and certain other parts of the Greater London area. But the GLC has no power to say to the more fortunate boroughs in its area "You must, either as a matter of political necessity or as a matter of compassion for your fellow citizens, find room in your considerable areas of unoccupied land for the desperately ill-housed people of Paddington, Notting Hill and other parts of London." Are the Government prepared to do anything about it? I doubt it, because the Tories on the GLC would not like it. That is an argument that will always weigh more heavily with those on the Government Front Bench than concern for their fellow citizens.

There are three essential things to be done if we are ever to get our housing position right. One is that we must accept the public ownership of land, not only for housing reasons but for massive reasons of incomes policy and social justice.

Photo of Mr Idris Owen Mr Idris Owen , Stockport North

I am interested in the right hon. Gentleman's statement that we should nationalise land. Would he care to go a little further and say how that would reduce the price for the consumer?

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham

The value of land in this country is bound to go up, because we have a growing population and everybody needs more land. When we destroy a slum area and re-house people, they occupy more land. When we destroy an old school and build a decent one, it occupies more land. The demand for land is always going up. The supply cannot be increased and, therefore, the value will grow. It seems that the increased value, as it is due to the community's needs, should go to the community. If the land is in the hands of the community it is possible for the community to say, if anyone wants to hire land from the nation for a purely commercial reason—for example, a shop, a business or a hotel—that he pays the commercial price. It is also in the power of the nation, if it owns the land, that when a person uses land for a social reason—for example, for houses or schools—he pays, in effect, a subsidised price.

I realise that these proposals would be very tiresome for the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Idris Owen), who believes that everybody should pay the market price whether or not the land is to be used for social purposes.

However, we must get this right. We must get public ownership of land. I am sure that at the end of the debate somebody on the Government Front Bench will explain how undesirable and impracticable that is. Probably about 30 years later somebody else from the Government Front Bench will explain that the Government have at last realised that it is necessary. That is what happened with coalmining royalties, the railways and the coal industry.

Second, there must be massive financial help to local councils. That means considering afresh the financial relationship between rates and taxes. The plain fact at the moment is that on the whole, not entirely, people pay taxes according to what they can afford. People pay rates which are based upon arbitrary, uncertain and old historical judgments. We must have more grants from central Government so that we all pay for the services of government, whether local or national, more according to our needs.

Third, we must have a Government prepared to bash people who profiteer in land or in houses. There is small hope that a Conservative Government, in view of the sources of financial support which the Conservative Party enjoys, can ever do any of these things. Therefore, I have no hesitation in voting against the Government.

5.3 p.m.

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

I am not sure whether it is a compliment to an hon. Member to describe him as an elder statesman. However, it is not unreasonable to apply that description to the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart). I find that he normally speaks to the House as an elder statesman, and with a great deal of wisdom. I would say of his speech this afternoon that some of what he said seemed to have a good deal of merit. In particular, I sympathise with his comments about what outer London could do to help inner London.

But some of his comments, if I may respectfully say so, fell very much below the right hon. Gentleman's usual standard. His pet scheme seems inherently unworkable and rather foolish. The fact is that if somebody buys and sells houses for the purpose of making a profit he is already liable to pay tax on that operation. He is liable, on his second house, to pay capital gains tax. If it can be shown that he is buying and selling for the purpose of business he will he taxed accordingly.

I have no doubt that it is very much better to tackle the problem through taxation rather than by introducing what seems to be a very difficult scheme to operate, which would involve people having to go to the local authority, producing reasonable grounds and trying to persuade the local authority to exercise its discretion.

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

Yes, rather reluctantly.

Photo of Mr Charles Loughlin Mr Charles Loughlin , Gloucestershire West

Has the hon. Gentleman not been in this country for the last two years? Does not he know that the building industry and the land development industry have rooked people for hundreds of millions of pounds?

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

I do not deny that they have made enormous profits. I do not feel particularly happy about that. However, I repeat that the right way to approach the matter is through the tax system. If tax changes are necessary, let us have them. The right hon. Gentleman's scheme, which was put forward for good reasons, seems to be inherently unworkable and to raise doubts on principle.

Photo of Sir Raymond Gower Sir Raymond Gower , Barry

Does my hon. Friend feel that a difficulty would be raised, if the right hon. Gentleman's scheme were adopted, if a man merely sold his house shortly after moving in because it was not a house which appealed to his wife? That might appear to be an irrelevant reason.

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

It would be better if my hon. Friend put his interesting points when he is called, rather than if I were now to embark upon them.

It seems that the Opposition's motion is in its nature grossly selective. The Opposition have said nothing about the real merits which have been brought to the housing situation by the introduction of the national rebate and rent allowance scheme or the new structure of subsidies, which I should have thought was now accepted as being overwhelmingly beneficial. As to improvement grants, even the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) said that he welcomed this, but nothing can be seen about it in the Opposition's motion.

We have heard a certain amount about the Housing Finance Act and its effect on the present housing situation. One of the arguments put forward is that the Housing Finance Act is helping to contribute to inflation by driving people to buy, only to find, so it is said, that they cannot afford to do so.

My first point in answer to that is that for many people the new system of rebates and allowances will make it possible for them to remain happily in the rented sector. It seems that there can be no doubt that the recent increase in the needs allowance and the amount of help which the rebate and allowance system will bring will be substantial. It may be that for better-off council tenants home ownership will appear to be relatively more attractive. I accept that and believe it to be desirable. But even so, I cannot accept that the Act has been in operation long enough to have contributed substantially to the inflation which has taken place. It does not seem that that is an argument which can be supported by any evidence. There are many reasons why the inflation in housing prices has taken place, but I seriously doubt whether that is a major one.

At the same time, a point which is not completely appreciated—I accept that this is at the moment unverifiable—is that the system of surpluses and subsidies is likely to help local authorities to build more houses. If a local authority is in deficit it will get the rising cost subsidy and so on. That will be a clear encouragement to local authorities, once the present uncertainties are over, to get on with the job of building houses.

If a local authority is in surplus or, to be more precise, if it stands to be in surplus, that will act as an inducement to the authority to build more. I am not sure that that is one of the purposes of the Act, but I feel that it will be one of the consequences of the Act. I have a strong suspicion that a local authority which looks like having to hand over 50 per cent. of its surplus to the national Government will take pretty good care to spend that money either on improving its own stock of council houses or on building more.

It seems wholly admirable that the stock of council houses should be improved. As I go round the country—and I know from my own constituency—it appears that there are many people grumbling about their council houses. I think that, on the whole, we have a fairly good level in my constituency. Nevertheless, there are many improvements which people would like to see. One of the consequences of this provision is that we shall see improvements taking place with, if one likes, the rather base motive on the part of the councils of not letting go of what they regard as their money.

It was interesting that the right hon. Member for Grimsby said nothing about the effect of the Housing Finance Act on council rents. His reason for avoiding this subject was that we had discussed the matter ad nauseam in the past year or so. I was a member of the Committee which considered that legislation, and I agree that we discussed the Bill at considerable length.

Photo of Mr Thomas Swain Mr Thomas Swain , North East Derbyshire

I remind the hon. Gentleman that I spent more time in that Committee Room than he did, although I was not a member of the Committee. I do not remember him making any speeches at all under the instructions of his Whip because they were too busy consuming John Haig in Committee Room No. 7.

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

I look forward to the day when the hon. Gentleman publishes his memoirs. I hope that he is as well paid for them as was his right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. Harold Wilson). What the hon. Gentleman says is complete nonsense.

As I was saying, I suspect that the reason why the right hon. Member for Grimsby made so little play of the effect of the Housing Finance Act on council house rents is that the gross exaggerations of Labour propaganda on this legislation have already done a very great deal to scare people.

We do not yet have the final decisions from the rent scrutiny committees. Most local authorities are coming up with their proposals and have not yet reached the stage of going before the rent scrutiny committees, and we have not yet got the final answer. From what I can glean from local authorities, I estimate that the levels which they are putting forward will not undermine the system. Indeed, the levels which are being put forward by responsible authorities, such as those in Buckinghamshire, will give the lie to all the Labour exaggerations. That is why I suspect the right hon. Member for Grimsby kept so quiet about that subject.

Photo of Dr Dickson Mabon Dr Dickson Mabon , Greenock

Did not my right hon. Friend also go on to make the point that there was a substantial increase in rents last year and that there will be increases which will be inflationary?

Photo of Mr Timothy Raison Mr Timothy Raison , Aylesbury

Everybody knows that there were increases last year and that they will occur this year, but I must point out that the fair rents levels are likely to be well below those which some Labour Members were suggesting.

Turning to the private sector, I accept that the escalation in prices over the last year has been alarming and horrifying. I do not think anybody could conceivably dispute that rise. However, I believe the right hon. Member for Grimsby was a little selective in his explanation of why this came about. If we are realistic, we must recognise that the Government have been engaged in an enormous reflationary operation designed to bring down unemployment. There is no doubt that the money which has been poured out—some would say wisely and some would say excessively—has contributed to the inflation in house prices.

The right hon. Gentleman did not do sufficient justice to the desires of the Government and the community to see that mortgages are made available to as many people as possible. We only need to cast our minds back two or three years to the heyday of the Labour Government when the cry was "I cannot get a mortgage." Perhaps we have now swung to a situation when mortgages have become so easily available that this has helped to push up house prices. But it is difficult to argue that we should go back to the days when people could not obtain mortgages. The truth is that inflation is a two-sided coin.

Young couples, are surprisingly, still buying houses. Even last year, which could certainly be said to be an inflationary year, the figures put out for the second quarter by the Nationwide Building Society—which seems to dominate the mortgage statistics—show that a remarkably high proportion of mortgages went to people in the younger age categories. The figures also show that the proportion had increased over the years. The figures are a little puzzling. I admit that difficult problems face young people who wish to buy their own houses, and when people approach me on this subject in my constituency I fully acknowledge that there is no easy solution. But the fact is that young people are still buying houses, and we can only hope that everything possible will be done to enable them to go on doing so.

The essence of the Government's policy is that there shall be available more housing of all sorts and that there should be more building in the private sector. What are the obstacles that stand in the way of this policy? The right hon. Member for Grimsby was right to draw attention to the importance of the construction industry, for in many areas there is undoubtedly a serious shortage of building workers. Again, the statistics are a little mystifying, because the number of vacancies in the construction industry in December amounted to 21,536, whereas the number of workers unemployed in that industry was 111,913. Therefore, according to the figures there was a large surplus of construction workers available.

In the South East at least there is a serious shortage of skilled manpower in the construction industry. I hope that the Government, with the aid of the Department of the Environment and the Department of Employment, will start a more vigorous drive to try to improve and strengthen the training of construction workers. All the signs are that there will be a continuous demand for construction workers in the years to come.

It was a little remiss of the right hon. Member for Grimsby not to refer to the number of bankruptcies in the construction industry and the state of demoralisation in the industry during the depths of Labour's turn of office. In 1967–68 bankruptcies in the industry were rife and the condition of the building industry in general was low. Unfortunately, it still has not got back to the sort of level at which it should be working.

When the right hon. Gentleman poured scorn on the notion of building Maplin and asked how people were to be found to work on the project, he might also have poured scorn on the Labour Party's Greater London Council election manifesto which envisaged a sudden release of 12,000 acres in London, as though one could start building on them tomorrow without any problem over shortage of building workers.

We must be realistic on this topic because there is a serious bottleneck in the construction industry. Perhaps an inquiry of the sort proposed by the right hon. Gentleman is desirable, but we need to press hard for urgent action on this matter.

Can something be done to facilitate the easier purchasing of council houses? I believe in the desirability of allowing people to purchase their own council houses because it is socially right and makes good sense, but I have to recognise that the increase in house prices has made the operation a good deal more difficult.

Constituents have said to me "Some months ago my friend down the road bought his council house for £5,000 or £6,000, and was able to get 100 per cent. mortgage, for which he had to produce only a small deposit. Why cannot I obtain a 100 per cent. mortgage?" The answer is that during the intervening time the value of that council house has increased. Therefore, the opportunity to buy a council house with the down-payment of a very small deposit has virtually disappeared. I confess that I do not know the answer to this. I do not have a solution to the problem. But I devoutly hope that my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend who deals with this particular area will do what they can to meet this difficulty.

Thirdly, I believe that we have to come up with some kind of decision about the extension of the green belt, whether we shall use the proposed green belt extensions as green belt or for hous- ing. My view is that we should not be too fanatical about losing every inch of green belt or putative green belt. Green belts have fulfilled a very important function. I certainly do not want to see them abolished. On the other hand, it seems that in the pattern of living today an increasing number of people want some contact with green spaces and some chance to live away from big cities. I know that if one allows nibbling into the green belt one may slightly reduce the amenities of these places for those living there already. But, given the growth in population and people's desires, we have a clear duty not to regard every inch of green belt or putative green belt as sacrosanct. I hope that the Government will be able soon to come up with a policy on this which will, firstly, clear up the position, which is causing a great deal of concern, and secondly, accept that we can build more in that sort of area.

My last point is about long-term policy. I believe, as do all hon. Members, that good housing is of paramount importance. I know that it is ridiculous to make priorities between the different social services, to say that one aspect is more important than another or that one area of social policy is more important than another. But when one looks at the misery and concentration of problems especially in the big city areas, one finds that housing there is the paramount need.

I do not want, therefore, to play down the importance of good housing. I believe that overall the amount of money spent on housing by the nation should increase. On the other hand, I do not accept the objective of seeing housing generally as a social service. The philosophy on which we should work on housing is that where people can pay for their housing they should do so. The concentration of public resources should be on meeting specific needs, such as slum clearance and the housing of people who are unable to help themselves. It would be a pity to get into a situation where it is considered that the State should be paying for a large proportion of everyone's housing need.

Also, however good council housing can be—and some of it is very good—there is about it a degree of dependence on the part of the tenant which is not desirable, unlike the desirability of the independence which private ownership confers. That is the fundamental argument for supporting private ownership. Of course, one recognises that for as far ahead as one can imagine there will be a great need for council housing. But in so far as the Government are tipping the balance towards private ownership, that is right for social reasons and essentially for human reasons.

Further, we have such enormous needs in other areas of social policy that on public expenditure grounds we must be prepared to say "Here we shall try to limit expenditure". The public expenditure projections show that there is an attempt to limit spending on housing. This was the substance of a great deal of the argument which took place last year. I believe that the Government are right. The public spending bonanza of the last year or two cannot continue indefinitely and we are bound to return to a more rigorous view of these things. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That is my personal opinion.

Lastly, I do not believe that any Minister of Housing, from now into eternity, will be regarded as successful. The reason for that—I say this with grief—is the famous revolution of rising expectations. People will expect higher standards in housing all the time. They will never sit back and say "We have now got a happy situation." Harold Macmillan was probably the last successful housing Minister—I put the word "successful" in inverted commas—that we shall ever have, because from now on people will say that there is always something better that they could have.

Overall, I believe that the Government's policies make the best of sense, and I shall be very happy to support them in the Lobby this evening.

5.24 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

We have been discussing the fall in housing completions in statistical terms. I should like to start by saying something about it in human terms.

In the last 12 months I have spent a considerable time travelling around the country tape-recording interviews with families living in housing conditions which for millions of people are tragic. I want to quote just a few brief excerpts.

A widow tells me: I have been waiting 23 years on the council housing list. A young family forced to live with in-laws says: The friction started when the baby arrived. A young father says: The first opening of my eyes was when the floor collapsed in the hallway. Marjory was having the first child. Every night I had literally to lift her over the hole to get her upstairs. A London mother says: There used to be 21 of us living in this house, with one lavatory for all of us to use. Most of the time I have got to go next door to use the toilet because we cannot get inside ours. The kitchen is actually underneath the toilet. The sewage water from the toilet comes down into the cooker. A young married soldier home on leave says: In one room 12 ft. by 14 ft. sleep my two sisters, who are 13 and 14, in one double bed. Next to that is my baby's cot and next to the baby is my wife in a single bed. There is no room between them. You have to climb over the bed to lie down. Finally, a Manchester doctor says: Most poor people want to live in decent homes. Their ambition is not to get rich or to do anything to the detriment of their fellow creatures. For the vast majority, their ambition is to live a decent honest life, to have a reasonable kind of comfort round them for themselves and their children. It should not be too much for society to help them to do that. But, as things are, apparently it is too much for society to do that.

I now come to the guts of my remarks. Naïve as it may seem, the answer to the housing problem is to build more houses. Instead we are builder fewer. The year 1972 recorded a disastrous cut-back in house completions, which fell to the lowest for a decade. But worse is to follow. They are planned to go down ever further, certainly in the public sector.

The writing is on the wall or, rather, it is all down in print. It is all there in the Government's White Paper entitled "Public Expenditure to 1976–77", which we shall be discussing tomorrow. There is to be an annual reduction in public expenditure on housing.

This is not me talking; this is the Government. Four years hence it will be 13 per cent. less than it is in the current year—that is, unless the Government can be forced to change their plans. It is clear that the present Government intend to slaughter the council house building programme, and it is on council housing that most working class families depend, as they cannot afford to buy their own houses, particularly at the new exorbitant prices.

According to the White Paper, housing subsidies are to be cut by £128 million a year by 1976. That is at current prices. Thanks to inflation, that will mean a far bigger cut in cash terms. What is left will have to cover not solely council house subsidies as hitherto but allowances to private tenants. This confirms our charge that the Housing Finance Act is not so much a redistribution of subsidies as a net reduction in them, which is a very different matter.

We need to devote more, not less, of our resources to housing. Already we are almost at the bottom of the league table amongst industrialised nations in the proportion of the gross national product going to housing. In Britain it is 3·7 per cent. compared with 6·7 per cent. in France.

Where should the increased resources come from?—mainly from slashing our fantastic ars expenditure. Bu tthe Government have decided to move in the diametrically opposite direction. According to the new White Paper, arms spending, far from going down 13 per cent. as for housing, is to go up 10 per cent. within four years to the enormous total of £3,304 million a year. Again, this is in real terms. Allowing for inflation at the present rate of 7·7 per cent. a year, it means, believe it or not, that by 1976 we shall be spending no less than £4,450 million a year on so-called defence in cash terms.

I suggest that we should switch one-third of this to housing, and then we could begin to solve Britain's tragic housing problem. Even if we reduced our share of GNP devoted to military expenditure only to the average level of other NATO European Governments, we could save £600 million a year at current prices, and far more in cash terms, for though we are at the bottom of the table in the proportion of our income going to housing, we are at the top as regards the share going on arms, with the single exception of Portugal, which is deeply involved in its African wars.

The Cabinet, in its survey of forthcoming spending, is making preparations which will tie the hands of this Government and of the one to follow for years ahead. The Government must be forced to reverse their priorities. We need more spent on housing and less on arms.

Two of the main causes of the soaring cost of houses are not wages and materials—they did not account for the 47 per cent. increase in house prices last year—but land and interest.

An average plot of land in London for a single house now costs £5,000 before a brick is laid. Lord Wimborne owns 500 acres in the south. They were worth £250,000. Then planning permission for building was given. Overnight his fields turned into gold mines, and they are now estimated to be worth £26 million.

Land speculation has become such a scandal that the Government now talk about action to deal with it. They propose to make land owners sell some of their land for which building permission has been given. But what price will those land owners get for the land which is used for building houses? They will get the market price, which everyone knows is out of control.

There might be a marginal effect if more land came forward for sale, but it would be slight. The price might still be one hundred times the previous value as in Lord Wimborne's case. The Secretary of State talked about a figure of £4,000 million if we took over land just in the South-East; that is, if we are to make recompense at market value. That is wrong.

The Government recently torpedoed a plan to provide reasonably priced land for couples in urgent housing need. Hitchin Rural District Council planned to sell six building plots at about £4,000 each. But the district valuer has valued each plot at between £8,500 and £9,500, and the Department of the Environment has stated that it stands by the district valuer's valuation.

Therefore, I am convinced that the only solution is the public ownership of land, excluding owner-occupied houses. The basis of value should be its previous use value—that is, as agricultural land or deserted dock land—and then these fantastic figures which were trotted out this afternoon would not arise.

Turning now to the interest burden—I have checked these figures with a borough treasurer—I take as an example an average council house costing £6,500 to build, including the land. That is a moderate price today. How much will that house cost by the time interest has been paid at the current rate for the next 60 years, which is the usual borrowing term? A single council house will cost £39,120, of which all but £6,500 is interest. The 10 per cent. rate that I have taken is the current rate of the Public Works Loans Board for loans of more than 25 years. In weekly terms it will cost £1254, or, allowing 50p for repairs and a couple of pounds for rates, £15 a week for a council house. Yet, when the Government build a battleship or a motorway—I am not bursting with enthusiasm for either—they do not pay a penny in interest. They do not borrow the money. They pay cash out of annual revenue. Why should that not be done with housing, thus avoiding the six-fold increase in costs?

Lastly, I turn to the effect on housing of gigantic road building schemes. A 22 per cent. increase in spending on roads is planned for 1976. The Government are to spend £4,300 million on major roads in the next four years. Much of this will be at the expense of housing.

It is pleasant to travel by motorway to the more attractive parts of this country, but motorways require feeder roads into the centres of our towns and cities. To build them, wide swathes are being cut through built-up areas. These roads will demand more land and the destruction of more houses. This is taking place in most towns and cities. The centres of Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow, for example, are being ripped apart.

One short road—one of many in Salford—will cost the city the demolition of 3,000 houses, half of them slums but the other half good houses which we cannot afford to lose. This is for only a small part of the road building planned for the city.

It is a process which must be resisted. Houses should come before roads, and much of the traffic, particularly the heavy goods traffic, should return to the railways. This is another case where the Government are moving in the wrong direction, planning for no less than a 27 per cent. reduction in surface transport in the next four years largely at the expense of the railways. For this and other reasons tonight's censure motion should be supported.

5.40 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Hill Mr James Hill , Southampton, Test

There is a great similarity between this debate and several others which I have heard in the short time that I have been in the House. We seem to go along the same old tracks with very little originality and with no fresh ideas. I am sure that the Minister is waiting for a gem of an idea from the Opposition, not on how they will deal with the problem when they are back in power but how they will assist with the problem now.

We are all aware of the three main reasons for the increase in house prices. I am sure that those who have studied the problem will put land at the top of their list. After that I put materials and then labour. Linked with these three main priorities is the increased demand and financial liquidity. All this has come together to create a great demand not only among those who wish to leave council estates to move into the private sector but also among those who wish to move to other areas, and certainly for those who wish to retire.

The problem associated with land is obviously the lack of planning releases. Perhaps we are all to blame for that. Local authorities do not get the necessary inducement from national government. Possibly we Members of Parliament do not press hard enough for the release of land. We are sufficiently disciplined to stand back and wait for the infrastructure plans to come to fruition after their commencement and after the inspection of the area. In the past—and I suppose both Governments are to blame—we have spent little or nothing on servicing the land around our cities. We have certainly spent very little on providing adequate sewerage. Untreated sewage is now going into the sea around the Isle of Wight.

It is not a question of who is right or wrong but of how we can correct some of the deficiencies of the past. We are faced with the problem of environmental protection. We all know of these difficulties encountered by people who want houses, yet residents in particular areas do not want new estates to be built near them. On Saturday a person came to see me to protest that a window in a house that was being built would overlook her bungalow. Those are the sort of things which prevent further expansion of the housing programme. The planning authorities take every precaution and are statutorily required to advise every tenant or resident in the area of any possible development. But while that is happening there is stagnation.

Two of my hon. Friends and myself would like to see the establishment of a commissioner—I would call him the Land Monitoring Commissioner—who could go from county to county searching out the bottlenecks in housing provision. There is a large degree of suspicion about planning authorities. There are county planning officers who quote figures of land availability but when it comes down to the "nitty-gritty" of inspection, plot by plot, the figures do not stand up.

Most of us know of the survey carried out in North Cheshire. The county planning department said that 1,100 acres of land were available for immediate development. It sounded very hopeful. By building 10 houses to the acre a large number of families could be housed in the near future. On close inspection, however, it was found that only 374 acres were available and of that 21 per cent. was held by public bodies, 68 per cent. by developers and only the remaining 11 per cent. was in private ownership. I cannot understand how a local authority can be so out of date. The Report said: Land available for development but access difficulties over private road.Land not available for building—covenanted for open space with adjacent residents. Some of the land had been developed as much as 10 years previously. Those are the sort of things that make me wonder whether any county planning officer has enough information to deal with his own planning responsibilities. That is why I believe that a Land Monitoring Commissioner could prove extremely useful. He could take a learn, not necessarily a large one, and sit in with the planning department in a consultative capacity. Together they could thrash out the difficulties created by local bottlenecks.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State is naïve about the circulars he sends out. Perhaps they are directives, but they are sometimes completely ignored by local authorities. I may be wrong, but I believe that the circular he sent out only last year requiring local authorities to give details of available land, has not received a great response from those to whom it was sent. Often the county planning officer does not have sufficient knowledge about land availability and I am sure that a lot of local authorities do not know how much land they own. In Southampton when the Conservatives took control it took us almost two years to get a detailed list of the land that had been purchased over the last 20 years by the previous council. That, therefore, may be one of the real obstructions to getting a land release programme under way.

Materials have become easier to obtain. The cynics among us will say that that is not difficult to understand. I hope that manufacturers, particularly brick manufacturers, will step up their production. The great danger is that after inspiring them with confidence and after they have built up their work force to produce bricks and tiles, Government policy turns from hot to cold and they once again lose heart and turn to other products. One of the important things said by the chairman of the Standing Conference on London and the South-East Regional Planning was In passing, I think I should make the point that these very high prices for land for development are not primarily the result of machinations of speculators. They are the direct result of our national planning policy of restricting land for development in order to conserve the open spaces as areas of great amenity and recreational value, which we all want. This is, indeed, the price of conservation and we must keep that perspective firmly in our minds. It has been mentioned earlier, and it is worth repeating, that although the green belt may be an admirable concept many villages are dying because they are situated in it. I know of many farmers who wish to obtain planning permission for a farmworker's cottage or bungalow but who constantly come up against the stone wall of green belt policy. My right hon. Friend would do well to look at this. We all want green belt but we do not want a policy so inflexible that it really has the reverse effect of killing villages and those that have accepted the right to live in a green belt for many generations past.

On the labour problem, already mentioned, one thing that has perhaps created some price increase is that at long last a certain amount of tax is being extracted from subcontractors. This is very worth while and by it the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made a very progressive move; but it has meant that their estimates, whether for roads, sewers or concrete paths, have moved up progressively. This may indicate why, in the council house sector alone, the housing cost yardstick is perhaps more and more difficult to meet.

Over the years there has been a lack of incentive for employers and tradesmen to take on apprentices. We have seen how this has gradually led to there being less fresh new blood coming in. There must he a great deal of liaison between the building industry and the Government. I have today had a paper from the National Federation of Building Trade Employers telling me that the number of plastering apprentices has risen substantially. Personally, I feel that a 72 per cent. increase compared with last year is something which we can be pleased. This is where the main labour problem lies, the fact that youngsters are not coming on. There is, of course, a tendency for everyone to keep skills and trades to the yardsticks of the past, but I feel that the building industry is once again trying to match up to this situation.

I have here a paper on education and training within the building industry which says: The critical shortage of skilled craftsmen in the industry has brought about pressures for an examination of the possibilities of shortening the period of training and introducing training for limited skills. I believe this is right. The paper goes on to say there is a working party examining this and that an interim report is due out early in 1973. I am sure every practising builder will know that it does not take five or six years to train a bricklayer, a plasterer, or even a carpenter. These are the kind of skills which in normal housebuilding can be readily acquired and I would have thought that the training time could be halved if not reduced still further, so that there are more of these skilled operatives in the building industry.

The working party bringing out this interim report must work closely with the Government educational training schemes and we have to see how they can best be integrated into the industry's joint training schemes. Here, again, there is a move to educate the labour force to meet the job. When these craftsmen eventually get employed by the building industry they will have what is a well paid and worthwhile job these days and they will have skills which will be with them all their lives.

One my last point—taxation—there is a tendency to think—and I am sure this is more than a thought—that the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the next Budget will bring forward some capital gains tax on land speculation. I am sure a majority of us here would think this was right. But I hope it is a measure which he has thought through most clearly, because it may be detrimental to the housing programme. It would be very wrong if the would-be house purchasers of 1974, 1975, and 1976 were to be paying for any Budget announcement of 1973. At the same time, we do not want to drive underground landowners or other people who could get planning permission. We really want to keep them in the open, where they are releasing their land so that young families are able to enjoy the comfort of a home.

I am sure that with those few words I have not added any new ideas to those of my right hon. and learned Friend, because I know he is on the ball in this situation, which is exercising the mind of all of us on this side of the House. But whatever is done in the future I am certain that we shall beat the Labour housing record of the past.

5.46 p.m.

Photo of Mr Thomas Swain Mr Thomas Swain , North East Derbyshire

This debate, as my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) has said, has been centred round a lot of statistics with cut and thrust between the two parties, each blaming the other, like the old Norman Evan's "Over the Garden Wall" discussions. Housing is a subject which should not be made a question of looking at statistics and examining tiny figures. It should be a question of action. Before going any further I want to put the Secretary of State right. If I had to complete that task it would take me from now until the next election. He mentioned in a very critical way the circular that went out from the Labour Government during its period of office, on 19th June 1967. I wish to heaven he had read it today and had brought his mind up to date on it before mentioning it.

The whole circular deals with rent rebate schemes, but its major paragraphs are paragraphs 1 and 2 and in those paragraphs the words "freedom" and "free" are used extensively. This circular went out to local authorities from the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Welsh Office at Cathays Park, Cardiff. It said: Sir, we are directed by the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Secretary of State for Wales to say that following discussions with the Local Authority Associations they have decided to issue fresh guidance to housing authorities on rent rebates. This circular replaces Circular No. 29/56/2. Local authorities are wholly responsible for deciding the rents of the houses they own and for deciding how those houses should be adjusted to the means of individual tenants. They are also responsible for ensuring that the rents are reasonable. They are free to decide whether or not to make a contribution from the rate fund to the housing revenue account, but they have to maintain a fair balance between ratepayers and tenants. That is the paragraph the Secretary of State saw fit to criticise. I would suggest that the Housing Finance Act passed last year completely takes away the freedom of local authorities to exercise the very things that are expounded in this particular paragraph. As a consequence of taking away that freedom from local authorities we are now beginning to feel the pinch of the Housing Finance Act in its effect on local authority houses.

I now accuse this Government, as I have accused them hundreds of times before. They have a vendetta against council house tenants.

Photo of Sir Raymond Gower Sir Raymond Gower , Barry

indicated dissent.

Photo of Mr Thomas Swain Mr Thomas Swain , North East Derbyshire

The hon. Gentleman can shake his head, but he does not live in one. It is Tory philosophy to have a vendetta against council house tenants, otherwise they would not have gone along with the Housing Finance Act. They would have found other means.

Immediately after the war, following the suspension of house building for six years, we had a scheme of borrowing powers and loan sanctions. Housing was priority number one. It is no longer a priority in the minds of the Tory Government. The claims of defence, and so on, have taken over. In the course of the education debate last week the Secretary of State boasted that the education bill was higher than the defence bill. Why is not the Secretary of State for the Environment boasting that housing investment is higher than the defence bill? I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East destroyed completely the fallacious argument which the Minister for Housing and Construction saw fit to use.

For more than 20 years I had the honour to serve on a local authority which immediately after the war had the difficult task of providing housing. I saw significant changes. I saw the administration of good Socialist policies and priorities. I saw what we as a local authority could do with Government aid. Covering the whole of the gap between then and the present day I can see what we cannot do as local authorities because of the inhibitions placed upon us by this Conservative Government.

One of the main reasons why local authorities are not able to build houses is that during the past year most of the time of local authority officers and elected representatives has been absorbed by the need to concentrate on the provisions of the Housing Finance Act.

I shall come to the centre of Europe in a moment or two. A few years ago when Lord George-Brown was in this House Swadlincote was the centre of Europe. That has changed. Today Clay Cross is the centre of Europe. I hope to deal with that effectively later in my speech.

The record of this Tory Government on housing in 1972 was abominable. It will be the same in 1973. They are making no attempt to ease the housing situation. They talk about speculation. Let me give the House my own experience. I have just built a bungalow. It is a very nice bungalow by my standards. On 16th April last year I was due to sign the conveyances for the land. However, on 8th April a gentleman knocked at my door at No. 3 Markham Crescent, Staveley. He said, "Whatever you have given for that land I am willing to double tomorrow, and I will give you a cheque for it." I asked him, "If I do, do you intend to build a house for your own use?". He replied, "No. I shall be building two houses to sell." I paid the valuer's price for the land. I did not get it from Mr. Poulson. I paid the price that the valuer demanded because I considered it to be worth it and above all because I needed the land in order to build a house—

Photo of Mr James Hill Mr James Hill , Southampton, Test

The hon. Gentleman wanted his own house.

Photo of Mr Thomas Swain Mr Thomas Swain , North East Derbyshire

Yes, and I got it.

Still on the subject of speculation, 12 months ago a young friend of mine who lives only 1½ miles away from me agreed a price of £4,500 to have a bungalow built. It was as low as that because the land surrounding the bungalow was very limited. My friend is due to move into that property on Saturday of this week. However, on Friday morning of last week a person told him that he would give him £8,000 for the bungalow if he would sell the following day. My friend asked the man whether he wanted it for his own use. The reply was, "No. I have a customer for it." In fact, he had already reserved space in the papers to advertise so that he could get his price.

That is the kind of speculation that is going on under the robbers who form this Government. They talk about a fair deal in housing. There ain't no such things as a fair deal in housing under this Government!

I come now to the new centre of Europe—Clay Cross. This is a very interesting subject. If I am ruled out of order for not speaking to the motion I shall claim that I am speaking against the Government amendment, which goes a lot wider than the motion. I must warn the House that I believe that I am in order.

In Clay Cross the local authority kept building houses so that it could clear its slum areas. It continued to build right through the period of the house building slump. The authority was determined to clear away its slums and it made great sacrifices to do it. Much to its credit, it maintained rent levels which people could afford to pay when it let its houses. In Yorkshire, Conisbrough council did the same. Today it has cleared 96 per cent. of its slum areas. They were slums created by the industrialists of old—the coal owners—who left a heritage to Clay Cross and to other mining areas which have to be seen to be believed. We who live in and represent mining areas have problems which are different from those of other areas in Great Britain. The land acreage available to us is reduced because we suffer severely from mining subsidence. Any local authority in a mining area which continues to build houses in order to get shot of its slums has a great deal of credit to it.

At one time, I grumbled at the Clay Cross authority for carrying out Tory policy and trying to control inflation by keeping down rent levels. Then it refused point blank to implement the Housing Finance Act. Its councillors have now been proceeded against by the Minister for Housing and Construction. He may claim innocence, but he cannot be innocent. The same action has been taken in respect of Conisbrough, two councils in Wales, and four in Scotland. I shall deal with them in a moment.

The Clay Cross councillors are being made the victims of the vicious, vindictive attitude of this Government who intend to chop off the head of every councillor in Clay Cross. I shall tell the House why. Section 95(7) of the Housing Finance Act states categorically that the Minister has power to appoint a housing commissioner to carry out the invidious duty of controlling a housing authority in the event of a default order being made against it. The Minister and his twister colleagues have proceeded under the Local Government Act 1933, the penalties under which are a hundred times more severe than those under the Housing Finance Act 1972. The sanctions under the 1933 Act are murderous by comparison with the 1972 Act. The Minister for Housing and Construction sits on the Treasury Bench with a bland look, knowing full well that what I say is true.

In England the Government have proceeded under the Local Government Act 1933 in order to get their pound of flesh. In Wales they have proceeded under the Housing Finance Act 1972. In Scotland they have proceeded under Section 72 of the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act. At Conisbrough they went behind everyone's back and conducted an extraordinary audit under Section 237 of the Local Government Act. Then they invited the councillors to meet the Minister and his henchmen to have a talk with them. Why has the Minister not invited Clay Cross councillors to a talk on the same basis?

This is what is happening to housing in my part of the world. I am thoroughly disgusted with the actions of this Minister and his colleagues. They are acting in four different ways to get their Shylock's pound of flesh from people who have refused to carry out the Act in England, Scotland and Wales. This is the filthy way in which the Government have proceeded to obtain their pound of flesh. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Edwin Wainwright) will be successful in catching Mr. Speaker's eye later in the debate. In his constituency there is a dead mining area. There is a dead mining area in Clay Cross. There were 17 pits within five miles of Clay Cross only 15 years ago. Today, there is not one pit within eight miles of Clay Cross. We have 16·5 per cent. unemployment in the male population. We have an average unemployment rate of 13·5 per cent. I suggest that it is the highest in the country. The ratio of applicants to vacancies is 21·7 per cent. in the Clay Cross exchange area. We cannot operate a reasonable fair rent scheme as expounded in the circular issued in 1967 because of the dogma of the Minister.

The Housing Finance Bill was in Committee for five-and-a-half months. The Government inflicted the guillotine on the Committee and put the guillotine on the Report stage in the House. The Government said that the Housing Finance Act would be the salvation of local authority housing, but the Minister did not have the guts to implement or invoke any of the Acts sections in Clay Cross or in the urban district concerned in my hon. Friend's constituency. He had to be a political coward and to hide behind the 1933 Act so that he could get his pound of flesh.

Whether I am in order or not, I have looked straight in the face of the Minister and called him the biggest political coward since his friend was at Munich in 1938. He dare not come to Clay Cross and face the people there and invoke the Housing Finance Act 1972, so he stops us from building houses and withdraws subsidies from Clay Cross. He thinks that he is big and clever and that he has the whole might of the law behind him. I warn the Minister that we shall fight him. We shall continue building houses at Clay Cross even if we have to cadge the money to build them. We shall not increase the rents at Clay Cross whatever he says. He can send Winston Churchill's troops in if he likes, but he will not get any increase on the rents and we shall continue to build. If we have to stop building council houses that will be because the Minister will have withdrawn the subsidies. The crime will be put on those who sit on the Front Bench opposite.

The only thing on which I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East is his suggestion that this Government will wreck the housing scheme in four years. I say that this Government will not be in power in four years. We shall see to that. The people of this country have already got the numbers and they will see to that. I know what is going through the blank minds of those on the benches opposite. It is the word "Lincoln", because that is the only word for which they have room in their empty heads. We shall be dealing with Lincoln very soon. The housing programme of this Government will be one of the topics we shall be discussing. If the Tory candidate at Lincoln can defend the Tory Government's actions on housing, he is a better man than I am, Gunga Din", but I am afraid he cannot. If there is an indictment against this Government over their two-and-a-half years in office, it is that they have completely failed to solve our housing problems.

Freedom of mortgages and the ease with which one can get a mortgage have been bandied about in the House today. If a man has worked as a road sweeper, a bus conductor, a coal miner, or a tram driver until he is 60 years of age and wants to build his own house, his monthly repayment under any scheme that can be devised is £130. Where is the freedom to build one's own house under this Government? Can any man at 60 who has worked all his life in a normal occupation have the ability to borrow £130 per month for repayment? Look at the number of illegitimate children one could keep on that! If the Minister has done his homework he cannot deny this. He may go to any bank manager in England or the manager of any building society and he will be told that if he is to build a house for £8,000 and has an 80 per cent. mortgage and finds the £2,000 himself, he has to pay £130 a month for five years.

Yet this Government say that they are solving the housing problem and providing freedom for the individual to build his own house. As the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) said, the freedom of the individual depends on his ability to pay. Under this Government it will continue to depend on the ability of the individual to pay. I hope that we shall defeat this amendment and that the motion proposed by my right hon. Friends will be carried by a large majority.

6.18 p.m.

Photo of Mr Idris Owen Mr Idris Owen , Stockport North

The debate so far has indicated in no uncertain way profound feelings about the housing situation. Hon. Members on both sides have expressed deep anxiety and how disturbed they are about the housing situation. With much of what the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) said this afternoon I could not quarrel. Nor could I quarrel with much that was said by the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun). I think, however, that the hon. Member could have been a little more generous, for he has been much more generous in other situations.

It was rather interesting to read a few paragraphs of what he wrote quite recently in an article in a paper called The Environment. The paper stated: Salford M.P., Frank Allaun, writes from Westminster and the heading was Record housing improvement". This was rather surprising. The article said: The number of houses improved in the North West doubled in 1972. In the first 11 months alone, 31,106 private houses plus 13,267 council houses, received … improvement grants. This is an all-time record. Hardly the sort of thing I would have expected from the hon. Member who decided this afternoon so to criticise the Government without repeating what he said in The Environment.

I want to look at this from a practical point of view. I suppose that I am the only person who will speak today who has spent a professional lifetime in the housing industry. Since I first entered that industry, when there were 3 million people unemployed, I have seen Governments come and go. Without exception, every one has expressed deep concern about the housing situation. There has been the cut and thrust of debate for 30, 40 or 50 years. The same is true in borough, county council and urban district councils. The debate on housing has gone on.

When the Opposition assume control the new Opposition criticise them for their failure. As political influences change, everyone criticises one another. It is abundantly clear whichever party has been in power, either at council or Government level, that there has been an inadequacy of housing success. Otherwise we would not find ourselves in this position today.

When I was quite a young man—

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting series of remarks about the housing policy of various Governments since housing authorities were brought into being after the end of the First World War. It is true that all Governments have not been totally successful. Will he accept, dealing with subsidies—the main driving force in the building of local authority houses —that out of a total of £200 million paid in subsidies before the 1972 Act, £160 million was awarded during the periods of Labour Government between 1945 and 1951 and 1964 and 1970 while only £40 million was accounted for by the Conservative Governments from 1945?

Photo of Mr Idris Owen Mr Idris Owen , Stockport North

I do not want to pursue that. The files in this House are packed with statistics from time immemorial. I am sure that the hon. Member has seen the voluminous book of statistics on housing. All of this has not produced an extra house. We have talked about Governments and councils building houses but it is the construction workers who build the houses. Throughout all this time there has been the dilemma of the inadequacy of housebuilding.

My mind goes back to when I was a young man and my father was an admirer of the late Lloyd George. He used to tell me about Lloyd George's great success. I believe that Lloyd George achieved his greatest success when he was appointed Minister of Munitions during the First World War. It was because of that success, among other things, that the Government were able to emerge victorious from the 1914–18 war.

Similarly, in the last war Sir Winston Churchill was able to gather round him a successful team of Ministers from all political parties who enabled us to emerge victorious. If they had dealt with the war situation as Ministers for decades have dealt with the housing situation it is conceivable that we may never have won either of those wars. Lord Woolton was successful in the Ministry of Food in supplying the nation with food.

Where we seem to go wrong is that we know we have a problem, we believe we have the right answers, but we never seem to produce the results. It has always been my contention that there are three basic necessities for a housing drive. The first is a confidence in the future within the industry. This applies to all industries. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) has asked that the Government should be able to inject confidence into the coalmining industry. Hon. Members from Scotland have asked about confidence in the shipbuilding industry. At present hon. Members representing Bristol are concerned about confidence in the aircraft production industry.

It is not surprising that the construction industry, too, requires a degree of confidence. This is an important factor and there is no doubt that the last Labour Government were instrumental in destroying to a considerable extent the confidence in that industry, particularly in their last two years of office. The result was that many workers in the construction industry saw little future for themselves. Housing figures were going down, mortgages were difficult to get, there were countless bankruptcies and men left the industry in favour of other industries offering greater security.

The employing section of the industry at once began to cut down on its apprenticeship training. There was no confidence. In addition we had SET, which was most damaging. In those days many employers were driven into the arms of the labour-only sub-contractors to avoid the necessity to pay SET. I do not think that was right. I deplore that action. It was a shocking thing to do but they were driven to it.

The labour-only teams, commonly known on the site as "the lump", did not have a vestige of an idea about training apprentices and they never intended to do so. To this day they do not train apprentices. The result has been a considerable decline in the number of employees—from about 1,250,000 to about 870,000. That is no mean decline, and it is bound to have an effect on the housing programme. All of that leeway must be made up. This is a practical point put with sincerity.

The second basic necessity is an adequate supply of land. To the house-builder land is what steel is to the motorcar manufacturer. Deny the motor industry its steel and it would fold up. The land consumed in the 1960s was never replaced by the planners. The result is that we are rapidly running out of this basic commodity. I want the Minister to understand this, because neither he nor his predecessor has ever understood it. The planners had no intention of co-operating with the Minister.

He can send out circulars until the cows come home but it will not produce one extra acre. He can implore and do anything he likes. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. S. James A. Hill) has already quoted the case of the Cheshire County Council, which told the builders that it would let them know how many acres were available in its area. It fed the facts into the computer which said that there were 1,100 acres available. When this was investigated on an acre-to-acre basis it was discovered that there were only 374 acres available. As my hon. Friend said, some of the land that was fed out of the computer had been developed 10 years previously. So much for computerisation of land control. The situation is quite crazy.

The computer revealed one thing when they brought it down to the land situation; it showed that in those 374 acres they were quoting areas of 0·26 of an acre available in a certain avenue in a certain urban district. If they have to get down to 0·26 of an acre to build up a land bank they must be in a parlous state, because 0·26 of an acre is not worth quoting. This is the difficulty we are experiencing. The land situation today is such that in many localities where there is a fantastic demand for homes the only land that is being developed for home ownership—and I want hon. Members to note this—is land for which planning permission has been granted as the result of an appeal.

I believe I am right in saying—although I shall have to check it—that in my constituency not an acre is being developed at the moment for which permission has been granted voluntarily by the planning authority; permission has always come on an appeal. With the sole exception of the land which has been reclaimed as a result of slum clearance no new acreages are being developed at the moment in my constituency that have not come as a result of an appeal. I was told recently by a national housing developer who had built literally thousands of houses that 80 per cent. of the land he is now developing has come as the result of an appeal.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

Would my hon. Friend not agree that this shows the value of the improved appeals procedure?

Photo of Mr Idris Owen Mr Idris Owen , Stockport North

Of course it does, but does it not also show that the planning authorities are not prepared to do anything voluntarily but have to have their arms twisted through an appeals procedure in order to tackle this land situation?

There cannot be an adequate amount of land when it has trebled and quadrupled in value in a period of 12 months. Is there an adequate amount of land in Cheshire? Land was purchased in 1971 at £15,000 an acre, and similar land close to it is now £30,000 an acre. Is that indicative of the fact that an adequate amount of land is available? Surely, whatever a person's politics, the law of supply and demand prevails, and where there is desperate shortage there must be desperate measures to cope with it. There is no question but that the planning authorities in this country must bear the major portion of the blame for the housing shortage and the high land prices. There is no doubt that successive Governments have been wellintentioned—and, to be fair, all Governments have wanted to resolve the housing situation. Hon. Members of this House are well-intentioned and well-motivated, whatever their political parties; they come here to serve the community and they do it in varying ways; sometimes we do not share their approach, but no one can deny that they are well-motivated. But they have failed miserably to resolve this problem, not because they lack motivation but because they have been frustrated—and the frustration starts with the planning authorities.

To give one example, which anyone can examine, there is an urban district called Bramhall which embraces an area known as Woodford, in Cheshire. The land is designated as proposed green belt. It is half a mile from the urban district centre. The area is 30, 40 or 50 acres, in various pieces. There has never been any cultivation, because it is scrubland and is covered with thistles, or has been used for such things as grazing ponies. This land is generally enclosed by housing development. On the south side of the land area is the open Cheshire countryside, but in between that land and the open countryside is the Hawker-Siddeley aircraft factory, employing several thousand people. Yet this land between the village and the Hawker-Siddeley factory has been designated as probable green belt, merely because of the pressure of people who want to preserve their open view. I do not think that is acceptable. If they want green belt, let them have it, but they must not deny the nation housing to preserve their own back garden.

Photo of Mr David Stoddart Mr David Stoddart , Swindon

I have been listening very carefully to the hon. Gentleman's argument. It seems to me that his object is to swing the blame for the shortage of housing on to local planning authorities. I have to tell him that this attempt is very much resented by local authorities. Is he aware that in my constituency of Swindon, where the local authority made land available to a certain firm of builders at reasonable cost, those builders exploited the good will of the local authority by charging inordinately high prices for the houses built on that land? Indeed, in a period of one year they doubled the cost of a house on that particular plot of land. Will he also take it from me—

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

Order. I cannot have speeches by way of intervention. A great many hon. Members want to catch my eye.

Photo of Mr Idris Owen Mr Idris Owen , Stockport North

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I may try to get to the point which the hon. Member has raised.

The last necessity is an adequate supply of labour and materials. I think that the material suppliers of this country can certainly meet the challenge; all they need is confidence in the future. I am sure all hon. Members know about the plight of the brick industry over the past two or three decades. It has been a situation of "stop-go", with monotonous regularity. Ministers have gone to the Brick Manufacturers Association and said: "We have a housing programme, we won the election on it we want your help; we want you to assist us by producing the goods". They have opened up kilns which have been cold for years and got going on the drive, but within a short space of time it has been stop again because of an economic crisis, inflation, and so on. As a result, the brick manufacturers were left with thousands of millions of bricks which they could not get rid of. They got scared about the future, closed down their yards and got rid of stocks. So the whole cycle goes on —stop-go; stop-go.

In spite of that, with the new automated procedures, particularly in the brick industry, I have no doubt that the suppliers of materials will meet the challenge, although I am rather frightened about timber, because there is no doubt that the exporters of timber from overseas are causing difficulties. Timber is higher in price now than it was five years ago by almost 50 per cent., and we have to face problems with the Scandinavians, the Russians and the Canadians. But we must accept the challenge and face it.

On the labour side the situation is less attractive. As I explained earlier, many men leave the industry, and "the lump" has done hardly anything to assist the housing drive. It has exploited the situa- tion. It has built, but at a very high price. It is no secret that men engaged on "the lump"—and I would say that 90 per cent. of the housing in this country is done on "the lump"—are very expensive. We hear and read in newspapers about bricklayers going home with £100 to £120 a week. There was an article a week ago last Monday in the Daily Mail about a bricklayer in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), who said he earned £140 a week without any trouble. I think the article was called "Muscle Not Brains". And I can say that in the Manchester area £80 or £90 a week is the order of the day.

The situation is the same as regards plasterers. We have read about an 18year-old plasterer getting £140 a week. This is not so fantastic when one goes round the country and studies the position. There are columns and columns in the local evening papers—the Evening Standard and the Evening News—of advertisements for labour, offering high rates of pay in order to attract labour. The man leaves his job and goes to the highest bidder. That does not solve the housing problem. All that it does is to put up the price of houses. If it were possible to buy land at a reasonable price and obtain labour at 50 per cent. bonus over the trade union negotiated rate house prices would come down by £2,000 overnight.

If it is conceded that these basic necessities are acceptable in order to get a thriving housing programme, we must see to it that nothing stands in our way to resolve the problem. Any housing Minister could cover himself with glory in a very short space of time. It is a mathematical calculation that about 400,000 acres of land are needed to solve the housing problem, and if that amount of land were released now over and above the annual release of land we should knock the bottom out of the land shortage.

There is not enough labour to meet any increased housing programme. There will have to be a crash programme in order to train those unfortunate men who have been obliged to leave declining industries. There must be emphasis on speedy training in order to ensure that many more men come forward for work in the construction industry.

We talk about this being a national problem, and that is what it appears to be, but in fact it is a problem for the stress areas. In many villages and county districts there is no housing problem. There are many areas in which there is an adequate amount of housing. It is in the pressure areas of the big conurbations such as Birmingham, London, Manchester, Leeds, Bristol, and so on, that the problem is greatest, and that is where we must try to resolve it.

I am interested in getting the housing problem solved. If whichever party is in office accepts my suggestion, if we stop playing statistics and politics, and if we roll up our sleeves and treat it in the same way that Lloyd George did the munitions problem and Churchill did the Second World War problem, we shall solve this problem to the nation's satisfaction.

6.42 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robert Brown Mr Robert Brown , Newcastle upon Tyne West

I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Idris Owen) too closely, other than to say that I entirely and fully endorse all that he said about the evils of "the lump" in the construction industry. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not aware that his right hon. Friend picked up from his predecessor in the Labour Government a ready-made Bill to deal with "the lump", but to date precisely damn all has been done about it.

Within the scope of this censure debate on the Government it is my intention to spell out my own censure motion on the Tory-controlled Newcastle City Council in very much the same terms as the motion on the Order Paper; namely, its disastrous record of combining the biggest ever increase in the price of housing with the lowest rate of housing completions for a decade. That is the censure which I intend to level against the Newcastle City Council.

I want to indict the Tory-controlled council of my city on a number of counts of flagrantly fleecing the citizens of Newcastle, my constituents. First, I want to go into the selling of building land in the possession of the city council. In Blakelaw ward in my constituency there were a number of prefabs. About three or four years ago these were cleared away, and for another couple of years there was, in effect, a virgin site ready for development with council houses. About 18 months ago the Tory-controlled city council decided to sell this land to a private builder. There were at that time 12,000 people on the council's housing waiting list, yet the council took a calculated decision to flog 20 acres of good building land to a private developer.

The sale duly went through. There were heated debates in the city council over the fact that the council was selling the land to this private developer at a price many thousands of pounds below the price recommended by the district valuer. The land was sold to Cussins, a national contractor, for £95,000, or £4,750 per acre.

Last week a report was presented to the city council by the housing committee dealing with the development of council houses at Benwell in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short), whose constituency is contiguous with mine. The report revealed that the six acres on which these houses were to be developed had been purchased at a cost of £135,000, or £22,500 per acre.

Here we have the arrant nonsense of a city council flogging 20 acres of beautiful virgin building land on the northern extremity of the city overlooking the Cheviot Hills at £4,750 per acre and 18 months later, in its desperation to find land to develop council houses within the city boundary, having to buy land at £22,500 per acre on a grotty hillside site which is expensive to develop, and the only amenity for the tenants is that of looking out at a power station, a cooling station and a couple of colliery spoil heaps. That sums up the management of housing in my constituency.

Secondly, I accuse the city council of putting sheer political dogma before the interests of the citizens. As we on this side of the House know, public enterprise is anathema both to hon. Gentlemen opposite and to Tories in city council chambers. When we were in charge of the Newcastle City Council we built up a first-class housing architect's department but, in keeping with their political prejudices, the Tories on the city council farmed out more and more work to private architects after they resumed control in 1967.

I want again to refer to the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central in relation to a housing project at Byker in Newcastle, Central for which a private architect was engaged. The total contract sum to date is £3,396,171, of which the architect's fees and charges amount to £372,136. According to my mental arithmetic, that is about 11 per cent. The costs of the city housing architect's department have been analysed over a period of six financial years during which there were developments similar to that at the Byker, and they show an average charge of 6 per cent.

At 6 per cent. the housing architect's department's costs on this Byker contract of £3,396,171 would be about £204,000 but, purely in the interests of political dogma, the Tories on the city council have inflicted on its citizens an extra charge of £168,000 on one contract alone by insisting on farming it out to a private architect instead of giving it to the city housing architect's department.

Thirdly, I accuse the city council of neglect of the council house building programme, the slowing down of building, the consequent slowing down of the re-housing of our citizens and the failure to develop vacant sites. In 1967 when, unfortunately, the Labour Party lost control of the city council we were building 2,000 houses per year on average. That average has fallen to 800 houses per year in the five-and-a-half years during which the Tories have been in control.

When we left office in 1967 the waiting last of 6,000 was far too long. Last year the number had risen to 12,000, but this week the waiting list has been finally revised and now stands at 6,500. Here we are, after six years of Tory control, with a longer waiting list than we left in 1967.

This slowing down of house building is bad for the citizens who are waiting for houses, but there are other spin-offs. Many cleared sites initially earmarked for council house development have stayed vacant for more than five years. It is not very pleasant for families living in close proximity to have to overlook for five years a vacant piece of land resembling a bomb site, but that has happened in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central.

There is also the loss of rateable income and the loss on the capital used to purchase the property which previously occupied the vacant sites. I will give two examples, one at Byker and one at Benwell. The loan charges on the land at Byker are £68,100 and on the land at Benwell £76,000, a total of £144,000 on land which has been standing vacant for five years. Then there is the cumulative loss of rate income at Byker of £228,000 and at Banwell of £139,000, a total of £367,000. That represents a total loss on the two sites of £511,100—over half a million pounds thrown away because of the mismanagement of the council.

Fourthly, I accuse the city council of conducting the revitalisation programme in an indecent manner. The Government amendment refers to: the provision, by means of improvement grants, of a record number of modernised houses". I am pleased that that has happened. The Government have taken advantage of the Labour Government's Act to get revitalisation cracking. What I complain about is the many thousands of council house tenants in my constituency who are suffering abject misery while their houses are being modernised. While they are actually living in the house there are workmen in every room—the kitchen, living room, bathroom and bedrooms. Their carpets are being destroyed by lime, and their furniture is being damaged. It is physically impossible for three or four men working together in a house not to damage furniture in the course of their operations.

My constituency comprises five wards in the city and an urban district in Northumberland which is contiguous to the Minister's constituency. In the urban district modernisation is going on apace in a civilised fashion because the urban district council in advance built accommodation to rehouse temporarily the people whose houses were to be modernised. It is no coincidence that the district council is a 100 per cent. Labour-controlled council. That is not necessarily the reason why the council has applied common sense, but the city council could have done exactly the same.

What concerns me most is that it is the poorer areas in my constituency in which are living the people who can least afford to refurnish that the most damage is being done. Before the revitalisation programme goes any further, I sincerely hope that the council will give serious consideration—especially in the Scotswood area—to housing tenants in advance of modernisation. God knows, scores of houses are standing empty in that area with a consequent loss of rent income.

Fifthly and finally, I accuse the city council of evading its responsibilities to the 6,500 people who are awaiting council houses by the indiscriminate selling of council houses. I know that the city council would probably argue that there is nothing so wrong about selling 1,000 council houses, as it did last year, although there are 6,500 people on the waiting list. I do not complain about a person who have lived for 15 years in a council house and will obviously live out his life there being allowed to purchase his house. Most of the people who come to see me are people who need a larger type of semi-detached house suitable for a family. People come to see me who are at the end of their tether with family problems. They are living in overcrowded conditions and need a three-bedroom semi-detached house. They say to me "Mr. Brown, I have seen a lovely house that would just do us a treat at 29 Blogg Street." I immediately make representation to the housing officer of the city council who says "I appreciate that this would house the family very well, but, unfortunately, it is being reserved for sale because it is in an area in which we are selling every house that becomes vacant."

It is completely immoral to sell vacant council houses which are needed for people on the waiting list. It is one thing to sell to a sitting tenant and quite another to sell a vacant house.

6.59 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robert Taylor Mr Robert Taylor , Croydon North West

The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Robert C. Brown) will not, I hope, expect me to follow his discussion on the merits or otherwise of Newcastle Corporation.

A few moments ago we were treated to the customary tirade from the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) in support of an obscure local authority in or near his constituency. He preached anarchy, subversion and neglect of the law, and made a vicious attack on my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction. It was very refreshing to see that the hon. Member received no support from his own benches. This is encouraging, because it means that, while there may be differences of opinion between the two sides of the House, there is without doubt one thing in common, that we support the law when it has been passed by the House.

There can be no hon. Members in this House who are complacent about either the current rate of house building or the current cost of house building. The motion of censure is, therefore, completely out of place today. Not even its most ardent supporter on the Labour benches can suggest that the motion is in any way constructive. Nevertheless, it is for discussion, and some interesting points have been put forward.

As an hon. Member of the House representing part of the greater London area, I have more than my fair share of housing problems. I share the acute concern expressed by the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart), but I thought that of all the straws which people cling to in their search for a solution his was the weakest I have ever heard. As I understood it, he was concerned that he had sold his house and that within a short space of time it had changed hands on more than one occasion. His solution to the problem was that if a house owner wished to sell his house within a short space of time after having acquired it, the house should first be offered to the local authority. He suggested that the period of limitation should be either two or three years, but he was kind enough to say that he was open to persuasion as to whether it should be one or the other.

Photo of Mr Donald Stewart Mr Donald Stewart , Na h-Eileanan an Iar

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Robert Taylor). Surely the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart) said that the house had remained empty in the meantime and so was not fulfilling its functions as a dwelling-house.

Photo of Mr Robert Taylor Mr Robert Taylor , Croydon North West

The right hon. Member for Fulham made the point that if the house remained empty and was offered for resale it should first be offered to the local authority.

First, I do not accept for one moment that the people of this country are so naive as to continue to sell their homes at well below the market value so that speculators can make a profit in a very short space of time. Secondly, if the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Fulham were put into operation, it is obvious that, if speculators are engaged in this most regrettable practice and the period of resale was limited to two or three years, they would not offer houses for sale until either two years and a day or three years and a day had passed. The result of the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Fulham would be an even greater drying up of accommodation offered for sale on the market.

The right hon. Member for Fulham—I apologise for taking up his remarks to such a degree but he is a fellow representative of a constituency in the greater London area—said it was an obligation for those London constituencies outside the inner London area to assist those very overcrowded areas close to the city centre. This is a point frequently put forward, and we can without doubt anticipate hearing about it in the forthcoming greater London elections.

I have the privilege to represent part of the borough of Croydon. When the Greater London Development Plan was produced in 1969 it was suggested that the lowest population figure for the borough of Croydon should be 305,700 and the highest within the limited area of the borough should be 312,100. Today the population of the borough of Croydon is 332,000. In other words, in that short space of time Croydon has accepted more than 20,000 in excess of what was thought to be the maximum sensible figure bearing in mind the boundaries of the borough.

This refutes categorically the idea that the outer London boroughs are not assisting in the great problem of finding accommodation for the people in the greater London area as a whole.

Nevertheless, it is my view that, however many homes are built in the greater London area, there will always be a constant demand from people who wish to live near the place at which they work.

I put forward what I regard as a constructive suggestion. To give the basis of the suggestion, I give the example of a problem which confronted me within the last month. A young man from my constituency came to me with a story of great distress. He was married with a wife and one child but they were living some considerable distance apart. The wife and child remained with her parents and the young man with his parents. They were separated by a distance of some two miles. He was in great distress because his marriage was in a very difficult situation. He had visited marriage guidance counsellors and had done everything possible to find accommodation for his family. As would any hon. Member on either side of the House, I naturally viewed this as a case where one tries one's best to find suitable accommodation for the family. I believe an acceptable proposition will shortly be forthcoming from the local authority.

However, this young man is at present earning £1,600 per annum and is only 19; if he takes this council accommodation, which I believe will shortly be offered to him, he will have the right to remain in that council accommodation for the rest of his life and it can be passed on to his son or his daughter. That unit of accommodation could well be locked up for 60 years. During that period the hon. Members fortunate enough to represent this area will have many approaches from people in similar dire straits and in similar need of accommodation. It is not feasible to expect councils to provide this accommodation time and time again for people to occupy it generation after generation. [Interruption.] This is precisely the case because the accommodation can be handed on one generation.

I therefore believe there is a case for limited tenancies. It would be more sensible for the local authority to offer accommodation to such a young man for a period of, say, seven years at a fixed rent, but at the end of that period the accommodation should be available for someone with need equal to that of this young family today. The Government should urge local authorities to introduce a system of limited tenancies on leases, such as are available in the private sectors in certain fortunate parts of the country, terminating in, say, five or seven years' time.

Photo of Mr William Molloy Mr William Molloy , Ealing North

This is the first time I have ever heard, even from the Tory Party, which has denied people homes when they are alive, the proposition of denying them homes before they are even born. I have a similar problem in my constituency. People come to my surgery with their housing problems. I cannot help them, because the local authority's housing list is enormous, but I can tell them "There is plenty of accommodation in a certain part of the borough". I advise them to go there, but tell them that they must realise that the rent is about £32 a week or that a house costs £40,000, which they cannot afford. That accommodation is empty. Their only hope is the local authority.

Photo of Mr Robert Taylor Mr Robert Taylor , Croydon North West

I see no relevance to my argument in that intervention. The young man in question is earning £1,600 a year, and within a few years he will be earning considerably more. If he is on a fixed rent for seven years, with no suggestion of an increase, it is surely sensible for him to look for his own house to purchase at the end of that period—

Photo of Mr David Stoddart Mr David Stoddart , Swindon

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Robert Taylor Mr Robert Taylor , Croydon North West

No. I have just given way, and the hon. Gentleman has already intervened in another hon. Member's speech and been rebuked by Mr. Speaker for the length of his intervention.

I am in favour of tenancies of a specific length where there will be no rent increase, so that people have an opportunity to save for a deposit for their own home. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ludicrous."] Labour Members seem to find this amusing.

Photo of Mr Ronald Brown Mr Ronald Brown , Shoreditch and Finsbury

It is silly, and the hon. Gentleman knows it.

Photo of Mr Robert Taylor Mr Robert Taylor , Croydon North West

I know perfectly well that it is a very sound proposition. I know that the young man will be delighted to take council accommodation on those terms, because he has the initiative to try to create a home for himself and his family. It is his ambition, like that of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East to buy his own house. But probably, unlike the hon. Gentleman, he will take a single plot. The hon. Gentleman gloried in the fact that he has purchased a plot to build his own bungalow. When someone offered him double the price he asked "Is it for your own home?" He was told that it was not, that the plan was to build two houses. I believe that it would have been far better if the hon. Gentleman had sold it to help meet the current housing shortage, because two homes would have been placed on that plot.

I turn to part of the motion which has hardly been mentioned in the debate, the actual cost of building, which is a great problem. The report on restrictive trading agreements by the Registrar of Restrictive Trading Agreements, published this week, tells us that there is something very wrong with the construction industry. It gives details of many contracts in the public sector where there has been collusion, something that should be regretted wholeheartedly by hon. Members on both sides. But to a certain degree that collusion is inevitable if the system demands that six contractors should tender for every contract.

In Croydon there is difficulty in obtaining tenders from various contracting firms. It would be advantageous to every local authority if contractors could have a negotiated contract rather than a competitive contract. Because of the cost of estimating, if six firms tender for a job they will not take the matter seriously. They will not go into it in detail. They will quote an overall price, not really expecting to obtain the contract. To reduce the cost of building, there should be more negotiated contracts in the public sector.

7.14 p.m.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Stirling and Falkirk Burghs

The hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Robert Taylor) and the House will understand if I do not seek to tread the paths the hon. Gentleman has trodden for the past 15 minutes. I shall content myself with two observations on his speech and the previous speeches.

I refer, first, to the rather loud interventions when the hon. Gentleman was speaking about a tenancy being terminated after seven years on a fixed rent basis. The hon. Gentleman's Government recently passed the Housing Finance Act, as a result of which by law each year there shall be an increase in rent. In the view of hon. Members on this side, the conversion must come in the Tory Party, certainly not in the Labour Party.

A common thread has run through previous speeches. The Opposition have been accused of producing nothing constructive. It has become a feature of the present Government that when they find themselves in trouble, having dismantled the measures introduced by the 1964–1970 Labour Government, they again look to the Opposition to dig them out and produce constructive policies. We on this side are not lacking in constructive policies, but it is a two-way process. The Government must be prepared to learn to keep an open mind.

I am always surprised that there is a degree of surprise when there is a variation of opinion on housing matters between a Conservative Government and a Labour Opposition. It has always been a feature of Conservative Governments that housing has not been high on their list of priorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) spelt the matter out graphically when he said that defence and armaments expenditure will overtake housing expenditure by a substantial amount, and housing will thereby be further relegated down the list of priorities. That has been traditional Tory policy throughout the years.

The present Conservative Government's record can be summed up by saying that in their two and a half years of office so far they have presided over a record increase in house prices and a substantial decrease in local authority building. By their present policies they are ensuring that the go-ahead local authorities, which under a Labour Government were able to solve their housebuilding problems—I say "housebuilding problems" as distinct from housing problems, because they are two different things—will face in the not-too-distant future being unable to meet the demand for accommodation that will be placed upon them.

I am conscious that many of my hon. Friends want to speak, so I shall briefly deal with those three points in turn, coming first to the increase in private house prices. I refer the Secretary of State for Scotland, who, I understand, will wind up the debate for the Government, to an article in Monday's edition of the Daily Record, in which John Calder said that private house prices in Scotland last year leapt by 21 per cent. to an all-time high. He also said that the present average price of a new house in Scotland at nearly £8,000—he put it at £7,600, but £400 is nothing to the present Government—is the highest in the history of the country.

Many young couples were betrayed and conned by the Conservatives into voting for them at the last General Election. They believed that it would be easier under a Conservative Government to obtain a mortgage on a new house or finance to build their own house because of the promise of the better tomorrow. They are still patiently waiting to know when that better tomorrow in respect of housing is to arrive. The Government stand condemned if only on that one issue.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart) described the situation in crystal-clear terms. I was ha filed that the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West completely missed the point. My right hon. Friend was saying that houses in the private sector are being used like gambling pawns, to he shifted around by people making profit without the houses ever being occupied. That is the position in which we are.

For the first time in our history it has now become highly profitable under a Conservative Government to buy a hole in the ground and fill it in. Thereby it can be sold at a fantastic profit for the purpose of building houses.

The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Idris Owen) made a brilliant case—I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not here—for taking all land into public ownership. I hope that he will work the miracle of conversion on his right hon and hon. Friends.

Photo of Sir Raymond Gower Sir Raymond Gower , Barry

When the hon. Gentleman refers to the people who live in privately owned houses, does he appreciate that he is, when taking the United Kingdom as a whole, referring to about half the nation? He is referring to a formidable number of people as profiteers.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Stirling and Falkirk Burghs

Again it would appear that in order to get this point across to hon. Members opposite we might well have to draw pictures. The point is that the houses were never occupied. They were sold three, four or five times without anybody putting a stick of furniture into them. We are referring to persons who sell houses who are not house owners but are property speculators in the same mould as Rachman, who made substantial profits under the last Conservative Government. We are now seeing similar conduct in a different guise under the present Government.

I recently asked a series of Questions of the Secretary of State for Scotland about not my own constituency but the constituency of South Angus. I admit that the Questions were put down as a reprisal for Questions put down about my constituency. However, the answers were most revealing. I was told in reply to four or five of the 10 Questions which I asked, which were quite detailed, about housing matters in that part of the country, that the information was not available.

The Government are carrying out their business against the background that information is not available, or, in other words, that they do not know. Recently I asked about the average price of a private house in Scotland. I was again told that the information was not available. I am beginning to wonder what information is available from the Scottish Office at present.

The information which I was given, which cannot be concealed, relates to the number of housing submissions by Scottish local authorites in the last two or three years. The key figures are those for the last quarter in 1971 and the last quarter in 1972. In the last quarter of 1971 local authorities in Scotland were inspired under the promise of additional residual subsidy to submit additional houses for building. There was a sting in the tail inasmuch as the houses had to be completed before a date in mid-1974. In that quarter there were 28,611 houses submitted by Scottish local authorities. There is evidence coming to light even at present that some of those authorities have over-stretched their capacity to build the houses which they submitted.

The Under-Secretary of State for Development looks surprised, but he knows that at least one large borough in Scotland has already written permission from the Scottish Office or the Secretary of State to extend the deadline if it does not complete its houses within the specified time. Therefore, there is already evidence that some Scottish local authorities have over-estimated their ability to build these houses and that there are applications coming in for extensions.

It will be seen that in the last quarter of 1972, as distinct from 1971, there were nearly 30,000 houses submitted and only 1,000 houses submitted by Scottish local authorities. When I asked whether the housing completions are likely to be for 1973, 1974 or 1975 and beyond, I received the rather loose answer that the housing completions will reflect the housing submissions which have been approved. Hon. Members can make what they like out of that jigsaw puzzle.

One thing which never becomes clear from all these figures is that the local authority house building programme in Scotland will come to a full stop in the later months of 1975. If the Secretary of State wants to deny that, I can assure him that there are a great many Scottish local authorities wondering how they will avoid coming to a full stop in the later months of 1975.

We have already discussed at length the Housing Finance Act, and I do not want to go over rehashed ground. However, the Government have presided over a substantial decrease in local authority building and a substantial increase in private house rents. They have made the future completely uncertain. It is equally true that the Government have presided over the largest increase in municipal rents that we have ever seen. Not only that, but they have preserved the inequalities in public sector housing in Scotland.

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

indicated dissent.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Stirling and Falkirk Burghs

The Under-Secretary of State shakes his head. I suggest that he reads the Act. It is built into the Housing Finance Act that there will be different levels of rent for local authorities in Scotland as distinct from the Scottish Special Housing Association, whose rents be that much higher, and as distinct from the new towns in Scotland, whose rents will be that much higher still. How on earth any Government can try to bring justice to the housing scene in the public sector with three different levels of rent is beyond me.

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

The hon. Gentleman is drawing the wrong conclusion. That has always been the case under successive Governments. The only effect of the present legislation is that the gap which he is complaining about is being substantially narrowed for the first time.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Stirling and Falkirk Burghs

I know that it has always been the case, but the Government were talking about bringing fairness into housing. We will continue to argue that rent levels should be uniform.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Stirling and Falkirk Burghs

I welcome the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor). It is nice to see him here. If the Government seek to preserve that differential they must expect discontent. That is bound to happen. There should be another look at the housing revenue account. It should be restructured. There are items charged to the housing revenue account at present which do not relate to housing. If we are to deal with the problem of housing finance, the Government should restructure the housing revenue account.

I shall be happy to go through the Division Lobby tonight with my right hon. and hon. Friends to condemn the Conservative Government's housing record. I am certain that when the Dundee, East by-election takes place, the electors will also condemn the housing record of this Government. I am even more certain that when a General Election comes, irrespective of the high hopes of Sir William McEwan Younger, the electors of Scotland will condemn this Conservative Government.

7.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr Jack Dormand Mr Jack Dormand , Easington

I shall be extremely brief in dealing with a problem that is causing great concern in my constituency as in other parts of the country. It is a matter which was referred to on two or three occasions in the Secretary of State's speech. I refer to the inability of my local authority to obtain tenders to meet the cost yardstick laid down by the Department of the Environment. This position has now existed for a year as far as Easington Rural District Council is concerned—a council with a housing record second to none.

Costs in the North-East of England continue to escalate—indeed, they are sky-high. In the recent debate on secondary education I concentrated on the same point in relation to the building of schools, where there are serious delays. One North-East newspaper recently carried a headline "£10,000 council houses". That is the situation in the North-East.

The Department recognises that the problem exists because it permits a "market conditions allowance". One such allowance has been made to my local authority, but the 11 per cent. which has been permitted still leaves a margin of £17,000, which means that the scheme cannot be started. I understand that it is not unusual for local authorities to have larger margins. Indeed my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) referred in his opening speech to Norwich, where he said an allowance of 60 per cent. had been made. I understand that the allowance in Birmingham is 40 per cent. Therefore, my plea is simply for a much more generous attitude towards this allowance in respect of authorities such as my own.

In the debate on 2nd November 1972 the then Secretary of State, when announcing these special yardstick allowances in areas of particular stress, said: In announcing this I think we will be able to prevent any loss of momentum among the authorities in their housing building progran-Imes.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd November 1972. Vol. 845, c. 348.] In my constituency there has been not only a loss of momentum; things have come to a standstill as far as new schemes are concerned. Slum clearance has come to a halt.

Suggestions have been made for certain items to be cut, but these proposals involve an unacceptable lowering of standards. I support my council in this view. In the North-East our standards have been too low for too long. In this debate we should be talking about raising rather than reducing standards.

The basic problem is that the cost yardstick is now completely unworkable. There have been rumours for some months that a new yardstick, much more related to present day conditions is to be announced. I hope that when the Under-Secretary of State for Development replies to the debate we shall be given some firm information on this aspect, for unless something is done as a matter of urgency, the building of council houses in my constituency will come to a standstill. In an area which has had a serious housing problem for many years, this will be disastrous. I appeal to the Minister for prompt action in this difficulty. I understand that my local authority has asked for a deputation to be allowed to meet the Minister to discuss the whole problem, and I hope that he will readily agree to it.

7.35 p.m.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Glasgow Cathcart

I regret that I was unable to be here for the earlier part of the debate, but I had to attend a meeting of the Consumer Committee. I wish to refer briefly to a few points which I hope my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will deal with in his reply.

I should like to say a brief word about the points raised by the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Ewing). The hon. Gentleman called for equality of treatment in Scotland, in terms of Scottish Special Housing Association tenants, new town tenants and council tenants. In the last Parliament some of my colleagues and I continually pressed the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) to do something to bring equality of treatment within those three categories. In my constituency of Cathcart there are SSHA houses and Glasgow Corporation houses side by side, factored by the Corporation of Glasgow and coming under the housing list.

In the appalling situation which existed under the previous Government the Secretary of State forced the SSHA to put up rents regularly, year by year. In the new towns local authorities were under no such compulsion. The ludicrous situation which resulted was that the SSHA tenants suffered much higher rents than the Glasgow Corporation tenants even though their houses were in the same streets, factored by the same local authority and dealing with tenants on the same housing lists. The new legislation will put the situation right, because there will be equality of treatment as between SSHA and municipal tenants.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Stirling and Falkirk Burghs

Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear that the way the new Bill puts this right is not by holding down the level of SSHA rents but by increasing the level of municipal rents? If the hon. Gentleman sees justice in that, he ought to explain himself.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Glasgow Cathcart

Instead of a blanket subsidy being given to a section of the community irrespective of need, we seek to concentrate the subsidy on those who need it—whether they be a new town, SSHA or municipal homes. This is a fairer way of proceeding, which I hope will remove the sort of complaint that we have heard from the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs.

I was present in the Chamber to hear the speech made by the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun), who feels passionately about this subject. He said that the answer to the housing problem was to build more houses. This is a theme which we constantly hear from the hon. Gentleman, who speaks eloquently and sincerely on these matters, but I suggest to him that the answer is not just to build more houses. It is a question not just of the number of houses but of their location. Unfortunately, many of the places at which housing schemes have been sited have attracted for themselves a bad name, and although many people on the housing lists have three or four times been offered houses on those sites, they have declined to accept them. They say "We do not want a house in Scheme Y or Scheme X. We shall wait for a scheme with different amenities, in a more pleasant and more convenient area."

We are creating a new social problem in our cities, involving new schemes of this nature which are in danger of becoming slums of the future not because the accommodation is inadequate, but because we are concentrating our socially deprived families in those areas. This is becoming a new problem in Glasgow. I have no authority to speak about Glasgow housing lists, but I know of people in Cathcart who have been offered modern houses by the Glasgow Corporation but in a place where they do not want to live. This will be the major problem for the future.

Bearing in mind the large schemes we have, some of which have bad names, some of which have a large number of social problems, some of which are starved of amenities, our concentration in our major cities in the future should not be just on building more and more rows of houses, some of which will be desperately sought after and some of which will lie empty. We should concentrate our resources on improving the amenities of our present major housing schemes. For Glasgow, in an area such as Easterhouse, which has many problems, instead of building more houses we should spend money on trying to improve community facilities and morale. That is very important.

What can be done? We know that one of our major problems in municipal areas—particularly an area like Glasgow, with over 120,000 council houses and with about 44 per cent. of all houses, at the last count, owned by the local authority—is raising morale and the standards 'If the schemes. First, we should provide more amenities. Secondly, perhaps more importantly, we should do something about problem tenants—the kind of tenants who, when introduced to a street or an area, can bring down the standards. These are not particularly vicious or vindictive families. Most are families who cannot cope with financial problems and with home life.

In one of the housing schemes in my area we have the social work organisation called the Family Service Unit, which has done more to improve the general standards of the area than any building or new enterprise. We know that many families moving into these houses have to refurnish. They have to buy carpets on hire purchase, and to repaint, and so on. They are presented with a large number of bills, which they have to pay by weekly instalments. They get into deep financial troubles. Often the problem is not a shortage of cash but an inability to manage, or to budget. Even a simple change from a weekly rent—for which it is easy to budget—to a monthly or quarterly rent is a major problem.

The increase in rent to which the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs referred has taken place. Whereas in the past many families were paying rent out of a weekly wage, so that for one week in the month they had a bad week with no money to spare because of the rent, suddenly they find that because of increased rents it cannot be done out of a weekly wage. They have to budget. That can he a problem with quarterly electricity bills, which are expensive because of under-floor heating, the move to all-electric services, telephone bills, which are very substantial when they are paid quarterly, and the rates and rent bill.

We need a major drive to provide more social work help in such areas to help families to cope. This may well mean ensuring that a social worker or representative will take one of the family's allowance books, or even a welfare book, and say to that family, "We shall pay any instalments for you until you can cope yourself."

It is a tragedy that so many families are unable to cope. This brings about trouble. It means that they create social problems. It brings down an area very badly, and usually ends up with either an eviction or a forced transfer to one of the lower amenity areas.

In planning for the future, let us spend more money on the necessary amenities for an area. Let us have all the schools and community centres that we need. Let us ensure that there are suitable shopping centres throughout the areas. Let us investigate the policy of breaking up the big schemes into a number of smaller schemes, each with its own centre and, as Glasgow Corporation is doing at present, let us provide more than one name for the big schemes, so that we have a more effective sense of community.

I hope that more will be spent on what I call community deprivation, instead of building more and more houses on the periphery which will not be let and which, being empty, will be an eyesore in our communities. Let us stop the ridiculous situation of a so-called housing list of over 50,000 alongside many empty houses in certain schemes.

On the private housing side, in Scotland as in the rest of the country, we have seen a dramatic rise in the price of private housing. The reasons are fairly clear. There have been increased costs, although that is not the main factor. The main factor has been the greater availability of credit and mortgages. The easy availability of money means also that firms have made profits which they did not anticipate or hope for.

The only answer is to provide more land. It is very easy to say that, but whenever we go about designating an area formerly zoned for open space to be used for housing, we have immense pressure from local residents, who say that they bought their houses on the strict understanding that others would never be built in front of them. Then we have public inquiries, and so on. What progress are we making in the West of Scotland in providing more land?

In relation to housing and employment, one of our major problems—the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Alexander Wilson) would agree with this—is that in Scotland we do not have a population which is as mobile as that of other parts of the country. The main reason for that is that so many of our people are tenants of the SSHA, new towns or local authority houses. They have waited a long time for the house they wanted, and once they are there they are not mobile, because transfers are difficult to get, despite the central exchange in Paisley. It is difficult to find a house when one has been living in rented accommodation at a time when prices are very high.

We want to increase mobility. Can my hon. Friend the Minister say whether, in Scotland, we shall be pressing for home ownership through the purchase of council houses by sitting tenants as hard as it appears that it is being done in England—and whether any progress has been made? Is the central exchange in Paisley producing results? How many exchanges between areas have been brought about?

On rents, we have three issues before us at present in Scotland. First, there is the last remaining large local authority in Clydebank, which is holding out in refusing to implement the Housing Finance Act. I hope that my hon. Friend and his advisers will not do what I believe some of these rebels want them to do, namely, to create a situation in which they can be martyrs. Many Socialist-controlled major councils objected to the Bill. They did not like it, but they have, reluctantly, accepted it. We do not want to make martyrs or heroes out of this small group of local government anarchists in Clydebank. Action should be taken speedily. The obvious way, if it can be done, is for the Secretary of State to take over the responsibility for running the Clydebank local authority. Will my hon. Friend indicate whether that would be legal?

On the question of private rents, my hon. Friend will be aware that while the machinery for fair rents established by the previous Government has, by and large, been working smoothly, if not well, there appear to be special problems in Glasgow. There appears to be relative harmony between the decisions of the rent officers and rent assessment committees in many parts of Scotland, but in Glasgow, over the last year rent officers have generally been fixing rents which are much lower than those fixed by the rent assessment committee.

The advice that I give to my constituents at my weekly surgery is that if the rent officer fixes a figure which seems to me to be the known figure for the Glasgow rent officer, they should avoid like the plague going to the rent assessment committee. It appears that in the vast majority of recent cases in Glasgow the rent assessment committee, when a rent has been appealed, is fixing rents which are much higher than that fixed by the rent officer.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Glasgow Cathcart

The hon. Gentleman should know this. He was partly responsible for the implementation of the 1969 Act, which has caused the havoc we are experiencing at present. This is striking a great deal of fear into the hearts of tenants. Many are scared to go to the rent assessment committee because they know that it is fixing rents that in some cases are astronomically higher than those fixed by rent officers.

Photo of Dr Dickson Mabon Dr Dickson Mabon , Greenock

I did not say "Why?" in order to be difficult. I genuinely want to know why. This is not necessarily the experience of rent assessment committees elsewhere in Scotland. There must be something seriously wrong with the rent assessment committee if that is true.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Glasgow Cathcart

It worries me a great deal. People who have rents fixed by a rent officer often think there are grounds for a second look at the assessment. Many tenants in Glasgow are scared to go to the rent assessment committee because it appears to be fixing rents much higher than those fixed by the rent officers. I will give an example of which the hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) will be aware, because he has taken a great interest in this subject.

A company called The Western Heritable Investment Company owns a large number of houses in the constituencies of the Lord Advocate, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie), the hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Milian) and the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Gregor Mackenzie). The landlords applied for a fair rent to be fixed under the 1969 Act, which was presented by the then Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock. The 1971 Act is the consolidation of the two Acts passed by the previous Government in 1965 and 1969. The rent officer, after carefully considering the matter—it concerned six test cases for a large area—fixed the rent at £204. The tenants thought, rightly or wrongly, that this figure was excessive and they appealed to the Glasgow Rent Assessment Committee, which fixed a rent of £340. That was an increase of £136 per annum, or over £2·10 a week more than that fixed by the rent officer. This is not unusual in my experience in Glasgow. There clearly is something wrong if we have the rent assessment committee and rent officers going in different directions.

I do not know much about the rent assessment committee—although I have attended hearings on behalf of constituents—but I know the Glasgow rent officers. My impression is that they take their job seriously, do it firmly, and try to be fair to both tenant and landlord. I am not very happy about some of the activities of the Glasgow Rent Assessment Committee. It would be wrong for me, with my limited experience, to condemn it, but something is obviously wrong, and I hope that it can be put right.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will be aware that although it was not intended the 1969 Act, now consolidated in the 1971 Act, has created a situation in which private rents, which in some cases were admittedly ridiculously low, have been increased by a staggering amount. For example, a rent of 12s. 6d. a week, which has wrongly gone on for about 40 years, will now be increased to about £7 a week over three annual increases. I do not think that the draftsmen of the Bill were thinking in terms of these increases. Whether they did or not —[Interruption.] It is not a question of late conversion. Before the election I had several meetings with the then Minister about the matter that I am now raising.

We have passed a Bill which ensures that council rents will be increased by no more than 75p per week per annum. We know that council rents have been very low, and that they must rise over a period so we have put an annual limit on the increase. Such a limit would be quite wrong for vacant houses. However, I believe that although private rents have been low and should have been raised, it is fair and reasonable, if we are limiting the increase in council and SSHA rents to a specific amount per year, that there should be a similar limitation for tenants in private houses which have been controlled. I cannot support a situation where council tenants' rents will not go up by more than 75p per week per year while private tenants living just across the road have no such limitation on the annual increase in their rents.

We now have rent allowances for private tenants and rent rebates for municipal tenants. This is splendid. It should have been done a long time ago, but it is grand that it has been done now. These allowances are now available to both council and private tenants. But how can we justify drawing a fine line between the two and saying that in the one case we will limit the increase to 75p per week per year and in the other case, that of the private tenant, there will be no such limitation? It is difficult to justify that situation, and I hope that some way will be found of doing something about it.

7.55 p.m.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman , Manchester Ardwick

As the debate has proceeded, the differences between the two sides have been over not simply the motion and the amendment and the dismal record of this Government since 1970 but the whole approach to housing problems. Hon. Members opposite, with the single exception of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor), look upon housing as cost accounting, money, and how to deal with matters in terms of ledgers. Hon. Members on this side, who have to deal with human problems week in, week out, look upon housing as a matter of flesh and blood when they see their constituents.

I wish to return the debate to what it should be about—namely, the human realities of housing. I wish the House to know about the human suffering which goes on in my constituency because of the housing problems with which my constituents are afflicted. It should know of the lady who telephoned me a few days ago saying that she had not been in touch with me lately because she had been in hospital recovering from the overdose of tablets that she had taken under stress due to her unresolved housing problems; of the lady who came to my advice bureau on Saturday morning and broked down in tears telling me that her home had been lost and that by the end of the month she would have nowhere to go; of the man who came to see me and told me how in his slum home in part of my constituency his wife, bronchitic and epileptic, had during an epileptic seizure fallen into the fire and severely burned herself; of the man who wrote and told me of his family's situation: four brothers sharing one bedroom and an eleven-year-old daughter sharing the bedroom with her mother and father; of the man who came to see me and told me that his wife could not bear to be in their house any longer because they had lost two babies in it, one only on Boxing Day; and of the old lady, now in hospital, whose house in the middle of Manchester, after two and a half years' pressure by myself on the slum landlord, had electricity installed at long last. That lady, elderly, arthritic, disabled and now in hospital with cerebral ischemia, cannot now, at the end of her life, enjoy the luxury of electricity in her house. The House should also know of a house in another part of my constituency where, after nine months, the landlord is still resisting the pressure that I have put upon him to install a bath for the tenant.

These constitute only a fraction of the housing cases which I encounter in my constituency. The great city of Manchester, which is suffering from a Government who have made it more difficult to find a home, to buy a home or to rent a home, is only now in 1973 beginning to recover from four disastrous years of Conservative control in the town hall.

Yet, what did the Conservative Party, which we accuse tonight, promise at the General Election? It is perhaps indecent now to turn to "A Better Tomorrow", its election manifesto, but it is necessary to do so. On page 7 it said: We will reverse the decline in building, make home ownership easier again …". Last year saw the lowest number of housing completions for nine years and the lowest number of council house completions for 11 years. They would make home ownership easier again. In the North-West last autumn a new house cost £5,420 compared with £4,400 in 1970 when the Government came to power.

The manifesto attacked what is described as the highest mortgage interest rates in our history. That was under the Labour Government. Those interest rates, denounced by Tory MPs, are just as high now. How my constituents wish they could go back to the situation when the Government took over. How they wish they could go back to those bad old days of 1970 food prices, 1970 clothes prices and 1970 rents. The Secretary of State for the Environment, in his lackadaisical speech today, said that local authorities had the right to determine their own housing policies. Yet the Manchester local authority has been forced by the Department to push up council rents in my constituency and in the other Manchester constituencies, including the two represented by Conservative MPs, both of whom have not been present for the debate today.

The authorities have been forced by the Government to increase rents by 92p per week, and the first private house rents will go up in Manchester 12 weeks from now. All this takes no account of the massive rent increase looming over Manchester which will hit householders hardest. Already under the Housing Finance Act council tenants have been suffering from problems, tension and bitterness as they apply for rebates and as they find that they do not qualify that the advertisements placed in the newspapers by the Department of the Environment have been untruthful and misleading. If the needs allowance, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman boasted about, is taken up, if my constituents apply and qualify for it, by so doing they will be adding to the ratepayers' burden because all of these allowances, including the new £3·50 needs allowance, come not from the Government but from the ratepayer and the rentpayer.

As for private rents, I am at this moment investigating a case in my constituency of a 73-year-old widow, a private tenant, whose landlord has told her, without any legal right so to do, that when the freeze ends at the end of April he will increase her rent by £2·14 a week. That is the kind of trickery and knavery that is going on under the Government's legislation. Every kind of tenant is suffering: the council tenant, the private tenant—as this gross and appalling case makes clear—and also the tenant in furnished accommodation. In greater Manchester the average rent of furnished tenancies has risen under the Government from £2·92 a week to £4·82 a week—a 65 per cent. increase. As any hon. Member who represents an area containing a large proportion of furnished tenancies will know, such tenancies are often occupied by the most vulnerable section of the population, by the poorest tenant and often by tenants living in the worst kind of accommodation. Yet these people are having to pay 65 per cent. more than they did when the Government came to power.

Under the Labour-controlled council, Manchester is doing everything it can to deal with the housing situation. It is clearing slums at a record rate—last year it cleared 4,854. It is out-building every other provincial city. Its completions last year were 1,000 ahead of the best of the other provincial cities. But what good is it the Labour council building houses when the Tory Government then price them out of the tenants' pocket by using the Housing Finance Act?

The Manchester City Council, having been forced by the Secretary of State to put up rents by 92p a week, has now decided that, in order to achieve the fair rents which the Government are insisting that it should impose, an average increase of only 5p a week for corporation property is required. We shall now see whether the rent scrutiny board accepts that the 5p increase per week is all that is needed, because if it does not accept that and if it insists that rents must go up even higher to more penal levels it will serve only to drive the council tenants whom I represent on to the mortgage market. If that happens, they will force the spiral up still further. They will suffer, too, from the crazily unfair rate revaluation unless the Prime Minister delivers the goods when the leaders of the councils see him on Friday.

How in these circumstances can the Government, having imposed these burdens on all classes of householder, expect wage-earners to accept pay restraint under the legislation now being pushed through the House? I therefore make simple and clear demands, and I make them knowing that I speak for the majority of my constituents. The Government must drop the Housing Finance Act. They must bring in rent control for furnished tenancies. They must arrest interest rates. They must freeze house prices, and they must intervene to hold down the price of building land.

We are still waiting for the better tomorrow promised in the Conservative Party's untruthful document, but meanwhile for the home owner, for the would-be home owner, for the tenant and for the would-be tenant it will be a long dark night before the dawn.

8.8 p.m.

Photo of Mr Peter Trew Mr Peter Trew , Dartford

The hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) is right to draw attention to the problem of housing in Manchester and the other conurbations, but he is wrong to say that his party has a monopoly of concern for human problems. What he dismisses as a book-keeping or a ledger approach to housing—by which I presume he means the Housing Finance Act—is an attempt to channel resources to those areas where the need is greatest, particularly in slum clearance.

I apologise to the House that I have not been present in the Chamber for long. I have been engaged in the Standing Committee on the Counter-Inflation Bill. I also declare an interest in construction and housing development. I wish to refer first to public ownership of land and secondly to the question of land prices. The Labour Party has come forward with very few specific proposals in housing, but one that it has made is that building land should come into public ownership. However, it has not spelt out the precise ways in which it will achieve that, and because it is an important subject and one to which the people of this country are entitled to an explanation I shall explain my understand of its intentions and try to assess what might be involved.

First, all the land in the country would have to be surveyed and its development potential assessed. That land would then have to be valued. It would have to be valued, first, on existing use and then on market value, and finally a price below market value would have to be calculated at which it should be made available for development. That having been done, negotiations would have to be entered into with the owners to enable the land to pass into public ownership. If those negotiations failed there would obviously have to be recourse to compulsory purchase. To achieve all this, a public body of sorts would have to be set up, and clearly a name would have to be found for it. As the Labour Party has not suggested a name, I will put one forward. It should adopt the name of a very similar body which carried out almost identical functions. The new body would require the same sort of staff, and in very large numbers, and it would be called, of course, the Land Commission—because the Labour Party's proposals for the public ownership of land are nothing more than a proposal to resurrect in another form the Land Commission. The Labour Party has never really got over its grief at the demise of that absurd body with all its bureaucratic paraphernalia.

There are one or two specific problems arising from the public ownership of land—as I understand the Labour Party to be conceiving it—which are worth mentioning. I understand it is part of its proposals that it will make this land, which it has acquired at existing use value, available to developers at something below market value. I believe the words used by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition were "at a reasonable price". The intention would be that developers, having acquired the land at this relatively low price, should then be able to sell houses at below the present price level, which we all agree is unacceptable. But an immediate consequence of that is that unless some restriction were placed on the resale of those houses, people buying them would immediately have an opportunity to re-sell them at a profit.

This would have to be dealt with in one or two ways. Either there would have to be price control on the sale of all houses—and I do not think the Labour Party would adopt that because administratively it would be exceedingly difficult—or the land would have to be made available on a special form of tenure, probably Crownhold, with a stipulation that if the house were to be sold within a period of, let us say, five years, any profit on resale would accrue to the State. That is probably the proposal the Labour Party would adopt. This is a reasonable proposition if that is what hon. Gentlemen opposite want to achieve. But a consequence would be that we should then have two distinct classes of property ownership—existing houses, either under freehold or leasehold, with no restriction on resale; and all new houses being built on publicly-owned land, which would be subject to restriction on resale.

A consequence, I suggest, would be to make much more popular existing houses having no restriction on resale, which I believe would lead to an increase in the price of those other secondhand houses. There is another question to which we all want an answer: precisely how far would the Labour Party carry nationalisation of land? Would it extend to that part of people's gardens which were reckoned to have development value? The gardeners of Britain are waiting anxiously to know whether their vegetable gardens are to be nationalised. In times of Labour Government, vegetable gardens are very important.

The public ownership of land certainly would not make any contribution to speeding up the rate of housebuilding. I have indicated that there would be prolonged and complex negotiations involved. This would inevitably slow down the rate at which new houses came on the market and I do not believe it would make any contribution to bringing down the price of houses. We all agree that these have risen at an unacceptable rate. In considering what we can do about it, I believe a great deal of the discussion has centred on the question of new houses and the price of land. These are important elements in this complex market, but many people overlook the importance of secondhand houses in the housing market. Last year 750,000 houses changed hands and of those only 175,000, or 21 per cent., were new houses. In other words, nearly 80 per cent. of the total housing sales last year were of secondhand houses.

I suggest that it is the price of secondhand houses which determines the price of all houses, including new houses. It is the price a developer knows he can get in the market for a new house, based on secondhand house prices, which determines the price he will pay for a piece of land. In other words, rather than the price of land being the factor determining the price of housing, it is very much the other way round. It is the prevailing level of prices in the housing market which forces up the price of land. What can we do about it? We have a relatively fixed stock of some 9 million owner-occupied houses. The annual rate of new building represents a very small addition to the total stock of houses. Taking 200,000 new houses a year that is an addition of only about 2 per cent. to the total housing stock.

It is probably more important to think of new houses as 20 per cent. of the number of houses actually sold but it is difficult, physically, to make an appreciable addition to the housing stock. There are two possible ways by which one can decide to do something about the price of housing. One can either do something about toning down demand or, alternatively, increase the supply. There are ways of reducing the demand for housing. Obviously, the ability of people to buy houses—in other words, the effective demand—depends on how much they earn and the size of mortgage they can afford. I do not think anybody would suggest we should restrict what people earn as a means of keeping down house prices.

Then there is the availability of mortgages. If they are freely available, house prices tend to rise; but a fact that is often overlooked when people talk of mortgages being too freely available is that no man can take on a mortgage bigger than he can afford to service from his income. Two factors enter into this.

There is the rate of interest on the mortgage. Clearly, one could stabilise house prices by increasing mortgage interest rates but that is unacceptable. There is the question of the tax relief on mortgage interest. If that were removed it would have the effect of lowering house prices, because people could not afford mortgages of the same size; but I have heard no suggestion from the other side that we should end tax relief on mortgage interest.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite have suggested that there should be a ceiling above which no tax relief should be granted. There are fallacies in this argument. Let us suppose, for example, that the ceiling was £20,000. This would mean, in effect, that if one bought a house under £20,000 in value one would be entitled to tax relief, but if the value was over £20,000 one would have no tax relief. This would be tantamount to saying that a man who bought a house under £20,000 in value, taking advantage of tax relief on the standard rate of 30 per cent., would be borrowing money at 6 per cent. if he got a mortgage at 8½ per cent.; and the man buying a house costing over £20,000 would be paying the full 8½ per cent.

The effect would be that if both men could devote £750 of their income to a mortgage, the man buying a house under £20,000 in value with the benefit of tax relief could take a mortgage of £12,500 and the man buying a house costing just over £20,000 and having to pay the full 8½ per cent. interest could raise a mortgage of only £9,000 in value. Clearly, this would take quite a lot of steam out of the market for the more expensive houses but it would not help people trying to buy houses at the bottom end of the market, particularly the young married couples whom we all want to help. There could be a paradoxical consequence contrary to what is intended in that houses under £20,000 in value could become much more popular, that sector of the market woiuld be much more active, and the market for houses above £20,000 would be more stagnant.

Photo of Mr Ernest Perry Mr Ernest Perry , Battersea South

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that in dealing with insurance companies, insurance policies and tax relief, the Inland Revenue has adopted a scheme whereby with a policy for over a certain amount, or a certain amount of premium, one gets only two-fifths? Could not such a scheme be exended?

Photo of Mr Peter Trew Mr Peter Trew , Dartford

I will not say such schemes could not be introduced but sometimes they have altogether unexpected side-effects. On the question of reducing demand generally, there are certainly ways in which we can tone down the demand for housing which would have an effect of stabilising or lowering prices. But as a consequence of any such measure builders would be led to cut back their building plans which I do not think would help anybody. Therefore, we turn to the supply of houses and what can be done to increase it. Clearly, we can do something to release new land, but it must be land in the right places. To release an army camp in the middle of the green belt will not necessarily make a contribution to the housing problem. One can simply try to step up the rate of house building, but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), in his opening speech, raised what is quite a pertinent point, in that one might come up against the capacity of the construction industry to build new houses. In an Adjournment debate on 17th March last year I referred to the capacity of the construction industry. The debate was about unemployment in the industry, and I made it clear that although there was unemployment there was also an acute shortage of skilled craftsmen which might become critical. The situation is not as grave as the right hon. Member for Grimsby suggested. But I believe that the time has come to think again about labour-saving methods of construction. Industrialised building got off to a false start eight years ago, and many builders burned their fingers. But I believe that the time has come to think about it again.

There is one way in which the stock of housing can be increased dramatically and more so than by any other method such as releasing more land or stepping up the rate of house building. It is by the sale of council houses. We have 9 million owner-occupied houses and we have 5 million or 6 million council houses. We would not have to sell a very large percentage of them to make a substantial addition to the stock of owner-occupied houses and that as much as anything would help to stabilise the market by increasing the supply side of the equation.

The housing market is a very complex one. There are no easy solutions. I believe that the best solution lies on the side of doing all that we can to increase the physical stock of owner-occupied houses by releasing more land, by building more and by the sale of council houses.

8.22 p.m.

Photo of Mr Donald Stewart Mr Donald Stewart , Na h-Eileanan an Iar

I hope that the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Trew) will forgive me if I do not take up any of his remarks, especially his questions to the Labour Party, which are for members of the official Opposition to answer. However, presently I may return to the hon. Gentleman's point about mortgages.

As the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) said, this is not the kind of debate which can be dealt with by statistics. It has been singularly free from exchanges of figures across the Floor of the House. However, I am not certain of the right of the motion's signatories to attack the Government. The Opposition motion is well enough founded, but, bearing in mind their record when in Government, they are not really in a position to attack the policies of the present administration. As the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart) said, no Government have solved the United Kingdom's housing problem, and on this as on other issues the message of the Conservative Government to the Opposition seems to be, "Anything you can do badly, we can do worse".

The question of the private ownership of housing has much more relevance to Scotland than it has to England. We have fewer owner-occupied houses. Any reduction in the number of council houses is much more a problem for Scotland than it is for England. It is no use saying that young people are taking on mortgages. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) said that he did not know how they did it, but that they were doing it. However, tens of thousands of young people in Scotland, and probably in England as well, know that if they work every year of their lives and live frugally they will never be in a position to take on mortgages, by virtue of their low wages, and they will never see the day when they own their own houses. The message for them is, "No council house. No home, either." The Government, with their built-in prejudice against council houses, must accept that young people do not have sufficient means, and one does not have to be a prophet to say that they will not have the means to ensure that there is home ownership on the wide scale that the Government talk about.

A society which cannot guarantee decent homes for its people is a disintegrating one. It is time that the Government got down to seeing that at long last our people are housed in a proper way. I support the suggestion of the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) that a start could be made by slashing the Defence budget, which is largely a waste in any event and which churns out weapons which are obsolete almost as soon as they are produced. There will be nothing worth defending if the country's expenditure on housing is reduced.

Dealing with this matter in a Scottish context, a short time ago there was over £1,000 million of Scottish national savings with the Treasury in London. It was lent by Scottish savers at a ridiculously low interest rate. At the same time, Scottish local authorities are borrowing money from the Public Works Loan Board at the existing high rate of interest. A way must be found to allow local authorities in Scotland to use their own funds at a reasonable rate of interest to build their own houses.

In my constituency many crofters build their own houses, and I suggest to the Secretary of State that the Government should increase their grants for crofters' houses. I know that they have been increased since this Government took office, but they represent a very small proportion of the crofters building houses in the Outer Hebrides, and they should be extended to people other than crofters. After all, if people cannot build their own homes the solution is a local authority house which may cost £7,000 or £8,000.

Although houses exist in the Western Isles the Inverness County Council was shocked by a recent report showing that a large percentage had no piped water, no baths and no inside lavatories, owing, to the Government's failure to make grants for water schemes. I am glad that in recent months the Secretary of State has approved several special schemes, but many which still await his approval would turn houses into comfortable homes. When one considers the amount involved it is appalling that an amenity known to Roman Britain should be lacking to bring houses up to a reasonable standard.

I have reservations about the prosecuting counsel in this case throwing their stones from glass houses, but I think that the charge in the motion is well proved and I shall support it in the Division Lobby.

8.29 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Allason Mr James Allason , Hemel Hempstead

I think that on reflection the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Donald Stewart) will realise that his suggestion that unless more money is spent on housing there will be nothing left in this country worth defending is a rather ridiculous statement. He has got the argument upside-down. Surely the argument is that unless we defend ourselves it is no good spending all our money on a marvellous welfare State.

The hon. Member also said that on this side of the House there is a built-in prejudice against council houses. That is not so. We wish to see tenants have the right to buy their own council houses if they want to do so. That is not in any way an attempt to reduce the stock of council houses. It is an attempt to meet the wishes of those living in those houses. Why not meet the wishes of tenants? The wishes of tenants are to buy houses in which they live, on which they have spent a great deal of time, energy and money in providing carpets and curtains. They have tilled their gardens. They want to stay in those houses. They do not want to be told "If you want to own your house, you must buy some other house elsewhere". This is why we believe it right to allow tenants to buy their homes. I hope that this will gradually sink in among hon. Members opposite, for it is an honourable and legitimate aim.

I declare an interest in this debate as an owner and manager of property. I am very glad that we are discussing the very serious situation of housing in this country. We have a combination of high prices and a low building programme. Of course, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Trew) said, one thing leads to another—if there is shortage of a material the price goes up. We all remember the pledge, the promise not lightly given, a solemn pledge that no matter what circumstances intervened "we shall build 500,000 houses a year". That was the pledge given by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition at Bradford before the 1966 General Election. This is the tragedy. If we had been building since 1968 500,000 houses a year we would not be in this position because we would have a vastly increased stock of houses. I want to see us climbing back to a total of 500,000 houses a year as soon as possible.

There is no doubt that there is a grave shortage of houses. Although we have nearly 18 million dwellings, we are not replacing them at anything like the speed that is necessary. The increase in the population has to be met. Houses are gradually deteriorating and cannot be expected to last for ever, although the improvement grant system is a great help. There is nothing like enough replacement going on nor enough building of new houses, so there is a shortage. As a result, we see panic buying. This has been the pattern over the last 12 months. House buyers have seen that land is scarce. They have panicked and said "If we don't buy a house now, we shall never be able to get one". Builders also have panicked and have rushed in saying "We cannot see our future stock of land coming forward. We can see that the public are prepared to pay high prices. We must stay in the market, and all we can do is to bid up the price of land".

I do not accept the statements of local planning authorities which claim that there is plenty of land on the market. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. S. James A. Hill) said, the claims in the North Cheshire case of 11,000 acres of land available for build- ing proved totally incorrect. Earlier, we had a similar investigation in Hertfordshire, and once again the claim that there was ample building land in the county was proved incorrect.

It is not surprising that local planning authorities want to claim that there is plenty of building land, because all the pressures are against providing more building land. At local level, each individual wants to house himself and does not want further building around him. We all know how in our constituencies there are pressures to prevent further building wherever it might be.

That again is reflected at county level, where there is the tendency to say "We have done enough to house people." I must except Hertfordshire from this because it has done more than any other county. Naturally, it says that the housing should be done elsewhere. Unfortunately, every other county has the same idea. While it may be justified in Hertfordshire, it is not so everywhere else. The result is that people say "We will buy only the minimum amount of land essential for the building programme."

In addition, local planning authorities do not really know the land situation. They do not know what land is built on and what the position is about various planning permissions which have been granted. The result is that insufficient land comes forward for building. My right hon. and learned Friend sends out circulars urging that more land should be put on to the market. There is little response. I reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test and my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Idris Owen) that the Ministry must do something more than send out circulars.

We suggest that the Ministry should send a team to these areas which are not coming forward with sufficient building land. The Ministry must know the worst offenders. A land monitoring commissioner is a possibility. Let him go to these areas and then report to the Minister on county planning authorities which are failing in their duty. If this is done it will bring about a significant improvement in the amount of land on the market. Prices will come down, and this is what we want. The price of houses will be reflected in that decrease.

When more land is available more houses can be built and the panic of house purchasers, rushing forward to buy anything because they are scared of further price increases, will end. House prices will stabilise. Rising prices are a symptom of shortage. My right hon. and learned Friend must insist on more land releases. This is a serious challenge which must be met soon.

8.38 p.m.

Photo of Mrs Doris Fisher Mrs Doris Fisher , Birmingham, Ladywood

No one on the Government side of the House has taken upon themselves the responsibility, which is entirely the Government's, for the disastrous housing record. We have had a lot of specious arguments, a lot of excuses, but no one has accepted the responsibility which belongs to the party opposite.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) has said, we have had the biggest cutback in housing subsidies made by any Government since the war. The Secretary of State gave us a smokescreen about housing subsidies. It is a smokescreen because the cutback represents a definite cut in money amounting to nearly £500 million over the next four years. It is not a saving. This must result in a reduction in the availability of houses for those most in need. For hon. Members opposite to talk with their tongues in their cheeks about helping those in greatest need is sheer hypocrisy, because they supported the Housing Finance Act knowing full well that it would lead to a cutback in a housing programme that could only help the less fortunate in the community.

But there are large local authorities—and mine is one of them—which have massive slum-clearance schemes. We find time and time again that we have to face a land shortage. Time and time again we have pressurised the Secretary of State for overspill. Time and time again it seems to take him months and months and years and years to come forward with his recommendations. When the previous Secretary of State was in office Birmingham always wanted to go into the Worcestershire area. I do not know whether the previous Secretary of State did not like the Birmingham people, or was thinking primarily of his own seat at the next General Election, but he was very hesitant about letting us go out into the wonderful pastures of Worcestershire.

We have this highly speculative commodity, land. The Government can freeze all kinds of things, but not land. I would have thought that this Tory Government, capable as they are supposed to be, should have been able to do this very simply. We on this side of the House hear trade unionists being assailed by a plethora of clichés and platitudes designed to make them feel very guilty if they utter a word about the freeze; they are consequently labelled unpatriotic. But it seems as though those people who deal in land and property speculation are not guilty of acting against the national interest. It appears that profits can transcend patriotism, hut not in the case of trade unionists.

I would like to bring to the attention of the Minister and support the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand). One of the main causes of the lack of housebuilding and the figures from the large conurbations has been the problem which my hon. Friend the Member for Easington mentioned—the impossibility of obtaining tenders for housebuilding contracts. With fixed price tendering at a time of escalating prices there has been a definite reluctance on the part of contractors even to put in a tender for a contract, and in the city of Birmingham it has not been unusual to invite as many as 20 firms to submit a tender and have one or two contractors put in a price. There must be something in that for the Secretary of State to answer.

It is no good his trying to delude himself by saying that he was not aware of the difficulties concerning the cost yardstick. At a meeting of the Birmingham City Council today a report from the housing manager on behalf of the housing committee came forward. I should like to read a few lines from that report about the cost yardstick. It said: This problem"— of the cost yardstick— started to become acute towards the end of 1971 and by March 1972, when there was a very sharp escalation of building costs, it had started to become impossible for your Committee"— the housing committee— to obtain tenders within the yardstick level. This is the point I want the Secretary of State to listen to very carefully: The strongest possible representations were made to the Department of the Environment upon this matter. That was in March 1972, when this sharp escalation of building costs was very apparent, but it was not until November—eight months later, when the housing building programme in Birmingham had come to a complete standstill—that the Department of the Environment and the Secretary of State decided that they might be able to permit some kind of market allowance. I might go so far as to say that for the housing cost yardstick to be of any importance it will have to be increased from 45 per cent. to 50 per cent.

I was interested in one thing in the amendment being put forward by the Government on the encouragement of local authority housing in areas of stress. Let me quote two figures. Last year Birmingham City Council built only 1,444 houses.

Photo of Mr Julius Silverman Mr Julius Silverman , Birmingham Aston

I think my hon. Friend will agree that in Birmingham the basic yardstick plus the market allowance comes to less than 90 per cent. of the price. That is the problem that we face, even with the increased market allowance.

Photo of Mrs Doris Fisher Mrs Doris Fisher , Birmingham, Ladywood

I agree with my hon. Friend. The problem that arises is that now that the Department is raising the market allowance a considerable amount of money has to come from the ratepayers to make up the leeway. The Prime Minister asked local authorities to keep down rates but the Department of the Environment is piling up problems for large local authorities.

In 1972 Birmingham City Council completed 1,444 houses, while in the last year of the Labour Government completions amounted to nearly 6,000, and last year we were able to clear only just over 2,500 slum houses, compared with 5,000 in previous years.

We have heard comments from the benches opposite about the sale of council houses. One hon. Gentleman opposite said that the sale of council houses stabilised the market. I give these figures and this document to the Secretary of State to enable him to consider whether the market has been stabilised. A purpose-built council house was sold to the tenant for £2,500. Speculative estate agents are now moving into a field where they have never operated before, namely, council housing. An agent offered £3,500 to that owner. He accepted the offer, and within a month the agent resold the house for £6,000. I do not know how that stabilises the market or explains the Government's observations about council house tenants queueing up to live in their palaces for ever and ever. As soon as they become owner-occupiers they join the rat race and start moving on.

The worst example is that of a sitting tenant who was sold his house for £2,145. Along came the shark estate agent, as early as 23rd October 1972, and offered him £4,800 for his property, which he accepted. The next day the agent sold the house for exactly £1,000 more, for £5,800. Is that what is meant by stabilising the market in council houses?

The Government should be condemned for forcing families to live in slum properties for longer than is necessary. The Government should be condemned for their failure to provide any substantial housing for the homeless. They should also be condemned for allowing young married couples to be at the mercy of the land speculator and to have to pay the exorbitant prices that are being demanded for new properties.

8.50 p.m.

Photo of Mr Cecil Parkinson Mr Cecil Parkinson , Enfield West

I hope that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mrs. Doris Fisher) will forgive me for not following her interesting remarks, but I want to comment on the speech of the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart). In the housing debate a few months ago he produced a very bad idea. He is obviously so proud of it that he has produced it again today. His idea is that if a person buys a house and keeps it empty with a view to subsequent resale at a profit the local authority should have the first option on buying that house. His reasoning is that that would ensure that the community received a share of the benefit of any increase in value. If the right hon. Gentleman has only in mind the community getting a share of the increase in value, I have news for him. The community already gets a share of the increase in value.

Hon Gentlemen on the Opposition benches laughed when my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) said that anybody who buys a house with a view to resale is trading and, as a trader, is liable to income tax and, if necessary, surtax on that income. Although it might be inconvenient and contrary to the preconceptions of hon. Gentlemen opposite, that happens to be the state of the law. Any person who is proved to have bought a house with a view to resale and the making of a profit will pay not just capital gains tax; he will pay income tax and, if he is doing this on a large scale, surtax. Those two taxes combined could be at the rate of 75 per cent. Whatever else that achieves, it ensures that anyone who is carrying on this operation—and it is a tiny section of the community——

Photo of Mr Ernest Perry Mr Ernest Perry , Battersea South

Has the hon. Gentleman seen tonight's article in the Evening Standard, in which it is reported that in the City of Westminster 13,000 properties are empty and are being kept empty for subsequent resale at a profit?

Photo of Mr Cecil Parkinson Mr Cecil Parkinson , Enfield West

My point is in no way affected by that comment. The right hon. Member for Fulham said that the community should get a share of any increase. It should please hon. Gentlemen opposite to hear that the community already gets a share, and a substantial one if that operation is being carried out by way of a business.

The right hon. Member for Fulham spoke of boroughs being allowed to buy and develop land in other boroughs. This has happened in Enfield. A borough has tried to put a compulsory purchase order on a piece of land in Enfield. That is being resisted by the council which already has plans for housing on that land.

I have seen the other side of this. In Potters Bar there are two estates which belong to outside boroughs. I have in mind particularly the Haringey estate, where the situation is not, in my opinion, satisfactory. The people who live there do not have an opportunity to elect a representative on the Haringey council and they are represented only on the Potters Bar council which is not their landlord. This gives rise to a sort of second-class citizenship, part disenfranchisement and the creation of a community within a community.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman), tried to stir up some spurious indignation about the Housing Finance Act. Even he is finding it difficult to do that now. In an area close to mine, in which were living 16,000 council tenants, only 18 people attended a meeting called to discuss rents, to which tremendous publicity had been given. A meeting held to discuss the sale of council houses two weeks later was attended by 200 people. It is time that Opposition Members stopped misrepresenting and trying to mislead their constituents about the Housing Finance Act. The facts are now coming through, and they are not as they were alleged to be.

We listen to Opposition Members knocking away at the Government's record. The Government, it is true, would be the first to admit they would have liked to see more houses built. I would, however, recommend hon. Members opposite to read a letter in the Financial Times of 5th February, in which the writer, who happens to be a director of a very large company in this sphere, points out that in 1972 about 250,000 houses came on to the market improved to a standard that made them almost as good as new, and 319,000 new houses—an addition to the good housing stock of 569,000 sound houses. That is a considerable number of houses.

Opposition Members who sit and sneer should take a good look at the record; the programme they inherited when they came to power, and what they did with it. They should stop sneering about 1972, a year in which 569,000 new and improved houses were added to the housing stock.

One hears a great deal from the Opposition that they are desperately concerned about the human problems in housing. So are we all. Politicians do not build houses, and housing debates do not get houses built. What gets houses built is a strong building industry, with confidence in its future.

After their six years in office, Opposition Members left behind them a decimated building industry which had its confidence shaken, and in which more than 7,000 builders had gone bankrupt. If hon. Gentlemen do not believe me let me tell them that I, unlike them—and this shows how times change—had the job of going to the head office of one of the great banks to apologise for the fact that a company for whom I was acting as financial adviser had 42 unsold houses. The company could not sell the houses, so what did it do? It cut back on its housing programme. Opposition Members who pour scorn on the situation today should look back on their time in office when the building industry was cutting back its programme in response to pressure from the Government. It may be uncomfortable, but when they sit and shed their crocodile tears about the homeless, they should remember that they did their best to make it impossible for the industry which builds houses to get them built. That was their legacy—an industry with its confidence shaken and a housing programme cut to ribbons.

Finally, I wish to make a few comments about the present state of affairs. I welcome the Government's pressure to get more land released. I like the idea of the regional study, of taking a global view of an area and finding the land. The idea of pressuring the nationalised industries and the forces to release surplus land is an extremely good one. I hope the Government will continue to push to get the maximum amount of land on the market and also to push ahead with their plans to recruit more planning officers. There is no doubt that the building industry is forced to hold bigger land banks than it would like to, which pushes up the cost of housing because of the slowness in obtaining planning permissions. This is a very important point. Although here in the House we talk of improvements, in practice the process is still extremely sluggish, and much land is still not made available as quickly as it should and could be. A speeding up of this process would be a major contribution to accelerating the building programme and helping to contain costs.

One of the major mistakes the Opposition made when in Government was to persist in talking about housing as a top priority, but to give orders to the banks to treat housebuilders as the lowest possible priority borrowers.

This Government are in danger of making the same mistake. I have received letters from builders in my constituency who have been told by their banks that housebuilding is now regarded as a low-priority for lending. That can do great damage to the housing programme. It is a simple, practical point that we cannot have housebuilding as a top priority programme and lending to house-builders as a low priority. Yet that is how the banks have started to interpret the recent suggestion from the Bank of England. It is an idea that the banks should be disabused of as quickly as possible.

No one can be smug about the present situation. The Government, for their part, can point to progress over a whole range of fields. The Opposition have had their opportunity—they chose the subject for today's debate—to talk about their plans and what they would do. We have heard from them about land nationalisation. Will it produce another acre of building land more quickly? Will it do anything to accelerate the housing programme? The answer is definitely, "No". Will it make land cheaper? The answer is again, "No". After 2½ years in opposition an addled egg is finally laid by the rather addled hen which is the Opposition, and it turns out to be to nationalise land. That will not help the homeless. It will do nothing for the housing programme and nothing for the price of houses.

9.2 p.m.

Photo of Mr Bruce Douglas-Mann Mr Bruce Douglas-Mann , Kensington North

Although I have only a few minutes, I want to say a few words about housing demand.

I do not accept the view of the hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Parkinson) that speculation in housing is not significant in affecting the demand for housing. That view is not shared by his two hon. Friends, the hon. Members for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) and Stockport, North (Mr. Idris Owen). I have in my hands a pamphlet written by them and their hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. S. James A. Hill), in which they say: Bank managers, solicitors, columnists, and others, unite in their advice to buy a home, to get on the moving staircase of owner-occupation and get on quickly. If you have one, change it for a more expensive one, up to the limit of your credit. Inflation will make manageable the apparently crippling debt, When the demand generated by these attitudes is made effective, as it has been for the past year or so, by easy availability of finance, it cannot be thought surprising that supply has not responded sufficiently and prices have shot up. That argument was supported with greater authority at the conference organised by Shelter in November by the learned speakers there, who came to perhaps not quite the same conclusion as the Conservative Members I have mentioned. The hon. Gentlemen's conclusion was that the remedy lay in having more land released for private housebuilding—either farmland or land which had been appropriated by local authorities for their housing needs. They said that local authorities should be questioned closely as to the true nature of their housing waiting lists and relevant factors for discussion would be the extent of local authority land retentions against future needs. About £350 million a year is going into public subsidisation of the demand for housing land. Inevitably, if there is no increase in the supply and a demand is subsidised, prices will rise. I shall not seek to elaborate on that, except to quote briefly one of the speakers at the Shelter conference, Mr. Richard Harrington, lecturer in economics at Manchester University, who said that the housing problem is largely due to a fundamental error in housing policy in seeking to subsidise demand in the face of supply fixed in the short term. This has had the consequence of creating a situation of continually rising house prices, which has encouraged those with the means to do so to increase their own consumption of housing resources. So long as we continue to subsidise demand and not supply we shall have a situation of housing stress, housing shortage and rapidly escalating land prices. This is not a party political issue. Both parties have been doing this for a very long time.

The Labour Party has considered limitation of loans to owner-occupiers and special exemptions from capital gains tax. But these are not practical politics. The best policy would be a reversion to Schedule A tax, which would be balanced by tax remission elsewhere or by appropriate increases in expenditure elsewhere. That would redress the balance, which is at present exceedingly favourable to owner-occupiers and unfavourable to those who are tenants and is providing excessive demand in one section and driving up prices.

Demand is only one side of the equation. Supply is another factor. I agree with all hon. Members who say that we need to build more houses. We know how little the Government have done in that direction from the figures to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) referred. However, there are measures which could be taken immediately and would increase the supply. It is quoted in the Evening Standard that there are 13.000 dwellings lying empty in Westminster alone. Of that number, 7,200 have been empty for a year. In the borough of Kensington one sees wherever one goes—I have no statistics—houses and flats which have been standing empty for months or years. That housing has not found buyers because the prices being demanded are attrociously high. Even the people who wish to move into Kensington are getting sticky about buying them.

The proposal for penal rating of empty property, suggested by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, is one of the essential means of increasing the supply. Another step would be to change the grant situation which prevents local authorities from repairing or improving properties which have a useful life but which need some money spent on them—and there are a great many in my area—in areas where there is the likelihood that comprehensive redevelopment will take place or where land may be needed for a school. It is not possible as the law and grant structure stand at present—I hope the Secretary of State will consider this—for local authorities to spend money or give grants for the improvement of these properties by housing associations or by others.

That situation should be investigated as one of urgency. It would enable a great many of these properties to be used instead of standing empty while families are in desperate housing stress. I hope that the Government will also take steps to encourage local authorities to do this. Local authorities should also be encouraged to allow properties that they have standing empty to be used by squatters or others who can provide a temporary use for that accommodation.

The need to change the structure of improvement grants to ensure that they are providing for the improvement of conditions of people who are at present living in the stress areas of the cities and not to make luxury accommodation which will stand empty waiting for rich people to move into them has already been referred to. What is happening in London and many other stress areas makes the improvement grant system as much of a curse there as it is a blessing elsewhere.

Perhaps the most urgent policy which the Government can adopt immediately is to encourage local authorities to embark upon an active policy of buying empty or tenanted property and to ensure that low rented accommodation is not driven out of our central city areas. It is disappearing with terrifying speed. Unless the Government take some action to encourage local authorities which are reluctant to do so to buy these properties, and to approve compulsory purchase orders to enable those authorities to buy houses before they disappear from the low rented market, we shall have only middle-class regions in the centres of our cities.

9.10 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

I must remind the House that we are debating a Motion of censure which is framed as follows: That this House censures Her Majesty's Government for its disastrous record of combining the biggest ever increase in the price of housing with the lowest rate of housing completions for a decade. Therefore, hon. Members who suggest that it is our duty today to tell the Government what to do should pay attention to what we are debating.

I have listened patiently and carefully to practically every speech delivered today and I have not yet heard one Conservative Member stand up and defend the Government against our censure motion. They have not sought to defend the Government's disastrous record in face of the increases in house prices. They have not denied it—for the simple reason that it is a fact.

Speaker after speaker has suggested that they are sorry about the situation, that they lament it and regard it as serious, but they do not deny it. The ques- tion we have been debating is "Has it happened?", and the answer from hon. Gentleman opposite has been "Yes, it has". Certainly, no hon. Gentleman has sought to deny that under the Tories we have seen the lowest rate of housing completions for a decade. No hon. Member opposite has denied that, for again it is true.

The most complacent speech we heard today was that made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Environment. He showed no appreciation of the concern expresssed by his own back benchers, and they in turn showed no great confidence in the ability even to substantiate the claim in the Government amendment. The Secretary of State was misleading when he referred to the attitude of the Opposition on fair rents. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North East (Mr. Swain) quoted the 1967 circular on this point. The Secretary of State could have quoted from his own manifesto dealing with rents and local authority housing policies. In those days it was "freedom, freedom all the way", but since the election the picture has been very different. When the Secretary of State said that there were no bonds to hold back the local authorities in their housing policies, he must have been far too concerned with European matters at the time when we were debating housing legislation. Local authorities are now completely hamstrung, and it is no argument at all to suggest that changed financial circumstances have had no connection with the fall in local authority house building or with what I fear is to come; namely a much more disastrous fall.

What is the situation that the country now faces? I need not go into all the figures.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

Because we have not the time. It was a little dispiriting to see the Conservative Whips organising Conservative Members just to come into the Chamber and say a few words and trying to make a show for the Government. It was a sad performance. The plain fact is that the figures for Great Britain show a fall in the number of houses built, and the situation in Scotland shows an even greater fall.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) had his opportunity in one of his rare visits to the House during the day. He has hardly been present during the debate. I am told that he has been at an important meeting. He had the opportunity to make a speech, and he could have told us and defended his Government. He did not. He spoke about problem families in certain areas of Glasgow. That is something that is not new and did not start in the last 10 years.

In Scotland during the years while Labour was in power we embarked upon and carried through the biggest housing drive ever known in Scotland. In under six years, and with the overlap of the plans we left, nearly one-quarter of a million houses were completed—year after year a record. In 1970 the Conservatives completed the houses we had left under construction. If I recollect correctly the figures for May, more than 50,000 houses were under construction in Scotland. Completions in 1970 were 43,000; in 1971 just over 40,000; in 1972—when we come to the present Government's efforts—the figure is 31,900.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will not even make a guess at what completions will be next year. There was a time when the Conservatives used to suggest what their aim was. I can well remember that, as I was questioning the Secretary of State at the time as to what their target for building houses was. In 1963 it was 35,000 a year. Not until long after that did they even raise it to 40,000, albeit they never achieved 40,000 in their 13 years. In 1953 in Scotland 39,000 houses were built, and that remained the record until the Labour Government came in. It went down, until in 1962 it was only 26,000. They are getting back to form.

Then there is introduced a suggestion in the amendment that they are concentrating on the stress areas. Let us look at the stress areas in England. What do we find? For South-East Lancashire's public sector, we find a drop in starts of 21 per cent. and in completions a drop of 28 per cent. Let us look at Merseyside. The Government will not cure the problems of Merseyside with private ownership and the building of bungalows. Let that sink in. Perhaps the Secretary of State will say how many private houses were built in Glasgow last year and whether that number will be built next year. For all the great changes, the problems of the people of Glasgow will not be solved by private ownership. That could not be.

Where are the stress areas of England and Wales, and how are they faring? West Midlands starts are down by 33 per cent. and completions by 46 per cent.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

On the question of Merseyside, my right hon. Friend will be interested to note that at present Merseyside has just on 8,000 building operatives unemployed, of whom nearly 2,000 are highly skilled workers.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

Of course, there is scope there.

The Minister spoke about a freedom to local authorities to get on with it. If he saw that followed through, we should not have disastrous figures such as that. Even greater London, with an increase in starts of only 3 per cent. and with completions down by 13 per cent., can take no great satisfaction. What is suggested in the amendment is about great improvements in respect of private building. One of the things I fear about private ownership is that with the tremendous increase in the cost of housing, particularly over the last six months, there will be a resistance in respect of purchase and of provision, and not just the question of land. The figures for the last quarter of 1972, given by the Minister in his bulletin, show that even in respect of private ownership there is a reduction compared with the same quarter the year before. It does not augur well for the future.

The Secretary of State for Scotland knows that the Labour Government created records even on the provision of houses for home ownership, and I am glad that it has continued; but he will know quite well—he might tell his hon. Friend what has happened in the Scottish Office—that Ministers went round Scotland ensuring that local authorities got on with their housing schemes and also made provision years in advance for the land they required not only for their own public authority needs but for private needs.

A lot of humbug was talked by hon. Gentlemen opposite today, particularly in respect of the speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart), who drew attention to the unsatisfactory position about houses being kept empty. He spoke about not ordinary change respecting houses but some personal reason. My right hon. Friend pinpointed a house in which he lived and noted how often the sale board went up and how seldom anyone went to live in it. That house was being used solely for the purpose of making money—speculation. This is happening in other places. My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann) virtually pointed to the same kind of thing in his constituency. It is happening all over the country.

The Government cannot run away from the fact that they gave pledges about the prices of private homes, and they have failed to deal with an ever-worsening situation. The figures were given by my hon. Friend. He instanced a rise of £2,700 on an average house which two and a half years ago cost £6,500. In some parts of the country it is worse.

Let us not think that the situation in Scotland is any better. I have been studying the local paper over the weekend. Let the Under-Secretary of State for Development appreciate this, because it is in his constituency. However, I will not give free advertising to where the place is. This is an upstairs flat in a house that is being turned into six flats. I could even give the figure that was paid for that house. Each flat comprises a lounge, bedroom, boxroom, kitchen, and bathroom, and the price sought is about £10,500. Of course, it has a nice view, and it is near the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock. That may be why the price is so low!

On another page the hon. Gentleman will find yet another: a modernised flat of two apartments, kitchen and bathroom, £5,000. There is a nice view of Falkland Junction. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) will know exactly what I mean. I do not know whether the Under-Secretary knows it at all well. I merely challenge him as to exactly where this place is. But these are fantastic prices that people are paying for tenement flats not in the most salubrious areas. It is happening in Glasgow and all over the place and the Government are doing nothing about it. However, they are freezing wages, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mrs. Doris Fisher) said, the Government can freeze everything except certain prices including the cost of housing.

The Government stand condemned in that respect. The Secretary of State for Scotland as well as the Secretary of State for the Environment are guilty; but what will be done? According to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, absolutely nothing will be done. Suggestions were made by his back benchers. I think that the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Idris Owen) was even more annoyed at his Government's performance and at their failure to take action to give the building industry confidence than I was. Is he satisfied that we have a building programme? No local authority in the country is satisfied that the way is clear for a building programme.

The escalating prices reflect not just the rising cost of land. I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will appreciate that when house prices go up to the extent that they have done it demonstrates a lack of confidence in the value of money in the near future. That is the most serious aspect of all. People go in for "stane an' lime", as we say in Scotland, because the value of that will persist and be maintained when everything else is gone. So, the position is even more serious than any Tory is prepared to admit. Certain hon. Members suggested that there should be a special tax on speculation. Someone described land speculators as the "barrow boys of the City". That is unfair to barrow boys, who pursue an honest trade.

But when we suggest that there must be a greatly improved effort by local authorities with financial support coming from the Government and in every other way, hon. Members on the Government side sneer. Yet they realise that in certain respects only a local authority can sort out the priorities. They must appreciate, however, that in private building it is money, and money alone, that sets the priorities.

I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) bringing humanity into the statistics. He explained the effect on families and the effect on opportunities for children.

If land is as scarce as some Conservatives say, the only way to solve the problem is to ensure that local authorities have full control of that land, and that means by public ownership. [Interruption.] I shall not run away from that one. I am not surprised at the hon. Member for Stockport, North losing his temper because of his Government's performance. The priorities of his party are something that he knows all about.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

I shall not give way because I do not have much time. [Interruption.] I promised to sit down by a certain time, and I do not want to take any longer.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

My reference was to the fact that the hon. Member showed concern and stated that the building industry had no confidence in the continuation of the building programme——

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

The hon. Member and I took part in the Committee stage of the Bill to denationalise State pubs, one of the earliest actions taken by the Government. That is the kind of house to which they gave priority. As far as I can see, there is no satisfaction, even in the Housing Finance Act, that they will achieve what the Government sought to achieve by much more ruthless means long ago. In 1973 we have people actually homeless or people living in conditions which would have been a disgrace to us 20 years ago. When we can send people to the moon and bring them safely hack, we cannot provide a decent home for every family in this country.

I think of the petty sort of squabbles that have taken place in this House in relation to whether we should provide housing by this or that means. We should use every possible means, but this Government out of fear of finance have deliberately gone out to destroy the local authority programme. That speech of 27th October 1970 was cheered by every hon. Gentleman on that side of the House: I come next to housing. The present system of subsidies, rents and rebates will be entirely refashioned. … By the middle years of the decade this reform will be transforming housing finance and should lead to a saving in public expenditure of £100 million to £200 million a year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th October, 1970; Vol. 805, c. 41.] Every other part of that speech has been torn up. This part was one of the most evil parts of it because it destroyed the possibility of local authorities in this country getting on with house building programmes, and has cut them down. The submissions to the Scottish Office for the last quarter of 1972 were only just over 1,000; I believe the figure was 1,056. The average in normal years was between 7,000 and 10,000. We have a bunching up as a result of what happened on 1st December, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Ewing) has said, come 1975 the public authority programme will be an absolute scandal and a disgrace. We should stop it as quickly as possible by voting for this motion of censure.

9.33 p.m.

Photo of Mr Gordon Campbell Mr Gordon Campbell , Moray and Nairnshire

The debate has provided an opportunity to discuss a whole range of housing subjects, and hon. Members on both sides of the House have availed themselves of it. We have heard of problems and situations from hon. Members representing constituencies from the Outer Hebrides to the South Coast. But it has been incredibly difficult to believe that the debate has been taking place upon a motion of censure. The motion, in its terms, is straining vainly to achieve effect by bringing together two proposals which are irrelevant to the Government's record. The number of houses completed—that is the reference to completions—is, of course, dependent upon the number of approvals decisions taken two years earlier. In the private sector there has been a steady increase in completions since 1970.

Obviously, when he was moving this motion the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) was acutely conscious of the weakness in it. I am sure that this was not due to his impending departure to take part in the radio programme "It's Your Line". I hope for his sake that he was given a better theme to speak to there, because moving this facile and misleading motion was definitely not his line. It is odd that hon. Members opposite should try to make something of the completion figures for 1972, for they will find that this form of argument is a boomerang. Completions in 1972 in the public sector depended upon decisions in 1970, and criticism of the reduced number of houses simply reflects upon decisions taken in a year for part of which the Labour Government were in office. Hon. Gentlemen opposite consistently allowed the number of public sector house approvals in Scotland to run down between 1967 and 1970. Completions in 1972 represented approvals in 1970. But what point are right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite trying to make from that? They noticeably failed to tell us during this debate why they allowed approvals in the public sector in Scotland to fall by 5,000 between 1967 and 1968, and by a further 13,000 between 1969 and 1970. Was that because they considered that Scotland's housing needs had largely been met?

The important point for the House is the number of starts in the past three years. Over Great Britain as a whole, taking both the public and the private sectors, there has been a steady increase. In 1970 the total number of starts was 319,000. In 1971 it was 344,000, and in 1972 it was 350,000. The rate of house completions is irrelevant. If anything, it is a condemnation of the policies of the Labour Government before they left office.

In Scotland we have taken steps to reverse the falling trend in the public sector. As a result, the number of houses approved in 1972 was 5,000 more than in 1971, and over 7,500 more than in 1970. This is an increase in approvals in Scotland, in those two years, of 37 per cent.

In the private sector there has been a great increase in England, Wales and Scotland. In Scotland, 1971—the last year for which figures are available—was a record year. More private houses were built in that year than in any previous year in Scotland's history.

The steady increase in starts between 1970 and 1972 presents a brighter picture for the future, but I do not intend to follow the lamentable example of the Labour Government in setting targets. The effect was to distort the housing policy. Our aim, now that the immediate post-war shortage has been ended, is not to base the Government's building programme upon a game of numbers. We intend to meet the housing need, whenever and wherever it arises, by all the means at our disposal. This can be done in a number of ways other than the building of new houses.

Under the Government's Housing Acts last year, local authorities were given incentives to build as many houses as they considered they needed. Slum clearance and obsolescent housing remain outstanding problems. Both sides of the House are agreed about that. But for the first time we have introduced a subsidy specifically for slum clearance and again there has been a record in Scotland. In 1971 there were more houses closed or demolished and more slum clearance than in any previous year in Scotland. When the figures become available we expect 1972 also to have been a very good year.

At the same time, many old houses in Scotland which are below modern standards can still provide good homes with the necessary improvement. We intend to see that many of those houses are improved with the aid of grant. The higher rate of grants that we made available under the Housing Act 1971 have had a stimulating effect, and in Scotland have established a record. More houses were improved in 1971 than in any previous year in Scotland, and 1972 shows every sign of overtaking it.

The Labour Government's proposal—which the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) again endorsed today—for dealing with land and the price of houses is threatened nationalisation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Trew) pointed out, the Land Commission was totally ineffective, and its demise was not lamented. Then there was the device of the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources. I wonder how many of my right hon. and hon. Friends even remember it. It was created at the end of 1964 and abolished in 1966. It was simply an election gimmick.

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment pointed out at the beginning of the debate, the increase in house prices has been caused by the growing desire for home ownership, which has been encouraged by both sides of the House. The chief remedy is to make more houses available by building and improvement. My right hon. and learned Friend announced further measures to increase the supply of land for building south of the Border. In Scotland the problems of land and house prices have been felt less, and I can reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward Taylor) that the additional acreage of land zoned in Scotland during 1972 appears to be more than sufficient to support the current rate of building for housing for owner-occupation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Idris Owen) raised the question of the need for planning authorities to release more land. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that it is essential that planning authorities should be ready to release land for development for private houses at the right time and in the right place. [An HON. MEMBER: "And the right price."] My right hon. Friend has asked the planning authorities in the areas of special stress to let him have details of land on which housing could start in the next five years. These details are now coming in. My hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction will be following up this information by visiting the authorities concerned in order to establish with them that the supply of land which they propose to make available is in fact sufficient to sustain the expanding building programme that is needed.

My hon. Friends the Members for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) and Southampton, Test (Mr. S. James A. Hill) raised questions about the green belt. I have noted what they said about possible ways of reconciling the need for green belts in England and the needs of housing policy. I am sure that the Minister will wish to consider very carefully what was said on this difficult and important issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury also raised the question of the capacity of the construction industry. Certainly, its capacity could be a limiting factor in a programme of expansion. In particular, there may be shortages of craftsmen in certain trades and in certain areas, as there are now. The industry itself can cope with these problems through training schemes. It will attract recruits if it is seen to be prosperous. I am glad to say that in the first 11 months of 1972 there were 15 per cent. more apprentices registered in the construction industry than in the same period in 1971. This, I know, will be of interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test, who mentioned the shortage of skilled men.

I have said that the last Government embarked on a futile numbers game playing to the gallery of the electorate by setting target figures. This was at a time when there were no longer the massive shortages experienced after the war. One result, which answers a point made by the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock, was that a situation has been created where a large number of local authority houses are lying empty when there are, none the less, applicants waiting on housing lists. In some areas in Scotland many empty houses have been standing vacant, particularly in Dundee and Paisley.

This is an urgent problem. It presents a salutary warning for the future that local housing policies must be realistic and responsive to the attitudes and practical needs of potential tenants. The policy of building anything anywhere desperately to meet a target was not appropriate after the first post-war shortages had been met. It meant that houses were being built in the wrong place and at the wrong time. In Dundee, 1,600 council houses are lying empty. Not all of them are available for letting at the moment, but clearly the number for which tenants could be obtained and which are available for letting can be measured in hundreds. This kind of problem should not be repeated in the future if a more careful assessment of real needs can be made.

These houses are losing about £160,000 a year in rents and rates for the corporation. So available are the empty council houses that the Labour group can afford to have one of them rented to the campaign committee for the Labour candidate in the forthcoming by-election. I understand that it is conveniently opposite a polling station. Never was there so far-fetched and expensive a way of providing a headquarters for a doomed campaign!

Another unfortunate effect of the numbers game, created by the last Government, is the concrete jungles. We have them in Scotland, unfortunately. There are no empty spaces for playgrounds, and no thought has been given to community life because the object was to build them as quickly as possible to meet some target.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

Mr. Ross rose——

Photo of Mr Gordon Campbell Mr Gordon Campbell , Moray and Nairnshire

The right hon. Gentleman did not give way, and I do not propose to do so. The Leader of the Opposition must take his share of the blame. Where is the Leader of the Opposition? He tried to start the numbers game, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) pointed out. It was he who said, "This is not a lightly given promise, it is a pledge," when speaking of the 500,000 houses target. Besides completely missing that target, that programme caused many mistakes to be made in what was a purely political gambit.

In moving this motion the right hon. Member for Grimsby spoke critically of what he described as an upward pressure on rents. He forgot that when his party was in Government and applying a prices and incomes policy it set a limit on wage increases in the public sector of 37½p. This is not so different, five or six years later, from the figure of 50p in our Housing Acts. There was no national rent rebate scheme at that time.

The 1972 Housing Acts for England, Scotland and Wales, were milestones in the progress towards better housing.

Photo of Mr Gordon Campbell Mr Gordon Campbell , Moray and Nairnshire

The Opposition did all they could to delay the passing of these Acts, which have achieved important advances. They gave rent allowances to private tenants for the first time. They extended the rebate schemes, they made subsidy payable for all kinds of housing expenditure including increases in the cost of repairs and management and in interest charges.

So they began a gradual reduction of the deficits—which were massive in Scot- land—in the housing revenue accounts, previously borne by the ratepayers. In Scotland the greatest help is to come within the next four years and the level of £40 million at present borne by Scottish ratepayers should be halved in that period. In the meantime, more help will be forthcoming from the Exchequer while less is having to be produced by the ratepayers.

The Leader of the Opposition must again take responsibility for starting the synthetic and unnecessary alarm about council house rents. In his speech during the debate on the Address in the last Session, commenting on the policies which we had said would be in our Housing Acts, he declared that the proposals would on average double council house rents.

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

That was your document.

Photo of Mr Gordon Campbell Mr Gordon Campbell , Moray and Nairnshire

Yes. I can quote the hon. Gentleman on this. He said the same thing.

Photo of Mr Gordon Campbell Mr Gordon Campbell , Moray and Nairnshire

But he was completely unaware that this is exactly what had happened in the five-and-a-half years when the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock was Secretary of State for Scotland. It was an embarrassment to the right hon. Gentleman. At the beginning of his period of office the average rent was 71p and when he left it was £1·42p. The right hon. Member for Grimsby wrote in The Guardian of 15th December 1971, when the Housing Bills were before us: Council tenants in any local authority area should not pay a total rent income which exceeds the historic cost of providing the housing in which they live. I was interested in that because that was the principle in the Scottish Bill, but not in the English and Welsh Bills. That did not stop the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock and his hon. Friends from opposing this principle in the Scottish Bill. Was this sheer perversity or simply playing politics on rents? How does the Labour Party judge the success of its policies? Does it consider that it has done a good job when it has succeeded in thoroughly frightening pensioners or lower-paid tenants over rent increases, causing unnecessary alarm in most cases because of the generous new rent rebate and allowance schemes? If this is its measure of political success it is a contemptible standard.

The Labour Party should not be surprised that its misrepresentation of the effects of the Housing Acts, together with its party propaganda, has caused unnecessary anxiety among those whose family budgets are most sensitive to changes in rent payments. No doubt it was largely such misleading Labour Party propaganda when the Bills were before Parliament that caused some local authorities not to start implementing the Acts on 1st October. In Scotland, 17 of the 24 local authorities which originally failed to start carrying out the Scottish Act have now decided to do so during the course of the procedures I had to initiate under the 1947 Local Government Act. There are now only six small burghs in Scotland and Clydebank which are failing to carry out their responsibilities.

As regards Clydebank, there is an extraordinary paradox. Those who have been trying to promote demonstrations in favour of defiance are ignoring the fact that the rent rebate scheme under the Act is far better than that being operated by the town council. Most of the lower-income tenants in council houses will get a much better rebate than under the present scheme, and lower-income tenants in private houses will be eligible for allowances not available to them until the Act is implemented. The idea that the majority of councillors are protecting lower-income tenants is entirely false. While it is clear that three Communist councillors are playing a leading part, there are eight Labour councillors who seem to have been hoodwinked into supporting them.

Let me give an example. Under our Housing Act a family with two children. a gross income of £25 and a standard rent of £1·75 a week would get a rebate of just over 50p. If the rent were £2·25, the rebate would be just over £1. If the income were £30 a week there would still be entitlement to rebate with a rent of £2·25. All this is far better than under the existing Clydebank rebate scheme, under which there is an arbitrary cut-off point relating to a household income of £21, after which there is no eligibility for rebate at all.

Taking a lower income within the Clydebank scheme and this is very important—with an income of £20 for a married couple with two children and a stan- dard rent of £2, the rent being paid would be £1·35. Under the Housing Act scheme the rent would be 6p a week instead of £1·35p. The Exchequer is now contributing 90 per cent. of the cost of the Housing Act rebate scheme whereas the Clydebank ratepayers are paying for the whole of their present scheme.

What about the private tenants in Clydebank? There are about 2,000 of them. Under the Labour Government's fair rents legislation they got no help at all with their rent, but under the new Act they will get the same degree of help as council tenants.

Does the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock support those eight Labour councillors in the line they are taking with the Communists? If he does not support them he was short-sighted in the extravagant invective which was hurled at our Housing Act, which simply misled and confused those who are going to benefit from it.

Those who have been involved in housing matters for many years, as I have been, know very well that many of the non-political bodies in this field—churches, housing associations and others engaged in social work—had been pressing for the subsidy system to be changed. They had urged that the financial help from the Government and the ratepayers should be related to the circumstances of the individual family. Until last year the subsidies were related to the bricks and mortar and to the accident of the year in which the house happened to be built. They were not related to the needs of the occupants.

To many social workers this hit-or-miss, haphazard form of subsidy application was long overdue for change, and hon. Members on both sides of the House know that. The Housing Acts of 1972 have now made this change. Besides introducing special subsidies for slum clearance, the new rent rebate and allowance schemes ensure that the Government's financial help goes to those who really need it.

It is extraordinary that the Opposition should find fault with this. The objection they raise is that the system involves a means test; but there were rent rebate schemes before the Housing Acts came into force last year. Many local authorities operated means tests with the encouragement of the Labour Government, who outwardly were advocating the extension of rent rebate schemes.

Photo of Mr Gordon Campbell Mr Gordon Campbell , Moray and Nairnshire

There is not enough time left for me to give way.

Before the introduction of the two Housing Acts of 1972 the procedure for determining eligibility for rate rebates laid down by the Rating Act of the previous Government in 1966 required applicants to state their incomes and family circumstances in much the same way as is required in the new model rent rebate scheme, and in this scheme we have arranged that the amount of personal information required from applicants is kept to a minimum. In particular, it does not require details of the income of members of the tenant's family, apart from his wife, or of dependants living in the house.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart said that more local authorities should do more for environmental improvement. I am glad to tell him that while only five areas were approved for grant in 1970, 32 were approved in 1971, and 243 in 1972.

The Labour Party has performed some astonishing somersaults in its housing policies. Less than three weeks before the General Election the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), who was Minister for Housing for a short time, expressed the view that what the Labour

Government needed to do was to stand their whole housing policy on its head. Whether that advice would have been followed we did not get an opportunity to see because the country did not give the Labour Party further time to consider it.

But it is not only policies that have been turned upside down. In its attitude to such income tests as are required for rent rebate schemes the Labour Party is reversing one of its basic traditional principles; that is, to each according to his need. Is that still Dart of the creed of the Labour Party? If it is, there surely must be some system to measure the degree of need. If that is not the case, we can only assume that that principle has been thrown overboard as regards housing.

No wonder that the right hon. Member for Grimsby, who opened the debate, wrote in the Observer on 21st January, less than three weeks ago, about the Labour Party that we lack credibility on the central and dominant economic issues of the day. When the right hon. Gentleman wrote that a few days ago he probably knew that it would be borne out in the speeches from the benches opposite today, and I ask the House to reject the motion and to accept the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 303, Noes 276.

Division No. 49.]AYES[9.59 p.m.
Adley, RobertBrewis, JohnCritchley, Julian
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)Brinton, Sir TattonCrouch, David
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)Crowder, F. P.
Amery, Rt. Hn. JulianBruce-Gardyne, J.Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford)
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth)Bryan, Sir Pauld'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry
Astor, JohnBuchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus,N&M)d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Maj.-Gen.Jack
Atkins, HumphreyBuck, AntonyDean, Paul
Awdry, DanielBurden, F. A.Digby, Simon Wingfield
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)Butler, Adam (Bosworth)Dixon, Piers
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff)Campbell, Rt.Hn.G.(Moray & Nairn)Dodds-Parker, Sir Douglas
Bainiel, Rt. Hn. LordCarlisle, MarkDouglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec
Barber, Rt. Hn. AnthonyCarr, Rt. Hn. RobertDrayson, G. B.
Bell, RonaldCary, Sir RobertDykes, Hugh
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)Channon, PaulEden, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)Chataway, Rt. Hn. ChristopherEdwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Benyon, W.Chichester-Clark, R.Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)
Berry, Hn. AnthonyChurchill, W. S.Emery, Peter
Biffen, JohnClark, William (Surrey, E.)Eyre, Reginald
Biggs-Davison, JohnClarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Farr, John
Blaker, PeterCockeram, EricFell, Anthony
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.)Cooke, RobertFenner, Mrs. Peggy
Body, RichardCoombs, DerekFidler, Michael
Boscawen, Hn. RobertCooper, A. E.Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead)
Bossom, Sir CliveCordle, JohnFisher, Nigel (Surbiton)
Bowden, AndrewCorfield, Rt. Hn. Sir FrederickFletcher-Cooke, Charles
Braine, Sir BernardCormack, PatrickFookes, Miss Janet
Bray, RonaldCostain, A. P.Fortescue, Tim
Foster, Sir JohnLane, DavidRees, Peter (Dover)
Fox, MarcusLangford-Holt, Sir JohnRees-Davies, W. R.
Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone)Le Marchant, SpencerRenton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Fry, PeterLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Galbraith, Hn. T. G. D.Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'field)Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Gardner, EdwardLloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)Ridsdale, Julian
Gibson-Watt, DavidLongden, Sir GilbertRippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey
Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)Loveridge, JohnRoberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)
Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.)Luce, R. N.Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Glyn, Dr. AlanMcAdden, Sir StephenRodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Godber, Rt. Hn. J. BMacArthur, IanRossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Goodhart, PhilipMcCrindle, R. A.Rost, Peter
Goodhew, VictorMcLaren, MartinRoyle, Anthony
Gorst, JohnMaclean, Sir FitzroyRussell, Sir Ronald
Gower, RaymondMcMaster, StanleySt. John-Stevas, Norman
Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.)Macmillan, Rt.Hn. Maurice (Farnham)Sandys, Rt. Hn. D.
Gray, HamishMcNair-Wilson, MichaelScott, Nicholas
Green, AlanMcNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)Scott-Hopkins, James
Grieve, PercyMaddan, MartinShaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)Madel, DavidShelton, William (Clapham)
Grylls, MichaelMaginnis, John E.Shersby, Michael
Gummer, J. SelwynMarples, Rt. Hn. ErnestSimeons, Charles
Gurden, HaroldMarten, NeilSinclair, Sir George
Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley)Mather, CarolSkeet, T. H. H.
Hall, John (Wycombe)Maude, AngusSmith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Hall-Davis, A. G. F.Maudling, Rt. Hn. ReginaldSoref, Harold
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Mawby, RaySpeed, Keith
Hannam, John (Exeter)Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.Spence, John
Harrison, Brian (Maldon)Meyer, Sir AnthonyStainton, Keith
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)Mills, Peter (Torrington)Stanbrook, Ivor
Haselhurst, AlanMills, Strattor (Belfast, N.)Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)
Hastings, StephenMiscampbell, NormanStodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.)
Havers, Sir MichaelMitchell, Lt.-Col.C.(Aberdeenshire, W)Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M
Hawkins, PaulMitchell, David (Basingstoke)Stokes, John
Hay, JohnMoate, RogerStuttaford, Dr. Tom
Hayhoe, BarneyMolyneaux, JamesSutcliffe, John
Heath, Rt. Hn. EdwardMoney, ErnieTapsell, Peter
Heseltine, MichaelMonks, Mrs. ConnieTaylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Hicks, RobertMonro, HectoTaylor, Edward M.(G'gow, Cathcart)
Higgins, Terence L.Montgomery, FergusTaylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Hiley, JosephMorgan, Geraint (Denbigh)Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)
Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.)Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.Tebbit, Norman
Hill, James (Southampton, Test)Morrison, CharlesTemple, John M.
Holland, PhilipMudd, DavidThatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret
Holt, Miss MaryMurton, OscarThomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Hordern, PeterNabarro, Sir GeraldThomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)
Hornby, RichardNeave, AireyThompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Hornsby-Smith, Rt.Hn.Dame PatriciaNicholls, Sir HarmarTrafford, Dr. Anthony
Howe, Rt. Hn. Sir GeoffreyNoble, Rt. Hn. MichaelTrew, Peter
Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.)Normanton, TomTugendhat, Christopher
Hunt, JohnNott, JohnTurton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin
Hutchison, Michael ClarkOnslow, Cranleyvan Straubenzee, W. R.
Iremonger, T. L.Oppenheim, Mrs. SallyVaughan, Dr. Gerard
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)Orr, Capt. L. P. S.Vickers, Dame Joan
James, DavidOsborn, JohnWaddington, David
Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Jennings, J. C. (Burton)Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)
Jessel, TobyPage, John (Harrow, W.)Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)Paisley, Rev. IanWaiters, Dennis
Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)Parkinson. CecilWard, Dame Irene
Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir KeithPeel, Sir JohnWarren, Kenneth
Kaberry, Sir DonaldPercival, IanWells, John (Maidstone)
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. ElainePeyton, Rt. Hn. JohnWhite, Roger (Gravesend)
Kershaw, AnthonyPike, Miss MervynWiggin, Jerry
Kilfedder, JamesPink, R. BonnerWinterton, Nicholas
Kimball, MarcusPounder, RaftonWolrige-Gordon, Patrick
King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)Price, David (Eastleigh)Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher
King, Tom (Bridgwater)Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L.Woodnutt, Mark
Kinsey, J. R.Proudfoot, WilfredWorsley, Marcus
Kirk, PeterPym, Rt. Hn. FrancisWylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.
Kitson TimothyQuenneil, Miss J. m.Younger, Hn. George
Raison, Timothy
Knight, Mrs. JillRamsden, Rt. Hn. JamesTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Knox, DavidRawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir PeterMr. Walter Clegg and
Lambton, LordRedmond, RobertMr. Bernard Weatherill.
Lamont, NormanReed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)
NOES
Abse, LeoArmstrong, ErnestBarnes, Michael
Albu, AustenAshley, JackBarnett, Guy (Greenwich)
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)Ashton, JoeBarnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton)
Allen, ScholefieldAtkinson, NormanBeaney, Alan
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis)Bagier, Gordon A. T.Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood
Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton)Hamilton, James (Bothwell)Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Bidwell, SydneyHamilton, William (Fife. W.)Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)
Bishop, E. S.Hamling, WilliamMoyle, Roland
Blenkinsop, ArthurHannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill)Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Boardman, H. (Leigh)Hardy, PeterMurray, Ronald King
Booth, AlbertHarrison, Walter (Wakefield)Oakes, Gordon
Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland)Hattersley, RoyOgden, Eric
Broughton, Sir AlfredHealey, Rt. Hn. DenisO'Halloran, Michael
Brown, Robert C. (N'clte-u-Tyne, W.)Heffer, Eric S.O'Malley, Brian
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)Hilton, W. S.Oram, Bert
Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury)Hooson, EmlynOrbach, Maurice
Buchan, NormanHoram, JohnOrme, Stanley
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)Houghton, Rt. Hn. DouglasOswald, Thomas
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)Howell, Denis (Small Heath)Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton)
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. JamesHuckfield, LesliePadley, Walter
Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.)Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)Paget, R. T.
Cant, R. B.Hughes, Mark (Durham)Palmer, Arthur
Carmichael, NeilHughes, Robert (Aberdeen. N.)Panneil, Rt. Hn. Charles
Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield)Hughes, Roy (Newport)Pardoe, John
Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles)Hunter, AdamParker, John (Dagenham)
Castle, Rt. Hn. BarbaraIrvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur (Edge Hill)Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange)
Clark, David (Colne Valley)Janner, GrevillePavitt, Laurie
Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.)Jay, Rt. Hn. DouglasPeart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Cohen, StanleyJeger, Mrs. LenaPendry, Tom
Coleman, DonaldJenkins, Hugh (Putney)Perry, Ernest G.
Concannon, J. D.John, BrynmorPrentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.
Conlan, BernardJohnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)Prescott, John
Corbet, Mrs. FredaJohnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)Price, William (Rugby)
Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.)Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.)Probert, Arthur
Crawshaw, RichardJohnston, Russell (Inverness)Reed, D. (Sedgefield)
Cronin, JohnJones, Barry (Flint, E.)Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)
Crosland, Rt. Hn. AnthonyJones, Dan (Burnley)Rhodes, Geoffrey
Crossman, Rt. Hn. RichardJones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)Richard, Ivor
Cunningham, G. (Islington, S.W.)Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven)Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.)Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Dalyell, TamKaufman, GeraldRobertson, John (Paisley)
Darling, Rt. Hn. GeorgeKelley, RichardRoderick, Caerwyn E.(Brc'n&R'dnor)
Davidson, ArthurKerr, RussellRodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)
Davies, Denzil (Llanelly)Kinnock, NeilRoper, John
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)Lambie, DavidRose, Paul B.
Davies, Ifor (Gower)Lamborn, HarryRoss, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.)Lamond, JamesRowlands, Ted
Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove)Latham, ArthurSandelson, Neville
Deakins, EricLawson, GeorgeSheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)
de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir GeoffreyLeadbitter, TedShore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Delargy, HughLee, Rt. Hn. FrederickShort, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Dell, Rt. Hn. EdmundLeonard, DickShort, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N.E.)
Dempsey, JamesLestor, Miss JoanSilkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Dormand, J. D.Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.)Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Sillars, James
Douglas-Mann, BruceLipton, MarcusSilverman, Julius
Duffy, A. E. P.Lomas, KennethSkinner, Dennis
Dunnett, JackLoughlin, CharlesSmall, William
Eadie, AlexLyon, Alexander W. (York)Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Edelman, MauriceLyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)Smith, John (Lanarkshire. N.)
Edwards, Robert (Bilston)Mabon, Dr. J. DicksonSpearing, Nigel
Edwards, William (Merioneth)McBride, NeilSpriggs, Leslie
Ellis, TomMcCartney, HughStallard, A. W.
English, MichaelMcElhone, FrankSteel, David
Evans, FredMcGuire, MichaelStewart, Donald (Western Isles)
Ewing, HarryMackenzie, GregorStewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)
Faulds, AndrewMackie, JohnStoddart, David (Swindon)
Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E.Mackintosh, John P.Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
Fisher, Mrs. Doris(B'ham, Ladywood)McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)Strang, Gavin
Fitch, Alan (Wigan)McNamara, J. KevinStrauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)Mahon, Simon (Bootle)Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)Swain, Thomas
Foley, MauriceMarks, KennethThomas, Rt.Hn.George (Cardiff, W.)
Foot, MichaelMarquand, DavidThomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Ford, BenMarsden, F.Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Forrester, JohnMarshall, Dr. EdmundTinn, James
Fraser, John (Norwood)Mason, Rt. Hn. RoyTomney, Frank
Freeson, ReginaldMayhew, ChristopherTope, Graham
Galpern, Sir MyerMeachar, MichaelTuck, Raphael
Garrett, W. E.Mellish, Rt. Hn. RobertUrwin, T. W.
Gilbert, Dr. JohnMendelson, JohnVarley, Eric G.
Ginsburg, David (Dewsbury)Mikardo, IanWainwright, Edwin
Golding, JohnMillan, BruceWalden, Brian (B'm'ham, All Saints)
Gounay, HarryMiller, Dr. M. S.Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Grant, George (Morpeth)Milne, EdwardWallace, George
Grant, John D. (Islington, E.)Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen)Watkins, David
Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside)Molloy, WilliamWeitzman, David
Griffiths, Will (Exchange)Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)Wellbeloved, James
Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Whitehead, PhillipWilson, Alexander (Hamilton)TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Whitlock, WilliamWilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)Mr. James A. Dunn and
Willey, Rt. Hn. FrederickWoof, RobertMr. Joseph Harper
Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Main question, as amended, put:

The House divided: Ayes 302, Noes 276.

Division No. 50.]AYES[10.14 p.m.
Adley, RobertEmery, PeterKershaw, Anthony
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)Eyre, ReginaldKilfedder, James
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)Farr, JohnKimball, Marcus
Amery, Rt. Hn. JulianFell, AnthonyKing, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth)Fenner, Mrs. PeggyKing, Tom (Bridgwater)
Astor, JohnFidler, MichaelKinsey, J. R.
Atkins, HumphreyFinsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead)Kirk, Peter
Awdry, DanielFisher, Nigel (Surbiton)Kitson, Timothy
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)Fletcher-Cooke, CharlesKnight, Mrs. Jill
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff)Fookes, Miss JanetKnox, David
Balniel, Rt. Hn. LordFoster, Sir JohnLambton, Lord
Barber, Rt. Hn. AnthonyFox, MarcusLamont, Norman
Bell, RonaldFraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone)Lane, David
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)Fry, PeterLangford-Holt, Sir John
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)Galbraith, Hn. T. G. D.Le Marchant, Spencer
Benyon, W.Gardner, EdwardLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Berry, Hn. AnthonyGibson-Watt, DavidLloyd,Rt.Hn.Geoffrey(Sut'nC'field)
Biffen, JohnGilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)
Biggs-Davison, JohnGilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.)Longden, Sir Gilbert
Blaker, PeterGlyn, Dr. AlanLoveridge, John
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.)Goodhart, PhilipLuce, R. N.
Body, RichardGoodhew, VictorMcAdden, Sir Stephen
Boscawen, Hn. RobertGorst, JohnMacArthur, Ian
Bossom, Sir CliveGower, RaymondMcCrindle, R. A.
Bowden, AndrewGrant, Anthony (Harrow, C.)McLaren, Martin
Braine, Sir BernardGreen, AlanMaclean, Sir Fitzroy
Bray, RonaldGrieve, PercyMcMaster, Stanley
Brewis, JohnGriffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Maurice (Farnham)
Brinton, Sir TattonGrylls, MichaelMcNair-Wilson, Michael
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)Gummer, J. SelwynMcNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)
Bruce-Gardyne, J.Gurden, HaroldMaddan, Martin
Bryan, Sir PaulHall, Miss Joan (Keighley)Madel, David
Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N & M)Hall, John (Wycombe)Maginnis, John E.
Buck, AntonyHall-Davis, A. G. F.Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest
Burden, F. A.Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Marten, Neil
Butler, Adam (Bosworth)Hannam, John (Exeter)Mather, Carol
Campbell, Rt. Hn. G. (Moray & Nairn)Harrison, Brian (Maldon)Maude, Angus
Carlisle, MarkHarrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)Maudling, Rt. Hn Reginald
Carr, Rt. Hn. RobertHaselhurst, AlanMawby, Ray
Cary, Sir RobertHastings, StephenMaxwell-Hyslop, R. J.
Channon, PaulHavers, Sir MichaelMeyer, Sir Anthony
Chataway, Rt. Hn. ChristopherHawkins, PaulMills, Peter (Torrington)
Chichester-Clark, R.Hay, JohnMills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)
Churchill, W. S.Hayhoe, BarneyMlscampbell, Norman
Clark, William (Surrey, E.)Heath, Rt. Hn. EdwardMitchell, Lt. -Col. C. (Aberdeenshire, W)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Heseltine, MichaelMitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Clegg, WalterHicks, RobertMoate, Roger
Cockeram, EricHiggins, Terence L.Molyneaux, James
Cooke, RobertHiley, JosephMoney, Ernie
Coombs, DerekHill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.)Monks, Mrs. Connie
Cooper, A. E.Hill, James (Southampton, Test)Monro, Hector
Cordis, JohnHolland, PhilipMontgomery, Fergus
Corfield, Rt. Hn. Sir FrederickHolt, Miss MaryMorgan, Geraint (Denbigh)
Cormack, PatrickHordern, PeterMorgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.
Costain, A. P.Hornby, RichardMorrison, Charles
Critchley, JulianHornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame PatriciaMurton, Oscar
Crouch, DavidHowe, Rt. Hn. Sir GeoffreyNabarro, Sir Gerald
Crowder, F. P.Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.)Neave, Airey
Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford)Hunt, JohnNicholls, Sir Harmar
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir HenryHutchison, Michael ClarkNoble, Rt. Hn. Michael
d'Avigdor-Goldsmld, Maj.-Gen. JackIremonger, T. L.Normanton, Tom
Dean, PaulIrvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)Nott, John
Digby, Simon WingfieldJames, DavidOnslow, Cranley
Dixon, PiersJenkin, Patrick (Woodford)Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally
Dodds-Parker, Sir DouglasJennings, J. C. (Burton)Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir AlecJessel, TobyOsborn, John
Drayson, G. B.Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)
Dykes, HughJones, Arthur (Northants, S.)Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)
Eden, Rt. Hn. Sir JohnJoseph, Rt. Hn. Sir KeithPage, John (Harrow, W.)
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)Kaberry, Sir DonaldPaisley, Rev. Ian
Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. ElaineParkinson, Cecil
Peel, Sir JohnSandys, Rt. Hn. D.Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Percival, IanScott, NicholasTrafford, Dr. Anthony
Peyton, Rt. Hn. JohnScott-Hopkins, JamesTrew, Peter
Pike, Miss MervynShaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)Tugendhat, Christopher
Pink, R. BonnerShelton, William (Clapham)Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin
Pounder, RaftonShersby, Michaelvan Straubenzee, W. R.
Price, David (Eastleigh)Simeons, CharlesVaughan, Dr. Gerard
Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L.Sinclair, Sir GeorgeVickers, Dame Joan
Proudfoot, WilfredSkeet, T. H. H.Waddington, David
Pym, Rt. Hn. FrancisSmith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Quennell, Miss J. M.Soref, HaroldWalker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)
Raison, TimothySpeed, KeithWalker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Ramsden, Rt. Hn. JamesSpence, JohnWalters, Dennis
Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir PeterStainton, KeithWard, Dame Irene
Redmond, RobertStanbrook, IvorWarren, Kenneth
Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)Weatherill, Bernard
Rees, Peter (Dover)Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.)Wells, John (Maidstone)
Rees-Davies, W. R.Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.White, Roger (Gravesend)
Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir DavidStokes, JohnWiggin, Jerry
Rhys Williams, Sir BrandonStuttaford, Dr. TomWinterton, Nicholas
Ridley, Hn. NicholasSutcliffe, JohnWolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Ridsdale, JulianTapsell, PeterWoodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Rippon, Rt. Hn. GeoffreyTaylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)Woodnutt, Mark
Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)Worsley, Marcus
Roberts, Wyn (Conway)Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.
Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)Younger, Hn. George
Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)Tebbit, Norman
Rost, PeterTemple, John M.TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Royle, AnthonyThatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. MargaretMr. Tim Fortescue and
Russell, Sir RonaldThomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)Mr. Hamish Gray.
St. John-Stevas, NormanThomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)
NOES
Abse, LeoDalyell, TamHamilton, William (Fife, W.)
Albu, AustenDarling, Rt. Hn. GeorgeHamling, William
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)Davidson, ArthurHannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill)
Allen, ScholefieldDavies, Denzil (Llanelly)Hardy, Peter
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis)Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)
Armstrong, ErnestDavies, Ifor (Gower)Hattersley, Roy
Ashley, JackDavis, Clinton (Hackney, C.)Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis
Ashton, JoeDavis, Terry (Bromsgrove)Heffer, Eric S.
Atkinson, NormanDeakins, EricHilton, W. S.
Bagier, Gordon A. T.de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir GeoffreyHooson, Emlyn
Barnes, MichaelDelargy, HughHoram, John
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Dell, Rt. Hn. EdmundHoughton, Rt. Hn. Douglas
Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton)Dempsey, JamesHowell, Denis (Small Heath)
Beaney, AlanDormand, J. D.Huckfield, Leslie
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony WedgwoodDouglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.)Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)
Bennett, James(Glasgow, Bridgeton)Douglas-Mann, BruceHughes, Mark (Durham)
Bidwell, SydneyDuffy, A. E. P.Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.)
Bishop, E. S.Dunnett, JackHughes, Roy (Newport)
Blenkinsop, ArthurEadie, AlexHunter, Adam
Boardman, H. (Leigh)Edelman, MauriceIrvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur (Edge Hill)
Booth, AlbertEdwards, Robert (Bilston)Janner, Greville
Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland)Edwards, William (Merioneth)Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas
Broughton, Sir AlfredEllis, TomJeger, Mrs. Lena
Brown, Robert C. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne, W.)English, MichaelJenkins, Hugh (Putney)
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)Evans, FredJohn, Brynmor
Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury)Ewing, HarryJohnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)
Buchan, NormanFaulds, AndrewJohnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E.Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)Fisher, Mrs. Doris (B'ham, Ladywood)Johnston, Russell (Inverness)
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. JamesFitch, Alan (Wigan)Jones, Barry (Flint, E.)
Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.)Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)Jones, Dan (Burnley)
Cant, R. B.Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)
Carmichael, NeilFoley, MauriceJones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)
Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield)Foot, MichaelJones, T. Alec (Rhondda. W.)
Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles)Ford, BenKaufman, Gerald
Castle, Rt. Hn. BarbaraForrester, JohnKelley, Richard
Clark, David (Colne Valley)Fraser, John (Norwood)Kerr, Russell
Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.)Freeson, ReginaldKinnock, Neil
Cohen, StanleyGalpern, Sir MyerLambie, David
Coleman, DonaldGarrett, W. E.Lamborn, Harry
Concannon, J. D.Gilbert, Dr. JohnLamond, James
Conlan, BernardGinsburg, David (Dewsbury)Latham, Arthur
Corbet, Mrs. FredaGolding, JohnLawson, George
Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.)Gourlay, HarryLeadbitter, Ted
Crawshaw, RichardGrant, George (Morpeth)Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Cronin, JohnGrant, John D. (Islington. E.)Leonard, Dick
Crosland, Rt. Hn. AnthonyGriffiths, Eddie (Brightside)Lestor, Miss Joan
Crossman, Rt. Hn. RichardGriffiths, Will (Exchange)Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)
Cunningham, G. (Islington, S.W.)Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven)Hamilton, James (Bothwell)Lipton, Marcus
Lomas, KennethOrbach, MauriceSmith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)
Loughtin, CharlesOrme, StanleySpearing, Nigel
Lyon, Alexander W. (York)Oswald, ThomasSpriggs, Leslie
Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton)Stallard, A. W.
Mabon, Dr. J. DicksonPadley, WalterSteel, David
McBride, NeilPaget, R. T.Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)
McCartney, HughPalmer, ArthurStewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)
McElhone, FrankPannell, Rt. Hn. CharlesStoddart, David (Swindon)
McGuire, MichaelPardoe, JohnStonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
Mackenzie, GregorParker, John (Dagenham)Strang, Gavin
Mackie, JohnParry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange)Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Mackintosh, John P.Pavitt, LaurieSummerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)Peart, Rt. Hn. FredSwain, Thomas
McNamara, J. KevinPendry, TomThomas, Rt. Hn. George (Cardiff, W.)
Mahon, Simon (Bootle)Perry, Ernest G.Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)Prescott, JohnTinn, James
Marks, KennethPrice, William (Rugby)Tomney, Frank
Marquand, DavidProbert, ArthurTope, Graham
Marsden, F.Reed, D. (Sedgefield)Tuck, Raphael
Marshall, Dr. EdmundRees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)Urwin, T. W.
Mason, Rt. Hn. RoyRhodes, GeoffreyVarley, Eric G.
Mayhew, ChristopherRichard, IvorWainwright, Edwin
Meacher, MichaelRoberts, Albert (Normanton)Walden, Brian (B'm'ham, All Saints)
Mellish, Rt. Hn. RobertRoberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy (Caernarvon)Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Mendelson, JohnRobertson, John (Paisley)Wallace, George
Mikardo, IanRoderick, Caerwyn E. (Brc'n&R'dnor)Watkins, David
Millan, BruceRodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)Weitzman, David
Miller, Dr. M. S.Roper, JohnWellbeloved, James
Milne, EdwardRose, Paul B.Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen)Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Molloy, WilliamRowlands, TedWhitehead, Phillip
Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)Sandelson, NevilleWhitlock, William
Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Tyne)Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)Short, Rt.Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Moyle, RolandShort, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton.N.E.)Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Mulley, Rt. Hn. FrederickSilkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Murray, Ronald KingSilkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)Woof, Robert
Oakes, GordonSillars, James
Ogden, EricSilverman, JuliusTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
O'Halloran, MichaelSkinner, DennisMr. James A. Dunn and
O'Malley, BrianSmall, WilliamMr. Joseph Harper.
Oram, BertSmith, Cyril (Rochdale)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,That this House approves the measures Her Majesty's Government have taken to meet housing needs and welcomes the increasing number of housing starts for home ownership; the provision, by means of improvement grants, of a record number of modernised homes; and the encouragement of local authority housing in areas of stress; and further welcomes Her Majesty's Government's determination to increase the amount of land available for house building.